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Dear Martha,

Good news! The sun is shining. Jumping jubilation! Everything had to dry out: our clothes, our canvas, even Pap’s feet. Captain Walsh stopped the train yesterday because we weren’t making progress in such a downpour anyway.

The wagon wheels were caked with mud. That made it too hard on the mules to pull the wagons. Martha, Mama did something that was a wonder. Pap’s feet were bothering him something awful. His boots were soaked through, and he’d been out in the driving rain trying to help folks settle their wagons in the downpour. Mama helped him get his boots off, but it was a chore. The leather was tight, and Pap’s feet were swollen. Mama put some thick mud in the bottom of the washtub and hauled it up in the wagon.

She smoothed the mud flat and put a folded newspaper on top of the mud. Then, she stacked small pieces of fat lighter wood we had stored in a box under the seat of the wagon and lit a fire. She fixed a place for Pap to sit, so his feet were up over the washtub. In no time, Pap’s feet were dry, and he was smiling.

He said, “My feet are dryer than seven acres of parched corn!”

Can you believe Mama made such a good fire right up in the wagon? I wish I was smart like her. Today, she’s drying Pap’s boots, so he’s wearing his old plowing boots. We’re on the move again. Early this morning every man, woman, and child helped scrape mud from the wagon wheels. We had to scrape it off and sling it to the side, so the next family wouldn’t drive through it again once we got going.

I haven’t been able to write since Sunday. It was just too crazy with all this rain. We were crowded into the wagon, day and night. We kept warm by huddling together. Since we had nothing else to do, we played checkers. Pap beat us every game! I lit one of my candle stubs and read Little Women. Mama and I already knew the story, of course, but Pap had never heard it before.

The lightning crackled something awful. That scared Baby Dylan, and we took turns holding him and playing little games to keep him entertained. I felt sorry for most folk’s mules and oxen. They had to stand out in the rain the entire time, but not Jester, Jingo, Gabriel, and Girlie. Pap strung a big oilcloth between our wagon and the Carters’ wagon in front of us. He propped it up with poles, so our animals could be out of the rain.

Pap slept in the wagon with us because it was far too wet for him to sleep under the wagon. Before he went to bed, Mama rubbed his feet with lard. I was supposed to be asleep, but when they thought I wasn’t listening, I heard Pap say, “Grace, I love you more than the moon is round.”

Mama said, “Oh, go on.”

Pap said, “I do. I can’t help it. I love you more than the stars are bright.”

Mama said, “Hush now. Teddy will hear.”

Pap said, “So what if she hears? I love you, and I hope you love me, too.”

Mama didn’t say anything, so Pap said, “Well, do you?”

She still didn’t say anything, so Pap said again, “Well, DO YOU?”

I could hear Mama laughing real quiet. Then, she whispered, “Well, what woman wouldn’t love a man who keeps her milk cow out of the rain?”

Pap said, “Well, alright then.”

Great buckets of butterbeans! Mama and Pap sound like sweethearts.


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Dear Martha,

It rained all day today. It was miserable traveling in the rain. Mama put an oilcloth over us to keep us dry as we drove the team. Jester and Jingo were soaked. The road is full of puddles and mud, so we had to go slowly. A muddy road can mean danger for animals who are pulling a heavy load.

Baby Dylan cried all day. Mama thinks he’s teething. I spent a long time rocking him and singing all his favorites. He loves for me to sing “The Little Green Frog Who Lives in the Bog.”

When I went to get one of his books down from the shelf, he saw Veronica. You can imagine what happened then. He cried, “Ronnie! Ronnie!” I didn’t want to, but I let him hold her while I rocked him, and he finally went to sleep.

While he was sleeping, I put Veronica back up on the shelf. I don’t want her to get wet and dirty on a day like this. I sat by Mama on the wagon seat. “Am I selfish because I don’t let Dylan play with Veronica?”

Mama said, “I think you’re trying to take care of something that is precious to you. That’s not being selfish. You’re good to your brother.” That made me feel a little better. I love Dylan to pieces, but a baby could ruin a doll.

