My Dear Phebe Excerpt

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War is war, whether it is 1860 or 2001...and a kid is still a kid


"I am glad we don’t live in Pennsylvania any more," Maria Irvine told her husband, Thomas. "The letter from James today said many of our friends there are joining the army to fight in the war. Maybe, if we are lucky, they won’t come this far to look for soldiers."

"Even if they do," Thomas said, laughing, "they won’t come looking for me. I’m not much good to them, one leg being shorter than the other."

"That’s why I fell in love with you," Maria said, patting his knee. "I knew I would never have to give you up to somebody else."

Phebe, their ten-year-old daughter, sat on the top step, listening. All they ever talked about anymore was "the war." She had read about the Revolutionary War in her history book at the little one-room schoolhouse down the trail in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. It was hard to imagine anything as awful as it sounded. Now everybody said there was going to be another war.

"Everyone says Abraham Lincoln is such a wonderful president," she thought as her mind wandered. "If he really is, why can’t he stop the war?"

Phebe had never been to any of the southern states, but even in Philadelphia she knew there were people who had slaves. Was that really so wrong? The few slaves she had met seemed happy the way their lives were. They talked about freeing the slaves, but she wondered what they would do if they didn’t have their rich families to work for.

"It’s not that far away," Phebe heard her father say. "President Lincoln has sent a letter to every state, including Michigan, telling them to get troops together and wait for their orders. One of the first men to volunteer was Caleb Tuttle. He leaves Saturday to join the troops in Lansing."

"Caleb?" Phebe’s mother asked, sounding surprised. "But what will Esther and the children do?"

"The same thing as every other family who is left alone," Phebe’s father said, shrugging his shoulders. "It won’t be easy."

Phebe sat, frozen, on the step. Sarah Tuttle was her very best friend. She thought about Josiah, Sarah’s oldest brother. He was only fourteen. He would have to be the "man of the house" if their father went off to the war.

Phebe quietly tiptoed back to her bedroom. She stopped in front of her parents’ door. Her mother said they had gotten another letter from Uncle James Irvine. She knew exactly where it would be. Maybe, if she read it, she would learn more about this war business and just how dangerous it really was. Uncle James knew everything!

Back in her bedroom, she carefully struck a flint and lit a candle. She held the letter carefully so it would not catch fire. She squinted to make out the words on the paper with the tiny flame that flickered.

"Dear Thomas and Maria," it began. "The war is upon us. While I am fortunate to not have to go to battle myself, so many of our friends have already left."

The letter was filled with names that meant nothing to Phebe, but she knew they must be people her father knew. Six years ago they had left Monroe for Philadelphia, then a few months later they had headed for the frontier of Upper Michigan. Phebe was only four, and all she could remember of the people in Monroe was what she had heard from her parents. It was even hard for her to picture her own grandmother.

She heard footsteps in the hallway. She hurried to blow out the candle. If she was real quiet, they would think she was asleep.

"I will go over to see Caleb in the morning," Phebe’s father said. "Maybe he will feel a little better if he knows we will keep an eye on things for him while he is gone."

‘How long do you think the war will last?" Phebe heard her mother ask.

"Not long," her father answered. "Hopefully not long."

Phebe tossed and turned all through the night. Every time she fell asleep she dreamed of men, young and old, all lying on the ground covered in blood. She would wake up, the sweat pouring off her body, and sob silently. Poor Sarah! What would she do if her father was one of those bodies?

Finally, deciding that she would go with her father to the Tuttle farm in the morning, she drifted off to sleep.


Read the actual letters from Phebe's uncle at the end of My Dear Phebe


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