Nyssa's Hobbit Hole

Month: November 2011 (page 1 of 3)

Trip to San Francisco–June 1999–Freaks and Buzzards

I went with hubby “Cugan” and his brother M–, who won our plane tickets there.  (We could never have afforded it on our own.)

The houses in Union City, where we stayed with family, had bad spider and bug problems, like the lakeside houses in our own Wisconsin city.  At least we didn’t see many bugs inside the house, but it still looked like more than the usual in Wisconsin.

It would get cold at night, and bayside was often cold and windy, probably reaching the fifties before the day was done.  So if you go to San Francisco, even in the summertime, take a heavy jacket!  Also, there were old VW bugs everywhere, lasting forever in that climate.  Did they belong mostly to aging hippies?

We liked staying with family rather than in an expensive hotel, where we would just sit around feeling bored at the end of the day.  And I could sit on the couch and read Dangerous Liaisons while Cugan and M– watched the VCR or cable.

The neighborhood in Union City looked strange to me: It didn’t have the usual grassy strip between the sidewalk and the curb.  (In Wisconsin, it’s called a terrace, though I don’t think it’s called that in Indiana, where I came from.)  You’d find everything from street signs to trash barrels (on trash day) sitting on the sidewalk, and have to walk single file around them.

The houses were narrow, though long, the yards were tiny, and the streets were lined with lots of cars, so it felt claustrophobic.  But the Spanish-style houses with their double doors and pastels were pretty, and they, and the extensive landscaping people did, made up for that.  There were flowers everywhere.

The first night, Cugan, M– and I went to see Phantom Menace.  It was M–‘s first time and our second.  (Yes, we did actually like the movie and wanted to see it again.)  It was in that newfangled digital sound, but I noticed no difference between that and regular sound.

The 25-screen, new theater didn’t even have enough parking, so we were forced to park the rental car on a treacherous obstacle course made of bumpy dirt which was being used as a second parking lot.  Go too far one way, and you fall in a ditch.  We were glad to have a midsize car, because a smaller one might not have been able to handle the terrain.

When we saw a trailer for the new Austin Powers movie, some guy in the row in front of ours said, “I’ll need to have a few drinks before watching that one.”  Cugan and M– applauded, and we laughed.  (Yet M– ended up loving the movie.)  This guy said the same thing about another movie, I think the South Park movie.

I was shocked to see a trailer for a new movie version of Anna and the King of Siam.  Having seen the 1940s movie again after reading the book, I was shocked at how the movie twisted history around; The King and I wasn’t much better.

I longed for Hollywood to come out with a new version, maybe one that was closer to the book.  (For one thing, Anna and King Mongkut did not fall in love, as far as I could tell.  He was far too cruel for someone with her soft heart.)

Unfortunately, this new movie version was even worse than the rest.  And now people were saying that even the book was practically fiction!

Monday, we rode the BART, a transit train, to San Francisco, where we rode a Powell-Hyde Street cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf at the end of the line.  These cars were cool.  They weren’t used just for tourists, either.

Even the brakes were wooden.  Everything looked about as primitive as it probably was when they were first used, which made it all the more exciting.

Cable car is the only way to travel on the steep hills of San Francisco, but plenty of people still tried to share the streets with them and park on the hills.  I thought those people must be crazy.  We figured brakes must not last long around there, and that trolley brakes must get replaced every day.

The driver would put on the brakes going down a hill and take them off again to climb up another one.  When the trolley would get to one end or another of the track, a few strong men were needed to turn it around.  They would push it onto a wooden wheel in the street, pull a rope in the ground so the wheel would move, push the trolley around on the wheel to line up against the track facing the opposite direction, then roll it along on the track a little ways to the pickup point.

Long lines formed waiting for these cars; in the morning, it took about half an hour to finally get on a trolley.  (Maybe that’s why people would still drive cars.)   Along the way, individuals would stand at cable car stops or walk into the street, waving a hand so the car would stop and let them on.  Sometimes there would be too many people at a stop and the driver would say, “Go on down the street to the next one: You’ll have better luck.”

He pointed out all the sights to us along the way, something our evening driver didn’t do, probably because he was the evening driver and we’d seen it all before.

Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, and nearby streets were full of shops and panhandlers.  Many panhandlers got creative.  One young man with spiked hair sat in front of a sign that said, “Get your picture taken with a freak.”

Three guys on the streets dressed up in suits and stood like statues or moved like robots on blocks.  One was painted gold, another silver.  I had to ask Cugan if they were real people.

Some guys had signs saying, “I’ll be honest: this money’s for beer/weed!”  I gave them no money, of course.  I’m willing to help out the hungry as far as I can, but not those who want money for drugs or beer.

We toured the bay on a ship for an hour, and saw the Golden Gate, the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, and sea lions sleeping stretched out and looking like our cat when she slept.  We also toured an old submarine, the Jeremiah O’Brien.

We walked part of the way across the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was cold and windy and I had a sore throat, so we didn’t go the whole way.  There were phones here and there on the bridge to use for crisis counseling, to keep people from jumping off the bridge.  Cugan had M– pose for a picture, his hat on backwards, reaching for one of the phones as if he were on his last rope.

In a chocolate shop, I got a tin of chocolate and two truffles, and had to get some of the truffles which were made to look like cats, mice, bears, lions and pigs.  I could only get four, but they were almost too cute to eat.  I still ate them, however, to Cugan’s surprise and amusement.  He laughed when I would show him one or two each night, say, “Isn’t it cute?” and then bite into it.

