Saturday, September 27, 2008

Company D, 1st Texas Infantry, CSA

Autumn is here, a magical season fraught with changing colors and spirits of long ago. I remember a few particular spirits and have my own mystical tale – one I have never told before.

I grew up in north Louisiana. My Grandmother lived nearby on a farm located near the tiny community of O’Farrell, in Cass County, Texas. When I was young, we visited my Grandmother at least once a week.

Grandma Rood married a man named Oscar, a company pumper for Humble Oil. I remember a picture that hung proudly in their house - her parents, my great-grandparents, Annie and J.P. O’Rear. John Pinkney was sitting in a chair, his wooden leg detached and propped against the wall, Annie standing behind him with her right hand on his shoulder.

Pink, as he was called, served in Company D, 1st Texas Infantry during the Civil War. How he lost his leg I haven’t a clue but he was captured and spent much of the War in a Union prison camp. When the war ended, he was released and hiked the entire distance from somewhere in Georgia back to his homestead in east Texas.

I had seen Pink and Annie’s picture many times and heard their story, although I was just a kid and promptly forgot most of it. Pink was just a picture on the wall to me – until something unexplainable happened years later.

I was drafted into the Army in 1970 and bound for service in Vietnam as an infantry foot soldier. If I told you I wasn’t frightened, I would be a bald-faced liar. Vietnam was different than Iraq. Every night on the news we witnessed row after bloody row of body bags being unloaded from transport planes. Worse than coming home in a body bag was to return limbless, or eyeless - or hopeless!

I was young and strong but I was frightened to the very core of my being that I would be killed or maimed – or worse yet, I would kill or maim some other poor human that didn’t deserve to die. I was having a hard time coping and none of my family or friends had the right words to say. And yes, I had trouble sleeping. It was during a particularly restless night when I saw a specter, or perhaps had a vivid dream. I don’t know, but this is what happened:

Something disturbed my dream and caused me to open my eyes. Gail was asleep beside me but she never woke up. There was an ephemeral glow at the foot of my bed, not a strong radiance but a peaceful aura that surrounded an apparition I vaguely recognized. As I lay there, eyes wide and unbelieving, the old man spoke to me with a raspy voice in a dialect so southern that at first I hardly understood him. He stood erect on a very noticeable wooden leg.

“I’m Pink, your great-granddad. You’re going to war, Son. I spent most of my powers getting your Daddy back from the last big war. I ain’t got much left but now you’re in need and you ain’t got nobody to help ‘cept me. There ain’t no good wars but the one you’re headed for is real bad. You keep an eye on what’s going on in front of you and I’ll keep an eye on your back. Have faith, Son, pray, and I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

I awoke the next morning with no memory of the dream and many years passed before it crept back into my psyche. I was visiting my parents in Vivian and it came pouring forth, back into my mind, as I stared at the picture of my Great-grandparents in my parent’s front room.

I miraculously made it home from Vietnam unscathed, although I barely missed death, often by friendly fire, at least a dozen times. I once had a mortar round land between my legs without detonating. Old Pink was with me every step of the way, his powers diminishing every time he turned a bullet away for me.

Autumn is here, a magical season fraught with changing colors and spirits of long ago. It caused me to remember a dream I had many years ago. Or was it a dream?


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