As I’m working on the next book in the Funeral Singer series, I decided that I needed to do some “in the field” research for it. So around the beginning of the month, I scheduled a trip to Tennessee. Hot damn! Memphis!
I’ll bet you thought that right off the bat. Well, yes, I did fly into Memphis airport. A day later than I planned, at that. I got to the airport and boarded my flight on time in the early afternoon on Monday only to have a mechanical delay. It seems there was a tear in one of our engines and the experts were taking a look to determine if they could “speed seal” it (I think that was the term the pilot used.) We waited for the verdict although I don’t think anyone was overjoyed with the prospect of taking off on a two-engine jet that had a crack in one engine.
A couple with their two little children, one an infant, were across from me and I kept thinking that if I were in their shoes, I’d be hustling those kids off the plane and be looking for another flight, as some people were already beginning to do. The flight was connecting in Denver and I had a couple of hours leeway, so I waited it out since it wasn’t supposed to take too long. Two hours later, the pilot said that they thought the tear was too deep and they were contacting the manufacturer’s in France to see if it would be safe to use the quick repair option. That was the point that I decided, I wasn’t going on this flight. So, I took my bags and went downstairs to the counter and got re-booked on an “0:dark:thirty” flight in the morning – 5:30 am, to be precise.
At least I got into Memphis by early afternoon, but there was no time to linger there. I took my rental, a nice Jeep Compass, and drove out to Shiloh National Memorial Park, also the Battlefield. While my book isn’t exactly about Shiloh, part of it does play out there, so I felt I had to see it, touch it, and feel it for myself. I arrived there in the late afternoon with the sun shining in a nearly cloudless sky on April 5th. For those who might not recall, the battles at Shiloh were on April 6th and 7th, 1862, so I had come at the same time of year that the battles were fought.
First and foremost, Shiloh is a memorial cemetery and many war veterans are buried here, not just those from the Civil War. But the monuments installed here to remember those who fought and died on this battlefield are powerful and beautiful. I was too late to view the video about the battle when I arrived, so I made a quick trip through the museum and went out to explore the first few stops on the tour.
I got as far as Shiloh Church, which is a recreation of the original church. I had the opportunity to go inside and look around. It is small with only eleven pews in it and a few open windows. Outside, and across the parking lot, there is a newer Methodist Church that is still an active congregation. Across the street is the Shiloh Cemetery where more recent graves are found amongst the older ones.
As the park closed at 5 pm, I went into Savannah, Tennessee, where I spent the night. I had a fabulous Cajun Skillet meal at one of the local restaurant’s, Mollie Monday’s that is one of the best I’ve ever tasted. It came with shrimp, chicken, and sausage in a perfectly seasoned sauce on rice and a generous serving of hush puppies. Heaven! Then I splurged on pecan pie that was simply divine. When in the South… eat like a Southerner.
The next day was overcast and sporadically rainy, which actually turned out to be perfect for the mood, the lighting and the photos that I took. I did see the video before I started out on the trail again, then saw each stop on it through the new eyes of knowledge. It was very crowded around Shiloh Church and I don’t know if they had a special memorial because of the anniversary date or if there was a funeral, but I was grateful I had seen it the previous day. Overall, it was a very moving experience and one that I hope I can convey with depth and emotion in the new novel. If you have the opportunity to visit Shiloh, I highly recommend it.
After another night in Savannah, I went north to Clarksville, another spot that is a setting in the book. Travel can be slow. The road North was only on a freeway for a short time as it went towards Nashville, then it was two-lane highways most of the way from there. It took quite a while to travel the 175 miles, plus an accident on the freeway delayed traffic for almost an hour while police cleared it.
At Clarksville, I stopped at Fort Defiance to check out the Civil War history there. Basically, Clarksville was in the more neutral territory of the war and evidently switched sides based on who was occupying the city. The display at the very architecturally-pleasing museum was interesting and the story was told from a woman at home while her husband fought point of view. After Shiloh, it seemed pretty tame, but it’s good to know that there were calm spots in the war.
From Clarksville, I drove back to Memphis, which took most of the last day I had and I ran into major construction on the freeway in Memphis, which forced my Garmin to route me through some exciting back streets in the city to get to my motel near the airport. Bottom line? I didn’t even get down to Beale Street this trip, but I have been there before.
So, that’s my research trip to Tennessee and now all I have to do it incorporate the essence of it into Funeral Singer: A Song for Menafee.