“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. “
As I sat at the kitchen table that night, I couldn’t help but to think back to class that day. A man who called himself Able (Abraham) Lincoln came into our classroom and spoke the above words. The minute he walked in the door I felt completely mesmerized. I didn’t exactly know what President Lincoln looked like, but Pa had mentioned that Mr. Lincoln looked a lot like the former President.
I can remember sitting at my desk with my mouth gaping open as I listened to the passion and the pride that Mr. Lincoln spoke as he spoke these words.
“What are you doing, son?” Pa asked as he broke into my deep thoughts. I felt the hand squeezing on my shoulder as Pa sat down beside me.
I looked at him. “Pa? Did you ever meet Abraham Lincoln?” I asked it so suddenly that Pa sucked in his breath. I guess it was sort of sudden for me to take such interest in history at that.
“No. I wish I had. He was a great President, son.”
“Do you remember when he died?” I asked then.
Pa shook his head. “I was still away. I heard about it a few days later.” I watched a deep sadness suddenly fall over Pa. His frown was so deep. His eyes became moist and his shoulders sagged.
I suddenly lowered my head. “I…I’m sorry, Pa. I shouldn’t have asked. Forgive me.”
Pa lifted his head and smiled. “No, no son.” He put his hand back on my shoulder and looked straight into my eyes. “Don’t ever stop asking questions. It’s the way you learn.” Pa sat back in his chair and lifted his eyes to the ceiling. “Yes,” he nodded slowly. “I do remember the day I found out. I was…devastated, to say the least. It was…it was horrific! I was in a town celebrating with some of my soldier friends about the end of the war. We were all on our way back to Oklahoma. We were laughing and joking when suddenly…”
Pa stood slowly and folded his arms as he shivered. It wasn’t cold in there, so I knew it was his thoughts. He walked to the window and stared out. “Suddenly a man about…oh…I’d say 60 or so walked inside. He had…a…a tear – no – make that many tears. Yes, he was crying. The room got deathly quiet as he spoke with a shaky voice. He said, “Folks, I have some sad, sad news.”
Pa’s shoulders slumped and he lowered his head again. “President Lincoln is dead.”
The way Pa said it made me feel as if his death was as fresh for me as it had been for Pa nearly 20 years ago. “Just like that,” Pa said now. “There was no mincing words. He just said…President Lincoln…is…is dead.”
The room was suddenly quiet as Pa remembered back to that day. “The room got deathly quiet. Then one man went forward and grabbed the old man by his shirt. He told the man to get out of there and sober up. But…we all knew the truth, because we’d heard about the man. He was the most honest man in the town.”
Pa turned from the window and walked back over to me. “He was shot while watching a play in a theater. He was…celebrating the end of the war.” Pa sat back down in front of me and sighed. “Well, no one felt like celebrating after that. We didn’t even say goodbye to each other. We just…sat down our glasses and slowly walked out of the saloon, going our separate ways.”
Pa sighed as he put his hands to his face. “I…I knew it was true but…but I didn’t know it was true.” Pa looked at me. I felt my own eyes shining with tears. “I went to the newspaper office and read it for myself. There it was in black and white: “President Abraham Lincoln died two days ago after suffering fatal injuries from a gunshot wound.” Later, we found out it was John Wilkes Booth. I was so angry when I heard the name. I wanted to…to go after that man myself.”
I saw such pain and sorrow in Pa’s eyes. I put my hand on top of his. “It’s okay, Pa. It’s over now.”
Pa suddenly looked at me. “Oh,” he said with a small smile. “I’m sorry, son. I guess I got wrapped up in all the same old emotions. It’s just that…he did so much for our country. He was one of the best Presidents who ever lived!”
I looked down at my history book. Mr. Griswald had assigned for us to write an essay on someone influential from the Civil War. I knew who it would be now. I smiled as I again laid a hand on Pa’s. Pa lifted his face once again and looked straight at me. “Pa, it’s because of men like you that we have the freedoms we have today. Thank you.” I reached over and hugged him. Pa’s arms suddenly went around me as he squeezed me tight.
