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The Schoolteacher and the Bad Boy
By Dolores Marie Patterson
Abbott PressCopyright © 2013 Dolores Marie Patterson
All rights reserved.
In every life, there are times when one must leave the past and journey into the unknown. Sometimes it is God who asks us to leave as he did Abraham in Genesis 12:1. Sometimes the journey comes from one's personal vision and desire for success or change. Other times, as in this story, it is circumstances that move us to places beyond our imagination.
In the beginning, everything about the journey was exhilarating to Sarah Wendal. From the moment she received the letter of acceptance, she was in a state of excitement and satisfaction. Things were looking up for her. She immediately started packing everything she could get into her two pieces of luggage. She settled her bill with the manager of the boarding house, told the manager that she could have everything left in the room because it didn't fit in Sarah's luggage, and then walked out the door, determined to leave the life she had always known behind her. If she took time to think of anything but the future, she might not be able to leave and that, unfortunately, wasn't an option.
When Sarah reached the train depot, which was only a short walk, she was just in time to buy a ticket on the next train. Her destination was Arizona.
What fortunate timing, she thought as she found a seat and put her luggage in the overhead rack. Almost immediately the train started moving, and the conductor came by to punch her ticket.
"Going all the way to Chicago, huh? You got family there?"
"No, I'm going to Arizona. I understand that I have to change trains in Chicago. Is that right, sir?"
"Yes, you are correct. That's a long trip for a young lady!"
Sarah thought about the conductor's words for some time after he walked on down the aisle. She felt fear rising up in the pit of her stomach and quickly decided she couldn't afford to think. Once she got used to the constant rocking of the train car and the clip-clip sound of the wheels on the track, she settled down to look out the window. The landscape was familiar and very beautiful. Sarah loved the green trees and the rivers that followed the tracks. In fact the trip was very pleasant from her hometown in Vermont all the way to Chicago.
When her train arrived in Chicago, the conductor explained that Sarah would have to go into the station and wait for the train that would take her to Arizona. This was the first time Sarah had heard of this. Wait at the Chicago station? She was immediately concerned that she would get lost.
When the ticket agent at home first told her about the transfer, Sarah had pictured getting off one train and getting right on to the other one. It didn't occur to her that she would have to wait in the station, and she certainly had no concept of how big everything would be.
As the train slowed down for Chicago, Sarah's eyes were glued to the window. She noticed all the tracks that paralleled the one her train was on. There were rows and rows of them. Since Sarah had never been far from home, she had assumed the track that went through her hometown was the same one that would take her to her destination. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, and the little bit of Chicago she'd seen so far seemed enormous to her.
It was becoming more obvious to Sarah that her world up to now had been very small. The more she thought, the more unsettled she became. This was a much bigger adventure than she had imagined. Sure, in school she had read all about the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark traveling to the Pacific Ocean. She had read about the Apache Indians in Arizona and studied the map of the United States. Even though Sarah knew the West was a long way from her small town, she didn't have any concept of how far a long way really was. Her life at home had been a small reality.
The conductor was kind, and he seemed to understand how naïve and scared she was. He carefully explained that once Sarah got off the train, she needed to ask where the ticket counter was located. The ticket agent in Chicago would tell her where to wait and what to listen for so she wouldn't miss the new train. He also warned Sarah that she might have to stay at the station for several hours. He didn't know the schedule for the other line. Waiting for hours and hours in a train station full of strangers was not something Sarah was interested in doing, so she hoped he was wrong.
The wait in Chicago turned out to be only two hours. The ticket agent told Sarah where to sit so she could hear the announcement for her train. Since she was afraid she would miss the train, Sarah sat right where she was told. She did take a few moments to freshen up in the ladies' powder room, but she was afraid to venture as far as the restaurant to get something to eat. She still had an apple and some crackers left from home. That will have to do.
Sarah was listening so hard for the announcement that she actually jumped when she finally heard "Oklahoma City, all aboard, track twelve, gate two." She looked up to see where gate two was located and grabbed her luggage. She had not forgotten how many tracks she had seen coming into the station. Sarah was afraid she wouldn't get there in time. Why did the announcer say "all aboard?" Isn't that what the conductor says when the train leaves?
Sarah need not have worried. The agents outside the door directed her, along with the other passengers booked on the same train, to track twelve. The conductor checked her ticket to make sure she was on the right train and helped her up the steps. She quickly found a window seat and put her luggage away. Sarah sat down with a sigh and was glad she wouldn't have to go through that again, at least not until she got to Oklahoma City.
