Relatively Speaking - My characters' Family and Friends, Later lives and Odd Occurrences, Plus Peripheral Information You Didn't Want to Know
Alas, the Spot Writers page was a good idea, but it took so much time to turn out a page-long item, that it became a problem. So just the short pieces about Hamilton and Trowbridge family members will remain.
Howdy, ma’am, nice festivities here for the wedding.
No, my Sylvia’s over there. Hot gossip a’flying, no doubt. You have a cordial, I see. Perhaps you would care to sit down. I been doctoring all night, but had to come see the young couple get off on their trip. Birthed both him and her, you know. I’m about beat, but let me have a sip of this raspberry shrub.
Was my father a doctor? No, ma’am, he failed in the hat business.. I said as how I wanted to doctor, but there was books and schooling to pay for, even in them ancient days. Plus, nobody would believe you were a real doctor without you had an office and a horse and buggy. Not in the cards for my family.
My parents talked me into apprenticing as a tailor. Yes, Ma’am, you are right to laugh, but it’s the truth. Four long years cutting and stitching and not a drop of blood that wasn’t mine!
“Oh, you heard right. I turned schoolteacher. I always had a mind for books, so studied the Latin book one day and taught it the next. The real reason for Latin was that I was studying medicine in secret. I’d teach ‘til I got money for a medical course, take it, and go back teaching again.
Why? I guess doctoring was like a festering wound in me. I wanted to work miracles, not waistcoats.
The puppies started it. S’pose that was about 1830 or so, up in Bethel. I was just a little lad when an old neighbor saw me in the yard and motioned me over. “Come ‘ere, boy. Got a wondrous sight for a lad to see, right there in the shed.”
His hunting dog bitch whelped pups right there in front of me. We went from one animal to six within an hour. After that, whenever I saw the pups, it felt like I owned them.
When I was eighteen, the big thing happened. One morning two boys raced down the street past me. “Come on! Some old tramp just slit his throat! Right down the block!” Out of breath, they returned to running. I did want to see it. Maybe more than they did.
Dr. Hanford Bennett knelt in the dirt, bending over a body. Having ripped off his coat, he bunched it into a pillow under the victim, all the time looking over the surrounding crowd. Coming up close, I saw that he wanted another coat and I gave him mine.
“I need clean water and I need it fast,” he yelped. “And clean rags or linen. What I got ain’t enough.” Women flew off to find the items he needed..
The town barber, who pretended to fix wounds, came out of the crowd and knelt by Dr. Bennett’s side. The patient kicked and struggled, spraying blood all over. The crowd began backing up, under the impression that death was imminent.
“Jim, get on his legs,” Dr. Bennett ordered the barber. “Lean forward and hold him down, a hand on each wrist. I can’t do anything against that struggling.”
“Need somebody to hand me things out of my bag!” The doctor demanded. I picked up the bag, which was just out of his reach and knelt on the opposite side of the body.
“Take the scissors out and give them to me handle-first. Then open the wadding and lay it on this fellow’s chest, ‘cause he’s just about to go unconscious.”
And so we went on, with me handing items and retrieving them, while Dr. Bennett cleaned up the jagged gash, not one of fatal severity.
Then he looked up at me, in a pretend dilemma. “Somebody can either hold these edges together or stitch the wound. Which you goin’ to do, boy?”
Of course he would do the stitching, but it felt, ma’am, like a tornado got hold of me. I wanted so bad to show him how well I could stitch! I had never put needle and thread to human, but I wanted to with all my might.
“Look at how I’m holding this skin, boy. Put your fingers exactly where mine are and as I stitch, move down, holding the edges together just so. Ready? Put your fingers right behind mine.”
And so he stitched, layer after layer. It seemed like a long time, there in the dust with the sun beating down and the smell of blood rising up into our faces. Two ladies tried to watch and turned sick at the stomach.
Jim hovered over us and poured water when the blood obscured the wound. The dust turned into bloody mud.
Dr. Bennett told Jim and me that we were doing fine and he was almost done. He had said that when he hadn’t even started, which is a trick I now use myself.
When we were finished, some folks took the suicide away on a door. Jim left us, laughing at the bloody picture Dr. Bennett and I made. I helped Dr. Bennett to his feet.
