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Authors: Joyce Hansen

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BOOK: Out From This Place
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“If I work in the field, I get one dollar each week?” he asked.

“Yes, but you have to really work, Jason. Not play.”

She tore the sleeves off his shirt and held it up. “I'll wash this shirt good, and it look like new. Now it's right for working in the field.” But Jason was fast asleep and didn't see his altered shirt.

The next day was Sunday. Rose, wearing her red and white gingham dress, stood over Easter, who was just waking up. “The people have a Sunday church service, and they invite all of us. Why don't you come?” Rose said.

Easter sat up, rubbing her eyes. “I want to sleep.”

“I tired and sore too, but I goin'.”

Easter lay back down. “I too tired, Rose.”

Rose left. Easter had begun to drift off to sleep again when she heard sounds. At first she thought that someone was crying. She listened harder and realized that it was singing—voices rising and falling and rolling toward her in waves. Jason stirred. “We goin' in the field today?” he asked.

Easter stretched. “No. It Sunday.”

“See, if I was with Missy, she give me a special Sunday morning breakfast and then we sing and then—”

“What I tell you about that Missy talk? You know what happen the last time you tell me about Missy.”

“Who's singin'?” Jason asked, getting up from the pallet.

“People here havin' church, I guess.”

“What they singin'?” He walked to the door and peeped out. Easter got up and put on her dress over her long slip. “Let's go an' hear the singin', Easter,” Jason said.

“I don't want to.”

“Can I go?”

“Yes.” She doused her face with water from the bucket hanging by the fireplace.

“Come with me.”

“I told you, I don't want to.”

“Then I stay here with you and talk about how I want to see Missy.” He took his britches and shirt off the peg. “What happen to my shirt?”

“I fix it for you. And why you puttin' on them dirty britches?”

“Missy say you have to dress for church.”

“Them people down in the woods. That's no real church.”

He peeped at Easter with a mischievious gleam in his eyes. “If I was with Missy, we go to a real church and—”

She reached for him, but he scooted out of the cabin. As he raced toward the singing, Easter followed him, going behind the stables toward a cluster of pine trees. It seemed as if all of the blacks on the plantation were there. Jason sat down on the ground, squeezing himself between David and Isaiah. Some of the people sat on logs and fallen tree trunks, and others sat on the pine-carpeted ground. Easter sat behind everyone else. This was the first time Easter had seen all of the other workers on the plantation. Altogether there were about fifty men, women, and children.

A heavyset dark man stood up before the group and said a prayer. Easter sent up her own prayer—that she and Jason be reunited with Obi. They sang again:

Come by here, my Lord, come by here
Come by here, my Lord, come by here
Come by here, my Lord, come by here
Oh, Lord, come by here

Someone's praying, Lord, come by here
Someone's praying, Lord, come by here
Someone's praying, Lord, come by here
Oh, Lord, come by here.

The same man addressed the group after singing. “We welcome the new people among us. If we work together, we'll move ahead. You know five lions hunting together catch more possum than one lion hunting he own supper.”

“Brother Thomas, don't start preachin' all over again,” a woman called out.

Thomas, ignoring her, continued. “I think since this here Superintendent Reynolds is runnin' this plantation that when we have problems we pick three or four men to be the ones to tell him the complaints. People been grumblin' about this and that. So now if you have problems, you come to one of these men and they speak to Mr. Reynolds.”

Melissa stood up. “Tell me, mister, who will pick these men to talk for us?”

Brother Thomas wiped his sweating forehead with a handkerchief. “You pick them. You new people choose two men from your group, and we who've been living here choose two men.” His broad face spread into a wide smile. “The people who've always lived here, now, who do you want to pick?”

“Thomas, you put your big self up there, may as well stay,” one of the men told him.

Everyone laughed.

“Since you all insist that I be the one, then I the one,” he said.

A pretty young woman holding a baby stood up. “I pick Elijah.”

