Lucia is sitting at the kitchen table with books and a Chrome book open. Her hair is tied in a low bun, and when she sees him come in from his workout, she looks up.
“Big news, Dad. We have to do a research paper for history class, and one of the options was to compare Lee and Grant and say who was a better general. So I picked that one because I figure you can do all the work for me.”
The man laughs. “I’m not doing all the work for you.”
She pulls a pencil from behind her ear. “But like, this is your thing. You love the Civil War.”
The man sees a flash of activity in the front room and hears the thud of a body part hitting the floor.
“Come on, Lindsay! Break me down,” Grant bellows.
“Are you? Because I don’t feel anything.”
The man walks toward the front room and sees Grant on all fours and Lindsay on top of him, pounding the crease in his right while trying to kick his right leg out from under him.
“Anytime now, Lindsay,” Grant says.
From behind, he hears Lucia say, “So which is it, Dad?”
“Which is what?” he says turning back.
“Who was better? Grant or Lee?”
The man takes a deep breath. “Lee is overrated and Grant is underrated. Both as a general and as a president.”
Lucia smiles. “Ooooh. Controversial. My teacher hates Grant. She says he was a terrible president.”
The man runs his hand through his hair as he hears a crash. Grant is coming out of a granby roll and smashes into the ottoman.
“Could you two not destroy the house, please? We still have to live here.”
Grant puts Lindsay in a headlock and drops her to the floor. “A little resistance, please, Lindsay. Come on.”
The man turns back to Lucia. “That’s because your teacher has been blinded by the Lost Cause apologists like most people in both North and South. Grant was not a drunk, not a butcher, and did more for civil rights than any president until the 1960s. He broke the back of the Klan when it first swept over the South.”
“See, Dad,” Lucia says. “This is what I need help with. I need help arguing that.”
He nods. “You can use my books, and I can show you how to research. But you have to do the work.”
“Duh, Dad,” she says.
“Say that I’m the best big brother ever!” Grant bellows.
The man turns back to Lindsay and Grant. Grant has Lindsay in a stack–it’s like starting to do a back rollover and getting stuck halfway there, but with someone forcing you to stay there.
“No!” Lindsay yells.
Grant pushes down harder. He is an All State 285-lb wrestler in the middle of a state championship season. Lindsay is in seventh grade.
“Say it, Lindsay!”
The man has wrestled Grant and bee stacked before. It’s excruciating, and you can easily have your wind cut off.
“No!” she squeaks.
Grant rolls her onto her stomach and puts her in an arm bar. “Just six little words, Lindsay!”
Lucia says, “So what makes Grant better than Lee in the Civil War?”
“You can break my arm! I’m not saying it!” Lindsay yells back.
Her face his red, and she can barely breathe with the weight of her brother on top.
The man looks back to Lucia. “Lee thought of the war at a tactical level mostly involving the protection of Virginia. He was always navigating to preserve his home state and save Richmond. Grant understood the war to involve the east and west theaters. The South’s only chance to survive was to fight until the North was sick of it. And to stay alive long enough to do that, they would eventually need supplies and interior lines from the west and the deep South. So Grant tied up Lee’s army in the east, occupied the Shenandoah Valley with Phil Sheridan, and tied up Johnston’s army in the west with Sherman. He kept the pressure on until there was no food, no equipment, and almost no men left. Lee couldn’t match him tactically.”
He turns back to see Lindsay in a banana split. “You’re hurting my leg, Grant!” she yells.
“Just six little words, Lindsay!” he says with a laugh.
The man takes a deep breath. “Grant, enough.”
“She can get out anytime she wants, Dad,” Grant says, looking up at him.
The man puts his hands on his hips. “Let her out.”
“So, like, are there books that say that stuff, Dad?” Lucia says.
“Of course there are,” the man says back.
“And you can help me find those points?”
“Say it, Lindsay!” Grant bellows again.
“Grant!” the man hollers. “Let her out!”
Grant releases her. “Come on, Dad. She would have to give in at some point.”
Lindsay pops up. “Suck it, Grant! You lost!”
“I did not lose,” Grant says. “I’ve just been delayed. You’re gonna say it!”
“Dad?” Lucia says.
He turns back around. “What’s that?”
“I realize you’re focused on your favorite children–the elite athletes. But I’m asking you, you can help me find those points?”
At that moment, Lauren comes down the stairs. “Has the timer beeped on the oven?”
“Two minutes left,” says the man.
“Great. We can say a blessing and have dinner,” Lauren says.
Lucia taps on the table with her pencil. “You’re so rude, Mom. I was talking to Dad. You totally interrupted.”
“Sorry!” Lauren says. “I didn’t know.”
“That’s cuz you don’t pay any attention. It’s always the Lauren show!”
“I said sorry,” Lauren says, as she pulls a hot pad out of a drawer and cracks the oven.
“And before that, Dad was all caught up with the elite athletes, his favorite kids.”
The man sighs. “I do not have favorite kids.”
Lucia rolls her eyes. “My bad. You hate everyone.”
“Excellent eye roll,” the man says. “And yes, I can help you find those points.”
Lucia makes a face at him. “My eye roll game is top notch.”
Lauren pulls a meatloaf from the oven. “Dinner’s ready. Where’s Graham?”
“Finishing homework in the office,” says Lucia.
“I am not,” Graham calls.
“Then what are you doing?” the man says.
“Working on my Roblox game!”
“Come for dinner. It’s your night to say the blessing.”
Grant and Lindsay walk in from the front room. Graham emerges from the office. Lauren turns from the oven.
“You still lost,” Lindsay whispers to Grant.
“Shut up, Lindsay,” Grant says loudly.
“Dear Heavenly Father, we thank thee for this day and for Jesus. Please bless the food. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
Lucia looks at Graham. “Awesome, Graham. Prayer number one. Never a change.”
The man sighs deeply again. “Everyone, just get your food.”