Sunday, March 4, 2018

Chapter Five from The Lace Makers


The dirt road done kick up a heap a dust on my best red jumper.  I set by Mama on the wooden seat and keep brushing it off as we round the corner toward the town.  When we gets real close, I fuss with the little rag ribbons I done tied to the ends a my braids, making sure they still tight.  Mama say soap be cheap and water be free, so she ain't gone take no dirty girl to town.  She know she ain't got to tell me.  I like to get dirty, but more'n that, I like to get clean, 'specially when I get to dress up and go to the store.
Massa gently tap the horse's flank with the reigns and say, "Giddy-up, Pete!" 
I think that be funny, him calling a horse a man's name, but that be Massa's way.  He got a cow called Sue, a mule called Nat, a goat called Timothy, and two sheeps called Joan and Joanna.  Make me wonder who named my great, great, great, great granddaddy who come over on a boat from Africa.  I's sure as sugar he weren't called Homer where he come from. 
By the time we gets to town, the sun be shining warm-like and I don't need my shawl no more.  They's white folks milling all over the place like ants crawling all over the sugar bowl.  Some a 'em has they slaves with them, toting this and that.  I see the kids playing in the schoolyard.  Must be what Marybelle call morning recess.  I cain't see Little Sam, but they's a bunch a boys playing baseball and I hear the loud "crack" the wooden bat make when it hit the little white ball. 
I also hear old Mister Hawkins, the white folks' preacher, yelling at his man to "tie up them horses right quick!"  His voice sound like an old creaky barn door and I's glad Massa's voice be soft and low, 'cept when he been drinking.  But even then, I only hear him yelling at Missus through they bedroom door.  He don't yell like he mad, he yell like he got so much grief inside a him, it be pouring out from his mouth in words 'stead a tears from his eyes. 
I cain't understand him, but Missus do.  Even though she can get madder'n a wet hen at Massa, she always say stuff like, "It's alright, Sam...I understand.  It won't be long now.  Your father would understand, too."
But I don't know what Old Massa Settler be understanding when he dead.  And from what I hear, he weren't the understanding type.  Mama say he'd yell an order and whoever in his line a fire best jump quick or risk a whipping.  And that include his son.  Mama say Massa get beat twice as hard as a slave sometime. 
Now I watch Old Mister Hawkins bark some more at his man, then I look at Massa.  I ain't happy to be no slave, but I don't know no different neither.  I know what it like to be called tar baby.  I know what it like to be asked when I go to town with Mama, "Whose nigger you be?" like I ain't got no name, like I ain't a person.  I know that some white folks gone hate us all they lives 'cause they don't know no different...jest like I don't know no different than living like I do. 
Even so, I know the difference 'tween belonging to a nice man and a nasty one.  Massa may tell Mama to do this and that.  He tell Pearl and Ruby and Hale and all a them slaves in the field how long to work and what they gots to do all day long.  But he ain't mean.  Sometime in the summer he even let 'em have the afternoon off if it be so hot they gone melt like brown butter in the boiling sun.  They nap in they shacks 'til twilight, then heads back to the fields 'til it get real dark with Massa toiling right next to 'em. 
I think sometime Massa feel guilty 'bout a lot a things.  Guilty 'bout my daddy.  Guilty 'bout his daddy.  Guilty 'bout being who he be.  Mama say Massa Sam ain't a lick like Old Massa...and that be both a blessing and a curse.
"Ruby, take all the time you need with Mrs. Snow," Massa say as he steer the horse toward a hitching post by the store.  "I need to go to the telegraph office and the bank, so I'll ask Mr. Snow to help me load the staples into wagon if you're still inside."
Mama nod as she tie the ends a her shawl so it don't fall off.  "Thank you, Massa Sam," she say, making sure his good ear be facing her.  I keep forgetting which one it be, but Mama always know.  She say nice and clear, "You think there gone be any news 'bout the war?"
"I hope so," Massa nod.  "But you know what the preacher says about those darn reporters who hear a scrap of rumor and print it like it's the gospel truth."
"What he say?" Mama ask, shielding her eyes from the rising sun.
Massa smile.  "He said that all of the reporters could be killed in the crossfire one day and dispatches from hell would arrive by sunrise the next morning."
"Oh, Lord!" Mama laugh.  "He ain't got no use for them newpapermens."
"Well, let's hope for some good news anyway," Massa say.  He get down from the wagon.  "Have you made a lot of things to sell?"
Mama shrug.  "I ain't had time to make but a few things, but Missus Snow say last time she gone look 'round for some more wool yarn.  I's gone make you some new socks to wear to church."
"That's fine," Massa nod.  I can tell he not really listening.  His mind elsewhere, but that where it be most days since folks 'round here be talking 'bout how the war gone be ending soon. 
"Can I learn how to make socks, too?" I ask Mama when I see Massa ain't gone say no more.
She nod.  "Yes...jest as soon as you learn how to use them double-pointy needles I done give you last week."
"Them's hard to figure, Mama," I frown.  "They flip and flop all over the place."
"Practice, baby girl," Mama smile.  "You gots to practice."
"I'd rather practice my reading," I whisper.  I know I ain't s'posed talk 'bout such things when we away from Massa's plantation, but ain't no one looking at us, so I figure I can sneak it in.
"Hush it, Sapphire," Mama hiss and squeeze my leg hard with her strong fingers.  She don't want to get nobody in trouble, 'specially Missus.
So I hush it.
Massa hobble Pete, then reach up and help Mama down.  He hold out his arms and grab me 'round my ribs, then set me on the ground.  "There you go, Miss Sapphire," he wink.  "Have fun with your mama at the store."  He slip a shiny penny into my hand.  "Why don't you get some stick candy...if Ruby doesn't mind."
Mama give Massa a look that say, You spoil my chile, but that be jest fine with me.  "What you say, Sapphire?" Mama chide.
"Thank you, Massa," I say, staring at the penny in my palm.  "I know jest what kind I's gone get."
"What's that?" he ask.
"Peppermint," I smile.  "Like at Christmas time when Santy Claus done brung Little Sam and Marybelle a mess a candy."
"Well, you can pretend it's Christmas today if you want," Massa say, pulling a satchel from the wagon.  "I expect that'll buy you a couple a pieces at least."  Then he look at Mama.  "Tell Mrs. Snow to give you the best calico they have...enough for new Easter dresses for you and your girls.  She can put it on my monthly bill."