I told the doctor that I had always wanted to do doctoring, but my fortunes indicated otherwise. He returned his glasses to his pocket, then took me by the shoulders and stared right into my eyes. “Don’t let other folks dictate when you have a talent for something! If you truly want to study medicine, you can find a way. You’ll be a surgeon, I can tell. No one can stop you!”
So, from that experience and the puppies, well, hardly a day goes by that I don’t birth a baby!”
Yes? What say, sir? Dr. William Trowbridge at your service! Yes, my horse is at the door, as always. Ma’am, could you kindly relay to my wife where I went?
By Millicent Hughes
Real nice to see you this morning, sir.
Haven’t seen you since … well, you know…. My own boy, Clarkie, Clark Hamilton … fallen like a leaf from a tree. Well, our boy, our Danbury boy, ain’t that right, sir?
Yes, the pain of his death has worn off a bit, thanks for asking. The official notice was just a deadly shock. But since I got that letter from Richmond, the real letter, from that officer, I truly do feel better.
A thinkin’ person wants an explanation, you know. Just some answer as to how a little wound ends up to kill a man when doctors do battlefield amputations and the men live. ‘Course, I s’pose all the docs nurse them officers like they was Queen Victoria, don’t you think?
Died real noble in battle, you say? That idea might satisfy some, but it didn’t satisfy me! I wanted the real truth and nothin’ but the truth. I knew my boy was not a victim of another young man, a boy with a gun just like his’n. I wasn’t turnin’ a blind eye with some twisted idea of ‘glory in the grave.’
What say? Oh, what you heard is true, all right. Clarkie was wounded at Cedar Creek there in Virginia. but it ain’t where he died nor what he died of. Not by a long shot. I had the report he was taken to Richmond, so he must have come off pretty good to survive the battle and go on the cars to that prison.
No, that ain’t a tear! Why you think that, hey? No, sirree, bob!
Say, rather than tell you about it, I’ll let you read that letter for yourself. I carry it in my billfold. Nice enough that that officer cared to send it, let alone tell his mother and me the actual fact of the matter. Here, did you want to see it?
No, don’t refuse like that, sir. It ain’t real personal, like you say. I want to publish this letter to the world. That’s why I carry it ever’wheres. I want to show people that ain’t a drop of humanity in them Confederationist devils. Why the decent population down south don’t riot agin ‘em, I don’t know.
And one man dared to tell me the truth. He wrote me this letter, sir, namin’ it plain. My son, Clark Hamilton, met with murder, murder by starvation. Starvation by the fools in them Confederate states.
No, that officer din’t have nothin’ to do with our boys, just happened to be there is all.
I’m sorry you ain’t got the courage to read it. I’ll just put it back in my moneyfold for anyone who’s interested. P’rfaps next time you’ll see fittin’ to take a look.
Nice seein’ you again, sir.
Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to use these five words: riot, tear, leaf, bread, nurse. Today’s post comes from Cathy MacKenzie. “Like” her WOLVES Facebook page to keep up to date on her first novel, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK (com
Too Much Silliness by Cathy MacKenzie
The outside commotion dragged Natalie from her dinner. She peeked out the bedroom window to darkness, but when flares soared high into the sky, she saw police brandishing their guns. A full-blown riot!
She yanked the drapes together as if blocking the scene made it less threatening. The action reminded her how she closed her eyes when she didn't want someone to see her—as if doing so made her invisible. Such silliness!
Returning to the kitchen table, she demolished the last of the bread and soup. The soup had cooled in the few minutes she’d been in the bedroom. She closed her eyes, imaging the horror outside—outside on her very street, right outside her window! How could that be?
The world had changed; violence was the new normal. Unknowingly, she had picked the right profession. Nurses and doctors were in demand. At first, she hadn't been certain she could follow through with her chosen career, but gradually, during her forty-plus year as a nurse, the sight of blood became her new normal.
Except she wasn’t working any longer and missed those days at the hospital.
She missed her husband, too.
She let her face drop to her hands, ignoring the tear that plopped to the table. Her sweet Bill. Whatever in the world had she been thinking?
