My older brother Don loved history. Still does. And thankfully he did what all older brothers are supposed to do; he instilled his love of history into me. Sure some of our history at the time was delivered by television on such shows as Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, or a series like The Americans (a Civil War drama that predictably followed the lives of two brothers who fought for different sides in that conflict – I have tried to find episodes of it everywhere and up to now have failed). Then there was Combat following a squad of GIs through World War II in Europe, or The Rat Patrol – same war but the Northern Africa campaign. Not to mention the scores of westerns there were on television at the time. It was a big time for westerns: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Death Valley Days, The Rifleman, Branded, …the list goes on and on, some more historically accurate than some others. But they were stepping off points, introductions into a world of fascinating facts that once the real history was known, was far more interesting than the fictional versions. But those shows did their job. To this day I read books about our country’s past far more than any other genre. And when I do stray, it is to read about some other country’s history (can you get more interesting than Tudor England?).
I remember one Christmas when under the tree in the morning Don opened a nicely wrapped box to find a large box full of plastic Civil War soldiers in all positions, all ranks. Mind blowing. I still have a few today. When I first saw an episode of something I remember as being about a drummer boy at the first battle of Bull Run on Disney’s show, I knew I was hooked. I distinctly remember a scene where the Union Army waited on a rise, and as smoke obscured the horizon, all they could see was the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy, and one little boy in the lead, drumming his way into history. Wow. That took. Too this day (besides a visit to London, ripe with history itself) my favorite vacation involves tramping around Civil War battlefields, loaded down with maps and books, trying to relive the action. I went to my first one, Gettysburg in 1968 and haven’t stopped going back since every chance I get. I was lucky enough to share a trip there once with my brother and that was extra special. He listened to me drone on and on about troop movements, strategies and generalship and though he knows it pretty well himself, he just let me go on and on.
Because that is what big brothers do.
And though at times I am sure he wished I would just shut up and take him to a good bar for a cold beer, I am glad he let me give back a little; thank him for the world he had opened up for me.
It is in my blood, an addiction I want no cure for.
I live near Valley Forge now, and travel into Philadelphia often, and besides the wonderful beer scene that exists there I like to also play tourist and walk the streets that the signers of the Declaration did. Every once in a while, even in a crowded city like it is, I find myself amongst ghosts of the past and I couldn’t be happier. There are still some places I haven’t gotten to, and God Willing, I will travel to them before I check out; places like the Little Big Horn, the Alamo, Deadwood, and Dallas. Just a couple of years ago thanks for some generous in-laws I made it to the OK Corral in Tombstone. It was a dream come true.
I have concluded I am a nineteenth century man at heart, with a different sensibility than most. I am sure by now there are lots of people pitying my wife, but she has been a good and willing companion on my frequent trips to the past, though I am sure she would rather be on a beach somewhere. And that would be ok.
I would still go alone, because truth be told I am never alone when I am there; I am just visiting with some old comrades.
It is who I am.
And I owe it all to my brother Don, who did what big brothers are supposed to do.