Cumberland Times-News

Columns

July 13, 2013

If it works the first time, keep using it

He was, as they used to say, just about knee-high to a grasshopper — somewhere in the mid-range single-digits, agewise.

Saluting, he told Capt. Gary “Good morning, captain,” which I thought was pretty good, considering that he was nowhere nearly tall enough to see the rank on Gary’s shoulderboards.

The captain returned his salute and was asked if he knew the diminutive trooper’s rank. Gary said he was a sergeant (of the three-stripe variety).

He had a coat, blouse, vest, hat, the appropriate britches and brogans (shoes) and a bow tie, plus other accoutrements, and he was toting a toy musket that wasn’t much shorter than he was.

“May I ask you a question, sir?”

“Of course, sergeant.”

“Did you know anyone who was in this battle?”

That’s when Lt. Mark said, “Good luck with that one, captain,” and moved away.

A crowd was starting to gather.

The captain said he didn’t know anyone who was in the battle of Gettysburg, but that he knew about some of them.

“Sir,” the lad went on, “I’m having a problem with one of my men.”

“What’s that, sergeant?”

“It’s the bugler,” he said. “He won’t play what I tell him to play.”

“Well,” the captain replied, “you take that bugle and give it to someone else, and then you send that man to me. I’ll straighten him out.”

The audience was still growing.

“You need to get down, captain!” the boy said.

“Why’s that, sergeant?”

“They’re shooting at you! Don’t you hear it?” and he made whistling noises that almost sounded like bullets going by.

“You’d better get out there and protect your captain,” Gary said.

The sergeant moved out smartly toward the edge of the position we were occupying at Little Round Top, aimed his musket toward Devil’s Den (a rock formation that had been infested with venomous snakes long before it was infested with Rebel sharpshooters during the battle), cocked the hammer, pulled the trigger and said, “Bang!”

He shouldered his weapon, returned to Gary and saluted him, and said, “I got him, sir!”

Times like this, I look around at the folks who are watching and ask them, “Now do you understand why we do this?” They invariably grin and nod their heads.

Unless they come directly to me, I let the captain handle such encounters. He becomes “Pappy,” a real-life grandpa who lives and loves the role, rather than just playing it.

 “If I can make just one little kid smile,” he says, “it makes the whole trip worthwhile.”

Especially, I add, if we can make the parents smile, too ... which reminds me that people sometimes ask us if we have anything scripted.

We tell them we do not, for the simple reason that we have no idea of what to expect.

That said, we do try different things and add them to our repertoire, if they work.

Telling mature women of any age that we’re always glad to have our pictures taken with pretty girls usually has the desired effect.

When a younger woman asks if her kids can have their pictures taken with us, I give her a determined look and tell her that will be acceptable, but only on one condition:

She has to get in here with us and have her picture taken.

That produced such amazing results — not just the first time l tried it, but on subsequent attempts (and people who were looking on enjoyed it, too) — that I plan to keep using it.

The captain and I met another trooper whose age we found out was 10: a goggle-eyed little Chihuahua riding around in a pouch that was about the size of a World War II canteen cover, with the tip of his tongue sticking out of his mouth. The smallest Union soldier’s cap I’ve ever laid eyes on was perched on top of his head.

He drew almost as big a crowd as the mini-sergeant did.

Janey, our friend from Wisconsin, promised us two or three years ago she would be with us for the Gettysburg battle’s 150th anniversary, and she was.

The last time either of us had seen her was six years ago (I think; at any rate, it’s been too long), when she drove  the whole way.

This time, she flew from Wisconsin to Charlotte, N.C., then to Dulles and finally to Hagerstown in a commuter plane in which she was the only passenger. (On the return trip, they diverted her flight to Chicago, from whence she had to make her own way home, and lost her luggage — which eventually was found.)

Any guy who doesn’t fall in love with Janey at first glance should have himself checked out from head to foot. To the captain and me, she is our little sister. Don’t even mess with her.

She has wild-looking curly red hair that frames an adorable face and eyes that at close range will cause you to start evaporating.

Janey joined us the first day on the battlefield in an incredible light green Civil War-era replica gown and high-topped shoes like the vintage pair I once found in Grandmother Jackson’s closet.

Under the dress, she told us, were five or six layers of other paraphernalia — hoops, corsets, whatever. I don’t remember exactly how many layers, but it was more than I’ve ever run across.

This get-up takes an hour or more with the help of at least one other female to assemble, so she dressed only the first day and spent the rest of the time gallivanting around with our other friends.

I told the captain a couple of times the next day when the audience was big enough that, “Dammit, sir! We drawed better crowds than this yestiddy, when we was usin’ that purty little redhead fer bait!” and the folks got a kick out of that.

We had been at Little Round Top for not more than 10 minutes when I told her, “Congratulations! You’re no longer a virgin!”

Her expression was rewarding beyond belief.

“What,” she finally asked, “are you talking about?”

“You just talked to your VERY FIRST tourist,” I said.

If I can make just one pretty girl smile ... .

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