Talitha - Chapter 16

T a l i t h a

Chapter 16

   Talitha's school days were becoming more interesting. It could be said she was burning the midnight oil, for a long time after her family had retired she could be found quietly studying.

Forgetting the fact that she was a mother and a widow, she cheerfully performed her role of schoolgirl, accepting the routine of each school day even to standing in line with the children each morning and noon to march into the schoolroom. Also, adhering to Mr. Radford's rule in bringing each school day to a close. Around three o'clock in the afternoon he would say, "Prepare to take your homework with you." This consisted of copies of sentences written by Mr. Radford. He required each pupil to make several copies to be returned to him the next morning, in addition to being prepared to spell each word contained in the copy. Later he would say, "Rise! March---in single file!" Occasionally those who had misspelled words were asked to stay behind.

   After about two months of school, Talitha's record showed prefect attendance and her continued interest in her school work delighted her mother.

   It was a Friday afternoon; the time was drawing near to mark the end of another school week. The pupils, nervously awaiting dismissal, were fidgeting in their seats. Mr. Radford, on hearing the last spelling class, in his usual manner, said, "Prepare to take your homework with you, " later to say, "Rise!" As the pupils stood by their seats awaiting the word to file out, the teacher quietly said, "Mrs. Davis, will you please remain?" Talitha quickly took her seat, wondering why she alone should be asked to remain. True, she had missed a word in spelling that day, but there were others who had misspelled words also. Why didn't Mr. Radford ask them to stay too? When the last pupil had filed out, there Talitha sat alone. She well knew she had never been more angry. How she wished her mother could see her now--- she would never again say she had lost all her spitfire temper. Mr. Radford, apparently straightening his desk, refused to look at her while Talitha, with her eyes glued on him, refused to look elsewhere. Finally, Mr. Radford, looking up at her, said, "Mrs. Davis, may I have the pleasure of your company to the crossroads?"

   Once at the crossroads Talitha would take the left-hand road that led to her mother's home while Mr. Radford took the right-hand road to his home, a little distance out of his way. Angry as she was and surprised, she never knew how she answered Mr. Radford, she only knew as they walked the broad open road together she must have given him her consent. A short distance ahead she saw John lagging behind, amusing himself with the children going his way, only to give her time to catch up to him.

   Bidding Mr. Radford good-bye at the crossroads, Talitha made no effort to catch up to John. In her mood she much preferred to be alone. Slowly walking homeward, she was thinking and wondering why Mr. Radford would want to go out of his way to walk with her. Recalling he was about eight years her senior gave her more cause to ponder these things. Regretting the incident, she was certain she would never mention it to her family.

   John, who had stopped some distance up the road, was waiting for her. He gave her his solemn promise it would be their secret if she wished it. That night when Talitha was prepared to study, she was still trying so hard to understand why Mr. Radford would want to walk to the crossroads with her, that for the first time since the beginning of school she was unable to collect her thoughts sufficiently for study.

   Far into the stillness of the night, disturbed only by the crickets, Talitha worried, tried to make up her mind whether, under the circumstances, she should return to school. Unable to sleep, she relived some of the happy memories of her childhood. She thought of the many times she and John had waded the deep snow to the back of the field to set a deadfall baited with peanuts to trap a rabbit. Then to skin him and roast over a bed of live coals in the open. She brought to mind when her mother often woke the older boys in the late hours of the night to have them row with her across the Gallion to the cow pen to rescue the young calves from the bears and wolves.

   She recalled more than once her mother returning to the house to say the wolves had killed one or more calves before they could reach them, how this, as a small child, caused her to cry out of sorrow, then her mother would coax her to sleep again. She pictured the two huge cast-iron pots that sat on the dirt floor in the smokehouse in the winter, one filled with homemade lye hominy, the other with cooked pumpkin, how it pleased her and John to be sent to the smokehouse to fetch some of each for the kitchen. In thinking of her mother's delicious hominy she thought of the old ash barrel that sat on a scaffold in the back yard partly filled with ashes taken from the fireplaces. It was her task and John's to fill the barrel with water, washing down the lye her mother used in making hominy.

   She would never forget the happy times they all had together when Nancy would send her and John to the kitchen on an errand, Nancy knowing they would find Polly hidden somewhere in the darkness of the room with balls of fox fire about her eyes, Polly slowly moving about to frighten them. Talitha soon learned it was Polly but John, who could never accept the fact, would run to his mother frightened and excited, trying to tell her what he had seen in the kitchen, this bringing laughter from all the family.

   She recalled what she knew to be the most fun of all, when her mother and all the family, taking their lunch, would leave home before the break of day on a summer morning to drive for several hours to a pigeon roost in the deep swamps where each, with a large sack, would pick up feathers to be made into pillows and feather beds, her mother making sure that each picked only the down of the feathers.

    There was the small weather-beaten church in a grove of giant oaks where, the first and second Sunday of each month, come rain or shine, dressed in their best homespun, they would drive several miles in the wagon drawn by their faithful old mules to hear the parson say, "If you don't get down on your knees and repent, one of these days you will find yourself in a burning hell." Once home and for several days thereafter she and John would steal away to their place behind the log smokehouse where they would kneel and pray to escape a burning hell. Forgetting the parson in a course of two weeks, to return to the church to hear him once again tell them how they were all bound for hell if they didn't change their way way of living, she and John would once again hasten to their respective places behind the smokehouse.

   She was sure she could never forget the old smokehouse that stood near the kitchen door in her mother's back yard. It was there she and John liked to sit on the sills to talk and sing, while they kept the hickory logs smoking under the dozens of hams and pounds of sausage hanging high. Every so often their mother would peep in to make sure the smoke was going in the right direction, and sometimes to sit on the sills with them to help sing their favorite songs.

   Neither could she forget the screams of the panthers that roamed near her home. How she and John liked to sit on the barnyard gate in the late evenings to answer a panther's scream in the distance. They had come to be so good at imitating one that often they could call one nearer and nearer the house. This would attract their mother's attention and she would call them into the house, scolding them while closing the doors and window shutters.

   Among other memories tracing through her mind were the winter nights at her childhood home with all the family gathered around the kitchen fireplace piled high with black logs, each picking seed from the cotton grown on the farm. The glow of the warm fire made it possible to see without the aid of candles. How vivid to see herself, so soon a sleepy head, nodding. Her mother, hoping to keep her awake, at least a little while longer, would have her repeat after her The Ten Commandments, beginning with the first one and continuing on, each in order. Many were to marvel that one so young could repeat all of them from memory. Finally, at what seemed like the wee hours of the morning, her mother would say, "Talitha, come to my knees and say your prayers, then you may go to bed."

   Talitha thought of all these facts and others as a rich heritage, and she wished it were possible for Clemmie to experience them as she had known them.

   Talitha was still tossing on her pillow when the clock on the mantel in her mother's bedroom struck twelve. Counting the last tone, she recalled hearing her mother say that many were the nights during the Civil War she had counted the strokes of two and even three. The Civil War---this brought back many sad memories. Although very young, she could distinctly remember many of the hardships her family endured then, especially during the Reconstruction days without a father. She believed her father's death, more than anything else, was the cause of her limited education. She was positive now, more than ever, that never did she want her baby to know the hardships that once were hers, and before she closed her eyes that night in sleep she had come to one conclusion---that she would forget Friday's episode and return to school Monday morning, only hoping to fulfill the dreams she had for her young daughter and to give her the one thing she had wanted so much for herself, and the one thing she now so desperately needed---an education.

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Charlotte Curlee Ramsey
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