I recently wrote this 1200-word story entitled Freedom. Hope you enjoy!
1862 -- near present day Richmond, Kentucky
“I’m afraid, Ben. I’m so afraid.” Tears ran down Maisie’s face and dripped off her chin. “What if we get caught? Maybe we should wait; we’re not ready.”
“Maisie, get hold of yourself. We’ve got to try. And with the baby coming, we can’t wait much longer. It’s got to be tonight.” Ben held Maisie close and kissed her forehead. “With the good Lord’s help, we can do this. We have to do this.” When she nodded, he released a heavy sigh. “You know what to do.”
Just after midnight, they met under the tree at the north property line, with only a sliver of moon to light their way. They carried a change of clothes, some salt pork, corn pone, greens, and cheese, along with $300 taken from the Master’s desk in the Big House. They knew being caught could mean their very lives, but they were determined to try.
Ben and Maisie had heard stories of an Underground Railroad Safe House on the banks of the Ohio River, more than 120 miles away -- so that’s where they headed. They walked and ran as much as they were able each night, getting as far from the plantation as they could. When daylight came, the exhausted couple hid in haylofts, barns, and even ditches.
“I’m not as scared anymore, Ben. I think we’re going to make it.”
“I know we are, Maisie. Our child is gonna be born Free.” They held each other until they fell into an exhausted sleep, thankful for the covering of pine boughs and straw.
After two weeks on the run, exhausted and starving, Ben and Maisie made it to the Safe House. Thanks to kind people who risked it all to help them in their journey to freedom, they were able to rest for a few days before heading to the next location. From that point on they had help, and though the journey was tremendous, they knew they weren’t alone.
“Now that we’ve bought our “Free” papers and new clothes, I think we look as good and respectable as anyone ever did.” Maisie straightened her hat and smiled at Ben, dressed in a new suit and shoes. “I think we’re going to like Baltimore.”
“It’s a boy. Maisie, you’ve delivered a big, healthy boy!”
As soon as he could, Ben rushed in to kiss his wife and hold his boy. He was so proud, it felt like his buttons could pop right off his shirt. His boy -- their boy, Joshua, had been born into freedom. Ben couldn’t help the tears that filled his eyes as he looked at Maisie holding their son.
2021 -- Inner City Baltimore, Maryland
“All right, class. Our final spelling word for this week is ‘freedom.’” Miss Hartman pointed to the board where she had written the word in big letters. “It’s important to know not just how to spell this word, but also what it means, which leads me to introduce our guest for today, Ms. Angela Webb.” A very old woman stood at the back of the class and made her way to the front.
“Hello, children.” A few kids said, “Hello,” but most of them were still, watching Ms. Webb intently. She had a quiet, sort of whispery voice that they had to listen closely to, or else they’d miss what she was saying.
“I’m here to tell my freedom story…the story of what my people lived through to become free. My great grandparents, Maisie and Ben, were slaves on a plantation in Kentucky owned by Mr. Bartholomew McGregor, and his wife, Louella. As a young girl, Maisie went to work in Mrs. McGregor’s house. Although it was very grand and beautiful on the outside, the inside of that house held a lot of pain.
“Louella McGregor was a hard, demanding woman. Maisie spent long hours washing and ironing the family’s clothes, scrubbing the walls, the cabinets, the floors. She stood over a hot stove cooking many meals. She polished silver and dusted all the fine items Mrs. McGregor displayed.
“While dusting one day, Maisie accidentally let slip a small porcelain figurine. Before she could catch it, it hit the floor and shattered into pieces.” There were gasps from some of the children.
“Maisie was so afraid, she was shaking. She had to go to Mrs. McGregor and tell her what she’d done. That mistake cost her dearly, and she got the worst beating of her life. For weeks afterwards, Maisie had trouble sleeping because of the wounds left by the whip. She carried those scars on her back until she died. My mother told me about them. She saw them. She touched them.”
A flash of pain crossed Ms. Webb’s face as she paused for a moment.
“Maisie was in love with another slave, named Ben. They wanted to be married, but the master refused and told Ben to stay away from Maisie. They were heartbroken. Maisie had discovered she was pregnant, so they decided they had to run away -- to try to make it to freedom.” The class sat, almost as if they were holding their breath, until Ms. Webb began speaking again.
“They endured the most brutal of conditions during their long journey -- searing heat, violent thunderstorms, and constant fear of being caught -- but they also were the recipients of the best of human kindness and goodness. People -- both black and white -- risked their own lives to help Ben and Maisie make it to freedom.” Ms. Webb paused, looking at each child in the classroom.
“Because of the bravery of Ben and Maisie, my grandfather Joshua was born here in Baltimore, in freedom. His daughter Iris -- my mother -- was born here as well. And I stand here today, able to tell you this freedom story.
“We all have a freedom story. I’m just fortunate enough to know mine. It isn’t found in any history book, but it is true and it is important. And even though it seems like the 1860s are far away from us in this classroom today, they are but a breath of air.” Ms. Webb gazed at the children fondly.
“My great grandmother’s hands held my mother, and my mother’s hands held me. So the way I look at it is I’m just two people away from slavery in these United States. Before I go, it would be my honor to shake each of your hands, so that we all realize we’re not that far from slavery...and so that we all remember how important freedom is to every living person.”
1873 -- Baltimore, Maryland
“Children, hush up! Your father is ready to say Grace.” Maisie smiled at Ben.
“Lord, we thank you for the food that is set before us and for the hands that prepared it, but most of all, we thank you for freedom. Amen.”
As everyone tucked into their beans and cornbread, ten year old Joshua asked his father, “Daddy, why do you thank God for freedom EVERY time you pray?” Ben and Maisie’s eyes met, and she gave him a tiny nod.
“Well son, there’s a very important reason, and I suppose you’re just about old enough to know what it is…”