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  • Mj Pettengill

How Were We to Know?


G.A.R. Marker, Civil War, Public Domain
G.A.R. Marker, Civil War, Public Domain

I went into the kitchen, leaned over his chair, and ran my fingers over the smooth, worn wood, tryin’ to conjure his spirit. Although some years had passed, I still longed to hear his voice. He would have spoken on my behalf, for this I was certain. The room wavered through tears that threatened to trickle. That vivid November day in 1861 seemed far away.

I remembered gatherin’ at the train station. The wind blew the last of the brittle, orange leaves from the unbendin’ trees, and the sky spat icy rain. God, Himself was furious. Papa mustered with the men of the Sixth New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, all puffed up with pride and filled with the fightin’ spirit. It was oddly festive for such an unfortunate event.

I watched the short, plump man in the brass band. The dimpled bell of his peculiar long horn rested on his shoulder – a perfect fit. His crimson cheeks bulged out like the shiny frogs in the pond behind the feed store. He swayed from side to side while they played “Yankee Doodle.” As always, the sound of a brass band sent Sarah’s spirit flyin’ and was possibly the reason that she became a fine cornetist a few years later. Some folks sang along. Not me; I didn’t feel much like singin’.

I took notice of the menfolk when they returned, lookin’ straight past me with their hollow eyes and drooped shoulders. Mother said that their bodies came back, but their spirits were left behind with their fallen brothers. Amos Weeks lost an eye durin’ a battle at a place called Bull Run, while Hiram Putnam came home with his leg missin’; of course, he got a wooden one. Silas said he took to the jug, never to be the same.

I squeezed Papa’s rough, beefy hand with all my strength, unwillin’ to let go. He dabbed my tears with the one handkerchief that I embroidered myself. “Don’t you cry. I will be home,” he promised.

The band played “Red, White, and Blue.” A chorus of men sang out as Papa placed a partin’ kiss on my forehead and then Sarah’s before takin’ Mother into his arms. How were we to know that this farewell kiss would be the last?

Sarah and I locked our gloved hands together and watched as he joined the other men on the train car. I craned my neck to see through the thick forest of blue frock coats, kepis, muskets, swayin’ hoop skirts, and carriages that lined the rutty road. We stood by and waved our handkerchiefs until the train was out of sight, ‘til the light and life of our beloved Papa vanished with a regretful train whistle. ~ Abigail Elizabeth Hodgdon June 30, 1872, Ossipee, New Hampshire ~ Excerpt: Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series: Book One