Mama wrinkle her brow.  "Why you do that?"
Massa look at my shabby jumper and shake his head.  "I can't believe how much Sapphire is growing like a weed."
I nod.  "Yes, sir, I is." 
It embarrassing to wear this old thing both Opal and Pearl done had when they was little.  It be held together by threads and the seams be popping open where my arm pits be stretching 'em.  Plus it got stains from where they spilt all kind a things on it. 
"Want me to get some for Missus and the chil'ren?" Mama ask.
Massa shake his head.  "No, they're going to visit her mother in Cleveland soon and I'm sure Mrs. Hamilton will take them to her tailor."
Missus be from a rich family up north and I think that why she teach me how to read and write.  She don't like keeping slaves, but she love Massa a whole bunch or so I hear her tell him when he be so sad sometime.  She say she ain't gone leave him, no matter how poorly the farm be producing.  No matter how mean he treat her.  She say she gone be with him 'til death do they part and she mean to keep her promise.
Missus don't make us work on Sunday 'cause that be the Lord's day.  Mama and I does all our work on Saturday, and then we gets to spend the whole next day praying and singing hymns and knitting on our lace.  Opal and Pearl come over to our shack and we get to talking sometime 'til I nearly bust a gut with them funny things they say 'bout they they be farting and burping and scratching they behinds all the time.  Last week Opal pretend she be Hale and rub her hind end while she sniff and snort and walk 'round the shack like she got a stick up her butt.
"The shine already done worn offa him," Mama smile, looking up from her lace.  "That cain't be the same boy you done fell in love with last summer."
"He be the same boy," Opal say, wrinkling her nose.  "He jest be more a hisself now that we be married."
It a wonder I even think 'bout jumping the broom someday.

Now Mama take my hand and we walk to the store.  It be Monday, so Massa stop at the post office to mail some letters.  I see him over my shoulder and notice he walking funny, like he ain't got no bones in his legs.  Mister Toomey work the telegraph at the post office and I know Massa gone ask him if they's news 'bout the war.  He worry 'bout that all the time, 'specially when Mister Rotten come over and rant and rave 'bout what gone happen "when all the niggers get freed."  They all know the Rebs is gone get they behinds whipped and then what they gone do?  Make me wonder what me and Mama and everone who work Massa's farm gone do, too. 
Where we gone live?  Will I get to be with Mama always?
It make my mind spin to think a such things, so I watch the kids running in the school yard.  Marybelle be swinging on a tire and her dress be flyin' up so I can see her underthings.  Her mama would have a fit to know she be showing her business, but I won't tell.  Marybelle and me is friends, even though I know I ain't s'posed to talk to her when we in town.
"Sapphire, you want to set on the porch and watch the kids while I talk to Missus Snow?" Mama ask.
"Fine...I come get you when I's done so you can spend that pretty penny."
I rub it 'tween my fingers and think a all the hours Mama done spent knitting and sewing and making things Missus Snow want to sell at the store.  I know Mama only make a little bit a money and Missus Snow raise the price a heap so she can make what Missus teach me called a profit. 
That don't make no sense, I think.  Why cain't Mama jest make all the money herself?  But ain't nobody gone buy nothing from no slave, so Missus Snow doing her a favor passing her pennies and nickels and dimes if Mama be lucky.
"You want my penny?" I ask her, holding it out.  "You can put it with the money you saving for our freedom."
Mama pat my hand, then curl my fingers 'round the copper coin.  "We gone be free soon enough.  You ain't never had no money 'fore and today's a very special day.  It be time you learn how to use it." 
"Thank you, Mama," I say, thankful she let me keep it.  I was thinking the same thing...that I ain't never had no penny.  I ain't never had nothing that weren't somebody else's 'fore me...'cept my pretty shirt with the Queen Anne's Lace. 
I set on a barrel near the door a the store and watch the kids while Mama go inside.  I hear Missus Snow say, "Be right with you, Ruby.  Lord, it's been a busy morning!"  My legs itch and my feet hurt 'cause my toes be poking out the holes in my shoes.  The socks I's wearing has holes, too, and the soles a my shoes be flap, flap, flapping all the time.  Mama say she gone get Hale to tar 'em up sometime when he ain't too busy scratching his behind and burping and farting and such. 
My mama a card or so Old Albert say.  I think that mean she be pretty funny. 
Now I look at all a them clean white kids and know how truly dirty I be.  My hands.  My feets.  Even my being colored don't hide the filth I live in ever day.  Mama done give me a bath ever Sunday, but still, I see them kids and I know what they is. 
And I know what I is. 
Still, I get to set out here and listen to songbirds singing while all a them kids soon gone be back setting on they behinds in that schoolroom doing all kind a work.  But that not be work to me.  It be more like playing.  I see a boy who got a McGuffey Reader...the very same one I done read last night.  I think 'bout that story a the little boy who like to play and when he done, then he like to work.  To help me remember all them words in order, I take little steps 'round the wooden porch, one word for each step.

He used to say, "One thing at a time."
When he had done with work, he would play;
but he did not try to play and to work at the same time.

Over and over 'gain I whisper them words, but pretty soon that story 'bout mixing work and play get all mixed up in my head.   It seem like them birds twittering in the trees and the horses clomping on the street and the folks walking by all be singing that story to me even though they ain't paying no mind to a little colored girl waiting on her Mama. 
The birds be tweeting, "Work can be play, know it can." 
"I sure do," I sing to the birds.  "'Cause knitting ain't no work, 'cept when Mama put them double-pointy needles in my hands."
"Oh, Sapphire," one a them red birds chirp.  "You is a card!"
All the sudden I see the teacher, Miss Vincent, come to the door a the schoolhouse and ring a big, gold bell.  Clang, clang, clang!   Them kids stop what they doing right quick and hightail it to they teacher.  I think they be like little slaves, too.  Miss Vincent be they massa with her bell and when she ring it like she doing now, they all come running.  'Cept I know at the end a the day, they get the freedom a going home to they mamas and daddies.
Miss Vincent be strict, too.  One time when Mama brung me to town, I seen her grab a boy by the ear and drag him into the school all the while screeching, "Don't you let me catch you doing that ever again, Douglas Pritchard!"
