Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Biography
ALICE COBB STORIES: “The Big Log Little Girls”
TAGS: Alice Cobb; Pine Mountain Settlement School; Big Log; education; Dormitories; Alice in Wonderland; Mad Hatter; White Rabbit; obesity; bullying; taunting; Opal; Gladys; Audrey; Hazel; Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee; costumes; plays; theater
BIG LOG LITTLE GIRLS
From downstairs, somewhere there floated up a mournful chorus, with all the side effects, minor key, off key and so on.
“Oh I’d give all I own
If I could but atone
To that silver-haired daddy of mine!”
and I felt a little touched by the irony because that sweet songster’s “silver-haired daddy” is carousing around somewhere in Tennessee, and threatening to kill his wife because she was indiscreet enough to bear another child. And our Gladys weeps bitter tears nightly because the strain of adolescence added to the affects [sic] of an unnatural childhood have had some raveling influence even on her young mind.
All of our flock are inclined that way. This evening at supper I mentioned casually the fact that Sunday afternoon in my family had been the time for story-reading and telling, and I spoke of the Babes in the Woods, which was a mistake. They begged for it, and I told the story briefly without any effort at pathos. But by the time I’d finished, there was a deathlike silence, and looking about I surprised tears dripping over a number of milk bowls.
“Is hit a true story, Miss Cobbs? Gladys demanded through trembling lips. I told her what I knew (not much) about what was true and what wasn’t, and we had a little debate over cruel stepfathers, and that as always drifted into a number of killings in each of their memories, I questioned against my own judgment in telling a story that could lead so. But any story or any subject leads to killing. It is like Rome.
I am so glad to be here at Big Log for here I think, among the little girls we have the real, unspoiled mountain children straight from the heads of hollows, and straight from the mining camps. At Farm House, the big boys have taken on some outside debonair. They seem to me not so different from boys in Indiana or Ohio. And the Far House girls have attained a degree of sophistication equal to that in Seymour Indiana and just as becoming. But here, with the little ones, there is something genuine that I do love.Of course, some of the backgrounds are pretty hard. Our little Opal for instance, comes from a mining camp and only a moment ago I heard her run in from a Hide and Seek game in which she was “hit”. She was shouting and then tried to hide the shout with a big sneeze when she saw me. But what she shouted was, “You played hell! You never done it!” But Opal can be as demure as a lamb, and she looks like a lamb, too, with lovely curly blond hair. Last night when Big Log presented Alice in Wonderland at the book party, Opal made a sweet White Queen.
Alice in Wonderland was an experience. We represented fourteen of the characters and how those children worked, and how they loved doing it. Now they are clambering to have the story read to them again “out of the book.”
Our big room was a sea of boxes overflowing with crinoline and cheesecloth and Tarleton and whatnot. And, the children pondered for hours over the story and the pictures in order to be just right.
We finished up the Hatter first because he seemed to present fewer difficulties. We had a swallow-tail coat from the costume room and some dress trousers with a fancy stripe down each side. It was moth-eaten but impressive. Juanita was the Hatter. She is very tall and handsome, with a face like that of a Botticelli saint and a mind more in Hogarth’s class I’d say. I put the last touches of grease paint on the Hatter’s cheeks and chin, and then before I hurried on to the dormouse who was yelling to have her eyes cut larger, I watched Juanita for a few seconds. She is what one of the big boys would call a “looker.”
Hazel was our mouse. She is sweet and grandmotherly, with yellow braids to her waist. But, she was grieved at this moment.
“I said,” she declared primly, but with deepest feeling “that I never would dress up again when they had a party, and by golly, I never will again! They keep pulling on my tail and it’s not a bit funny either.”
Gladys and Audrey were Tweedledum and Tweedledee and rejoiced in white duck trousers and enormous crepe paper bows tied under their chins. They are both as round as a perfect circle at their middles, and have proportions like barrels, as Opal indelicately put it. The remark was so innocent (as I thought) that we were all aghast when Gladys’s tears gushed forth like a fountain. They are always near the surface of course.
“I know I’m fat,” she sobbed… “But, it ain’t fair of her to say so when I’m always so good to her!”And that is the truth too. I was called one evening a little after bedtime to offer comfort to Opal who had fallen out of bed. [The beds in the girls’ rooms are double deck and a fall from the top shelf is no laughing matter.] When I ran to the rescue I found Opal already picked up off the floor, with the faithful Gladys rubbing a wet towel over her forehead. Pride was the most seriously wounded part of Opal, and after a little sympathy, she was ready for sleep.
But Gladys was wide awake and wanting to open up her heart.
“Say, Miss Cobbs,” she whispered confidentially,”Did you know I cain’t never look nobody straightin’ the eye? And do you want to know why that is?”
I said I wanted to know above all things.
“Hit’s because a little, little baby fixed me with hit’s eye one time, and ever since then I cain’t look nobody straight. I know that’s the reason why, too, because when a little, little baby fixes you with hit’s eye, they’s bound to be bad happenings.”
Hazel Mitchell was our White Knight, and she was super. The coat of mail was made of cardboard and silvered over. It is a remarkable thing to me how naturally and how skillfully these children adapt themselves to this whole thing of costuming. The picture in our one illustrated copy of the classic had been faithfully worked out so that the head part of the armor looked like what it was supposed to look like — a little kitchen stove with a chimney. The breastplate and the gauntlets were all carefully saved out and hitched together and the effect generally was perfect … When we had her finished, armed, as it were over a gleaming suit of long white cotton underwear, which gave our Hazel something of a Galahad look, Gladys and I simply sat back on our two stools and sighed with delight.
“Hazel, Hazel,” I cried finally “How must it feel to look perfect — absolutely without fault?”
She smiled blandly and murmured, “Yes, ma’am.”
A few minutes later I overheard a conversation between the White Knight and Humpty Dumpty that I wasn’t supposed to overhear and did because neither of them could see through their costumes to know what person was nearby.
But oh, what a change, and what an awful thing. Almost, I missed the catastrophe. I had heard the banging and the thumping and shrieking but hares and hounds all up and down the hall explained that to me. And so all unconscious of trouble I stepped out to take a bath. There they were — the downstairs girls and the upstairs girls lined up on either side of the hall, yelling and in the center Bulah, the white rabbit, and Amanda, the mad march hare (clad only in bloomers and bras) were going for each other with [a] paring knife and steel tipped Oxford. Bulah’s arm was bleeding and Amanda’s bare shoulders were black and blue. It was a horrid sight.
Sorry — no more.