Memento Mori Revisited

On this Memorial Day weekend, I decided to look back at some of the things I’ve written in the past. This brings me to a favored veteran of mine: Captain Henry Metcalf. When looking up the post I wrote about him, I came upon something that caught me completely off guard. Something, in fact, I never thought I would see: Henry’s face.

I’ve known about Capt. Metcalf for many years now, but the only image I’ve had of him is one I’ve made up in my mind’s eye and that of his head stone. Today however, I found this…

It’s great to see you at last, Henry. Very, very good indeed.

And now… Here’s the post from May, 2008 where I introduced him to the rest of you. I hope you’ll help me remember him on this Memorial Day weekend.

Nothing fun or or humorous today, I’m afraid. Just a post about a day and a man, very important to me.

Memorial day, in my mind is second only to Armistice day. What ever your feeling are on the topic of war and regardless of what ever war you are thinking about, this is a day to remember those who, as Mr. Lincoln put it, “Gave the last full measure of devotion.”

What ever your thoughts are about the conflicts this nation has seen, this is the time to remember them and their passing.

And so, I will tell you the briefest story of a man whom I never met and know only a little about.

His name is Henry Metcalf and he was born in Keene, New Hampshire, in 1833. At the out break of the Civil War, he signed up with a volunteer outfit that was assembled in Cheshire County and left his trade as a printer to fight for the North. He rose to the rank of Captain and was one of the thousands who found him self on the fateful battle field at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On the second day of the battle, he was ordered down into the Peach Orchard with his men, far from the union lines. It was a foolish order from a glory grabbing general that got them there. It was an exposed position with little cover, but those were the orders and so that’s where he was.

As Captain Metcalf and his men came under heavy fire from the Confederates, the battle line became disjointed and broken. A lower ranking General than the one who sent them down there, ordered Captain Metcalf to straighten up his line. Henry moved along and through his men and repositioned them to better hold their ground. Once the men were where he wanted them, he turned to his commander and spoke these words: “How’s that, General?”

It was the last thing he said. A moment later, a bullet struck him in the head, killing him instantly. Soon after, the Peach Orchard position was abandoned as unholdable and the remaining men retreated back to the Union lines.

Captain Metcalf’s body was returned to Keene and he was buried in the Washington Street Cemetery. His resting place is marked with a stone made of white marble. If you go there looking for it, you could easily miss it. Time and acid rain has scrubbed at his name and most markings on its surface. Many are blurred into total obscurity. Some are still just legible.

I know what it says though. When I was younger, it was easily readable and my father and I found it one day. My Dad spent a lot of time researching Henry, and found out everything I just told you. Later, we went to the Peach Orchard in Gettysburg and stood near the spot where he spoke his last words.

He was a soldier, doing his duty. He never came home to live a happy life. His work went on with out him, as did his family. He wasn’t anyone of real historic note. Just a man doing what he felt was his duty.

I feel that it’s my duty to remember him. So today, I’ll talk about you, Henry. I never knew you. You are not kin to me, but you are not forgotten. I’ll visit your resting place and make sure that you have a flag on your marker this Monday. We owe you that much.

Everyone, Hail to the Pumpkin King!

It’s coming

The trees are starting to talk with their dried out and rustling leaves. The dry air is clear and crisp giving an unfettered view of the fat moon that hangs over my house, giving off enough light to cast shadows on the porch or even read by. I’m getting excited. My favorite day is coming and the anticipation alone makes me smile while I rub my hands together.

All Hallows Eve

Halloween is, in my humble opinion, the very, very, VERY best holiday that there is. It is perfection as far as yearly celebrations go. Think about it. It involves candy, scaring the hell out of kids, fiendish decorations and relatively few family entanglements. It is easily the most egocentric holiday out there and you are allowed, nay, REQUIRED to eat an indecent quantity of mini 3 Musketeers bars.