One of the first two truffles got smashed in the bag before I could eat it, so Cugan and I went into the candy shop again later to replace it.  The same cashier was there who had been there before; she remembered me and smiled at all the chocolate I’d bought.  (It didn’t seem like much to me, but local prices were so high that it cost about $20!)

Dogs were huge in this area.  I saw maybe one dog that was smaller than a Rottweiler, and it was tiny.  Two of the dogs were mastiffs.  One panhandler had a black dog he called a “puppy,” but it was huge and looked like a wolf.  Cugan figured people had the big dogs for protection, especially the panhandlers.

As we waited for a trolley for about an hour in the cold wind of evening, after the fog had begun rolling in, a street musician entertained us with his guitar and his own songs.  When we got close to him and could hear the words, he sang a funny song about the blues of waiting for cable cars in the cold, and sang, “I’ve been waiting here longer than you.”

Also, the trolleys were piling up, and we thought the operators must be deliberately spacing them out for some reason, though they didn’t do this before.  This is why it took so long.  As we watched some guys turn around one of the trolleys, Cugan and M– sang the hard-labor tune, “Oh-WEE-oh.  WEE-oh!”  One of the guys smiled at them.  Cugan’s aunt later told us that they’re used to strange people.

Both times in the cars, I sat on a bench at the end facing forward, Cugan sat next to me, and M– held onto a pole in front of me.  I got neck-aches from watching where the car went.  You also had to be really careful if you stood by a pole, because if you hung out too far, you could hit something.  Cugan’s family had been there before; once, his mom got hurt and had to get stitches because she hit some yellow poles that stuck up a little ways out of the street in one intersection (probably track markers).

We wandered the streets of Berkeley.  We saw a bunch of young people with spiked hair and spiked leather jackets (not a common sight at home at that time).  We saw the sand dunes near Monterey Bay, and drove through mountains to get there.  Monterey was just as cold as San Francisco.  At a seafood restaurant, as we read the menu posted outside, one of the waiters (I guess) came out and told us to come in, the food’s good, trust him.  It was.  🙂

We saw the Monterey Aquarium, with its new Deep Sea exhibit.  Outside we watched a sea lion sleeping on a rock, a cormorant sitting beside it, and an otter playing in the nearby kelp beds.  By one glass wall was a small holding tank for otters, blocked off by small, rocky caves.  The otters showed off for us and played.  Two of the otters, females, slept for a while in a nook, lying on their backs in the water and holding up their front paws as if they were praying.  One, the closest, kept looking at us.

Later we went down part of the 17-Mile Drive, which had more sand dunes and a beach.  Otters played in the water.  One floated on his back and kept thrashing a rock against sea urchins, trying to smash the urchins for his dinner.  A wave would splash over him, you’d see his head poking up, he’d apparently lose his rock or want another sea urchin, and he would dive and come back up again.  Cugan wanted whatever he was having, because he wanted to get that excited about dinner.

Instead of center lines and lane lines, California streets and roads have yellow and white reflectors.  The streets often have bike lanes on the right.

The roads to and from Muir Forest and Muir Beach were mountain roads, narrow and twisting.  Cugan, the only registered driver for the rental car, didn’t like the roads and didn’t want to drive back at night.  We joked about how easy it would be to fall down the ditch on one side or the drop on the other, since there were no guardrails in most places.  On the way to the forest, we saw what might have been a buzzards.  M– took on a Latin accent and and a husky voice and said,

“Emilio, we will feast well tonight on fat Wisconsin tourists!”  (Not that we’re fat.)

Cugan said, “Isn’t it nice that they (humans) come in prepackaged boxes (cars)?”

M– said, “And that they have seatbelts, so they won’t go very far!”

We saw the redwoods of Muir Forest, and wandered the trails.  The famous walk-through tree had fallen before I was even born.  Since this was caused by people walking around the tree and destroying the root system, the trails were now fenced off with wooden railings to keep people from disturbing the other trees.  But one was set up with concrete walkways around and in it so you could stand inside its little cave.

Many of the trees had nooks and crannies, many of them big enough to fit at least one person side.  Once, M– pointed to a felled tree and said, “There are probably a lot of bugs and termites in there.”  Then a woman nearby said to a man who was trying to get inside a nook near the trail, “Did he say bugs and termites?”  We saw a Steller’s blue jay and a Sonoma chipmunk, both cute, though the blue jay had nearly finished a piece of bread and Cugan wondered if it could fly after that.

Muir Beach wasn’t so much fun for me.  It was cold and windy, and we went up a trail on a hill so steep it was hazardous to go back down.  The guys disappeared over the top of the hill, and I couldn’t stay up there in the cold, so I had to go back down by myself and wait for them.

Cugan’s aunt and uncle had their own sense of humor.  One night, Uncle Y– told Aunt A– that he had an invitation that said nothing about bringing wives.  A– said,

“That’s because L– wants to steal you away from me.  You should hear the things she says to her sister about you!”

For the next hour or so, until they left for a gradation party, Y– kept asking what L– said about him.  A– kept saying,

“You’ll have to ask her sister.  I’m not telling you.”

M– called in to work once or twice to check up on things, hoping for brownie points with his bosses, and one of his co-workers asked,

“You didn’t have soup in a bread bowl, did you?”

M– said, “How’d you know?”

It was a sourdough bread bowl in a fish ‘n’ chips restaurant on Pier 39.  The co-worker said he was doing the typical tourist thing, but Aunt A– said we might as well, since I had never been there before.

And here ends the travelogue.

 

1988 Trip to Mammoth Cave–When the Lights Went Out Underground

(Pictured: Passage within Mammoth Caves National Park, iStock.com/sreenath_k)

I wrote this to a penpal back in 1988, as a sophomore in high school:

During August, my parents, my brother L– and I went to Bowling Green, Kentucky.

