You are now into genealogy, and so you’re in Savannah, Georgia, looking at old headstones in historic Bonaventure Cemetery. You have a ‘hit list’ of names you hope to find, and since all the names did not appear on the official list, it’s time for footwork. Where could Eli Thomas be hiding? He died at Vicksburg, but they buried him here, with the rest of the family. Finally, back in the shade of the Spanish moss-covered trees, you find the family grouping: Eli Thomas, wife Ruth, sons Jebediah and Malachi. As you lean in for a photograph of Eli’s headstone you see something unusual. Below his name, there is a faded, scratched notation, “Mattie is here, too”. Who was Mattie? Was she really related? There was no ‘Mattie’ listed in the family Bible of the time. Was she buried in the late 1800’s, or did someone sneak a body here in more ‘modern’ times?
Off to War
Eli Thomas had gone away to war. His family waved goodbye, with tears streaming down all their faces. Ruth and Eli had been married for only four years, but they had settled in together as if it had been preordained; they truly were meant to be together. Their boys, Jebediah and Malachi, had come along to enrich their lives, and the future looked bright. They planned that Eli would work the land, Ruth would raise the boys, and in their turn the boys would learn to plow and harvest.
Then came the dreadful news that there was to be war, and their world was in peril. Eli could not in good conscience refuse when they came to ask him to march away. Mr. Jefferson Davis had put out the call, and all good men were going in their thousands to answer that call.
Eli had been gone hardly a year when Ruth came down with the consumption and was unable to care for the boys. The little boys went frequently to her door, but she sent them away most times, trying to protect them from contagion. Taking care of Ruth was Aunt Mattie, as they called her, the old black woman from down by the river.
“Mattie,” Ruth called, “please bring me some more damp cloths, I’m burnin up!” She started coughing again, just with the effort of talking.
“Yes, Miz Thomas, I’m a-comin.”
Mattie hurried into the sick room and placed some more cloths by Ruth’s bedside, then took away the red-stained ones, colored from Ruth’s horrible coughing. She sat for awhile, holding Ruth’s hand and wiping her fevered forehead. “Now, now,” she said, soothingly, “try to close your eyes and get some rest. You’ll feel better, I just knows it.”
Jeb and Malachi were at the door again, peering inside. Aunt Mattie got up and shepherded them away as she quietly closed the door behind her. “Now, you boys go outside and play, and try not to make a ruckus. Your mother has the poorlies today, and needs her sleep.”
Jeb, the oldest, couldn’t hold back his tears, “But, when will she get better? We want momma!”
She leaned down and gave him a little hug, saying, “We’re a-hopin she’ll be up and around in no time, but for today, we gots to let her sleep, ok?”
Jeb calmed down some, and stolid little Malachi put his arms around Jeb, which seemed to help. Malachi asked, in a whisper, “Will she play with us tomorrow? I want to run and play with my ball.” Aunt Mattie leaned over to him, kissed him on his rosy cheek, then patted him on the head. “We’ll see,” she said, “now you run along like good little boys, ok?” They trudged down the hall toward the front door, then went outside.
She sighed, listened a bit at Ruth’s door, then went into the kitchen to make some soup.
Ruth only lasted another month, and by then both boys were sick, too. Over several trips, the old men from town had come to dig fresh graves, three in all.
Time had passed, the war had ended, and now Aunt Mattie stood over the graves, feeling her age. She was remembering when word had come that Eli had been wounded, then put in the hospital at Vicksburg, but had died there. Sadly, he came home in a box. Mattie sighed again, knowing that her time was coming soon. She looked at the four headstones, grouped inside the little fence in the big graveyard. She hoped they would allow her to rest there, in her turn.
She hoped the old men in the town wouldn’t forget their promise.