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Authors: Joyce Hansen

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BOOK: Out From This Place
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“You have to practice the words you stumbled over Easter, but that was somewhat better.”

“Yes ma'am,” Easter said, and handed the Bible to Nathan, who stood next to her. She resumed her seat on the bench as Nathan stumbled and lurched over the rest of the passage: “‘For by stren …'”

“Strength,” Miss Grantley said patiently as she glanced out of the corner of her eye at the restless younger children on the other side of the room.

“‘For by strength of hand,'” David continued, “‘the Lord brung—'”


“‘Brought you out from this here—'”

“Nathan, I don't think you see the word ‘here.'”

“No, ma'am, I mean to say, ‘the Lord brought you out from this place.'” He handed Miss Grantley the Bible and sat next to Easter.

The students sat on benches on either side of the room. There was a fireplace and one window in the back. Since new refugees continued to arrive on the plantation, the makeshift schoolroom was full. Every child had his or her own slate and chalk. While Easter attended class, she still had the care of two new babies and the infants, who were now a year old.

At about fifteen years of age, Easter was the oldest student in the class. The two baskets containing the new babies were next to her on the bench. Jason, who was nine years old, sat at the opposite end of the room with the younger children. There were no pens, ink, or paper, and only a Bible and a few geography books for the older students. But there was a long piece of slate on the wall installed by the men when they built the one-room log house. Easter lived for the time she spent in school. She no longer had trouble understanding the funny Yankee talk, but she had to remember to try to arrange words Miss Grantley's way when she was talking to her.

Miss Grantley pushed her glasses up on her nose and addressed the older students. “Practice your reading while I see to the rest of the students. And Easter, when you've
completed your reading, help the little ones with their penmanship.” The teacher wrote spelling words on the blackboard for Jason and the other students in the middle group. Miriam and another year-old child played around everyone's feet.

Easter picked up her geography and for a while was transported to places that only a few months ago she never knew existed. When she finished her assignment, she helped the younger children. As usual, the morning sped, and it seemed no time at all before Miss Grantley's voice rang out, “School's over, children.”

Jason and the other boys were the first ones out of the room. “Go straight to Rose,” Easter called after him. All of the children over six worked in the fields in the afternoon after their morning classes. Miss Grantley would leave to teach at a nearby plantation. She'd then come back to the Williams plantation to conduct an evening class for the adults.

Easter gathered up the sleeping infants and called Miriam and the other child.

“Easter, before you leave I want to talk with you,” Miss Grantley said as she piled the children's slates neatly on her table.

“Yes ma'am?” Easter's hair, grown back to its original length, was braided and coiled in a bun. She wore her neat blue and white gingham dress and was as graceful and willowy as the blades of grass she used for her baskets.

Miss Grantley adjusted her little round glasses, which seemed always to slide down her thin nose. “Easter, you are learning everything so quickly. If you continued your studies, you could be a wonderful student.”

“Thank you, ma'am,” Easter said proudly. She liked Miss Grantley and often wondered whether all Yankee women were as kind as she was.

“The missionary society has a school in Philadelphia for superior colored students. I'm going to ask them to sponsor you. I could try and get them to cover some of your costs—
and maybe we could find a good colored family for you to live with.” She pushed a wisp of her wavy brown hair out of her eyes. “You would be the first student freed from slavery that the school ever had. Easter, would you like to go north, to Philadelphia?”

Easter's mind flashed to the missionary lady who'd offered to carry her and Jason north. She smiled as she remembered how frightened she was of the woman. Then she remembered why she hadn't wanted to leave at that time.

“I can't leave here. I have to find Obi,” she said.

“Who is Obi?” Miss Grantley asked. She listened intently as Easter related her history. “You can come back and seek him out when you complete school,” Miss Grantley said when Easter had finished.

“I love school, but I can't leave. What about Jason? Can't leave him.”

