Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Dropout (05/12/11)
TITLE: The Truth About Miss Rose
By Beth Muehlhausen
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At the end of a winding private lane stood an icon of destruction: a dilapidated cottage with a sagging roof and broken glass for windows. White paint had long ago peeled and disappeared, leaving rotten gray plank siding that had holes big enough for local wild animals to crawl through. Legend said the place was haunted, but those critters didn’t mind. They’d been friends with Miss Rose for a long time.
As a young woman, Miss Rose purchased this secluded cottage mostly because it was perched on a cliff overlooking a beautiful forested ravine. She set up housekeeping with very simple furnishings and expectations, hoping to integrate in the community and promote peace over conflict, hope over materialism, faith over doubt, and most of all, love over fear. Sacrifice, rather than comfort, fueled her motives.
She soon became the village schoolteacher. Neighboring children flocked to the one-room brick schoolhouse where she scripted Bible verses on the blackboard-lined walls and recited them with the children at “rest times” between lessons in reading, arithmetic, and history. She and her students sang hymns of praise to the Father at the beginning and end of each day.
After school in the evenings, Miss Rose tended a variety of vegetables growing inside the white, morning-glory-laden picket fence surrounding her cottage. She watered the perennial daisies, black-eyed susans, and multi-colored zinnias that flourished at its border, and encouraged birds to visit with gifts of stale breadcrumbs. Occasionally local animals also dug underneath the fence and relished her garden’s delights. Miss Rose made little attempt to permanently ban them, for in her words, “They were here before I was. The least I can do is share.”
Miss Rose’s philosophies threatened those in the local community. The parents of her students thought her odd, perhaps even dangerous, and detested her spontaneity and live-and-let-live example. Stiff, unbending rules should control their children in order to teach a right way to be and do. These people crucified Miss Rose relationally and undermined her authority with their children. Eventually, after too many years of swimming upstream, Miss Rose quit teaching and withdrew to her cottage.
That’s when the legend began.
As the story goes, the rejected Miss Rose befriended and tamed various wild animals that crawled up the ravine from the valley below and became new, eager students who curiously adopted her ways. An odd assortment of chipmunks and squirrels, mice and raccoons, opossums and mink and badgers learned to live together in harmony on Miss Rose’s little plot of land, and even inside her house.
Some said she ate exclusively from her vegetable garden while others spread rumors that a wild goat lived in the woods and provided her with milk. Still others said domesticated, egg-laying hens lived in unity with the resident wild animals. But no one really knew how she survived.
Social rejection mounted as the legend emerged, one contrived episode at a time. Since Miss Rose’s cottage was situated at the end of a dead-end road, people labeled her a recluse who chose to retreat into primitive co-habitation with wild animals. She should be left alone.
According to the legend-bearers, Miss Rose died one moonlit night, and her animal friends carried her body into the deep woods while leaving her soul behind in the cottage. They insisted their claims were valid since an odd assortment of animals continued to live in the haunted cottage and even proliferate there with unusual compatibility.
In reality, there were days and even months when Miss Rose did not interact with any living creature, human or beast. Years passed, and the cottage screamed for attention. The roof leaked, the furnace failed, and the plumbing backed up.
Miss Rose also cried out to the Lord. He answered by sending a single compassionate person who dared to cut through existing superstitions and minister to His needy child with understanding governed by grace. Together they did what they could.
Animals did not drag off the dead body of Miss Rose. She actually left this world reclined in the arms of this bold angel of mercy who smoothed her matted hair and heard her final prayer: “Father, forgive them – they didn’t know what they were doing.” Then she was buried not far from her cottage.
This angelic man, my grandfather, put the legend to rest in order to redeem the memory of Miss Rose. It is now my job to share the truth with those ready and able to receive it.
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