I went with my dad and brother to Mammoth Cave, but my mom stayed at the hotel because she’d gone through there before in 1965 (as did my brother and dad), and, since she hadn’t dressed properly for the cold down there–my dad was the only one in the tour group with pants on instead of shorts–she got sick.

(When it was my turn to go in this cave, which I’d heard so much about that it seemed legendary, I wore pants.)

Back then, the longest tour was somewhere around six, seven, eight hours.  Now it was only four and a half hours, unless you wanted to go on the “Wild Cave” Tour: I think that was six hours long, and it was one where they gave the people equipment and they’d pretend they were explorers.  (I’d like to go on that one sometime.)

The electricity in the cave is powered by two companies, one in Indiana, but when we were there, it wasn’t working in the Indiana Company’s part of the cave.  Most of the Half-Day (4 1/2-hour) Tour was in that part, so we had to stand outside in the heat for a very long time, waiting for the previous group to come back with the lanterns.

But, during that time, there was the oddest coincidence: During my freshman year at school, I had two best friends, and one of them–Jennifer–was on the very same tour I was on!  Neither of us even knew the other was going to be there!

Finally, we could go in the cave and cool off.  There were a lot of stairs to go down.  I’d brought a pocket flashlight I’d bought at church camp, which came in useful now.

(With at least two tour groups being shoved together for the tour, there was a shortage of lanterns, and anyone with a flashlight was encouraged to use it and lead a smaller group.  Of course, my flashlight was hardly big enough to lead a group with, so I didn’t say anything about it to the tour guide.)

After a while we reached the Snowball Dining Room and had lunch, chili if you wanted it (I had something else since I don’t like chili), then went into the next room and sat for an extremely long time.  It turned out to be cold in there, so our guide told us we should go back in the Snowball Room where it was warmer.

Some of us went in there, and the guide from the next group came up to us and said we should go in the other room because another group was going to come in.  Some people in our group started laughing; the other group’s guide asked, “Why are you laughing?” and someone said, “Our guide just told us to come in here.”

For a while during our wait in the other room, I had a chance to talk with Jennifer.  Before that, and maybe after, I talked with Dad about the link between the Great Flood and how the room looked like it was carved by water–which it was, as the guide later told us.

It was decided that the rest of the Half-Day Tour groups would join our group.  Our guide told us about the forks in the trail ahead and how easy it was to get lost.

He said that, usually, he could joke about how one person could go the wrong way and have forty people following, but now it could be a hundred (or maybe even 120, I don’t remember now), and it wouldn’t be so funny.

The guide was asked if anyone ever got lost in the cave, and he told about when a man, before there was electricity in the cave, left his new hat in the Snowball Room, and the guide let him go back and get it.  When he was going back to the group, he missed the turn and started going the wrong way–then his lantern went out.

He was lost for 39 hours!  They found him after he started pounding two rocks together.  They thought he was smart to signal the search party like that, but they found out the total silence–since Mammoth Cave makes no sound–had begun to get to him, so he pounded the rocks so there would be some noise.

As we went deeper and deeper into the cave, we could look up and see colossal walls on either side.  Some people were given candles, so now we had three or four flashlights, some lanterns and candles.  (I just remembered: One lantern had set on fire outside.)

I thought it was more fun without electricity.  Once or twice only a few of us were in front, and the others were so far behind we thought they were lost.

If I remember right, someone screamed when they saw one of the cave-dwelling animals or insects.  Along the way we saw a cave insect, and, in one room, we divided into groups to look for more.  We found at least one.

Some time later there were huge depressions on either side of the trail, and large rocks, which were in such positions that they looked like they would fall any second, were in the depressions, and one could see where part of the roof caved in when the cave was being formed–but it looked as if the cave-in had just occurred in the past few minutes!  One of the rocks in precarious positions was holding the roof up.

We reached a place with restrooms, and we found out those lights weren’t working either, so someone put a lantern in the girl’s restroom.

At one spot, we sat down on benches that were on either side of a trail with depressions on both sides.  Where I was, the bench tilted backwards, so I was uneasy until we all stood up again.  (L– noticed a heavily overweight woman panting and fanning herself here.)

There are so many steps in that cave, and we went up and down a lot of them.  We went down some more to see some formations, then came back up.  I believe the lights were on there.  Soon after, the tour was over.  Only my feet wanted to leave; they ached so much.

That “Half-Day” Tour turned out, for us, to be over five hours long.  People were joking that we should be given T-shirts saying, “I survived the 5-hour Half-Day Tour.”  I was disappointed when we came to the part where the lights were on, though as soon as they saw it some people cheered.

My dad, brother and I were going to go on the Echo River Tour the next morning, but all the water-tours were cancelled because the lights had gone out.  So Dad and I went on the Historic Tour, and heard from someone on that tour how he and a group were on the river when the lights went out.

On the Historic Tour, we, of course, went in the Historic Entrance.  All the lights were on in the part of the cave where this was.  Once, the lights were deliberately turned off, and we were told to be very still and just listen to the total silence: Mammoth Cave makes no sound at all, as I said before.

Then the guide took a kerosene torch and threw it on a ledge high above us, to light up the roof.  She said that a family of rats lived up there, and when they were “at home” they’d push the torch back off the ledge.  They weren’t home.

She also said a “fire and brimstone” preacher in the olden days liked to preach to his congregation here, where they felt close to Hell.  It was also used for mining at one time.

By the Bottomless Pit–which is 105 feet deep–is a tower-like thing that we climbed up–and up–using stairs.  (The stairs curved around and around the tower.)  It seemed to me to be just as high as the Bottomless Pit is deep.

