from the SAR contest in South Carolina was filled with an aura of historical remembrance. First off, we were playing a CD of fife and drum music which we picked up at King’s Mountain National Park, and I felt a bit as if the van we were traveling in was a time-tunnel. And in spite of the previous day’s let down at the contest, I was feeling quite contented, with a bag full of souvenirs, including a stuffed owl, a Robin Hood figurine, various postcards, peanut butter pretzels, and a small peach pie. Life was good!
But I must admit, a ten hour trip tends to be filled with a sense of potential boredom and stiffness in the legs, even with rest points. Beyond this, there are aspects of peril, especially when huge mountains and heavy rains are involved. Crossing over the border from North Carolina to Virginia, we found ourselves in just such a case. It was fairly unnerving peering out the window and seeing the misty chasm just below the mountain road we were driving on. I have never been a fan of heights or the feeling of having ones ears pop, and as a sufferer of vertigo, all this was compounded.
Since we had spent a far amount of the day sight-seeing in South Carolina, we found that darkness fell before we had made nearly as much time as we would have liked. Even though we did make our way into Virginia, civilization still seemed like a distant dream. The rain was slashing and the trees swaying as we pulled into the little town of Buena Vista, a lonely refuge at the bottom of a monster mountain. The feeling was something distinctly out of Scooby Doo. The only two buildings visible from the road were a shadowy motel and a dilapidated gas station.
Too creeped-out to pull into the former, we decided to ask directions in the latter. The custodian lady confirmed our suspicion that there was little in the way of civilization in the area, except for a Food Lion Supermarket said to be a ways down the road. We also got to see her swat away a giant flying monster-bug from the swamp, that she related could indeed bite! Observing the sinister looking motel, we decided in favor of self-preservation and drove along the windy roads to reach the promised Food Lion. The electronic lights behind the chain’s carnivorous mascot beamed forth as a beacon of hope.
We flagged down a young couple in the parking lot, and received confirmation that the motel in town was not exactly a safe bet. They directed us onward to life and health in the tourist town of Lexington, Virginia. It was a long ride on a rainy night, but it was definitely worth it, and we checked into a lovely Wyndham hotel in which we were able to get a discount from the amiable clerk named Greg. When he heard me quietly singing to myself as I deliriously wandered about the empty lobby, he encouraged me to “show my stuff” and sing “Amazing Grace” which I did! Only in the south, thought I…;-)
Across the street, there was a TGI Friday’s still open, so exhausted as we were, my father and I stopped by for a bite. I can’t tell you how good fried chicken tenders and curly fries taste after long hours of driving through a seemingly endless rainy night! Then we returned to the hotel and discovered to our delight that our room was a world superior to the one in the Holiday Inn in Greenville. It had a homey feel, with warm and welcoming colors, soft, fluffy beds, and a fairly spacious bathroom.
The next morning, we also discovered that our TV actually worked (wonder of wonders, judging from our past hotel experiences) and channels were actually fun to watch! We spent the beginning of the next morning taking it easy and enjoying the Andy Griffith Show (again, a southern icon) and an Animal Planet program, and then went down to the lobby to enjoy a delicious breakfast of waffles, bagels, yogurt, donuts, and juice. I am now officially addicted to electric waffle makers! After getting our stuff out of our room, and taking some photos in the lovely interior, we headed off to see the sights in Lexington.
One of the main attractions was Washington and Lee College. Steeped in history, this is the resting place of Robert E. Lee who served as the superintendent after the fall of the Confederacy. His pristine example of duty and dignity is legendary, and it did much to heal the wounds of the Civil War as both north and south came to respect him as a distinctly American hero. As our tour guide informed us, his work at the college was just as important to history as his prowess on the battlefield. Oddly enough, the general’s crypt is right next to the gift-shop…a rather strange positioning for a man of such high station if I do say so myself!
Nevertheless, in the chapel above, in which Gen. Lee himself often worshiped, did have a marble carving of him laid out. The architecture had a wonderful olden-day feel, and was filled with a sense of serenity. I can’t help but think God was in that place, the symbol of a nation’s reunion. I thought about Britain, and how much she needed a reunion. I thought back on the lion and the unicorn carved in Maj. Ferguson’s gravestone on King’s Mountain, and dreaded that they should ever be separated. I prayed the referendum, the political civil war, would claim the life of that great land. Going back outside, we followed tradition and threw some pennies on the grave of Traveler, Gen. Lee’s beloved horse.
Before moving on from Washington and Lee, I must touch upon a controversy which had recently taken place there involving the use of the Confederate flag. Of course, this controversy is pretty wide-spread across the country, and particularly heated in the south. We have all had the eye-brow-raising experience of a pick-up truck with the Stars-and-Bars flapping proudly beside the antenna or planted in a hay-bale in the trunk. I even had a particularly unique experience of seeing some sort of protest by Southern Independence People in the main street of Hanover PA, and how it was broken up by police.
But besides these weird manifestations, the larger question remains: is there any time when the Confederate flag may be flown in an appropriate context? I believe so, especially in a place like Washington and Lee. Anyone who knows anything about the Civil War must admit its sheer complexity, and claiming that the Stars and Bars is merely a symbol of slavery does it a great injustice. It was a symbol of rebellion and state’s rights, an issue that was bound to surface in the union with slavery or no. It was a symbol of a vision of an independent nation that never came about, and yet gave rise to amazing heroism and determination that characterizes the South as an entity.
Looking at this memorial to General Lee, I can’t think of a more appropriate place where the flag that he fought under should be able to be flown with honor, not as a symbol of rebellion, but of the diversity that makes up the union. To me, it represents the southern heritage that makes up an integral part of the American identity. Perhaps like the Jacobites in Britain, it is the Confederates of America who tap into that rebel streak that distinguishes a people from a government. Even through their loss on the battlefield (one that I am honestly relieved took place), they have managed to win over a part of the national imagination. In that sense, the Stars-and-Bars is not just a part of their story, but mine as well, and everyone who is an American. I do hope it will be used appropriately and with respect to all involved in the ongoing story, living and dead.
|Washington and Lee College|