There was a time during our junior high years that my good friend Jim and I would go on what we referred to as hikes, but what were really quests to see how much damage we could inflict on innocent and unsuspecting wildlife with our less than powerful BB guns. Packing a sack lunch and dressing in weather appropriate gear, we would head out behind my house and shortly be in “the wild” (a farmer’s land with a few random cattle, pastures of knee-deep grass and patches of oak woods). On these journeys we often discovered a few things; on one occasion the discovery creating in us a desire to practice the ancient art of fencing.
One day, not long into our trek, we came across a plant growing out of the ground that stood as tall as we were and as an entirety looked like a bunch of Pick Up Sticks had fallen from the sky and punctured the surrounding landscape. When we pulled one of them from the earth, we not only discovered that they were easily removed, but that they were hard on the outside and hollow throughout the interior; resembling a thin bamboo reed (why we decided to yank them out of the ground remains a mystery). Noticing the way the long stick was perfect for a makeshift weapon I commented, “Man, these things are light. Look at how fast I can swing it through the air!” Jim, with his own “rapier” responded, “Yeah, these are cool. We can make swords out of them. En Garde!” After being suddenly and viciously whacked on the forearm I cried, “Ouch! Why did you do that?” Jim, perplexed at my response answered, “I said En Garde! You should have prepared to defend yourself.”
From there we decided that these newfound toys would allow us to have “sword fights” and we set up some parameters. After creating a line in the grass, not allowed to be crossed during the competition, we added a “no hitting above the neck” rule. The winner would be the fencing participant who struck the most blows in an allotted amount of time (the allotted amount of time being whenever one or the other cried “Uncle!”). Jim and I were the first to go at it (Timmy was along on this day and it was a good thing he was) and the fighting was fierce. Our fencing was more in the line of the Basil Rathbone versus Errol Flynn sword fights in the old swashbuckler movies. We weren’t so much trying to score points with “thrusts” and “parries”; no ours was more an attempt to hack off the other guy’s limbs!
Jim and I soon discovered that our opponents were relatively well matched for each other and that the repeated blows really hurt! After the first match, which ended in a draw, neither of us wanted anymore of the other and we were left with a dilemma; find a new opponent or quit our only recently begun “fun” activity. What to do? We both looked at Timmy at about the same time. We decided that each of us would duel my little brother; his participation not up for debate. Because he was two years younger than us, the matches were one-sided and each of them ended with Timmy in tears crying, “I’m telling Daddy!” It was fun beating up on him and his lack of defense allowed me to hone my sword fighting skills, but due to the bloodletting we had to move on or risk Dad’s wrath.
On one of our non-sword fighting hikes, Jim and I ventured into the countryside farther than we had ever gone. After passing a farmer’s field and shooting a few of his pigs at point-blank range with our BB guns; at which the pigs, chomping on some fallen hedge apples, barely noticed us and only gave us glancing dirty looks; we came upon a stand of trees that were not of the normal variety. These trees were smaller than oaks or maples and were surrounded by thick undergrowth with “grapevines” interspersed throughout. Once inside the perimeter, we noticed that the air was sprinkled with what looked like a strange mist and the reflection of the sun peaking through the canopy of the trees gave the mist an eerie sparkle.
Suddenly Jim exclaimed, “Ronnie, look over there! Did you see that bird? It was bright yellow.” I excitedly responded, “Where?” Just then another of these birds flitted past us and I said, “What kind of birds are they? They look like Tweety Bird. They must be canaries!” Jim, not so sure said, “They might be canaries, but they are more likely finches.” Regardless, we began following the two brightly colored birds.
Not too far along, the birds disappeared and we began looking for a way out of the dark woods. About that time we noticed a large stone lying on the ground a few feet in front of us. As we approached the stone for further investigation we noticed other stones in the vicinity. Upon investigation we discovered that these stones weren’t normal stones, and that what lie scattered along the forest floor were the remnants of a graveyard!!
We slowly began reading the markings on each headstone and found that all of the dates were from the time of the Civil War. If we had known our town’s history, we could have deduced that these stones may have had something to do with the “Battle of Carthage” that pitted the Union and Confederate forces in an 1861 conflict that destroyed the town. We had inadvertently discovered a Civil War cemetery! “Should we tell anyone?” I asked Jim. “No, let’s just keep this to ourselves. If we tell, we might get into trouble.” I thought of an idea and presented it to Jim, “Why don’t we dig down in the ground and see if we can find any artifacts? Maybe we can find something valuable, like money or guns or something!” Jim, much more respectful of the dead than I, quickly reprimanded me, “We can’t do that. This ground is sacred and if we tamper with these graves we’re sure to anger the spirits. We shouldn’t even be walking on this ground.” With that I began to feel the hair stick up on the back of my neck and suggested that we “get out of here!”
Once safely back home, it didn’t take me long to break my silence, and I told my siblings, my parents and anyone else that would listen. Oddly, none of them seemed to believe my story, so the graveyard remained hidden and may still be to this day. Occasionally I still wonder what would have happened if we had excavated the area around the headstones. Would there have been valuable artifacts deep in the earth underneath the surface? I guess I’ll never know. But, if you’re interested, I could draw you a map!