“Simmer down, now children,” I said, banging my spoon on the table, trying to get my bustling household of active young ‘uns settled down to pray.
With their dad gone off to fight the Yankees in this dreaded war of brother against brother, I feel overwhelmed, dear Lord. Oh, how I pray this war would end and their Pa would come back home to us. Maybe then, I’ll feel worthy, again…
Battling my insecurities, I bowed my head to bless the food, as my six carrot-topped offspring followed suit, adding their thunderous amens.
A sharp thud on the door interrupted our prayers. I arose to answer it.
There stood Mayor Hanson. The quizzical look in his eyes said he wanted something.
“Evening, Mrs. Sellers,” he said, taking off his hat. “Sorry to interrupt your supper, but I have an important favor to ask you.”
As I invited him into the house, twelve inquiring eyes stared up at the lofty-sized mayor of our small mountain village.
“Miss Collins, the school teacher, has taken ill,” he said. “We need you to fill in until she gets back on her feet.”
“Who me? Why me?” I asked, shocked. “Why…why…I’m just a simple Carolina hillbilly,” I stammered…”Barely finished school, myself…”
“I have confidence in you,” the mayor said, breaking through my excuses. “Besides, everyone else has turned me down. You’re our last hope.”
Some confidence. Guess he’s askin’ me cuz half the school is taken up with my young ‘uns ….
”But I’ve never taught school,” I argued. “Got married ‘n started poppin’ out them babies before I could git any more learnin’. But always had a yearin’ to teach.”
Before I knew it, I had agreed, shaking the mayor’s hand.
Overhearing our conversation, my children reacted with mixed emotions. I studied the dismal faces of the older ones, realizing they were embarrassed to have their ignorant mamma as their new substitute teacher. Yet, Anna and Clara, my 6-year-old twins, jumped up and down in their seats with unbridled joy, squealing, “Yipee! Mamma’s our new teacher!”
The next day I packed my lunchbox, still feeling unconfident. Yet, off we headed toward the little one-room country schoolhouse in the valley.
The school bell tolled as the students took their seats on their hard, wooden benches. Trembling, I arose from my desk and introduced myself. My teenage children buried their faces in the hands, now turning the color of their red hair.
As I instructed the students to take out their reading primers, a little girl, barefoot and straggly, walked into the room, clutching Mayor Hanson’s hand.
Suddenly, I forgot about myself. My heart went out to this pathetic looking creature. The whole class turned around and stared at her stringy, dirty brown hair and grubby feet.
The mayor walked up to me, with the little girl, and said, “Looks like you’re not the only new face in this classroom. Mrs. Sellers, This is Edna Mae Dawson."
Then the mayor whispered in my ear, “Her mamma’s sick, and she lost her daddy fightin’ at Vicksburg, so she’s stayin’ with her grandparents.”
As I struggled for the right words, I saw pain etched in her poignant gray eyes.
“Welcome, Edna Mae,” I said, straightening her matted hair. “This is my first day, too. Please tell us about yourself.”
But the scared little child just stared at the concrete floor, not even managing a grunt.
An awkward silence followed. I prayed some caring child would reach out and welcome her. But the shock of this neglected looking seven-year-old left them as speechless as she was
When it was her turn to read she hung her head even lower.
I prodded her, but she burst out, “I can’t, teacher. Can’t do nuttin!” The tears flowed freely as I rushed to her desk, reaching down to hug her dirty neck. “I have confidence in you, honey,” I whispered. “We’ll talk later.”
Then, as I resumed my place at the front of the classroom, I saw her slowly lift her head and manage a half smile, her eyes focused on me, now, registering more hope than failure.
I think I reached her!
Somehow Edna Mae gave so much more back to me than I gave her. For the first time I felt confident. I can teach this class, for I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.* Edna Mae, you and I will get through this together, honey. With God’s help.
*Philippians 4:13 (KJK)
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