While Walter piled food on his plate, he and Atticus talked together like two men, to the wonderment of Jem and me. Atticus was expounding upon farm problems when Walter interrupted to ask if there was any molasses in the house. Atticus summoned Calpurnia, who returned bearing the syrup pitcher. She stood waiting for Walter to help himself. Walter poured syrup on his vegetables and meat with a generous hand. He would probably have poured it into his milk glass had I not asked what the sam hill he was doing.
The silver saucer clattered when he replaced the pitcher, and he quickly put his hands in his lap. Then he ducked his head.
Atticus shook his head at me again. “But he’s gone and drowned his dinner in syrup,” I protested. “He’s poured it all over —“
It was then that Calpurnia requested my presence in the kitchen.
She was furious, and when she was furious Calpurnia’s grammar became erratic. When in tranquility, her grammar was as good as anybody’s in Maycomb. Atticus said Calpurnia had more education than most colored folks.
When she squinted down at me the tiny lines around her eyes deepened. “There’s some folks who don’t eat like us,” she whispered fiercely, “but you ain’t called on to contradict ’em at the table when they don’t. That boy’s yo’ comp’ny and if he wants to eat up the table-cloth you let him, you hear?
“He ain’t company, Cal, he’s just a Cunningham —”
“Hush your mouth. Don’t matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house’s yo’ comp’ny, and don’t you let me catch you remarkin’ on their ways like you was so high and mighty! Yo’ folks might be better’n the Cunninghams but it don’t count for nothin’ the way you’re disgracin’ ’em — if you can’t act fit to eat at the table you can just set here and eat in the kitchen!”
Calpurnia sent me through the swinging door to the dining room with a stinging smack. I retrieved my plate and finished dinner in the kitchen, thankful, though, that I was spared the humiliation of facing them again. I told Calpurnia to just wait, I’d fix her: one of these days when she wasn’t looking I’d go off and drown myself in Barker’s Eddy and they she’d be sorry. Besides, I added, she’d already gotten me into trouble once today: she had taught me to write and it was all her fault. “Hush your fussin’,” she said.
To Kill a Mockingbird
~ Harper Lee (1926 – 2016)
Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist
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