“Hey, we’re here. Let’s go by the Ranger Station and pick up the information pamphlets and start our tour of Gettysburg. This is going to be an excellent day! We are about to see history up close and personal,” Griffin shouted happily at Nicholas.
“Yes, babe, I’m excited. My dad wanted me to see it and experience where the historic battles took place. I’m happy I get to share this experience with you.”
“Surprise, Sugar Britches, our uniforms are all ready for us. I arranged for us to be a part of a battlefield reenactment today for the first part of our tour of Gettysburg.”
“What? When did you do that? This is so awesome, babe, thank you so much!” Nicholas said happily.
“Now we need to change into our uniforms and get ready to reenact the famous battle. We have to hurry, though, Nicholas.”
“Wow, you look hot in your uniform. I will always follow your lead, Captain,” Griffin said with a wink.
“It’s so neat getting to portray real soldiers in the Civil War and try to imagine what they must have felt in the moments leading up to it,” Nicholas said. “It took place on July 1-3, 1863. In three days of fighting there were high casualties.”
“General George Meade led the Northern Army to try and stop General Robert E. Lee from taking the Southern Army further north. General Meade’s army had over seventy thousand troops to General Lee’s one hundred thousand plus. The armies fought at different sites on the Gettysburg battlefield,” Griffin said. “It is so awesome that the smaller army was able to win the ultimate battle.”
“Well, let’s go meet some people before we start the reenactment, Peaches.”
The two of them got all the details for the battle and they were getting into position when a younger boy of 13 came up in uniform. “My name is Mick,” he said. “I’ve been doing these reenactments since I was ten years old.”
“It’s so hard for me to picture that kids so young were here on this sacred ground fighting for the country and a lot of them died that day,” Nicholas chimed in.
“Yes, I know. In most cases, the younger kids joined up because their families were killed in battles elsewhere and they were doing it to avenge their deaths,” Mick said. “It’s a pleasure meeting you guys. Have fun!”
As Griffin and Nicholas waited for the first cannon to go off to signal the start, they couldn’t help but feel nervous and anxious. “Can you actually imagine how the troops felt while waiting for the enemy to engage them, Boo?” Griffin said nervously.
“If it’s anything like I feel now, even knowing it’s not real and we won’t die, then I think they were fearful and super anxious.”
The cannons went off to signal the start and the bugles and drums all started playing. Then Nicholas shouted out, “Charge!” The loud cannons going off and the sounds of bullets flying were overwhelming. The reenactment was intense. The ground was littered with ‘dead’ and ‘severely injured’ troops. After some very dramatic moments, the guys came across a familiar face pretending to be dead, their new friend Mick. Nicholas and Griffin both burst into tears even though they knew he was fine. The feelings were still very real.
“Can you imagine the friends that became family to each other finding their dead bodies? I just can’t imagine how truly horrific it all was,” Nicholas said, sadly. “This feels so real and changes how I will see this battle from now on. I see now why my dad wanted me to do this with him and I’m glad I did it with you.”
“Yes, it was definitely an eye-opening experience to me, too, Boo. I never really thought of the implications of this battle and war before. It truly had brothers fighting against brothers and friends fighting against friends,” Griffin said, surveying the scene.
“When all was said and done, the final number of dead was over twenty-three thousand for the North, and for the South, between twenty-three thousand and twenty-eight thousand. It was probably the bloodiest battlefield ever.”
“We are done now, Boo. I guess we can go mingle and chat with the others for a while,” Griffin said.
The guys mingled with other reenactors for a while, and then walked around and looked at the different battlefields. Soon, it was time to head back to the RV and change and get cleaned up to go out and eat at a local diner.
“I’m glad that we got to enjoy this with each other, Peaches. It’s not every day that we get to be a part of history,” Nicholas said as he grabbed Griffin from behind and hugged and kissed him.
“It was very inspiring and enlightening for me. I am glad I got to be with you,” Griffin said with a smile.
The guys decided to go to a diner in town to eat dinner. Most of the buildings, including the diner where they were eating, were buildings still intact from the 1800s. They ordered steaks and potatoes and corn and talked about what it must have been like back in earlier days. The diner’s menu stated that it was on the ghost tour. Griffin flipped through the pamphlets that they had. The information said that Gettysburg is amongst the most haunted places in the United States. There were tales of ghost soldiers and women and children. Tales told of apparitions and things moving on their own, even in the basement of the diner they were eating in right now.
“Hey, sweetie, I want to do this tour. It’s not too late, is it? I know we want to get going early tomorrow to get to Atlantic City by lunchtime. Can we please do this? You know how much I like reading and watching stuff about the paranormal,” Griffin asked excitedly.
