Friday, October 7, 2011

The Whippoorwill

The Whippoorwill

As darkness swallowed the light of day a Whippoorwill filled the valley with its nightly melodious tune drowning out the back and forth squeak of the swing hanging from a large oak tree in our front yard.

Swinging just before bed time seemed to be a nightly ritual of my younger sisters Ruth and Abigail. They were twins and the youngest children in our family…being only five years of age. The girls would swing and sing trying to copy the tune of the Whippoorwill each and every night until Mamma called for them to come and get ready for bed. They were ten years between the twins and me, and I once asked Mamma why she waited so long to have my younger sisters – she just smiled and said; “God had two extra babies in heaven that need good folks to take care of them, so He sent them to our home.” I never asked again!

All told, there were seven of us children at home. Myself, brothers James and Daniel, and sister’s Rebecca, Martha and the twins. Each of us had been given biblical names, mine being Joseph and I’m more than sure my brothers and I failed in what had been hoped for by our biblical names.

Although it was the month of May, nights were cool from the fog rolling up the valley from the Tennessee River. It was spring time in North Alabama and the fog rolling in seemed to be a nightly ritual in and of its own.

My Daddy was born on this land and vowed he would die on it. That was prophesy come true, Daddy became ill the following March and died of pneumonia. I always believed Daddy grieved himself to death and the pneumonia just helped him along.

Even before Mr. Lincoln had been elected there had been threats of war with a handful of southern states threatening to secede from the Union. Whenever the word secession was spoken I could see a look of fear in my Daddy’s eyes – fear that had never been there before for any cause. His last request before dying was for us boys to never leave the farm and never go off to war. His words fell on deaf ears because the following month, April of ’61 Fort Sumter was fired on, and the war came to us.

After hearing of the start of the war my brothers and I hurriedly packed a covered wagon with clothing, food and all essentials needed to make a trip to Troy in South Alabama. It was our thinking the war would never make it that far south. How wrong we were! Troy was Mammas home before she and Daddy were married, and she still had family living there. James and I agreed to remain on the farm and Daniel being the oldest would drive the wagon with Mamma and the girls to a safe haven. Little did we know it at the time, but it would be the last time James and I would ever see our family again.

The war came to the farm in a hurry and James and I were forced to choose which side we would be fighting on. Our Daddy’s last words wouldn’t help us make the decision – it was either our native South or fight for the Yankees. Of course we fought for the South but were never clear of the reason we were fighting - none of us had ever met a slave and believed there had to be more to the reason for fighting than slavery.

The war was a thing I know God Himself must have been ashamed of. Otherwise there wouldn’t have been so many good people from both sides being slaughtered.

In the midst of battle for Atlanta both James and I received wounds that didn’t kill either of us, but James lost his left leg from the knee down. A Yankee ball struck me in the chest breaking two ribs and exiting out my side. Afterwards, James spent two months in a makeshift plantation hospital and after receiving medical treatment I was released to rejoin my fellow recruits with instructions from the doctor to not let my wound scab over or I would get infection and die. I did neither!

After rejoining the troops, my commander surprisingly ordered me to go home. He said with my wound, I couldn’t help either the war effort or myself. At the time I thought why not just let everyone go home – the fighting still made no sense to me.

Fighting was still going on all around me and desertion by troops from both sides numbered in the hundreds. It took me the better part of a week to get back home, or what was left of home. The sun was going down and as I looked over the land where cotton and corn use to grow I couldn’t believe my eyes, there was a field of crosses. Both barns were now rubble and only half of our home was left. As I blinked my eyes in the fading light I looked up and there standing tall was the old oak tree with the link chain swing still hanging from the same limb.

It was now too dark to see, but off in the distance I heard what sounded like a Whippoorwill crying. I dropped to my knees and cried along with him.

Joseph Spearman

Author Bio: I happen to be a retired high school administrator with teaching experience in both secondary and post-secondary education. Writing is a hobby that brings challenges and pleasure to my much too leisure time. I thoroughly enjoy writing about life experiences about my boyhood as I was growing up in Alabama. I enjoy writing about these experiences as well as historical times in the 1800's. I do most of my writing in the early morning hours, between midnight and four in the morning.