She dipped her index finger into the blob, which had increased with the addition of several more tears, and traced the outline of a leaf. The shape resembled a teardrop, reminding her of dear Bill. A teardrop leaf. She snickered. How silly!
She smacked the blotch, surprising herself.
She sighed and returned to the window, peeking between the drapes. The din had lessened though a throng of people still lingered.
She went to the closet and withdrew an almost weightless box from the top shelf, placing it on the floor and removing the lid. Ah, her nurse’s cap, which she hadn’t worn for the last ten years, not after she’d been forced from the hospital due to her age. At least that's what she told herself.
In reality, she had been fired for drinking blood, caught in the act by a sickly patient who had screamed at the discovery. Natalie had tried to wheedle her way out of the predicament, but blood dripping down her chin was the only evidence needed.
A policeman had the audacity to ask if she were a vampire. A vampire? Hadn't they gone out with the dark ages? Had they ever been real?
“You’re too silly. I’m not a vampire.” Her words had been spewed to deaf ears—except for the dratted patient who had given Natalie away. Natalie had wanted to throttle her white, turkey-gobbler neck.
She sighed and twirled her waist-length hair into a bun, ensuring it lay neatly on top of her head. Had she really been fired because of the blood? She had convinced herself she had been fired due to her age, which gave her a legitimate reason to hate her employer and the staff, who had been itching for her to resign for years. Luckily, she had managed to keep her pension. She had worked the requisite thirty plus years; no one had the right to snatch that from her,
What a load of crap! It wasn’t against the law to drink blood. And silliness to boot! So much silliness that no charges had ever been laid. The hospital, not interested in adverse publicity, wanted to forget the incident. Old Mrs. McNaughton, the woman who had caught her in the act, was senile and adamantly refused to testify. They had no case even if the hospital had wanted to press charges.
Natalie’s supervisor at the hospital had declared her a nut case. Natalie grimaced. After over thirty years at the same hospital, she should have held the supervisor positon, not some upstart twenty-year-old who didn’t know the difference between a needle and a thermometer.
“What kind of imbecile drinks blood?” Natalie’s supervisor had added after declaring her a nutcase.
“Me,” Natalie had said. “I was thirsty.” She kept a straight face but inside her guts constricted with glee. She had known it was the wrong reply, but she couldn’t help herself. She had whispered it, though, so only the supervisor heard it, which made the younger woman even more irate. But the telltale blood was the nail that kept the lid on the coffin, so to speak.
“Never mind,” Natalie had said, “I quit,” even though she was aware she was a tad late; she had already been fired.
She had paid no never mind to the awe-struck onlookers, snatched her handbag and her pristine white cap that had fallen from her head during the “excitement,” and raced from the ward. She hadn't set foot in that hospital since. Wouldn't give them the satisfaction of knowing she might be sick.
Without more pondering, she set the cap on top of her head. It sat perfectly, wedged on her bun, but just in case, she secured it with two bobby pins.
After a final look in the mirror and a minor adjustment—must look presentable, dearie—she closed the door behind her and descended the three flights of stairs to the ground level.
The evening was darker than usual with the streetlights destroyed by rioters, but riots meant injuries. Injuries meant blood. No one would see. A dark corner would exist, somewhere, away from the cops and the flares.
She licked her lips in anticipation. Her dear, sweet Bill flashed in front of her. She prayed she could snare a wounded, unconscious man. Alive was best, one who resembled Bill. Poor Bill, gone much too soon, but she had enjoyed his last moments of breath even if he hadn’t.
She snickered. Much too much silliness! She’d never find another Bill.
Today’s tale comes to us from Val Muller, author of the poignant YA tale The Girl Who Flew Away, a story of friendship, family, addiction, adoption, and forgiveness.
Why on Earth would she agree to babysit her niece and nephew on Valentine’s Day? Allison took a deep breath and closed her eyes, making the living room full of children disappear for a few seconds. Her own seven- and five-year olds were rambunctious enough, but to take on a toddler and a crawler at the same time?
Allison tried to remember what it had been like. It was hard being new parents, and Melanie and James had only been at it for a couple of years. Their little Brucie, the crawler, still wasn’t sleeping through the night, and Marianne was going through her terrible twos. No wonder Melanie and James needed a break.
