GUARDIANS AND OTHER ANGELS
Lee Going to School
The one-room, Cedar Fork schoolhouse across the holler from the little log cabin on the near side of Peach Mountain was a tolerable two-mile walk in nice weather. It was an enjoyable walk actually, if one had time to swing from a grapevine on top of a high cliff and drop into Cedar Fork Creek for a lazy dip, or stop by the Workman’s place for a quick smoke of their corn silk tobacco. But in snowdrifts as tall as thirteen-year-old Lee Greene, in threadbare clothes, thin hand-me-down coat, and barely covered feet in holey socks flopping in an old pair of secondhand shoes that were several sizes too big for him, the walk that frigid morning was worse than pure misery.
Lee’s chronically aching stomach was hollow and rumbling. His meager breakfast of cornmeal mush and sugar water was quickly wearing thin, but he had more important things than his stomach to worry about that morning. He was stewing about the paucity of milk he had drawn from their cow tethered in the yard just beyond the lean-to kitchen at the back of the tiny log cabin. The two-story structure, built by A. E., Lee, and Bill only five months before, consisted of a common, or front room on the main level, a primitive lean-to kitchen at the back, and a bedroom where Eva Love and A. E. slept, housing the only closet in the place. A rough-hewn timber ladder gained access to the upper deck, where, in an open-to-the-front loft, all of the many children slept on crude cots, or thin pads on the floor. A large ceiling-to-floor fireplace of indigenous stones in the common room on the first floor was the only source of heat in the place. Felled tree trunks supporting its roof, a porch spanned the width of the front of the log cabin.
The soil on Cedar Fork, thin, hard, and dry, a crusty layer of sediment topping bedrock of limestone, dolomite and shale, made for poor farming and gardening, posing a formidable challenge for the growing of adequate food. Squirrels, rabbits, opossums and birds, hunted and brought in by Lee, the insufficient supply of milk from the cow, and scant eggs supplied by their paltry flock of scrawny chickens in the yard, were the only sources of protein for the family. In season, a large vegetable garden and a stand of corn were coddled into fruition in the poor soil, but only if they were favored with enough rain.
His nose and eyes crusty from yet another head cold, gloveless hands thrust into the pockets of his thin coat, and his feet turning to blocks of ice, Lee trudged on to school, his white-blond head under his hat hunkered into his shoulders. Despite the fact that he might not make it through the perpetual hardships of his life, much less that cold, windy, and snowbound morning, his soul was full of dreams, his mind of intention, his body of vigor and endurance, and on the strength of pure power of will alone, and maybe some help from the man upstairs, Lee was determined that if he got out of his childhood alive, nothing would encumber him again.
The schoolhouse was dark and frigid, Lee, by design, having been the first to arrive. The door was unlocked as it always was, and Lee, halting for a few minutes to give his blood a chance to circulate again in his frozen limbs and digits, sat down on one of the benches. He would have wept if he had allowed himself to seriously consider his unfortunate circumstances—but not Lee! No, not Lee! He had a chance to earn fifty cents that week, and every week for weeks to come, fifty cents for building a fire in the “Warm Morning” coal-burning, heating-stove each morning before school, and that was exactly what the Sam Hill he was going to do…