Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Appomattox

Ronald Paxton


The group of visitors grew quiet, waiting expectantly. The man in the Park Service uniform smiled and said, “Welcome to Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. My name is Appomattox Mays, and I'm the park historian.” Appomattox paused, and added, “Before anyone asks, Appomattox is my real name. My parents wanted a name that would reflect my southern heritage.”

Several people chuckled in appreciation.

Appomattox continued, “Now, let me just say to the future mamas and daddies in the audience that I love my name, but a child named Appomattox better be able to take a lot of teasing.”

The crowd laughed. Appomattox loved this part of the presentation almost as much as the tour itself. Everyone relaxed and the rest of the hour produced an enjoyable and informative experience filled with provocative questions and spirited discussion.

The last group of the day had departed. Appomattox locked his office and headed for the parking lot. As was his habit, he stopped briefly to gaze at the Blue Ridge Mountains off to the west. The sun was dipping below the summit, transforming the ridge into a flaming indigo, welcoming the evening. Continuing to his car, Appomattox came to an abrupt halt. There was one other car in the lot. A man was standing next to it and staring right at him. Appomattox recognized him from the last group. He had been struck by the fact that the man had not laughed or smiled, hadn't asked any questions, had not seemed engaged or at all interested in the tour. All he had done was stare at Appomattox the entire time. Like now. The man was in his twenties, with long blond hair and the build of an NCAA Division One linebacker. Appomattox was several inches shy of six feet and weighed one hundred and fifty pounds after a big Sunday dinner.

Appomattox slowed his pace, unnerved by the situation. The man wore an unmistakable aura of menace. Appomattox patted his pockets and swore, feigning forgetfulness. Better safe than sorry. He could call the police from his office if the man didn't leave. Walking briskly, Appomattox glanced over his shoulder as he reached the door to his office.

The man was gone.

*

Appomattox buttered a dinner roll and watched his six-year-old daughter, Harmony, lethargically push vegetables around her plate.

“Good day at school, sweetie?” Appomattox asked.

Harmony shrugged her shoulders and stared down at the table.

Appomattox glanced at his wife.

“Tell Daddy about the man, Harmony,” Helen Mays said.

Harmony looked up, worry and confusion written on her face. “I was walking to my bus after school, daddy, and this man came up to me.”

Appomattox struggled to control his alarm.

“What did he do, sweetie?” he asked.

“He started walking beside me and talking to me,” Harmony replied. “I didn't speak to him, Daddy. I know I'm not supposed to talk to strangers.”

“Good girl,” Appomattox said. “Do you remember what he said to you?”

Harmony nodded. “He said you were a stupid man with a stupid name who was still fighting the Civil War. He said you were probably a clam member.”

Appomattox fought to control his emotions. Drawing a deep breath, he said, “Well, Harmony, I don't know who this man is or why he told you those things, but they're lies. I have an important job with the Park Service, and they don't hire stupid people. I have an unusual name, but there's nothing stupid about it. It's a special name. I give tours and answer questions about the history of the park. I'm proud of my heritage, but I know who won the war and I'm not still fighting it. Okay, sweetie?”

Harmony nodded and said, “Daddy, what's a clam member?”

Appomattox chuckled. “He meant Klan member, sweetie. No, I'm not a member. They're a hate group, and I want nothing to do with people like that.”

“Have you called anybody?” Appomattox asked his wife.

Helen Mays shook her head. “I was waiting for you.”

Appomattox opened his phone. “I'm calling the school principal and the police,” he said. “Harmony, can you tell me what the man looked like?”

“He looked real big and strong, Daddy,” she said.

“Was he young or old?” Appomattox asked.

“Not old like Papa,” Harmony said. “Old like you.”

Appomattox smiled and nodded.

“How about his hair?” Appomattox asked.

Harmony giggled. “He had real long blond hair, Daddy. Like a girl.”

Appomattox struggled with his composure as the blood roared in his ears and his heart dropped into his stomach.

“Appomattox?” Helen Mays asked.

Appomattox cleared his throat and said, “I'll make these calls in the study.”

*

It was the middle of April and the final lecture in the Southern View Historical Series was a week away. The lectures were held each spring on the campus of nearby Lynchburg College, and Appomattox had participated in the program the last three years. Topics ranged from an overview of the Gullah people of the Georgia and South Carolina low country, to religion in the Bible Belt, to southern politics. Appomattox always delivered the final lecture in the series: “General Robert E. Lee and the Southern High Command.” Appomattox was well aware that the victors write the history books and it fueled his passion to deliver the southern viewpoint of the Civil War. He had developed a reputation as an inspired speaker, and the audience for last year's lecture had been standing room only.

Appomattox shook his head in amazement. The Chairman of the History Department at the college had just called to let him know that his lecture this year was being moved to the field house due to an enormous demand for tickets. A quiet and unassuming man by nature, Appomattox prayed that he would be equal to the expectations of the ticket holders.

“There he is, the man of the hour.”

“Hey, Jim,” Appomattox said, greeting the Chairman of the History Department. It was a week later and he had just arrived on the Lynchburg College campus.

“We're all set up in the field house, Appomattox,” Jim Huston said. “All the audio-visual equipment, microphone, dais, everything is ready.”

“Thanks, Jim,” Appomattox replied.

“God, I wish I could talk you into joining the faculty here,” Jim Huston continued. “You're a brilliant lecturer, Appomattox.”

Appomattox laughed and said, “thanks for the kind words but academia is definitely not for me.”

“Why not?” Jim Huston asked with genuine curiosity.

“The three 'B's',” Appomattox replied. “Bickering, bureaucracy, and....”

“I think I know the last one,” Jim Huston laughed, “and I can't argue with you. Come on, I'll walk you over to the field house. Your audience is waiting.”

*

The building was packed.

“Holy God, Jim!” Appomattox exclaimed. “Are you sure you didn't get the dates mixed up? I think these people are here for a Skynyrd concert.”

Jim Huston grinned. “Good luck,” he said.

Appomattox approached the podium accompanied by the sound of thunderous applause. He took a moment to survey the huge crowd. Hats and shirts with Confederate insignia, along with more than a few Confederate flags, created an electric atmosphere. The place reeked of male testosterone. Appomattox smiled slightly and began.

He spoke softly, drawing in the audience. Starting with a broad background of the war and General Lee, Appomattox slowly worked his way toward a discussion of specific commanders and strategies.

Outside the door a security guard looked at his watch and smiled. “Time to go inside,” he said to his partner. “We don't want to miss this.”

“Crowd control?” his partner inquired.

“That, too,” the guard replied.

Appomattox roamed the arena floor, microphone in hand, sweat pouring down his face. He was no longer speaking softly. He was, in fact, screaming and shaking his fist at the audience like an evangelical minister preaching to the faithful. The crowd was on its feet, roaring their approval. The faculty seated in the reserved section watched with undisguised awe. Images flashed on the screen – Ewell, Jackson, Mahone, Gordon, Hill. Finally, the screen went dark.

“Today, we remember the service of those who fought for our cause. Today, we honor their courage and sacrifice,” he shouted.

Appomattox looked up at the people. “There is one man that I want to single out,” he said. “He was, in my opinion, Lee's top battlefield commander, next to Jackson. This man was the hero of the Battle of Lynchburg. He lived and worked in Lynchburg after the war, and is buried here. I call on you now to recognize the service of this man.”

The screen came to life, illuminating the fierce visage of Lieutenant General Jubal Anderson Early. The sound was that of a jet landing inside the field house. Appomattox strode out of the building, followed by a seamless deafening wall of noise.

The man was waiting.

“What a pretty speech,” he sneered. “Be sure to let me know when the South is going to rise again.”

“I don't know what your problem is,” Appomattox said, “but you should know that the school and the police have your description. I promise that if you bother me or my family again it will be the worst mistake you ever made.”

The man started to reply, when the doors crashed open and the crowd poured out, ready to take up the cause and try again.

When Appomattox turned around, the man was gone.

*

Things slowly returned to normal. Appomattox's colleagues kidded him about becoming famous after seeing him interviewed by the local newspaper and television station. The local community college extended a teaching offer and Lynchburg College continued to pursue him. Appomattox had not seen the man since his lecture at the college, and his daughter had not seen him since that incident at her school. He began to relax.

Friday afternoon, the best day of the week, especially when the last group of the day had left. Appomattox was looking forward to the weekend with his family. He locked his office door, turned, and there he was. Appomattox gaped in disbelief. Just like before, the man was standing in the parking lot. Staring. Waiting. This time there was no hesitation on Appomattox's part, no feigning forgetfulness. He headed for his car, walking right in front of the man without a word or a glance.

Appomattox felt his shirt tear as the man grabbed the back of his collar and tossed him to the ground.

“How do you like that, you worthless redneck,” the man yelled. “Bet you thought you'd seen the last of me.”

The man hovered over Appomattox, grinning and snorting like an insane bull.

Appomattox got slowly to his feet and slammed a knee into the man's crotch. A high keening sound escaped the man's mouth as he dropped to the ground. Appomattox hurried over and swung a foot into the man's face. The man's nose burst open like a ripe watermelon falling off a truck. There was fear in his eyes now as he realized the scope of his miscalculation.

Appomattox noticed a lighter on the ground. “You need to be careful carrying around a lighter,” he said to the man. “They can be dangerous. Lucky for you, I was a member of the Boy Scouts. I know how to practice fire safety.”

Appomattox walked over to the man. He flicked the lighter, grabbed the man's hair, and set it on fire. The man howled with pain and fear. Appomattox pulled on the man's arm and hauled him into a nearby pond. The man came up gasping and sputtering. As he made his way to shore, Appomattox held out his left hand. The man grabbed hold as Appomattox whipped an open right hand across his face. The man fell backwards into the water.

Appomattox was waiting when the man finally crawled out of the pond and collapsed on the bank. “Got to get you out of those clothes,” Appomattox said. “You'll catch your death.” He set to work ripping off the man's shirt, pants, underwear, shoes, and socks. When he was done he flung them into the water.

“Let's go,” Appomattox said, dragging the man to his feet. They reached the man's car and Appomattox shoved him in.

Appomattox leaned his head in the window and said, “just a couple of things before I hand over your car keys. First, be sure to drive safely. This would be a bad time to get pulled over since you'll be driving naked.”

The man sat in the driver's seat, shivering, with his head down.

Appomattox yanked the man's ear, eliciting a girlish shriek.

“Look at me when I'm talking to you,” Appomattox admonished.

The man gave Appomattox his undivided attention.

“You seem like a man with poor critical thinking skills and a below average I.Q.,” Appomattox continued, “so I'll make this simple for you. Threatening a man and his family is never a good idea. I have a baseball bat at home.”

The last statement confused the man.

“If I see you again or if my family sees you again, I will use the bat to break your legs. Your walking days will be over,” Appomattox said.

Appomattox handed the man his keys, and added, “one more thing; you asked me to let you know when the South was going to rise again.”

The man waited.

“It just did,” Appomattox said.

Appomattox watched the man drive off and then hurried to his car. It was getting late and his family was waiting.

___

Ronald Paxton is retired from a career in financial services and lives with his wife in Charleston, South Carolina. He is the author of Tales from the Ranch, Cowboy, and Uncle Frank.

 

© Ronald Paxton

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2010