Miss Grantley pressed her thin lips together and shook her head. “Jason wouldn't do too well at the school. He's smart, but he doesn't care about school—or anything serious, I'm afraid—the way you do.”

Easter knew that Miss Grantley was right about Jason, but that made no difference to her. “I can't leave Jason. And then, I so far away from Obi.”

“Easter, you don't know exactly where Obi is. And Jason, well, he can stay here with Rose.”

“Oh no, Miss Grantley. Jason has to come with me.”

“Well, maybe he can come with you and go to school in a colored orphanage. But I hate to see someone like you not get the education that she deserves.” She looked worried as she rested her hand on Easter's shoulder. “And you know, Easter, when you finish your studies, you can come back here and teach your own people. There's much work to be done.”

Easter faltered. “Miss Grantley, I don't know, I …”

“Will you think about it? You'd be a wonderful teacher.
You can return when the war ends and find your young man then.”

“Suppose it never ends.”

“Wars always end, sometime.”

“Suppose Yankee don't win, and I up north. I never get back here.”

Easter could tell that Miss Grantley seemed a little concerned. She tried to put a confident smile on her face. “We're going to win. It's just a matter of time.”

Easter left the school feeling herself pulled two different ways. She gripped the two baskets tightly as she passed the cabins and headed toward the cookhouse. It would be wonderful to go to school and learn how to read
of the books. She'd be like Miss Grantley, a good, fine teacher. But how could she leave Jason? What would happen to him without her?

And what about Obi? Suppose he was nearby this minute, searching for her? He'd never find her up north. She even thought about Mariah and Gabriel. If she went north, she'd probably never see them again.

Charlotte pulled at her skirt. “Miss Easter, you tellin' us a story? Then you an' me make baskets?”

“Yes, baby.”

“Me too?” Charlotte's younger sister asked.

“Yes.” Easter smiled at her and checked the field to see whether Jason was there. She spotted him by the Yankee cap that one of the soldiers who sometimes came to the plantation had given him.

Easter placed the babies' baskets on the ground when she reached the shed. Her mind wandered as she began to fix lunch. For some reason everything she saw seemed beautiful: the blue sky and the orchards; the southern pines and palmettoes and live oak trees with the moss hanging from their branches like cobwebs; the green fields and pastures. What was the North like? She'd mostly heard that it was cold.

That evening while they ate, she watched the faces of
her friends, and they seemed beautiful too. Her heart felt heavy when she looked at them and thought about going north. She might never see them again either.

They sat at a pine table that Paul had made for them. He'd also made another bench so that they all could eat at the table. Easter's rugs and several baskets decorated the wall. The hut was overcrowded but cozy, made livable by the women.

As she watched Rayford eat, she thought she'd miss even him. Although he was bossy, Easter had to agree with Rose, who said, “What Rayford say is most times correct, Easter.” She'd always be thankful to him for being the first person to teach her how to read and write. He'd smile pleasantly at her when he walked by as she was caring for the babies, even though he'd still say, “You need to get some land.”

They usually ate in silence. “Too hungry to talk,” Rose would comment. But this evening it seemed that all Rose and Rayford did was talk, which was unlike Rayford. Easter wanted to ask them what they thought about her going north, but she couldn't get a chance to say anything. Even Melissa noticed Rayford's changed personality.

“You actin' like a young boy, old man,” she joked.

“He ain't no old man,” Rose defended him. Her dark eyes seemed livelier than usual. Then she hesitated as if she had something else to say but wasn't certain how to say it. “We been livin' like a family, so I guess you'll be the first to get the news—me and Rayford is marryin'. A real marriage too. No slave marriage, where someone could sell him away from me or me away from him.”

“That's why I never married before,” Rayford added, “because it didn't mean anything.” He rubbed Rose's arm. “And I never met anyone as beautiful as Rose.”

“Or who could cook like Rose.” Sarah winked.

