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فصل 01

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One

‘Little Man, would you come on! You keep it up and you’re gonna make us late.’

My youngest brother paid no attention to me. Grasping more firmly his newspaper-wrapped notebook and his tin can lunch of cornbread and oil sausages, he continued to concentrate on the dusty road. He lagged several feet behind my other brothers, Stacey and Christopher-John, and me, attempting to keep the rusty Mississippi dust from swelling with each step and drifting back upon his shiny black shoes and the cuffs of his corduroy pants by lifting each foot high before setting it gently down again. Always meticulously neat, six-year old Little Man never allowed dirt or tears or stains to mar anything he owned.

Today was no exception.

‘You keep it up and make us late for school, Mama’s gonna wear you out.’ I threatened, pulling with exasperation at the high collar of the Sunday dress Mama had made me wear for the first day of school - as if that event were something special. it seemed to me that showing up at school at all on a bright August-like October morning made for running the cool forest trails and wading barefoot in the forest pond was concession enough; Sunday clothing was asking too much. Christopher-John and Stacey were not too pleased about the clothing or school either. Only Little Man, just beginning his school career, found the prospects of both intriguing.

‘Y’all go ahead and get dirty if y’all wanna,’ he replied without even looking up from his studied steps, ‘Me, I’m gonna stay clean.’

‘I betcha Mama’s gonna “clean” you, you keep it up.’ I grumbled.

‘Ah, Cassie, leave him be,’ Stacey admonished, frowning and kicking testily at the road.‘I ain’t said nothing but..’ Stacey cut me a wicked look and I grew silent. His disposition had been irritatingly sour lately. If I hadn’t known the cause of it. I could have forgotten very easily that he was at twelve, bigger than I, and that I had promised Mama to arrive at school looking clean and ladylike. ‘Shoot,’ I mumbled finally, unable to restrain myself from further comment, ‘it ain’t my fault you gotta be in Mama’s class this year.’

Stacey’s frown deepened and he jammed his fists into his pockets, but said nothing.

Christopher-John, walking between Stacey and me, glanced uneasily at both of us but did not interfere. A short, round boy of seven, he took little interest in troublesome things, preferring to remain on good terms with everyone, Yet he was always sensitive to others and now, shifting the handle of his lunch can from his right hand to his right wrist and his smudged notebook from his left hand to his left armpit. he stuffed his free hands into his pockets and attempted to make his face as moody as Stacey’s and as cranky as mine. But after a few moments he seemed to forget that he was supposed to be grouchy and began whistling cheerfully. There was little that could make Christopher-John unhappy for very long, not even the thought of school.

I tugged again at my collar and dragged my feet in the dust, allowing it to sift back onto my socks and shoes like gritty red snow. I hated the dress. And the shoes. There was little I could do in a dress, and as for shoes, they imprisoned freedomloving feet accustomed to the feel of the warm earth, ‘Cassie, stop that,’ Stacey snapped as the dust billowed in swirling clouds around my feet. I looked up sharply, ready to protest. Christopher-John’s whistling increased to a raucous, nervous shrill. and grudgingly T let the matter drop and trudged along in moody silence, my brothers growing as pensively quiet as I.

Before us the narrow, sun-splotched road wound like a lazy red serpent dividing the high forest bank of quiet, old trees on the left from the cotton field, forested by giant green-and-purple stalks. on the right. A barbed-wire fence ran the length of the deep field, stretching eastward for over a quarter of a mile until it met the sloping green pasture that signaled the end of our family’s four hundred acres, An ancient oak tree on the slope, visible even now, was the official dividing mark between Logan land and the beginning of a dense forest. Beyond the protective fencing of the forest, vast farming fields, worked by a multitude of share- cropping families, covered two-thirds of a ten-square-mile plantation. That was Harlan Granger land.

Once our land had been Granger land too, but the Grangers had sold it during Reconstruction to a Yankee for tax money. In1887, when the land was up for sell again, Grandpa had bought two hundred acres of it, and in 19I8, after the first two hundred acres had been paid off, he had bought another two hundred, It was good rich land, much of it still virgin forest, and there was no debt on half of it. But there was a mortgage on the two hundred acres bought in 1918 and there were taxes on the full four hundred, and for the past three years there had not been enough money from the cotton to pay both and live on too.

That was why Papa had gone to work on the railroad.

