How to See the Elephant begins with Thetis Wymore telling her story in 1869. After her mother and brother die from cholera, her father takes a job as a travelling salesman and they follow a circuit through Pennsylvania and Ohio together.
"We were in somewhere in north-eastern
Given a chance, in the spring of 1862, to join an Ohio regiment being raised by an old friend, her father takes it -- without consulting her.
“What’s going to happen to me?”
Pa was sitting in the parlor, in the armchair by the window. We were the only boarders in there at the moment. Pa tilted his head back and looked out the window at the jumble of trash and scrawny bushes around Mrs. Hammersmith’s double outhouse.
“Well, I’ve thought of two ideas. One is the Shakers. I could ride you down to
“Yes,” I said vaguely.
I wasn’t thinking of any of the political stuff; I was thinking of how silent it was there and that the trees would go drip, drip all day long on rainy days and the nights would be pitch black.
“The other is to go to Miss Barclay’s in
We had been through
I knew then what I wanted to say but I could not make my voice work. I knew that after Mama and Julius, after the cemetery, after the house in the days afterward, I had to accept my fate without asking questions."