I’ve had a lot of fishing poles over the years but there is one that has proven itself over the test of time. It’s got a couple of eyes on it that have been repaired with the old dental floss/nail polish trick. The handle padding is worn down to the nub. And there are more stretch marks on its core than… never mind, I won’t finish that sentence.
(Warning: This post may tick some of you off but it might also set you free.)
We are living through a very tense time in our nation and I think it is imperative that we speak with moral clarity and candid truth.
NC has been thrust into the national spotlight again, on the issue of race, due to the toppling of the Confederate Monument on UNC referred to as “Silent Sam”.
Many who are angered over its desecration yell “it’s history, not hate” or “its about states rights, not racism”… The question we should be asking is not whether it should go back up or not but why was it put up in the first place and when?
Rather than argue for days on end, lets not guess but instead go to the source… The statue was put up in the Summer of 1913, during the Jim Crow era.
Here’s what UNC trustee and Confederate Veteran Julian Carr, the keynote speaker at Silent Sam’s unveiling ceremony said… (Taken directly from the transcript stored in the UNC Library achives.)
“The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo-Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war, when the facts are that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo-Saxon race in the South. When ‘the bottom rail was on top’ all over the Southern states, and today, as a consequence, the purest strain of the Anglo-Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States — Praise God.
I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand [on Franklin Street], less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted an maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterward slept with a double-barrel shotgun under my head.”
Those are the words spoken right there at the statue, the day of its unveiling, by a trustee on UNC who was the invited keynote.
Here’s how I see it… We are at a crossroads of accountability in our country’s evolution. Are we going to rise above the darker truths of our history by owning the harshness of true evils that occurred, and become the shining light we propagate that we want to be, or will we continue to deny the ugly truths that – by our refusal to acknowledge – continue to chip away at the soul of our nation?
No… You didn’t own the slaves youselves… But your denail of the actual history and the plainly articulated sentiments behind so many of these ‘monuments’ is yours to own.
When you have been shown the truth but still subscribe to a false narative then it keeps wounds open, it breeds resentment and it marginalizes fellow citizens from discovering the common goals and shared values that exist between us, within our communities.
It’s been over 150 years since the Civil War ended. But it’s been less than an hour since I’ve seen people try to justify, defend or excuse the hate that lingers in its wake.
Every once in a while I think back to when I would spend summers at my grandparents Maine home. It was a beautiful old house with a big red barn and vast field in the back, extending into the distance. The hard blue of Frenchman’s Bay peeked in through the tall pines that lined the shore. Over to the right, across the bay, were the mammoth mountains of Mr Desert Island. Her wind swept rocky crests stood tall above the cold waters of the North Atlantic, with lush New England forests serving as the back drop of her rugged shoreline. I go back to that place often in my mind, whenever I need an escape, a safe place that offers me peace and tranquility.
Many ‘firsts’ took place there. My first solo adventure, absent of parental supervision and protection. My first genuine responsibilities, that required physical effort. My first time sailing. My first memory of being taught real discipline. My first love. And my first broken heart. I also first started to grasp the bigger picture of family and devotion, sacrifice and loyalty, compassion and firmness, compromise and taking a stand.
These lessons and life experiences obviously developed and occurred in many places and circumstances other than at the home in Maine. There was just something magic about being there. I absorbed and truly understood things more clearly after spending time there. Even at an early age, I can remember sitting alone atop a rock cliff shore, just down the hill from my grandparents house, and having significant epiphanies. I remember gazing out upon the mountainous shoreline, seeing a couple of porpoise swim by, breaking the surface in unison, or a lonely harbor seal poke his head up, with his thick whiskers and large dark eyes surveying what I was doing. The cool salty breeze tickling the pours of my skin, the sound of waves crashing onto the crushed sea shell shore. The fresh smell of old pines, mixed with the tidal wash. The early morning calm, where the ancient bay resembled a sturdy sheet of glass stretching into the horizon. A wall of fog rolling in from the sea so dense and white that you thought it might have solid mass behind it’s edge. These moments were not rare, they were the norm. Comprehension and discernment of life events came easily to me in these settings.
