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What's the Buzz?
Nancy, is that you?"
I heard my best friend Bess Marvin's voice behind me, fluttering above the crowd in one of our favorite River Heights hangouts, Susie's Read & Feed.
Across the table Bess's cousin George who happens to be my other best friend rolled her eyes. "Looks like Bess has gone shopping again."
Bess threaded through the restaurant, holding a big round hatbox above her head. "It finally got here!" Bess exclaimed. "I was so afraid it wouldn't arrive before the big day on Saturday."
"Bess went crazy online, ordering clothes from the eighteen sixties to wear to the Civil War reenactment on Saturday," George explained to me dryly. "The only reason she ever goes online is to shop and save money."
Bess plopped down the box, flipped off its lid, and plunged her hands deep into the tissue paper. "This bonnet is just too perfect, don't you think?" She lifted out a pale straw bonnet with a shallow crown, wide brim, and blue satin ribbons that perfectly matched her sparkling blue eyes. Slipping it on over her long blond curls, she tied the ribbons under her chin, fluffing them into a fat bow.
I had to admit, she did look adorable. But then, Bess always does. Of the three of us, she's the natural beauty. It helps, of course, that she actually pays attention to what she wears and how her hair is done. Most of the time George and I just can't be bothered.
"I also got this enormous hoop skirt, with layers and layers of petticoats to go over it," Bess continued. "And a gown of the most beautiful baby blue flowered dimity cotton. Come over to my house and I'll give you a fashion show!"
George's dark eyes flashed. "Gabriel Marvin is rolling over in his grave right now," she muttered.
"Who's Gabriel Marvin?" I asked. Bess yanked off her bonnet and slid into the chair we had waiting for her. "Gabriel Marvin was our great-great-great-great-grandfather," she explained. "My mom went to the city archives last week and got copies of some old records. As it turns out, he was the commanding officer of the River Heights Civil War regiment!"
I raised my eyebrows. "Wow, that's cool."
"What about your ancestors, Nancy?" Bess asked. "Have you investigated them yet?"
"Dad checked our family history and found the names of two guys, Caleb and Carson Drew," I said. "I filed a request with the clerk Tuesday, and I'm picking up the results this afternoon."
"Carson, like your dad?" George asked.
I nodded. "It's an old Drew family name. From what we can tell, they were the right age to fight in 1861, when the war broke out. But I don't know if they even joined the army."
"Of course they did. Everybody joined the army back then," Bess declared. "Just like everyone in town is fighting in the reenactment Saturday."
George tugged on a lock of her short dark hair a nervous habit she has. "Fighting? I'll be on the battlefield, and so will Nancy. But last I heard, Bess, you were just joining the women's auxiliary."
Bess stuck out her tongue at her cousin. "The women's auxiliary plays an important role too. We run the field hospital, make cloth bandages, knit socks, and cook for the troops."
George perked up. "Cooking? I didn't know they were going to serve refreshments during the battle."
Bess scrunched up her nose. "Don't get excited. The organizers are making us cook authentic grub like what the troops really ate salted beef and hardtack and cornmeal mush. Totally gross." She pretended to stick two fingers down her throat and made a gagging noise. "I can barely stand to be in the cooking tent."
"Then switch into the army," I suggested. "It'd be so much fun! The three of us can fight together."
"You're forgetting the whole point of the reenactment for Bess the clothes," George teased.
I couldn't resist adding a little dig of my own. "People who work in mess tents and hospitals don't need to be decked out like a Southern belle, Bess."
Bess picked a cherry tomato out of George's half-eaten salad. "Why did you say a Southern belle? Girls from the North had fashion sense too."
George moved her salad away to protect it from Bess. "Calm down, Scarlett. Nancy knows you'd rather die than play a Confederate."
That struck me as a pretty weird thing to say. It was so off the wall, in fact, that I had no snappy comeback ready. And before I could think of one, we were interrupted.
"Ladies, ladies," said Harold Safer, stopping by our table on his way out of the café. Harold runs the gourmet cheese shop in River Heights, and he's something of a local character. He's a sweet guy, though, and we three always enjoy his company.
"You're just the people I'm looking for," Harold said. "Mrs. Mahoney roped me into organizing this little picnic to kick off the reenactment, Friday night at Bluff View Park."
George widened her eyes. "Little picnic? There are signs plastered all over town."
Harold sighed. "Well, the event just keeps on growing. But it's a lovely idea, to celebrate the reenactment with a picnic. Sort of like the picnic in The Music Man do you know that musical, girls? I saw the most brilliant revival of it in New York!"
I held my breath. It's dangerous to let Harold Safer get on the subject of musicals. He could go on and on about them. I was annoyed when Bess gushed back, "Ooh, I've seen the movie. That one is a classic."
Harold smiled fondly. "Isn't it? Don't you just love the part where "
Suddenly a bouncy, short woman with curly red hair barged up to us. She briskly stuck out a hand for Bess to shake. "Pam Mattei, Dawn's Early Light Productions. We're supplying the big pyrotechnical display for Friday night's picnic."
Now, something about this woman bugged me right away. Maybe it was her piercing gaze or her aggressive body language. Whatever it was, I had a gut feeling she was hiding something. Harold beamed. "Pamela here suggested we distribute glow-in-the-dark necklaces before the fireworks. Could you youngsters help us with that?"