Today is Sunday, but we couldn’t have preaching because it was too wet. Folks rode in the wagons instead of walking alongside. That made the train very slow because of the heavier load and because of the mud. At times, it seemed like we were hardly moving. Most of the time, folks get down and walk along. That makes the load lighter for those of us who have mules instead of oxen.

Mama and I were going out of our minds with boredom. We played games, naming all the birds we could think of and then all the different kinds of trees we could think of. We told riddles. Then, I got an idea. When Dylan was taking his nap, I got my copy of Little Women and read it aloud. Mama loved it.

She said, “I read Little Women when I was a girl, Teddy. Beth was always my favorite. She’s the one who played the piano so beautifully.” There we were, under an oilcloth, in the rain, driving a team of mules, headed for Florida. But as I read, we both felt like we were actually in the story. Have you read it, Martha? The story is about four sisters: Jo, Amy, Beth, and Meg. Their father is a chaplain during The War Between the States. Jo is my favorite character because she loves to write so much (but sometimes she has a bad temper), and she’s a tomboy and loves adventure, just like I do.

Now, I’m reading two books at once: Tom Sawyer, which Miss Melman is reading aloud to us, and Little Women, which I am reading aloud to Mama. So today wasn’t a total loss with all the rain. Mama and I have a book to share.

Another good thing is that we caught rainwater in buckets. Pap and all the men filled their canteens. You never know when we might not have a stream or a river or a spring to camp near. Water is precious. We collect it wherever we can. Rainwater is like gold.

I have still been thinking of getting a dog. A dog would be a good companion. But we’re on the move almost every day, driving from one place to the next.
How will a dog ever find me?



This recipe is slap-your-mama good! Get ready for a quick go-to snack. It’s perfect for lunches, too, and lasts forever in your fridge if you don’t go on too many middle-of-the-night food raids. Easy, easy, easy. Every time I bring a tray of sandwiches to a school or church function, my popularity level soars. I know everybody and his brother has a favorite recipe for pimento cheese, but this is the best I’ve ever tasted. I would not lie. Okay, I’ve been known to lie, but this is still the best. You’ll see.

Start with 2 cups of grated sharp cheddar cheese. You can use fine. This is a medium grate. Grate your own or use the bagged kind like I did. 


You’ll need 2 cups (16 oz.) of Velveeta cheese. Don’t substitute another brand. This is the gold standard. 


Grate the Velveeta cheese onto a paper plate. There is no need to use the finest grate. Use the larger grate, as it literally melts into the recipe.


Velveeta is a bit messy to grate, but keep on mashing until it all goes through the grater. Put that in the bowl with the cheddar cheese. Eat all the little bits of Velveeta that stick to the paper plate. No one’s looking.


Open a 4 oz. jar of pimentos. Some people like more. This is the perfect size for my family. You can use sliced or diced. The sliced are a little larger than diced. I used sliced.


Pimentos are sweet red cherry peppers packed in their own juices or olive oil. Their delicious flavor is what makes the cheese so special. 


Drain the pimentos.


Add them to the bowl.


Add 1 cup mayonnaise…


…and a few grinds of freshly ground pepper. If you’re not a pepper fan, leave it out. I happen to love the fresh taste.


Stir the mixture well. The Velveeta blends everything together. Mmmmm. Good.


And…there you have it. You now have enough pimento cheese to spread on everything you like: crackers, bread, rolls, celery, or your finger, for that matter. Pimento-cheese sandwiches are divine. You can spread them up, wrap them individually, pack them in your refrigerator in a spot where no one else would look…and you’ve got lunch in an instant. No kidding. Pimento cheese will last at least two or three weeks in your fridge.

I divided mine in half and shared it with my daughter and her family. Maybe she’ll be so happy she’ll forget the slapping part.




