Freedom Run

Welcome back, and Merry Christmas!! 😀 Ok, I might be getting a bit ahead of myself here. But we’ve been putting up Christmas decorations all day, and I’m listening to Christmas music while wearing a pair of reindeer antlers my little sister told me to put on. 😀 So I’m in a rather Christmas-y mood! And will be for the rest of the month…

Christmas is my absolute favourite holiday! It’s just so beautifully joyous! Secrets run through the days like the glittery ribbon that seems to find its way everywhere, and the music is twinkly like stars and fairy lights and smiles. I love the bright and happy atmosphere of everything, and most of all I love the wonderful story that is behind the celebration. I love it all!

So anyways, you can expect to hear more of my delighted ranting about Christmas in the next few weeks. 😀 I even have a Christmas story serial planned for the week leading up to Christmas!

But today I’m going to share a piece of writing that is totally unrelated to Christmas. A week or so ago I was assigned a creative writing project for history. My writerly heart left at the possibilities, and so I let myself loose and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It’s nice when school is actually really enjoyable! 😀 Just to give a little background to the piece – it’s meant to be three journal entries from a slave’s perspective before the Civil War in America. I hope you enjoy! 😉

~

April, 1848

Enough. I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of the scorn, the shame, and the bruises. I’ve had enough of the sorrow, the drudgery, the pain.

Enough. I’ve seen enough. I’ve seen enough screaming children being torn away from their sobbing mothers. I’ve seen enough boys being beaten like animals for lack of speed in their work. I’ve seen enough girls hiding stories of rape and abuse behind their beautiful, blank eyes. I’ve seen enough men bowing and scraping to other men, simply because of the colour of their skin. I’ve seen enough women carrying their master’s seed in their womb.

I’ve seen enough. I’ve had enough. And I’m going to leave.

I scarce dare to write these words down, for fear of being discovered. But I must, I must spill my plans to someone before my heart bursts with emotion, and here is the only place.

Yes, I’m going to leave. Leave this godforsaken piece of land I’ve lived on my entire life. Leave a lifetime of pain, drudgery and sorrow behind. This place where I was born, the place where I first learned what love was, the place where I learned what the crushing weight of sorrow felt like – I’m leaving it all behind.

Something compels me to run. Something within me screams at me to flee. The burns of injustice have become too painful to ignore.

I am an educated human being, I have a soul just like any other human being. I have a brain, and I can use it. I can read, I can write. I can see this institution of slavery for what it really is.

Master’s eyes drift over me like I’m a piece of furniture. He talks to me like I’m a dumb animal. He treats me like the dirt under his feet. And I know it. My mind has been set free, and my body yearns to follow it.

Follow the stars. That what I’m going to do. Follow the stars all the way North… North too… I hardly dare say it.

North to freedom.

May, 1848

Fear sniffs at my heels like the dogs that master set on my trail. I know Master no longer follows me. But still fear lingers close.

It stalks silently beside me as I walk through the dark night. It sits heavily on my chest as I snatch sleep. I can hear its inhuman cackle every time a noise makes me jump. And it never, never leaves me alone.

It joined me when I heard the first hound howl when it picked up my scent. It kept up with me as I ran through the woods, praying to God above to save me from the dogs. It nearly dragged me under the water as I swam desperately across a river. Its evil laugh echoed in my head when I feared for my life in a treacherous swamp.

When the last howl of the hunting hounds faded into the buzzing of swamp mosquitoes, I felt a glimmer of hope flicker. But fear quickly pounced, blowing the flicker out, leaving suffocating darkness and whispered doubts in its place. Even when I found my way out of the swamp and continued on, my unwanted companion stayed close beside me.

And now, I cannot rest. I must go on. Fear snaps at my heels, hurries me onward. I am still a slave. Until I reach the North, I can never be free.

Fear is my new master, and it’s just as cruel as my old one. It is relentless. It laughs at my terror, smiles at my pain.

I run. Following the stars, with fear by my side. I long for freedom.

I pray, whispering pleas to the God in heaven as my feet move mechanically below me.

I’m tired. I’m weary of fear. I’m weary of bondage. I’m weary of running.

And yet, hope still glimmers, though fear often tries to extinguish it. Freedom lies ahead, if I can only run far enough, run fast enough.

But how much longer must I run?

