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Guidelines, Background, Questions, and Activities for Using Beth's Fella
by Frances Dinkins Strong

Guidelines

  1. Help children have a personal glimpse at farm life in the 1950's and 1960's.
  2. Increase an appreciation of history. Share the book with grandparents or other people who remember that era. Ask them to tell children about their experiences during that time .
  3. Improve reading comprehension. Share background information about the book's time frame and setting. Use questions and activities. Teach new vocabulary words.
  4. Point out what chores were done and how Beth dressed.
  5. Learn about retinitis pigmentosa (tunnel vision) and how it affected Beth.
  6. Teach children ways they can help people with the two types of disabilities shown in the story. Discuss other types of handicaps as well.
  7. Join the fun Beth had training her colt, learning to ride, and developing good judgement in purchasing new horses.
  8. Enhance a visit to a farm or a county fair. Learn more about farm animals, crops, and farm life.
  9. Beth experiences the death of some of her pets including Fella. Use this as a springboard to discuss how children react to death. Talk about how Beth dealt with it.
  10. This book is about personal experiences. Encourage children to write about their experiences.
  11. Look over the illustrations and see how they blend with the story.
  12. The author welcomes communication from readers. Because she cannot see the computer screen or mouse arrow, she works with the monitor turned off. She uses the keyboard instead of the mouse. Her computer will read your email to her and she can reply to your email. See contact information.

Background Written by the Author

This story is based on my true life adventures. It begins with the birth of my colt, Fella in 1955. Many changes were taking place on the farms in South Carolina prior to this event. Life on the Dinkinsí farm (Jones' farm in the story) in the 1950ís was typical for the people who lived in the rural areas.

Black River Electric Cooperative brought electricity to the rural areas of Sumter County in the late thirties and the early 1940ís. Before electricity, the people in these areas used hand pumps on their back porch to have water for the house. A well was necessary for outdoor use. Water was drawn up from the deep hole of the well by using ropes and pulleys. The buckets of water were given to the animals in homemade wooden troughs. Often clothes were washed outside in a large wash pot. An out house was near the main house and used for outdoor bathroom necessities. Without electricity, the people used kerosene lanterns for light in the house. Fireplaces and cast iron wood stoves were a must for cooking on them and for warmth in the cold months.

By the time I was born in 1941, things changed for the Dinkins family. Electricity came to the farm. That meant lights, electric stoves, refrigerators, electric pumps to bring the water into the house and pipes to transport the water around the farm. With this change, many farmers like my family, kept some of the old ways of doing things. At the same time, they started enjoying the modern day conveniences. I remember the hand pump on our back porch. This was a good source of water in case the electricity went off

My parents, William and Annie Dinkins, were married in 1934. Mother went from washing clothes outside in a wash tub to having a washing machine on the back porch. Having an indoor bathroom was the best modern invention, she said. However, when I was a child in the early forties, we took baths in a porcelain tub up on legs or feet. Mother heated water on top of the wood stove and poured it into the tub. We had running water in the house, but we did not have a water heater until years later. As a child I can see the large wood stove in our den-dining room. In the colder months, wood had to be chopped to fit into the stove. We girls often were asked to bring in chips of wood for kindling to help start the fire. Also I can see wet clothes drying around the stove on a rack. We dressed by the stove before going to bed because there was no heat upstairs. Sometimes the quilts and blankets were so heavy that I could hardly turn over.

My father continued using a well for the cattle and hogs because it would be too expensive to run pipe lines to the pastures. A short pipe line was dug and an old bath tub was used for a trough for the horses.

A windmill was tried for a while to draw water for the cattle. The blade propellers were turned by the wind and a shaft was drilled into the ground to the water. Then the water was pumped up and flowed into a trough. But it was not very successful.

A gristmill was a common site around the many rural ponds. The force of the water flowing over the flood gates at the dam of the pond, turned the water wheel. This wheel with gears made a flat stone wheel grind whole kernel corn into meal. This meal was sifted for grits, cornmeal and hominy. These were staples for the country kitchen. Sometimes wheat was also ground to make whole wheat flour. This flour and meal had to be ground often. It would not keep very long because weevils and mold were a problem

Cows were used for the daily milk and young bulls were sold for beef. Hogs also gave the farmer food for the table, such as: ham, bacon, pork chops, and of course every winter there was a big barbeque for all the family and friends.

A farmhouse always had a smoke house. Inside the pork was salted down and smoked by using a small fire in a barrel. The smoke from the fire helped cure the meat for later use.

Chickens were plentiful around the farm. The henís eggs and the fryers were very good in the frying pan.

My father got his first tractor in the early 40ís. Before that they plowed all the fields with mules and he even had an ox. The tractor made life easier and he could cover a larger area in a quicker time. But my father preferred a muleís plow for the garden.

Shaw Air Force Base was nearby. They discarded long iron landing mats when they were worn down too much for the airplanes. Father used them for gates and cattle guards around the farm.

We listened to the Lone Ranger on our radio after school. In the mid 50ís, my Aunt Leila got a television. It was the first in the neighborhood. Every Saturday night, we walked or drove to her house and watched Laurence Welk.

Our telephone came into our home about the year 1952. I was 11 years old. We were on a party line with several families for years. That meant we could hear other peopleís conversations and they could hear ours. My father never felt comfortable talking on the phone. He said he preferred seeing the people he was talking to in person.

One of the first cars I remember was a 1940 black four-door Ford. I remember Father saying that it would go 40 miles an hour!

Life was grand. We thought we were poor living on a farm; but we were richly blessed. I had loving, Christian parents. They taught us ethical values such as: follow the Golden Rule and to always do your best and you will be rewarded.

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Questions and Activities

General

  1. What is the book about?
  2. How does Fellaís life interact with Bethís life?
  3. What is the time period of the story?
  4. How does Bethís tunnel vision affect her circumstances?
  5. What part does her sister, Marta, play in the story?
  6. What happens when Beth gets married and what changes are made?
  7. How does Fella help Bethís children?
  8. What happens to Fella at the end of the story? What does Beth say she might do?

Detailed

  1. How did Beth feel when she saw her foal for the first time?
  2. What did the two sisters talk about on the bus ride home?
  3. Why was the first touch so special to Beth?
  4. Tell about one of the special places the girls visited and what they did there.
  5. Where was the lost calf and how did Marta find it?
  6. How did the puppy get tangled up in the vines and briars? What did the puppy do after they got him loose?
  7. Why did the girls think of Chuck as a hero?
  8. Describe the race and who won or tell about Chuckís chariot.
  9. Why and how was Nellie such a nuisance?
  10. What was the monster from the deep and why did they call it that?
  11. Who was Henry and what happened when he came out to ride the horses with Beth?
  12. Tell about the time when Beth took her niece and nephew for a ride on the horses.
  13. Who were the Posse Cats and what did Fella do that surprised Beth?
  14. Tell about the experiences Beth, Anna and Catherine had with Poppa in finding a suitable horse for Catherine.
  15. How did Beth and Fella make a little boy, David, happy?
  16. How did Beth and the girls feel when Fella died?
  17. Choose a character or pet in the story that interests you and tell why this interests you.
  18. What adventure was the most interesting to you?
  19. How did Bethís tunnel vision affect her experiences and how did Marta find a way to help Beth?
  20. What did you like most about the book?
  21. Write down some words that you might want to look up and talk about.

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