My grandfather’s interest in Civil War history was, I expect, heightened by reading his wife’s grandfather’s diary of service in the Union army. I remember reading the titles of history books on the shelves in my grandparents’ apartment in the Bronx. There were classics by Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote. One of the most prominent spines read, in yellow letters on a black background, “Andersonville”.
When I began, in the past year, to reread William Davies’ diary, which touches only briefly on his three months in Andersonville prison, I recalled the image of that book vividly. My mother kept many of her father’s books, so I asked to borrow Andersonville, the meticulously researched historical novel by MacKinlay Kantor.
I delved into it immediately, but I found it a difficult read. Much of the story is told from the point of view of a Georgia plantation owner who lived near the prison, and it’s disorienting to sympathize with a slaveholder, however compassionate he might be. Then there’s the prison, with its inhumane living conditions, looming ahead, and I’m nervous about reading that part. The book is 766 pages long, and the print is very small. I took a break from it early on and have only recently picked it up again.
Yesterday a card fell out of the book. It’s an Easter card, with two bunnies on the front, sitting in half an Easter egg. Inside are three verses:
Hi, GRANDFATHER! / How are you? / This bring HUGS… / Lots of them, too!
Hi, GRANDMOTHER! / This brings you / Easter HUGS / An’ KISSES, too!
An’ to YOU BOTH, this comes to say:
“HAPPY, HAPPY EASTER DAY!”
It’s signed with my name, in my mother’s handwriting.
I must have been somewhere between eight months and three years old at the point my mother sent this card, since my brother was born when I was almost three, and if he had been around, his name would surely have been signed as well.
Aside from the contrast between the grim story and the perky card, I am startled by the sudden link to my grandfather, Frank Keller. He read the book I am now reading, and he probably used my Easter card as a bookmark.