June, 1848

Here I stand, finally, on Northern soil.

I have crossed the rivers, the swamps, the woods, the fields. I have outrun the hounds, my master, and the slave catchers. I have slept little, eaten even less, always driven onwards by the cruelty of fear and the glimmering lure of hope.

The boundary line was inconspicuous, the only marker was a small sign. I crossed into Northern territory with my body worn and weary – stooped from pain and exhaustion, limping from torn and blistered feet.

But as soon as I realized where I was, I stood tall. I raised my shaking hands to the starry heavens and cried my thanks to their creator. My tears soaked into the dust as I knelt and kissed the ground.

Fear gave a parting hiss, and then melted back across the boundary line. I was left alone for the first time in weeks.

But I was not alone. The joy that filled my heart warmed me, the hope was overwhelming. The burden of fear was gone, leaving courage and delight.

And now I walk again. Onwards, deeper into Northern territory, deeper into freedom. The hunger pangs fade, the blisters are bearable.

Nothing matters compared to this incomparable truth: I have reached freedom.

I am finally free.

~

That’s all for this week! Comment down below if you’re as excited for Christmas as I am, as well as what your favourite part of Christmas is! 😀

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Short Story – A Smoky Lesson

Hello everyone! Today I’m back with another short story, this time an older one that I wrote last summer. Now, I need to give some background to this story before I post it…

The Circle C Adventures series by Susan K. Marlow have been one of those series that is just an integral part of my childhood. Though actually, I didn’t get into them until I was about 10, so perhaps they’re more part of my adolescence. 😀 I read the ‘Adventures‘ series first, then read the ‘Beginnings‘ (even though I was much above the target age range for them :D) In the recent years I’ve really enjoyed the ‘Milestones‘ series, buying them as soon as they’ve been published. The series chronicle the adventures of a girl named Andi Carter, who grows up on a Californian ranch in the late 1800s. They tell her story from the age of six up until she get’s married. I’d totally recommend checking them out, they’re wonderful books!

My love for historical fiction was deepened through reading these books, and my love for writing was partly sparked by them. Yes, I wrote some before I encountered them, but the fan-fiction contests that Mrs M held for her readers pushed me to start writing more. I actually won honourable mention in 2015/16 yearly writing contest. (I might post that story on here one day! ;))

So anyways, now that I’ve got all that explained, you’ll better understand where this story is coming from. It was written for a small writing contest Mrs Marlow held last summer. Though it didn’t place, I thoroughly enjoyed writing it! Perhaps because it’s based on a true life story. 😀 So without further ado, here’s the story! I hope you enjoy! 🙂

~

A Smoky Lesson

Six year old Andi breathed a deep shuddering sob that turned into a cough as she breathed in the acrid smoke. Mitch and Peter were frantically rushing around the kitchen, opening windows and trying to fan the choking smoke out. But Andi just stood there, staring at the charred and smouldering pot on the stove, sobbing.

My surprise for Mother is ruined! How could this have all gone so wrong? She took another shuddering breath, and let her mind go back over the events of the afternoon….

*

As Mother had left the house just before noon that day, she’d lined up Mitch, his best friend Peter, and Andi on the front porch.

“Mitch, I expect you to take good care of Andi. And Andi, listen to your brother. He’s in charge.”

“Yes Mother, don’t worry we’ll be fine.” Mitch had airily assured Mother.

“We’ll take care of Andi, don’t worry.” Peter had added.

“Good. Now have fun and be safe! I’ll be back in time for dinner.” Mother had smiled and then climbed into the buggy. As it headed away, she’d called back. “And don’t burn the house down!” Mitch looked at Peter and laughed.

“Come on, let’s go down to the corral where all the mustangs are!”

“Can I come?” Andi asked.

“No, they’re too wild now. Too dangerous for a little girl like you.”

“Please?” Andi begged.

“No, go in the house and play, we’ll be back in a few minutes.” The two boys had headed off, leaving Andi standing disconsolately on the porch. If Mother hadn’t cautioned her to obey Mitch, she would have ignored him and followed along.

But I’d better listen to him this time, I guess. She wandered aimlessly into the house, searching for something to do. It was the servants’ day off, and there was no one around in the house or yard. None of her toys looked inviting, compared to the lure of forbidden mustangs.

