Shauna's preferred genre is fiction. She particularly enjoys rising to a challenge posed by fellow artists.
I’ve been through this obscure meadow a thousand times and always feel sadness when I come upon the lone tombstone. Nancy J. Brayles, Born 1820, Died 1910. That’s all it says. Who was she and what is her story? How did she die? Why is she buried here all alone?
As a writer, I often take walks to clear my head and gain inspiration by the sights and smells that Mother Nature provides. Life can be hectic. Life can be cumbersome. But life is beautiful. Sometimes I just need to get out from the confines of the walls of my home and let the freedom of fresh air embrace me. It’s cleansing. And it’s a key component to my process.
For some reason, I’m always drawn to this spot. It sparks emotions and not always uplifting ones. Here I feel sadness, but I also feel the need to tell her story. She reaches out to me but doesn’t quite connect. She was 90 years old when she died. What was her life? Why am I drawn to this spot? I feel she needs to be heard. And I can give her a voice.
After having a one-sided conversation with Nancy (“hello my friend. I’m here and I feel you. I promise to tell your story so you can rest in peace”), I do an about-face and continue on down the tree-lined dirt road. My mind is wandering with the path I mindlessly follow.
Why am I drawn to that lone tombstone? Who am I kidding.? I know why I’m drawn. It’s because Nancy J. Brayles is reaching out to someone – anyone – who can tell her story. No one should die alone with nothing to show for life. Especially someone who walked this earth for ninety years!
There’s a conversation going on in my head. She reaches out and this time she connects.
“Cheyenne, I know you can hear me. I know you can help me. Take a right here, through the brambles. Be careful and watch where you’re going. I’ll guide you”.
I’ll be honest with you: it was a bit disturbing to actually hear her voice. But this is why I’ve been drawn here over and over again, right? I want to connect. I believe in spirits but never actually had one speak to me.
Don’t be afraid, Cheyenne. You’re the soul she trusts. She needs you. And you need her to speak. Be strong. Be open.
I made my way through the brambles and found myself in an open field of overgrown grasses. In the distance was a barn with a rusted building next to it. I presumed the rusted structure housed farm equipment at one time. I made my way to the structures and that’s when I heard the voices. Many voices.
“Get out theah and plow them fields, niggah. You won’t get no eatin’s ‘til you’re done! Mammy, git in thar and make dinnah for m’family. Tend those haus’es and make sho’ they cin plow them fields!”
Oh, my God. Slavery, 1820. My heart bleeds for these people. Yes, they are people! They have families. They have heart. They have soul. They have goals and desires. How could we have treated them as we did?
Suddenly, life in the 1800s comes to life. I don’t just hear. I see. I see the man of the house enter the barn and approach whom I assume is Nancy. He does the unfathomable before whipping her and sending her off to the main house to make dinner for the slave owner and his family.
I follow the spirit of Nancy as she beckons me towards the main house. We enter and she heads for the kitchen to make dinner for the family. She’s ignored as she fries chicken, boils potatoes, and cleans greens. She weeps and my heart breaks for her. I ask if I can help and she refuses. Although the family can’t see me, she’s afraid that if she speaks to anyone or accepts help, she’ll be whipped and raped by “Massa”.
Again, I weep. I feel so helpless. I remind myself that I’m here to tell her story, not change it. This is one of those times that I wish I weren’t gifted with the ability to connect with spirits.
But Nancy needs me.
Nancy serves dinner and the family retires after eating. But, as I watch helplessly, Massa marches Nancy back to the barn where he whips and rapes her because she neglected to make biscuits.
Again, I weep.
Suddenly, I’m thrown into a time much later. Nancy had become pregnant with that rape. The rest of the slaves had either gone underground or been freed, but Nancy and her child were forced to live in the barn and serve the family.
Nancy was prodded by Massa to take her baby to the pond on the property. She had to watch while he walked the child into the water and drowned her. However, he was unaware that his wife had followed them to the pond. When her husband was satisfied that his illegitimate child was gone, she waded into the water, retrieved the baby, breathed life back into her, and handed her to Nancy. “Here, take her to the McClusky’s down the road. They’ll take care of her. Massa can’t know”.
The child, whom Nancy had named Chance, found ways to keep in touch with her mom throughout her life. They’d often meet in the meadow down by the road, out of sight of Massa’s property and his prying eyes.
Chance had a daughter in 1863. Her name was Faith and was born into slavery. However, she was declared free from slavery in 1865 and would later become one of the first women to open her own restaurant.
In 1910, when Nancy died of old age, Chance secretly buried her in the meadow by the road.
Faith is my mother.
Now I know the story of my Great-Grandmother and I share it with you.
May you rest in peace, Nancy.
© 2020 Shauna L Bowling