3 out of 4 stars
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May 30, 2018, marked Bruce and Nancy Westerdahl’s 65th wedding anniversary, a milestone that saw them celebrate their love together with their three children, eight grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. Their memoir, Growing Up in Gettysburg during WWII and the 40s, has a lot to say about Gettysburg, the historical town that is synonymous with the most significant battle ever fought during the American Civil War. Their story began in 1942, the year Bruce—then only a sixth-grader—moved to Gettysburg.
Seventy-nine years earlier (July 1 – 3, 1863), though, the Battle of Gettysburg pitted Union and Confederate forces. As one of the effects of the war, the Westerdahls detailed how one prominent family’s members had conflicting allegiances. In 1863, Henry Culp was a wealthy farmer who owned a sizable chunk of arable farmland in Gettysburg. So vast was his assets that a rolling hill was named after him (Culp’s Hill). Years later, Culp’s Hill would feature prominently as one of the prime spots where neighborhood boys met to play touch football in the fall or softball in the spring. During the era of the Civil War, nevertheless, Culp’s Hill was the scene where Wesley Culp, one of Henry Culp’s nephews, met his death as he fought in an opposing position to his brother, William Culp.
I liked the memoir because the Westerdahls achieved their goal of writing their life story. Even though the story is a love record meant for their descendants, I gained by experiencing a lifestyle and a perspective that is different and foreign in comparison to my own. I was mesmerized by a concept known as “a Tom Thumb wedding,” for example. In the memoir, the Westerdahls included an undated photograph of a pre-teen Nancy, among other kids, featured in a bride’s gown and gracing her wedding! I thought that, in today’s world, such a practice might be abused or misconstrued given the prevalence of cases involving pedophiles.
That notwithstanding, the story took me to a time I thought life was straightforward and honest. It’s my opinion that the proliferation of dating apps, for example, has made the simple task of searching for a suitor complicated. Compared to the Westerdahls who married at twenty-two, today’s youth would be extremely lucky to settle down by the age of thirty, mainly because people’s priorities have changed, and personal circumstances are now largely dictated by technology.
In summary, since the memoir appeared to have been made up of previously published blog posts, there was no chronological order to the stories. For this reason, the authors tended to repeat some story segments. The most distracting aspect, even so, was the high number of editing errors in the writing. As a result, I rate the book 3 out of 4 stars.
Lastly, from the authors’ memoir, Gettysburg attracts a lot of tourists each year (over a million in 2017). Of interest, this book focuses on the historical and social importance of this famous town. Other than visiting the town, therefore, a prospective reader will gain valuable insider knowledge by reading this book. At the same time, it may be less suited for a reader who is not interested in historical narratives.
Growing Up in Gettysburg during WWII and the 40s
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