The Writin' School
One day las' Fall we'd all been a-ches'nut huntin', an' Caledony an' the Roberson gals, an' Arizony Stiggers was all a-spendin' the day at our house. We didn't know what else to git at, so we let in to tryin' our fortunes with ches'nuts on the haith. Caledony was doin' most o' the talkin'. The ches'nuts was a -poppin' all over the floor ever' which-a-way, an' we was a-namin' of 'em as they hopped out, an' we was a-laughin' an' a-carryin' on like we allers do when Cal is aroun', when we hearn the dog bark an' seen the new writin' master a-comin'.
Maw she jerked the broom quick an' swept up the haith—ches'nuts an' all—an' yelled at us to hush that foolishness, an' go wash the ashes off'n our mouths whar we'd be a-eatin' o' roasted ches'nuts.
She went to the door an' axed the man to light an' hitch his critter an' come in. We gals got back in the shed room an' peeped thu the crack o' the door at him, an' Arizony snickered so loud I was skeered he'd hear her. She's the biggest goose ever I seen 'bout laughin'. She claimed her fer her sweetheart the minute she seen him. Caledony tole her she was welcome to him.
Maw give him a gourd o' water to drink, an' he 'lowed he'd like to take a wash. Flurridy Tennessy riz the chist lid an' give him a new comp'ny towel—one o' the store-bought han' towels that hadn't been washed. He rubbed an' scrubbed, a-tryin' to dry his face.
"Them as never has tried to dry ther faces on one o' these here new stiff towels 'fore the starch is biled out'n it," says Aunt Nancy, tryin' to be civil mannered to'ard him, "don't know half how aggervatin' hit is. Here's
a ole saft one I wove—hit beats that un all to pieces." An' he was mighty thankful to git hit.
We gals primpt up an' went in to see him. The minute the Gooden chil'en sees anybody at our house, er a ridin' nag hitched at the gate, they come a-flyin' to see who hit is. They come in all out'n breath, an' stood aroun' a-watchin' o' the man when he untied his bundle o' copy books like he was a monkey show.
We'uns all looked, too, an' he showed us the specimens o' his han' write an' all sorter birds drawed in ink, some a-settin' on quill pens, some with leaves in ther mouths, an' some with love letters in ther mouths. An' he had a goose a-swimmin' on the water that he said he made all at once't 'thout takin' up his pen.
Aunt Nany winked at Maw—didn't believe nairy word o' hit.
By that time Mis' Gooden had come in. She 'lowed she seed the chil'en a-runnin' like the house was on fire, an' she come to see what was the matter. Sister Gooden's got a right smart chance o' cu'osity her own se'f.
'Peared like them chil'en would jes' bardaciously climb all over the man, 'spite o' all ther mammy could do. She fusses at 'em all the time, but never makes 'em mind. She kep' a-jerkin' of 'em back an' a-yellin' at 'em.
"Stan' back, chil'en," says she, "the gent'man don't want to nuss none o' you'uns. Set down, Jakey, 'fore I slap yo'. Come here, Sweet'y, yo' air too big a gal to act that a-wat. Yo' chil'en acts like yo' hain't never seed no han' write afore, an' which yo' know yo' is. Yo' Uncle Bob drawed birds an' tarrapins, too, an' made all
them sort o' curly-cues; 'tain't nothin' to do—stan' back 'fore I knock yo' sprawlin'."
But they didn't stan' back long at a time. They wanted to take a-holt o' ever' thing. They are the sort that can't see nothin' 'thout tetchin' hit.
Pap come in, an' the writin' master got atter him to let him put down our names to take lessons.
"I don't know as I keer 'bout hit," says he, "my folks kin all write tol'able fair fists—leastways, they kin read hit themselves. But I reckin they'll all want to take; they in-gin-erly takes ever' fool thing that comes along, even the measles. They buy goods from all the peddlers an' allers git cheated. They tuck cipherin' lessons from that 'rethmetic man, an' he was a-gwine to larn 'em all so fast how to do any sum in the United States in two minutes an' a half, an' he never even so much as larn't 'em how to count a settin' o' aigs. Then they tuck singin' from that do-ra-me, far-so-lar, trout-mouthed fiddler that come along here las' year, an' he never so much as larnt 'em to sing 'Ole Dan Tucker'.
"But the fact o' the business is, this here whole Settlement is 'bout half crazy. They runs wild atter any new-fangled humbug that happens to come along. But neverth'-less, not-with-standin', yo' know singin' is one thing an' writin' is t'other. An' while I maintains to the doctrine that a pretty han' write ain't no sign o' smartness, I never stands as no stumblin' block in the way o' my chil'en larnin' nothin'. 'Live and' larn' have allers been my martow. But I tell yo' the truth, an' I'll stake my affidavy on hit, that the biggest fool I ever seen, writ the prettiest han'-write."
