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The Son of the Southern Wind (Chapter 1)
“Happy Birthday, Russell!!” Ugh. Birthday. Groan. I rolled over and threw my feather pillow up and over my head, trying to shut out any noise.
“Get up! GET UP!! Come on, big brother!! You’re turning nineteen today!!” Yeah, like that was something to celebrate. “Annie, please go away.” I groaned.
“Oh, but it’s a big day today! I thought I would get you up so you could open your presents, and I made you a cake and Daddy says he has a big surprise for you out in the - .” She kept babbling on and on. I had to say her name several times before she even heard me.
“Annie!!” Thank you, now I could think somewhat clearly. “Just let me sleep for a little longer. It would be the best present you could give me. Please?” Silence. Oh no, that wasn’t the smartest thing to say to your six year old little sister.
“You mean you don’t want to see the presents we got for you?” Her quiet, quivering voice tipped me off that she was on the verge of tears. Oh boy. I rolled back over, the straw mattress sinking under my weight. “No, that’s not what I meant. I will come see the presents later. Just not now. Okay?”
Her beautiful blue eyes were wet with threatening tears and she sniffled, wiping a stray piece of light brown hair behind her ear. I prepared myself for the wailing to start. That’s when I noticed that she had her best dress on, bright red with white polka dots and lace encircling the collar and hem of her dress. It touched my heart that she’d gotten all fancied up just for me. And it made me feel guilty about treating her so rudely. No lady should ever be subject to that. Sighing, I smiled and carefully touched her face. “Ok, alright. I’m coming.”
The glee on her face just about made my whole day. “Oh Russell, today is gonna be the best day ever, I’m sure of it!!” She leaped up into my arms, her knee lodged right in my rib cage, her weight pinning me to the bed. All I could manage to get out was “Arrgh!!” Realizing she’d knocked the air out of me, she pulled back so I could sit up. She was smiling great big. The kind of smile that made even the toughest man in the world melt to pieces.
“I’m sure it will be, little sis. Now get down or you’re gonna ruffle up your pretty dress.” She leaped off the bed and I secretly took a huge lungful of air. As she opened the door, she threw me another sweet smile.
“I’ll be there in a minute. Just let me get dressed.” She nodded and closed the door quietly. I could hear her excited squeals as she tumbled down the steps. I sighed, then started chuckling. I loved that girl so.
I fell back into the pillows and stared up at the ceiling. So much for sleeping in. I really didn’t want to leave my warm bed. Going back to sleep was just about the only thing I wanted to do right now. But when I thought about all the hard work I’m sure my family put into making this such a glorious occasion, I felt obligated to be there with them. I decided to be a good son and go downstairs and enjoy myself.
Groggily, I threw the sheets back and stumbled out of the bed. Mumbling to myself, I opened my closet door. There wasn’t much in the way of nice shirt choices. I only had a grand total of 3 shirts that didn’t actually have holes in them. I wasn’t about to wear one of my crappy ones. I pulled a dark green button-up shirt from the hanger and slipped it on. Heading for my dresser, I thought about what the big surprise could be that Dad got for me. Some new drumsticks? A pair of shoes?
Annie said it was out somewhere, so that meant it was too big to be in the house. A piano? Nah, we already had one of those. A really BIG drum? No, why would he get a new one? Gee, whatever it was, I had no idea of what it could’ve been. Besides, I was too tired to really think hard.
I pulled on my dirty trousers and sat down on the bed, mumbling, talking to no one in particular. I kicked at a dirty sock that never made it to the wash tub. Too bad I was too lazy to even reach down and pick it up. Come to think of it, my room did need a little cleaning. Maybe, somehow I could trick my best friend Bryan into doing it and I could pay him back later. Nah, he wouldn’t be that stupid. I hope. Or better yet… We could get some of his Negros to come over and clean it for me. They wouldn’t mind, even though they weren’t exactly our slaves. They were his.