Later that day when I was washing dishes in the big house, Marybelle come in for a glass a milk.  I ask her what Douglas done to get in trouble and she say he peed in the bushes in front a all the girls.
"That ain't no big thing," I shrug.  "All the slaves in the fields do they business wherever they is 'cause they ain't no privy when you got to go."
"But there's an outhouse behind the school," Marybelle tell me.  "And Miss Vincent says we're never, ever go to the bathroom outside because it's unsanitary."
"What that mean?" I ask, wiping a bowl free a mashed potato bits.
"I think it means not private."
"Private mean you does your business all by yourself?"
"Uh huh," Marybelle nod.
Now I think on all them times Mama say to jest piddle behind a bush at night 'stead a hightailing it to the privy.  She say it keep raccoons and skunks and such away from our shack and that make me giggle jest to think on it.
"What you got to laugh 'bout, Sapphire Settler?" I hear a nasty voice say.  It be coming from the mouth a the loudest woman I know.  Whenever Queeny come near me, I want to run the other way.  Fast.  But I cain't now 'cause she right on top a me, her shadow covering me from the top a my rag ribbons to the tips a my ratty shoes.
"Morning Miss Queeny," I say real polite. 
Mama say I got to be nice to all a the mayor's slaves, even a big, old witch like Queeny.  She live in a little room the mayor's wife had built right next to they kitchen so Queeny can be at her beck and call day and night.  All Missus Mayor got to do is ring a little bell and up Queeny jump to fetch a cup a tea or empty her bedpan or bring a little more honey for her biscuits.  
Earle, Mister Rotten's man, say Queeny don't live in no tar-paper shack.  When he bring dry goods to they house, he see that she sleep on a little feather bed and has her very own sink and privy.  Plus Queeny get to eat a bit a whatever she making for the Mayor no matter what it be.
One time Earle say, "Even when that girl eat the fancy teacakes from her Massa's dinner parties, she still find a way to make it sound like she's made to lick a slop jar."
Queeny got nothing nice to say 'bout nothing.  Ever time Mama and I see her in town, she be complaing like she Job.  Maybe Queeny need to see what it feel like to have to do her business outside and sleep in a drafty shack and eat nothing but cornbread and pork rind.  I ain't got no boils like Job, but I know what it feel like to never be warm enough or full enough...not like I wants to be.
"What you got to be laughing 'bout?" Queeny ask one more time.  Her sourpuss face be like the prunes Mama put on Little Sam's oatmeal. 
"I's jest watching the kids," I tell her.  I ain't gone tell her I's thinking 'bout piddling by the shack to ward off varmints.  She jest say I's being fresh and threaten to tell my mama.
"Ain't you lucky to set there and do nothing," Queeny sigh.  "I got so many things to get done today and Missus want me to come all the way across town to go to the store!"
I roll my eyes 'cause "all the way across town" for Queeny mean she got to walk past three houses and the bank 'fore she get to the store.  She don't know nothing 'bout walking...not like poor old Earle do.  He walk everwhere for Mister Rotten.  I bet he done walked enough to go halfway 'round the world by now.
"How you?" I ask.  As if I really want to know.  I ain't got nothing nice to say 'bout Queeny, so most a the time I do like Mama tell me and don't say nothing at all.
"Missus gots me hopping today," Queeny sigh.
Mama poke her head out the door.  "You wants to come in now, Sapphire?"  She see Queeny and smile.  "'Morning."
Queeny nod.  "Ruby."
Mama pull on my sleeve.  "Come on, baby girl."
Thank you, Jesus, I think.  Thank You for sending my mama to rescue me from that nasty woman.   "'Bye, Miss Queeny," I say, grinning.  But in my mind I's thinking, And good riddance.
When we inside the store, Missus Snow be rolling out a big bolt a calico.  Mama say I get to choose the color for our new dresses.  Now it really be like Christmas!  There be red and purple and blue.  The one Missus Snow show me be green with little white flowers all over the place.  They looks like the ones Missus and Mama done planted last year near the back door by the garden...the ones that smell sweet and clean.
I point to the bolt.  "I like that one, Mama...if it be alright with you."
"That be fine, Sapphire," Mama nod.  "A good choice, too.  Don't you think that look jest like the sweet alyssum from our garden?"
"Yes'm."  I love how we both think the same things sometime, like Mama and I be one person.
"Massa Settler say to put the calico on his monthly bill," Mama tell Missus Snow. 
She fold it into a nice pile, then, jest like she do for the white folks, Missus Snow wrap it in brown paper. 
"Thank you kindly, Missus," Mama say.
"I know how dusty the roads can be when we don't get much rain," Missus Snow say.  "Now, Sapphire, your mama says you want to do some business with me."
I swallow hard and don't say nothing, jest nod at the floor and hold out my penny.
Missus Snow act like she do business with a little colored girl ever day.  She not like her husband who yell at us to hurry up and be on our way.  Mister Snow say we's bad for business and if white folks see us malingering, they won't come into the store.  I wonder what malingering mean and plan to look up that big old word in Missus Settler's dictionary when I learn how to spell better.
"What would you like?" Missus Snow asks me.  "Your mama says you might want some candy."
I steal a look up at her and when I do, I see a little corn cob doll on the shelf over her head.  It be a little bitty thing, maybe only as big as my hand, but I think I want to see if I can use my penny to trade for her.   I bite my lip and look at Mama. 
"What you want, Sapphire?" she ask.  "C'mon...we gots to meet Massa at the wagon."
I point to the doll on the shelf.  She got curly paper hair and a dress that come down to her little knobby feet. 
"You want that doll?" Missus Snow ask me.
"Yes'm," I whisper.  "Can I trade my penny for it?"
Missus Snow pull it from the shelf and look at the little white tag 'round its neck.  "It's three cents."
"I only got one penny," I tell her.
Mama open her coin purse and give me two more pennies.  "Sapphire, you done helped me knit some a them doilies," she say.  "I's happy to give you a little a the money we earn'd.  You go on and get that dolly.  It'll last longer than peppermint candy, won't it?"
My smile stretches big.  "Yes'm."  Carefully I put the three pennies on the counter and Missus Snow hand me the doll.  The husk crackle when I stroke the dress and touch her hair.  Her black dot eyes shine up at me like she know she be mine now.