On the way to and from Kentucky, I played Amy Grant’s Lead Me On tape, which I had just gotten, on my Walkman because it was the only tape I brought.  I played it as Dad drove down a road in a wooded area and then turned the car around because we were going the wrong way.  (We were close to the cave by then.)  By the end of the trip, I was tired of it.  I gave it a rest, and eventually was able to listen to it again.

Mom and Dad had told me the story of Mammoth Cave for years before this.  Mom had to carry my other brother La– (my brothers were that young), and L– ate too many hot dogs and got sick of them for life.  I think he eventually was able to eat them again, when he was grown up.

Musings on Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl–Part 4

Previous parts

Chapter 36: Mrs. Hobbs, who is taking care of Linda’s daughter Ellen, has a southern brother, Mr. Thorne, who knows Linda’s grandmother.  He comes to visit, but Ellen soon finds herself running back and forth to get rum and brandy for him and Mr. Hobbs–and Mr. Thorne “poured vile language” into her ears.  One day, he tears up and scatters a letter in the yard, which Ellen soon pieces together due to suspicions.

Her suspicions are right: The letter is to Dr. Flint, telling him where Linda is and how easily he can get her.  The children take the letter to Mrs. Hobbs, who goes to confront her brother, but he has already left with another letter.  The next morning, he flees for New York before anyone else is up.

Linda hurries home, where she tells her employer, Mrs. Bruce, that she’s a fugitive slave in danger of being caught.  Mrs. Hobbs lets her take Ellen, at least for 10 days, and Mrs. Bruce and others help her get out of the city and onto a steamboat.  Ellen is raggedy and has had no schooling, which upsets Linda.

On the boat she finds more prejudice, as colored passengers are supposed to sleep on deck, but with a child and under the circumstances, she asks to be allowed to sleep in the cabin.  The stewardess says no because too many rich people travel on this route.

However, Linda is able to convince the captain to let her sleep below deck, and when they get to shore, he also convinces the conductor of the train to allow her to ride in the first car behind the engine.

In Boston, she and a friend set up house together, she gets Mrs. Hobbs to let Ellen stay with her, she has both her children with her now, and she gets Ellen into school.  Finally, things are looking up.

Chapter 37: As a mother, especially after my own difficult labor, the thought of a woman dying in childbirth saddens me.  She’s waited all this time for the happy event, only to find the end of her life.  What was born in love, ends in death, with her stuck in a distressing labor she can’t escape from.

These thoughts return as I read that Linda’s employer, Mrs. Bruce, died in childbirth (the baby also dead) in the following spring.

Mr. Bruce takes their other daughter, Mary, to England to visit relatives, with Linda as her nurse, while Linda leaves her children in safe hands back in the States.  Benny is apprenticed to a printer, while Ellen goes to school.

And in England, “For the first time in my life I was in a place where I was treated according to my deportment, without reference to my complexion.”

She notes the living conditions of dirt-poor and oppressed English peasants, and realizes they still live better than American slaves:

They fear no lash, no one will take their children away or make them toil from starlight to starlight in heat and cold, there are societies and schools set up to help them.  No patrols will flog them in the middle of the night; no one will give them 39 lashes for teaching each other how to read and write.

An English visitor to America had painted a glowing picture of slavery in the US, but Linda says she should become a poor governess on a Louisiana or Alabama plantation, rather than visiting among the fashionable.

The behavior of oppressive white Christians in her hometown had turned her against the Episcopal Church, but here in England, she is inspired by true Christians.

She stays there 10 months without experiencing prejudice against color.  She writes, “Indeed, I entirely forgot it, till the time came for us to return to America.”

Chapter 38: Linda goes back to Boston, and finds Ellen well and doing well at school.  Benny has done very well at his apprenticeship and has been well liked–until they discovered he was black.  (Apparently he is very light-skinned.)

“They began by treating him with silent scorn, and finding that he returned the same, they resorted to insults and abuse.  He was too spirited a boy to stand that, and he went off.”

Good for him: Nobody should have to take insults and abuse, and I would’ve done the same.  So off he goes on a whaling voyage, and is gone for a few years.

Her young mistress is now married, and writes Linda a letter.  She says she heard Linda was in England “with a family,” and waited for her return.

I was suddenly struck with the thought that Linda would be like an illegal immigrant: She’s been smuggled out of the slave states into the free, without anyone giving her papers proving that she is legally free.

This was before the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, and many trusted in the personal liberty laws of Massachusetts and other Northern states, but the law of the land still would consider Linda the property of the Flints.  I wonder if her employers would be subject to prosecution….

Her mistress writes that she wants Linda with her, or she can buy herself.  What she says sounds very kind to me, but Linda feels insulted, that her mistress thinks her stupid enough to fall for it.  She does not respond.  This letter shows her that the Flint family is aware of her movements somehow.

Linda wants her money to go to her children’s education and a home, not to buying herself, which she finds both hard and unjust.

I could not possibly regard myself as a piece of property….I knew the law would decide that I was [Dr. Flint’s] property, and would probably still give his daughter a claim to my children; but I regarded such laws as the regulations of robbers, who had no rights that I was bound to respect.

Chapter 39: Linda decides to send Ellen off to boarding school, but first tell her about her father.  Turns out Ellen already knows, and that she spent five months with him and he never showed affection to her like he did to his legitimate daughter.

It concerns me that Linda beats herself up so much over what she did with the father, her “great sin” which she is afraid to tell anyone, since neither of them were married at the time and her life as a slave made any sort of “proper” morality harder to follow.