In 1930 the price of cotton dropped, And so, in the spring of 1931, Papa set out looking for work, going as far north as Memphis and as far south as the Delta country, He had gone west too, into Louisiana. It was there he found work laying track for the railroad. He worked the remainder of the year away from us, not returning until the deep winter when the ground was cold and barren. The following spring after the planting was finished. he did the same. Now it was 1933 and Papa was again in Louisiana laying track,

I asked him once why he had to go away, why the land was so important. He took my hand and said in his quiet way: ‘Look out there, Cassie girl. All that belongs to you. You ain’t never had to live on nobody’s place but your own and long as I live and the family survives, you’ll never have to. That’s important. You may not understand that now, but one day you will. Then you’ll see.

I looked at Papa strangely when he said that, for I knew that all the land did not belong to me. Some of it belonged to Stacey, Christopher-John, and Little Man, not to mention the part that belonged to Big Ma. Mama, and Uncle Hammer, Papa’s older brother who lived in Chicago. But Papa never divided the land in his mind: it was simply Logan land. For it he would work the long, hot summer pounding steel: Mama would teach and run the farm; Big Ma, in her sixties, would work like a woman of twenty in the fields and keep the house; and the boys and I would wear threadbare clothing washed to dishwater color: but always, the taxes and the mortgage would be paid. Papa said that one day I would understand.

I wondered.

When the fields ended and the Granger forest fanned both sides of the road with long overhanging branches, a tall, emaciated-looking boy popped suddenly from a forest trail and swung a thin arm around Stacey. It was T. J. Avery. His younger brother Claude emerged a moment later, smiling weakly as if it pained him to do so. Neither boy had on shoes, and their Sunday clothing, patched and worn, hung loosely upon their frail frames. The Avery family share- cropped on Granger land.’Well.’ said T.J.. jauntily swinging into step with Stacey, there we go again startin’ another school year.

‘Yeah,’ sighed Stacey,

‘Ah, man, don’t look so down,’ T.J. said cheerfully. ‘Your mama’s really one great teacher. I should know.’ He certainly should. He had failed Mama’s class last year and was now returning for a second try,

‘Shoot! You can say that,’ exclaimed Stacey. ‘You don’t have to spend all day in a classroom with your mama.’

‘Look on the bright side,’ said T.J. ‘Jus’ think of the advantage you’ve got. You’ll be learnin’ all sorts of stuff ‘fore the rest of us…’ He smiled slyly. ‘like what’s on all them tests.

Stacey thrust T.J.’s arm from his shoulders. ‘If that’s what you think, you don’t know Mama.’

‘Ain’t no need gettin’ mad,’ T.J. replied undaunted. ‘Jus’ an idea.’ He was quiet for a moment, then announced, ‘I betcha I could give y’all an earful ‘bout that burnin’ last night.’

‘Burning I What burning?’ asked Stacey.

‘Man, don’t y’all know nothin’! The Berrys’ burnin’. I thought y’all’s grandmother went over there last night to see ‘bout ‘em.’

Of course we knew that Big Ma had gone to a sick house last night. She was good at medicines and people often called her instead of a doctor when they were sick. But we didn’t know anything about any burnings, and I certainly didn’t know anything about any Berrys either.

‘What Berrys he talking ‘bout, Stacey!’ I asked. ‘I don’t know no Berrys.

‘They live way over on the other side of Smellings Creek. They come up to church sometimes,’ said Stacey absently. Then he turned back to T.J. ‘Mr. Lanier come by real late and got Big Ma. Said Mr.. Berry was low sick and needed her to help nurse him, but he ain’t said nothing ‘bout no burning.’

‘He’s low sick all right ~’cause he got burnt near to death. Him and his two nephews, And you know who done’Who!’ Stacey and I asked together.

‘Well, since y’all don’t seem to know nothin’,’ said T.J., in his usual sickening way of nursing a tidbit of information to death, ‘maybe I ought not tell y’all, It might hurt y’all’s little ears.’

‘Ah, boy,’ I said, ‘don’t start that mess again.’ I didn’t like T.J. very much and his stalling around didn’t help.

‘Come on, T.J.,’ said Stacey, ‘out with it.’

‘Well …’ T.J. murmured, then grew silent as if considering whether or not he should talk, We reached the first of two crossroads and turned north; another mile and we would approach the second crossroads and turn east again.

