Thomasina Tull

Thomasina Tull clomped down the school bus steps, head lowered, books clutched tightly to her chest, and waited for Mr. Earl to lever open the door. She always hated these few beats of time that seemed to last forever before she could escape the yellow monster filled with mean grins and even meaner eyes.

On the ride to and from school—as well as on the playground—the other kids’ relentless teasing, contemptuous looks, and sometimes shoves or kicks had lessened as she and they had gotten older but had never stopped. Only in the classroom was she free of harassment. She was always assigned the front desk in the center row so she could see the blackboard. All the faculty at Blackburn Elementary knew she couldn’t see worth a flip.

The doors whooshed open, and Thomasina quickly stepped to the ground and strode away. She knew she shouldn’t look back, but she did and saw Jackie Carter’s fuzzy face hanging out the window, making those disgusting smacking noises before yelling, “What’s up, doc?” his top lip poking out and his bottom lip pulled back in a bad Bugs Bunny imitation.

The bus pulled away, trailing hoots of laughter and a swirling cloud of dust.

Thomasina sighed, well past the point of being hurt—or told herself she was. After all, it was nothing she hadn’t experienced a thousand times before.

She grabbed the mail from the listing, rusty mailbox and started the quarter-mile walk down the little-used lane to her home. She stuck to one of the two parallel tracks that were bisected by tall Johnson grass and crowded on both sides by thick trees whose limbs twined their leafy fingers across the road, keeping it in perpetual shade. Wouldn’t do to brush against any stray stalks; though it was mid October, there hadn’t yet been a hard freeze to kill off the seed ticks and chiggers that clung to grasses and brush in shady spots, laying in wait to transfer to some unlucky warm-blooded host.

So, Thomasina stepped carefully, bunching her long, faded skirt in one fist to keep it from touching the grass, remembering her first run-in years ago with chiggers, the scratching and misery. When she had told Daddy about the itching, he had rubbed the wide scar that parted his dark hair on the left side, frowned, and studied the small red bumps on her legs for a time. Then his sky-blue eyes, which she had inherited, brightened, and he’d grinned. “Them there are chigger bites, Tom.” And in his limited way, had told her about chiggers and seed ticks—she had already known about regular-sized ticks—and smeared her legs with calamine lotion.

Sometimes, Daddy knew things, and sometimes he didn’t, but all in all, she knew more than he did. At one time—and this was so long ago she barely remembered—he knew everything, but the accident at the sawmill had stolen the bigger part of that knowledge. And it had even stolen Mama, who’d slipped away in the dead of night after Daddy came home from the hospital, leaving four-year-old Thomasina with a daddy that had trouble even tying his shoelaces. And that wasn’t even the worst of it.

Continue reading “Thomasina Tull”

Nature or Nurture

My sisters, mother, and her mother all read extensively, my father and brother, not so much so. It didn’t dawn on me until I was an adult that only the women in my family were avid readers, and I wondered why that was so. My first thought was it had to do with genes, that only the females in my family had inherited the reading trait-if there is such a thing. Then it came to mind it might be learned behavior.

I don’t recall ever seeing my father read when I was growing up, but my mother was another story. She didn’t have much leisure time, taking care of a husband and seven kids, a farm/ranch, and holding down a job in town from time to time saw to that. But when she did have a minute or two free, it would be spent between the pages of a book.

Most of Mama’s days were spent moving from one chore to the next with no breaks in between; there was no time to read. So she made time. Most nights when she went to bed, she read for a while before turning off the lamp and settling in beside Daddy—if he was there and not working out of state. She traded much-needed sleep for the world of words.

When I was around four, Mama’s mother came to live with us after Grandpa died. Granny was a reader too. I remember sitting by her in the old wooden rocker she favored while she read to me in her soft, gentle voice. I remember wishing I could read for myself, and envying my brother and sisters who had been taught to read at school. I wanted to go to school and learn to read too (Once I got there, I hated it…a story for another time).

I don’t recall seeing my brother read a book. I think he was busy helping Daddy and doing guy things, and picking on me and another sister who were younger than he was. Maybe he thought reading wasn’t manly. I don’t know; you would have to ask him.

I have one child: a son who is not a reader. When he was small I read to him, and growing up, he saw me with my nose in a book every chance I got. Still, he didn’t read for pleasure. (He listens to books now, so I am at least grateful for that.) I wondered where I went wrong. Then all squinty-eyed I looked to his dad, an outdoorsman, and saw the problem. I had produced a child with a man with no interest in books.

I came to the conclusion that either my son did not inherit my love of reading, or by observing his father and other males in the family, subconsciously believed that reading was not an acceptable male pastime.

Nature or nurture, or a combination of both…I still don’t know the answer.

What do you think?

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay