Riena stared at the letter in her hands, not knowing what to think. She blinked a couple times and swallowed hard. She bit her lip and sucked in a breath. Holding the paper up, she read the lines again.
Dear Ms. Addams,
We have received your letter on the account of your father, who served in the Union Army, and have concluded that we will help you in your plight. You said in your letter that your father was MIA during the First Battle of Bull Run, and that you had been told he was dead. You also stated that you would like to work as an army nurse for some of our regiments in need. Since you have no family, and your father was killed in war, we assume responsibility, personally, in this case, and we would be glad to take you on. Frankly, Ms. Addams, you are an answer to prayer. You will receive another letter with your assigned regiment and your train tickets to get there. The next letter will add more detail as to what you should do.
We thank you for your willingness to help, and we send you our condolences,
James A. Taylor
Director of Medical Military Affairs
Riena lowered the letter to her lap and stared out the window. She let out a long breath as she realized what exactly the implications of this letter were. She was on her way to be a nurse! A smile started to spread across her face as the excitement dawned on her.
But her smile didn’t last long when she realized that her aunt knew nothing of the arrangement. Riena’s shoulders drooped as she realized that she had two options. Either she must tell her aunt about the letter, or she must just go without telling her aunt at all.
Riena thought long and hard about it. To tell her aunt would risk being forbidden to go. On the other hand, to just go and not tell her would worry her sick. Yet, deep down inside, Riena knew she just had to do it! I just have to, she thought, I have to do it for Papa! Many of those men are suffering and dying far from their homes and families, like my papa did. I can’t let that happen! I have to do something for Papa, for my country.
Slowly, Riena stood. As if in a trance she walked over the her closet and pulled out her suitcase. She began piling clothes and toiletries into it. Packing was the best place to start. She’d worry about Aunt Irene later.
Finally, the suitcase was packed. She knew she would get a nurse’s uniform when she got there, so she wouldn’t have to worry about that. She double checked her luggage, making sure she had everything, then tucked her suitcase in a corner of her closet where she knew her Aunt would never look.
Riena sat back down on the sill and looked out her window. She needed to figure out how to get past her Aunt. Aunt Irene was kind, but she was strict. Riena knew that the chances of Auntie letting her go were pretty slim. Since she was only sixteen, Auntie would most likely never let her go.
Riena knew then and there what she had to do.
Two weeks later Riena quietly moved about her room, picking up last minute things. The moonlight streamed in from the open window, and a warm breeze drifted in from outdoors. She paused over her desk, wondering if she should leave Auntie a note. Discarding the idea, knowing it would be easier to track her, she quietly picked up the letter that contained her instructions and train tickets, and grabbed her suitcase. Knowing that this was her only chance, she slowly crept to the window, making sure the floor didn’t creak under her as much as possible.
She peeked out of the window. Not a soul in sight. Just what she wanted. She furrowed her brows as she tried to figure out how exactly she was going to get out from the second story. Just as she hoisted her skirt, and stepped one foot out the window, she jumped as she heard the grandfather clock in the sitting room chime midnight. She knew this was her prime time.
The roof right outside the window was slightly slanted. It was level enough to walk on, but slanted enough so one could slip easily if they were not careful. It would be much harder with a suitcase in one hand, and the letter in the other, Riena knew. She carefully took the letter in her mouth.
She pulled the other foot through the window. Setting her suitcase down on the one level spot, she tried to find a place to tuck her letter. Suddenly, without warning, the suitcase tipped, and went sliding down the roof and hit the gutter. Riena cringed and froze, waiting for her aunt to wake up.
Nothing happened. Riena decided that her aunt had not been bothered, and sighed in relief. Carefully, she made her way down the roof and picked up her suitcase. Now to get off the roof.
Carefully, Riena threw her suitcase off into some tall grass, and proceeded to dangle over the side and drop off the roof. Thankfully Auntie’s bedroom was on the other side of the house.
Carefully she grabbed the gutter and dropped safely to the ground. Slowly walking to her suitcase, she picked it up and wiped it off. She turned and looked at her aunt’s house once more. She wondered if she’d ever see it again. Quietly, she turned towards the train station.
Riena settled into her seat knowing that she’d get a good start before her aunt found out she was gone. Evidently she was going into the heart of the fighting. That unnerved her a little bit, but she wasn’t really afraid. She knew that many men had seen worse. She wasn’t one to be be easily intimidated by the threat of danger.
She was going to be working with the 126th New York Volunteer Infantry. She knew that working with a bunch of men was going to be a change. Truthfully, she didn’t know how to relate to men much.
Her thoughts turned to her father. How gentle and kind he’d been, especially after mama had died. She remembered him especially, when he would tuck her in at night.
“Goodnight, Baby Bird.”
“Good night, Papa.”
“Would you like Papa to sing you a song?”
“Oh yes, Papa! Sing me a song before I fall asleep!”
So Papa would. It was the same thing every night. And Papa would sing the same song every night.
When storm clouds roll, and all seems dark.
When everything feels so wrong.
When raindrops fall, and teardrops too,
Remember where you belong.
Yes when teardrops fall, and you feel lost,
Remember where you belong.
I will always love you, my little bird,
Always, remember your song.
And then Papa would lean over, kiss her on the forehead and close the door softly on his way out. Many times, Riena would already be in dreamland by the time the latch clicked.
Riena felt her face drenched with tears as she remembered. She pulled out her handkerchief and wiped her tears, hoping nobody had noticed she was crying. She had almost forgotten about that song. Oh, how far away those memories seemed to be now!
Riena straightened up and took a deep breath, trying to make her eyes look less puffy. She looked out the window and saw the moon beginning to go to her rest for the day. The sun was not yet visible, but she knew he would come out soon. She should arrive at her destination an hour or two after sunrise.
Riena laid her head against the window. She felt so tired. Slowly, she drifted off to sleep with Papa’s song going around and around in her head.