“Only for you, my precious Boo. I love you so much I could never say no.” Nicholas said with a huge smile.
“Thank you so much, my love. You’re so sweet to me. I love you very much,” Griffin said as he leaned his head across the table to kiss the love of his life.
They signed up and paid for the tour and headed down into the basement with flashlights and meters to get readings. They were given instructions not to touch anything. They were taken to a room to watch a short film about events that took place, and they were amazed at the history of the township.
The guys were part of a small group that was taken to Jennie Wade’s house. This was where a lady named Jenny Wade was killed by a bullet while she was kneading bread. The stray bullet, shot by soldiers during a battle, went through a thick door. It was said that her ghost, as well as many soldiers’ ghosts, came and did many different things in and around the house. The bullet holes were still in the door. The tour guides said everything was left as it was. Nothing was happening at the moment, so they all started to go. Then things began to move on their own in the kitchen, including a rolling pin rolling as if someone was kneading dough. This was about the most exciting thing that happened on the tour, although there were other light anomalies and mists on the battlefields. Also, they heard talking and saw campfires that weren’t really there, but overall the Wade House was the highlight of the tour.
“Well, see, Peaches, nothing really happened, but it was worth going, and it gave me a reason to hold your hand,” said Nicholas.
“Thank you, Babe. I had fun even if we didn’t see any ghosts. We saw historic houses and heard interesting stories, plus I loved holding your hand and cuddling,” Griff said excitingly. They headed back to the RV and went inside, already stripping each other of their clothes on their way to the bedroom.
Both boys were up early, anticipating a full day of once-in-a-lifetime fun and excitement. While the coffee brewed, they quickly performed their morning bathroom rituals and ablutions, somehow managing to keep their hands to themselves. Settled at the table, coffee mugs in hand, and Special K in bowls, they discussed their itinerary.
“So … Your Royal Booness, what’s the game plan for this special day?” Griffin inquired. “I know you have every minute of our Independence Day celebration choreographed minute-by-minute, huh?”
“I certainly do, Peachy Cheeks!” Nicholas replied. “It will be tight in a couple of spots, but if you can manage to keep your hands off me while we hoof it between events, I think we can get to each one in time to partake of the festivities.”
“If I behave myself, may I partake of you later tonight? I’m kinda loving that we are now partaking of the RV all by ourselves! I’m thinking we can set off some fireworks of our own, hmm?”
“Yes, you may … and I agree … and BOOM!” Nicholas winked. “Okay … let’s go through this. Our first stop is a birthday party for America at the Independence Visitor Center, complete with a five-tier cake and 2,500 cupcakes arranged in the shape of an American flag. They even have Betsy Ross leading everyone in ‘Happy Birthday’!”
“Well, she’s gotta be looking the worse for wear by now, but, hey, you had me at cake, so I’m in.”
“Next, we work off the calories by racing ourselves to Independence Hall for a presentation, a reading of the ‘Declaration of Independence’ and music by the Philly Pops Band. Then we have to get to Chestnut Street by 11 o’clock for the start of the ‘Salute to America Independence Day Parade.’ That’ll last a while since it has over 4000 participants!”
“Sounds exciting! Oh, please tell me more, Boomeister!”
“Okay, then. I’m sure by that time you will be famished, having not eaten in many minutes, so we will move on to the ‘July 4th Community Picnic in the Park’ at the Valley Forge National Historical Park. That will take us to mid-afternoon, and we can make our way to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the ‘Party on the Parkway’ which ends with the ‘Wawa Welcome America July 4th Concert & Fireworks’ this evening.”
“This is going to be EPIC!” Griffin gushed. “I have an empty memory card in my camera ready to record every minute for our posterior!”
“Uh … you mean posterity?”
“Yeah, sure .. that, too!”
With both phones and Griffin’s ridiculously expensive digital camera fully charged and backpacks stuffed with anything and everything they felt they might need, the boys headed out into the 70 degree early morning sunshine for the half-hour walk to the bus stop where the Philly Phlash would deliver them to the Independence Visitor Center to begin the day-long birthday party. As they walked, Griffin soon noticed that Nicholas’ earlier exuberance seemed to have waned considerably, as he was unusually quiet.
“Feeling a bit anxious?” the always perceptive Griffin gently probed.
“There’s going to be like a gazillion people everywhere,” Nicholas answered. “I’m trying really hard to not think about that, Griff, but when we get there, it’s going to hit me full on. I don’t wanna ruin this or embarrass you by freaking out with a panic attack.”
