The fact that Georgeann and her friends are forbidden by all the women in town to speak to Rose-Johnny is enough to pique the inquisitive eleven-year-old’s curiosity. That Rose-Johnny has become a legendary horror does not frighten Georgeann; it only makes speaking with her a kind of public dare.
Sent to buy chicken mash after school by her parents, Georgeann meets Rose-Johnny. The woman’s very ordinariness almost disappoints Georgeann when she finally meets her: The woman’s hair is cut short like a man’s and she wears men’s Red Wing boots, but the rest of her looks like anybody’s mother “in a big flowered dress without a waistline and with two faded spots in front.” At the store, Georgeann encounters several local men, who try to warn her away from Rose-Johnny. The things they say sound threatening and seem to frighten Rose-Johnny, but they are incomprehensible to the little girl. Georgeann is all the more confused when Rose-Johnny proves to be a kind, likable soul, who even has a sense of humor. Despite the men’s warnings, Georgeann finds herself unafraid of the woman. Trying to make sense of what the men have said, Georgeann asks her Aunt Minnie why girls should not go near Rose-Johnny. Aunt Minnie reluctantly tells her that it is because Rose-Johnny is a “Lebanese,” and that she will understand when she is older.
Georgeann concocts a tale, her first important lie, that will allow her to continue going back to Rose-Johnny’s feed store. She tells her parents that Rose-Johnny is sick and that Mr. Wall, Rose-Johnny’s father and the store’s proprietor, has asked her to help out until Rose-Johnny is better. From Rose-Johnny, the little girl learns to care for the pullets and ducklings, weigh packages of seed, and mix the mash. Impressed by Rose-Johnny’s skills, she comes to admire the woman more each week. Georgeann also learns to respect different kinds of people. After hours, the customers are poor African Americans, whom Rose-Johnny treats well. For the poorest, she reduces prices by more than half. Rose-Johnny takes pains to teach Georgeann all the names of her African American customers, and she tells her to be sure to say hello whenever she meets them on the street, regardless of who is watching.
At school, Georgeann fights one of the Mattox boys when he calls Rose-Johnny and her perverts. Georgeann declares that she loves Rose-Johnny. To everyone’s surprise, though she is younger and smaller, the boy bloodies her nose. The next day, Georgeann asks Rose-Johnny whether the rumors that her father is a “colored man” are true. Rose-Johnny tells her that her...
(The entire section is 692 words.)