Okay, I was lost. Hopelessly lost. And the whole notion of being lost in this rinky-dinky town was absolutely ludicrous – to me, anyway.
I mean, how is it possible to get yourself lost in a place like Gettysburg? And I should know better than to get lost in a place the size and symmetry of Gettysburg. After all, I'm a good old boy who could navigate any road in any part of my hometown of Pittsburgh.
I sincerely wished at that point that I hadn't come along this stupid history trip! And I sincerely wished that my having decided to come hadn't been based on the understanding that if I didn't, I wouldn't pass U.S. History! Why couldn't we had at least gone to a really cool place like D.C., where you don't see apple trees and rolling hills every time you turn around?
I hate the country! I'm sorry, but I'm a city boy through and through. I longed to go to somewhere a lot more interesting than some tiny little city that was nothing more than a pimple on a map's face, and the only reason it happened to be famous was becomes some stupid battle happened there over a hundred years ago. Who cares what happened a hundred years ago?
But I digress – I was getting hot, bored and irritated. I hated history, I hated the country, I hated quaint little towns – in a word, I hated Gettysburg, and I had only been within the town limits for less than an hour.
Suddenly, someone touched me on the shoulder and scared me to death!
"Aaaaiii!" I yelped and whirled a around only to be confronted by the wrinkled face of some old guy.
Great, I thought. Just what I need to make my day better. Some lecture by some old geezer trying to be helpful when I don't want his help!
Sure enough, the first words out the man's mouth were, "Can I help you?"
"Um…yes?" I asked, more than said.
What I really wanted to say to his kind old face was, "I'm sure you could help me but the question is, 'do I really want your help'?" But of course, I didn't say that – my parents had taught me well.
"Just follow me," the man chuckled and put his arm on my elbow, maneuvering me skillfully through the crowed streets.
"I suppose you want to know my name," he continued before I could blurt out that I really didn't care what his name was. "Just call me Bobby."
"Oh…okay," I shrugged.
Then, because I figured it was the best way to get him off my back was forcing myself to be as polite as possible, I added, "I'm Jack."
I deeply wished he would take his hand from my elbow – he was embarrassing me.
"So, what brings you here to the little hamlet of Gettysburg?"
Little hamlet is right! I thought, but out loud I said –
"Oh, I'm on a school trip – for history class, you know. I was with my group, when I stopped to look at something in a store window and they just disappeared! So now I'm trying to find them and I've probably missed half of the tour by now."
Not that I cared if I missed any of the tour lecture, but I didn't really want to be left behind in this madding dump of a town!
"Mind if I give you a tour of my own while we try to find your group? I'm sure they won't leave without you," Bobby chuckled. "And a tour of things along the way would make the time go more quickly and smoothly."
My Pavlovian instincts kicked and I decided that since I really didn't want to be rude, I would try to humor the old guy. So, like the loser that I am, I agreed to let him take me tramping through the streets, trotting along at his side like a faithful dog.
I've never met another person like him! He was really something else – he seemed to know Gettysburg intimately! He rambled on and on about the battle and pointed out different places of interest – but to my surprise I began to be utterly fascinated by the stories he had to tell. I felt drawn to him, and to the many tales of Gettysburg that, by some strange coincidence, hadn't worked their way into my history book's sedate fifteen paged Civil War chapter!
As I walked by his side, enthralled by his captivating lecture, a nagging little feeling began to prey on the back of my mind. I examined Bobby's face – he seemed familiar somehow. I felt that I had seen his face – his picture, perhaps – somewhere, but I couldn't place where exactly that had been.
As I turned this over in my head, we slowly traveled away from the buildings. We were now surrounded on both sides by picket fences, little groves of trees and rolling fields littered with monuments, cannons and statues of long dead generals. Bobby seemed to get a deep sense of pleasure in pointing to each of these statues and telling me about the men they portrayed. He talked about them in a such conversational way, as if he had once known them all personally.
I was absolutely fascinated by it all and felt moved upon to comment on that. "You seem to know the history of Gettysburg and the place itself really well. Do you live here?"
"Oh, no," Bobby laughed. "I'm from Virginia. Can't you tell by the drawl?" he winked at me. "But I like to come up here on occasion and think."
"Think about what?" I cocked my head to one side.
"About the battle, mostly," Bobby replied after a short pause. "About the mistakes both sides made which prolonged the war. About what could have been done so differently. About all the men that could have been spared on this and other horrible battlefields."
A strange, pained look came into his eyes – an almost haunted look.
"Um…do you ever resent the fact that the South didn't win this battle? I don't claim to know much about the Civil War, but I know that if Lee had won this battle, he would have won the war almost for certain," I asked, watching his wise, creased face.
"You know, Jack, I did indeed resent that very thing a long time ago," Bobby sighed. "In fact, for the longest time, I used to think that Lee was the biggest moron to ever don a military uniform.
"But as time went on, I thought more about this particular battle and about the outcome of the war. I began realize that it had all worked out for the best. While it's true that I'm a very loyal Southerner and I stand by the cause that my state once fought for, I'm glad that the Union won. I'm glad because Lincoln was right – 'united we stand and divided we fall'. If the South had won, there's no way America would the great and mighty nation that she now is. She wouldn't be the shining symbol of freedom and democracy for the whole world to imitate and envy. I'm glad history played itself out the way it did. I wouldn't want it any other way."
I was about to comment on this profound little speech and add my own thoughts to it, when I saw my group up ahead.
"Oh! There's my class!" I turned to him and smiled.
I looked over my shoulder at one of my friends who had just spotted me, and waved.
"Hey, Bobby, thanks so much for the tour – I learned a lot. I'm beginning to think that history may be a lot cooler than Mr. Backman and my history book make it out to be."
I turned around to face my companion of the last half hour and shook his hand.
"It was great meeting you, Jack," Bobby smiled gently. "I'm glad I was able to make this experience a little more enjoyable for you and to give you some things to think about."
"That you did," I would have gone on chatting like that if I hadn't seen my friend, Chris, motioning to me frantically to rejoin the group before our history teacher realized that I had been missing from the group.
"Well, I've got to go," I shrugged and turned apologetically to Bobby.
"That's okay, young man," Bobby laughed. "I'll be going my own way now, I suppose. I think I'll go visit the National Cemetery at the other side of town – it's a favorite haunt of mine. I like to just sit there amid the gravestones and reflect. Enjoy yourself, Jack, and…enjoy your life."
Bobby smiled wisely, clapped a hand to my shoulder before turning away and slowly making his way down the road toward the direction that we had come from. I hurried over to my group, thankful that Mr. Backman hadn't noticed my absence. He was going on and on about the peach orchard on the other side of one the seemingly endless miles of picket fence and about the important cavalry skirmish that had occurred there. But now, I was actually interested in what he had to say…thanks of course, to Bobby.
I looked over my shoulder back down the road, but Bobby was nowhere to be seen. He had apparently reached the nearby incline in the road and was lost to my sight on the other side.
"Pssst, Jack," Chris nudged me in the ribs and I turned to him.
"Huh?" I asked absentmindedly. For once I really wanted to listen to Mr. Backman and not him.
"Look at what I got back in town," he reached into the paper bag he was carrying. Out of natural curiosity, I glanced over at the folded white blob he had pulled out. Chris shook out the shirt and proudly held it up by the sleeves for me to see.
There, on the middle of the shirt, a black and white portrait of Bobby's face stared back at me. The caption underneath read "Robert E. Lee".