Wednesday, January 05, 2011
When I was in the 5th grade I had a teacher named Mr. Z. He was a devout church goer and a strict disciplinarian who had a deep affection for American history. He was also a friend of my parents so I knew I was on a short leash. Honestly, I didn't particularly like Mr. Z. There was something about him that rubbed me the wrong way. I don't know if it was his attitude or the way he would look at you with his thick coke bottle glasses. Then again, my animosity towards him could have been the result of him smacking me on the back of my head in class one day because I was talking to another classmate. Regardless, I was always wary of him.
There was one thing required of each of Mr. Z's students...the memorization and reciting of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. He was animate about it. As well, each of his classes took a field trip to the Gettysburg Battlefield near the end of the school year.
A few weeks prior to the field trip, there would be intense study of the 3-day battle with all the particulars. This was fine with me because I knew much of the information already and Mr. Z was impressed with my prior knowledge...until the day before the field trip.
On that day, the discussion centered around the high number of deaths during the battle and how the wounded and dead were dealt with. I will remember his question to me like it was asked yesterday, "Lon, what was the result of the carnage at Gettysburg?" Hoping that I would answer 'the development of the Sanitary Commission'...instead I answered 'ghosts'. I'll never forget the look he gave me. Needless to say, the answer got me a conference with Mr. Z after class.
After everyone had left school Mr. Z instructed me to wait for him in the classroom. I had no idea what was in store for me. A few minutes later, Mr. Z and my mother walk into the classroom. Mr. Z explained to her what I had said and told her that he didn't appreciate 'my wise-ass remark'. I said nothing...other than to apologize and promise to never talk out of turn again. When I got home, my mother never said a thing about the incident...which was OK by me. I kind of think she had an idea of what I was going through, although we never discussed it until several years later.
The next day my classmates and I hopped on the bus and proceeded towards Gettysburg. When we arrived, a National Park Service tour guide boarded the bus. Actually, the whole affair was old hat for me but I remained quiet and enjoyed the day out of the classroom.
After an hour or so, we arrived at a very familiar and favorite location...what I called 'Death Valley'. This included the Wheatfield and the area leading up to Devil's Den. Soon after stopping at these locations and listening to the tour guide we made our way to the summit of Little Round Top. At this point, we were allowed to disembark and stretch our legs.
We walked to the rocky summit of Little Round Top and looked out onto the vast battlefield. I had always loved this location and had felt many fallen spirits here over the years. We next walked down the road a bit until we reached the pathway to the 20th Maine monument. We trekked the short distance until we reached the short stone wall where these brave soldiers had essentially saved the Union on July 2nd, 1863. It is truly a sobering place.
We stood and looked on for a few minutes when Mr. Z walked up to me and smirked "where are those ghosts?"...in front of my classmates. I was embarrassed by his comment as the other kids started to laugh and tease. Mr. Z just leisurely walked away with his hands in his pockets and a big smile on his face. He was standing by himself beside the 20th Maine monument when suddenly I heard him yell out. I turned and watched him tumble head first down the hillside. He rolled quite a distance, but eventually got back to his feet...struggling to climb back up to the pathway.
The tour guide asked if he was all right. The first thing out of Mr. Z's mouth was "someone pushed me." I couldn't help myself...I tried to hide the smile on my face. He had torn the inseam of his slacks and received a nasty bump on his forehead. After making an attempt to straighten himself out he shot a quick pissed-off glance my way. I was still smiling.
Mr. Z never said one word to me after that. In fact, I never saw him again after the last day of school. Anyway, Mr. Z was right about one thing....he was pushed but only I saw who did it. Lon
'Phantoms and Monsters'