*Greetings and Love for the first night of Hanukkah*
by Joan Myles
in the deepest well of winter
where all is cold and dark
a single flame
smiles and makes a spark
*Greetings and Love for the first night of Hanukkah*
by Joan Myles
in the deepest well of winter
where all is cold and dark
a single flame
smiles and makes a spark
The School Marm
by Winslow Parker and Joan Myles
An elegant coach drawn by six matching horses stirred the town like a beehive poked with a stick. It paused in front of the livery. The driver leapt from the driver’s seat and strode into the livery. He returned and opened the coach door. Onlookers heard the exchange of a few muffled words. He climbed back onto his perch and drove to the mayor’s house. The driver descended, opened the coach door and set a stool on the ground. A spotless black boot stepped onto the stool, paused before lowering it into the street dust. Its owner finally let it sink delicately into the powder. Almost as wide as he was tall, the man turned in a slow, deliberate circle, looking at each person in turn as if searching for someone. He turned and made his way to the mayor’s front door. Using the gold head of his walking stick, he pounded the front door, peremptorily summoning the mayor.
Willie Watley opened the door, gasped and retreated into the house, leaving the door open to follow.
“W what are you doing here, Mr. Ackley, sir?”
“I’ve come to learn what has stopped production at my mine.”
Stammering and meandering in his explanation, the mayor told the story.
“You let them take a town girl?”
“Well, the miners were getting tired of the girls you furnished. They wanted some um, well, someone new.”
“You stupid man. Didn’t you know what would happen?”
“N no sir. I thought we had ‘em pretty well cowed. We owned the Bar-J-bar ranch hands who were supposed to provide protection. I found out this morning that the men of the town ganged up on them, shot a few. The rest hightailed it for other regions.”
“Where’s the sheriff?”
“Wellll,” he let the word hang in the air. “Well, you see, sir, he’s locked in his own jail.”
“Jail? How did that happen?”
“You see, sir, there’s this school marm, new this year, right pretty and smart as a whip. She’s got all the kids wrapped around her little finger and…”
“Shut up,” demanded the rotund little man,” stamping the floor with the butt of his cane. “Get on with the story.”
“Oh, yes, um, yessir. Well you see sir, she’s not just a school teacher…”
“Will you get to the point, Willie! I’m getting damned tired of the sound of your voice.”
“Yessir. Well, she came to town and when they stole the local girl from her mother, she used her badge to get all the men in town to help her rescue the girl, actually, all the girls.”
“I’ll have a word with this young lady after you and I pay a visit to the mine. Come with me.”
“Yessir,” mumbled the mayor. “Let me just get my hat.”
“No time. Let’s go.”
The mine owner stepped up into the coach. The mayor made as if to follow.
“No, up on the box with the driver. Don’t want to dirty my coach with your dusty boots.”
The mayor let his eyes drop and mumbled something under his breath.
He started up the ladder to the driver’s seat.
“No room up here with me and the guard,” the driver spoke down into his face. “Scoot behind me onto the luggage rack.”
The mayor’s face flamed red..
“I’m the mayor, you can’t…”
“Do as he said,” floated up from within the coach.
The mayor, humiliated before the gathering towns folk, sat cross-legged on the bare boards of the coach roof. The driver’s whip flicked past his right ear as he started the horses, turned and headed South out of town.
At the mine, the stranger and the mayor walked through the wreckage.
“That ragtag village did all this?”
“Yessir. Mostly it was that young snip of a girl, . She led them, planned it all out, so to speak.”
“Where is she?”
“Staying with her aunt near the North end of town.”
“Bring her to me. I’ll be in your office. Be quick about it. I need to be in Tucson tomorrow.”
“So you’re the missy that’s been causing me all this trouble.”
“If you mean the rescue of the women held at your mining camp, then yes, I am that missy.” She eyed the guard and the coach driver, each holding a shotgun.
“This is a big desert Miss Phillips.”
“You’re threatening me.”
“Absolutely. Actually, it’s more like a promise. I get what I want, young lady. I’ll make sure you never cross me again.. My mine is the foundation of all my enterprises and I’ll not let anything interfere with its operation.”
“You’re pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you, Mr. Ackley.”
He leaned back in the mayor’s chair, drew deep on a cigar, and blew smoke into her face. “You might say that. It’s worked for me ever since I inherited my grandfather’s businesses.”
“You’re about to take a big fall, Mr. Ackley. Right on that little round backside of yours.”
“Oh? How so?” he sneered.
“Well, for one thing, sheriff Griffith has turned on you. He has agreed to give testimony against you.”
He waved his cigar, describing a smoky arc in the air. “Pshaw, he’s nothing. My lawyers will poke holes in his testimony big enough to drive a stagecoach through. In the meantime, what am I going to do with you?” He eyed her, speculatively. “Perhaps you could be used to my advantage elsewhere. I’ll think on that a bit.”
Lucy saw a flash of movement from the corner of her eye. She recognized Billy’s tousled hair.
“There is something you don’t know, Mr. Ackley. I am a U. S. Marshal.”
“You?” You’re a girl. You couldn’t possibly be a U. S. Marshal.”
“I’m not demanding you believe me, but you have stepped into something that is going to be a bit difficult to clean off your dainty boots.”
“How so? I run this territory. The governor is a good friend, if you take my meaning.”
“Thank you, Mr. Ackley, you have just fitted in another puzzle piece.”
His face reddened. “I’m afraid you won’t be around to interfere much longer. We’re on our way out of this Podunk town. You’re coming with us, but only part way.” He grinned. “Like I said, it’s a big desert out there with all kinds of varmints. Tie her up, boys.”
Arms tied behind her back, a gag in her mouth, the two men pushed her through the door. The street was as empty as if the entire population had been sucked into the burnished copper sky by the heat of the sun. Dust devils danced in dry arroyos. Distant mountains shimmered in the heat haze. Mirage water reflected bright sunlight in the road a mile North of town. A sleeping dog twitched in the narrow shade of an awning.
The guard stepped out of the door, swept his eyes left and right, then took another step, holding his sawed-off shotgun at the ready. The coach driver prodded Lucy’s back. She stepped through the door followed by the driver and the mine owner. In a line, they headed for the coach.
A sudden commotion stopped them. The six matched horses whinnied, bucked and then began running down the street trailing their traces.
“someone’s cut the lines,” shouted the driver.
Lucy saw the grinning face of Billy poking through the spokes of the front left wheel. He winked.
“grab her!” cried the mine owner.
The guard whirled and took her arms, shielding himself with her body.
The near-unison click of several guns made him pause and turn around.
Eight townsmen each holding a rifle or pistol aimed their weapon on Mr. Ackley and his guard and driver. The guard raised his shotgun.
“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you,” said Billy’s father. “Drop the gun.”
The guard aimed the weapon and pulled the trigger just as Lucy flung herself forward, throwing the weapon off target with her shoulder.
The shotgun roared, taking Yancey Bushnell’s hat and gracing his scalp with buckshot. His scalp began to bleed.
Three bullets tore into the guard. He twisted, then fell heavily to the ground, dropping his still-smoking weapon.
“OK, you two, back away.” Growled Mr. Bushnell. He held a red bandana to the wound.
The driver dropped his weapon.
“Untie me please,” Lucy asked. “Billy,” she addressed her mischievous student, go fetch it. You know what I mean, our secret.”
“Yes’m,” Billy smiled and ran to Beatrice’s home. He returned a few moments later, holding her badge. He handed it to her.
She pinned it to the wide collar of her shirt. “Mr. Ackley, I’m placing you and your driver under arrest awaiting trial in Federal court for murder, kidnapping, accessory to murder, exploitation and enslaving of women.” Turning to the men around her, she said, “Tie these two up. Search Mr. Ackley carefully. Little men often carry little weapons with which to defend themselves.”
They found a tiny two-shot derringer in an inner pocket.
“Here are the keys to the jail. Lock them in with the sheriff. I’m deputizing all of you. Please arrange for two men to be on duty at all hours to guard the prisoners. I’ll wire Tucson for more agents. If a couple of you could find and bring back the horses, I’d appreciate it.”
Two men mounted their horses and trotted North, following the dust cloud raised by 24 galloping hooves.
“You’ll all be sorry for this,” blustered the mine owner. “I’ve got friends in Congress and even higher.”
“thank you for that information. It will be quite useful at your trial,” said Lucy.
Even inside the stagecoach, Lucy could not escape the oppressive summer heat of Furnace Wells. Instinctively she pulled the brim of her travel hat down to shield her eyes, but she found no refuge against the harsh afternoon sunlight, and no comfort for her broken heart. The coach would be pulling away any minute now, and she would be carried away from Furnace Wells and all it had come to mean to her.
“You’ve won the hearts of this town you know,” Aunt Birdie had told her again as they said their final good-byes. “No one can ever take that away from you…or from us.”
But the tears exchanged by the two women held more than regret for separation. They had grown very close over the last two years. They had endured a devastating yet heroic chapter in the town’s history. They had witnessed Furnace Wells reclaiming itself as a unified community, its citizens asserting their loyalty to the law and to one another. By coming together to protect the young kidnapped women of their town–regardless of their heritage or social standing–they were declaring Furnace Wells to be a place of safety, a home to them all.
“You’ll always have a place here,” the older woman wept, ‘in the town…with me…like my own girl you are now…”
Oh, Aunty…like your own girl, she sighed, and you are like my own mother.
She became aware of the coachman calling out some final remarks to a livery worker, then felt the thud of her trunk as he heaved it into place.
“Ready to depart, Ma’am,” he announced more quietly as he neared the coach.
“I’m ready,” she called back.
But he was already in his place, already slapping the reins to signal the team forward.
But am I ready? she asked herself. Am I ready to forget Billy and his father and the other children at the school–Rosa, and Philip–the women who were learning so much from our sessions? The town which has finally gotten past everything? Will I ever see any of them again?
And just as quickly, her thoughts turned to Oregon.
