It's that time again for another chapter in the life of Lexi, my fictional Packhorse Librarian in Appalachian Kentucky in 1935-36. Lexi is writing a journal to her young daughter, Grace.
If you are new to my blog, I would suggest you start reading from the very beginning.
Chapter One A New Beginning
Chapter Two Aroma of Time
Chapter Three Reflections
Chapter Four The Christmas Surprise
Chapter Five Les Misérables
Bridle Path - Chapter 6 - From the Heart
This has become a time of
reflection for me while I ride along my route into the hollers and back country
of rural Appalachian Kentucky. I’m not only riding my route and blazing a trail,
but as I ride, I’m sifting through an enormous number of memories in my life
which have brought me to this new and very unexpected route my life has taken.
As I look around, I
realize the countryside is held captive by the grip of Winter. I will not be held captive by Winter or by my
own thoughts; I’m going to break the bonds and forge a trail even though my
anxiety level grows with the height of the snow. This is one of those times when I wish
Starkey was 2 hands higher than he is. If he threw me, at least I would land in
snow and not meet the hard earth with a thud.
There is such emptiness
yet richness in the silence in the mountains which makes my senses more aware
of everything around me. There are times
when I reign in Starkey, and we listen to the stillness around us. Such sweet stillness that calms my mind and
soul and gives me time to sort through my thoughts. I marvel at the bluebird sky, a color truly
designed by a higher power for our enjoyment and awe. I also love looking at
the different tracks in the snow. A very
low-slung creature made an odd pattern through the snow in front of me. My
first thought is a fisher cat. It doesn’t like fish and it’s not a cat, so I
have no idea how it received that name.
I just know that I would rather not come face to face with one.
My saddle has become my chair
as I spend more time in it than I do at home.
Was it comfortable….no, but my saddle fits me like a glove and adjusts
to my every curve. Or maybe my body fits every contour of the saddle. I wouldn’t call it an easy chair, but it is
becoming a comfortable old friend.
I just stopped in and
spent some time with Little Georgie Stoltz.
This is his favorite time of year as he likes to pretend he is Cupid
with his bow and suction cup arrow. I must
remind him not to shoot me, so the arrow doesn’t startle Starkey. The entire family has been enjoying Robinson
Crusoe. I probably stayed longer than I should have and spent some time
reading to them. Sitting by the fire and sipping a weak cup of coffee was just
what I needed to get some heat back into my body. The words of Mrs. Stoltz
resonated in my brain as I left their cabin.
“Land sakes child, please be careful out there!”
My thoughts travel back
to Valentine’s Day, or the ghost of Valentine’s past. This is the second February 14th
since your Daddy’s passing. I feel as
though the months of the calendar fly by one after the other without much delineation
in time. But Winter, oh how Old Man Winter keeps such monotonous and repetitive
time. The days tick away like the metronome in Mrs. Welch’s cabin.
I find myself drifting
back to when I was in 5th grade in Mr. South’s one room schoolhouse
in Cobble Hill. There were only three of
us in the 5th grade if you count Rocky, who took eight years to
matriculate to the 5th grade.
Rocky was just there to warm the pines of his chair but never absorb any
knowledge between his ears. His only
pleasure in life was trying to torment the entire schoolhouse of students, and
On any given day, there
was an assortment of small and large bodies from the age of five to fifteen. For the most part, we all got along pretty
well, except for Rocky and had known each other since we were old enough to
walk. You could say just about all of us
were in the same poor economic circumstance. There was no income gap in town;
we were all pretty much in the same boat.
Some boats rode a bit higher in the water than others. The good news is
we never knew we were poor; we just didn’t know differently.
There was one student,
Glen, who truly was poor, and was, as some said, from the wrong side of the
tracks. I never knew that tracks had a right and wrong side until years
later. The boat his family was in
floated lower in the water than the rest of us and was close to capsizing and
taking in water at a fast clip. Glen was the eldest of five children. The hand-me-down clothes he wore were
well-worn castoffs from his father. The
clothes hung on his painfully thin bones like a scarecrow. I remember he cut holes in the cuffs of an
old sweater and stuck his thumbs through the holes to keep the sleeves from
reaching down to his knees. I thought
that design modification was genius and told him so.
Glen was likeable but he
didn’t see the inside of a bathtub on a frequent rotation with the other
children in his cabin. His face was
usually dirty which made his smile extremely white. It was a winning smile that
made you overlook the ever-present odor that followed him like a cloud through
We were just kids who
went to school to have fun, be with our friends, and yes learn a thing or two
so we could better our lives. I have yet to understand why long division would
make my life better. Not to mention dividing
and multiplying fractions! Well, I take
that back. My knowledge of fractions has
helped Grandma Millie with her quilting calculations.
Every day when we entered
the classroom, each of the chalkboards were filled with arithmetic problems. We
had to write the problems down on our paper and solve them. I could breeze through the easy section and
would really have to concentrate on the harder problems. One by one we were called up to the board to solve
the problem so we could all learn. It
became a fun game to see who could finish first and we were learning so much; well,
some of us were always learning with the exception of Rocky who made a habit of
making paper airplanes with his arithmetic paper. Mr. South put a stop to that and challenged
Rocky to design a paper airplane that would fly over the top of the swing set
in the school yard. He could only do
that after he finished and solved all the problems on the chalkboard. That
Mr. South sure had Rocky figured out.