Easter found her voice. She knew there was a special feeling between Rose and Rayford, but marriage? She never
thought of that. “Oh, Rose, it's wonderful,” she said, embracing her.

Rose frowned. “We have to find a minister who will marry us.”

Easter waved her hand. “You could find a minister easy.”

Rayford picked up his spoon. “One preacher already refused. Said that just because President Lincoln signed that Emancipation Proclamation doesn't mean we're really free. He said maybe we weren't slaves, but we weren't citizens either.”

“And another preacher refused too,” Rose added. “He say we belong to the Yankee now, so let them marry us.”

“Pull up them long faces,” Melissa said. “You'll find a preacher, and we goin' to have a celebration.” As Rose, Melissa, and Sarah chatted about the wedding, Easter decided not to say anything about her problem. She'd have to make her own decision in the end, so she joined their conversation.

“And that ain't all, Easter,” Rose said excitedly. “Mr. Reynolds say we can buy one of them cottages near the big house that used to be for the house servants on this place. We have two whole rooms.”

Easter tried to concentrate on Rose's conversation but she couldn't help thinking about Obi. Wondering whether they'd ever be together again. And a thought she'd never had before—whether someday they'd be like Rose and Rayford and get married. But suppose she went north? What would happen then?

“Easter!” Rose said. “You ain't listening to a word I saying.”

“Yes, I am, Rosie. I thinking about marriages and weddings. And we have to get busy to make you a good wedding.”

Easter and the other women prepared for the wedding, even though no one knew when it would take place. “We'll be ready when it happen,” Isabel said as she wove the
cotton yarn in the spinning house one evening for Rose's wedding dress.

Easter picked up the carding brush so that she could comb the cotton fibers. “Maybe they could get that preacher who visit here sometime,” she suggested.

“He boring,” Isabel said.

Another woman who was helping them laughed. “It only take ten minutes to say them marriage words. We tell him to just marry Rose and Rayford and don't preach.”

The wedding preparations helped Easter forget her own problems for a while. Rayford shook his head one evening as he watched Easter hem the white cotton dress Isabel had made for Rose. “You know what look right pretty, Rose?” Easter asked. “Isabel get some more of this cloth and we wrap your head in it.”

“Oh no. That look like I workin' in the field,” Rose protested.

Easter thought about Mariah. “The old grandmother down at the coast tell me that in Africa only the important women tie their head in white cloth.”

Rayford smiled at them. “You womenfolk gone mad on this plantation. We still don't have a preacher to marry us. I found out that the visiting white preacher's not licensed to marry or bury anybody. He's like our Brother Thomas.”

Rose fingered the dress. “We find somebody.”

“In the meantime,” Melissa said, “we ain't had nothing to celebrate in years. Now we do.”

Rayford came home with the good news a week later. He'd found a judge who'd marry them. “We have two names now,” he told Rose. “We have to sign a paper before a judge, and the judge will marry us tomorrow. It'll be legal.”

Easter grinned happily. “Now we have our wedding.”

Melissa put the wooden plates on the table. “Tomorrow is Sunday. A fine day for a marriage.”

“I glad I learn how to write some. I can sign my own name. What's my second name, Rayford?”

“I picked my father's first name. I remember my mother
told me that their master called him Sam, but his real name was Sabay. So I am now Rayford Sabay.” He held out his hand and bowed to Rose. “And this is my wife, Rose Sabay.”

Easter liked the sound of Rose's new name. If she ever had to get a second name, she had no idea what it would be. She thought about Obi.
Easter Obi,
she thought, giggling to herself,
that sounds right silly.


My mother's sons were angry with me,
they made me keeper of the vineyards;
but, my own vineyard I have not kept!

Song of Solomon

June 1863
God smilin' on us today,
Easter thought. Everyone was there, even the cook, who only associated with them when she had something to sell. The sky was clear and blue and the air smelled of pine, and the pink and white magnolia trees were still in bloom.

BOOK: Out From This Place
11.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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