When we parted, I gathered my books and went outside to sit on the porch. That was a good thinking place, and I could feel Pa all around me. As I sat down on the steps, I smiled and looked up toward the sky. I imagined Abraham Lincoln as a boy standing outside his log cabin looking up at the same stars I looked up at. “I wonder if I could be President someday…” I mumbled.
I looked down at my history book. Then I began writing.
I had written for some time when I felt Pa sit down beside me. I quickly closed my book as he put his arm around me. “Still working on your homework, son?”
“No sir,” I answered honestly. “I mean…yes sir…well, it’s not due until next week.”
“Oh.” Pa suddenly looked down at me and narrowed his eyes. “Wait a minute! You-“ Pa pointed at me. “You are getting homework done ahead of time?” Pa put a hand to my forehead. “Should I call the doctor? Are you dying?”
“Oh Pa!” I laughed and pushed his hand away from my face. “I just thought I’d get a head start on this homework is all. I’ll even let you hear it when it’s done.”
We smiled at each other. Then without Pa telling me to, I stood up and went to bed.
The next day at recess, the kids were talking about the influential person they were writing about. A couple had chosen Abraham Lincoln. Some chose General Sheridan, some another General. Some even chose Confederate Generals. “Who are you writing about, Mark?”
I grinned. “You’ll see,” I answered as I threw my apple core down and ran back inside.
That afternoon, Pa reminded me that Mr. Lincoln was coming over to our house for supper. I had planned on doing the cooking. “Say Pa,” I said as we drove the wagon toward Able’s house. “How long have you known Mr. Lincoln?”
“I met him in the war, son,” Pa answered.
“Was he…Mr. Lincoln then?”
“No son, he wasn’t.” Pa cleared his throat.
“Well…who was he then?” I asked.
Pa turned and looked at me. “He’s a man, son. Just like you and me. He’s a man who’s been through a war.”
I couldn’t help but watch Pa’s face as we drove. The war was something we rarely talked about. Pa wanted me to understand and learn about it, but it was hard. It seemed like every time he talked about it, he became quiet and withdrawn afterwards. We stopped just before we got to Mr. Lincoln’s house. “Mark,” Pa said as he turned in his seat to look at me. “Son, Mr. Lincoln is…well, he’s different in some ways. He’s a good man though. I want you to respect him.”
I couldn’t say anything, but I began to wonder just what I would find as we visited with Mr. Lincoln. I’d seen him in town a few times, but I hadn’t paid him much mind. When we arrived, Mr. Lincoln was hurrying out of the house to meet us. He ran up to the wagon with a big grin on his face and pumped my Pa’s hand up and down as they greeted each other.
I turned to look at the animals further on toward the barn. “Now Lucas, did you forget that I’m a great wrestler?”
I turned to see Pa grin. “I still think I could take you, Mr. Lincoln.”
“Wha-“ I started.
“Mark, my good man,” Mr. Lincoln said as he patted my shoulder firmly. “I’m going to teach your father a lesson. Could you help me?”
I looked at Pa, then I looked at Mr. Lincoln. Finally, I grinned. “You bet!”
Pa raised an eyebrow at me as he turned to face Mr. Lincoln. “Okay, on your count, son,” Pa declared.
I watched as the two tackled each other in the dirt. The fight didn’t last long – Mr. Lincoln pinned Pa down good and I called it. Suddenly, Mr. Lincoln’s sister came out of the house and announced it was time for cake.
I studied Mr. Lincoln as he began cutting the cake. Suddenly, I heard thunder. The weather wasn’t the only thing that had suddenly gone through a change, though. I watched as Mr. Lincoln began thinking on a woman named Ann and stated that she was lying in her grave.
His sister and Pa tried to make small talk, but I hardly paid attention. I was suddenly concerned for Mr. Lincoln. I didn’t understand what was going on. The change in Mr. Lincoln, however, ended as fast as it started. He began eating cake as if nothing had happened.
