YES ma’am, there has been a good many changes in this valley since you were here last. You never see finer-lookin’ farms, and I know you are thinkin’ of the way our place used to look and the way it looks now. ‘Most every place in the valley’s changed quite a bit - looks cleaner-like and more as though folks was livin’. And the farms seem to have better crops lately. But after anybody gets a start once it seems easier-like to keep on getting’ things more shipshape, and we sure have been havin’ luck all along the river the last few years. What makes the changes? Well, I don’t know what other folks would say, but I always date everythin’ from the comin’ of Elizabeth. It seems to me I can look back and see the change begin that first summer, though, of course, I didn’t know then. You see I can’t remember in all those first years, back when you knew us, when we had enough to eat or enough to wear.
There always was a lot of us, you remember, and it wasn’t often we children had anything new to wear. If there was anything of ma’s or pa’s that could be worn any longer, it came down to us, and without any fixin’ either. I guess you know well enough how awful poor we was in those days. I used to go to bed lots of times so hungry that I couldn’t get to sleep and I would lie and think, and plan that when I got big I would make rows and rows of bread, and then I would go along to little girls like me and say, "Little girl, wouldn’t you like to have a loaf of bread?" And I would fairly see those lovely brown loaves, and I would sit right up in bed and reach out, thinkin’ how glad that little girl would be to get it and forgettin’ that it wasn’t for me.
I was only a bit of a girl when we moved up here, but I never will forget the looks of the place and how forlorn we all felt. There was sand everywhere- the dooryard was sand, the fields was sand, and the road was such deep sand that always there was dust in the air. Sand was in everything we ate and sand was in everything we wore. It got to be awful discouragin’, and pa was so busy tryin’, to make things grow that I guess he got so he didn’t care for nothing’ else, and ma was tryin’, so hard to get along with nothin’, and what with not bein’ well or havin’ enough to eat, she had got so nothin’ matter very much, either. Them was awful hard days for all of us, for us children as well as for ma and pa, and there isn’t any pleasure in thinkin’ back on em’.
Down by the river was a beautiful border of pine trees-dark and cool lookin’ and clean, and the river itself was always clear and cold. You always used to love the river, and you know just how beautiful it looks when the sun shines on it and makes it that clear, golden brown, or how dark and cool it runs under the willows and ferns. The hot, glaring stretch of white sand that we had to cross before we came to the belt of firs and the cool shadows, always made the shade seem twice as cool, I thought, but of course, in them days I never got much chance to look at the river.
Back of the house a piece, that low range of hills was always wooded, too, and I have thought lots of times when the sand was so hot and white and the sun would beat down on us until we were most parched, that if it hadn’t a been for those pines so tall and grand, and the dark green of the hills a-lookin’ so comfortable and restful-like, that I never could get through the days. There was one tree in special that I used to look at a lot - that great, big fellow over there that stands a little apart by itself. Elizabeth’s pine tree, we always call it now. I used to feel real friendly to it, and whenever I could I would run over there and sit under those great branches and feel its rest and strength - but it wasn’t often that I had the chance.
Ma used to go out in the fields with pa and that left me to do all the housework - to cook and wash and sweep and tend babies, and I only a mite of a thing, too. The boys used to plow - Johnnie there, would ride the old horse and Jack would hold the plow in the furrows when he was so little he could hardly reach the handles. But it was so all up the river - all the children worked from the time they was babies, so we didn’t think nothin’ strange of that, but I can’t tell you how, in sort of a blind way, I used to wish we could have something else a little different. I didn’t know just what it could be for I had never seen nothin’ different, but lots of times I used to wonder if somewhere, there wasn’t some other kind of a way to live.
Every day was like the day just gone - up at four or five in the summer, cows to milk, chores to do, breakfast to get, children to dress and ma always fretty and scoldin’ - poor ma! There was always such a lot of us, you know. Course I always did the best I could but I was only a little tad, and I s’p’ose I wasn’t much real help. Then after breakfast all those who were big enough went to the fields and left me, the biggest girl, to look after the babies and get the meals. There was always somebody a-cryin’, and my! But I used to get tired of takin’ care of babies, and they was always so dirty, too!
Well, that was the way we lived except that I haven’t said anything about pa, and how he used to swear around the house at us until we dreaded to see him come, and his voice we could always hear out in the fields. From almost every part of the farm we could hear him cursin’ the weather, or at his team, or even at ma ‘cause she was slow. It was only part of the day.
