Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sullivan Ballou's letter to his wife Sarah

July the 14th, 1861
Washington DC

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days - perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure - and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing - perfectly willing - to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows - when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children - is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death -- and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and "the name of honor that I love more than I fear death" have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me - perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar -- that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night -- amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours - always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God's blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

1000 gifts: "winter break"

These blessings in my 1000 gift series are centered on our spring break, which I call "winter break" because March and early April are still very much winter here at 7200 feet in Laramie, Wyoming. However, I did get two breaks this wintery spring, so I can't complain!

Here is a picture of Blaze "riding an alligator" - from our spring break in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

The 1000 gifts is from Ann Voskamp's book and from her blog, A Holy Experience.

229. Doing nothing.Spring break from school falls right in the middle of March, and I love this week to do absolutely NOTHING - I take off work and we just stay home, watch movies, read books, and watch the girls "make things".

230. Gap-tooth grins.Dreamer had one front middle tooth that just won't give up - it refused to fall out, instead the new tooth coming in kept pushing upward and outward, giving Dreamer a rather frightful appearance! But finally this week it fell out, now we have the adorable gap tooth look.

231. Girly braids on horses.We had one warm sunny day, and Blaze had fun braiding all the horses' manes. So now when B. goes roping he has nice little girly braids in Ally's and Sam's manes!

232. Fun kid sayings.Dreamer says: "Mom, am I like a rock star? I am a great singer." "My favorite hobby is jump roping and being a Western girl."

233. Kids praying before bed.
"For a sleepy-sleep night up with the stars and the moon"

234. "Tickle-kisses"
This comes from the "combinations" my mother learned about from her mother - a combination hug, tickle, and kiss. I tend to give more tickles than hugs, so the girls call them tickle-kisses instead.

235. Sailing.I had the neatest dream about sailing. I grew up sailing on Lake Erie with my parents. My dad bought his first little sailboat when I was about five or six (the Siren); which then graduated to a 23 foot O'Day and then when I was about 14 or 15 he got a big 30 foot Catalina which we named Cygnet (baby swan). We would also rent a big 36 foot sailboat every spring down in the Chesapeake Bay. We spent every weekend during the summer out on the water until he sold the boat when I went away to college. Everyonce in a while I get a real hankering to get back out on the water and see if I can still trim the sail to heel the boat over. That was what my dream was about, and it was so vivid, even down to the snapping of the sail when you "come about" (change tack), and the feeling of the ropes thrumming between my fingers from the wind. Gliding on the edge between two worlds, the sea and the sky.

236. Grimaces.We discover that Grace makes the cutest grimace-face when we call her Grace-pot! (we have to be careful we don't call her that too often)

237. Play-aways.
Blaze and Dreamer's school library offers "play aways" - audio books on little devices like iPods. Blaze has been reading/listening to the Lightning Thief and telling me all about the Greek gods.

238. Opa!Visiting my parents in Hilton Head, SC with Blaze and Starlet (Serious and Dreamer went last year). One of the first things we do, after visiting the beach, of course, is go to my favorite Greek restaurant (no Greek restaurants in Laramie). The girls were thrilled by the "flaming cheese" and everyone in the restaurant crying out "Opa!"

239. Smark remarks.
My Dad has been doing chelation therapy to remove high levels of lead and mercury from his system, and we are starting to notice some results! He still can't walk very far, but his spirits seem to be returning, along with his smart remarks like "now put that in your pipe and smoke it!"

240. Biking.
We get free bike rentals through the Hilton Head condo, and when we took Blaze to try out the bikes we discovered that she is best suited for an adult bike (she's only nine!) Grandma was absolutely thrilled to have a regular biking partner (I don't like to go everyday like she does - I'm more of a walker). Starlet got a little bike with training wheels but she had fun going round and round the parking lot.

241. LoglinesThe first five days in Hilton Head were disappointing - very cold and rainy. But things started to change by Thursday, starting with an email from agent who'd seen my book's "logline" (one sentence pitch) posted on an on-line contest. She wanted to see my query letter and first five pages. After much debate, I decided to pass sending them to her for now, since the rest of the book isn't polished enough. But once I get it "in shape" at least I have someone to contact.

242. Sassy four year olds.Grace cracks us up, whenever we ask her to do something she doesn't want to do, she sasses us with her exasperated "okay! okay!" - but whenever we ask her about something like ice cream or something else she likes, she switches to an excited "of course! of course!"

243. Shell shops.Another favorite Hilton Head tradition is going to the Shell Shop at Coligny plaza. This is such a fun little gift shop. We always find interesting things there - last year it was a pirate nutcracker. This year, it was a "light sculpture". Blaze bought a dolphin sculpture for herself and I got a mermaid one for Dreamer.

244. Beautiful chorals.On Sunday Mom took me to her favorite Hilton Head church and it was a "triple header." The first really neat thing was they did a special performance of excerpts from Faure's Requiem, which has been a choral favorite of mine since college.

245. Hearing the Gospel at a place you where don't expect it.The second neat thing about the church was that the pastor gave an amazing sermon: the Gospel through and through, man's sin and need for a savior and a personal relationship with God - I had not expected to hear such a Biblically-sound sermon at an Episcopal church. I asked Mom later if she agreed with all that strong wording, and she said YES!

246. Southern bellesThe third neat thing is that we met up with Leslie, Mom's cousin at church and they invited us out to lunch afterward. We both absolutely adore Leslie - she is such a southern belle, vivacious and gracious at the same time. She and her teenage daughter Forrest treated us to lunch after church. When Blaze and Starlet finished their pizza and started to get antsy with all the "grown up girl" talk, Forrest graciously offered to take them for a walk and get them ice-creams so Mom and I and Leslie could keep chatting.

247. EtiquetteAs soon as Forrest had left with the girls, I told Leslie - your daughter is so polite and gracious! what's your trick? Leslie had all kinds of wonderful advice. She and Forrest have been doing etiquette classes together, and one of the neat things that I didn't realize about etiquette is that it's not just about fancy manners. The main principle is to "put other people at ease."

248. Tucking into bed.Another great piece of advice from Leslie was to always to make sure you tuck your kids in bed because even as teenagers, that is so important to them, and it is a time when they are more likely to talk about their day and things that are troubling them - keeps the lines of communication open.

249. Sunday night TVWhen I was growing up, every Sunday night we always watched Sixty Minutes and then shows on PBS including Masterpiece Theater. Sometimes I still go over to my parents' house on Sunday nights to watch TV with them (this is about the only TV I ever watch. It's just not the same watching these by myself).

250. Sullivan Ballou's letter to his wife Sarah.
We got a special treat on PBS our second-to-last night in Hilton Head: one of the Civil War episodes - my favorite one, where they read the heartbreakingly beautiful "Dear Sarah" letter at the end. I love this letter so much I think I'll copy it in entirety in a forthcoming post. It makes me cry every time though, esp. when it is read with the haunting Civil War theme music, Ashoken Farewell, playing in the background.

251. Ocean piers.Our last day in Hilton Hilton we visited Leslie and her family's beautiful house on Calibogue Bay. Their house is an adventure all in itself, with a fish pond out front, a giant swimming pool in the back, not to mention the bay. They have a huge pier going out into the bay, which the girls had so much fun running up and down.

252. Glass-walled restaurants. Then we went out to dinner at the Weston Hotel, which is right on the beach, and the restaurant has glass walls so you almost feel like you are right over the beach. The girls love going to the Weston too because it has all sorts of ponds, pools, fountains and a series of funny pelican statues scattered all around the grounds.

253. "See you around the pool hall."Dad's parting remark when we left Tuesday morning to return to Laramie

254. Free snacks.
The girls were really good on the airplane, though at one point Starlet started crying (I forgot why). Anyway, I took her back to the bathroom, and one of the flight attendants saw her crying. She gave Starlet a free box of snacks (which you normally have to pay 6 or 7 dollars for) and then when she saw I had another daughter, she gave Blaze a free snack box too. Just a little act of kindness, but it brightened our long travel day.

255. Praying with a loved one.One last gift, perhaps the most wonderful of all for spring break - you know how I amazed I was when Mom said she believed all the great Biblical preaching at church? Even more wonderful, one night she asked me to pray with her. She says that Dad's illness and poor spirits has driven to her knees in prayer more than once. I cannot describe my joy to feel the beginnings of spiritual fellowship with my mother!