The exception was Gettysburg. The monolith that rose before us seemed as out of place as those discovered by early man in 2002: A Space Odyssey and had nearly the same effect on our mood. The sign declaring a ban on backpacks was situated like a Wal-mart greeter at the start of the concrete path from the parking lot to the Cracker Barrel building perched at the end of a slight rise. So while I took our belongings to the car Colette and Evan went on in.
"I really wish I had a white slat-seat rocking chair instead of this concrete bench"
Colette confronted me when I walked in after placing our bags in the car and tells me to deal with the tickets. It is then that I realize that the massive room is dominated by a ticket counter protected by a labyrinth of retractable nylon straps extending so far from the cashiers that I was sure that my 20/20 vision had failed me.
You should know that Colette and I often play the "Craigslist Game" in which she flashes a picture of some piece-of-crap Spanish influenced sofa or an onyx figurine and I have to guess the price. I know she wouldn't show it to me unless the price was extravagant, but I invariably guess over a hundred dollars below the asking price. From the tone of her voice I could tell that I was going to lose the game again. When I saw the prices for the museum, movie, bus tour and something called a Cyclorama, I just assumed I saw it wrong, but no, in order to enjoy any one of the activities offered I would have to pitchfork over $100.00.
"House payment, early 90's entertainment center, hmm I just don't know."
The only thing comparable is the ride to the top of the Arch, which our family has never done. The NPS often partners with other agencies. In the case of the ride in the Arch it is Metro, the public transportation system in St. Louis. And in the case of Gettysburg it is the Gettysburg Foundation whose objective it is:
- To preserve, honor and protect the natural and cultural resources associated with the Gettysburg National Military Park, the Gettysburg Campaign, and the Eisenhower National Historic Site.
- To excite visitors about the past, inspire them to want to learn more about the events that have shaped America and prepare them to become better citizens.
- To make sure that lower middle class families can't learn anything. (This last one is kind of implied.)
- To provide the world with a Cyclorama (Big Picture - Wikipedia) of Pickett's Charge.
We did manage to finally find the park rangers tucked away in the corner. We signed Evan up to be enlisted in the UNION army primarily because it was a requirement for the junior ranger badge.
This is not the first time Evan has enlisted in the UNION army. He marched and drilled at Whitehaven for Junior Ranger Day, came under fire at a Civil War reenactment in Mississippi, and shot a musket at the Battle of Booneville. He has visited battlefields at Shiloh, Vicksburg, Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge, Antietam, Manassas, and Monocacy. If it wasn't for his tendency to confuse The Clone Wars with The Civil War, I would say he was, for an eight-year-old, and expert. (General Grant's brilliant victory at Geonosis is legendary.)
At least we had found the rangers, a respite from the tour-bus friendly commercial cavalcade of cyclorama. At every other battlefield or national park there has always been a free film or a fiber optic map detailing troop movements. Now all we had was a ranger program and the $30.00 driving tour CDROM we purchased at the gift store. Before I go on I should mention that if you ever encounter the TravelBrains CDROMs at any of our national battlefields, you should buy it.
So the enlistment starts with the basic physical requirements. If there is a Civil War school, then there must be an entire class devoted to the delivery of the two-teeth joke. Basically the only requirement for a Civil War soldier is that they have two teeth, one top and one bottom. Though it is never mentioned, these two also need to be within close proximity. Without this rather mundane physical attribute soldiers would not be able to tear open the paper cartridge and load their muskets.
Next came a question and answer session. Evan excitedly announces his favorite fact about bayonets, that they are frequently planted in the ground and used as candle holders. The topic soon turned to food. Since Colette and I are both teachers it was intuitively obvious that the ranger was trying to steer the musket volley of responses so that she could talk about hard tack. (Apparently it is hard.)
Unfortunately, before she could order a cease fire, Evan said, "Goober peas!"
The ranger looked confused, stunned, and to be honest a little shell-shocked.
The pause in the presentation was long than Sarah Palin trying to answer a policy question. I wasn't sure what was going on. Burl Ives had consistently informed us that the Georgia Militia enjoyed, "peas, peas, peas, peas, eating goober peas."
Along with "The Battle of New Orleans," "Goober Peas" is Evan's favorite song on our ipod. I doubt, however, that the ranger had the same play list so she asked Evan to repeat his answer. Still stunned, she then said, "no," and rephrased the question.
"Did the soldiers eat pizza and nachos and stuff?"
It is at this point that Colette and I diverge in our analysis of the situation. Colette insists that the young lady mistakenly thought that Evan had said pizza.
I had a hard time ascribing that level of ignorance to a human being and assumed that the near homophones of "peas" and "pizza" were a coincidence. However, as of this writing I am beginning to doubt myself.
The presentation continued running the new recruits through drills until a cry of charge. Quite to the ranger's surprise, many of the soldiers, including Evan, charged into the head high weeds. Upon returning to the ranks, Evan followed the ranger around assisting that the weeds would have been good cover.
"Come on boys I smell a double pepperoni."
Colette and i had quietly decided that we would talk to the ranger to let her know about goober peas. Historical accuracy is extremely important in our family. I was still making excuses for her. Maybe since we enlisted in the Union (our army of choice) and boiled peanuts were more a staple of the rebels, she was trying to be hyper-accurate as well. Unfortunately, this was not the case. We explained it to her as Evan sang the tune in the background.
She responded nicely enough, "I'm always glad to learn something new."
Colette has since decided that she will only listen to over-weight, gray-bearded guys when it comes to the Civil War. I understand because these are the same guys I look for in the hardware store. Rangers and hardware-store-guys should be teaching me something new and not the other way around.
At least we had the well-reviewed TravelBrains CD. It did an excellent job of creating the action, a cyclorama if you will, at the various locations along the driving tour. Though I should mention that they gave General Grant a fictitious middle name to go with the "S". This phantom initial came about because of a clerical error and stuck with Grant standing for everything from Uncle Sam to Unconditional Surrender.
In another dubious comment Abner Doubleday is referred to as the "legendary creator of baseball." The may or may not be yet another error. It depends on the conotation of legendary. If by legendary the narrator means a fictitious story unsubstantiated by historical data, then he was correct. If, however, legendary means famous, then this would be another error. I'm always willing to give them the benfit of the doubt.