Trying to make up for lost time

Trying to make up for lost time

General Robert E. Lee

When I was in sixth grade, I played the part of Confederate General Robert E. Lee for our school play about the Civil War. I wore a wig on my head and a painted beard on my face. I was dressed in a gray suit and had a sword at my side. I came out on stage, pulled the sword from its scabbard, held it aloft and yelled, “Charge!” Somehow pulling out the sword busted the button on my trousers, and they fell to my ankles. The audience of parents and kids laughed, including my parents. I saw that my mom and dad tried to hold it back, but then burst out with a howl. I attempted to walk off stage, but tripped and fell. The laughter doubled.

The effects of this debacle rippled throughout my life. I spent years avoiding any kind of public speaking or performance. When anyone laughed anywhere, I assumed it was at me. Even if it was a movie theater audience watching a comedy. Whenever I met someone in the military, I’d compulsively drop my pants and apologize over and over again.

When I got my first time-machine in 1982, I decided to go back to source of the rupture. But I first went further back to the night of April 9, 1865, and Prowsner’s Lodging House and Saloon, in Appomattox, Virginia. There in the lobby sat General Lee, hunched over, sullenly sipping a glass of bourbon. He was feeling down because earlier in the day he surrendered the Civil War to General Grant. I felt sorry for him. Not because I supported his cause, but I can relate to humiliation and loss.

I put a compassionate hand on his shoulder and offered an opportunity to feel better. He inquired what that might be. I said we had something in common and told him my miserable tale from the beginning of this story. He offered his sympathy. I said he could help me and himself by time-traveling back with me to that infamous day. Lee took me up on this and away we went in my time-machine.

There General Lee and I were, in the back of my elementary school auditorium. Suddenly on the stage appeared the younger me, arm and sword held high. Down went my pants. Up went the laughter. Down I tumbled.

The real General Lee marched swiftly up and onto the stage. He yelled, pulled out his sword, and slashed it through the paper backdrop. The laughter suddenly stopped.

The younger me looked in awe at General Lee, who helped me up, and raised and fastened my pants.

Then General Lee proclaimed to the audience, “Your impudence knows no bounds! What has this lad ever done to you? Has any of you forgotten the fumbling innocence of your childhood? I’m ashamed of the fetid decay of the conscience of my country.”

My neighbor, Mr. Browdster, stood up and said, “I’m not going to sit here and be preached to by a traitor!”

General Lee sighed and was silent. He took the younger me by the hand and brought him to the back of the hall. Everyone was looking when the younger me turned around to the audience, gave them the middle finger, and said, “Up Yours!” General Lee smiled and patted his head.

The three of us went outside. I revealed who I was to the younger me, who believed it 100%. General Lee said, “I want to thank the both of you. I was crestfallen. Now I’ve regained my esteem.”

The younger me and I dropped General Lee back to 1865 and the lodging house.

After that the younger me and I went forward in time to May 13th, 1887, Menlo Park, NJ, and the inventing workshop of Thomas Edison. That was the day Edison invented the banana split!!

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