One night ma kind o’ hustled us through supper and said there was to be a meetin’ at the schoolhouse that we could all go to, and I went, never dreamin’ that she was going to be there, and that this was the beginnin’ of the change.
Always somebody a-cryin’
There was so little to go to that when all the chores was done we all went, even pa, and of course, the babies ‘cause there wasn’t anybody to leave them with. The little schoolhouse was quite full when we got there but we crowded in all together in one corner. A strange man was playin’ an organ and there was some singin’ by the few who knew the songs, but it was mostly by the man. Then another man got up and preached a little sermon. He said a good deal about "getting under the Blood," but I didn’t understand what he meant, and what was more nobody else seemed to just know either. I was tired and the lamps in front made me sleepy, and I was just beginning to wish I hadn’t come when, in looking around, I saw a strange little girl.
I had heard that some strangers were stayin’ at the next farm to ours, but had forgotten about it, and this must be one of them, I thought. Some way, I couldn’t keep my eyes off from her; she was so different in every way from anyone I had ever seen before. I don’t know as you would exactly call her pretty, though it seemed to me then that she was the most beautiful little girl in the world, and her face, to me, still is the sweetest one I know. She had a small face with small features and the sweetest mouth! But it was her eyes that made her beautiful to me, -- the loveliest eyes that I had ever seen, -- they made me think right away of my fir trees, some way, they were so dark and quiet and gave me that same feelin’ of bein’ comfortable and as though I would like to be near them. And then she caught my eye and smiled at me and my throat went tight together and my heart gave a big thump, ‘cause I never in all my life had had anyone look at me with eyes so kind, or smile at me in a way that looked as though she liked me!
After talkin’ and singin’ were over she came to me and said in a shy way, "What is your name, little girl? I am Elizabeth." And she told me where she was stayin’, and when I told her that I lived on the next farm she asked me to come and see her. I thought of her every day and dreamed of her at night, but we were just in the midst of hayin’ time and I knew I could not get time to go even to the next farm.
It was several days after the meeting at the schoolhouse, and I was workin’ one morning as busy as could be, for every-thing seemed to be goin’ wrong. I couldn’t make the fire burn, and baby was more than usual fretty and little Katy had just fallen and bumped her nose and was cryin’, and I was afraid dinner would be late and then pa would be awful mad, and I was ‘most ready to cry myself, when I looked up and saw Elizabeth comin’ in the gate. She knelt right down by little Katy and clean and sweet as she was, she took that dirty little thing in her lap and comforted her and wiped away the blood and tears, talkin’ to her all the time until Katy was soon laughin’ instead of cryin’.
Then Elizabeth came in where I stood - so glad to see her and yet somehow, feelin’ the difference between us so plain that I couldn’t say a word. But she came in and said, "I have been waiting for you to come and see me, but when you didn’t come Mrs. Smith said you were probably busy, so I came over to help you if I could. What are you doing?’’ I told her what time I was a-havin’ to get dinner and she said sort o’ laughed and said, "Well, I can help;’’ and she went at the fire so that the potatoes began bubblin’ and I begun to feel better right away. Ma came hurryin’ in pretty soon and looked surprised enough to see a strange little girl settin’ our table and talkin’ and laughin’ as though it was fun. And I wished you could have seen pa’s face when he came stormin’ in as usual and caught sight of Elizabeth. She stayed to dinner with us, and it was the first meal I ever remember that pa never swore once! We all noticed that, I can tell you, and it sort o’ awed us.
After they had all gone back to the fields again Elizabeth stayed and helped me wash the dishes, and it was the first time I ever really had any fun. Elizabeth was so quick that it didn’t take us any time to do work, even though she washed everything and helped me to scrub the little forks afterward, and tided up the house till it didn’t look like the same place. But with it all there was something funny that she said or did, or something so new and different that I watched her, half-laughin’ all the time -- and not a baby cried all the afternoon. I s’p’ose most little girls have lots of fun and laugh and play, but do you know, ma’am, that was the first time any little girl had ever laughed and talked with me -- the first time I had ever played, although you couldn’t rightly call it play, either, only it was more like it than anything I had ever known before.
When Elizabeth went home that afternoon we all followed her to the gate and waved our hands to her till the turn in the road hid her from sight. When ma came home that night and saw us all nice and calm, with a clean kitchen and the babies happy as kittens playin’ with some paper dolls that Elizabeth had cut out, a new, soft light came into her eyes that I never seen before, but it made her look kind o’ rested and pleased.