Oh, dan…my dear brother, gone. What will I do …, she felt the tears beginning, what will Sally and his children do without him?
Without thinking, she drew the tear-stained telegram from her pocket . Once more she read the tragic lines , folded it methodically, and slipped it back into place. Then she searched in the overstuffed satchel for her handkerchief.
It must be here somewhere, she was already overcome and unable to fully focus.
At length both hands were in the bag searching. They found no handkerchief, but kept returning to the tooled journal Dan had given her, tracing his handiwork, caressing his memory. Slowly she brought the volume out, her very breath eased by its presence.
Again she sighed. For a long moment, she sat transfixed, smoothing its cover. At last she opened the journal. Her own face peered back at her. The face of a new teacher as seen through the eyes of a young boy.
“How long till we get there?” she called out to the coachman in a sudden rush.
The stagecoach lurched violently with a sudden jolting creak as its wheels crossed a deeply rutted spot on the road, and whatever the coachman had intended to say was swallowed up in curses. But as Lucy strained to keep her seat, her gaze caught sight of the horizon, the vast cloudless sky, and the road stretching into the distance.
And she smiled to herself.
No matter how long, she thought as her fingers traced the pencil lines on the page, “we’re moving, we’re all moving forward.
On this Thanksgiving DayI renew my sense of Gratitude
my Awe and Wonder at all I have received
for all I continue to receive
from each of you Darling Readers
Wishing you Sweetness and Love Always!
says he’s bored
nothing good to read
holidays don’t mean a thing
but he laughs with me
95 and remembers everything
and he says he loves me
The School Marm: A Western Serialby Winslow Parker and Joan Myles
Lucy started as if prodded with a live electric wire. “Quick!” she ordered, “get your men. Gather half a mile South of town. Do it quietly but quickly. I’ll meet you there. Bring your horses.” She stepped out onto the front porch. “Billy!” She called.
“Yes’m” he replied.
“I knew you would be there. Go get your father. Have him meet me at the livery stable.”
“Yes’m” he flung back over his shoulder as he ran.
Lucy dashed upstairs, rummaged in her trunk,. She quickly changed into men’s pants, buckled on her pistol and pinned her marshal’s badge to the collar of her shirt. She poured kerosene into a canteen and hung it on her belt. Taking the front steps two at a time, she broke the gate as she ran to the street. Panting, she slowed as she approached the livery stable.
“Sherriff,” she called. “May I talk with you a moment?” Billy’s father arrived as she finished her request.
“What’s happening?” he whispered.
“I’m arresting the sheriff. I see you have your gun. That’s good. Hold it at the ready.”
He slipped the weapon from its holster and looked at her curiously. He raised an eyebrow.
She pointed to the gold star she wore.
His mouth fell open, but he nodded.
“Whatcha want?” the sheriff slurred his words.
“You’re under arrest,” Lucy said, authority undergirding her words.
“Arrest?” he shouted, reaching for his gun, then stopped as two pistols pointed at him.
“Drop it and hand me your keys,” Lucy commanded.
“You have no right….”
Again, Lucy pointed to her authority. “My star trumps yours,” she said, her smile bleak.
She locked him in his cell, pocketed the keys and grabbed a rifle, shells and the sheriff’s shotgun. She handed both to Mr. Bushnell. Returning to the livery, they each saddled and mounted a horse and galloped to the meeting place.
As people assembled, Lucy gave directions. “Divide into two groups. One go South, around the butte, the other follow me on this trail. Those of you going South, follow Mr. Bushnell. I’ve given him information for the location of the guards on that trail.” She tore strips of material from one of the women’s underskirts then tore it into smaller lengths. These she wrapped around the ends of several branches. She handed them to two men. “There is a trail up the North side of the mesa,” she said, pointing. “Climb the trail and position yourselves near the West rim of the mountain. After dark, when you see a torch near the main gate, pour kerosene onto the cloth, light it and throw them onto the roofs of the buildings. Be careful not to throw a torch onto the building with flowers in window boxes. I think that is where they’re keeping the women, probably including Rosa.” Miranda sobbed.
Lucy mounted her horse and galloped ahead until she came near the spot where she knew the guard waited. She dismounted and carefully crept through the sparse vegetation. The sun was near the horizon and she took advantage of its bright red light, hoping it would blind the sentry to her approach.
Two men stood facing the road. Both wore pistols and two carbines leaned against a tree within easy reach.
?From behind A cottonwood tree, she said quietly, “Drop your gun belts.”
They turned, both reaching for their pistols.
“Don’t do that if you value your lives.”
One hesitated, the other continued to drop his hand toward his weapon.
He fell as the crash of her gun reverberated from the mesa wall.
“Drop your belt,” she repeated. He obeyed. She approached warily, kicked his gun and belt to the edge of the clearing, then knelt and tied his hands and feet.
“How many guards at the mine?” She asked, “And where are they located.”
“Not going to tell ya.”
“Easy way or hard way?” she asked.
He turned his head, looked at his dead companion and said, “Two on the gate, four scattered along the fence.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I’ll be back to pick you up later. Just rest comfortably you hear?”
