#104: Ty Cobb Museum

It’s been awhile since I’ve marked something off my List of Things to Do Before I Die, so I took the opportunity in December to stop at the Ty Cobb Museum in Royston, GA. I was on my way home from a trip to Atlanta, and a detour of about 20 miles off the interstate was all it took.

First of all, the museum is in an unusual location. Cobb donated a lot of money to the medical center in Royston, which is named after him, so the museum is actually housed inside the medical center, just off the waiting room. I stopped in on a Saturday afternoon and was the only visitor thus far that day.

Ty Cobb was an amazing player, but not necessarily a nice person, so the museum focuses primarily on his accomplishments on the diamond and not on his winning personality. But it was still super fun to see lots of old relics from the game.

Ty Cobb’s Tigers Uniform

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A seat from the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit

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One of Ty Cobb’s many American League Batting Titles

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The town is small, so it wasn’t far to the cemetery where Ty Cobb is buried. (Fun fact, at the cemetery, I realized that Ty Cobb died on the exact day my mother was born.)

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And Ty Cobb now has the privilege of being the only non-Atlanta Braves bobblehead in my collection.

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#82: The Angel Oak

It’s been over a year since I’ve marked something off The List of Things to Do Before I Die. But when my best friend and I took a brief trip down to Charleston to see one of our favorite bands, Fitz & the Tantrums, play a show, I took the opportunity to visit the Angel Oak, a really old, massive tree out on John’s Island.

The first view of the tree once you enter the property.

The view of the tree once you enter the property.

The tree was apparently damaged during Hurricane Hugo in 1989 (but, honestly, very little on the coast of SC wasn’t damaged during Hugo). So the tree is braced with wooden posts and wires that criss-cross through the canopy, ensuring that it doesn’t collapse under it’s own weight.

No one is really sure how old the tree is, but it’s at least 400 years old. It’s not the oldest tree in the Eastern US, not even close really, but it’s quite the spectacle nonetheless. I think my favorite part about the tree is that the branches that are spread across the ground are as big as trees themselves. It’s just a really neat little place, down this rough dirt road. For being on an island, it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere.

Proof that I actually visited the tree and didn't just Google images.

Proof that I actually visited the tree and didn’t just Google images. Look how tiny I am (comparatively)!

That morning, before visiting the Angel Oak, my friend and I also visited Fort Sumter, the site where the Civil War began. I’d been once when I was very young, and she had never been. I love military sites, and it was definitely worth taking the half-hour ferry ride to the island to explore.

Approaching the island.

Approaching the island.

Crumbling brickwork where the cannons were once housed.

Crumbling brickwork where the cannons were once housed.

We also enjoyed lunch at Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan’s Island and then visited the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site because we’re working on getting stamps in our passports to the National Park Service. The Pinckney Historic Site is a lovely farmhouse near Mount Pleasant, so all in all, we ended up traveling all around the Charleston area in a 36-hour span. Pretty great.

Snee Farm at the Pinckney National Historic Site

Snee Farm at the Pinckney National Historic Site

So there it is–an item off The List (plus other historic adventures!). Now, to figure out what item to do next!

Wake Me Up

Two of the last three mornings I’ve woken up, shaking the remnants of dreams out of my consciousness. Fortunately, while these dreams have been vivid and their effects lingering, they haven’t been visceral, haunting dreams. Just reflective.

Dream #1: I was alone in San Francisco, having flown there for a vacation trip. I was exploring an art museum near the wharf (or at least my mind’s version of the wharf), and most of the dream took place in the museum bookshop. A really nice woman working in the shop watched me wander around the shop, picking up and setting down books, postcards, and figurines. She finally called me to the counter and pulled a book out. She said, “You’ve been to Boston, right?” I said yes. (In the dream, this didn’t seem strange, but this was the first conversation we’d had; how did she know my love for Boston?) She said, “You’ll find this book interesting, then. It’s about the literary connections between California writers and Boston writers.” I turned the book over, noting that the price was only $6.95. (Seriously?!? A scholarly book for $7? This was definitely a dream!) She then said, “This will be useful when you return to Boston.” After a longer conversation, I bought the book and some postcards, then left the museum, wrapping my scarf tighter around my neck and setting off to explore windy San Francisco.

