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Study Guide for Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

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Edition used: Delta Trade Paperback, Printed in March 1994, ISBN 0-385-31258-X

1. "Grandpa had the manner of a king or duke: when he said do or don't do something, you said yessir before you thought. And if he said he meant to do something-like keep his corn whiskey in your closet or marry Miss Love Simpson- if you couldn't say yessir, you sure-dog didn't say no sir. Not out loud." Will, pg. 20.

This gives an early impression of the power Rucker Blakeslee had over his town.

2. "Just the same, Cold Sassy thought it was one thing to like Miss Love and another thing entirely to marry her. Especially if your wife died just three weeks ago." Will, pg. 27.

Cold Sassy has rigid principles and expectations that don't always make sense.

3. "My grandfather's voice was stronger and calmer now. 'Lord,' he added, like it was a postscript on a letter, 'please forgive the ways I ain't done right by Miss Mattie Lou. Please forgive me. She don't know, and ain't nobody else knows, but I know and You know Lord, what I'm a-talkin' about. And please hep her stand the sufferin'. Hep her not be skeered. And wilt thou please comfort them grievin' daughters in the parlor Lord...." Rucker Blakeslee, pg. 36.

Will alone is taken into the sick room to be with Grandpa as he makes one of his last prayers for Mattie. It tells Will that Rucker has some sort of secret no one knows about and creates an opportunity for foreshadowing.

4. "Two or more year ago she was out workin' in her rose garden one mornin' -did you know, boy, she's got over sixty different kinds out there?-and she said to me, said, 'Mr. Blakeslee, I wouldn't even mind dyin' if'n I could be buried in a bed of roses.'" Blakeslee, pg. 48.

Explaining why he is creating blankets of roses to line his wife's grave.

5. "But to mourn, that's different. To mourn is to be eaten alive with homesickness for the person. That day, I mourned mostly for Granny, who had lost more than any of us, but also for Grandpa, for mama and for myself. I didn't want to visit Granny at the cemetery like Grandpa was doing. That was just her empty shell over there, whereas here I could touch things she had touched, look out on the flowering plants she had looked at and walk through her house." Will, pg. 56.

He shows that he understands the difference between really missing someone and actually contemplating a memory of them rather than just going through the showy motions that require a family to wear black for a year and deny themselves the pleasures of life.

6. "Mr. Tuttle hadn't offered me a picking job since that time us boys pulled up an acre of his onion crop to dam the stream between his pasture and ours. We were making a swimming hole. Our daddies paid for the onions and we all worked out the money, but Mr. Tuttle never forgave us." Will, pg. 66.

He is relating one of his many boyhood stunts.

7. "The girl didn't seem to have heard yet that nobody in Mill Town ever amounted to anything." Will, pg. 71.

Will has just finished a description of Lightfoot McClendon, a daughter of one of the families who works in the cotton mill at the edge of town. Will is attracted to her and has a satirical view of Cold Sassy's ideas about the Mill Town people, but is powerless to do anything about it.

8. "In bed that night, going over and over what all happened, it dawned on me that by saving myself, I had saved the train engineer from running down a life, never mind that it wouldn't of been his fault. That's why he was so glad to see me." Will, pg. 80.

He shows surprising maturity for a sixteen year old in realizing that if he had been killed it would have been something the train engineer would have had to live with forever.

9. "It was like he didn't hear the silence that greeted them and didn't see Mama go pale or Aunt Loma flounce out of the parlor and down the hall, handling the baby so rough he woke up squalling. Grandpa walked in like it was the usual thing to go off and get and get a new young wife before your old wife is cold in the grave. Like it never dawned on him anybody would mind." Will, pg. 94.

Describing the entrance of Grandpa the night of the train accident. Grandpa has the ability to take almost any situation and turn it to his own advantage, but in pretending they were celebrating his wedding, he also takes some of the trauma from Will.

10. "You can believe thet, son, if'n you think it was God's idea for you to be up on thet there trestle in the first place. What God give you was a brain. Hit's his will for you to use it-p'tickler when a train's comin'." Rucker, pg. 97.

This gives a glimpse into Rucker's no nonsense attitude toward religion. Even though he is a devout Baptist, he avoids the fundamentalist attitude that attributes every human action to some divine influence.

11. "When Miss Love came into my life, Aunt Loma was still my prime hate, and getting even with her was still my prime goal." Will, pg. 105.

Will's life long dislike of his aunt disposes him to accept Miss Love more readily than the rest of the family.