Mama tell me to thank Missus Snow and I do, then we heads out the door to where the wagon still be hitched.  They ain't no sign a Massa, so we take our time.  I cradle my doll in my arms and wonder what I gone name her. 
We see Queeny hurrying up the street toward the Mayor's house and Mama shake her head.  "That girl gone be a victim all her life," she say.  "When we's set free, Queeny still gone be stuck in them invisible chains." 
I know what invisible is...that mean you cain't see it.  It be like a ghost or a spook or something.  Missus read me a book called A Christmas Carol last year and it have a ghost man who has to drag a heap a heavy chains 'round in the afterlife 'cause he been stingy when he was alive.  Queeny ain't wearing no chains that I can see, but she drag 'round her complaints like she toting a heavy pail a water, spilling a little a her bellyaching on everone she meet.  And she always seem to be able to go back to the well to pull up some more. 
But Mama done seen Queeny's mama die in childbirth.  She spoke to Massa, who be friends with the Mayor, and made sure Queeny was brought up by the house slaves so she'd never have to work on the Mayor's farm or get sold to a plantation.  Jest like Mama made sure I work in Massa and Missus' house cleaning and helping with the cooking, knitting and such.   She say everone done been born for some purpose and right now that be be her helper and to knit up pretty things for the white folks. 
I wonder what my purpose gone be when I ain't a slave no more.
But I do know I ain't a victim a nothing.  Like Mama say, I only a slave by what you see on the outside.   I ain't got no invisible chains 'cause I got my freedom with Mama at night when she sing to me and tell me she love me.  Queeny ain't never know her mama, and she probably ain't got nobody to say they loves her.  Maybe that why she so mean all the time, and I got to find it in my heart to pray for her poor soul, not wanting to run like a jackrabbit whenever she cross my path.
Mama help me climb up on the wagon seat, then she get up right next to me.  I hold my doll in my lap so I can see her little black eyes and a dot for a nose.  The curve a her mouth be red and her cheeks be painted with tiny circles a pink.
"That be a pretty dolly," Mama say.  "I think she need a calico shawl to match the jumper I be making you soon."
"Then we all match, Mama!"
I look up and see Massa coming from the bank.  His face be drawn and white.  Look like he want to cry, but I know he ain't.  He carrying a little bundle a papers under his arm and it be tied up with a piece a string all neat and tidy.  When he get to the wagon, he slide 'em into his brown satchel and put it under the seat.
Massa don't say nothing as he unhitch the horse, but when he climb into the wagon, he ask Mama, "Did you get everything you need?"
"Yes, Massa Sam," she say. 
'Fore he pull on Pete's reigns, Massa look 'round.  He real quiet for a moment, then he say, "The next time you come to town, make sure to tell Mrs. Snow I said, 'thank you' for her kindness."
Mama jest nod.
As we head back to the big house, I watch Massa from the corner a my eye.  I know something ain't right 'cause I listened to what he done said with them different ears Mama told me 'bout.   Now I figure maybe my ears need to perk up when they ain't no words to be heard.
It then I notice Massa ain't got the dry goods from the store.  I wonder when he gone notice, too.  Maybe not 'til we get home.  Then Massa might send Hale to fetch Mister Rotten to tote the load to the big house.
I ain't liking that suh...'cause that insight Mama say I has is jest starting to kick in.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Chapter Four from The Lace Makers


It's past time for Appellplatz, but the loudspeakers are still silent.  I wonder if roll call will be held since half of the barracks have been emptied.  Thousands of half-dead men and women were lined up like cattle and surrounded by S.S. guards with rifles who threatened to shoot them if they couldn't keep up on the forced march.  If they complained about the cold.  If they stumbled or leaned on each other for support. 
I've seen Nazis kill prisoners for less than that.
The loudspeakers hover over us like metal slave masters, barking orders from morning until night.  Yesterday morning, one of the guards angrily shouted, "Alle Untermenchen aufstehen!  Alle Schweine schnell zu marschieren oder du wirst erschossen!"
All sub-human beings get up!  All pigs will march quickly or you will be shot!
Simka and I ran from the barrack to the cookhouse where her friend, Vitya, shoved us into the pantry and hissed, "Make no noise!" 
Simka and I crouched on the floor and held our breath, waiting for the sound of steam whistles in the distance to let us know the trains were finally leaving. 
"We'll be killed if they find us," Simka whispered as I wrapped my arm protectively around her.
I shook my head.  Said nothing. 
While the S.S. were storming the barracks, Mutti told me that I must hide, that I must help Simka.  I must do it because I am Henry Vogel's daughter and I must be brave like him.  But Mutti didn't have to feel her heart leaping wildly in her chest while she pressed her face to her friend's cheek, not knowing how long she had to live.  She didn't have to feel her bladder fill to overflowing and her mouth become as dry as dust. 
We were discovered by an S.S. officer later that day, but our lives were spared because I'm Kapitan Dieter's concubine and on his direct orders, I am never to be harmed.  Once more, he has saved my life and the life of someone I love. 
But staying alive seems like a never-ending atonement for an innocent choice I made long ago, one which led to an accidental betrayal and the destruction of everything that followed.
November, 1938

It's a cold, clear night as I stand staring out the picture window in our living room while Vati and Mutti argue in the kitchen.  Their hushed, angry voices twist into each other while smoke billows into the sky from the synagogue up the street.  Orange and copper flames burst from the windows beneath the Star of David and I wonder, Is Herr Zweig safe?  He is still alive?
Yesterday the S.S. arrested him at the theater while he and Vati were working in their office.  They forced him, along with all the Jewish men from our neighborhood, to walk to the synagogue, all the while mocking them, calling them Jewish swine.  The streets were lined with people shouting ugly things as well: "Faulen Juden!  Untermenschen!”
Rotten Jews!  Sub-humans!
Since then, we haven't seen or heard from Herr Zweig or any of the other men.  Frau Zweig is locked in her home with her younger boys, but Heinrich, the oldest, ran over to our house just an hour ago to tell us that the synagogue was set on fire by the angry mob.  While my parents quarrel in the next room, he slumps in a chair by the fire, cracking his knuckles and nervously bouncing his leg. 
