Ruth White Weeping Willow

ISBN 13: 9780374382551

Weeping Willow

4.28 avg rating
( 244 ratings by Goodreads )
 
9780374382551: Weeping Willow

Just when Tiny Lambert starts to feel comfortable with herself and her new school, her drunken stepfather rapes her, and though she gets on with her own life, she cannot watch the same thing happen to her stepsister.

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Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Weeping Willow
ONE I rolled over and opened my eyes and a sudden thrill went through me. It was like the rush you get in the movies when the cavalry comes charging over the horizon blowing their bugles to save the settlers. Something wonderful was going to happen today. I could feel it.It was real early on my first day of high school in the fall of 1956. I got up, careful not to wake my half sister, Phyllis, and tiptoed out into the hall, and into the bathroom. Nobody could have heard me, but as soon as I started running water the whole house came alive. The next thing I knew, Vern, my stepfather, was pounding on the bathroom door, telling me to get a move on. Then Beau and Luther, my half brothers,who were trying to act like their daddy, did the same thing.I hurried back to the bedroom, where Phyllis turned over in our big double bed, mumbled something, and hit the floor. She wandered downstairs, where Mama was fixing breakfast for everybody. Mama always did that on the first day of school to show her good intentions. When we were gone, she could go back to sleep, undisturbed, for the first time in three months.I had my school clothes neatly laid out on a chair--a dark plaid dress with a straight skirt, and black-and-white saddle oxfords with bobby sox. I slipped a pair of shorts on under my dress because I had absolutely no hips at all, and the shorts rounded me out some.Then I took the bobby pins out of my brown hair and brushed curls around my face, dabbed on a bit of lipstick and compact makeup, and stood back to look at myself in the mirror. I saw no chance of ever being beautiful. First of all, I was too small. I weighed only ninety-five pounds after a long drink of water, and I was only five feet tall in thick soles. My complexion was kinda sallow and my eyes pale blue, like Mama's. I was plain, and that's all there was to it.I put my perfectly pink lipstick into my genuine plastic pocketbook along with my compact. Then I picked up my five-subject composition notebook and two number-two pencils, and I was ready for high school.Downstairs, Mama had made pancakes and sausages. As we sat there all crowded around the table with the smell of coffee and the clatter of dishes, it waslike we were a real family as normal as any other. Only I knew better. 
My own daddy, who was not married to my mama, had gone off to the war in Europe in December 1941, and was never heard from again. Five months after he left, I was born on the top of Ruby Mountain.Then, when I was three years old, Vernon Mullins, a coal miner for the Ruby Valley Coal Company, started courting my mama. Her daddy, my Grandpa Lambert, nearly had a fit because he said there had been bad blood between the Lamberts and the Mullinses for a hundred years. No, he didn't remember why, but he knew there was a good reason for it, and if Mama persisted in marrying that no-account Mullins, then she'd better take me and everything she owned--all of which could fit in a paper poke--and never darken his doorway on Ruby Mountain again.So she did. And I hadn't seen Grandpa Lambert since.Mama and Vern got married, and the two of us moved into Vern's house down here in Ruby Valley. Now, you would think with such a pretty name, the place would have to be a real jewel, but Ruby Valley was only a holler, and a holler is nothing more than a glorified gully between two mountains. There was a creek and a road side by side, both of which ran to the head of the holler and Ruby Mountain. The road ended right up there at Grandpa Lambert's place.Vern's house was a big, shabby thing with a bathroom, which was a new convenience for me and Mama.The house was left to Vern by his grandfather, who had built it but never really finished it right. The floorboards in the hall and bedrooms upstairs were still raw lumber, and you could get splinters in your feet if you weren't careful. One time Vern decided to put in a whole new fireplace in the living room. He tore out all the old bricks and hauled them off. Then he bought all new bricks and stacked them by the hole in the wall. There they had stayed for years.The house just hung on the hill with a skinny dirt road, edged by a rock wall leading up to it, and ending under a high porch on stilts. Vern parked his pickup truck under that tall porch.When Mama and I moved in, Vern was working third shift in the mines, which meant he worked nights and slept days. Mama always had been a night owl herself, and pretty soon she was staying up all night, too, and sleeping during the day with Vern. I spent more and more time alone, and had to be quiet so Mama and Vern could sleep. To pass the time, I called Willa to me and we would play. She taught me to count and to sing--softly.Mama cooked one meal a day, and that was supper. I ate with Mama and Vern, then I'd go to bed. I don't know what Mama did all night while Vern was at work. One time I went downstairs to get a drink of water and I saw her sitting in the dark smoking a cigarette.When Vern started working days, Mama couldn't break her old habits. She went to bed very late, and got up and fixed Vern's breakfast if he made her; then she went back to bed. She still cooked only one bigmeal in the evenings. Other than that she did very little. It didn't take a grownup person to figure out my mama was awful unhappy.Then the stairstep babies started coming. First there was Beau when I was five, then Luther a year later, and Phyllis a year after that. Those babies wouldn't cooperate with Mama to save your life. They never ate or slept when she wanted them to, so she had to stay awake, and she was real grouchy. After school, on weekends, and in the summertime, she tried to make me mind the babies, but most of the time I couldn't make them hush, so Mama had to stumble around, half-asleep, and tend them her own self.It seemed everybody in our house was either grumbling or blubbering, and that's when I missed Willa the most. But Mrs. Skeens had taken her away from me.Vern grew fat and drank more than his share. I don't think he and Mama even liked each other anymore. The only person Vern would turn a hand for was Phyllis. He showered her with attention, and she was spoiled rotten. 
But that first day of school, when I was fourteen, everybody seemed to be in a good mood for a change. Vern was teasing the boys about not recognizing them with their faces clean, and he was bouncing Phyllis--"Daddy's little girl"--on his knee. Beau was nine and just entering the fourth grade. Luther was eight and in the third, and Phyllis was seven and in the second.Vern turned to me and looked me over good."Well, Tiny, now you're going to be a high schoolgirl, and a pretty one, too. Just don't get too big for your britches."I managed a smile."Me and Hazel never had a chance to go to high school, you know.""How come?" I said, though I had heard this one a dozen times."'Cause I had to go to work when I was thirteen, and your mama lived up on that mountaintop. It was too far to the high school, and they didn't have buses back then. You're a lucky girl."He went on talking about how hard things were in the old days, and how easy I had it, but I wasn't listening. My mind was racing ahead into the day. What would high school be like? Would my teachers be real mean? Would I make friends this year? I never had before. Every kid in Ruby Valley Grade School had known me and I had a reputation for being a loner. Maybe this year, with a larger school and all those strangers, things would be different.Vern left for work and the kids went back upstairs to finish dressing and get their stuff together. Their bus would come later than mine. Mama and I were alone at the table."You really do look pretty, Tiny," she said.I was surprised. She smiled a sad kind of smile. She was only thirty, but she had bags under her eyes, and she was thin and small like me."Thanks," I mumbled, blushing.I was trying to finish a cup of coffee just because I thought it was a grownup thing to do. I really didn't like it."And you remember one thing, girl," Mama went on.She never could leave well enough alone."You're just as good as any of them--better than most. Don't let anybody tell you any different."I knew she was trying to be nice, but that bit of advice made me mad. I had almost talked myself into thinking I could make friends this year till then. What made her think about saying that? Maybe it was because I really wasn't as good as the rest, and maybe I didn't look pretty either."I gotta go!" I said, and left the table abruptly.I was out the door and on my way down the hill before she could do any more damage.Copyright © 1992 by Ruth White