Unless... No. Dad would never be able to scrape enough money together to even buy just one slave. Not even if it was for my birthday. Besides, why would he hide ‘em out in the barn? We weren’t and never would be as well-to-do as Bryan’s family.
Bryan Hanson was my best friend and my blood brother. We’d been best friends ever since he’d moved here from Maine when he was just a little kid. We were the same age and we shared just about everything in common. The only difference was in how we lived. Bryan came from a rich family and they’d bought a cotton plantation down here in Texas, since we had the finer grade cotton than anywhere else in the Deep South.
And, yes they had Negros. Slaves. Although at first, they didn’t want them. Which the locals, including us, considered insane. I mean, who wouldn’t want them if you could have them? They were convenient and required no pay after you bought them. They did work willingly, no questions asked. Besides, you can’t really run a plantation all that well without a lot of people. If the family alone tried to operate it, the whole place would sink within days.
When the Hanson’s refused the slaves, you could obviously tell they did it because they were from the North. Yankees. They weren’t accustomed to the easy life, where someone else could always do the work for you. They’d worked hard up in the North to make a living. ‘Course they were city slickers, not country folk like us.
My family didn’t have slaves, obviously. We had no plantation. We didn’t have a huge mansion that took hours and hours to clean. So owning slaves was really pointless. Convenient, but pointless. And a waste of what little money we had. I guess you could consider us the underprivileged people of San Antonio.
Poor Bryan. When he was old enough to be in school, he had no clue how to talk to any of us southern kids. So I kinda took him under my wing. And he was a lot nicer than he seemed at first. I always assumed that Yanks were snobbish. I guess looks are deceiving.
Speaking of looks, I should go and clean up a little. Might as well go all out for this.
I got on my knees to look out the window. A dry breeze blew through my curtains, bringing with it the sweet smell of the dewy grass and wild meadows of Texas. Even though it was the first of February, it felt like a careless, warm summer day. The blue sky ran as far as the eye could see, with puffy white clouds that couldn’t possibly be carrying rain dotting it here and there. Today really felt like it could turn out nice.
I smiled and sucked in one last breath of the sweet southern air and closed the window. Padding over to my mirror in my room, I could hear my parents’ voices drifting up the stairwell through my door.
“What’s next? I mean what is he going to think? He better not try and -“
“He won’t, Charlotte! He’s not that stupid.”
“But honey, what if –“
“He won’t. I can guarantee you. Just let him enjoy his birthday and let him live his life the way he wants to.”
The way I want to. What were they talking about? That I better not try and do what? Leave home? I couldn’t leave this place. Leaving my little sister without her big brother’s protection would be the hardest thing. I couldn’t even imagine saying goodbye. Seeing her crying on the doorstep, begging me to stay…. That sealed the deal. My heart ached a bit to even think about that.
Shoving the rest of their conversation out of my hearing range, I slammed the pitcher of water down so hard on the table it nearly cracked. Maybe that would get them to shut up. I hoped to God that weren’t planning on sending me away, forcing me out into this world on my own. But after all, I was nineteen and most boys would be dying to get away from home. Me? I wasn’t quite ready to do that yet.
Staring at my reflection in the mirror, I splashed some cold water on my face, trying to wake myself up. The sleepiness still hung in my eyes and there wasn’t anything I could do about that. I combed my reddish brown hair so that it wasn’t hanging in my face and tried to make faces at myself to put some kind of gleam in my cloudy blue eyes.
Sighing, I yanked my overalls a little higher, and cringed when I pulled them a little too high. Gently pulling them down, I laughed as I got the gleam in my eye that I wanted.
I pursed my lips as I pondered what it was that Dad could’ve possibly gotten me. Whatever it was, I hoped it wasn’t too horribly expensive. It couldn’t be anything that wonderful. We were too poor.
Making my way out of the bedroom and down the stairs, I couldn’t make out any more conversation about me. In fact, there wasn’t any more talking, period. I hoped they weren’t in hiding, waiting to ambush me with ribbons and happy birthday cheers. I didn’t want an unnecessary celebration.
