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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
It is April, 1861. Nine-year-old Jethro Creighton and his mother, Ellen, are working together on the family farm. Jethro is described as “favored” by Ellen as he is the youngest of her twelve children and was born the same year that three of her other children died from disease. He is a bright and eager boy, a good worker and a quick learner. He has a close relationship with Shadrach Yale, the local schoolteacher, who appreciates Jethro’s delight in learning, and is also interested in marrying Jethro’s older sister, Jenny.
There is an anxious feeling among the adults on the farm due to the prospect of war. Jethro sides with his older brother Tom and cousin Eb who are excited and confident that the North will make quick work of the war and that all will be back home safely when it is over. The other adults are worried, concerned with the reality of war and the death of their children.
Jethro is reminded of his sister Mary’s death eighteen months ago. She and her date were heading home from a dance and they were followed by a drunken youth named Travis Burdow. Travis fired a pistol causing the horses that drew Mary’s wagon to bolt and overturn the wagon. Mary was killed. Being that the entire Burdow family had been fiercely despised throughout the community for generations, this incident aroused a lynch mob. Matthew Creighton, Jethro’s father, pleaded with the crowd to avoid further bloodshed and, as testament to the respect Matt commanded in the community, Travis Burdow was spared. Matt’s actions after Mary’s death are likened in Jethro’s mind to Abraham Lincoln’s hesitancy to declare war. Ellen explains to Jethro that Lincoln has to pick between two fearsome choices.
Jethro and his mother work the field until mid-day at which time the family gathers in their cabin for dinner and an hour of rest. John, Jethro’s oldest brother left at home joins them along with his quiet wife, Nancy, and their children. Jethro is allowed to sit at the “first table” with his parents, older brothers, John, Tom, and Jethro’s favorite, Bill, and his cousin Eb Carron who has lived with the Creightons since he was orphaned in childhood. Jenny and Nancy serve dinner and then pour coffee. Jethro accepts the family tradition that coffee is an “adult luxury”, however Bill dips some bread into his own coffee and offers it to Jethro. The family finishes their meal in silence, trying to avoid talk of the probability of war. Jethro is aware of the tension, but is focused on the goodness of the food.
After a short rest Jethro and his mother return to the fields. They work until after sundown. During a ten-minute break, a wagon approaches along the road. It is Wilse Graham, the son of Ellen’s sister from Kentucky. Ellen is pleased with anticipation of news from her relatives. Jethro is happy that the monotonous routine of the day in interrupted by “comp’ny”.
The tone of determination along with a feeling of melancholy is created in this opening chapter. The main character, Jethro Creighton, is introduced as a boy who appreciates the springtime and does not concern himself with the “adult world of trouble.” He works hard, driven by dedication to his family. This bond is illustrated by the warm interaction between Jethro and his mother in the fields, Jenny’s attention to Jethro at dinner, and Bill’s offering of bread dipped in coffee. Ellen Creighton is proud that her family has this feeling of closeness. The feeling of family even extends to Shadrach Yale, whom Jethro looks up to as a role model. The impending war will challenge the Creighton family ties.
Coffee is presented as a symbol of growing into adulthood. Jethro likes coffee, but accepts that he is not given any because he is just a boy. Bill recognizes that Jethro is now a field worker that has been promoted to the “first table” and gives Jethro a taste of coffee with bread. This taste matches laboring in the fields and sitting with the adults as Jethro’s first “taste” of manhood.