Finally T.J. said, ‘Okay. See, them Berrys’ burnin’ wasn’t no accident. Some white men took a match to ‘em,’

‘Y-you mean just lit ‘em up like a piece of wood!’ stammered Christopher-John, his eyes growing big with disbelief. ‘But why!’ asked Stacey,

T.J. shrugged. ‘Don’t know why. Jus’ know they done it, that’s all.’

‘How you know !’ I questioned suspiciously.

He smiled smugly. ‘‘Cause your mama come down on her way to school and talked to my mama ‘bout it.’

‘She did !’

‘Yeah, and you should’ve seen the way she look when she come outa that house.’

‘How’d she look!’ inquired Little Man, interested enough to glance up from the road for the first time.

T.J. looked around grimly and whispered. ‘like… death.’ He waited a moment for his words to be appropriately shocking, but the effect was spoiled by Little Man, who asked lightly, ‘What does death look like !’T.J. turned in annoyance. ‘Don’t he know nothin’!’

‘Well, what does it look like?’ Little Man demanded to know. He didn’t like T.J. either, ‘Like my grandfather looked jus’ ‘fore they buried him, T.J. described all-knowingly.

‘Oh.’ replied Little Man, losing interest and concentrating on the road again.

‘I tell ya. Stacey, man,’ said T.J. morosely, shaking his head. ‘sometimes I jus’ don’t know ‘bout that family of yours.

Stacey pulled back, considering whether or not T.J.’s words were offensive. but T.]. immediately erased the question by continuing amiably. ‘Don’t get me wrong, Stacey. They some real swell kids, but that Cassie ‘bout got me whipped this mornin’.

‘Good !’ I said.

‘Now how’d she do that !’ Stacey laughed.

‘You wouldn’t be laughin’ if it’d’ve happened to you. She up and told your mama ‘bout me goin’ up to that Wallace store dancin’ room and Miz Logan told Mama.’ He eyed me disdainfully then went on. ‘But don’t worry, I got out of it though.

When Mama asked me ‘bout it, I jus’ said ole Claude was always sneakin’ up there to get some of that free candy Mr. Kaleb give out sometimes and I had to go and get him ‘cause I knowed good and well she didn’t want us up there. Boy, did he get it?’ T.J. laughed. ‘Mama ‘bout wore him out.

I stared at quiet Claude. ‘You let him do that!’ I exclaimed. But Claude only smiled in that sickly way of his and I knew that he had. He was more afraid of T.J. than of his mother.

Again Little Man glanced up and I could see his dislike for T.J. growing. Friendly Christopher-John glared at T.J., and putting his short arm around Claude’s shoulder said. ‘Come on, Claude. let’s go on ahead.’ Then he and Claude hurried up the road, away from T.J.

Stacey, who generally overlooked T.J.’s underhanded stunts, shook his head. ‘That was dirty. ‘Well, what’d ya expect me to do! I couldn’t let her think I was g-oin’ up there ‘cause I like to, could I! She’ d’ve killed me!’

‘And good riddance.’ I thought, promising myself that if he ever pulled anything like that on me, I’d knock his block off.We were nearing the second crossroads, where deep gullies lined both sides of the road and the dense forest crept to the very edges of high. jagged, clay-walled banks. Suddenly, Stacey turned, ‘Quick!’ he cried. ‘Off the road!’ Without another word, all of us but Little Man scrambled up the steep right bank into the forest.

‘Get up here, Man.’ Stacey ordered, but Little Man only gazed at the ragged red bank sparsely covered with scraggly brown briars and kept on walking .’Come on, do like I say.

‘But I’ll get my clothes dirty i’ protested Little Man. ‘You’re gonna get them a whole lot dirtier you stay down there. Look!’

Little Man turned around and watched saucer-eyed as a bus bore down on him spewing clouds of red dust like a huge yellow dragon breathing fire. Little Man headed toward the bank, but it was too steep. He ran frantically along the road looking for a foothold and, finding one, hopped onto the bank, but not before the bus had sped past enveloping him in a scarlet haze while laughing white faces pressed against the bus windows.

Little Man shook a threatening fist into the thick air, then looked dismally down at himself.

‘Well, ole Little Man done got his Sunday clothes dirty, T.J. laughed as we jumped down from the bank. Angry tears welled in Little Man’s eyes but he quickly brushed them away before T.J. could see them.