Still. Did they have to go out on Valentine’s Day?
In the middle of the week?
After hopping their kids up on chocolate and lollypops?
Allison opened her eyes again. The television blared Peppa Pig, but before she could come to terms with the fact that she knew the episode by heart, she noticed little Brucie’s mouth. It was outlined in bright blue, and the color was dripping down his chubby cheeks in long, sticky lines.
“Marianne, don’t let your brother eat your lollypop,” she sighed. “He’s too little for candy.”
Marianne’s eyes flashed, and she took a handful of Lego Duplo blocks and chucked them across the room. She sputtered a string of gobbledygook that sounded like witchcraft and then crossed her arms in anger. Then she hurried to the bookshelf and flung several bedtime storybooks with the fervor of one ready to start a riot.
“Mom, Marianne didn’t do it,” Amy said. Amy, the seven-year-old. The only one adult enough to offer any assistance.
Allison chuckled at that thought. A seven-year-old as an adult. This was her life now.
“Well then who did?” Allison asked.
Amy pointed at her brother. Adam smiled guiltily, revealing a row of blue teeth. In his hand was the offending item. “Adam, Brucie’s too young for candy, okay?”
The kindergartener shrugged. “It’s Valentine’s Day. Everybody deserves candy.”
Something about this annoyed Marianne, who was already on the verge of tears. She charged Adam in an attempt to steal his lollypop.
“Pop!” she screamed.
Adam resisted, his hand knocking to the ground the plate of bread and butter he’d insisted on for dinner and then promptly ignored. The plate flew like a frisbee and hit Brucie on the forehead. The baby wailed immediately.
Allison hurried to pick him up. This better not have left a bruise. Melanie and James were still in that honeymoon phase of parenting where they cared about every little injury. They’d probably take off work to bring the baby to the pediatrician to check for a concussion or some other injury they researched on the internet. Allison kissed the wound to no avail.
Meanwhile, Adam and Marianne were coming to blows.
“Amy, please help!” Allison asked.
The seven-year-old shot a “why me?” look.
Marianne ran to the carnage of books and ripped out several pages, shredding them and throwing them in the air like leaves.
Allison shot a look at her daughter. “Please, Amy” Allison begged. “Help mom out this evening, and I’ll take you to Target to pick out any toy you want.”
At that, Adam froze. “Me too?” he asked.
Allison sighed. There went the money she saved by not hiring her own babysitter and taking a date night of her own. Instead, she agreed to babysit for her sister’s kids and allowed her husband to work late.
“I guess,” she sighed. “If you help take care of Brucie and Marianne.”
Adam sprung into action. A roll of tape materialized from nowhere, and he dove into action, putting together the torn pages like a nurse sewing together a patient. Marianne stared, captivated at the process.
Amy picked up little Brucie and took him to the bathroom, where a minor fuss indicated that his face was being washed. A moment later, the four of them were sitting on the couch just as a new episode of PJ Masks was coming on. Allison couldn’t help but smile. It was an episode she hadn’t seen before. A rare treat. She snuck into the corner of the room and plucked three of the chocolates her husband had given her before work this morning. She popped one in her mouth and hid the other two behind her back. These were quality chocolates, not to be shared with children. Not even mature seven-year-olds.
She eyed the bottle of wine on the living room table but decided she could wait until Melanie and James came to pick up the kids—and until the hubby returned. For now, in the warm glow of the television and the soothing sweet of candy, the chocolate was enough.
The Spot Writers—Our Members:
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Millicent Hughes: https://www.danburyonfire.com/
I've always wanted to do something for Oliver Trowbridge of the 23d CT Volunteers in the Civil War. Also for Dr. William Trowbridge, the regimental surgeon. Here's my chance....
Oliver is Hungry!
“At least all those soldiers finally left,” moaned Mrs. Robichaux, as she slumped into a black horsehair chair and fanned herself with a handful of papers from the office desk. The New Orleans aristocrat’s skin showed as red as a turkey’s wattle from the ninety-five degree August heat, endemic in the sweltering old hotel, now a Union Army hospital.
