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"...they were fragments of a colossal dream..."

I’m slowly working my way through Hamlin Garland’s memoir, A Daughter of the Middle Border, reading just five or ten pages each night before bed. Here he describes taking his aged father (a Civil War veteran) to the annual convention of the Grand Army of the Republic, where they watch the veterans’ parade from the grandstand.

We were in our place hours before the start (he was like a boy on Circus Day - afraid of missing something), but that he was enjoying in high degree his comfortable outlook, made me almost equally content.

At last with blare of bugle and throb of drum, that grand and melancholy procession of time-scarred veterans came to view, and their tattered flags and faded guidons brought quick tears to my father’s eyes. Few of them stepped out with a swing, many of them limped pitifully - all were white-haired - an army on its downward slope, marching toward its final, silent bivouac.

None of them were gay yet each took a poignant pleasure in sharing the rhythm of the column, and my father voiced this emotion when he murmured, “I ought to be down there with my company.”

To touch elbows just once more, to be part of the file would have been at once profoundly sad and sadly sweet, and he wiped the tears from his cheeks in a silence which was more expressive than any words could have been.

To me each passing phalanx was composed of piteous old men - to my sire they were fragments of a colossal dream - an epic of song and steel. “In ten years he and they will all be at rest in ‘fame’s eternal camping ground,’” I thought with a benumbing realization of the swift, inexorable rush of time - a tragedy which no fluttering of bright flags, no flare of brave bugles could lighten or conceal. It was not an army in review, it was an epoch passing to its grave.

Garland being Garland, sometimes the prose gets dangerously overwrought, as in that last paragraph. Still, it’s enjoyable in small doses.

November 1, 2014 in Books | Permalink

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