Dear Martha,

Something terrible happened today. Hallie Good, Minnie’s little sister, had a terrible accident, something I just warned about in my last letter. 
While the caravan was moving, she was sitting too near the back of their wagon and tumbled out to the ground. The fall broke her arm, and the wagon behind the Good’s wagon had to turn quickly to keep from running her over. Travis Lark rode to tell the pushers, and the whole train stopped. All the grownups came to look, even Captain Walsh.
Mama didn’t want me to go, but I said, “Mama, I have to go! It’s Hallie!” So she let me.
Hallie’s arm was broken bad. This part will be hard to read, Martha. Mrs. Carter, our neighbor, and her husband had to set Hallie’s arm. It was terribly painful. Hallie cried something awful. I wanted them to stop. They finally lined up her bones. That was a relief. Then, Mrs. Carter wrapped her arm with a long, rolled-up bandage. While she wrapped it, Mr. Carter heated a little pot of wax over the campfire. He used a paintbrush to paint Hallie’s arm bandage all over with a thick coat of wax. While the wax was still soft, Mrs. Carter put a long, smooth, wooden splint alongside Hallie’s arm.
Then, she wrapped it again with another long bandage, and Mr. Carter painted it again with the wet wax. Soon, Hallie’s arm was as snug as a bug in a rug.
Captain Walsh said, “You are a brave girl,” and gave her a silver dollar. She’s the only kid I know with a silver dollar. I hope she lets us look at it up close. I’ve never had a silver dollar of my own.
Now, Hallie has to wear a sling to keep her arm still. Mrs. Carter gave her a tincture to help with the pain. I hope I never break my arm, that’s for sure.
Pap rode up in the wagon with me this afternoon. Mama went to take her first piano lesson, and I had to watch Dylan. I can’t watch a baby who squirms all the time and drive the team, so Pap drove, and I held Dylan on my lap. I like it when Pap is driving our wagon. He whistles a lot and tells stories.
“Teddy,” he said, “what do you think of our trip so far?” I said, “I don’t know. It’s fun.”
Pap said, “I see you writing all the time. What are you writing?”
I told him about writing to you. He said, “When I was a boy, I don’t think I wrote a single letter. I didn’t have anyone to write to. We didn’t know our kinfolk. The only other Bodain I’d heard about was a cousin, Daniel Bodain, who lived near Micanopy, Florida. I would have liked to have known him.”
I like it when Pap tells me about our family.
“My father died when I was about your age. I had to grow up quick. Be a man. Help my mama like my father had.
I put new hinges on our cabin door. I learned to hunt and fish to put food on the table. I plowed the field and helped Mama bring in all the crops.”
“How did you learn to do all that?” I asked.
“Just by doing. You can learn anything if you need to.”
I told him about my slingshot. “That’s a handy skill to have. Are you any good?”
I said, “Not yet, but I’m practicing.” I want to get good at it. Maybe I can help Pap put food on the table.
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Dear Martha,
We had fresh fish for breakfast this morning. I’ve never tasted anything so good.
Last evening, we camped by a river. Pap and I went fishing. He cut two bamboo
poles and strung them with line while I caught crickets. The fish were biting! As fast
as I could bait my hook, there was a bluegill on the line.
Pap said, “Teddy, if you know how to fish with next to nothing, you’ll never
go hungry. See how I cut these poles? Bamboo grows all over. You just have to
look for it growing near water. I keep a length of fishing line in my pocket, but you
can use string or thread or whatever you have handy. I’ve caught a fish on my boot
string before.”
I said, “And it wasn’t hard to catch crickets. I just swooped my hand through
the tall grass and looked for whatever tried to hop away.”
Pap said, “Most fish like to bite when the sun is just coming up or going down.
They get hungry, just like we do, and a cricket looks mighty good. You can use
anything for bait: worms, minnows, crickets.”
I said, “Did you fish when you were a boy?”
Pap said, “All the time. Me and my dog, Darby. He went everywhere I went.”
I thought about that. “I’d like to get a dog.”
Pap said, “That’s a fine idea.” I thought it was a fine idea, too. Why hadn’t
I thought of it before?
I said, “Where would I get a dog? We’re on the move all the time.”
Pap said, “At the right time, a dog will find you.”
We caught 13 bluegill. Pap strung them together by running the line through
their gills. He slipped the fish back down in the river to keep them alive and tied
the line to a big rock. I used a chalky rock to write BODAIN on the big rock, so folks
from the train would know they were our fish if they came to the same spot. Pap
went back early this morning to clean the fish with his knife.
“Always bury the heads and guts,” he said. “Never leave a mess behind.”
Now, this morning, I fried the fish over our campfire. Mama was feeding Dylan,
but she told me what to do. I dipped the fish in cornmeal and fried them in our big
black skillet in lard. When they were brown on one side, I turned them over on the
other side. I made a pot of grits, and that was our breakfast. Mama said I did as good
a job as any grown woman.
One thing about being in a wagon train: you have to do everything, or as much
as you can, while the train is rolling or in the little time before we leave in the
morning or before the sun goes down when we stop to camp. In the morning, Mama
puts our clothes to soak in buckets of river water and hangs them on the side of the
wagon. Then, in the afternoon, she scrubs them on a board, rinses them, and hangs
them on a line Pap strings beside our wagon for the night.
It’s my job to redd up the wagon each day. Once we get rolling, I shake out our
featherbed and roll it up. I fold the blankets and Pap’s quilts. Then, I sweep the floor
and set up Dylan’s playpen. Mama and Pap made it before we left. It’s almost as big
as the center of the wagon. Dylan can play with his blocks and toys while we are on
the move. A wagon can be dangerous for a baby because the back is open, and he
might tumble out. Sometimes, Miss Emily invites Dylan over, and he and Lucy play
together in her playpen.
Dylan is getting so smart. He calls me “Taddy,” and he can name some of the
animals in my picture book. But one thing upsets me. He ALWAYS wants to play
with Veronica. When he sees me take her out, he screams, “Ronnie! Ronnie!” and
tries to reach her. She is too beautiful and delicate for a baby to play with.




