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by Jim Lyons

Copyright 1998 by Jim Lyons

It's the Spring of 1935. The Civil War has been over seventy years. Most of the soldiers, North and South, have gone to their final rest. But in a small Illinois town two veterans - one a former Union soldier, the other Confederate - still lived side-by-side.

The old man looked over his back yard fence at his neighbor. "Hey, Tom, come over here a minute, will you?"

Tom Catlett, sitting on his back porch with his wife Edna, looked up from his reading to see his Yankee friend leaning on the fence. "What is it you want, Ed?"

"Come over here. I've got something to tell you and don't want to yell it for everyone to hear."

"What does he want?" asked Edna.

"I don't know."

"Well, if it's one of his jokes, be sure you don't tell it to me."

"Don't worry." Tom reached down and picked up his crutch. Angling the crutch, with a deep breath and a steady push he stood up on his one leg. Struggling down the porch steps, he crossed the lawn to where Edgar Holman stood.

"What is it, Ed?"

"Martha wants you and Edna to come over for dinner tonight."

"Is that what you wanted to tell me?"

"That's it."

"Then why the blazes couldn't you have told us on the porch?"

"'Cause there ain't nothin' funnier than seein' a one-legged rebel hobblin' around."

"Huh!" remarked Tom, putting as much disgust into the word as he could. He swung around and slowly made his way back to the porch where his wife sat.

Edna quietly watched him come, wincing with each step, and didn't speak until he had started climbing the porch steps.

"What did Edgar want?"

"They invited us to dinner tonight."

"Well, why couldn't he have said that from where you were?"

"He gets a kick out of watchin' me walk." Tom laid down his crutch and plopped wearily back down in his padded rocker.

"Is that what he said?"


"I tell you, that man has a mean streak a yard wide."

Tom chuckled softly. "Don't worry, I'll get back at him."

"You two and your antics are going to be the death of me yet."

"You comin'?" Edgar Holman shouted from the fence.

"We're comin'." Tom Catlett smiled to himself as he watched his friend walk away from the fence.

Later, at dinner, Edna Catlett is helping Martha Holman in the kitchen. "You know what your man did to Tom today, Martha?"

"What's that?"

"He made poor Tom, with one leg, struggle clean 'cross the yard just so's he could see him walk."

"Edgar did that? Why'd he do that?"

"He's got a mean streak, that's why."

"Well, Tom's no better. He'd do the same thing if he got the chance."

"Not my Tom." Edna looked at Martha and they both burst out laughing.

"You know," continued Edna, "I think Tom enjoys it just as much when Edgar pulls something on him as he does when it's the other way around."

"So does Edgar."

In the dining room Tom and Edgar were having the same conversation they'd had for years.

"Tom, I don't believe you were at Gettysburg at all. I think you blew your own leg off just so you wouldn't have to watch the rebels gets walloped."

"Look here, Edgar, I'll admit I got more guts than any man in the entire Yankee army, but I'd sure find a better way than that to get out of goin'. As it was, I wouldn't have missed it. But I sure don't remember seein' you there."

"If I'd have seen you I'd have plugged you right then and there so's I wouldn't have had to put up with your jabberin' the last forty years."

Tom Catlett looked thoughtful a moment, then pointing his finger at Edgar he said, "Wait a minute! I remember now. I did see you there. You were out in front of a bunch of blue bellies running away from the fightin'. Sure, I remember you now!"

"And I suppose you were right there tellin' ol' Bobby Lee what move to make next."

"That's right. An' when he followed my advice he did pretty good for himself, too."

"Then you were the one who told him to have Pickett's men charge my position across that open field."

"Nope. that was the one time he didn't follow my advice and he always told me after that how sorry he was he had done it."

"Yes, and General Meade always told me how sorry he was that he didn't follow Lee while he was a runnin' back down to Virginia again after we walloped you, like I told him to do."

"Now Edgar," Tom looked at his friend solemnly, "You know that's a fib. If you ever saw Meade it was from five miles away while you were high tailin' it out of the country."

"How many times I gotta tell you, while you rebs were cuttin' out for safer ground I was lyin' there with a minie ball in my chest."

"That's the one decent thing you've done in your life was to stop that ball before it hit somebody important. Not to imply there was anyone important among the Yanks." Tom lowered his voice. "How ya been feelin'?"

"Same way I've been feelin' for seventy years. Like I got a fifty-eight caliber hunk of lead pushin' on my heart."

"Too bad nobody believed you're carryin' that ball. They all thought you were fakin'."

