The Tale of General Bergenson
“My younger brother Dwayne was always doing something reckless. The day he jumped off the roof was a Sat-“
“C’mon, Henry,” George grumbled. “You already told that one.”
Henry looked at Chester. Chester nodded.
All three old men were sitting on their usual stools at the back of Tommy’s Bar and Grill. George, almost completely bald, scalp bright pink from a sunburn, had a large roast beef sandwich in front of him. Wiry Chester, wearing a faded green sweater was in the middle, noisily working on a Reuben, and Henry, at the far end, had half of a corned beef sandwich left. It was late afternoon and they had the place almost entirely to themselves.
“Well, alright, if you say so,” Henry said. He thought for a second and then said “Did I ever tell you about this guy, kind of a perfectionist type who was playin’ golf with his boy and got struck-“
“By lightning,” George finished. “Yup.”
“It’s a good story, though,” Chester said.
“That it is,” Henry said, “But if I already told it, I guess there’s no need to bring it up again.” He took a long sip of his coffee and then wiped his bushy white mustache with the back of his hand. “What about the fella who knocked all these girls up just so he could get some cake?”
Chester’s eyes grew wide. “You don’t say!”
“Chester, don’t patronize the man,” George said. “He’s told that one at least three times.”
Henry frowned. “Well,” he said, picking up his sandwich, “maybe that’s it then, maybe there’s nothin’ left to tell.” He sighed loudly and dropped the sandwich back onto the plate. “Maybe Clancy Bergenson was right after all.”
George glanced at Chester and after a moment said “Clancy Bergenson?”
“Yeah, you know Bergenson, I’m sure I mentioned him plenty a times.”
George thought for a moment and then shook his head. “Nope, don’t think ya have.”
Henry looked at him and then at Chester. Chester smiled.
“Really?” Henry hitched up his pants on his large belly. “Well, that’s an interesting story.”
He took another sip of his coffee and then turned to face the two men.
“Clancy Bergenson at one time was the biggest Civil War buff in the tri-county area if not the whole state. He had more actual crap from that war — guns, medals, allegedly one of Grant’s spent liquor bottles — than anyone. He liked his collection and all, but what really got Bergenson — or ‘Gettys’ Bergenson as he liked to be called, even though the name never really caught on as you might imagine, what really got him goin’ was the reenactment of a Civil War battle they did every year.”
Henry grabbed his sandwich and took a big bite.
“Reenactment?” George said. “Yeah, I did one of those a while back. It was fun.”
“Well,” Henry continued, pieces of corned beef peeking out of his mouth, “they are supposed to be fun, but the way Clancy ran things, it was like they were actually fighting. He always commanded the Southern army and was a stickler for accuracy. He’d line up his men and inspect them all thoroughly. If you even had a shred of clothes that weren’t part of the uniform — one time that joker Roscoe Dealman actually thought he’d get away with loafers — he would not be happy. The only thing he let slide was the suspenders he allowed Marty Gutman to wear to keep his pants up. I think I mighta told you about Marty Gutman once or twice.
“So every year it would start out with Clancy — dressed in full uniform — goin’ around town talkin’ about how South Carolina seceded and all, tryin’ to get folks riled up for the big batt-“
“It’s ‘succeeded,’ Henry,” Chester said.
“I think what you mean to say is ‘succeeded.’”
Henry squinted at him. “So you’re sayin’ South Carolina succeeded?”
“South Carolina achieved from the nation. Is that right?”
“That’s right,” Chester said, a proud smile on his face.
Henry rolled his eyes. “So, like I was sayin’, Clancy was the commander of the South and he always had new and complicated battle plans and strategy even though every year the thing played out the same way: some fighting, some prisoners, and then the North wins. But one year things changed a little.”
“Let me guess,” George said, popping the last of his pickle into his mouth, “he was so upset with the South losing every year he decided to change history and defeat the North. Am I right?”
Henry’s brow furrowed. “Why do ya say that?”
“I don’t mean any offense, Henry, but it’s just that…your stories always seem to have some unexpected twist, somethin’ we just didn’t see comin.’ They’ve almost become predictable that way.”
Henry glared at him.
“I’m always surprised, Henry,” Chester said.
“Well, thank you, Chester,” Henry said a little defensively. “And, George, for your information, Clancy did not have the South win — although I wouldn’t have been too surprised if he thought about it. No, he was much too concerned with accuracy to do somethin’ like that. What happened was about a month or so before the battle, this woman moves into town, went by the name of Roberta, and word goes around that she’s an even bigger Civil War buff than Clancy.”