         At a recent primary-writing workshop, I shared my 3-D alphabet card idea with the teachers at Pinecrest Elementary in Immokalee, Florida, and first-grade bilingual teacher Kasandra Gallegos took the ball and ran with it. To my delight, she shared these darling pictures of her first-grade students in their word lineups upon my return visit. I felt like dancing the Texas two-step! This is the kind of hands-on, interactive learning all children need for long-term retention.


            To help her students master vocabulary words in English, she made photo FLASHCARDS, engaging her students as the cardholders and actors in the pictures. The children acted out the meanings of the words and did a lot of laughing and congratulating each other. They received sets of the flashcard words to keep at their desks as resources for reading and writing. The best news: Kasandra said EVERY CHILD in her class COULD NOW READ AND SPELL THESE WORDS! This is the kind of Teacher Spectacular we need in all of our bilingual primary classes. Olé! Trabajo bien hecho!


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Dear Martha,
We have been on the road for 25 days. We left on February 22nd. That means
we’ve traveled over 200 miles. I have never been so far from home before. Pap says
our journey will be 1,000 miles. Our next big stop is Dothan, where we will buy
most of our supplies.
Alabama is like one big pine forest. Everywhere you look are the tallest trees,
towering overhead like giants. We have passed a lot of farms. The people come out
to wave us on. I’m sure we make a curious sight, a train of big, covered wagons, and
people and animals walking along beside it. I feel like we are on a great adventure.
Folks must know we are homesteading, because sometimes they call out, “Where
you headed?”
Captain Walsh calls, “Florida!”
Then, they yell, “Good luck!” or “Don’t let the gators get you!”
One man shouted, “There’s rich land down that-a-ways.” I’m sure Pap was glad
to hear that.
We spotted a cardinal this morning. Mama said, “A redbird! Good morning,
Mr. Redbird!” She pointed to a brown bird who fluttered and landed on a bush near
the cardinal. “That’s his mate. See? She’s brown, but she sings just as sweetly.”
I hope we have cardinals in Florida, or Mama is going to be very disappointed.
Today, we had school again. We had a spelling bee. We did really well, so as a
reward, Miss Melman started reading Tom Sawyer. We flipped a coin to see whether
we would read Alice in Wonderland or Tom Sawyer first. Well, the coin was “heads,”
so we started with Tom Sawyer. I was secretly glad, even though Miss Melman chose
that book as the boys’ book. She read aloud to us for almost an hour. I can already
tell that it’s going to be the best book ever.
She read the part about Tom having to whitewash Aunt Polly’s fence as
punishment for skipping school. He tricked the rest of his friends into whitewashing
the fence for him. He acted like whitewashing was the best fun a kid could have.
When his friends came by to watch him work, he went on and on about how much
fun he was having. They actually paid him to let them take turns whitewashing
his aunt’s fence. When the fence was whitewashed (in record time!), Tom had a
pocketful of money. He was so clever.
We moaned when Miss Melman stopped reading and said, “That’s all for today.”
Guess what? Travis Lark is teaching me how to use a slingshot. I’ve never
owned one before, but Travis had an extra strip of rubber, and he cut a sling for me.
I still think he feels bad for taking my marbles. This afternoon we stopped to let the
animals drink at a wide stream. Travis told me to search for small, smooth stones to
use as ammunition. I filled my pockets with them. 
He cut a thin branch fork, shaped like the letter “y,” from a hickory tree growing near
the stream. He wound the strip of rubber around each of the forks of the “y.” Man, can
that thing shoot! Martha, hickory wood doesn’t bend much, so it makes a perfect
slingshot. I put a small stone in the center of the rubber sling, pulled it back, took aim,
and let her fly. I can shoot far! We practiced the rest of the afternoon, shooting at
targets along the way. I’m going to practice every day. I still don’t have any aim.



