Cutter Gap Chronicle
"Class, I have an exciting new project for us!" The enthusiasm on the young teacher's face was hard to ignore and instantly got the attention of her students. "Do you remember when I brought the newspapers from Asheville a couple of months ago?"
"Yes'm, Teacher. I shore liked reading them." Rob Allen admitted and several nodded their heads in agreement.
"Well, I think Cutter Gap should have its own newspaper. Of course, we are going to be the reporters. You can each write a story or work with a partner. I'll teach you how to write a newspaper story and...best of all, I'll send off our stories and get them printed on paper just like real newspapers do!"
It was a lucky thing that Christy had made such an announcement at the close of school that day because the pupils could talk of nothing else. They were already abuzz about what they would write and lingered in the schoolyard talking. Everyone that was except Ruby Mae Morrison, who was moping about on the steps. This was not like the usually boisterous redhead. As Christy prepared to close the schoolhouse up for the day, she noticed Ruby Mae lingering on the steps.
"Ruby Mae, whatever is the matter?"
"Everybody else has fine ideas for their newspaper stories but me."
Christy sat down on the step above the dejected Ruby Mae. "Maybe you can work with Bessie since you two are best friends."
"She's workin with John Spencer on a music review."
"You know in the Asheville Tribune they have something called an advice column. People write in with their problems and someone at the newspaper publishes them along with 'answers' to the person's problem. Do you think you would like to do that?"
"I don't think I'm smart enough to give out advice."
"Well will you give it a try and see?"
"I guess so. But how would I get letters?"
"I'll make an announcement during school tomorrow and we'll put a box in the back corner of the room for your letters. That way students can drop them in without anyone knowing who they are."
"Okay. I'll give it a try. I'd better git on over to the mission house and start supper." With that, Ruby Mae dashed across the yard to the house.
Christy sighed and stood up. "At least, I didn't tell her about putting recipes in the newspaper. Everyone could do with less recipes for possum."
"Who are you talking to Miss Huddleston?" A familiar voice rang out from the side of the schoolhouse.
"Neil! I was just talking to myself."
"It's nothing serious is it?"
"This talking to yourself business?"
"No. I'm not crazy if that is what you are asking. I just gave the school an assignment. We're going to publish our own newspaper. Ruby Mae didn't know what she wanted to do, so I suggested that she write an advice column. I was just glad I didn't suggest a cooking column,"
Neil laughed heartily. "That's a relief. She's a worse cook than you, I'm afraid."
"Should I take that as a compliment or an insult Dr. MacNeill?"
"Take it however you wish, Miss Huddleston. I at least have never served burnt chicken to anyone."
"And I suppose that you're a wonderful cook?" Christy could feel her face reddening with anger. Why did Dr. MacNeill always have to pick a fight with her.
"I haven't died yet. I suppose I'll have to show you sometime. Shall I walk with you to the mission house?"
Christy's face softened a bit. Perhaps she would have to post a letter to Ruby Mae about Dr. MacNeill. He certainty confused her emotions a lot. "All right, let me get my things."
The following day, Christy informed the class what the hatbox in the corner of the room was for.
"This hatbox is for you to place your written questions in and the writer of the advice column will answer in our newspaper. I'll empty the box three days from now so the writer will have plenty of time to complete their assignment. Your letters will remain anonymous, so please sign them with a phrase that you identify with and will remember when you see it in the newspaper. And please if you must use names in your question make sure you do not mention a real name, make a name up instead. Are there any questions?"
"What does a-non-ie-mouse mean, Teacher?" Lulu Spencer blurted out her question as her hand shot up in the air.
"Anonymous means that no one knows who it is. Lulu, I hope you haven't forgotten to put your hand up first and wait for me to call on you before you ask a question." Christy chided Lulu lightly.
"Teacher, what zactly is advice?"
"Advice, Sam Houston, is when you have a problem or situation and you are not sure of how to deal with or answer, so you ask someone else if they know."
