Katy kept holding my hand as we walked over to the table. I was so tall, she had to really reach up to hold onto it. When I sat down, Katy stood next to me and put her hand on the scar on my neck.
Rubbing her fingers on the scar, she asked, "Does it hurt, Mr. Zeb? Did you get this in the war?"
"No, Katy, I didn't. I got that one a long, long time ago. It serves as a reminder to me to always be kind to others."
"Why? Did someone hurt you when you were a little boy?"
"Katy! Leave Zeb alone with your questions! If he wants to tell you something, he will do so without your prompting. Now, Zeb, do you like marshmallows in your hot cocoa?"
Looking around the table, I nodded, and noticed the other Walsh children were looking at me to see if I were going to answer Katy's last question. I was in a quandary. If I told them my father had inflicted that hurt on me, I would likely taint their thinking. I couldn't lie to them either.
"Well, Katy, I got in the way of someone who was very sick and angry. Later on, when that person realized what he had done, he told me he was sorry. The scar helps me remember I should not be angry and hurtful to others, especially those who can't protect themselves." I smiled at her and patted her on the head. "How about we drink our cocoa now?"
"Okay...do you have any children, Mr. Zeb?"
"No, Katy... maybe I will someday. I would have to find a wife, first, and I'm not quite ready to do that."
"Katy, I declare! I'm sorry, Zeb. I think she was born ready to ask questions! Katy, sit down and drink your cocoa!"
"You mean you didn't get that scar in the war?" This came from Paul, who had asked me about it on the day we first met.
"No, I really didn't get any scars on the outside of my body, Paul."
Henry asked, "Did you shoot any enemy people?"
He didn't realize it, but he was hitting close to home when he asked that question. Some soldiers took pride in the number of the enemy they killed. For me, it was agonizing to think I had taken the lives of other human beings. It was one of the things I struggled with each day.
"Yes, Henry, sorry to say I had to. I don't like killing others. Taking a human life is a large step to take, but I had a job to do. That doesn't mean I enjoyed it. I hated it. A lot of my nightmares take me back to the killing." I bowed my head. This conversation was getting too deep to be sharing it with these little kids. Perhaps, though, they would remember it and take it to heart for future reference.
"Ma'am, this is wonderful cocoa! It reminds me of my Ma's. Now, if you don't mind, I need to get back to bed. Maybe the cocoa will help me to sleep without the nightmares. I thank you so very much. Are you all going to go to church with me tomorrow? We wouldn't have to leave until around 8:45."
"Of course, we will, won't we children?"
They nodded their assent, and I left to head back up the stairway. As I neared the top of the stairs, two doors down the hall popped open and the other tenants of the house stuck their heads out their doors. I got a dirty look from the middle aged lady who had such a sour disposition, along with the comment, "We've had enough racket tonight to wake the dead! I hope you're through making noise!"
The occupant of the other room, Sam, was more kind. "You okay, young feller?"
"Yes, I'm fine, thank you. Sorry for the disturbance, sir. I'll try not to let it happen again."
"Oh, that's all right. I served in the First World War, don't cha know? I had them nightmares for a long time. The Jerrys were a bad lot. Any time ya wanta talk, jist let me know, okay?"
"Thank you, Sam. Good night now."
(To be continued)