It was another typical dinner in the Kinley house. There was a stiff silence at the table- not a peaceful silence, or a busy silence of everyone deeply engaged in their food, but a silence no one dare break for fear of lighting a fire in the brittle wood that made up their family. Sammy figured that a pile of wood best described their family's positions right now. They were very flammable, igniting at the smallest spark of a hint of war or slavery or politics. They had collapsed, much like a small and cozy cabin would collapse into a pile of wood with such potential, a pile of wood that had seemed, to the outside eye, to be a perfectly normal and functioning pile of wood. But inwardly, they struggled with supporting each other- just like in real life. The issue had only escalated during the war, for many reasons. Their father had been taken captive almost 8 months ago while he was on a trade deal in Oklahoma and now was a Confederate prisoner of war. Their mother had had to really step up and take over most of the farming responsibilities, since Tommy was only 11 and too young to take over most of the work, and Sammy's younger brother Willy had run off to fight in the war, though he was only 13. He signed on as a drummer boy and was now marching somewhere in Pennsylvania or Maryland, following a series of unstable officers and commanders who were incapable of leading an army of this capacity. The Union might be falling apart. Sammy felt a desire gnawing at him: a desire to go and fight for the Union, to go and help them so they would stay a strong army.
Sammy looked up at his mother, who sat somberly at her spot around the polished oak table. She stabbed the ham with her fork, stiffly moved her hand up to her mouth, and chewed with a little too much force. Sammy could tell she was thinking about the war. She didn't look worried or depressed, so she wasn't thinking about his father. She was angrily considering Willy's betrayal, wondering how he had found the courage and the cold-heartedness to leave their family when she needed him the most, and disappointment in such a promising young man.
Sammy cleared his throat. "Mother, I want to talk about joining the army." There. He had dared to break the uncomfortable silence and to trespass on Mother in the depths of her anger. Her jaw tightened, a telltale sign of her increasing anger at his boldness to continue bringing this up, after so many previous dinner conversations about the same controversial topic.
"Please, Mother, hear me out. I understand that you don't want me to join the army, and that you need me on the farm. But I want to support my country and follow what I believe is right. And I believe that President Lincoln is right in uniting the nation. I also believe, based around the Christian religion that you raised me on, that slavery is wrong and against the gospel that I profess. Therefore, I want to take action to show that I am against slavery and a split in the nation. To do that, I am willing to fight and, if necessary, give my life for what I believe is right. And the Union needs me, now more than ever, to help by fighting in the war. So therefore, I want to go sign up for the army and support what I believe is a right and just cause." Sammy took a deep breath, watching his mother process and digest everything he had just said. It was a solid argument, grounded in logic and soundly rooted in reasoning. She had to accept it, and backing it up with Christianity had helped matters tremendously because Mrs. Kinley was a devout believer who wanted to follow the teachings of the Bible without exception.
Mrs. Kinley looked up and said with some tension obvious in her voice. "Sammy, why is it so hard for you to understand that I don't want you to throw your life away? Why are you so eager to get involved with a cause that murders people? Why can't you see the clear danger and sin that President Lincoln is leading our nation into? I don't agree with slavery either, but is killing our brothers the answer? I don't want you to jump into this, you're still so young and have too much potential to tarnish it with political haggling."
Sammy considered this argument. His mother was turning a blind eye to his case and he knew that he had one more shot, at most, at winning this argument. He tried once more, resolving in his heart that if she didn't listen to him this time, he would do it with or without her permission.
"Mother, I don't believe firmly deciding my position on slavery based on my moral compass will tarnish my reputation. Rather, it will enhance it because even those who disagree with me will see that I am not afraid to stand up for what I believe in and defend the rights of other human beings regardless of skin color."
Mrs. Kinley shook her head firmly. "Sammy, I know that right now in your life it feels like this is a clear evil. It feels like this is black-and-white, evil versus good, and that there is a clear right and wrong decision. But the world is painted in shades of gray, and our job is not to discriminate those on the darker side of the gray and firmly plant ourselves on the "better" side because the "better" side still is mixed with black. Rather, we need to stand in the white and resolve that we will not become so firmly rooted in the worldly politics that we compromise our beliefs in order to fit our political position better."
Sammy felt a little irritated at this point in the conversation. His mother was making assumptions about what he would do based on her past experience and not allowing Sammy to explain his position well enough. At this point she knew she was probably wrong. She knew what the right decision was and she knew that Sammy was old enough to decide his position and act on it. But she refused to succumb to even the strongest argument.
Sammy opened his mouth to speak, but Mrs. Kinley pressed a finger to her mouth. Attempting to sound gentle but firm, she spoke. "Sammy, this is the end of the argument. When you're older, we'll have this discussion again."
"How old, Mother?" Sammy questioned, deciding on the spot to push for 18, the age he could legally vote. He might be able to tolerate a few more years of waiting if he could immediately fly into that. He was almost 17, so it would only be another year, and then he could do it with a clear conscience because he had his mother's permission and blessing and also had done what he felt was right.
"At least 20, if not 21. You think you're mature enough to discuss this, but you won't be old enough until much later in your life. You're so young, Sammy, too young to understand all of this, and I will not discuss this with you until you are more mature and more knowledgeable of politics."
Sammy knew it was pointless to protest and finished his dinner without a word. The moment he was done, he climbed up the ladder into the loft where he had made his bedroom. He gathered a few clothes, a bar of soap, and his rifle into a knapsack. Then, he went over to the window and forced it open. As he reached for the tree beach located conveniently located directly outside his window. As the cold wind tickled his face, he thought of his mother. He thought of all the heartbreak she had already had to endure. He knew that she was only trying to do what was best for him. He couldn't bear the thought of hurting her, especially for such a selfish reason.
But then he thought of the millions of slaves on plantations and how much it would mean to them to be freed. He though of the desperation of the Union, how indignant he got at the secession, and how strongly he felt compelled to fight for what is right.
He rested his head against the frame of the window, carefully considering everything. He felt confused, all wrapped up in such adult politics and such violent fighting. Wasn't there another way than to murder brethren in cold blood? Couldn't all the politicians negotiate something in Congress, or the slave owners realize their sin?
But the fact of the matter was, that hadn't happened and it wouldn't. This problem wouldn't fix itself. Someone needed to take action.
And President Lincoln was trying his hardest to talk this out. But the Southern politicians were pushing back with enough strength to exhaust the Northerners and to keep themselves in a tentative state of secession. So the only option was to fight.
He couldn't leave the slaves in captivity for something as insignificant as his mother's emotions. He had to go fight, with or without his mother's permission.
He climbed out of the windows and down the tree, into the cool night, relishing the feeling of freedom. He was going to enjoy that freedom, and now he would go and give his life so that millions of others could have freedom.