Jeff Wallace

Jeff Wallace

Thomas Wolfe wrote in the title of one of his novels, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”

Don’t tell that to another novelist, Aiken native Thomas Moore – Tom to his friends.

Tom is a fellow Aiken High graduate, class of 1966, who has returned to his hometown after decades away. One of the brighter fellows in our class, Tom left the halls of Aiken High for the uniforms and discipline of The Citadel where he graduated in 1970.

A keen thinker even in his teen years, Tom ended up in Washington, D.C., where he worked in the office of Sen. Strom Thurmond. He worked on policy issues and wrote speeches for the late senator from South Carolina. When retirement became a reality a few years ago, Tom had his choice of many places to go, and he decided to return to the city in which he grew up.

Unlike many of us retirees who gave up the work world for peace, quiet and relaxation, Tom decided on another career that is just as taxing as his former one. He decided to write novels.

I had heard through the class grapevine that Tom was a novelist but had not picked up any of his works. That is when our paths crossed.

Dining at my favorite barbecue establishment with the Friday noon crowd, I was in conversation with those at the table, when I heard my name whispered from a nearby booth. It’s interesting how one’s ear perk up when his name is spoken.

Two gentlemen at that booth were looking in my direction with one saying, “Is that Jeff Wallace?”

Since I am anything but famous, I wondered if it was someone who thought I owed them money or if there had been a promise that I had failed to keep. When our eyes met across the barbecue hall, one spoke up and asked the identity question of me. When I nodded, he identified himself as Tom. The other was Bob Tarrant, an AHS grad from 1965 who married a woman in our class, Patsy Jones.

The two came over to the table, and Tom mentioned that he was back in town and would like to send me a copy of his latest book, “A Fatal Mercy: The Man Who Lost the Civil War.” Getting a free book – and one from a long-ago classmate – was more than I could resist.

“Of course,” I told him as we exchanged contact information.

That afternoon, with a belly full of pulled pork, hash on rice and banana pudding, I went to a store for replacement batteries for some gizmo in the house. There I ran into Bud Coward, another Class of ’66 alumnus, who happened to go to The Citadel at the same time as Tom. I mentioned to Bud about that day’s meeting with Tom and was told that Bud’s wife Bonnie had just finished reading the novel and enjoyed it immensely.

The next morning my wife and I went downtown for breakfast, where we ran into yet another Class of ’66 grad, Jerry King. He said that he had just finished reading the book and was excited about our fellow classmate’s writing success.

Living in the city where I graduated from high school, it is often weeks or longer between sightings of others I went to school with. Seeing three people within a 24-hour period and the common thread of the novel running among them, it seemed almost providential.

Sometimes it takes one nudge to get a person to do something. For some of us it takes two. In this case, when the third nudge came, I knew someone was telling me to read Tom’s novel.

A couple of weeks later a large, bulging envelope arrived in the mail with Tom’s novel inside. For those who find it hard to believe that one man alone could have caused the South to lose the Civil War, Tom lays out a fictitious scenario in which that might have been plausible.

While the characters and the situation of the one who “lost the Civil War” are not real, the accuracy of specific battles is spot on. Tom did amazing research to ensure that his depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg and other actions within the war were historically correct. The fighting at times is so realistic, I occasionally detected the smell of spent gunpowder when turning pages.

Entwined in the 439 pages are a love story, a saga of honor and duty, the perplexing question of the South’s and the entire nation’s sin of slavery and one man’s internal struggle with guilt over his perceived failures.

Over lunch this week at a local restaurant, Tom discussed his decision to return to Aiken and his meeting the woman who is now his wife. We talked about the changes in the city from the small town we knew more than half a century ago. He mentioned his love of writing and his gratitude to our senior English teacher, Margaret Bobo, for her words of encouragement way back then.

Thomas Moore – Tom to his friends – found his way back home. Yes, home has changed from the Aiken of 1966, but so has Tom. Both have broadened their horizons and have embraced their reunion. Both have much left to do.

Jeff Wallace is a retired editor of the Aiken Standard.