She gathered their weapons, untied their horses and led them to her own horse. She tied their reins to the pommel of her saddle, then trotted to the trail. The sun sank below the horizon as they rounded a bend. She brought them to a halt. They waited for darkness. She lit a torch and waved it. Fire fell from the top of the mountain in long arching streaks. Tarpaper rooves caught fire quickly. It spread. A voice shouted “Fire! Fire!” Men boiled from bunkhouses, searching for pails in which to carry water. In vain they threw it onto burning buildings.
Lucy led her group to the gate where Mr. Bushnell’s group waited.
They tied three horses to the front gate and slapped their rumps. The horses started to gallop but were caught short by the weight of the gate. They added two more horses and repeated the process. The gate fell with a crash, nearly unheard in the roar of flames and shouts of men.
Lucy chose five armed men. They crouched low, following the fence. When they reached the building with window boxes full of flowers, they crept around the building to the front door. Billy’s father kicked the door in. It crashed open. Two dozen women crouched in fear beneath tables and behind furniture. Miranda dashed past those standing in the doorway scanning the women frantically. Finding Rosa, she ran to her and gathered her into her embrace. They wept together.
“Everyone! Go quickly to the gate and get outside the fence.” Mr. Bushnell translated. The women ran.
“Mr. Bushnell!” she cried, “where is the powder shack?”
“Follow me,” he said.
Together they crossed the compound, sticking to the shadows beyond the firelight. He pointed to a corrugated iron shack.
“Do you have a key?”
“Yes, but no need. He pointed to a small hole dug beneath the iron wall. She nodded and ran toward the opening.
When she reached it, she shoved her torch as far as it could reach inside, then turned and ran. Side by side they ran for the gate. As they reached it, the black powder exploded with a flash and roar. Nearby buildings collapsed; bodies flew through the air. The following silence was broken only by the crackle of flames and the groans of wounded men.
The mine manager saw them and ran towards them, rifle at port arms. He paused to raise the rifle to his shoulder. Billy’s father shot him. He crumpled into the dust.
They seated the escaping women on horses, the men walked in order to accommodate them all. They were divided among the homes of the town where the womenfolk comforted them and tried to make them feel welcome.
Lights in town stayed on until well past midnight. There would be no mining on the morrow.
Lucy went to the jail.
She explained what the townspeople had done. “You’re in this very deep, sheriff,” she said. “How do you want to play this?”
“what do you mean?”
“You can testify against the mine owners and perhaps get a lighter sentence or you can protect them and spend a good part of the rest of your life in the territorial prison in Yuma. Up to you.”
“Can I think about it?”
“Sure, you have two minutes.”
“they’ll track me down and kill me. These are rich and powerful men. They don’t like being double-crossed.”
“How long will you survive in prison once it is discovered you were a sheriff?”
“Uh, I see what you mean….I’ll turn witness then travel the world with one eye checking my back trail from now until I die.”
“Good choice. I’ve telegraphed for a court stenographer and judge to come take your statement. They should be here day after tomorrow. In the meantime, you are a guest in your own prison.”
The mayor left town, riding as fast as his horses could bear him.
The town residents gathered in the church the next day, with the freed women to discuss their next step.
It was a comfort for the townsfolk of Furnace Wells to gather inside their regular place of worship. After all they had been through– the months of uncertainty, the fear and distrust– it felt good to come together as neighbors and fellow travelers. Reverend James Lucas–or was it Lucas James, no one was quite sure yet–was still polishing his opening sermon for the small congregation, but he welcomed them warmly, marveling at their eagerness to come inside, despite the unsightly appearance of some of them.
“Why, come in, dear friends,” he hurried to hold the door as the group scurried in, “it’s not a regular prayer time, but the Good Lord is always open for business.”
“We need a good word, Reverend,” Lizzie Grandbush spoke up without reservation. “Just found out the sheriff is a no-good so-and-so, and that our town’s been livin’ a lie, our young gals been stole away for devil’s play…”
“Lizzie!” a lady or two gasped
“It’s the truth, ain’t it?” she demanded.
“Well, ummm…do come in, friends, do come into God’s House, and let’s find a good word to share between us, to find our way back to His Care, back to peace, back to one another…”!
The faithful ambled into the cozy room, and everyone found a seat. After a bit, the mumbling dissolved into quiet attention, all eyes fixed on the young minister at the front of the room.
“Welcome friends,” he said again, “I’m delighted to find you all here on this occasion, this occasion of, well, coming together in fellowship, in the good faith of good neighbors seeking…seeking peace and harmony…the ready comfort only found”
“Great balls of fire, Reverend,” Lizzie was on her feet at the rear of the room, “ we come here to learn what’s to become of our town now that law and order’s been turned upside down.”
“Yeah!,” male voices sang out.
Just then, the side door burst open, and Mayor Willie Wadley bounded into the room.
“Friends, there’s no need…no problem we can’t…just settle down and let’s…”
A tall, white-haired gentleman rose slowly from among the gathered townsfolk, the editor of the newspaper, and drawled deliberately, ‘Got my tablet right here, Mayor, how’s about a statement for the Chronicler.” He knew he was baiting the mayor, knew he had spied him lurking about the jail when the sheriff was locked up.