During lunchtime, Mr.
South always sat with Glen as he knew no one else would sit with him. Glen welcomed this as Mr. South always
slipped him an extra sandwich, an apple, or a cookie made by Mrs. South. The only one in the room who spoke out about
this show of favoritism was Rocky, of course. Mr. South just asked Rocky how
his paper airplane was coming along and would he please give us a demonstration
of his aerial pursuit after lunch.
Mr. South was a fresh
graduate right out of the new teachers’ college in Lexington. He was very tall
with jet black hair and always wore the same double-breasted suit every day to
school even when the temperature was way too hot to wear a suit. Maybe this was why he got hot under the
collar when it came to dealing with Rocky on a daily basis.
Our assignment for the
past few nights was making cards to exchange on Valentine’s Day. We had to use our best penmanship as taught
to us by Mrs. Van Asperen. Every night before
Valentine’s Day, I would sit at the kitchen table and make Valentine cards for
my classmates. Throughout the year my
mother saved scraps of paper, lace, ribbon, paper bags, and buttons, and I
would sit and make cards. I was so happy
when she saved some paper doilies from a Church luncheon. This was the best
addition to my Valentine cards ever!
I thought about my best
friends, and each of their Valentine cards received special attention and extra
embellishments. I had just one small
piece of paper doily left and had to decide who would get it. I decided that
Glen would appreciate it the most, mainly because Rocky wadded up his skimpy Valentine’s
Day cards last year and threw them into the wood burning stove at the end of
I labored over Glen’s
card and thought it was the nicest one that I’d made. I didn’t want him to think I was sweet on
him, I just wanted him to receive a nice card since he had so little joy in his
The room mothers came
into the classroom toward the end of the day, and we had a nice party with
punch, homemade cookies and then exchanged Valentine’s. Poor Glen, literally poor Glen, didn’t receive
many cards that day. He shyly looked my way when he saw the card I’d made for
him. His fingers traced the heart on top
of the paper doily and his smile lit up the room and my heart. I think both of
us were blushing, but I couldn’t see the color rise through the smudges of grime
on his face.
That sweet moment was
fleeting as Mr. South rang the school bell and we all gathered up our goodies
and headed for home. When we filed out,
Mr. South asked me to stay after school.
I was horrified! I NEVER got in
trouble in school. My mind was racing
through the day while I tried to figure out what I had done to warrant the
punishment of staying after school. Was my long division that bad? I could feel
myself close to tears and was so embarrassed!
I sat back down in my chair and awaited my punishment for whatever crime
I’d committed that day.
Mr. South came over to me
and eased his large, lanky body into one of the student chairs with a long sigh. He looked me directly in my eyes and thanked
me from the bottom of his heart for the Valentine card that I’d made for
Glen. The tears of relief started to
fall and spill out of my eyes. He said my
act of kindness to Glen made an impression on him and was an example to the
other students, and for that he was truly thankful. All these years later I still remember that
day unlike any other day in 5th grade. I don’t remember any other Valentine’s Day,
only that special day in 5th grade. What I’d done made a difference
in the life of another.
Remembering back to that
day in 1923, took my mind off my current problems in 1936. The passage of those
13 years seems like a lifetime ago. I was now a young widow with a small child
who depended on me for her survival. I’ve
known love and loss, too much loss for someone my age. Then and there I decided that I needed to
become a force of nature and blaze my way through the woods to those who came
to depend on me for a cheerful smile, a book, a magazine, and to share any news
about Cobble Hill and our country. I needed to make a difference in my
On my way back to town, I
stopped by that one room schoolhouse which has expanded to two rooms. Mr. South was cleaning the chalkboards in the
room for the older kids. Mrs. Van
Asperen had come out of retirement to teach the little kids. No doubt her Palmer Method of Penmanship was
foremost in her curriculum.
I half expected to see
Rocky there, but he finally graduated from 8th grade sporting a full
beard and moved on to join the service after a short time of working in the
mines. I wonder if he’s now piloting a plane over swing sets in faraway places.
I knew Glen wasn’t there as he moved away after 5th grade to who
knows where. Maybe his family headed off to California to become pickers out in
the sprawling Central Valley. I wonder if he still has the special Valentine. I
also wonder if his smile can still light up a room.
I asked both teachers if
they could save any Valentine’s Day cards from their upcoming party before
anyone had the chance to throw them into the fire. I thought they would be a wonderful addition
to the scrapbooks we Packhorse Librarians were making to become part of our
distributing circulation. The handmade
Valentine cards would be colorful and good for those learning to read. The scrap books also contained newspaper
articles, hand drawn quilt patterns, recipes, and other tidbits of information
we could find about our local area and the world. We cut pictures out of magazines and catalogs
that we were no longer distributing and put them in the scrapbooks. It was a
fun diversion for us when the weather was too inclement for us to be out on
horseback. I was thrilled to know Mr. South and Mrs. Van Asperen vowed to save
the leftover cards for me.
As I left the classroom,
Mr. South looked at me, winked, and asked how my long division was coming