"So it's like when we ask you or Preacher or Doc about something?"
"Yes, sort of, Sam Houston."
"Well I shore ain't gonna write no letter 'bout a problem to no stranger."
"That's quite alright, Creed, but I can't let you know who is going to be writing this column or else nobody will write."
"What if they keep watch on the box during the dinner spell?" Becky O'Teale questioned softly. Christy pursed her lips. She hadn't thought about that.
"I tell you what, how about you all put your letters in after school when no one is around? I'll leave the box on the steps until sundown, okay?" A chorus of "Yes'ms" and head nods told Christy that this was acceptable. "Alright then class it's time for you to take out your spelling books. We'll start with the second and third grades first. The rest of you can go ahead and write out your spelling lists on the slates. I believe I gave you your page numbers yesterday."
During the dinner spell, Christy sat down at her desk and penned a letter for the advice column. She tried to be vague, so Ruby Mae would not guess that she was the writer. Inwardly, Christy was scolding herself. She knew that this wasn't a good idea but this could be Ruby Mae's only letter in the hatbox. Sighing, Christy signed the letter, folded it and slid it under her desk blotter. There was no way she was going to get caught putting her letter in the box until after school let out and she was sure no one would see.
As soon as the students cleared out of the schoolhouse for the day, Christy slipped the letter back out. She held it in her hands and debated again about the wiseness of putting this letter in the box. She knew she would hate seeing Ruby Mae let down, but she also knew what a gossip Ruby Mae could be. Gathering her things in her satchel, Christy strode purposely toward the hatbox. She slipped the letter in the slot she had cut into the top, picked up the box and carried it outside. She pulled the doors to the schoolhouse shut, went down the steps and to the mission house.
Some time later, a certain person rode up to the schoolhouse and disappointingly observed that the doors were closed for the day. That meant a certain young schoolteacher had already left. He noticed a hatbox on the top step. That must be for Ruby Mae's advice column questions, he thought to himself. Perhaps he should put a letter in to help the poor girl out with her school assignment. Reaching into his saddle bag he produced a scrap of paper and wrote down a question. As he swung off of his trusty horse, he hesitated. Was it really wise to reveal what was in his heart in such a manner? He shrugged his shoulders as he approached the hatbox. He had left the wording somewhat foggy and, even he had to admit it now, sounding very much like a love sick schoolboy. He retreated from the steps hastily and mounted his horse and rode off in the direction of his cabin.
Christy hurried through the supper dishes in the sink. She had forgotten how quickly it got dark now that it was autumn. She'd have to take a lantern with her to put the hatbox back in the schoolhouse. After the dishes were dry, she lit a lantern and pulled on a shawl. On her way out the door, she nearly bumped into David returning from shutting the stable doors for the night.
"I hope you're not going to burn some midnight oil over in the schoolhouse."
"No, I'm going to put the hatbox back inside."
David looked at her slightly puzzled. "I'm sorry that your hatbox is misbehaving for you, but I don't think locking it in for the night is an appropriate punishment."
Christy laughed. "I assure you that the hatbox has not misbehaved. It's for Ruby Mae's advice column." Seeing David with yet another puzzled expression on his face, she explained the assignment.
"Do you really think she's going to get any questions?"
"I hope so, otherwise Ruby Mae is going to be writing a homemaker's section."
"Maybe I ought to put a question in for her then. That girl's got too many ways to prepare possum. I think some of those recipes are best kept secret from everyone." They both laughed.
"My thoughts exactly. But if you do put a question in, just make sure Ruby Mae doesn't see you. You know, David you have been in a good mood lately."
"I've done a lot of thinking since you turned me down. I need to figure some things out in my life before I can invite someone to share it."
"Well, I better get over and get that box inside or it will get soggy from the dew."
"Goodnight then Christy."
Three days later Christy and Ruby Mae took the hatbox into the mission house to empty its contents onto the dining room table. Christy tugged hard to release the paste seal she had put on the lid.
"Well, are you ready Ruby Mae?"
