Summer 1861 No. 2
Posted On April 1, 2016
In the summer of 1861, Johanna Cardiff was becoming a young woman; her country was preparing for war. This is her journal; these are her journeys.
A week has now passed since I, and the town watched you march away from us. It does not seem like a long time, and yet, it seems like a season.
In a way, it reminds me of when Pa passed. Such a loss to our family, and yet we managed to get up the following morning, get dressed, and handle our affairs. Maybe not as well as other mornings, but life still places demands on us and we must respond. So, it is the same now.
Mrs. Trenton can still be seen, every morning, sweeping the boardwalk in front of her store. She is alone now. Samuel, you may not know this, but her husband passed about the same time as father. Robert, her only boy is with you, so she tends to the affairs of the Trenton family by herself. I stop in, talk to her, and offer a hand, when I can, but she usually turns me down, reminding me, I have our mother to tend too.
I’m trying to say that life continues and yet there is a large part of our lives missing. Luke, don’t you dare tease me! I can almost hear you laughing at me, saying, “Of course somethings missing, us.”
It is more than just a number of bodies, faces, and names. When you left, you took with you a sense of energy, of vitality, and sense of challenge that bordered on the brink of recklessness. I guess it is a measure of being a man and a young man at that, to have those qualities. I grew up in this town, at times thinking the “boys” were such a bother, and it was a result of those portions of you that I now recognize. It may sound silly, but we never miss the salt in the stew, until it’s left out.
I am now keenly aware of the spices missing from the stew of our town.
Speaking of spices, and I must confess, it was not one of my better moments, but I ran into Josh Rumlage a few days ago. I’m sure you remember him; his family runs the tannery on the south side of town. A more smelly business there never was, and yes, he wears the odor as if it was a badge of honor.
I saw him on the street and tried to get past him without him seeing me. He has, more than once, asked for a spot on my dance card for the various socials. However, he saw me, and crossed the street. The only defense available to me was to stand upwind, so as he crossed over, waving and smiling his big dumb grin, I was trying to decide which way the breeze was blowing.
As soon as he gets within proper talking space, he starts in, telling me how this war is going to make his family rich, and within a matter of months, he will be the catch all the girls will go after. By his manner, I assume, he is implying I will be one of those girls, and so I ask him, “What is bringing about all this good fortune?”
He puffs out his chest and says, “The army just commissioned his father to tan leather, cut out and sew one hundred thousand cartridge boxes.”
He went on to brag that if the Rumlage Tannery does a suitable job with this first contract, the army will offer them a contract to make boots and he said, “There could be as many as a million boots needing to be made.”
Can you imagine that? A million boots.
Josh, being the newt, that he is, looks at me and says, “I don’t understand why they think they will need so many. Can’t they just reuse the ones from the dead soldiers?”
Well, I’m sure he did not realize that my two brothers might be among those “dead soldiers,” but I gave him an icy stare when I reminded him, “I would not want a cartridge box with another man’s blood on it.”
He thought for a moment, and his face brightened and he had the nerve to say, “Well, yes, I guess so. Besides, it’s better business for us.”
My dander was up and I asked, “Josh, why aren’t you in uniform with the rest of the men?”
He gave me a full-face smile and at first, I didn’t understand. Then I saw it.
Josh Rumlage has no teeth. Top or bottom from side to side, across his mouth, not a tooth one. He says, “I tried, but I couldn’t pass the physical.”
Seems the army wants its soldiers to have at least one pair of opposing teeth. This is so you can bite and tear the little paper packets of gunpowder during the reloading drills you all did so often.
It doesn’t seem right. Josh is a nitwit, he smells too high heaven, and maybe he doesn’t have enough teeth to chew soft potatoes but he’s a good hand with a team, or he could help in other ways, I’m sure.
I tell you this. If I had known missing teeth was enough to keep the two of you home, I would have borrowed one of Mister Browns hammers, snuck into your room, while you were sleeping and made short work of your smiles.
I miss you both, terribly.