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Robert B. House WWI Correspondence

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6 MISS SUE AND THE SHERIFF

her fixed opinion he was playing momently with death. A mowing machine, an engine, a sawmill, she viewed with amazement. The only ride she ever enjoyed in an automobile was when it broke down and was towed in by a pair of mules. She did not retreat from the world of machinery; she simply remained on her own known and loved agrarian premises.

Machinery, money, politics, were to her facts in the world of men. This world she respected and served. It was the world of the provider. Her business was that of consumer and dispenser of provisions brought in by Josie. What he did was too wonderful for her to understand. She was naively grateful, and dependent on him for the substance of living. She was sure and artistic only in transmitting this substance into living by the womanly arts. But she would have died in the kitchen before she would have allowed Josie or any other man to get his own breakfast.

There was in her philosophy a definite man's world and a definite woman's world. Men were to be sent out with confidence and welcomed back with affection – never to be questioned. If that world was rough, the only antidote in her philosophy was to woo them out of roughness by the beauty and peace of home. Josie went out from Miss Sue and the children to whatever chore farming, machine work, lumbering, politics, sheriffing, might entail. He came back to Miss Sue and the children as to a haven.

She had seen men deteriorate under the shock of war and reconstruction into loafers and drunkards. But she still held them to be knights, regarding their major commitments and not the accidents of the fray. No man was a bad man in her eyes; he was simply a good man in confusion. If she had anything to say to him it was in in terms of sympathy, understanding and healing. "Won't you come into the fire, Mr. Tucker?" she asked one old veteran. "No'm, I thank ye," he replied. "I'm not cold. I've got on drawers. They're the warmest things I've ever seen in my life. I never expect to do without them again as long as I live." There was the whole homely story of war, privation, and an emerging standard of comfort, each detail of which she savored.

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Men worked, played, fought, hunted, fished. They might come in with food to cook or mangled bodies to nurse. She was ready for either eventuality. On one Thanksgiving morning the yard awoke to a clamour with the arrival of a wagon bringing in a man shot through the lungs. There had been a pitched battle in the Roanoke river lowgrounds between two parties of Federal revenue officers. Each party had been independently searching for moonshiners. They ran together in the swamps; each mistook the other for the moonshiners; and a pitched battle in sued. Mr. Chapman from Richmond was the wounded man. He stayed in our home under her ministrations until he was well. Old Gaston, a mile and a quarter away, had twenty-five inhabitants and three salons. It was a hell-hole of drunkenness and brawling. One night our household was startled by the rattling of the front door and the cry, "Is there a man in the house? Is there a man in the house? Tell him to help me, quick!" Some poor tramp asleep over a fire had been set upon by a thug, beaten and robbed. He had run to the big white house for refuge. He was taken in and succoured. The railroad ran by the house, the depot was not far away. The night train unloaded individuals and families in the darkness. All came as a matter of course to our door for lodging, food, transportation. All of them stayed as guests. Organ grinders with their monkeys, tramps, pack-men, found here a matter-of-course welcome. Railroad men, surveyors, hunting parties from "the North" put up with us as we had been a hotel, but one that presented no bill. Engineers, conductors, brakemen, levied friendly tribute on apples and watermelons and saluted the house as they passed on the trains. All were heirs apparent to the hospitality of Miss Sue and her establishment.

She was in the tradition of the plantation mistress – a tradition of physical endurance and resourcefulness in meeting any emergency. Twenty-one people sat down at her table every day. There were Papa'n'Mama and their family of ten; Ung' Charlie 'n Aa Lula and their family of five. There were Grandma and Aa Winnie, the teacher; besides some forty hands ate out of the kitchen. Whatever

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the work- cooking, mending, nursing, churning, she was leader in work and Director. I never knew her to make but one request: "Give me time; don't confuse me." And yet, in sickness or in health, no matter how long and crowded the day, I never saw her go to bed without spending an hour or two with her books. She read, not for improvement, but for joy. Theocritus depicts a vase on which there is an image of a man fishing. He says that the man was all fishing. Miss Sue under the lamp was all reading. If I could paint her picture with her books, with it I could teach a nation to read.

