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Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Wednesday, June 7, 1876
Sievert was out of tomorrows, with no time left to delay his confrontation. The decision to turn away from the sure thing came easy--he sought a greater prize. But how could he justify it to his father?
His lips moved, forming words and sentences, but the sounds were directed inward. Seventeen was old enough to decide his own future. Most of the boys his age had dropped out of school as soon as they could control a team of horses. Now, they were all working their own farms, their futures set. The land provided a good living here. A sure thing.
His father couldn't have it both ways--insist that his sons finish school and then expect them to give up the thrill of discovery to follow his path on the farm. Maybe it was good enough for his brothers, but not for him. But how could he say that to his father?
Sievert quickened his gait, and with the rush, the hitch in his left leg yanked his mind back to the sensations that rivaled his fear of the upcoming confrontation. The limp, the dulled perception in his left arm and his left side. They had driven him for all these years to prove that he could outwork his brothers. His right hand jerked upward to his temple where the rough braids of the crescent scar felt hot. His fingers slid backwards and ringed the slight depression in his skull. He had no recollection of the event that produced the injury, except that he was five years old. Only his father's words resonated in his memories of that time, from a conversation not meant for his ears. "The boy will never be right. Never do a man's work."
Sievert picked up the pace and let his leftleg drag the dirt with each stride. It was so easy to forget his millstone, as long as he took his time. But any ramp of activity and it shrieked like a two-year-old told no. Today, he didn't care. He'd proved himself before. He could do it again. He'd ignore the dullness in his left side. Fortunately, it didn't extend to his mind.
Sneaking off the college applications had been easy enough, but the incoming mail was impossible to intercept. Doing something that daring, without prior discussion, went against everything his father stood for as patriarch of this New World family.
Sievert turned up the double-rutted road that led to the farmhouse and a sense of family responsibility enveloped him. He always felt that more was expected of him than of his two older brothers, and not just because of his success in school. But why? Probably because he had been conceived in Norway and born in America, and the ether of expectation associated with everything American highlighted, even enhanced, his potential.
His mind snagged on the word. Potential. He had heard it all too often, always in some form of chastisement, or occasionally in an overheard parental boast. To him, it was a dirty word. A parent's dream and a child's nightmare. And it double-crossed him--his reach for the future rapidly exceeded his parents' arm-lengths of understanding and control.
Sievert's stride remained quick as he entered the house and clumped into the parlor, his father's second stop after washing off the evidence of the hard work that supported the family. His timing was perfect--as he lowered himself onto the settee opposite his father's smoking chair, he heard the door to the washroom slam, followed by the rhythmic metallic squeaking of the pump handle as it drew cold water up from the earth into the wash basin letting him know his father would soon join him.
He tensed when he heard his father's footsteps come down the hall and make the right turn that led into the parlor. No question of which version of his father was about to enter. Not the relaxed, content version who worked the fields, and who would chuckle at a burp, or tell a joke, even a dirty one. It was the home version who demanded obedience and formality from his three sons. The one who expected manners and proper behavior from the supper bell until the rooster's crow.
Lars Olafson paused in the doorway before walking in. His backlit frame filled the opening, temporarily squeezing the light in the room down by about a quarter.
"Ah, Sievert. How was school today? And your job? I hope Mr. Wilkins didn't work you hard."
Sievert arched his back upright, put both feet flat on the floor, and slid forward a little so his back came away from the cushioned fabric. "My day was fine, Father. How was yours?"
"Usual. This land is a pleasure to work. I've never seen such wonderful dirt. I just wish your grandfather could see it. Minnesota has to be the closest to heaven we'll see while we're still breathing."
Lars dug his pipe deep into the tobacco canister and tamped the bowl with his index finger. He stopped before striking the match and lowered his eyebrows into either a stern or an inquisitive look. Sievert couldn't tell which.