Maybe I’ll get a snack. Andi eventually thought, heading for the kitchen. A few minutes later, mouth full of cookie, she slumped on a chair. Mitch is no fair! He should have stayed with me instead of going off with Peter and leaving me all alone. As she slowly munched her cookie, Andi’s eyes lighted upon a large crate of rosy apples in the corner of the kitchen. Those must be the apples Mother asked Luisa to make into applesauce. Andi mused. Hmmmmm… A light bulb clicked on in her brain. I know! I’ll make applesauce to surprise Mother!

*

A little while later, the apples were peeled, cut, put into a large pot, and already sending up warm, sweet smells above the hot kitchen stove. Since she knew Mother’s warnings about using knives, Andi had enlisted the boys’ help for the surprise she had concocted, and amazingly they had gone along with it with nary a murmur. Andi’s mouth and hands were sticky with all the apple peelings she had eaten while picking up after the boys, who had raced to see how many apples they each could peel and cut.

“Well, what do we do now?” Peter questioned to nobody in particular. “This applesauce won’t be done for a while, and there’s no use just sitting here watching it.”

“Let’s go for a ride.” Mitch suggested.

“Oh yes! Can I come?” Andi exclaimed.

“Sure.” Said Peter generously. “Let’s go!” As the three headed out for the barn, all thoughts of applesauce were swept from their minds.

*

An hour and a bit later, the three ambled slowly back towards the ranch on their horses. The two boys were farther back, letting their mounts cool off after a heated race. Andi on Cocoa was in front, considering a particularly interesting dispute Peter and Mitch had had over who’d won the race. As they neared the house, she looked up, and to her immediate horror, saw black smoke billowing out of a window in the house!

“Mitch, Peter!” She screamed. “The house is on fire!!!”

*

Now as Andi stood surveying the charred pot that was still belching out putrid smoke, and the blackened stove underneath it, she wasn’t sure what to do or think. The boys had immediately jumped into action, opening all the windows in the kitchen, and throwing a bucket of water on the stove, where it had hissed fiercely. Andi had taken one look at her ruined surprise, and started to sob.

My wonderful surprise has turned into a horrible mess! As the smoke slowly disappeared, leaving the stench of charred apples, Mitch left the kitchen to open all the windows around the house, hoping to dispel just some of the smell that had permeated the whole house. Peter seeing Andi’s distress, kneeled down and gave her a gentle hug.

“Hey, it’s ok now.” He comforted, awkwardly trying to wipe away her tears. “There’s no fire, and everything will be jim-dandy once we clean up.” Peter assured her.

Mitch came back into the kitchen, and said “We’d better try and scrub out that pot. Mother will have a fit if she sees that mess in it.” He hauled the pot to the table and began to scrub it. Peter began to wipe off the blackened stove, and Andi slowly began to pick up stray apple peels off the floor.

“I guess… I guess we shouldn’t have left it.” She tentatively said.

“Yeah, it was my fault for suggesting to go for a ride.” Mitch answered.

“And it was my fault for agreeing!” Peter added.

“And it was my fault for…”

Andi was cut off by Mitch. “It wasn’t your fault at all! Don’t you worry over it, I’ll explain everything to Mother.” He flashed her a cheery grin.

*

As it turned out, Mother was so grateful that nothing worse had happened, that she really didn’t mind about the awful smoky smell or the scorched pot.

“Thank God that you came back when you did! It could have been so much worse!”

“Yeah, I’m sorry Mother, I should have thought.” Mitch apologized.

“I’m sorry my surprise for you was ruined Mother.” Andi said, hugging her Mother tightly.

“Oh darling, it was the thought that counted.” Andi grinned up at her Mother, and then straightened up.

“You know what?” Andi looked around at everyone. “I’ve learned a very important lesson: Don’t ever leave the house when you are cooking!” Everyone erupted into laughter.

“You got that right, Andi!” Peter chortled. “You sure got that right!”

