Saturday, September 6, 2014

Walking the Underground Railroad with a Friend

Dear Friend,

Here's a picture of my friend Jai'yah. She and her family spent a weekend with us last summer.

One night I was up late washing dishes after everyone else went to bed. I turned to see Jai'yah standing in my kitchen doorway.

"Can't sleep?" I asked her.

"Nope."

"Do you want to talk for a while?"

Her face lit up.

We went to the living room and sat on the couch. We talked about school.

"I love history, " she said.

"Me too! Do you know we live near the Ohio River? This area was once part of the Underground Railroad."

"Are you serious?" Her eyes widened.

"Oh yes. The farmhouse behind our property was built in the 1800s. I've been told it has a secret room. It's not listed on a historic registry, but I sometimes wonder if runaways once hid there."

She was entranced. I told her about my road trip to Ripley, Ohio. I pulled out my laptop and showed her pictures from my blog posts. She wasn't familiar with the story of Reverend and Mrs. Rankin who conducted thousands of passengers on the Underground Railroad to freedom.

She turned, knelt on the couch, and pulled apart the curtians to peer outside.


"It's so dark in the country," she said. "And quiet . . . creepy!"

"Sometimes I imagine people rushing, barefoot through the night, " I said. Because I knew she was thinking of this too.

"Do you want to walk down to the road with me?" I asked.

"Oh yes! I'm kind of scared to. But, yes!"

I gently shut the front door behind us as we stole into the darkness. Once at the road she said, "It's like we're on the Underground Railroad!"

I felt chills on the back of my neck. "I'll be your mother," I said.

She grabbed my hand and pulled my arm hard. "Come on, Mama!" she whispered. "We've got to run!"

We bolted down the road hand in hand. When we reached a clearing I pointed to the starry sky. "There's the Drinking Gourd," I told her. "That will lead us north."

We traveled on a little way and suddenly we saw headlights coming toward us from far in the distance.

"Hide!" She yanked my arm. We dove under some shrubery on the side of the road and lay on our stomachs until the car drove past.

"They didn't see us," she said with a sigh.

We continued on, backtracking this time along the same direction we had come. When my house came into view she said, "Look, Mama! It's the Rankin House!"

And this made me cry.

To think she equated my home to such a place -- a  place of safety and freedom and love.

We ran up the driveway to the back of the house and quickly pushed the back door open. Then, smiling, we jumped up and down and hugged each other tightly.

"We made it!"

"We're safe!"

"Yes! Safe!"

"I hope Mrs. Rankin will give us sometime to eat," I said. "I'm starving!"

She giggled.

"I wonder if the kids ate all the pie? If not we'll have some cookies and milk," I said.

"Adriana, Thank you."

"Thank you, Jai'yah. I love you, dear."


* * * * *

I realize our adventure was in no way harrowing like the real experience of those who once traveled from the slave-holding states in the south to freedom in north. Still, the imagination of my young friend stretched my mind and my heart. It made me think, really think, about what such a journey would have entailed and how desperate a mother would have been to protect her loved ones.

Hope this post finds all my blog-friends well.

Peace & Joy,

Adriana


P.S. Jai'yah, if you're reading this -- I know you will make a splendid history teacher or even a professor someday, if that is what you want to be. :-)

4 comments:

  1. Jai'yah recognized your home as a reflection of your heart, Adriana. Thanks for taking us on the railroad with you two that night.

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  2. What a fantastic account - a beautiful, holy exercise in imaination and reenactment. Thank you for sharing it!

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  3. I'm so glad you wrote this, Adriana - it's a beautiful story. What a wonderful experience you had, so much better because you shared it together.

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Blessings,

Adriana