I woke up, wrapped in my fluffy comforter in my room in South Carolina, happy that it was a Saturday morning but disappointed that I wasn’t exploring alone, confidently, in California, too. I even looked up flights to San Francisco, which means that TripAdvisor is going to be emailing me travel deals on flights to SF for the rest of my life now.

Dream #2: I went to North Carolina to a tattoo/piercing place. I arrived there to discover that, unbeknownst to me, one of my students worked there. (This place employed a lot of people–my student was an assistant of some sort and was absent for most of the dream.) The place was housed in an old farmhouse, and I seemed to be the only patron (or else they were all hidden in other rooms in the house). I walked in and talked to the woman at the front, who asked what I was there for. I spent a long time discussing tattoos and piercings with her. I decided I would get a second hole in my ear, then decided against that. I considered piercing the cartilage at the top of my ear, but I knew that hurt, and I didn’t think I would even like having that done, so I decided against that, too. Finally, I settled on what I knew I’d come for anyway: a tattoo. I knew the exact tattoo I wanted: lyrics from the Gaslight Anthem’s song “Handwritten” (about writing: “It travels from heart to limb to pen”) with an image of a pen and drops of ink. When I described the tattoo to the tattoo artist, she even knew I would want the drops of ink. She handed me a book to pick out a font (is that even a thing?), but I spent so much time trying to decide that we ran out of time. (Apparently, she only tattoos people in the yard of the house, and the sun was setting. Yeah, I don’t know what that’s about, either.) I said that I would come back now that I’d decided what I want; I said goodbye to my student and left. I think both the tattoo artist and I knew that I wouldn’t be back. Then, I woke up with a terrible headache.

Ultimately, I think both of these dreams are about figuring out what my actual, waking dreams are. This is a natural result of achievement, right? For those of you who don’t know, I recently got a job promotion. Starting November 1, I’ll be full-time faculty at North Greenville. I’ll no longer try to balance a full-time staff position in the library and writing center with teaching classes as an adjunct. My last day in the library is Oct. 31, and I’m very excited to be moving finally into a position I’ve hoped to have for almost five years.

I’m 28 years old. I’m young. Too young, it almost seems, to be in my fifth year of teaching college writing and to have been hired as a full-time English instructor. But this is my dream: to teach students how to write and how to love literature. Yes, it’s at a small university, and yes, I’ll never be wealthy. But after a semester last spring of wondering if I’d made the right career choice and even of considering leaving my career, this semester has been a beautiful confirmation of why I love my job and why I love being at NGU. I have amazing students right now, and I’m finally going to be able to focus solely on them.

The rest of my life, however, is in a space of wondering what my other actual, waking dreams are. I’ve known for years that I place too much of my identity into being either a student or teacher (depending on what season of my life I was in at the time). Weekends, summers, and vacations often seem like a pause from “real life.” Even when I traveled to Savannah last weekend to present at a conference, I worried about my students and kept in contact with them through email and Twitter as they took tests and submitted essays, even in my absence. Life away from my work seems weird and unnatural.

But aside from my career and my students, what do I want? In looking at the first dream, it seems obvious: I want to travel. Duh. I know that. Everyone knows that. In the first dream, I was alone, exploring a strange city, unafraid. I want that. I don’t always have the financial ability to do that, but that’s a goal worth achieving, right? It’s definitely manageable, too. If I save up, search for inexpensive flights and hotel deals, I, too, can visit San Francisco. I could even write that book (as my friend Kevin suggested)! After all, writing a travel guide is on my List of Things To Do Before I Die.