I don't know what to say when tears fall down Heinrich's cheeks.  He tries to hide them, but it's too late.  I've never seen a boy my age cry before and it frightens me.  To spare Heinrich, I turn my head and watch the synagogue burn, watch the flames and smoke rise higher into the darkening sky.
As night falls, neither of us speaks, for we both know that when the morning comes, nothing will ever be the same.

"Henry, we can't!" Mutti cries.  I hear her voice through the thin wall between our bedrooms.  They've been arguing all night long and even though sunlight slowly filters into my room, nothing has been resolved. 
Heinrich tosses and turns on the couch downstairs while my parents decide his fate.  He didn't leave last night, as my parents knew it wasn't safe for him to walk home in the dark.  Now I wonder why it's so difficult for my mother to ensure his future safety.
"You cannot ask me to put the children's lives at risk," Mutti insists.
"But what about Heinrich and Georg and Fritz?" Vati counters.  "Don't their lives matter?  And what about Sharon?  What about hers?  What do you think Leonard would do if he were in my place?"
Mutti is silent for once. 
"I'm not asking you to hide them here," Vati continues.  "There's space in the theater's dressing rooms.  Heinrich and I can build a false wall.  Sharon and the boys will be safe there until this madness is over."
"Why didn't they just leave when they had the chance?" Mutti sobs.  "They could have gone to America to live with Sharon's sister."
"By the time Leonard applied for Visas last year, the immigration laws had know that."  Vati's voice is calm and clear.  "Leonard never believed the Germans would take it this far.  He's always said that he's a German first, a Jew loyal to his country as the next man."
"Well, the next man has been issuing warnings for years...," Mutti argues.
Vati interrupts her, "Leonard is a loyal friend and I would do anything for him...anything.  He took a chance to open the theater when Karin was just a baby and we had next to nothing."
Mutti bursts into tears.  "But what does that matter when you've put all of our lives in jeopardy?" 
"Josephine...Josephine," Vati says softy.  "I cannot let Sharon and the boys risk deportation.  I've heard what happens when people are loaded onto cattlecars."
I've heard those gruesome stories passed around school like notes hidden behind the teacher's back.  Listening to my father now, I know for certain that I'm just like him.  I'm not a coward like my mother who wants to save our skins, who would let the Nazis take Heinrich and his family away.  But then I hear something in her voice, a whimper followed by an agonizing cry that sounds like a wounded animal. 
"But my Papa's mother," Mutti cries.  "I'm a Mischling...mixed blood!"
"Josephine...don't worry," Vati replies.  "There is no record...I made sure of that."
"Grossmutter was a Jew," Mutti wails.  "And that means I'm part Jewish...and so is Karin and..."
"Hush now," Vati says soothingly.  "No one will know.  I will tell no one.  You will tell no one.  Because you are an only child, there are no brothers and sisters who can tell.  Your Mutti and Papa are both dead, God rest their souls, and Karin doesn't know, so she can't tell either."
I'm not sure what it means to be a I Jewish or am I Christian?  Frau Zweig would often invite me for the Shabbat, and one evening she told me that the Jewish line is in the soul, not the body.  She explained that it is passed down through the mother because babies are conceived in them, born from them, and their little souls are shaped more by their mothers than their fathers. 
I'm thankful there's no Jewish bloodline the Nazis can trace, and yet I feel utterly ashamed of myself as well.  I love Herr and Frau Zweig.  Their sons are like my brothers.  But I don't want to be taken to a place from which no one returns.  I don't want to be persecuted for simply being born as I am. 
Perhaps I'm just like Mutti after all. 
I hear her sniffle and blow her nose.  "But what if...?"
"There is no 'what if,'" Vati says calmly. "There is only what is.  And what is now will not change.  Sooner or later the S.S. will come to Sharon's home and take her and the boys away.  I cannot let that happen.  If Leonard returns, I want him to find his family safe."
Mutti says nothing and I think the argument is over.  But after a moment she snaps, "How do you know they won't find them in the theater, then come here to kill us all?"
My heart pounds when I hear the sharp edge in her voice.
"All I know is that I have to help my friend," Vati replies sadly.  "I have to take care of his family."
"But what about our family?" Mutti cries.  "What about us?"
"We are all family, Josephine," Vati says insistently.  "We are all part of God's family."

Shortly before sunrise, Vati drives to the theater with Heinrich safely hidden in the trunk.  Then he will go to Frau Zweig's home as soon as he can to bring her, Georg, and Fritz to the safety of the theater.  They're going to sleep in the office until Vati can build the false wall that he says will only take a few days. 
Mutti and I hurriedly pack a picnic basket filled with bread, fruit, and a few brats before I have to leave for school.  I pour some milk into a thermos and fill another one with hot coffee.  In a big, cardboard box Mutti and I stack clean sheets, some blankets, and a few hand towels.  I tuck in a stuffed toy, a few of my old storybooks for Georg and Fritz, and a copy of my dog-eared The Sword in the Stone for Heinrich. 
Mutti makes me promise to be silent about what Vati is doing.  To stay away from the theater unless I am with my father.  To attend Jungmadel meetings and be a good girl in school.  She makes me promise that I will never call attention to myself and risk questioning of any kind.
Soon Jurgen wanders into the kitchen.  His blue eyes are still sleepy and his soft, blonde hair sticks up all over his head like little tufts of fluff.   Eyeing the basket, he asks, "Where are we going?"
"Nowhere," Mutti says. 
"But I want to go on a picnic!" Jurgen whines.
Mutti shakes her head.  "Not today, Liebling."
"But when?"
"Maybe be a big boy and help your sister."
Jurgen rubs his eyes, grinning at me. 
I tousle his hair.  "You're my big boy, too, yes?"
"Ja!  Naturlich!"
Yes!  Of course!
"Well, big boy, help me carry this box to the carport."
"Because Vati needs it."  I try to smile as I tuck a chocolate bar inside one of the towels to surprise Heinrich. 
I cannot tell Jurgen about the Zweigs.  He's too little to keep a secret and we can't be sure that he won't tell the neighbors by mistake.  Especially Frau Roth who pompously displays a Nazi flag in her front window and brags about how every one of her boys proudly wears the S.S. uniform. 
Jurgen pulls on my sleeve.  "What does Vati need it for?"
