- Historic Sites
The Washed Window
For the young ex-slave a Vermont schoolteacher opened the door to civilization
December 1955 | Volume 7, Issue 1
I set to work once more, the sweat running down my I face. Suppose she wouldn’t even let me try to do her work. I never could get into Hampton. What if I just never could get the hang of her ways? Stricken, scared, I began again to clean that woodshed! I went over and over every corner of it. Once in a while I stopped stock-still to look at it, as I had never looked at anything before, trying really to see it. I don’t know that I ever in my life afterwards cared about doing anything right as much as getting that little old woodshed clean.
“When I came to what I thought was the end, I stopped to get my breath. I looked up at the slanting roof. The rafters were not only cleared of cobwebs but bare of dust; the floor was swept clean, not a chip, not a thread, not a glint of broken glass on it. Piles of firewood against the walls. And the window! I had washed that window! Five times I had washed it. How it sparkled. How the strong sunshine poured through it. The woodshed was no rubbish pile. It was a room. To me it looked like a parlor. I was proud of it. I had never been proud of anything I had done until then.
“Then for the third time I went to call Mrs. Ruffner to inspect. Big boy as I was, twice her size, my hands were shaking, my lips twitching. I felt sick. Had I done it right this time? Could I ever do anything right?
“I watched her face as she passed my work in review, looking carefully up, down, and around. Then she turned to me and, looking straight into my eyes, she nodded and said, ‘Now it’s clean. Nobody could have done it any better.’
“She had opened the door through which I took my first step towards civilized standards of living.”
His name was Booker Washington.