Chapter 7: A Business I Can Do

“Christian perseverance” was how the obituaries often said it, as in, “She bore her final affliction with great resolve and Christian perseverance.” Carrie Sheads often thought of that phrase as she listened to her young piano students butcher Chopin or pound Mozart with the hammers of their clumsy hands and stubby farmer fingers. Of course, she knew it wasn’t terribly Christian of her to regard her students’ development as something requiring “Christian perseverance,” which made for a marvelous syllogism in her mind that typically added to the headache she might get toward the end of a day of teaching.

At this particular moment, she was listening to her cousin Sallie Myers mistake Fur Elise for Beethoven’s Fifth. Oh, not in the sense of notes, but more in the sense of how one pounded the keys versus caressing them. When Sallie reached a stopping point, she looked at Carrie expectantly. Say something positive. We mustn’t always correct.

“So many improvements, dear,” Carrie said. “Much more command with your left, better tempo overall.”

“It’s not very good yet, is it?” said Sallie.

“We should celebrate our progress,” Carrie said.

“I will work harder on it,” Sallie said looking dejected.

“Do keep working on it this week. Thirty minutes per day at least.”

“And my finger exercises,” Sallie said.

“Yes, your finger exercises to warm up.” Carrie patted her shoulder and Sallie stood. “Do keep in mind that this is a love song. Beethoven wrote it for a student with whom he fell in love. Try to think of it softly. A gentle approach. Like something to woo her in the evening as the sun goes down.”

Sallie sighed deeply. “I do play it rather like a baboon, don’t I?”

“It comes easier to modify it once we get all the fingering right. Just keep it in mind.”

Sallie gathered her piano books, and her mother, Margaret Sheads Myers, appeared. Margaret fished in a bag for a few coins and pressed them into Carrie’s hands. “There you go, dear. We will see you again next week.” And with that, the Myers women were off, and Carrie was at the end of music lessons for this week.

She went to a cabinet, opened it, and pulled out a small box where she kept her earnings. She pulled together the various bills and coins and put them in a handbag, then headed down the Chambersburg Pike toward the Farmers and Mechanics Savings Bank. She passed the Hoffman carriage business on the way, saw the Culp and Skelly boys at work, waved to them, and heard a couple of them call back, “Hi, Miss Sheads.” She had had one or more of the children of those families in school or music over the last few years, and the Culps and Sheads were relatives by marriage as well.

Of course, her father was also in the carriage business just right up the road. The Foulks were in the carriage business as well, which seemed to Carrie to be a lot of carriage businesses for a town of two thousand. That was a point she had raised with her father and he had smiled and said, “Come. Let me show you some numbers.”

Elias Sheads was not your typical Pennsylvania man, at least in Carrie’s eyes. He had brought her into his small office, opened a drawer, and pulled out sheet after sheet of numbers and short sentences. He had explained his business plan, that there were too few people in Gettysburg for their businesses, but he used the roads leading to Gettysburg—he had customers in Chambersburg, Emmitsburg, Taneytown, Shepherdstown, and points South of Winchester. He had shown how he managed supplies and tools, and most important, he had shown her how he used real estate—all his real estate produced and paid for itself.

“This gentleman, Herr Hoffman, I am not sure he uses his real estate wisely,” he had said. “It may be that the Mechanic bank and the Fahnestocks will own his property some day.”

“Do you teach my brothers this?” she had asked.

He had smiled wryly. “They have not asked.”

“Why are you teaching me, though?”

“You asked.”

“But what is the point? There are no women who own such businesses.”

“Are there businesses a woman might do wherein she might own real estate and her business pays the real estate?”

She had not been able to answer off the top of her head and he had encouraged her to think on it. Now as she approached the center of town, she saw young Jennie Wade walking with Jack Skelly. She had taught Jennie for a year or two at the Lutheran Seminary until her father had had his episodes, and she presently taught two younger Skellys there.

“Hi, Miss Sheads!” Jennie said brightly. She had under her arms loads of cloth.

“Where are you two off to?” Carrie said.

“Deliveries for mother,” she said. “I have one for Mr. Sheads.”

“But I have no husband,” said Carrie, and Jennie giggled.

“For your father. Carriage material.”

“Well that is a relief. I would not want my husband trying to explain how he had lost track of his pants. Quite scandalous, if you ask me.”

“You are funny, Miss Sheads.”

Carrie looked at Jack. “And what are you doing, Master Skelly?”

“I’m her chaperone,” said Jack.

Carrie looked at Jennie now. “Have you reached that age now?”

Jennie giggled again. “Mrs. Skelly saw me passing and asked if he might accompany me because if he didn’t leave the house that instant, she might be forced to dispose of him. He and David get into rows a lot.”

