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Mahantango, Pennsylvania (Thanksgiving 1864)
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[One of four families bound for California between 1850 and 1886.]

With his relations gathered round the long table, Cordelia Thompson Boal’s brother Cochran read the President’s words with a stentorian voice, deeper and slower than his usual tone and cadence, which had the effect of quieting the room. This was a day Cochran reminded his family and that of his sister’s “which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.”

When Cochran took his seat, Cordelia said, “Amen,” forgetting this was not Presbyterian prayer but a Presidential proclamation. The others looked at her, a bit puzzled. For reasons she could not explain, President Lincoln’s proclamation had reminded Cordelia of the Gospel of Luke and Caesar Augustus’ decree that there was to be a census which bade Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem, the ancient City of David. Deep in her soul, Cordelia wanted to be with her own people and she had persuaded her husband to make the trip made possible by this National Day of Thanksgiving and Praise.

Cordelia knew that left to his own devices, David would spend the entire dormant season, trimming oaks and splitting firewood in the morning with his afternoons devoted to projecting hypothetical bottom lines for his farm and those of his Thompson cousins under a whole host of scenarios, ranging from the best case of abundant blue sky and regular soaking rain to the worst, late planting, arid summer, early frost. What was the point, Cordelia wondered? Winter numbers were just that – numbers. The yield from the Boal farm and those of his Thompson cousins and their neighbors (and competitors) the following summer and fall and would be what they would be.

Cordelia, while still not entirely comfortable asserting herself, had simply announced that the entire family – the two of them, four-year-old John Edgar and Cochran, the baby, should step out of their routine and visit her brothers. “It would be an absolute delight for me to see the two Cochrans at play together,” Cordelia said, referencing their baby and his cousin born just before the Confederate kerfuffle the prior summer. She was prepared to say that her family was every bit as important as her husband’s when David simply said, “That sounds like a fine idea.” For his part, David Boal had missed the effortless conversations he once enjoyed with his brother-in-law Cochran, who Cordelia now called, “The Elder,” and he was eager to see him again.

Their carriage ride through the Pfoutz Valley to Mahantango had taken the better part of their Wednesday, the sun barely topping the southeast slope of Turkey Ridge, the cold settling into their wrists and ankles. John Edgar, seated between his parents, had been fascinated, watching the burning mounds of dried cornstalks and the men tilling the soil in advance of winter storms. Their Cochran, the baby, hadn’t seen a thing, since only the top of his head poked out from the oversized wool coat that his mother had used to swaddle him.
Cordelia couldn’t have been happier. Yesterday’s cold and damp was all forgotten. The Millerstown Boals and the Mahantango Thompsons were knitted together at the Thanksgiving table like the stitches on her shawl.

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