Something Scary: The Stories Never Told

I was going to write “something scary” for a blog post for Halloween night. There was even a placeholder with that reminder title on the blog’s schedule, but as I sat down tonight with a mug of tea, my files of research didn’t yield something that seemed the right type of scary. There’s plenty of awful, frightening, or gory things connected to Civil War history, but I don’t want to trivialize the horror of war.

Instead visions of purple and black pumpkins danced in my imagination—the type Meg Groeling had always described to me in great detail when she informed me of her porch decor and her big candy bowl for the kids.  Perhaps there’s a swirl of Spotsylvania fog like I’ve recently encountered on a morning drive as old memories and loss creep back to the shadows. Stars carved into a pumpkin cast light and shadow on the ceiling of my room. “Stars in their courses…” I think. (Whether you’re a Shelby Foote fan or not, that is a splendid title for a book.) Instead of stories of soldier ghosts or goblins, the ghosts of ideas and stories never told seem to hang in the cinnamon-candle-scented air.

Stories never told. Forever unknown.

I think about the times I’ve written letters or emails that were never sent. I wonder about Civil War soldiers who might not have dared to put their thoughts into written words, and thus left no record. Maybe prudence outweighed impulse, or maybe it was too much to share those thoughts or feelings. And then time rolls on. The intended recipient drifts away, relationships falter, or Death steps in. The ghost of the idea lingers in the untold stories of a life. By choice, remaining as idea and never in words, slipping away and undiscovered.

There’s something humanly beautiful in that idea, perhaps. After-all, humans decide when to confess, bare their souls, or share good news. We are not robots with mechanical recordings of our every thought or feeling. That’s part of what makes reading historic letters or diaries an almost guilty task: we read what someone else dared to put on paper. The first time he wrote the word “love” to a girl in a letter collection. The first time she wrote she feared death for him. The letter that carried a black-edged announcement. The note that announced the birth of a child. And so many more. The strong emotions put to paper must be only a fraction of those experienced…those left unknown and hanging in time.

And tonight…that’s the thing from history that scares me. The remembering that for the hundreds of powerful pages of letters mixed with the trivial how many things went unnoted and now are completely lost?

And yet the fears mirror to me: there are things I have not dared to write and send. Do I regret it? I don’t know. Maybe there are times that silence is better. But maybe there are times to write a record. To tell someone how much they meant, how much they are loved, or how much they are missed…before it all becomes too late.

Pen lying on the paper. Candle flickering. Pumpkin shadows stars on the ceiling and chilling wind outside tonight. Do the thoughts go on the paper…or is there a consciously settling to let a feeling and thought become ghosts of stories never told?

5 Responses to Something Scary: The Stories Never Told

  1. Ever written or not, the spirit of the Civil War soldier remains with us:
    “In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream; And lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”
    Joshua Chamberlain, speaking at the dedication of the Monument to the 20th Maine October 3, 1889, Gettysburg, PA

    1. Thank you for the electrically eloquent Joshua Chamberlain quotation. Great stuff. I imagine the image of a lightly fogged green grassed wide open battlefield with those words in the foreground, American Battlefield Trust.

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