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Study Guide for Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

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Will's family has to miss the fourth of July parade held in 1906-the only year Cold Sassy every celebrated the fourth. Grandpa is still bitter about the loss of his arm and blames the Yankees for it-although Will admits that he actually lost the arm in a sawmill. The stub bothers him occasionally, and when it does, Rucker finds it more comforting to "cuss the Yankees than a sawmill," so everyone blandly accepts the war story.

The parade had been arranged by Grandpa prior to Granny's death and was intended as a joke. A town band as well as an all black band marches through town waving confederate flags. A farm wagon draped in a flag carries Cold Sassy's veterans, and several women march with a sign about women's suffrage.

Will has to watch the parade from the front porch of his house along with Grandpa. The next day, however, Grandpa gets married.


The fourth of July parade celebrated on "Southern Independence Day" was Rucker's satirical comment on the United States. Georgia was under military rule for ten years after the Civil War had ended. Plantations that had not been destroyed were taxed so severely that many of the southern landowners were forced to sell. Those who were able to hang on could not work the land without the slaves, and most could not afford to hire enough help to make the crops a working proposition. A system of tenant farming developed whereby those who had lost everything could farm a portion of the old plantation acreage and keep a small part of the proceeds. The landlords took nearly everything in many cases, leaving the tenant farmers barely enough to subsist on.

During the period of occupation, the federal government appointed local authorities from among the freed black population. Most of the blacks suddenly thrust into positions of puppet authority had no idea how to fill the responsibilities of their posts. They mostly took orders from the occupying forces and flaunted their new freedom in the streets while contributing little to the communities they lived in. The white Georgia citizens from the old families clung to the hurt and bitterness brought about by this situation long after the war was over.

Grandpa's parade was an "in your face" gesture intended to recall and glorify the Confederacy. The postmaster, who was required to fly a US flag, dropped it to half-mast, and everyone in town lined the streets and waved Confederate flags. The old Confederate soldiers marched and re-enacted Civil War battles, but in their imagination, they won.

The Blakeslee family cannot attend the parade because they are still officially in "mourning," and it wouldn't do to be celebrating so soon after Granny's death. Instead, they sit on the porch of the Tweedy house and watch it from a short distance.



Will decides that if Grandpa can get married, they must be out of mourning, which should mean that he can go fishing. On the way to his fishing spot, Will describes a few more of the town people, especially his own friends. Failing to find a buddy to fish with, he settles for just TR, his dog and proceeds to the favorite fishing hole at Cussin' Creek. The creek runs under the railroad tracks, which in turn lie close to the Cold Sassy tree, a sassafras tree for which the town is named. As Will steps aside to wait for a train to pass, he remembers Queenie's husband Loomis saying that fish are biting "real good" under the trestle and Blind Tillie Creek. Realizing it is too hot for the fish to be biting at Cussin' Creek, Will proceeds to Blind Tillie Creek. This means he will have to go past the depot as well as past his own house and Grandpa's store without being seen. He will also have to go through Mill Town, which he has never done alone.

Will nearly abandons the idea, but then remembers that he might see Lightfoot McLendon, a mill girl who has attended his school. Will walks beside the train, keeping it between himself and the town, and in this way gets past the stores, the stable, the tanyard, the cotton gin and nearly to Mill Town before the entire train has passed him. At first, he hopes to see Lightfoot, but as the Mill Town people stare venomously at him, he begins to hope he won't see her and simply makes his way to the trestle. There he spends a little time fishing, but feels so guilty about it that he doesn't enjoy it and soon gives it up.


Some narrative spacing gives us a look at the town and shows the distance between the town people and the mill people who are considered low class and not worth associating with. Will takes advantage of a day when nothing is supposed to be happening, other than folks sitting around in mourning clothes and waiting on callers, to relate the details behind the town's name and to describe the families of some of his friends. Most of his boyhood pals are children of tenant farmers or small landowners, but they live on the opposite end of town from the mill people. Will seems to understand in some intuitive way that the mill people aren't bad people in spite of the attitude of the town "aristocrats" that the mill people are unworthy of association.


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Ruff, Dr. K.. "TheBestNotes on Cold Sassy Tree". . 09 May 2017