Before they were married, their father, Papa E’KuN, had told Old Man S’TO that the girls had been educated in a convent, when in fact they’d been little more than scullery slaves. They had learned their numbers and letters, and to do some simple needlework. In fact, they were vastly more educated than anybody else in their valley, but they could not be called literate.
When Sabrina’s son Young Rue turned six, Papa S’TO decided it was time to cash in on his investment so to speak and start a school. After all, Marina’s son Young Hau was almost six and Ulaylee’s daughter was just a few months younger. The valley boasted eight children old enough to attend school. Papa S’TO knew that the next valley over could contribute a few children of various ages.
Marina owned an alphabet book and both Young Rue and Young Hau had learned their letters. Old Man S’TO had learned his letters alongside his grandsons. He knew for certain that his daughter’s in-law would be great teachers. To advertise the family’s literacy, Old Man S’TO had even used a burned stick to write his name on his gatepost. The letters appeared a little wobbly, but he’d written his name.
One morning when the harvest was almost complete, Old Man S’TO rose early and set out with his walking stick to visit his neighbors who had young children, which was most of them. By the time he returned home for supper, he had established the valley’s first school board and determined the best location for the valley school.
After eating his dinner, Ol Man S’TO climbed the hill to visit his daughter’s-in-law and tell them they would start teaching school in the morning.
Marina and Sabrina looked at each other and silently communicated their horror upon the receipt of Papa’s news.
“Who will take care of our younger children while we are teaching?” Marina justifiably inquired.
“What will we use for teaching materials?” Sabrina was equally justified with her question.
Papa S’TO came prepared to solve their problems. Your Step-Mama and I will take care of your younger children. You can use your book and teach the other children just like you did Young Rue and Young Hau.
The women sat stunned for several minutes before Sabrina saw another problem. “If we are busy teaching, who will help finish the harvest? Who will help prepare us for winter?”
Old Man S’TO almost crowed when he met this question. “Tomorrow, your sister Ulaylee will come help with the harvest to pay for her share of the schooling. The day next, Sprig will come spread the beans for drying.”
Marina and Sabrina looked at each other again and silently agreed that teaching school might be easier than trying to manage their children while working in the harvest. True ignorance is a great blessing. Neither woman knew how much they didn’t know about teaching, or reading, writing and arithmetic, so they shrugged at the same time, and Marina asked, “Where is this school to be and how many children will we teach?” Both women fervently hoped that everybody in the valley would become disgusted with the work involved in having a school before they reached the end of the alphabet.
Old Man S’TO went to bed that evening with visions of a steady line of goods and workers streaming past his name on the gatepost as his daughters sat on a rock by the river and taught the valley children to read. He saw his neighbors laboring on his house until it grew in his imagination to closely resemble a magnificent train station he’d seen as a very young child. He still had no idea his daughters could not read or write.