Whittier Cameo        
Lydia Ayer        
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brooch02.png Played by Jodie McFarlin

Lydia Ayer

I was one of John's school-mates and my family lived on a nearby farm. John needed to work on the farm, so he only attended school twelve weeks each year and was mostly self-taught.

He memorialized me though a poem called In School Days. A good friend and contemporary of Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, deemed this poem "the most beautiful school-boy poem in the English language."

In this poem at a class spelling bee, a boy was out-spelled. The young girl waited outside the school to say:

"I'm sorry that I spelt the word:
I hate to go above you,
Because - the brown eyes lower fell -
Because you see, I love you!"
jodie_0637-denoise-clear_cp1_fx1_med.jpg The poem was his recollection of an incident 60 years earlier. When Lydia had eventually left the school house, she found Whittier outside waiting for her. She had won the spelling bee after Whittier had spelled a word incorrectly. Lydia felt bad that she had won, and not Greenleaf, her boyfriend. The poem continues:
"Still memory to a gray-haired man
That sweet child face is showing,
Dear girl! The grasses on her grave
Have forty years been growing!
He lives to learn, in life's hard school,
How few who pass above him
Lament their triumph and his loss
Like her - because they love him."
I died at age 14 and am buried in Walnut Cemetery just down the road from my home. I am still remembered, for even today children from Haverhill schools recite the poem In School Days at my grave every spring.

Note. When John's sister, Mary, sent one of his poems to the Newburyport paper, the editor, William Lloyd Garrison, was so impressed with his writing that he encouraged John Greenleaf to continue his education and attend the Haverhill Academy, where he met beauty Evelina Bray Downey, whose romance with him was never to be, but their attraction to each other lasted a lifetime.