After all, she wasn’t allowed to legally marry anyone she chose, slave marriages could be dissolved at the whim of the owner, and young girls were often dallied with by their owners before they had a chance to get properly married.

Chapter 40: The Fugitive Slave Law is passed, setting Linda and all other fugitive slaves on edge.  Then she’s alerted that somehow, Dr. Flint knows that she’s gone back to her old place, and is arranging to have her caught.

Mrs. Bruce died in childbirth, but Mr. Bruce has since remarried and had more children; the new Mrs. Bruce hates slavery, and since a replacement nurse could not be immediately found, she actually suggests that Linda take the baby with her.

Linda stays with the baby in the house of a senator, then in the country, until the coast is clear and she can return to her employer.

A wealthy and pro-slavery relative of Mrs. Bruce tells her she is violating the law and is she aware of the penalty?  She replies,

I am very well aware of it.  It is imprisonment and one thousand dollars fine.  Shame on my country that it is so!  I am ready to incur the penalty.  I will go to the state’s prison, rather than have any poor victim torn from my house, to be carried back to slavery.

Chapter 41: In 1850, Linda’s grandmother writes that Dr. Flint has died, leaving a “distressed family.”  She also writes, “Poor old man!  I hope he made his peace with God.”

Linda recalls that his crimes against her grandmother were worse than his crimes against her, and that she must be a better Christian than Linda if she can entirely forgive him.  Linda, on the other hand, still finds his memory odious even after he has died.

There are many things we are asked to forgive; forgiveness of abuse can be especially difficult, and can’t be asked lightly.  Mrs. Flint had buried several children, yet Linda saw no softening in her heart.  Instead, a letter from the South warns Linda that Mrs. Flint has declared Linda too valuable a slave for her daughter to lose.

Sure enough, Linda’s owner and her husband, Mr. & Mrs. (Emily) Dodge, soon arrive in town, and come to look for her.  But Mrs. Bruce has already veiled her and sent her off to a friend’s house….

It seems that Mr. Dodge, a Yankee, brought quite a lot of drama into the Flints’ lives, with violent fights between him and Emily’s brother, and she never actually got consent before marrying him.  Dr. Flint never forgave her.  Now they’re left without money or inheritance, so no wonder Mr. Dodge wants to find Emily’s valuable slave.

Linda is tired of running, refuses to pay for her freedom because she shouldn’t have to pay anyone for it, and is bitter that she can’t even go to church without risk.  She writes, “God forgive the black and bitter thoughts I indulged on that Sabbath day!  The Scripture says, ‘Oppression makes even a wise man mad;’ and I was not wise.”

But she flees yet again, going to New England.  Mrs. Bruce buys her freedom, even though Linda felt it was too much like slavery and would put her under obligation to Mrs. Bruce.  She is appalled that even in “the free city of New York” in the “19th century of the Christian religion,” women could be sold.

Yet she is grateful to Mrs. Bruce, and feels a heavy load lifted at last.  Back home she goes, without worry about who might see her.

In 1835, at the age of about 22, she fled her owners.  In 1852, at the age of 39, after nearly 20 years of being a fugitive, she is free.  Her story will be published 9 years later in 1861.

[2010 or 2011]

See entire review here.

 

Musings on Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl–Part 3

 

Previous parts

Before Ellen leaves, Linda is able to see her and say good-bye.  But after this, she hears nothing for months; even Mr. Sands in Washington won’t respond to her letters asking what has become of Ellen.

A little girl in the family finally writes that Ellen is safely arrived, is welcome and eventually will go to school–but also that she’s to be the eldest daughter’s waiting maid.

Linda doesn’t know what to make of this.  Is this a temporary arrangement, or is she a slave again?  Is it possible to trust Mr. Sands, or has slavery perverted him, too?

In chapter 28, we read that slaves could not legally be married.  They would get the consent of their masters and be married by clergy, but it was not legally recognized and their masters could annul it at any time.

And if a master wanted a slave to sleep somewhere other than beside her husband, to perform her usual duties, he could require it.

Linda’s aunt was required to sleep on the floor near Mrs. Flint’s bedroom, and slept there through her own six pregnancies, summer and winter.  She was on-call to bring Mrs. Flint anything she needed during her own pregnancies, and tend to her babies at night.

This hard bed and lack of rest, after working all day long as housekeeper and waiting-maid, led to the premature loss of every one of her own six babies.

When Dr. Flint finally realized what this was doing to her, and that such a valuable slave could die, they let her sleep in her own room in an outhouse except when someone in the family was sick.  She had two more babies, but still, none lived.

Now, Aunt Nancy dies while Linda is in the hiding place.  The Flints are actually affected by her loss; Mrs. Flint even takes to her bed in grief.

But then Dr. Flint tries to use this grief to get Aunt Nancy’s mother, Linda’s grandmother, to get Linda to come home and take Aunt Nancy’s place.  But her grandmother replied,

“It was not I that drove Linda away.  My grandchildren are gone; and of my nine children only one is left.  God help me!”

After breaking her slave down with years of “cruel selfishness,” “incessant, unrequited toil, and broken rest,” Mrs. Flint now wants to make “a beautiful illustration of the attachment existing between slaveholder and slave”: She wants Aunt Nancy to be buried at the feet of her own spot in the Flint family burial-place.

Linda writes that “It had never occurred to Mrs. Flint that slaves could have any feelings.”  The clergyman suggests she consult Nancy’s mother first, and the mother wants her in the slaves’ graveyard with her own family.

After a “mighty grand funeral,” Nancy is buried, and Linda notes,

Northern travelers, passing through the place, might have described this tribute of respect to the humble dead as a beautiful feature in the ‘patriarchal institution’; a touching proof of the attachment between slaveholders and servants; and tenderhearted Mrs. Flint would have confirmed this impression, with handkerchief at her eyes.

