Moss-Covered Memories

This column is 2nd in a series by Kasey Hullet. This column was preceded by another short fiction work, Hiking in Gunpowder.

The rat-a-tat-tat of those drums from so long ago echoed in my head. The rhythm matched my stride, long and decisive. After a few miles of walking, I returned to reality.

Around me I saw the struggling younger scouts as they hauled their gear. I saw my friends looking onward to the forest surrounding the cracked tar of the road. But most of all, I noticed that my mom had decided to walk in uniform: a rough cotton shirt, suspenders, wool slacks, and leather buckle-style shoes. This summer had been an unusually hot one, reaching over one hundred degrees at the height of the day, and she was certainly feeling the heat. We struggled on under the unrelenting sun, through the sweat, as we trudged on the same path to the battle of Shiloh.

Moss-covered stone pillars appeared in the peripheral of my eyes. Scoutmaster had declared it lunchtime with his dying moose call of “FOOD!”  There were shoes and socks strewn all over the entrance to the mossy ruins. We took a load off for a while and the younger scouts wiggled their blistered toes in agony.

The young bearded man on horseback was there. He dismounted his horse and inspected the men. They persistently bit at these hard cracker-looking objects. “Hardtack,” I said. Rusted canteens were raised and slightly brown water trickled out on the beards. The young officer placed his hand upon the shoulder of but a boy. His back leaned up against a pine tree. With his wide brimmed cowboy style hat, the boy was in a kind of nap that only the Southern heat can produce. He spoke to the boy.

There was no response.

His head only hung low. The officer went down upon the knee and lifted the boy’s chin up high. The officer revealed a brief look of anguish and a few tears. He paused and glanced into the forest, away from the road. I felt his sadness, his uncertainty of what was to come. Then he lifted the boy upon his shoulder. A few men came and together they lifted him high upon their shoulders. They marched to a grassy field near the road and dug a plot for him to rest. The men marched by me. They lowered him into the warm earth under the shady oak.

Then it began.

First as a hum, then the sound rose amongst the men.

“Nearer my God to thee, nearer to thee, E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me; Still all my song shall be nearer, my God, to Thee, Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee! Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down, Darkness be over me, my rest a stone; Yet in my dreams I’d be nearer, my God, to Thee, There let the way appear steps unto heav’n; All that Thou sendest me in mercy giv’n; Angels to beckon me nearer, my God, to Thee, Then with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise, Out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise; So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee, Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky; Sun, moon, and stars forgot, upwards I fly, Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee.”

They hummed Sarah Flower Adams’ chorus once more as all the men held their hats on their chests. The officer fashioned a cross from spare wood as a tear slid down his cheek and fell upon the loose dirt. He quietly walked over to his horse and mounted. He replaced his hat upon his head and gently gave the order to march on.

With the sound of their boots marching I awoke from my daze. A tear ran down my face for the young boy who had died on the road. I looked at the ruins and saw a small cross lying face down upon the ground. I took my hat and placed it on my chest. I carefully walked over to the grave and replaced the cross where I had seen it in the dream. I firmly pushed it into the ground and told him that he was lucky to have an officer like he did and that today we are walking the route that he and his brothers marched on so many years before.

Today we would be brothers.