*Dedicated to my dear, long-suffering Mother, who recently did come home to find her best pot ruined by my surprise that had literally gone up in smoke. Thanks for forgiving me again, Mum! 😀

~

As you can see from the dedication, this story was really based on a true life story. Like Andi, I decided to make applesauce for a surprise for my Mum, and also like Andi, I totally forgot about it and ruined it and the pot it was in. I wasn’t able to laugh about it as quickly as Andi did, but looking back now I can! 😀

That’s all for today! But before you go, I want to let you know about a new blog that has just been launched. I am part of a course called the Young Writer’s Workshop that was launched by Brett Harris and Jaquelle Crowe early this year. It has been an invaluable tool to help me grow in my writing, and is part of the reason why I started this blog! As a part of this course, there is a community where we can interact with all the other young writers on the course. I’ve met so many wonderful writers, it’s been amazing! And one of my fellow writers, Bethany, is launching her blog today! You can find her at Behind the Pen, where she’ll be posting behind the scenes of her writing, story snippets, writing tips, book reviews and the occasional fun/off-topic post. I know she’d love it if you could check her out! 🙂

I hope you all have a wonderful week (celebrating Thanksgiving if you’re in America, enjoying the lovely, rainy weather if you’re in England, and just plain enjoying life if you’re somewhere else :D) and I’ll see you back here next Saturday!

Short Story – Praying for Rain

Welcome back! Today I’m sharing part 2 of the story I began to share last week.

And I also promised a reveal of the title because I couldn’t think of one last week . So, without further ado, let me introduce ‘Praying for Rain’ (part 2)! The title is short and simple, and, I think, suitably captures what this is story about. I hope you enjoy the conclusion! 🙂

~

Another week passes, then another. The horizon remains empty, and the house grows quieter. Everything takes on a dreamlike quality, as if we are moving through a sea of molasses. It takes ten times as long to do my chores. It’s just too hot.

The sky stretches above the fields, tight and blue.

The sun mocks us.

Dust covers everything.

I walk with Papa to the fields. Everything is the same. The plants droop, the ground beneath is cracked.

The corn is dying.

Papa caresses a leaf as he always does, tender in his devotion to his crops. But this time, the leaf doesn’t whisper in his palm. It gives a small broken crackle, and falls apart. Papa stares at the leaf in his hand. I watch, heart aching. Then slowly, he balls his fist around the leave, squeezing until his knuckles turn white. When he opens his hand, dust falls like rain to the dry ground at his feet.

He turns and walks away.

I am left alone, surrounded by acres of corn that has given up hope. My heart aches fiercely behind my faded calico apron. It beats until I feel as if it will choke me. My throat tightens, and tears well over.

“Why?” I whisper. I turn in an aimless circle, trying to comprehend the loss of hope as the cornfields blur in a haze of hot tears.

“Why?” I say it louder, as the tears fall faster.

“God, don’t you hear me?” I shake my fist at the unrelenting sky.

“We need rain. Can’t you see? Just look!” I gesture angrily at the fields around me.

“We need rain.” I cry harder, tears rolling down my cheeks. They create shining tracks on the film of dust that covers me.

“God! If you are there, if you can hear me, then answer me!” I scream up at the sky.

“Send us rain!”

Then I collapse in a dusty heap on the parched earth, my tears soaking into the ground as soon as they roll off my face.

~

Tomorrow arrives, then tomorrow, and another tomorrow. I am numb with despair.

Every morning I stay in bed until I am forced to get up by Mama’s call. I don’t look at the sky. I know what it holds, or rather, what it doesn’t hold.

Every night, I crawl into bed. I don’t pray. Instead I let the tears roll silently down into my ears until I fall into a restless sleep.

I dream of an angry God, holding back rain as a punishment on poor farmers.

I dream of the sky taunting us with the hope of thunder and lightning, but holding back the promise of rain.

And then worst of all, I dream of rain. Sweet, cool refreshing rain that soaks into the ground and brings life and hope once again.

But then I wake up and realize it was just a dream and that I am living in a nightmare.

Hope died with the dust that fell from Papa’s hand that morning.

The rain will never come.

~

I lie in bed, after living through a day that was the same as yesterday. I wonder briefly if tomorrow might break the pattern of dusty monotony, then decide that no, it will not. Tomorrow will be the same as today – hopeless and rainless.

I can hear the low murmur of Papa and Mama talking in the other room. They thought I hadn’t heard them talking earlier, but I had. They were murmuring about giving up the farm, of going to the East to live with Mama’s sister. Whispers that signalled the final end of everything we’d ever hoped, dreamed and lived for.

