There’s a first time for everything. Over the weekend, at a book signing for “Patriotic Pals, Tails of Civil War Dogs,” in Lexington, Va., a wavy-haired little boy named Abram zinged a plastic lemon at me. It whizzed past my head, ricocheting off the wall.
Abram didn’t think my book was a lemon. The 2-year-old just wanted to play catch. His mom was mortified at her son’s pitch, as was Ron, a volunteer at the Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson House, and Grace, a museum employee.
Why a lemon, you might be wondering? That’s what everyone wants to know when they visit the house and see lemon stress balls for sale, or take a walk up the hill to Stonewall Jackson’s grave and see lemons on the lawn around the monument.
It seems Jackson, a famous Confederate general who died in the Civil War, liked to suck on lemons, felt they were beneficial to his health.
In my research for “Patriotic Pals,” I’d come across that fact, but I learned much more about the revered general after visiting the marvelous home where he lived and taking part in a tour led by Grace, who admits to having an ongoing passion for history.
Lexington, Va., is rife with it — even the house we stayed in was period. Gutted by its owner and brought back to life, the white clapboard with mint-green shutters is located in the historic heart of the community made famous by Jackson and Robert E. Lee, another Confederate general buried in Lexington, along with his horse Traveler.
Jackson’s famous mount, Little Sorrell, can be viewed aboveground. It was Jackson’s wish to have the beloved Morgan stuffed, and the horse is on display on the campus of Virginia Military Institute.
Months ago when I arranged to visit Lexington I had an ulterior motive. The Stonewall Jackson House is a stop for Chuck and Tilly, the canines in “Patriotic Pals” who take a road trip to learn about Civil War dogs. It’s my dream to visit all the places they did, and now I’ve got two under my collar — Lexington and Shiloh, in Tennessee, a historic site we toured a few years ago.
Happenstance never ceases to amaze me. I didn’t realize that Nell Whittaker, the English girl who’s been staying with us, has a close connection to Lexington. That news came when she emailed her mother and told her she was going to Virginia.
It turns out Nell’s family’s home, built in 1584, and located in Shropshire, is called the Lea House, and was built by an ancestor of Robert E. Lee. When one branch of the Lea family immigrated to America, the spelling of their name changed.
Everything on the beautiful campus of Washington and Lee University is Lee this and Lee that, including a lovely chapel beneath which Lee is buried, along with many of his family members.
How strange that Nell could have visited anywhere in the United States while she was here but we just happened to be going to Lexington, when she just happened to be staying with us. Coincidences materialize in our lives connecting us across the miles.
On our way home from Lexington, Va., we dropped Nell off in Lexington, Ky., to catch a Greyhound bus to New York City for six weeks. Along the way, she texted that she is story gathering — Nell wanted to “go Greyhound” to experience real Americana. She’s off on another adventure before returning to Missouri for a couple of weeks. No doubt the 19-year-old will have plenty to tell us about her journey, an overnight road trip with three bus changes.
In her bag I stuck a lemon stress ball, compliments of Michael Ann, site director at the Stonewall Jackson House, just in case the trip got harrowing. There’s plenty of good humor as well as good stories at our nation’s historic sites.
Visit Lexington, Va., if you get a chance. It’s a beautiful small town with lots to offer.