Excerpt from Sadie's Life-Altering Secret
Sadie was in school now, exposed to children from other backgrounds, children without so many siblings, children whose fathers were less strict and more loving with their daughters. She came home one day after just a month in first grade and took advantage of finding Mama in a quiet moment on the back porch, shelling peas grown in the garden. “Mama, I want a library card,” Sadie announced, surprising Myrtle who didn’t know the library was even operating yet.
The Gladewater school building was nearly brand new, erected as one of President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration projects in the mid-1930s as the oil boom rapidly swelled the town population to nearly 10,000 from the barely 500 residents when Sadie was born. Daddy Willis had secured a job with the WPA, giving his family some relief from the crushing poverty of the Depression, but keeping him moving around the area as job assignments came in. The library was the most recent addition, one that Willis had helped frame and roof, building in two small side
spaces for a librarian’s office and paraphernalia like coats and boots, making sure the shelves were sturdy enough not to fall over should rambunctious children push into them.
The building may have been new, but most of the books that filled those school library shelves were discards from richer schools two hours west in Dallas, and the estate sales an hour and some across the state line around Shreveport. Sadie was learning to read at school, and her teacher said she was good at it, the first time anyone had told her she was good at anything and Sadie felt a pride in that. But books were an unnecessary expense, Daddy thought, so besides the Bible and a volume of nursery rhymes Myrtle’s sister Nellie gave her on the occasion of her first baby Bessie’s birth, they had no books in the house. Mama brought magazines home from the market once in a while when they were too old to be sold. Often, before they could be completely consumed, Daddy would use the paper to light the wood stove in the mornings to boil up his coffee.
“Mama, please. I like reading.” Sadie pleaded with dignity. She was aware she was not her mother’s favorite. Myrtle had a twinge of guilt feeling a distance between herself and her fourth child.
“What’s it cost?” Mama asked, always having to justify her spending, accounting for every penny.
“Nuthin’,” Sadie said with a grin. “That’s the beauty. Teacher says with a card I can borrow from the library as long as I’m careful and return what I take in two weeks. Mama, please. You have to sign this permission slip.”
Mama saw the eager earnestness on her daughter’s face. Poor little Sadie, so often overlooked, she never got new things for herself, her hand me down dresses patched and worn, though still starched and clean. “What happens if you lose a borrowed book?” Mama asked, fearful that the cost of it would come out of their weekly food budget, and get Willis all riled up.
“I won’t lose it,” Sadie said, trying not to show anger at the implication that she’d be irresponsible. “I promise, Mama.”
Mama was having a day of moral weakness, or parental insight, she wasn’t certain which. “Alright, Miss Sadie. I’ll sign for this, but don’t tell Daddy, and don’t let the others know. Read somewhere that won’t get you noticed,” Mama said, taking the paper and the pencil Sadie held out for her.
“Yes, Mama, thank you. It’s just between us,” Sadie promised, her first promise and secret. It felt like a victory. She had wanted something important to her, and she had gotten it. Unconsciously she tucked this strategy away into a part of her brain that would help her navigate through all of life’s challenges to come.