A Confederate Teenager in Yankee New England (It Just Wasn’t Done!)

by Al Benson Jr.

4 June 2009

As a youngster, from about age ten onward, I guess I would have to call myself a Confederate sympathizer. I knew virtually nothing about the War of Northern Aggression at that tender age, but I occasionally saw a movie with “Civil War” battles depicted in it. I can remember rooting for those ragged guys in the tattered gray uniforms and hoping they’d win out over all those guys in those fancy blue uniforms. I suppose today that would make me guilty of “thoughtcrime.” As a youngster I lived in Southern New England, the haven of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Abolitionists, and so rooting for those “rebels” was something that just wasn’t done, at least not in my neck of the woods. But, then, even at age ten, I guess I was a bit of a non-conformist.Confederate kepi

When I was ten years old I bought my first (of many) pair of cowboy boots. I had worked doing odd jobs and running errands for almost a year to save up the money for them—a dime here, a quarter there, until I had almost enough, and my Dad, though not a non-conformist, paid the little bit I was short. You just didn’t wear cowboy boots in Southern New England in the late 1940s and early 50s—it just wasn’t done. Most people didn’t even know what they were. Guess they just didn’t watch enough Western movies.

Southern New England being what it was and I being who I was, things gradually slid from bad to worse for me. I was one of those people who just couldn’t seem to follow all the Southern New England do’s and don’ts, which dealt with how folks are supposed to live in Southern New England, often to the consternation of my own family. I was “different” and in that part of the world at that point in time “different” was something that just wasn’t done!

But, when I reached the ripe old age of fifteen, I really slipped the traces, and from then on, I didn’t bother looking back. I remember that, one warm summer evening my Mom and I went to the Shrine Circus, which was something the Shriners put on every year to raise money for their charitable projects. It was somewhat like a typical circus, and during a break between the acts there was a carnival midway where you could go and spend your extra money if you had any. As Mom and I were walking down the midway we came to a vendor who was selling Yankee and Confederate kepis. (There’s a word for you kiddies to look up in the dictionary).

Although I looked, I was going to just walk on by when my mother stopped and said “Would you like a hat?” I don’t think she ever fully realized what she started with that question. I walked back and said, “Yes,”

I’d take one, and she then asked “Which one do you want?” Knowing that either would be controversial in our neighborhood (anything was except baseball caps), I hesitated—and it was then that I heard what I have always described as a “non-audible voice” which in my mind, though I could not physically hear it, seemed like it was about three and a half feet in back of my left shoulder, and it very clearly communicated to me that I should “Take the gray one.” So I did. And I started wearing it the next day.

Remember, this was back when much of the phony “civil rights” stuff was just starting up and New England, like the rest of the country, was being fed all of “Mississippi burning” propaganda about how bad life was all over the South and how mean and nasty all those racist Southerners were. Interestingly enough, the racist Northerners were never mentioned, and growing up where I did, I definitely knew there were quite a few. But for the prostitute press, racism did not exist north of Mason-Dixon. You didn’t discuss its having any presence in the North. It just wasn’t done!

However, wearing that “rebel” hat did not win me many friends, which helped, I guess, to make me even more of a rebel than I already was. It wasn’t that I consciously tried to aggravate folks­—I just wanted to do my own thing and be left alone. That wasn’t altogether possible in the Southern New England of that day. Seeing that I didn’t really know a lot about the War and all the reasons for it at that point, it was a bit hard to defend my position. All I knew was that it wasn’t about slavery, but since no one else there that I ran across seemed to grasp that, it wasn’t much help to me. In his own good time the Lord gave me the information I needed to deal with the subject, but He didn’t do it right then.

But that “rebel hat” was the beginning—no, maybe the cowboy boots were the beginning. I’m not sure which. Either way I learned that, for whatever reason, I just did not have a New England mindset. I think I would have been more at home in rural Mississippi than I was in Massachusetts, both then and later.

As for the event I’ve just described and the reasons for it, I have reflected many times. I’ve mentioned this event to a few of my Southern friends. They seem to have no problem accepting and understanding it. Some of them have had similar experiences of their own. I mentioned it to one of my Northern friends several years ago and he said “You had a conversion experience.” I had never thought of it in quite those terms. A decade later I did have a “conversion experience” which brought me to faith in Jesus Christ. To me that was a conversion experience, not the other, and yet the other was not insignificant because it pointed me in a direction I might not otherwise have taken consciously. So I believe that the Lord used it in my life also.

Years later, I got another “rebel hat,” along with most of the rest of the gray uniform, and have worn them in several Southern heritage parades over the years, and to conferences and other events. I have never been ashamed of that gray uniform or of the “rebel hat,” and those who prattle about the War being all about slavery and racism are either ignorant of the real reasons for the War or they hope you are. Either way, they can keep their leftist propaganda and I’ll keep my “rebel” uniform. My wife, son, and I now live in the deep South, and we’ve been more content here than anyplace “up North” we ever lived. So I reckon, God willing, we’re fixin’ to stay.

The Fire Eater copyright 2008