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Authors: Gary Paulsen

Sarny

BOOK: Sarny
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Praise for
Sarny
A Life Remembered

An NCSS-CBC Notable Children’s Trade Book in
the Field of Social Studies

An American Library Association Quick Pick

“A great read, with characters both to hate and to cherish, and a rich sense of what it really was like then.”


Booklist
, Starred

“It’s a moving tale, made more so by Sarny’s clipped, matter-of-fact voice—utterly distinct, with strength and determination shining through every line.”


Kirkus Reviews

“Sarny is a noble character who carries Paulsen’s message of the power of literacy.”


Publishers Weekly

“Sarny is a wonderful, believable character. Her story makes absorbing reading.”


School Library Journal

I never looked back.

Left that place, left the buildings and the field, left Waller dying in the dirt and the white women in the house and never once looked back. The other slaves—no, free people—would have to take care of themselves now. Bluecoats coming, bringing freedom to everyone, sweeping clean all the dirt there was, but I didn’t look back.

Had to find my children.

ALSO AVAILABLE IN LAUREL-LEAF BOOKS:

NIGHTJOHN
,
Gary Paulsen
BRIAN’S WINTER
,
Gary Paulsen
THE WINTER ROOM
,
Gary Paulsen
THE CROSSING
,
Gary Paulsen
THE RIVER
,
Gary Paulsen
SUNSHINE RIDER
,
Ric Lynden Hardman
THE HOUSE YOU PASS ON THE WAY
,
Jacqueline Woodson
I HADN’T MEANT TO TELL YOU THIS
,
Jacqueline Woodson
SHARK BAIT
,
Graham Salisbury
THE UNPROTECTED WITNESS
,
James Stevenson

Published by
Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers
a division of
Random House, Inc.
1540 Broadway
New York, New York 10036

Copyright © 1997 by Gary Paulsen
Frontispiece © 1997 by Jerry Pinkney

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. For information address Delacorte Press, New York, New York 10036.

The trademark Laurel-Leaf Library
®
is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The trademark Dell
®
is registered in die U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

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eISBN: 978-0-307-80423-5

RL: 4.3

v3.1

also for Sally Hemings

Contents
Beginning words, 1930

It’s quiet now, so quiet sometimes it seems like everything is covered with layers of soft dust so thick the sound can’t come through. Must have been fifteen, no, sixteen years since I could hear much more than a hum. Back when I was my Biblical age limit. Eighty years old.

I am ninety now, ninety and just exactly four. I’ve been in this home must be fourteen years waiting for something. I’m not sure what it is I’m waiting for. Maybe to die and to go see Delie and Nightjohn again because I get to missing them more now that I’m getting on. Not old, now—just getting on. I learned that when I was twenty and eight—how not to say old when speaking of a lady. Just getting on. Woman taught me that had the name of Miss Laura and she lived in a fancy house in New Orleans where men came and went. I
cleaned the house and helped her when I was there after my children. Before she passed on she told me so many things I’m still digging them out of my thoughts like parsnips left in the ground all winter and dug up fresh in the spring.

Once a week a doctor he comes into my room and he looks and he smiles and he pokes here and pokes there and says something to me. I smile at him and nod and he nods back and leaves me for another week and I don’t have a single idea of what he says but it don’t matter. He’s young and he means to help and what he says don’t count as much as how he gets to saying it. I know he cares and that’s all that signifies.

I like that word. Signifies. I’ve used it a lot, what with living and all. When I married the first time I said to him, “Martin, this marriage signifies that we’re bound for life.” And he agreed, though I’m certain as day that he didn’t know what the word meant until later when I told him. And he meant it because even though we were still slaves he married me with a minister with our heads in the big bowl and he was my only until they worked him to death. My first husband. Died when he was twenty and seven. Worked down and broke and died just two years before Lincoln’s war it made us free.

Sometimes I miss Martin too. Big hands, deep laugh. Once I saw him laugh so hard he slammed his hand down on a cast-iron stove lid and broke it. But gentle. Oh my, so gentle. He could pull a splinter out of my finger and I didn’t even feel it and there were other times when he would pick me up just like I was a feather and … well, no mind to that. Not in somebody ninety and four years old. Been sixty years, well, forty truth be told, since I thought of any man lifting me like a feather. Shame
on
me for thinking about it now. Well, not too much shame. The brain don’t know it gets old. That Miss Laura she told me about that—said a grandmother’s body has the same brain as a young girl. Body gets old but the brain won’t admit it and there you be groaning and bending and making old sounds when you get up and you look in the mirror and your brain won’t let you see you’re old. Just be a young thing looking back at you and you put a little on this wrinkle and a little on that and forget you’re sixty and three. Try to be twenty and seven in your mind.

Don’t get me started on that, getting old. I’ve seen too much, done too much to feel old. Old is for them that sits and I never could be one to sit.

I tried to explain things to the nice young girl that wheels me out into the sun of an afternoon.
She couldn’t be a day over forty and three. But she smiles like the doctor smiles and cares and nods and we just stay in our own worlds.

She’s the same girl that changes the flowers of a week. I think she picks them out on the grounds because I’ve seen holes in the flower beds but Lord, they smell so sweet I don’t care are they stolen. Just about everything else on me is worn and broke down but my nose still works and what the smell of flowers can do for the little girl in my brain would make you dance to see it.

It’s not bad here. You have to wait somewhere when you’re looking to go visit old friends and it’s warm here outside Dallas, especially when the sun comes in the white windows on the east side over my bed. ’Course I’m working all the time, working on my memories and of a time my grandson Carlisle who was from Tyler comes by. He’s fifty and four though it don’t seem possible that a person still drawing breath can have a grandson fifty and four and I don’t think I’ve seen him in over a year, maybe a year and a month.

It was him to tell me to write some of this down. “Write it all down,” he said. “Much as you can know. Someday people will want to read it, read it all.” Sounded like Nightjohn, all over again, and so I do. The girl who does
the flowers brings me notebooks and a pencil and I’ve been writing all this year when my fingers ain’t stiff and lazy. Got me a pile of pages, must be thicker than two fists. I was always one to talk a lot and I guess it just comes into the writing the same as speaking.

Ain’t that something? That a sprite everybody looked right over, clean over the top when they were busy to see something, would be the one to live and live and write it all down.

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