Home / As the Crow Flies / My Grandpas’ Boots: Upcoming Children’s Picture Book

My Grandpas’ Boots: Upcoming Children’s Picture Book

Curt Leaning Against Fireplace at Old House

Curt at The Old House. Dry Creek, Louisiana

A word from Curt

 

 

 

 

 

This story is taken from a chapter in As the Crow Flies and adapted for an illustrated children’s book.

 

Curt Iles/MY GRANDPAS’ BOOTS

Copyright 2017 by Creekbank Stories and Curt Iles

                                                          1

My name is Abe, and this is the story of my scuffed boots.  This pair of boots are over seventy-five years old. They go back to my hometown of Alexandria, Louisiana and the years after the Civil War. My father was a boy of seven in May of 1864 when the retreating Union Army burned the city.  

My grandfather, Abram Terry, wasn’t there on the day of the fire. He was a prisoner of war in New York State.  When the war ended, my grandfather whom everyone called Pops, limped home from the prison camp to find his hometown destroyed. He’d lost his left leg and replaced it with a stout peg leg.  The only thing harder than that hickory peg leg was his heart. The years after the war, known as Reconstruction, were hard on everyone in the Red River cotton country, and Pops took it hard.

In the year 1882, seventeen years after the end of the war, Pops and my dad, who was twenty-three and still single, opened a sawmill on Bayou Rapides. Money was tight and as Christmas approached, no one expected gifts.    

A string of events occurred in the cold weeks before Christmas that year changed everything about Pops and our family tree. Former Union soldiers, who had noticed the vast cotton fields during their wartime service, brought their families to settle in Louisiana. They bought and sold cotton, and were disdainfully called Carpetbaggers by the locals.

On that fateful day in December 1882, Pops and my dad were walking along the levee on their way to the bank. Pops saw a bearded man wearing a faded Union soldier greatcoat. “Hey Bluecoat,” Pops said, “Have you come back to see if there’s anything you didn’t burn the first time?”

The man, who was sitting at a checkerboard balanced on a keg, looked up with a disarming smile. “I don’t want to burn nothing.” He lifted his right pants leg, revealing his own wooden peg leg. “I might catch fire, too.”

Pops squinted. “Where’d you lose that?”

“One of your snipers got it on the last day at Vicksburg. ”

Pops, leaning on his crutch, showed off his own wooden leg. “Lost mine in ‘Pennsylvania.“ He hobbled closer. “Bluecoat, how far is yours gone?”

“To the hip.”

Pops grimaced. “I guess I ought to be thankful mine’s just below the knee.”

“Bluecoat, you lost your right leg,” Pops said.

The man moved his checkerboard. “And I see you left your left one somewhere up north, Reb.”

Pops rubbed his peg leg. “Yep, they buried it in a stump hole at Gettysburg. Pickett’s Charge. July 3rd, 1863.”

Bluecoat grinned. “I guess we’re even then.” He scratched his long beard, “July 3rd. Was that a Friday?”

”It was.” Pops stared down the street. “A Friday I won’t forget.”

“Friday, July 3rd,” Bluecoat said, “Same day I lost mine, if I remember—“

Pops interrupted him. “I was crawling away from the stone wall when they captured me and sent me to one of y’all’s prison camps.  That’s where I cooled my heels—or rather heel—for the rest of the dang war.“

“Like I said, we’re even,” Bluecoat said.

Pop’s face reddened “I lost a lot more than a leg up there.” He placed his right foot beside the Yankee’s left one. “What size do you wear?”

“9-E.”

“Same as me.”

Bluecoat extended his hand. “My name’s Hiram Plott. Just arrived here from Illinois with my wife and four daughters.”

Pops studied the open palm. “I don’t shake hands with the enemy.”                                                           

Bluecoat shrugged “It’s over on my end.”

Pops turned away and spat. “It won’t ever be over on mine.” He grabbed me. “Come on, Son, we got work to do.”

