Taking a walk on a back road, I spotted a country graveyard full of names, German, Dutch and English, many from the early Nineteenth Century: Mohler. Miller. Fortney. Studebaker and Stewdebaker, side by side. First names like Isaac and Levi and Israel.
One family lost two little boys, born in April, died in summer, three years apart.
Some of the weathered gravestones list the men’s units in the Civil War, but all the men I noticed came home, some living into the next century. Whatever they saw or did, they were the lucky ones, consider- ing what happened 20-plus miles south.
A few miles north of the church is Camp Hill, where in 1863 a small detachment of Confederates made an exploratory mission toward Harrisburg, Robert E. Lee’s goal. The invaders skirmished with Union soldiers but Albert Gallatin Jenkins’ troops were called south because an impromptu battle was shaping up in Gettysburg, 35 miles away.
Camp Hill, where part of my family now lives, would be the farthest penetration north by the Confederates, (See the excellent article on PennLive in 2013.)
In that portentous late June of 1863, a boy named W.O. Wolfe was standing by the Gettysburg road when Fitzhugh Lee’s soldiers headed south. Many years later he would tell his own young son how he gave surly replies to the Rebel officer, who menaced him, perhaps for effect.
Some of those troops who passed the Wolfe farm were from the hills of western North Carolina. By the strangest circumstance, the boy grew up to be a stonecutter, and settled in Asheville, North Carolina, and married into a clan of southern hill people. To his dying day, W.O. Wolfe would curse his luck, would speak longingly of the lush farms of Pennsylvania Dutch country.
W.O. Wolfe was a storyteller; who knows how much he embellished the tale of the meeting the Rebels on Gettysburg Road, summer of '63. He even put an in-law into his story: an officer who preached the Bible while riding toward Gettysburg, and who smelled so bad that his own troops referred to him as “Stinking Jesus.”
W.O.’s late-in-life son was also a storyteller. Thomas Wolfe incorporated his father’s tales into the opening pages of his first novel “Look Homeward Angel.” Later he expanded it in “O Lost,” which I once read in the Wolfe library in Chapel Hill.
Thomas Wolfe is my most beloved writer; he informs my ongoing adolescence.
Perhaps some of the people in the country cemetery near Camp Hill also saw Rebel soldiers as they rode or walked south, toward Gettysburg.
We stayed in a comfortable Marriott Courtyard, made coffee in our room. Child hockey players were congregating for a holiday tournament.
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Footnote 1: I just learned from a terrific web site by Steven B. Rogers that there is a Wolfe Diner in Dillsburg on Route 15. But now I’m home.
Footnote 2: My wife reminds me that in Dillsburg there is a nice restaurant, Pakha’s Thai house, which we have visited several times. The web site says: “The most authentic Thai meals this side of Bangkok.”
Footnote 3: James Taylor, son of North Carolina, long moved north, wrote a lovely tribute to Confederate soldiers, limping home from war.
More and More, I Talk to the Dead--Margaret Renkl
NASHVILLE — After my mother died so suddenly — laughing at a rerun of “JAG” at 10 p.m., dying of a hemorrhagic stroke by dawn — I dreamed about her night after night. In every dream she was willfully, outrageously alive, unaware of the grief her death had caused. In every dream relief poured through me like a flash flood. Oh, thank God!
Then I would wake into keening grief all over again.
Years earlier, when my father learned he had advanced esophageal cancer, his doctor told him he had perhaps six months to live. He lived far longer than that, though I never thought of it as “living” once I learned how little time he really had. For six months my father was dying, and then he kept dying for two years more. I was still working and raising a family, but running beneath the thin soil of my own life was a river of death. My father’s dying governed my days.
After he died, I wept and kept weeping, but I rarely dreamed about my father the way I would dream about my mother nearly a decade later. Even in the midst of calamitous grief, I understood the difference: My father’s long illness had given me time to work death into the daily patterns of my life. My mother’s sudden death had obliterated any illusion that daily patterns are trustworthy.
Years have passed now, and it’s the ordinariness of grief itself that governs my days. The very air around me thrums with absence. I grieve the beloved high-school teacher I lost the summer after graduation and the beloved college professor who was my friend for more than two decades. I grieve the father I lost nearly 20 years ago and the father-in-law I lost during the pandemic. I grieve the great-grandmother who died my junior year of college and the grandmother who lived until I was deep into my 40s.
Some of those I grieve are people I didn’t even know. How can John Prine be gone? I hear his haunting last song, “I Remember Everything,” and I still can’t quite believe that John Prine is gone.
Jan. 30, 2023