Gettysburg July 2011

A long, long time ago, in the AOL world, a bunch of Baby Boomers found each other in a chat room on Aol called, surprisingly enough, the Aol Bay Boomer Chat Room.  That is where Tink and Blomba met each other, along with several other couples who are now married, including Anne and David. Many years later, Donna and Barry are getting married at long last! They have asked a dozen or so boomers to walk down the aisle with them, so Anne and Dave have to get to Pennsylvania in July. Since we are going to be in the area, what else is local that would rationalize and occupy a longer stay? Hershey chocolate factory? Nah, we have one here. Gettysburg? Really?? (I failed US geography in elementary school but I can tell you exactly where Transylvania is.) Our short five day ’week’ is complete.

I can’t believe I am actually agreeing to get on an airplane again. Tiny International Fresno at Thursday morning at 4 am for a puddle jumper to Las Vegas, then a 737 to Newark and back to tiny Harrisburg. David watched cooking shows so we drooled the entire trip not having eaten anything besides a few Cheezits. In Newark (New Jersey, I assumed, but the size made you wonder) we saw signs that led us to believe this might be New York after all. The sea of humanity we saw as we got off the plane was amazing.  Starving, I approached a cop (I learned later he was Port Authority) to ask where he would eat. With the best classic New York accent I had ever heard, he happily directed us to the Garden State Diner, and even hailed a motorized cart to take us.  That last leg was postponed a few times, then we sat on the tarmac waiting our turn, 17th in line, for almost an hour, but that is by far the worst delay we have experienced so we consider ourselves lucky, or blessed. Waiting for our luggage took fourty five minutes, but we were finally at the car rental, thankfully before they closed.

Situated in a Jeep Liberty, we head off to the Sheraton. Who is in front of the hotel having a smoke? None other than Callme and Showie, and of all people, Stormy. David laughs and parks the car while I hop out to get hugs. I have not seen these gals since the Gatlinburg reunion fourteen long years ago.

I had been coaching poor David on who is who on the flight. Witt is Marsha, the axe murderer. Her husband is Doggy aka Steve, Donna is Tink, the bride, marrying Barry Blomba. Add JJ, Buck, Suze, Frogie, Wino, Water, Luvs, Navy, Buffy, Biker, Ruberlegs, Theo, what a gang!! David joins us in the lobby and asks short little Italian Donna who she was after she gave him a resounding hug. Funny!!  Thursday night was spent recovering, partially in the bar, partially in the room. Bless the server, Jeff’s, heart.

Friday day, and it is time for Donna’s surprise shower. More squealing and hugs and other boomers arrive, a grand time had by all! Next, we went shopping in 105 plus heat with 92% humidity to the Christmas Tree Store, which I had never seen. I did pick up a gorgeous, huge umbrella just in case it rained like the weather predicted. David said we did not need that, besides, it’s too big to ship home. I asked Marsha what colour she liked, because it would be hers after we left. (She picked blue bless her little heart.) We don’t really want to head back to the hotel so soon, so Marsha, Connie and I direct poor Steve to go that-a-way and this-a-way, while David sits back silent but grinning. Garage sale! We girls all saw it and yelled it out at the same time. It was a useless garage sale (who sells used teething rings, really?) then finally headed back. A stop at the pool until we realized it was truly insane to be outside, besides, it’s time to get ready for the wedding rehearsal at five.

More boomers appear, more surprises, squealing and hugs. Kleenex was passed around rapidly as we heard their ceremony for the first time. It would prove to be far worse (in tears per square eye) than the actual ceremony. Friday night in the pub, Navy shows up, bless his little heart. I think I fell into bed.

Saturday is a blur, but we end up at the wedding with David in a blue jacket, instead of the black one still at home. Ooops. The preacher, Paul, stated that in umpteen years, he has had only one wedding start on time. Someone who knows Donna well piped up, “This one will, trust me!” It did start, however, two minutes past the hour. 

The wedding was nothing short of superb, from start to finish. We have been to a large variety of weddings, but never one so fun, or so beautifully done. Everything was done with style and class, bar none. I snuck a picture of Barry during the ceremony because I wanted Donna to see the look WE saw, from OUR perspective. Pure love pouring out of that man’s eyes. After the ceremony, we all danced back down the aisle to “celebrate” and it was simply grand. I have a video of everyone dancing to YMCA, and it is a joy to watch. Two hundred people, eighty Aol Baby Boomers, flaming dessert, disco ball, green screen fun, how could you go wrong?  I I even danced, first time in, uh, several years.

Sunday morning was tough. I am not good at good byes; why I always left the boomer room quickly and quietly. When my kids are returning to Germany, Georgia or Norfolk, I just hug em, kiss them, turn and walk away. I cry later out their range. It was so hard to say goodbye to boomers who have had a tremendous influence on your life, people you have known for years, people you have shared your life with online, those you will miss horribly after the party is over.

