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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspiration #84


    Of course I never saw her.  She died years before I was born.  But she left behind her a portrait so full of her personality that no living figure is more human to me than my great-grandmother. [...] Here are some of the strokes which one by one, at long intervals, as if casually and by chance, have painted it for me.       When I was about eight years old, I went out one day to watch old Lemuel Hager, who came once a year to mow the grass in the orchard back of the house.  As he clinked the whetstone over the ringing steel of his scythe, he looked down at me and remarked, "You favor the Hawley side of the family, don't you?  There's a look around your mouth sort o' like Aunt Almera, your grandmother -- no -- my sakes, you must be her great-granddaughter!  Wa'l -- think of that!  And it don't seem more'n yesterday I saw her come stepping out same's you did just now; not so much bigger than you are this minute, for all she must have been sixty years old then.  She always was the littlest woman.  But she marched up to me, great lummox of a boy, and she said, 'Is it true what I hear folks say, Lemuel, that you somehow got out of school without having learned how to read?'  And I says, 'Why, Mis' Canfield, to tell the truth, I never did some to git the hang of books, and I never could seem to git up no sort of interest in 'em.'      "And she says back, "Well, no great boy of eighteen in the town I live in is a-goin' to grow up without he knows how to read the Declaration of Independence,' says she.  And she made me stop work for an hour -- she paid me just the same for it -- took me into the house, and started teaching me.      "Great land of love!  If the teacher at school had 'a' taught me like that, I'd 'a' been a minister!  I felt as though she'd cracked a hole in my head and was just pouring the l'arning in through a funnel.  And 'twa'n't more'n ten minutes before she found out 'twas my eyes the trouble.  I'm terrible nearsighted.  Well, that was before the days when everyone wore specs.  There wa'n't no way to git specs for me; but you couldn't stump Aunt Almera.  She just grabbed up a sort of multiplying-glass that she used, she said, for her sewing, now her eyes were kind o' failing her, and she give it to me.  'I'll take bigger stitches,' said she, laughing; 'big stitches don't matter so much as reading for an American citizen.'      "Well, sir, she didn't forgit me; she kept at me to practice to home with my multiplying-glass, and it was years before I could git by the house without Aunt Almera come out on the porch and hollered to me, that bossy way she had, "Lemuel, you come in here for a minute and let me hear you read.'  Sometimes it kind o' madded me, she had such a way o' thinking she could make everybody stand 'round.  Sometimes it made me laugh, she was so old, and not much bigger'n my fist.  But, by gol, I l'arned to read, and I have taken a sight of comfort out of it.  I don't never set down in the evening and open up the Necronsett Journal without I think of Aunt Almera Canfield."  Dorothy Canfield, "Almera Hawley Canfield" (1921), in A Harvest of Stories (1956), pp. 61-62

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