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The Plum Thicket

The Plum Thicket

Janice Holt Giles
Foreword by Dianne Watkins
Copyright Date: 1954
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    The Plum Thicket
    Book Description:

    Janice Holt Giles had a life before her marriage and writing career in Kentucky. Born in Altus, Arkansas, Giles spent many childhood summers visiting her grandparents there. After the success of her historical novelThe Kentuckiansin 1953, she planned to write a second frontier romance. But a visit to Altus caused her imagination to drift from Kentucky in 1780 to western Arkansas in 1913.

    At age forty-eight -- the same age as Giles at the writing of the novel -- the heroine Katie Rogers recalls her first visit alone to her grandparent's home in Stanwick, Arkansas. Eight-year-old Katie spends her summer climbing the huge mulberry tree and walking with her wise grandfather, a veteran of bloody Shiloh. She is fascinated, not frightened, by the grave of an unknown child in the nearby plum thicket. Throughout the visit Katie helps Aunt Maggie plan her wedding and looks forward to the three-day Confederate Reunion. But the Reunion -- and the summer -- end violently, as guilt, repression, and miscegenation are unearthed. "That summer was the end of a whole way of life," Katie realizes, for she can never again dwell in the paradise of childhood.

    In Katie Rogers, Giles voiced her own lament for "the beautiful and the unrecoverable past." To her publisher Giles wrote, "Out of my forty-odd years of living, much of whatever wisdom I have acquired has been distilled into this book." This new edition ofThe Plum Thicketgives Giles's many fans a powerful, moving glimpse into the mind and heart of this beloved author.

    Janice Holt Giles(1905-1979), author of nineteen books, lived and wrote near Knifley, Kentucky, for thirty-four years. Her biography is told inJanice Holt Giles: A Writer's Life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5680-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Foreword
    (pp. v-x)

    In late summer 1953, Janice Holt Giles sat down to write her second historical novel. But instead of imagining a sturdy pioneer woman in Kentucky in 1780, the author kept seeing a little girl in western Arkansas in 1913. Rather than Indian wars and settlers’ forts, she saw an old man in a battered gray uniform hoisting the Confederate flag to lead a reunion parade.

    Earlier that summer, two events combined to stimulate the writer’s creativity toward the second story. On their way to visit her mother in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Janice and Henry Giles decided to detour through the...

  3. One
    (pp. 1-7)

    Last summer I went back to Stanwick.

    The town looked different. It was smaller, more cramped. The business section had never been longer than three blocks, but somehow they had shrunk into very short blocks now, and the buildings seemed crowded together and meager. I drove into town from the north, down the wide, white-paved highway. Small, neat suburban homes extended farther out along the road than I would have expected, but it was still only a very short way from the most distant of them to the heart of the town. So short a distance in fact that I...

  4. Two
    (pp. 8-25)

    To begin, I know so much about what happened that summer because of several things. First, it was in part because of the freedom which parents of that day allowed their children. We did not run on schedule. Children were part of a family, with no special timetable of their own. I was allowed to go places, stay up later at night, participate in many affairs, be present on many occasions, which would horrify the mothers of today. There were no baby-sitters, and while there were servants, it was rarely a mother’s attitude that her children would be left to...

  5. Three
    (pp. 26-36)

    I must try to describe the house and its grounds carefully. I wish I could do it unsentimentally, but I know of course that my memories of it are colored by my great love for it.

    Grandmother called the place Four Chimneys, but she was the only one who ever spoke of it so. Grandfather had no patience with giving names to places. He said it was a lot of fol-de-rol. To the rest of us, it was simply the farm, the house, the place; but whatever we called it, and however we spoke of it, it was here that...

  6. Four
    (pp. 37-47)

    I saved the mulberry tree for the last. I wanted to wait there for Aunt Maggie. All morning I had run, dipping like a bee in a flower garden into the remembered sweets of the place. I had been to the pasture and had seen the new calf, a red and white spotted one, still wobbly on its legs, had patted and smoothed and hugged it. The cow had watched us thoughtfully, but not apprehensively or nervously as a younger mother might have done. She had had a good many calves and I suppose she had learned, as has a...

  7. Five
    (pp. 48-62)

    The sun awakened me the next morning, shining in a broad band across my bed. Drowsily I threw back the sheet, feeling too warm. Something crackled and I came wide awake, sat up and looked about. Aunt Maggie’s bed was empty, the covers thrown back to air. The room was empty, too. When I moved to get out of bed I heard the crackling noise again, and then I found Aunt Maggie’s note pinned to my sheet. “Hurry! We are having pancakes and strawberry jam for breakfast.”

    I remembered it was Sunday morning, and Sunday morning was very special. It...