I peeked around the corner into the dining room, and thankfully, wasn’t jumped on by a mob of people. I, however, couldn’t escape the tackle I knew my sister would assault me with. Luckily, I managed to stay upright.
“Happy birthday, big brother!” She whispered.
“Thanks.” I set her back down and she beamed at me. No child in the world had a more beautiful smile than that of my Annie.
“Happy nineteenth birthday, sweetie.” Mother said to me. I thanked her as well. She seemed genuinely happy, but deep in her eyes; I thought I could see a ribbon of worry and apprehension laced throughout them. The conversation that I’d accidently eavesdropped on flickered back in my head and it was confirmed that there was something they weren’t telling me. But I waited to ask, as I didn’t want to worry my sister.
“So, son? How does it feel to be nineteen years old?” My father asked me, his face buried in the newspaper.
Trying to get a hint as to what my parents could possibly be hiding from me, I casually but quickly tried to scan the headlines. My attempt at that failed when Dad folded the paper back up and pulled off his glasses, looking up at me with expectant eyes.
For a minute, I was so distracted I almost forgot what he’d just asked me. “Um, not really.” Shoot, that didn’t really make sense. Dad looked at me funny. Gee, why couldn’t I act halfway normal while trying to be somewhat undercover at the same time? I would be rotten at being a spy. I sat down in one of the mismatching chairs, trying to think up a decent answer. “I mean, it doesn’t really feel that much different than being eighteen.”
He laughed. “Ah son, when I was nineteen --.”
Here we go again with the stories about when he was young. “When I was nineteen, I was restless. Wanted to get out of the house and start my own life. But of course, I’d signed up to go to war at fifteen and I’d already had my share of adventure. I’d lied and said I was eighteen, since I was tall enough. I thought it would spice up my life a little. Make it an adventure. And it sure did. One I sure wouldn’t want to repeat.”
He lit up his pipe and smoke billowed into the air, tainting it with the smell of burning tobacco. It wasn’t the most pleasant smell in the world, but it was one I got used to. One that reminded me of Dad whenever I got a whiff of it.
“Anyway, happy birthday, son. I hope you enjoy it. We got you some really nice presents.” I looked back and forth between him and Mother, both of which were wearing identical grins.
“Ok. Spill it. What’s the big surprise Annie told me about?”
“Oh, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if we told you now would it?” The sly look on Mom’s face made me all the more impatient to find out what this mysterious object was.
Dad reached around behind him and pulled out a package, wrapped up in brown paper and tied with white string. “We’ll save the best for last, son.”
He handed me the box, and as I was about to rip it open, I glanced up at both of them and said, “This had better not have been that expensive.”
I then tore it open, the paper tearing easily under my hands and as I pulled the lid off the simple white box, my eyes nearly popped out of my face.
Annie began giggling at my expression and Mother smiled. “I know it’s not much, but -.”
“Not much?!” I exclaimed. I held up the brown, rigid, velvety pants for evidence.
“THIS – “ I said loudly, shaking the pants. “IS CORDEROY!!” Mom smiled shyly and I looked at Dad for an exclamation. He shook his head. “You needed new pants.” He said simply.
“Yeah, NEW pants, not expensive ones!” I said. He shrugged.
“Might as well enjoy having little nice things once in a while. I know we aren’t exactly rich, but just take them and be happy.” Dad blew some more smoke into the air, his eyes serious. I looked at Mom just as she started to give him another worried look. He met her eyes and his brow furrowed.
He then leaned over and tossed me another package wrapped in the same exact fashion as the first one. I tore into it, trying to ignore the tightening in my gut that they weren’t telling me something I should know.
But when I looked down, I sighed and laughed, the humor nowhere prevalent in my voice. This had to be some kind of cruel joke. They had to know I was gonna start bawling any second now, didn’t they?