Wadley stopped in his tracks, then slowly approached the front of the group.
“Reverend, if I may…” he said
The younger man stepped aside without a word.
“Friends,” Wadley began.
“We heard that part already,” Lizzie called out.
A chuckle from the group.
“We been through things like this before,” Wadley offered.
“I never had to rescue my girl from kidnappers !”
“Never knew a devil-dog sheriff like this one!”
“Never had to be the law myself!”
The shouting became more and more heated as every citizen of Furnace Wells proclaimed his personal grievance and utter disappointment in the mayor. At length it was only the lateness of the hour, and the exhaustion of those assembled that brought things to a close.
*excerpted from Wind, a poem by Joan Myles from One With Willows, copyright 2019*
Better let wind gallop
and prance,screech and roar to the heavens.
Better let wind shake plants
into dancing monkeys, churn
grass into Pacific waves.
Better let wind carry
you up and up on its stallion’s
back, tear at clothing and flesh,
wrestle free your hair and stubborn resolve.
The School Marm: A Western Serialby Winslow Parker and Joan Myles
“I need to visit all the parents of my students. Would you like to come with me aunt Birdie?” Lucy asked one Sunday afternoon.
“Yes, that would be a capital idea. I need to get out of the house. Let’s hook up the buggy. It will give our feet a bit of a rest.”
“Howdy ma’am,” Lucy said after knocking on the door of a neat frame house. “I’m the new school teacher and want to meet the parents of my students. Are you Martha’s mother?”
“Yes, I am. Come in, come in! I’ve been wanting to meet you. I saw you in church last week, but there were too many people around to say anything to you. Is Martha in any kind of trouble?” she asked as they settled themselves around the kitchen table.
“Oh, no, not at all. She’s a sweet little girl. No trouble at all. She could use some help with her alphabet because she writes some of her letters backwards. It’s not uncommon for a first grader. Could you do some practice with her at home?”
The woman flushed red. “Well, miss, I’m not sure I can help. I have no book learning. Never went to school. That’s why I’m so glad you’re here to give Martha a chance I never had.” She lowered her eyes, appearing to be ashamed.
“How about this,” Lucy said. “I’m sure there are others in town who have never attended school. There is no shame in that. This world isn’t always a fair place. How about if you and others who never went to school get together at Aunt Bir… I mean Aunt Beatrice’s house one evening a week? I’d be glad to help you so you could help Martha.”
“Oh! Would you? Could we? That would be so wonderful. I’ve always envied those who can read the Bible and the newspaper when one finds its way this far into the wilderness.”
“Certainly. Aunty, what would be a good evening?”
“Well, the knitting circle meets on Monday and prayer meeting is on Wednesday, how about Thursday evenings at 7?”
“Would that work for you?” she asked the woman.
“I’ll make it work. My Fred will watch Martha for an hour or so. He’s a good man.”
“It’s settled then. See you Thursday at seven. Invite anyone you like to join us.”
They said their farewells and returned to the buggy.
“That’s right nice of you,” Lucy’s aunt said.
“It’s not all out of the kindness of my heart,” said Lucy. “I figure I can get a lot of information from the women as we talk, but I do love to teach, so it certainly won’t be wasted time. Besides, the mothers will be making my teaching a lot easier by coaching the children at home.”
They met three other families, with seven of her pupils among them.
“I’d like to meet Billy’s father. Billy is such a precocious child. I’ve wondered what his father is like. Also curious about some bruises I’ve seen on his face and arms. He’s fidgety in class though he absorbs information like a sponge.”
“Oh, no! Poor child. His father took a tumble after his mother died. He quit coming to church and the gossip mill says that he is often inebriated.”
“that would explain a lot.”
“Here it is,” announced Beatrice.
They left the buggy and approached the house. It was surrounded by the detritus of the town. Two broken buggies without wheels, a splintered ox-bow, a door, odds and ends of furniture, a bicycle’s twisted frame.. The shack itself was made of warped and splintering wood planks. Gaps between boards let wind and occasional rain into the interior which they could no longer protect.
Lucy knocked on the door frame next to the cowhide-covered opening from which the discarded door had obviously been taken. There was no answer to her knock.
Billy suddenly poked his head around the side of the house, squinting at them, puzzled.
“You lookin’ for me?”
“No,” Lucy said, “I see enough of you all week long.” Her grin told him she was teasing. “Looking for your pa.”
“He’s asleep. Don’t want to wake him. Sunday is his only day off.”
“Who’s that, Billy?” came slurred words from within.
“It’s and her aunt. Tain’t nuthin. Go on back to sleep.”
A moment later, a red-eyed unshaven man pushed aside the hanging cowhide and poked his head out. “Howdy miss,” he slurred.
“Hello, Mr. Bushnell. As Billy said, I’m Miss Phillips and you probably already know my Aunt, Beatrice Krane.”
