Cumberland Times-News

May 12, 2012

Forget ‘air guitar’; try ‘air cannon’ instead

Jim Goldsworthy, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— Imagine that you and your best buddy are 12 years old, and your mom has dropped the two of you off at PNC Park in Pittsburgh to see your first Major League Baseball game.

You’re wandering around, wearing your brand-new Pirates ballcaps and jerseys that are too big for you (but you’re going to keep them and will grow into them), taking in everything there is to see and hear.

Suddenly, what you see is Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones and Neil Walker walking up to you in their real uniforms. (Back in my day, it would have been Maz, Roberto and The Deacon at Forbes Field.)

“Hey, guys!” one of them says. “Ya wanna come and sit in the dugout and watch the game with us?”

Once in a while, something like that really happens.

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The visitors Capt. Gary and 1Sgt. Goldy have when we’re at Little Round Top in our Union uniforms sometimes have more than two legs.

Four or five greyhounds and their handlers stopped to socialize, and I asked if the dogs were rescues. They were, and their human companions said they like to go out with them now and then to show folks what they’re missing and how easy it is to find.

Rescued dogs can be the most loving of pets. These were spared from whatever lamentable fate awaits greyhounds who’ve grown too slow to chase mechanical rabbits.

For as high-strung as you might think such animals would be, these were some of the sweetest, most laid-back critters you’ve ever seen. They drew a crowd and loved every bit of the fuss that was made over them.

There were a couple of stubby-legged Pembroke Welsh Corgis, (the ones with huge ears and no apparent tail), a hybrid that resembled a gigantic woolly worm and a little black Cocker Spaniel named Fred, who reminded Gary of his late beloved Buffy ... and me of my childhood pal Rusty.

A human tour guide deputized several of his charges to act out the different roles played by the gun crew of a 10-pounder Parrot Rifle like the one Capt. Gary and I lean against. (Try standing unsupported for five hours at a time.)

He was energetic and animated, calling out orders and hustling people around to pretend they were swabbing the barrel, shoving powder and shell down the muzzle, priming the weapon and firing it. They were laughing and having a ball.

After the “air cannon” demonstration was over, I told him it was one of the neatest things I’d ever seen.

“The biggest problem I had,” he said with a smile, “was that not many of them speak English — and I don’t speak Norwegian!”

We met Harry and Cathy at our cannon a few years ago. They came back the next day, and the day after that, then met us for lunch and asked when Gary and I would be returning to Gettysburg.

Cathy told us, “We have a date!” They kept it, too. Now, we stay in touch and see when we can get together.

Harry is as relaxed as those greyhounds. Cathy is not.

Last year, I reported to you that she had gotten on the cell phone and ordered her daughter to “Just walk your 13-year-old diva princess (beast of burden) over there right now!”

When they showed up for this year’s date, Cathy told me, “My daughter said I should inform Mr. Goldsworthy that she is now 14 years old.”

Information noted and forwarded to readers: The Diva Princess is now 14.

In the evenings, the four of us like to sit outside at their motel (which is within walking distance of ours) to drink beer and chat with anybody who happens by.

It was raining one night, but we were snug and dry under the porch roof. A young male motel employee came along, hurriedly pushing an industrial-sized cart full of towels and linen, and we gangwayed to let him through. He said he’d be back that way in a few minutes.

A few moments later, Harry looked up to the second floor of the motel, saw what he saw in one of the windows and started to chuckle.

“I have a feeling he’s going to be longer than just a few minutes,” he said.

It was almost half an hour before the kid came back, and by then he wasn’t in any particular hurry.

Shortly after arriving at the cannon on our first day, a substantial group of people walked past. Some of them stopped to talk, including a couple of young Army captains in uniform — a man and a woman.

They walked on, and somebody else told us, “Those two captains are about to get promoted to major down by the statue of Gouverneur Warren.”

Directly, another man came hustling up to tell us, “They’d like you to come and watch.”

The matter was handled by Brig. Gen. Thomas Ayres, whose great-great-great-grandfather was Union Army Gen. Romeyn Beck Ayres — who was at Gettysburg, and for whom a road is named.

Gen. Ayres and the two new majors (I wish I knew their names) took turns talking about duty, tradition, pride in service and country, love of family, gratitude for all of the above, and so on.

They were articulate and intelligent, and I remember thinking that “Here are some of the reasons I sleep well at night.”

The insignia badges bearing the captain’s bars were attached to the front of their uniforms with velcro, and the general made a show of flamboyantly ripping them off, tossing them away and replacing them with a major’s oak leaves.

Having finished the ceremony, the general came straight over to where the captain and I were standing. We exchanged salutes, shook hands and talked for a few minutes. He seemed to be as pleased about it as Gary and I were.

Presently, someone else told the captain and me, “The new majors would like to have their pictures taken with the old soldiers!”

First time I’ve ever been hugged by a major ... the lady major, that is; her male counterpart returned our salutes and shook our hands.

And you know what else they did?

They thanked us for being there.