No Suitcases

The feral kittens are playing outside leaping upon each other and stray branches. I try to coalesce my mind wanderings to the year 1848, to the aftermath of Harper’s Ferry, to travelers on the Underground Railroad, because that is the bloody exciting piece of history, a pivotal moment of Mary Ellen Pleasant’s life, where the thirty thousand dollars she sent to John Brown got squandered in that ill fated raid. It WAS time to take up arms against slavery, well past time, but the forces of tyranny, wrapped in hoop skirts and fancy swords, still held sway. So I swirl down, and think about unpacking a suitcase in a situation where suitcases were unheard of, where the only thing they carried was food – and courage.
“We have never known ahead of time what form our travelers will take, not if they would be children with parents, not if they were skilled workers or field laborers, not if they had baggage or just ragged shirts and not even shoes, not if they had kinfolk they were headed to, not what knowledge they had of God or Jesus or even if they could read. We do know, though, without exception, that our travelers on the Underground Railroad will be terrified. You do not wind up here through caprice, escaping slavery is not a whimsical undertaking.”
All of this was calmly said as Anna Brown prepared makeshift sleeping quarters in the back of the pantry. Mary Ellen was new at this. The part she had played before, when she and her first husband had been active abolitionists in Virginia, holding meetings at their plantation, and financing and distributing printed materials like The Liberator. She rode from one plantation to another, the news letters carefully folded and tied with straw stalks, like every other parcel in her knapsack. Mostly, Mary Ellen would read these missives aloud , after dark, in the crackling light of quiet cook fires outside the shanties, the warm evening embracing her and the listeners in that specially sticky air of the deep South. But now, since her James had died, here she was, in the humble farm dwelling of the growing Brown family, shushing the baby of a young couple who had just made their way here after running from yet another beating. They ran with nothing in their arms but this starving baby. The travelers – they told Mary Ellen that this infant boy, that was conceived in love, and was the best thing they ever done, this desperate couple confessed their commitment to drowning the child before they would be taken back to slavery. She hoped they slept well in the plank covered hidey hole, and doled out some precious brandy onto her kerchief, and showed them how to keep the baby quiet without closing his nose and mouth.

Published by Ms. C. G. Tripp

The new business cards have arrived and with the speed of virtual press, I am self-titled: Catherine G. Tripp, Writer/Investor. Left brain and right brain have battled for dominance all of my life. I wrote the marketing materials for my mortgage brokerage, had a personal finance column at Examiner.com, wrote essays, short stories and poems published in school papers and magazines then literary journals. If my writings were a color, they would be yellow, bright as sunlight, highlighting the salient portions, not obscuring the past but deconstructing air brushed stories, finding humor and courage in the unloved corners.

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