Chapter 9: Sallie Myers and the Beauty of the Earth

Sallie Myers holds a grasshopper in hand in the late summer near Rural Hill south of Gettysburg.

Sallie Myers scooped up the grasshopper and held it, one hand cupped over the other. She felt it jump around, smacking against her top palm. When it stopped at last, she carefully moved her top hand and peered down at the grass-green two-inch long insect. Its eyes were large for its body and seemed almost to be staring back at her. Its hind legs, the boosters that let a grasshopper jump so far, seemed impossibly fragile. Could not the slightest thing break them?

She watched its mouth, the tiny cleavers that it used to cut through grass and plants. How much could one grasshopper eat?

“What is a locust?” she remembered asking her parents during Bible reading one evening. They were reading about the Exodus and the plagues.

“Why, it’s just a grasshopper,” said Father. “But when there are hundreds of thousands of them together, they can level a field of crops, eat it bare and leave nothing but dirt.”

Sometimes, when she walked out here in the summers near Rural Hill and Two Taverns, she would step into tall grass destined to become hay and see dozens of grasshoppers leap away from her feet. Each step triggered dozens more. How many did it take to turn a field to dirt? Sometimes, she would mistakenly step on one and see its lifeless smashed body after she moved her foot. She knew the scripture from the Gospel, that Father in Heaven was aware of even the sparrows that fall. Surely, He must also be aware of the smashed grasshoppers.

What did that mean for her? Was she committing sin when killing them?

“We cannot live with a locust plague,” Father told her once. “It’s us or the locusts, and even the Lord says we are greater than the sparrows.”

“But what if they are not wasting a whole field?” she asked him.

“You do have a lot of questions, don’t you, child,” he said, and that had been the end of the discussion.

She stared at the fragility of the grasshopper, knowing she had its life in her hands, and she thought of her younger brother who had died at age two when Sallie was just five. Was not a human as fragile as this grasshopper? A scripture said something about being kept in the hollow of His hand. So why had He not kept her brother there? This was impossible to say.

“His ways are not our ways,” Sallie’s mother said often to her.

Sallie focused hard on the insect, saw its jaws moving. Finally, she whispered, “Grasshopper, grasshopper, small and green. Grasshopper, grasshopper, kind not mean.” What a silly poem, she thought.

“You deserve far more than that,” she whispered to the grasshopper.

She liked to write, liked to compose poetry. She had written a poem about her brother going to the heavenly home to prepare a place for the family. It was only a few lines long, and she had drafted it quickly, then revised it over and over until it got just so.

“Grasshopper, grasshopper, in the grass. You leap and fly, so high, so fast.” She giggled. “That’s not so bad.”

Suddenly, from behind her, a hand flashed across her vision and caught the grasshopper out of her hand.

“Got it!” a voice exclaimed.

She whirled. Robert Hoffman had his fist closed and he turned to Wes Culp.

“Snuck up on you like we were Indians,” said Wes.

Jennie Wade and Jack Skelly came running up behind.

“Don’t you hurt him!” Sallie exclaimed.

“There’s an anthill right over here,” said Wes.

He and Robert walked over and squatted down.

“What are they doing?” Jennie said, looking at Sallie.

“Go on, do it,” said Wes.

“Let him be!” said Sallie.

Robert squeezed the grasshopper between his thumb and index finger of his left hand. Sallie saw it writhing to get loose. Then with his right hand, Robert plucked off each hind leg. He squatted down and dropped the grasshopper in the center of the ant hill.

“Robert Newton Hoffman, you are a foul, evil wretch!” Sallie wailed.

“Sick!” said Wes. “Check em out. They’re swarming.

Sallie turned away as Jack looked over Wes’s shoulder and Jennie edged in beside him.

“That’s brutal,” said Jack.

The grasshopper tried to move with its tiny front legs, but the ants came in from every direction, pinchers out, and the struggle was over quickly. Soon, the swarm was moving the body toward the main hole of the hill.

Sallie felt hot tears, and she tried to push them away with her wrists. As the others stood up, Wes looked over and said, “Ah, come on, Sallie. It’s just a grasshopper. One less thing to eat the hayfield.”

“You are terrible boys, and I hope God never forgives you,” she hissed back.

“You’re supposed to love your enemies, Sallie,” said Jack.

“Don’t you start with me, Johnston Skelly, Jr.”

“Oh wow, full name,” said Wes, and he snickered.

Sallie could feel her eyes were puffy. She felt silly and embarrassed, wondering if they had heard her muttering her poems to a silly insect.

“What do ants eat?” Robert said to Sallie.

“Obviously, they eat grasshoppers,” said Sallie, “among other things.”

“The ants need to eat, too, don’t they?” said Robert. “You think I am cruel to the grasshopper, but I have just been kind to the ants. I gave them a meal they did not have to hunt.”

“Besides,” said Wes, “there’s millions of em out here.” He kicked at a patch of grass near him, and four or five leapt into the air and fluttered away.

“Yes, there are,” said Sallie. “The ants can hunt them themselves. You don’t have to do their work for them.”

“Aww come on, Sal,” said Wes.

“Don’t call me, Sal,” she said through gritted teeth.

“Let Sallie alone,” said Jennie. “She was minding her own business. I don’t know why you boys had to go and disturb her.”

“We was seein how well we could sneak up on someone,” said Wes. “Robert’s thinking of becoming a slave catcher.”

Jennie rolled her eyes. “You are not.”

Robert shrugged. “There’s money in it. A lot of money in it.”

“Why would you help those miserable people down South get those poor people back?” said Jennie.

“It’s the law,” said Robert. “Their owners have the rights to them. And besides, some of those owners will be $100 or even $200 to get them back. And they’re always coming through her. Everyone knows Old Man McAllister helps them out. And the Quakers up in Bendersville and Menallen. You think all those black people up there were just born free? Uh uh. No way. Runaways that don’t legally belong here.”

“You want to go steal people from their homes and farms?” said Sallie.

“No, not that,” said Wes. “You’d get overpowered. But someone who is trying to sneak around at night? I’ll bet we could get one of them.”

Sallie put her fists on her hips. “You are un-Christian, foul, wicked boys, and I hope you get caught and thrown in jail.”

“Aw, Sal,” said Wes. “You’re so serious about everything.” He looked at Robert. “Come on. Let’s let Miss Prissy Preacher Pants alone.”

They all started to walk away, but Jennie lingered.

“What?” said Sallie.

“I’m not looking for runaways or trying to kill bugs. I was just out walking with Jack. We used to live together, you know.”

Sallie shrugged. “You can go on now.”

Jennie nodded and said, “I’m sorry they were mean to you.”

“At least I’m not legless and dead in an anthill.”

Jennie pursed her lips and said, “I will see you around. Maybe school or something.”

“Yeah,” said Sallie.


After reading Chapter 9, parents, teachers, or learners may want to dive into more historical resources and context by visiting the Chapter 9 resource page. Resources for all chapters can be found at the book’s resources page. Or keep reading by going to American Crucible.

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