But something had happened, and that was the truth. It was something I didn’t understand – something that made me shiver and feel a fear way down deep in my soul. I watched as Mr. Lincoln climbed the stairs. He was going to spend the night with us. When we were alone, I wondered aloud who Ann was. Pa explained that she was a sweetheart of Abraham Lincoln’s. For the first time, I came to a hard realization. “Golly, he really thinks he’s Abraham Lincoln, doesn’t he?” I asked.
“Well, he lost his own sweetheart during the war,” Pa stated.
“He sure is loony,” I thought out loud. I suddenly heard Pa sharply call my name. But I was confused. I couldn’t understand why such a kind, gentle man as he was would talk and act the way he did…if he was in his right mind.
Pa then told me a story about when I was a little boy – about three or four years old. He told me I had an imaginary friend who I insisted sit at the table with us every night. I didn’t remember it, but I imagined it was true. I pointed out, however, that I was only a kid. An adult shouldn’t be thinking like that!
Then Pa suddenly said something that really got me to thinking. “Sometimes it’s a means of running away from…well…from a reality they can’t face.” I grew quiet, wondering what happened to Abe. “The war wounded some in…strange, unaccountable ways, Mark.”
The war did that? I couldn’t imagine…I just couldn’t…
I was glad it was time for me to go. I had a million thoughts going through my head. When I arrived home, I stayed on task and got the meal ready. I didn’t allow my thoughts to sway toward the war. I couldn’t lest I break down.
Mr. Lincoln and Pa arrived. I opened the door with a smile, but when I heard Mr. Lincoln’s moanful crying, my smile disappeared. “I didn’t mean to, Lucas! I didn’t mean to!” Mr. Lincoln cried.
“It’s alright, Mr. Lincoln. No one’s going to blame you.”
“Oh, I should have known better.” Pa led Mr. Lincoln over to the wash basin and told him to get cleaned up. I watched Pa intently, wondering what was going on.
Pa grabbed me gently by the arm and led me across the room. “A man challenged him to a wrestling match, son. Mr. Lincoln…well…he broke his arm.” My eyes grew wide. “It was an accident, but he feels horrible…understandably.”
We went to the table, but Mr. Lincoln couldn’t eat. He muttered that he should have just recited the Gettysburg Address like the man wanted him to. Then I listened as he mumbled the beginning of the Address. “Four score and seven years ago…our father brought forth on the Continent a new nation…Conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Then he disappeared into the bedroom where he would sleep for the night.
I picked up where he left off as the reality of…everything began to sit in. “And now we are engaged in a great Civil War…testing rather that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met here on…on a great battlefield of-.” I couldn’t go on. There were too many thoughts running through my head. “Pa, why couldn’t somebody have stopped that fight in the saloon?” I was angry at that, but I was more angry at other things…worried about the past…and anxious – so very anxious.
Pa looked toward the bedroom, then turned back to me as he answered. “Well son, in a way, I’m glad no one did. Nils told me the man was teasing him the way a mean boy teases a helpless pup. And Mr. Lincoln is no helpless pup! As a matter of fact, he’s every bit the wrestler the way the real Abraham Lincoln was.”
I couldn’t help but to smile at that as Pa and I started cleaning up the dishes. I sighed when the last dish was washed. “Pa, will you excuse me? There’s something I have to take care of.”
I suppose my voice gave my thoughts away. Pa stared at me without saying a word. I turned and quickly walked out. I finally allowed my thoughts to plague me as I climbed up into the loft of the barn. I felt the tears stinging my eyes. When I was finally seated and felt alone, I allowed the tears to flow as I drew my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around my knees. I laid my head down and cried.
I had watched Mr. Lincoln and how he was. The War Between the States had taken part of his mind and forced him to depart reality and hide in a world of make-believe.
I remembered another man – Blandon – who had wondered into our yard one day and the horrible scar that had remained unhealed. It had left him a homeless man who had to wonder the country side for work. He had lost his wife and everything he ever had because of the war.
