Wednesday, June 15, 2011

One Life (From Gandy Dancer to farmer)


Hugh wasn’t sure if he was mostly Irish or mostly Choctaw,

But at the age of eleven there was a determined set to his jaw,

From a hard-working family, he was but one of ten,

Steady, reliable, and able to outwork any two men,

Respectful of his father but tired of being knocked about,

He knew if he remained at home, his future was in doubt,

One night when all were exhausted and fast asleep,

He gathered a few things along with his rifle to keep,

Slung over his shoulder were his food and rifle reloads,

He hurried along until he found the tracks of the railroad,

Following the rails for hours and then hiding outside town,

He hopped the first train that was westward bound,

Hugh met up with the foreman of a rough work crew,

The foreman smiled, “Just exactly what can you do?”

Hugh wasn’t ready to prove he could outwork two men,

So he said boldly, “I can supply your crew with meat now and then,”

The foreman laughed, “You’re young but I admire your spunk,”

“Tomorrow I’ll see what you can do, now let’s find you a bunk,”

Before long the crew was enjoying the fruits of his skill,

The foreman noticed Hugh didn’t waste shots or kill for the thrill,

One day on a hunting expedition Hugh heard a gruff voice,

“Give me that rifle, boy, you ain’t got no choice,”

Now Hugh had learned to treat others with respect,

They should return the favor, something he would expect,

“I don’t bother anything of others is my bottom line,

What’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine,”

“Hand over that rifle, boy, and you’d better make it quick,”

 Otherwise I’ll just take it, after I give your rear a kick,”

The rifle was Hugh’s, and to make a point he fired one round,

The man cursed loudly and made a hissing sound,

“I think you might be old enough to be digging ditches,

But to challenge me you’re getting too big for your britches,”

“If you’re going to test a man, then you’ll die like a man,

Because I can shoot faster than any man can,”

The bully grabbed his gun and swung it around,

One bullet was fired and then he hit the ground,

The shocked look on his face, one of complete surprise,

His life was over, shot squarely between the eyes,

The sheriff came by but after a look at the evidence,

Declared Hugh was innocent, “Clearly self-defense!”

With one man missing from the railroad crew,

The foreman asked Hugh to fill in there too,

 “We’re one man short I won’t take no for an answer,

You’ll still bring in meat, and you’ll be a gandy dancer,”

Not only was he able to pull his own weight,

He stopped a train robbery and sealed one bandit’s fate,

The robber was bold to walk down the aisles,

But that was the bandit’s last day to smile,

Though roving bands of disgruntled men roamed the west,

Many were not eager to confront and decided it best,

To just watch and wait to see which train Hugh rode,

They worked it out with a secret code,

Hugh settled down and married the daughter of a judge,

The judge wanted a southern man, but he didn’t carry a grudge,

 The War had long been over and Hugh never claimed a side,

The judge, a Confederate officer, still talked of the war with pride,

But the agreement between Hugh, and Emma, his wife,

Was to love each other totally, and not talk about strife,

 Hugh’s compassion and truth were known round about,

After several years had gone by, his name carried clout,

He and Emma had nine children who were active and loud,

They were all industrious, which made Hugh proud,

The children had multiple chores to do around the farm,

Laughing as they worked, they did nobody harm,

But their chickens didn’t stay on the right side of the fence,

And according to Hugh, they didn’t have “a lick of sense”,

His neighbor shouted, “Keep those chickens off my land!”

“I don’t like Union chickens, I’m sure you understand,”

Hugh swallowed his pride and let the insult slide,

If it wasn’t for the children he’d had the man’s hide,

A few days later one of his kids went under the fence,

She grabbed her pet chicken in the chicken’s defense,

One bullet whizzed by and stirred up some dirt,

Another wild shot but nobody was hurt,

One of the others screamed for their dad,

All the commotion told Hugh it was bad,

Hugh grabbed his rifle and headed out the door,

He heard his neighbor yelling, “I can’t take it anymore!”