That should have ended any chance for friendship between the two one-legged Civil War veterans. However,  in the coming weeks, as Pops made his bank visits, he would faithfully stop by and harass Bluecoat at his makeshift whiskey-barrel office on the levee.  

*. * .*

My father remembered Christmas Eve of ‘82 as unusually cold for Louisiana.  With the hard times, no one expected any presents. He didn’t know how his mother—my grandmother—did it, but she scraped up enough money to buy a Christmas present for her husband, Pops.

She handed him a box and Pops opened it to find a new pair of riding boots to replace the patched and re-soled one he’d been wearing since the war. Pops held up the boots, began crying, and asked my grandma.  “How’d you afford these?”

“Oh, I did some horse trading.” Grandma had sold off some of the family silverware to buy those boots.

Slipping the left boot on, Pops said, “Fits perfect.” Glancing down at the spare right boot, he tapped his wooden leg “I‘ll keep that one in case my hickory stump sprouts a foot.”  Later that afternoon, Pops grabbed my father. “Son, let’s go downtown.” During the two mile walk, Pops kept looking down at his new boot.“ I can’t believe Elsie got me a new boot.”

In spite of the cold, Bluecoat was at his usual spot, drinking coffee and staring across the checkerboard and the empty chair in front of it.

Pops unshouldered his sack, “Got something for you, Bluecoat.”

Pops pulled a new leather boot out of the sack, tossing it against the barrel and scattering the checkers. “See’uns, I can’t use the right one, thought you might could.”

Bluecoat picked up the boot “9-E huh?” He slipped off his own muddy boot, replacing it with the new one. “Fits perfect. That’s right nice of you.”

Pops nodded at his own matching boot. “Christmas gift from the wife.”

Bluecoat extended his hand “Tell her I appreciate it.”

This time Pops shook his hand. “It’s from me, but you’re welcome.”

Plott motioned to the empty chair. “Let me buy you a cup of coffee, Reb.”

Pops hobbled over. “You like playing checkers?”

“Like the air I breathe,” Bluecoat said.

Pops moved a black checker. “Loser pays for the next cup of coffee.”                                 

On that Christmas Eve in 1882, the two veterans began their weekly Friday checker match that continued until the first one died in 1921. I never heard them call the other by his given name. It was always “Bluecoat” and “Reb”.

They shared boots for the remainder of their lives, but that’s not all they shared. Eventually, they shared grandchildren. My father met Bluecoat’s oldest daughter, Leona, and as you can guess, they fell in love. They are my mother and father. The two checker players were my two grandpas—Abram Terry, “Reb”, and Hiram Plott, “Bluecoat”. To me, they were Pops and Gramps. I’m Abram Hiram Terry, their oldest grandchild, and was born three years after that first checker game.

I sat with them on many Friday checker matches, where I learned how to defend against double jumps and how to protect the corners. I also learned the valuable truth that two men with opposite views and backgrounds can find friendship, if they can find at least one thing in common.

In their case, a boot for the left and a boot for the right.

My Grandpas’ boots.

Copyright 2016  by Creekbank Stories and Curt Iles 

 

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The full story as originally writen is below. Enjoy

Order your copy(s) of Christmas Jelly at Amazon or www.creekbank.net
Order your copy(s) of Christmas Jelly at Amazon or www.creekbank.net

Today is Chapter 2 in our journey through Christmas Jelly.  This is my favorite short story of the past five years or so.  Enjoy!

MY GRANDPAS’ BOOTS

By

S.C. ILES

 

Son, I notice you’re scowling at my scuffed boots.  Like me, they’ve been around a while and have quite a story to tell.  You’ll understand why I wear them proudly when I finish their tale.

These boots are six years older than me, and I’m almost seventy. Their history goes back to the years after the Civil War.  That war was hard on my hometown of Alexandria, Louisiana.  General Banks and his retreating Union army left behind smoldering ruins in the spring of 1864.

