Study Guide

Belle Prater's Boy Memory and the Past

By Ruth White

Memory and the Past

"Yeah he was. Here he came riding over Cold Mountain on a black horse one Saturday in January. Big as life. I'll never forget it. Dark and rugged as the hills. Straight he was in the saddle. Nobody in Coal Station ever saw the likes of Amos Leemaster."

Suddenly, without warning, I felt hot tears well up into my eyes, and my chin started to quiver. But Granny wasn't noticing me. She was watching my daddy come riding over Cold Mountain on that long-ago Saturday. (2.30-31)

Amos Leemaster's arrival in town was a big deal for the residents of Coal Station. Even Gypsy's grandmother remembers it like it was yesterday, and she recalls how he changed all of their lives.

"And then what happened?" I asked.

"Oh, the rest is history," Granny said. "It was like fireworks, as they say in the movies, the minute Amos and Love laid eyes on each other." (2.37-38)

Gypsy wants to know more about what happened after her father came into town, and Granny humors her with the abbreviated version. She tells her about how Amos and Love fell in love at first sight.

"I reckon Amos took Gypsy with him nearabout every place he went, didn't he, Gypsy?"

I nodded again.

"You never saw one without the other," Clint went on, determined to wear the subject out. "I never saw a man who loved his young'un more. He was the finest and handsomest man I ever seed. It was a pity what happened to him…" (3.52-54)

Even when people are recounting nice memories about her dad, Gypsy has a hard time listening to them. It just brings up too many painful thoughts and memories for her.

"Well she told me lots of times. She told me that story so many times I know it by heart. A midwife was with her and she was having a real hard time. She was trying and trying to birth me, but I wouldn't come. Finally Mama passed out from all the pain and she went out of her body. Then she felt peaceful and free. She said that she drifted around the room and could see the midwife and her own body on the bed." (4.45)

From the way that Aunt Belle remembers Woodrow's birth—as an almost spiritual experience—it's obvious that she loves him a lot. He was definitely meant to be in her life, even if the path to having him was a difficult one.

"Mama told me when we die, we're allowed to live one day over again—just one—exactly as it was. This is the day I will choose."

I was surprised. A day that for me had been only slightly special was the most wonderful day of his life. (4.59-60)

Even though Gypsy doesn't think the day she's just had is all that special, Woodrow will remember and cherish it forever. He's even decided that this is the day he'll choose to live on repeat after he dies. What's a special memory to one person isn't necessarily to another.

"Amos Leemaster and me wuz boys together back there in Cold Valley, Kentucky, Miss Beauty."

"Why do you call me that?" I said.

"Beauty? Don't you 'member? It was his named for you! He always called you Beauty—short for Arbutus. He named you hissef—Gypsy Arbutus Leemaster. He sed he couldn't thank of ary other name to beat it, and he were right!" (11.35-37)

Hearing Blind Benny call her "Beauty" brings all sorts of memories back for Gypsy, both good and bad. Her father always called her that as an affectionate nickname.

"You were only five when he died, but even then you were a picture. I recall it was one day during his last few weeks that he said to your mama, 'Love, promise me you'll never cut my Beauty's hair.'

"And Love promised. So that's why she won't hear of cutting it." (13.39-40)

The reason Love is so dead-set against Gypsy cutting her hair is because it reminds her of the last promise she made to Amos before he died. She said that she'd never cut their daughter's hair.

"So he took a gun and shot his own self in the face!" Buzz continued. "Amos Leemaster killed himself!"

So there it was. The ugly truth was out. (17.100-101)

Buzz brings back the worst memory in Gypsy's life just because he's feeling resentful about Woodrow's popularity. What a mean kid. Woodrow (and his fists) are all over this situation, though.

"Mama, I want to talk about Daddy," I said quickly, before I lost my nerve. "We never talked about… the way he died. I mean you and me… we haven't."

Such pain crossed her face I nearly took it back. But she spoke.

"He committed suicide, Gypsy." (19.4-6)

The reason Gypsy and her mother have never talked about how Amos died is because they are both so pained by the memory. It's hard for them to even discuss it without all the sadness and anger rushing back.

"It's okay, Woodrow. I guess I needed to hear them. I can talk about it now."

"I didn't know all the details about your daddy, Gypsy," he said softly. "Granny told me last night. I'm sorry." (20.4-5)

Everyone in Gypsy's life has tried to keep the past hidden, especially as it pertains to Amos. Even Woodrow doesn't know how exactly how he died, but once it's out in the open, Gypsy and Woodrow can finally talk about it. Let the healing commence.

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