‘Ah, shut up, T.J.,’ Stacey snapped,

‘Yeah, shut up. T.J.,’ I echoed.

‘Come on, Man,’ Stacey said,’ and next time do like I tell ya.’

Little Man hopped down from the bank. ‘How’s come they did that. Stacey, huh!’ he asked. dusting himself off. ‘How’s come they didn’t even stop for us !’

'’Cause they like to see us run and it ain’t our bus.’ Stacey said, balling his fists and jamming them tightly into his pockets.

‘Well, where’s our bus !’ demanded Little Man.

‘We ain’t got one.’‘Well, why not!’

‘Ask Mama,’ Stacey replied as a towheaded boy, bare- footed and pale. came running down a forest path toward us. The boy quickly caught up and fell in stride with Stacey and T.J.

‘Hey, Stacey,’ he said shyly. ‘Hey, Jeremy,’ Stacey said.

There was an awkward silence.

‘Y’all jus’ startin’ school today !’

‘Yeah.’ replied Stacey,

‘I wishin’ ours was jus’ startin’,’ sighed Jeremy. ‘Ours been goin’ since the end of August.’ Jeremy’s eyes were a whitewashed blue and they seemed to weep when he spoke.

‘Yeah,’ said Stacey again.

Jeremy kicked the dust briskly and looked toward the north. He was a strange boy. Ever since I had begun school, he had walked with us as far as the crossroads in the morning. and met us there in the afternoon. He was often ridiculed by the other children at his school and had shown up more than once with wide red welts on his arms which Lillian Jean, his older sister, had revealed with satisfaction were the result of his associating with us. Still, Jeremy continued to meet us.

When we reached the crossroads, three more children, a girl of twelve or thirteen and two boys, all looking very much like Jeremy, rushed past, The girl was Lillian Jean, ‘Jeremy, come on.’ she said without a backward glance, and Jeremy, smiling sheepishly, waved a timid good-bye and slowly followed her.

We stood in the crossing gazing after them. Jeremy looked back once but then Lillian Jean yelled shrilly at him and he did not look back again. They were headed for the Jefferson Davis County School. a long white wooden building looming in the distance. Behind the building was a wide sports field around which were scattered rows of tiered gray-looking benches. In front of it were two yellow buses, our own tormentor and one that brought students from the other direction, and loitering students awaiting the knell of the morning bell. In the very center of the expansive front lawn, waving red, white and blue with the emblem of the Confederacy emblazoned in its upper left-hand corner. was the Mississippi nag. Directly below it was the American flag. As Jeremy and his sister and brothers hurried reward those transposed flags, we turned eastward towardour own school.

The Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School, one of the largest black schools in the county, was a dismal end to an hour’s journey. Consisting of four weather-beaten wooden houses on stilts of brick. 320 students, seven teachers. a principal.

a caretaker, and the caretaker’s cow, which kept the wide crabgrass lawn sufficiently clipped in spring and summer, the school was located near three plantations, the largest and closest by far being the Granger plantation. Most of the students were from families that sharecropped on Granger land, and the others mainly from Montier and Harrison plantation families.

Because the students were needed in the fields from early spring when the cotton was planted until after most of the cotton had been picked in the fall, the school adjusted its terms accordingly, beginning in October and dismissing in March. But even so, after today a number of the older students would not be seen again for a month or two, not until the last puff of cotton had been gleaned from the fields, and eventually most would drop out of school altogether. Because of this the classes in the higher grades grew Smaller with each passing year.

The class buildings, with their backs practically against the forest wall, formed a semicircle facing a small one-room church at the opposite edge of the compound. It was to this church that many of the school’s students and their parents belonged. As we arrived, the enormous iron bell in the church belfry was ringing vigorously, warning the milling students that only five minutes of freedom remained.

Little Man immediately pushed his way across the lawn to the well. Stacey and T.J., ignoring the rest of us now that they were on the school grounds, wandered off to be with the other seventh-grade boys, and Christopher-John and Claude rushed to reunite with their classmates of last year. Left alone, I dragged slowly to the building that held the first four grades and sat on the bottom step. Plopping my pencils and notebook into the dirt, I propped my elbows on my knees and rested my chin in the palms of my hands.

‘Hey, Cassie,’ said Mary Lou Wellever, the principal’s daughter, as she flounced by in a new yellow dress.

