You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Three Paths Publishing; 1st edition (May 7, 2007)
Jeri Doner was an active member of the North-South-Skirmish-Association for over twenty years. This sparked her interest in the 149th NYVI of the Civil War. She is the mother of four children and has seven grandchildren. She was an avid seamstress often making reproduction gowns and uniforms from the Civil War time period. Her love of writing and history led to the novel Victory Song.
Visit the publisher's website.
List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 284 pages
Publisher: Three Paths Publishing; 1st edition (May 7, 2007)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Andy had always been the bright one, the strong one, and the reliable one. He was tired of it. He had listened eagerly to the army recruiters, and read all the patriotic articles in the newspapers. They had promised much in the way of adventure, glory, and victory. They had called for the people to sacrifice for the good of the country. While the war might seem remote and irrelevant to the rest of the Richardson family, it was very real to Andy. He wanted a part in it. He had heard all the colorful words until they circled continually in his mind. Adventure. Glory. Victory. Sacrifice. He admitted only to himself that the most prominent and appealing word of all was none of those. It was the word that had become the theme of his existence, his prayer and constant desire. Escape.
He did not feel guilty about leaving the milking chores on this last day of boyhood. His father did not approve of his enlisting in the army, but he had given permission for him to have this time for himself. If they could get by without him tomorrow, they could just as easily begin managing today, the old man had said. It was his stern way of expressing that, though he disapproved, he was trying to understand.
Andy wandered along the windbreak at the edge of a field, enjoying for the last time the peacefulness of the land, which had been his lifelong home. He let the slope of the ground carry him down toward the brook where the cattle were watered. Many a summer day had been spent fishing in that stream. Through a tangle of brush, he located the well-worn path, which led to the swimming hole. A stout rope was still suspended from an overhanging branch. It had been the most important thing in his world the year he and his best friend, Eddie, had hung it there. The water was still now, for Eddie had moved away to distant Auburn, and Andy had grown up. Not many splashes were heard in the old swimming hole these days. This summer of 1862 had been an uncommonly dry one, and the water level was low.
Childhood was a thing of the past, Andy told himself. Only one day separated him from manhood and a life of his own. In the morning he was leaving for Syracuse to be mustered into the 149th New York Infantry Regiment, and the farm boy life would be over. For now he could afford to stop resenting the confines of the farm, the dullness of life here, and the everlasting chores. He could simply meander about enjoying his surroundings.
There were things to enjoy here. September in central New York was a brightly busy time. The heat of summer was, for the most part, past. Though there was still an occasional hot day or two, the air more often than not held a chill that warned of winter’s inevitable approach. The southwest breeze blew about industrious honeybees as they salvaged the last useful specks from brilliant goldenrod blossoms. Gray squirrels that had been summer-sleek were now fall-fluffy, romping with their abundance of hickory nuts and black walnuts. The stately maples had not yet reached their peak of color, but lacy sumac fairly blazed from every neglected hedgerow and patch of wasteland. Fruit trees were heavy with spring promises kept. Pale Queen-Anne’s lace and blue chicory cushioned the fall of ripening apples, pears, and plums. The hills lay in gentle folds, no longer green, but gold and brown awaiting the scythe.
Andy had circled back toward the house, and could see a horse saddled and hitched to the fence in the side yard. He felt a sudden excitement upon recognizing it as his Aunt Jen’s. She was one of the few people he would miss. As he neared the door, he mentally braced himself, anticipating that because of Aunt Jen’s presence he was about to walk into a roomful of tension.
“He’s leaving, Callie, and there’s nothing more to be done about it. You’ll have to face the fact.” The voice was raspy with age, edged with impatience.
Callie Richardson looked up from the pot of apple butter she had been stirring, and eyed her sister-in-law across the steamy summer kitchen. “I’m trying to make the most of this, Jen, and I don’t need you to tell me what I already know. I just can’t feel the way you do about it. I think he’s making a big mistake.”
“Don’t you read the papers, girl?” Jen asked. “There’s a war going on in this country. The worst kind of a war. Tearing the country apart. And your son is going for a soldier in Mr. Lincoln’s army. Can’t you be proud of him?”
“I am. In my own way. But he’s needed here at home. He never gave that a thought when he signed up.”
“Pete is sixteen. It’s time he did his share around here. Andy did at that age.”
“Pete is not Andy,” the mother replied. “He needs more time with his school work. He tries his best, but he can’t keep up like Andy did.”
“That’s not Andy’s fault,” Jen pointed out. “He’d be leaving home one of these days, no matter what. If it weren’t for the war it would be for something else. You know I’m right, Callie.”
Callie’s brow was moist, and so were her eyes. She wiped her face on her apron. “I know, Jen. But you really can’t understand. He’s not your son.”