Tears come much easier now than they used to, and so I lie there, stifling in the darkness, stifling my sobs. Sleep eventually comes, long after their murmurs have stopped and the harvest moon has risen. I am restless, drifting in and out of nightmares that are too close to reality.

Then a noise cuts through my shadowy dreams, jerking me awake. I lie there, panting softly in the heat, straining my eyes in the darkness.

The noise comes again, a strange intermittent tapping that seems to be coming from the roof above me. The tapping grows in intensity and loudness, as if someone is throwing stones randomly from the sky. I cast about in my sleep-fogged brain, trying to identify the noise. It seems vaguely familiar, as if I had dreamt about it long ago.

Then the truth hits me with the force of a train. I leap out of bed, tripping over my discarded clothes in the darkness, crashing into the door. I tear it open, heedless of my elbows or the clothes or the hinges.

“Papa, Mama!” I scream.

Dashing through the kitchen, I pull open the front door.

It is as if heaven stands before me.

The smell of life comes flooding into the house, dispelling the smell of the dust that has filled our nostrils for so long. I look out through tear filled eyes at the rain that thuds onto the ground.

Somehow I find myself in the front yard, screaming for joy. My face is turned up to the sky that drops its long awaited gift upon the earth. I run and jump and skip, my heart singing for joy.

I turn and see Papa dancing with Mama in the puddles of water that have quickly accumulated on the ground. I can’t tell if they’re crying or laughing – I don’t know myself whether I’m crying or laughing. Rain pelts my head and runs heavy down my face, washing away the dust of despair.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I cry over and over again, laughter bubbling up between sobs.

I run to Papa and Mama. I can see the joy dripping from their drenched clothes, feel it radiating from their gleaming smiles. Papa’s eyes flash with light, Mama stands straight and strong.

We join hands and dance together, as the rain pours from the sky.

 

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Short Story – …?

Hello everyone! Today I have the first part of a short story for you all to read. It was born on Monday after a brain wave and 2 hours of writing. 😀 And, just to up the tension a bit, I will be revealing its title with the second part next week. (That’s definitely not because I haven’t thought up of a good title yet, or anything. :P) I hope you all will enjoy it!

crops died

Every morning, I stare out over the horizon, longing to see the clouds that mean rain is coming. Every morning the horizon remains empty, curving downwards like a celestial frown of disapproval at my hope.

Every evening, I kneel on the worn floorboards and pray for rain. Every evening I lie on my sagging bed in the stifling heat, wishing for the coolness of a storm. Every evening I drift off to sleep, dreaming of the elusive pattern of raindrops on the roof above me.

But every morning, I wake up. And it hasn’t rained.

~

Papa stares out at the horizon with me, every morning. Then he strides off to inspect the fields. Sometimes I tag along with him. The ground is hard and hot under my feet. Dust puffs up and coats my legs, my dress, and my mouth.

Our fields stretch out almost as far as we can see, up to the horizon. We walk among the rows of corn, planted with such hope and anticipation last spring. The plants droop, tired of the sun, tired of trying to grow. The corn is shrivelling on the cobs, the small kernels withering even smaller, unable to draw sustenance from the barren land. Papa caresses the limp leaves with his work worn hands as he passes through the field. I look up at his face, trying to read what he is thinking. But his thoughts are locked behind the sunburn, and his eyes are hard and sad. Just like the ground we walk over – they let nothing out and nothing in. He doesn’t smile much anymore.

Mama seems to shrivel a little more every day, just like the corn in the fields. The heat gets to her. It wearies her, she says. It wearies me too. It saps all of our energy, taking with it our hopes of a good harvest and another solid payment on the mortgage. Everything is showing signs of weariness. The limp, dust-stained dresses I wear. The shrinking portions of food that Mama serves up in the dusty kitchen. Everything is full of dust and is heavy with the burden of despair.

The days become a monotonous cycle. The same old chores, the same old food, the same old dust, the same old heat. And still, no rain.

I pray more now, hoping that perhaps God might answer if I keep up the petitions long and hard enough. Like that story of the persistent widow that Pastor Brown preached on last Sunday… I murmur prayers while I sweep the dust out of the house, while I feed the chickens, while I walk with Papa among the fields. “Please, send us rain.”

The prayer for rain rings in everyone’s hearts. When we go to town for Sunday church, we sit on the benches in the schoolhouse-turned-church and sing hymns, all the while praying for rain. We listen to Pastor preach about persistent widows, and Joseph’s coat of many colours, and how the Prophet Elijah held back rain as God’s punishment for Israel’s disobedience.

