Our plans for the last day of our journey were pretty straightforward: visit Shiloh National Battlefield Park, then meander our way Southeast, so that Amanda could say she had set foot in every state of the Confederacy (explanation: she had lived in NC & FL; visited SC, VA & LA; KY was a border state and never officially seceded). After a brief stop for breakfast at Chick-Fil-A and Starbucks, we set out in the rain for Shiloh, which was about an hour away.
We took a state highway through Northwest Mississippi, which we found surprisingly hilly, covered with dogwoods and, most surprising of all, countless houses with white columns. There were the inevitable looked-like-plantation homes, with four columns. There were ranch-style homes, with three columns. There were even
mobile manufactured homes with columns. We were both hollering out "look at that one and this one", occasionally interrupted with a "who lives there, the Pope?"
A left turn at Corinth took us up the road traveled 151 years ago by Albert Sidney Johnston and his rebels, when they surprised US Grant and his army at Pittsburg Landing. We found our way to the visitor's center in a drenching rain. The ranger who greeted us mentioned that they had a new video which was about to start. When I added how suitable it was that we were visiting in the rain, I don't think he picked up on it right away (Johnston's advance was delayed by rain; the reinforcement of Union troops after the first day of battle was hidden from the Rebels by another downpour). Then, I got a knowing smile, as if to say, okay, Civil War geek, I get it.
The new video was excellent. It gave a detailed picture of the battle and the major players (pun unintentional) within it. Afterwards, we grabbed our guidebook and set out to view the battlefield. Miraculously, it had stopped raining. There were about 20 stops on the tour, each marking something of significance that had taken place on that spot during the two-day battle. Amanda expertly navigated through each. Among the more moving spots was early in the tour: a monument to those who fought - and died - with the Indiana militia.
|"Fame holds them dear, and with immortal pen / Inscribes their names on the enduring rock."|
Throughout it all, we felt this quiet, as if to mark the place that witnessed so many thousands of casualties. Oddly enough, the name "Shiloh" means peace. From April 1862 on, it has marked one of the bloodiest days in our history. For those who lived through the era, it shifted public opinion to an understanding that this war to right ancient wrongs would be long and costly. Just as we got back in the car after that last stop, it started to rain again. Our time was up, so we headed on.
We knew we would eventually hit an Interstate in Northern Alabama. In the interim, we followed a highway that roughly paralleled the Tennessee River, which remained beautiful each time we crossed it. Crossing back into Mississippi (we looked at that one and at this one), we found more columns. In the hamlet of Iuka, we stumbled upon a Sonic. Since this was yet another restaurant that Amanda cannot find in New York City (dining capital of the world, indeed!), we stopped. Most lasting impression: the bathroom had a sweep log on the back of the door that did not have an entry past February 13 (it was March 18); I am confident that no broom or mop (neither dust nor johnny) had touched its space since that time. I later learned, after consulting my copies of the Shelby Foote bible of the Civil War, that Iuka was the site of an engagement some time after Shiloh. We remain convinced this skirmish took place on the precise spot that Sonic now occupies.
Soon, we were in Alabama. I had told Amanda prior to the trip that we should not sport Gator regalia, as we were traversing rival SEC territory. I also said she should not mention that she is Jewish or lived in New York, as I had visions of an old episode of Andy Griffith, in which he jails the city slicker portrayed by Danny Thomas. Sorry, more insignificant knowledge there.
Again, we drove through beautiful, mountainous terrain, still mostly following the path of that big ass river. Noteworthy: we passed near Muscle Shoals, where the Allman Brothers Band started a frenzy of Southern rock and roll in the early 70's. We were also near the Shoals Golf Club, the northernmost end of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, something I need to experience at another time. I'm certain that course - among others - will break my heart.
Finally, Birmingham and civilization, I think. I missed the winding country highways and breathtaking vistas we had experienced all day. We did see probably the ugliest shantytown I have ever witnessed outside of a third world country. While the rain had splashed us intermittently since leaving Shiloh, we were smacked with it northeast of Birmingham. There was thunder, lightning, heavy winds and all sorts of stuff flying through the air, including boxes, cans, bottles, bags and a pair of trousers. Yes, we did wonder what happened to the rest of him. I've driven through a fair number of storms, mostly in our Florida days, but this one capped them all.
We were relieved to slosh our way into Georgia, finally arriving at my home, where we were met by daughter Julia and her husband Dave, who got to unload the car. Afterwards, we all went out for barbecue, which seemed fitting enough.
In retrospect, it was a wonderful trip, comprising over 2000 miles of driving. We saw all sorts of funny things, such as the Stairs Store in Texas, or the business in Arkansas that advertised "Country Store, Fried Chicken, Showers". (I'm puzzled, as I cannot make the link between the three). We saw the very worst of American Civilization at Graceland and the very best the South has to offer at the Clinton Library (I have rarely met a person more perfectly suited for her position than the greeter there; she made every single person feel welcome.). There was scenery of mind-numbing boredom (I-20 in Louisiana), spots of great historical significance (Vicksburg and Shiloh, to name two), roads of incomparable grandeur (US 72 in MS and AL) and another spot that will hopefully become a footnote to history (that strip of big box retail hell near the DFW airport). We crossed a great river (Mississippi), a disappointment (Red), along with a pair that we crossed several times (Arkansas and Tennessee). We were surprised by the landscape in South Central Oklahoma, hidden from it in Arkansas and dazzled by the road we drove on our final morning. We had burritos, sweet tea, fried chicken and burgers, none of which surpassed the pure culinary delights at the home of our hosts in Tulsa.
Best of all was the treat to spend this time with Amanda. She's nearly 25; I know it is unlikely I will have another opportunity to spend three solid days with this person whom I have always found fascinating. From the playlists, to navigating, to sharing my interests and introducing me to more of hers, I had a marvelous traveling companion. She never complained about any of my obscure historical references, bad jokes or middling-age grumblings. I'm not sure she will agree; after all, she is my daughter.