November 23, 2004

My Mind And Welcome To It

Today is the anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Chattanooga, which culminated in the famous Union charge up Missionary Ridge. It really is a battle worth studying, particularly as it illustrates the tenacity of Ulysses S. Grant, even in a very tight situation, a characteristic that was to doom Lee once Grant moved to the Eastern theatre.

But what I always think of in connection with this battle is James Thurber's "The Dog That Bit People," from his collection of short stories My Life and Hard Times. This is one of the funniest stories you'll ever read, recounting the tale of a very bad-tempered airedale named Muggs:


(Muggs in Pensive Mood)

In the story, Thurber recounts that one of his relations (his grandfather or great uncle, I believe) claimed to be the third man up Missionary Ridge. Thurber's brother remarks that, had Muggs been after him, he'd have been the first man up Missionary Ridge. As corny as it really is, I have always found this very droll. And I have always used it as a kind of bullet point around which to organize my knowledge of the battle. Such is the way many pieces of historical flotsam and jetsam are stored in my mind.

As a matter of fact, snatches of commentary on Muggs have long been part of my family's lexicon. We speak freely of "moodily chewing up the morning paper" and hitting one with half a grapefruit and we always get a laugh out of Thurber's mother defending Muggs' behavior: "He doesn't mean it - people scream and he gets excited."

Indeed, this entire collection of stories is one of those books I've Stopped Reading On The Metro. Electricity leaking out of light sockets, notes to burglars pleading that they not chloroform sleeping aunts, Grandfather shooting imaginary deserters in the attic, the "Get Ready" Man and the day the engine fell out of the family car - all of these provoke paroxisms of helpless giggling every time I read them.

Posted by Robert at November 23, 2004 09:34 AM | TrackBack
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