Our neighbors the Baileys lived across the tracks in a two-story brick house that served as a Union hospital during the Civil War. We felt a special kinship with them.

Mrs. Bailey crossed the tracks in a ferocious thunderstorm to serve as midwife when my mother went into labor with my brother, Dan. Our family doctor arrived just in time to fill out the birth certificate. Whether frightened by the storm, befuddled by senility, or under the influence of something else, Doc gave my brother a completely different name and stated that he had been born a year earlier. (Dan discovered this sixteen years later, when he got a copy of his birth certificate to register for the draft.)

Mr. Bailey kept a team of mules to cultivate his tobacco patch. True to their breed, these animals were so mule-headed that Old Man Bailey had to shout “Gee!” and “Haw!” several times before they would turn. More often than not, they would drag the plow right out of his field into Brush Creek, where they paused to drink. I was just a small boy, so I did not see how he dealt with this act of rebellion. I suppose he had to unhitch the plow, grab the mules’ bridle, and pull them out of the creek to resume the task at hand.

One day, we heard Mr. Bailey screaming, so my Dad ran across the tracks to find him being trampled in the creek by those mules. Dad managed to get the animals off, but not before they mangled the old man’s legs so badly that he limped with a cane for the rest of his life.

The Baileys were like family, so we had them over for a Sunday dinner of chicken and dumplings after he recovered. I can still taste the savory cherry pie Mrs. Bailey made when she returned the favor. Its fruit came from trees in their own front yard, where soldiers lie buried in unmarked graves and the cherry’s foliage was especially lush thanks to mule manure. At least that’s what I thought while Mr. Bailey shook the limbs with his cane and I scurried to fill our pail.