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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
This Year, ‘twas the Owls Won the Civil War
Autumn when the sycamores turn we find ourselves on Earl Drabble’s field having taken up what armament is to be scavenged along the dirt road. Drabble never plants his field on account of his son having cursed it dead with salt over a squabble some years before. We don’t much wonder where Drabble’s son ran off to after just as we don’t much care about the manner of weaponry we pull from the ditches. Men march to the field armed with bullet-ridden stop signs and fence posts wrapped in barbed wire and sometimes nothing more than a bouquet of poison ivy carried in a shirt-covered hand.
Truth be told, the Civil War is a hazy and mysterious concept to us. The first invitations from Drabble were handwritten notecards glued to the deceased Mrs. Drabble’s doilies. They looked right official and said only: CIVIL WAR REENACTMENT! BRING WEAPONS!* FAMILY AGAINST FAMILY! SATURDAY! *NO GUNS! That year we arrived wearing blue or grey with icepicks and chainsaws, but when we got to the field old Drabble only spit beachnut at us and said we’d got it all wrong.
You’re to dress like sons, some of you, he said. And fathers the remainder. Well, I figure we can try again next year. Now get!
It was five years before we got it right and in those five years we did not let peace find our hearts only waited with the violence of anticipation but for what we knew not. When it finally happened, The Sons rushed across the fields at The Fathers while Drabble sat on his porch crying. If this made us uncomfortable, the feeling lasted only as long as it took for us to find a head on which we might lower a soda bottle full of gravel or a mouth to choke with hay. Then we knew the ecstasy of history returned familiar and how we’d always mourned for it.
This went on for years, us working out past wars while Drabble sat rocking and crying on his porch. Some years ‘twas The Fathers won. Some years The Sons. These sides meant so little we chastised first-timers who tried to paint their team name and number onto the back of their shirts.
You can’t be anything forever, we said.
These first-timers saluted us with the boots worn on their fists and ran off smiling to win or lose, succeed or fail, to join us in the long walk off the field while Drabble returned to his empty house.
But this year the owls came. They rose with the sun on the horizon and chased us till we didn’t know which side we were on or what we were even fighting about. From the road we watched them scratch at that salted dirt while Drabble, Drabble picked one up and kissed it a surrender.
Adam Peterson is the author of the short short collections My Untimely Death and The Flasher, and his fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review,The Normal School, The Southern Review, and Indiana Review among other journals.