I picked up the brown felt hat and stroked it’s gloriously soft brim, which was narrow. For such a nice hat, it was hard to believe it was almost one hundred years old. Almost like my grandpa.
Tears came to my eyes as I remembered him. He died when I was only five, at ninety years old. An age that most men didn’t even come close to seeing. But I still remember he always wore this hat, a hat he claimed that he wore back in the Revolutionary war. I remember he would get this twinkle in his eyes whenever he told me about the prank he played on his friends. Life in camp was so boring, he decided to make it a little more interesting.
He and his friends would hide out in his tent and would paint their faces black. Then whenever somebody walked by, they would leap out and scare the living daylights out of them. Unfortunately, the General didn’t find it all that funny until after he gave Grandpa some ‘black paint’ of his own. Poor Grandpa managed to scrub off all the rest of the paint off of his face except for that around his eye. He said he told everybody, except for me of course, after the war that he got that black eye from fighting the Red coats in hand to hand combat. It felt so neat and exclusive that Grandpa was telling me a secret no one else knew.
Now, I realize that he probably was just playing with me. Trying to make me feel special, I guess. But back then, I swore I was gonna do that same thing someday cause I wanted to be just like him. And I could now, since I had his hat. I slipped it on my head and it fit. Perfectly. Looking up, I asked, “What do you think?”
Dad nodded in approval. “You look almost look just like him, son. After all, you did get the red hair from him.” That’s right. Grandpa was Irish. I’d forgotten that.
“Where did you find this?” I asked, taking the hat off and laying it carefully on my lap.
“Up in the attic in the boxes of his old stuff. We knew Grandpa would want you to have it.” Mom smiled at me and patted my hand. I smiled at all of them, genuinely grateful.
“Thank you all so much for the wonderful presents.” Dad chuckled mischievously. “Oh but son, there’s still more.” Right about then, here came Bryan tumbling in the back door.
“Hey happy birthday, Possum!!” He gave me a big bear hug. “Hey thanks.” I said breathlessly. I would have to remember to check if any ribs were broken later after this was all over and done. I don’t remember getting hugged this much last year….. Wonder why nineteen is the lucky number?
When I pulled away, I asked, “What are you doing, here? I thought you weren’t gonna be in town?”
“Yeah.” He brushed something off his shirt. “No, we’re gonna leave later today. I had to come and see my best bud on his birthday. I trust Annie here has told you about the big surprise.”
I chuckled. “Oh yeah, she has. Only no one here seems to want to tell me what it is.” I threw a look at Mom and Dad, who only smiled. Annie came bounding over to me. “And I helped pick it out, too!!”
“Yes, she did. So I guess you could say it’s from me and her.” Bryan said, rubbing her head. She just beamed up at him, star struck by my best friend, whom she’d had a crush on for the longest time. Which, I guess for a guy, he was pretty good looking. He had a mop top head of black hair that no matter how much he slicked it down, there were parts that always stuck up. So he always wore hats to hide most of his messy hair. He had a goatee of matching color that had been trying to grow for several years now. His eyes were light brown, but in certain lights, they almost turned green. And no matter how high the heels are on my boots, I can never seem to get as tall as him.
But more than anything, this kid could play the guitar like nobody’s business. Often, our families would get together and we would play our instruments. I would bring my drum and my mother would bring her fiddle, and of course Bryan would have his guitar or banjo on him. I’m sure tonight we would have done that, but his family had to leave town for some reason that I’d long forgotten. Before long, I snapped back to the present and tried to remember what was being said. My mind flickered back to when Annie woke me up.
“Wait one second. I thought she said it was from you, Dad.” I was really confused now, and I whirled back to him. Dad looked really sheepish.
“Well, Bryan’s family chipped in…..” He trailed off uncertainly. I turned back on Bryan, whose grin was huge. I punched him jokingly on the arm.
“Ya know? I would strangle you right now if it weren’t my birthday. I didn’t want you spending money on me.” Bryan put his hand on my shoulder.