Off the Gettysburg. Oh boy. Eastern rolling hills, green and lush. York Springs was a very uncomfortable area for me as we drove through it. Finally, we are in Gettysburg, we park at the center roundabout and walk about to get a feel of the extreme touristy downtown area. Then the local Rite Aid for a cane as my foot was acting up, where we were actually greeted at the door by a very pleasant clerk who walked us to the canes!  Off to Maryland!

Pennsylvania is dry on Sunday, and I was looking forward to an evening sit on the porch with a Drambuie. One major road was closed for repair, back we go all the way to the wheat fields, and south again on another road. Just past the state line is this huge liquor store, of course! I have never seen so many bottles, so many varieties in one spot. David picks up a small bottle of Drambuie, we even find a wine close to his California Fre. The clerk asks if we want a large bottle of my Buie, wow.  It is rare to find Drambuie at home, let alone a choice of sizes!!

Next, we try to find Sachs Bridge, reportedly one of the most haunted spots in all of Gettysburg, supposedly due to a hanging or two. I should think a spot where thousands died in one day would be worse? Anyway, the bridge is not on Sachs Road. Even asking directions at the fruit stand that advertises eggs from happy chickens did not help.

Check in at the Dobbin House Lincoln Suite, what a delight. Only the pictures can give you a true feel for the era of the house, held firm with the décor and the house details. The original living room has been turned into the bedroom with its bay window, wood and tile fireplace, and a four poster bed with a rope platform, requiring a stool to get into. I never did decide if I felt more like Queen Anne or the Princess and the Pea. A dining room turned parlour, an updated kitchen with some lovely original cupboards and a small but modern bathroom. Standing on the porch, you can see the exact spot where Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address, and probably would have been able to hear him. It must have been an exciting, and hopeful time!

We headed over to the Spring Tavern situated below the large Dobbin House built in 1776, named for the spring that supplied the Dobbins with water for generations. The shop next door provides lovely decorative silver hearts and gifts for friends back home. The tavern has stone walls and a timber roof, it is dark and a cool sixty degrees, a welcome respite for the 105 degree weather of late. A truly great menu, our late lunch was crab cakes and a New York steak. Outside the tavern is a small wren looking for tidbits, so I brought her my left over biscuit. She would gather them up as I stood there, fly up to a knot hole on the shop awning wall, hold on to the wood and feed the tiny bird mouth that approached the opening. So sweet!

We drive through the battlefields where some of the areas are quite disturbing. Denise warned me it would knock me to my knees, and it did. I specifically did not want to know any details about the battlefield ahead of time so I can qualify what I get is accurate. Every battle area tore my heart out. It takes a bit to get used to the roads that wind around the individually named battle sites, and we did go around a few times, but it was always extremely scenic. After seeing so many monuments, so many tributes and statues, you start to really comprehend the sheer volume of lives that were lost where you stand. You stop taking pictures and can’t help but become shocked and numb.

Getting out of the car at Little Round Top, David was able to shake off the strange, extreme fatigue that he was suddenly experiencing. There, we met three re-enactment and history buffs, Mary, Craig and Hope. Craig was able to tell us about the entire three days in 1863 so simply and with such clarity. An hour later, we headed back down the hill to Devil’s Den, equally heavy and disturbing. Right in front of me was the stretch of tree line that is said to reveal the ghostly figures of soldiers just beyond the first trees. We saw a path that was as intriguing as it was eerie, and our experiences there will go down in the orbseekers diaries. A quick tour past Spangler’s Spring, the visitor’s center was closed, and we headed back to our cozy little home away from home.

Crab dip and crackers, pecan and apple pie slices ordered from the tavern made a perfect late evening snack on the comfy porch chairs as we watched the town of Gettysburg slowly quiet down for a hot summer’s sleep.

Monday started with heavenly showers with the most lush towels I have ever had the pleasure of drying myself with. The only complaint in any way about our stay would be the lack of bathroom counter space. All ready to go, and suddenly there is a loud crack of thunder. An eastern storm is a beauty to behold, unless the low cloud cover prevents it. Rats. Then the sky opens and drops four inches of water in an hour, almost more rain than we see all winter at home. The Doppler told us it wasn't over yet, so we venture out with Marsha’s umbrella to the tavern, cheese platter and onion soup and a sandwich, delicious! We spoke to the waitress, Tammy, about the hauntings in the tavern. Tammy lives in the park and has never experienced anything while her son and husband have. She mentioned the little girl last week who would not go back up the stairs where the little boy with no legs sat. A few days later, a customer left a note on a napkin, explaining who the boy was. Very odd. (I think it was wonderful!!)

I toured the entire Dobbin House, silently waiting to be filled up with the evening’s guests (click, click, click), and Mama bird was hard at work despite the rain. Back in our cozy home, we were looking through pics we had taken in the kitchen when we both heard the front door open. Marsha and Steve were on their way, so we assumed it must be them. At the same time, we both realized they could not have gotten inside without a key, looked at each with wide eyes, stood up simultaneously, walked to the front of the house only to find the inner door wide open. It got worse from there. The EMF went insane, someone brushed up against me and I left the house for some grounding by feeding Mama bird. David looked for me a few minutes later, and some tourist on the bench near the house pointed and told him, “She went that way.” LOL!!