I can still remember my Pa’s words from so long ago. “Sorry son, but sooner or later you had to find out.” Pa’s words still echoed in my mind. They seemed so real at the moment.
"Why did I? I didn't want to," I had cried out in anguish. “Pa, his shoulder wasn’t healed!”
"Not only poor Blanden's shoulder, but I mean all the ugly, useless suffering in the world. In time you'll learn to accept it and bring it into balance with the good things."
“I’ll never be able to, Pa.” I said these words out loud now as I remembered the terrible loss I had felt in that moment under the tree. I had thought about my father and how he’d been through the war. Why was my Pa spared? Why didn’t he suffer?
Why must so many families continue to suffer over a war that ended twenty years ago? I had seen others. Our friend, the photographer had been tortured and Pa had been kidnapped by two shoulders who blamed him for the treatment they got in a prison.
Yet, my Pa didn’t get injured. I suddenly felt at such a loss. I was so selfishly happy that it was Blandon and Able Lincoln instead of my Pa, and that made the anguish inside me grow.
I allowed myself to shake with angry, ugly sobs as I tried to put everything into context.
I felt someone sit beside me. “Mark, please talk to me.”
I suddenly felt my father’s strong arms go around me and I didn’t hesitate a second longer. I got to my knees and threw myself into Pa’s arms. “Oh Pa!” I cried. “Oh Pa, I’m sorry!”
“Hey, hey, hey…What’s this about?” Pa asked in a gentle, concerned voice. “Son?” Pa was confused as he smoothed my hair and allowed me to cry.
When my tears were spent, I laid in his arms suddenly feeling very exhausted. Pa allowed me to my silent thought for awhile. I sniffed as I continued to dwell in his arms. “What brought this on?”
“It’s Mr. Lincoln,” I answered. “Pa, it’s just so…so hard to understand all this!”
Pa sighed as he squeezed me to him again. “Son, I don’t think God meant us to understand everything. I think sometimes understanding would make it uglier because we are human – not perfect like God.”
“If I tell you something…you promise not to get disappointed in me?”
I felt Pa’s lips touch the top of my head so gently. “I won’t, Mark.”
“I…I…” I suddenly sat up and scooted out of his embrace. “Well Pa…I actually felt glad that it was him who lost his mind and not you!” I stood and went to look out the window into the darkness. “Can you believe such a thing?”
“Yes,” Pa answered. I turned and looked at him. He cocked his head to one side. “Is that what has you so upset son?”
“Well…” I walked back toward him. “That’s part of it I guess. Pa?” Pa looked at me through the moonlit hayloft. “Was…was Able better before?”
Pa nodded. “He met with some very, very hard times, son. He had married his sweetheart just before the war – the day before he left in fact.” Pa walked to the steps and started down. From the ladder, he held out his hand, motioning for me to follow him. When we were down, he continued. “They were so in love, son. But a confederate soldier raided their home just days after he left. His wife died.” Pa closed the barn door as we walked out. “I remember when he got the news. He died inside, son.”
“Pa, do you remember Blandon?” Pa smiled as he nodded his head. “He was wounded physically and I thought that was pretty horrible at the time. But Pa…” I swallowed. “There’s no operation to fix this.”
“No son. There’s not.” Pa sat down on the porch and patted the step beside him. I lowered myself down as Pa spoke. “The war was a…a terrible, terrible place to be, son. Men were wounded.”
“You?” I asked then.
“I was,” Pa nodded. Then he pointed to the bump on his head and the scar above his lip. “These are the only battle scars I have to show for it. Son, folks like Blanden and Mr. Lincoln…their scars are deep. But the truth is…I don’t think there’s a soldier who was left unscarred.”
“Why were you spared, Pa?” I asked then – because I really wanted to…no…I needed to know. “I want to know. Were you better then they? Were you braver then they?”