‘Hey, yourself,’ I said, scowling so ferociously that she kept on walking. I stared after her a moment noting that she would have on a new dress. Certainly no one else did. Patches on faded pants and dresses abounded on boys and girls come so recently from the heat of the cotton fields. Girls stood awkwardly, afraid to sit, and boys pulled restlessly at starched, highbuttoned collars. Those students fortunate enough to have shoes hopped from one pinched foot to the other. Tonight the Sunday clothes would be wrapped in newspaper and hung for Sunday and the shoes would be packed away to be brought out again only when the weather turned so cold that bare feet could no longer traverse the frozen roads: but for today we all suffered.On the far side of the lawn I spied Moe Turner speeding toward the seventh-grade-class building, and wondered at his energy.

Moe was one of Stacey’s friends. He lived on the Montier plantation, a three-and-a-half-hour walk from the school. Because of the distance. many children from the Montier plantation did not come to Great Faith after they had finished the four-year school near Smellings Creek. But there were some girls and boys like Moe who made the trek daily, leaving their homes while the sky was black and not returning until all was blackness again. I for one was certainly glad that I didn’t live that far away. I don’t think my feet would have wanted that badly for me to be educated.

The chiming of the second bell began. I stood up dusting my bottom as the first, second, third, and fourth graders crowded up the stairs into the hallway. Little Man flashed proudly past, his face and hands clean and his black shoes shining again. I glanced down at my own shoes powdered red and, raising my right foot, rubbed it against the back of my left leg, then reversed the procedure. As the last gong of the bell reverberated across the compound, I swooped up my pencils and notebook and ran inside.

A hallway extended from the front to the back door of the building. On either side of the hallway were two door- ways. both leading into the same large room which was divided into two classrooms by a heavy canvas curtain. The second and third grades were on the left, the first and fourth grades on the right. I hurried to the rear of the building, turned to the right, and slid into a third-row bench occupied by Gracey Pearson and Alma Scott.

‘You can’t sit here.’ objected Gracey. ‘I’m saving it for Mary Lou.

I glanced back at Mary Lou Wellever, depositing her lunch pail on a shelf in the back of the room and said, ‘Not any more you ain’t,’

Miss Daisy Crocker, yellow and buckeyed, glared down at me from the middle of the room with a look that said, ‘Soooooooo, it’s you, Cassie Logan.’ Then she pursed her lips and drew the curtain along the rusted iron rod and tucked it into a wide loop in the back wall. With the curtain drawn back, the first graders gazed quizzically at us. Little Man sat by a window, his hands folded, patiently waiting for Miss Crocker to speak.

Mary Lou nudged me. ‘That’s my seat, Cassie Logan.

‘Mary Lou Wellever,’ Miss Crocker called primly, ‘have a seat.’

‘Yes, ma’am,’ said Mary Lou, eyeing me with a look of pure hate before turning away.Miss Crocker walked stiffly to her desk, which was set on a tiny platform and piled high with bulky objects covered by a tarpaulin, She rapped the desk with a ruler, although the room was perfectly still, and said, ‘Welcome, children, to Great Faith Elementary School.’ Turning slightly so that she stared squarely at the left side of the room, she continued, ‘To all of you fourth graders, it’s good to have you in my class. I’ll be expecting many good and wonderful things from you.’ Then addressing the right side of the room, she said, ‘And to all our little first grade friends only today starting on the road to knowledge and education, may your tiny feet find the pathways of learning steady and forever before you.’

Already bored, I stretched my right arm on the desk and rested my head in my upraised hand.

Miss Crocker smiled mechanically, then rapped on her desk again. ‘Now, little ones,’ she said, still talking to the first grade, ‘your teacher, Miss Davis, has been held up in Jackson for a few days so I’ll have the pleasure of sprinkling your little minds with the first rays of knowledge.’ She beamed down upon them as if she expected to be applauded for this bit of news, then with a swoop of her large eyes to include the fourth graders, she went on.

‘Now since there’s only one of me, we shall have to sacrifice for the next few days. We shall work, work, work. but we shall have to work like little Christian boys and girls and share, share, share. Now are we willing to do that!’

‘YES’M. MIZ CROCKER,’ the children chorused.

But I remained silent. I never did approve of group responses. Adjusting my head in my hand, I sighed heavily, my mind on the burning of the Berrys.

