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Inside Looking Out: Two guys talkin’ dreams

“Psst. Can anyone hear me?

“Yeah. I’m here. Who are you?”

“Name’s Jenkins. Bobby. My friends just call me Jenkins. And you?”

“Park. Joshua. Alabama 13th infantry. Where were you?”

“Pennsylvania 61st cavalry. I’m from coal country. My daddy owns a farm. 300 acres. We got chickens. Cows, a few goats. In the summertime, we sit out on the porch and watch the sun go down below the mountains every evening. It’s beautiful in the Poconos.

“I go to the orphanage, a place where there’s a bunch of kids who got no moms. No dads.”

“What do you do there?”

“They let me spend time with a lot of them. I’m trying to get this boy, Lawrence to read. I show him pictures in a book and he gets all excited about what he sees. He saw this picture of a kid fishing and there was a story with it so I read it to him. The boy in the story’s name was Michael. Him and his dad went fishing in the Lehigh River one morning.

“So, Michael catches this big trout. Nearly broke his pole in half! His daddy was jumping up and down and told Michael to put him in the bucket of water and keep him alive until they get home and cook him up for dinner.

“So, Lawrence stopped me in the middle of the story and wanted to read. But he can’t so what I did was point my finger to the words, said them out loud and told Lawrence to repeat them after me. He’s a real smart boy. After a while he pointed to some words on his own and remembered me saying them so then he went and said them.

“The lady who runs the orphanage told me she thinks I should be a teacher someday. Well, guess what? That’s what I want to do. Teach at a grade school. We’ll read all kinds of good stories and I can relate them to my students. Mom and dad will be so proud of me.

“Hey that’s enough about me. How about you?”

“Well, I got a girl back home name of Rebecca Willow. I call her Becky. She calls me Parky. We sit on a big ol’ tree limb out back of my house. We named the tree Ol’ Oakie. We look across this wheat field and talk about stuff like what it would be like if we were on the moon and we could look down at the earth and see all the little dots of people doing their thing.

“Me and Becky talk serious stuff too, like getting married someday and having a bunch of kids. Like you Jenkins, we like kids, too. We reckon to have about three boys and two girls. Becky is no frilly Southern belle for sure. You talk about fishing? She caught this big catfish one afternoon after we kissed for the first time. She picked up ol’ whisker face and said the same thing Michael’s dad said in your story, ‘Fresh fish for dinner tonight!’

“We’re planning to live on the plantation where Ol’ Oakie is. Becky and me promised each other after we’re married we’re gonna get up early and climb Ol’ Oakie, swing our legs like we did when we were kids. Now we’ll be older so we’ll talk about stuff like what our little boys and girls wanna be when they grow up. Becky says I’m gonna be a real good pa. I told her she’s gonna be a damn good mama.

“Hey Jenkins, maybe you could come visit us and read some of your stories to my kids. What do ya say?”

“I’d like that and if you don’t mind, I’ll bring my girl, Susie. We’re gonna be married and have a lot of kids, too. We could have a picnic together and if it’s all right with you, my kids can climb Ol’ Oakie and see your field from a bird’s-eye view. I’m sure Susie will love to come South and bring our families together.”

“I so much want to do this, Jenkins!”

“Yeah, Joshua ... If we could we would ... I mean what happened to you here?”

“Took a bullet right in the chest. Last thing I remember was seeing Becky after I closed my eyes. How about you?”

“A bayonet in the belly. Two or three times, I think. Hurt bad for a while, but then nothing.”

“That’s what you and me got, Jenkins. We got nothin’. All we got is talking about what could have been. You a teacher. Me and Becky and our families coming together. Kids I’ll never have playin’ with your kids you’ll never have.”

“Yup. We got nothin’ Jenkins, nothin’ but dirt over our bodies and stones above our heads that say we died for our country.

“You know that Michael in the story I read? They never ate the trout. They let him go. Let him live.”

“Same thing we did, Jenkins. Becky put the catfish back in the river and let it go back home to its family.”

Bobby Jenkins and Joshua Park were both killed on July 3, 1863, in the Battle of Gettysburg. Two young men from opposing armies who never had the chance to become friends and live the lives they had dreamed, just like millions of soldiers throughout the course of history who died trying to kill other soldiers just because they were told to do so.

French poet and essayist, Paul Valery wrote, “War is a place where young people, who don’t know each other and don’t hate each other, kill each other, based on decisions made by old people who know each other and hate each other, but don’t kill each other.”

The absurdity continues today. Many more young soldiers and innocent civilians will die while the cowards who wage the wars watch the carnage from the protection of their guarded towers. When the number of the dead rises each day, there is but one answer to a painful question that has to be asked.

What does a soldier get after he has no chance to live the life he dreamed?

He gets dirt over his body and a stone above his head.

Rich Strack can be reached at richiesadie11@gmail.com