“Wow,” Chester said. “A bigger buff?”
“That’s right. Of course he’d just wave it off if anyone asked him about it, but those who knew him, and I count myself among ‘em, could tell that just the notion of someone bein’ a bigger fan was eatin’ him alive. And when he found out a few days before the battle that not only would Roberta be one of the soldiers, but she’d be leadin’ the Northern army, well, as you might imagine, he wasn’t too happy. It wasn’t so much that a woman was involved, mind you, but just that it was historically inaccurate. Clancy immediately went and talked to Harvey Fiedler, the fella who organized things. Now, Harvey Fiedler himself has an interesting story. Ya see, one time ol’ Harvey was-“
“Yeah, yeah,” George said, “the paint store, the evil villain. What’d he say about the woman?”
“Well, he said there was nothing he could do, it being a town event and all, anyone who wanted to participate was welcome.”
“Remember when Ronald Addleman brought his Great Dane that one year?” Chester said. “I never saw so much poop in my entire life.”
Henry, about to take another bite of his sandwich, cringed and put it down.
“Uh yeah, they changed the rules after that day. But anyway, Clancy seethed about Roberta and on the day of the battle his men could tell you he was extra upset, barkin’ orders and such. He even called Marty Gutman a ‘tub of grits.’ I think I might’ve told you about Marty Gutman once or twice. So, to make a long story short and yes, George, that might not be possible now, the North wins as usual, and when Clancy has to present his weapons to Roberta, he wouldn’t even look her in the eye. But then he gets a gander of her sword and gets all excited — apparently, just like his stuff, it was the real deal. So after things are over, the two get to talkin’ and, from what I later heard, had relations in one of the medic tents.”
Chester giggled and George choked on his coffee.
“You’re sayin’,” George said, wiping his chin, “that this Bergenson fellow…and this woman…in a tent, right out on the battlefield?”
“Well, the battlefield was actually the Little League diamonds behind the middle school, but yes.”
“Do you believe that, Chester?” George asked.
“Who do you think told me about it?” Henry said.
Chester grinned. “I was playin’ a corpse two beds over. Nobody told me the war was over.”
“So,” Henry continued. “Clancy thought he’d found the perfect woman, they’d spend hours together talkin’ about that war, goin’ to museums, that kind of stuff. But, it wasn’t long before things changed. “
“I got it!” George blurted. “They start fightin,’ right? Somethin’ comes between ‘em and they start yellin’ and carrying on, really battlin’? Am I right?”
Henry looked confused. “What are you talkin’ about, George?”
“They start fighting and have their own civil war, right? Yeah, that’s a perfect ironic ending.”
Henry shook his head. “Nope. Clancy and Roberta got along famously. But one day she comes home and has some news for him. Apparently their little get together out on the battlefield resulted in-“
“Chiggers!” George shouted, causing a young couple in a corner booth to turn and stare. “Confederate Chiggers, I knew it. I had a case a those when I was a kid, itched like crazy.”
“Chiggers? No, a baby. Roberta was pregnant. Well, as you might imagine, Clancy was thrilled and they rushed out to get married at the courthouse.”
“Appomattox Courthouse?” George suggested.
“So,” Henry continued, ignoring George’s comment, “they get married and a little while later their boy comes along. Now here’s where the story really gets interesting. “
“Wait!” George said. “Let me guess. He became a big Civil War guy like his parents! No, he hated the Civil War and failed history class! No, that’s too obvious. I know! They named him Robert E. No, Ulysses Lee! Ulysses Lee…Beardman.”
Chester snickered. “Beardman?”
Henry smiled. “Well,” he said, easing himself off of his stool. “I think it’s time to be gettin’ home.”
“I’ll see you out, Henry,” Chester said, sliding down to the floor.
“Wait!” George called, as they headed to the door, his face now as pink as the top of his head. “What happened to the boy? Did he grow up to be that short fella who did that TV show for the PBS? He did, didn’t he?”
Without turning around Henry waved back at him.
“So,” Chester asked as they maneuvered between the round wooden tables, “you gonna tell him?”
Henry grinned and opened the door. The hinges squeaked and the rusty bell above jingled. The sun was just setting and streams of orange light flowed into the dim restaurant.
“Well,” he said, stepping outside, “maybe next time.”
Chester watched him shuffle down the sidewalk and smiled. After a moment, he turned and walked back to the bar.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED