“Beware of using up your last forty years in being the curator of your first fifty.”
― Allan Gurganus, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All
I am – as far as generations go – not all that far removed from my Civil War ancestors. I remember with cinematic precision the evening circa 1970 when my high school girlfriend dropped on the uncarpeted floor of our ranch-style house the slab of glass that held my great-great grandfather’s image. That raw-boned, thin-lipped scowler posing in his Confederate uniform evaporated before our very eyes, the molecules constituting his outline rising through the crack in the glass like a soul vacating a corpse. Gone, those small penetrating brown eyes, the prototype of my father’s eyes, my eyes, and my son Ned’s eyes.
I, in fact, met that ghost’s son, my great grandfather, who lived past 90, and I also remember a winter night in Sumter, South Carolina, when my college roommate’s great-great aunt, a centenarian, the daughter of a Confederate general, told us long-haired hippies that we were two of the prettiest girls she’d ever seen. She was a lovely woman, alive, engaged, this daughter of the general, a genteel wrinkled skein of a skeleton sitting, smiling before a fire, practically deaf, practically blind.
I think there might have been a painting of the general over the mantel — or perhaps he was a colonel? — I really can’t remember as my memories flicker and fade in the old musty museum of my mind. I am certain, however, that “the evil that men do lives after them,” and “the good is oft interred with their bones.”