Bettye Hudson Galloway
Julie sat down in the grass and watched her friend Nell finish her chores.
She was concerned because Nell had told her that Dale was no longer doing
the weekly wash for her mother, that Nell couldn't go to Dale's any more,
and that Dale's coming to the New house was no longer "proper." This was a
term that was unfamiliar to Julie. I wonder what's wrong with Dale, she
pondered. Dale was her favorite person, outside of Nell.
welcomed her into her tiny cabin on the other side of the hill. Sometimes
Julie's ramblings took her in the direction of the cabin, and she would stop
and eat the bowl of bread and milk that Dale always had on hand. At other
times, she would go directly to Dale's house just to talk, always knowing
that she would be given something to eat. Dale's house was best in
winter. Then she would usually have something cooking on the stove, sending
the smell of food steaming through the two rooms. Whatever she had, she
shared with Julie. Dale loved the child, this child who had ignorant and
uncaring parents—nobody to care for her—and it broke her heart to see
Julie wandering in the wintertime without enough clothes to keep her warm
and without enough solid food to put flesh on her frail body. So at every
chance she shared what she had. And sometimes the food that Julie ate was
the only food in the house. But Julie never knew that.
Nell finished what she was doing. "I've got to go back to the house now,"
she said, "before Momma gets mad at me. You want to play with me now?"
"Naw," said Julie. "I think I'll go down and see about Dale. Can you play
"If I don't have to help Momma," said Nell.
Julie carefully skirted Nell's house and made her way down the other side of
the hill leading to Dale's.
The black woman had seen her coming and was waiting on the porch to greet
her as she came up the path. "How's Julie this mornin'?" she asked as Julie
carefully placed her feet on the sawed portion of a tree trunk that served
as the step to the porch.
"Fine," said Julie. "Are you sick?"
"No, Honey, I'm not sick, why you ask that?"
"Well," said Julie, as she entered the tiny cabin through the door held open
by the woman. "Nell says you ain't washin' for them no more, and that she
can't come down to see you 'cause it ain't proper.
"Oh, Honey," laughed Dale, "don't you worry your little head about that.
Miss Ella New is just on her high-horse again! If everything in this old
world was made to fit Miss Ella, it sure would be some world!"
"But she said yesterday that Nell couldn't come to see you!"
"'Course she can!"
"But Miss Ella said she couldn't!"
"Oh, Miss Ella'll come off that. She's just puttin' on one of her shows.
She just ain't got 'nough money to pay me right now, so she's just sayin'
that she don't like me so's she'll have an excuse for havin' to do her own
work for a while."
"Why would she do that?"
"Cause she thinks she is some high-born lady, and she ain't supposed to get
her hands dirty doin' no work."
"But my momma does her own work..."
"Honey, there's mommas and there's mommas. Ain't nothin' alike in your
momma and Miss Ella."
"But Miss Ella is real smart."
"What you mean, smart? There's worlds of difference in smart and smart.
Now you take Miss Ella—she may be smart in that she can read books and talk
good and things like that, and you think she's smart because your momma can't.
But you listen to me, your momma may not be smart in things like Miss Ella,
and your momma may not do a lot of things you would like for her to do, but
where it really matters, your momma is real smart. She don't stop you from
doin' a lot of things that lets you learn. She may not help you—she may not
can help you—but she lets you learn by yourself. And that's learnin' the
hard way, but it's good learning' 'cause you won't forget what you learn
when you get it like that. No, don't you ever wish your momma was like Miss
Ella. You the lucky one, girl, to have the momma you got. It's Nell you
ought to be feeling sorry for, 'cause she ain't gonna have the chances you'll
"But, Dale, Nell's got ever'thing!"
"Cept a chance to learn by herself! Now, here, sit by the table and I'll
find us somethin' t'eat." Dale puttered around the stove and came back to
the table with two bowls filled with steaming broth.
At the sight of them, Julie's mouth watered. "What is it?" she asked.
"Oh, just a little old fox squirrel that's been runnin' around that
scaly-bark tree down in the pasture. He makes a fine stew, don't he?"
"Sure does!" said Julie as she ladled a spoonful of broth from the bowl to
"Whoa, there," said Dale. "Didn't you forget something?"
"Yeah," said Julie. "I'm sorry. I forgot."
"Okay, now bow your head and let's give the good Lord His due. Remember, if
He can take care of us, we surely can remember Him a little bit."
Julie bowed her head and listened attentively as Dale reverently mumbled the
message that had been taught to her in childhood. She finished and picked
up her spoon. "Dale, why do you always say Him?"
"What you mean?"
"Well, ever' time you pray, you always call God a 'Him'. Is God a Him?"