We could have told them a different story.  We could have given them a chapter of wrongs and sufferings, that would have touched their hearts, if they had any hearts to feel for the colored people.

Chapter 29: Linda stayed in that hole for almost SEVEN YEARS: August 1835-June 1842.  Imagine having been in a cramped hole since 2003, getting wet during storms, only occasionally getting to come out and stretch your legs.  And the effects of being in there for so long, continued in her body ever afterwards.

Now, a chance arises finally for her and another escaped slave to flee in a ship.  Linda’s grandmother doesn’t want her to go–fearing the chance of seizure more than what being in the hole is doing to Linda–but then someone gets careless and Linda is at risk of being ratted out.  So even her grandmother tells her to leave.

In time it’s discovered that the suspected betrayer did not actually see Linda.  But for now, they have to assume she did, and Linda flees.

Chapter 30: And she’s out and off!  Off she goes with her friend Fanny on a ship headed to Philadelphia.

Chapter 31: She’s in Philadelphia.  Exercise and rubbing her limbs with salt water have nearly restored their use.  She’s taken in by a black minister and his wife, and they also find neighbors to take in Fanny.

She meets with members of anti-slavery societies, and things are going well for her and Fanny–until she goes on a train and discovers that blacks are not allowed in first-class cars for any money.

Chapter 32: Linda finds her daughter Ellen, but discovers that Mr. Sands did not emancipate her as he promised, but actually gave her to his cousin’s eldest daughter.  Ellen is supposed to be her waiting-maid when she grows up, so Ellen has not even been sent to school.

So Linda writes to Dr. Flint and his daughter, asking the price at which he would sell Linda so she can be free.  Only through her own freedom can she protect her children.  But instead he responds that she should go back and submit herself to her rightful owners, “and then any request I might make would be granted.”

Chapter 33: Linda’s health is much better, but her limbs still swell up when she does a lot of walking.  She finds a job as a nurse to a baby, which is supposed to last for a month, but her legs bother her so much (from going up and down stairs all the time) that she can no longer work.

Instead of firing her, Mrs. Bruce makes some changes to save Linda steps, and gets her a doctor.  Mrs. Bruce is kind and helps thaw Linda’s heart, but Mrs. Hobbs is reluctant to give up little Ellen, making Linda suspicious that she might sell Ellen if times get too hard.

So her distrust for white people begins to go away, but not completely.  But Linda’s brother William comes home from the sea, so they are finally reunited.

Chapter 34: It’s amazing when a bully of any type claims to have treated their target very well, basically playing the victim.  I’ve had this happen to me–with the bully claiming to have bent over backwards for me, even though they had been making my life miserable with covert and overt persecution and gaslighting–and here it is happening to Linda:

The girl who owns her has received her letter asking for permission to be sold; the girl’s brother writes back, saying how Linda had never been treated badly or like a slave, but as one of the family, so they thought she was above disgracing herself by running away.

Somehow the family has taken her letter to mean she wants to come “home,” and the brother writes how she will be received with open arms, with no resentment, and made happy, etc.

But Linda recognizes that the young boy could not have written this himself, and the disguised hand of Dr. Flint.  So she does not respond.  As she recounts,

“I did not return the family of Flints any thanks for their cordial invitation–a remissness for which I was, no doubt, charged with base ingratitude.”

I’ve seen the same thing myself, the bully making demands that cannot be met without psychologically destroying the target, then petulantly claiming that their olive branch was thrown back at them.

Her son Benny is sent to her, to her great joy.  Dr. Flint, meanwhile, has come North looking for her, but can’t find her, because she has heard about his visit and gone to Boston for the duration.

In the summertime, as a nurse she needs to take her employer’s baby outside for exercise, but Southerners are everywhere.  She writes,

“Hot weather brings out snakes and slaveholders, and I like one class of the venomous creatures as little as I do the other.  What a comfort it is, to be free to say so!”

Chapter 35: Unfortunately–and showing a detail that Margaret Mitchell got right–the North has segregation and prejudice, despite having no slavery.  Linda encounters it on a steamboat, in a cab, on a train, in various places.

On a train she gets put in a Jim Crow car.  Rather than sitting in a decent seat in a cab, she’d have to sit on top of the trunks in a truck.

As a servant her employer, Mrs. Bruce, could save her from some of these indignities, but she still finds “cruel prejudice, which so discourages the feelings, and represses the energies of the colored people.”

Finally, at a luxury hotel, she follows the other nurses–all white–into a long hall with her charge.  A man, who is in charge of ordering everything, points her to a chair; she sits down, but he says the baby is to sit there, while she stands behind the chair and feeds her.  Then she is to go to the kitchen for supper.

Linda sees the other nurses eyeing her “with a defiant look, as if my presence were a contamination,” even though many of them are only a shade lighter than she is (her parents were mixed race).

She says nothing, but picks up the child, goes to their room, and refuses to go back to the table.  Her defiance is not that of a drama llama, but quiet, polite and dignified–and thereby probably far more forceful than a rant or tirade.

Mr. Bruce has her meals sent to the room, but after a few days, the white waiters complain, “saying they were not hired to wait on negroes.”  The landlord wants Mr. Bruce to send her down to her meals, and “the colored servants of other boarders were dissatisfied because all were not treated alike.”

Linda really shows her mettle in the following:

My answer was that the colored servants ought to be dissatisfied with themselves, for not having too much self-respect to submit to such treatment; that there was no difference in the price of board for colored and white servants, and there was no justification for difference of treatment.

