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A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND
A LATE ENCOUNTER WITH THE ENEMY
PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Colonel Sash, one hundred and four years old, never doubted that he would live to see his granddaughter's graduation: living had become a habit of his. But he preferred pretty girls and parades, to ceremony and processions. But he agreed to sit on stage and be seen.
Sally wasn't sure he would live. The world had a way of turning against her. For twenty summers she had gone to the state teacher's college to work on her degree, because somebody had decided that teachers had to have them. She should have been resting, summers. That she came home each fall and taught exactly the way they told her not to was not enough revenge. She wanted her grandfather on stage at the graduation, to show all those upstarts where she came from, what was behind her and not them. She wanted to stand on that stage and say "See him!" and show the courage, honor, and pride of her background. She even dreamt about it. One night she woke up screaming "See him!" and turned to see the old man near her bed wearing only his hat and a terrible expression on his face.
He liked to sit on stages in his uniform, though it wasn't a real uniform. He wasn't a general, and couldn't remember the Civil War or being a colonel. He didn't like being asked questions about the past because he only remembered one past event, which took place twelve years ago: he was asked to come to an event put together by a motion picture company, and they gave him the uniform to wear, and renamed him General Sash, and put him in a parade with lots of pretty girls. He liked to sit on the porch and tell visitors about it, about all the pretty girls surrounding him. They gave him a sword, too. And they gave Sally Poke a corsage, "As big as her head," the colonel would snarl.
They stayed in a fancy hotel room, and a limousine came to get them, and there were crowds outside the auditorium and all the important people, including the General, where going to be introduced on stage. Sally helped him up. The Confederate Battle Hymn was played and a blonde young man asked him how old he was--but "General Sash" did not want to leave the stage, and kept talking: "I kiss all the pretty girls!" And only because Sally looked down at her feet and saw that she had forgotten to change out of her old oxfords did he get hauled off stage. She was so embarrassed. The colonel slept through the movie.
Since then, his feet stopped working and he only went down to the museum once a year on Confederate Memorial Day to sit in an exhibit in the museum in his uniform--sort of a living history exhibit. He scowled at the people who came through, and smacked a child who once tried to touch his sword. You could barely tell he was alive, except occasionally he talked about the movie premiere and the beautiful girls.
All went as planned for Sally. She spent her last summer at school while relatives took care of the old man, and she made all the arraignments for his appearance at the graduation. Her nephew, ten-year-old boyscout John Wesley, would wheel the old gentleman onto the stage. The day came and she got the old man dressed up. He swore at her and asked for his sword.
She lined up with the other graduates, looking back to check the progress of the old man and the boy. The day was very hot. She knew that the old man, herself, and the boy in his crisp BoyScout uniform would be the hit of the day.
She lost track of them, an then caught the boy standing in the full sun sipping a coke, while the old man sat half senseless baking in the sun. She chastised the boy and told them to get going on stage!
The old man thought a hole had opened in his head, and he couldn't reach up to fill it with his finger, even. He saw the procession, and people in black kept picking up his hand and shaking it and putting it back. The stately music entered his head through the hole. The procession made a black pool in front of him, though he didn't know what the whole thing was about. Then one of the black robes was talking, about him, and he was wheeled forward and the boy bowed and bowed again. He wanted to think of the pretty girls, but words from the speech came to him, place names, people, familiar from the past, but not quite clear. The words pursued him, came after him like the black procession. Other black figures, music, more words. Stop, dammit! He couldn't get away from them, he tried to run, his past pursued him and he tried to get away, to look over the black to his future, and clutched his sword into the bones of his hand.
Sally received her scroll, finally, and glanced over at the old man, whose eyes were wide and face fiercely set. As soon as it was all over, John Wesley made a bee-line for the coke machine. She found him in line, waiting with the corpse of the old man.