Home is Where the Heart is"Chapter 3 THE ESSAY
“Aren’t you going to braid your hair?”, Ma asked Cassandra.
“No, I don’t want to have my hair braided anymore. Only little girls wear their hair in braids”.
“I’m not a little girl”, Grace protested. Carrie felt her cheeks burn; she knew the insult was meant for her.
“Cassandra, that’s nonsense”, Ma said. “You don’t have to braid your hair if you don’t want to, but don’t think that means you’re all grown up”.
“OK, Ma”, Cassandra replied, feeling a little bit ashamed of herself. But when she met Sarah, Jane and Louisa at school, she felt great again. The girls all loved her new dress, and said her new hair style was perfect for her.
When she had finished her lunch, and Cassandra and Grace were both with their friends, Carrie went over to the restaurant where Ma worked. Luckily Ma was on a break, so Carrie could talk to her.
“What’s wrong, Carrie?”, Ma asked, “why aren’t you at school?”.
“I needed to ask you something. And there’s still time left of recess”, Carrie said.
“All right”, Ma said.
“Is it true what Cassandra said?”, Carrie asked. “ Is it only little girls who wear their hair in braids?”.
“No, of course not. Just look at you girls. Mary hardly ever wore braids, she didn’t like them. And Laura wore braids until she was almost 16, I think. And you didn’t start braiding your hair until a few years ago. When you were little you absolutely refused to wear your hair in braids, remember?”. Carrie smiled. “And look at Grace, she didn’t start wearing her hair in braids until she started school”, Ma continued, “and now Cassandra wants to stop braiding her hair. It’s not really a matter of age. Not all girls want to have braids, and not all girls want to have them during the same period in their life. Now, Cassandra might want to stop braiding her hair, but that doesn’t mean you have to. After all Cassandra has had her hair braided since she was only a few years old, and you started only a couple of years ago. So it’s really not strange if Cassandra wants to stop braiding her hair before you do”. Carrie smiled. She knew her Ma was right.
“Thanks Ma, I think I better go back to school now”, she said.
When they all took their seats after lunch, they noticed Miss Peters had written the word ESSAY on the blackboard.
“Today all the older children are going to be working on a special project”, she said. “I want you each to write an essay about your family. The younger children will be doing some extra spelling exercises in the meantime. At the end of the day you all get to read your essays out load to rest of the class”.
Carrie thought hard as she starred on her blank paper. It didn’t seem all that easy to write about her family at the moment. There was Laura and Mary who she hadn’t seen in such a long time. And then Cassandra, who she hardly ever talked to anymore, and James and Albert, who were both always busy with school and friends. And her Ma and Pa who were always working. And then little Grace, who Carrie always had to look after. After her talk at lunch with Ma, Carrie had felt happier than she had in weeks. But thinking about the problems she was having with her family made her sad again. Carrie sighed. She looked down on her new dress, the one she had been so happy about. She didn’t feel all that happy about it anymore, and she knew it was because of Cassandra. Suddenly she grabbed her pen and started writing.
When it was time to read their essays out loud, Carrie was really nervous. She looked at Cassandra, when it was her turn to read. Cassandra didn't seem nervous at all. She just went up and read her essay, where she had written about herself and James, Albert, Carrie and Grace, and of course Ma and Pa. She even mentioned Uncle Jed. Carrie listened to her. She didn’t make any mistakes at all.
” Of course not, Cassandra was after all the family’s little poet”, Carrie thought angrily. Ever since Cassandra had won a poetry contest in a couple of years ago in Walnut Grove, her family was always talking about how talented Cassandra was. At first Carrie had just been happy for Cassandra’s sake. And she really liked Cassandra’s poem. But after a while it started getting on her nerves. Every time Cassandra wrote a story or a poem, everyone just loved it. The problem was Carrie was the one who really loved writing. Ever since she was little she had wanted to be a writer. She had always loved hearing stories, and her dream was to be able to write her own stories some day. But then Cassandra came along, and all of a sudden Cassandra was the only one in the family who could write - at least that was what everyone else thought. It made Carrie so angry when she thought about it.
“Wasn’t it enough that Cassandra was better at sports, and could run faster? Did she have to write too?” It didn’t seem fair. Although it didn’t matter now, cause Carrie knew her family would hate her essay. But she didn’t care.
“Caroline Ingalls!”, Carrie woke up from her angry thoughts when Miss Peters called out her name. It was her turn to read her essay now. She watched Cassandra as she began to read.
