Josiah’s sixteenth birthday came and went. His family and I tried to make it special for him, but we all knew he was upset that he never would be able to fight.
“Why did this have t’ happen t’ me, Elias?” he asked. “I never really let my blindness stop me, but suddenly it is, an’ I hate it!”
I tried to comfort him, but he was inconsolable.
As my birthday approached, I grew more and more excited. Pa had not yet said I could go to fight, but I was counting on it.
The night before my birthday it poured rain. I listened to it beating on the roof over my head and prayed that it would stop by morning because I thought rain on my birthday might be a bad sign.
When I awoke in the morning, much to my relief the rain had stopped, although I could still hear water dripping from the eves and the trees. I went downstairs, outside and did my chores. I returned to the kitchen, where Ma and Pa were acting as though nothing special was happening. I looked at them both, shrugged, and sat down. Finally I could stand it no longer.
“Don’t ya know what day this is?” I complained.
“It’s the Ides of March,” said Pa, quietly.
“It’s also my BIRTHDAY!”
“Really?” asked Pa. “Then I think ya’d better go look behind our bedroom door.”
I stood and went to their bedroom, my heart beating so hard I could hear it. Behind the door was a beautiful, new Springfield rifle. I picked it up gingerly, almost afraid it would go off, but it was safe in my arms. Nothing exploded except my heart, which was bursting with joy.
Slowly, and with a big grin on my face, I went back into the kitchen. “It’s beautiful!” I exclaimed. “Thank ya both so much!”
“Yer welcome,” Pa said quietly. Then he continued, “Since yer goin’ off to war we thought ya should at least have the best weapon we could git you.”
I laid the rifle on the table and gave them both huge hugs. “How’d ya ever git one?” I asked. “I thought only the army could git ’em right now.”
“Well, that’s true. But I’ve a few friends with connections and one of ’em was able t’ obtain it for you.”
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” I hugged him again and then looked at Ma, who was trying to smile through the tears in her eyes.
“I really don’t wanna let ya go, Elias, but I know ya have t’ do what you think’s right.”
I hugged her again, saying, “I’ll be real careful, Ma.”
Pa told me where the powder and ammunition were and I went out to try the rifle. I was a good shot with my old musket, but this rifle was incredibly accurate and powerful. I could hit a tin can at nearly a thousand yards. Wow!
Making certain that the gun was unloaded, I hurried through the wet grass over to the Parkers’ farm, eager to show it to Josiah. As I neared their home, though, my steps slowed. How would Josiah feel? Would it just upset him more? I didn’t know. But while I was debating whether to go on or not, their door opened and Tad and Eddie poured out, followed by the rest of the family, so I had no choice but to continue on.
“Can we see it? Can we see it?” the younger boys asked, while Josiah stood there beaming. Suddenly, I was suspicious. “Did ya all know about this already?” I asked.
“Yup” the three boys answered together. I stepped forward and gently laid the rifle in Josiah’s hands. He caressed it lovingly, going over every bit of it, “seeing it,” I was sure, with his hands.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “Keep it safe.” He handed it to his father and then grabbed me with a fierce hug. “I caint bear the idea of ya goin’ off, Elias. And I caint bear the idea that ya might not come back. Please be careful!”
“I’ll be careful,” I whispered in his ear. “An’ I promise I’ll come back to you.”
All of us boys went off to the pond for the day. Eddie and Tad taking turns holding the rifle as though it was a religious experience. I couldn’t have been prouder.
Josiah came over to spend Saturday and Sunday nights with me. At supper time, Pa handed me a paper and told me to read it. It was a document stating that the rifle identified in it had been legally purchased and given to me. It was signed by a judge in Frederick and affixed with his seal. Pa told me to take care of the paper in case I needed to prove that the rifle was really mine.
That night Josiah and I lay in bed, just holding each other and talking quietly. I guess we both cried a little and we didn’t do much in the way of our usual activities before quietly dropping off to sleep in each other’s arms.
Since the next day was Sunday and Ma said I shouldn’t go off to war on a Sunday, we decided that I’d leave on Monday. At church, the Pastor said a special prayer for me as well as for all the others who were going off to war.
Sunday night, Josiah and I again lay in each other’s arms. “Elias,” Josiah said. “I wanna do something special for you.” As we lay facing each other, we ran our fingers gently over each other’s backs and sides, then down to our butts. Josiah leaned in and began first kissing me and then flicking his tongue in my mouth and around my ears. He kissed down my neck and nibbled my nipples before moving down my stomach to my belly button, which he licked lovingly. Finally he moved to my groin. Of course by then I was completely hard. Very gently, he took my cock in his hands and began kissing it. I groaned with pleasure. We had never actually put our mouths on each other’s cocks before. He ran his tongue up and down my shaft and then around my balls. Finally, he took my cock in his mouth and began sucking. Shivers ran all through me and I found myself thrusting forward deeper into his mouth. The tingling and the tension rose and rose.
