Flag draped over gravestone

Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series which runs each Thursday morning titled the Richland Chronicles Volume VI, by author Paul Lintern. It is set in the 1860s and tells the story of Richland County through the eyes of young people. This is the sixth in a series. The books are available from Lintern for $25 a set, tax and shipping included. Each book is about 120 pages written for intermediate readers (4th grade) with local illustrations. Volume I is Amelia Changes Her Tune. Volume II is Isaac and Wolf Paw Find Their Home. Volume III is Autumn Keeps Her Secret. Volume IV is Mr. Gamble Starts a School. Volume V is Jacob Blows his Horn.

July 27, 1863

My dearest Cassie;

Forgive me that it has taken me this long to let you know how grateful I am that you did so much for Timothy and myself these last few weeks, and that you made your journey for John on that awful day.

Words cannot describe how my heart breaks whenever I think of my little Johnny. From the moment he arrived in our lives, he brought joy and laughter to our family and to all who knew him.

I remember him with his face covered in oatmeal at breakfast when he tried to feed himself for the first time, with his hands covered in grease when, at age three, he decided to help his father lubricate the wagon with his father not there.

When he was four he wrote for me a love note in lard on the living room drapes. He told jokes and stories that made us laugh without making us worry about whether he could be trusted with the truth.

He was a good student for his teachers, but still gave them enough trouble that we had no doubt he was all boy. Johnny had dreams of becoming a lawyer, but his father’s untimely death meant he was needed in the family business, and law school would have to wait.

When this horrible war appeared, Johnny felt a call to service, and worked diligently to put the business in the hands of Timothy and myself so he could release himself to the cause for which now he has given the last full measure of devotion.

When Johnny was wounded, he thought only of others, and alas, that infection that entered him as he lay on the battlefield was what claimed my baby boy’s life.

Your mother told me what you experienced on my behalf and I can only say thank you from what is left of my heart, and that I am so sorry that you had to see what no young lady should have to remember.

Johnny’s burial mass and that day at the cemetery are a blur to me; I keep asking Timothy to remind me of things that happened, but what I do remember is seeing you in your beautiful dress, a handsome young woman who understands that while life will not always behave as we wish it to, if we know from whom we draw our strength, we will be able to face each day as it presents itself, and through the power of love overcome even the greatest obstacles.

People like to sing a song these days about “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, Hurrah, Hurrah.” I suppose I will never hear that song without thinking of my Johnny who did not march home, but was carried home, to rest forever in the arms of his Savior.

I pray that he will not have suffered in vain. I thank you for your help in the store and for your special part in our lives.

Johnny was very fond of his little helper.

With all the love I can muster, Mrs. Costin.

For Cassie, her first days back in Mansfield also were a blur. The train ride seemed to take forever. Every stop that was a special treat on the way out, simply added agonizing time to the trip back.

When at last they did arrive in Mansfield, late in the evening, Cassie only partly remembered Papa hugging her and carrying her to the wagon. She barely saw the face of her older brother as he hugged her for much longer than he ever had before, and she did not recollect Jacob at all, even though he had hauled in her luggage and put things away for her, something that was probably a first in her lifetime.

She only remembered waking up the next day with the late morning sun shining through the small separation in the heavy drapes, and wondering why her arms and legs felt so heavy as she pulled herself out of bed.

Mama had already gone to see Mrs. Costin, which was just as well, for Cassie could not imagine how she would face her, or Tim for that matter.

The next days she did what was expected of her — caring for Maggie, cleaning at home, practicing piano, and while her heart was not in it, she was grateful to have things she needed to do.

Grandpappy was especially helpful because he didn’t have anything to do except hold her in his arms. She remembered being surprised at how strong he still was for being so weak. He even seemed to have an endless supply of tunes that he could hum for her, and she felt so secure listening through her ear lying on his chest.

Someday I will lose him, too. Why can’t things just stay the same?

The day of John’s funeral, Cassie put on the dress she and Mama had found in Boston and accompanied the whole family, Grandpappy included, to St. Peter’s Church. She had never been in there, because the Lutherans at her church were openly suspicious of the way they thought things were done among Catholics.

She found the service confusing because most of it was in Latin, which she had not yet begun to study in school, and because people stood up and sat down and kneeled a lot, and there were bells and smoke. Still, she was comforted by the statues of saints and Mary and Jesus standing over them with arms outstreched to them, or at least lifted up in a blessing.

The horse that pulled the funeral wagon went slowly down First Street to Diamond, then up the big hill to the new Catholic cemetery that was placed next to Mansfield’s big public cemetery. To Cassie, it seemed that Johnny’s grave was all by itself in the new field on Chestnut Street.

She had been to funerals — her great aunts, old people from church — but she was much younger then and none of it seemed real. This also did not seem real, but for a different reason. Cassie’s heart was not ready for it to be real.

She thought how Mrs. Costin seemed so much older all of a sudden, and how she, too, walked like her legs were very heavy. As Cassie’s family helped Grandpappy get back in the wagon, she decided to walk home. Papa nodded his agreement.

She decided to walk down Main Street, past the fairgrounds. Soon she heard Jacob’s voice behind her.

“Hey Sis, wait up.”

I wonder what he wants?

Jacob just came and put his hand on her shoulder, without saying a word. And they walked home in silence.

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