“My Family. My family is rather big. I have a mother and a father, and three sisters. My oldest sister Mary lives in New York with her husband Adam. She is 21 years old. My other sister Laura is 19. She is also married, and lives with her husband Almanzo and her daughter Rose in Walnut Grove, where we all lived until we moved here last year. I also have a little sister named Grace. She’s 6 years old. My father works in a clothing store, and my mother sometimes works in a restaurant.”.
“Thank you, Caroline”, Miss Peters said. Carrie looked at her sisters as she went back to seat. Grace looked confused, and Cassandra’s face was pale. She couldn’t understand why she hadn’t been mentioned in Carrie’s essay. They were sister’s weren’t they?
For the first time in weeks Cassandra walked home together with her sisters, but she didn’t say anything, and when they got home she ran directly up to her room. Ma, who was home today, looked surprised.
“What’s wrong with Cassandra?”, she asked.
“She didn’t like Carrie’s essay”, Grace said, ignoring the angry looks she got from Carrie.
“What are you talking about, Grace? I’m sure that’s not true” Ma said. She turned to Carrie. “May I read your essay?” she asked.
Carrie didn’t know what to say. She knew Ma would be upset if she read the essay, but she couldn’t refuse. She sighed and handed it over. Carrie watched her Ma as she read the essay. She didn’t look happy.
“Carrie….why isn’t Cassandra mentioned in you essay? And what about James & Albert?”
“I don’t know”, Carrie said slowly, “I just didn’t want to write about them”.
“Why not?”, Ma asked.
“Cause they’re not really part of my family!” Carrie cried.
“Carrie! I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately, but you better start treating ALL your siblings with respect right now!” Ma said, with that voice she only used when she was really upset. “I want you to go up to your room, and stay there”.
“But Ma”, Carrie protested, “Cassandra is there…”
“Well, you should have thought about Cassandra before you wrote that essay, shouldn’t you? Now, go on”.
Carrie slowly walked up the stairs to her room. Cassandra was lying on her bed. When she saw Carrie she looked up. Carrie could see that Cassandra had been crying. She wanted to say something to her, but she didn’t know what to say, and before she could think of anything Cassandra had walked out of the room and down the stairs. Carrie sat down on her bed. She felt really guilty about what she had done, but she still felt that some of it was Cassandra’s fault. After all Cassandra had been mean to her for a really long time now, hadn’t she? But she knew her parents wouldn’t see it like that.
That night after dinner Ma and Pa asked Carrie stay so they could talk, while the other kids were sent upstairs. Carrie felt really bad when her Pa looked at her. She could see that he was disappointed.
“Carrie, why did you write something like that?” he asked. “You really hurt your sister’s feelings”.
“She’s not my sister!” Carrie said.
“Carrie! Don’t you ever say anything like that again. I know you and Cassandra aren’t as close as you used to be, but that doesn’t mean you’re not sisters anymore. I want you to apologize to her.”
“That’s not fair!” Carrie said, with tears in her eyes. “Cassandra is always mean to me, but you never care. But as soon as I do something mean back, I have to apologize.”
“That’s not true, Carrie”, her Ma protested.
“Yes it is, and I won’t apologize. I don’t care how you punish me”.
Both her parents looked shocked.
“Go to your room, Carrie”, Pa said.
Carrie walked up the stairs, but then she went to her brothers’ room. Albert was sitting at the table studying, while James was reading a book.
“What do you want?” James asked. Albert just looked at her.
“Why are you so angry?” she asked him.
“Well”, Albert said, “we read your essay. You don’t think we are your brothers”.
Carrie felt ashamed. She hadn’t even thought about how James and Albert would react, all she had thought about was hurting Cassandra.
“I’m sorry “ she said. But James just left the room. He didn’t even look at her. She sat down next to Albert. “I’m really sorry Albert”, she said again. “I was just so mad at Cassandra. You know I think of you as my brother. I always have.”
“It’s OK Carrie”, Albert said. He didn’t look all that angry anymore.
“What about James?”, Carrie asked.
“Don’t worry about James. Just give him some time, and he’ll get over it. Look, I really have to study now, OK?”.
“OK”, Carrie said. She felt a little bit better now. But as she got back to her own room, and saw Cassandra she felt just as bad again. Grace was already asleep, but she knew Cassandra was still awake, even though she pretended to be sleeping. For a moment Carrie felt that maybe she should apologize to Cassandra, but then she changed her mind. After all Cassandra never apologized for any of the mean things she did. Carrie decided to go to bed instead, but that night she had trouble sleeping. She felt ashamed over how she had treated Cassandra, James and Albert, but she was still angry with Cassandra, and she sure was upset with her parents. They were so unfair. Before she finally fell asleep, Carrie had made her decision. Now she knew exactly what to do. It would be the best for all of them.
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