You know what else is on my List? Getting a tattoo. The tattoo I described in the dream is the one that’s been on my mind for the last six months. In March, I saw The Gaslight Anthem live, and when they sang “Handwritten,” I remember thinking, I should have that line tattooed on my wrist. I love it so much, and it seems to encompass all that I love about writing and music. So why haven’t I gotten a tattoo yet? Fear, definitely. Fear of judgment from people who disapprove of tattoos. Fear that I, too, will regret my choice years down the road.

In the second dream, there was a dream within reach, and I walked away from it because of fear and indecision. In the first dream, my dream was happening, but it’s unattainable right now. In real life, I’ve achieved one of my dreams. Now might be a good time to rest in that fact and remind myself that dreams don’t happen in my own timing (otherwise, I would have been a full-time instructor two years ago). I need not despair that I haven’t visited San Francisco or gotten a tattoo yet. I need not despair that I haven’t figured out how to introduce myself to that very attractive guy I’ve been eyeing. I need not despair that I haven’t figured out where and when I’m going to get my Ph.D.

I do, however, need to recognize that these are all dreams that I have and that fear and indecision might, in the future, keep me from achieving them. It’s also telling that I was alone in both dreams: I want independence (traveling alone in SF), but I need accountability to follow through with some things (getting the tattoo). Facing my fears and dreams on my own is not going to work.

Knowing this, and knowing the dreams I’d like to follow through on, what happens next? Maybe it’s time to start figuring that out.

#25: Texas

This year has not been a very List-worthy event. Until November, I had only accomplished two goals from the List. But Thanksgiving brought a whole new adventure.

#37: Fly on a plane.

I’d never flown before. And I chose to fly from Atlanta, the Southeast’s busiest airport, alone at Thanksgiving. Honestly, I almost quit before I even got to security. I sat in the airport with Harvin, thinking that I was flying alone, in a plane thousands of feet above the ground, and I wouldn’t be able to get off if something happened. Then I prayed really hard, breathed really deeply, gathered up my courage, and walked confidently through security.

What I learned from this experience:

A) Sometimes, striding confidently through an airport is enough to convince myself that I am capable and courageous and adventurous. Pretending it’s true makes it true.

B) Flying on a plane is exhilarating and not as scary as I imagined.

C) When the plane begins its descent into an airport, flying becomes very painful for me because of the problems I’ve had with my right ear my entire life. I’m currently nursing a sinus infection, which I think might be in part because of flying and intense pressure in my ear canal. At least I know now, and I can be prepared for illness when I fly.

When I landed in Dallas last Monday night, I was also able to mark another achievement from the list.

#25: Go to Texas.

I love Texas. Dallas has a beautiful skyline and is a city rich in history and culture. Also, the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. The story of JFK’s assassination is tragic and incredibly important to American history, and the museum has done a fantastic job of preserving the importance of that day.

Another tragedy (though not quite as weighty): Raquel and I visited the Dallas Museum of Art for the sole purpose of seeing the two Edward Hopper paintings on display (that’s #61 on the List). When we reached the floor with early 20th century American art, I was first delighted to find two paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, and I knew Hopper would be in the same area. But I looked and looked around the whole section, and the Hopper paintings were nowhere to be found. Finally, Raquel asked one of the museum employees. Turns out the Hoppers were in storage–replaced by the O’Keeffes I had been so delighted to see. I’ll admit: I shed a tear at the thought that I was so close to works by my favorite painter, yet unable to actually see them. Discouraging.

I did see a bit more of Texas than just Dallas. We also drove to Waco on my first day there because I had an appointment with the head of the English graduate program at Baylor University. Yes, I’m considering applying in a few years for the Ph.D. program at Baylor. It’s a good program, and my meeting has given me a lot to think about in regards to deciding about my future. Also, Waco is in the middle of nowhere. That’s kind of a good thing. Between North, SC, and Tigerville, SC, I’ve always lived in the middle of nowhere. Why should it be any different if I decide to move to Texas?