“Believe me, this was nothing. I wanted to do this.” He raised his eyebrows to show he was serious. I shook my head and laughed. “Okay then, let’s see this surprise you got me.”
Annie giggled in delight and blushed as Bryan picked her up. I slipped on my boots and we all headed out to the barn. The fresh air filled my lungs and I found myself getting more and more excited as to what this could possibly be. Our old barn had once been a lovely color of red, but the weather and elements had worn it down to a rusty, peeling shade of brown. Dad attempted to pull open the barn door, but winced as a splinter pricked his finger. I laughed at his little mishap.
The opening of the door wafted in the smell of hay and manure of our old dairy cow, which was our only source of income. I hoped someone had come in and milked her because frankly, I wasn’t in the mood for doing it right now. She grunted at me as I walked past her, and I stuck my tongue out at her.
I scanned the barn, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I turned around and looked at everyone. “Where is it?” I noticed Mom was laughing a little and Bryan was struggling to hide his humor. I glared at them. “Is this some kind of joke?!”
Bryan snorted and said in between laughs, “Maybe you ought to look a little harder.”
I spun around and tried to spot the difference in the scene before me. I held my hands out and said, “There’s nothing!”
Annie strode up behind me and poked me. I leaned down and murmured, “Little sister, forgive my stupidity, but can you show me this surprise?”
All laughter fell silent behind me as she took my hand and led me to the far end of the barn. The far stall was empty and I felt my hopes fall. A joke. Great, that’s just what I wanted. I was starting to shake my head when a sudden snort from the stall startled me and I looked up to see a white snout. My eyes nearly flew out of their sockets and my jaw fell to the floor. The initial shock didn’t leave for several minutes.
Before me stood a big, beautiful white horse with little brown spots dotting him all over. He nickered at me, and I blinked. This couldn’t be happening….. No, this couldn’t be happening to me. No, not me… A startled but thrilled laugh left my throat and I gingerly stroked the horse’s face, struggling to figure out if this was a dream, afraid he might disappear with a poof of smoke if I dared to believe.
“Oh Bryan…” I still couldn’t find the right words to describe what I was feeling.
“You like him? Oh, who am I kidding? You love him, don’t you, Russell?” Bryan read my mind. No, he read my face so well.
“Like you wouldn’t believe.” I answered quietly, still mesmerized by the colt’s face. “Oh thank you so much! Thank you!” I exclaimed. Mother came over and gave me a huge hug.
“We knew how much you wanted a horse, sweetie. I’m so glad you like him.” Behind me, I felt the horse slobber on the back of my neck and I laughed at the sticky feeling of horse spit on my skin.
“Son, you will have to take care of him, though. Good care, got it? We don’t want this to end up like the goat incident.” I cringed as I remembered that poor goat….. I’d rather not talk about that one. Long story……..
“What should we call him?” Annie wondered. I picked her up and held her up to the horse’s nose so she could pet him. “Hmmm, I don’t know, sis. What should we call him?” I mused. I really had no idea what a good name would be……
“How ‘bout Nugget?” I laughed. Behind me, I heard Bryan snort again, but he covered it up with a cough.
“You really want to call him that, little sis?” I looked at her teasingly to see if she was gonna change her mind. But she was stuck like glue to that name. “I like it.”
I nodded in approval since I really had nothing better. “Alright, Nugget it is then.” She beamed at me and I kissed her forehead. “You’re a good name picker, Annie.”
The name really did suit him, given his little brown spots. I wondered how old he was…
“He’s about 10 years old, Russell. Can’t guarantee how fast he is, though. I didn’t exactly ride him.” I looked at Bryan and raised my eyebrows. How does he do that? He’s like a mind reader. He does that to me all the time.
Dad then spoke up. “Hey, that sounds like a good idea. Russell, why don’t you tack him up and go for a ride?” And that idea did sound good. And apparently, it did to Annie, too.
“Oh, can I go with you two? Please, I’ll behave, I promise.” I sighed and looked at Mom. ‘Help me’, I mouthed. “Big brother, please. I won’t even have any of the cake. You can eat my piece for me.” I laughed and smiled at her.
“Not right now, little one. Maybe when Bryan and I get back. I’ll let you on him then, ok?” And that right there made her whole day. She would be bouncing off the walls until I got back. At least, she would have something to look forward to.
Gently petting the horse’s snout one last time, I turned around to head for the feed room when I nearly ran into Bryan, who carried my saddle in his arms.
“Already ahead of you, brother.” Thrusting it into my hands, I grinned and rolled my eyes. He just wouldn’t ever let me have it my way. Opening the door, I slung the saddle over Nuggets back and tightened the cinch. Moving toward his face, I could feel him resist the bit I tried to put in his mouth. After several unsuccessful rounds of trying to get him to open up, he finally caved in.
Fastening the bridle around his head, I led him out of the stall and out into the open. I could feel him begin to prance a little bit as he took a huge lungful of air. He was ready to start running. And I couldn’t blame him one bit, really.
Lifting my leg up to put it in the stirrup, I realized that he was an awful tall horse and I couldn’t quite reach it. I didn’t want to go get a ladder and make it look like I couldn’t mount a horse without a hassle. Deciding to try and look casual, I backed up several steps and hoped the horse wasn’t easily spooked. Making a running start, I leaped up on the horse’s side and swung my leg up and over his back.
And right when I almost managed to get all my ducks in a row was when Nugget decided to take off full speed ahead. Adrenaline kicked in and at that point, I was fortunate just to get a hold of his mane and hang on for dear life. We weren’t going that fast, but I reckoned if I fell, I don’t think I would be kissing the ground that I walked on for awhile. Luckily, I was able to catch the reins before they slipped over the side of his neck and pulled him to a stop.
After catching my breath, I looked up to see Annie’s laughter, my father’s disapproval, my mother’s distress, and Bryan…… was nowhere to be found. Looking around, I tried to figure out where he skipped off to. Then suddenly, here he came, hurtling at me on his big red horse, whom he called “Big Red”. Whooping at the top of his lungs, he rocketed past me and yelled, “Come on!! Let’s see how fast that horse will go!!”
Saluting to my family to show I was ok, I took off after him, clucking my mouth to get him to go. And in no time at all, we left the farm behind and were running across some of the most beautiful meadows in all of Texas. The sky was stunningly azure and the grass ran emerald from here all the way to Louisiana, I bet. And I felt freer than I had ever felt in my life.
I hadn’t been carried by a horse in what seemed like eons, and when you’re galloping across an open field, with nothing standing in your way, it’s a feeling you can’t describe. It’s a natural high that you could only get by doing that. And you can’t get enough, no matter how often you ride. It just feels like……..magic.
I kicked Nugget a little faster and we were head and head with Bryan and Big Red. We were thundering through the countryside, two wild, carefree boys whose lives felt like they’d just begun. We were whooping and yelling like a bunch of crazy lunatics all the way to the creek, which was our favorite place to get away from everybody.
Pulling up alongside the bank, we slipped off the horses and let them take a break from running for a little while. I flopped down in the lush grass and closed my eyes. Life couldn’t get much better than this. The gurgling of the stream and the birds chirping in the trees, the cool breeze mixing with the warmth of the sunlight made me want to fall asleep here forever. How could there be any worries or cares way out here, in paradise?? Out here, there was no such thing as war or misery. And I hoped it would stay that way. This place was the only place I could get away from things and just let my stress float away downstream.
Bryan didn’t talk much, which surprised me, since he was normally quite the chatterbox. But if he wasn’t in the mood to talk, it was fine by me. I let my thoughts drift away, back to when times weren’t as rough as they were nowadays. Back to good childhood times and memories, when I was innocent and unaware of the distress our country was in, that my family was in. I only hoped that Annie could stay like that longer than I did.
