Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays, not only because I’m a Christian, but because, to me, it signifies that Spring is finally here. My old church used to obtain butterfly chrysalises for the Sunday school classes, and on Easter, they set all the new butterflies free. I loved the analogy between birth and rebirth, and how it signified the risen Christ. We have had our share of baby bunnies, baby chicks, chocolate eggs and Easter egg hunts, but to me, butterflies being set free is the most special memory.
Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, which describes how two young men who are new soldiers experience Easter Sunday, 1863. Enjoy, and have a happy Easter!
They listened to an owl hoot somewhere off in the distance. As moonbeams shone down on the two young soldiers, they fell asleep. Early the next morning, they woke up and sauntered over to the depot, which remained dark.
“Where is everybody?” Jake asked. Looking around, he scratched his head. No one was in sight.
“Let’s go over to the livery and find out,” David suggested. They walked a few blocks and entered the building.
Upon being asked, the stable owner laughed. “You boys don’t know what day this is?” They responded by shaking their heads. “It’s Easter! No trains are runnin’ today.” He looked at one, then the other. They looked at each other, and then back at him. “Do y’all have anywhere else to go?” The troopers shook their heads again. “Well, feel free to bed down in here if y’all want, but I reckon it’ll be a long day, since nothin’s open.” He quickly walked out of the barn toward a little house across the yard.
“I knew today was Easter. I jist forgot is all,” Jake said.
“Me, too,” David said. “I’m hungry.” He surprised himself with the comment, for he usually didn’t feel empty until midmorning.
Jake looked at him. “Well, there are some oats. That’s all we’re likely to find, since everything’s closed up.”
They sat on a bale of hay, pondering their situation, but came to no resolution, so they decided to take a walk around. It was a futile effort, however, because they only saw a few people on the street, who disappeared into doorways once they approached. With no other recourse, they decided to return to the livery.
Suddenly, David stopped. “I know!” he exclaimed.
Jake followed his gaze across the street to a small white chapel that stood like a beacon, its tall ivory steeple pointing up to the heavens.
“Let’s go inside,” he said, walking so quickly that Jake had to sprint to catch up.
They entered the little church. Some members of the congregation turned to see who the late arrivals were. Removing their hats, the boys slid into a back pew.
The pastor was telling the story of Jesus’ resurrection, the same story they all told on Easter, but this time it seemed more poignant. David equated it to the plight of the grand old Southland for which they were fighting, and for which his father gave his life. The Southerners had been persecuted and exiled, but now they would gain the freedom to rejoice in the reincarnation of their own country, even though some would die for the sins of others.
A pianist cued the congregation, so they stood to sing “Rock of Ages.” After the hymn ended, the pastor dismissed everyone with a “Happy Easter.” He walked from the pulpit to the front doors, and greeted each person as they exited. David and Jake waited, smiling politely while the older people, women, and children filed out, and then they took their turn greeting the pastor.
“What do we have here?” the Godly man asked. He wore a fine, graying beard and a long black robe. “I’m so glad y’all could come to our service. Happy Easter!”
“Happy Easter,” the boys responded.
“Sir, we’re only here for today,” said Jake. “Our train’s been delayed due to the holiday, and we were wonderin’…”
The pastor interrupted. “Are y’all in need of lodgin’?” he asked, his dark blue eyes filling with concern.
“No,” Jake said. “We were wonderin’ if you might know where we could gitsomethin’ to eat. We didn’t bring enough money, and we forgot about allowin’ ourselves an extra day’s worth of vittles.”
“Of course.” The pastor smiled. “Jist give me a minute.” He went to the back of the church, but soon reappeared, dressed in a dark suit. He closed the front door. “Come with me,” he said.
They followed him down the street to a little white house surrounded by a whitewashed picket fence, and went inside. The smell of baked ham encouraged them. They looked at each other and grinned.
“Wait here, boys,” the pastor said kindly.
He walked into another room. David and Jake could hear him talking to someone. Pots clanked and plates chinked. Moments later, the pastor emerged with two heaping plates of food.
“Come on in here,” he said.
The soldiers followed him to a small wooden table.
“We shall praise the Lord for this blessed day,” the holy man said happily. He set their plates on the table and delved into prayer.
David’s stomach growled, but he did his best to contain his hunger.
Finally, the pastor finished and told them to eat. “I don’t mean to be rude, but my wife and I won’t be jinin’ y’all. We’ve been invited to her cousin’s house, and we’re fixin’ to bring the food along with us,” he explained.
Gesturing for them to take a seat, he walked out of the room, leaving David and Jake alone to consume their dinner of ham, sweet potatoes, creamed corn, and okra. Once they finished, the kind pastor returned, giving them each some morsels to save for supper. They thanked him, bid him a happy Easter, and returned to the livery, where they promptly fell asleep. When they awoke, the barn was dark. Rain clattered down on the tin roof. Jake arose, went outside, and returned a few minutes later.
“I instructed the livery man to wake us at five-thirty,” he said, shaking moisture from his hat. He looked down at the grease-stained, brown paper-wrapped package the pastor had given him. “I’m savin’ mine for tomorrow.”
“Me, too,” said David. He rolled over and soon fell back to sleep.