Chapter 7 – Seasons of Change
Nettie and Bertha were overwhelmed on the first day of class when eighty-seven children showed up to the classroom.
It quickly became apparent they needed to depend on some of the older children for assistance. It would be proper training for their adult lives to take charge of the younger ones.
Each student above the age of fourteen was assigned seven of the younger students to monitor. They were in charge of trips to the outdoor toilet and for making sure each child had enough to eat at the noon lunch. If the monitors thought any child under their watch didn’t have an ample lunch packed for them, they were to notify the teacher.
Nettie was appalled at the number of children who arrived with nothing more than an apple for lunch. She would ask Bertha to talk to Raymond about church contributions of vegetables to make a hot broth for the children at lunchtime.
Thankfully, Esther Snyder stayed on the first day and never left. She became the cook and tear wiper for the children whenever someone got hurt on the playground.
Mabel Tainter was one of the oldest to attend. She quickly offered to do her studies in the evening and help with the youngest students to relieve poor Bertha. There was no argument from Bertha.
Things began to settle in, and by the end of October, the kids had a routine. Many of them begged to be allowed to carve some pumpkins from the recent harvest.
Nettie had never heard of such a thing, but she allowed the children to participate in groups of a dozen to carve the pumpkins provided by Mrs. Snyder. No one under the age of fourteen was allowed to touch a knife.
“It looks like we’re going to be making some pumpkin pies for school lunch next week,” Esther said when they finished.
“Mother has lots of candles left from Independence Day. I’ll bring them to light the pumpkins tomorrow,” Mabel offered.
The children ended the day writing a story about how their families came to America and what customs they brought with them.
As the last of the students were leaving, Nettie called the little boy they all called Crewsy over.
“Crewsy, we have a small problem. Some of the girls have come to me crying because you tease them so much. What are we going to do about that?”
Crewsy shuffled his over-sized shoes on the wooden floorboards.
“Yes, ma’am. I reckon I should need to remain after classes and sweep the floors or sumthun.”
“That’s a fine idea, Crewsy. We do make quite a mess of things after a long day of learning, don’t we?”
“There’s a broom over in the corner you can use. I’ll be here at my desk correcting papers if you need anything.”
Crewsy was one of the children who rarely showed up with much to eat in his lunch pail.
Nettie watched him out of the corner of her eye as he methodically swept the room. When he finished, she asked him if he’d like something to drink before he left.
“Oh, yes, ma’am. That would be nice.”
Nettie went to the sideboard and poured a cup of milk. She placed a piece of the pumpkin pie on a tin plate and took a fork out of the drying rack.
“Here you go, Crewsy. You did a nice job today. I’ll expect you to help tidy up again tomorrow.” Nettie felt a warm glow as the child beamed up at her.
It was apparent Crewsy was trying to thank her, but his mouth was too full. He washed the bite down with some milk, smiled up at her, and took another bite.
Bertha smiled up at her when she returned to her desk. “You’ll make a wonderful mother someday,” she whispered.
Seasons of Change
Winter was coming early to the city beside the Red Cedar River.
As Thanksgiving approached, a fine layer of snow adhered to the tree branches and the grasses along the river. The seasons were changing again rapidly. Nettie missed the explosion of color from the woods in the fall.
She was unsettled. As the holiday got closer, she missed her parents and grandmother more than she had ever imagined. There were very few expenses for the teachers, so she’d managed to send home fifty cents each month. Her mother frequently wrote that the money was a godsend.
Grandma Cupp was enjoying her daughter and son-in-law’s company. Mother told Nettie that her grandmother looked years younger and that her step had ‘picked up’ considerably.
Raymond had begun to visit the two ladies every evening after their meal. He always used the excuse that he needed to do something more for the school. The young minister erected a second outdoor toilet. It was a nice addition with so many children. He hung swings from the boughs of the trees in the yard for when the children had their recess.
Nettie’s heart skipped a beat every time she saw him. Why couldn’t she stop thinking about him? Surely, he was meant for Bertha. She was a perfect beauty and no one could match her compassion as a pastor’s wife.
One evening when Nettie sat in the classroom preparing for the next day, she heard a knock on the front door.
There’s no point in rushing to the door. He’s here to see Bertha. Let her answer.
But several minutes passed, and the knock sounded again, so Nettie rose and went to the door.
“Good evening, Raymond.” Why did he look so excited?
“Good evening.” Raymond held his hat in his hands, fiddling with the brim. “Another change in the seasons, it’s turning quite chilly.”
“Let me go fetch Bertha. I’m busy with the class schedule for tomorrow.” Nettie turned.
“Wait, Nettie. I’m not here to see Bertha. I’m here to see you.”
Nettie spun around.
“Whatever are you talking about?”
Raymond reached in his pocket and pulled out a letter, which he handed to her.
She read the front of the envelope. The address on the envelope was to Raymond, but it was from her father.
“May I come inside?”
“Yes, yes, of course.”
Nettie couldn’t breathe.
Something’s happened to Grandma Cupp. Oh, what if it’s Mother? I should never have left. They needed me to help them get back on their feet.
