FAITH IS A HERITAGE
Christie Lund Coles
Synopsis: Enid, wife of Tom Drage, who was killed in a factory accident, is faced with the problem of rearing her daughter Sharon. The factory makes a settlement, and Miss Nobbitt, the landlady, offers to take care of Sharon while Enid finishes the schooling required for a teacher’s certificate. In Salt Lake City, Enid registers at the University and begins her school work. She goes for a ride with Milo Ross, a fellow student.
She knew he was going to kiss her unless she acted swiftly. So, as his lips would have touched hers, she turned her head, at the same time pushing him from her with both hands.
He tried to take her hands into his free one, as he said, “Don’t tell me you’re going to be prudish. I like you.”
“If not letting you kiss me is being prudish, then I’m certainly going to be just that,” she told him simply, flatly, “and if you don’t mind I’d like to go home.”
There was that in her tone that told him she meant what she said. He straightened up, his mouth becoming sulkier than ever as he said, “Okay. You sound exactly like a school teacher.”
Her laugh was a little hysterical as she admitted, “I’m going to be a school teacher. And I’m glad of it. For that matter, I’m even glad that I give the impression of cramming, because I’m doing that, too. The sooner I finish, the sooner I can leave here and go home.”
“There must be somebody very special waiting for you.”
“There is somebody very special,” she assured him.
He started the car and they drove toward town in silence. She found herself feeling just a little sorry for him, so wrapped was she in her own joy of thinking of the little town, Miss Nobbitt’s large, old-fashioned house … and Sharon. Oh, yes, especially Sharon.
The summer ended and Enid went home. The peaceful, uneventful weeks passed into months, and the months into another year, and Enid received her degree to teach. She put it carefully away in a bottom dresser drawer, there to remain until the time would come when she and Sharon could go together to the red schoolhouse in the east part of town. The time passed so swiftly that that day came sooner than she had believed possible.
Sharon’s school started one Monday morning before the junior high school in which Enid was to teach. She had bought Sharon an adorable dress and hat for the occasion. It was an extravagance, but she wanted Sharon to look her very prettiest.
Now, as she tied the large yellow sash and adjusted a golden yellow curl, she felt she had never seen anything more beautiful than this child of hers. But Sharon was frightened and a little dismayed. “You’ll stay there with me, won’t you, Mommie?” she asked, her eyes dark and anxious.
Enid told her, “I can’t stay with you very long. But I will stay as long as possible. You mustn’t be frightened, honey, most of the children are just little boys and girls that you know.”
“But there will be so many,” the child lamented.
Enid smiled, understanding that natural fear of great crowds. One or two people could always be met easily, but there was something about a group that made one feel alone and lonely. And Sharon was a shy little thing, anyway, sensitive and aloof.
Enid had adjusted her own new hat at just the proper angle. She took Sharon’s hand, and they started up the street together toward the schoolhouse, where the bell, high in the belfry, was already beginning to ring.
Her own legs shook just a little as she entered the kindergarten room, especially when she saw that the teacher was a young woman whom she had seen around town and who had always given her the impression of being proud and haughty.
The impression was heightened when she introduced herself and Sharon. The girl glanced at the child, briefly, and without looking directly at Enid, said, “She’ll get along all right.”
Enid asked, a bit hesitantly, “Is it all right if I stay a few moments?”
“If you wish,” she replied briefly. Then she told the child to be seated, and Enid walked to the back of the room where she found a chair and sat down.
During the opening moments of the class, she caught Sharon looking around almost frantically for her, and she leaned forward smiling so that she would be in her line of vision. Unfortunately, Miss Hare, the teacher, saw, too, and a look, of derision crossed her face. It was almost as though Enid could read her thoughts. She was probably thinking, Here is a spoiled youngster; they are poor, yet look at her clothes …
After a few moments, Miss Hare announced she would call the roll, and asked each child to raise his hand as his name was called. She started down the list. Sharon sat watching her, waiting for her name to be called. When the list was finished she put it aside, and still Sharon sat watching her, disappointed, still hoping that she would remember her mistake and call her name. But the teacher did not. Enid tried to tell herself that it was not deliberate, that it was unimportant and she wrinkled her nose at her daughter when she turned to her, trying to give assurance that it wasn’t important.
Later, Miss Hare asked how many of the children knew how to spell “cat.” Sharon, among others, lifted her hand. When the teacher saw it, she said, “All right then, you, spell it.”
Sharon stood up, looked about the room, and her face blanched. Enid could see her lower lip tremble as she tried to get the letters out and could not.
Miss Hare turned from her to the board, saying sharply, sarcastically, “I thought you knew how to spell it.”
