My family is Southern. I’ve tried and tried to start this story without a declaration, but there you have it; I’m at it again. My family is Southern. They hail from the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, but mostly Georgia and Alabama. I’m sure some slipped into Mississippi and Louisiana along the way, but if they did, they didn’t stay long as they made their way to Texas or they were disowned. Who’s to say? (Yes, there’s a Southern hierarchy and no, we’re not even going to talk about Arkansas.)
In researching my family and chasing down all the branches, twigs and stumps, I found I couldn’t hit the early 1860’s without discovering every able-bodied male – every “great” (from grandfathers to uncles) fought for the South in the Civil War. It would be more challenging for me to find someone between 14-60 who didn’t. I have relatives who were injured at Shiloh after their regiment was nearly cut down to the man, relatives at almost nearly every major engagement, and then a relative who died at Ft. Delaware as a POW. After the war, there was a great who named his son John Wilkes Booth (+ the family last name) and then I see John Wilkes ooth went on to name his own son John Wilkes Booth, Jr. I believe there’s even a III. I guess the song “Let it Go” hadn’t hit the charts then. Needless to say, I cringe a lot when I do my research, and each time I come across the JWB’s anew, I cringe like it was the first time. (Then I announce it to my husband like it’s new news and usually get, “you’ve told me that before”. “Oh? Well, can you believe it? John Wilkes Booth?!?” Then I let time slip by so I can repeat it again.)
With relatives from Atlanta, I’ve grown up with stories like the time the Union soldier approached my great-great grandfather as a boy and asked him about the shoes he was so proud of. My great-great took those shoes off to show him and the union soldier dumped them down a well. Then there was the time that Sherman took over one of our family’s homes and marred the wooden secretary as he wrote out his orders before burning Atlanta. That secretary is still in the family. To the older Atlanta relatives, Gen. Sherman wasn’t just Sharman, he was Sherman and a little spit – like that was his full name. Gen. Sherman Patooey, and you could only mutter or growl it out. I can use scalawag correctly in a sentence. FYI, it’s also followed by a patooey when correctly used. Various members of my family had slaves (just like Ben Affleck’s family only a Sony leak isn’t how you’re finding out, and Henry Lewis Gates, Jr.’s job isn’t on the line because of it – great job there, Ben). I can’t answer to this other than to say it bothers me to the core, because I want to believe my family stood up and said, “this is wrong, this is unjust,” but the truth is they didn’t. They named their kids “John Wilkes Booth.”
But, let me stop here a sec and make the declaration that I’m not Southern, I’m a Texan, and more importantly, I’m a US citizen. Which brings me to this weekend. We have a family cemetery and church out in East Texas; it’s well into the piney woods where the earth becomes a soft red clay. (Not the most ideal earth to bury someone in, but hey… it’s what we got.) Every year, for decades and decades long before I was around, the families have come together over Memorial Day (and Labor Day, but that stopped who knows when) to clean up the graveyard, which used to just be dirt. We’ve got grass now! At these events there’s usually a ceremony of some sort to talk about cemetery business, then there’s sometimes a raising of a flag while music is piped through a tin-y sounding speaker system, there’s often a speech or two (sometimes by the more upstanding family members like that one gal who was a dentist) and then we can get to the real business – the potluck. While it’s a bit amateurish, it has its own charm and it brings us together. I expected this year someone would raise the US flag, we’d recite the Pledge of Allegiance, talk about the upkeep of the grounds and then, you know, get to the food bit. I’d at some point brave the port-a-potty and then swear off of it, trying not to take in any liquids for the remainder of the hot day. (Hey, it’s at least better than the outhouse, which is also available.) You know, the usual Memorial weekend day routine. Then this happened..
and that’s when my jaw hit the floor. I was gobsmacked, because “gobsmacked” is the best way to describe my reaction. Oh, Dorothy, we’re out of Kansas, girl. This isn’t the same ol’ Star Spangled Banner, saluting the flag of yore.
Now let me back up and say that I think it’s wrong to not honor and recognize Confederate soldiers. They fought, bled and died for what they believed was right at the time. But I can’t deny how uncomfortable I felt nor how that feeling skyrocketed after we were asked to honor the Confederate Flag after we had pledged allegiance to the US flag and the Texas flag (hey, I’m a Crockett). At “now face the confederate flag” my hands dropped to my side and I stared at the reenactor. I’m never saying, “…and undying devotion to the cause for which it stands.” Maybe I’m taking it too seriously (I have that habit, ask my friends; I’m the unfun one), but to me you get into this funny little grey area where you’re pushing treason. Did I mention I’m not Southern, I’m Texan (and that’s only on days when our governor isn’t threatening to secede or you know, openly talking about how we’re all going to be round up into Wal-Mart detention centers). Still, this gal broke into Dixie and started doing a little dance when she picked up the tempo and all of what I see as craziness became “the best cemetery clean-up day ever”. And they did honor the three Confederate veterans with a 21 muzzle loading gun salute who did fight the fight they felt was just.
But holy cow!
(Complete aside – I posted one of the photos on Facebook with the comment “So, this just happened” to comment on the surreal nature of the event, and immediately one of my cousins responded with the best line, “OMG. There is grass.” Which is truly one of the craziest things to be seen in the photo and made me burst out with laughter.)