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 OLD MEN, Part 1

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Boli Shagnasty
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PostSubject: OLD MEN, Part 1   Fri Feb 14, 2014 2:04 pm

(C)2007 by J.E.C. All rights reserved
 
OLD MEN
 
"I am going to die."
Bobby Ray Edwards sat on the park bench and lit a cigarette. He deeply inhaled the poisonous fumes. Then he sat back and relaxed as he thought again of the news he had just received.
"I am going to die."
The park where he was sitting was a short walk from the doctor’s office. He had been having some pain in his chest and a persistent nagging cough for the last three or four years. It finally got bad enough that he had to go see a doctor about it.
Bobby Ray was not a man who went to the doctor every time he felt a little pain or ran a little fever. He had seen a doctor three times in the last thirty years. He was a hard man who was always too busy to go and see a doctor every time some little thing happened.
But just a few minutes ago, the doc had told him he had lung cancer. The doc did not want to tell Bobby how long he had left, but Bobby had pinned the doc down and forced him to estimate that Bobby had a year, perhaps, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. The news was not a shock to Bobby Ray. He was used to bad news in his life. It seemed to Bobby Ray that his entire life had been nothing but bad news.
Bobby Ray sat on the park bench, smoked cigarette after cigarette, and thought about his life. It had not been an easy life. From the time of his birth it seemed that Life or God or Fate or whatever had conspired against him. The only light Bobby Ray could see in his life were his three daughters. They loved him and he loved them. If it had not been for them, Bobby Ray would probably have put a bullet in his brain long before now.
His life had not accounted for much and he knew that. ‘Maybe to make them three girls was my only purpose in life,’ Bobby Ray thought. While he loved his daughters, he still thought that wasn’t much to show for having lived 61 years.
He thought of events in his life. He thought of the people that had come in and out of his life . . . one person in particular . . . Tommy Karns. It always came back to Tommy, and what had happened when they were young.
Bobby Ray thought about Tommy Karns for a long while. He remembered the good times they had shared. But he also remembered the other times . . . those times that had come to define both their lives. After much thought, Bobby Ray came to a decision.
Bobby Ray believed in God. But the God he believed in was not the merciful, benevolent God that he was taught about as a child in church. The God Bobby Ray believed in was mostly just uninterested . . . occasionally checking on the creatures he had created . . . sometimes playing malevolent little games with them for his own amusement.
Bobby Ray had not prayed to God since he was a young man but now he whispered a prayer . . .
"God, please, just let me live long enough to do what I have to do. Amen."
Bobby Ray decided he had sat long enough. He got in his truck and drove straight to the bank where he closed his account and withdrew all his money. Then he filled his truck with gas at the local Stop-N-Rob convenience store. He then set out on the road for the one-hour drive to Lawton, Oklahoma, home of Fort Sill, the Army’s Artillery school.
For the first 20 miles of his journey, Bobby Ray knew he was reversing the direction of a journey made more than a hundred years ago by his great-great-great-grandfather, Elias Edwards. Elias had written a detailed description of his journey. The family had kept it through the years until it came to rest with Bobby Ray. He wondered what great-great-great-grandfather Elias would have to say about what he was going to do.
And not only Elias, there was Elias’ son, Jonas, and his son Warren, and his son Nathan, who was Bobby Ray’s father. Bobby Ray thought of them all. The journey he was making on the highway was nothing compared to the journey he was making in his soul . . . a journey that began long ago . . .

II

"After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources."

General Robert E. Lee sat astride his horse, Traveler, no more than 30 feet away. When he heard the General’s words, a tear rolled down the cheek of Elias Edwards. General Lee told them the war was over. He told them how proud he was of them, and asked them to go home now and be good citizens of their country.
Eli didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know what he should be feeling or thinking. All he felt was a profound despair. He thought that he should probably be glad that no more Yankees would be shooting at him, but then he thought that he would rather face the whole damned Army of the Potomac alone, than hear those terrible words from General Lee.
Elias had been one of 13 boys from his county that joined the Confederate Army that long ago Spring of 1861. He had been 17 years old then. Some of those boys he had grown up with, been friends with. Now, in the Spring of 1865, he was the only one left alive.

"I need not tell the brave survivors of so many hard fought battles who have remained steadfast to the last that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them."