“I’m gonna come!” I exclaimed. “You’d better stop.”
But he just kept sucking and suddenly I burst, my spunk exploding into his mouth over and over as I pumped and pumped. Finally I stopped. Josiah licked the spunk off my cock, moved up to my mouth, and spurted some of it into my mouth, while I lay back, thrilled and exhausted.
“Oh, wow!” I finally sighed.
“Did ya like that?”
“It was incredible! Now lemme do that for ya.”
“Nope. That was my present t’ ya. I want ya ta promise that when ya come back, on the first night, you’ll do that for me. OK?”
I nodded before jerking him off. We slept the sleep of the dead.
I awoke early in the morning, kissed Josiah, and got out of bed without waking him. Quietly I put on the clothes I was going to wear for travel. In my boots I placed a paper on which I had written the number “18.” Smiling to myself I padded silently down the stairs, stepped outside, put on my boots, and walked to the barn, where I did my chores. Before going back in the house, I walked around it, looking at it, and trying to get a picture of it in my mind. I couldn’t get rid of the thought that this might be the last time I ever saw it, but I pushed the thought to the back of my mind and went into the kitchen, just as Ma entered from their bedroom.
“Eager t’ git goin’?” she asked, a little sadly.
“Yes and no,” I answered. “I’m eager t’ go but I’m not eager t’ leave.”
She hugged me hard, and then set about fixing breakfast, keeping her face turned from me so I wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes.
Josiah came clumping down the stairs and we went outside and sat on the steps for a few minutes, perhaps our last time alone together.
“I don’t wanna wake up in an empty bed in the morning,” he said. “I need ya. Come back t’ me.” He had never said that he needed me before, and I wasn’t sure just what he meant, but I knew that I also needed him.
Ma called us for breakfast, which was a very quiet meal. Then Pa hitched the horses to the wagon, while I got my rucksack and rifle. Josiah was going to ride with us to Frederick and then be dropped off on the way home.
Finally, I gave Ma a kiss and a big hug, promised her for at least the tenth time that I’d be careful and would write, and climbed into the wagon.
We rode for a while, each of the three of us with our own thoughts. At length, Pa said, “Yer a man now, Elias, an’ yer takin’ on the responsibility of a man. I know, no matter what happens, we’ll be proud of ya.”
I nodded silently.
“That’s a valuable weapon yer carryin’,” he went on. “Many men’ill want it, so guard it carefully. Don’t let it out of your sight.”
Again I nodded.
We arrived at Frederick and bought my ticket at the depot.
Since we had plenty of time, we ate a picnic lunch before we went to wait on the train platform. Josiah and I stood awkwardly by the station, side by side, having a final smoke together and surreptitiously holding hands. Everything that could have been said had already been said. I knew I’d remember this moment and later think of a million things I should have said, but we just stood, making the most of our final moments touching each other.
At last the train pulled into the station. I tapped out my pipe and stuffed it into my haversack. Then I kissed Pa and hugged him. Finally I hugged Josiah. When I started to pull away, he squeezed me tight and kissed me on the mouth. Neither of us cared whether or not people were looking. For us it was a relatively chaste kiss, but it was loaded with meaning.
I turned, climbed onto the train, and sat by a window where I could see Pa and Josiah. The train began to slowly pull away from the station as I waved goodbye until I could see them no more. Then I settled on the hard seat for my first-ever train ride, tears welling in my eyes.
Just after the train pulled out, an older man sat down beside me.
“Goin’ to war?” he asked.
“That’s a fine weapon ya got. A Springfield, isn’t it?”
Where’d ya get it?”
“My Pa gave it t’ me.”
“Can ya prove it?”
Here we were just out of the station and I was already having to prove the rifle was mine. I showed him the document. He nodded and said, “Guard it well. There are those that’ll try t’ take it from ya.”
We talked for a while before I grew silent. I couldn’t help thinking about Ma and Pa and Josiah. I had heard of people being homesick, but I had never been away from home before. Because I was so excited to be going to the army, I only felt a touch of homesickness then, but it would soon get worse to the point where it was almost unbearable.
The train ride seemed to take forever, and we didn’t get to Baltimore until after nightfall. Having no idea where to go, I just hunkered down by the station until morning. I was hungry so I ate some of the food that Ma had packed. Of course that made me more homesick. I didn’t really realize at the time that the food I would be eating in the army was a far cry from Ma’s cooking!