short stories

A brutal surprise…

civilwarmon.

 

Louis Blain tossed a rug over his horse. The mare had done enough and the sweaty animal needed a break. He leaned against its side, just for a moment and soaked up some of its heat. It’d been another long, grueling day of training, both for her as a new mount, and for him, as a newly enlisted Private of the Union Army. At least the recruiter had promised to pay him well should he complete his tour.

He closed his eyes and sent his prayers windward for the safety and health of his lovely wife, Mary, the safety of his two strapping boys–Alexander and Noel, and his three lovely daughters. He held each face, so precious, in his memory and close to his heart. They were why he was here–the money would give them a future free of the grinding poverty that haunted their every decision.

A snap from nearby interrupted his reverie. The words that came next sent shivers of alarm down his spine.

“Hello, Papa.”

Louis raised his head and stared at his eldest son, standing but two feet away and wearing the Union Jack. Louis A. Blair, Jr.–Alexander–and didn’t he have a cocky grin?

“You did not expect to see me?” Alexander said.

His words stirred Louis to action. “I did not expect to see a soldier’s uniform.” He adjusted the rug on the horse as if the movement would bring distraction from this sudden rush of dread. What a brutal surprise…

“I’m twenty-nine. You signed up, would it not make sense for me to do the same?”

Louis cursed silently and patted the rump of the grazing horse. He paused a moment, lost in the heaviness of worry and fear. Then he closed the gap to his son. They didn’t hug, neither were overly affectionate men, it was just so damn startling, seeing his child, this grown man, dressed for war. “When did you enlist?”

“But a few days ago.”

Louis shook his head, still too stunned for words. At 49, he’d signed up as an old man. His life, as such, was nearly over. But his son, this glorious dark-haired young man- his life was only just beginning. Louis had a new bride, a sweet woman, who would take care of her throughout the years of pain and sorrow that were to come?

“Noel enlisted yesterday,” Alexander whispered as if knowing the words would cut.

“Bloody hell.” Louis struggled through a jolt of alarm.  “Your mother, she must be devastated.”

“I won’t lie to you, Papa, won’t say that she didn’t beg for us to stay. But the call has gone out and we must obey, just as you have.”

Louis didn’t answer, he didn’t need to. They weren’t citizens, but they understood the destruction facing their temporary home. They simply could not return to Canada, to a failing farm, knowing they may never be able to return to New England should the war end badly for the north.

Alexander searched the darkening sky. “I leave soon – my company’s mustering in Rochester. I have a few day’s travel ahead.”

“That’s a fine thing.” Louis met his son’s gaze. “But you must know before you leave, that I love you. I’m very proud.”

“And you are very angry.”

He spoke truthfully. Bitterness and regret mixed with dread and twisted Louis’s gut. If only he’d been able to provide better for his family, his sons wouldn’t be risking their lives.  Louis straightened. “You must come back alive and unharmed, understand? I will not bury one of my sons.”

Louis straightened. “You must come back alive and unharmed, understand? I will not bury one of my sons.”

They hugged then, a brief, heartfelt embrace. Both understood this might be the last time should one of them fall to a Confederate bullet. Alexander stepped back, gave a smart salute and ambled off into the dusk.

And Louis watched his son disappear into the gloom, swallowing the horrid taste of fear.

***********

Louis A. Blair served in the heavy artillery unit of the 146th Division, Company F. He was declared missing in action and assumed dead. He left a wife and no children.

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Louis and Mary

Dear Rosa,

It’s funny, this strange little world I live in. Searching for people so long gone no one remembers what they looked like. Walking through cemeteries, seeking family I’ve never met. Finding you, Rosa, and your sweet husband, Henry, was a wonderful moment for me last week.

Today brought another special moment. Today, I found your grandparents.

Louis Blain and Mary Adaline Bourdeau. Only here in Vermont they were known simply as Lewis and Mary Blair.

I knew I’d find them. I just didn’t think they’d be buried in the same cemetery as you.

And how sweet is that?

So, next time I’m in little Duxbury, Vermont, you know where old Sue will be. Yup, sauntering up and down perfectly  manicured lawns searching for that small stone that marks her great-great-great grandparent’s resting spot. And when I find their stone, I’ll take a pic or two to share.

Maybe I’ll even plant a lilac tree.

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I found you, my Rosa…

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My Dearest Rosa,

Well, it was a sweet search and one that culminated in a wonderful moment for Sue.

I knew where you were buried, in a little cemetery in Duxbury, Vermont, right alongside your husband, Henry and son, Freddie. It took a while to find you and it was such a charm when I did.

You were there, beneath a shady lilac tree, you and Henry and I was so moved.

My Rosa. My great-grandmother.

