Sunday, April 26, 2015

It's a girl!

Kim couldn't resist.

Although she felt it was a bit too soon to have another cat in the house — we lost 14-year-old Do-Little to lymphoma in February —Kim was curious about Lora Tesh's Web site. Lora breeds Ragdolls (Soulmate Ragdolls, see here), those immanently lovable, blue-eyed cats that go limp in your arms when you hold them, thus their breed name.

And there she was — a three-month old kitten, Brie-Anna, who virtually shouted "Take me, I'm yours!"

Kim emailed me the picture from work. I, too, was smitten by the kitten and couldn't resist.

How can you resist this face? Welcome, Halo.
We called Lora, who lives in Salisbury, and asked if we could come over to her house to take a look. It's exactly the same thing we did 14 years ago, when Lora presented us with Do-Little.

We went over there that evening. I rang the doorbell, and after a short pause, Lora answered the door — with Brie-Anna in her arms.

Uh-oh. That was it and I knew it. We spent an hour there anyway, talking with Lora about the kitten, trying to talk ourselves out of caring for another cat.

After all, I'm 64 years old. A normal cat lifespan runs about 12-15 years, which means I could be 80 years old when this journey ends.

Another consideration was that after Do-Little passed, we were suddenly free. We could pick up and go anywhere we wanted without seeking a pet-sitter. No more vet bills. No more cat food bills.

And, yet. And, yet...

So, a few days later, we took the plunge. We were cat owners once more. There was never a doubt.

While we liked the name Brie-Anna, we wanted something that was more descriptive of her personality. We tossed around names like Karma, Shiloh and Ava, but Kim thought there was something angelic about this particular blue mitted cat with the white blaze on her nose. Hence, Halo.

OK, I thought. That's not bad. I don't know too many pets named Halo. And with my sportswriter sensibility, I could alter that name to Haley. We're good here.

I figure Halo will be my last cat, although we are considering a playmate for her. Maybe a Norwegian Forest Cat. If that happens, then I am looking at my last cats.

Right now, though, everything is focused on Halo. She's full bore, a handful running at 100 miles per hour, making us laugh, making us smile, making us happy.

Who couldn't resist?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


I've been to Fredericksburg, VA, countless times to visit what remains of the Civil War battlefield there.

The first time I ever saw the field — the site of one of Robert E. Lee's most decisive victories because, in part, of the high ground he held there — came on the heels of a baseball trip to see the Baltimore Orioles play in newly constructed Camden Yards. I bet that was about 20 years ago.

My friend, who was driving and knew I had an interest in the Civil War, asked if I wanted to see the battlefield — we could detour off the Interstate for a few minutes before heading home to North Carolina.

It was an eye blink. I think I remember driving on the Sunken Road (you could back in those days) in front of Marye's (Ma-RHEEs) Heights, and I thought I was really something. I'd at least had heard of those iconic places, and now I had finally seen them.

Since then, I've been to the field dozens of times, tramping from one end to the other. I've always enjoyed my visits to Fredericksburg because the town is historic, it's visual, it's pedestrian friendly and there are some really great places to eat (like Carl's Ice Cream).

John Bloss came up this way to the Sunken Road and the stone wall.
 But this time was different. Now I was here with the Davidson County Civil War Round Table as part of our annual spring campaign. Since my last visit there a few years ago, I'd come to learn through my brother Scott's research that we had a direct descendant — John Bloss, a great, great grandfather — who fought for the 129th Pennsylvania (See here).

Suddenly, Fredericksburg took on a perspective I've never felt before despite the fact that I'd trod its history several times over. I walked over to the Innis House, just off the Sunken Road, and looked into town. This is the route from which Bloss would have come.

The Sunken Road with an original section of the stone wall (right center).
 I turned around and looked in front of me. There was the original portion of the famous stone wall. Behind it was Marye's Heights, defended, in part, by the 49th North Carolina of Ransom's Brigade — which included boys from Davidson County, and thus, some blood relatives of some of the guys I was traveling with.


If that doesn't hit you upside the head, I don't know what will. I took a moment for myself, to reflect, to wonder, to tear up.

Bloss, of course, survives the war, although 139 of his regimental comrades apparently do not. It's something to contemplate.

The weekend also included a trip to Stratford Hall, where Lee was born, and to the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, VA., where I saw the flag that flew over Wake Island and the flag that flew over Iwo Jima, among other things.