“That I do. I’m still grateful for the kind words Reverend Krane said over my wife after she died. He wouldn’t take nuthin’ for his services neither. Never known a reverend to not take money for his services.” His voice faded into silence and he seemed a bit perplexed at his own observation.
“Jonathan was a wonderful husband and human being,” she said. “I miss him, but the community misses him too.”
“Yer right there,” he replied. “what can I do for you ladies?”
“Well, I’m the new school teacher and I’m trying to meet the parents of all my students,” explained Lucy. “I only have Sunday afternoons, so am trying to meet as many as I can each week until I’ve met them all.”
“Billy tells me a lot about school. Seems he takes to it right well.” His voice was less slurred now.
“He’s a bright boy. He’ll be head of his class before long. He’s eating it up. He’s also a very talented artist.”
“Didn’t know that,” mused Billy’s father. “The chestnut doesn’t fall far from the tree, I guess.” His smile revealed his pride.
“Are you an artist too?”
“Used to be. I was close to a major exhibition in New York City, then got consumption and had to move to Arizona Territory for my lungs. It worked, but haven’t painted since. ‘sides, too tired. Blasting is tiring and dangerous work. Don’t have much energy left over for frills.”
“Do you have any of your paintings? If so, I’d like to see them,” said Aunt Birdie.
“Well, mebbe. Let me think.” He turned back into the house. After a few moments, he returned, holding a cardboard tube. He thumped one end, then pulled out a rolled canvas. Spreading it with his hands, he turned it to them and held it open.
“Beautiful!” exclaimed Lucy.
“It’s my wife,” he said, his voice gruff with emotion. “She was right pretty.”
“You captured her very nicely. It looks like she is about to pull a prank or say something funny. Look at the corners of her mouth, just ready to break into a grin.”
That was her most of the time…” his voice trailed off into silence.
“Can I see, Pa?”
He tilted the picture toward the boy. Tears welled in Billy’s eyes, but he blinked them away and stared. He raced inside and returned with the sketchpad Lucy gave him on her first day in town. Quickly, he sketched his mother’s image, then turned and ran back inside.
“He does have the gift,” said Mr. Bushnell.
“I plan to foster that talent in the classroom.”
“Thank you. Maybe one of us will succeed.”
He turned away.
“Do you have others?” asked Beatrice.
“Yeah, several. Can’t do nuthin’ with them, though. No one out here in this hellish place…pardon me ma’am, miss.”
“I’d be interested in seeing them sometime,” she said. “Could you bring them by my house, maybe next Sunday afternoon?”
“Why sure, ma’am. Only I couldn’t charge you for ‘em.”
“We’ll make some kind of a deal if I like them,” Beatrice assured him.
“Thanks,” he said and turned back into the hovel.
“Just one more thing, Mr. Bushnell,” Lucy said, voice firm.
He turned to face her.
“Billy has come to school several times with bruises on his face and arms.”
“Probably accidents,” dismissed his father. “You know how squirrely he is. Always running and jumping. More energy than any three other kids I know.”
“That may be, except that twice the bruises on his face were those of a hand print. Have you any idea of anyone who would do that?”
Mr. Bushnell’s face colored.
“No, but I’ll kill anyone who lays a hand on the kid. He’s all I have.”
“If there is anything I can do to help find the person responsible, let me know,” Lucy said.
“I will,” he promised, gruffly and turned away.
The bruises stopped. Billy’s classroom restlessness diminished.
The next Sunday, Mr. Bushnell was in church. He nodded to Lucy as he passed her on the street after the service. He wore a patched but clean suit. His fingernails were stained with a rainbow of colors.
Lucy Phillips spent what little time she had to herself during the next week, carefully copying out the alphabet for the small group of adult learners she expected to collect. But the news of her evening classes spread quickly among the townswomen, passing from house to house like the good tidings it was, evolving as it went to meet whatever gap the ladies felt in their lives.
“You’ll want to come,” one young mother of six called to her neighbor over the fence, “so’s you can read your Bible at home, ‘stead of only hearin’ it read at Sunday meetin’”
“And we’ll be learning all about the scholars–Emerson and even Locke from over in England,” another informed her sister as they rocked their babes at dusk.
“And when women finally get the vote,” Lizzie Grandbush put it to Lucy, who stood openmouthed with surprise to find her alive and walking about the world beyond her deathbed, not to mention at the threshold of Aunt Birdy’s the opening session, “we’ll be ready, since we’ll know all about American history and governance.”
“Well,” Lucy took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts as she closed the door, then turning to face the dozen or so smiling women scattered about the parlor , said softly, “it certainly is a delight to welcome so many eager students. I hope what I have to offer is worth all the trouble you’ve put yourself to this evening.”
“Pshaw, it’s Ben who’s got the trouble–our twin boys are teethin something fierce,” one plump lady assured.
The group chuckled good-naturedly, knowingly.
Lucy scooped up her alphabet charts and handed them around as she explained, “It was my intention to offer basics in reading, you know, for beginning students, but of course we don’t need to stop there, and many other topics will likely enter the discussion–”
“Like Emerson,” a voice offered boldly.
