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A History of the Breese Family

A Pastorale by Kathryn Grace Breese

Chapter XIII

Requiescat in Pace

 

Again the old homestead is no more. Again another patriarch has passed on. Now we must strike out for new scenes and a new start and follow yet for a little while the destiny of those who are growing closer and closer to ourselves. As Harris had planned, the new business was set up and a little home was purchased and life began over again. Into the family came still two more children, which added greatly to the already too heavy burden and a long pull and a hard pull was needed to make both ends meet.

But just as much as Harris was not fitted to be a gold prospector in California so he was not fitted for a merchant's career. What he liked best was politics and though he never entered that field he would have made without doubt as able a statesman as was to be found any place in the country at that time.

We now approach a period when the people were foreseeing a great crisis! Many a day Rebecca was found in despair at the state of the dumplings done to a turn and about to fall like lumps of lead in the long wait for dinner, while Harris, at the door of his shop was keeping abreast of the times in the pages of the Chicago newspapers which had been tossed off the express train at eleven o'clock in the morning, as it thundered through on its way west.

There were the speeches of Lincoln and Douglas in the coming Presidential campaign which were going on in Illinois not far away, and Harris was a staunch Democrat and heart and soul for Douglas. All that they had to say in their memorable debate must first be read and digested. The dinner could wait. The children could snatch a bite and run back to school. These were stirring times and a man could not afford to be behind them. State rights were sovereign and no one must interfere with a man's belongings, be they land or living slaves.

Late in the afternoon a violent discussion was often heard from Harris' shop, where a good friend of his, a lawyer, who was quite on the opposite side of the question, repaired to talk over the vital topic of the day. The whole street rang with the shouting of these two men. Both were able, both possessed their subjects and both were entirely convinced. They always remained fast friends despite their differences of opinion, but their arguments waxed hot and furious which, to strangers, would have appeared as a regular combat between the bitterest enemies.

Harris got to be known as a Southern sympathizer, which did him great harm when the crash finally came and gunpowder and cannon were called in to decide the question.

It was then that his eldest boy, a lad of fifteen, returned home late one night and announced to his parents that he had signed up with the army and would be off next day to the battlefield. Rebecca was stunned and raved against hurrying children to their death like this. There was, in fact, something very mysterious and obscure about the signing of the papers. But, soldiers had to be made by hook or by crook and what was not at all mysterious nor obscure, but very plain indeed, was the boy's signature.

We have lived to see and know something about the levying of armies and we think the public at large is better off left in ignorance as to the methods employed in this particular branch of art, science or industry, whichever it is called, as they stand with their emotions artificially elevated to the highest pitch, cheering lustily the marching regiments on their way to meet the enemy.

There was no help for it. Old Grand-dad came down from the deserted village to bid his favorite "God-speed" and dropped a tear on the little fellow's head as he valiantly boarded the "cars" for the front.

Now indeed were anxious times of quite a different nature. It is not our intention to follow in any way the outcome of this conflict. We shall just note a few of its consequences which, after all, is only the old story of what happens to people in war times.

It suffices to say that food and clothing went the way as always when a country is fighting. Harris had to pay one hundred dollars for a barrel of flour which made his daily bread. And , everything else cost as much in proportion. His children at school were dubbed copperheads, which made their lives miserable and Rebecca slept very lightly those nights which were to last four long years. Always in doubt as to the fate of her soldier boy, and often a cold perspiration stood out on her brow as tales reached her of copperheads being swung out of the high windows of their homes, with a rope around their necks. If they tried to save themselves by hanging on to the sill, a hammer was ready to crush their fingers and was used too.

We of the twentieth century have seen some of these similar results. But what generation since the world began has not? It would seem that in our whole existence happiness is a cessation of pain and comes rarely, and that peace is only a cessation of hostilities and is every bit as seldom to be enjoyed.