"Shorely, Miz Christy. I can't wait to read my letters. Ain't never got so much letters in my life afore." Christy turned the box upside down and a flutter of papers landed on the table. There certainty were many more letters than Christy had expected. Ruby Mae's eyes widened with amazement.
"Miz Christy, what if there's too many letters to answer?"
"I'll see what I can do. Perhaps I can have my father print your column as a supplement, so you can have a whole page or two. I would hate to see someone disappointed that their letter went unanswered or unpublished."
Ruby Mae began to sift the letters. After reading the first one, her brow furrowed.
"What if I don't know how to answer the question?"
"You know when I need help with something I always ask someone who might know the answer. Like Miss Alice or Mr. Grantland. You could ask me but I think it best if I let you do this on your own. When your ready to turn in your assignment rewrite the letter, make sure you use correct grammar and spelling even if the writer doesn't, and write your answer below it, okay?"
"I think I gots it, Miz Christy."
It took Ruby Mae several days to go through and answer her letters. Occasionally Christy would see her asking Miss Alice or David something, but for the most part Ruby Mae seemed to be resolving her letters on her own. Finally it was time to collect the students work.
"Children, time to pass your newspaper assignments forward." Shuffling papers followed the command. Ruby Mae had stealthily hidden her assignment in a borrowed folder. She took this assignment quite seriously. Christy leafed through the stack of papers thrust into her hands by Little Burl.
"Becky, those pictures you drew are wonderful, and Rob your short story looks good as usual. Perhaps we should try and send your stories to a real newspaper or magazine to publish. John and Bessie, were did you hear the music of Beethoven or Mozart to write such a lengthy review?"
"We borrowed Doc's Victrola, ma'am. Shore is a handy thing to have around."
"Wonderful, but before I send these to Asheville, we need to come up with a name for our newspaper. I'll list some names that are commonly used for newspapers on the board and we'll vote on one. Of course we'll add Cutter Gap to the beginning of it." Christy turned to the front of the room, depositing the articles on her desk and picking up a piece of chalk. She began the list.
Christy stopped when she had a fair selection listed on the board and turned back around to face the class. She ran through the list to the class tying Cutter Gap in front of the name she had written on the board.
"Which one do you like best?"
"I'm partial to Cutter Gap Chronicle, Teacher. Hit be sort of, what's that word you were usin' the other day Rob?" Little Burl suggested.
"Alliterative. Means the words start with the same sound."
"Yeah, that be hit."
Christy smiled at Little Burl. "How many of you like the name Cutter Gap Chronicle, put your hand up so I can count them." Every hand raised. "Looks like the name fits."
"Teacher, when will we get to see our paper?" Lizette Holcombe asked shyly. Christy thought for a moment.
"Well, I'll send them to El Pano with Mr. Grantland tomorrow. Today's the first of October so they will arrive at my at my parents' home in Asheville sometime on the fourth or fifth if we're lucky. After that it will be at the printer's for a while since this isn't a normal newspaper. So I guess we'll get them sometime just before Thanksgiving."
"That long?" Creed Allen left out an exaggerated sigh.
"Sorry. I'll ask my father if there is anyway for him to help hurry the process along."
One day, after the dinner spell in the week before Thanksgiving, Ben Pentland's familiar call rang out. With one "U-nited States mail" the schoolhouse emptied out into the yard. Ben still wore a look of shock at all the children clamoring for their Teacher's mail when Christy bounded down the steps after her students.
"It's alright Ben, they're just waiting for what's in that large package you've got from Asheville." Christy said as she gestured toward the package that Ben held, forgotten in his hands.
"Here hit be then." Ben handed the package to Christy, who carried it over to the steps. The package was bound with twine. Christy was about to go into the schoolhouse to collect a pair of scissors, when Creed placed in her hand his favorite whittling knife.
"Thank you, Creed." Christy began cutting through the twine. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mr. Pentland scratching his head. "Mr. Pentland, do you mind staying to receive your first edition of the Cutter Gap Chronicle?"
