Harvest time came and with it a lot of work. Of course I still had the animals to take care of and to milk, and I was spending a great deal of time helping Ma weed the vegetable garden. It made more work for me, but I loved fresh vegetables, and we needed the root ones during the winter. The corn was getting ripe so each day we had to pick as much as we could. Much of it we sent to Frederick to sell to the distillers. Some of it we ate, some of it we kept for seed, and some we kept for the animals to eat in the winter.
Once in a while I could still get away in the late afternoon, but it was on Sundays that I could go to the pond for most of the afternoon. The Parker boys were almost always there and we had fallen into a routine of swimming and playing and sunning and picnicking. Poor Tad had fallen in their barn the week before and broken his arm so he couldn’t go in the water. By the time he’d be able to, it would be too cold. So he sat on the bank, sucking on grass stalks and looking glum.
Something happened that day which I thought about for a while, trying to decide whether it was right or wrong. Usually, while the younger boys were running around, Josiah and I lay on the grass in the sun and talked. We’d done a lot of arguing that summer about the states and slavery and war. He was very unhappy that he wouldn’t be able to fight if war came. It was only when we talked about the war that I ever heard him complain about how unfair it was that he was blind.
Josiah and I were lying on the grass like we usually did, but this time we were facing each other. As usual we were both hard. Quietly, with his usual grin, he asked, “D’ya jerk yer cock?”
Oh my, I thought, that’s getting very personal. But after all, what boy our age hadn’t? I knew some of my friends from school did, and I thought the others probably did as well. So I quietly said, “Yeah.”
“Wanna do it together?” he asked.
I blushed beet red as I thought about it before asking, “What about yur brothers?”
“Oh, we all sleep in the same bed. I try hidin’ it from ’em, but sometimes they see me doin’ it. They try doin’ it too, but they don’t get far.” We both laughed, picturing them in the bed trying to imitate Josiah.
“C’mon,” he urged, standing up. “Let’s do it!”
Hesitantly I agreed and stood with him. We went to the edge of the pond and waded in up to our ankles. Our cocks, of course, had gotten even harder as soon as he had suggested pleasuring ourselves, so we stood there moving our right hands up and down, enjoying the rising tension and the wonderful throbbing and release. He shot farther than I did, but I shot longer. Finishing, we turned to each other, laughed, washed off our cocks, and went back to lying on the grass, this time on our backs.
After a while, Josiah called his brothers and we ate our picnic before we got dressed and, Eddie leading Josiah as always, went off towards our homes to milk the cows and care for the other animals.
As I milked our cows, I thought about what had happened. I had sometimes talked a little about sex with some of the older boys at school, but we had never done anything together. Because I lived on a farm, I knew all about how sex worked, or at least I thought I did. I’d seen animals mount each other, I’d watched the pregnant cows and goats grow large, and I’d helped deliver the calves and piglets. I’d also watched male animals mount each other, so I knew it wasn’t unusual for males to do that. If you want to see something really funny, watch two boars try to mate! Anyway, I had no idea whether human males did this or not. I thought about asking Pa, but decided that would be way too embarrassing for both of us. We really didn’t keep any secrets from each other, but he was a quiet man and he didn’t talk a lot. I knew he loved me and I knew I loved him, but it wasn’t something we ever said. We never hugged each other either, although we both hugged Ma and she hugged back. But I thought it would be hard to talk with him about anything connected with my sex, and I was pretty sure he wouldn’t want to talk about it. So I had my first secret from him, and I felt a little alone and sad.
At supper that night I didn’t say much. Later, as I sat at the kitchen table and wrote in my journal, I kept wondering what was going to come of all this with Josiah in the weeks ahead.
By October it was too cool to go swimming, but the Parker boys and I continued to meet at the pond. We had all begun to wear shirts as well as our overalls, but on warm days we still stripped at the pond, even though we didn’t go into the water. Stripping was just a wonderful feeling of freedom and release.
Recently, our two families had all been to Frederick to sell the last of our corn. While we were there we watched some men play a game which they called “town ball.” It involved hitting a ball with a thick stick and running to designated areas in the field. As we watched I described the game to Josiah, who said it sounded like fun. So the next time we went to the pond, Eddie brought along a ball and a stick to hit it with. We didn’t really know any rules, but Eddie threw the ball to Tad who tried to hit it with the stick. They weren’t too successful, but I guess they got a little better at it through the afternoon and they had fun. Sitting beside Josiah I realized that he was following the game even more closely than I was and laughing along with the rest of us.
Later, while Eddie and Tad were playing catch and tag, Josiah and I sat by the pond tossing in small rocks and talking once again about the election. I had decided I wanted Lincoln to win. Josiah couldn’t decide between John Breckenridge, who was from Kentucky and led the Southern Democrats, or John Bell, who was from Tennessee and led the new Constitutional Party. He did say though that either one of them would be better than Lincoln. The problem for him was that the Democratic Party had split between the South and the North. The Northern Democrats wanted Stephen Douglas, but Josiah don’t want him either, and he was afraid that the two men from the South would divide the votes and Lincoln would get elected. While we talked I invited him to stay at our house on a weekend. He told me he’d have to ask his parents, but he thought they’d let him once the farm work eased up.
