The boys were headed for a large oak tree situated along the fence line about halfway up the slope toward the woods. The “watching tree,” they called it, because much of the year they could climb into the thickly leaved branches and, hidden from view, pass idle hours spying on the surrounding terrain. The road out from town passed along the Cochrans’ property and then by the Weavers’ farm. Here, just about in line with the watching tree, it took a sharp bend that was challenging to navigate with a wagon or buggy. Then it ran on to the south until it reached the end of the lower pasture, where it took another sharp turn, this time to the west. So, from the watching tree, the boys could see in toward town, as well as farther out into the countryside.

“Beat you!” Manny reached the tree and tagged its rough bark. Swope staggered up the slope and flopped down at the roots of the tree, winded from running.

After a short rest, the boys scrambled into the tree and settled with their backs against the trunk. Manny wanted to make the most of the short time they had. Following Sunday dinner, they had been stuck in the stove room listening to Father read from the books on the reading table. Eventually though, they were released to play until it was time for evening chores. Sunday or not, cows had to be milked and chickens fed.

Manny reached into his shirt pocket and removed two ginger cakes.

“Want one?” he offered.

Swope eyed the two soft cookies with suspicion. “Where’d you get them?”

“Out of the cookie jar.”

“Did you ask Aunt Gin?”

“Aunt Gin wasn’t around.”

“Yes, she was. She was in the stove room in her rocking chair.”

“Do you want one or not?” Manny pressed.

“You’ll ruin your supper,” Swope reminded him.

“Not if you eat one.”

Swope reached out and took one of the ginger cakes. He took a small bite as if he wanted to first check to see if he would suffer harm from eating the pilfered treat. Manny stuffed the other one into his mouth all at once. For a minute, the two of them sat silently, enjoying the spicy flavor. Then Swope spoke abruptly.

“What’s a you-yun-nist?”

“A what?” Manny mumbled, his mouth still full of cake.

“A you-yun-nist. Father was talking with Jacob Driver’s father when he came to buy crocks, and he said he was a you-yun-nist.”

“Oh, you mean a Unionist.” Manny cleared his mouth of ginger cake while he tried to think how to answer Swope. “It means he’s not secesh,” he replied.

“See-sesh?” Swope struggled with this new word. “What’s see-sesh?”

“Secesh are people who want Virginia to secede from the Union—from the United States.”

“See-seed?”

“It means leaving the Union—like South Carolina and Georgia did. They decided not to belong to the United States anymore. So they got out. They’re making their own country.”

“Does Father want Virginia to se-seed?”

“Of course, not. He’s a Unionist.”

Forgetting that he had gained most of his understanding about secession from listening to Father talking with other men, Manny felt pretty smug.

“Why would they do that?” Swope asked, referring to the seceding states. “What’s wrong with staying in the United States?”

“They think Lincoln is going to take their slaves away.”

“Peace people don’t have slaves,” Swope commented. “The Bible says it’s wrong.” He sat silent for a minute, his face screwed into a frown. Then he asked, “So is Virginia going to get out of the United States and join the new country?” He sounded distressed.

“No one knows,” Manny answered. “They’re voting on it next week.”

“Is Father voting?”

“I suppose so. He usually votes.”

“What if they vote for it?”

“Then Virginia will leave the Union,” Manny said, matter-of-factly.

“Well, I think then Father will vote no. I hope he does. I don’t want to be in another country. I like being in the United States.”

“Father is just one person. He just gets one vote. He can’t keep Virginia in the Union with just one vote.”

“Well, there’s Jacob’s father. He said he was a Unionist, too. He’ll vote against see…see—against leaving. And Mother and Aunt Gin, they’re probably against see…secession.”

“Mother and Aunt Gin are women. Women can’t vote. Only men can vote.”

Outrage showed on Swope’s face as he digested the reality of this injustice that had been going on right under his nose for all of his ten years.

“Well, Davy…Davy’s a man. So’s Grandfather.”

“Grandfather can vote, but Davy can’t. He’s too young. You have to be twenty-one to vote.”

Manny was getting weary of answering Swope’s questions. Every answer just seemed to bring up another question.

“Well, there’s all the peace people,” Swope continued, referring to the Mennonite community. “At least, the men. They should all vote to stay in the Union. And the Dunkards…they’re peace people, too.”

“And the Quakers,” Manny reminded him.

“Well, with all those people…I mean men…voting not to leave the Union, I don’t see how Virginia can leave.”

“Let’s play ‘Wagons and Buggies,’” Manny suggested, changing the subject. “I’ll take wagons, and you can have buggies.”

copyright Rebecca Suter Lindsay

Publisher: Shadelandhouse Modern Press