Chapter 15: Barton's Final Years


Barton did well at the poor farm. 

Each spring showed itself with new lambs and baby chicks arriving. Spring was a good time to be alive. 
Land was plowed for the corn, wheat and oat crops, the big garden and huge potato patch. The potato patch was so big, the poor farm had a real potato-planting machine to do most of the work. The residents ate a lot of potatoes.
Barton helped with the planting by helping cut up the seed potatoes, from potatoes reserved from the last year's crop. 

They still had a few horses, though Barton stayed away from the stable. But he could give advice about them to those willing to get close to the creatures. After all, he was raised on a farm that used draft animals. 

And Barton could hoe. His hoe had to have a strong handle, though. He would hoe a while, and then lean on the hoe for a while. He enjoyed hoeing potatoes, and there were plenty of potatoes to hoe at the poor farm. He had a hoe that he claimed as his own, little more than a thumb-width at the outside edge. It was well worn, but good for delicate weeding around potato plants. Also, whenever he went to the field, he would take a putty knife with him. He never let his hoe sit idle with dirt on it. He would clean it right away, and then clean his putty knife by wiping it on his overalls. 

One woman at the main house said that Barton kept his tools cleaner than he kept himself. She was right. 
So why do they call that particular tool a putty knife? Because in the old days, and even now, certain windows had glass that was put in wooden frames and sealed against the weather with a doughy substance called 'putty'. We know, for example, that baseballs and windows don’t get along very well, and baseballs usually win. First the broken glass and old, hardened putty was removed. Then the new glass was secured in the sash with little metal things called 'glass points'. Then the putty would then be rolled into rope-like strings and pressed into the corners, and smoothed on an angle with the putty knife. Putty knives also worked well to clean off garden tools and to pry open small doors and to scrap paint in hard-to-reach areas. 

Anyway, fixing windows was another of Barton’s jobs because there was a workbench in one corner of the carriage house by the stairs that went upto the loft. This is where Barton sat to repair windows. 

When he was out in the field, someone working close might hear him sing a song they really couldn’t decipher. 

It went like this: 
"Many’s the mile I traveled when young. 
Ate hotcakes and corn mush; sometimes beef tongue. 
Slept in trains, wagons, on dry ground and mud 
I’ve tasted water, cider and even my blood. 
My pockets have been empty most all of my days 
I worked for the least of what someone would pay 
Now most of what I own is in a box made of wood 
Hid in a place you’d find if you could 
I’ve made a riddle to solve, and to solve is to find 
all of the treasures that I call mine." 

Many people heard him sing this song. When he wasn’t around, people would ask each other what it meant. From the words, they could conclude that he had stashed something away, but knowing Barton, it didn’t have any real value. 
People asked each other if they knew where this ‘treasure’ was. 
No one claimed to know, and knowing Barton, he could keep a secret for decades. 

Barton lived through World War I, and helped celebrate the first Armistice Day. He was seventy-six. 
Most Civil War vets had passed on by then.
The average lifespan in 1919 was 58. The Spanish Flu epidemic visited the Midwest. 
A young stranger who came through looking for a meal was likely the one who brought the disease. 
He spent a night in Barton's cabin. Once diagnosed, Barton was confined to that cabin. 
Miss Penelope nursed him as best she could at the time, but Barton expired. 
Mr. Higgins had a coffin built and had his digger open a grave for Barton. 

It was a dampish late-March morning when they laid Barton to rest with a shiny new 1919 penny in his shirt pocket. Every year, Barton looked for a new Lincoln penny to carry with him. He like coins that showed ‘President Abe’ as Union soldiers called him. Barton wanted to get the new penny for 1919, but the influenza took him first.
 
So, as he lay in the coffin, before installing the lid, before the funneral,
Miss Penelope tucked a new Lincoln penny in his shirt pocket and said, 
“Goodbye, my Friend. I’ll miss you.” 

Then the lid on his coffin was fastened. All his bedclothes, including his beloved quilt, was burned. 
No one else at the farm caught the illness. 

They gave Barton a proper veteran’s funeral, conducted by the local GAR Chapter. (Grand Army of the Republic)
Afterwards, they had a lunch in the dining room of the main house. 
People mostly talked about Barton being a quiet man, except when he hit a bumblebee’s nest while hoeing weeds west of the barn. For a man that had trouble walking, Barton moved round like a gandy dancer on a rail. 
But Barton wasn’t dancing anymore. He was gone. 

It looked like the secret he took to his grave might never come to light.   

Eric J. Rose
middlegrademysteries
photo: usacoinbook.com
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