“He’s my brother’s. And since I never had a family of my own, he’s as close to being mine as anyone can be. It’s not a secret Andy was always my favorite. I’ll miss him something awful, but I’d never try to keep him from going. He’s nineteen. He’s not a child.”
Callie decided the apple butter had cooked long enough, and lifted the heavy kettle from the stove. She moved to the wooden table in the middle of the room and set it down a little harder than necessary. “I suppose I wouldn’t mind so much if he just wasn’t going with that Henry Birch. That boy worries me.”
“Oh, they’ll be all right!” Jen tried to assure her. “I thought you liked Mrs. Birch. Don’t they go to your church?”
“They did years ago. They’ve been to all different churches since then. Never satisfied. I don’t see Henry’s mother any more. But hear plenty about him. He’s a wild one. I don’t like Andy with him.”
“It’s time you started trusting Andy. He’s a grown man, and your job of raising him is over. You’ve given him a proper Christian upbringing, and that’s all you can do. Besides, I hear that Captain Townsend that was recruiting in Elbridge was some kind of a preacher in civilian life. He was a chaplain in the cavalry before he resigned to raise a company for the Fourth Onondagas. That’s whose company they’ll be in, isn’t it?”
“Yes…that gives me some comfort,” Callie admitted. “But I still worry that he’ll turn out like that good-for-nothing Henry.”
“Or like me?” Jen asked.
Callie let the exasperation show on her face. Something was wrong here. She was a Godly woman, but it was Jen’s total honesty that made her the most uncomfortable. It was hard enough making polite conversation after all the differences they had suffered over the years. She did not know how to respond to this. Jen was the undisputed black sheep of the Richardson family, having rejected the strict moral standards of the rest of the clan. She was a painfully honest woman, and occasionally used some colorful language to tell her relatives what she thought of the way they pressured their children to conform. She was a true non-conformist, dressing as she pleased, coming and going bareheaded in the streets at all hours. She commonly hung laundry out on Sunday, read scandalous novels, and it was said she used alcohol to relieve a chronic cough. Callie wondered once or twice if the cough could have been the result of the use of tobacco, but that seemed rather outrageous, even for Jen. It was true she found it easy to disapprove of the old woman, and the more she gave voice to her disapproval, the more Andy seemed to admire his aunt. Perhaps he would turn out like her, a religious agnostic and a social outcast. There was nothing wrong with wanting more for him than that.
Before Callie had a chance to think of anything to say, the front door banged and loud footsteps came through the house toward the summer kitchen.
“What’s cooking?” Andy’s voice called. “It smells great in here!”
Both mother and aunt turned toward the doorway as he entered. His gray-green eyes blinked as he tried to hurry the adjustment from outdoor sunlight to the dimness of the room.
“Aunt Jen! Glad you came over,” he said, looking with satisfaction at the old woman sitting near the table. “I figured on coming over to your place tonight to say good-bye.”
“You’re a fine one!” Jen scolded playfully. “I come visiting and you’re off someplace!”
“I just went for a walk in the woods and down by the old swimming hole. Wanted to see it once more before I leave. Water sure is low this year.” Having discovered the apple butter, he cut a generous slice of bread from a loaf on the sideboard and sat down on the edge of the table to dip it into the steaming kettle.
“Get out of there!” Callie chided, swatting him on the thigh with a dishtowel to remove him from the table. “You know better than that!”
“How come you’re making this stuff when it’s so hot out?” He asked with his mouth full. “Apples ‘ll keep till cold weather.”
“Because it’s your favorite, and what I made last year is all gone,” the mother replied.
“Mom, you didn’t have to do that.” He tried to sound grateful, but suspected that she was too busy or too tired to notice.
“When you were gone so long I thought you walked into Canton to good-bye to somebody,” she said.
“I said all my farewells Sunday,” he told her. “And it’s Memphis, not Canton.”
It seemed he was forever correcting her about that. The nearest village was always called Canton, short for Canal Town, and that word best described the little settlement. A year ago, for some obscure reason, the name had been changed to Memphis. Andy had no trouble recalling the new name, and thought his parents should have been able to keep it in mind, too coming as it did from the Bible. He would never understand how older people could bring to mind lengthy passages from their favorite book, quoting chapter and verse without error, and not recall that they were members of the First Baptist Church of Memphis, not Canton. The inconsistency baffled him; if that was a characteristic of old age, he hoped never to reach it.
The door banged again, and a familiar voice called, “Mom, we’re finally here. Where do you want the pies?”
“I’ll take care of them,” Andy offered, bounding into the dining room where his sister Lydia was unpacking her contribution to dinner.
“Not a chance, little brother,” she said. “Somebody else might like a taste.”
