She handed us our plates, patting my hand in a motherly fashion as she guided the trembling hand holding my plate into my lap. Our cutlery was bundled in white linen napkins, not monogrammed, I was surprised to see. She held up a perfectly soft hand, as I made to thank her for her kindness. She must have had some household help, but they were nowhere to be seen, or heard, rather.
“You must save your strength, young Willow, and recover. You are safe here.”
She had a very mild Northern accent, from which state, I could not tell. It seemed she had lived here long enough to learn to hide her true origin, or to forget, as I had. As she turned to go, I sent a look to Anna, wondering if she would catch my meaning. She did.
“Mrs. H. Will you stay, if you please?”
The doctor’s wife turned back toward us, looking at me for just a moment, before nodding graciously.
I tried to give her an appreciative smile, as I took in the shock. She acknowledged me with another nod, before turning to go back down to the kitchens, leaving the door open, this time. There must indeed have been no servants about, this day. I hoped we were not too much of a burden on this kind woman. She was evidently not accustomed to rough work, and with no burns or callouses, not even to cooking, I imagined. What trouble must we be for these good people, and danger of a much worse fate, if caught helping us, to boot. The very idea that she would eat with us was as foreign to me as being served by her. And yet, here, it seemed, this wonder was about to come to pass.
A light tread upon the stairs announced the return of Mrs. H., the same tray now carrying her plate and cutlery, wrapped in the same sort of napkin as ours had been. But her plate was lacking something. She had no bacon.
A thought had startled me so, that I had failed to hide my chagrin. As both Anna and the doctor’s wife looked at me expecting some malady, I blushed to the very tips of my toes, my face burning with shame.
“I’m so terribly sorry, M-”
Again, she held up her hand, sharply, this time. I knew, I was to save my strength, and I also felt that she must have some similar horror of what I might have been about to call her. Being raised up North, as I supposed she’d been, our ways of addressing one another must have been a cause of consternation for her. For me, however, there was a greater cause, still. This woman, it seemed, had sacrificed her own meal for us. There was a slice of bacon each, upon our plates, yet only grits and an egg upon hers. I felt that, for the first time, I must have taken the food out of another woman’s mouth. It was a thought that turned my stomach. Bad enough that the poor animal who provided us with this food must be sacrificed for our needs.
“What’s the matter, Honey?”
Anna was right at my side, her hand against my face as if to check my temperature. I looked down at my plate, toward the bacon, and she again seemed to understand in an instant. How did she do that?
“If you don’t think that this bacon will sit well in your stomach, I might have to say the same for myself. Mrs. H., we’ve not been used to eating such rich fare, neither of us. We may both do well to forgo this kindness, much as we appreciate it, Ma’am.”
I saw a steady look pass between them, one I had never imagined could pass between a negress and a white woman. The doctor’s wife nodded once again. Then she leaned over from the chair where she had sat while Anna came to me, taking the slice from my plate, and adding it to hers. To Anna, though, she looked, almost sternly:
“Now Anna, sorry, Joe. You are a driver, and need more meat to keep up your strength, especially in this cold. You should try to eat this bacon, and let me know how you feel, then, alright?”
I had the feeling that this woman would be quite at home giving lessons to unruly school boys. Anna actually lowered her head a bit, as if abashed.
“And no more of this Ma’am business, if you please, young Joe.”
Then she smiled, and sat back in her chair, taking up her fork and stirring the melted butter into her grits before nodding encouragingly at each of us, in an invitation to join her in the meal.
I was surprised again, having half expected to say grace before eating, but decided that it might be impolite to do so. Instead, I picked up my fork and edged it into my own grits. They were a bit chewy, but not bad for northern cooking. As the other women ate their bacon, I relaxed, enjoying my grits as if for the first time in my life. No longer was the lack of bacon a torment. Now, it was a gift. I’d been able, for once, to treat another person to a luxury, and it felt as if, in that moment, the world was indeed a better place to live.
At least for a while.
This is the continuation scene in my new historical fiction series Ann&Anna. I hope that this series will move you to learn more ways to help use our history to build new tools.
I look forward to your thoughts, Thoughtful Readers, and especially to your thoughts on this part, Cousin M.!
Thank you all for reading and following my work.
1.) Share your thoughts on how this story may encourage empathy-building cooperation, and might help, or hinder, inclusive thinking.
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Dear Readers, ideas on learning, especially multiple #LanguageLearning, on-going education and empathy-building, to #EndPoverty, #EndHomelessness, #EndMoneyBail & achieve freedom for All HumanKind?
Support our key #PublicDomainInfrastructure & #StopSmoking at least for CCOVID-19:
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-we can learn from the past Stayed on Freedom’s Call for free,
by Teaching and Learning (Lesson Plans offline) in the present, to
We can Do Better: to create a kinder future
Shira Destinie A. Jones, MPhil, MAT, BSCS
the year, 2021 CE = year 12021 HE
( 5 month GED lesson 21 of 67 plans…),
Stayed on Freedom’s Call
includes two ‘imagination-rich’ walking tours, with songs, of Washington, DC. New interviews and research are woven into stories of old struggles shared by both the Jewish and African-American communities in the capital city.
Shared histories are explored from a new perspective of cultural parallels and parallel institution-building which brought the two communities together culturally and historically.
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Shira Destinie Jones’ work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.