Study Guide

Across Five Aprils Chapter 1

By Irene Hunt

Chapter 1

  • Out in the field, Jethro and his mom, Ellen, are hanging out planting potatoes.
  • Jethro sees his sister Jenny saying goodbye to Shad, the young schoolteacher, who is leaving for Newton.
  • Shad makes his way over to where Jethro and his mother are working to catch up real quick before he leaves.
  • Ellen knows something that we don't and there is some kind of urgency for Shad to go into town to get information about the outside world.
  • Shad promises to bring back some newspapers and any information he finds while in town.
  • Right before leaving, he places his hands on Ellen's shoulders and tells her not to worry.
  • Turns out she's worried about a war that may or may not have already started.
  • But Jethro isn't too worried about any impending war because his brother, Tom, and cousin, Eb, have spoke about it excitingly. He's actually a bit upset his mother's sadness is ruining such a lovely day.
  • Jethro intentionally tries to wind his mother up by talking about what he's heard of the war.
  • She replies with how she fears a time when she'll have no sons left except Jethro and the babies she buried. Didn't see that one coming, did ya Jeth?
  • Jethro does a quick change of subject and tells his mom about how Shad taught his class about Copernicus, but it's not long before Ellen is "back to the problems of the times" (1.51).
  • Jethro knows a little bit about what's going on and how the country started going bonkers after Lincoln got elected in 1860. But more importantly, Jethro knows that all the men think that war is inevitable.
  • He likes war stories but knows better than to start talking about them with his mom; he is privately looking forward to the war happening.
  • Soon Jethro's thoughts wander to death, and he begins to think about his sister Mary who died two years earlier.
  • She was in an accident caused by a local boy from a notorious family. No, not Biggie Smalls—Travis Burdow. When townspeople wanted to capture and kill the Burdow boy as revenge, Jethro's father intervened and stopped them.
  • Thinking back on it now, Jethro compares his father's actions with President Lincoln's hesitation to start the war and asks his mother what's up with that.
  • Ellen responds by saying that Lincoln has an extremely difficult decision.
  • Jethro and his mom take a midday break from working to chow down on some dinner (though modern folks would call this meal lunch).
  • John's wife, Nancy, and Jenny are already inside (having made the meal and all), and pretty soon the men come in from the field too.
  • This is a big day for Jethro since it's his first official dinner at the adult table.
  • Table talk soon turns to Shad and after teasing Jenny for a bit, John asks when they suspect Shad will return from town—he's eager to see what the newspapers have to say.
  • John notices that everyone gets uncomfortable at the hint of war and he drops the subject.
  • But now everyone gets to continue on with dinner in an awkward silence. Jethro is concentrating more on the awesome food he's eating.
  • After dinner and a rest, Jethro and Ellen are back working in the fields.
  • Thanks to an irritating sunburn and monotony, Jethro's eagerness from the morning turns into boredom.
  • At sundown the two take a rest, but about ten minutes later they hear a horse team coming.
  • It's still too early to be Shad. Jethro tells his mom that the team doesn't look familiar, though it's a good lookin' one.
  • The wagon comes to a stop in front of Ellen and Jethro. A young man steps out and it's Ellen's nephew, Wilse Graham.
  • Jethro is excited for the arrival of his cousin. Everyone loves a surprise cameo.

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