‘Cassie Logan!’

I looked up, startled.

‘Cassie Logan!’

‘Yes, ma’am!’ I jumped up quickly to face Miss Crocker.

‘Aren’t you willing to work and share !’

‘Yes’m.’‘Then say so!’

‘Yes’m,’ I murmured, sliding back into my seat as Mary Lou. Gracey, and Alma giggled. Here it was only five minutes into the new school year and already I was in trouble.

By ten o’clock, Miss Crocker had rearranged our seating and written our names on her seating chart. I was still sitting beside Gracey and Alma but we had been moved from the third to the first row in front of a small potbellied stove. Although being eyeball to eyeball with Miss Crocker was nothing to look forward to, the prospect of being warm once the cold weather set in was nothing to be sneezed at either, so I resolved to make the best of my rather dubious position.

Now Miss Crocker made a startling announcement: ‘This year we would all have books.

Everyone gasped, for most of the students had never handled a book at all besides the family Bible. I admit that even I was somewhat excited. Although Mama had several books. I had never had one of my very own.

‘Now we’re very fortunate to get these readers,’ Miss Crocker explained while we eagerly awaited the unveiling. The county superintendent of schools himself brought these books down here for our use and we must take extra-good care of them.’ She moved toward her desk. ‘So let’s all promise that we’ll take the best care possible of these new books.’ She stared down, expecting our response. ‘All right, all together, let’s repeat, “We promise to take good care of our new books.”’ She looked sharply at me as she spoke.

‘WE PROMISE TO TAKE GOOD CARE OF OUR NEW BOOKS!’

‘Fine,’ Miss Crocker beamed, then proudly threw back the tarpaulin.

Sitting so close to the desk, I could see that the covers of the books, a motley red, were badly worn and that the gray edges of the pages had been marred by pencils, crayons, and ink. My anticipation at having my own book ebbed to a sinking disappointment. But Miss Crocker continued to beam as she called each fourth grader to her desk and, recording a number in her roll book, handed him or her a book.

As I returned from my trip to her desk, I noticed the first graders anxiously watching the disappearing pile. Miss Crocker must have noticed them too, for as I sat down she said, ‘Don’t worry, little ones, there are plenty of readers for you too. See there on Miss Davis’s desk.’ Wide eyes turned to the covered teacher’s platform directly in front of them and an audible sigh of relief swelled in the room.I glanced across at Little Man, his face lit in eager excitement. I knew that he could not see the soiled covers or the marred pages from where he sat, and even though his penchant for cleanliness was often annoying, I did not like to think of his disappointment when he saw the books as they really were. But there was nothing that I could do about it, so I opened my book to its center and began browsing through the spotted pages. Girls with blond braids and boys with blue eyes stared up at me. I found a story about a boy and his dog lost in a cave and began reading while Miss Crocker’s voice droned on monotonously.

Suddenly I grew conscious of a break in that monotonous tone and I looked up. Miss Crocker was sitting at Miss Davis’s desk with the first-grade books stacked before her, staring fiercely down at Little Man, who was pushing a book back upon the desk.

‘What’s that you said, Clayton Chester Logan !’ she asked. The room became gravely silent. Everyone knew that Little Man was in big trouble for no one, but no one, ever called Little Man ‘Clayton Chester’ unless she or he meant serious business.

Little Man knew this too. His lips parted slightly as he took his hands from the book. He quivered, but he did not take his eyes from Miss Crocker.’I –I said may I have another book please, ma’am,’ he squeaked. ‘That one’s dirty.’

‘Dirty !’ Miss Crocker echoed, appalled by such temerity. She stood up, gazing down upon Little Man like a bony giant, but Little Man raised his head and continued to look into her eyes. ‘Dirty! And just who do you think you are, Clayton Chester!

Here the county is giving us these wonderful books during these hard times and you’re going to stand there and tell me that the book’s too dirty! Now you take that book or get nothing at all I’

Little Man lowered his eyes and said nothing as he stared at the book, For several moments he stood there, his face barely visible above the desk, then he turned and looked at the few remaining books and, seeming to realize that they were as badly soiled as the one Miss Crocker had given him. he looked across the room at me. I nodded and Little Man, glancing up again at Miss Crocker, slid the book from the edge of the desk, and with his back straight and his head up returned to his seat.

