Secrets and Friends
Chapter 3: Tears in the School Room
The chapter opens as Heather is running a little late. She scrambles to do her hair and trips on her bed in the tiny hotel room. Aunt Rachel hands her the world’s worst breakfast, a piece of bread with jelly on it. Yuck. At least for lunch she gets a sandwich and a pear.
Aunt Rachel tells Heather to be on her best behavior as she fixes Heather’s dress.
“One more thing,” Aunt Rachel added. “Happy Birthday!” A warm smile seemed to dance across her lips.
Heather thanks her aunt, saying she was so distracted she almost forgot. She sounds more like she’s turning twenty nine instead of 9. When I was a child, I was very aware of how old I was and when my birthday was coming up. Anyway, Mrs. Gibson wants a kiss from her birthday girl.
Mrs. Gibson held her tightly. “I’m proud of you,” she said. Tears gathered in her sad blue eyes.
Awwww. That’s so sweet.
Why is Mrs. Gibson crying? Is she sad because her husband has moved her family to another freaking continent? Is she sad because her little girl is growing up? I can’t think of a good reason for tears here, so, ??
Heather runs outside, but stops quickly to eavesdrop on, spoiler alert, Laura and Emma.
“I don’t want to go to school!” Emma says.
“Shh my dear,” Laura said soothingly. “It will be just fine. I will be right with you.”
The little girl cried again. “I miss mama.”
“I do too,” the older girl said. “Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of you.”
Even as a child, I would have found it painfully obvious what this conversation meant and who was talking. Foreshadowing is one thing, but it can’t whack you upside the head. It has to be subtle.
To get to school, Nathan and Heather have to take a rowboat down Dora Creek, which runs right by the school. Nathan is 12, Heather is 9. I get that parents were more trusting of their children back then, but letting a 12 year old babysit his 9 year old sister in a rowboat? No wonder the child mortality rate was so high in the 1890s.
The author name drops Bethel Hill, the girls’ dorm. Heather and Nathan greet some students on their way to a class. Then they go to the boy’s dorm. The boy’s dorm is for the college, but there are 2 rooms for the elementary school in the back. I wonder if it isn’t mainly for students of teachers?
Nathan meets a group of boys and goes off to play ball with them. Heather gets mad because this means she is left alone. Apparently she can’t join them in playing ball because…. oh right. She’s a girl, and it’s 1898. My bad.
The girls and boys form lines based on gender. Because it’s very important that girls and boys not enter through the same door for some reason.
Mrs. Hughes, the teacher, tells them all to come inside and wait for seating assignments. She starts with the boys, and we get to read more about Heather’s nervousness.
Heather fidgeted with the strap around her books as she waited at the back of the room. The boys piled into the long desks with backless seats.
Yikes. Those children are going to have back problems. Seriously this cannot possibly be comfortable.
I guess these desks seat 3 people at once, because Heather is sharing a desk with Laura Douglas and May Evans. When I visited a school that was made circa 1860, the desks had backs and seated 2 people each.
Heather tries to be nice to May, but the other girl simply isn’t interested.
“I’m May,” the girl answered, but she didn’t even look at Heather. Instead she wiggled around and looked over her shoulder.
Heather’s heart felt like it had dropped into her stomach.
Heather watched as Laura sat down on the other side of May, folded her hands on the desk, and looked straight ahead.
Sometimes being friendly is not all it takes.
May says she wishes she were sitting with her friend, Ethel, and Heather takes this personally.
Heather’s cheeks burned. She took out her copybook and her new pencils and lined them up neatly in front of her.
I still want to know how common it was for children to use pencils, unless they were using them on a slate.
Heather says hi to Laura, who says hi back. Encouraged, Heather asks if Laura and Emma would like to ride back to the hotel with them in the rowboat.
Laura’s sharp blue eyes met Heather’s. “No, we wouldn’t,” she answered and looked away.
Mrs. Hughes is from Texas, and makes the students go around introducing themselves. God, even adults hate it when you do that.
“My name is Heather Gibson,” she said. Her cheeks burned a bright cherry red. “I’m from San Francisco, California in the United States of America.” She squeezed her hands together. “I enjoy doing…um, ah, well….” she couldn’t think straight. She didn’t know what to say. “I like lots of things, I guess,” she babbled. “And it’s my birthday today,” she blurted out.
Oh Heather, I sympathize. Even in College they sometimes ask us to introduce ourselves, and it almost never goes well for me.
The chapter ends with Heather sitting back down at her desk and thinking that this is not only the worst birthday she’s ever had, it’s also the worst day of her life.
Which I would have found ridiculous even at her age. By the time I was 8, I had switched schools 3 times. It sucks, but it wasn’t the worst day of my life. It would be kind of hard to pinpoint now what the worst day of my life was at that age. Perhaps being told my uncle had committed suicide or the one of the days my father shouted at me more than usual.
So, even though I sympathize, even empathize, I still find Heather to be overly whiny.