A President's Past: As a young man, Abraham Lincoln spent six pivotal years in the frontier village of New Salem, III. The memories of that time profoundly changed him and influenced the rest of his life.

Author:Rawlins, Sam
Position:LITERARY SCENE - Excerpt from "Young Lincoln of New Salem" - Excerpt

WHATEVER VOICES one listens to in growing up, Abraham Lincoln was still trying to find those voices. When he arrived that day, April 19, 1831, in New Salem, 111., his soul was incomplete. As he stared into the open fireplace, these thoughts weighed on his mind and perhaps were revealed to anyone really focused on him.

Ann Rutledge was nearby with her mother and sisters preparing the meal for their visitors. Even though she was busy, she caught a glimpse of Lincoln's sad face. Her own discerning intuition into other people's thoughts and feelings was a gift. Somehow, she knew there was a deep sadness and hurt welled up inside him. In that brief instant, she knew she was the person who could help him.

Approaching him, she got his attention, "Mister Lincoln, we need to talk."

"We do?" he replied, snapping out of his depression, caught quite by surprise.

"After dinner, may we step out on the porch and talk?"

"Sure," Lincoln responded obligingly. His spirits were lifted. His eyes followed after her as she returned to work. He could see all the women busily were engaged around the large open-hearth fireplace. Using long-handled cookware, they prepared a meal the likes of which Lincoln and his crew had not had in several days. Sitting at a long wooden dining table, the four flatboat men enjoyed every bite of it.

Even though, outside of the great fireplace, lighting was by candle light, Abe managed to keep his eye on the movements of Ann. He noticed she was thin in stature, perhaps no more than five feet, six inches in height. One more thing he picked up on, which truly touched him: no matter which way she turned, her face always seemed to glow. He had seen such a face only on two other women in his entire life, his mother and sister. Both were dead now. Somehow, though, he thought God was blessing him by putting him in the presence of the face of an angel again.

Sitting there, Abe thought these New Salem folk are kind people with good hearts, something he was not used to in his upbringing. This brought him around to thinking of Ann again. He could not seem to get the image of her out of his head.

Presently, James Rutledge got everyone's attention, passing out cups of rum. Being a nondrinker, Abe quickly responded, "None for me, thanks anyway, Mister Rutledge. I think I'll go outside and get some fresh air."

As Abe stood up, his eyes connected with Ann again. She acknowledged by nodding silently at him. With that, Abe turned and left the great...

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