You walk into your home to find a couple you don’t know sitting in your living room, eating a slice of cake. Tell us what happens next.
It had been a busy day at my daughter’s house. First we went to our oldest grandson’s soccer game, then back to her house for lunch. We played with the little ones, who at two, four, and they kept us busy with their silliness and games. Now we were returning home looking forward to a little peace and quiet, then dinner.
We approached the front door, my husband putting his key in the lock and opening it.
“Paul, I hear voices — did you leave your radio on?” I asked.
We edged through the kitchen and saw to two men dressed in old woolen clothing, sitting at the dining room table eating some of the carrot cake I’d make the day before.
Since they were conversing pleasantly, Paul simply cleared his throat, then asked, “Excuse me, who are you?”
One man stood up, and said “Hartley, sir. Lt. John Hartley, serving under Major Hooker, sir.” And this is Sgt. Fred Bricker. He’s one of Hooker’s men, too.”
Gazing at their rumpled, worn, blue uniforms, the rough leather kit bags, a thought came to me. “Paul, these look like Civil War uniforms, and I remember something about a Major Hooker in Virginia.
“Are you guys soldiers?” Paul asked unbelieving.
“Well, we were,” John answered for both of them.
“What do you mean, you were?” Paul asked.
“Well, we died sir,” answered Sgt. Bricker.
“Why have you come back here … now?” I asked.
“Well, ma’am. We heard you were planning on cutting down that tree out there.” He pointed to the giant maple tree standing about 10 feet beside our house. The remnants of an old tree house still shown in the branches. But the tree was showing its age — 300 years — and another large branch had broken off and was laying on the ground. Thank God, no one had been under it when it came down without warning or apparent cause.
“Yes,” Paul replied, “it’s getting old and we we’re worried about it safety — you can see that branch on the ground — and it’s beginning to decay in the trunk. We’ve love it, and we’ll hate to see it go, but there may be no way to save it.”
“That’s why we’re here sir, ma’am,” said John. “We died under that tree. We laid there leaning back against its trunk, sharing the little bit of water we had left, hoping that help would come. We’d been separated from the rest of our troops, and over the farmland we saw others dying in the summer heat. Fortunately, we’d made it to the shade of that big old tree and drifted in and out of sleep. I nudged Fred to show him a hawk sitting on a fence, and I noticed he’d gone. I knew my time was coming too. I watched the hawk take off, closed my eyes and as I fell asleep, I followed him upward. We just wanted to see it again before you cut it down.”
“Do you want to go outside and see how much it’s grown,” Paul asked. “Yeah, but we’ll go by ourselves it you don’t mind,” the men said, and the two walked out the back door.
We watched them go, look it over spreading the fingers over the rough bark. Then they sat down side by side leaning back against it hefty trunk. We watch as they glanced at each out across the changed landscape, then at each other. As we watched, they faded, and then were gone, again.
The dirty plates were still on the table, so we knew they’d been here, but when we looked at the tree we saw it in a whole new glowing light.