  8. Six
    (pp. 63-80)

    Grandmother bathed my hand the next morning, for on Monday Aunt Maggie had to be at the post office very early. It was the heaviest mail day of the week, naturally. I watched her dress and then trailed downstairs after her. The hand was still sore and stiff, but it no longer throbbed as painfully as it had the day before. We found Grandmother in her room. “Mother, you won’t forget Katie’s hand, will you?”

    Grandmother was stripping the linen from the beds. She was very trim and tidy in her housedress. She never wore colors. Her dresses were always...

  9. Seven
    (pp. 81-93)

    Tuesday was such a busy day. It began at breakfast with Grandmother, pencil in hand, consulting Aunt Maggie about dinner for the doctor. We had finished except for the last bites of jam and biscuits. “Margaret, let me talk to you about the menu for tonight.”

    “I haven’t much time, Mother.”

    “It will only take a moment. Shall we have chicken or guinea? The young guineas would be fine, I think.”

    Grandfather raised his eyebrows, but the chickens, guineas and turkeys about the place were her province, so he said nothing. “They’re so small to kill, don’t you think?” Aunt...

  10. Eight
    (pp. 94-108)

    My hand continued to improve rapidly, as frequently those local infections which flare up so suddenly and so threateningly will do. All at once the danger is over and within a day or two there is little evidence it has ever existed. The doctor had come on Wednesday, but he had then said the hand was doing nicely and he wouldn’t need to see it again. “By the end of the week,” he had told Aunt Maggie “you can leave the bandage off.”

    It was on Friday, I remember, that the bandage was first left off and my hand felt...

  11. Nine
    (pp. 109-121)

    I think it must have been about two weeks before I went to the camp meeting with Lulie and Choctaw. Time has so little meaning to a child. It is like a river flowing, with no beginning and no end. There are, of course, the long times, such as the year between birthdays and Christmases, time which stretches out so interminably that it is almost beyond conception. And there were short times, such as waiting for Aunt Maggie to finish dressing, or for Grandmother to set dinner on the table, or for Grandfather to hoe to the end of a...

  12. Ten
    (pp. 122-137)

    Lulie wore a green silk dress that night, as green as a greengage plum. “I likes pretty clothes,” she had told me once. “I likes silk next to me. I likes the way it feels, smooth and nice, like my skin.” And she held out her arm for me to feel. I had run my fingers from her wrist to her elbow, and her skin was smooth, but it hadn’t the feeling of silk, I had thought. It wasn’t so slippery and yielding. It was more like the firm surface of metal. It felt gold, as if it had been...

  13. Eleven
    (pp. 138-151)

    I awakened slowly the next morning, with a drugged feeling of having slept either too long or not enough. Half opening my eyes, and turning in the bed, I saw that the light in the room was dim and gray. It was very early, I thought. The sun was not yet up. I closed my eyes again and hid my nose in the pillow. Something bothered me, though, something different about the day. I raised up and looked over at Aunt Maggie’s bed. It was already made, the counterpane smooth and straight and the bolster in place. Things began to...

  14. Twelve
    (pp. 152-158)

    Choctaw and I went fishing the next morning. As usual on Monday Lulie was washing and I was stalking her heels, helping or hindering depending upon one’s point of view. Lulie always made me feel as if I were helping. She gave me small chores to do, let me splash around in the water, never told me I was in the way or to watch out I was getting wet. She talked to me, or listened to me talk, by the hour. I told her things that, as close as I felt to my mother and father, and to Aunt...

  15. Thirteen
    (pp. 159-174)

    By the middle of the week following the rain Choctaw was able to start having the cotton hoed. He was having it done this year by a family of Negroes who had moved recently to a little farm across the creek in the bottoms. “They worked for Mister Adam last year,” he told Grandfather, “and he said they were good workers … steady, he said, and you could count on ’em.”

    “How many of them are there?”

    “There’s the man, William, and the woman, and they got six children big enough to help, three of ’em nearly grown.”

    “They ought...

  16. Fourteen
    (pp. 175-194)

    It was on the Fourth of July that we had the battle and the barbecue and the fireworks. Five weeks of the summer had gone, and when I took stock, counting back and then counting ahead to what was left, I was uncomforted by the fact that twice as many weeks remained to me. “Nearly ten weeks, Katie,” Aunt Maggie said, “that’s a long, long time.”

    It did seem long … ten weeks, from Sunday to Sunday, and yet, knowing how swiftly the past five weeks had gone, I felt dismay. I had the feeling I must hurry and have...

  17. Fifteen
    (pp. 195-205)

    I seem to be remembering that summer largely by its events. But that is always the way. Remembering is mostly recalling events, for we seem unable to catalogue emotions and processes of thought otherwise. They have a way of floating off into thin air unless they are anchored to what was happening. One says, “My first remembered emotion was fear,” and what does that tell. But if one says, “I was afraid of the little boy who lived across the street when I was a child. My first memory is of seeing him coming down the street and of running...

