Blue Grass, Blue Ridge, Blue Wave
I have had worse weeks. I’ve definitely had better. For various reasons. So today I donated to Amy McGrath, candidate for Congress in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District. McGrath is a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel, Naval Academy graduate, and veteran combat pilot. She is considered a bit of long shot to take the seat from the Republican incumbent, but Kentucky owes the rest of the country a serious f/king debt for Mitch McConnell.
It was our country’s birthday this week. NPR tweeted the Declaration of Independence for (at least) the second year in a row, and for the second year in a row MAGAtwitter lost its tiny mind because they thought the references to tyranny and what not were an unsporting and unpatriotic sling at our head of state. Because the most ardent, not to say rabid, patriots in the game don’t recognize the Declaration that gave them something about which to be patriotic.
So I’ll donate in honor of my Virginia ancestors, in the next state over from the Blue Grass State, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, one of whom actually fought against the United States.
When I was small my Granny told me a story. It went something like this, “when my granddaddy came home from fighting in the Civil War, he was sick. He had been in a Union prison camp and was so sick and weak, he couldn’t make it up the hill. He had to crawl on his hands and knees”
As a kid I pictured a giant sled hill and an old man at the bottom. When I was older and figured out which house it was, I realized that it was just around a gentle curve from the road. And Joel Shank was a young man in his twenties, struggling to make it home to his wife Nettie, and their little children.
Joel lived. He and Nettie had more children, twelve in all. The youngest was my great grandfather Richard.
Joel Shank was a Confederate. He was also a poor Appalachian farmer, who owned no slaves and may even have been a Union sympathizer. Many in that part of the Blue Ridge Mountains were. I don’t know his views on secession. I don’t know if, like other poor men, he was conscripted and hauled off in chains, or if he volunteered. All I know is that he was one of many men who left their wives, mothers, and sisters behind to keep the farms running, and the babies from starving, while Joel and the other men fought a rich man’s war.
Men in every generation of that branch of my family have served our country. Joel’s son Richard served in the Philippines in the Spanish American war. Richard’s own son served in WWII. My uncle was in the Navy during the Vietnam War. My cousin was with the Marines in Somalia.
I’m grateful for the men in my family who risked their lives. I’m grateful they came home. I’m grateful for my generations of grandmothers who raised their babies, and watched their own sons go to war.
I have lived a fortunate life, in part because Joel made it home and back up that hill, and because my own father survived other wars, on the other side of the world.
It’s hard these days, in the face of so much public dishonor in our country, to keep focused on what it means to truly love ones country and to take the chance to make it a better place. I’ve tended Joel’s grave, but never flown the flag of the Confederacy, nor will I ever. The sacrifices ordinary men and women make in war defy imagination. No banner, or anthem, statue, or parade will ever be enough. The best I can do is try to live an honorable life, and raise my children to do the same. My living, breathing (parti-colored) children are Joel and Nettie, living forever. It may not be enough, but it is my privilege to try, in memory of those who went before.