It all began with two books: one on the American Revolution and one on the American Civil War. They and several friends came to my brother and I via family friends, who, I'm guessing, were cleaning out their bookshelves. I immediately remember the smell. I was in third grade when I first cracked them open and I'll always remember the smell. It could've been the paper they were printed on, the glue in the binding, maybe the type of wood they sat on since first being purchased in the late 60s. Whatever it was they had a smell. They were used but not abused by any means, their dust jackets taking the brunt.
I toted these two with me to school squirreling them into my desk, anxiously waiting until break time when we gnashed on soft pretzels (15 cents each!) and escaped into little groups or an individual oasis for about 15 minutes. To me, the words weren't as important as the pictures; men decked out in uniforms of all kinds, accouterments hanging off of them, armed with rifles and swords going head-long, brave, into battle.
I was with a college class visiting a local museum, when, as I rounded a corner, I saw it.
Nation Makers by Howard Pyle - Brandywine River Museum
Stopping in my tracks, I looked to a classmate, excitedly explaining how I remember seeing the painting in a book when I was little. It wasn't because it was considered amazing artwork, or that it was by Howard Pyle. No, it because back in the classroom, I saw myself marching through the fields of high grass, smelling the spent powder lacing the air, feeling the breeze that fluttered the tattered flag. I had not returned to a familiar painting, but a familiar place.