It had been all her fault, but Helen sat quietly in agony and dread in the single room school house. She knew she would hate the discussion that was to come between Mister Adams, the school teacher, and her father. If only she had been more careful not to let the teacher catch her again. She sat looking at the red marks that transected her left hand, knowing how displeased her father would be.Helen had been caught writing with her left hand and the teacher had been quick to notice and punish her for it. Usually, she was careful to change hands before he got to her row, but she was trying to be so careful in what she was writing that she had not noticed his approach. Instantly, she was called out in front of the class, “Helen Harkis what hand should we write with?”
She looked down at her paper; cheeks flushed with humiliation, “The right hand sir.”The teacher creased his brow, “And what hand are you using?”
She held back the tears in her answer, “My left hand sir.”“Writing with your left hand is not permitted Miss Harkis,” the teacher stated. “It is the work of the devil!”
Helen was defeated and bowed her head in shame.“Put forth your left hand in the middle of your desk,” added the teacher. “Class, what is the punishment for writing with your left hand?”
The class looked at Helen and back at the teacher. The students that had received similar punishments in the past writhed in their desks. Suddenly a voice shot the answer into the air, “A ruler across the hand!”“Thank you Miss Parsons for the correct answer,” the teacher turned to address the young lady, who had a faint grin on her face. Helen’s eyes met Betty Parsons with a look of fury. Helen and Betty had always fought and this would add to the list of reasons that Helen hated her so much.
The teacher turned back to Helen and with a shake of his head whispered, “When will you learn Miss Harkis to do as you are told.” As quick as a snake strike, he snapped the ruler he cradled with pride across her fingers. The sensation was twice as sharp as the day before and Helen inhaled deeply. The teacher had managed to hit the exact place where the red welts lie from yesterday.Now, she sat waiting for her father, who had insisted in speaking to the school teacher about such punishment. It took what had seemed forever before her father came down the lane towards the school house on the back of his favorite roan stallion, Whip. Her father dismounted to the left of the front stairs and tied up Whip to the weathered post that stood there. Helen and the teacher descended to greet her father. Her father stood tall and firm to his spot at the foot of the stairs. His eyes scanned Helen and he did not miss her hiding her hands in the folds of her dress.
“Mister Harkis, good to see you sir,” the teacher remarked as he advanced with his hand outstretched towards Helen’s father.
The teacher was dumb-struck by this tone of address and lack of civility by Mister Harkis. “Do you understand Mister Adams?” The question shook the teacher from his momentary stupor.“Come Helen, let’s go,” her father stated calmly and reaching out to his daughter. Helen moved quietly and quickly to her father, who lifted her to the horse’s back. As her father mounted Whip, he drove the horse back around the corner of the school and to where he could still address Mister Adams.
The teacher turned in astonishment, stuttering in protest and with growing rage, “Mister … Mister Harkis…I say…this is completely…”
At that very moment, a rooster from the neighboring farm scampered across the gravel and dirt road about 30 feet ahead. With blazing speed her father drew his pistol from the saddle holster with his left hand and with a single shot beheaded the unlucky target. “You see Mister Adams there is absolutely nothing the matter with being left handed!”
Post Note: Helen Harkis Hoelscher was my grandmother; she was born in 1914 and raised in Hudson, Colorado on a cattle ranch homesteaded by my great-grandfather, Deck Harkis. Deck settled in Colorado after years of driving cattle from Texas to Kansas along the Chisholm Trail. Deck Harkis had been raised by his maternal Grandfather, Captain J. Cameron of Mississippi and had received a southern, military school education. He was considered an Ace shot and was left-handed. This is a fictionalization of a true story my grandmother use to tell often from her childhood.