My last night in Texas was my favorite part of the whole trip because I marked one more item off the list:

#26: See a rodeo.

Every Friday and Saturday night, the Fort Worth Stockyards host a rodeo competition. Rodeos are way more fun than I actually thought they would be.

It’s dangerous and exciting, and there’s also something incredible attractive about a man on a horse…or a bull. But that’s enough about that.

The Stockyards are designed like an Old West town, and I wish we’d had more time to explore. Every day, they close the street down for a cattle drive through the town, and the whole experience is tourist-y, yes, but also a ton of fun. I’ve been telling people that if I lived in Texas, I would go to rodeos all the time. 🙂

Now, here are some more photos from my trip:

Baylor is home to the Armstrong-Browning Library, an extensive collection of manuscripts and artifacts from Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. My favorite thing in this museum, however, was this handwritten note from Charles Dickens. I do love Dickens!

The Dallas skyline.

I’m sitting on the Grassy Knoll beside the street where JFK was assassinated. The Sixth Floor Museum is directly behind me. Just behind the tree is the window from which Oswald fired the shot.

There’s a V on the plaque marking the exact location where the fatal shot hit Kennedy.

Is this an intentional reference to V for Vendetta? Probably by some poser kid who just wants to pretend to be an anarchist. Punks.

He’s on a horse.

#100: Get a passport.

Today, an envelope from the State Department arrived at my house, containing my very own passport. Ten days ago, I applied for it, and I did not have it expedited. I’m not really sure how the government managed to be so on top of things, but I’m glad.

God willing, the first stamp in my passport won’t be for England or Canada or any of those other countries I’ve always thought I would visit. Instead, it will be Haiti. In January.

A month or so ago, NGU held their annual Global Missions Conference. A few days before, I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom, grading papers, when I realized I’d been staring off into space for about 20 minutes, thinking about the upcoming missions conference…and thinking about applying for a L.I.G.H.T. team, one of the missions teams NGU sends out every year.

The idea came out of nowhere. I cannot explain it (which is what makes it so good). A few days later, I went to the first chapel of the missions conference, and then at lunch, I picked up an application for a L.I.G.H.T. team, knowing that I was taking a huge leap just by opening the brochure.

I knew that, in the past, NGU had sent teams to Greece. I very much want to visit Greece. It sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Spending spring break in Greece, working for Jesus? But God had other plans.

Many of the missions teams are specialized: you have to play a musical instrument, you have to take a certain course, you have to be a football player. Only a few of the teams was I actually qualified for, including Greece. But Haiti seemed to be beckoning me.

You see, my church Radius has had a partnership with a church in Pignon, Haiti, since last fall, well before the earthquake occurred. Our church made a decision to sponsor a school and provide meals so that every student would be able to eat for a year. We raised the money, sent it to the missions organization, and the food arrived in one of the Haitian ports…in January…right around the time of the earthquake. Instead of supplying food for the school, we were instead able to feed refugees.  This year, we renewed our partnership, raised much more money in a shockingly quick amount of time, and we’re supporting Haitian school students, including some recent orphans from the earthquake, for the next year.

All that to say, I’ve been able to hear stories coming out of Haiti for over a year. “Coincidences” that are so obviously God-ordained; stories of redemption in tragedy. Added to that, I took a course in Caribbean Women’s Writing at Gardner-Webb in the spring, and I read Edwidge Danticat’s book Krik? Krak! and fell in love with the Haitian people through the writing of one of the most talented women I’ve ever encountered.