Fourth-grade teacher Dana L. Scippo, from Littleton Elementary in North Fort Myers, FL came up with a great SCHOOLWIDE idea called “Sparkle Words.” A team of teachers creates a list of sizzling, picturesque “sparkle words” and prints them in large typeface on beautiful sparkle paper, which you can buy at a craftstore or a scrapbooking store. These are displayed all around the school. Each day (or each week, if you prefer), classroom teachers appoint a Sparkle Spotter from their classes to look for and choose one sparkle word to bring back to the classroom. Teachers add these words to their word walls, writing lessons, vocabulary displays, etc. What an awesome way to involve the whole school! Send us photos of how you implement this idea at your school so we can post them here! 


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Dear Martha,

So many good things have happened to me in the last three days, I can hardly take it all in. When Mama came back from town this morning, she had a package for me. Inside were three pencils, a pencil sharpener, an eraser, two tablets of paper, a box of envelopes, and four candles. I almost fell over. Three pencils, all at once! What a windfall. She said, “It’s an early birthday present. You’ve always got your nose in a letter, writing with nubs of pencils, and trying to see by stubby little candles.” She put her hand under my chin and said, “I’m proud that you are a writer. Keep it up.” Great buckets of butterbeans! Mama is proud of me.

Yesterday, Mama made a johnny cake for our lunch. She made an extra one, and she asked me to take it to Miss Melman. It was her way of saying thank you for sharing her tickets. Then today, Miss Melman walked along with the train and caught up with our wagon. She gathered her skirts and climbed right up on the seat with Mama.

Mama smiled when she saw Miss Melman had come for a visit.

“I’m having to walk extra today because that johnny cake you made was so good, I ate every bite of it. Thank you kindly,” Miss Melman said.

I was feeding Dylan right behind them in the wagon, so I could hear their talk. I wanted to be out there so bad, but I knew I had better stay right where I was. Mama left all her friends behind in Mississippi. It was nice that Miss Melman had come to call.

Mama said, “We had the best time at the opera house. I thank you again for inviting us.”

Miss Melman said, “I’ve been thinking, Mrs. Bodain. I know you love music. Theodosia tells me you’ve always wanted to learn how to play the piano.”

Tarnation. I didn’t mean for her to go and tell Mama what I said.

But Mama said, “I’ve considered it, yes. But I never had a piano.”

Miss Melman said, “Well, I’ve come to suggest a trade. I hate to admit it, Mrs. Bodain, but I have no cooking experience to speak of. Somehow, I’ve gotten by with not cooking all of my life. I lived at home, where we had a cook, and then I attended college, where we took our meals in a cafeteria. I’ve lived in boarding houses, where the food was provided. But now that I’m going to live on my own in Florida....”