I wonder if perhaps God is punishing us for disobeying him. But it isn’t just us. It’s the whole town, the whole state, and maybe even the whole country. Words like ‘depression’ and ‘dust bowl’ and ‘heading North with the harvest’ are whispered between people as they file out of church after the sermon. No one stays long to talk. It’s too hot to be standing around in the glaring sun-filled schoolyard.

I walk home between Mama and Papa. We’re silent.

~

Summer slips by fast. The days all seem to melt into one hot nightmare. The corn shrivels even faster than Mama does. Papa grows quieter. And I pray even more.

One morning something cruel happens. Papa and I are standing together, looking at the horizon like we always do. It is hazy, but empty. We turn to go in, but I look back just once.

My heart stops.

There is a cloud.

I tug on Papa’s sleeve, calling for him to look. The cloud seems to grow bigger, and another one joins is. I look up at Papa, and for the first time all summer, I see a gleam in his eyes.

We watch all morning, sitting on the porch steps in the dust. The clouds grow bigger, blotting the horizon. The wind picks up, brushing my face with its cool fingers. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the wind. The dust rises from the ground, choking us as it dances in the air.

But still we stay. Watching. Waiting. Hoping. “Please, send rain.” I whisper. The clouds grow bigger, and my heart leaps within my chest. Even Mama is watching, leaning out of the kitchen window.

But as we watch, the clouds turn away. Like a child moves his toys in play, they seem to be moved by an unseen hand up in the sky. They turn west, and then grow smaller. The wind dies down. The dust settles.

And then the clouds slip over the horizon.

My heart sinks like a stone, dragging my hope down with it. Mama shuts the window. I can hear dishes clattering like the tolling of funeral bells. I look at Papa. His eyes are blank once again.

~

Part 2 coming next week! 🙂

(Read Part 2 here)

Short Story – Follow the Drinking Gourd

Well hello again! Another Saturday has rolled around again, so that means it’s time for another blog post! This week has been chock full of fun for me. We have family visiting from the US, and we’ve been going on lots of adventures. The most recent one was a trip to London yesterday. We managed to pack in a LOT in just 9 hours: Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, the National Art Gallery, 10 Downing Street, Westminster Abbey, and a boat ride up the river Thames. London is really such a captivating and beautiful city!

So, this week’s post is a short story. It was actually an assignment that I had for my American Literature class a few weeks back. I had to write an empathetic research paper on a folk song from American history. Now I love writing stories, and I love history, so this was a great paper to write. I really enjoyed the process! This short story is based off of the song ‘Follow the Drinking Gourd’ – a song about the Underground Railroad. For any of you who don’t know, this was a secret organisation (that peaked during the 1850s) that helped slaves escape from their plantations down South to free land up North. I find this period of time absolutely fascinating, and I loved researching and writing this story. I hope you enjoy reading it just as much as I enjoyed writing it. 🙂

URSAS.TIF

Follow the Drinking Gourd

“Remember chile’, it be a secret.” Mama told me. “You cain’t tell nobody.”

“Why not, Mama?” I asked, looking up at her face that shone like polished ebony in the dim moonlight.

“Because it be the secret that will take us to freedom one day. And that be the most precious secret of all.”

It was on that dark night, surrounded by the whine and whir of mosquitoes and crickets that Mama told me. I remember we were sitting on the steps of our ramshackle cabin, looking up at the stars. Mama pointed out the pictures that filled the heavens, tracing them out with her finger while her soft voice told me their stories. She talked and I listened, and we both relished the company together after a long day’s work in the fields.[1]

Then she went quiet, and when she spoke again, her voice had a new sound to it – a strong and serious tone. “John-boy” she said. “You see this picture?” She traced the path of a strange shape. “That there’s the drinking gourd.”[2] Following her finger, I could see the gourd in the sky, like a pattern held in place with diamond pins.

“Yeah, I see it, Mama.”

“Now if you follow the line from the edge of the gourd, straight up, you come to that especially bright star. See it?”

“Uh-huh.” I replied, squinting to make the picture clearer.

