Christyby Catherine Marshall, Kellie Martin
In the year 1912, nineteen-year-old Christy Huddleston leaves home to teach school in the Smoky Mountains. But her faith will be severely challenged by trial and tragedySee more details below
In the year 1912, nineteen-year-old Christy Huddleston leaves home to teach school in the Smoky Mountains. But her faith will be severely challenged by trial and tragedy
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- 6.50(w) x 5.50(h) x 1.10(d)
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Only my father saw me to the Asheville station that Sunday morning in 1912. Mother had gotten up early to fix us a hot breakfast. It was one of those moments that would be as sharp and real in my mind years later as it was that January morning: that particular look of love and longing in mother's eyes; the smell of the starch in her crisp white apron; the hissing of the pine resin in the big iron stove; the lake of melted butter in the steaming mound of hominy grits on my plate.
Then father had called from the front room, "Time to start!" And my brother George, hearing the announcement, had stumbled out of bed and down the stairs to the landing, where he had stood leaning sleepily on the banister, tousled hair in his eyes, to tell me good-bye.
"Have to go," father repeated from the doorway. "The engine's running. I had a time cranking the car in this cold."
In the gray light before dawn, the railroad station had a wraithlike look. I saw with a strange leap of heart that the train was going to be pulled by Old Buncombe, a favorite engine on the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad. The engine was painted green with gold trim and lettering and there were big brass ornaments on its headlight. The billows of smoke pouring out of Old Buncombe's smokestack looked blacker than usual against the background of new-fallen snow. As father carried my bag on down the platform, he was trying to be jovial, teasing me as if I were nine and not nineteen. He still considered me too young to go off alone, especially on a wild adventure like teaching school in a mountain cove of which no member of our family nor anyone in Asheville, as far as he could discover, had ever seen or even heard.
I had battled long and hard with him and mother for the chance to do this. All of us Huddlestons have a stubborn streak, no doubt inherited from our Scottish ancestors. How well I knew that it was this quality in father that had earned him so many business successes. And yet this time it was I, not he, who had gotten my way.
But walking along the platform that January morning, the elation I felt at this victory over my parents struggled with other feelings. Father was too heavy now with iron-gray hair. Tenderness for him welled up in me. Impulsively I stuck my right hand into the pocket of his overcoat.
"My hand's cold," I said as if a childish gesture needed an explanation--but he knew. His left hand covered mine in the coat pocket.
"Girlie," he asked suddenly (that was what he always called me at sentimental moments), "do you really think you have enough money to get you through till payday?"
"Plenty, father. Yes--thanks."
"Well, twenty-five dollars a month isn't going to go far." His voice was gruff with emotion.
"Probably for the first time in my life there won't be any temptation to spend money. It will be good for me." I was trying to sound gay. "Right in line with your ideas, father. For all I know there may not be a single store in Cutter Gap."
Then we were mounting the steps to the train. I was to ride the coach, for it was only a six-hour trip. There was that certain smell of coal dust that railroad cars had: grime in every crevice and in the corners of the window ledges, brass spittoons, a potbellied stove in the rear, sacks of grain and produce piled toward the back, a lot of people. I marveled that so many would get up to catch a train at six-thirty in the morning.
Father found me an empty place and I sank down on the scratchy red plush seat, with my suitcase on the floor beside me. The whistle blew shrilly. Father reached out for me; the tweed of his big coat was rough against my face. "Don't forget now--soon as you get there, write us. Want to know you've arrived safely." Trying to be playful, he pinched my cheek--and was gone.
I saw father standing on the platform talking to the old conductor. Once he pointed in my direction, so I knew from long experience what he was saying. "My daughter's in there. Take care of my girl." It was embarrassing. After all, I was too old to want father to do this, too young to be flattered.
Then the conductor was waving his arms and shouting, "All a-boarrrd!" He mounted the steps and noisily clicked the guardrail shut. Old Buncombe sputtered and wheezed with the familiar chuff... chuff ... chuff. Our car jerked forward, the one behind slamming into us. The door at the front of the coach swung crazily, but finally the jerking and the bumping smoothed out and the telephone poles were sliding past.
Across the aisle a country woman with a red-faced squalling baby jiggled the child up and down, back and forth, on her ample lap. Then when the crying did not stop, she opened up her shirtwaist to let the infant nurse. The man in front of me was lighting up a pipe filled with home-grown tobacco that stung my throat and made my eyes water.
After Budford, North Carolina, the conductor began moving down the aisle gathering tickets. The old man's blue serge suit was shiny at the elbows and knees. I fervently hoped that he would not mortify me before the other passengers by telling me that he would take good care of me, so I turned pointedly toward the window and pretended to look at the white fields and rising hills. What I actually saw reflected in the window glass was a figure so slender that it should have belonged to a much younger girl. I threw back my shoulders and took a deep breath, trying to fill out my new fawn-colored coatsuit a little better. The blue eyes beneath the piled-up dark hair stared back at me quizzically.
"Ticket, please. You're Christy Huddleston, aren't you?"
I nodded, hoping that if I managed the proper dignified expression he would notice that I was simply another adult passenger. After all, this was not my first train trip, not by any means. The past year and a half at Flora College in Red Springs I had taken the train both ways, a trip of three hours, and once I had taken the sleeper to my aunt's home in Charleston on the coast. But this worldly experience seemed lost on the conductor.
"I'm Javis MacDonald," he went on. "I've known your father a long time." He punched my ticket, handed it back. "So you're bound for El Pano, young lady. Your father said you were going to teach school. In El Pano?"
"No--in a new school--seven miles or so behind El Pano, back in Cutter Gap."
Mr. MacDonald rubbed his chin whiskers reflectively. His eyes took on a wary look. He seemed about to speak, thought better of it, but then finally said impulsively, "That Cutter Gap is right rough country. Only last week followin' a turkey shootin' match, one man got tired of shootin' turkeys and shot another man in the back. Well--probably I oughten to be tellin' you, but you'll be hearin' the likes soon enough."
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