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And the little white marker besides yours and Henry’s? It’s your son, Freddie’s. You can’t read his name anymore. 100 years have stolen it away. But, if you look close, you can just make out, “Age 4 years.” Freddie didn’t live long enough, did he?

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And see, Rosa- I thought you might like to know I’ve found you’re mom, Elizabeth. She rests close to me, in Burlington.  Your sister, Hattie,  is there, too.

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I found a measure of peace, knowing you were so well cared for. And the lilac tree- I know where it came from- your daughter, my grammy, must’ve planted it.

She had a matching tree in her yard.

It’s  still there you know, grammy’s lilac tree. Just like yours, it continues to thrive and bring a reminder of the changing of the seasons, the passing of time, and the memory of those who’ve come before us.

Rosa

I found them! Well, sort of…

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Elisabeth and Peter Drinkwine

Dear Rosa-

My husband and I went searching in Burlington for your mother’s  marker. I’d seen a picture of the gravestone, so I knew Elizabeth was buried with Peter Drinkwine, her second husband, and their child, Hattie. I knew we were in the right place, but dang it – we just couldn’t seem to find it. While we were there, I thought to search for Elizabeth’s brother, Newell and their father, Louis.

Nope, came up with nothing.

So, I zipped down to the French Canadian Genealogy Society to search their records.  The gentleman in charge was so very  helpful.

“There he is!” I think the man lost some hearing in his right ear. “Louis Blain, my great-great grandfather!”

He smiled and turned the page. “This is his wife’s marker in Burlington.”

“But he’s not there.” My hopes were dashed in an instant.

He looked at me with such knowing eyes. “Was he married twice?”

“Yup, his first wife died. Louis remarried when he was 74.”

“Then he would be buried with his first wife.”

Mystery solved. Louis rests in peace next to Mary Bourdeau, I believe in Massachusetts or New York.

And Newell? His wife, Mathilda, died when she was young and he never remarried. I’ll find him when I find her.

So, Rosa, I come back to your mother. She was too stinking young when she married John Drinkwine (she was barely 16), he was too stinking old  (40 years her senior) and he had too many stinking kids (he had 9 before, then 9 more with her). I wonder- what does it say that Elizabeth is buried with her second husband, Peter?

I say, “Good for you, Elizabeth!”

Enos Blair short stores · Uncategorized

Oh, that little devil…

civilwarmon.

Dear Rosa,

I love a mystery. I don’t write them, I solve them. Yup, you can call me “Detective Sue” – or some other cool moniker like “Cookie”. I had wondered why your grandfather, Louis Blair, would show up in Civil War records as Enos Blais and now I have a pretty good hunch.

He was a jumper.

Shhh – don’t tell anyone.  Jumpers were shot when they got caught.

Let me explain…

The Union sought out and paid bounties to Canadians to fight on their side. Many of these fellows weren’t naturalized and even lived in Canada (the Union recruiters went their to seek them out). They were paid $300 for their service to the Good Old US of A.  I don’t know the numbers, but quite a few of these fellows quickly learned a neat little trick. Sign up in New York, get paid, then scram, only to sign up in Massachusetts under a different name.

Thus, Enos Blais.

If you’re wondering how I made the jump from Louis Blair to Enos Blais – I’ll tell you, all the details of this Enos, from age to children to place of birth line up exactly with Louis Blair (Maybe I should start calling him Louis Blain – because that is his real name!).

So Rosa, there you have it. Your Grandfather was a crafty fellow. I wonder if any of his sons did the same thing?

We are a smart lot, us Blains-

We know how to make money.

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two worlds divided by a simple road…

Dear Rosa,

Well, I’ve joined an on-line historical fiction writers critique group- wow, is that a mouthful – and what a watershed moment for this old gal. Chapter One of “The Guardian” has been critiqued by 7 people! And what wonderful, insightful things they’ve had to say. It’s a slow process to re-write, but one I’ve been digging into with gusto.

Which brings me back to the odd name for this post.

I was in Burlington on Saturday, searching for my great-great grandmother’s marker and what a revelation I had.

I knew from recent research that the Irish and French did not mix in Burlington (a driving factor for the plot of my book). Even the Irish and French Catholics did not share the same church. This fact was driven home when I stood on a small road separating a very large cemetery.

On my left were the Irish… the Mulligans and Fitzpatricks, Nolans and O’Sullivans. We saw maybe two French names…

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photo credit: Susan Bahr, 2013

…and some very spectacular Celtic crosses.

On the right side, was the French. Pepins and Desotells, Beaupres and Boivin. I saw one Irish name, but didn’t find her, my Elizabeth. I know she’s there, buried alongside her husband, Peter and daughter, Hattie, so  I’ll keep searching.

It’s poignant, I think, and very telling that even in death, these two cultures  retained their separate identities.

A simple road separates them…

It might as well be an ocean.