The countless hours our family spent picking wild blueberries, so that Nannie could cook up her famous muffins, pancakes and jam. The late night games of cribbage, UNO and Monopoly around the dining room table with my cousins, aunts and uncles. (We didn’t have TV or Radio readily available there.) The feast or famine joy of Mackerel fishing off the pier. Skipping flat, sea worn stones out at Bennett’s Point. The old duck pond, with it’s miniature duck church. Digging through the mud flats, uncovered by the outgoing tide. The pure shock, disgust and awe I felt the first time I saw my Grandfather shuck and swallow a raw clam. The collective family effort to maintain the large old house and barn, garden and landscaping. Collecting baskets full of chestnuts at the end of each season to sell to the craft folks in town. Sneaking into my Aunt Dottie’s unbelievable Raspberry patch that sat under the ever watchful glance of Cadillac Mountain. The old ghost stories about Capt. Winterbothem, the seaman who built the home in 1860, and whose penciled messages still adorn the interior walls of the old barn, along with each subsequent generations family autographs since – including my own as a child. All these singular events and routines, combined in the whole, helped shape who I am, how I look at life and how I relate with others.
I will soon make the trip northward, bringing with me my six year old son. I’ve played a thousand scenarios over in my head of what I want him to see, where I want to take him, the stories I want him to hear. Will he be interested? Will he grow bored with his old man’s reflections?
There’s a sense of urgency on my part to introduce him to the splendors of the place that served up so much joy to me through the years. The settings and the spirit of the area and the people seem to be fading. The bonds of family seem to be thinning. The sense of neighborly bonding seems to be burdensome to newcomers. I worry that each year’s opportunity may be the last. My son is also growing fast. That is the weight I have troubled myself with. Whether I’m being frivolous or my fears are just, only time will tell. But my heart tells me that it is time to have one last dance with this pristine area, capture its image on my son’s mind and then say goodbye.
A feeling persists that the unity that helped to build and sustain this precious home through the last century may not survive the passing of the torch through the next generation. That would be unfortunate. As a grandchild, now grown, I have little more I can do than to quietly reflect and appreciate the heavenly nature of the place and to offer up thanks that I had the opportunity to enjoy it’s blessings. I hope to pass that warmth along to my son so that he may gain a respect for such natural treasures and so that he can feel the pride of being a part of something much bigger, and lasting, than what he sees at home each day.
I first journeyed there as an infant. I was held on the laps of many family members long since gone. My great-Grandmother, of whom I still have sweet memories of, was born in the late 1800’s. She shared countless stories, hugs and kisses with us at this place and about this place. My own mother, who spent her youth traveling to this northern home, now returns as a grandmother of three. My turn has come to make the trip with my own son, the sixth generation in my nearly 30 year lifetime to sleep within the homes’ hallowed walls.
I pray that we might enjoy, together, watching the sun set on this, my heart’s home, before it is gone. With a little bit of effort and some old fashioned caring, the magical tales of splendor that this home has witnesses and authored will not be surrendered to what Lincoln called ‘the silent artillery of time’, as so many other family treasures have before now.
Each family has memories, traditions and tales that they abandon for a thousand separate reasons. Which of those do you have that you don’t want to die with you? Pass them along to your children and grandchildren. Dig deep for your vaguest recollections and start there. The kids you tell today will remember and appreciate the stories later in life. It means more than just the simple telling of the story itself. It’s family. It offers a personal history. It’s the very foundation that a hearts’ home is built upon.
(Originally published on July 21, 2000, when I made the first trip back as a father. Since the writing of this piece, both my Grandparents have passed away, as well as my father. My first born son serves in the Army and has left home and I have another son, who as of this note, is seven years old. Both my sons have a passionate and eternal love for the home and have a constant gravitational desire to return. The story continues…)
Story and photo(s) by Matt Mittan, Copyright 2013 Posted Up: 7/28/2013 ~ DEDICATED TO FRANK MITTAN
I have wings that have sprung free. Come fly with me.