Happy as kittens
Elizabeth came in often during the rest of her stay, -- always full of help and always full of happiness. It was entirely new to me -- the idea of helpin’ anybody when you didn’t have to, and the idea of bein’ happy even at work!
One day before she went away she had helped me through with my work and then we had taken the babies and gone down under the big pine tree and as a real treat, for I didn’t often get even that far from home. She had answered many of my questions and I knew she was going back to a life so different from mine, with school and books and decent clothes and plenty of food, and it all came over me -- the new thoughts she had brought into my life. I wondered more than ever that she should have come down and helped me when it was so hot, and she didn’t even know me, and queerest of all when she didn’t have to! So I just asked her how it happened. A soft kind of deep look came into her eyes, and she said in a shy kind of way, but as though she had done nothing unusual, "Why I don’t know just why, Janey, unless it was for Jesus."
"Who’s he?" I asked, quick-like, ‘cause even that first sound of his name seemed to mean something sweet and good.
"Why, don’t you know about Jesus, Janey?" she asked, as surprised as though I had asked what the sun was.
"Never heard of him," I answered.
And then while the babies played with the pine and the water rippled, she told me about Jesus -- a story so new and strange and wonderful to me, but for her, it had always been part of her life. I could here the wind makin’ music in the tree tops, the reaper in the far-off fields; I remember how blue the sky was, and I never hear a thrush singin’ its long sweet trill that it don’t all come back to me. You see, I had to notice these everyday sights and sounds to make it real to me that it was I sittin’ there and that it was real that Elizabeth was telling me this wonderful story.
O ma’am, dear, you don’t know what it means; do you, to a little girl who has never had even a smile? I don’t know who has never had a smile? I didn’t know what a kind word was, and as to a-lovin’ one-! Well, after all those hard years to have Elizabeth come into my life was worth more than words than I have to tell you, but her story of a Saviour who was lovin’ me all the time and makin’ a place where sometime I could be with him was almost too good to be true. Of course Elizabeth was only a little girl and I was only a little girl, but she told the story so plain and simple that I got this much out of it -- he loved me; he cared for me; he would take me to be with him if I love him. Those words rang over and over in my mind long after Elizabeth had said "good-by" and gone home. I could not sleep with this new thought that there was some one to love and care for me.
It was lonesome enough after Elizabeth went away and the old, dreary life began again, but she had not left me all alone, for I grew used to talkin’ to my new Friend as I would to Elizabeth, and it seemed as though he looked down on me out of eyes like Elizabeth’s - calm and dark and oh, so kind - eyes that gave rest like my pines.
It wasn’t long before I told ma all about what Elizabeth had told me. I was a-tryin’ to get over slappin’ the little ones when they cried or fussed, and a-getting’ them something to play with instead, as Elizabeth had done, for somehow, slappin’ and scoldin’ and bein’ so cross didn’t seem to be just right when there were dark, lovin’ eyes to see so plain. And it wasn’t long before I could see a difference in ma, too. I remember one day, when I was hurryin’ to get breakfast and spilled the coffee, I dodged quick, to get away from her hand, but she didn’t move to slap me and when I looked up she seemed ’most like she was going’ to cry, and she said, "Don’t do that way, Janey" (callin’ me by Elizabeth’s name instead of that hateful name of Mary Jane), "ma won’t strike you." I tell you I couldn’t eat any breakfast. I was so happy I was singin’ inside, and yet so near to cryin’, too, that I couldn’t swallow, so after they was all gone to the fields after breakfast, I just looked up into those kind, dark eyes and told him how good it was to have him for a Friend.
Well, I didn’t hear anything more from Elizabeth until Christmas time and then there came a box to us. Elizabeth’s folks wasn’t what you’d call rich, but those things she sent certain did look good to us. There was one of Elizabeth’s dresses for me - we were just the same size. I didn’t care if it wasn’t new - it was all the dearer because it had been Elizabeth’s, and I think I liked it even better than the brand-new one that we found later, even though it was the first new dress I ever remembered having. There were dresses and toys for the little folks, and something for the others, too, and best of all to me there was a Bible for my very own, though, of course, I couldn’t read it then. A little note from Elizabeth said that this was His birthday, and that the way they showed that they loved him was to send gifts to those they loved. To those they loved! To have her tell me she loved me was Christmas present enough in itself - but this was the first time we children had ever had any Christmas presents or known anything much about the day, even.
