Sunday, July 11, 2010

From the high school archives

Recently I was cleaning up old files on my computer, and in doing so found a story I had written in high school. I'm not even sure how this file still exists, but somehow it made its way from a floppy disc and through several other computers to my current laptop. Anyway, this was the result of an assignment for my AP English class. It's certainly written by a high schooler, but amusing's also the only fiction piece I've ever written.

I got a kick out of reading it...maybe you will too.

April 2002

I've always hated funerals. Seems like long ago I was told that when a man dies, his life was supposed to be celebrated, not mourned. I especially hate this funeral; even though it is for my hero. As the preacher gives the eulogy, I look around. Family and friends whom I see only on an occasion such as this are sobbing uncontrollably. I can't bring myself to grieve. Perhaps that is because I'm 84 years old, and I know I may not be far behind Lawrence. Perhaps it is because I know that he wouldn't want me to. He'd want me to be strong, but more importantly, he'd want me to celebrate what he did in his life, not long for his return. Lawrence James Callahan was the oldest of 6 boys. That leaves me, Merle Robert Callahan, the oldest left.

We were born into a poor, but loving family in Craig County Virginia. Daddy was a preacher at the Craig Church of Christ, and Mama took care of her 6 children, so money wasn't plentiful, but we got by. We never got big birthday presents, but when each of us turned 18, Daddy bought us a knife and had our initials engraved in the back. Getting that knife was almost like a rite of passage to adulthood for the Callahan boys. Lawrence was always ambitious, so he enrolled in the military at in 1858 at age 18. I had always looked up to my brother. My father was my role model, but Lawrence was who I wanted to be like. Mama and Daddy always taught us to look out for one another, and we did. At the schoolhouse, or anywhere we were, we looked after our 4 younger brothers, but for each other also. If there was ever a scrap between one of the Callahan boys and another kid, look out, because there's bound to be 5 other Callahans coming. Lawrence and I always said we'd put our lives on the line for one another, though neither of us ever thought that would ever actually happen, we did mean it. Lawrence went off to the Army, and I was ready to do the same on my 18th birthday. But, between the time Lawrence went off, and I was ready to join, the country got in a big uproar. The South seceded from the Union, and the Civil War began. Daddy talked about how it was important to defend our home, and how we were fighting for state's rights. I wasn't exactly sure of the political side of it, but I knew that I had to defend my home. Lawrence had been gone for some time now, and Daddy hadn't been well, so I had been looking after the family. I couldn't turn my back on Daddy, Mama, and my 4 younger brothers. General Lee himself, in his resignation from the Union Army said that he found it impossible to turn his back on his home and family, even though he agreed with some of the politics of the North. I had to defend my home, but what about Lawrence? He was fighting against me. How could he stay there? Years later he told me that he couldn't fight for a cause he didn't believe in. He was against slavery, and I reckon so was I; we sure didn't have any, and nobody I knew did either. Maybe we were just too poor, but all I knew was my homeland was being attacked, and I had to defend it.

The war was gruesome, but our spirits were high. I fought in the 41st Virginia under Col. John R. Chambliss who led our militia with expertise and a firm fist. We loved our Generals. Jefferson Davis may have been president, but General Lee was the most revered man in the Confederacy. The war took me all across the south. We walked a lot and fought a little, but the when we did fight, it was terrible. Battles drove me to my end, physically, and mentally. We all thought the war would be over soon though. The North seemed to be getting weaker, and we thought we were getting stronger, so to us, victory seemed to be coming. I sent letter after letter back home, letting the family know how the war was going, and that I was ok. All this time though, I wondered about Lawrence. I assumed he was ok; as far as the war goes, no news is good news. He was going through the same thing I was. So many times in battle, I wished that I could have my brother jump in and throw a few licks for me. I also wanted to do the same for him. Our youth was over, and I longed for those days.

It was July 1, 1863 and the war took me to Vicksburg, Mississippi. The North had been giving us quite a drubbing, and we were summoned. Right away we were in battle. The North was still putting it to us, but I thought sure we would triumph. Battle started at sunup on the second of July, and Col. Chaimbliss moved us in. The opposition was ready. Before I knew it, shots were all around me. I had never been in this sort of peril before. All around men were down, screaming for their lives, pleading for help. To my left I saw my friend James Hill. He had been shot in the back and was down. I had to answer his cries for help, he was like a brother to me, I always had to look after my brothers. I quickly moved to where I could aid him, but in doing that, I put myself in more danger. A sharp pain came in my stomach, and I fell to the ground. I had been shot! I lay face up at the bright Mississippi sky, knowing that I would die. Fear did not take hold of me, nor was my pain taking my attention. All I could do was lie there and think of home; of my parents, and of my brothers. I kept drifting in and out of consciousness, and wondering which breath would be my last. Footsteps were upon me, and I barely heard, "Merle?! Merle?!" I had no idea who it was, and didn't find out because I again lost consciousness.

I woke up. I woke up! If it were possible for a man to think he is dead, I sure thought I was dead. For the next several minutes I sat there and took in my sensory feelings like a sponge takes in water. Life! Never had a breath tasted so sweet, and never in my 84 years did it again. A medic came to me and proceeded to tell me of my own miraculous survival. He told me that a Union soldier hand run up to our camp while carrying me (which was only about 400 yards from where I got shot) and sat me down. The medic said that they had no idea who the soldier was, but after he put me down some of the other Confederates shot at him and he ran off. "One other thing," he said, we found this on you. He handed me an old battered knife. Upon examining it, I thought it was the knife my Daddy had given me years ago, but I remembered that I didn't take it to war with me. I turned to the back and read the encryption: "LJC" Lawrence James Callahan! My brother had risked his own life to try to save mine. Lawrence crossed Confederate lines , to save an "enemy." He couldn't know if I was going to make it, but he tried his best to help me, and he saved my life. That was my last battle in the Civil War. I was honorably discharged after being wounded in battle. As for my brother, he fought till the end of the war, but not after being promoted several times. When the war ended in 1865 he was a colonel. I owed my life to Lawrence. What is so hard today is I still feel that I owe him. Time and time again as we've grown old, he has said that I never had to make up for it, and that he knew that I would have done the same for him. I would have too, but I never had the chance. From the day I was released from the hospital to the day Lawrence died, I tried to find a way to repay him. Though I could always get him gifts and material items, I couldn't do anything near the magnitude of what he did for me. I always wanted a chance to risk my life for him. As his casket is lowered, and the guns are fired, I cannot grieve. I hold in my hand a knife that has the encryption "LJC" on the back, and I cannot think of anything, but of his heroic effort. To mourn would be to dishonor him because when he saw me at near death, he acted, and saved my life. I then must act. Though I'm 84, my tongue still works, and I can tell of the utmost brotherly love.