12. "I'm saying that after I missed the love boat, I wasn't going to settle for a raft-meaning somebody like Son Black. But I'm glad to settle for a man I can respect, and a family I'm proud to be part of. I think Mr. Blakeslee is probably the only completely honest man I've ever known..." Love, pg. 134.

Explaining to Will why she has married Mr. Blakeslee. She hints at a darker past that he does not question, but seems to honestly believe that her marriage is to be a completely platonic relationship.

13. "A man with a bad conscience, and stubborn enough to lug something this heavy all the way from Texas, he ain't a-goin' lug it back home." Rucker, pg. 151.

Trying to figure out what to do with McAllister's saddle. He shows that he realizes the former relationship was more serious than either McAllister or Love have let on, and that he knows McAllister had wronged Love in some way. Any attempt to try to get rid of the saddle will just draw more attention to it than keeping it.

14. "Queenie doesn't care what she eats out of, Miss Love. No more'n she cares if pot licker runs off of the turnip salad and soaks her biscuits or if the cream gravy gets all over her mashed sweet potatoes. She likes usin' a pan. It holds more'n a plate.' Being an outsider, Miss Love couldn't understand that Queenie really just didn't care. Yankee, I thought burning..." Will, pg. 205.

Will and Love briefly discuss why the black servants eat in the kitchen and use old jars or pie pans for their food. Love tries to tell Will that it's because white people don't want black people using their dishes and things. Having been brought up in that environment, Will can't see the discrepancy and believes that their black servant really doesn't care what she eats from. His anger, however, suggests that he realizes Love is telling the truth.

15. "It's been eight years since Loma gave me that book, and not long ago I read through all I wrote down on its blank pages. That's why I can remember so much that happened to Miss Love and Grandpa, and what went on in the family and the town, and what people said and how they said it, and how I felt when it was happening. Reading my notes in the journal brings it all back." Will, pg. 216.

It is ironic that as much as Will hated Loma, she was the one responsible for getting him to write his stories. It suggests that Will and Loma had a lot more in common than he recognized as a child.

16. "I caught her wrist and pulled her up. And then I kissed her. I swear I hadn't once thought of doing such a thing, and I'm sure she hadn't either. But before you could say doodly-squat, my arms had circled her and she had flung her arms around my neck, and I could feel her wet cheek against mine...She kept saying, 'No, Will, no, no, no, no...' But she didn't push me away." Will, pg. 246.

In his efforts to comfort Lightfoot who is grieving the death of her own father, Will begins kissing her. His own attraction for her takes over his sense of propriety or self control, but she doesn't resist until a snoopy neighbor catches them.

17. "Poor Grandpa. All the fun had gone out of it for him. But Miss Love was right. If folks saw her perched high and mighty beside him in the back seat of a shiny motor car, they'd call her snooty, or grave-snatcher. They'd recollect that all Miss Mattie Lou ever had to ride in was a buggy pulled by a mule-unless you counted Mr. Birdsong's glass-sided hearse pulled by fine black horses that she'd rode to the cemetery in." Will, pg. 271.

He realizes that his grandfather is being pig-headed and blind in his anger over Love staying behind during the unveiling of the new car. Also, Miss Love seems to be the only person who can behave contrary to Rucker's wishes. However, it is natural for grandpa to want his wife to share in the celebration of the new car and the extension of his business, so the narrator doesn't fault him too much.

18. "Loma was jealous. the store window being like a little stage and her having taken elocution, she considered herself the only person in Cold Sassy qualified to act like a dummy." Will, pg. 282.

A humorous, tongue in cheek, response to Miss Love's attempts to have a "mannequin" in her store window. Apparently, Will thinks like his grandfather, that it's a bit silly, and he finds it equally humorous that Loma would be jealous over it. In some ways, perhaps both women are acting a little like "dummies."

19. "Whelm, faith ain't no magic wand or money-back gar'nttee, either one. Hit's jest a way a-living'. Hit means you don't worry th'ew the days. Hit means you go'n be holdin' on to God in good or bad times, and you accept whatever happens. Hit means you respect life like it is-like God made it-even when it ain't what you'd order from the wholesale house...." Rucker, pg. 363.

Explaining his understanding of religious faith to Love shortly before he dies. Rucker dies in the same way he lived, believing that the proper relationship with God was one that asked him to help you bear whatever troubles you had rather than asking to be relieved of them. The discussion foreshadows his death.


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