Little Sisters, Listen Up!: A Message of Hope for Girls Growing Up in Poverty, Racism, and Despair

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On one occasion a neighbor who had remained friendly warned them that Confederate soldiers were about to raid the valley and take all the stock of Northern sympathizers. The Cathers took their animals to the neighbor's barn until the threat passed. Later they returned the favor when Union troops swept through the area. At still another point in the war when an epidemic of measles broke out among occupying Confederate troops, the Cathers turned Willow Shade into an emergency hospital.

The events of the war in Back Creek Valley are vividly recounted in the diary of William Cather's sister, Sidney Gore , a widow who lived in the village and kept a rooming and boarding house.


She quartered and ministered to soldiers of both armies and could hear the cannon and rifle fire from the battles fought around Winchester. But no real battles were fought in Back Creek. The Gores' greatest problem was hiding food, money, and livestock from thieving bushwackers who straggled through the valley. Gore's son remembered that they put their bread in pillowcases after each meal.

They tied their money up with medicinal herbs that were hung from the rafters. They built secret closets in the attic, induced the hens to lay their eggs deep in the woods, fattened their hogs in pens hidden in large piles of firewood, and hid the family silver under a false bottom in the kitchen woodbox. There were agonizing moments, however.

Gore was stunned when Union troops killed her neighbor in August The neighbor had been surprised when asleep by soldiers' appearing at the window and without reflecting had grabbed a gun and fired a shot. Whereupon fifty Union soldiers opened fire. When she said that she was his daughter, the enemy officer introduced himself as her cousin, but family members on opposite sides during the Civil War was a commonplace in Back Creek.

'Between the World and Me' by Ta-Nehisi Coates - The Atlantic

The tragedies of fratricidal war are poignantly set down in Walt Whitman's memory of his experiences as a volunteer nurse in Washington hospitals: "I staid to-night a long time by the bedside of a new patient, a young Baltimorean, aged about 19 years. As I was lingering, soothing him in his pain, he says to me suddenly, 'I hardly think you know who I am. I am a rebel soldier. In an adjoining ward I found his brother, an officer of rank, a Union soldier. It was in the same battle both were hit. One was a strong Unionist, the other Secesh; both fought on their respective sides, both badly wounded, and both brought together here.

Each died for his cause. After Lee's surrender the Back Creek boys came home to their farms and set about planting their neglected fields, which had been farmed in their absence by the women and children. Most of them had been Confederate soldiers. They still had their land, but there were few horses left to work the soil, most having been driven off or killed as the tide of battle surged back and forth. They also had to replenish their livestock. Cather writes in Sapphira : "The Rebel soldiers who came back were tired, discouraged, but not humiliated or embittered by failure.

The country people accepted the defeat of the Confederacy with dignity, as they accepted death when it came to their families. Defeat was not new to these men.

Name That Book cont. Part II

Almost every season brought defeat of some kind to the farming people. Their cornfields, planted by hand and cultivated with the hoe, were beaten down by hail, or the wheat was burned up by drought, or cholera broke out among the pigs. The soil was none too fertile, and the methods of farming were not very good. Now they could mend the barn roof where it leaked, help the old woman with her garden, and keep the woodpile high.

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They had gone out to fight for their home State, had done their best, and now it was over. They still wore their army overcoats in winter, because they had no others, and they worked the fields in whatever rags were left of their uniforms.

The day of Confederate reunions and veterans' dinners was then far distant. William Cather, however, profited by his Union allegiance and after the war was appointed sheriff for Frederick County by the military government, a job that he performed with the aid of his sons as deputies. He also ended the war more affluent than his neighbors, and after life returned to normal hired a Baptist preacher to conduct a school at Willow Shade.

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All the people of the neighborhood, Northern and Southern sympathizers alike, were invited to send their children. In addition, he sent some of the older ones-including his son Charles and a neighbor's daughter, Mary Virginia Boak, who had had three brothers in the Confederate Army-to school in Baltimore. These acts helped heal the wounds caused by the war, and the healing process was abetted further when Charles Cather and Mary Virginia Boak fell in love. They were married on December 5, , in the home of the bride's mother, Rachel Boak.

An Appropriate Response: Living from an Awake Heart, with Tara Brach

Rachel Boak, whose influence on her granddaughter was considerable, has been portrayed indelibly as Old Mrs. Harris in Cather's story of that name and as Rachel Blake in Sapphira. Her family history furnished the plot of that novel: her father was the miller and her mother the title character. She was the one who helped the slave Nancy escape via the underground railway to Canada.

In real life she had been born Rachel Elizabeth Seibert in She married William Lee Boak at the age of fourteen and was widowed at thirty-eight. Her husband, who was three times a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, died in Washington as an official of the Department of the Interior. When Rachel returned to Virginia with a family of five, her father bought her a house in the village. There she raised her children and ministered to the sick, as Rachel Blake does in the novel. She abhorred slavery, as the William Cathers did, but when the war came, her three sons served the Confederacy.

Only two returned from the war. William Seibert Boak died at nineteen as the result of wounds received at Manassas.

Cather in dedicated a poem to his memory,"The Namesake," and after going to Pittsburgh adopted Seibert as her own middle name, though she always spelled it Sibert. She also liked to pretend that she was named for this uncle she never had met. She writes: Somewhere there among the stones, All alike, that mark their bones, Lies a lad beneath the pine Who once bore a name like mine,— Flung his splendid life away Long before I saw the day.

And the poem ends: And I'll be winner at the game Enough for two who bore the name. Cather also wrote a story in with the same title as the poem , in which a sculptor explains to his colleagues that the inspiration for his statue The Color Sergeant came from his uncle who was killed in the war. Cather's mother always revered this brother and kept his sword and a Confederate flag with her when the family moved to Nebraska.

When Cather was editing the Home Monthly in Pittsburgh, she wrote an article on nursing as a profession for women.

She used her grandmother as an example "of those unprofessional nurses who served without recompense, from the mere love of it. She had a host of little children of her own, poor woman, but when a child was burned, when some overworked woman was in her death agony, when a man had been crushed under falling timber, or when a boy had cut his leg by a slip of the knife in the sumach field, the man who went to town for the doctor always stopped for her on the way. Night or day, winter or summer, she went.

I have often heard the old folks tell how, during those dreadful diphtheria scourges that used to sweep over the country in the fifties, she would go into a house where eight or ten children were all down with the disease, nurse and cook for the living and 'lay out' the dead. Grandmother Boak as Rachel Blake in Sapphira is a "short, stalwart woman in a sunbonnet, wearing a heavy shawl over her freshly ironed calico dress.

Rosen: "There was the kind of nobility about her head that there is about an old lion's: an absence of self-consciousness, vanity, preoccupation-something absolute. Her grey hair was parted in the middle, wound in two little horns over her ears, and done in a little flat knot behind. Her mouth was large and composed,-resigned, the corners drooping. Charles Cather, Willa's father, was an amiable young man, soft-spoken and tender-hearted.

He was tall, fair-haired, gentle, and did not inherit the inflexible will and evangelical zeal of his Calvinist-turned-Baptist father. He was handsome in a boyish southern way and never hurt anybody's feelings. Willa Cather loved him dearly and was always much closer to him than to her mother.