The rooster had not yet crowed to awaken the Polk family, but nine-year-old Charlie was already out of bed preparing to begin his morning chores. As usual he put on his clothes under a mountain of covers for a more comfortable transition from warm bed to the icy cold morning air. His reason for getting an early start was to complete his assigned duties before the five-mile walk to school and, more importantly, avoid another morning whipping from his father.
Every day, no matter the weather, his job was to feed the chickens, slop the hogs and milk the cows. Then he made one last stop in the kitchen where he dumped whatever he could find into a paper sack for his lunch. Today’s fare consisted of an apple, a hunk of hoop cheese and soda crackers. Soon after, as the sun was rising over the Shenandoah Valley, he began his journey to Stover School.
Unlike most children his age, Charlie Polk loved to go to school because it provided a refuge away from the hard work and abuse of home life. It also afforded him an opportunity to interact with his friends. Severe weather and sickness never kept him away. In fact, the only time he missed was during planting and harvest when he was required to labor from sunup to sundown.
Even taking advantage of a shortcut through the woods it still took him two hours to make the trip but he was never late and sometimes he was the first to arrive. Charlie dearly loved the land through which he walked and, although he had never been anywhere else, he believed that the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia must be the most beautiful place on earth.
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