Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lost Causes

"I've always had a weakness for lost causes once they're really lost." ~ Rhett Butler in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind

Clockwise from upper left:  Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara
Clark Gable as Rhett Butler
Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Hamilton Wilkes
Lesley Howard as Ashley Wilkes

When Tim was in the Army, he was transferred in 1986 to Fort McClellan, located adjacent to the small town of Anniston, Alabama.  Unable to land a job as a librarian while we lived there, I settled for a secretarial position in a local attorneys' office.  There for the first time I heard the Civil War referred to as the War of Northern Aggression.  It seemed to me that, despite more than 120 years of facts to the contrary, the two lawyers who employed me were in denial regarding the North's victory.  Or perhaps, like Rhett Butler, they had a weakness for the Confederacy's lost cause.

With only three days allotted to our stay in Atlanta, a city once burned to ashes by Union forces, Tim and I, too, blazed our way through this metropolis.  We had hoped to visit more of its sights, but that was a lost cause.  The rain and chill of mid-March kept us confined, albeit by choice, in the campground.

However, I insisted we visit Margaret Mitchell's house where the famous author wrote Gone With the Wind, a novel I've loved ever since I first read it at the age of twelve. 

This photo as well as others below are on display at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta, GA.

While living in "The Dump" as she called her first floor apartment, Mitchell began Gone With the Wind by writing its final chapter first.

Mitchell interviewing Georgia Tech students

That's a writing method used by many newspaper and magazine journalists; Mitchell was one of their ranks.  She worked as a reporter for the Atlantic Journal before a series of injuries left her housebound.  During her confinement, she purportedly read every book in Atlanta's public library until her husband John, in desperation, brought home a typewriter for her, the typewriter she used to compose her masterpiece.

Although she wrote the novel over a ten year period, the majority of it was written while she sat at her desk by the parlor's window here in the house at 990 Peachtree Street.  

Loosely organizing her work by stuffing each chapter in a manila folder, Mitchell hid them around the small apartment in an effort to keep the manuscript a secret.

That she would choose the Civil War and its aftermath as the setting for her novel was a given.  Margaret recalled "sitting on the bony knees of veterans and the slippery laps of great aunts" while listening to stories of Atlanta and the Civil War.

Margaret Mitchell

Margaret once recalled, "When I was ten years old, it was a violent shock to learn that General Lee had been licked.  And I thought it all happened just a few years before I was born."

In April 1935, Harold Latham from Macmillan Publishing Company, arrived in Atlanta on a tour of the South looking for new authors.  When he learned of Margaret's manuscript, he asked to see it, a request she twice denied, but eventually she gave him the more than 80 folders that held her story.  After reading a portion of the book while en route to New Orleans, Latham straightaway sent the manuscript to New York.

By July, Macmillan gave Margaret a contract for the book with a $500 advance and ten percent of the book's royalties.  By the end of 1936, over one million copies of the book were sold around the world.  One year later, Mitchell was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.  

A deeply private person, Mitchell refused to be interviewed and shunned the limelight.  With the proceeds from her book and the release of the motion picture, Mitchell quietly gave money to many philanthropic causes.  Perhaps personal regret regarding her portrayal of Mammy and other African Americans in her novel led her to give significant financial support to traditionally black Morehouse College.  

The Dutch translation of Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind's main character Scarlett is a larger than life figure.  Her determination to conquer all odds, despite the lost cause of the Confederacy, has always impressed me.  She was a survivor, able to come through catastrophe when everyone around her fell apart.  As a youth, that was a quality I, too, wanted to adopt, and while I haven't faced very many catastrophes, I have, like all of us, survived setbacks.  Yet, because Jesus Christ, the Lord of lost causes like me, promises forgiveness and an eternal relationship with Him, I trust that my life will not be--as the Confederacy was--gone with the wind.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Stone Mountain Park

Stone Mountain rises out of the woods east of Atlanta like the sun appearing above the horizon.  Its quartz dome is the centerpiece of Stone Mountain Park where Tim and I were parked last weekend.

The park not only offers the campground but also encompasses a golf course, an amusement park, a short train track and more than 15 miles of hiking trails.

