Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Uncommon Sense Gene. My father enjoyed telling me this story about his great-grandfather, who fought in the War Between the States (hereinafter "the War").

My father was born and raised in Atlanta. Both his parents descended from people who had come to America during the early 18th century, if not the late 17th century. Many came South. So he had many ancestors who fought in the War Between the States mostly for the Confederacy.

My father and mother moved to Miami from Atlanta in the mid-1940s, and I was born on Miami Beach in 1946. My dad's sister, my Aunt Frances, moved with her husband and children to Miami in the early 1950s. By then my Grandmother Stokes was a widow in Atlanta. Not long after my aunt moved here, my Grandmother decided to "break up housekeeping" in Atlanta and move here too. My father went up to her house to help her with that move.

One day, he told me, he and his mother were in her attic going through old papers. Dad came across a war veteran's pension certificate from the US government issued to his great-grandfather on his mother's side. Dad had understood that this gentleman, whose family name was Paris, had, like many others of Dad's ancestors, fought for the South in the War. He looked at this piece of paper and was confused. "Momma", he said, "I thought that Granddaddy Paris fought in the Southern army." He said that my grandmother become a little embarrassed when she saw the paper Dad was holding. "Well, Walter, he did fight for the South". The confusion deepened.

"But Momma, the US government didn't give pensions to Southern war veterans, did they?"

"No, son, the Yankees wouldn't have done that."

"Then where, Momma, did this thing come from?"

She told him that the Yankees in some battle had captured Granddaddy Paris. The Yankees gave him a choice after they captured him: He could go to one of the prisons in Pennsylvania and spend the rest of the war there. Or he could join the US Army, go out West, and "guard the Indians". If he joined the US Army, they promised, they would not put him in a unit that would fight rebels.

So he joined the US Army. And he got a pension. She said it was a secret, and no one in the neighborhood knew.

Somehow, that explains a lot of things.

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