I grew up in a house that sat on the corner of a dead end street. This little road jutted like a finger into the woodlands behind my house. If you had walked down the street and then, once it ended, had continued on, eventually you’d hit Vermont, It was a long way and deep, uninhabited woodland. In short, it was heaven for all the kids who grew up there. We lived in those woods and new much of them by heart.

Halloween was always a big deal and the woods often became a major player in the antics of the evening. At the time of my youth, the dead end street was packed with young families and we all pretty much knew each other. Inevitably, some kid or group of kids would decide that they would make a ghost tour in the woods and invite passing trick or treaters to try their luck and survivability by walking into the jaws of the set trap.

We went for it every time. How could we not!?

The path through the “haunted” woods was often marked with either ropes or old bed sheets hung from lines. There was a guide to make sure that you didn’t miss something that made you scream like a little girl and usually four or five others laying in wait for you as you stumbled over the exposed tree roots, groping in the darkness. Ripe for the spooky picking. It was always a blast and injuries were usually limited to ankles and egos.

The bottom line; it was SCARY!

It was the house down the end of the street that played the spooky music that made you pause and rethink how much you really wanted that Mars Bar. It was the guy who always dressed up as something vampireish or vaguely Frankinstiny and would whip open the door at a hundred miles an hour and scare the beejeebees out of you. It was the scarecrow in the chair next to the front door that you knew, you JUST KNEW, was actually a person but you managed to get up the nerve to and poke it with a stick only to have him jump up and send you screaming down the path and back to the road, clutching your loot bag to your chest. That is what Halloween is all about. Well, what it used to be about, anyway.

Now days, we have become obsessed with making our world as safe as possible and as laudable a goal as that is, we’ve siphoned a lot of the fun out of it in the process. Halloween has lost its punch.

Call me old fashioned, and I suppose that’s true, but I liked the old Halloween. It was dark and spooky and you felt like the whole world had become a haunted house. This brings us to our neighbors. Where we live is right next door to two of the best Halloween lovers I know. They are both commercial artist and having no kids of their own, make up for it by essentially being giant kids in their own right. Every year, a small team of friends descends on their modest house and transforms it into something… awesome.

The criterion for the theme is that it needs to be something that they feel is creepy or disturbing. That can be almost anything. The first year we saw their handiwork, they had turned their front porch into a monkey house, complete with tire swing, banana peals and four or five volunteers in monkey costumes. If you got too close, they would fling candy at you.

The next year it was the “Night Clinic”. No one likes going to the hospital, right? Theirs sported a creepy looking nurse at the check in counter, sounds of screaming from behind closed doors, bloody medical implements, a head in a jar and the “waiting room” on the front lawn, seeded with volunteers sporting interesting and unlikely maladies.

Following that was the year of the truly repulsive Good Humor Truck. They actually rented a real one for this and “redecorated” with lovely items like the “poop pop” the “Beefsicle” and the “Clam Cake”.

Next year was the Hillbilly town of “Weenholler” complete with seriously sketchy inhabitants, coached by a good friend who happens to be a native of the back hills of Tennessee.

Last year, it was the bad 1960’s Caveman movie genre with an odd night club setting, thrown in for good measure. That last one was more bizarre that scary, but the execution was amazing.

When compared to the little fake cemetery and spooky music that take over my front yard for the night, well… there just is no comparison. That’s not to say that we don’t get Trick or Treaters. Living just one house away from a draw like that insures that I’ll burn through at least thirty bucks worth of waxy American milk chocolate in about a half an hour. Once the candy is gone, we’ll turn off the porch light and the spooky music. We’ll bundle up the kids and wander over to the neighbor’s house and see what we can do to help. The party will still be rocking there and the screams won’t be silenced for at least an hour more. It’ll be great!

Short Stack is just old enough this year where he might get scared a bit but Lulu Belle will be blissfully ignorant. At least we don’t have to walk through a haunted wood to get there.

Darn it.

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