“That's your husband,” another woman responded.

“That's why I pick him.”

“Elijah, you the second one.” Brother Thomas motioned for the man to join him.

Julius slipped next to Easter. “Who you pickin' from our group?”

He startled her, and she moved a little away from him. “What difference it make? What all this mean anyway?”

“Something we never had before. I had to go beg to Master Phillips for anything I got.”

Easter looked bored. “Now you beg to Yankee master.”

“So, who you pickin'?”

“No one.”

Rose called out Rayford's name, and everyone who came from the Phillips plantation clapped.

“Miss Easter, who else you pickin'?” Julius nudged her arm with his elbow.

He worrisome as Jason,
she thought to herself. “I pick you so you can stand up there with them other men and leave me be.”

Paul's name was called, and she watched him join the other three men. Julius seemed hurt by her remark. “I didn't mean to worry you.” His sharp, high cheekbones and dark skin reminded her of Mariah. She felt a twinge of guilt about being rude, but she didn't feel like talking. She wanted to listen to the others.

“Now we one people. No more ‘new people' and ‘people who already been here.'” Brother Thomas spread his arms. “We the people of the Williams plantation.”

The young woman who'd voted for her husband stood up. “We women who have babies can't tend to the children and go in the field too. We need an old nurse to care for the children like we use to have.”

Another woman joined her. “Cookin' in the morning make me get in them field too late, then I don't finish my task and earn my full money. We need a plantation cook.”

A man interrupted the women. “We need to build a church and a school for these children. I hear the Yankee sendin' teachers to learn the children on the plantations.”

“I want to learn how to read and write too,” someone else shouted.

Brother Thomas held his hands up. “Not all at once, and not now. We have a meeting every Saturday afternoon and—”

A woman burst in on his comments. “We have chores
then. After church is the best time to have a meeting.” The other women also demanded that meetings be held on Sundays when church ended. The men agreed.

Easter stood up as people continued to discuss, argue, laugh, and chat. The children began to wander away from the adults and play nearby. Isaiah and Nathan giggled as Jason performed his hat-shot-off-the-head imitation. Easter walked away from the grove toward the cabins but changed her mind about going inside. She had to plan what she would do next. The idea of running away and searching the island alone frightened her, even though she talked brave in front of Rose, but what else could she do? If she ran this time, at least she'd have Jason with her. Yet where would they look for Obi? How would they eat? Where would they sleep? And if Obi wasn't on this island, how would they get to the other islands?

Her questions left her feeling helpless as she wandered toward the garden near the big house. She knew that she couldn't leave tomorrow or the next day, but she
would leave.
She'd learn her way around the island first and maybe even begin to build a basket boat to carry her and Jason to the other islands. She wondered whether there were missionary ladies on all of the islands. She and Jason would have to be careful of them. They'd also have to avoid Yankee soldiers. As far as Easter could tell, they were making people work in the fields. She wondered what the soldier at the shore would have said to Rayford if Rayford had said that he didn't do field work.
Probably send us back across the river.

Easter found herself in the middle of the flower garden and started to return to the huts. The garden was for the pleasure of the family who owned the plantation. She almost laughed at herself as she remembered that there was no master or mistress, and on closer inspection she saw that there were more weeds than flowers.

Stretching out on her back, Easter watched the fat white clouds and listened to the sounds of squealing and giggling
children. A child of about three or four ran behind two girls just a few years older. Easter had seen them with their mothers that morning.

The bigger girls were trying to catch butterflies. Easter propped herself on her elbows and watched them. As she listened to their joyous laughter, her mind drifted to the woman who complained about having no nurse for the babies. She sat up quickly as if she'd been snatched off the ground.
I be the nurse,
she said to herself. Since she hadn't figured out a way to leave, at least she wouldn't have to work in the fields while she was there.

The idea excited her so much that she ran up to the children as they tried to corner a large monarch butterfly.

