Mama used the Sears and Roebuck catalogue to teach what I should know before starting to school. She cut out pictures and glued them to index cards so I could learn colours. Her expert hands cut a complete set of the alphabet and numbers from the catalogue. I learned to match these by searching through the thick book. By September, Mama declared I was ready for the first grade.
I was assigned to Miss Moses’ room at Hayesville Elementary School. She was impressed that I knew so much about school. A girl named Myra became my best friend. It was our job to water her purple violets. Under our care, the flowers outgrew the pot and Miss Moses had to divide them into another container.
Myra and I kept watering the flowers. In October, Myra announced she would be moving to Sylva, North Carolina. Her father had been assigned as principal of the elementary school. I was sad to see my best friend go, but I continued my job. Then, one day Mama told me we would be moving to Ellijay, Georgia. The village nestled in the foothills of the
Chattahoochee National Forest, and my daddy would haul timber there. When we moved, the mountain side was covered like a patchwork quilt of multicolored leaves. There was an abundance of oak trees, and Daddy would drive a truck and haul out logs for Ritter Lumber Company.
Daddy didn’t want to drive so far to work, so he rented a little white house with green shutters. The cottage was surrounded by mountains, tall trees, and wild animals. Sometimes a black bear loped through the yard, and at night the owls hooted loudly. One night Daddy couldn’t make it home. A truck driver stopped at our house and hollered to Mama, “Mrs. Ledford, your husband has sent word that he won’t be home tonight. His truck is stuck to the axles in mud. He’s going to have to unload the logs and try to get the truck out.”
The next morning Mama walked me to the bus. The rain had made deep ruts in our muddy road; they were so bad that the school bus couldn’t drive to our house. I rode the school bus many miles to a rock building with only two rooms. The older students were in one room. Their teacher was also the principal. My classroom was in the other room and contained several grades. There was a big pot-bellied stove in the middle of it. Miss Meeks was my first-grade teacher.
She was curious about the lunches I brought to school. We didn’t have a cafeteria, and Mama always packed my lunch. The school nurse had taken blood samples of each student. My blood hemoglobin was the highest of any grade, and they wanted to know what Mama packed in my lunch box. Since Ellijay was known as the apple capital of Georgia, she included a Golden Delicious each day. I had a little thermos filled with cold milk, and there might be carrots, cheese, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or sometimes a thermos of vegetable soup to eat as the days got colder.
Winter was very cold. Snow dusted the mountaintops, and Miss Meeks told us Christmas was coming soon. She wrote our names on a sheet of paper, folded and cut it into strips. We drew a name and would buy a Christmas present for the one we selected.
Next to the last week of school, Daddy drove us into the town of Ellijay to Christmas shop. I sped into the Chambers’ Dime Store to select a gift for my classmate. I saw a beautiful tea set painted with purple violets. I asked, “Mama, please, may I buy this for the present?”
Mama gave permission to get the tea set. She bought wrapping paper that had a red-and-white striped background with Santa faces and red stars all over it. I tied a green ribbon and a big bow on the package. I was so proud of the beautifully wrapped present.
Next day at school we had sugar cookies and red punch for our Christmas party. Then it was time to get our presents. Miss Meeks handed out gifts to everyone but me. I waited and waited, and finally interrupted her, “Miss Meeks, I didn’t get one.”
She asked the children who had drawn my name, but no one confessed. I choked on a sob and tears stung my cheeks. The next thing that I did was unlike me. I sprang out of my seat and ran to the girl that had received the present from me. I jerked the tea set off her desk and hugged it to my chest. Mrs. Meeks pried the tea set from me, “No, no, you must not do that! You gave the tea set to her for a Christmas gift.”
Mrs. Meeks went to her desk. She pulled a white handkerchief from her purse and handed it to me. The edges were embroidered with purple violets just like the ones I had faithfully watered in Miss Moses’ room.
Since that time, I can’t look at purple violets without feeling both sadness and joy.
Barbara Ledford Wright is an associate editor to Moonshine and Blind Mules anthology and has been published in 11 Old Mountain Press anthologies, including Just Between Us. Some other credits include: Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal, Express Yourself 101 Vol 2 For Your Eyes Only, Fireflies and June Bugs, Yesterdays Magazette, Christmas Presence, Clothes Lines and Fresh Literary Magazine. She holds a teaching degree and has continued with post graduate writing studies.