William Faulkner famously said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
We in the South may have a greater appreciation for that than most, and it is no accident that the quote comes from someone as steeped in Southern history as was Faulkner. For proof of this aphorism, we need look no further than the current controversy surrounding Confederate monuments. Getting rid the them, as some would like to do, does not purge the past of what they represent, and we would do well to remember what they represent, for to forget risks running afoul of other often-quoted aphorisms: “the past is prologue” and “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”
In an early draft of The Home Guard, a monument played a key role in the story. This monument was, like the book itself, fiction. As I conceived it, with the end of the war in sight the Union decided to build a monument to its victory in the Battle of Port Royal Sound. The location chosen was directly in front of the Barnwell family home on Bay Street. Because of events described in the book (and omitted here to avoid giving away the story), this monument became, to Carter as his grandmother, a symbol of all they had lost in the war, and its construction was seen as one last humiliation before the Union soldiers packed up to return home. While I loved the irony of characters in a book plotting to destroy a Civil War monument in 1865--further evidence that nothing had changed 150 years later--I decided to ditch the monument as too far-fetched. It pained me to let it go, because I had not only designed it carefully but also constructed it almost to completion.
Such is the price we must pay to write. Some of what we like best ends up in the trash can. But the book to be published is better for the omission, and that is what counts. Still, when I drive down Bay Street today past the spot where my fictional monument stood, I can almost see it silhouetted against the backdrop of Lady’s Island and the Beaufort River. “The past is never dead,” even the past that never happened.