I staid a month after this, and finding I was resolved to stand up for my rights, they concluded to treat me well.  Let every colored man and woman do this, and eventually we shall cease to be trampled under foot by our oppressors.

…And may we all stand up to our own bullies with such quiet dignity.

To be continued….

 

Musings on Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl–Part 2

 

Part 1

Young Mr. Flint is about to get married.  Linda writes,

I knew that the young wives of slaveholders often thought their authority and importance would be best established and maintained by cruelty; and what I had heard of young Mrs. Flint gave me no reason to expect that her rule over them would be less severe than that of the master and overseer.

Truly, the colored race are the most cheerful and forgiving people on the face of the earth.  That their masters sleep in safety is owing to their superabundance of heart; and yet they look upon their sufferings with less pity than they would bestow on those of a horse or a dog.

The wife of old Dr. Flint is an example of someone who goes through the motions of piety, but has a hard heart.  Even though Linda was in no way at fault for the attentions of her master, Mrs. Flint has been jealous of her, sometimes going into Linda’s room as she slept, suspecting Linda’s baby belongs to Dr. Flint, and having murderous thoughts toward her.

In fact, to Mrs. Flint, Linda’s pregnancy is proof that Linda has been sleeping with Dr. Flint, and she refuses to believe otherwise–even though the baby’s father is actually Mr. Sands.  She threatens to kill Linda.

We must always check our jealousy, whether it has no basis in fact or we actually find our love in bed with someone else, lest it lead us into violent, sinful thoughts and deeds, and bar us from the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now, we read that Linda dreads the day’s dinner party.  She is to wait on Dr. Flint and his wife along with the other guests.  Mrs. Flint has not been to the plantation since Linda moved there, and Linda has not seen her face-to-face for five years; she

had no wish to see her now.  She was a praying woman, and, doubtless, considered my present position a special answer to her prayers.  Nothing could please her better than to see me humbled and trampled upon.  I was just where she would have me–in the power of a hard, unprincipled master.

She did not speak to me when she took her seat at table; but her satisfied, triumphant smile, when I handed her plate, was more eloquent than words.

The old doctor was not so quiet in his demonstrations.  He ordered me here and there, and spoke with peculiar emphasis when he said ‘your mistress.’

I was drilled like a disgraced soldier.  When all was over, and the last key turned, I sought my pillow, thankful that God had appointed a season of rest for the weary.

You see how jealousy–and believing it to be justified, even when it’s not–causes ugly self-righteousness.

Mrs. Flint believes she has the proof that Linda has been sleeping with Dr. Flint, and lords it over her with great smugness; since the truth is quite different, she looks like a spiteful, vindictive shrew instead.

When Linda is forced to be servile to her, handing her a plate of food, Mrs. Flint shows that she considers it her due, that Linda deserves all she’s gotten, that Linda has been just terrible to her.

But Mrs. Flint has judged without true knowledge, without even trying to find out the truth.  She is unapologetic for it.  And that is true ugliness.

The wife of young Mr. Flint soon shows her colors.  When the monthly slave rations of meat are handed out, a faithful, very old slave hobbles up to get his;

the mistress said he was too old to have any allowance; that when ni****s were too old to work, they ought to be fed on grass.  Poor old man!  He suffered much before he found rest in the grave.

Yet Scarlett O’Hara said that no one would treat their slaves the way the abolitionists and Northerners had represented…..

Young Mrs. Flint and Linda get along very well for a week.  Then old Mrs. Flint comes over and has a long conference with young Mrs. Flint.  Linda is allowed to leave the plantation “on one condition,” but old Mrs. Flint doesn’t want her to leave it at all.

“If she had trusted me, as I deserved to be trusted by her, she would have had no fears of my accepting that condition.”

Jealousy clouds our eyes and distorts our reason so that even the innocent seem guilty; it leads us to commit sinful offenses against others.

Young and old Mrs. Flint and old Dr. Flint decide to bring Linda’s children to her; Linda sees right through this, and knows the real reason is not to get her family back together, but to break them all in to “abject submission to our lot as slaves.”

A friend of Linda’s family visits the plantation, and innocently mentions to her that the children are coming; Linda writes that this information “nerved me to immediate action.”

In the middle of the night, Linda runs off.  Her children are with her grandmother.  She soon finds refuge in the home of a woman who owns slaves but is kind to them.  Hidden away in a little attic, Linda can see Dr. Flint going to his office each day.

Thus far I had outwitted him, and I triumphed over it.  Who can blame slaves for being cunning?  They are constantly compelled to resort to it.  It is the only weapon of the weak and oppressed against the strength of their tyrants.

However, in revenge, Dr. Flint thrusts her brother William, her aunt and her two children into jail, swearing that her grandmother will never see them again until Linda is returned.  Linda wants to go to them, get them freed, but William sends her a note begging her to stay put.

One day, Linda hears Dr. Flint and the constable in the house, and is terrified when her door opens.  But it’s just her benefactress, telling her that Dr. Flint borrowed $500 to go to New York to find her.  So for the moment, she is safe.

After Dr. Flint has spent quite a bit of money going on a wild goose chase to find Linda, and on jail costs for Linda’s brother and children, he decides to accept the offer of a slave trader–who is actually there on behalf of Mr. Sands, Linda’s lover.  But Dr. Flint doesn’t know that Mr. Sands is involved.  The slave trader then rushes to sell them to Mr. Sands, safely out of Dr. Flint’s hands.

Linda’s friends and relatives help her hide in various places, out of Dr. Flint’s hands, for months.  Nobody else has any idea where she is, and she’s so well hidden that everyone thinks she’s long gone to the Free States.