Nettie began to shake from the terrifying thoughts. The cold winds of winter enveloped her completely.
“Nettie, here, let me help you to a chair.” Raymond’s strong arm encircled her waist, and he led her over to a teacher’s chair.
She clutched the envelope to her chest. Please, God, I don’t want to open this.
“May I get you some water?”
Raymond hurried over to the sideboard and dipped the metal cup into the bucket. He stretched his legs to their limit as he returned to her side.
She did as he requested. She continued to tremble, but the light-headedness was getting better.
“Did something happen to my grandmother?”
“That’s what you thought? I’m very sorry, Nettie. No, no one is hurt or sick, or even – God forbid – crossed over. Please, read the letter. I’m no good at finding the words.”
The letter slid slowly from Nettie’s hands to the floor.
Raymond’s hair stood in all directions from his hat, and he had that “naughty little boy” look on his face.
“How in the world?” Nettie couldn’t think of what else to say.
“I talked to Bertha during one of those times when you so conveniently left us alone in September. I explained to her that I have feelings for you.”
Nettie’s mouth fell open.
“She’s the one who came up with all the improvements I’ve been making in the evenings on the school, but we were running out of ideas.”
“But my parents…”
“Bertha gave me their address and made suggestions on what I should write.”
“She led me to believe you were interested in her.”
“No, Nettie, I believe you did that all on your own. Every time I tried to get close to you, well, you made another excuse. You tried to force Bertha and me together. She’s a fine woman and an extraordinary friend, but you’re the one I love.”
He just said he loves me!
Raymond suddenly knelt on one knee.
“God, please help me, I don’t need to court you, Nettie. I’m desperately in love with you. I want you to become my wife so we can spend the rest of our seasons on this earth together.”
Bertha and Raymond stood over her.
Nettie’s eyes swept the room, trying to discern what happened. She was on the divan in their living space. Raymond was here. He’d never been in their private quarters. He wasn’t supposed to be here.
“You knew!” She sat up and faced Bertha.
Bertha started laughing. “I think she’s going to be fine, Raymond.”
“Take your time, Nettie. I truly want you to be in control of your faculties when you answer this question.” Raymond brushed at the corner of his mustache. “I fell in love with you the moment I first saw you. I’ll ask you again, will you marry me?”
“I, well, yes.” Nettie struggled to form each word. She had dreamed of this moment for months, but never truly believed it would ever happen.
Raymond tossed his hat in the air, picked Nettie up by the waist and spun her around.
Nettie lost her breath as he swung her through the air and set her back down.
“Raymond, you’re going to kill her before you ever have a chance to marry her.” Bertha admonished.
“I’ll be fine,” Nettie sputtered. “It’s just that this is so unexpected!”
“I’ve nearly died from the desire to tell you.” Bertha hugged her friend. “Raymond made me swear an oath to God that I wouldn’t say anything until he was ready. I hated being deceitful!” She pretended to glower at Raymond.
“You seem to have everything planned out, Mr. Henson. Do you have a plan for our wedding?”
“I was hoping we could marry at Christmastime. It’s my favorite time of all the seasons.” He moved from one foot to the other and back.
“A Christmas wedding? Are you insane? It’s nearly Thanksgiving already.”
“I’ll certainly help,” Bertha chimed in. “I’ve already corresponded with your mother, and she’s busy making your wedding dress.”
“Who else did you include in my life’s plans?” Nettie said.
“I may have said something to Mabel and Esther.” Bertha grinned.
“The entire town knows, and I’m the very last to hear?”
“Not the whole town, just a few of our closest friends,” Raymond said. “Mr. Stout and Mr. Wilson send their regards.”
“Well, I never!” Nettie was having difficulty processing everything.
“I’m going to leave you two alone now. I truly need to get back to writing the invitations.” Bertha said.
“You’ve started writing the invitations?” Nettie was incredulous. “You were certain I would agree. What if I’d said no?”
“I’d have asked him myself.” Bertha’s laughter followed her down the stairs as she headed to her teacher’s desk.
“It doesn’t worry you to become the wife of a minister?” asked Raymond.
“Why would it?”
“Being a minister’s wife carries many responsibilities. I’m hoping you can find the time to continue teaching if you wish.”
“You mean you’re concerned I can’t do a thousand things each day?”
“Well, yes.” Raymond’s face contorted.
“I’m teasing, Raymond. Mother was dear friends with the pastor’s wife in St. Paul. I’m quite familiar with the new responsibilities I’ll undertake.”
His face softened immediately. “You were God’s choice for me. No man could be more blessed than I am this evening.”
“Will you and Bertha share the date and time with me.”
Raymond took her hands in his. “Nettie, I would love to marry you on Christmas Eve, if that’s acceptable to you.”
“I would love to marry you on Christmas Eve. It’s my favorite of the seasons, too.”
Raymond stood staring down into Nettie’s dark, hazel eyes. He leaned in.
She closed her eyes as the gentle kiss brushed her lips. The shiver ran from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. She had never kissed a man before, except for her father, of course, and that was on the cheek.