"Ooh, glow-in-the-dark necklaces, how fun!" Bess exclaimed. "The kids are going to love that!"
"E-mail me the details, George," I said, standing up. "I'd better get over to the archives. There may be a big crowd there, all looking up their ancestors before Saturday."
"I doubt it," George said with a shrug. "Most people have already searched their family trees on the Internet."
"Well, I'll go anyway," I said, feeling a little edgy. "See ya." I scooped up my bill, grabbed my purse and jacket off my chair, and left the table.
As I went to the cashier's desk to pay for my lunch, I wondered why I felt so peeved with Bess and George. It wasn't until I was outside in the fresh air that I finally figured it out.
I realized that I was feeling plain old jealous jealous and left out. Bess and George have a full set of parents each, plus Bess has a little sister and George has two brothers. And as if that wasn't enough, they have each other, first cousins, living just a couple streets away.
Me? I'm an only child. My mom died when I was only three years old. My dad and I are real tight, sure, but we have to be we're the only immediate family either of us has.
I drew a deep breath. Now that I'd figured it out, I felt better. I'd overreacted, that was all. Bess and George didn't mean to make me feel bad. Usually they're supersensitive to my situation. It was just this Civil War history thing, making everyone focus on family more than usual. Now that I'd put it in perspective, I could deal with it.
"Nancy, wait up!" I heard Harold Safer call out behind me. He caught up and fell into step at my side. "Can you come to a picnic planning meeting tomorrow afternoon? Both Bess and George said they have other plans. It's at two P.M., at the historical society. It's all part of their seventy-fifth anniversary celebration, you know."
"Sure, I'll come to the meeting," I agreed.
"George said that you and she are playing the parts of soldiers in the battle on Saturday," he continued as we walked. "That sounds so thrilling! Which regiment will you be fighting with?"
"I don't know yet," I admitted. "That's why I'm going to the archives to find out where my folks fought. I think it's a cool idea to sign up for the same regiment your ancestors were in."
"Oh, I couldn't agree with you more," Harold said. "Most people I've spoken with are doing that. An overwhelming number of them seem to be related to the Seventh Illinois Regiment, I've noticed. It was quite large, drew folks from miles away, even a few who lived outside Illinois."
"I guess that's not surprising when you think about it," I said. "It's basic math. Suppose a handful of veterans from that regiment settled in the states around here after the war. If they kept having children, and their children had children, and everybody stayed in or around River Heights well, there would be a whole lot of them by now, all from the same few ancestors."
Harold chewed his lip. "But it still seems odd to me. If I remember local history, this area was settled by small farmers from both Southern and Northern states. Almost as many volunteered for the Confederate army as for the Union army. Sometimes even two brothers would go different ways it tore whole families apart. I've always thought it was terribly sad, like one huge nationwide soap opera." He sighed dramatically. "Anyway, you'd figure that the descendants of those Confederate veterans would live around here, too. Yet no one I know has volunteered to join the Confederate army on Saturday."
"Really?" I thought for a second and realized I didn't know any Southern volunteers either. "How are they even going to hold a battle if the other side doesn't show up?"
"The organizers must have some plan," Harold said, always an optimist. He suddenly stopped walking. "Well, here's city hall. Good luck with your search."
"Thanks." With a brief good-bye, I headed up the steps.
The city archives are on the ground floor of city hall in a well-lit modern room. Since the original city hall washed away in a flood in the 1920s, the current one doesn't have a lot of dusty old file cabinets just computer monitors and microfiche readers. To get any pre-1920s information, we have to give a request slip to a clerk. The clerk e-mails queries to local churches, schools, hospitals, and neighboring towns to piece together information from their files. Sometimes it takes days to get an answer.
My dad had found the names of our 1860s relatives in an old family Bible. If Caleb and Carson Drew had had any business dealings in the area, there was bound to be some record of them. And if they had joined a regiment say, the Seventh Illinois, like so many other people in town they should be in the government's files.
The records clerk who'd taken my request two days ealier smiled when she saw me. "Miss Drew? You're in luck." She pulled a manila folder from a tall stack on her desk.
I felt a buzz of excitement. "You found some trace of the Drew brothers?"
"More than a trace," she said. "We found baptism records from their church, enrollment lists from their school, land transactions in the county files. They signed the church wedding registries when they got married Caleb in 1861, and his younger brother, Carson, in 1869, after the war. Oh, you can be proud of them. They were apparently well-respected local citizens."
A swell of pride rose in my chest. "What about their war records?" I flipped open the folder she'd handed me and glanced at the top sheet. As I read the sheet my heart began to hammer in my chest.
"Oh, they both did their duty all right," the clerk continued. "The government records show that Caleb was a sergeant, and Carson rose all the way to the rank of lieutenant both in the Sixty-seventh Tennessee Regiment."
"Tennessee?" My voice came out in a croak.
"Yes indeed," she replied. "There were many Confederate sympathizers in town, you know. And when the war started, they all went down to the Southern states to join up."
Which meant...Caleb and Carson Drew had been Johnny Rebs!
Copyright © 2005 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.