She acknowledges that many slaves have had even rougher treatment than she did: cruelly overworked, branded, beaten, bruised, whipped, heel-strings cut, chained to a log while working, torn by bloodhounds.

Still, from street conversations she overhears from her hiding place underneath a roof, Dr. Flint is considered even by white people to be a “d**ned brute.”

Dr. Flint goes off to New York again to find Linda, comes back empty-handed, and when her little boy Benny asks if he found his mommy, threatens to cut off his head.

It’s terrible when someone is so used to raging and using his temper to control people that he (or she) will even scream at a child he thinks is somehow offending him.

Months and seasons pass, yet Linda still stays in her tiny hiding place, barely able to move, exposed to much of the weather, because no chance for safe escape has yet come.  She gets very sick, and then her grandmother “broke down under the weight of anxiety and toil.”

Her grandmother is very popular in the neighborhood with the white women because of her baking business; now these women attend on her needs during her illness.  Not to be outdone, old Mrs. Flint goes to see her as well, and makes a big show of being so condescending.

Linda’s son has just been badly bitten by a dog, and his wounds sewn up.  When Mrs. Flint is informed of why Benny is lame, she says,

“I’m glad of it.  I wish he had killed him.  It would be good news to send to his mother. Her day will come.  The dogs will grab her yet.”

Can you imagine such words from someone who claims to be Christian?  and all because she imagined Linda to have designs on her husband, when the truth was she did not?

Linda finally gets some good news: Her grandmother recovers.

Linda’s lover–whom she hasn’t spoken to in a few years–is elected to Congress as the local Whig candidate, despite Dr. Flint’s attempts to turn voters against him.  Linda finds a way to get his attention and plead with him to free her children.  He promises to do so, and to look for a way to buy her as well.

Linda has been living scrunched up in this tiny part of her grandmother’s house for several years now.  She arranges for two letters written by her to be carried up to and mailed from New York, to Dr. Flint and her grandmother.  She claims to be living at a certain address in Boston.  Her grandmother knows about the ruse.

Dr. Flint goes to her grandmother with the letter addressed to her, and reads it to her–only it’s not Linda’s letter.  It’s actually a fake letter he wrote, saying that Linda regrets running away and wants to return.  Dr. Flint wants to send Linda’s uncle to find her, but he doesn’t want to go.

Dr. Flint prefers not to go, either, since the laws in Massachusetts make it a difficult place to retrieve a runaway slave.  He writes to the mayor of Boston, but gets no response.

Meanwhile, after almost 5 years of living cramped in that tiny dark hole between the slanted roof and the inside wall, Linda is in danger of becoming permanently crippled.  So she begins going down to the storeroom for a few hours every morning.

She passes over the years so quickly in her writing, but imagine how long and grueling they must have been for her!  She can only hear her children’s voices, not see them or cuddle them or kiss them goodnight.

In her hiding place, she is so cramped she can barely move, has to stay in bed, and is exposed to heat and cold.  She suffers illness because of this, and now is in danger of losing the use of her limbs permanently.

Yet her friends and family still have found no way for her to safely escape.

Linda’s former lover, Mr. Sands–after she’s been in the hiding place for several years–has now gotten married to somebody else.  I wonder if it broke her heart, but she says nothing about this.

Instead, she wonders if he’ll still keep his promise to free her children, especially now that her brother William, his servant, has gotten his freedom while they traveled up north.

William soon writes to his family that Mr. Sands always treated him kindly, but he always wanted to be free.  Mr. Sands is a bit miffed, though not bitter or resentful, since he planned to set him free in five years anyway.  But William knew plans could change, and wanted to take his chance while he could.

Linda records a longer note for Mr. Sands, including good wishes, God’s blessings for his kindness, begging forgiveness, etc.  William’s own record of the note says, “Sir–I have left you, not to return; when I have got settled, I will give you further satisfaction.  No longer yours, John S. Jacobs [his real name].”  I especially love how he signs it.

Dr. Flint’s family heard about this, of course, and laughed.

Mrs. Flint made her usual manifestations of Christian feeling, by saying, “I’m glad of it.  I hope he’ll never get him again.  I like to see people paid back in their own coin.

“I reckon Linda’s children will have to pay for it.  I should be glad to see them in the speculator’s hands again, for I’m tired of seeing those little ni—rs march about the streets.”

Such a spiteful woman–I hope she plagued Dr. Flint’s heart out.

Mrs. Flint’s spite and vengeance know no bounds: She decides to tell the new Mrs. Sands who is the father of Linda’s children (thereby stirring up trouble and jealousy in the Sands household as well as her own).

She also wants to tell her “what an artful devil I was; that I had made a great deal of trouble in her family; that when Mr. Sands was at the north, she didn’t doubt I had followed him in disguise, and persuaded William to run away.”

It’s a clear case of the bully claiming to be the victim and engaging in a little character assassination.

Mr. Sands beats her to it, however.  He and his wife meet little Benny in the street, he tells her he’s the father of Benny and Ellen and that the mother is dead, and now she wants to see them.

She and her sister want to adopt the children, but Linda is so scarred by slavery that she trusts neither of them; she fears that they would eventually sell the children if they fell on hard times.

Linda sends a message through her grandmother to Mr. Sands that she is not dead and wants them freed; he says they are indeed free, but they’d be better off in the north, because Dr. Flint is saying they still belong to his young daughter, who was not old enough to consent to the sale.

So they send Ellen to live with Mr. Sands’ relatives in Long Island, and go to school, with Benny going to the North with his uncle soon after.  Mrs. Flint, of course, is not happy.

To be continued….

 

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