The Tall Woman, Excerpt
The Tall Woman, Excerpt
by Wilma Dykeman
And so she began a schedule of reading to him every day, as soon as dinner was finished, and again in the evening after they had eaten supper. At first her throat grew tired from the unaccustomed effort and she stumbled over some of the words, but she learned to use Martha’s dictionary, and when there was something she didn’t understand, she asked her father about it. They saved up questions, she and Fayte, and carried them down the valley when they went for a visit or on an errand. Jesse Moore didn’t always know the answer, but he was pleased to be consulted and he often knew where to look for an answer. She frequently borrowed his books and read pages from them to fill out Fayte’s curiosity, and her own, on the subject they were studying.
Faraway lands, foreign names, wars and wonders, and people of whom she had never heard, suddenly began to become part of Lydia’s life. She was forty-one years old. Her body had been wracked and toughened by pain and work. All the dross of unnecessary flesh and fretfulness of spirit seemed to have been burned away from her. Her body was not as soft and quivering and fresh as in the days of her youth, but it leaned no less eagerly toward the daily experience and touch of life. Her mind was not as trusting and unbruised as when she was a girl, but, given a chance, it turned even more vigorously to laying hold of knowledge, not only the knowledge of the brain but of the understanding heart, as well. She had attained a measure of wisdom.
Lydia carried one day’s reading with her till the following day, pondering it through dozens of chores, imagining how it might be to live in a certain country, thinking why Caesar or Napoleon had been as they were; astonished and pleased, always, at the neat, relentless beauty of numbers and all that could be done with them. Her curiosity and enthusiasm was matched by Fayte’s, and each was contagious to the other.
Sometimes their conversations drew Mark and Jessie and Aunt Tildy into offering comments, and then they all talked together. Sometimes, when Robert came to visit overnight, Lydia made him read aloud to them from the book on rhetoric. And her father came up for a week, late in October, and started them on the Latin studies. Mark never tired of listening to their lessons. He would sit near the door, if it was a warm night, or beside the fire, if it was cool, staring into the darkness or the light, and sometimes there was regret in his face, and sometimes hope.
The Tall Woman
Holt McDougal Press, June 1962