'The Honest-to-Goodness Truth'


June 07, 2000|By Patricia C. McKissack

Editor's note: A girl learns an important lesson about truth-telling.

Libby hurried out the door and down the porch steps. "Did you feed and water Ol' Boss?" Mama called from her sewing room window. Libby stopped at the gate. "Yes, Mama," she answered. She was surprised at how easy the lie slid out of her mouth, like it was greased with warm butter.

Mama stopped sewing Virginia Washington's wedding dress and came outside. Libby dropped her head and wouldn't look in her mother's eyes. "Are you sure?" Mama asked real stern-like. "Speak the truth and shame the devil."

Libby opened her mouth, but Mama placed a finger in the air as a signal for her to stop. "Libby Louise Sullivan, I'll ask you once more and again: Did you feed and water Ol' Boss?"

Libby's stomach felt like she's swallowed a handful of chicken feathers. Her eyes commenced to fill with water and her bottom lip quivered. Then, taking a deep breath and gulping hard, she owned up to her lie. "I was gon' do it soon as I got back from jumping rope with Ruthie Mae."

Libby felt a lot better, even though Mama punished her double. For not tending to ol' Boss, Libby couldn't go play with Ruthie Mae. And for lying, she had to stay on the porch for the rest of the day. It was the first time Libby had lied to Mama, and as far as she was concerned, it was gon' be the last.

"From now on, only the truth," she decided.

The next morning, Libby joined a group of friends on the way to school.

"Did you do your geography homework?" Willie asked Libby.

"It was easy," she answered.

"Not for me." Willie shook his head. "I didn't understand it, so I didn't do it."

First thing in class, Libby started waving her hand. "Me Miz Jackson, me, me, me, Miz Jackson!" When the teacher called on her, Libby announced, "Willie don't got his geography homework."

"Doesn't have his homework," corrected Miz Jackson.

"No, Ma'am, he don't." Libby was pleased with herself.

Willie gave her an ugly look. "Why'd you tell on me?" he whispered as he headed to Miz Jackson's desk to explain.

With certainty she whispered back, "All I did was tell it like it is. So there!" And she folded her hands neatly in her lap.

Before lunchtime, Libby had told a lot of truths.

By the time school was out, hardly anyone would talk to her. "Why are y'all so mad at me?" Libby asked as her classmates started home without her.

Before Libby knew it, she was in front of Miz Tusselbury's vine-covered cottage. Miz Tusselbury leaned over the railing to pluck a bloom from one of the vines that grew all over her yard and up her house. "Don't you think my garden is lovely?"

Libby thought on it. Ordinarily she would have just said yes, for fear of sounding sassy. But that wasn't the truth. So polite as you please, she answered, "Miz Tusselbury, truly and honestly, your yard looks like a ... a ... a jungle."

"Well I declare!" Miz Tusselbury gasped.

"Don't be mad!" Libby pleaded.

But it was too late. Miz Tusselbury rushed inside her house and slammed the door.

Even though Mama was busy putting the finishing touches on Virginia Washington's wedding dress, she still took time to listen to Libby's problem.

"I feel something awful. My friends don't like me no more."

"Any more," repeated her mother.

"No, they don't -- and just 'cause I told the truth." The girl sighed deeply.

Handing her a needle to thread, Mama asked gently, "Are you sure they're mad at you for telling the truth?"

"I think so," said Libby. "Willie was mad as a hornet when I told Miz Jackson he didn't have his homework. And Miz Tusselbury got plenty upset when I said her garden looked like a jungle."

Mama smiled. "Oh, I see." Then, putting down her work, she took Libby's hands, saying, "Sometimes the truth is told at the wrong time or in the wrong way, or for the wrong reasons. And that can be hurtful. But the honest-to-goodness truth is never wrong." Then Mama went back to stitching and pulling, stitching and pulling.

Libby found her neighbor out front, down on all fours, pulling up flowers and snatching up vines by the roots. When Miz Tusselbury saw her, she wiped her brow with the back of her hand and flashed a full smile.

"I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings yesterday," Libby said.

"Libby Louise, you were right," Miz Tusselbury replied. "This place had gone completely and uncontrollably wild!"

"But you were so mad at me."

Miz Tusselbury waved a dismissing hand. "The truth is often hard to chew. But if it is sweetened with love, then it is a little easier to swallow."

Libby really did understand. She picked up a hoe and began helping. "Things are really looking pretty good around here," she said. And that was the honest-to-goodness truth.

Excerpted from the book THE HONEST-TO-GOODNESS TRUTH. Text copyright c 2000 by Patricia C. McKissack. Illustrations copyright c 2000 by Giselle Porter. Reprinted by permission of Atheneum Books for Young Children, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., Children's Publishing Division. All rights reserved.

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