Back on my front porch, my thoughts return to the question of what to do about lunch. I bring my lesson plans inside, grab my keys and head out. I do not take my usual route, toward the chain restaurants. I take a new way, even though there appears to be nothing but a liquor store, a cheap motel and a whole lot of nothing. I feel like exploring.
I see it at the exact moment I am passing it, and I almost can’t believe it. An old, stone archway bearing the words Confederate Cemetery, set back a little way from the road. I turn around in the liquor store parking lot and return to the spot. Now I am certain I’m not in Illinois. In awe, I turn onto a narrow driveway, barely wide enough for one car. A placard explains that 150-some unidentified soldiers, retrieved from local hospitals, are buried on these grounds. I feel like I’ve discovered a sacred treasure. I find well-maintained acres of green grass with old trees and stone benches. No headstones.
I park my car and I stand at the gate, mesmerized. A sign welcomes respectful guests, but I hesitate. I think of Julian, dead at 21 and buried hundreds of miles to the north. What if he and I had been born in a different time, a different place? I know these men fought for the Confederacy, but all I can see in my mind are mothers, sisters and wives. Did their fathers wail at the news of their sons’ deaths? Did their mothers quickly apply masks of strength, lest they fall apart when their families needed them? Were they even certain that their boys had died, or had they spent years wondering, searching for their faces in crowds? Did their sweethearts go insane?
The day is sunny and there is a slight breeze. Birds sing overhead. I move my hand toward the latch and then I freeze, watching a bumblebee fly through the gate. Interloper, I whisper. I linger at the gate, looking in.
Lisa Ploch Swope loves her new home of Chattanooga, relocating here from Kansas City last year. She and her husband enjoy hiking and discovering the area’s natural beauty.