Tonya Mumford stretches to her full height of 5’3. Her blue eyes shine with rage, her fiery demeanor matches her attitude. Thumbing through her social media page, she looks for the article concerning the removal of Confederate monuments. “I know it’s here, why can’t I find it?”
She turns to the window and looks out across the parade field at the statue dedicated to the soldiers that fought for the South in the Civil War. Her hands begin to shake and she clasps her hands to keep them from shaking.
A knock at her barracks door startles her. She peeks through the peephole and sees her NCO, Angela Norther.
“Hey, Private. You’re leave has been approved. You can sign out at midnight.”
“Thank you, Sergeant.”
Tonya shuts the door and turns to the red suitcase on her bed. After putting in two weeks of clothes and personal hygiene items, she shuts the lid. She showers and waits for the hands of time to bring midnight to her.
At midnight, she drives to her battalion headquarters and signs out on leave. It is 16 hours to her dad’s home in Mississippi. As she drives off the base, she heads toward the interstate.
“I wonder if dad has forgiven me?”
Taking her cellphone in hand she calls her dad. Thomas Wayne Killinger, a former soldier, is not known for his wealth of patience. At 5’7 and 240 pounds, he is a formidable opponent physically but what really shakes people to their core is the intelligence he utilizes when his opponents least expects it.
The phone rings in his cabin and he walks out of his library to answer the phone.
“Dad? It’s me, I am on my way home. Do you mind if I come down for a couple of weeks?”
Silence fills the airwaves. “He’s still mad.”
“Are you coming to see me or are you coming to destroy more history because you don’t like it?”
“I’m coming to see you, dad.”
“Then come on. I’ll have you a room ready when you get here.”
Without a goodbye or by your leave, Killinger hangs up. Tonya makes good time, her early start pays dividends. Traffic is light and by noon, she is closing in on Arkansas. At 4 p.m. she pulls into the driveway of her dad’s house. He walks out onto his porch, a revolver holstered to his right hip. Tonya parks and steps out of the car.
They stare at one another and finally, her dad steps down and hugs her. Tears fill her eyes and she feels like a little girl again.
“Is that a new tattoo, dad?”
She lifts the shirt sleeve so she can see all of it. An executioner holds a bloody axe and stands next to a stump. Skulls litter the ground and the words, “you can’t be first, but you can be next,” frame the gruesome image. She stares at it and nods approvingly.
“That’s awesome, who did it?”
“ A shop here in town. Why? You want one?”
Father and daughter walk to the back of Tonya’s black Toyota Tacoma and unload her luggage. Together they walk into the cedar cabin. Killinger wheels her suitcase into the spare bedroom, and places it on the bed.
Tonya looks around the cabin, it’s dark except for the lone lamp in the corner. Sunshine filters in through the cracked blind in the kitchen window. Art hangs on the walls, and she admires a black and white photograph of a stretch of beach.
“It hasn’t changed much from the last time I was here.”
“Dad, I’m sure you’re wondering why I am home.”
“You want coffee and a snack?”
“Um, sure.” She sits at the bar and waits for her dad to look at her.After making the coffee, he turns and looks at her. His hazel eyes seem to burn a hole through her soul but he doesn’t say anything. With a hand he gestures for her to continue.
“The last time I was home, I went and joined a group who were destroying monuments. We argued. I said some things I shouldn’t have and I want to apologize for it.”
“Okay, apology accepted.”
“I know you don’t understand why these Confederate statues offend me, but I hope you can still love me.”
Killinger stares at Tonya. He scratches his beard and pours two cups of coffee. He sits across from his daughter and takes a sip of the black liquid.
“This is what I don’t understand, Tonya. The South made a mistake by having slaves, but after the Civil War slavery was abolished. To make amends for the destruction, heck, the eradication of the South, the North erected these statues to honor those they fought. It was not to erected to give credence to slavery but to honor those who took a stand and fought for what they believed in.”
“It doesn’t matter why they erected the monuments, dad. Slavery is wrong.”
“Fine. Then why don’t you do away with the entirety of Southern history? Get rid of Jazz, Spiritual Hymns, Blues, Cajun cooking, and country food. Because all of it can be traced back to those days. When you and your cronies have eradicated all traces of us Southerners being here, maybe you will be happy.”
“We don’t want all things Southern to be done away with, dad. Just the bad part.”
“You’re too young to understand, Tonya. The bad times shape you into the person you will become. It’s the hard lessons that make you a better person. Go, tear it all down, and stand there in the rubble and shout at the top of your voice about how tolerant you are.”
Thomas Wayne Killinger walks out onto his porch and sits in his rocker. Tonya pulls up a rocker close to him.
“Dad, do you still love me?”
“Don’t be an idiot, Tonya. You’re my child. Of course, I love you, but, I disagree with you and your friends.” They sit on the porch until the sun goes down, not a word is spoken between them. Some chasms are too large to cross. In the silence, two hearts beat in rhythm but of the two minds, one mind is still in chains.
“I’m going to bed, dad. Good night.”
Time does not heal all wounds, it removes the sting. Still, in the cool night air Thomas Wayne Killinger watches as the home he loves implodes from issues that was abolished 200 years ago. A single tear drops to the ground. The sins of our fathers will never go away. When there are no monuments left, it will be time for us to give up something else.
In his heart, Killinger weeps.