“That’s the North Star. If’n you follow it, it’ll guide you up North to freedom.[3]

“Freedom?” I echoed, hardly understanding. “Yes honey. Freedom. An’ one day me an’ you are gonna follow that the drinking gourd to freedom.”

*

The next evening, we were squatted together in the stuffy gloom of our cabin. She was busy scrubbing out the iron pot that had held our evening meal of corn pone, salt pork and greens.[4] I was beside her, trying the mend the handle of our only piggin[5] with some twine. I was busy mulling over the strange thought of freedom that Mama had brought up the previous night.

“Mama?” I asked.

“Uh-huh?”

“How we gonna git to freedom?”

“Hush chile, not so loud.” She admonished me. “There’ll be trouble if anyone hears ‘bout this talk of freedom.” Her eyes rolled white in the dim light as she looked around, making certain there wasn’t anyone within hearing range. When she was satisfied that we were alone, she began to talk in a low voice. “Well chile, you know there are people who hate slavery up North. Free black people and some white folks will do anything to stop it.[6] If’n we can jest git across the Ohio River to the Northern states[7], there’ll be those people that do whatever they have to do, jest to help us runaway slaves.”[8]

“Then what, Mama?”

“There be them good folks that will help us. They kin guide us to the Promised Land.[9] To Freedom.”

“When we goin’?” I asked.

“As soon as the timing is right. And until then we gonna trust in the Good Lord, and we gonna pray. Massa Jesus hears our prayers, and one day he gonna answer them.”[10]

*

The days passed by in monotonous rhythm of heat and labour. Mama and I worked side by side[11] in the cotton fields[12], the sun scorching down on our ragged, oft-mended clothes.[13] Only Sunday served to break up the drudgery and toil.[14]

One Sunday, Mama and I again sat on our cabin steps. She was mending my only spare shirt, and I was busily occupied in scratching chiggers[15] and thinking about freedom, again.

“Mama. I’ve been thinkin’.” I said eventually. “What happens if’n we get caught?” Mama’s head snapped up, and a warning glint came into her eyes.

“John-boy… don’t talk so loud. Remember it’s a secret.”

“I know, but there ain’t anyone near to hear anythin’.” I gestured at the dusty and deserted yard in front of our small cabin. “So, what happens?” I asked again. Worry clouded her eyes, and she shook her head.

“I jest ain’t gonna think about that.” She finally said. “I jest ain’t. I’m gonna do my best and pray to Jesus, and jest hope we make it. Because I cain’t face havin’ you live a slave for the rest of yo’ life, let alone face it myself for the rest of my life. We just gotta get to freedom.” Her voice rose in intensity, just like that night under the stars. “I cain’t havin’ you livin’ like this, never knowing how to read or write[16], never knowin’ when you might get sold away like yo’ Daddy,[17] never knowin’ even jest how old you are.[18] You’re the only chile I got left, all my other babies died[19] or were torn out of my arms by slave massas. And I ain’t gonna let that happen to you!” Her voice was thick with tears.

“But Mama, I heard that if massas ketches their runaway slaves they whip ‘em or worse![20]

“I know.” she said. “But that ain’t gonna stop me.” Tears glistened in her eyes and made tracks down her careworn face. “I’m gonna follow the hope of freedom until I reach the Promised Land. And I’m gonna take you with me, John-boy.” She reached over and grabbed my hand, and squeezed it hard. “One day soon, me and you are gonna follow the drinking gourd all the way to Freedom!”

*

It’s been weeks since that first night under the stars. Mama and I, we keep on working, day after day. Sometimes I feel like there ain’t no hope, that we’re gonna be slaves forever. It’s easy to feel hopeless when the sun is beating down on your head, and the overseer’s whip lashes too often on your raw back.

But when evening comes, Mama and I sit out under the stars, and dream of freedom. I trace the path of the drinking gourd with my finger, and hope wells up again in my heart. I just know that one day we’re gonna follow that drinking gourd up North to freedom. And I know that one day, Mama and I will be free.

 

Postscript: Why I Chose to End the Story Here

I know that ending this story here may seem odd. But there are two valid reasons why I chose to end the story with John-boy and his mother still in slavery.