"For his friends."
"Are they going somewhere?"
"Ja...a great adventure!" I tell him.
"Can I come, too?"
I shake my head.  "Nein, Jurgen...we'll have our own adventures, but not right have to wait until you grow up a bit."
Jurgen pushes the hair from his eyes.  "Karin, can I come to school with you?"
"Because I want to learn my letters so I can read about adventures until I'm big enough to have them myself."
I hand Jurgen a bright green sweater I had knitted for his birthday last spring.  "If you help me take these things to the carport, I'll teach you your letters today when I come home."
As Jurgen pushes his arms into the sweater, his face pops through the neck.  Then he looks up at me and grins.  "Karin...Ich liebe dich einfach."
Karin, I just love you.
Tears fill my eyes as I begin to understand what my mother must be feeling.  Jurgen is more than my brother.  He's my wenig little shadow...and I cannot imagine my life without him.
Now as I gaze out the cloudy window that's coated with ashes, I see children mill around the yard nearby, their tiny bodies swimming in filthy, raggedy striped pajamas, clothes that were once worn by men who have died from starvation and typhus and dysentery.  Barbed wire surrounds the children in a gruesome playpen only Nazis could invent.  Several boys dig holes in the dirt with their bare hands.  Two girls stand with their arms around each other and press their faces together, trying to stay warm.  Many of them sit huddled on the cold, dank earth, hungry and hopeless.   
Simka presses a fist to her stomach and winces in pain.  The lace in her other hand quivers on the needles.  She looks to me and I lift my brows as if to ask, Are you alright?
She nods and tries to smile, tries to be brave, but we're both terrified of what will happen once her labor begins.  I know what happens to babies born in the camps...and to their mothers.
As my hands work mindlessly, my eyes scan the yard hoping to see Jurgen among the children.  Then I remind myself that it's not wise to imagine the impossible because here I am...still alive while my little brother's ashes have long since floated like angel's wings high above the earth and through the gates of heaven.

You can purchase digital and paperback versions of THE LACE MAKERS on

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Chapter Three from The Lace Makers


My feets are wet with morning dew as I walk into the kitchen where Mama already been for an hour.  She wearing her hair tied up in a rag and her light brown skin shine with sweat.  Sometime I think she look like the hot cocoa we make for the chil'ren at Christmas time.  I's light like Mama, but Opal and Pearl be dark like our daddy.  But I's the only one with green eyes, 'cause everone else gots brown.  Mama say they be special.  She say her Mama had a little bit a green in her eyes, too, and ain't it lucky I get to carry a little a my grandmama with me ever day?
I wipe my shoes on the rag rug Mama done made last summer, then hang my shawl on a peg by the door.  The coffee already be made.  The tea set be ready to serve Massa and Missus.  Mama even polish up the silver forks and knives and spoons. 
Who coming to visit today? I wonder.           
Then I remember -- it be Mister Rotten's day to deliver the flour and oats and cornmeal from the general store.  That make my stomach tie up in knots and want to stay close to Mama all the time.  But he need to come 'cause we low on everthing with the war raging on and spring not coming on real good yet.  Massa be one a the few plantation owners still left in our corner a Lincoln County 'cause he done lost the hearing in one a his ears when we was a boy.  The Rebs told him, "The heck with you," and Massa go back to farming. 
Earle say when they was in town, he heard them Yanks done whupped up on the Rebs in Alabama and all over Virginia, 'cept I don't know where them places is.  How can people I ain't never met be willing to give they lives for folks like me?  I's always thinking on something and today that what I's wondering as I take down an apron from the peg by the stove.  Then I remember Mama's story 'bout Jesus and how He done give up His life for all a us poor folks here on earth.  But Jesus done come back three days after He been hung on a cross, and I know as sure as the sun be shining that none a them Yanks gone rise up out they graves any time soon. 
"Morning, Sapphire," Mama say, giving me a little peck on the cheek.  "You sleep good last night?"
I shake my head.  "No, ma'am."
Mama know I ain't sleeping good 'cause  I lie in bed with her now that Daddy gone.  Mama and I keep our shack neat as a pin.  We even has some old chipped up china Missus say ain't no good to keep in the big house. 
Mama's bed has a quilt my grandmama done made and a pillow and even a hay mattress, but that don't do no good to help me sleep.   I lie there and hold my token -- a little chunk a stone on a leather strap that I got to wear 'round my neck.  It has my letters on it.  It say, S.S. for Sapphire Settler so in case I get it into my head to up and run off, anyone who catch me know who I belong to.  That be so dumb!  Even I know all I got to do is take it off and bury it in the forest somewheres and no one gone know who I is.
Mama give me the token that Earle stole when Mister Rotten made him bury my daddy, and I wears that, too.  I rub Daddy's little chunk a stone and feel them letters.  J.S. they say 'cause his name be Juniper Settler.  One day when I big enough to use an awl, I gone scratch that dern "S" right off a both our tokens.  Then we jest be Sapphire and Juniper...the way it oughta be. 
I rub them tokens like Missus be rubbing her rosary.  Ever time I see Missus fingering them beads, I think on when she say it stop her from worrying so much.  It don't do nothing for me though.  I still worry 'bout Mama and Opal and Pearl, how they might get taken away, 'cause no matter how much I rub Daddy's stone, I know I ain't never gone see him again.
"Baby girl, will you please get me some butter from the cooler?" Mama ask.  She busy slicing bread for toast.  Massa like it thick.  Missus like it thin.  And I like the end piece, which Mama always save for me even though Missus say give it to the sparrows and crows who be pecking at her little garden all the live long day.
Mama toast the end 'til it nice and crunchy, then coat it up with warm butter and sprinkle it with cinnamon, sugar, and a pinch a clove.  "Here you go, little bird," she sing, giving me a wink.
"Tweet, tweet," I chirp. 
That be the best thing I et all day long!  Plus I get to set at the table in the kitchen and plop my behind on a real chair, not like how Mama and I has to sit on the bed or on an old stump when we eats at our place.  Sometime I pretend I's not a slave, but a little girl setting in her own kitchen.  And I pretend Mama ain't no slave neither, but jest my mama, making me breakfast like any other white chile in Lincoln County.
Now I go to the cooler and pull out the box a butter.  "You want it all, Mama?"