That night as I lay in bed, I thought of poor Josiah, in bed with Tad and Eddie while I had the luxury of my own bed. He had told me that even though his brothers knew what he did with himself and tried it themselves, He didn’t really feel comfortable doing it in the bed with them right beside him, so often, even though it was getting cold at night, he went outside to do it. Brrrr.
The last weekend in October was so full and wonderful and confusing! Harvest was finally over. We had gotten the last of the apples from the orchard and the last of the vegetables from the garden, so the root cellar was full of apples, carrots, beets, and potatoes. Ma had been busy from dawn to dark every day for a week putting up beans, tomatoes, corn, and pickled cucumbers, so suppers had been a little sparse, but she had always managed to feed us.
Then, even though there was the winter wheat to seed, Josiah had at last gotten permission to come and visit for two nights, for, as he said, he wasn’t much help with the plowing and planting since he couldn’t see what to do. On Saturday the four of us boys met at the pond and Tad, Eddie and I played town ball while Josiah listened as always, following the game closely. At first I had felt guilty playing when he couldn’t play too, but he insisted that I should play and that he was happy doing just what he was doing. We ate a picnic lunch and thought about swimming because it was pretty warm, but when we put our feet in the water we decided not to. So the only times our bodies would be in water from then on until the next summer would be for our Saturday night baths.
Eddie and Tad had volunteered to do Josiah’s chores while he was with us. Eddie had said, “It’s not ’cause we like Josiah or anythin’ but we like ya an’ we don’t want ya to be lonely.”
“Besides,” added Tad, “we’re all gettin’ bigger an’ the bed’s getting’ crowded with the three of us.”
So at dusk, they headed off to their home and Josiah and I went to mine, with me leading Josiah the way Eddie did. Pa and Ma had of course met all of the Parkers at church on Sundays so they knew Josiah but had never really talked with him.
During supper, they asked him about his family, about how the farm was doing, and whether he was going to go to school now that the harvest was in. Then they realized how hard that would be for him. Ma started to apologize but Josiah interrupted, saying that she had nothing to apologize for. He told them about doing sums in his head and went on to say that his mother read wonderful stories to all the boys.
Then he brought up the subject of war. Pa and Ma looked at each other across the table and then looked at me. We had never discussed the election or the possibility of war so they had no idea what I thought. Pa asked Josiah why he thought there would be a war.
Josiah responded, “Well, if Lincoln gets elected I’m pretty sure there’ll be war ’cause the southern states’ll secede.”
I think Pa was a little angry about that. He said that he certainly hoped Lincoln did get elected because he was clearly the best man for the job. Then Pa and Josiah argued about slaves and secession and the election. I was amazed to hear Josiah argue with Pa. I mean, children just don’t argue with adults. At the end of the discussion he apologized for arguing but did point out that Pa had asked him what he thought. Pa sort of mumbled and the rest of the meal passed quietly. Ma tried to make conversation but didn’t get very far.
After supper Josiah helped me with the dishes. It being Saturday night it was then bath time. Josiah and I hauled water from the pump while Ma heated it and put it in the tin tub in the kitchen. Since Josiah was our guest, he got to go first. Pa and Ma went into the living room, I guess to give him some privacy, but of course Josiah and I needed no privacy having been naked together at the pond so often. I sat at the table and we talked as he bathed. I asked him why in heaven’s name he had argued with Pa. “Well,” he said, “like I said before, yur Pa did ask me. I guess I feel pretty strongly about what’s happenin’. And ya notice he argued right back. He didn’t try to just stop me.”
“No,” I answered. “I think he might actually have enjoyed it. Ya remember he went to college in Baltimore and I think he learned a lot about discussing things there. It’s just that he and I never do that. I’m not afraid of him, I just feel like it’s kinda disrespectful.”
“Oh. I wasn’t tryin’ t’ be disrespectful. I’ll tell him that afore we go to bed.”
When we had both finished our baths and put clean overalls on, we went through the living room to go to bed. Josiah apologized again to Pa, saying he didn’t mean to be disrespectful. Pa thought a minute, smiled, and said, “That’s all right, Josiah. In fact, I rather enjoyed myself.”
With that we went up to bed, put on our nightshirts, and climbed under my quilt. This was the first time I’d been in bed with another person since I was tiny and in my parents’ bed. We lay talking for a while before Josiah asked, “Elias, don’t you usually pleasure yourself before you go to sleep?”
“Well, yah,” I admitted, “but I didn’t know whether we would or not.”
“Why not?” he asked, and with that he threw aside the quilt, pulled his nightshirt up and began moving his hand up and down. I was a little embarrassed but I did the same until we had both happily finished. Then we used an old sock I keep for the purpose to clean ourselves off, pulled our nightshirts back down, and went to sleep.