She knew those books acknowledged to be great. But she knew the art of independent find finding. She appreciated greatness regardless of vogue: C. A. Stephens in the Youth's Companion, Anne of Avonlea, Joseph C. Lincoln, The Farm Journal, as published by the Wilmer Atkinson Company of Philadelphia. But she was expert in every scrap that was ever published on the Old South, the War, Reconstruction. She died before Gone with the Wind was written. She would have revelled in that book. She did not write about books. She talked little about them. She loved them. One found oneself reading by the spell of her presence with books. Her culture was such as caught and not taught.

There was no public school in the neighborhood when her flock was ready for a teacher. She, therefore, selected a teacher and set up a school in the yard at home. It was a place of books and of leisurely individual study. Each student made his program with the teacher and progressed, receded, reviewed, and took in new territory as he grew. There was one standard applicable to all: the difference between good work and shoddy work. It was a stern school, therefore, not hesitating to assail the outworks of the person, if the inward spirit proved recalcitrant. It was an autonomous world. A sniffling tale of a whipping at school simply brought on a whipping at home. It required tough minds and enduring bodies. Its subject matter was staple: mastery of language and mathematics. Its prospects were inviting: go as far as you could, go a little farther by stimulated effort. It had no day of graduation, no problem of

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placement. Its students swung between work in school and work on farm, in the sawmill, in the shop, until gradually they found school receding and the job of work becoming permanent. But it was also a school of play and hobbies. No days school tasks robbed the students of long hours of games in the yard or of long hours of private reading and wise fooling around. The work of the school came to test in meeting maturing situations of practical work. One student left after three terms to do a man's work at fifteen. Another left and became a locomotive engineer at fourteen. But the workman renewed himself in the home, and the school was a part of the home. Books, games, music, especially singing around the piano, or elements of the school's artful extension as adult education. It was a spirit. The spirit was that of Miss Sue and her books. In the later day of public schools she loyally rejoiced in more equal opportunities for all children. In fact, the school at home had been kept open to neighboring children at all times. But she was adamant on quality and individual interest. "They come and go a great deal," she said of the public-school children, "but I don't ever see them sitting down to read any fine thing."

For, while Miss Sue drew strength from her traditions and her books, pictures, and music she expressed her strength as mother of her children. Strength it was in epic proportions. She bore ten children without ever finding out, as a neighbor expressed it, that having a baby was a major operation. She enjoyed the occasion of each baby's arrival as a month's vacation in her room. each one of her children was to her a fresh introduction to the universe, a fresh challenge to her power of attention. While she remained apart from Josie's world of machinery, she managed to enter the world of her machinist sons. One became an engineer on the Seaboard Air Line Railway. Immediately she became an expert on the personnel and schedule of every train on that railroad. She knew every engineer and fireman, every conductor and brakeman. They were now a part of her world for they were the companions of her son. It was her delight to prepare meals for them. Her original impulse

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was to feed Arthur. But her hospitality included everybody in his train crew. Through her sons she learned the workings of the sawmill and the machine shop. It was her nature to know them and every detail of what they were doing. She was deaf, and traveling gave her a headache. Early in life she ceased to travel and sat in her corner. She followed her children with her mind's eye and received them in her corner by the book stand and the lamp. Nor in all her life did they fail to visit her there. She wrote them letters which were transcripts of home. She read their letters, both the lines and between the lines. One son was at Chapel Hill. This meant that no one read more about Chapel Hill than she, or savoured its entire flavor better. She was the most appreciative reader of Louis Graves's Chapel Hill Weekly. With a son at Harvard she became in spirit a New Englander, with only one reservation-a fear that he might marry one of those "northern girls." And when a son went to France in the World War she learned France. She knew her traditions, she knew her home, she knew her children. They were, in her opinion, equal to any occasion anywhere. It was her part to love them into the fine interpretations of the situation.

Her life was based on God, her prayers and her Bible were her constant sacrament. But she was no talker about religion. On one occasion she did say enough for me to remember that her favorite text was: "The eternal God is my refuge; and underneath the everlasting arms;" she lived this, and raised her family by it. If there was ever a question in her mind of a religious nature it was when our sister died at the age of twenty. But her agony was expressed to her God, and the "why" grief thinks to ask eternally found its answer in sources too deep for my expression.

She left her childhood home in old Six Pound in Warren County and came to Edgewood in Halifax, only twentyfive miles away. But twenty-five years passed before she saw it again. Her passion Six Pound was a constant force, its image was ever before her. Her mood in regard to it was ever one of deep poetic and historic reminiscence over its people and scenes. Her children have etched

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