"They didn't either."

"Yes, they did. Ever last one of 'um. Now me - they can see I did somethin' in the war."

"To bad it wasn't your head instead of your leg, you old fool."

"Who you callin' old?"

Having brought in some apple pie covered with ice cream for dessert, Edna and Martha rejoin their men.

"Edgar, Edna and Tom didn't come over to fight. We're trying to have a good time here with our friends."

"Huh," snorted Edgar, "I ain't never had no rebel for a friend."

"No Yankee either, I'll wager," retorted Tom Catlett.

Edgar looked at his friend seriously. "By the way, how's your leg. Been itchin' much?"

"Now and again. 'Bout like always."

Edgar clapped his hands together in glee. "Good, good! Ain't nothin' funnier than watchin' a reb tryin' to scratch a leg that ain't there."

"Edgar Holman. That was uncalled for!" scolded Martha Holman. "And Edna told me what you did to poor Tom today. It's a wonder Tom didn't put poison in your medicine down at the drug store years ago."

"Oh, I did once, but I made a mistake. I gave it to ol' Mrs. Holmquest for her husband instead of to Ed."

"But Mr. Holmquest didn't die. They moved away."

"It wasn't poison I gave him. It was a move away pill. I meant it for Ed."

"Yeah?" said Edgar. "Well, if we'd have moved away that daughter of yours would never have married our son. And you'd never have the grandchildren you have today."

"Well, don't worry about them," said Tom, "I've never told them who their other grandfather is. They're nice kids. Like to keep them that way."

"Well, you were lucky to marry as fine a woman as Edna, and lucky your daughter took after her instead of you."

"That's the first truthful thing you've said since I've known you," said Tom.

For forty years the two couples had been getting together once or twice a week, sharing their lives and their families. But impossible as it sometimes seems, all things must end. In late fall that same year of 1935 Tom Catlett took sick and was hospitalized. Edgar and Martha Holman were constant visitors to his hospital bed.

"Sorry you're gonna kick off," Edgar said, "I was kinda hopin' you'd go with me to the seventy-fifth reunion at Gettysburg in '38. But since you'll be pushin' up daisies I'll have to give the boys your regards."
"Pushin' up daisies, huh!" Tom retorted. "I'm gonna be there carryin' you around the same as I did at the fiftieth in 1913."

"An' too bad you'll be missin' the Decoration Day parade next year. But I don't think they'll notice you're not there."

"Not notice? Hey listen, you've only been in that parade 'cause you begged me to bring you along. An' when the organizers found out you were comin' they had to have a special meeting and vote on your bein' there. An' you would have lost if I hadn't told them that if you couldn't be in the parade then I wasn't going to be in it either. That's the only reason you were there."

"Boys, boys," said Martha Holman, "Even when Tom's sick in the hospital you've got to bicker."

"Well, I'm hopin' I can make him see the light before he kicks off."

"I told you, I ain't kickin' off! And the only reason I can't see the light is because your fat carcass is coverin' the window."

Martha spoke. "We'd better go now, Tom, to give you some time alone with Edna. We'll stop in tomorrow and see you."

"I'll look forward to it, Martha. Try to bring someone with you that's got a better disposition, will you?"

They hadn't been home half an hour when the phone rang. Martha answered it. She spoke for a moment then hung up and walked over to Edgar, who was anxiously looking up at her. "It was the hospital. Tom's gone. He died just after we left. Edna was with him." She started to cry. Edgar didn't say anything but reached next to him and prepared his pipe. Lighting it, he sat back and stared into space a long while, an occasional puff of smoke his only movement. After a time he put down his pipe and, getting up, walked into the bedroom and closed the door. Martha quietly went to the door, opened it slightly to peer in, then softly closed it again.

The next day Edgar and Martha took Edna to the funeral home. Tom was laid out beautifully in a mahogany casket. After a brief viewing Edgar softly asked Edna: "Where's his medal?"

"I must have forgot it. Do you think he'd want it?"

"I think he would. I'll take care of it for you."

"When we're back at the house I'll find it and give it to you."

Later that afternoon Edgar returned to the funeral home. The assistant director ushered him into Tom's viewing room and watched as Edgar carefully pinned the medal to his old friend's chest and smoothed out a couple of wayward hairs on Tom's head. "You had the worst lookin' hair I ever seen, you old cuss."

"What is the medal, sir, if I may ask."

"The Southern Cross of Honor. Ever see one?"

"No, sir. I've never heard of it."

"They were given to Confederate soldiers in appreciation for their efforts during the Civil War by the ladies of the South. And if ever a man deserved one it was Tom Catlett here. He fought in every battle his company was in from Bull Run to Gettysburg, where he lost his leg." Edgar looked down at his lost friend. "I've known him over forty years and there was never a kinder, gentler soul on Earth. He was the best friend a man could ever hope for. Now he's gone."

Tom was buried in the town cemetery, where Edgar regularly visited.

Subtle changes came over Edgar after Tom's death. He grew quieter, you might even call it morose. He was now the only living Civil War veteran in town and he took to visiting Veteran's Hall in town and staring at the Grand Army of the Republic display case for long periods. When he could he would grab an unwary person and offer to show them the case.

"Those muskets you see fired 58 caliber minie balls, an' settin' below them are some actual balls fired at Chancellorsville. Got one right here in my chest looks just like that. Been carryin' it since Gettysburg.

"That's an appointment as Colonel of our Regiment signed by ol' Abe Lincoln hisself. Next to it is a log chopped clean to pieces by musket balls fired at Fredricksburg. And see this photograph. Taken in 1888. I knew every last man in it and helped bury most of them out in the Grand Army plot in the cemetery. That's me in the second row. See this fellow here, with the mustache. That's Doc Grayson. Ran Grayson's Drug Store 'til he died ten years ago. Had a heart of gold. Years ago he hired a rebel soldier with one leg to clerk for him. Worked for him for years. Had a heart of gold, Doc Grayson did."

Edgar started spending more time at the cemetery, carrying with him a pair of scissors to trim around tombstones that needed it. He spent considerable time at the Grand Army plot, but most of his time was spent at Tom Catlett's grave.

The next Decoration Day he was in the parade as he had been for many years, but now he rode in a fancy convertible as the lone Civil War soldier, as ranks of Spanish-American War and World War soldiers marched behind. Unlike previous years Edgar waved and smiled little. He wanted the parade to be over so he could go to the cemetery and tell Tom what he had missed. This day Edna Catlett accompanied him to the cemetery.

"I miss Tom, Edna. An' you know what I regret most of all?" He looked at her earnestly. "I never told him that I loved him. All those years all I did was poke cruel fun at him."

Edna took his arm in hers. "He knew, Edgar. He knew."

"How could he? All I ever did was say nasty things to him."

"And that's what he did right back. But you knew he loved you, didn't you?"

Edgar stared at her. Tears filled his eyes and a sad smile crossed his face. "I did, Edna, I did. I never thought about it before now, but I did know he loved me. I was blessed, Edna. I was blessed and never knew it."

"Don't kid yourself. You knew it as well as Tom and I knew it. And you showed it to Tom and me and our family for over forty years."

"And you, Edna, how are you doin'?"

She looked at him; a look that stabbed at his heart. "I lost my man, Edgar, and I want to be lyin' here beside him."

Within a few months she had joined Tom in the town cemetery and Edgar now tended both their graves.

Several weeks later Martha Holman noticed that Edgar seemed happier, like he had found a purpose. One day he came home from his daily visit to the cemetery beaming. She hadn't seen him so happy since Tom died.

He clamped both arms around her and held her tight. "I did it, Martha! I got us new plots next to Tom and Edna. I'm arranging to have a cement border put in around the four of us." He talked like he and she were already there.

"But Edgar, you always wanted to be buried in the Grand Army plot!"

"Bah. Place is too crowded now. Let them plant me with my old friends. That's where I belong."

One day while Edgar was gone the police came to the door. Edgar had been found dead. He'd died of a heart attack while trimming around Tom's headstone. After Edgar was buried Martha had a small monument put in their bordered plot with a single word on it:


At the doctor's office one day Dr. Pierce said to her, "By the way, Martha, I don't believe I ever discussed Edgar's autopsy report with you."

"Why - I assumed he died of a heart attack. Didn't he?"

"Well, yes and no. The bullet he'd been carrying in his chest all those years - when we took it out it was badly misshapen. Apparently it had ricocheted off a rock before it hit Edgar."

"He never said anything about it."

"He probably never knew it. Anyway, one edge of the bullet was rather sharp. And sometime recently, no doubt, the bullet turned so the sharp edge was pressing against his heart. With the beating of his heart it didn't take long for the bullet to cut through the heart and split it open."

Tears filled Martha's eyes and she broke into a smile.

"What is it, Martha? Why are you smiling?"

"Tom used to tell Edgar that it would break his heart when Tom died. After all those years of bickering - Tom got in the last word."

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