It was the Civil War that had torn John's world apart and thrown him from the idyll of his childhood.
what it was about people that allowed him to love some very few - to hold them valuable and kin. They had died.
But it was not just this that drew him to such people. It was the courage required to bear the loss of themselves, the knowledge they gained from this refining fire, and the miracle of their simple existence or, even more rarely, their ability to again and at length rediscover beauty and worth in the alien world in which they then found themselves. There was something also that moved him in the self-reliant pride of their struggle, successful or not. There was always something
specific which had broken them free and opened their eyes to perspicacity. For John, this had been the aftermath of the Civil War and his father's betrayal.
In 1861 his life had been intact. True, his father did not value him and he had worked hard to overcome his speech impediment, but by the outbreak of the war he had succeeded. The household had grown, but his mother loved him, teaching him academics, music and gentle manners. His grandfather had stated that one had the duty and responsibility to ride and shoot well, to grow fine cotton, to treat ladies gently and men squarely and to hold one's liquor like a gentleman. John's uncles loved him, teaching him to ride, to shoot, to hunt, to play cards and to walk as a man in the world. John was serious and diligent from his long training, taking it all to heart as the core of the values - the essence
of his antebellum South. That as well as its backdrop of plantations and gentility, his uncle's mansion in Fayetteville, the cotton fields and red earth, the shade of cedars and he scent of magnolia were
his world, along with his spread and close-knit family. Best of all were his cousins - Mattie in Jonesboro and Robert - Hub - son of his Uncle John, who had given him his life and name.
Then came the war and a chance to fight for that world, for his elders at least, but he too was caught up. The battle flag for the 27th Georgia Volunteer Regiment was sewn by his mama and the women in his own parlour. His uncles were signing up; his father; his putative 'brother' Francisco and his older cousin George. How he and Hub envied him, a cadet out of military college. There were parades, drills, new songs and dances. Everything was colour, brightness, action and sound. Victory was assumed. It was said that one Southern boy could beat ten Yankees, or perhaps it was twelve. It was all high Pride and Honour, made immediate and personal. It was all the South coming together to fight the invaders, to relive the legends of Arthur and the novels of Scott, in one Army of Glory under God, for they were right, brave and true. Then came the victory at Manassas. John and the country held its breath, living for news of further victories and defeats. Lee and Jackson were the new heroes, whipping the Yankees in Virginia. John's own father had been made a Major under them. Better still were the cavalry officers - Forrest, Morgan and Stuart, creating military miracles for the South.
But the tide turned - Southern cities fell, the rolls of the dead and injured grew, families waited for news at the train station. Women wore black for husbands and sons; the Mississippi River was lost; the South was under blockade. Women and children worked the land, managing huge farms with starving tired hands. Too much work and not enough food, warmth or clothing. The great cities burned - Columbia, with its fine university, Corinth, others. Men returned, grey and broken, missing limbs. John's father was invalided out of the army for dysentery, but he had enough energy to buy land, moving the family from John's rich beautiful home to the tangled dirtier south Georgia, near the Florida line out of the way of Sherman's burning looting Yankees' march to the sea. They were joined by yet another household - John's uncle Robert's family. At length that included his beloved cousin Mattie, who had walked
with only her sister, all the way from Savannah. So many people; even less food. Clothes become short and tight as he grew.
His mother - his darling loved mother, who worked from before dawn until after dark, began to cough, growing more and more ill. John himself nursed her in dread and horror, his loss and grief intensified by the grim physical reality
of blood as well as the violence the disease worked on her dear body.
Then there was Gettysburg. Fair Georgia, suffering, burnt and pillaged, was overrun even then by carpetbaggers and scallywags. John, fourteen, made one last valiant desperate attempt for his mother. He crossed back to northern Georgia alone, a thin pale blond child with two horses in a country whose roads and fields crawled and teemed with desperate vagabonds and criminals, all afoot. John, fourteen, brought his mother's youngest brother, Thomas McKey, safely home from the military hospital for his mama. One last valiant desperate attempt to salvage his world.
But she died. It was all over. Betrayal followed loss. His father married the neighbour girl, scarcely older than John, six weeks later. John was enraged, thinking what this had meant between them. His father embraced the Union that had destroyed the South. He became head of the Freedmen's Union of Valdosta, upholding their
courts and laws. The town called him The Major, so John followed suit, but in bitterness and with irony. John was dead. Apart from iron will, all he held in his hand were thin strands. There was the lock of his mother's hair, in the form of her letter to him, bequeathing faith and love. There were the thin links of tuberculosis bacilli that would grow to consume and destroy him. There were the aethereal lines of ink linking him by post to Mattie and Hub that would reach across the insurmountable distance of the country. Everything else would be ripped from his grasp. Everything. Everything.Name: John H. Holliday, DDS.
Word Count: 1033
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