“Yes, and maybe– women’s suffrage,” Lizzie chimed in.
“First things first,” Lucy took her place on the piano bench, and tried to assert her usual confidence as a teacher, “do you all know one another?”
A dozen heads bobbed up and down amid soft giggles.
“Of course, I’m the newcomer,” Lucy smiled sweetly, “Please be patient, won’t you, as I learn your names and all?”
More nodding and quiet agreement.
A sudden thud from the front porch sent the ladies to gasping and chattering, and everyone’s attention jerked to the door, frantic with pounding.
“Miss Lucy, Miss Lucy,” the voice squawked breathlessly, “somebody, help…”
Lucy pulled the door open, and the terror-stricken woman fell into her arms.
“Oh, come in, let me help you, whatever is wrong…?”
“I’m Miranda Burns,” the woman panted, “my Rosa is in your school…oh my Rosa, my beautiful Rosa…” she clutched Lucy tight as she wept.
The women all flocked close, reaching out to soothe and comfort, their eyes filled with empathy and concern.
As she collapsed into a chair, Miranda swallowed hard to fight her tears, straining to push past her faulty English, her growing fear, “I’ve been keeping her home, to keep her safe, hid away, sometimes in the barn, sometimes the chicken house, sometimes the root cellar, but she’s gone, really gone this time, and I know,” she was dissolving into tears as she spoke, I know they–they have her–those hombres–wicked devil men–have my beautiful–my Rosa–”
*Since coming home from my week of Orientation and Mobility Immersion at GDB’s California campus, I have been working with an instructor to sharpen my cane skills and everything else I learned. yesterday was my seventh session, and it held a few surprises*
There were three surprises today.
First our plan to go downtown for work at traffic lights was scrapped for a walk to Liberty and Skyline for the same.
Okay, I’m good with that.
I headed down my street, carefully anticipating the hills and cliffs of heaved up sidewalk. But of course my usual veering took over and I followed the downward slant of a driveway to cross my own street rather than following the sidewalk to the curb.
No problem though.
I recognized my mistake and crossed back to head down Joseph.
The second surprise :
Despite the layers of leaves and unfamiliar terrain, I managed to walk in a straight line for long stretches of sidewalk.This is amazing progress for me.
I crossed Liberty Circle with no problem and then walked about half a mile to the intersection.
Time was spent listening to the traffic, and getting to know the audible signal located there. A few trials determined that drivers coming to this intersection do not take heed of the crosswalk signal, so our mission was abandoned.
Homeward bound a bit earlier than expected, I pushed my way through the leaves when the third surprise made itself known–rain.
Again, no problem. I had worn the correct coat, had on my trusty boots, so trudged on.
Then the downpour hit.
“How do you feel about sighted guide?” I asked my instructor.
“great idea!” he called back as I latched onto his arm
The rain only became more fierce as we redoubled our pace. Then the wind joined in, and finally–you guessed it–hail. Yes, we were dashing through a hurricaine of sorts, holding our hoods in place against the gale, and wondering just how soggy we would get before reaching our destination.
Finally at the end of my driveway, the sky cleared for a moment.
“You did really well,” my instructor crowed, “and I’m glad you are a fast walker.”
I had to admit as I unlocked my door, the walks was exhilarating.
But the dry clothes and vegetarian chilli I shared with J a couple of hours later pleased me far more.
Until next time, my Darling, keep moving forward!
"God" and"world" are two different faces of the same reality, different modes of the only Being there is.
*from Seek My Face, A jewish Mystical Theology by Arthur Green*
The School Marm: A Western Serial
by Winslow Parker and Joan Myles
Dawn stained the eastern sky rose-quartz pink. Lucy snuggled under the covers, wishful for a few more moments of sleep. Then she remembered it was Monday and the first day of school. She hurried to the kitchen, to find her aunt already busy at the stove.
“Good morning, dear, how did you sleep?”
“I slept fine.” After a pause, she asked, “Um Auntie, May I know the reason for the sheriff’s late-night visit. It didn’t sound too savory to me.”
Aunt Birdie sighed. “He’s had an eye for me ever since we came into town.”
“You don’t mean he had Uncle Jonathan killed to get you?” Lucy paled.
“No, no, just that he is taking advantage of the situation. I’m not sure if he was involved in Jonathan’s murder or not.”
She skewered a thick slice of bread, opened the stove door and held the bread near the coals to toast. “Here, Lucy, take this while it’s hot. Butter’s in the cupboard there,” she said, pointing. “There should be some prickly pear cactus jam there, too.”
“Prickly pear cactus jam?”
“Yes, good stuff. Jonathan loved it. We pick it with tongs because it’s covered with tiny spines, then hold it over an open fire to burn off the spines and loosen the skin. Then we make jam from it like any other fruit. Very sweet and tasty”
Lucy took a bite. “Delicious! You’ll have to take me prickly pear picking, perhaps…her attempt at a tongue twister dissolved into laughter. “Can’t keep that one going, I guess,” she said, still chuckling.
As she ate, Lucy asked, “Why would you have questions about the sheriff’s involvement in Uncle Jonathan’s shooting?”
