Monday, July 29, 2013

Brotherly love

Back in April, my youngest brother, Scott, who lives in Iowa and whom I haven't seen in more than 11 years, sent me an email saying that he would be in Gettysburg for a week on a family camping vacation in late July. Would I mind making the "short hop" up from North Carolina to meet him and his family on the battlefield?

My brother Scott (right) and I meet at Lee's Chapel in Lexington, Va.
I guess "short hop" here is a relative term. After all, he was coming from Des Moines, which is just a left turn from the far side of the universe. All I had to do was drive 400 miles. Easy.

"What, is he crazy? Kim, look at this. He's nuts," was my immediate response. Aside from the "short hop" comment  — which I think was offered facetiously — I would be in Gettysburg three weeks earlier for my annual pilgrimage to the Civil War Institute. There was no way on God's Green Earth that I was going back to Gettysburg three weeks after I'd already been there, even if I hadn't seen my brother in 100 years. I was not going to turn this into a commute.

I stewed. I steamed. I epitheted.

Then a light bulb clicked on. "You know," I said to Kim. "We could meet halfway. I wonder if he'll come to Lexington, VA? That's almost halfway for both of us. I could do that. Plus, there's Civil War stuff there, too, like Lee's and Stonewall Jackson's burial sites, VMI, Washington & Lee University. It's perfect."

So I called Scott. He said he'd think about it and let me know.

Scott and his companion, Shelly, with Kim and myself at Jackson's grave side.
About a week ago, he said OK. The plan was on. Kim and I made reser-vations at a bed and breakfast, The Abigail Inn (see here), which once served as a frat house for W&L. (The fraternity, we were told, lost its charter decades ago when frat brothers apparently stole a train. Honest. You can't make that stuff up.)

Anyway, Saturday arrived under a steady drizzle. Kim and I got to Lexington first and we killed some time walking around town and scouting out restaurants before checking in at the Abigail.

Then it was time to meet. I had suggested Lee's Chapel as the rendezvous point, because it was centrally located and easy to get to. Plus, it's where Lee is buried, as well as his horse, Traveller.

Finally, as we waited at the top of a hill, Scott and his family arrived. When he approached, we shook hands, then embraced. Scott is 10 years younger than I am, and growing up, I was his babysitter. I was basically a different generation than his, so even as brothers, I don't think we were particularly close. That's not a commentary, it's just how it was. We actually seem closer now that we're further apart. Go figure.

But time and blood mingled well in Lexington, and it is about time. I'm 62 years old. Our "middle" brother, David, who lives in Alaska, is 59. Scott is 52. Time is fleeting and the distances are great. My brothers (aside from my wife) are all the family I have left. I don't mean for these reunions to be so few and far between, but they just are. I haven't seen David in more than 12 years.

We spent about four hours together, reminiscing while we ate lunch and relaxed. Then it was time for Scott and his crew to get back to Gettysburg.

Kim and I are thinking about a full family reunion. Iowa is the logical central gathering spot for the three Wehrle boys, although I have major reservations about meeting in a cornfield (I know, I know, that's a stereotypical view of Iowa — but it's all that I have).

Then Kim suggested that we meet at the Grand Canyon. Hmm. Makes sense. A vast chasm in the middle of nowhere. And yet, something beautiful beyond description...

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