Some Mother’s Son
One could hear the booms in the distance as if they were right at your doorstep. In reality, they were several miles away. The town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania lay dark and quiet on the night of July 1, 1863. No one dared leave their houses, no one dare light a candle. All was still in the town. How many people knew that this day would go down as a great and terrible day in history? How many people realized that today had changed the course of the war?
The Civil War had been raging for about two years already. It was a long and bloody conflict, and many people had been killed and injured. The Emancipation Proclamation had been signed by President Abraham Lincoln on the 1st of January of that year, freeing all the black slaves where he had military power. Many lives had been changed through that act, both for overwhelming thankfulness and freedom from the slaves who had been worked for so long, and for ruin for the plantation owners who’d once owned slaves.
But now, near Gettysburg, and battle had just begun. A battle that would last for three whole, gruesome days. But of course, the people living in the town did not know that.
There’s a small house on the borders of Gettysburg. On it’s steps, sits a girl. She’s about sixteen, with green eyes, long red-brown hair, and a trim figure. Her chin is in her hands, and her eyes on the horizon, watching the last bit of sun slowly sink behind the hills. She appears deep in thought, as if her mind is somewhere far away.
I can’t believe it! Who does General Lee think he is, bursting in on us like this? If only those Rebels would listen to President Lincoln, we could have avoided this war! Then maybe Mama and Papa could be with me here today! Riena Martha Addams felt the bitter tears begin to fall. How she hated the South! She’d hated them for what they’d done! They’d killed her father, and as a result, Mama had taken sick. Weakened from a broken heart, she’d died, leaving Riena, then fourteen, alone in the world.
So Riena had come to live with her aunt here in Gettysburg. Auntie Irene was so much like Mama, just the sweetest woman, and Riena loved her as if she were her own. She had had no children of her own, and her husband, Uncle Lawrence, had died of the plague a few years before the war had begun.
Riena thought about her parents, and the life she’d enjoyed before the war came. Since her Mama died, she was extremely bitter towards the South, and she made sure people knew it. Auntie Irene would say to her, “Riena, you mustn’t be so bitter like that. The Southerners didn’t kill your father on purpose. It something that happens during war.” Her mother, many times, had said, “Always remember, Riena, that one kind act may not change the nation, but it can soften the hearts of that nation.” But Riena knew better. She’d hate those Rebels as long as she lived!
Riena was so deep in thought that she didn’t hear Aunt Irene come up behind her until she said, “Aren’t you tired, dear? Perhaps you’d better try to get some sleep.” Riena turned and looked at her. “Not really, Auntie. I don’t think I could sleep with the sounds of those canons over there.”
Aunt Irene nodded. She sat down beside Riena on the step. “What’s on your mind?” She could tell something was wrong. Auntie always could! Riena shook her head, “I’m okay. I’m just thinking.” Suddenly, the canon fire stopped.
The next day was much the same as the day before. Except the Union army had retreated to Cemetery Hill, just south of Gettysburg. Riena had awaken as usual and had gone out the the barn to feed the few animals that they had left. The barn was probably a good half mile outside of the city limits. It was fairly isolated, so no one would be bothered by the oder, and the animals could have some peace. Ha! Ironic, Riena thought, How can anyone be at peace at a time like this?
Stepping into the barn with a tin pail on one arm for the milk, and a basket on the other for eggs, she breathed in deeply the scent of fresh straw. Glancing around, she noticed that one of the cages for the chickens had been opened, and the hen was pecking around on the barn floor. Strange, Riena thought, I swore I closed that last night. Retrieving the bird, she closed it back in it’s cage. Hearing the cow move around in her stall, she grabbed the tin bucket and called out softly, “It’s alright, Missy. I’ll come milk you first.”
Coming around and setting her stool down next to the cow, Riena noticed that Missy seemed to be rather agitated. Rather odd, she thought again, she’s usually a good natured cow. Maybe the canons got to her last night too.
She grabbed Missy teats and began to milk. Nothing happened. “How come you’re dry, Missy? Has Auntie milked you this morning? No, she hasn’t been out here today.” All of her teats were empty.
Riena’s eyebrows furrowed as she became puzzled. Suddenly, she noticed a small movement in the thick pile straw in from of Missy. It moved again. Riena abruptly stood and backed up, knocking the bucket over as she did. She watched at the straw moved more and more. It was a man!
Her breathing became faster as she saw the young man lift himself up on his elbow and look at her through clear blue eyes. Her eyes became wide. He was wearing a gray uniform! She pressed herself up against the stall door, her eyes wide with fear. “Wh-who are you?” She stammered.
His eyes narrowed. “Jefferson’s the name. Jefferson Marshall Lee Lawson, to be exact. Who are you?” His voice sounded a little bit sarcastic, but she could also see the ice of fear in his eyes too.
“Riena. What are you doing in my barn?” Her eyes narrowed as she looked at him.
“Oh? Is this your barn? I’m sorry about that.” He sounded genuine that time. “I was shot in the leg. My comrades brought me in here until they could get me some help. I’m a soldier.”
“You’re a Confederate!” Riena spat out the words.
“Something wrong with that?”
“Your kind killed my parents! I’ll never forgive you for that!”
“I didn’t kill him.”
“Doesn’t matter! He’s dead now. My mother got sick and died, weakened of a broken heart the doctors say.” She pointed an accusing finger at him. “It’a all your fault!”
Jefferson shook his head. “Your President got us into all this!” He looked indignant. “Ohhhh.” He clutched his chest as he sunk back down into the straw, exhausted. Riena glared at him.
“I’m sorry I drank your cow’s milk,” he sounded really apologetic now, “I was so hungry. I haven’t eaten for days. I’m in pain constantly.” Riena’s “humph” conveyed a “serves you right” message.
“You’ll be sorry you came into my barn!” Riena couldn’t stand it any longer, and she stomped towards the door. “You aren’t going to turn me in, are you?” his voice held a tinge of fear. “Stupid of me to even protest,” he sighed. “Ohhhh,” he groaned again. Riena’s heart was suddenly touched with pity. No! she told herself, He’s a traitor! He deserves it! Opening the door, and bolting it, she figured she could get the authorities there pretty quickly. He wasn’t going anywhere like that.
She’d almost made it to town. There was a fork in the trail, she’d take the left side into town, instead of right, to the house. She would get the sheriff.
Suddenly, another pang of pity hit her. He’s a human being, Riena. He feels pain too. She brushed off the feeling. No, she was finally going to get her revenge. He was a Rebel! They were to be hated and feared! How could she even take pity on him?
There! The fork was just in sight! Soon she’d be in town and on her way to the sheriff. But another thought stopped her dead in her tracks, and she looked around as if someone had actually spoken to her. Riena, he’s some mother’s son.
Riena’s green eyes filled with tears, as she thought of her own dear mother. She knew this hatred toward the South was wrong. She’d known it all along, deep in her heart. She looked up into the sky, and suddenly, she knew! She knew what her mother would do!
Hurrying along the path that led toward home, every step became a prayer. Faster she ran as she realized what had just happened within her. Bursting into the house she ran to the kitchen. Aunt Irene was out, probably attending to Mrs. Jones who was ready to have a baby.
Quick as a rabbit, and graceful as a doe, she moved around the kitchen. She grabbed a roll, put some butter on it, grabbed a bowl, and spooned some hot stew that had been made just that morning. Wrapping the roll in a handkerchief, she sped out of the kitchen as fast she could with the bowl of soup.
Arriving at the barn, she opened the door quietly. Coming around to where Missy stood, she set the bowl on the over turned bucket, and knelt down by the young man. He was lying just as she’d left him, on his back on the straw with his eyes closed. She slipped her hand under his head, and brought a spoon of stew to his mouth. “Here,” she said gently, “Try this.” Jefferson opened his eyes, and looked at her. “Eat it,” she said, “It will make you stronger.” She put the spoon to his lips. He ate it. Then the next spoonful. He ate that too. And the next one. And the next one. And the next, and the next, and the next, until there was no more soup in the bowl, and the roll was also gone. Gently, Riena laid him back down on the straw. He looked up at her and smiled.
“Thank you, Miss Riena. I’m really grateful to you.” He closed his eyes. Riena noticed that his arm was bleeding. Without another thought, she took her clean, white apron and tore a strip out of it. She brushed the remnants of his torn sleeve to the side, and cleaned the wound as best she could. Then, she tore out another, bigger strip from her cotton apron, and wrapped it around his wound. She could at least do that much. She fetched him some water from the pump just outside, and he drank that.
It began to get dark outside. Riena had spent the whole day helping this one wounded soldier. She couldn’t even believe herself. Suddenly, Jefferson spoke.
“Why did you do it, Miss Riena? I’m your enemy. I hated your kind bitterly. My brother fights for the Union. We’ve never gotten along. We had a big fight, him and me and our father. He got so mad, he stormed out of the house and joined the Yankees. I’ve hated him for that ever since! Why did you do it?”
Why did I do it? Riena thought. I don’t even know why. What’s wrong with me? She shrugged. “I don’t really know.” Suddenly, they heard voices outside. Riena looked up. “My companions. They’re coming for me.” Riena’s eyes turned wide. What would they do with her if they found her here with their fellow soldier. She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder.
She turned and looked at the soldier she had helped. No more could she see the fear or the hatred in his eyes. There was warmth there now. “Go up into the hayloft,” he said. “You helped me. I don’t want you to get hurt. I’ll forever be indebted.” She started to get to her feet when he grabbed her hand. His voice sound husky, “Thanks.” She squeezed his hand, not knowing what else to say. Quickly, she dropped down into the hay in the loft right when the door to the barn opened. Not daring to peer over the edge, she held her breath and listened.
“Hey Jeff! You still in here?” She heard a loud whisper.
“Yeah, I’m here,” the weaker voice replied.
She heard them begin to carry him out. “How’d you survive in here, Jeff? You must be really hungry.”
There was silence for a minute, and Riena held her breath to see whether or not he was going to give her away. She bit her lip.
“The only way to explain it, Fred,” she heard him weakly say, “Was that an angel was watching over me.”
Riena lay there for a few minutes after their footsteps had completely died away. An angel, she marveled, Me! Oh no! I am no angel! I was so bitter! Suddenly, mother stood before her mind’s eye and she heard her say, “One kind act may not change the nation, but it will soften the hearts of that nation.” Then, Riena knew. Suddenly, she knew why she’d done it: He was some mother’s son.