Anna received the phone call on a Tuesday, asking would she please accept an offer to teach up at Independence Mine in Hatcher Pass? There were several children there now (Anna couldn’t imagine children in that odd, off-kilter place) and they needed someone to teach them.
“How old are the children?” Anna chewed at her bottom lip, she didn’t like talking on the phone and she didn’t necessarily like the idea of working so far up in the white mountains.
Sarah, the mine owner’s wife, sounded farther away than the twenty-two miles that separated downtown Palmer from the mine. “The youngest is five, the oldest is fifteen. But she’s quite a bright girl and she’ll help you out as a junior teacher, if you want.”
Anna chewed at her lower lip some more, “I have to ask my mother.”
Silence and crackle from the phone that connected Anna to the mine . In case you’re wondering, the phone that Sarah used was black, that perfectly designed heavy black phone that reigned in every household from the thirties to the early sixties. You got it from the phone company when you signed up for service. It was emphatic in its importance. Tailing away from the shiny black of the phone was the matte phone line, snaking down the mahogany writing desk that the phone lived on, trailing across the planked floor, tripping a bit underneath an oxblood Persian rug, and finally connecting to the wood paneled wall. This phone line is what brought both Anna and Adam to the mine. This same phone. This same woman called Adam a year prior and asked would he please come and help? He came highly recommended. She now used the same kind, authoritative voice with Anna.
“Oh, won’t you please ask her soon? We do need so much help? How old are you dear?” Sarah thought the girl couldn’t have been older than 19 or 20, to have to ask her mother for permission to teach at the mine.
Anna ceased chewing her lower lip and started picking her cuticles. She paused (because she knew she was too old to live with her dear mother) before she answered, “Twenty, ma’am.” Anna was just starting to be embarrassed by the combination of her living situation and that number. Twenty. Her friends were mainly married. Most had a child or one on the way. Anna had stayed in the place her parents presented themselves as farmers instead of Bedouins; she helped her mother, she dreamily walked around the balds and windy corners of the parcel of land the government gave her parents to improve upon. She saw too much in too few square inches to consider moving on yet. But this phone call, just weeks after she had advertised as a tutor in the Palmer paper, came quickly and fiercely and with such great purpose that Anna knew it was time to stop resting on her fireweed honey laurels and begin.
“Ma’am I can almost guarantee you it’s fine. Let me put together my things and speak with my mother, and I will ring you back. When do you need me again?”
Sarah smiled a little tersely, as she was really hoping this Anna was as fine a tutor/teacher/governess as the people in town had said. Allegedly she had taught a lot of the Native children math, reading, a little Latin and had been well-liked – and usually the Native population was understandably wary of newcomers and understandably hard to please. She let out a wheezy sigh and breathed into the phone, “Sweetie, we needed you yesterday. These children are running wild and driving their mothers to distraction and maybe even to drink. I’ll phone you back this evening after suppertime. Good bye now, and speak with you soon…”
Sarah hung up the phone and looked out the window, past the porch and into the Valley below. From her hen-perch she could see the mine buildings, the Valley, the town. She knew that at her back and her sides were her mountains and that deep in the rock was her husband and all the men in caves. How she loved them all. She hoped the children were happy here. A teacher, a real school, little parties, sledding when the snows fell in, that’s what they needed. She thought of nothing and everything, and she thought she might need a cup of tea, so she padded upstairs in her little maribou slippers and remembered why she agreed to join her husband up here.
Oh, Anna. You were about to ask your mother about going up to the mine for the season. You were about to ask her if she thought it was a good idea. You were about to see if she wanted to walk around the farm with you, to weigh the options back and forth and check off pros and cons. Why are you walking into your room and shutting the door? We were just talking. Don’t you want to go? Don’t you want to hear what I think the pros and the cons and the beautiful things about this will be? Do you want to hear about the children? Or the men. Ah, the men – that’s what you’re afraid of. You’re afraid you’ll like one too much and won’t like any of the others at all. You’re afraid the wives will be too pretty, and you won’t be able to compete or to keep your blush hidden from them.
There’s one thing I can probably guess correctly that you’re not afraid of, and that’s the children. They’re all you need, usually. You fit in well with them, you act like one yourself, your eyes are wide open and questioning, you can look at the magic in the world with them and clasp their hand and lead them to where their imaginations might take them. You use far less clichés than the author when speaking to them, too. Children, for you, are easy to interact with.