“My late husband, Lysander Heald, was born in the town of Sumner, Maine; at the time of his enlistment he was 37 years of age; occupation, Leather Cutter; residence, Weymouth, Mass.; he was 5 feet 9 inches in height, fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. Had a scar from an axe cut on one ankle...” wrote Margaret, my great-great grandmother, as taken from a Civil War pension affidavit dated in 1908.
He was 5 feet 9 inches in height, fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. He had a scar from an axe cut on one ankle—the utter uniqueness of this person, known and beloved by his wife, Margaret; this person who comes to me this morning from the past. Once alive, he is no longer. And yet, he remains as I peruse the old document.
In the mid-19th century farm communities of Maine, the axe was an essential tool. Its hardwood handle was well oiled and worn with use, it’s blade fine honed and sharp. With the advent of the woodstove, fifteen cords of wood were needed every year to keep the family fires alight, down from forty or more in colonial times. Accidents were not uncommon. The axe slips, the edge cuts deep. And the sleigh carries him home through the snow covered fields.
He had a scar from an axe cut on one ankle. And the way he walked ever since. The barely perceptible limp. On a day in late May, after she spent the morning working in the garden, she sat down and wrote: “Warm and fair...A year ago to-day, Lysander died.”