The transfer at Oklahoma City went much smoother, and by that time Sarah was getting more comfortable with her circumstances. She even enjoyed visiting with the lady who sat in the seat next to her out of Chicago. It helped pass the time to hear the woman talk about life as a farmer's wife in Kansas. The winters sounded pretty awful with all the snow and the wind, but she could tell Mrs. Smith was proud of her husband and their farm. From the time Mrs. Smith left the train all the way to Oklahoma, Sarah had the seat to herself, giving her an opportunity to stretch out and get some sleep. It was the conductor's announcement that the train had arrived in Oklahoma City that woke her up.
Now, settled in the new car, Sarah was rested and ready to look at the scenery, except it wasn't beautiful. How different this was from the East. Sarah looked out at miles and miles of flat, brown nothing. Traveling across the states of Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona, Sarah viewed land that was mostly ugly, at least to her. There were some rocky mountains off in the distance, but it was so hot and stifling on the train that it was difficult to even imagine there might be a cool breeze somewhere out there.
Not long after the train crossed into Arizona, Sarah was blessed to see some evergreen trees and mountains with green foliage, but it didn't last long. After she transferred trains for the last time in Ashfork, Arizona, the terrain changed to desert. There was nothing but mesquite and sage brush. At least that's what the man sitting next to her—the one with the window seat—said.
This was the first time on her long journey that Sarah didn't have a seat by the window, and it couldn't have been a worse time as far as she was concerned.
Sarah opened her satchel again to look at her father's timepiece. It was only 1:30, just ten minutes later than the last time she looked. This train ride seemed to go on forever. Will I ever get there? Do I want to get there? Maybe when I get to Wickenburg, I should just get off this train and take the next train back home, but what is home without Father?
It was the end of August 1905, and Sarah Wendal was on her way to Wickenburg, Arizona to become the growing city's next schoolteacher. She really didn't know what to expect. She was apprehensive and thrilled all at the same time. A roller coaster of emotions seemed to be running inside her. The first hill was the excitement of starting a new life in a new place and then right behind it was the rush down into fear. After that came a deep, overwhelming feeling of loss and grief.
Suddenly, Sarah's mind was miles away, and she was lost in thought. Could it be just six months ago that she stood beside her father's grave? It all happened so quickly. She thought he would always be there and that it would be she who would someday get married and leave him. But that wasn't the way it would be. A fever broke out in their small eastern town. Her father was one of the many people who died before the disease had run its course.
Sarah always imagined herself marrying someone from her hometown, or at least her state, and living down the street from the house she grew up in—the same house she and her father shared after her mother passed away three years before. She'd always dreamed that her children would grow up as she had under her father's nurturing hand.
Farrell Wendal was a man everyone looked up to. People stopped him on the street corner every day to ask his advice. He was a deacon at the church they had attended for as long as Sarah could remember. When she thought of her father, he still seemed so real and so alive that she could almost feel his strong arms around her and his encouraging words. "Sarah," he often said tenderly, "I'm so proud of you. You will grow up to be a fine woman, just like your mama."
Sarah really wasn't the adventuring type of person. She had lived a sheltered and protected life with her father and mother. They doted over her since she was their only child. She'd never felt the need for many other people in her life. She had only a few special friends who had either moved away to follow their dreams, or had succumbed to the same illness that took her father. Now she was suddenly all alone for the first time. The town was small so it wasn't that Sarah didn't know other people. She just wasn't close to anyone who was left.
After Sarah's father's affairs were settled, there wasn't much money left for her to build a future. She would certainly have to get a job, but there wasn't any jobs fit for a young lady of seventeen years. And, certainly no prospective husband that Sarah would have. There were plenty of men who turned their heads to stare at her, but they weren't in her class. Not that Sarah was conceited, but she had high standards. She wanted a man like her father with good moral character, a leader in the community, and looked up to by everyone who knew him.
When the family home sold she rented a room in a boarding house and watched her meager funds slowly disappear. What was she going to do? Sarah visited the acceptable stores and businesses in town, but no one was hiring. Every afternoon she waited in the front room of the boarding house for the newspaper to arrive and searched the want ads with a sense of desperation building more and more every day. Finally she spotted what she was looking for.
