November, 1633, Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving
“It was well done of you, Henry. It really was.” Enoch Wiley looked rather doubtfully at a pile of yellowish mush on the cracker in his hand. “What is this stuff?”
“Cora makes it out of mashed chickpeas. Some kind of a substitute for chip dip. Not bad—there's onion in it, I think. Anyhow, it has some zip.” Henry Dreeson took a bite. He always felt a bit embarrassed when Enoch commended him for something so solemnly. He was eight years older. Not a lot, between old men. A generation, for children. He'd been an eighth grader the year that Enoch started school. It had felt a bit odd, at first, when Enoch became the minister at his church. That was what—forty years ago, now?
“I didn't really need it, anyway. I'd just gotten used to having it in my pocket. When Jeff Adams told me that the girl Benny adopted really was going to lose that eye—well, it just seemed the thing to do. The color's not too bad a match. Jim McNally said that he could re-grind it to fit her socket; it's easy enough, most of the time, to make something that's too big smaller. The trick is to make something that's too small stretch.”
Henry's mind briefly contemplated Grantville's latest budget projections; then turned back to the reception. Several teachers and quite a few students from the remedial English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and special education programs located at the middle school were milling around. He had just presented Minnie Hugelmair with a framed certificate of valor for her defense of Benny at the riot in Jena last spring, along with his good luck piece. “Maybe it will make Minnie feel more like she really belongs in Grantville, having Uncle Jim's glass eye to wear.”
Both men looked up toward the temporary platform at one end of the city council meeting room. Minnie certainly sounded like she belonged to Grantville. She was up there, singing “Bury Me Beneath the Willow,” to Benny Pierce's accompaniment in a voice that could have come out of any one of the hollows that ran off of Buffalo Creek.
Henry had heard that she hadn't sounded so nice the day that Benny, coming back to winter in Grantville toward the end of October, told her she'd have to go to school.
Minnie was about fourteen or fifteen, they figured. More or less. Most likely more than less, since Doc Adams guessed that she had been badly undernourished when she was little. She was a foundling. Somehow, every master to whom her home village had ever bound her out had managed to avoid the obligation to send her to school. How many men wanted to pay school fees for a foundling not yet old enough to earn her keep? Henry realized that you couldn't work up a general answer from one example, but it was clear that in this case, the answer was none. Minnie had a seventeenth century small town's equivalent of street smarts, but she did not have any education.
She didn't want any, either.
Benny hadn't had much luck taking her to school.
Eventually Benny and his sister Betty, Betty's daughter Louise, Betty's daughter-in-law Doreen, Simon and Mary Ellen Jones who were the ministers from the Methodist church, Enoch and his wife Inez, Henry's wife Ronnie, and Henry himself had taken Minnie to school. Fussin' and fightin' it all the way.
Benny switched the tune to “John Brown's Body.” Minnie really got into the spirit of it.
That girl is going to make some man a real obstreperous wife, one day, Henry thought.
Joe Pallavicino, director of Grantville's ESOL program, still wasn't sure what to do with Minnie Hugelmair. Yeah, she had to go to school. But the intake program and classes had been set up to teach English, first to refugees and then to other immigrants, who already had at least some experience with going to school in German, then to funnel the kids into regular classes. The Germans had spoken fifteen or twenty nearly incompatible dialects, but least three-fourths of the refugee kids who came into Grantville the first year already had basic literacy and numeracy under their belts when they showed up at the schools. Most of those who didn't, had not been German. So he hadn't felt the least embarrassment about resolutely tabling all suggestions about bilingual education programs. The illiterate ones had been from six dozen different places on the map of Europe, attached some way to the mercenaries, and there wasn't anyone in Grantville who could educate them bilingually, even if the Emergency Committee had been so inclined. Which it wasn't. Almost all of the immigrants who had come since then, since Thuringia and central Germany settled down, were looking for jobs. Both the adults and their kids just needed to learn English, just as the Grantvillers who showed up needed to learn some kind of standardized, homogenized basic German that the speakers of fifteen or twenty different dialects would have a shot at understanding.
Whatever else Minnie might need, she didn't need to learn English. During her months of wandering around Thuringia with Benny Pierce, she had learned English thoroughly. With a fine West Virginia twang. A little archaic, perhaps, since a lot of it came from folk songs, but perfectly functional English. It actually helped her talk to some of the down-time English people who came through town now and then, translating into modern American for them.
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- The Grantville Gazette Staff