Sharon sat down and Enid felt as if she had been lashed with a cat-o’-nine-tails. Nothing in her own life had ever hurt her like this. Yet, she knew if she interceded, if she gave way to the emotions in her, it would be harder on Sharon than ever. The teacher would be even more unkind and Sharon would be more hurt.
Enid decided to try and pass over the experience lightly, and to make Sharon believe there was some reason behind it, that the teacher was probably upset the first day, and was just thoughtless, that the slights didn’t mean anything.
But when Enid arrived home, she threw herself on the bed, and cried, bitterness and anger welling up in her. If ever she had a chance, she vowed, she would strike out against that kind of teaching. Sarcasm had no place in the handling of children … they were too fundamentally good, too untouched to be exposed to its sharp spears. Not only her own child deserved something better, but all children everywhere deserved to be treated with respect and kindness.
Enid discovered to her amazement, when Sharon came home, that she seemed to have forgotten the incident. She quickly changed her clothes and ran outside to play with some neighbor children. They weren’t the best dressed nor the best behaved children in town. Enid had had this truth brought home to her today when she had looked around the classroom and noticed the children from the homes on the east side of town. But what could she do? She had signed her contract now, and was bound to teach in this town. If she hadn’t, she thought desperately, she would have left the town and never returned. After all, there was no one to bind her here … except Miss Nobbitt. But she really had been good to her, and she owed her a great deal. She would have to stay, of course. Things would work out. No one could know Sharon and not love her. Not even Miss Hare, Enid reflected hopefully.
The next few days Enid was busy getting started with her own teaching. She felt a little shy among the carefree boys and girls she taught, who were at the age most difficult to understand – thirteen to fifteen years old – some of them even sixteen. Yet, it had not been so very long since she had been that age herself. She could still remember the adjustments so difficult to make. She didn’t believe young people were bad, fundamentally, only misunderstood, misdirected, and their only defense was youthful defiance.
After the first few days, she was sure she was going to like teaching; she was sure that, on the whole, the children would be co-operative.
Her thoughts were brought back to Sharon and to her teacher on a particular Friday when the child walked over to the high school building to meet her.
“Hello,” Enid greeted her happily as she saw her small figure in the doorway. “Come in. See the room where your mother teaches.”
The child walked in rather slowly, and Enid noticed the paleness of her face, the unhappy expression in her eyes.
“What is it?” she asked, rising to reach her hand out to her. “Anything gone wrong?”
“No,” Sharon said shortly, avoiding her mother’s eyes, pretending to be interested in the blackboard beyond her.
Enid didn’t want to press the issue. She didn’t want to put any ideas into her daughter’s mind if none were there. She only asked casually, “How’s school? is Miss Hare nice?
She was unprepared for the sudden burst of tears, the fury of the words that came from the child. “No,” she cried, sobbing, “she’s mean. She says mean things to me. I don’t like her, Mommie. She doesn’t like me. She … doesn’t … like … me.” The last was a heartbroken wail that held all the sorrow and misery of childhood.
Enid felt a pain like a vise pressing within her breast. She gathered the child into her arms, feeling her own tears, her own anger rising to overflowing. But she kept silent until she was able to say, rather calmly, “I’m sure it isn’t that bad. I’m sure she likes you. She is just very busy, there are so many children …”
Sharon shook her head in silent disagreement and Enid held her more tightly in her arms, as if, by doing so, she could protect her against anything might ever hurt Sharon again.
Enid wanted to cry out, but again she forced herself to say quietly, though she was trembling, “Why don’t you take the dime and run over and get us a couple of ice cream cones while I finish up here. Then we’ll walk home together.”
Sharon’s face brightened momentarily as Enid dried her eyes, and in a moment she was off to the store.
That night when the child was asleep in her small bed, Enid sat in the lamplight, biting the end of a pen, staring at the white paper before her. Suddenly, the words seemed to start themselves and she began writing … swiftly … short, terse phrases … “I do not ask anything for my child that I do not ask for every child in the room … the chance to be treated fairly … an encouraging word for work well done …”
She filled up the page, signed her name, folded it. Then she slipped it into an envelope, addressed it slowly, almost painfully. She wished there were some other way. She could go to the teacher in person, but she was afraid of her own emotions, afraid she would not be able to say what she wished to say. She sealed the envelope and set it beside the lamp where she would see it in the morning.
Sometime, during the still hours, when the tears had spent themselves and she was starting into the darkness, it was almost as though a voice said to her, “Pray for those who despitefully use you.”
It seemed incredible to think of, to pray for Miss Hare with her haughtiness, her sharp tongue. Yet, as Enid thought of it, she was forced to admit that perhaps there was something back of it, some deep reason for her actions. Perhaps it was a defense of some sort. How could one judge another …
Wise and gentle beyond her years, Enid closed her eyes and prayed for Miss Hare, prayed for her child, prayed for wisdom for herself.