Slamming it shut, I dashed out to see what my neighbors knew of this mass evacuation that had transpired only an hour's drive from where I'd come recently to retire. Instead of answers, I only got blank stares from long-time residents on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri border. They'd not heard this story either. In fact, it wasn't yet in the Watkins Historical Museum, here in Lawrence, Kansas. However, its significance was finally being recognized. To my amazement, museum personnel were erecting a display about it the day I went to inquire.
This was something I had to write about. I knew that instantly, though I'd already vowed I was finished with the hard work of writing.
Many issues I've run across in times past, Iíve easily turned into an article or short story. Not this one. I knew that instantly, too. What happened in Order No. 11 was extremely complicated and immensely important. It is directly related to Quantrill's Raid, an atrocity that occurred right here in Lawrence, four days earlier. Yet why had this part of the story not even received an honorable mention in most of Americaís history texts?
Most important of all, the children of 1863 all suffered because of the failure of adults to resolve conflict without escalating violence. This resounding theme, among many others of that era, continues to recycle into the 21st century.
Iíve seen my share of homeless, troubled young souls, but never written for them. For some reason, Iíd never even thought about writing for anyone but adults until that moment. Yet Iíd befriended many youth in the course of two professions. Oh, what joys I'd experienced in working with them on a daily basis! And thatís what writing is about for meóbefriending strangers and being drawn into the excitement of finding truths deeper than any one piece of writing can fully reveal.
The greatest hunk of my life has been invested on behalf of people suffering with mental health or social problems. Or with grown-up ďkids" whoíve come to me as patients or readers, still struggling to overcome a childhood filled with one trauma after another.
My early adult years allowed me to work in several cultures here in the U. S., as well as in Malawi, Africa, where my life was surrounded daily with suffering children, including refugees streaming across the border from Mozambique. The health issues most disconcerting to me could not be discerned by listening to physical heartbeats. Itís always the heart-cries of injustice that first get my attention, no matter where Iím planted.
In the mid-90's, with a passion to spend more time writing about those heart-cries while responding to my readers, I dusted off old skills, gained a more flexible schedule, and managed to develop a thriving business as a piano teacher. What a wonderful, new dimension it added to my life!
So Just Following Orders, though primarily a work of historical fiction, naturally has layers of music and mental health running all through its crevices. Itís a book intended to challenge adults, as well as youth, to consider the words of Grandpa Carter, spoken to his grandson the night the two chose to sleep in a cornfield as an act of passive-resistance: ďWhat starts wrong stays wrong for a long, long time.Ē
Together, as we continue exploring the lessons of the true story behind this fiction, may we find inspiration in what fourteen-year-old Joshua reminds his family while they wait, not knowing the outcome of the War nor if the children will ever again see their missing father: