Robert E. Lee, Part II: My Heirloom Portrait of the Confederate General

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Heirloom portrait of Robert E. Lee sitting in my closet.

One fond memory of a trip to Gettysburg National Park consisted of my siblings, my cousins, and myself participating in a juvenile reenactment of the battle, complete with replica hats, jackets, and a discussion of soldierly life.

The instillment of the Civil War era in my life made it so the very idea of the conflict edged unassumingly along the spectrum of familiarity to complacency; to me Lee was always more of a character in a dramatic historical play, more protagonist than antagonist.

Consequently, I never considered the differing perspectives various people might have of the portrait of Robert E. Lee that hung in my childhood home, stoically placed as if the general himself were keeping watch over us.

I never thought twice about asking my parents for the portrait when they moved out of their house and downsized to a condo lacking abundant of wall space for Lee to reside.

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An Afternoon in Cloudland: Plane Crashes, Transcendentalists, and Mount Greylock

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The author on the Appalachian Trail

Famed poet-naturalist Henry David Thoreau once stood atop a lookout tower on the highest point in Massachusetts above sea level and described the expanse of the vista using one overarching word: cloudland.

When Thoreau visited the summit of Mount Greylock, protruding 3,491 feet into the sky, the surrounding valleys in the earth far below as well as the scattered communities throughout the landscape were all completely shrouded in mist. Where on a clear day one can see as far as 90 miles in almost all directions, Thoreau was treated instead to an endless display of rolling, hazy clouds.

Wrote Thoreau in 1844,

“As the light increased I discovered around me an ocean of mist which by chance reached up to exactly the base of the tower, and shut out every vestige of the earth, while I was left floating on this fragment of the wreck of the world, on my carved plank in cloudland; a situation which required, no aid from the imagination to render it impressive.”

On our journey to Mount Greylock, the path took us in some of Thoreau’s footsteps before we struck out on the stoic Appalachian Trail, which spans more than 2,000 miles from Maine to Georgia, 90 of which pass through Massachusetts.

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Marble Man: Thoughts on Robert E. Lee

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Robert E. Lee/ Image via Public Domain

In today’s United States, racial and socioeconomic tensions are amplified by the rapidity of Internet sharing. The senseless death of a young minority by the member of an historically oppressive race can ignite the emotions of Americans from one corner of the country to the other in a matter of minutes, like a spark in a tinderbox on a bed of kindling.

Cities are attempting to revise the mindsets of those who harbor racist sympathies and to promote race equality by taking aim at the tangible symbols that evoke sentiments of inequality.

In New Orleans, for example, “adversaries marched in a second-line parade to the traffic circle where [Confederate General Robert E.] Lee’s statue stands — centurion-like, stationed above the treeline atop a white stone pedestal — to protest the monument’s place in the circle and to bury Lee’s place in history, which some revere and others revile.”

The basic argument against monuments like Lee’s in New Orleans is that Lee was the leader of the Confederate Army which fought and killed on behalf of a loose band of belligerent, secessionist states that advocated for the institution of slavery — i.e., Lee is one of the de facto faces of slavery in America and is undeserving of celebratory recognition.

Conversely, there are those who think preserving the legacy of Confederate soldiers who laid down their lives for a certain belief is something of a civic and moral obligation. Individually those rebels are ancestors; collectively they comprise a regional heritage.

I happen to think that when it comes to contentious memorials such as those of notorious Confederates, they should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

When it comes to Lee, I happen to think he should be lauded. Jefferson Davis, no thank you.

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Aunt Thelma: The Matriarch of Bermuda

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Front Street, Hamilton, Bermuda/ Image via the author

Hamilton is a modest municipality, the capital city of the modest British Overseas Territory of Bermuda. Its narrow streets buzz with scooters, compressed cars, and buses that look more like minivans in comparison to the larger caravans seen here in the States. Lining the roads is an eclectic display of architecture.

Front Street, Hamilton’s main thoroughfare, stretches along the northern edge of Hamilton Harbour and behind it the city sits perched on a gentle slope dotted with buildings that exemplify Hamilton’s blend of Western influence and native style.

Limestone storefronts are coated with vibrant, coral blues, yellows, and reds. Rooftops carved and stepped, designed to catch and funnel rainwater into underground holding tanks. Gothic Revival houses of worship standing stoically next to ramshackle take-out restaurants alongside cafes seemingly transported from the Iberian Peninsula.

Off of Front Street is a stout pier called Point Pleasant, home to a park of the same name canopied by slender Bermuda Palmettos. Standing at the tip of the Pier, known as Albouy’s Point, one has a direct view of the sailboats and luxury vessels anchored at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club to the right, the craggy Harbour islands just beyond, and a clear line of sight to the coastline across the azure water.

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