“Your union children were trespassing on my land,

If you had gotten an education, then you’d understand,”

Hugh tried to keep calm, he’d promised his wife,

But no one should ever threaten his child’s life,

“If you ever shoot this way again you’ll catch lead,

This time you’re lucky, I’ll just warn you instead,”

The neighbor laughed. “You’re just a farmer man,

I was raised in the South as a cultured gentleman,”

“I don’t take threats lightly, especially from a union man,”

He turned quickly and fired the pistol in his hand,

Hugh was a fraction behind but his rifle was steady,

He fired once before his neighbor’s second was ready,

Hugh’s bullet tore the pistol from the man’s grasp,

There was silence and smoke before he began to gasp,

Hugh’s bullet had hit the gun and ricocheted into the man’s chest,

 Hugh had killed the man, and the sheriff showed up for his arrest,

Hugh went quietly, sure it was self-defense,

But the charges filed against him led to some suspense.

The Trial

The civil war had been over for forty years,

Yet there were those who were still shedding tears,

And fighting their hated enemy in mental battles,

Strutting about town as if their sabres still rattled,

The prosecutor was a man who liked to build his case,

A reenactment of the Civil War was his base,

Hugh was portrayed as a Union man with a grudge,

Which didn’t sit well with the Confederate judge,

Railroad men, townsfolk, neighbors called on Hugh’s behalf,

Claimed he was a honest hardworking man who liked to laugh,

But most admitted they were afraid to misbehave,

They believed that anyone who challenged him would lie in a grave,

Things did not go well for Hugh at the trial,

Rumors said he’d dance on the gallows or be jailed for awhile,

Before the trial ended, his luck suddenly changed,

His wife approached the judge with a plan arranged,

The judge called for a recess and they met in another room,

“Judge,” she said quietly, “before you announce Hugh’s doom,

I want you to consider the cards I might deal,

Hugh might go to jail but your fate will be sealed,”

“My dad was a general and respected as well,

He was a proud gentleman but he knew war was hell,

He would have preferred that I marry someone from the south,

But he admired Hugh’s character and the words from his mouth,

He also said that the nation could only be healed,

If justice was fair and the truth revealed,”

“You know that Hugh is telling nothing but the truth,

But if you need more testimony, I’ll enter the booth,

If you dare dismiss my testimony or even imply,

That the daughter of a respected officer would lie,”

“You might upset a few of Dad’s former friends,

Who would take it as his reputation you’ll offend,

If you should sentence Hugh based on other issues,

Then I’d sure hate to be in your shoes,”

The judge didn’t move as she swished through the door,

His eyes were staring blankly at the floor,

He had promised his friends that Hugh had to pay,

Now he had to be creative and find another way,

His friends wanted retaliation for losing the war,

They wanted Hugh to hang and nothing more,

The judge was caught between a rock and a hard place,

But he could still redeem himself without losing face,

“All rise,” the sheriff intoned as the judge entered, “Now take your seats,”

The crowd was quiet, it didn’t want to miss a beat,

The prosecutor was smiling and expecting a win,

There were those in the audience expressing chagrin,

Without raising his eyes the judge said,

“The nation’s wounds have too long bled,

  All the brokenness we have to repair,

That can only happen if justice is fair,”

“The preponderance of evidence is plain to me,

That the accused is innocent in every degree,

If there is nothing more then I’ll insist,

This trial is over, Case Dismissed!

There were those who were in shock,

The ones expecting a conviction, the southern flock,

From the union supporters there was a flurry of tears,

And then realizing victory, a chorus of cheers,

The judge rose and went out the back door,

He wasn’t sure he could please anybody anymore,

He liked his job but maybe it was time,

To move along to another clime,

For the rest of his life Hugh lived down on the farm,

Raising children and animals and doing no harm,

Of course Emma and Hugh grew old together,

Loving each other and talking about the weather.

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