A Summer Not Soon Forgotten
by Kat Bradley
Thinking back to her days of courtship, Mother Brody explained, “Our parents insisted that my Henry get his education at Harvard before we married. I waited many years for him, but we spent every summer together. We had so many idyllic days swimming at the lake or strolling on the lanes just as you young people do today. Well, Daughter, we have no more time for rambling down memory lane, away with you to check on the laundry before the coming rains drench it. I must start our evening meal.”
“What are we eating for supper, Mother?”
“I thought I would fix garden vegetables and corn pone with honey from our log.”
Before running out to the laundry, Amelia stated, “That is one thing I definitely thank God for, Mother, His constant provision of honey in our log year after year. The busy bees work all summer to store honey for their winter.”
As she pulled the last piece of laundry from the line, Amelia noticed the curtains in the windows of the house stirring in the slight breeze. Lifting her hair, she let the puff of cool air cool her perspiring skin. The darkening clouds threatened with thunderous retorts off in the distance. She knew that before long, they would drop their heavy load of condensation on their little patch of the world in Dalton, Georgia, in the year 1862.
That evening, she sat on the porch steps watching the stars twinkling in their spots in the rain cleared sky. Their consistent glimmer gave her constant comfort in this ever-changing war between the Union and the Confederacy.
Sammy, who ran toward Amelia’s house, stopped amid step when he saw her on the landing. He sauntered nonchalantly the rest of the way up the street and on down her walkway to the steps of her porch.
Inviting him up, Amelia walked with him over to the swing and they sat down at the same time.
Samuel held out a present to Amelia and she startled, looking at him with a question in her face.
“I made this for you, Lia. It’s something I think you will like.”
“It’s not my birthday. I’m sorry, Sammy, but I don’t have a present for you,” she breathed in despair. “What is the occasion?”
“There is no occasion, Amelia. I did not make you a gift to get a gift. I just thought you might like these and find them useful, that’s all.”
Removing the string and tissue paper, Amelia found a delightful pair of homemade, wooden knitting needles, polished to a high sheen and as smooth as the skin on a baby’s cheek. “Oh, thank you, Samuel. These are so beautiful. I will cherish them always.”
“I know you like to knit socks and gloves and such, so I was thinking maybe you could knit me a scarf to wear when I go off to war.”
“Oh, no, Sammy, you can’t possibly go off to war. You are much too young.”
“I’m sixteen next month, Amelia, you know that. I have to do my duty and beat the Yanks before they demolish our town and all the towns all over the South. I heard that they were vandalizing and burning our cities to the ground. We cannot have that, Lia. These are our homes, our only homes.”
“Of course, you’re right, Sammy; but gosh, I didn’t even know you liked me enough to make me such a fine present and now you’re leaving all of a sudden to go off to war.”
“Well, I’ll leave in a month. Will that give you enough time to knit a scarf for me?”
“Of course, Silly, I can make one in just a few days.”
“Well, that’s grand. I never told you, Amelia, but you really have a special place in my heart. From the minute you sat in front of me in school and your pig tail plopped right into my ink well, I knew you needed me to take care of you.”
“You have taken care of me too, Sammy. In fact, you are my best friend, next to Ella.” Blushing, Amelia put her hand into Sammy’s and he squeezed it before he jumped up from the swing.
Watching his beautiful friend turn a variety of luminous shades of pink and vermillion, he mentioned, “Well, I gotta be gittin’ on home now, Lia. I will see you in church on Sunday. Do you think your Pa would mind if I sit with you this week?”
“It won’t hurt to ask him, Sammy.”
“Okay, I will.” Sammy yelled as he jumped from the porch without using any of the steps. He ran down the sidewalk and into the street, almost crashing into the carriage going down the road. Amelia’s heart never felt so grateful in her young life. Sammy actually cared for her.
