In one-room schools, all students were taught together. They were common in small towns and rural areas in many countries during the 19th and early 20th centuries. They are still found today in developing countries and isolated rural areas.
The buildings were simple barn-like or church-like constructions, sometimes with a school bell. There was usually only one teacher per school, often a former student. The school room was the centre of the community for many small towns, with town meetings also held there.
The swelling in Mr. Sir’s face is due to the rattlesnake venom, which causes swelling and excruciating pain.
A cantaloupe is an orange-fleshed sweet melon.
People have believed in the health benefits of onions for a long time. The ancient Egyptians thought onions symbolized eternal life, and in both ancient Greece and Rome athletes and gladiators used onions to lighten their blood and to firm their muscles. Doctors throughout history have prescribed onions to help with bowel movements, to cure snake bites and hair loss, and to relieve the symptoms of colds.
Modern research has shown that there actually are a lot of health benefits associated with eating onions. They are high in vitamin C and folic acid, and are a good source of fibre. They also contain flavonoids, which help vitamin C to function and decrease inflammation. They thin the blood and help with cardiovascular function, and may even inhibit the growth of tumours. The flavonoids found in onions also have anti-oxidant and anti-cholesterol properties. Onions contain sulphur, which is good for the liver, and have anti-bacterial properties too. Onion extracts are sometimes used to provide relief from coughs, asthma and bronchitis.
Racism and racial discrimination were common in the United States at this time (late 19th century), especially towards African Americans, even though slavery had been abolished in 1865 with the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment. An African American such as Sam might be tolerated to a certain extent in a small town, but he would still have been perceived by many as inferior or even dangerous. Segregation based on race was common and legal, and certain things, such as attending a school run by a white person, would have been impossible for Sam.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Edgar Allan Poe were both American poets of the 19th century. Poe was part of the American Romantic Movement and is known for his mysterious style and macabre subjects. Longfellow is known for his lyric poems concerning myths and legends. Both were extremely popular writers.
Anti-miscegenation laws (laws banning interracial marriage) were introduced first in the 17th century in the original Thirteen Colonies that would become the United States. In many states cohabitation and sex between different races was also banned by law. In Texas, where this story is set, all non-whites were banned from marrying whites, in a law introduced in 1837. Such laws lasted in some states, including Texas, until as late as 1967, when they were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.