Pa was mighty pleased over some things that were in the box for him, and he had a queer look on his face as he had said it had been a long time since he had had a Christmas present. He seemed softer-like all day, and I guess it doesn’t matter how hard anybody gets or how busy they may be there is always something about Christmas Day that makes a difference. It was such a happy day that it seemed like as though I couldn’t stand it not to tell pa the good news, too, and so, when the babies was all in bed I went over to where pa was a lookin’ at their little presents and I told him Elizabeth’s story too. Pa looked at me real gentle and said, "Is that what is makin’ the difference in you, Janey?’’ My heart gave a great bound and I said, "O pa, do you see a difference?" and he answered, "Sure, I do, little girl!" Then he asked, "Does it make you so happy?" And I said, " Oh, yes, pa"-- but I couldn’t say nothin’ more, for what with pa’s callin’ me "Janey" and "little girl," and a-thinkin what it would be like to have a pa carin’ for us and a-carin’ for him, instead of seemin’ happy my throat chocked up and the tears just rolled down!
Pa looked at me a minute and put his hand on my head and said, "What you tell me does sound amazin’ good even to me, little girl, but I don’t know as it means for such as me"-- and went out. It wasn’t much to be thankful about, you may think, but oh, to have pa speak to me like that made my heart throb until I thought it would burst. I laid awake way into the night hearin’ him call me "Janey," "little girl," again, and feelin’ his hand on my head.
So things went on and though father never said anything more and ma never said much, either, still, there was a change in our home and life began to be better for us all. We had good luck -- though I oughtn’t to call it luck, either, for it seems like when one has more heart for their work things go smoother - by and by ma didn’t have to work so much in the fields and it was easier for all of us. I sometimes had time to go to the neighbors, and when I would see them living as we had lived, I couldn’t help but tell them what had brought such comfort to us. I never found anybody who wasn’t glad to hear about it either; and best of all who wasn’t changed by it.
So time went on for a year or so until one summer’s day Elizabeth’s pastor came up -- for their town was only about ten miles away to see if we didn’t want to start a little Sunday school and have preaching services in the schoolhouse. And what would have seemed next to impossible a short time before came about as easy and na’ural as could be. I tell you, the folks seemed just hungry to hear about this new Friend, and as though they couldn’t do enough to show how grateful they were for his love to them.
I wish, ma’am, you could have been here last month -- it was our July communion and there was quite a little crowd of our valley people who were to come into the church. Elizabeth was here again, too, and when Mr. Bradley, our pastor, said, half jokin’, that the schoolhouse wasn’t big enough to hold us all, I spoke up what I was a-longin’ to ask but hadn’t dared, "Oh, please, Mr. Bradley, let us go out under Elizabeth’s pine tree," I said half chokin’.
"Elizabeth’s pine tree? Where is that?’’ Mr. Bradley asked; and when I pointed out the great tree with its wide- spreading branches not far from the schoolhouse, he quickly said, "Just the place, Janey."
They moved the organ out there, and pa and ma, my three older brothers and I, with a number of our neighbors, went down under the wide, dark branches of that pine tree and were baptized, just where Elizabeth had told me that wonderful story that had so changed my whole life. So you see, ma’am, I can’t help but love Elizabeth; and to me it was the comin’ of Elizabeth that changed all this valley. Some folks down town talk of the wonderful work Mr. Bradley has done up here, and I won’t say nothin’ against Mr. Bradley, ’cause he is as fine a man as ever lived, but I do say that if it hadn’t been for the love and sympathy of a little girl the work wouldn’t have been so easy.
You may think, ma’am, that Elizabeth didn’t do anything so much, and I don’t know as she did do anything but what any little girl could do. She wasn’t rich, as you’d say, and she didn’t have no money to spend, and she didn’t do much for me or the other neighbors that was in any ways wonderful, but it was the lovin’ way she had and her love for Jesus so deep that she could love us under all the dirt and crossness, that made us feel his love, too. So I guess you’ll say with me, won’t you ma’am, that it was the comin’ of Elizabeth that made the change here and got us all to really livin’. And to-day she is to come again, and if you want to see the girl who has done so much for us, come with me, for I know that as soon as she can get away from Mrs. Smith and the children she will come to meet me under the old pine tree.
Written by Cora Blakeslee Beebe.
Contributed by Gracelaw Simmons Durney and transcribed by Samantha & Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
The original artwork was "colored" by Carissa Wendt.
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