Pa shook his head. “Son, I can’t answer that question. You recently had a friend who was branded a coward by the Indians, remember?” I nodded. “Was he braver them me?” Pa shook his head. “We’ll never know because I wasn’t put in that situation. I may very well had given in long before Mr. Temple gave in.
I nodded. “I just…I just want to understand. I thank God you were spared from any wounds.”
“Oh wait a minute, son,” Pa stated. “You should have seen how messed up I was when I came back from war! Your mother though – she calmed me down a lot. I love your mother, Mark, more then life itself; but the truth is, even she couldn’t heal all my scars. They’re buried deep inside me. There are some days that I get downright depressed, but I know I have a boy to take care of. You are my strength, son. I have you to hold on to.”
I turned and stared into Pa’s eyes. He patted my shoulder. “Well, you better get to bed, son. I have the cots made up.”
I nodded and stood. My heart still hurt and Pa knew that. But he and I both knew that there wasn’t a thing that could be done about it. I just had to learn to live with the hurt. I smiled and nodded at Pa. “Pa?” I asked suddenly. Pa turned to look at me. “The bump and scar…how’d you get them?”
Pa looked down at the floor as if he was trying to remember. Then he looked back up at me. “I was shot, son. I almost died. I was laid up for weeks, but then when I recovered, I went right back in to fight.”
“I never knew that,” I stated as I allowed the reality to hit me.
“I never told you,” Pa stated. We looked at each other as a small smile played at the corners of his mouth.
“Thank-Thank you for telling me, Pa.” I turned from him then. “Good night.”
As I lay down, I continued to think on all that my father had told me. It didn’t take long for sleep to close my eyes and quiet my brain. It had been an emotional day. When I woke up in the morning, I heard dishes rattling and knew Pa was in the process of fixing breakfast.
In the stillness of the morning, as I lay on the cot, I laid my arm across my forehead as I remembered yesterday. Thinking on it now, I knew Pa was telling me that, what I was seeing was all part of my growing up. And as I grew up, I had to learn to simply accept these things and appreciate the blessings along with the tragic stuff. The blessings were easy to accept until you compared them with the tragedies. When you did that, it didn’t seem like things measured up – especially when you started comparing things.
I let a heavy sigh escape me. “Well, morning, son.” Pa came to sit down on the floor beside my cot. He drew his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his knees. “You feeling better this morning?”
I couldn’t help but smile at the deep concern in Pa’s voice. “You…um…been up for awhile?” I asked.
Pa allowed a grin to slowly spread across his face. “I guess I was a little worried about you.”
I propped my hand up by sticking my elbow in the mattress and holding my hand to my face. “I guess this is another one of those growing up things, Pa. I remember when I was ten and we talked about Blandon and all he’d been through. It was almost impossible for me to understand it all then.” I lowered my head and studied the floor intently. “I suppose it’s just easier for me to…well, to think on the blessings. I…” I sighed. “I keep trying to compare the blessing I have with the tragedy I see, and it doesn’t seem to measure up.”
“Son, we have more blessings in our lives then we’ll ever know. We don’t know all the times God protected us from tragedy. Like maybe yesterday if we had taken another path maybe tragedy was waiting there for us. Or maybe today there’s something lurking around the corner and God sends relief before tragedy strikes. We don’t know, son.”
“I just don’t understand why…why some people – like Mr. Lincoln – seem to suffer so much while others like you and me…” I let my voice die. “I guess we just have to learn not to dwell on those things.”
Pa leaned forward and put his face right in front of mine as he put a hand to my back. “Son, you have suffered tragedy. You lost your mother at the age of six. All these years, you’ve had to live without your mother’s smile – her hugs and kisses…her cooking and nurturing care…You have suffered a deep loss, son – one that I could never understand because I had a mother. Now, should I go around wondering why I got to keep mine while you lost yours?”
“Well of course not! That would be-“ I stopped and nodded. “I’m learning as I grow, Pa. I’m okay now.”
