January 05, 2021

#08-032: A True Story, Word for Word as I Heard It, by Mark Twain

a smiling black woman in a long dress, standing in a formal pose indoors; seemingly 19th century
"Aunt Rachel" (actually Mary Ann Cord)
(Chemung County Historical Society)

Note: Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, is widely known for such impressive books as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But many of his shorter stories and essays packed a powerful punch as well. Let's read about one.

Get Ready: Is it possible to maintain a positive attitude even though one has experienced great suffering?

One of Mark Twain's anecdotes, written in a Southern dialect, is entitled "A True Story, Word for Word as I Heard It." It tells about a conversation Twain had with a Black woman he calls "Aunt Rachel" (real name Mary Ann Cord), the cook at his sister-in-law's farm. As the family relaxed on the porch in the summer evening, Twain noticed that Aunt Rachel was cheerful, and laughed easily even when teased by the family members.

He said to her, "Aunt Rachel, how is it that you've lived sixty years and never had any trouble?"

With that, she got serious, and, after being assured that his question was asked "in earnest," she told him this story.

She had been born in slavery, and later married and had seven children. Later still, Aunt Rachel's owner sold off Aunt Rachel and her family members separately, like so much cattle. She fought hard to keep her youngest son Henry, but they took him from her at last.

The Civil War came, and Aunt Rachel became a cook in a mansion occupied by Union officers. Unbeknownst to her, Henry had joined the Union army and was on the staff of the very colonel for whom she worked!

One night a black regiment had a dance party in her large kitchen. When one particularly saucy young man was teasing her, she rose up and repeated an expression her own mother had often used: "I wasn't born in the mash to be fooled by trash! I'm one of the old Blue Hen's Chickens!"--a phrase referring to people from Maryland. The young man got a strange look in his eyes.

The next morning, as Aunt Rachel was cooking breakfast, she bent over to take something from the oven when that same young man's faced appeared under her, looking up into her eyes! She dropped the pan she was holding, and examined his wrist and forehead, where she found scars matching those Henry had received as a boy. "Boy," she cried, "if you aren't my Henry, what are you doing with these scars? Praise the Lord, I have my own again!"

"Oh, no, Mister C.," she concluded her story, "I haven't had any trouble. And no joy!"


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. anecdote
  2. assured
  3. in earnest
  4. mash
  5. occupied
  6. packed a punch
  7. regiment
  8. saucy
  9. unbeknownst
  10. wrist

  1. with sincere intent
  2. boiled grain fed to farm animals
  3. without one's knowledge
  4. group of soldiers
  5. short account of an event, often amusing
  6. had a great impact
  7. lived in
  8. made certain
  9. rude in a playful way
  10. joint between the hand and the arm

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 5, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. e; 2. h; 3. a; 4. b; 5. g; 6. f; 7. d; 8. i; 9. c; 10. j