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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

From the Author's Pen: The Sanctuary

Dusty Attic, CCO
Dusty Attic, CCO

Once again, I will share a glimpse into the foundation of my work. I am grateful to have led such a prosperous life. When filling in details, I tap into a bottomless well of experience. The following post is an example. My children and I lived on a small farm. We were deep in the woods near the top of a beautiful mountain. I raised and schooled them at home, incorporating academics with the farm, nature, and the arts—a classical education.

I developed the curriculum, which was useful in preparing them for higher education and navigating the world. Now, here we are at the edge of a massive shift in all systems. If you are facing new horizons as a parent, teacher, or student, I strongly suggest that you trust your intuition and follow your gut.

The following excerpt is an account of Samuel’s schooling—the sanctuary—at the Poor Farm. Love the learning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I still dream of the sanctuary—another secret, seemingly hidden, yet clearly visible—tucked away safely between the apple orchard and lilac trees. As Mamma would say, deliciously protected. There was a way that we could sit on her cape and look out without anyone seein’ us. That was where I began my first lessons. Mamma always managed to have a stub of a pencil that she found in the loft or maybe got from one of the matrons. Tho’ she often spoke of the rules, she broke them when she saw fit. Of course, we weren’t supposed to go into the attic—the highest loft in the main barn—where things were collected from folks when they first showed up. I heard that we’d go into lock-up if we got caught, but that didn’t stop Mamma. Too much waste, too much waste, she’d say while riflin’ through mounds of unplanned treasure. Inmates showed up with their belongings, which was natural, I s’posed. Course, they always wanted to keep what was of value. The trouble with that was what one man valued was useless to another. Sadly, when they checked in, they had to leave most everything behind. All that was left were scattered piles strewn about the loft.

Sometimes, if things turned around for folks, they could collect what was left of their valuables and leave. That was if they could find them. Many of those things were old and had been there for so long, nobody remembered the details. There were names scribbled here and there on scraps of paper, no longer attached to any particular bundle. Over the years, the papers faded, ripped, or got lost, and folks up and died. But I was lucky. There were no piles with my name on them. ‘Cept Mamma did have a treasure chest that she guarded and loved. Mamma was a good teacher, and she thought it was best if I learned from her. She wanted me to read and write, to do better than her. She said that Aunt Sarah was good at readin’ and writin’ because it was her nature, while Mamma was the one who liked to play outdoors like most boys did. She knew enough to get me started. All I had to do was keep at it—practice every day. We both worked hard. She was sharpenin’ her skills, and I was buildin’ mine.

When she first showed up at the Farm, she had her treasure chest. She used to get red in the face just thinkin’ about Moses Blake goin’ back on his word. He told her that she could bring it with her, but what good was it if it was stashed away in the loft. They let her keep her doll, Hope, but that was it. She outsmarted them, though. She sure did. As soon as she learned the whereabouts of the inmates’ belongings, she shimmied her way up the pole to the loft and found her treasure chest. She hid it in a corner behind a big barrel with broken slats. I enjoyed those afternoons when she took each treasure out, one by one, and shared the stories behind them. Then, I’d go and tell those stories to Agnes. It would keep me from forgettin’. Other than launderin’ days, if there was time on rainy days after chores, we might have gone there. On nice days, we’d go to the sanctuary. In the winter, we did what we could to find a quiet place away from the others. It didn’t bother me to be around so many people, but Mamma said that she longed for peace. I can’t say that I understood, but I believed her. Every chance she got, she snatched packin’ paper and twine from the kitchen, and a needle and thread from the sewin’ room, so that we could make our own books. Sometimes, after chores, and when no one was lookin’, we sneaked out into the yard and up the pole. Over time, she showed me over a dozen letters and numbers, and it wasn’t long before I could read a handful of words and got ready for ‘rithmatic.

I had to keep it a secret so that I wouldn’t get placed out. I s’posed it was somethin’ big that I could read at such a young age. She said that I got my intelligence from her father, Samuel, and my handsomeness from Daidí—her grampa from Ireland. Tho’ she never knew him, her mother carried his photo in her locket and told many stories. Every now and then she’d pull it out of her treasure chest to show me. I had to squint to see it, and even then, it was scratched. But I trusted that I looked just like him, or she wouldn’t have said so. One of my favorite parts of school was when I got to draw. When a pencil stub got too small, we sifted through more piles until we found another to replace it. Mamma saved every paper that we made, sewed it with twine, and kept it near her treasure chest inside the barrel. Sometimes, on a rainy day, if we found our way up there after chores, we’d look at the old papers and see how good I’d done. Mamma told me that I was even smarter than Aunt Sarah, but I should never say so. Sarah took pride in bein’ the smart one, while Mamma said that she could tame stallions and, just like me, could climb all the way to the top of a tree. Mamma often read stories from the Bible. Some were good, but others made no sense at all. She said that all I had to do was trust that it was the truth. And she told me that doubt invited trouble. We each had our own magic. I had mine, and she had hers. She didn’t like it when I questioned the blind faith that she talked about, but we loved each other in spite of it. Samuel J. Hodgdon II, June 21, 1878 County Farm Excerpt: Down from the Tree Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series: Book Three



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