"You gots a newspaper up here?"
"I had the students write newspaper articles and sent them to a friend of my father's in Asheville to print. Here's your first copy. Take a few more down to share with the fellows at the livery."
Ben took the three small newspapers and looked them over excitedly like a kid with a dollar to spend on penny candy. "Waal, don't that beat all. Y'all have a right nice day now." Ben tipped his hat and continued on his way.
"Now why don't we all go in and find our seats, so we can pass out the paper."
The children all clamored back inside and into their seats. Christy passed stacks of the newspaper back each row of desks to eager fingers. This would be the first time that they got a good look at their fellow students' work. Christy let them look at their newspapers. She picked up one for herself and went back to her desk. Unfolding her paper, she spread it out on her desk and smoothed it out carefully. Sprinkled throughout the paper were Becky's wonderful illustrations. They were reproduced nicely on the paper. She had even done an illustration for Rob Allen's short story. There was John and Bessie's review of Beethoven and Mozart's music and Creed's article on wildlife. Sam Houston did a nice article on different types of arrowheads that could be found in the area. Some of the younger student's had written short articles on Cove happenings, such as who had babies, who died, and any other 'exciting' events that were going on. There in the middle section was Ruby Mae's advice column. Christy hadn't realized that Ruby Mae had entitled her column, 'Miss Advice". It really was an ironic name for an advice column. She read through the section.
Dear Wise One, I have done some very bad thing in the past . I have lied and spread rumors. I think I have been forgiven by those who I have done wrong, but I still feel guilty about what I have done. What should I do? Signed, Feeling Guilty in the Gap.
Dear Feeling Guilty, Thank you for the letter and calling me 'Wise One'. Have you ask those you have done wrong for forgiveness? I have it from a far wiser authority that is a good step on the road to healing. Those parties may have already forgiven you, but it never hurts to hear it from them that they forgive you. Just make sure you never make the same mistake again. Your Truly, Miss Advice.
Dear Who Ever You Are, The other day I lied to my Mama about coming home from school right a way. We got out of school early so I went fishing instead. What I want to know is this: am I going to hell for lying to my Mama? Signed, Fishin and lyin in Tennessee.
Dear Fishin and lyin, They only way you get to hell is if you are unrepentant. So tell your Mama the truth and just like Guilty above ask for forgiveness. Yours Truly, Miss Advice.
Dear Miss, I am confused by someone's behavior towards me. One minute this fellow can be very nice, kind and thoughtful and in the next minute he can make me angry or even get angry with me. Can you tell me what's going on? Signed, Clueless in Cutter Gap.
Dear Clueless, It sounds like this fellow might just have some romantic notions about you. Do you return these feelings too? If so the matter should be addressed at once because this poor fellow doesn't know how to express those feeling quite right. Best of Luck, Miss Advice.
Dear Mistress of Knowledge, I really like this one lady very much, but whenever she's near I'm at a loss for words. I really want to tell her how much she means to me but I can't get the right words out. I have never had this problem before and in fact am rarely at a loss for words in any situation. I have had many conversations with this lady on other topics and am never tongue tied. Can you help me? Signed, Lonely and Wanting More on the River.
Dear Lonely, Sounds like you might be that fellow from Clueless' letter. Since you're asking me, I think the reason you're tongue tied around this lady is you're afraid she doesn't share your feelings. And since your fear won't untie your tongue, perhaps you should do something really special for this lady. Maybe buy her a hat or a pair of fancy shoes, I'm pretty sure she likes these kinds of things. Just take your time, the words will come to you. Again, Best of Luck, Miss Advice.
After reading her own letter and the one following, Christy felt her cheeks redden. She wondered who the other writer was. She would have to ask Ruby Mae who she suspected the letter writer to be after school. Realizing that it was nearly time to dismiss school for today, Christy turned her attention to her students who were equally engrossed in their reading.
"Class, I think I'll let you out a few minutes early today. Take your papers home and share them with your family and I'll see you tomorrow."