My grandfather, Abram B. Terry, wasn’t there then. He was a prisoner of war in a New York Union prison.  When the war ended, he returned to Alexandria and the destruction he encountered deepened the bitterness he felt toward all things Yankee.

We called Grandpa Terry “Pops.”   His only son, my father, was seven when Pops limped home from the war. He’d lost his left leg and replaced it with a stout dogwood crutch, and a heart that was harder than the hickory peg leg he now had.

Pop’s full name was Abraham B. Terry. His first act on returning from the war was going to the courthouse and changing it to Abram B. Terry.   He didn’t want any name that linked him with Lincoln, whom he personally blamed for the war.

 *                             *                          *

 Seventeen years after the end of the war—in the year 1882—Pops was still angry about it and the disaster it’d brought to the Red River cotton country. He disdainfully referred to the previous Reconstruction years as “Deconstruction.”

However, an event happened in the cold weeks before Christmas that year that changed his heart as well as our family’s destiny.

In the midst of this post-war economic vacuum, several Unionists bravely came to Alexandria.  These so-called “carpetbaggers” were treated with scorn and suspicion.

Pop’s only son—my daddy—was now twenty-three and still single.  Father and son operated a sawmill south of town.  On this fateful day in December 1882, the two of them were going to the bank.

When Pops saw a man wearing a faded Union greatcoat, he said, “Hey Bluecoat, have you come back to see if there’s anything you didn’t burn the first time?”

The man, who was sitting at a checkerboard balanced on a whiskey keg, looked up with a disarming smile. “I don’t want to burn nothing. I might catch fire too.”  He lifted his right pants leg, revealing a wooden peg.

Pops squinted. “Where’d you lose that?”

“One of your snipers got it on the last day at Vicksburg. I was the final casualty. ”

Pops leaned on his crutch revealing his own wooden leg.  “Lost mine in ‘Pencil-vain-ya.’ “  He hobbled closer.  “How far’s yours gone?”

“To the hip.”

Pops grimaced. “I guess I ought to be thankful for below the knee.”

“Mine started below the knee too, but Ol’ Sawbones just kept cutting.”   Bluecoat winked.  “Told him I’d shoot him if he went any higher.”

“Bluecoat, you lost your right laig.”

The man moved his checkerboard. “And I see you left your left one somewhere up north, Reb.”

“Yep, they said they buried it in a stump hole at Gettysburg. Pickett’s Charge. July 3rd, 1863.”

Bluecoat grinned. “I guess we’re even then. He scratched his long beard.  “July 3rd. Was that a Friday?”

”It was.”  Pops stared down the street.  “A Friday that changed my life.”

Bluecoat said, “Friday, July 3rd.  Same day I lost mine.  If I remember—“

Pops interrupted him. “I was crawling away from the stone wall when they captured me and sent me to one of y’all’s prison camps near Elmira, New York.   That’s where I cooled my heels—or rather heel—for the rest of the dang war. “

“Like I said, we’re even.”

Pops’ face reddened.  “I lost a lot more than a laig up there.”

“I’m sure you did.”

Pops placed his right foot beside the Yankee’s left one.  “What size do you wear?”

“9-E.”

“Me, too.”

Bluecoat extended his hand.  “My name’s Plott.  Hiram Plott from Illinois. Just arrived down here with my wife and four daughters.”

Pops studied the open hand.  “I don’t shake hands with the enemy.”

Bluecoat shrugged.  “No hard feelings. It’s over on my end.”

Pops turned away.  “It won’t ever be over on mine.”

That exchange should have ended any chance for friendship between the two one-legged Civil War veterans. But my father said in the coming weeks, Pops would faithfully stop by and harass Hiram Plott at the Yankee’s makeshift whiskey barrel office from where he watched the river traffic while buying and selling cotton.

My father remembered Christmas Eve of ‘82 as unusually cold for Louisiana.  He said with the hard times our family was having, nobody expected any presents that year.   He didn’t know how his mother—my grandmother—did it, but she scraped up enough money to buy a Christmas present for Pops:  a brand new pair of riding boots to replace the patched and resoled one he’d been wearing since the war.