Teacher Wanted Mail Application to: Don Diego Postal Box 1 Wickenburg, Arizona
Sarah tore the advertisement out of the paper, and hurried to her room to write a letter applying for the job. She shot out of the house and almost ran to the post office. When she dropped her letter into the postbox, she let out a sigh and said a silent prayer. 'Dear God, my father depended on you for everything. I've never felt the need to do that, but please hear my prayer and help me get this job. Amen.'
A different kind of vigilance began for Sarah. She now believed the mail rather than the newspaper held the key to her future. Day after day she waited for the mail to arrive. Over the next month Sarah walked away from the post office in disappointment every day, and the feeling of gripping fear got bigger and bigger. Worries repeated themselves over and over in her mind. What am I going to do? What is the answer? Why did God take my father away from me? I miss him so much. He always knew what to do.
At last a letter came for her posted from Wickenburg, Arizona. She picked it up with shaking hands. Oh my goodness, what if they don't want me?
She ripped the letter open and read the welcome words. "Sarah, your application was accepted. Telegraph your response immediately. If you want the job, you must be in Wickenburg by the first day of September. School starts on the fifth."
Sarah let out a sigh of relief. She ran quickly to the telegraph office to send a message accepting the position and promising to arrive on time.
* * *
The train jerked suddenly bringing Sarah back to the hot, dusty, awful heat that was today's reality:
Stifling heat—sweaty, stinking bodies crammed into this car of rocking, bumping motion.
I must have been insane to leave home. I can't even remember what cool breezes feel like. Oh for the smell of fresh cut green grass or to stand under a green tree. This heat reminds me of standing in front of mama's oven and fanning the heat into my face! But there's no sweet smell of baking biscuits here—just sweaty bodies, even I smell like sweat, and my parents brought me up to be a lady. What would father and mama think of me now? This can't be happening! Maybe it's a dream. Maybe I didn't leave home. Hell is supposed to be like this, isn't it? This must be hell. That's it. I've got it figured out. This is hell and I'm insane or if I'm not insane yet, I surely will be soon.
'God, if my father was right about you caring for everyone please help me. Why would anyone come to this god-forsaken place, and I'm not even there yet? I'm on this miserable train with a bunch of miserable people. People like me, whining, hot, and irritable.'
What is the name of this town, Skull Valley? Well, that about sums it up. I'm sure there are far more dead skulls in this valley than living human beings! What kind of a sane person would choose to live here anyway?
Oh sure, go out West. What was I thinking?
Start fresh—a new career! Build a future. Be a teacher. Shape young lives—the future of our country.
See the scenic beauty! What beauty? Mile after mile of scrubby desert, mesquite and sage brush—this is beauty? No, this is ugly. Green trees and bushes and grass are beautiful Not this! What a laugh! What a fool I was to answer that newspaper advertisement.
Sarah was positive she couldn't stand the stifling heat any longer. "Please sir, could I change places with you? I need to breathe. I need to sit by the window."
The man looked at her indignantly. "Lady, I got on this train before you, and I am not moving until I get to Phoenix."
"You don't understand sir. I've never been in a place like this. This train—I mean it's so hot. I think I'm going to pass out if I don't get a cool breeze on my face. Please sir, if I could just stick my head out the window. I'm not asking you to give up your seat. Just give me a few minutes to get a fresh breath of air."
"Are you for real? There is no such thing as a fresh breath of air in Arizona during the month of August!"
"What about the Golden Rule?" Sarah whined.
"The golden what?—we have gold in Arizona, lady, but I don't know what you mean about a rule."
"The Golden Rule from the Bible ... My father said everyone should live by the Golden Rule. You know—Do unto others as you want them to do unto you."
"Lady I don't get your drift. What does that have to do with giving up my seat?"
"What I mean is this. If I was the one sitting by the window, and you were sitting where I am, you would want me to let you put your head out of the window for a moment. Wouldn't you?"
"You are something else, lady. I can't believe I'm doing this, but just for a few minutes."
"Oh, thank you. Oh, finally I can put my head out of the window and breathe." Oh! Oh, no ... this isn't better. Maybe it's even worse. The air out here is like a stove. It isn't mama's oven at all. It feels like I've put my head in father's pot-bellied stove while he opened the door to add more wood. Oh what have I done? What have I gotten myself into?
Excerpted from The Schoolteacher and the Bad Boy by Dolores Marie Patterson. Copyright © 2013 Dolores Marie Patterson. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
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