500-words-a-day Group #1214629
Oh, Lord, Mother was not going to like this. Momma and Daddy usually disagree on anything that reflects on the family’s name. Mother was old South. She disliked slavery. However, Mother believed in a state’s right to govern itself on the loathsome subject. I had a twelve-year-old child’s opinion, and believed owning a man, working him into the ground, and trading his children like cattle is wrong no matter what side of the Mason-Dixon Line we lived.
Mother and I did not agree on many subjects, and charity was one subject we often quarreled. Mother believed that charity began at home with the family. As I thought about our differences, I rushed up the stairs to the vast attic with stubbornness and determination blinding me to Mother’s words.
I knew exactly what I wanted and where to find it; a huge corner of the attic filled with old trunks and dusty cases. Three generations of Egglefields had lived in the home near Harrietstown, New York and Saranac Lake. Three generations of used clothing was stored in the attic. I knew where extra coats, boots and shoes were stored.
“I remember,” said Martha rearranging herself and the blankets covering her frail shoulders, “that I piled the clothing and coats on an old tarp used to cover that old armoire. I cannot for the life of me figure how the men folk moved it up those stairs. Anyway, I dragged that tarp piled high down the stairs, and all the way to the barn.”
I offered those used and dusty clothes to Eli’s family. Then, I began handing out coats, hats, shoes, mittens and sweaters. Mother would not be happy, but I felt like I saved the world.
When I entered the barn, I started handing a jacket to Micah. Eli’s oldest son started to refuse. I understood his pride. However, he then he stiffly accepted the gift, a heavy gray coat stained with grease on the sleeve. The coat was well worn, but to Micah, the gift was glory. He smiled with unease and thanked me.
The other children gathered around me with the excitement of Christmas past and present. I felt a stir of humility watching Eli’s family accept such clothing items with deep and sincere gratitude. I cannot say that I ever felt another’s personal grace and thankfulness like theirs for gifts that many discard as trash.
Martha Jane watched Harry stoke the fire in the old wood stove. The warmth never reached the corner where she lay, and Martha shuddered as she said, “Mother told me to stay out of the barn. However, my demon, as a child, was curiosity, and Mother never approved of my flippant disregard for her direct instruction. Harry, I walked away from that old weathered barn, and I knew I would hear Mother’s harsh words later in the evening.”
Another lifetime’s beginnings flowed from Martha as she told Harry about the day her Father came home from the War Between the States. I remember that day. April skies busted through with warmer winds and a persistent drizzle. The long Adirondack winter became a memory when Father came home with a limp, a crutch, and Eli and his family.
I remember my Father, John Egglefield, as a straightforward English man, a working man from Cornish, I believe. What I remember most about him is his hands, dried and cracked, from his skill as a shoemaker. The dyes and tanning fluids stripped the softness from his fingers but with the strength needed to tie off moist, waxy sinew into a fancy gentleman’s boot sole.
I remember my Father’s eyes, too. I have my father’s eyes, blue-gray with widely spaced black bushy eyebrows. As a child, I played with those eyebrows. First, I smoothed them down, and then I would spike them upwards like two horns protruding from his forehead.
I did not recognize his eyes on that day in April 1864. Father’s eyes clouded with pain, stared into a distant place and seemed enveloped with fear. I learned later that his eyes would never lose that fear. He learned to conceal, and seldom revealed his mixture of reality and memories.
Father came home with dull gray, thin hair that no longer grew to his collar. I did not recognize my Father’s hair. Father left for the war with soft, wavy hair, a dark oak’s color. I loved when he placed his forehead next to mine. As a young child, I grabbed his ears, but the softness of his hair drew my young fingers through the waves. I would never feel his hair through my fingers, again.
Mary, my baby sister never knew Father. Mother was pregnant when Father volunteered in the Army’s New York 1st Infantry. He was a shoemaker, and a farmer who could shoot. The Union Army badly needed both skills in the war effort.
Mary shied away from Father the way any young thing shies away from someone new. She clung to Mother’s freshly ironed skirt. Mother would not tolerate Mary’s behavior. Mother’s English manners demanded that Mary stand straight and tall, and that she hold out her hand for a proper handshake. Mary stood bravely, not comprehending fully the nature of the moment, nor the nature of this man called Father.
Father took her small hand in his chapped and weathered and calloused hands. His hand trembled slightly, but he would have nothing to do with proper English manners at a time like this. He reached for Mary as a thirsting man reaches for a cup of water. He held her as he dreamed of holding her every day of the soulless and pitiless war.
Mother then embraced this man with caring and gentleness. She had waited for his return to the small cozy log home hewn from those rough hands, and the rich Adirondack soul that reminded her everyday. Mother stood ramrod straight while reaching for her husband. Father limped to her with a tiredness only the ancient combatants of old wars understand. Father laid his cheek on her shoulder and cried the tears of a man sensing his own death’s shadow slipping from his heart.
George, my older brother, now a man at ten years, walked into the scene with the muzzle loader, powder and shot ready, raised to his shoulder. He didn’t know this man. This man was not the father he remembered. This man was not strong. His father was stern with a mild humor, and a fair but leather wielding disciplinarian.
George’s approach did not resemble the English manners he grew to respect. George was a man protecting the women in his life until Mother stepped towards him with her hands raised to him, “George, your father is home.”
Feeling confused and betrayed George stared at Mother. At her silent direction, he placed the rifle on the ground, and walked to his father with his hand outstretched as a proper Englishman. George held his chin up, face composed as any gentleman. Shaking the hand of this man who was telling him, “The place looks fine, George, just fine.” Father’s simple words lifted the burdens from the shaking shoulders of a boy bent by a man’s work.
AndieK--don't forget "Life is an adventure . . . So write it down & treasure the memory forever."