The Ballad of Sally Henderson, English Teacher and Outlaw

Friends, lend your ear, this tale you must hear

of a renegade lady I knew

To her I must hand it, this teacher-turned bandit, 

to books, she was brave and true. 

Her students weren’t reading, so Sally was needing

to make a difference else-where 

some minutes avail– I’ll regale you a tale

of Ms. Henderson’s panache and flair.

    (This lady had panache and flair!) 

The idea she had–just bear with me, lads–

was to spread good books door to door

take from those who don’t need ‘em

give to those who might read ‘em,

rob the rich, and give to the poor.

Now, I ain’t sayin’ its right, but she left in the night 

and went West in a Honda Accord

but the engine delayed and the spark plugs were frayed

and the gas was too much to afford. 

     Yes, the gas cost too much to afford.

She needed a horse! And a fast one of course

She stole from a farmer you see

the horse had him some fire, he could run and not tire 

this horse could help Sally run free, lads

      this horse could help Sally run free. 

She called him Fitzgerald and rode single barrelled

with saddlebags crammed full of stories

and in every small town she would pass books around

      and be gone by the first light of morning.

She took all she could carry ‘cross the American prairie, and

meant to be back by September

just a bag full of Blake, Keats, Shelly and Yeats

and all the great books she remembered. 

She brought Austin and Hardy, both Brontes, a cardi, 

her toothbrush and Edna Millay

the complete works of Shakespeare

(and let me just be clear: her intent was to give it away, my friends

     she gave all the good books away). 

She brought Fraser and Tolkein

Smiley and Graham Green

Tyler and old Barbara K

Halprin and Joyce, so folks had a choice

O’Farrell and E Hemingway

      (‘cuz you can’t forget E. Hemingway). 

With DeBus, Doerr and Yeats she rode ‘cross the states 

on a horse named Fitzgerald, by day

She had only her mission, and all of that fiction

her shotgun, and bags of Earl Gray

     (she liked tea, lads, so bags of earl gray).

But the farmer went round to the sheriff in town

and the sheriff? Tipped off, you might say

He swore with a frown he would track Sally down

Mrs. H, she would not get away.

     No, our Sally would not get away. 

So, like Doc and young Billy, and old Texas Willie,

Butch, Sundance, and Bonnie and Clyde

from the law she did run with an antique shotgun 

and the sheriff chased her far and wide

Sheriff Maligant chased far and wide. 

      (Ride, Sally Henderson! Ride!) 

Well, the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months

and he chased her clean out to the coast

the long arm of the law was upon her, she saw

yes, poor Sally, she knew she was toast.

And one late summer night, he gave Sally a fright

cornered her on the sharp edge of town

right out on a cliff, and her heart it went stiff

so she slowed old Fitzgerald down.

    Whoah, boy, Fitzgerald, slow down. 

“Put your hands in the air!” said the sheriff with flair 

thinking he’d caught his white whale

with a dignified gesture, she put down her Winchester, and 

looked into his face, cold and pale.

But the English teacher had teacher-like features

she knew how to diffuse situations

She asked him his name and and his anger did wain

     as she spoke with kindness and patience. 

Turns out Maligant, as antagonists went

Was a bit of a bibliophile 

he liked gothic romantics with passion-filled antics

     and kept them at home in a pile.

What he wanted, you see, from our teacher, Sally–

the reason he’d chased her these nights?

A particular tome he did not have at home 

a copy of Wuthering Heights, friends

      just a copy of Wuthering Heights. 

So she gave him the book and a teacher-like look 

And he left, reading Heathcliff and Catherine

The very night he’d closed in, he left with a grin

    And poor Sally H took an aspirin. 

But without Maligant, her valiant quest went

rather poorly; it failed to excite

He needed the chase and she needed the race

    and all that pursuit in the night. 

So with tacit agreement, the sheriff and she went on

though he never quite caught her

She just gave him new books and some secretive looks and

the law? Well, it never quite got her

     Yes the law, well it never quite got her. 

And so, to this day, she is out there, they say

and happy, from all I can glean

You might track her down in some mid-western town

     ‘cuz I’ve heard folks who say she’s been seen. 

I hope, my dear friends that as this poem ends, 

you will promise to pass on her story

She helped those in need (IF they wanted to read), yes

     Her legacy’s good books and glory, lads

      Her legacy is good books and glory.