Pa patted me on the back. “I know you are, son. Don’t worry, I find myself dwelling on the tragedies also. It’s hard for any man to understand. But for now, let’s appreciate what we got.” Pa turned and looked toward the bedroom. “I know Mr. Lincoln does.”
“You think so, Pa? I mean…you really…really think so?”
Pa nodded. “I know so.”
He went back to his cooking while I got dressed. I was happier as I began feeding the stock and milking the cow. By the time I got back inside, Mr. Lincoln was up and all dressed.
After breakfast, Pa told me I needed to get to my wood-chopping chore. Mr. Lincoln stood up. “Oh, we’ll do it together. Mark, I’ll chop if you’ll stack.”
“Oh, that’s Mark’s-“ Pa started.
Mr. Lincoln looked up at Pa. “Now Lucas, I’ve given the troops their orders.” I grinned a mischievous grin at Pa and he smiled and shook his head, he knew that once the President gave an order, it was to be followed; no questions. I followed Mr. Lincoln outside and watched as he started chopping the wood. It amazed me to watch him and Pa bust those large ones in half in just one big whack.
Pa announced he was going to go hunting for supper before we took Mr. Lincoln home. Normally, I’d jump at the chance to go with him, but I wanted to just stay and watch Mr. Lincoln chop the wood. Mr. Lincoln then started telling me about how if I thought about making the log something I really, really hated, I could split the log in half in one big whack. I decided to give it a try. As I reared that ax back and then brought it up and over, I yelled from deep within me, “I HATE BEANS!” Guess what – it worked! I was so excited as I picked up those logs and carried them to the woodshed.
We worked for a while chopping the wood. But when I was coming out of the shed once, I heard someone outside talking really mean.. He was talking about killing Mr. Lincoln. I desperately looked around for something to defend him. Then I remembered the gun that Mr. Lincoln had given me yesterday. I ran to my saddle bag and got it out. My hand was shaking it as I lifted it out. It was suddenly very heavy. I looked toward the door and back down at the door. I had to save his life.
I ran to the door and held the gun up with shaky hands. Actually, it wasn’t only my hands that were shaking – it was my whole body! I pointed the gun at the stranger, and in a shaky voice I ordered, “Drop that gun, mister. Or I'll shoot!" I was gasping for breath, I was so scared. I wish I was brave like my Pa! I had to keep my act up in hopes that I could get him to leave. "Drop it! Or I'll pull this trigger!" But he kept staring at me.
I was becoming more afraid, and I hated it! The more afraid I got, the angrier I got. “Drop it!” I ordered loudly as my hand shook even more.
My heart rung with frustration. I wanted to save Mr. Lincoln. I didn’t want him to die! But even as he faced death, Mr. Lincoln remained brave and strong, doing what he had to do to help me. “Mark-“ his voice rung out in the eerie silence. “That's a souvenir gun, there are no bullets in it!"
I looked down at the gun and suddenly dropped it as if it were a deadly snake. My heart pumped inside me. Suddenly, I found myself crying and begging the man – it was all I had left. "Oh please mister. Don't shoot! He's defenseless."
“You just say right where you are, sonny!” The man slowly turned back toward Mr. Lincoln. “You’re worse off then I thought!” There was hatred in his voice! I couldn’t stand hearing it. “You could’ve bluffed me. You could’ve taken away my gun.”
I didn’t understand what was going on. All I knew is that this man wanted to kill Mr. Lincoln. I heard Mr. Lincoln softly ask me to turn my head. This man REALLY was planning on killing him – cold-blooded murder!
Suddenly, a shot rang out. I looked up to see Pa standing there. He had a look of pure anger on his face as he started toward the man, but even though this man was about to shoot an unarmed man, he was allowed to go free. Why? Because Mr. Lincoln ordered my Pa not to harm him. Out of respect, Pa obeyed him.
I watched as this stranger got on his horse and rode away. I could hardly believe that Pa was allowing him to leave scot free! Then Mr. Lincoln walked over and picked up the gun. I stared in amazement as he opened the chamber and emptied the bullets out. “Poor fella. The war must have addled his brain!”
“It was loaded!” I declared. I told him I could have shot him.
“I know,” Mr. Lincoln answered sadly.
But I had to be honest with myself. “Of course I…I’m really not sure I could’ve,” I admitted. I felt ashamed.
“I know,” Mr. Lincoln stated. "We've just come through a bloody war Mark…with boys not much older then you finding out whether they could or couldn’t pull a trigger.” He handed me the emptied gun back “Something I hope you never have to find out."
I looked up at Pa who had a small, contented smile on his face. Down deep I realized that smile meant my Pa was thankful I didn’t have to find out if I could really have pulled that trigger. Mr. Lincoln turned and mumbled that he needed to take a nap before they started back home. I turned and walked away. I had something new to think on now. I walked to one of my favorite thinking spots – the bank of the pond. I didn’t bring my fishing pole, but I just sat there and thought.
“We’re ready to leave,” Pa said as he broke into my thoughts later. I didn’t say anything. Pa bent down next to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “Son?
“I’m just thinking, Pa.” I turned and looked at him. “Out there while ago, Mr. Lincoln was as sane as you and me. He was so…so brave.”
“When it really counts, son, he goes right in the head again.”
“He knew all along I couldn’t pull that trigger,” I said quietly. “I was so…so scared.” I hung my head in shame. “I wish I could’ve been brave like you. I’m ashamed that even Mr. Lincoln saw-“
“Mark, stop right there,” Pa ordered sternly. “You got that gun and pointed it at the man, didn’t you?” I nodded. Pa sat down beside me and looked me right in the eye. “I watched you come out of the barn, son. I was there watching – and I was so very proud.”
“Proud?” I asked as I stared into his eyes. “How could you be…proud?”
Pa smiled as his eyes filled up with tears. “Because, son. As I stood there watching, I-“ Pa stopped and put his hand to the back of my neck. “I saw MY son…MY son, Mark…bravely pointing a gun at a man to try to keep a wrong from being committed. Even though I could tell you were terrified, you were brave enough to do it. A coward would have never done what you did!” Pa smiled proudly at me. “I’m very proud of you, Mark.”
“But Pa, I was scared! I didn’t know if I could have pulled that trigger!”
“But you went face-to-face with a would-be cold-blooded killer, son! You stood up to him!” I lowered my head as I thought on that. “Mark, when I faced my first man in the war, I was shaking just as much as you were today. I wasn’t sure that I could, but when it came down to it I pulled the trigger. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I did it.”
“Do you still…shake now?” I asked.
Pa sighed. “I’ve learned not to appear frightened on the outside. But son, a good man with a gun NEVER stops being scared on the inside. Men like Yordy – they’re too stupid to be scared, and that, son, is the reason he’s destined for a short life.”
I smiled as I thought on that. I looked back up at him. “You really are proud of me, then?” I asked.
“I really am, son.” Pa patted my shoulder. “Let’s get Mr. Lincoln home.”
I’ll never forget that peace that had settled over me as we rode home in the buckboard and sang gaily. I hated saying goodbye to Mr. Lincoln, but Pa said he wasn’t in good health and needed his rest. As we started back along, I had just one more thought left over that I needed to get off my chest. I slowly stopped the wagon, knowing that when this last thought was cleared up – as I knew Pa would easily do – we could go home and maybe even go fishing!
“What’s the matter son?”Pa asked with concern again entering his voice.
“Well Pa…Is it really honest what we do with…Mr. Lincoln?” Pa had always taught me to be honest with people.
“Is it…” It Pa stopped as he realized what I was asking. “Son, do you remember when your grandma used to live with us a long time ago?” I could barely remember that time. “Well, she was 88 year old then. Kinda feeble…Could hardly even see. But like the rest of us, she still wanted to feel useful. So every morning, she picked up the broom and swept the kitchen. She didn’t do a very good job. So, your mother or I would have to do it all over again.” Pa studied my expression “Now, were we being honest with grandma? Not really. You see, to have been too honest would’ve been cruel. So we let her go on sweeping. Same thing with Abe. You see son…it’s…Well, it’s really not a question of honesty. It’s more of a matter of kindness and understanding for a fellow human being.”
