Tag Archives: civil war

In the Company of Souls

30 Jul

Have I ever told you about my dead friend Annie? I say cheerfully, as if I’m just dropping commentary on someone I ran into yesterday at the local Kroger.

Nnnnoooo… the person says in a slow conversational tone, until comprehension breaks across the slightly shocked, yet curious face.

And then I launch into the tale of Annie F. McWilliams Williams, the dead lady I befriended quite by accident on Ocracoke Island. Our meeting was simple. While vacationing there one hot July, I came across a broken headstone in the Fulcher – O’Neal Cemetery and became fascinated with her. Her death spoke to me, an ending after 41 years, 3 months, 1 day. From that photo on, I became permanent addition to one ordinary woman’s legacy.

My First picture of Annie, July 2000

My first picture of Annie, July 2000

This photograph of her broken cross headstone became a writing prompt in my classroom, part of a lesson on Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. For many years students created stories about how she died, who she was, what her life must have been like. Only after a repeat visit to Ocracoke in 2010 did I consider actually researching her and in three years, I know as much as I suppose I’m ever going to. Her family ties, her marriage to an older man with injuries from the Civil War, her dead infant daughters, and her own death, most likely from consumption, have all been revealed through documentation or deduction. I have a picture of her youngest brother Charlie, but none of her. Her face remains a mystery, but her spirit I can feel quite strongly. I have written many times about the peacefulness that comes attending to her grave. She represents home to me, an infinite home. One day, I hope to be laid to rest beside her.

However, meeting Annie began a slight fixation with graveyards. I have found great comfort of late in the company of souls. In following the sign of the letter and the Civil War, visiting Confederate graveyards and other war related sites has guided my recent wanderings. While visiting a friend in Lewisburg, W.V., a most unusual graveyard experience impacted the way I understand myself and the physical/ spiritual world around me. Let me preface this by saying that most of what I am about to describe can be rationalized with psychological explanation. And most importantly, I’m skeptical of the experience. But I also know that the right brain intuitive world is as real as the left brain rational one. That as beings of energy, the brain perceives both logically and intuitively, and at the base of it all, reality and truth are subjective, so bear with me while I tell the story of meeting a dead Confederate lad who just wants to go home.

On a humid overcast Sunday morning, my friend and I trekked up to the Confederate Cemetery, the resting place of 95 unknown soldiers from the Battle of Lewisburg on May 23, 1862. Walking through the iron gate, a cross shaped mass grave stretched before me like the corpse of some great bird, soft swollen belly and lifeless head exposed to the bright blue sky. After emptying my arms of possessions, the experiment began. As a highly intuitive and empathic person, I can “feel” energy. Without a long justification of this “sixth sense” about people and places, I’ll just say relying on it for over twenty years in working with others has served me well. Students have remarked about this many times. Our communications aren’t totally dependent upon verbal means. Many times, they are simply felt.

Standing at the head of the mulched mound, the quietness in me comes, and I probe what is there. Building into a gust, it washed over me like first breaths of a mountain summer storm.


Intense shock. . .confusion. And the word, pressed into the front of my mind like a stone in one’s shoe, small, sharp and painfully palpable.


In my mind, point of view now extended from the supine position, the last bit of air offering a plea to the sky.

“I can’t tell you why”, I thought. “But it’s okay lads”.

And then a pressure, a pulling to the left of dead center, not completely under the tree drew my attention, and I walked closer. Both palms descended onto this small mulched area of mound, and an incredible feeling of confusion overwhelmed me.

why why why why….

A knowing that help was needed somehow arose in me. I marked the spot with some flowers from a nearby tree and then I turned to my friend, who placed dowsing rods in my unpracticed hands, showing how to hold them, coaching me on the meaning of certain motions. Nothing was left but to leap in with no real idea of what to do or say.

As I stood there, the copper arms swung around almost immediately, thumping both my shoulders at the same time. The feeling was as if “he” literally threw himself onto me for a much needed embrace. Tears came instantly.

“Ohhh, it’s okay, lad…it’s okay…I’m here”, were the only words I could manage to choke out as the tears rolled down in empathy. My friend became a witness, shooting photos and observing while I became lost in conversation with a young man who just wanted someone to listen and to feel him.

“You need to let me go love, so I can sit”, I said in a reassuring half laugh. “I promise I’ll come sit with you if you let me go. I’m not going away. I promise”.

Very slowly, the copper rods swung open, and up onto the mound I stepped, bending to sit in the area with the most pressure. Comfortable, with my knees tucked half way, I raised the rods and centered. They swung right back around my shoulders once again, the left one hovering back slightly off. He’s on my right, I thought. I’ll lean into him. And so we sat close.

“Oh sweetheart”, I said “its okay…..but I can’t tell you why”.

In the ensuing “conversation”, all I could really gather was that whoever or whatever this feeling was missed home desperately and just needed human contact. I also discovered that I am looking for a soldier who died in the Civil War. That’s something I didn’t know until this experience. But this lad could not help me find him. He didn’t want to answer questions, he just needed my company. He wants to go home, somewhere out of the confusion of own passing.

“Its okay, love. You’re okay. You miss home, I know”.

Finally, I told him that I had to go, but wouldn’t move until he let go. After several minutes, the rods creaked slowly apart and he retreated.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have no idea what really happened, that the entire experience could be a figment of my imagination or some deep psychological/ emotional issue needing to play out for my own inner drama, but I will say that the experience felt no less real than any other. My friend corroborated through an outside source my first impression of shock and confusion. The lad gave me facts that I have yet to prove or disprove which aren’t mentioned here until they can be substantiated. But more than anything, it makes sense to me now why Annie is so important, why I am beginning research for a novel based upon the Civil War hospitals here in Lynchburg, Virginia. A story lies upon this path, I just have to listen hard enough to hear it. My feeling is the tale desperately needs the telling.

Walk On

19 Jul

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If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. — Joe Campbell

It’s July 19.

Two months have passed since preparations began for my first camping music festival, Roosterwalk.  Time has literally evaporated. In the last few days, thoughts to my writing routine have elbowed their way through the crowd of scattered road details to stand before me in irritated, slightly fearful anticipation. When will you write of the road again, lass? You have many stories to tell. Get to it before they stack like unbound brick only to topple over into a pile of dusty rubble.  Since January, it seemed I was writing my way out of something, the words leading me toward a meadow of summer travel. My vision of what the meadow would be is altogether different than what I found.

The meadow is wide. The flowers, in profusion. Each one is a beautiful tale to be shared. How to arrange them so you can see all the amazing truth and revelation, disappointment and apprehension I have had in eight short weeks? In May, I relished the thought of that meadow, having hours in the morning to clickety-clack away and time, lots of time to push away the urgency of the road, to “be”. But as most of us know, the path never leads where one thinks. And I’m suffering from a huge bout of lost words. It’s not writer’s block. I can write. But my passion to write review of the road has slowed. I need a muse, and the one which propelled me for months, I chose to send back into the forest. There is only so much yearning one can endure. For to me, the essence of the passion to write is a yearning for something, for someone, for a way of negotiating and reforming reality in the mind so that life meaning can be made. Muses pull the red iron blood of creativity, their energy like a lightning staff begging a strike by the flash of inspiration, but then again, they can also suck the body dry. Like a hissing Medusa, a moment happens when the blood runs stone cold and the artist awakens to the slavery of passionate pursuit. A moment finally arrives when one can’t decide who owns the words. The muse or the artist.

My writing confidence is heavy and damp, the humid cloud of shaping for audience muffling my process. Being at the workshop opened up a can of expectations that never were addressed. Yes, my writing is good enough for public view. Yes, I have interesting stories to tell. But as all good writers know, work is required, crafting, honing the edges of truth.

Diction. My word choice is often too elevated for average readers, but then again, great writers have rich language. I need to use descriptive phrasing sparingly, or write a poem when the language comes out so concentrated. Dilemma.

Narrative Arc. Build the tension, so the reader wants more, but then again, sometimes truths don’t come in nifty narrative patterns. Put in a bit of creative into the non-fiction. Be aware of first lines, which hook the reader. And throw out compositional rules. Fragments allowable.

Dialogue. Use it. Put the reader in moments that cannot be shown best any other way. Some of the interactions I’ve had this summer, though, are best forgotten. But then again, some like the evening I spent listening to a dear lady from the workshop debate the beginning of her own solo journey, are so intense, so emotional my words fail the moments.

And shorten posts. Keep them under 700 words. :-/

All heroes had a guide. I need one. Companions, I’ve got. Wise writing sage, I have not. I have lived in the forest, hacking through dense brush to find a writer’s path, alone. Upon arrival at the meadow, I only encountered the overwhelming complexity of the view. Clearly, I can walk anywhere. Anywhere. But the trees ahead look the same…I have to reenter the forest. But to find a path, I need a pointing finger, a voice, some sign.

I have followed signs throughout the last year, but more specifically the last seven months. The lion was with me in the days before Beloved. A heart emerged in Richmond, urging me to explore unconditional love. During a weekend with Americana and Roots bands, a guitar with wings appeared. “Music will save you”, it seemed to whisper. And now another has appeared.

It is the letter and the Civil War.

Letters to the lad I visited at Old City Cemetery, emerged quite spontaneously in my journal and in a different voice, the first during Red Wings Roots Festival this past weekend. Every banjo note, every mandolin trill, every bass strum began to deepen this knowing that all of the signs are tied , all the way back to the lion. A path has opened.

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