The time is 1922 and the place is rural North Carolina; a time when young girls are fortunate to graduate from eighth grade and not many leave home to pursue higher education. It's also a time when young men like Jessie's beau, J.T., leave sharecropping on a tobacco farm to earn more money at the Reynolds factory in Winston.
When Jessie's sister Carrie is diagnosed with tuberculosis soon after giving birth to her first son, Ky, Jessie has no choice but to drop out of school to take care of the house, Carrie, and Ky. Carrie dies and Jessie is caught between her desire to help her family and her dream of becoming a teacher. Throw her powerful feelings for J.T. into the mix, and you have a wonderful stew of conflict portrayed in this scene when J.T. announces his decision to leave:
"You're leaving me?" I ask.
"It's not like that," J.T. Says. "I'm goin' so I can save money. So that I can take care of you someday."
I stomp my foot in the dirt. "Let me tell you how it really is. You're going because you don't want to be a sharecropper like your pa. I didn't enter into your decision. And don't pretend like I did."
J.T. nods. "You're partly right. I don't want to be a sharecropper, but I still want to marry you someday. I shouldn't have to choose."
I give him a sad smile. "You already did. I can't leave here. I promised Carrie I'd take care of her son."
J.T.'s hands ball into fists. "Why do you have to make me feel so guilty? If you had the chance to leave for teacher's college, you'd take it."
Ky whispers and I jostle him on my hip. "Would I? I just don't know anymore. The feelings I have for you tie my heart in knots." (p. 76-77)
Poetic images fill the pages of a story taken from Shannon's own family history.
|Anna and Crawley Hennings,|
Shannon Hitchcock's great aunts.
Crawley's life, sickness and death, was the model for Jessie Pearl.
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