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two sweet little awards for Rosa…

I want to say a heartfelt thank you to http://genealogylady.net for nominating little Rosa for the versatile blogger award – and Kristi at  http://dressedtoquill.wordpress.com for the … versatile blogger award! Please swing by and check out their sites – you’ll be glad you did.

Well, as wordpress has decided that I can’t visit some of you – including genealogy lady (I can’t even leave a comment. Would you all please tell this wonderful lady I said THANK YOU!) – I am forced to accept this award as I see fit. And so, because I feel like it (insert evil villain’s laughter here), I am going to nominate but one blogger.

Laura over at http://lauraryanfedelia.wordpress.com

Today is a special day for that sweet and amazing lady. Today she launches her book “The Box”. I can’t be with her as life has intervened and screwed everything up – but I thought it might be nice to highlight her brand new blog and ask you all to shoot over there and send her a quick “hello” and “best wishes” and such.

As to listing a bunch of things about myself? In keeping with breaking all the rest of the rules, I shall break this one, too and tell you only one thing:

I love chocolate (shhh, it’s a secret). So there you have it- my life summed up in three pathetic words!

I wish for all of you a wonderful day, full of hope and love and all good things.

Cheers-

Sue

Mary

Grammy’s house

When I began this blog, so many months ago, I never expected the fresh grief or the healing it would bring. Each memory brought both joy and melancholy as I revisited my childhood days. Of hooligans and shenanigans and Uncles that would sit in their rocking chairs and the sweet sound of my grandmother’s whistle as she did her choirs…

Of all these posts, only one hit me so hard I had to recall, and make it private. I thought to share it with you, as I’m ready to move on. It’s called “Grammy’s house.”

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Dear Rosa,

So I’m writing this while the feelings are fresh and please forgive me if its raw and unfinished. Please forgive me if I don’t edit – it’s a bit difficult to see through the tears.

I  sought Gram’s old house on Summer Street today.

What do you think, Pop, there’s a car in the driveway – can I could drop by for a quick visit? Somehow I hoped he say no. It’d been over 30 years since I last stepped into that house…

It would be best if I came with you, Suss, my dad said with such sad and gentle eyes, the new gal knows who I am – I helped her after Hurricane Irene flooded the place.

We walked down the road, moving at a slow pace, although my breathing came hard. Everything in the neighborhood had changed and yet in a strange way, it remained the same. There at the bottom of the hill was Mrs. Cannon’s house – my other great-grandmother. And there, across the street and right next to Gram’s was the Clough’s place.

Scott’s dead now, Dad said.  Hit a tree trying to avoid a deer.

I thought of Scotty, his soft blonde hair and shy smile – frozen forever in my memory as a young boy. No one would’ve guessed from his adventuresome nature and passion for kickball that he had no future…

We turned the corner onto Summer Street. I watched my father climb the front steps and knock on the door.

This is my daughter, he said as way of introduction, she grew up here, this was her Grammy’s place.

The woman seemed to understand right away. Of course, she smiled and welcomed us in.

Damn. Gram would’ve been pissed.

What was I thinking? That it would all be as she left it? That nothing would’ve changed? That 30 years of floods and countless owners would have kept it intact? And just why was I driven to see it today when I’d hadn’t stepped foot in it since she died?

Her beloved cookstove was gone, the pantry too. They’d even moved the stinkin shed that Marty Dyer, her boarder, used to keep all of his stuff. The floods had taken everything too many times to count. 1927, 1978 and 2011 were bad years for Gram’s house. Even the walls were different.

I felt her though, an echo of her presence.

I merely had to close my eyes to picture the countless scenes… of Gram in her rocker near the woodstove and all of us huddled around watching the tiny black and white tv as Richard Nixon resigned from the White House… Gram whistling the weirdest, saddest song while she cleaned her goldfish tank… Gram hauling her old ringer washer out and ramming her sheets through and me giggling when they came out flat as a pancake.

And I watched my dad as he looked around and wondered:  just how in hell did he do it? How did he not sink into despair when he saw how much had changed? This was his home, not mine – his memories of a childhood gone.

I see my father in a different light now. Courage and strength and by the grace of God he continues on and marks the passage of time. Imagine, to be the last of eight kids, carrying the memories of a lifetime that is no more, walking with courage and dignity into a house cherished by his beloved mother…

I rail against time and it’s cold, cruel nature. I hate that I’ve opened these memories and allowed fresh grief to thrive. I miss these people, Clarence, Lilah, Gram and Hiram. I miss the Sunday afternoons, the conversations, smell of fresh coffee from the bubbling percolator and the taste of her chocolate cake. I miss the life I once had and can never have again.

My daughter brought comfort in the form of a hug. It’s good, she said, that the house is cared for, that the person who lives there has made it their own. Your gram would’ve wanted that.

And damned if she isn’t right.