I thought on this and came up with my conclusion “In other words, if you love someone, it…it just can’t be dishonest,” I declared. I felt better now. Talking to my Pa always made me feel better. Sometimes I thought my Pa knew everything – and today was one of those days!
We drove quietly, each of us left to our own thoughts. As Pa hopped off the wagon, he turned and told me to get to my chores. “Chores?” I groaned as I jumped off the wagon.
Pa nodded. “You have wood to chop and stack, a team to unharness, the barn to clean, and laundry to wash!”
“Oh, but Pa!” I groaned. “I had it in my head to go fishing!”
Pa crossed his arms. “Go fishing?” He practically bellowed as his face suddenly looked threatening.
“Well yeah! I haven’t gone in two whole weeks!” I declared.
Pa started toward me. “Please?” I asked bravely.
He uncrossed his arms and reached out an arm to grab me. I suddenly shot my hands to my ears, remembering that was his favorite handle when he was mad. “Uh gee Pa, I have chores to do!” I ran off to do them.
“Good idea!” Pa declared. “We’ll go fishing tomorrow!”
“Yahoo!” I shouted as I got back to my chores.
But I didn’t miss the shake of my father’s head as he thought, “That’s my boy!”
“Mark, would you mind telling me what this is all about?” Pa asked as I practically dragged him into the schoolhouse Monday morning.
“You’ll see,” I answered with a grin. There were several parents there waiting anxiously to see what was going on.
One by one, each student stood in front to discuss their influential civil war heroes. Many of the children had chosen people close to them to read about and discuss. I sighed nervously as I waited anxiously for my turn. Finally, I heard Mr. Griswald call my name. I turned and looked at my Pa who stood in the back. He winked and nodded his head at me. I suddenly felt encouraged.
I walked up to the front of the classroom and turned to look at the class. Then I cleared my throat and read.
The Most Influential Person of the Civil War, by Mark McCain
President Lincoln started his Gettysburg Address by stating, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
If man were created equal, why should one man be more influential than the next? Why should one man be killed and the man standing next to him in battle be spared?
Yes, there were great Generals; Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, as well as Ulysses S. Grant. All who could be considered influential, but my choice is that person whose name is not known, other than to their family or friends. The boy or man who took up the call to defend their freedoms, their very way of life. Right or wrong? Who am I to say, but they chose to defend their beliefs, some against strangers; others -- brother against brother. Many found out too late, they couldn’t pull the trigger, while others found out they could.
President Lincoln spoke of those who gave all at Gettysburg, but there were plenty of other battlefields, where blood ran deep. Many who fought, lie in those hallowed grounds – Harpers Ferry – Fredericksburg – Chancellorsville – Gettysburg – Lynchburg, to name a few.
But there are others who survived. It is those men, that we the living must also honor and remember. These men, the Frank Blandon’s, the Major Dalmer’s, the Able Lincoln’s, and even the Lucas McCain’s, they all gave something. On some, the scars are quite evident, while for others, their scars aren’t so obvious. Some hide their scarsso deep within their hearts and memories that even their families don’t know about their sacrifices.
As President Lincoln said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
I’d like to add, but neither shall those who survived be forgotten nor shall their sacrifices be in vain. I pray that God gives me the heart of compassion towards my fellow man to understand and accept his sacrifices from times of war. For he who has made a sacrifice -- is influential and has something to teach each and every one of us.
I folded the paper my essay was written on and as I returned to my seat, I realized the room was as quiet as a church. Many people had their heads bowed as if in prayer. Maybe they were praying. Before I sat down, I looked at Pa. There were tears in his eyes and a smile on his face, as he nodded his head at me.
After I sat down, I turned around again. He was gone.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Long Goodbye
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch