Henry Swenson cautiously stepped into the parlor where his father was standing. He anxiously watched as his father lit his “after supper” pipe. The elder Swenson was a tall man, bent from years of working the Iowa soil. His snow white hair and generous Nordic features failed to mask his formidable presence or put his company at ease. Before he had found religion and met Henry's mother; most acquaintances called him a scallywag, a rascal with firm convictions and a temperament that went unchallenged.
The young Swenson waited for his moment and spoke.
“Pa, may I have a word with you?”
“What is it, Henry?” the old man asked as thick smoke curled around his heavy beard.
“I want to join, Pa.”
“Yes, I want to enlist … Major Benton is mustering volunteers as we speak ... I need to go … it’s my obligation…”
“Hold on son, slow down … I believe we can discuss this like gentlemen, don't you?”
“If I leave at first light I can get to Oldtown before the Major and the regiment ride south. All the men say this war might be over before we even get a bead on those rebs.”
The clock that Jon Swenson’s father had so carefully brought with him from the homeland chimed, marking the hour. Without uttering a word, Jon sat down and motioned for his son to sit beside him.
“Is going off to war and killing men what you desire to do, Henry?”
“If killing a reb means preserving the Union then it's something I must do. Isn't it my patriotic duty, Pa?”
“Men measure their duty in different ways, son. My duties are right here on this farm. I look after your mother, your sisters and you. I have a moral obligation to God and country, but I am against this war. I forbid you to go.”
“Have you forgotten, Pa? I am 21 years old and permission from you to join is not required. It's your blessing I seek.” Henry explained as he rose and walked toward the door.
“If you walk through that door, things are really going to change. It will mean you have disobeyed me. It means you have accepted the responsibilities of manhood and there will be no turning back once you cross that threshold.”
Henry nodded and walked from the room.
At dawn, Henry tossed a few meager belongings into a haversack and went to the barn expecting to saddle up his aged mare Sally. He found his father there tightening the girth around his best sorrel.
Jon handed the reins to his son. “A man needs a good horse under him if he's going to ride any distance, Henry.”
“But, Pa … I …”
“You don't need to say anything son, just give her plenty of oats, a good brushing after a hard ride and she will serve you well.”
Father and son hugged and said their good-byes.
Jon Swenson watched his only son ride off in the dim light and disappear beyond the family’s orchard.
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