Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Autotape Tours

When I was a kid and my siblings were in the thick of learning safe driving skills, one of them rolled the van. The van with the automatic transmission and the windows. Our only vehicle. We all payed for that error in the form of the replacement vehicle. A navy blue stick-shift cargo van that had windows only in the places where it is customary for a cargo van to have windows. My dad had it customized; he added in a few rows of seats in the cargo space and pronounced it fit for our annual family vacation. The eleven of us loaded up and headed to Gettysburg. Mom and Dad enjoyed the view; the little ones wrestled in the middle seats and we teenagers in the back griped for a good share of the trip. The griping appropriately reached its climax on the Gettysburg Battlefield. Mom and Dad, long on enthusiasm for history and short on wisdom for vacationing with a carload of teenagers took us...in our nearly windowless van...on an autotape tour of the battlefield. With time (twenty years), that tour has become a favorite family joke.

My kids have been sick for weeks and I joined in about six days back. The coughing and exhaustion are clinging to this family like barnacles. Today, I got sick of the sight of us and decided we could be wretched in the car just as easily. We headed to Gettysburg in Racinante, our fully windowed Suburban. ( She is doing her best to live up to her name. The driver's side door handle broke off in my hand from the inside on the outgoing trip and now the children have to let me out. )

I popped into the battlefield giftshop, picked up the autotape tour cds and we were off. The kids got out at various monuments because they couldn't help themselves. Monuments beckon exploration. Towers and rocks need to be climbed. They coughed when they got out of the car and stopped when they got back in. Luckily it was a light tourist day and I kept the "cacoughany" away from the other visitors. We made it through about ten stops on the tour and ended with Little Round Top. I would have stopped earlier because I was starting to get lightheaded but Charlie had been asking to climb Little Round Top since we got there. And he packed a jackknife so he could whittle up a handy weapon when he got there. (The knife never left his pocket.) We accidentally drove by the monument for the 14th Maine but it was one way and I was in no shape to go around again. Next time.

There were ten stops to go on the autotape CD and these we listened to on the way home. The kids got a chuckle out of the incongruent landmarks which made the return trip bearable. I wonder if in twenty years they'll look back on this day and say, "Remember when we were miserably sick and Mom made us go on the autotape tour of Gettysburg." Guess the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.

The observation deck on Oak Ridge.

Our dog, Henrie, pays her respects to Sallie, the 11th Pennsylvania mascot who died in battle just three months before the war ended.

Charlie on the long awaited Little Round Top. Gouveneur Warren is in the background.

The view from Little Round Top. I've been to Gettysburg a few times since the "Cargo Van Incident" and I am always struck by the panoramic views of the battlefield. The lay of the land is dramatic...almost stagelike. It does indeed feel as though it is hallowed ground.

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