We had breakfast on the go— muffins and such from the grocery store— and left Gettysburg. We drove south to Maryland because less than half an hour away is the shrine of a favorite saint, St Elizabeth Ann Seton, who was the first US-born canonized saint. I’ve read a couple books by her and was determined not to be so close and not to see the place where she lived and worked and died and was buried. There is a lovely museum with a short film and quite a collection of artifacts and a nice presentation. The church itself is lovely and we prayed at her tomb. We bought some card and a book at the gift shop and had a picnic lunch in the car and then decided not to tour the grounds because another rain storm had come up and also because it was beastly hot.
But when we got back to Gettysburg we decided to drive around a see a few more things we’d missed. First, we went to the Soldier’s National cemetery where Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address and where all the Union dead are buried. We looked at the markers and marveled at the numbers of unknown soldiers. The rain started again when we reached the monument that marks the place President Lincoln stood. We took refuge under a nearby tree and I read the address for the benefit of the non-readers who couldn’t read the monument. I was much more moved to read those words, there, than I expected to be. The night before as I was unable to sleep I’d turned those words over and over in my head. I memorized them when I was in sixth or seventh grade. I dropped a few phrases, but mostly I remember it. And it is profoundly moving.
Also, the shrine museum had an exhibit on the role the sisters played nursing the wounded at field hospitals after the battle at Gettysburg and among the many stories it recounted was one about the wounded at the parish church of St Francis Xavier in Gettysburg. We hadn’t realized the church was as old as all that and had been around at the time of the war but in fact it, too, had been used as a field hospital and had held a couple hundred wounded men. So we decided to at least drive past and look at it. But when we got there it was obviously open so we decided to go inside.
The church had been renovated at some point (in the 20s? 30s? I forget) and new windows added in the 50s. The windows were especially lovely. Sophie noted an icon of St John Neumann at the back of the church and commented on it since we’d recently read a book about him. Looking at some plaques in the vestibule we learned that St John Neumann had himself had blessed the cornerstone and then consecrated this church which was built when he was bishop of Philadelphia. So that was rather special as well.
The temperature was climbing hotter and hotter at this end of the week and it was purely miserable. We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to cool off by the creek and gave up on cooking dinner (the meat bought for Tuesday’s dinner having long since been sadly tossed as being unsafe to risk.)
We made it through one last night of camping, but looking at the forecast for Friday and seeing it was only getting hotter and that Friday night wasn’t supposed to get below 80 degrees, we decided to cut our visit short a day and drive right home on Friday.
Which is what we did.
We were all cranky and tired and really glad to be going home. Thank God for audiobooks. We continued listening to Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome, and that kept everyone from killing each other on the long drive home. Amazing how a good book really does eat up the miles. I do find that I have to do something with my hands while listening or I fall asleep. I play games on the iPad, which allows my mind to be just engaged enough that I can pay attention to the book and not drift off. Looking out the window just makes me sleepy. Sadly, I miss more of the countryside that way, but I hear more of the story. It’s a trade-off.
Now that we are home I’m hoping to capitalize on our experience by reading more about the Civil War with the kids. Evidently Bella has already begun. I was talking to Dom about how well the park is interpreted with canons marking where the various artillery batteries were and markers showing the locations of each company. Bella exclaimed: that’s all because of this man! And showed me a book about maps and mapmaking that had a section about the guy who interviewed the soldiers and was responsible for the monument emplacement. (He was sued by a group of veterans who claimed he misplaced a marker showing their regiment. The vets won the law suit.)
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