“Well, the good Lord saw fit to provide us with chicken, bread and potatoes this fine evening and for that we should be thankful.”
“I thought Mr. Harold saw fit to provide the chicken,” said Isaac under his breath. Martha glanced at her younger brother and Pastor Dunn looked up.
“What was that Isaac?” the older man asked.
“Nothing pa, just commenting on the generosity of God.”
Their father nodded his head in thoughtful agreement, a slight frown on his face which showed a cleanly shaved upper lip and a neatly trimmed beard running along his chin. “He is generous to those who believe, who follow his teachings and keep to the word,” he said without hesitation.
“Yes, dear, he is,” agreed his wife Elizabeth. The best way to avoid any heated discussion at meal time was to agree with the head of the church at the head of the table.
“I got a letter today from your brother Jabez, he’s doing well in the seminary. That, Isaac is a fine young man to model yourself after, you should think about that.”
Isaac gave a small sigh of annoyance. It was always about his brother Jabez, always. His older brother could do no wrong. It was something his father liked to point out quite frequently, as if Joshua Dunn created his older son in his own image.
“Yes pa,” said the boy dutifully, making lazy indentations in his potatoes.
Martha spoke up, “You know pa, Isaac has been doing very well in his mathematic studies and history, his teacher said so.” Her comment made Isaac raise his head and look at his father for some sort of acceptance.
Pastor Dunn nodded his head, “Which is fine for some people but if one were to be honest with oneself, all that math and history is quite meaningless if one neglects their spiritual needs, which really completes us as children of the Lord, don’t you agree Isaac?”
“Yes pa,” said the boy looking at his plate with disappointment. Jabez was never very good with math or history.
“Its discipline son,” continued his father, “now if you apply yourself, there is no reason you couldn’t follow in your brother’s footsteps. Set a goal for yourself that is worthy, like your brother. He’s receiving a fine education in Gettysburg and will make a fine pastor. I see no reason why you couldn’t do the same, be just like Jabez!”
“Yes pa,” sighed the boy. To disagree with the old man was pointless, that he knew. Martha looked at her little brother bit her lip and held her anger in check. Why was her father so cruel? Why couldn’t he see Isaac for what he was?
The pastor cleared his throat, “I believe young Lt. Svenson is coming to dinner this Thursday evening, is that correct Martha?”
For a moment Martha was caught off guard. “I’m sorry pa, what did you say?
“Lt. Svenson, he’s coming for dinner this Thursday evening, isn’t that right?” said the elder Dunn.
“Yes, pa. I thought we might have that ham we got a hanging in the smoke house, some potatoes and greens.”
Her father nodded his head in approval. “A fine meal for a guest, though it be a sin, I feel slightly envious of the good cook and housekeeper that young Lt. Svenson will be getting when our young Martha marries him, a fine credit to be sure.”
Isaac sighed. His father’s attempt at humor at the best of times was always a complete failure. This time was no exception. His mother spoke up as if trying to remind her husband that he did have a younger son that required his attention also.
“Well father, she’s a fine girl, a proper young lady. She was raised proper in a good Christian home and has her merits…just like our young Isaac here.”
Pastor Dunn absently nodded his head looking at the letter his eldest son had sent him, “Oh look!” he exclaimed, “Jabez says he’ll be home…”
Isaac exhaled and frowned. It seemed as if every evening meal was like this. Maybe that’s why he kept coming home later. Being alone was better than being around his father. The meal continued, the speech more animated than usual and Isaac listening to his father’s praise of his older brother sat at the table and endured.
After dinner, Isaac sat outside and looked out into the evening sky, admiring its distant beauty, wishing he was somewhere else, wishing his father would respect him as his son Isaac instead of comparing him to Jabez. Martha came out to sit with her younger brother. She didn’t need to ask about his thoughts. She put her arm around his young shoulders.
“Isaac Dunn will be known for what he is and does. Ma and me, we know you aren’t Jabez, even if pa can’t see it. I believe in you Isaac, Miles believes in you and there is a whole world outside Old Crow Wing in which to prove yourself, and I’ll be proud of you whatever you do. You will find your way little brother, I know you will.”
He nodded his head in silence and she followed his gaze to the twinkling stars of the Lord’s creation which seemed to beckon to the boy.