After the students had boiled out of the schoolhouse like water in a rain swollen stream, Christy returned to her desk to finish Ruby Mae's advice column.
Dear, I have a hobby that I would like as a full-time occupation. I know I am really good at this hobby and can make a go of it, but my parents want me to take up my father's trade. How can I get my parents to realize that my hobby can be more? Signed, Wordsmith of the Mountains.
Dear Wordsmith, Prove to your parents that you can earn a living from your hobby, then they will take you seriously. Perhaps you can also find a delicate balance between both your predetermined occupation and hobby. Either way you can't lose. Yours Truly, Miss Advice.
Dear Advice Column Person, I will be brief with my question. I am old enough to work in a mill in the city but am not out of school yet. Should I continue in school or leave to work in a mill? Signed, Tough Choices.
Dear Tough Choices, I would think that finishing school would benefit you more. By finishing school you can gain a better position than most could achieve in years of work. Stay in school.
Dear Advice Column Person, How do I get boys to notice me? Signed, Pretty Wallflower.
Dear Pretty Wallflower, Miss Advice speaks from experience on this one. Try to be yourself. Never pretend to be someone your not. In your case perhaps you should engage a young man in conversation or take interest in what they do. Give it time though, some boys take longer than most to realize that girls are interesting. Yours Truly, Miss Advice.
Dear Miss, I have a feeling that I am not in the right occupation. I do like some parts of my job but not others. How do I know I'm doing the right thing with my life? Signed, Lost in the Mountains.
Dear Lost, You stumped Miss Advice on this one. After consulting on this, I have an answer for you. Find somewhere nice and quiet and think about your dilemma. Listen with your heart. Is there a job similar to the one you currently have that would not involve the parts of your current occupation you dislike? Again listen to your heart, it never lies. Best Wishes, Miss Advice.
That last letter worried Christy some. Its writer seemed to be troubled. The letter about leaving school to work in a mill also bothered Christy. She could only hope the writer took the advice published, but cash money was beginning to hold a greater influence over those in Cutter Gap. It certainly was a tough choice to make. Still Christy felt compelled to see if Ruby Mae suspected who the letter writers were. She gathered up her things as well as the extra copies of the newspaper. Christy was lost in her thoughts and nearly walked right passed Dr. MacNeill. He cleared his throat and she dropped her stack of papers.
"You scared me, Neil."
"Sorry about that. Let me help you." He bent down to pick up the scattered papers for her. "These must be the newspapers that your students worked so hard on. Are they extra?"
"Yes they are. You may have one, if you want." She wonder if she should take Ruby Mae's advice now or wait. Christy took a deep breath and decided to wait. She wasn't entirely sure if Neil's letter followed hers or if he had even written a letter. She did hope that he was not the one who was unsatisfied with his job. What would they do without a doctor? Neil's voice interrupted her thoughts.
"I have to see if Ruby Mae answered my letter. Well, here are the rest of your papers. I'd best be going, I have to check on a patient before it gets dark." He handed the papers back to a confused Christy and mounted Charlie.
As soon as Christy entered the mission house, she began calling for Ruby Mae.
"Lordamercy, Miz Christy what's wrong? I was just fixing some supper."
"Ruby Mae, do you know who wrote which letters?"
"You are going to tell me?"
"Miz Christy you said yourself, you wasn't to know, so I ain't gonna tell you."
"But some of your writers seem like they might need more help."
"Well, I'm pretty shore that last 'un is on the right track and if yer talkin about the one wantin to leave school for work, I know for a fact that he ain't gone to. Parents won't let him."
Christy hesitated. "And the other ones, do you know who they are, too?"
"Course I do, but like I said afore I cain't go and tell you Miz Christy. It would be a violation of my duty. Just wait and see what happens, if my advice is taken." Ruby Mae smiled knowingly at her teacher. Christy was decidedly irritated by Ruby Mae's suddenly immobile tongue. With a tinge of reluctance, Christy had to admit that she was glad Ruby Mae had learned a bit of discretion. So Christy waited to see if one of the letter writers followed Miss Advice's advice. Christy was afraid to take her advice, she didn't want to be the one to take the first step.
Loud banging on the front door of the mission house shattered the sleepy silence of the Friday after Thanksgiving. Christy's room had the very misfortune of being directly above the front door. She hurriedly flung her robe on and stuffed her feet into slippers. Someone must be in terrible trouble to be nearly banging the door off its hinges. The knocking ceased just as Christy reached the bottom step. She continued to the door and flung it wide open, despite the fact freezing air whirled around her. Christy looked in vain but saw no one, just a new looking hat box sitting on the porch with a note on it. She picked it up, shut the door and carried it into the kitchen were it was warmer. Passing the steps, Christy saw Ruby Mae standing at the top.
"What have you got there Miz Christy?"
"I'm not sure. I haven't opened it yet."
Ruby Mae descended the stairs and followed Christy into the kitchen. Christy pulled the note off the top.
Dear Clueless, I am taking the advice. Here is a gift for you. I want you to know how much you mean to me. If you care for me, wear your gift so I will know when I come to collect you for supper this evening. Yours forever, Lonely on the River.
Christy nearly tore the top of the hatbox trying to get it off. Inside was the most beautiful big hat Christy had ever seen. It had an extremely broad brim and the crown was draped with a deep red velvet. The hat was lined with black silk to match the rest of the hat except the velvet trim and a fluffy red ostrich feather around the crown. The colors were stunning and it matched perfectly to a dress her mother had sent her a few weeks ago. Christy lifted the huge hat out of the box and Ruby Mae gasped.
"Well who's it from?"
"I'm not sure, the note was signed by Lonely on the River. I'll find out when whomever it is picks me up for supper."
Ruby Mae rolled her eyes. No wonder Doc was at a loss. He'd better have something good planned or else Miss Christy was still going to be clueless..
Later in the evening, Christy dressed in the slim red and black satin beaded dress. She had done her hair differently, with small ringlets of curls softly framing her face. She donned a heavy coat and also a shawl to keep November's icy grasp from reaching her skin through the thin fabric of her dress. She went downstairs to wait for Lonely. She was rather lonely tonight. Miss Alice was away at Raven Gap and David had gone home to tell his mother that he would rather be a teacher than a preacher. So that meant he was the Lost in Ruby Mae's advice column. Could Lonely be, no, Christy could not let herself believe it was who she thought. Sometime later a wagon pulled up to the mission house. Christy raced out to see who had arrived. It was Jeb Spencer. Surely her best friend's husband was not Lonely?
"Are you Lonely?" Christy asked hesitantly.
"No I ain't, unless yer talkin about a warm chair by the fire, then I might be. Just came to fetch ye for someone."
"Cain't tell ya."
So Christy and Jeb rode along in silence to a place she was quite familiar. Jeb stopped the wagon and helped Christy down. Her heart was beating wildly in her chest, so hard she thought she would fainted. She knocked on the door lightly. Neil MacNeill flung open the door immediately, handsomely dressed in a suit and tie. The last streaks of sunset illuminated Christy's shining curls and gleamed off of the satin and beads of her dress. The shocked couple stood gazing at each other for a few moments.
"Come inside, please. I have supper waiting for us. I made it myself. I told you I would."
"Thank you. This is wonderful."
"No, thank you. You're wonderful. That's why you're here tonight. I wanted to show you how much you mean to me. And like Miss Advice suggested, the words are coming to me. Christy, I have to tell you, I love you and have for some time now. I was so afraid that you didn't return my feelings, so I tried to ignore the beating of my own heart. I can't do that anymore. I have to know, do you love me too?"
Christy withdrew the long hat pin that secured the wondrous hat to her hair, took the hat off her head and placed it and the pin on in the nearest chair. She crossed the room to where Neil stood. Try as she might, her heart still fluttered wildly in her chest.