That October morning Lucy and I sat on the bottom step, hands clasped in an everlasting friendship. The crisp cool breeze intermingled with our intimate words, drifting upward along the stairway, past all fifty steps ,toward the galerie. Perhaps as high as the heavens. Sometimes I wondered where our words were taken. We should all be careful I thought.
I remember Lucy and I sitting on that very step as little girls, playing with miniature dolls her mama crafted from sugarcane stalks. Father didn’t mind. He had a kindly heart, even toward the negroes that lived and worked on our plantation. They were like family, though I heard that many masters behaved atrociously toward their slaves.
“Father has sent him away so you won’t have to be reminded…I read in the Holy Scriptures that children are a gift of the Lord, Lucy. “
She was quiet for a long while, pondering that. Tears streamed down her mahogany cheeks. She wiped them away with her apron, then smiled ever so slightly.
“Yes…I will think this way, Carra. I carry a gift.”
I can picture another happy day. Just three days before Father told me Lucy’s girl had arrived. I was waiting on the steps when Lucy appeared, carrying a little bundle.
“Oh Carra, she is most beautiful. Meet little Gabi.”
“Gabi…what a splendid name. Hello little one!” I took her in my arms, welcoming her to our steps.
“Mama said Gabi would be a good name. It means God is my strength.”
“Mama is right, Lucy. God won’t fail us.”
And so Gabi made us a trio that day on those steps. Many days of sunshine and cool breezes surrounded our days of joy with Gabi. Until some news came.
It was in the early days of 1863 when Father told me the news whilst sipping coffee around a roaring fire. President Lincoln had succeeded in signing the Emancipation Proclamation.
“What will that mean for us Father?”
“We will abide by the law of the land, Carra. Our workers will be free to leave…or to stay for wages. As they please…” Father exhaled with a deep sigh and his shoulders relaxed.
Afterwards, an air of uncertainty permeated the plantation. Some left seeking new lives. Others chose to stay on.
Lucy and I whispered our solemn goodbyes one summer afternoon when we were seventeen. We opened our secret compartment within the large entrance post of the stairway, retrieving a doll and other trinkets for three year old Gabi.
“The rest of the treasures will be for your little one, Carra.”
“Yes, one day, perhaps.” I laughed hesitantly.
We walked part way up the steps so Lucy could have a final look over the plantation, the only home she had ever known . We sat quietly for a long time, hands clasped in everlasting friendship.
In the years that followed, the steps continued to be our place of intimate conversation. I read every one of Lucy’s letters out loud, happy that I had taught her to read and write. These steps had been our classroom of sorts too.
One day a letter arrived with Lucy’s good news. “I’ve met a wonderful northern gentleman whom I’ve consented to marry. I’m so happy Carra,” she wrote. I was grateful little Gabi would now have a father too.
Shortly after, I lost my own father to illness. I wrote the news to Lucy one bleak winter day on step forty nine. That’s how old my father was when he left. It was then I desperately wished to have the mother lost to me when I took my first breath.
The following year, Lucy wrote that she and John would travel to attend my wedding. With our marriage, Gerard would bring happiness once again to Cheramie Plantation.
Hearing the sounds of an approaching buggy one spring afternoon, I rushed out to the galerie. And there was Miss Lucy standing on the bottom step in all her finery. I rushed down to greet her, and hand in hand we walked past the entrance posts where our childhood treasures were tucked away, gliding over the steps that spoke intimate words of days gone by, that sang of pain and joy, that attested to freedom.
That day, we ascended, yes we did, hands clasped in an everlasting friendship, a testament of the triumph of the spirit over adversity and challenge. God won. We had all become something better. As a nation. And in our hearts.
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