Meet My Imaginary Friends: Bartholomew Fritz
Bartholomew is a very special man. He was born the second of four brothers on a farm in Bavaria, but his life changed when he was thirteen and a fire took the lives of both his parents. Bart, along with his brothers, Jake, Toby, and Manny, traveled to Pennsylvania where they were taken in by his father's cousin and, eventually, went to work in the logging camps of Elk County. When the Civil War broke out, all four Fritz brothers joined the 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment, also known as The Bucktails. I love Bart because he is a rock who always does what's right for the people he loves. He is a man of few words but he has great heart. In this excerpt from the title story of The Bucktail Cap in the Trunk, the war is nearly over and Bart finds out his youngest brother, Manny, is in a hospital in Maryland after spending several years in the horrific Confederate prisoner of war camp, Belle Isle.
Jarvis Hospital had been built at the outbreak of the war on an old estate confiscated from a Confederate General. The headquarters were in an impressive white building with a widow’s walk on the roof. There Bart was directed to one of the many dormitories and told to ask for Nurse Peters.
“This may be shocking for you,” Nurse Peters, a thin, harried woman with a brusque manner, said. “The conditions under which these men existed were deplorable. Most of them weighed barely a hundred pounds when we got them. I’ll take you to him. He’s done better than a lot of these poor men, but he doesn’t speak much. There’s a dayroom that overlooks a little woods and he likes to sit there and look out the window.”
The room was plain with tables at which men in baggy pajamas sat quietly, very few even spoke. The windows, as Nurse Peters said, looked out on an area filled with trees. Bart immediately spotted the only man who had pulled a chair close to the window and sat staring outside.
“I’ll be all right,” Bart said.
“I’ll wait here in case you need me.” She folded her hands in front of her as Bart crossed the room.
The man in the chair was so thin that the bones of his skull, neck, and shoulders looked as though they would break through his skin. His ears seemed enormous but when he turned his head there was no mistaking those deep blue eyes—eyes that seemed too big for features stretched taut. He stared at Bart for a moment, then lifted an emaciated hand and pointed out the window.
“Squirrel,” he said.
“Oh, God, Manny, what did they do to you?” Bart pulled a chair over and sat down in front of his brother. He looked up at Nurse Peters, who gave him a sad smile, then turned and left. “Do you know who I am, Manny?”
Manny stared at him for a full minute as though trying to sort out his words, then said, “Squirrel. Hunt.”
“Yeah.” Bart nodded, tears filling his eyes. “I used to take you to hunt squirrels.”
“Go now.” Manny struggled to push himself out of the chair. “Cabin. Jacob.”
“I’m going to take you to the cabin as soon as they’ll let me.” Bart guided his brother back into his chair. “I have to talk to your doctor and then we’ll go to Marienstadt.”
“Marienstadt!” Manny’s face lit up as he said the word. “Yes. Cabin.”
“That’s right. I’ll take you to the cabin in Marienstadt. Toby’s there.”
Manny smiled. “Toby.”
“And you know who else is there? Mercy. Do you remember our little cousin Mercy?”
“Mercy,” he repeated, then gave a gentle smile. “Pretty hair.”