It was a joke they shared, her calling him a little brother, for she said it looking up into his face as she had been doing for years. Not all Richardsons were tall; when it came to height, Lydia favored Callie, but Andy had inherited all his father’s considerable size and more. While many youngsters experienced a winter of illness sometime during their growing years resulting in a slowed growth rate, Andy had always enjoyed excellent health and an unimpaired appetite for the abundance of good food with which the family had always been blessed. Besides his long, muscular arms and legs, he received from his father a distinctive face, which was easily recognizable in the locality as belonging to a Richardson. The forehead was broad and high, the nose a bit longer than most would consider becoming. The cheekbones were prominent and deeply tanned from exposure to sun and wind. The mouth was the most distinctive feature of all, and the one Andy liked the least. It had a tendency to turn down at the corners, producing a look of immovable sternness on his father’s face. On Aunt Jen the look was one of impudence. On Lydia it was just plain pouty. Andy, when he thought of it, smiled a lot in hopes that the effort would make him look less like the rest of the family.
Callie came in from the summer kitchen to greet her only daughter. The oldest of the three children, Lydia had married the son of a neighboring farmer less than a year ago. She was still much in evidence about the homestead, and especially on important occasions like today.
“Where’s Don?” Callie asked, referring to Lydia’s husband.
“He went down to the barn to meet Daddy and Pete,” the girl explained. “I hope they finish milking soon. I’m starved. Too bad SOME people don’t see fit to help with the chores any more.” With that she nudged Andy in the ribs.
“Before you barged in I was trying to have a nice visit with Aunt Jen.” He said.
Lydia made a face at the mention of the aunt, but dutifully went to the doorway and called, “Hello, Aunt Jen. I hope you’re staying for supper.”
The old woman got to her feet and replied, “No, I got my own food at home. Just came over to see Andy before he goes off tomorrow. Now if you’ll walk me out to my horse, boy, I’ll be on my way and out from under foot.”
They all politely tried to convince her to stay, but she would not be persuaded. Callie and Lydia did not seem overly disappointed when she insisted upon leaving, but Andy was reluctant to walk out into the yard with her.
“I hoped I’d get to see you in your uniform,” Aunt Jen said when they were outside and the commotion left behind.
“We have to go to Syracuse to get all our stuff issued. I don’t know how quick the government can supply us. You’ll have to come to the camp at the fairgrounds to see us in uniform.”
“I ain’t traipsing all the way to Syracuse!” Aunt Jen informed him. “You send me a picture.”
“I’ll try. But I won’t be gone forever. I’ll be over to see you when I get back, and that’s a promise.”
She did not respond except to shake her head sadly. “It won’t be the same here with you gone.”
Andy nodded. “I can’t say I’ll miss everything here, but I sure will miss you, Aunt Jen.”
They had been close, and he thought he knew her as well as anyone alive, but he was surprised when she did something uncharacteristic. She stretched to hug and kiss him. When he lifted her onto her horse she did something else he did not expect. She wept.
“Aunt Jen, I only enlisted for three years. And if we get the Rebels licked before then, I can come back earlier. Please don’t act as if it’s the end of everything.”
She wiped her eyes and cleared her throat as if to speak, but said nothing. She had the unladylike habit of riding astride, and had designed her skirts to accommodate the man’s saddle she used. Once sure of her seat, she slapped the horse on the withers and cantered off down the road.
Andy watched for a while after the dust settled. After a few moments he looked out across the field to see his father, Pete, and Don leaving the barn. They were weary, but walked quickly toward the house, for supper would soon be ready. Andy thought of the same thing, but waited for them to catch up to him so that they could all enter together.
The sun was beginning to fade when he turned back to the old house. It was painted barn red, and looked dark in the shadows. It sat on a hillside, protected from the ferocity of the north wind, its front yard sloping down toward the road, which ran south of it. Light spilled from the kitchen window, along with mingled smells of roasting beef, fresh bread, and the apple butter. Behind the house the kitchen garden looked well used, offering the last of its beans and squash. The corn stalks were brown and dry, holding one another erect against the autumn winds. His eyes followed the road until it twisted out of sight among surrounding maples. It was edged by a split rail fence he had built with his father. Beyond that lay a field newly cultivated this year. Wrestling the stubborn sumac out of the ground had been an ordeal he would not soon forget. He came up to the house and pumped some fresh water up from the well he had helped to dig and keep clean. It was good water, and had proved sufficient for their needs. He took a last look around the place and sighed. While his parents took pride in the home and saw in it a testimony to achievement, Andy saw only backbreaking work—work that would never be done. It was not the sort of life he wanted for himself, and he was excited to think that his escape was only a day in the future.