Hickory Valley, Tennessee
Two days after the undertakers lowered his mother’s casket into its wintry grave, Henry Pollard found the letter.
♥ ♥ ♥
Later that afternoon, Susannah Pollard helped her mother prepare the family’s supper and turned to give her daddy a quick smile when he entered the kitchen. Then, she returned her attention to the stove and the cast-iron skillet of frying diced potatoes and onions. Still, she jumped when her daddy tapped her on the shoulder.
When she turned toward him, he held a small, lumpy envelope. Redness rimmed his sad eyes. They all still grieved Mamaw’s death. She was the strong glue that held the Pollard family together through their hardships, with only a few mountaintop experiences along the way.
Her daddy offered her the envelope. “I found this in Mama’s things. Your mamaw addressed it to you. Nobody opened it.”
She took the envelope from her daddy, and he left the kitchen. Should she open the envelope now or save it for later? She glanced at her mama for direction but only received a nod toward the frying pan. Susannah tucked the envelope into a pocket. She’d wait until bedtime when she was alone to open Mamaw’s letter.
That night while her parents and two brothers slept, Susannah sat on the side of her bed, the envelope in her hands. With an index finger, she traced her name on the front, written in Mamaw’s slanted handwriting. Then, she turned the envelope over and gently tugged at the flap. Finally opening the envelope, she withdrew its contents.
Along with two pieces of stationery, money fluttered from the envelope and onto her lap—more cash than Susannah had ever seen. However, something else remained in the corner of the envelope. She reached in and found her mamaw’s golden oval locket on its delicate chain. She opened the etched ornament and gazed at the tiny, familiar picture of Mamaw and Papaw on their wedding day.
She unfolded the letter and read Mamaw’s words, written only for Susannah’s eyes.
My dearest granddaughter Susannah,
Lord knows I loved your Papaw—so much so that I gave up the opportunities my city upbringing offered me, married him, and moved to his daddy’s farm here in the valley. I didn’t miss anything from the city—I had the love of a good man. But, Susannah, if life here in Hickory Valley with Frank is not enough for you, then use this money to go to the city. Be on your own and reach for your dreams—be a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary.
When I married your Papaw, my daddy gave me this money so I could always return home if I wanted to do so. I never went back, didn’t ever spend it. Now the money is yours. You’ve not known anything besides this valley and the ways of the people here. Go to the city—go to Knoxville.
This money will help you do that. Give yourself some choices. Then if you decide you want the lifestyle of Frank and his daddy’s farm, come on back. But be fair to yourself and see what else is out there for you—then make up your mind.
Possibilities abound in Knoxville for a young woman as smart as you. There’s a college there if you want to become a teacher, and a business school if you decide to become a secretary. Whatever you choose, I’m sure you’ll be the best.
Please take this money with my love. I didn’t share it with your brothers, and I hope you won’t either. It’s still a man’s world, and the boys will do all right.
I wish I could have seen you continue to grow up after high school, but time was against us. Remember, never be ashamed to reach high for your dreams. I love you, and my thoughts will always be with you,
♥ ♥ ♥
Four months later
On Saturday afternoon two weeks after high school graduation, Susannah and Frank went to the afternoon movie in town, as usual. After the show, they sat in a wooden booth at Delmer’s Drug Store drinking their Cokes. Susannah told Frank about Mamaw’s letter while fingering the locket she wore around her neck.
Since first grade in the one-room school where they met, everyone in their community expected Susannah and Frank to marry. Today, however, Susannah tried to convince Frank to understand she wanted to follow her mamaw’s words. They couldn’t reach any level of agreement. Instead, their heated discussion ended in an impasse.
Frank’s last words closed the discussion: “Susannah, you belong on the farm with me, you ought not go into the city. You can’t leave me and this valley.”
His words rivaled waving a red flag before a bull. For the next few weeks, Susannah remained civil toward Frank. But for him to think she should do as he said and abandon any thoughts otherwise only strengthened her resolve to do as her mamaw suggested. She’d never know what choices existed for her unless she ventured away from this isolated valley.
Copyright 2022 Jo Huddleston