The humid summer continued to roll across the war zone. Many towns, formerly exempt from the ravages of war, suffered invasion by either Blue Coats or Grey Backs. Dalton was no exception.
“Well, Mother,” Amelia concluded, as she finished the last supper dish, “All was so quiet this afternoon, I thought the Yanks left. I just glanced out the kitchen window, though, and noticed one sneaking through the yard.”
“He must be after our livestock again.” Mother Brody commented, “The Federal government should feed these fellows so they won’t remove the very sustenance from the mouths of civilians.”
“Do you think our soldiers do the same thing in the north, Mother?”
“It will snow in July if a Southern gentleman ever stole food from the mouth of babes, My Girl.” Mother Brody stated firmly.
Amelia wondered at the vehemence in her mother’s tone, but she made her own decision that a hungry Rebel would act just as desperately as a hungry Yank.
As they sat on the porch immediately after dinner, they saw a parade of soldiers coming down the street. Horses and wagons moved in retreat again. Even the Generals and all of their personnel went by the house.
“Oh look,” Amelia exclaimed, “There’s General Hankins.” Leaning toward her sister, Selina, she exclaimed, “He’s not a bad looking man is he, Sister?” Selina shushed her before she got any louder. Continuing in a whisper, Amelia remarked, “There really are quite a few real intelligent and handsome men among the soldiers. What a pity that they are only Yankees.”
“And what will Samuel say to your roving eye, My Dear?” Mother Brody questioned.
“Oh, my heart belongs to Sammy, Mother, but I’m not deaf and blind. Before the war I thought the Yanks were a bunch of ignorant fools; now that I’ve met some of them and spoken to a few, I’ve learned that people everywhere are just the same.”
Watching the soldiers’ dust settle in the distance, all of the citizens in the neighborhood let loose with loud cheers and many gave thanks to their Heavenly Father for His protection of them from the invading army.
“How glad I am that they are gone,” Amelia sighed as she accompanied her mother and sister back into their home.”
Waking with the sun a few mornings later, Amelia still savored the news of their victory at Gettysburg. Stretching to invigorate her muscles before slipping out from under her light sheet, she realized, “Knowing that our Heavenly Father watches over us each moment of the day and night, I slept extremely well every night so far, even when the enemy camped practically at our doorstep again.”
Gazing out the window, she noticed that yesterday’s late afternoon shower left the ground very muddy this morning. Thinking back over the past few days, she realized that they had rain every day for almost a week. In fact, as she watched the thunderous sky yesterday afternoon, she remembered being in awe of the blue straggles of lightening zigzagging across the sky like gnarled fingers on an arthritic hand. They illuminated the empty cornfields that mocked them from a distance.
She and her mother and sister planted a small garden closer to the house, but they did not have the strength to plant the fields as well. Summer mosquitoes feasted on every inch of exposed skin when they worked near dusk, but then during the daytime perspiration flowed over the swollen bites, causing them to itch and sting while they tried to work.
That afternoon, when the girls finished their garden chore, they went to wash off at the pump. The squeaks and water spurts as the pump primed made them giggle.
"We must be really tired to laugh at the pump,” Amelia commented. Just then, the erratic water flow splattered both of them in the face. This started them laughing even more. The delinquent drops felt good on their flushed faces and the burning itch of bites on their arms. Once the water flowed freely from the nozzle, the dirt dripped away. Not able to resist the temptation, Selina slung two handfuls of water at her sister and dashed up the back stairs into the kitchen, just a step ahead of Amelia’s half-hearted mission of revenge.
The little family hoped to eat for months on their garden bounty, but they soon realized that the new regiment of Yanks in their town stripped it clean every time the vegetables ripened. “I wonder how they time their forages just when each plant yields its fruit,” Selina questioned her sister as they sat out in the early morning garden pulling weeds with one hand and swatting mosquitoes with the other.
“Their patrols must keep a record book of the areas’ gardens and the dates to recheck them,” Amelia commented as she sat on the garden bench to rest for a moment and to gather her thoughts.