Miss Crocker sat down again. ‘Some people around here seem to be giving themselves airs. I’ll tolerate no more of that.’ she scowled. ‘Sharon Lake, come get your book.

I watched Little Man as he scooted into his seat beside two other little boys. He sat for a while with a stony face looking out the window; then, evidently accepting the fact that the book in front of him was the best that he could expect, he turned and opened it. Rut as he stared at the book’s inside cover, his face clouded, changing from sulky acceptance to puzzlement. Hisbrews furrowed. Then his eyes grew wide, and suddenly he sucked in his breath and sprang from his chair like a wounded animal, hinging the book onto the floor and stomping madly upon it.

Miss Crocker rushed to Little Man and grabbed him up in powerful hands. She shook him vigorously, then set him on the floor again, ‘Now, just what’s gotten into you, Clayton Chester!’ But Little Man said nothing. He just stood staring down at the open book, shivering with indignant anger. ‘Pick it up,’ she ordered. ‘No !’ defied Little Man. ‘No! I’ll give you ten seconds to pick up that book, boy. or I’m going to get my switch.’ Little Man bit his lower lip, and I knew that he was not going to pick up the book. Rapidly, I turned to the inside cover of my own book and saw immediately what had made Little Man so furious. Stamped on the inside cover was a chart which read:

The blank lines continued down to line 20 and I knew that they had all been reserved for black students. A knot of anger swelled in my throat and held there. But as Miss Crocker directed Little Man to bend over the ‘whipping chair. 1 put aside my anger and jumped up.

‘Miz Crocker. don’t, please !’ I cried. Miss Crocker’s dark eyes warned me not to say another word. ‘I know why he done it !’

‘You want part of this switch, Cassie !’

‘No’m,’ I said hastily. ‘I just wanna tell you how come Little Man done what he done.’

‘Sit down!’ she ordered as I hurried toward her with the open book in my hand,

Holding the book up to her. I said. ‘See, Miz Crocker, see what it says. They give us these ole books when they didn’t want’em no more.

She regarded me impatiently, but did not look at the book. ‘Now how could he know what it says! He can’t read.’

‘Yes’m, he can. He been reading since he was four. He can’t read all them big words, but he can read them columns. See what’s in the last row. Please look, Miz Crocker.

This time Miss Crocker did look, but her face did not change. Then, holding up her head, she gazed unblinkingly down at me.

‘S-see what they called us,’ I said, afraid she had not seen.’That’s what you are.’ she said coldly. ‘Now go sit down.

I shook my head, realizing now that Miss Crocker did not even know what I was talking about, She had looked at the page and had understood nothing,

‘I said sit down. Cassie !’

I started slowly toward my desk, but as the hickory stick sliced the tense air. I turned back around. ‘Miz Crocker,’ I said, ‘I don’t want my book neither.

The switch landed hard upon Little Man’s upturned bottom. Miss Crocker looked questioningly at me as I reached up to her desk and placed the book upon it. Then she swung the switch five more times and, discovering that Little Man had no intention of crying, ordered him up.

‘All right, Cassie,’ she sighed, turning to me, ‘come on and get yours.’

By the end of the school day I had decided that I would tell Mama everything before Miss Crocker had a chance to do so.

From nine years of trial and error, I had learned that punishment was always less severe when I poured out the whole truth to Mama on my own before she had heard anything from anyone else. I knew that Miss Crocker had not spoken to Mama during the lunch period, for she had spent the whole hour in the classroom preparing for the afternoon session.

As soon as class was dismissed I sped from the room, weaving a path through throngs of students happy to be free. But before I could reach the seventh-grade-class building. I had the misfortune to collide with Mary Lou’s father. Mr. Wellever looked down on me with surprise that I would actually bump into him, then proceeded to lecture me on the virtues of watching where one was going. Meanwhile Miss Crocker briskly crossed the lawn to Mama’s class building. By the time I escaped Mr.

Wellever, she had already disappeared into the darkness of the hallway,

Mama’s classroom was in the back, I crept silently along the quiet hall and peeped cautiously into the open doorway, Mama, pushing a strand of her long, crinkly hair back into the chignon at the base of her slender neck, was seated at her desk watching Miss Crocker thrust a book before her, ‘Just look at that. Mary,’ Miss Crocker said, thumping the book twice with her forefinger. ‘A perfectly good book ruined. Look at that broken binding and those foot marks all over it.’