Indeed, this campground has made our Favorite Campgrounds of 2017 list.  Either we are doing a better job of researching places to camp or we've had the luck of the Irish.  Regardless, it's going to be difficult to pick Number One next December when we post our year in review.

A full-size locomotive from the 1940s pulls open-air cars on a five-mile excursion around the mountain.  Though we were tempted to climb aboard, we virtuously decided to save our money and get our exercise instead.

So we stepped across the tracks to search for the trailhead to the Cherokee Trail.  

Like the locomotive, Cherokee Trail also circles the mountain, but because it winds through the woods and along the lake, we saw few other hikers.  

But what we did see was a gristmill,

with its waterwheel and 

its trough, 

And the Confederate Memorial Carving that portrays President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.  Gutzon Broglum, the same man who later conceived Mount Rushmore, was commissioned to create this carving.  Now, Tim and I can say we've seen both of his monumental works.

Oh, and did I forget?  There were trees--lots and lots of skeletal trees pared down to their stark winter beauty!

Later when we returned to the RV situated at the edge of Stone Mountain Lake, I searched Google for a poem that spoke of winter trees.   

I found two that I liked.  One was this poem, Bare Tree, by a favorite author, Anne Morrow Lindberg.

Already I have shed the leaves of youth,
stripped by the wind of time down to the truth
of winter branches.  Linear and alone
I stand, a lens for lives beyond my own,
a frame through which another's fire may glow,
a harp on which another's passion, blow. 
The pattern of my boughs, an open chart
spread on the sky, to others may impart
its leafless mysteries that I once prized,
before bare roots and branches equalized,
tendrils that tap the rain or twigs the sun
are all the same, shadow and substance one.
Now that my vulnerable leaves are cast aside,
there's nothing left to shield, nothing to hide. 
Blow through me, Life, pared down at last to bone,
so fragile and so fearless have I grown!

The other was a children's poem that tickled my fancy.  I've typed its couplets separately below.

Winter Trees by Geoge Szirtes

Aren't you cold and won't you freeze,
with branches bare, you winter trees?

You've thrown away your summer shift,
Your autumn gold has come adrift.

Dearie me, you winter trees,
What strange behavior, if you please!

In summer you could wear much less,
But come the winter--you undress!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Most Infamous Prison of the Civil War

"Five hundred weary men moved along slowly through the double lines of guards.  Two massive wooden gates with heavy iron hinges and bolts, swung open as we stood there, and we passed through into the space beyond.  We were in Andersonville." - Pvt. John McElroy, 16th Illinois Cavalry

One week ago Tim and I were in Andersonville, too, for a personal look at the site of the most dreaded Confederate prison.  Many of the historical fiction books I've read about the Civil War mention this prison.  I wished to see it for myself.

What must the more than 45,000 Union soldiers imprisoned here have felt upon their arrival?  When those inner gates opened, they almost certainly thought they'd arrived in hell.  The noise, the stench, the crowd of emaciated men desperate for news must have been overwhelming.

Within days of the prison's completion, on February 27, 1864, Adam Swamer became the first prisoner to die at Andersonville, the first of thousands.  Within 14 months, 12,914 Union prisoners had perished here.  They were buried in unmarked graves.  

However, in the summer following the end of the war, a former prisoner Dorence Atwater and Clara Barton, accompanied by an expedition of laborers and former soldiers, undertook the daunting task of identifying and marking the graves.  Only 460 bodies were marked with the epitaph "Unknown Soldier."  Now a national cemetery, Andersonville remains open and active for the interment of an eligible veteran or dependent.

Initially, the fifteen foot high stockade walls enclosed 16.5 acres, but in June 1864 an additional 10 acres was added.  

Still, at its most crowded and with no shelter from the elements, Andersonville held over 33,000 prisoners, three times more than planned.  Prisoners scarcely had an arm's length of space between them.

Sentry boxes called "pigeon roosts" built roughly 30 yards apart, were manned towards the end of the war by young boys and old men.  

Approximately 20 feet inside the stockade was the "deadline," which the prisoners were not allowed to cross.  Anyone who tread over that mark faced certain death.  

Indeed, it was at the trial of the prison's commander, Captain Henry Wirz, that the word deadline was first used.  Wirz was arrested, tried for murder and hanged on November 10, 1865.  He was the only one held accountable for the suffering the prisoners endured.

