Sandy Roads


The sun was merciless today. It was a challenge to keep her eyes open and even more so to put one foot in front of the other. Mama would be mad at her if she was late again but what could she do? Walking 12 miles a day wasn’t easy and the thing waiting for her when she got home was just more work— this time in the fields. Besides, she didn’t even like going to school, what was the point? Everyone was so mean, pulling on her hair, spitting at her, and laughing at her dress— the one Mama worked so hard to sew. 

She had considered quitting school altogether for a while but the thing stopping her was Mama and Papa. Would they be disappointed? Would they be mad? Was she just being lazy? She didn’t know so she kept going. I should be thankful, she thought, after all, Elba, Joshua, and Ida didn’t live long enough to even go to school. Three of her siblings had already died long before they could even speak and here she was complaining about school. 

When she got home Mama was standing on the porch in her working dress. Dirt splattered the lower half of the hand-spun garment and painted her arms. Mama never really smiled, so she could never tell if she was upset or not. 

“I’m sorry I’m late.”

“Don’t matter, your Pa needs help pickin’ the peas.”

“Yes Ma’am,” she moved to walk inside but Mama stopped her at the door.



“How was school?” She asked in a hushed voice.

She didn’t say a thing, just shook her head and set down her worn bag.

There was only a month left till summer, she thought, plucking the pea pods and plopping them in the pail. So close yet so far. She was thirteen now, in the 6th grade yet she didn’t know if she could make it to 7th. Papa says this is just God’s way of testin’ me but… I ain’t sure I can do it. It was May so even though it was past 4, the sun hit her mercilessly. Row bled into row and plant turned into plant. Lost in a trance, she didn’t realize the sun was setting till Papa called her name from the edge of the field.

“Clara! It’s supper time, bring in them peas and help your mother.”

She nodded in recognition and headed to the house.

The smell of collards filled the air and her tummy growled in anticipation. She loved Mama’s collards, even more so after hours of fieldwork. She felt more guilty than ever as she ate her warm dinner. I ain’t got no reason to complain, so selfish to whine when I got a roof o’er my head ‘n food on the table. 

Once the dishes were washed, and the chores completed, she read the bible in silence.  She crawled into bed with achy limbs and a pounding head. Tears that no one ever saw streamed down her face, silent as she was, as she drifted off into a dreamless sleep.


When summer was over and the school year started up again, Clara was nowhere to be found. She was gone from the classroom and no one really cared, they would just find someone else to bully. Someone else’s hair to pull, dress to spit on, and it didn’t matter if she was there.

Sitting by the fire, she sewed a small dress for her daughter with hardened hands. She would spoil her with what she could. She had already lost one child, she would make sure the others lived, make sure they got more. The needle pierced the fabric with ease and the fire’s soft crackle thronged in time with her stitches. Beside her lay a small child, only 2 years old but bright with life. She had laid down, curled up like a cat beside her Mother, lost in a deep sleep. Stirred by some youthful dream, her only movement was a twitch of her lips and the rise and fall of her lungs. 

A man now older than the sewing mother walked in with dirt-crusted nails. 

“Clara, we got any more snuff?”

“Yeah, I put what ya’ bought in the cabinet,”

He wandered over to the far side of the room where the kitchen was and rummaged through a wooden cabinet. Finding what he desired, he took a seat beside his silent wife. The pair sat in peaceful silence as she stitched and he put the tobacco snuff in the hollow of his cheek.