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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Century or Centuries (02/17/11)

TITLE: The Secrets of Her Ancestors
By Lollie Hofer
02/23/11


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The sod house wasn’t quite two centuries old. At some point in time, someone had added stucco to the outside to give it some longevity and installed a wooden floor in the kitchen area of the large one room home. The sweeping motion from the rustic broom, made from prairie grass and a broken tree limb, kept perfect time with Rebecca’s singing, “I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in.”

Rebecca loved the house of her ancestors. This was her playhouse since no one else in the family had any interest in preserving the old homestead. She whittled away the long summer hours pretending to live on the prairie, a pioneer woman of strong German blood. Even though she was now thirteen years old, the place still held a draw she couldn’t explain.

Stopping by to tell her lunch was almost ready and Mom would expect her to set the table, her older brother Micah chided her, “Becca, why waste all your time in this bug infested place? Good grief. It smells like mildewed earth in here.”

“Well, I like the smell. Besides, I can’t help it. It’s kinda weird but I feel a connection to our ancestors. It’s like the house has a secret it’s dying to tell me. One of these days I’ll figure out what that secret is too.”

“You’ve been over every inch of this place since you were in preschool. What secrets could it possibly hold?” Micah asked.

“I don’t know. But I’ll know it when I see, just you wait and see,” Rebecca said with a stomp of her foot. With that, she put down the broom, running across the field to their farmhouse with all its modern conveniences.

Once lunch chores were over, Rebecca went back to her prairie home. Climbing onto a splintered wooden counter in the kitchen, she put one hand in front of the other crawling over to the window. At one time, the window had been closed up with old boards across it. Rebecca had opened the windows to allow fresh air into the room. Taking out a measuring tape, she took measurements.

“Mom promised she would help me make some curtains,” she said to the house. “That should give you some nice color. And she said I could buy a small rug for the floor too.”

Jumping down from the counter, she hit the floor harder than expected. An old plank went flying up hitting Rebecca in the shin. “Ouch! That hurt,” she yelled while looking toward the floor. “What in the blazes…?”

There was a box tucked away under where the slat had been. Taking it out of the hiding place, Rebecca blew dust off the top of the box. She tried to make out writing on the lid but it was too faded. She was able to make out a picture of a cigar so she figured this must have been some type of tobacco container.

Eagerly she opened the box to find a piece of paper inside.

“This is it. This is the secret I’ve been waiting to find,” she said excitedly.

The conductor so appreciates your hospitality, he’ll be sending two large hams and three small hams via the railroad. The cargo should arrive in about five days. As a stationmaster, feel free to obtain five tickets for a future trip you’ll be taking on behalf of the railroad. This has been cleared by the railroad agent. The stockholders will reimburse you for your business expenses.

“Good grief, not another one,” Rebecca moaned. This was the third note she had found over the years. She found one in the pocket of a shredded apron hanging on a peg in the kitchen and another one in an old potato sack partly buried in a corner of the lean-to attached to the back of the sod house.

“Dad said there never was a railroad anywhere near here. The closest one is forty miles down the road. So why was my ancestors working for the railroad? And why would they keep sending hams to farmers? Wouldn’t my relatives have their own pigs to butcher? I don’t know, maybe it’s time I share these with my parents. Sure doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Slipping the note into her jean pocket for safe keeping, she would add them to the others already on her bedroom dresser. Disappointed there still were no secrets to be found, Rebecca closed up her playhouse and went home.


Footnotes:
The Underground Railroad was active in the mid 1800’s, especially at the height of the Civil War in the United States. The purpose of the “railroad” was to help runaway slaves escape from slavery. Most fled to Canada. Some of the terminology used:

Railroad – networks of secret routes and safe houses
Agents – people who helped slaves find the “railroad”
Conductors – were guides who helped the slaves find their way to a safe house
Stations/Stationmasters – places/persons who hid slaves
Cargo – escaped slaves
Ham/hams – indicated the number of people needed to be housed
Shareholders – those financing the endeavor

Bibliography: wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_Railroad
nationalgeographic.com/railroad


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Karen Pourbabaee 02/27/11
Intriguing historical story...I liked your main character and her interest in her heritage and the info on the "railroad".