Eli had wanted so badly to go. He wanted so badly to get away from the ranch, but his Father had forbidden him, at least until he was a year older. One night, while the family was asleep, Eli left his Father a note saying he could find the mare in Dallas at the stable, and then quietly left the house. He met with some of the other boys and rode to Dallas. The next morning they met with a recruiter and by noon were on the road down to Austin.
Eli had thought it would be so much fun to join the Army. He knew that any good Southern boy could whip ten city Yankees. They would give the Yankees a good beating or two and he would come home a hero. Daddy couldn’t say nothing to him then.
Eli knew now that he had been so young, and so naive. He had fought so long, and so hard. It seemed to him now that fighting was the only life he knew. He vaguely remembered a Mother and Father and a couple of sisters, but they seemed so far away now, part of another life.

"But feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen."

As Eli listened to the General many visions flashed through his mind. Once again, he saw the Yankees coming toward him in that da**ed cornfield at Antietam. He saw them coming toward him across the fields at Fredricksburg. No matter how many Yankees they slaughtered there was always more of them. They came and they came and they came and they never seemed to stop coming. Eli thought that he would probably see Yankees coming in his dreams for a long time after the war was over.

"By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from a consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a Merciful God will extend to you His blessings and protection."

More visions crossed his mind. He saw the Yankees . . . them Maine boys . . . charging toward them, down that little hill at Gettysburg and then, the next day, he watched as Pickett’s boys made that long lonely charge across that open field. Eli had seen much the last few years, but he had never seen anything more courageous than what those boys did that day. Eli was glad  that a few of them had lived, to one day tell the story.

"With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you all an affectionate farewell."

Eli watched as General Lee gave his troops one last salute. He quickly saluted in return. Then General Lee turned his horse and slowly rode away.
A tear rolled down Elias Edwards’ face . . .
 
III

There was nothing else to do but go home so he might as well get started. It was a long, long walk back to Texas. He fell in with some other men from Texas and spent several hours each day walking with them. There was a lot of talking among the men. Some didn’t want to quit fighting. Some wanted revenge. Some just wanted to argue about the war, saying, "well, if we woulda . . . if we coulda . . . if only old ‘Baldy’ had taken that hill . . . "
It was not too many days before Eli got tired of those men and all their talk. One morning Eli rose before the rest and set out alone. He didn’t want to keep fighting. He didn’t want revenge. He didn’t want to talk about the war. All he wanted to do was go home and try to forget.
Food was hard to come by. Parts of the Old South had been devastated. Eli would stop at a home and ask for some food. Sometimes the people in the house would curse him, ask him why they had lost or why he wasn’t dead like their father or son, husband or brother. Then they would refuse to give him so much as a drink of water.
Other people might only be able to give him a small portion, but they were kind to a returning soldier who had fought for them. They might even let him spend the night inside the house on the floor. Eli was very grateful to them for that. It had been a long time since he had slept indoors.
The days went by, as did the miles, but there were always more miles to go. The sun was beginning to get hot during the day. Eli figured it must be getting close to summer. He stopped walking while the sun was up. Each day, when the sun rose, Eli would look for a few trees just a little ways off the road. He would go and spread out his blanket in the shade and sleep for a few hours. Then he would just sit and rest until dusk, when he packed his meager belongings and started walking again.
And the nights went by, as did the miles, as did the states . . . North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana . . . He would simply ask someone he passed where he was. He was always surprised when they said something like, "H**l son, you been in Alabama for the last hundred miles." Eli saw no state lines, no markers, no boundaries.
One night he came upon a sandy area with a little ribbon of water running through it. It was too small to be a real river but too big to be just a creek. Eli wondered if it was the Red River. He crossed the expanse, being careful to watch out for rattlesnakes and quicksand. The Red was infamous for both.
When he reached the far bank he noticed a faint glow in the east. In another hour the sun would begin to rise. Eli decided he had walked enough for one night. He found a copse of trees and spread out his blanket. He was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the rolled up shirt he used for a pillow.
Elias dreamed . . .
Elias dreamed of vast, endless plains stretching as far as the eye could see . . . small groups of trees, spread far apart added their vibrant green color to the landscape . . . soft prairie grasses, fields of wheat, fields of cotton all grew wild and free throughout the area . . . the ground sloped up to the left and blocked the view in that direction . . . Silas dreamed he heard the snorting of a horse . . . he looked to his left . . . over the rise came a thundering herd of Yankee cavalry . . .
Elias Edwards jumped up, instantly awake, with a cold sweat all over. He heard the snort of a horse. He looked to his left and saw a boy. He looked to be no more than 14 or 15 years old and he was staring at Eli.
"Howdy, Mister."
"Howdy."
"You all right, Mister?"
"Uh, yeah, yeah, I’m fine. You just startled me a bit."
"I’m sorry. Didn’t expect to find nobody here."
"No harm done. Say, can you tell me where I am? Is that the Red River back there?"
"Yeah, that’s the Red. You’re in Texas."
Eli Edwards took a deep breath and said, "Thank God . . . Finally."
The boy asked, "You coming back from the war?"
"Uh, yeah. I have walked all the way from Virginia to here."
"That’s a long way."
"Yeah, it was."
"My Daddy went off to the war."
"Did he?"
"Yeah."
"Not home yet?"
"Naw. He’s buried somewhere up in Tennessee."
Eli Edwards just looked at the boy. He knew that nothing he could say would ease the boy’s pain . . . or his own. How many men had he seen die? More than he could count. And in the end, it didn’t matter whether the man had worn a blue uniform or a gray. In death, they were all the same.
"What are you doing out here, son?"
"Looking for a stray. We got a small herd of dairy cows. One of ‘em is missing. I figure she either came to the river to get a drink or the Comanche got her."
"I thought the Comanche were pretty well rounded up."
"They are, but a few of them break away every now and again. Mostly they leave us alone, just take a beef or two."
"You be careful. The Comanche can be very dangerous. Say, uh, where am I anyway? I mean, what is the nearest big town to here?"
"Well, Dallas is about 100 miles that-a-way. Where you headed?"
"I am going up around the Wichita River, 20 miles or so south of the waterfall they got up there. You know where that is?"
"Nope."
"It is north and west of Dallas a hundred and fifty miles or so."
"Is it still in Texas?"
Eli laughed.
"Yep. It’s still in Texas. Texas is a big place. Hey, uh, you wouldn’t by chance have any food on you, would ya?"
"Naw, I ain’t got nothing. But I know a real good fishing hole on the river not too far from here. It’s got catfish long as my arm practic’ly begging to jump onto a hook. You want to go?"
"Yeah. I ain’t had a catfish in so long I done forgot what they taste like."

