A visit to Gettysburg and too many Confederate flags

I do enjoy a Civil War re-enactment. I dragged the whole family to one at the Lake County History Center when we still lived in Ohio and I can still get at least some of them to go again, even though it seems always to be miserably hot. I am super interested in the clothes and uniforms, and also by the odd and all-consuming hobby re-enacting seems to be.

But, before we leave Martinsburg a few more pictures and one more story.

As I mentioned, Aunt Lillian is super independent, having lived as a single lady all these years, and has long prided herself on healthy living since way before it was cool.

She is kind of bent over now but that is because just a couple years ago she fell through her garage ceiling pictured above. It was horrible and shocking news at the time and I think we all assumed that it would be the sad end of Lil. Amazingly she not only survived — but still lives much as she always has, getting help as needed and using her penchant for nifty tools to create hacks (like the voice-responsive remote control for her kitchen TV).

Also, she told me that the feeling of free-fall between the ceiling and the floor was incredible and she now understood why people enjoy skydiving.

Then we went to Gettysburg!

I had no idea the battlefield is so huge that you have to drive around to see all the sights. First we had lunch and cooled off at the Visitor Center.


As the presentation began, we realized that we were there on July 3, the anniversary of the third and last day of battle and it was 1:00 pm, the exact time when Pickett’s Charge began. Wow!

So, we drove around for a while, admiring the town and the truly beautiful countryside.

By about the fourth stop though, we discovered a few Civil War re-enactors milling around, all of whom seemed deeply interested in the Confederate flag. I told Danny that if I were a person of color I wouldn’t even get out of my car. And at the next stop there were a bunch more and it creeped us out so much we just called it a day and split.

I get the fun of re-enacting for sure. But I wonder what type of person chooses to go all in on Confederate military history, along with many different iterations of their flag. Tensions were high in that part of the US anyway, the day before July 4th and the Military Parade and I’m sure there were lots of firearms around. It just didn’t feel safe — even for a nice white matron and her clean-cut (looking) son.

But! The good news is that the next stop was the eastern shore of Maryland and this mysterious lady.

This was Day 3.

I assure you that my stand-offish body language here as everything to do with the dreadful heat and humidity and my own grossness after a day in the sun.

Where to begin

Thanks to all who encouraged me to write about my long drive and stroll down memory lane! So many towns visited, stories told, and time spent — plus as a solo driver I had many hours spent thinking and daydreaming out the window.

July 1, 5:44 am

I left town at what I consider an ungodly hour and only about 30 minutes later than I had hoped.

A key component of this trip was “embracing chaos” and there was a fair amount of that along the way. The first real surprise was when I bothered to map the trip from Lombard to Aunt Lil’s place in Martinsburg WV and saw that it was 10 hours — and 11 hours if I wanted to avoid the drive to Cleveland, which I did (only because I do it SO MUCH). I was also interested in making frequent and regular stops to make the travel healthier and more sustainable (ideally). All in all I was looking at a really long day [and it turned out to be the longest one-day drive so in retrospect, excellent planning].

We avoided rush hour traffic and made our way east (my tall 14-year-old came along for the first leg of the trip and stretched out in the backseat).

This is what we call the “sleigh bed” and is my preferred mode of travel.

Having just seen a revival of The Music Man at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, I was feeling the musical love. Also, my late father, whose absence loomed large over much of the trip, was a fan of the old Broadway shows. And, I discovered, musicals are perfect for road trips because they are long, because they contain a narrative, and because you can sing along.

I dug up the original cast recording of The Most Happy Fella on Spotify and listened to it for hours. We were in the car for so long that Danny finally stopped looking at his phone and just stared out the window at the countryside and listened to the music. It’s a great musical if you like that sort of thing (I’m partial to the 1992 production which I saw in NYC for $10 and turned me from a musical-hater to convert).

I’m really glad he convinced me to try the massage chairs. They are super intense and cracked us up. And, I used one for medicinal purposes later in the trip!

We finally arrived in Martinsburg at around 7:00 or so I guess — we had to go back out again to get some toiletry for the young traveler and enjoyed a lovely drive in the Eastern Panhandle and watched the sunset. For anyone who hasn’t been, West Virginia truly is beautiful country.

Also, Danny told me that you can look up cities in Urban Dictionary so this is the story on Martinsburg, home to my dear Aunt Lillian whose criteria for a retirement city was that it had at least two NPR stations and was in a two-hour driving radius from DC. She said she told my dad that, and he got out a compass and drew a circle on the map and said, look there.

So, that was our first night. Aunt Lillian, who never married, is an excellent and seasoned host. She has a taste for nice fixtures and helpful gadgets. She is also old-fashioned and has little patience for bad table manners which I appreciate. I told my son that all of us Sablacks have to go through it and get the Aunt Lil treatment to civilize us.

Dan retired with his phone and I hung out with Aunt Lillian for a while. She told a funny story of how when she was young she once came to work so hung over that she fell asleep on the phone while a customer was yelling at her. This was back in the early 60s. She had escaped their little Ohio mill town (as did all of her many brothers and sisters) and moved to the big city of DC and worked and was broke and ran around and had fun. I really admire her lifelong dedication to the pursuit of good times!