Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Oh, the Stories I'll tell

So many things to discuss, so little time... I'm just going to start the brain dump now.

Gettysburg is lovely. It's like Cooperstown, the tourist Mecca where I grew up. And if I were going to compare the residents of each town to those who elect our politicians, I'd call them single issue voters. In Cooperstown, Baseball is King. In Gettysburg, it's all about the Battle. Yes, my seven-year-old son came up with the prototype for this paragraph while eating an ice cream cone last week. Yes, I stole it from him. Yes, he called me on it.

Elizabeth Krecker had a great post about setting a little while ago. Setting is vital, but I here's what I noticed in Gettysburg: Mood. Not a literary mood. More like a collective mood... an emotion. Cooperstown is all about fun, shared memories with the kids.

Gettysburg is somber (as it should be). It's a historical treasure trove, and it's an amazing place in which to learn. And it's FUN learning there... But it's not a fun place.

A not so random aside: There are tourist traps in every tourist destination, and Gettysburg is full of them. Be careful if you visit there. You can easily leave town broke, without ever having seen the battlefield (which takes up most of the village).

If you go, you can take a bus and listen to a narrated tour on headphones. You can buy a CD of the same tour and drive the battlefield yourself.

Or you can hire a Licensed National Park Service Guide. Said guide will have more knowledge of the battle than an encyclopedia or any thirty random authors who've written about it (these guides take a test roughly akin to a bar exam, with which I am familiar, or a CPA exam, with which I am not familiar).

Said guide will have a sunny disposition.

Side guide will drive your vehicle so you, the Saint and the kids can relax. Actually, I wasn't relaxed. I was learning new things about the Civil War, one of my favorite topics, after reading dozens of books on Gettysburg alone. I was bouncing in my seat for most of the ride. At one point I wanted to sit on the hood.

Said guide will know more than you do about the battle, even when you think you know more.

Said guide will correct your misperceptions (and your know it all mentality) so gently that you won't even notice.

Said guide will instantly bond with your Saint and your children. Example: "General Lee went into this battle with a cocky attitude. He was 9-0 as a Commanding General. It's like the Patriots after they win nine Super Bowls in a row." Oldest son and middle son were hooked 15 seconds into the tour. Daughter wasn't hooked, but Daughter was mezmerized by the energetic woman driving the car and making Daddy laugh. The Saint... let's be honest... Gettysburg wasn't supposed to be the highlight of her trip... Well, the Saint was hooked, too.

Said guide will be an excellent teacher. Perhaps that's why The Saint liked said guide so much. The Saint, who is truly gifted when it comes to the English language, knows her way around a classroom.

Said guide will be a world class communicator. Does it surprise any of you that said guide has written at least two published works of non-fiction and just sold her first novel to Doubleday? And how's this for cosmic? Yes, the same Doubleday (Abner) who mythologically founded baseball in my hometown was a vital corps commander at Gettysburg who stepped in when General John Reynolds was killed on the first day of the battle. That same Doubleday's family founded a publishing house. Yes, I knew all of that and said guide didn't correct me. She even gave me a pat on the back I didn't really deserve, since I was showing off. Here's what I didn't know (and this is the cosmic part): That same publishing house purchased said guide's novel.

Said guide will have a growing corps of "regulars" who hire her every time they come to Gettysburg. There are legions of Civil War buffs who do this, just like there are legions of baseball fans who make an annual pilgrimage to Cooperstown.

Said guide will take a 2-hour tour and stretch it to 3 hours and fifteen minutes, just because... Said guide's regulars call her (at home) weeks and months in advance to plan tours... Not the 2-hour variety... "This year, let's do the second day, entirely from the Confederate perspective..." Or: "This year, let's trace the 20th Maine's involvement in the whole battle." The regulars hire said guide for days at a time.

Said guide will know how to call an audible. Said guide will actually listen to the conversation in the car and adapt the tour to fit the conversation. I was therefore able to stand at the monument where Gen. Lewis Armistead fell on Cemetery Ridge. I was able to stand at the monument to the 20th Maine (and to think of my buddy Gib, engaged in a hell of a battle himself). The boys and I were able to walk the last 200 yards of Pickett's Charge.

Said guide will instantly correlate relevant data from this exact second and apply it to the battle: "It's 2:50 in the afternoon. We're standing at the top of Cemetery Ridge. It's 93 degrees with 70 percent humidity. Pickett's Charge took place at 3 in the afternoon of a Friday (we toured the battlefield on Friday) under weather conditions virtually identical to this one."

And then said guide will rattle off:

  1. The regulars in Pickett's division hadn't slept in 5 days.
  2. They hadn't drunk any water all day.
  3. They were wearing wool and carrying heavy packs.
  4. They'd spent most of the previous two months marching.
  5. This list really has about 51 items on it, but it's seamless.
Then she'll say something relatively simple like, "What if you'd given each of those men a glass of water?" And you realize that the whole battle could have turned out differently.

Said guide will say nice things about the other guides ("We all have our regulars.") We think anybody who can pass the licensing exam is worthy of praise, but we think said guide is the cream of the crop.

Said guide will stop for gas in the middle of the tour.

Said guide will be funny and kind and smarter than you, without letting on that she's smarter than you.

If you're ever headed to Gettysburg, give me a call or shoot me an e-mail. Forget about the bus ride or the CD. I know a guide you need to hire. If you like history, it'll be the best money you ever spent. If you don't agree with me, I'll reimburse you.

More on Gettysburg later (There was an entire dinner with Best Man and Godfather to Our Oldest Son, his wife and family, after the Battlefield Tour). And I'll have a few posts about Hershey also, but here's what I remember most about Chocolate Town, USA: Not the rides. Not the candy. The unmitigated joy I saw on the kids' faces; The Saint's smile; the fact that everybody called this THE BEST TRIP EVER. In bold. All caps.

So much more to discuss, but we're out of time.


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Anonymous Godfather and Best Man said...

El Senor stopped by last Sunday morning, per his weekend routine. He's a regular up around Gettysburg and he knew that we had dinner last Friday.

He asked how you were doing and asked about your family. I told him how big the boys have gotten and that we finally got to meet the little one. He hadn't seen the boys in about 6 years--Brenna's Christening.

Then he got to the heart of the matter. I had just told him how you were raving about your tourguide and in his usual pithy way, (Dad chooses his words carefully and doesn't waste them) he pointed out that since you didn't get to see Battlefield Harley, you hadn't truly been to Gettysburg regardless of your wonderful tourguide.

He did however, eagerly approve of the Vanilla Pecan fudge that we brought back; asking if we had anymore after he filched the slice I was saving for after lunch.

I'll leave the commentary on dinner to you. You'll probably gloat about acing me out of the check even though I had set it up in advance with the hostess to make sure it never even came to the table. Yes, I'm still bitter about losing that one.

And you gentle readers of the blog should know that Adam's recounting of the meal could be skewed by:

1. The pitcher of Sangria.
2. The crab cheese fries--think Outback's cheese fries--only substitute lump crabmeat for the bacon. Yes, its good--very good.
3. The pitcher of Sangria.

See you in Boston next month.

7:15 PM, July 19, 2006  
Blogger Adam Hurtubise said...

Godfather and Best Man wins this round.

The pitcher of sangria was delicious.

7:45 PM, July 19, 2006  
Anonymous Wife of Godfather said...

Note also that sangria was never even offered to said wives. We enjoyed the evening nonetheless. Good food, good kids and best of all, good company! Nice to see you all!!!

8:57 PM, July 19, 2006  

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