46 – Life’s end

[All good things come to an end, or at least to fundamental transformation.]

[Monday, February 27, 2006]

(11:50) Wonderful material, Joseph. You know how it moved me, and why.

Yes, and you learned something about yourself, though actually I believe you came to know it a while ago.

After the war

Yes. So what happened to you after Johnston’s surrender? This version.

Well, you know, not all that much for the next couple of weeks. We was part of the Grand Parade of army veterans in Washington city in May – we from the west was the second day, you know all that – and we made a special effort to look polished – I don’t think! In our minds, yesterday was spit and polish (though we didn’t call it that) and today we would show ‘em what real soldiers looked like when they were soldiering. I told you earlier there was a lot of bad feeling between the Army of the Potomac and the western troops, but I’d been both places and didn’t share it, and I wasn’t the only one had been moved from one to the other, of course. All the Army of the Potomac ever needed was lots of training and better generals and the chance to fight Braxton Bragg instead of Robert E. Lee! And being further away from the capital wouldn’t have hurt any, but in an age of telegraph there wasn’t but so much you could do anyway.

Well, it took til the spring of ’66 for me to get out of the army. Could have resigned my commission and left earlier, of course, but it wasn’t like I had other things to do, and anyway somebody had to do occupation duty. I mustered out in Tennessee, Nashville to be exact, and there I was, only 43 years old, 44 I guess, or nearly, and the greatest things in my life behind me. What was going to trump Oregon and marriage and the war? Sort of hard to get excited about things.

If I’d been a private soldier, 20 years old when I got in, it might have been different.

I though about going back to Oregon, but that seemed like too much trouble, and anyway it was twenty years on; I couldn’t expect things to be like I left ‘em, and maybe I had a feeling I didn’t want to see what it looked like, built up more. I went back to my family, but the years hadn’t been good to them, and there too things weren’t the same. Something had taken the heart of out ‘em, and they were sort of going through the motions. It was depressing. And maybe I was different, too, after four years in the army. Maybe I was seeing ‘em different, feeling cramped in a way I hadn’t earlier.

What with the railroads and the way things were busting out all over the northwest, and the changes just in my family, and years of being a soldier and an officer – I didn’t belong there any more. I told ‘em goodbye and I was gone that next spring – which come to think of it is when in another version I left ‘em by dying. These things have got their own logic to ‘em, not usually obvious.

So I went back east, back up to New England to poke around and see if there was anything for me. There was my brother, he’d got through the war okay, and of course my parents were dead. I actually did think for a minute or two about looking up Emerson and paying him a call but of course by 1867 he was a much bigger man than 25 years before, and also he was getting old, older than his years. It was only a fleeting idea anyway. I kind of wish I’d done it, though – he was still in his right mind then. But of course I didn’t have any way to know that he would be getting senile and linger on in the body while his mind was elsewhere.


Problems in recall

Okay, now I have no idea where you are going next and I find myself casting about, thrashing around. I actually got the idea – maybe he went to England! But I know it is all as blank as any of it has been beforehand from the beginning.

Should you not find that reassuring? You know you can’t both make it all up and not make it all up at the same time! You feel it when you skip things because you don’t know ‘em even if it don’t matter – like for instance where I was stationed doing occupation duty. But it ain’t important and certainly not worth the work of fighting what you think you know, to decide whether you can accept a given detail as probable. How probable is every part of your life? But it happened, didn’t it? Somebody from another time looking at it is just naturally going to ask you things you can’t answer because it involves too much – and is not going to understand what you can say, sometimes, because it involves too much. But that’s the whole point of this whole communication anyway – the process of communicating and the process of learning how to understand what you do get. So, it ain’t like any of this has been wasted.

Life’s end

But my part in it is pretty near over. I am a lifetime very close to you in many ways: American, Transcendentalist, the healing experience, the public killing of the president on a Friday, the whole era, the west, the Indians – it has been a pretty easy one for you, not stretching you too much. Suppose you’d tried to start with a French ballerina, how far do you suppose you’d have gotten?

I’ll finish my story just to round it off, and of course I’ll always be glad to communicate with you but it won’t necessarily be this way.

I could use these entries to write An Experiment in Guidance, couldn’t I?

You could do worse. All right, after the war I didn’t have an exciting life and didn’t expect one. I wound up in Worcester, Massachusetts working as a sort of store clerk. Selling is something I knew, you see. I did get my dictionary published, and maybe you’ll run across it sometime. I died in 1871 like you got long ago – this version. Nothing special, just looking to leave and left. Of course it didn’t look that way to them left behind – to them I took a bad cold, it went into my lungs (pneumonia) and carried me off in March. And that was that, not a bad life at all.

Could a two-star general wind up as a sales clerk?

He could wind up begging on the streets if he didn’t rustle something up for himself. Why not? It wasn’t like I was regular army. And it was only brevet rank, at that. I was a colonel, really.

So many blanks to be filled in.

There’s easier ways than scribbling in a notebook – though this has worked out pretty well. Just work on your control panel, you’ll figure it out. Goodbye for now.

Goodbye? Never. Hasta luego, at best. I look forward to further chats in whatever new way opens up. Thank you, Joseph.


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