Location: Shy's Hill—Benton Smith Road, Redoubt 1—Benham Avenue, the Monument—Battlefield Ave & Granny White
Size of Park: Very Small
Approximate Age of Patrons: My age
Topics of Conversation: "Get out of the road"
Stray Dogs Seen: None
Types of Vehicles in Parking Lots: Mine
Perceived Safety: Well, high, kind of
Number of Gunshots Heard: None, not even ghostly ones
Dog Friendliness: Medium
Number of pitbulls sighted: Mine
Incorporation of Local History: Excellent
Recommended Patrons: History buffs
In my younger days, I had an uncle who was a history teacher: my dad's brother, Blain. Like me, he had blue eyes and was left-handed. He was brilliant, but in this way that made you feel like the whole world was much more interesting than it looked like at first glance, and you could get to know it if you just spent some time reading and watching. He was brilliant in ways that were inspiring, not off-putting.
He had polio and almost died when he was little. My whole life, he walked with crutches or got around on a motorized scooter. It was always a great treat when he'd let all us nieces and nephews pile onto the scooter like clowns in some circus act and he would take off at great speeds. Well, they were probably not great speeds, but they seemed that way when we were young. And if you took him to a battlefield, he would drive that scooter like it was an ATV to get over to read a sign or to check a line of sight or to position himself where a soldier might have stood, just to better understand.
My very first thought, the first time I went to Fort Negley and walked the slope up and saw the wooden pathways, was that Uncle Blain was going to love this, that he could navigate that without too much worry about getting stuck. He had been dead at least 10 years by then, but my instinct was to share that place with him.
I had that same urge in the middle of Redoubt One — to call him, at least, to tell him how they had situated the gun and how I could see clear into town through the trees and how the earthworks they would have hidden behind was worn with time. And then I came home and I cried so hard I was gasping for air.
Because grief does not care how long it's been, you know? It comes and it goes in its own time.
I was going to write something snarky about the graffiti at Shy's Hill and how, after our conversation during my last park review, I just assumed it was because Shy's Hill was in a terrible neighborhood full of terrible people. But you can't use humor as a mask for everything (though I'll try, I assure you).
If that's not enough to get the city's point across, on the other side there's an explanation of the statue. It reads, "The spirit of youth holds in check the contending forces that struggled here in the fierce battle of Nashville, December 16th, 1864, sealing forever the bond of union by the blood of our heroic dead of the World War 1917-1918. A monument like this, standing on such memories, having no reference to utilities, becomes a sentiment, a poet, a prophet, an orator to every passerby."
I'm not sure what it means, exactly, but I get the gist — that there was a great wish that the young men dying together as one country during World War I would be a large enough blood sacrifice to heal the gaping wound of the Civil War, and that we could be one country with the past left in the past. The statue was dedicated on Armistice Day, 1927; at that moment Faulkner was sitting in Mississippi just getting started on his writing career, which was, in great part, built on the failure of that wish.
It is, of course, in the hands of the young to fix the things we have fumbled. But we were all young, once, and we thought our job was to walk slowly through the world as our favorite uncle told us great, true stories about it.
So what can you do?
I guess this is kind of a failure as a park review. They are fine parks and very small, so it's no trouble to explore each of them thoroughly and still have much of the afternoon. Yes, there's some graffiti at Shy's Hill and someone seems to have kicked over the signs telling you to keep off the earthworks at Redoubt One. But you should still go, if only to remember that the place we live is rich with the stories of people who bled and died so we can stand here today — people who are now gone, as you and I will be one day as well.
And while you're there, you can wonder if we, as a city, have managed to come together since then, or if we have just paved over the sorrows of the past so that we can pretend not to know them — as if we could pretend so hard to forget that one day they might be erased from all time.