December 16, 1899
MY BIRTHDAY. Why does one feel so special on her birthday, as if something is about to happen? I received many lovely presents, including this gilt-edged journal book from Daddy. The pages are creamy white and just waiting for my words. They even smell nice, as if they are scented. I'm so excited about it. More excited than I am over the new Gibson Girl shirtwaist Mama gave me or the hair ribbons from my sister.
I'm writing in my new journal this very moment. What shall I say? What could possibly be good enough about my silly old dull life to put down in here?
It is a cold, drizzly day with rain. Some workers are ginning cotton and others are killing the last of the beef. Daddy sold a pair of turkeys to old Mrs. Lewis for a dollar and fifty cents. Oh, this is all so ordinary! But Mama says everything is worth setting down, that someday my granddaughter may read this. Ho! Me with a granddaughter! Imagine!
Here is something worth noting. The Gullah people who live and work around here believe that when you die your soul goes to God but your spirit stays on earth and takes part in all the activities of your people. I like that part of their belief. If I died of a sudden, I'd like my spirit to stay here.
Well, I'm not dying, at least I don't plan to yet, but Daddy talks constantly these days about sending me to school in the North, where I would get a proper American education.
Imagine that! Yankee land. And his own uncle Sumner killed at Chancellorsville!
"North is the only place you have chances," Daddy says. "The chances are all done around here."
Chances for what? I want to ask. But I know he'd say, "To marry the right person." He wants me to wed somebody with money. "Even though that person is a Yankee?" I'd ask. To which he'd say, "The only ones who have money are the Yankees."
This family has had such a problem with money since the war ended thirty-five years ago.
I know one thing. I'm not ever going north. I'm staying right here on Saint Helena's Island. Why, Daddy was only able to buy the house back the year I was born. I know he spent most of his money restoring it to what it was before the war and hasn't got much to dower me with. But I've only just turned fifteen, and he's doing well with the cotton and the horses. We have the best horse farm in the county. And how could I leave here, anyway?
I know another thing, too. If I ever do go away, I'm going to leave my spirit here to help my family. Like the Gullah people do when they die.
MAYBE I OUGHT to get things down right, if I'm going to keep this as a proper journal. The house I sit in, the very room I sit in, is on Saint Helena's Island, off the coast of South Carolina. I'm so used to this place I think everyone should know of it. Certainly they should, upon second thought. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone lived in a house made of a strong tabby foundation with a double piazza held up by great pillars and a front yard that sloped down to the water? If everyone could hear the wind in the palmetto trees and taste the sand in their mouths when the wind blew? And what about the tides that flow toward land twice each day, then back out again?
To say nothing of the wild ducks and the swampy lands and the cypress trees, the longleaf pine. And the sea oats on the sand dunes that keep the sand from being washed away.
This house I sit in was built years ago by my great-grandfather. My grandparents lost it when General Sherman came through and burned a lot of the homes around here. The white owners were driven away. But General Sherman left this house and a few others standing so the Negroes could live in them and work the land. Then Yankee agents went from plantation to plantation and took the cotton and shipped it north.
My Grandfather Frampton had to go to work as a teacher in the Freedman's School here on the island because he was so destitute after the war. I recollect Grandmother Frampton telling us, before she died, how he looked of a morning when he would get ready to go to work, this wonderful gentleman who'd once been rich and owned dozens of slaves. How she'd hear him early in the morning in the kitchen, getting his own lunch pail ready and moving about quietly. How she couldn't get up to help him for fear of embarrassing him. And how he'd go off, day after day, like a common workingman to earn his living. They were living in a log cabin on the island then, even though this house was still standing. He made sixty dollars a month. Grandmother Frampton couldn't abide seeing him so demeaned, so she started making pies. Not sweet potato and pecan like they do hereabouts, but fruit and cream like they do up north, since that was where she came from. And soon they had to hire people to help her because the pies sold so fast. She made a fortune, so Grandfather didn't have to teach anymore. And that fortune they left to Daddy, who was able to buy this place back for the family. I'm so proud of him for doing that.
Now my daddy grows his cotton again. And breeds his horses. Right now we have thirteen mares and two stallions, and five two-year-olds to be broken to the saddle and bridle before they get shipped to Lexington for the horse auctions.
The pie business is sold. And we're well-off. But still Daddy wants me to go north to school. We have relatives in Connecticut, from Grandmother's connections.
Oh, sometimes the future frightens me so much, I don't want to grow up. I want to be a young girl forever. But I do have opinions. We were brought up in this family to have opinions, but Mama says a proper young lady shouldn't voice hers too loudly or her husband will think her forward and brash. And so I am forward and brash. My husband will just have to abide that in me.
Copyright © 2005 by Ann Rinaldi
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