When Pops opened the box and saw the boots, he began crying, realizing the personal sacrifice that was behind this gift. Slipping the left boot on, he said,  “Fits perfect.”   Glancing down at the spare right boot, he tapped his wooden leg.  “I‘ll keep that one in case my hickory stump sprouts a foot.”

What happened next is why this story is memorable.  Pops called to my daddy,  “Son, let’s go downtown.”   Pops, carrying a tote sack over his shoulder, kept looking down at his new boot. “I can’t believe Elsie  got me a new boot.”

In spite of the cold, Hiram Plott was at his usual spot, drinking coffee and staring across the checkerboard and the empty chair in front of it.

Pops unshouldered his sack, “Got something for you, Bluecoat.”

Plott glanced up as he moved a red checker. “Crown me.”

My grandfather pulled the new leather boot out of the sack, tossing it against the barrel and scattering the checkers. “See’uns, I can’t use the right one, thought you might could.”

Plott picked up the boot.  “9-E huh?”

“Yep.”

He slipped off his own muddy boot and replaced it with the new one. “Fits perfect.  That’s right nice of you.”

Pops nodded at his own matching boot. “Christmas gift.”

Hiram Plott extended his hand.   “I appreciate it.”

Pops didn’t hesitate in grasping the outstretched hand. “You’re welcome.”

Plott motioned to the empty chair. “Let me buy you a cup of coffee, Reb.”

Pops hobbled over. “You like playing checkers?”

“Like the air I breathe.”

Pops moved a black checker. “Loser pays for the next cup of coffee.”

On that Christmas Eve in 1882, the two veterans began their weekly Friday checker match that continued until the first one died in 1921. They never called each other by their given names: it was always ‘Bluecoat’ and “Reb.”

They shared boots for the remainder of their lives, but that’s not all they shared. Eventually, they shared grandchildren. Hiram Plott’s oldest daughter eventually met my father, and as you can guess, Bluecoat’s daughter and Reb’s son fell in love. They’re my mother and father.

The two checker players were my two grandpas—Abram Terry and Hiram Plott.  To me ,they were Pops and Gramps.

I’m their oldest grandchild, born three years after that first checker game.

I sat with them on many future Friday and learned a great deal. They taught me much more than defending against double jumps and protecting your corner. I learned the valuable truth that two men with opposite views and backgrounds can find friendship if they have at least one thing in common.

In this case, A boot for the left and a boot for the right.

My parents named me after my two grandpas.  I’m Abram Hiram Terry II.  Everyone calls me Abe, but when signing court documents or autographing a book, I sign my full name.  I’m often asked, “Why is it Abram and not Abraham?”

I explain that Lincoln thing and it usually brings a good laugh. Then I follow up about the Roman numeral “II” in my name:  Abram Hiram Terry the second. It’s a reminder about two boots for two men.

Pops was the first of the two to die. I’ll always remember how Gramps cried at his funeral. Four years later, Gramps answered his own final roll call.  They’re side by side in our family cemetery on high ground overlooking the Red River in Pineville.

Gramps willed me both boots and I’ve been wearing them for thirty years.  I became a writer and only recently retired from LSU. I’d often share this story with students and then quote Emerson,   “The only true gift is giving of one’s self.”

That’s so true.  All I have to do is look down at my two worn boots. My Grandpas’ boots.

Copyright 2016  by Creekbank Stories and Curt Iles
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Order your copy(s) of Christmas Jelly at Amazon or www.creekbank.net
You can order autographed copies as Christmas gifts by ordering through our E-Junkie site.  If you’d like a personalized signature, please make note.

“Christmas Jelly” is a collection of short stories by Louisiana author Curt Iles. Learn more at http://www.creekbank.net

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About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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One comment

  1. I’m so glad I took time from baking cookies to read this story. Now I need to find a kleenex!

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