The day that I picked up the application, the only word that I could think of to describe that moment was that I was compelled to do so. God has been lining this event up for me for a long time. To be quite honest, I’m scared. When I take my eyes off my Father, and I start to think about crime rates and cholera outbreaks, and I start to have these doubts of “What can I possibly do in Haiti?” then my fear returns, and I wonder if I’ve made the right decision. It’s been an almost constant battle, this week especially, to remind myself that my obedience is more important than my safety, that God will accomplish great things with or without me, and that apart from Him, my life is meaningless. Nothing in my life–my job, my friends, my education–nothing matters if I’m not following my Creator.

So I cast my cares upon my Lord, and I pray that God prepares my heart to follow His will. I pray for the Haitian aid workers there now who are dealing with the cholera pandemic that blew up just two days ago. I pray for the missionaries and pastors, the students and teachers, that my fellow missionaries and I will be working with. Please, please, please pray with me and for me as this adventure approaches.

[Also…I bet this wasn’t the entry you were expecting when you saw I had my passport, was it? 🙂 ]

#84: Antietam

Road trips are the traveler’s manifestation of a rite of passage. At least, it seems that way, if one reads enough books or watches enough films. Last year’s road trip to Boston was certainly epic and proved to me that extensive traveling didn’t have to be expensive or difficult. This year’s trip to Pennsylvania and Maryland reminded me that my own history is stretched out over more geography than the road between Greenville and the town where I grew up.

This year’s road trip was supposed to be 9 days of American history between D.C. and Philadelphia. Because of various incidents beyond our control, I spent 7 days on the road with Ticcoa, and Harvin joined us for several days in Pennsylvania, but did not travel with us for most of the trip. And we skipped D.C. altogether.

But I sort of got a bonus out of this year’s road trip. When Ticcoa and I were at Gettysburg, I flipped through a Civil War battlefields guidebook and realized that Sharpsburg, MD, wasn’t all that far south of Gettysburg…and definitely within a geographic range to visit on this trip, if we so desired. So I proposed a slight change to the plan: Ticcoa and I left Pennsylvania Saturday morning instead of Saturday evening and made the 3 hour journey southwest to Antietam National Battlefield.

Antietam is the bloodiest single-day battle in all of American history–not just the Civil War. In less than a 12-hour time span, 23,000 casualties occurred, including my great-great-great grandfather Harmon Reed Gambrell.

I discovered that I had a Confederate soldier for an ancestor six years ago when I took a class on American folklore and was assigned a large family history project. I searched genealogy records and found out that my 47-year-old great-great-great grandpa left behind a wife and eight children to enlist. And he was one of only 3 men killed from his unit at Antietam, a tremendous surprise considering the overall number of casualties. Furthermore, he was the only rifleman actually killed in his unit on the day of the battle. The 1st man was a colorbearer killed early and the last man was killed by a Union sharpshooter the next day (according to accounts in the official Civil War Records). I’ve always wanted to visit Antietam, just to see the land where my grandfather died. Among a lineage of small-town farmers, a Confederate casualty stands out a bit, particularly since he died in such an epic battle.

When Ticcoa and I arrived at Antietam National Battlefield, I really had no hope of figuring out where his unit had been fighting. Because Antietam was a spontaneous addition to our trip, I had left all my records and information at home. I knew his name, that he was a private in the 1st South Carolina Rifles, and that he died on that day. But, truthfully, I had not uncovered very much more information. So we went to the visitors center and then started driving around to all the monuments and stops on the driving tour.

We saw Dunker Church, where much of the fighting took place, and then a place called “the bloody cornfield,” where I again wondered if this was where my grandfather had spent his last moments. But when we arrived at stop 5, the West Woods, a volunteer named Jim Buchanan walked up to us. The conversation went something like this:

Jim: “Are you from Boston?” (Note: I was wearing a Boston t-shirt. He’s not a mindreader.)

Me: “No, we’re actually from South Carolina.”

Jim: “Oh, really? We had a number of units from South Carolina fighting here.”

Me: “I know. My great-great-great grandfather died here during the battle.”

Jim: “Oh, really? Do you know his unit? We can probably figure out where he died.”

This was the moment where Ticcoa pulled out her video camera. She has footage of our conversation, which I haven’t seen yet, but I can imagine the wide-eyed look on my face. I had no idea, no expectation, that I would actually discover where my grandfather had been on all the miles and miles of farmland that is part of the national battlefield. But Jim pulled out his book, entitled The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, flipped to the back, looked up the 1st SC Rifles in the index, and was able to determine when and where my grandfather’s unit had been fighting. He then informed me that the battle of Antietam was incredibly well-documented, and someone has actually made maps of the troop movement down to the half-hour. After reading the account in the book, Jim pulled up maps from later in the afternoon, and I saw on the map when my grandfather entered the battle. He then unrolls his map, starts comparing the location to the park service map, and told me exactly how to find the hills where the 1st SC Rifles were fighting.

Somewhere past that wooded area is where the 1st SC Rifles engaged in battle.

Here’s what I learned: my grandfather’s unit had been on reserve most of the day, and they were called up mid-afternoon (after 3 p.m.) to engage with the 4th Rhode Island regiment near Burnside Bridge. The Confederates were able to hold onto that piece of land, and, in fact, remained camped nearby until the morning of Sept. 19 (the battle of Antietam occurred on Sept. 17, 1862). Eventually, they were the last Confederate troops to leave the area by crossing the Potomac.

The plaque nearby describes exactly where the unit was fighting. Jim called it exactly!

I’m still not sure where my grandfather is buried. Most likely, he is buried with most of the Confederate soldiers who died at Antietam in one of three mass graves nearby. Something like 10% of the bodies were ever identified, so the chances that he was once of them are slim. However, some reports on ancestry.com show my ancestor as being buried in Honea Path, SC, his hometown (though I suspect that may just be a monument and not a gravestone). I’ll soon be traveling a few counties over to Honea Path to find that cemetery and confirm whether he’s buried there or not. Another posting on Ancestry lists him as being in Jackson, Mississippi, though that may be confused with his older brother, who also died during the Civil War, though of a disease and not in battle. At any rate, I may never find his grave. But that’s okay because I pulled off the side of a road and looked down the hills to the area where he was fighting. And it was beautiful.

This might be the greatest thing I’ve marked off The List so far. I mean, Boston was epic in so many ways, and there are others that I’m proud of. But at Antietam, I found a piece of my history, and it’s a place I plan on revisiting whenever possible. Also, I’m a little obsessed now with Civil War history: researching online, narrowing down where exactly my grandfather fought before Antietam, etc. But that’s totally okay. 🙂

#107: The Liberty Bell

When we first began discussing a trip to Philadelphia, I, of course, realized that seeing the Liberty Bell had to be on The List. After all, how could I go to Philadelphia and not see its most famous icon?

Here’s a clue: everyone else who goes to Philadelphia wants to see the Bell, too. We went at the end of the day, when there was actually not a line out the building, as there had been all throughout the rest of the day. Nonetheless, we still faced a crowd of people inside. When you walk into the building where the Liberty Bell is housed, you can read lots of information about its history–the casting of the bell by Paul Revere, when it was rung and where it was located (including a tour that brought it to SC!). Or, you can skim most of that information and head straight to the bell. You can then join the crowd of people hovering around the bell at the end of the room, and you can wait your turn to stand next to the bell and have someone take your picture.

I’m glad I saw the Liberty Bell. It’s a fascinating piece of history. We’ve just been spoiled by having been the sole participants in tours at literary house-museums that it’s a little weird to have to fight crowds just to get a glimpse of history.

Is it worth it? Yes. I like bells. I like Paul Revere. I dislike crowds, especially in big cities that I’ve walked around for hours. But that’s mostly just my issue. If you’re in Philly, go see the Liberty Bell. Just don’t expect to spend some solitary quality time with it. What you don’t see in this picture: all the people staring at me while I stand there awkwardly. 🙂