Amelia decided to bring into the house a few items from their garden prior to their ripening. She planned to hide them in the corner of the cellar behind the boxes of old family photographs until they were ready to eat.
As she entered the kitchen, her mother greeted her with the news, “I need you to go out hunting yeast today, Amelia. Take Selina with you. There is not a bit of bread left and my yeast soured without me knowing it. I need to bake today.”
Later that afternoon, Amelia ironed as her mother baked several loaves of rich, brown bread. She felt rather sad as she pushed the hot, heavy metal across the wrinkled garments, until she smelled the pleasing aroma of the crusted loaves in the oven. As she continued with her chores, Amelia mended a few torn seams on the clothes before she ironed them, and then she put everything away.
Picking up a book from her father’s library, she went out on the front porch and read about the great revivals of ‘56 and ‘57. When she finished a few chapters, she felt much happier than she had that morning. She closed the book and spent a time in sweet communication with her Lord.
As she returned to the kitchen to help her mother with dinner, she decided, “That’s what I need more of from now on, an encouraging book and a season of prayer.”
Going to the mercantile the next day, Amelia found a letter from Sammy. It was certainly short, but so utterly sweet. Samuel had a romantic side to him that she never realized in their years growing up together in Dalton. She thanked God, that at least at the time of his writing of this letter, he was still safe. The letter communicated that his company was under marching orders again, and leaving the next day. Glancing at the date on the top of the note, Amelia realized the communiqué started on its way from Samuel to her over two weeks ago.
Over the next few weeks, Mother Brody turned the bread baking over to Amelia so she could learn this temperamental art. The young girl failed in her first two attempts. “I feel awful about wasting all of those ingredients, Mother,” she confided.
Mother Brody comforted her, “I burned more loaves than I care to admit when I was learning, Amelia. You only burned one and undercooked another. I think you have it down pat today, however. I’d be surprised if we didn’t get a good batch, especially if you bring your book in the kitchen to read while you wait for the finished results, instead of going out on the porch.”
Following her mother’s advice, Amelia did make a good batch of bread that day, “I feel like I accomplished something wonderful today, Mother,” she shared as they and Selina ate slices of her bread with the strawberries that she and Selina found in the woods.
As they nibbled the tasty treat, Amelia mused, “Jesus is our Bread of Life; and as I nibble the end crust of this warm loaf of fresh baked bread, I thank our Heavenly Father for sending his Son to give us new life in Him. No matter how bad this war gets, I always remember that God has a plan for all of us. He sets His boundary around us and nothing and no one can go beyond that point. I am ready to go home to Heaven in His timing. With all my heart, however, I truly want to see my Samuel once more before I do.”
Mother Brody responded, “God greets us with His sunrise each morning, beginning our day with dew-filled wonder. He gives us His nourishing sun all day long, and then winks goodnight to us each evening as He concludes our day with His gloriously majestic sunset. Then He guards our night with His moon and stars, as we rest in His arms until the sunrise greets us again each morning.”
Continuing with her musing, she stated with conviction, “His circle of life never ends. He dresses the trees in autumn colors of firebrick, tomato and salmon, with a hint of lemon chiffon. He blankets the earth with snow as she rests in the winter seasons of life. Then, He paves our way with spring daisies, daffodils, irises and jonquil that paint our days with a sea of pastel colors. He blesses us with a fertile springtime and summer soil to till, giving us a bounty of crops to harvest again in the fall. The circle remains unbroken, year after year, season after season, one life giving life to another. He does all of this, yet He still has time to listen when we talk and then to talk when we listen. He fills the universe and yet He dwells within our very hearts.”
As the summer heat dissipated with the chilly fall breezes, the women continued making due with what God provided. They diligently prayed for an end to the war that kept their men-folk in dangerous distant states and they supported their family, friends and neighbors in every way that they could.