From Kirkus Reviews:

The author of the much-praised Sweet Creek Holler (1988, ALA Notable) returns to her native Appalachia for a mellower, less melodramatic story about a bittersweet coming of age in the 1950's. When Tiny enters high school, her troubles are real: Mama, trapped by poverty in a loveless marriage to Tiny's stepfather, Vern--coal miner, drunk, and all-around clod--is so ``awfully unhappy'' that she is almost dysfunctional; long friendless, Tiny finds comfort in Willa, an imaginary mother-friend. Beyond hope, high school goes well: she soon has two friends to giggle with, and happily bestows her unrequited affection on the new band teacher. Meanwhile, she fails to evade Vern's avid attentions--he catches her alone and rapes her--but, in time, she has the courage to regain her balance. Her friendships deepen; there's a first boyfriend, and then the blossoming of her long camaraderie with nice Cecil next door; and when, senior year, Vern threatens her little sister, Tiny tells Mama, who rises to the occasion with spunk that transforms the entire family. With the exception of Vern, who is more weak and self- deluding than evil, the men here are ciphers: Cecil has only good qualities, while most of the rest have abandoned their women in one way or another. But the women are splendidly realized--a fey old neighbor; Mama, who has been tentatively reaching out well before she's galvanized by Tiny's news; Tiny herself, sensitive, vulnerable, but a tough survivor. Beautifully written, heartwarming, and--ultimately--joyous. (Fiction. 12+) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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White, Ruth
Published by Farrar Straus & Giroux (J) (1992)
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