"One little slice do jest fine," she say, stoking the fire.  "I be making Massa's eggs early today.  We's going into town later this morning to get the dry goods."
"That true, Mama?" I ask, lifting my brows. 
I's so excited!  First 'cause I ain't gone have to see Mister Rotten.  Plus whenever Massa take me and Mama into town, I get to set and watch the chil'ren play outside in the school yard.  And I get to go with Mama while she barter with Missus Snow, the lady who run the store.  Mama sell her lace and quilts and even some a the vegetables from our own garden when we has too many, which ain't often. 
Missus Snow be nice, but not too nice.  She give Mama yarn ain't nobody want and old scraps a material, then say, "Let's see what miracles you can work with that, Ruby."
Mama always surprise Missus Snow.  No matter how uneven the yarn be, no matter how nasty the material, my mama can always make something beautiful outta something ugly.  Then she sell it for money that belong only to her...not to Massa.
She saving to buy our freedom.  Her'n mine both.  Mama once tell me, "I know they's some folks who be running off and such, but I ain't in they shoes, so I cain't fault 'em.  But I want to be free legal.  I ain't gone take the chance somebody snatch you away from me like they done your daddy if we got caught."
 I ain't know how much Mama got saved so far, but I do know where she keep it and I ain't telling nobody no how.  I's excited we get to go to town so Mama can earn more nickels and dimes and maybe even a dollar if she can sell Missus Snow that pretty baby quilt she done sewed with all a the clothes Little Sam and Marybelle growed out a this year. 
"I gets to come, too." I say, handing her the butter.   It not be a question.  Mama know I do almost anything to get out the house for the day. 
"Yes, chile," Mama chuckle.  "That why I get the silver done now.  Missus says she gone have company tomorrow and I's not sure I be able to get it done and put supper on the table tonight."
"You need me to make something for Missus and Little Sam and Marybelle for supper?" I ask.
"No, baby," Mama say.  "But you can go pick some peas from the garden and start shelling 'em."
Mama crack Massa's eggs into the hot butter as I take a wooden bowl from the shelf.  I wrap my shawl 'round my shoulders, then step outside to the small garden Missus and Mama tend nearly all year long.  The spring peas be popping and in no time, I got enough for more than Missus and the chil'ren.  Maybe Mama will let me has some for my supper, too.   I love peas more than anything, and we don't get 'em much.  Mostly we jest has hot cornbread and pork rind and whatever we can grow in our little patch by the shack.  Massa done give us a bunch a seeds, but they never seem to grow as good as Missus' garden do. 
Even so, my onions be the best on the plantation, but I don't know why.  Whenever they be coming in strong, I always take a handful a 'em to Massa's kitchen 'cause Missus don't know how to tend 'em.  Maybe she don't like to touch stuff that make her cry.  I cry enough over my daddy so a little onion juice ain't gone hurt me none.
When I bring the peas into the kitchen, Mama already has another dish on the table ready for me.  It be my favorite one 'cause it has Queen Anne's Lace painted on it with silver ink.  It nearly match the lace Mama done stitch into the collar a my shirt she made for me last Christmas. 
When I put it on, she told me, "Sapphire, I's gone teach you how to make different laces, but that be the most perfect kind on earth."
"How come?" I asked, running my fingers over the little knobs and bumps in the flowers.
Mama fixed my collar so it set jest right.  "'Cause that be God's lace, honey...and ain't nobody nowhere can make lace like that.  It bloom and die and bloom and die...over and over."
"That be a miracle, huh?"
"Yes, baby," Mama said, hugging me.
Now I set on the stool and, one by one, I shell them peas, feeling the hard little balls slide off a my finger as they go plink, plink, plink onto the little china dish.  Some days I feel like dropping it on the hard, wooden floor so it might chip and Missus will say Mama can tote it home to our shack.
But what if it break into pieces? I wonder. 
I decide to jest let it be.  Maybe sometime it get chipped when Mama or Missus or even Marybelle be using it and I don't have to worry 'bout destroying something that be a picture a what God done made.
Mama clear her throat.  I look up to see her gazing out the window.  Then she look back at Massa's eggs in the pan.  Jest like always, they be a mess a yellow and white, all mixed up together.  Mama give 'em a little flip, then press hard with the spatula so they get nice and cooked on that side, too.
"Why you do that, Mama?" I ask, taking the peas to the sink where I gone rinse 'em good.
"Do what?"
"Why you always break Massa's eggs like that?"  I pump the handle a the faucet as hard as I can.  It be cold and stiff in the morning chill, but soon I get a trickle going.
Mama don't say nothing for a moment.  I think she don't hear me, so I ask one more time.
As she slide them eggs on a plate, she say real quiet-like, "When I break Massa's eggs, I ain't no slave.  I do it to send him a message."
"What message?"
Mama give me a gentle smile.  "Sapphire, you need to listen with different ears."
I frown as I rinse the peas.  "These be the only ears I got!  I cain't be changing 'em like Marybelle change her hair ribbons."
"Don't sass me, baby girl," Mama snap.  She mad 'cause I got a sharp tongue, but who she think I got it from if it weren't her? 
"I ain't sassing," I say.  "I's jest wondering how you send a message to Massa by messing with his eggs."
Mama sigh.  " may be a slave in your body, but you only a slave in your mind if you wants to be."  She say it like it be fact.  I know what that mean 'cause Missus done teach me fact from fiction jest last week. 
Still, I don't understand 'bout wanting to be a slave in my mind.  "What that mean?" I ask her.
"All them Yanks and folks up north be fighting for our freedom, but I done figured out long ago that I's already free...and you is jest don't know it yet."  She set Massa's plate on a tray with the toast and jam and the big, silver coffee pot.  "Ever time I break Massa's eggs, I feel a little more free. I choose to do it, see?  He ain't never said nothing 'bout it and I don't do it malicious-like."
"What malicious?"
"It mean to be nasty on purpose," she say.  "I don't hate Massa no more.  I hate what he done to your daddy, but he ain't never lay a finger on me or one a you girls.  Still, I do it to show him I's a person who can do what she want sometime."
I nod. 
"See, baby, I used to play with Massa Sam when I was a chile, jest like you play with Little Sam and Marybelle.  My mama's milk be both his and mine.  Mama say we held hands when we was nursing, and when we got bigger, we played together like we's kin.  I know him like I knew my own sister, you 'member her?"
