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'Tuf as a Boiled Owl'

Springfield resident writes book on Civil War soldiers.

When Kenena Hansen Spalding taught the Civil War to her grade-school classes, she would tell them to "put on their Lincoln hats" and have them examine maps of nineteenth-century America, trying to figure out ways to defeat the Confederate Army. Recently, the Springfield resident and Vermont native took her love of history a step further and published a book: "Tuf as a Boiled Owl," a collection of letters by Proctor Swallow, a Civil War soldier and ancestor of her husband. Recently, Spalding answered some questions about herself and the book.

How long have you lived in the community and what brought you here? We’ve been living in the Springfield area since 1969, when my husband was transferred to the Pentagon. And we’ve lived in this particular neighborhood since 1979.

Family: I have three children, four grandchildren. Two of my grandchildren live in this area. One goes to Longwood, and one is at South County and is a junior. Two of my grandsons live in Vermont.

Education: I went to University of Vermont, and I have my master’s degree from the University of Virginia.

Activities/interests/hobbies: I love to read. This time of year I knit. My grandchildren expect something hand-knit from Grandma. I like to garden, travel and things to do with family and volunteer work.

How did you come across the letters? I found the letters from my husband’s aunts. My husband was in the army, and when we first went south, I was surprised to discover they were still fighting the Civil War. I thought it was over and in the history books. So at that time, almost in self-defense — and it was almost the 1960s and so everybody was gearing up for the 100th anniversary — so I began to read a lot about it and became a minor Civil War buff. So that’s how I started and started to word-process them. I was able to go into the archives and see his pension records and his military records. So the more I began to discover, it’s like everything else; the more you learn, the more you want to know.

You've left Procter Sparrow's grammar and spelling as-is. What was it like deciphering the letters? When I was working on the book that was almost the first thing I had to do. He didn’t know how to spell and he didn’t have any sense of punctuation, it was just almost like this stream-of-consciousness writing. The first time through I started to correct it. And then when I finished I became aware that as he was away from home and exposed to more, he began picking up these conventions. He learned how to spell certain words, he began to know where to put a period. So I thought, “Wait a minute, I should really let the reader discover that for themselves.” So the second time I went through, I put it just as he did it. And maybe to show where ordinarily we would use some punctuation, I would just leave some spaces.

Describe your teaching career. I taught in Vermont, I taught in Hawaii, I taught in Georgia, I taught in New Jersey. And then when my husband came here I stopped teaching because I was raising my three children. I went back to teaching in 1973 right around the time my husband retired, and I taught over at Hunt Valley. From Hunt Valley, I went to Laurel Ridge and taught there, and from Laurel Ridge I taught at Keene Mill, and for the last several years I taught at White Oaks. I ended up in the GT Center both at Keene Mill and White Oaks, teaching fifth and sixth-grade kids. I loved it, it was fun.

Community concerns. Because my granddaughter is a junior at South County High School and because I live in Newington Forest, I’ve been kind of following this boundary issue, hoping that that can be resolved. The other one I’m following that I think is going to be great for this area is the [Lorton] Workhouse Arts Center. This is a great place to live, we’ve seen a lot of changes in Springfield since we’ve been here. Things that were once one-lane bridges, I don’t even know how we could get along with them now.

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you "grew up?" One time I thought I wanted to work for a newspaper. I knew I wanted to write. One time, when I was very, very little, I told my mom I wanted to be a nurse. She told me if I wanted to be a nurse I had to empty bedpans, and I never wanted to be a nurse again. I just wanted to teach. I really love teaching.

What is the last book you read? I’m reading one now on Wal-Mart, and I read a fascinating one this summer, it’s a bit older, on Pearl Harbor. The first part was told from the point of view of the Japanese — their conception of the raid, and their planning and all the things they had to go through — and the other one was told from the point of view of the Americans and eventually became involved in the things they did in the year preceding it. That was a fascinating book to read. I like biographies and I like histories.

What is a community "hidden treasure" you think more people should know about? Just living in the Newington Forest area, there’s this wonderful trail that just goes through the forest, and actually you can go two or three miles. You can go and it hitches up to the county trail so you can go all the way over the Burke Lake if you want to. They’ve got a new trail that just opened up that begins at the Lorton Workhouse. So, all kinds of places where people can take short walks or long walks.

What does history mean to you? I love to teach history to kids because it’s a story. The decisions that one group of people make frame the decisions that the next group of people make. History is people, and history is decisions. Things don’t have to happen the way they do, but depending upon the choices we make, then other things will happen.

Personal goals: As you grow older, there’s something special about every age. You can’t stop the aging process. So I want to be productive for as long as I live, in some way. With the book now, I wanted to model for my grandkids that just cause you get to be a certain age doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish something. And the nice thing about getting a little bit older, you get to see how things turn out. So you begin to see full circle some things.

— Lea Mae Rice