Sunday, February 11, 2024

Bridle Path - From the Heart

 Hello Everyone,

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

February 1936

Dear Grace,

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 Mr. South.

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 the classroom.

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 the day.

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 life.

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 community.

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 along.

Soon,

Mama

3 comments:

  1. Hi Lynn! My Google account is back to allowing me to comment, finally! Your stories are amazing and so well written that I can picture in my mind the faces, clothing and places....even what Starkey must look like. Sending lots of love💕

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    Replies
    1. I'm so glad you can comment on the blog, Candace. I've missed you. I'm glad you are enjoying the stories.

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  2. Wonderful chapter. I am enjoying your book.
    Brought back memories about Valentine's Day celebrations and my teaching days. Thank you, Lynn.

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