"Couldn't God be a woman, Dale?"
"Ain't no way!"
"Why not. If you can't see Him like you say, how do you know?"
"But how do you know?" the child insisted.
"Well, I'll tell you," said the woman. "Did you ever notice how hard I work
and how hard your momma works? Well, sir, a man goes to work, sure, but a
man comes home and rests. Now, a woman gets up in the morning and cooks
breakfast, then she works all morning, and then she cooks dinner, and then
she works all evenin' and then she's gotta cook supper. And even then her
work ain't done, 'cause she's still got to wash the dirty dishes before she
gets through. And that's not even countin' the other things she has to do
before bedtime. But whatever else she's gotta do, she's gotta stop and
"But what's that go to do with whether God's a man or a woman?"
"Well, Honey, just think—it's as plain as the nose on your face. Ain't no
woman gonna plan a world where ever' day starts with cookin' a meal and ever'
day ends with cookin' a meal! No, sir, God sure ain't no woman!"
"Well, I guess not, Dale, but whatever He is, He made good squirrel!"
responded the child as she emptied the spoon into her mouth.
"Yessiree," said Dale, "squirrel is the one thing I miss the most since Tom
passed. He used to keep us pretty well in squirrels—and rabbits, too—but
since he died they're gettin' kinda scarce around here. I can take his old
rifle and hunt as much as he did, but I just don't have the eyes he had, and
it's hard for me to see a squirrel until the leaves have fell off, and by
that time they've mostly gone into their nests for the winter.
"Couldn't you just shoot into the nests?" asked Julie. "Looks like you'd
hit one for sure if you shot into the nest."
"Now, Julie Mathis, I'm plumb surprised at you. All of God's little ole
creatures has got to have a fightin' chance at livin'. And what chance
would this ole fox squirrel had had if I was just to shoot into his nest.
As much as I wanted to cook him, he had to have a chance, too. Uh, uh, I
couldn't have eaten him if I had killed him in his sleep. But I knew if I
waited long enough under that tree, he'd come out sooner or later and I
would have my chance at him. I got'm, too!"
"He sure is good," said Julie, as she pondered the wisdom of her friend.
"Finish eatin' your stew, and we'll go out and gather up some of the limbs
that fell off the pine trees and make us a fire, "said Dale. "It's getting
a little chilly today."
"Sure is," said Julie. "I got cold comin' over here."
The two sat quietly, eating the nourishing broth. Dale finished first and
took her bowl and spoon to the dishpan to wash them while Julie gleaned the
last morsel from her bowl.
"Come on," said Dale as she finished putting away the dishes. "Let's go get
that wood." They crossed the yard to the edge of the clearing and began
picking up the small twigs and branches in their arms. "Grab a handful of
them dry pine needles, too, "said Dale. "We'll need them to get it started
since I ain't got no coal oil." Arms loaded, they retraced their steps
toward the house.
"Dale, why we gatherin' up these limbs when you got wood cut in the rack by
"Them's big logs to go on after the fire is started. Ain't no way to get a
big log goin' 'less you start a little fire first. I'll put one of them on
in a bit."
They entered the cabin and emptied their arms on the hearth. Dale carefully
piled the needles in the center of the firebox, added the small twigs and
branches, and, reaching to the mantel above her, selected a wooden match.
She scratched it on the sandstone side of the fireplace and touched it to
the needles. A small blue flame rose and gently lapped the twigs until
they, too, caught and began burning. Dale watched it for a moment, decided
it was going to burn, and went outside for a larger piece of wood from the
rack. She added the log to the fire. She took a patchwork quilt from the
foot of the bed and placed on the floor in front of the fire. "Let's rest
here for a while," she said, patting the space at her side.
Julie stretched out beside her and lay watching the flames. The warmth from
the burning logs and the fullness of her stomach made her drowsy, and she
soon fell asleep, snuggled in the softness of the quilt.
Dale saw that Julie was sound asleep and rose to resume her housework.
Several times she quietly added fuel to the fire without disturbing the
child. The afternoon passed.
"Julie, Honey, you oughta be wakin' up now." Julie rubbed the sleep from
her eyes. "It's the middle of the afternoon, you best be getting' home
"Oh, Dale, I was sound asleep!"
"You been sleepin' a long time. You gotta be runnin' along."
"Okay," said Julie, "but I sure do like to come down here to see you. Can
Nell come with me next time?"
"Sure can," said Dale, "anytime she wants."
Bettye Hudson Galloway was born, reared, and educated in Oxford, Lafayette County, Mississippi. She retired from Mississippi state service (primarily the University of Mississippi) and as executive vice president of a drug testing laboratory.
Bettye H. Galloway