Rebecca, in these days, for want of distraction used to walk in her garden, like Nancy of old. She, too, had a love for flowers. Bleeding hearts, and mignonette, lady-slippers and purple pansies, and fine blue grapes hanging in purple clusters over an arbor constructed at one side. Here, she stood one evening as the sun went down, when the money-lender of other days chanced to pass by on his way homeward. He had grown old now and had a head of thick white hair. He had on a coat long out of fashion, and dangled a heavy gold watchchain across his black velvet waistcoat. He had always liked her, so he stopped for a friendly chat; asked about the business and spoke of a change in the weather; looked at some of the children standing by and said, "Aye, Becky, these little ones will not always be with you. Some of them may wander in later life as far as Puget Sound." And so they did, and still farther.

 

The war song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", was sung season in and season out, and finally Johnny did come marching home and with him the boy who had gone away a child now a veteran of nineteen years with a bullet, too, in the pocket of his trousers, which he got from the enemy and which the doctors stopped their business of cutting off legs and arms at random long enough to extract.

Now that fighting was over, Harris developed, like his mother before hi,, a longing to visit the scenes of his childhood. Traveling was now made quite easy in comparison with the way he had come west twenty-eight years before. He took with hi, his eldest daughter and they went away for a season. They chose the month of June when he knew that Basking Ridge and Bernardsville and Morristown would all be at their best.

What a joy to see the old places again. He would visit his half-brother, Bailey, Jr. Of course, many of the old familiar faces would not be there, just a few landmarks were all he could hope to see. But he would have long chats with Bailey, Jr., tell him all about the new home in the west; about the life there and how his mother had died for love of Jersey and how father was gone, too. He would speak of the whereabouts of his brothers and sisters and talk of his wife and his own children; would enjoy the society of his cousin Sally, who was now the wife of his half-brother Bailey, Jr. He used to be so fond of her, and he would tell her that he had named a child for her.

All this he did and much more and as the summer drew to its close, he made a last visit to the old oak, stood mute looking at the graves and the village church, scanned the names cut there on the marble, every one of which he had known so well, giving a thought to the memory of poor old Aunt Polly Kinnan, whom he now remembered to have sometimes annoyed in his boyish pranks. With this, he took a reluctant leave of his brother and turned away, to behold him no more.

Only a few more years remain to be recorded. The beginning of 1870 seemed to bring no great blessings. Harris had an accident while driving; was thrown from the vehicle with great violence, one hind wheel passing over his body. He retained no perceptible consequences, but the shock did him permanent injury. In the winters that followed he experienced painful attacks of rheumatism and was generally miserable. He went to Chicago to consult an eminent physician who helped him somewhat, but it soon became apparent that his health was seriously impaired. For him. Providence had not granted the long life that his ancestors had enjoyed.

After a lingering illness of some years duration, which he bore with great fortitude, sustained by the kind offices of his faithful wife, this gentleman (and we use the word gentleman in the sense in which the degree may be obtained by any man), who had never seen much of the so-called "grand monde", died at the early age of fifty-four on the 16th of July, 1876.

On the day that he was laid to rest in the now old cemetery at the cross-roads, all that remained of him was met on that last journey by a little crowd, untouched by this sad event, who were hurrying past laden with luggage on their way to far off Philadelphia,

where was being celebrated the hundred years anniversary of the independence of this great country which the four lines of this family in these pages had done so much towards building up and sustaining.

There is a view from our window as we write, where we look out across the Hudson River onto the fair shores of Jersey. It is a beautiful sight and there, before our mind's eye, passes and repasses the characters of this little history in a phantom procession signing to us and whispering "Yet a little while and we shall greet thee among us." Yes, the time is not far off when we shall in our turn join that pilgrimage and pass away to be forgotten, even as they.

When our descendent of the fifth generation sits down perhaps to continue this narrative, what will there be to record? Greater achievements maybe, more illustrious men and women no doubt, but though the manner of living changes, life itself remains the same. Love and grief must of a necessity be theirs and though we are powerless to spare them one single tear, we shower upon them our blessings and wish them prosperity and success which will come to them from the far off past when our life will seem as remote and incomplete as the period we have just finished looking into.

If these pages ever serve to divert any of our great great grandchildren in a moment of leisure, when they are old and perhaps tired of life, that thought satisfies us now and we feel that this hot month of August has not been spent in vain in the penning of these lines for the want of something better to do.

August 23, 1922

 

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  Copyright 1999 by John Breese McKenzie. All rights reserved