“I feel the same,” Dr. Gastineau agreed, looking as rumpled and exhausted as his two companions in the hospital office, “At least the damned Yankees finally took away their wounded! I thought they’d never go.” He waved a hand at that distant home of the enemy. The enemy who was winning the War.
Young Dr. Stubbs fanned his perspiring face with his own handful of papers. “Two hundred wounded and every single one in a medical pickle, for sure. A good education for me, but thank God they boarded the cars and are headed back to Yankee-land.”
“So….” Mrs. Robichaux raised her eyebrows. “What happens now? To – to … him? To this ‘Oliver Trowbridge’ person?” Silence enveloped the little room, broken only by kitchen sounds.
“I’ve been a medical professional for forty-five years, Madam,” began Dr. Gastineau. “And when the North leave their own man here to die, it tells a tale. They’ve transported their regiment twice and not taken him. No one with a stomach wound like that can live. All medical men know that, don’t we, Doctor?” He looked to young Dr. Stubbs for a second opinion.
“A well-known fact, sir,” agreed his colleague with the blank expression of those stating well-known facts.
Dr. Gastineau explained normal medical practice. “It’s not Christian to force the other soldiers to see one of their number die, to let them watch the final state. He’s already suffered the agony of hell for nine weeks. In this heat! Now the Connecticut fellows who cheered him on are gone. They are not coming back.”
“He’s alive, isn’t he? What do we do with him?” demanded the woman, known both as hospital benefactor and raging harridan when not getting her own way. “Nine whole weeks since the incident at La Fourche? How did this ‘Oliver’ live for two months, if you say he’s going to die? Seems like he might have done it already, if he had sepsis or the like.” pursued Mrs. Robichaux.
“I’m sure I don’t know, Clementine,” answered Dr. Gastineau, giving a sarcastic turn to his old friend’s first name in hopes bringing her down a notch. She thought she owned the St. Louis hospital after providing the society volunteers. After the hospital ended up in Yankee hands, she had commandeered her own slaves to care for the mess the hospital inherited after the Yankees got caught at La Fourche. Yankee wounded did not provide a picnic for the doctors, who had taken an oath to stop suffering. Even Yankee suffering.
“If he’s shot through the stomach, how does he eat or drink?” Clementine Robichaux demanded.
“For heaven’s sake, Clementine, it wasn’t really the stomach! No one kn0w just where that bullet went after it got in there, but it entered the abdomen from the right hip and came out on the left side of his spine. That minie ball hit everything in between.” The over-tired Gastineau looked disgusted at having to explain this to a fifty-year-old child.
“Susan!” called Mrs. Robichaux. “Susan!” A demanding tone from a demanding woman.
A hard- bitten and overworked slave stuck her head through the door that led to the kitchen.
“Yas’em?” she asked, exhibiting the not-so-polite side of a servant who knows her employer all too well.
“Susan, I brought some real coffee, sugar and cream in from the country. Boil up a pot for the doctors. Use the white enamel pot I brought with me.”
Fortyish Susan’s expression didn’t look submissive by any definition, but her disappearance showed alacrity when it involved coffee, cream and sugar.
Dr. Gastineau sat back in his seat and glared at Clementine like the oncoming wrath of God. “I don’t care if he is a Yankee! What do you want to accomplish here, woman? Torture that man to death?”
Chastened, the fat woman replied, “Of course not. I’m simply interested in how he lived so long if he’s “dying.”
“I ask you, why did his own cousin, a medical man, leave Oliver Trowbridge here with us, the enemy? “
Clementine’s head swung from side to side in reluctant admission that such an act was incomprehensible.
“Why? Because he cannot live!” Dr. Gastineau shouted. “The bullet passed all the way through. Minie bullets aren’t round. They flip over and over, ripping and tearing everything in its way!” The doctor had become downright furious.
Susan barged through the door and banged a tray down on the desk, pouring and serving the others, who maintained a civil silence.
“Be sure to have a serving yourself for all the work you’ve done these last few weeks, Susan.” said her mistress. Fortyish Susan poured her own enamel mug and retreated to the window that looked out on Charles Street. Her eyes closed and she took the first sip, her first sip of real coffee in the two months she had resided here.