Sometimes, history just falls into your lap. And sometimes, you have to look for it. Either way, there seems to be a treat in the end.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Fort York

The first time I'd heard about York Hill was probably about 30 years ago. As a newly transplanted Yankee, I'd recently attended some gatherings of the Davidson County Civil War Round Table and had learned that a minor action had occurred there late in the war — April 12, 1865, to be exact —and was told that some pretty nice field works still existed.

So one day, on our way back home from a trip to Salisbury, my wife and I decided to stop and see what the fuss was about.

Keep in mind that I'd already seen preserved earthworks at places like Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Petersburg and Richmond and was suitably awed and impressed.

But I was not quite prepared for what I found at York Hill. Although worn down some by the passage of time, the fortifications were in remarkably pristine condition. Almost 150 years later, you could see clearly defined rifle pits and artillery locations.

Leaf-covered earthworks at Fort York remain in remarkable condition.
What? In Davidson County? Holy smokes.

Why wasn't this area a state park?

The land back then was private property, probably in the hands of the Berry family, who made serious efforts to protect the land from looters and scavengers. Right now, The LandTrust for Central North Carolina is close to purchasing nearly 13 acres of Fort York, tying it in with the Wil-Cox bridge restoration project that spans the Yadkin River.

Fort York isn't all there anymore. The construction of Interstate 85 did more damage to the sprawling encampment than any Yankee incursion did 150 years ago. It is estimated that perhaps 50 percent of the original site still exists. But, oh, what a wonderful 50 percent it is.

The LandTrust opened the site for visitors yesterday and today, getting some spot-on history from guides Chris Watford, Lee Crook and Jimmy Myers (all who happen to be Round Table buddies of mine — see here). So Kim and I went back and took an impressive tour of the area, this time with subtitles.

The battle that occurred there (the fort was designed to protect the railroad bridge there, which was a vital asset to the crumbling Confederacy) was essentially an artillery barrage. The Union horse artillery, brought to the position (on heights near the current North Carolina Finishing Company property), withdrew after several hours of ineffective shelling, and the York Hill defenders claimed victory in one of the last battles of the war.

Ironically, the battle occurred several days after Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, but all that had done was take Lee's Army of Northern Virginia out of the war, thus preventing a hoped-for linkup with the remnants of Joseph Johnston's Army of Tennessee in the Raleigh area, fresh off its battle at Bentonville. The surrender was not between governments, but only with armies, one at a time.

I was pleasantly surprised by yesterday's turnout. The tour, which was free and lasted about an hour, saw our original group of 20 or so expand to about 50 or more tromping over the hill by the time we headed back to the car. To me, that's a good sign. Our history is alive and well.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

God's Acre

Kim and I contemplated — briefly — attending this year's Easter Sunrise Service at God's Acre Moravian Cemetery (also known as the Salem Moravian Graveyard) in Winston-Salem, but opted out because temperatures were in the low 30s, my age is in the mid 60s, and those two numbers just don't seem to work out very well together.

Besides, we've been to the ceremony on at last three other occasions. Attending the incredibly solemn, incredibly moving Easter Sunrise Service is a bucket list item that's already been checked off three times over. And we haven't yet ruled out attending future services.

But what we did do is go on Saturday, to stroll through the 244-year-old cemetery and observe another Moravian tradition: church and family members scrubbing clean their relatives' flat, white marble gravestones.

It's a minibucket list item, and seemingly no less reverential and focused than the sunrise service itself.

Flat white marble headstones dot the hillside at God's Ace Cemetery.
We brought a friend with us and within minutes, she told us that she was overwhelmed by her experience.

It's easy to see why while standing among the 7,000 sun-drenched and flowered headstones.

It's a time for contemplation and reflection. It's hard not to.

On this particular visit, among the hundreds of people cleaning and socializing, I unexpectedly bumped into a long-time acquaintance. She must be in her 90s now, a number that deserves reverence in its own right. The last time I saw her was in this very same scenario, maybe 10 years ago, while she was cleaning headstones.

One of those headstones belongs to her husband, a well-respected Moravian minister who died 21 years ago. One of her daughters, also a Moravian minister and a person I had once dated, recently announced her retirement. So it was a remarkable moment to have our lives intersect once more.

It was good to see you again, Marian.