Marsha and Steve show up, then Mary, Craig and Hope, who had been lunching in the tavern. We all sit around the kitchen for a bit trying to rationalize what had just happened, then head out to our separate quests.

At the Visitor’s Center, Steve and Marsha introduced us to the cyclorama – absolutely stunning. Morgan Freeman (love that man) narrates a short but highly emotional documentary, then you move along to the round room where you observe Paul Philppoteaux’s 22 foot high, 379 foot long 1883 restored painting that hangs around you in a 360° painted panorama of Pickett’s Charge. Sunrise and sunset lighting, along with cannon blasts add to the heady sensations. An famous uncle was pointed out to me by a tour guide, leading a charge as he held his stomach together. Guide: "And that is Alonzo Cushing." Me: "Who???? Wait, wait, who????" The subsequent museum tour was equally interesting yet disturbing with it’s details of such a hideous war, and the wall of faces; both Union and Confederate portraits with names. You realize you will never be able to wrap your mind around the real toll of the war.

The bookstore provided us with a variety of fun stuff, including a new hat. Might be in trouble there. A side story about ‘the hat’: Donna wanted us all in black for the wedding, and there in the store was this fabulous black woven floppy hat. $9.99. Add a large cream multi petaled flower and ice green leaves and it was perfect. Shipping it ahead of time proved to be a true challenge. It required a hand made twenty inch hat box, and the price to ship it at nearly the last minute would be $182. We coughed a few times and took my hat on the plane. It became the perfect prop for many a boomer photo.

Dinner was in the Dobbin House, above the noisy dark tavern, equally delightful and fun with Steve and Marsha.  Veal, scallops, chicken and crab avocado. We gather equipment, cameras, head out to where Steve & Marsha were staying, the Doubleday Hotel, a lovely, lovely place on the battlefields of July 1. 

Passing McPhearson’s barn, it was disappointing to see it is now out in a field and unobtainable. Returning to Devil’s Den, this time we walked up and around the rocks. Heavenly place for children to play if they are not aware of the layer upon layer of death that once filled the spaces between the automobile sized boulders. A slight pathway lay deep between the rocks, as if someone had magically shifted one entire rock row to form that painfully narrow, secret passageway. Young soldiers could scamper back and forth to help the snipers as all they fought for their lives.

One of my photos has a vivid green light, one of Marsha’s has what I can only call a blue fog. Perhaps it is the water. We need to return. Very odd.

Back to Sachs Bridge, where one fellow, Michael, was taking photos. Conversation with him confirmed he was the same weird guy Mary, Craig and Hope had met here last night. He was polite, but his stories were, well, strange. We focused on our photos. At dark dusk, the fireflies appeared. I had not seen these delightful creatures since I was in Mississippi in 1982, and again, became completely enchanted with them. We filled our cameras, Marsha borrowed my hat (no wonder I bought it) when the bats appeared, and we headed back to the tavern, in hopes of being their last customers. Even if the barmaids say people take pictures all the time, with a flash, I should hate to disturb the other patrons in such a manner. We had one drink at the bar, observed many other customers camped in for a while, and called it a night.

Dropping Steve and Marsha off was tough, quick good byes and hugs, trying not to cry. We promised not to let fourteen years lapse again, then David and I drove through the battlefields one last time, listening for the whispers of those who have gone before us.

Tuesday morning, it is hard to think about leaving, we have fallen in love with Gettysburg. Why didn’t we book the full seven days after all? We packed up, and ate breakfast at a place called The Avenue, relieved to feel a noticeable reduction in the humidity. We had not managed to find time for a stroll past the main street shops, what better time than now to look for a tee shirt for Landon and what other appropriate souvenirs? At a dress shop, Abraham’s Lady, there on a sale table on the sidewalk was the multiple, wall sized mug rack I have been seeking for so long!! Unbelievable! The clerk was so nice, the owner agreed to ship it to us without hesitation.  There is no such thing as coincidence.

Off to Harrisburg, we turn in the Jeep, board a prop for Cleveland with the most cheerful stewardess I have ever heard, and realize I have a full bottle of water in my purse that went through security.  The flight to Los Angeles was odd, the plane kept going higher and higher as thunderstorms and possible turbulence was announced a few times.  Yes, I would like another scotch and water, please. The clouds shots for DL were great, the view of Los Angeles as we were circling to land was staggering. We were ‘towed’ in, not knowing what that meant. Walking to our next terminal, we notice a fire truck, red lights rotating, but no one about, behind the plane we think we just got off of. Oh boy. We felt good, and possibly lucky.

A snack at the airport where the server insisted on seeing my ID before he would serve me my drink (I am grey haired and darn near sixty, and a bit insulted), we meet to young girls just returning from France, and we are on the last leg home. By midnight, the dogs are greeting us in our own home sweet home.

Oh, and, over the years, we have sadly lost many a Boomer, so the number of orbs that would appear in the wedding pictures was not really a surprise, but a gentle confirmation we have not been forgotten.


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