In the morning, when Ma banged the frying pan to wake us up, we repeated the fun of the night before, dressed quickly and went out to do my chores. Breakfast was a happy meal with all of us chattering and the tension of the night before long gone. After we cleaned up, we all put on our Sunday clothes.
Part of the agreement that Josiah could stay with us was that he would go with us to church, so after breakfast we all rode in the wagon to church, where we met other families and gossiped before the bell rang for service. One of the reasons I liked church, maybe the only one, was that we got to see neighbors and friends, boys I had known in school who I didn’t see anymore because I was no longer in school.
Once again the sermon was about slavery and the election. I felt Josiah grow tense beside me, but he didn’t say anything. Finally the sermon ended and we sang a hymn.
Following the service, which seemed even longer than usual, with prayers for wise choices in the election and for the country to turn aside from war, we rode home and had our Sunday dinner.
After dinner, Josiah and I put on our every-day overalls and went to the pond. Sure enough, Tad and Eddie were there so there was more ball playing and tag. Tad’s arm was now healed so he could take part in everything we did. While neither of us was naked, Josiah faced me, raised his eyebrows comically, and asked, “Shall we?” With that we stood, shed our overalls, and walked to the pond, where we once again shot out into the water.
Near dusk we headed home and Josiah helped me with my chores before supper, which as usual on Sundays was baked beans and brown bread. I have to say Ma made the most delicious brown bread, and I’m sure I could’ve eaten a whole loaf by myself.
This time Pa and Josiah had a much friendlier discussion and Pa asked me what I thought.
“Well, I sure hope Lincoln wins even if it means war, and if there is war I’ve a mind to be in it.”
There was a long silence. Ma looked a little frightened, and finally Pa said, “No ya won’t. In the first place, I won’t let ya and in the second place ya’d pro’bly have ta be at least eighteen ta join.”
“But sir, my friends are goin’ to. We all talked ’bout it before church.”
“Yer friends are too young too, and I caint imagine their pas’d let ’em.”
Wisely, Josiah didn’t say anything, so the conversation ended and we went on to other subjects.
By the time supper was over, it was dark out but too early to go to bed, so Josiah and I sat on the porch and talked about me joining the army.
“I never really thought ya’d join the army,” Josiah said. “I suppose ya’d fight for the North, wouldn’t ya?”
“Yes, of course. I don’t think the states should come apart. I think we need ta find a way to agree ta keep ’em together.”
“Ya know, if ya joined, I’d be stuck here and really, really jealous.”
“If ya could be in the war, ya’d fight for the South, wouldn’t ya?”
“So we’d be on opposite sides.” A little chill ran through me. “What’d jappen if we met in battle?”
“I dunno. I know I could never shoot ya. What would ya do?”
“I certainly wouldn’t shoot you either. I hope the Lord don’t never let me shoot any of my friends!”
With that we went to bed.
Without even putting our nightshirts on we climbed into bed together. Josiah turned to me, reached over, and put his hand lightly on my chest. I quivered with the feeling. It was completely new to me. Nobody had ever touched me just like that before. I know we had touched before, but somehow this was different. I turned my head to him and asked, “What’re ya doin’?”
“I’ve wanted t’ touch ya like this since the first day we met.”
Immediately I grew hard as I rolled towards him and began rubbing his chest, instinctively giving special attention to his nipples, which were round and firm. We lay like that for a few minutes, exploring each other before he asked quietly, “Would ya like me ta hold your cock?”
I wasn’t sure at first. I certainly wanted him to, but I didn’t know whether we should do that or not. I finally answered, “I’m not sure we should.”
“I dunno. I’m just not sure.”
“Well, let me start, and if ya don’t like it ya can tell me t’ stop.” I sighed and agreed, so he moved his hand down and put it on my firm cock. It was an amazing feeling, even better than when I held it. Slowly he began to move his hand up and down. It felt so wonderful I took hold of his cock as well. It was smooth and silky yet very hard. Soon we were throbbing and spurting liquid onto each other, groaning with pleasure.
When we had finished and cleaned ourselves we just lay together, hugging each other. And then we slept.
In the morning we awoke, having never put on our nightshirts, although Josiah had pulled the quilt up in the night. As we dressed, I asked, “D’ya think what we done is a sin?”
“I don’t think God’d make anythin’ that feels so good a sin.” I wasn’t sure and I was certain I’d keep wondering.
After chores and breakfast Josiah had to leave, so I walked with him as far as the pond, where Eddie and Tad were waiting to take him the rest of the way while I returned home.
When I went back into the kitchen, Ma asked, “Well, did you boys have a good time?”
“Oh, yes,” I replied. “Can he come again?” She assured me that he could come anytime.
Later, I sat out under our big oak tree writing in my journal and thinking about the last two nights. Were we being foolish? I knew I really liked Josiah and I really liked what we did but was it wrong? Should boys really do this with each other? Was it just sex or was it love? Can boys love each other or would that be against the will of God? I just didn’t know. I was really confused and I didn’t have anybody I could ask. It was all just too private.