IV

The catfish had tasted wonderful. Eli and the boy had caught six of the whiskered fish. Then they went to the boy’s house and cleaned them. The boy’s Mother had fried the fish in some corn meal, butter and salt. Eli ate two of them all by himself.
The boy’s Mother told Eli they could use some help around the farm if Eli was of a mind to stay. It wouldn’t pay much but his meals and a room would be free. Eli thanked her for the offer but declined. He told her he still had a ways to go to get to his own home and he was anxious to get there.
When the sun went down Eli knew he had to get started walking. The woman had packed a little food for his journey. It wasn’t much but it would get him through two or three days. He walked out of the house and down the steps. The woman and boy followed him out. He thanked the woman and her son for the kindness they had shown to him. Then he started walking. As he reached the gate he looked back and saw the boy on the porch. Tears were streaming down his face.
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Ann
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PostSubject: Re: OLD MEN, Part 1   Sat Feb 15, 2014 10:21 am

No matter how many Yankees they slaughtered there was always more of them. They came and they came and they came and they never seemed to stop coming.

I think perhaps its that way for soldiers fighting any war. Great lines, greater story. I love reading on the Civil War. Imagery is enlightening. Felt for Bobby Ray. How one must feel to be told sorry there is no hope. Basically, welcome to the rest of your life, what little it will be...
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sarianna



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PostSubject: Re: OLD MEN, Part 1   Mon Feb 17, 2014 2:04 pm

WOW! I'm going to die. Can you just imaging knowing those words are true. After being told you have a disease that is fatal. Sad  I don't want to hear them. I'd rather remain oblivious.

And Eli, how proud he was to see General Lee. Fantastic story! Looking forward to reading more and learning more about these characters.
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Boli Shagnasty
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PostSubject: Re: OLD MEN, Part 1   Tue Feb 18, 2014 11:02 pm

Dear Ann, I am happy you enjoyed it again. lol

I knew you would recognize it. But I have added some to it since you last read it.

Thank you for youe kindness.
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Boli Shagnasty
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PostSubject: Re: OLD MEN, Part 1   Tue Feb 18, 2014 11:05 pm

Dear Sari,
Unfortunately, that is the last he or we shall see of Gen. Lee. He will be referred to later in the story but for now, that is all.

Thank you for reading and responding. I appreciate it.
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