Lily Casey Smith
Lily Casey Smith is born as the eldest of three children of Daisy Mae and Adam Casey in Salt Draw/Texas. The Caseys are living in a dugout and the
living conditions there are extremely difficult
. At the age of seven, Lily is injured with yellow jack fever. When she is ten years old, she
saves her sister, Helen, and her brother, Buster, from drowning because a flash flood hit the country.
After another flash flood, the Caseys move into a house. But only one year later, in 1912, it is destroyed by a tornado. Then, they move to Hondo
Valley/Mexico and manage the KC ranch, which Adam’s father assembled. Lily does not have a real childhood. Managing the ranch is very hard work,
especially since her father does not help her but keeps himself busy with crazy ideas:
“Between Dad’s gimp, Buster’s elaborate excuses and Apache’s tendency to disappear, it was often up to me to keep
the place from falling apart” (p. 19, ll. 16 - 18).
Although Lily’s father exploits her desire to work hard, Lily has rapport with her father. At the age of five, she helps him breaking horses. The most
important lessons Lily learns is to “think like a horse” (p. 20, ll. 17 - 18) and to learn how to fall (cf. p.21, l.19). Being thrown from a horse
one day, Lily breaks her arm. Her mother, on the other hand, does not know how to deal with her intelligent, hard-working daughter.
Lily loves to learn, especially that effect she calls “Eureka”
when you finally understand something, which has always been
incomprehensible. At the age of 13, Lily’s parents send her to school at the girl’s school “Sisters of San Loretto Academy of our Lady of the Light”.
But her father buys Great Danes23
instead of paying for her tuition. Thus, Lily has to leave school before she
was able to finish eighth grade. Being forced to leave school is the first disaster in Lily’s life
. She loves going to school and learning and is very successful:
“Since there were no barn chores, life at the academy felt like one long vacation. I won a gold medal for my high
scores in math and another for overall scholarship” (p. 38, ll. 27 - 30).
Lily Casey Smith is very disappointed of her father, who preferred buying dogs to paying his daughter’s tuition.
Mother Albertina, the school principal, is very important to Lily
at that time. She is the only person, who does not want to exploit Lily
because of her abilities. She is really interested in the tough, young girl as a person. By explaining to Lily that a woman does not have
marry but can also become a teacher, a nurse or a secretary, she shows Lily how to lead an independent life. Lily decides to become a teacher: “I
loved books. I loved learning. I loved that “Eureka” moment when someone finally figured something out. And in the classroom, you got to be your own boss” (p. 40, ll. 11 - 13). Mother Albertina has understood that Lily is not like most girls of her age: “You have a strong personality”(p. 39, ll.32 f.), she tells her student. The advice, which Mother Albertina gives Lily when she leaves the “Sisters of San Loretto Academy of our Lady of the Light”, is going to become Lily’s life motto: “When God closes a window, he opens a door. But it’s up to you to find it” (p. 42, ll. 26f.)
Thanks to Mother Albertina, Lily becomes a teacher at the age of only 15. Riding 500 miles to Red Lake all alone, Lily gets to know Priscilla
Loosefoot. The girl, who is same-aged as Lily, makes her trust her, but at night, she tries to steal from Lily. This has become a lesson for Lily, who understands that people make you trust before they belie you.
Another hard experience for Lily is being thrown out in 1919: “I […] felt like the floor had fallen out from under me. I knew I was a good teacher” (p. 64, ll. 17 f.). That time, there is no Mother Albertina, who accompanies her in difficult times. Superintendent MacIntosh only advises her to marry. Lily decides to move to Chicago. Finding a job there, however, is more difficult than the naive girl would have thought. She becomes a maid, but due to her arrogance, she quickly loses the job: “Why?, I asked. – Your attitude. […] You don’t seem to know your place. A maid should keep her head down” (p. 71, ll. 14 f.).
Having found a new job only shortly afterwards, Lily contains herself this time. In order to finish High School, she goes to school after work.
