A Place of Our Own


School was even more wonderful than I had imagined. I got to see Lucy every day, and we could share secrets at recess or trade sandwiches and cookies during the lunch hour. The rest of the time there were plenty of girls for a game of hopscotch, jacks, or jump rope.

The school was only one room that could be divided into two when a big partition was let down from the ceiling. The first four grades met in one half of the room with the new teacher Miss Foster, and the older classes met in the other half with the principal Mr. Stern. Stern was a good name for him too. I seldom saw him smile, and he was very strict and sometimes cruel in his punishment. Although I was two grades behind Ed, I was in the same section of the room with him, and since we were seated alphabetically, I sat next to him.

I learned to read rather easily after my games with the ABC’s and that opened new doors of adventure. I found that if I studied and knew the answers, there were no cracked knuckles or no standing in the corner. Once I learned something, it stayed in my memory for a long time and that was very handy for examinations.

My favorite subject was grammar, and I especially liked to diagram sentences. It was fun to draw lines like shelves in the air for the words to be put away in just the right place, some sitting on top, others hanging down below, and some sliding down a slanty line to another word on a line below that. Sometimes the diagrams covered half a page and looked like a neat design, with the words all filed away where they belonged—subjects and predicates and modifiers of simple, complex, or compound sentences.

The boys thought it was fun to pull pranks on the teacher, so Miss Foster was in the habit of shaking out her handkerchief with a loud snap when she took it from the top drawer of her desk to make sure there were no stinkbugs or caterpillars hidden in it. One day when she opened the drawer, a kangaroo rat leaped out in front of her face. She was so startled she screamed and jumped back, upsetting her chair and knocking her off her feet. She fell over backward and sprawled on the floor.

Mr. Stern came in fuming from around the other side of the partition, demanding to know what on earth was going on. He tried his best to find out who was guilty of putting the rat in the drawer, but no one would tell, so he made the whole class practice penmanship during recess as a punishment. We wrote: “I will not play pranks on the teacher” over and over in our best handwriting.

One Saturday, soon after school started, Sister Williamsen left Lucy at our place to play while she and Mama went to the store. We were practicing for the circus we had been planning, and Lucy was learning how to ride standing on Bessie’s back so we could be twin riders. Ed was trying to do flips in the haystack, and Georgie was clowning around with Spot. Frank came out of the barn carrying his whip and a cat in each arm.

“Why don’t you do what I tell you?” he scolded. “I’m only going to give you one more chance!”

He put each kitten on one of the steps in his lion taming cage. “Now stay there!” he shouted and cracked his whip. Both cats streaked off through the fence and right in front of Bessie’s nose. The horse reared, and Lucy flew off and hit a fence pole.

“Now look what you’ve done,” I shouted at Frank and ran over to help Lucy get up.

She was lying there still and white, with a red stream of blood trickling down her face. Ed and Frank came running over to see. I was scared, but just then she opened her eyes. “You hit your head,” I told her. “But it’s going to be all right. Let me look at it.”

I found a deep cut on her scalp and tried to stop the bleeding by pushing it together. “It has to be sewed up,” I said. “Go get Papa, Ed. He’s down in the field somewhere. And hurry, she’s bleeding badly.”

Ed jumped on Bessie and galloped off to find Papa.

“Frank,” I said urgently, “go into the house and get the needle and thread and scissors, and a match.”

“You aren’t going to stitch it are you?” he asked fearfully.

“Of course not, but we need to have it all ready for Papa when he gets here.”

He came back with a darning needle and cotton thread.

“Not that kind, dummy! The curved needle and the black silk thread Papa uses on the animals.”

While he was gone I clipped the hair away from the cut. The blood was still oozing out though not as fast as at first. Lucy was pale and silent.

I pinched the wound together, and when Frank came back I instructed him how to sterilize the needle with the match and put the thread through it.

In a little while Ed galloped up. “I can’t find Papa anyplace,” he reported. “He’s not in the corn patch or the garden. Where else shall I look?”

“Maybe he’s fixing the fence. Keep looking, and hurry.”

He was gone a long time and my fingers were cramping from holding the cut together. But every time I released the pressure, it bled some more. Finally I decided I would have to sew it up myself.

“Will it hurt?” Lucy wanted to know.

“Don’t know,” I told her. “Haven’t ever been sewed up. Probably will sting a little.”

I was finishing the last stitch when Papa and Ed rode up. Papa jumped quickly from his horse. “What’s the trouble here?” he asked and took a look at Lucy’s head. “Why it’s stitched up already,” he marveled, examining my work.

“Couldn’t have done a better job myself. You’ll be as good as new,” he told Lucy. “Now why don’t you girls go over by the house and play something quiet until your mamas get home?”

We were sitting on the back steps, cutting out dancing paper dolls holding hands when Mama and Sister Williamsen drove up.

“Get your hat and come along, Lucy,” her mama called from the wagon. “We need to hurry home and get some supper for your daddy.”

“OK,” Lucy said, folding her dolls back together and standing up.

“What’s that white spot on your head?” Sister Williamsen asked.

“Oh, that’s just where I cut off some hair before I sewed her up,” I explained.

“See,” Lucy said and showed her mother the spot.

All the pink had gone out of Sister Williamsen’s face, and I could hear a little gasp and see her lean against Mama.

“Papa says she’ll be as good as new,” I assured her. “It won’t leave hardly any scar at all.”

“Run get Sister Williamsen a drink of water, please, Dora,” Mama directed. “She’s had a shock.” Then she helped her out of the wagon and into a chair on the porch. In a little while she quit shaking and took another look at Lucy’s head. “She could have bled to death if you hadn’t known what to do.”

“Papa would’ve done it, but we couldn’t find him,” I replied.

“You did just fine,” Sister Williamsen said. “And I’m mighty grateful.”

Lucy wore a wide ribbon around her head until her hair grew out. She always had one to match her dress, and I almost wished I had had my head stitched up so I could have pretty hair ribbons like that.

A few weeks later I thought I was going to have a chance to wear ribbons, but it didn’t work out that way after all.

One day I was having a quarrel with Caroline, and she screamed her usual taunt, “You make me sick! You think you’re so smart with that curly hair. I’ll fix you once and for all!” And she grabbed the scissors and cut off one of my long ringlets.

Mama was horrified, and she punished Caroline severely. I didn’t really care too much. Now, I thought, I’ll get to wear a ribbon like Lucy does. The only trouble was, the bare spot was right on the crown of my head. And there’s no way a ribbon will stay tied around there unless it goes under your chin, and that looks pretty silly. In the end, Mama had to cut all my hair short to match.

I was glad to have my hair cut, except when I thought about being a great circus lady riding my horse standing up. Then I was sorry I didn’t have long hair to fly out behind me.

(To be continued.)

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann