Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Skippers 'n Snakes at Stones River Battlefield, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

From age 10 through my mid-twenties, I was a pretty serious Civil War buff.  My folks would drive me to numerous battlefields within reach of the mid-Atlantic and I'd always thirsted to venture further the more sites I saw.  I live in close in proximity to Gettysburg, the pivotal theater of the conflict, and frequently hike up there or drive around with my son to clear my head or to climb the rocks at Devil's Den and Little Round Top.  It also happens I have a great-great-grandfather and great-great-uncle who fought for the Union Army at Gettysburg, so I continue to be drawn to the Civil War, though my schedule hardly allows me to delve deeper than I get to.

In my recent travels, we spent a lot of time driving around in preparation of my brother-in-law's wedding, and there wasn't a lot of time initially to do much sightseeing, considering I was in a hotbed of Civil War action.  Fortunately, luck presented itself when my wife took my mother-in-law to get her fingernails done and I'd spotted the entrance to Stones River Battlefield, scene of a three day outbreak where Union Major General William S. Rosecrans took on Confederate General Braxton Bragg's troops in a bloody affair.  Historians consider the outcome of the Battle of Stones River inconclusive or a draw, but the end result found the rebel army in retreat of its foes after hostilities ended at the field on January 2, 1863.

If you're a parent, you no doubt know what it's like to take a young child on a long haul trip, one initially filled with zero fun and lots of grown-up responsibilities.  I like to brag on my son since he rolls with the punches when it comes to being dragged about for family business.  Still, I could detect his fading spirits and growing desperation for some sort of energy release the longer we ran from one task to another throughout Nashville, Franklin and Murfreesboro.  I knew from my studies that there was a great likelihood of crossing into one of the scenes of the many skirmishes and battles that raged throughout Tennessee and admittedly, I too was suffering a severe case of wanderlust.

Thus me and the boyo let the ladies do their thing and we ventured off to Stones River in search of a quick-fix adventure.  I knew with a body of water, the opportunity to throw and skip rocks would be the most appealing proposal to my son at that point of the trip.  As for me, I was finally getting to see a deep Southern battlefield after all those years of tramping in Yankee and northern Virginia territories.  Call it a win-win.

Despite the bees that terrorized my kid at first, he eventually got with the program and began asking me about the Civil War.  After correcting him that war is not cool, despite how it looks to young eyes, we tramped about the premises.  I read a marker that talked about a nighttime ceasefire between the armies that found the Union soldiers playing "Hail, Columbia" and "Yankee Doodle," with the Army of Tennessee countering them with "Dixie" and "The Bonnie Blue Flag."  Before turning into a pissing match of ballads, someone kicked up "Home Sweet Home" (not the Motley Crue version, obviously) and both armies laid down their differences for a brief moment to sing the tune in unison.  That was the only cool thing I could say about war, I told my son.

With my son finally starting to relax, I found a weathered path to the river to guide him to and as expected, he asked me if he could throw some rocks into the water.  With a firm smile, I told him "absolutely," and thus we had at it, pelting the gurgling river with everything we could scoop from the banks without tumbling into the drink.  I'd shown him how to skip rocks many times in our hiking travels, and once again, he got the bug to mimic me. 

Not satisfied until I'd gone as far as I dared without getting us lost in a state I knew very little about, I guided us along the river's edge while my son tried to no avail to replicate my skippers.  In the past, he'd grow pouty and frustrated when he couldn't complete them, but this time, he just gave a heavy sigh and did what most six-year-old boys would do in his case; he picked up a bundle of rocks and hurled them simultaneously into the water.  "Is that what the war here looked like, Dad?" he asked me after that and I responded, "Yeah, spot-on, my man."

And so we trailed along and I saw my son's curiosity growing more intense as the small cliffs grew more rugged.  I had that spark in his eye when I used to mountain climb in college without ropes.  I'm a lucky bastard to have survived my reckless scales back then and I felt a growing dread in the pit of my bowels, though I totally understood the escalating yearning inside my kid.  Then that dread turned into a full-fledged knot when I spotted something my son thought was a big branch on a rock beneath us.  "That's no branch, buddy," I whispered.

Slowly raising my camera, I took this shot of a brown snake and quietly ordered my son backwards after letting him look for a few seconds.  I'm no fan of snakes, to be honest, and this was as far as I cared to meet this guy, who was sunning himself.  We were the intruders, I reminded my son, as we slid back and got out of there, fist-bumping each other along the way.

We explored more of the battlefield after a cautious laugh from our encounter before heading back to get the ladies from the nail salon.  My son would talk about our confrontation with the snake to everyone at the wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner that evening.  I understood his transference of fear to enthusiasm since we'd gotten away without hassle from that snake, but when you're the parent, the fantastical allure becomes something altogether different and unsettling.  I found myself lifting a prayer of thanks that I hadn't put my son in real harm's way and now, I'm thankful for this one of many bonding experiences we've enjoyed together as father and son.

                 Listenin' to:  Grace Jones - Warm Leatherette

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