“I guess it’s no secret. He’s involved with the mine, somehow. Not sure what it is. I’d keep my nose out of it if I were you, though I am dreadfully sad for the poor women who are trapped out there.”
Lucy absorbed this new piece of information. It jibed with the odd behavior of the sheriff the day before. She sighed. “Guess I’d better be getting to school. Billy didn’t get his pictures to me on Friday so I haven’t hung them yet. I need to see how the room is laid out. Probably have to move some furniture around too.” She slid from her role as a Federal marshal into that of a school teacher.
“I’ll come with you. I can help out.”
“thanks Aunt Birdie. I’d appreciate it.”
The sound of bare feet hitting wooden stairs turned their attention to the door. Billy stood in the doorway, out of breath.
“Sorry Ma’am. I didn’t get the pictures done until just now. Here they are.” He handed a sheaf of paper to Lucy and turned to go.
“Just a minute, Billy. Here’s your commission.” She handed him a silver half dollar.
He stood speechless, as if he had never seen that much money in his life.
“thank you, ma’am!” he exclaimed and turning, leaped off the porch, legs windmilling. “See you in school!”
“Hey Billy! Would you like to help mount them on the wall?” Lucy called after him. “If so, come a few minutes early.”
“He’s a real firecracker. I’ll bet he’ll be a handful for you.”
“Probably so, but I like a challenge.”
A few minutes later, Aunt Beatrice inserted her key, then swung the door back to admit them both into the church transformed into school.
“Oh, my! The deacons have already arranged everything. How nice. Everything is in neat rows. Slates are already on the desks.”
“Please thank them for me, Aunty. They saved us a lot of work.”
She hefted her bag of books to the desk in front of the room and let them fall with a thud. “This is going to be fun!”
Billy poked his head in the door. “Am I too early?”
“Not at all. Here are the pictures. Oh, wait, I’ve not had a chance to look at them yet. Grab a chair and the pins in that little box on top of my desk. Put one pin in each corner of the picture. Space them as evenly as you can across the front of the room, above the alphabet.”
She looked at each picture as she handed it to him. “Impressive,” she breathed. “A real artist, he is. I will have to encourage this one.”
“Billy, do you draw things for your mother?”
He stiffened. “Nah, she’s gone.”
“Gone? How do you mean, ‘gone?’”
“She died a year ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“Needn’t be. Things are better around the house without her.”
“Do you draw for your father, then?” Lucy changed the subject.
“Sometimes, but he’s just too tuckered to really look at them. He works in the mine. He’s a powder monkey.”
What’s a powder monkey?”
“Oh, you know, the one who packs in the black powder into holes drilled in the mine walls. They string a fuse from the powder to a safe place then light it and run like hell. Oh, pardon me ma’am. Just slipped out.”
Lucy smiled. “Next time I’ll wash your mouth out with soap, so be careful there young man with your language.”
“Well, I hope I can meet your father sometime. Perhaps at parent-teacher meeting.”
“I dunno, he’s pretty tired when he gets home.”
Two other children entered. Lucy began her day.
Three weeks passed before Miss Phillips felt she had a sense of just how much her 32 students did and did not know. Like Billy, six of the boys and four of the girls knew their alphabet letters, but were not altogether clear about how to put them together to read properly. The older students only knew the most meager history and mathematics. And the youngest children barely knew what school was about.
“It has been such a long time since we’ve had a proper teacher in town,” Aunt Birdie told her again and again.
“Well it’s high time folks realized just how valuable an education is, not just for the boys either, for the girls, and I mean all the girls,” Lucy stated firmly.
She designated a corner of the classroom “Lending Library” and filled the school’s only bookshelf with every volume she could locate: two well-worn Bibles from Uncle Jonathan’s study; Aunt Birdie’s dictionary and beloved Shakespeare sonnets; her own copies of Emerson’s Nature, Thoreau’s Walden; Oliver Twist and Great Expectations; Aesop’s fables and Grimm’s Fairy Tales; and the poetry of Poe and Whitman. Wordsworth and Blake. She pleaded with store owners and townsfolk alike on behalf of the “Lending Library”, and managed to gather additional volumes, an assortment of almanacs and periodicals, not to mention a few more under-utilized Bibles.
“Just be sure to sign your name and to bring the book back in two days,” she instructed the class, “everyone needs a chance to read.”
She enlisted the help of the top three students to spend time each day reading to the little ones, and required every student to keep a journal.
“It doesn’t matter what you write,” she told them as she handed around note-books and pencils, “just be sure to record the date–the month and day–and what you are thinking about. Do your best to spell things properly, but I’ll help you with that. You can also check with Beth or Rita, they spell as well as anyone. The main thing is to write your thoughts, to use words to express your feelings and ideas.”
She didn’t plan to read the entries herself, but saw the exercise as a meaningful way for the children to learn the value of words, and to practice whatever skills they acquired.
But one early November morning, when Billy showed up sporting yet another facial bruise, and Rita‘s younger sister started crying when asked about the older girl’s ongoing absence, Lucy realized she would have to read them.