Talitha - Chapter 5

T a l i t h a

Chapter 5

   The Civil War had brought many hardships to the Sammons family, especially Mrs. Sammons, who, with her husband at war and later bedridden at home, had had to play the role of breadwinner for her family besides the many other responsibilities that were heaped on her shoulders.

   Now that the war was only a memory, and although a widow with a growing family to support, Mrs. Sammons was looking forward to better days. But the Reconstruction period was bringing longer hours of hard work for each member of the family. Every night, long after her family was asleep, Mrs. Sammons put aside her knitting to prepare sulphur and molasses and copperas pills, brew sassafras, and plan the next day's work for each child. She rose each morning along with her family at the stroke of four.

   When the children had all gathered around the breakfast table, preparing for another day's work, Mrs. Sammons never failed to say, "Children, if the Lord be willing, work to get the most out of this day. Remember, there's a penny's difference between those who work and those who play, and those who work get the penny."

   There was always an abundance of milk and home-cured meat at the Sammons homestead. Should the family want a supply of fresh meat Mrs. Sammons, with one of the older boys and a sleigh drawn by a mule, would go a mile or more to the edge of some cutover land where they would sit quietly for awhile with rifles ready. They never failed to bring home either a wild boar or a deer. But the rest of the family's living had to be dug out of the ground, including the bread, potatoes, molasses and vegetables, making it necessary for the family to work from before sunrise to after sunset.

   Through the ordeal of the Civil War and then Reconstruction days, Mrs. Sammons was forced to press her younger children into duties far beyond her wishes.

   Back from the field, each afternoon, Talitha, like the others, was busy with tasks in the house until late at night. Jane's and Polly's work began in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal. Nancy helped her mother keep the family  supplied with stockings and socks, while the boys did their chores of feeding and watering the stock, making sure there was plenty of firewood and stove wood on the porch. Mrs. Sammons, when not otherwise occupied, could be found at the spinning wheel, where every minute counted if her family was to have the necessary clothing. Talitha's mother thought of her as yet too young for many tasks, but it looked as if every shoulder must be to the wheel if the family was to survive. With this in mind, Mrs. Sammons put Talitha in the kitchen hoping she would soon be a good helper for either Polly or Jane, making it possible to relieve one of the girls for more strenuous work.


From the beginning Talitha not only proved her dislike for the kitchen but a nuisance to her elder sisters as well. She insisted they sing each recipe to her, from the making of corn bread to scrambling of eggs. When the girls protested, their mother coaxed them to have patience, promising Talitha would soon quit the "foolishness" as Jane and Polly termed it. Each evening choral chimes could be heard coming from the kitchen, Talitha herself often chiming in. Talitha's favorite recipe was "Rough and Ready," the only one Jane and Polly set to rhyme, just to please Talitha. Jane and Polly were often heard singing:

Take biscuits eight or ten, split and butter well;
Place in a deep pan and then add two cups of molasses;   
Bake brown---tastes swell.

   Once when Talitha was making corn bread and Polly as usual was singing the recipe, Talitha having learned when to add the milk and not waiting for Polly to sing how much, quickly poured too much. Polly glanced over Talitha's shoulder and, seeing what she had done, said, "Now, now, you have drowned the miller." Polly couldn't have said anything to please Talitha more, for ever after when reminded it was time to make bread, Talitha would always say, "You do it, you know I'll drown the miller."

   With all the verse of rhythm and song, Talitha never developed a love for the kitchen, and Jane and Polly, still trying to be patient, never ceased to wish Talitha would leave them be. However, years later the men of the Sammons clan were to declare Talitha the best cook in the family.


   Shortly after the close of the Civil War, a young man, Steve Davis from Missouri, moved to the community to assist relatives in making a crop. Steve was at least six feet tall, with fair complexion, reddish brown hair and light blue eyes which earned him the designation of a blond. Here, he met and fell in love with Jane, the second-oldest daughter of Mrs. Sammons. After a stay of about two years in the community, Steve, in making plans to return to his home, asked Mrs. Sammons for her daughter's hand in marriage. This came as no surprise to Mrs. Sammons and without hesitating she said, "Steve, I think Jane is too young to marry, but if you care to wait until she is eighteen I'll not only give my consent but I'll add my blessings as well." Unwillingly, and disappointed that he would be returning home without the girl he loved, Steve gave Mrs. Sammons his promise to wait.

   The morning of his departure he was an early caller at the Sammons home. He was there to say good-bye to the family, especially Jane. Departing, he asked Jane to walk part of the way with him. As they came to a large holly tree that stood about halfway in the middle of the lane that led to the Sammons home, Jane paused, standing under the spreading boughs of the tree, reluctant to say good-bye. Steve, with his knife, carved two hearts, one entwined into the other, on the trunk of the stately old tree. "Here are two hearts," he said. "One is yours, the other is mine. I'm going to leave mine here. Will yours be here waiting for me when I return?" Jane gave Steve her promise with only a nod of her head, and sealing her promise with a kiss they parted, each believing love can endure all things.

   Two years later Steve returned to claim his bride and he and Jane were married. Mrs. Sammons not only gave her consent and her blessings, she offered Steve and Jane a home with her, agreeing to set aside so many acres to be planted as Steve might see fit, promising them all they made.

   Steve accepted. He was soon to prove his worth as a son-in-law. "Just to have a man around the house, especially one as willing as Steve, means more than I can express." Mrs. Sammons once said. For the first time in years she was relieved of some of her many responsibilities. Steve's kindness, understanding and wise counsel richly rewarded the love and respect of each member of the family.

   Steve and Jane were a happy, devoted couple, but their happiness was short lived. After only about fifteen months of marriage Jane died in childbirth. She and her baby were laid to rest in the little neighborhood cemetery beside her loving father.

   The weeks following Jane's death found Steve a restless man. He now had a feeling he no longer belonged at the Sammons home and he was planning to return to his home in Missouri.

   Shortly after Jane's death one of the largest snows of the season had fallen in late December, and now in January more snow was heaping the drifts even higher. Steve knew travel was impossible until the thaw set in.

   One evening at dusk, Steve and the boys were making ready for a 'possum hunt that night. Mrs. Sammons, seated in her bedroom, overheard Steve saying, "Boys, I don't plan to have many more hunts with you." When one of the boys asked why, Steve said, "When the thaw sets in I'll be returning to my home in Missouri." This came as a complete surprise to Mrs. Sammons. She had thought Steve would remain at the homestead.

   The following morning, with the departure of each from the breakfast table leaving Steve and Mrs. Sammons alone over a cup of coffee, she said, "Steve, I couldn't help overhearing last evening when you told the boys of your plans to be leaving soon." "Yes," Steve replied, "I'm making plans to that effect." "Well," Mrs. Sammons said, "I have only one thing to say. This house was once large enough for you and Jane both and it is still large enough for you." Without another word, Steve quickly left the table. Later, when the thaw set in, Mrs. Sammons was positive Steve would soon be on his way. One day, finding his mother-in-law alone in the kitchen, Steve seated himself near her and in his quiet manner said, "Do you think best to put the lower acreage in cotton again this year?" Then and there Mrs. Sammons and Steve made plans for the various crops to be planted on the Sammons acreage, come spring.

   Mrs. Sammons was now confident Steve would remain a member of the family---at least for a few months longer.


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Charlotte Curlee Ramsey

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