“First, you won’t embarrass me,” Griffin quickly assured him. “Second, we both know how to deal with it. It won’t be the first time it’s happened. If you start feeling dizzy or out of breath, just look me in the eyes and stay focused on me. Shut out everything and everyone around us. We’ll get through it just like we always do, and you know, after the first attack, you’ll be fine.” Griffin squeezed Nicholas’ hand firmly to punctuate his words.
“Thanks, Griff. I already feel better. You’ve always been my rock, and you always know what to say and do.”
An hour later, when the Philly Phlash spit them out in front of the Independence Visitor Center, Nicholas just stood tensely on the sidewalk gripping Griffin’s hand tightly. There were at least as many people as he had feared there would be, no doubt due in large part to the beautiful weather. “Look at me, Boo,” Griffin said, and Nicholas focused on his green eyes. “Now just breath slow, in and out, in and out.”
Nicholas began to feel the blood flow back into his legs, and the trembling faded away. As his labored breathing began to ease, he tentatively began to look around and take everything in. The anxiety retreated back into the far corners of his mind, surely to return again another day but, for now, defeated. With Griffin by his side, he was ready to not only face the crowds but enjoy this once in a lifetime experience … America’s birthday in the birthplace of America.
The boys slowly made their way through the swarm, following Griffin’s cake radar until each had a cupcake in their free hand and receded back toward the less crowded fringes of the lawn. Eventually, a rather robust looking, for roughly 250 years old, Betsy Ross made her appearance and enthusiastically began to belt out ‘Happy Birthday’ with the throng of celebrants quickly joining in.
With the sugar infusion, the boys easily found the energy to race each other to Independence Hall. Of course, Griffin arrived first, but he made sure to keep an eye over his shoulder to ensure that Nicholas was close behind. They arrived just as the guest speaker, one Morgan Freeman, arrived center stage and began the recitation of ‘The Declaration of Independence.’ Both Nicholas and Griffin were blinking back tears by the end of the surprisingly moving rendering. As Mr. Freeman stepped down from the dais, the Philly Pops Band immediately blasted out the first notes of the national anthem, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ The chorus of voices that joined in raised goosebumps on both boys. They listened to other iconic tunes such as ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy,’ ‘God Bless America,’ ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag,’ and ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ before finally tearing themselves away from the awe-inspiring concert to make their way to Chestnut Street for the start of the parade.
Following the almost two hour parade, of which Griffin took a plethora of snapshots, they consulted their GPS and found their way to the Valley Forge National Historical Park for the community picnic. Not at all surprising, the party boys were quite peckish as both their cereal and cupcakes were little more than a distant memory at this point. Brandishing plates that were all but overflowing and bottles of water, they found a spot on a low brick wall surrounding the park to rest, ingest, and imbibe.
After inhaling their food and drink, the boys sprawled out on the manicured lawn in the shade under a massive Red Maple tree. “Come here, Boo. I’ve held out as long as I can,” winked Griffin. “I need to partake of you right now!”
“You don’t need to beg, Sweet Peach, but remember this is a family event,” Nicholas teased as he pulled Griff into his arms. “Hands above the waist at all times. Whoa! Is that your camera lens in your pocket, or are you that happy to get your hands on me?”
After enjoying the beauty of the perfect summer day for an hour, as well as the beauty of their new relationship, Nicholas and Griffin rose, discarded their plates and water bottles in the recycling bins, and began a leisurely stroll, hand in hand, toward Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the evening concert and fireworks show.
Thinking that this day couldn’t get any better, they discovered that they were wrong. The concert was exhilarating, and the fireworks display was beyond either of the boys’ expectations. Happily exhausted, they located the closest bus stop and waited for the Philly Phlash to arrive. Nicholas set up an Uber pick up at their bus dropoff so that they would not have to make the walk back to the RV. Not only were the boys quite tired but they were a little nervous about being out walking at that time of the night in an unfamiliar area.
Remarkably, freshly showered and lying in bed by midnight, both boys were too zapped to do anything more than cuddle and smooch. After a half-hour of blissful togetherness, they separated themselves. Griffin transferred his pics from his camera to his laptop and began to play with them, discarding some, editing others, while Nicholas retrieved his journal and began to record their day’s excitement.
“Remember my dad’s maps that I found the other day with the markings and notes he made about places he wanted to visit and take me to?”
“Of course, I do.”
“Well, I was thinking … it’s out of the way a bit, but one of the places he had circled was Gettysburg. I know we’re heading toward New England, and Gettysburg is actually west of here, but I think we’ve got time to go there for the weekend. I’m pretty sure they do Civil War reenactments on the weekends, and that would be really awesome to see! Then maybe we could head back east towards Atlantic City. What do you think?”
“I think … no, I know … I would follow you to the ends of the Earth!”