Reposting this one in light of the recent Charlottesville tragedy. The book offers some insight into why that particular war is not yet over. Why the fascination with and glorification of the losers of two wars–Nazis and the Confederacy?
By Tony Horwitz
Think you understand the Civil War? Think you understand its causes and the influence it still holds on America? This book may cause you to think again, especially about why some folks can’t let it go, 150 years later.
As a boy, the prize-winning war correspondent Tony Horwitzwas fascinated by the Civil War, particularly the books of old photos he studied with his Jewish immigrant grandfather. That passion is rekindled when, after returning from assignments in Bosnia and the Middle East, he is awakened one morning by the musket fire of Civil War re-enactors just outside his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those shots signaled the beginning of a quest.
Throughout his travels, Horwitz demonstrates his curiosity and courage, his sense of humor and of history as he introduces readers to a host of characters…
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The book begins quietly with Swedish immigrant, Lordor Nordstrom advertising for a bride to join him on his dairy farm in Missouri. Katrina Olson, recently arrived from Sweden herself, reads the ad in Chicago and comes for a visit. Lordor is smitten, but wisely awaits the verdict of the women of the community.
“It was a look in her eye that certain immigrants recognized in one another. A look of hope and determination, almost as it she was gazing past him, far into the future.”
Lordor and Katrina marry and build a community that eventually becomes the town of Elmwood Springs. Their story reminded me of my own Swedish and German immigrant ancestors who settled in Minnesota, Ohio, and Missouri. They relied on one another and their neighbors when they first arrived here.
“You depended on them for your very survival. It didn’t matter if you liked some more than others. They were your neighbors.”
And the neighbors do talk. And talk. We soon discover that the conversations go on beyond death, as we listen in on residents of Still Meadows Cemetery reconnecting and chatting amongst themselves. They enjoy visits from loved ones they left behind and they remark on some hard-won life lessons.
“I think most people are confused about life, because it’s not just one thing going on… It’s many things going on at the same time. Life is both sad and happy, simple and complex, all at the same time.”
But every once in a while, one of the voices at Still Meadows goes silent and is never heard again. Where do they go? It’s a mystery.
The book also tracks the growth and eventual demise of small-town America, from 1889 through 2020 with references to wars, music, technology, and the arrival of Wal-Mart. The changing times have some residents of Elmwood Springs worried.
“Macky was glad he and Norma had grown up when they had. They had come of age in such an innocent time, when people wanted to work and better themselves… Each generation had become a weaker version of the last, until we were fast becoming a nation of whiners and people looking for a free ride—even expecting it.”
Of course, the young people feel differently.
“… people are so much more tolerant and accepting of everything now: different races, different religions, different lifestyles… Life is so much easier that when you were growing up, and women are just doing everything, and now with the Internet, well…the whole world has changed. Honestly, I have to say I grew up in the very best time possible.”
I was also charmed when Flagg mentioned Elmwood Spring’s connection the WASPS, the fine female pilots she wrote about in The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion.
The takeaway lesson here is “It takes time and lot of suffering, but sometimes, when you least expect it, life has a strange way of working out.” Readers can count on Flagg for a happy ending, even when it happens in the most unlikely of ways. You just never know…
“It may take a while, but everybody gets what they deserve, eventually.”