When Tim and I walked the perimeter of the site, it was hard to imagine the hopelessness of the men imprisoned here, their only water source the small trickle of runoff through a gully that bisects the site.

The wooden stockade is long gone, but the National Park Service has installed two portions of the fifteen foot high walls.

When we left through the South Gate markers, the powerful impact of this place remained with us.

Andersonville National Historic Site also includes the National Prisoner of War Museum, dedicated to the approximately 500,200 American soldiers who suffered captivity since the founding of our nation in 1776.  

"Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope." - Zechariah 9:12
That, too, was a moving experience.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Jimmy's Town

While we were visiting Habitat for Humanity's headquarters in Americus, Georgia, Tim and I drove ten miles west to Jimmy's town, otherwise known as Plains, Georgia.

Immediately after crossing the city limits of Plains, there's a National Park Service sign that says you are entering Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.  What?  Yes, the whole town of Plains is a national park honoring the 39th President of the United State, James Earl Carter, Jr., affectionately known as Jimmy.

Tim and I began our tour at the town's former high school, now the Welcome Center of the park.  Folding down a wooden seat in the school auditorium, we settled in to watch a video about the former president, the hometown hero whose name is splashed all around town, from the banner over the General Store to the paint job of the town's one police car.

And to think that if his wife Rosalynn had had her way, her husband Jimmy, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, would have stayed in the Navy where he drew a decent salary with opportunities for both of them to travel the world.

Instead, a phone call informing them that his father, James Earl Carter, Sr., was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer summoned them home.

Plains Peanut & Grain was formerly owned by the Carters.

Initially, they moved into project housing on the north end of town then rented a series of rental homes until their peanut warehouse began to show a profit. 

Rosalynn became a charter member of the Plains Garden Club while Jimmy joined numerous civic organizations and served on the town's school board.  He voted to consolidate schools in 1961 even when that meant the integration of black and white students.  The referendum was defeated, but served as the catalyst to Carter's political career. 

That's Tim sitting in the replica of President Carter's Oval Office.

In 1962, he ran for state senate and was defeated, but blatant election fraud by his opponent overturned the voting results, allowing him to take office.  Four years later he tried to become Georgia's governor, but lost only to try again in 1970 and win.  Carter reorganized state government, championed civil rights and waged war on crime and corruption, thus setting the stage for his national presidential campaign.  

Jimmy's Boyhood Home

Pretty heady stuff for a boy who grew up in a farmhouse without plumbing or electricity and who worked the fields alongside African American day laborers.

Jimmy's father imparted his love of tennis to his son during games played on the farm's tennis court.

"Mopping" cotton was a job Carter hated, but it had to be done to rid the fields of bool weevils.  Young boys like Carter mixed arsenic with molasses and water, then walked the rows with buckets and a rag mop, daubing sticky poison onto the cotton buds.  "It was a job for boys and not men, and we despised this task.  After a few hours in the field our trousers, legs and bare feet would be saturated with the syrupy mess," wrote Carter in his 1975 autobiography, Why Not the Best.  (Hmm!  That reminded me of my childhood when I pulled rye from the wheat of our farm in Kansas, only that wasn't quite as messy, just an itchy, seemly never-ending task.)

Local townspeople ran Jimmy's presidential campaign from the former Plains train depot, chosen because it was empty and had a bathroom.  Ninety-eight Georgians nicknamed "The Peanut Bridgade" flew to New Hampshire in January 1976 to campaign door-to-door in below-zero temperatures.  Running as a populist, an outsider and a man of integrity, Carter defeated Gerald Ford in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

When his single term of office as President ended, Carter and his wife returned to their roots in Plains.  They became members of Maranatha Baptist Church located on the outskirts of town.  The church does not have a janitorial service; instead, members, including the Carters, take turns cleaning the church and mowing the lawn.  Former president Carter at age 93 still teaches a Sunday School class that attracts visitors from all over the country.

Can you catch a glimpse of the Carters' home?

A Secret Service gatehouse bars the entrance to the street where the Carters even now live in the home they built in the mid-1960s.  None of the townspeople we met considered that extraordinary.  After all, this is Jimmy's town.