Talitha - Chapter 14

T a l i t h a

Chapter 14

   It was about two weeks before the children of the Dry Bayou community would be returning to school. As was the custom, there would be three months of free schooling, followed by three months of subscription school. The majority of the children in the community usually attended subscription school.

   A family by the name of Radford had recently moved to the community and were living several miles from Mrs. Sammons' home. The Radfords had migrated from Georgia to Arkansas at the close of the Civil War, later to settle in the Dry Bayou community.

   Grandma Berry, who had lived in the Dry Bayou community for some years and who was known never to harbor a thought, had once been a neighbor of the Radford family in Georgia, now she and her family were among the few to know the Radfords in this length of time. So sharp and quick was Grandma Berry's tongue, the young people had come to say of her, "If you want to pass the word around, just tell Grandma Berry." True to this remark, Grandma Berry had lost no time to pass the school news around in the community. To one and all she was saying, "Did you know the bachelor son of the Radfords is going to teach the Dry Bayou school this term?" When in the presence of young people she would bring up the subject of school to say, "Girls, there ain't no use to cast your eyes at the new school teacher. I can tell you now, Bob Radford ain't the marrying kind."

   Mrs. Sammons, at her home quietly going about her duties from day to day, was thinking in terms of school also, but altogether in a different manner from Grandma Berry. She was glad she had persuaded John to return to school but she wasn't yet satisfied; she was concerned to fulfill one more school mission.

   One evening Mrs. Sammons walked to Polly's home to await the return of Talitha from the store. It was again harvest time and business at the store was good, hence Talitha wasn't always arriving home at the appointed hour. This her mother knew and she was prepared to wait, making sure she had plenty of yarn to keep her busy at her knitting. Mrs. Sammons, who had not told Polly the purpose of her visit, continued to wait and watch for Talitha. Soon she heard her daughter's pleasing laughter. Polly glanced through the open door to see Talitha and Levi walking toward the yard gate. "Ma," Polly said, "we all might as well start loving Levi, it looks as if you might soon have him for a son-in-law." Mrs. Sammons, putting away her knitting, made no reply.

   Biding Levi good-bye at the gate, Talitha quickly entered the house. She was surprised at her mother's visit at this time of day and commented to this effect. But Mrs. Sammons' only answer to her daughter's cordial welcome was, "Talitha, while your baby is sleeping, come walk part way home with me." When Talitha and her mother were finding their way down the crooked turn rows to Mrs. Sammons' home, her mother said, "I'm sure you have given up hope of finding the money Steve once buried. We all agree Jason has been good to manage the store for you, but you can't expect him to continue much longer. And if you and Levi are not going to marry, I think you should go to school to prepare yourself better to take over your business."

   "The very idea!" Talitha said. "I______" Mrs. Sammons, interrupting her, said, "Jason can manager for a few months without you. You can move with me; I'll keep your baby and pay for your tuition for the last three months of school."

   "I'm sure a daughter could ask no more of her mother," Talitha said, "but the very idea of me, a mother and widow, going to school." "What's wrong with that?" Mrs. Sammons said. "If you need to know a thing or two---of course, you need to know a thing or two."

   The sun was fast disappearing when Talitha and her mother parted, Talitha promising to give thought to her mother's wishes. Talitha's small stature (less than five feet), and the fact she had never tipped the scales at a hundred pounds, did give her the appearance of a schoolgirl. Her jet black hair, fair complexion and deep blue eyes had long marked her a beauty. At a May Day picnic, once when she was seventeen, although married and the mother of two children, she was declared the prettiest teen-ager present and won the distinction of serving the first cup of lemonade from a huge barrel to the oldest citizen present. Now at the age of twenty-one she was known as the beautiful young widow of Steve Davis.

   In the days that followed, Talitha pondered her mother's suggestion over and over again. The Civil War, the death of her father, and her early marriage had limited her schooling, and now with Steve's death she was realizing more and more her need of an education. She was well aware that without it she could never take over her business. But to return to school at this stage in her life was a problem Talitha was finding hard to cope with.

   It was one of the alternate Sundays when there would be services at the Dry Bayou church. Talitha had been up since the peep of day to assist Polly with the preparation of the noon meal, making it possible for her sister to go to church in time.

   Going about the household duties that morning, thoughts that had been Talitha's chief concern for the past week or longer were still going around in her head, and at the same time she was getting a laugh out of Polly's usual Sunday morning scolding of Jason when she caught him greasing the wagon, Jason declaring he was only making sure the wagon would be ready to roll.

   It was over a week since Talitha had the talk with mother on the subject of her going to school. She knew her mother must be anxious to know of her decision. She would see her mother at church and would tell her no, as much as she regretted to do so. But in thinking of how unhappy it would make her mother to know she would not be going to school, she was about to make up her mind not to tell her until later. With these thoughts, Talitha walked to the kitchen door to see John standing in the barnyard talking to Jason. Surprised, she called, "Brother John, why are you here, and so early?" "Ma said to tell you to come to church prepared to spend the night with us tonight." John said. Talitha knew her mother's motive, and really, she didn't blame her; being a mother herself she fully understood. But much as she disliked to say no to her mother's wishes, she could not bring herself to say yes.

   When the three---Mrs. Sammons, John and Talitha---were returning from church, John said, "Talitha, we'll be leaving footprints on the road to school in about two more weeks." Talitha, not wanting to comment, quickly changed the subject.

   That night when Mrs. Sammons and Talitha had finished the chores in the kitchen and the three were comfortably seated, Mrs. Sammons said to Talitha, "When do you think it best for John to move you here?" Talitha could plainly see her mother's face was beaming with happiness, and it was breaking her heart to have her know her decision.  Turning her head aside so that her mother could not see her face, Talitha said, "Ma, I'm not going to school." Surprised, John quickly glanced at Talitha and could see she meant exactly what she had said. Mrs. Sammons did her best to make Talitha understand what six months of schooling could mean to her and how nice it would be to have John along to walk back and forth with her each day. Realizing all this, Talitha could not make up her mind to go to school.

   The following morning when John walked Talitha back to Polly's he had a motive other than to help her with the baby. Along the way, John, worried and disappointed, said, "Are you sure you don't want to go to school? I know you need to go and I wish you would." Slowly walking the turn rows through the fields John continued the conversation, hoping to convince his sister that she needed to return to school. Walking on to their destination, Talitha listened to John's every word, only on one occasion breaking her silence in protest. A short way from Polly's home, at the end of a turn row, they sat down on a fallen field gate; John, continuing to plead with Talitha, said, "If you are not going to school I may not go either." John could not have said anything to Talitha more heartbreaking, knowing how desperately he too needed more schooling. She could not bear to think of him as not going to school once he had planned to go. Finally she broke down and said, "You can count on me going to school with you."


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Charlotte Curlee Ramsey

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