Her cohabitant Minnie Hanagan becomes Lily’s first friend
“It was great to unwind with Minnie by arguing about politics, religion, and everything else under the sun” (p. 71, ll. 29 - 31).
Minnie means a lot to Lily since she can talk honestly to her and trust her. Minnie makes Lily a present of a lipstick – the first one Lily ever owns.
When Minnie dies because of an accident at work, Lily gives way to despair
: “I loved that girl, and as I sat through the service, all I could think was that if I’d been there, maybe I could have rescued her” (p. 73, l. 13 f.).
Lily feels very alone and gets to know Ted Conover. In 1921, she marries the door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman: “Maybe it was because I was missing Minnie and I needed someone in my life, but I fell hard for that fellow” (p. 74, ll. 29 f.). When Lily gets to know that Ted is bigamist, Lily makes the marriage be annulled. She leaves Chicago in order to return to Hondo Valley, being disillusioned and very sad: “Not a single soul in Chicago would miss me” (p. 85, ll.25 f.).
On the way to Hondo Valley, she sees a red airplane
and is completely fascinated by it. It represents the technical progress, in Lily’s
opinion, and Lily regrets that she does not have students to explain the way it works to.
Having arrived at the KC ranch, Lily recognizes that her brother, Buster, and his wife manage the ranch very well and she is no longer needed. She
returns to Red Lake and finally, her life seems to be a little steady. But when her pregnant sister Helen commits suicide in Red Lake, Lily
falls into a deep depression
: “For months after Helen’s death, pain laid so dark and heavy on me, like a big slab of lead, that most days I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed if I hadn’t had kids to teach” (p. 113, ll.4 - 6). Since Helen also killed her unborn baby by committing suicide, Lily thinks about having children for the first time. She marries Jim Smith, who had been sweet on her since she came to Red Lake. But she does not really love him – she evaluates his character traits:
“He had plenty of good qualities, but the most important one was that I felt I could trust that man inside and
out” (p. 114, ll. 2 - 4).
They get two children – Rosemary and Little Jim. Although Lily’s life is a little more calm now because of the children, she is still very
bullheaded24 and rebels against anything she does not like
. Teaching in Main Street, a town where only Mormons live, Lily tells the girls that they can become anything they want to although they are destinated to marry and get children. The village elder, who wants to talk to her about her teaching, is threatened with a gun by Lily. She has to leave the school, but teaching in Peach Springs now, she beats the son of the sheriff because he used to harass the girls in his class. Lily completely loses control of herself:
“[…] I kept whaling on him, maybe even beyond the call of duty, and truth be told, I got more than a little
satisfaction from it” (p. 179, ll. 10 f.).
Having been fired a lot of times, however, Lily does not admit the mistake
: “I wasn’t in the wrong. The rules were” (p. 180, l.20). During
that time, Lily’s parents die. She inherits the KC ranch, but at the same time, she has to pay back the tax debts25
. Lily pays them since she wants to own land one day (“Now, for the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to own some outright. There was nothing to compare with standing on a piece of land you owned free and clear”, p. 200, ll. 25 - 27).
The worst defeat for Lily, however, is the marriage of Rosemary and Rex Walls
. Although she had told her daughter not to marry Rex because she thought that he is a failure26
and a dreamer. Rosemary has a mind of her own27
and marries Rex nevertheless: an act of defiance28
. Rosemary is a very sensitive child, and Lily’s education
programme did not cater for Rosemary’s needs29
. Lily’s hard life and the bitter experiences she had to make moulded Lily’s character30
and influenced her education methods. She is unable to comfort her daughter, for example, when she has burns and annoys her daughter by always pointing out the lessons of happenings.
23Hunderasse: Dänische Doggen
27to have a mind of your own: seinen eigenen
29to cater for s.b.’s needs: den Bedürfnissen gerecht werden
30to mould s.b.’s character: jemanden prägen