  18. Sixteen
    (pp. 206-213)

    I did not go to the baptizing with Lulie and Choctaw, however. At first Aunt Maggie had said I might, but on Saturday evening she changed her mind. She and Grandfather and I had been to the ball game that afternoon and we had come home very hot and sticky and dirty. We had also come home very jubilant because we had won again. Grandfather was now positive our troubles were over. The new pitcher, Gorchek, had seemed to give the whole team fresh spirit and even when he didn’t pitch they played better. “We’ve got ’em licked, now,” he...

  19. Seventeen
    (pp. 214-225)

    When I remember the Negro baptizing that Sunday afternoon it is with mixed feelings. I cannot help having a certain tenderness for that little girl who was so earnest, who carried such a disproportionately large burden of worry, and who felt no ludicrousness at all, at the time, about what she did. At the same time I remember it with much amusement. Itwasfunny. As an adolescent I was terribly ashamed of it. I carried the memory of it around with me, hidden well out of sight most of the time, recalling it only to wince blushingly at my...

  20. Eighteen
    (pp. 226-232)

    I stuck stubbornly to my story, first with Aunt Maggie and Adam, and then with Grandfather and Grandmother. No one could shake it at all. “I just wanted to be baptized with Lulie,” I said, over and over again. Aunt Maggie and Adam had let it go at that and I had been taken home immediately to be dried out. Adam had let us out at the gate without coming in himself. “I’ll be over after supper,” he had told Aunt Maggie, but engrossed with me she had simply nodded and scurried me and my dripping apparel down the walk...

  21. Nineteen
    (pp. 233-237)

    What, if anything, was said to Lulie by Aunt Maggie or Grandmother about the baptizing I don’t know. But I do know that Lulie herself had plenty to say to me the next morning. I was allowed to sleep late and Aunt Maggie had already gone to work, Grandmother was busy and Grandfather already out about the place when I breakfasted. Lulie lit into me like a house afire. It was not, however, because she had been scolded or made to feel uncomforable. It was because she had had time to ponder the whole affair and she was highly indignant...

  22. Twenty
    (pp. 238-249)

    Aunt Maggie had been right, of course, about the way the townspeople would take the baptizing. There was quite a bit of teasing about it, a lot in fact, and while it was all good-humored and I had sense enough to realize that, I didn’t enjoy it much just the same. I particularly felt foolish now that I knew it had not been necessary. I grew very tired of having everyone I met for a few days stop, look at me with twinkling eyes and begin chuckling. Inevitably they said the same thing, “Well, well, Katie … hear you’ve turned...

  23. Twenty-One
    (pp. 250-255)

    There could not have been a more perfect day than the Monday on which the Reunion began. It was hot, of course, but that was to be expected in August. The important thing was that the skies were clear and sunny and there was not even a hint of rain. Rain would have been catastrophic, but no one really worried much about it, for in all the history of the Reunion it had never been know to rain on Opening Day. On the second day, yes, occasionally there had been showers, but it was as if the opening day had...

  24. Twenty-Two
    (pp. 256-266)

    The second day of the Reunion was never quite as glittering and exciting as the first. That was only natural, of course, for the peak had been reached. But it had its own merits in a kind of relaxed, happy enjoyment of the day. The tension of the opening day had passed and there seemed to be a slower flow of time. It was more like a big gathering of home folks, and a slow drifting of visitors from one group to another. Each family staked out a place for itself under one of the big trees, and the out-of-town...

  25. Twenty-Three
    (pp. 267-272)

    Even now as I must write these words my pen falters. I did not realize when I began that recalling all of the details could still be so painful. I had thought the years had had their way with the grief. But I find the tears falling freshly now, my words blurring, the paper spotting.

    Aunt Maggie recovered something of her composure as she bathed and dressed. I remember that once again she wore the lilac lawn, but that instead of the girdle which matched the dress, she wound a deep purple velvet sash about her waist, tucked it in...

  26. Twenty-Four
    (pp. 273-279)

    If they thought I did not understand many of the details of what went on the next day, they were right; but I was there … that fact was inescapable. And I took in a great deal more than they thought I did, and more than I myself realized at the time. I know that many people came and went during the day; that shocked as they were, even horrified, kindly women brought in food, and offered to give me shelter. I remember my own fear that I would be made to go with one of them, and how I...

  27. Twenty-Five
    (pp. 280-286)

    The full weight of my own personal grief had a slow accumulation, beginning with a kind of hysterical realization of loss the next day. I did not go to either funeral. In those days children were taken to funerals, but neither my father nor my grandfather thought it wise, and they gave no care to what the townspeople would think of my absence. But I was allowed to decide whether or not I should see Aunt Maggie when she had been brought, in the casket, down to the parlor. I chose to look at her, and it was Adam who...