The youngest child stared at Easter and pointed to the butterfly.

“I catch it for you,” Easter whispered. “Now you all be quiet.” She put her index finger to her lips. The children's eyes glistened with admiration as they watched her tiptoe toward the butterfly hovering over a cluster of daisies. Easter caught it. She knelt down, cupping her hands so that the children could see the trapped, fluttering insect.

“It pretty,” one of the girls murmured.

“Now we have to let it go,” Easter told them after each child took a turn looking at it.

“Why, miss? We want to keep it.”

“Keep it,” the youngest one repeated.

“Can't do that. He want to go home. Maybe he have a wife and baby waitin'.”

Easter uncupped her hands, releasing the butterfly. She waved good-bye to the children. “I have to go now.” She was anxious to tell Rose her idea.

“Miss, why you have to go?” one of the girls asked. “Play with us.”

“I'll play with you again. But not now.” She gently patted the littlest girl's soft face.

Rose was talking to Rayford, as the crowd began to disperse. “Rayford,” Easter called, “I want to talk to you. I
have an idea,” she announced excitedly. “Instead of me goin' in the field, I take care of the young children, since there's no nurse to tend them while their mothers work.”

Rayford and Rose stared at her with surprised looks on their faces. “Who'll help me in the field?” Rose asked.

“Jason do my part.”

“That lazy rascal?” Rose rolled her eyes toward the sky.

“How're you going to earn money?” Rayford asked.

“Since I the nurse, that's my job. The Yankee pay me forty cents a day to take care of them babies.”

“They're not going to pay you to mind babies,” Rayford said. “They're paying you to do one thing—pick cotton.”


To every realm shall peace her charms display, And heavenly freedom spread her golden ray.

Phyllis Wheatley

June 1862
The next day Easter continued to talk to Rose about her plan to care for the young children. “Rose, I see to it that Jason do his part. What he don't do I finish on Saturdays.”

Jason was on the other side of the field, working steadily. Easter had promised him the whole two dollars if he did a good job of helping Rose.

“But you don't want to work in the field.”

Easter squinted at the sun. “One day's not as bad as six.”

Rose straightened up, rubbing her back. “Rayford say he'll ask Mr. Reynolds about you takin' care of the babies. He let you know what Mr. Reynolds say.”

“I hope Mr. Reynolds say yes.”

Rose bent down to her work again. “I think Rayford was right. They only payin' us to grow the cotton.”

Easter pulled away the grass and weeds around a cotton plant. “Oh, Rose, you always think Rayford is right.”

“Well, he usually is.”

Easter felt hopeful, and she wasn't going to let Rose discourage her. The women needed someone to take care of the younger children during the day; she could do the
job as well as anyone. First she'd get out of the fields, and next she'd leave the plantation altogether.

As she helped Rose prepare supper that evening, she couldn't wait for Rayford to come in with the news. She practically pounced on him when he entered the cabin. “What Mr. Reynolds say?”

Rayford sat wearily on the bench. “He said that we have to make our own arrangements for taking care of the children. He's paying us to bring the cotton crop in.”

Easter was speechless for a moment. She felt Rose's eyes on her. She'd been so sure he'd say yes. “They need someone to take care of the children,” she almost shouted.

Melissa handed her a plate. “No need to upset yourself, Easter. That's an old woman's plantation job.”

Rayford took up his rice and began to talk to Rose about something else. Easter and Jason sat together on the grass rug. The others sat on the bench. Easter stared at her plate of cow peas, rice, and cornbread.

“You better eat, 'fore you get sick,” Sarah told her.

The chinks in the logs had been filled in with clay and the floor had been cleaned. The fireplace was scoured so that it almost shone. Rose's gingham dress hung on a peg, as it had done in her shed on the Phillips plantation. The room was as clean as they could make it. Easter listened in angry silence as Rose talked.

BOOK: Out From This Place
10.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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