“I see,” said Carrie. “Well, be about your errands then. I would not want Father to be cross on account of my holding you up.”

Just as those two were about to move on, here came James Fahnestock with one of her present students, young Samuel Bushman. “Mr. Fahnestock,” Carrie said. “Are you a constable now?”

James’s brow wrinkled. “No, ma’am. On a bit of banking business.”

“Ah,” said Carrie. “Seeing as you had a young vagrant with you and I had been accosted by two others, I thought you might be coming to my rescue.”

Now James smiled while Samuel looked puzzled. “I’m afraid not. I am attempting to lead young Mr. Bushman away from a life of vagrancy and perhaps into errands and retail.”

“I see. Perhaps I might follow you two gentlemen to the bank then?”

“On the contrary, ladies first,” said James. “We will follow you.”

Carrie looked down at Jennie and Jack. “Good to see you both. My regards to your parents.”

“Thank you, Miss Sheads,” they said in unison.

Carrie moved left around the diamond, being careful to avoid a wagon heading through the street. As she reached the other side, she heard James saying to Samuel, “You will need to know the businesses around the diamond well. Each gets different deliveries on different days.”

Emerging from the bank at that moment was Elizabeth Butler, the black washerwoman for the McCrearys and wife of one of her father’s wagon makers, Samuel Butler Sr.

Mrs. Butler tucked a receipt and a couple of dollars into a small handbag, then saw Carrie.

“Begging your pardon, ma’am, I’m blocking the door.”

“You take your time, Mrs. Butler.”

Mrs. Butler stepped out of the doorway. Carrie looked back at James. “You all go ahead. I’m going to visit with Mrs. Butler a few moments.”

James tipped his hat, and the two moved into the bank.

“Now, Mrs. Sheads, I done tole you, it’s just Liz or Ole Liz, ma’am.”

Carrie shook her head. “How is Mr. Butler?”

“Sam? He good, ma’am. Yo daddy givin him lotsa work.”

“Your husband is probably his best worker. He’s getting nothing he didn’t earn.”

“That’s kind of you, ma’am.”

“I’m just Carrie, Mrs. Butler.”

Mrs. Butler nodded. “Yo daddy, Carrie, ma’am … he make it possible for us to send Sam Jr. up to the public school. And we grateful.”

“Like I said, he earns every bit of it.”

Mrs. Butler nodded and said, “Beggin your pardon, ma’am, I still gots to get me home and get the dinner a-cookin. Lord knows Samuel don’t know nothin about the kitchen.”

Carried nodded, smiled, and said, “Good day to you, Mrs. Butler. And my best to Mr. Butler and little Sam.”

When she stepped into the bank, Mr. Fahnestock and Samuel Bushman were at the teller. The teller handed Mr. Fahnestock three yellow slips. Mr. Fahnestock tuned to Samuel and said, “This is a receipt in triplicate, Samuel. Your first errand for the Fahnestock store is to take this to our accountant for his records. He’s up Baltimore Street five buildings past ours on the right.”

“Yes, sir,” said Samuel with great seriousness.

“You make sure it gets only to Mr. Cook and no one else.”

“Yes, sir,” said Samuel.

“You can be on your way, and I will meet you back at the store to hear how it went.”

Samuel clutched the receipt and headed out the door. James turned back to the teller and said softly, “Benjamin, tell me something. Charles Hoffman keeps his accounts here, does he not?”

“Now, Mr. Fahnestock,” said the clerk, “you know very well I cannot disclose the business of other customers.”

Carrie looked at the money and receipt in her handbag, pretended to mind her business, and strained every so subtly to hear.

“It’s just you and me, Benjamin,” James whispered. “Father acts as though Hoffman is going to pay his debts and keeps extending his line of credit, and I think Father is actually running him out of business.”

Benjamin leaned close to him and said just loud enough for Carrie to hear, “Your experience with Herr Hoffman is common around town.”

“I see,” said James. “Well, much obliged, and I will see you again shortly.”

Carrie stepped up next and transacted her business. After doing so, she stepped back out into the warm sunlight and watched various children running around the diamond ahead of their parents. And then it dawned on her: she taught school in two different locations and also handled music lessons, sometimes at her own house and sometimes at the students’ houses. She was a wage earner, but if she had her own school, the students could come to her, and she would have only the overhead of the house. Now she could understand what her father had asked her to think about.

Her pulse quickened, and she started toward home, thinking, Now there is a business I can do.


After reading Chapter 7, teachers, parents, or learners may want to dive into more historical sources by visiting the Chapter 7 resource page. Resources for all chapters can be found at the book’s resources page.

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