Mama did not speak as she studied the book. ‘And here’s the one Cassie wouldn’t take.’ she said, placing a second book on Mama’s desk with an outraged slam. ‘At least she didn’t have a tantrum and stomp all over hers. I tell you, Mary. I just don’tknow what got into those children today. I always knew Cassie was rather high-strung, but Little Man! He’s always such a perfect little gentle- man.’

Mama glanced at the book I had rejected and opened the front cover so that the offensive pages of both books faced her. ‘You say Cassie said it was because of this front page that she and Little Man didn’t want the books !’ Mama asked quietly.

‘Yes, ain’t that something!’ Miss Crocker said, forgetting her teacher-training-school diction in her indignation. ‘The very idea! That’s on all the books, and why they got so upset about it I’ll never know.’

‘You punish them!’ asked Mama, glancing up at Miss Crocker.

‘Well, I certainly did ! Whipped both of them good with my hickory stick. Wouldn’t you have!’ When Mama did not reply, she added defensively, ‘I had a perfect right to.’

‘Of course you did. Daisy.’ Mama said, turning back to the books again. ‘They disobeyed you.’ But her tone was so quiet and noncommittal that I knew Miss Crocker was not satisfied with her reaction.

‘Well, I thought you would’ve wanted to know, Mary, in case you wanted to give them a piece of your mind also.’

Mama smiled up at Miss Crocker and said rather absently, ‘Yes, of course, Daisy. Thank you.’ Then she opened her desk drawer and pulled out some paper, a pair of scissors. and a small brown bottle.

Miss Crocker, dismayed by Mama’s seeming unconcern for the seriousness of the matter, thrust her shoulders back and began moving away from the desk. ‘You understand that if they don’t have those books to study from, I’ll have to fail them in both reading and composition, since i plan to base all my lessons around -‘ She stopped abruptly and stared in amazement at Mama. ‘Mary, what in the world are you doing!’

Mama did not answer. She had trimmed the paper to the size of the books and was now dipping a gray-looking glue from the brown bottle onto the inside cover of one of the books. Then she took the paper and placed it over the glue.

‘Mary Logan, do you know what you’re doing! That book belongs to the county. If somebody from the superintendent’s office ever comes down here and sees that book, you’ll be in real trouble.’

Mama laughed and picked up the other book. ‘In the first place no one cares enough to come down here, and in the secondplace if anyone should come, maybe he could see all the things we need - current books for all of our subjects, not just somebody’s old throwaways, desks, paper, black- boards, erasers, maps, chalk …’ Her voice trailed off as she glued the second book.

‘Biting the hand that feeds you. That’s what you’re doing, Mary Logan, biting the hand that feeds you.’

Again, Mama laughed. ‘If that’s the case. Daisy, T don’t think I need that little bit of food.’ With the second book finished, she stared at a small pile of seventh-grade books on her desk.

‘Well, I just think you’re spoiling those children, Mary. They’ve got to learn how things are sometime.’

‘Maybe so,’ said Mama, ‘but that doesn’t mean they have to accept them … and maybe we don’t either.’

Miss Crocker gazed suspiciously at Mama. Although Mama had been a teacher at Great Faith for fourteen years, ever since she had graduated from the Crandon Teacher Training School at nineteen, she was still considered by many of the other teachers as a disrupting maverick. Her ideas were always a bit too radical and her statements a bit too pointed. The fact that she had not grown up in Spokane County but in the Delta made her even more suspect, and the more traditional. thinkers like Miss Crocker were wary of her. ‘Well, if anyone ever does come from the county and sees Cassie’s and Little Man’s books messed up like that,’ she said, ‘I certainly won’t accept the responsibility for them.

‘It will be easy enough for anyone to see whose responsibility it is, Daisy, by opening any seventh-grade book. Because tomorrow I’m going to “mess them up” too.

Miss Crocker, finding nothing else to say, turned imperiously and headed for the door. I dashed across the hall and awaited her exit, then crept back.

Mama remained at her desk, sitting very still. For a long time she did not move. When she did, she picked up one of the seventh-grade books and began to glue again. I wanted to go and help her, but something warned me that now was not the time to make my presence known, and I left.

I would wait until the evening to talk to her; there was no rush now. She understood.

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