When I first overheard my parents fighting, I was only five. I barely remembered it, but I can remember my ear was pressed down against the door and my cheek grew numb from the cold. It was shortly after Grandpa died and I was so upset at hearing my parents yell like that that I started to cry, and I just slumped down against the door frame and laid there for the rest of the night, the tear stains still prevalent on my cheeks when my parents found me the next morning.
I imagine that I pulled that thought out of my head and chucked it into the stream and watched it float away into the distance. I didn’t need those crazy notions in my mind right now. Trying again to meditate and relax, I watched the clouds pass over us through breaks in the trees.
Gee, for my birthday, it was going surprisingly well. Nothing had gone wrong to spoil it and I wondered again why nineteen was such a good number…… I could feel my eyelids starting to get heavy as I watched a butterfly glide through the air and the last thing I remember thinking was how much I wished I could do that sometimes……..
The next thing I was aware of was Bryan shaking my shoulder, coaxing me awake. I blinked, not quite sure of where I was at first. But when I saw that the sun was setting away far in the distance, I realized just how late we had stayed out there. Oh boy, are Mom and Dad gonna be worried….. I struggled to my feet and began to wonder just how much trouble I was going to be in.
Mounting our horses quickly, we raced back to the ranch. The darkness had arrived and began to slither its way across our paths, threatening to drown us. I strained my eyes to make out any orb of light in the distance, and began to worry. Were we even goin’ the right way? What if we were lost? I didn’t like being outside at night. Too many wild animals. Like coyotes and snakes. A shudder ran down my spine.
And suddenly to my relief, there was a beacon of light on the horizon. Our farm. Home. Thank the Lord. As we arrived, I could just make out Mothers figure pacing back and forth in the kitchen. Oh boy….. We left our horses tied up outside and went in to let them know we were okay.
Mother was so grateful that we made it back alive. As soon as she and Annie laid eyes on me, I was engulfed by arms.
“Russell, where have you two been?” Mom demanded through her tears. I couldn’t really answer since I couldn’t breathe. She released me, but poor Annie clung on.
“I’m so glad you’re back, big brother.” She whispered. “Now, can we go ride the horse?”
I laughed. “Not tonight, sweetie. It’s too late.” She puckered her bottom lip and I could tell she was about to launch the big guns on me. And so did Mother.
“Annie, dear, why don’t you go sit down at the table?” Mom shooed her toward an empty chair and turned to face me. I could see worry and relief blended in her eyes, but deep down, I could see something much worse. The same thing I saw this morning. Fear.
“Guys, what is going on here?” I demanded, fed up with their games and their hidden secrets they didn’t want me to know about. I could see Mom turn towards Father, whose eyes were hesitant and uncertain. He opened his mouth to answer, but nothing came out.
“WHAT IS IT!?!” I screamed at them. “I know you’re hiding something from me! You’ve held it in this long and I would really appreciate if you would share it with me!”
Mom reached for me, pulling me by the arm towards Dad, tears beginning to stream down her face again. Dad looked up at me, giving in. “Son, we still have one more gift that you haven’t opened.”
He reached around behind him and pulled out a rifle, its gorgeous mahogany wood gleaming in the light of the lantern, its bayonet polished until it shone. He handed it to me.
“This is also a gift from your grandfather.” He murmured quietly. I didn’t quite get why they would give me a gun for my birthday. I didn’t hunt and I never have. I didn’t like killing harmless creatures.
“That’s not a hunting gun, son.” Dad interrupted my thought process and then I knew. This wasn’t a gun to kill animals. This was a gun to kill humans…… Grandpa used this in the Revolutionary War, I think…… My parent’s conversation from this morning flickered back to me. Or mostly just one line repeating itself over and over again in my mind.
“Just let him live his life the way he wants to.”
And then, I knew. My worst fears about what was happening to our country were coming true. Mom took a deep breath and I kept thinking, ‘No, please don’t say it! Please….’
“Texas succeeded from the Union today, Russell. We are at war.”