Clementine Robichaux still held the floor. “I don’t know medicine, but I know common sense. Two months since the man was shot? He has to be eating something or he would have blown away like a leaf. Who feeds him?”
“Miss Nancylee Beauregard,” announced Susan, joining the conversation while flashing a touch of attitude. ”She been givin’ him peach juice with sugar water. Sometimes she give him lemon or raspberry shrub. I seen her last week with what she say was beef tea.” She moved closer to the group, standing behind Mrs. Robichaux and glaring at the doctors.
“Was Miss Nancylee here this morning?” asked Clementine of the silent doctors, who remained expressionless.
Susan jumped forward, leaning over the older woman to poke her finger in the direction of Dr. Gastineau. “She ain’t been here since yesterday morning because he told her not to come here no more! Not to truck with that Yankee never again. That’s what he said, all right!” The coffee grounds splashed unnoticed onto the chair.
“Doctor? Surely you never said such things!” Clementine slid to the edge of her seat, eyes bugging out of the fat pouches surrounding them. Her cup slammed down on the desk.
The sudden guilty shudder of the young doctor’s body matched the eyes that Dr. Stubbs directed toward the floor. Second-hand guilt.
“Which of you has been caring for him?” asked Clementine.
Dr. Stubbs looked up. “His cousin, that Yankee surgeon, looked after him the whole time. Thing is, whether he was a surgeon or not, he turned raving mad down here in the heat. Instead of using drains in the wound, he sewed that mess up tight. Anything in that fellow’s insides, blood, intestinal contents or pieces of uniform remain there to cause sepsis. Now isn’t that something? For a doctor to stitch up a stomach wound! Thank God he left with the rest of them.” He looked to Gastineau for support, receiving a beneficent nod.
“May I ask your true opinion, Dr. Stubbs? Your true heart’s advice?” begged Clementine, suddenly humble.
“Oliver Trowbridge may have sipped some liquids, but a man with a wound like that can never truly eat or drink. Ever. He’s not really suffering so much. The starving lose contact with reality and he has lost a lot of weight. Heavy fellow when he came here. Technically, he’s alive – for now, anyway…. Seemed unconscious today when I passed by, though.”
“He only sleepin’!” injected Susan, not afraid to make loud contradiction now that she had her mistress on her side, at least as far as this particular Yankee went.
Clementine jumped to her feet. “So he’s had nothing to drink since yesterday morning? Doctor?”
Neither man reacted.
“Susan?” Clementine appealed.
Susan now resided in the circle of her own guilt. “Ummm, well, ‘scuse me for disobeyin’ the doctors. I cou’n’t help it. I give the prisoner water real early this mornin’. He drunk it down, too. An’ he said, an’ he said…” Susan’s words drifted to a halt from their own lack of logic, given the final diagnosis on Oliver Trowbridge.
“Said what?” asked the white woman in a voice softened by sympathy. Susan was on her side against the men.
“Said he wished he had him some fine fresh coffee for breakfast, he did,” Susan said with wonder, while staring at the white enamel pot. “Course I knows he can’t have it, I knows that…,” she closed softly.
“Lord in Heaven! That doesn’t sound like dying!” cried out Mrs. Robichaux. “We’ll just pour a little coffee into some cream and try him on that. Go fetch the porcelain invalid feeder and hurry up about it, Susan. No time to waste! We’ll take the pot, too, so that coffee smell fills the room!”
“You know what Mr. Oliver said after that, Ma’am?” murmured Susan, as she gathered napkin and cream pitcher to put on her tray.
“Of course I don’t know!” A frown of hurry swept anxious into angry on Clementine’s face.
Susan faced her with a glowing gap-toothed smile of wonder. “Mr. Oliver say he think he’ll sink if he don’t eat suthin’. He say maybe he want some breakfast later. Mr. Oliver is hungry!”
Today’s Spot Writers post comes from Cathy MacKenzie, who is diligently finalizing her novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK. Coming soon! (No, it’s not about werewolves and vampires!)
“Hungering for a Nude”
This month’s prompt is “hunger” (the hunger does not have to be literal).