Mama said, “You’ll need to know how to cook.”

Miss Melman said, “It’s a bit embarrassing, I’m afraid. Would you teach me, Mrs. Bodain? Theodosia tells me you are a terrific cook. I can tell from the johnny cake you sent over that she’s right.”

Mama said. “That girl runs her mouth too much. But yes, I’ll teach you.”

Miss Melman sounded excited. “Then, I’ll teach you to play the piano.” Mama must have looked shocked, because Miss Melman said, “Yes, I will. You can learn on my piano in the last wagon. By the time we reach your new home in Florida, you’ll be able to play most hymns and a few solo pieces.”

Mama said, “Do you think so, Miss Melman?”

Miss Melman said, “I certainly do. And please call me Cassie.”

Mama said, “It would give me something to look forward to. I get so tired of sitting up here on this seat all day, bouncing around, following the wagon in front. Maybe Teddy—Theodosia—would watch Dylan for me while we have lessons.”

Martha, I couldn’t help myself. I shouted, “I WILL!”

Mama called, “Are you back there listening to our talk?” But she wasn’t mad. “We’ve got a trade,” she told Miss Melman. “And please call me Grace.”

I am so happy when a good thing happens for Mama.


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Dear Martha,

I wish you could have been with me for the performance of The Pirates of Penzance. The Grand Opera House was a sight. It had carved balconies, artistic silhouettes painted on the ceiling, gold-covered drama and comedy masks, velvet curtains, and plush, upholstered seats. It looked like something out of a picture postcard. I now know that the reason they call it “The Grand Opera House” is because it is very grand, indeed.

Miss Melman told us that the operetta would be funny, and she was not kidding.

We spent the afternoon laughing. I never knew what I’ve been missing.

The story is about a man, Frederick, who has grown up as an apprentice to a group of pirates. The pirates like to think that they are fierce, but they are really a bunch of marshmallows.

Frederick has to work for the pirates until he turns 21 years of age, which he has. He tries to leave their company, but at the last minute, just before he is to marry the beautiful Mabel, the pirates inform him that he was born on leap year, February 29th, and that he has only had five birthdays. That means that in their eyes, he is only five years old, not 21. But in the end, it all turns out well, and Frederick gets to marry Mabel.

We laughed at so many things during the performance, my sides hurt. The pirates acted crazy and swung out over the audience on ropes. One pirate winked at me and dropped a beautiful pink rose in my lap.

He was very handsome. I winked back, and Mama pinched me.

She whispered, “Don’t be fresh.”

Oh! Mama just doesn’t understand me sometimes. I was just getting into the spirit of the play.

The women’s costumes were made of the finest silks and satins in bright yellow, red, blue, coral, turquoise, and purple. They were exquisite and stylish. During the intermission, I heard Miss Melman and Mama discussing the styles and fabrics. I never knew Mama was interested in those kinds of things. Great day in the morning!

Another feature that was incredible was the orchestra. There were at least 25 musicians, all dressed in fine black evening clothes. I’ve heard Pap play the fiddle before, but this was nothing like that. During the second intermission, Miss Melman took me forward to look in the orchestra pit. She pointed out the cello, viola, oboe, clarinet, trumpet, French horn, flute, piccolo, and the kettle drums. There were others, but I forget what all they were. I’ve never seen so many instruments in one place.

The man who is the piano player came over to speak to Miss Melman.

He said, “I see you used your tickets. I’m glad to see you here.”

Miss Melman introduced me as her student. The piano player said, “Well, Theodosia, what do you think of our production of The Pirates of Penzance?”

I said, “I think it’s spectacular.”

He said, “Then, please come backstage after the performance and meet the cast.”

Mama was impressed that we were allowed to go backstage when the musical was over. I met the pirate who gave me the pink rose, the pirate who had winked at me. Mama was standing beside me.

He said, “I’m glad you brought your sister with you to meet the cast.”

Mama blushed! I bet she secretly likes handsome pirates, too.

I want to be a singer when I grow up and star in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. I will never forget this day for as long as I live. The only thing that would have made it better is if you had been there, too.