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  • Mj Pettengill

When They Hauled Folks Away: From the Author's Pen


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Old Cart, CC0

Excerpt We can learn so much through the eyes of a child. Writing Down from the Tree offered more insight than I could have hoped for. I share with you the thoughts of young Samuel Hodgdon. His wisdom reached well beyond his years. (MjP)

She stepped away and took somethin’ out of her apron pocket. I had to squint to see that it was her Papa’s small leather Bible, usually kept hidden in the treasure chest. She flipped through the pages and stopped where she had placed a small feather. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” She paused for what felt like a long time. It was so quiet, perhaps too quiet. Even the mournin’ doves stopped their gentle murmur and the other animals hushed. I feared that each breath that I took was louder than the previous one, and that she was sure to hear me. “Rest well, sister. Until we meet again.” I turned away from it all and bolted out of the barn and to the tree. It was more than not bein’ seen. I had no words for what I had witnessed. I needed to look out at the world from up there, as high as I dared to climb. It wasn’t until the end of the day, nearly suppertime, that they loaded her pine box into Death’s cart. Mamma explained that Baby Jones, the one who was born too soon but lived for three days, had fallen asleep in the night and never woke up. She was tucked in with Dolly May. It was hard not to mention that I knew her name was Lillian, but I could never tell Mamma what I saw. She wouldn’t understand that I knew it was s’posed to be private, but I couldn’t tear myself away. I simply could not move. Sometimes, we gathered at the stone garden, and the pastor would offer up a prayer. But when there were no folks beyond the fence, the burials often took place without witness. Other than Mamma’s Book of Numbered Souls, they were buried and forgotten. It was that simple. It would be the kind of day when they hauled folks away, and we pretended not to notice. That was expected. Tho’ nearly impossible, I tried to look elsewhere. Those who paid too much mind—the ones unable to hide their truth—appeared to be weak or afraid. I was one of them.

Of course, Mamma disagreed. She told me that out of respect, and for my own good, it was best to feel somethin’. It didn’t make sense. I could feel sad or scared or possibly relieved if it was a person who suffered or a mean person that I’d never have to avoid again. But the worst thing was to feel nothin’. Mamma said that even if I didn’t feel it, it would work its way into the deeps, and in time make each footstep heavier. I stood and watched until Death’s cart was out of sight. I was not afraid. I could not say what I felt, but it was not fear. I did feel somethin’, and it was big. I wanted to be there for Dolly May, just to say goodbye, and to let her know that I was sorry and waitin’, should she make her way back. Samuel J. Hodgdon II June 18, 1878 EXCERPT: Down from the Tree Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series - Book Three Book Four will follow.