Maw she was so afeard the man would git mad an' take hit to hisse'f, she tried to smooth hit over:
"But it takes mighty smart folks to draw all them birds an' things," she said,
"Neverth'-less, not-with-standin'," Pap went on to say "you'uns kin all take the lessons ef you're a mind to. I know in reason hit hain't a-gwine to be nothin' but a frolic, but I never stands in the way o' no fun, nuther."
So the writin' master tuck down all our names, An' Pap was right—hit was a frolic. Mos' all the young folks in the Settlement tuck lessons jes' fer the fun o' gittin' together; an' some o' the ole folks fer the same reason.
Ole man Langford 'lowed he had allers hearn hit said that hit was never too late to larn an' he was a-gwine to larn how to sign his name ef nothin' more—'peared like he'd been a-makin' o' his X mark long enough. Ole man Wiggins 'lowed Brother Langford shouldn't git a-head o' him, so he tole the writin' master to put his name down, too. Ole Mis' Strong 'lowed to Aunt Nancy:
"I been a-gwine all my life 'thout writin', reckin I kin go on to the end, an' I don't see but wht I git along as well as them that writes, an' my chil'en kin do the same thing—they hain't no better'n me. I got no money to fling away on no sich tomfoolery."
"Me nuther," says ole Mis' Freshours.
But Aunt Nancy an' Maw was both right in fer the frolic, an' put ther names down. An' Pap he 'lowed ef we was all a-gwine to take, he'd let us do his writin', an' he'd stay at home.
Nex' day we all met at the "Briar Patch" schoolhouse. The boys tacked a shelf up agin' the side o' the wall fer to write on, an' fixed a long bench side o' hit, an' we scrouged in close, an' the teacher walked back
o' us. Me an' Caledony sot together an' had a heap o' fun laughin' at t'others, but never larnt much ourselves.
I looked down at t'other end o' the bench at Iky Roberson. He was writin' mighty slow an' twistin' his mouth ever' word he writ, an' lookin' powerful solemn. I nudged Cal to look at him. She whispered to me to look at Cap Dewberry; an' went to gigglin'.
"Do look at Cap," says he, "he's a-fixin' to whistle."
"Look at Aunt Nancy," says I, "she looks like she's a-cuttin' out some n' with the scissors."
"An' look at ole Wiggins—he looks like he'd et a green 'simmon," says Caledony. "Watch ever' las' one of 'em; they are all a-twistin' ther mouths ever' word they write."
The teacher come to see what we was a-laughin' at, an' Caledony axed him ef there wasn't some way to learn a body to write 'thout twistin' an' screwin' ther mouths. He said he didn't twist his mouth when he wrote, but we watched when he set the next copy, an' he looked like he was a-whistlin' too.
He agreed to teach ten days, an' the time was mos' out, an' we was all powerful sorry, for we was a-havin' a good time. The boys walked home with us ever' evenin', an' a right smart chance o' courtin' was a-goin' on. Boys too shame-faced to talk courted with pen an' ink—that's what some of 'em tuck lessons fer.
Me an' Cal got a whole passle o' love poetry, wrote in red an' blue ink with birds an' flowers drawed all aroun' the verses. We've got 'em yit.
Arizony had tuck up a right smart o' her time a-drawin' o' hearts with arrows run thu an' birds with love letters in ther mouths.
It was the talk that the teacher was a-courtin'
Arizony, kase he drawed more birds an' geese fer her than anybody else; an' he had been a-walkin' home with her ever' day.
Friday was the las' day an' we was all at the schoolhouse waitin' fer the teacher. All the scholars was thar 'cept Arizony. We looked ever' minute fer 'em to come in, and hit was a-gittin' late.
We hearn a horse a-gallopin' up to the door, an' all han's run out to see what was the matter. Hit was ole man Stiggers a-huntin' fer Arizony. He was so awful mad he couldn't hardly talk.
"Whar is Arizony?" he axed.
"She ain't here," somebody answered.
"Whar is that cimblin-headed writin' master? he axed.
"He ain't been here today," somebody tole him.
Then he jerked his bridle, an' laid hick'ry to that ole blaze-face ridin' critter, an' galloped off towards town like he was a-gwine atter the doctor.
When they missed Arizony's Sunday hat an' Sunday shoes an' frock, an' her han' satchel too, they suspicioned that she had run away to marry the writin' master, an' when her Pap come in from the fiel' they tole him, an' he never los' no time—he pitched out to ketch 'em—but he was a little to late.
Source: Hamilton, Betsy Ward. Southern Character Sketches. Richmond: Dietz, 1937. 30-35.
Colin Tate prepared and Nicola Hart proofread this typescript.
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