  1. Historical accuracy of the song: This story was based off of the song ‘Follow the Drinking Gourd’. Popular folk myths say that this song was written by an abolitionist before the Civil War, and used to help slaves escape to freedom by giving them a verbal map to follow. This is actually not the case. Evidence shows that this song was most likely written much later than the Civil War, probably around 1947. And on the small chance that this song was around during the Underground Railroad era, it would not contained all the geographical information that it now does. That would’ve been added much later, during the aforementioned 1940s. Thus, though it would’ve been nice, I could not have written a story with slaves using the song to help them escape to freedom. It simply is just not historically accurate. However, the inspiration for the song certainly would’ve been around during the Underground Railroad era. As my notes have shown, slaves did call the Big Dipper the ‘Drinking Gourd’, and they did use it to help them find their way North. So while the song and its geographical contents most likely did not exist, the inspiration for the song definitely did.
  2. Historical accuracy about escaping slaves: Though it is not nice to think about, there is also the very blatant fact that the majority of slaves stayed slaves their whole life. Only about 50,000 slaves out of the estimated 4 million successfully escaped North to freedom with the Underground Railroad. That left a huge majority of slaves that lived their entire lives under the bondage of slavery. A huge majority of slaves that never saw freedom, or became free themselves. This is a sad, but true fact. I wanted to reflect that truth in my story, and I chose to do that by leaving the ending the way I did. The hope of freedom was harboured in many a slave’s heart, but the reality of freedom for them was quite rare. We know some of the stories of the lucky ones that did escape, but many thousands of stories of the slaves that remained in bondage still are unknown to us. Yes, we know many facts about the institute of slavery itself, but the stories of so many individuals ensnared in that institute will remain a mystery to us. I hope that through this story I will have given a little glimpse into the life of few of those thousands that were enslaved. I also hope that you will come away from reading this with a sense of gratitude for our own freedom, and a sense of respect for the power of hope. Because hope is ultimately what this story is about. The hope that the slaves harboured of a new and better life. And the hope of the thing they all longed for – the hope of freedom.

Footnotes:

[1] Slaves worked in the fields from sunrise to sunset.

[2] To slaves, the Big Dipper was known as the Drinking Gourd.

[3] Two of the stars in the Big Dipper line up very closely with and point to Polaris. Polaris is a circumpolar star, and so it is always seen pretty close to the direction of true north. Thus, if you follow the direction of Polaris, you will be heading pretty straight north.

[4] Weekly food rations for slaves were usually corn meal, lard, some meat, molasses, peas, greens, and flour, and were distributed every Saturday.

[5] A piggin was a small cedar bucket used for carrying water.

[6] The Underground Railroad was predominantly run by free Northern African Americans.

[7] The Underground Railroad was primarily a Northern phenomenon. It operated mainly in the Free States, though there was some organized assistance in Washington DC and some of the upper slave states.

[8] The people that operated the Underground Railroad hid slaves in many different places – homes, shops, churches, schools, and barns. Some put slaves on boats or trains, some led them on foot. All offered food, clothing, shoes, and a compassionate heart that passionately believed in the evil of slavery.

[9] At the end of the Underground Railroad line was the ‘promised land’, which was free land either in the Northern states, or more likely in Canada.

[10] Slaves found in Christianity a faith that gave them hope in an oppressive world.

[11] Between the ages of 7-12, slave children were put to work in intensive field work.

[12] Crops cultivated on antebellum plantations mainly included cotton, tobacco, sugar, indigo and rice.

[13] Slave clothing was distributed by the master, usually only once a year and most often at Christmastime, and was apportioned according sex and age as well as to the labour performed by its wearer. The slave had to do with what they had for the whole year until the next annual clothes distributing.

[14] Slaves worked 6 days a week, having only the Sabbath off.

[15] A chigger is an insect (officially known as the Trombiculidae mite) that bites humans during their larval stage. The bite causes intense itching, and often, dermatitis. The word chigger is of West African origin that was brought over by the slaves.

[16] It was illegal to teach slaves to read and write.

[17] The most conservative estimates say that at least 10 to 20 percent of slave marriages were destroyed by sale. The sale of slave children from parents was even more common. As a result, over one 1/3 of slave children grew up with one or both parents absent.

[18] Normally slaves did not know how old they were. This was one of the ways that the slave masters kept their slaves in submission under them.

[19] Over ½ of all slave infants died during their first year of life.

[20] Any runaway slaves that were caught could face harsh punishments such as whippings, brandings, amputation of limbs, and sale down to the Deep South.