"Uh huh."
But I don't really 'cause Auntie Jasmine died when I was jest a bitty thing.  She got kicked in the head by a horse when she working in the field and never got up.
Mama put her hands on her hips.  "When I break Massa's eggs, it be like saying to him, 'I's still the same Ruby you played with when you was a boy.  I's still the same person who seen your daddy whip your hide.  I's still the same person your mama done hate like the devil.  I's still the same even though you the massa now.'"  Mama put a fork and knife by Massa's plate, then look at me directly.  "It like I's telling him I be a whole person...and that how I be free."
I hear ever word she say, trying to listen with different ears.  I wonder what it gone feel like when Little Sam be the massa and I be like mama.  I's learned my place in the order a things 'round here.  I know I ain't never gone have no say in what go on in the big house.  I know I got to do whatever the white folks say.
But when Mama talk like she do right now, I feel like I ain't no slave neither. 
I be a whole person, too.
I jest be Sapphire.

While Mama feed Massa and the chil'ren they breakfast, I take some cornbread and a pail a fresh water to the folks in the field.  They's been up since 'fore dawn milking the cow, toting hay, scooping poop and such.
In the fresh morning breeze, I smell the spruce and pine trees growing tall and proud near the edge a the plantation.  The green leaves jest be popping on the maple trees, but they ain't no whirlygigs coming on 'em yet.  I like evergreens the best 'cause they be jest that - ever green all year long.  I smell them clean, sharp spruce needles and it make me long for Christmas when we ain't got nothing to do but set on our behinds and gobble up the holiday cake Mama done made and think 'bout what old Santy Claus would bring us if we had a stocking to hang by the fireplace.  If  we even had a fireplace and not jest a fire pit outside our shack.
I see Opal in the henhouse poking 'round the nests, careful not to get pecked to death.  She say she ain't never seen a bunch a chickens as feisty as the ones Massa got this year.  But they lays a heap a eggs ever morning, and Opal always tell me to sneak a few into our shack so Mama can scramble up some for my supper.
"Missus ain't gone miss a few eggs now and again," she say real sassy-like. 
Opal always be trying to pull the wool over Massa and Missus' eyes.  Lies pour from her lips like milk from a pitcher and land like thick cream no matter what she be saying.  I think it funny how Massa and any a the menfolk 'round here lap it up jest like little kittens.  Opal has big, dark eyes that shine and snap when she telling a tall one.  She got long legs and roundish breasts and hips, and I guess the mens jest hear what they wants to when she start spinning her web a lies.
Everyone working while they singing "Follow the Drinking Gourd" and I long for Mama to teach me the harmony part.  She already done teached me how to sing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Ezekiel Saw the Wheel."  "Swing Low" be my favorite, 'specially when we sing the part 'bout angels coming after me. I wonder if them angels be wearing lace wings like Mama say.  Jest in case, ever time I sit down to knit, I start a humming and weave the words a the song into the stitches. 
When I get to singing out loud, Mama say, "With that pretty little voice, someday you gone get to heaven riding on them angels' wings."
Now Opal stop singing and motion for me.  "Sapphire, get your behind over here and tote these to the big house.  She pop two small eggs into my apron pockets, then hand me a straw basket.  "Old Bessie done outdid herself this morning.  I counted five under her rump!"
"How 'bout Gertie?" I ask.  That be my favorite hen 'cause she be brown and black and red, not all white and plain like the others.
"She still ain't got a one," Opal say, standing up and stretching her long arms over her head.  "Someday soon she gone be stewing in the soup pot."
I frown and tears come to my eyes.
Opal chuck my shoulder.  "I's kidding with you, Sapphire.  She lay them two little bitty things in your pockets.  I figure you want to have Gertie's 'cause she your favorite and all...'cept I don't know why.  She ornery as sin."
I smile, fingering them little warm, brown eggs that come straight from Gertie's nest.
"What you got for our breakfast?"  Opal ask.
Like she don't know.
"I brought you some fancy pancakes and maple syrup," I sass.
Opal roll her eyes.  "Oh, what a feast!  We's lucky today!"
"Mama and me's going to town with Massa," I tell her.  "We gone get the dry goods and such.  Maybe Mama make you oatmeal for supper."
Opal nod.  "I has some leftover honey from last summer.  That be a nice treat after working hard all day long."
I know how lucky I is to work in the big house with Mama, 'cause they ain't a day go by that I not with her morning, noon, and night.  The only time I has to get outside is when I tend Missus' little garden.  Opal and Pearl and they husbands all gots to tend to the animals and the fields.  Now that she be big, Pearl doing more a the hoeing and less a the toting.  When the baby come, I guess she gone strap it to her back and keep on working.  Keen done take over as the blacksmith when Mister Rotten take my daddy, and sometime he work with Massa, planning where to plant the crops and how to rotate 'em and such. 
Old Albert come to our place jest last winter when his Massa done die and he give Albert to Massa Settler in his will.  He ain't too happy to be here, no suh.  Old Albert say he too feeble to hoe and rake and pick cotton.  Said he was jest getting used to overseeing and now look where he be.  The mens say he do the best he can, but Old Albert be stiff and slow.  He cain't do half the work Hale and Issac can.  Maybe Massa take pity on Old Albert someday and let him come be a butler or something in the big house.  Then Mama and me can has someone else to talk to 'sides ourselves.
I like Old Albert.  He tell funny stories 'bout Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox and how they always be getting into some kind a fix.  I like the one 'bout how Brer Rabbit be stuck in some tar and beg Brer Fox to throw him in a brier patch to put him out a his misery.  That mean old Brer Fox think it be some kind a punishment, so he do jest that.  But sly Brer Rabbit done been born and live his whole life in them prickly bushes and he be free in no time, laughing 'bout how he done fool Brer Fox for good measure. 
I beg to hear Old Albert tell that tale over and over while we warms ourselves by the fire at night.  Mama say I like it 'cause I need to learn how to stay away from sticky things that cause a heap a trouble. 
But I say I like it 'cause what look like the end for that clever Brer Rabbit turn out to be only the beginning.

You can purchase digital and paperback versions of THE LACE MAKERS on