Mrs. Woodson had hoped and prayed for a baby girl. After giving birth to four boys she thought she knew all hope was lost, until the morning of January 12th, 1945. She realized she was expecting and on September 30th, 1945 she gained her only wish, to hold her own baby girl in her arms. Gwyneth Odette Woodson was born. As she grew her defining features were her bright blonde straight hair, her shiny green eyes, and her sweet and kind nature. As a toddler she was bright and bubbly, as a child she was responsible and calm, and as a teenager she was more like an adult than ever.
By March of 1963, at the age of eighteen, she had her life planned out for her, step by step. In three months and three days she would be engaged to John Neddleston, on her twentieth birthday she would be married. After that John would get a job at a law firm nearby, they would buy a house, and grow a family. She had nothing to worry about.
"Gwen, isn't he just the most handsome man ever?" Gwyneth (who now went by Gwen) had a good friend named Lilly. Ever since the age of seven they had discussed their lives and their friendship grew. At the time of this conversation they were discussing Lilly's fiancé, a man named Daniel.
"Yes, he is a dream! I don't know you ever won him over!" Gwen sighed and then promptly giggled. Daniel had been the subject of numerous discussions over the past year, a man to be hated when he 'dumped' Lilly, a man to be loved when he came back in apology, and a man to be cherished when he finally proposed to her.
"I will never know. Now, I need to go tell mom that he finally did it! We are going to marry!" Lilly hung up and Gwen smiled as she put the phone back to its place on the wall.
She walked into another room. Lime green walls and a retro sofa sported the classic look in every home. An old television sat in the corner on a small table.
In the other corner was an African American woman on her knees scrubbing the floor, her name was Miriam. Gwen payed her no mind. The woman had a baby in a wrapping on her back, a two week old baby boy named Jude. He was small and adorable, but only in his mother's eyes. The other members of the household, Mr. and Mrs. Woodson and their five children, saw him as only the child of a servant. Only a thing to be trifled with.
"How are you Miss Woodson?" Miriam Harris asked quietly.
"I am fine." Gwen looked away and turned on the television. She sat with a thump in the armchair and put her feet underneath her.
"Miss Woodson, please be careful to treat the furniture carefully." Miriam asked submissively. She would never reprimand the Woodson children, she was very careful to speak quietly. Only a year before by another family she had gotten beaten and sent away for trying to tell a child to be nice to her sibling. After that the Woodsons had hesitantly taken her in, on the account that her husband would live in another place. He had found a job and a place to stay. They only saw each other on Friday evenings.
"You have no right to tell me what to do. If you say anything again I'll tell father, and I am almost completely certain you do not want me to do that!" Gwen laughed harshly and in triumph. Miriam bowed her head and nodded.
Later that evening, at the dinner table, Mr. Woodson was giving a remotely boring speech about a case he had won at his work. For he too owned a law firm. He was over all generous and glad that evening, so everyone was in good spirits. Of course Gwen had completely forgotten the event that had taken place earlier in the day, and had told her father nothing. Miriam sat on the floor in the kitchen, nibbling a slice of buttered toast she had made for her dinner. Jude lay asleep in her lap.
"Now Diane, I got this in the mail today and forgot to bring it to you." He said cheerfully as he handed his wife a letter.
Mrs. Woodson read the letter quickly. As she read it her face got brighter and brighter, she smiled widely and finally leaped out of her chair.
"It says here that my mom would like me to come to France with her. She said I deserve a break off from running this household. She asked me to bring one of the boys to help along the way..." Her smile was wide and her eyes looked mischievous and dashing.
"Mom, why can't I come? I've always wanted to go to France! It has got fashion and sights, oh, mom. Please?" Gwen asked with all of the charm she could muster.
"Of course not young lady. Your Grandma only said one of the boys. I think Fred would be the best one. Is that alright with you Freddie dear?" Mrs. Woodson turned to the second oldest and most handsome of all of the boys.
"But mom! I'll be married soon! I'll have to stay in a semi-bland home and be one with a semi-bland man!" She snapped before 'Freddie dear' could answer.
"Are you trying to say something, Gwen?" Mr. Woodson injected into the conversation.
"Maybe I am!" She stood up and stomped off. She walked to her new room. Before she had to share one with one of her brothers. She was glad of having her own now, for she stuffed her face into her pillow and cried. She never had always loved John and now that was becoming more apparent to her. But he was in her life plan! Or more like her mother's life plan for her. She was stuck with him, and would be for the rest of her life.
Suddenly her train of thought was rerouted when the door creaked open. In peaked Miriam. Her face was slightly paled and she looked quite scared and sad.
"Miss Woodson? I heard you a'weeping in here and I wanted to check on you." She looked at the floor and a tear slipped down her own cheek. Gwen didn't notice any of this anxious behavior.
"Go away Miriam. I don't need any pitying in here. In fact I would quite like you to go away. You have no business walking in here like that." Gwen said through the comfort of her pillow.
"I wasn't planning on pityin' you. I actually wanted to come and tell you that goin' to France isn't all it's cracked up to be." She briefly smiled.
"You wouldn't know anything. You haven't traveled before."
"In fact, I have. I even went to France once. It was all different languages and lots of money, and no one at all was nice." Miriam smiled a small gentle smile of remembrance.
"You went to France? How did you go there? We never let you out of our sight and we don't give you enough money to even travel to the other side of town! How on earth could you afford going to another country?" Gwen said as she got up looked at Miriam in the eyes. I don't know if she ever had looked at her like that or even carried out a relatively kind conversation with her. It was a turning point in their friendship. Or at least the start of a friendship.
"I had a different life before you. I went and found my husband there. He was a frenchmen's slave who had just gained freedom. We married the week after we met and he came with me to my home. Soon after, a debt my father had never paid was uncovered and it was left to me to pay it. I quickly said I would be a servant to them as long as they needed it. For seven years I lived with them and then I was fired and suddenly forced out of my own home, forced to live with a family who hated me and treated me like dirt, forced to give birth to my sweet baby under the roof of my master." Another tear slipped out of her eye, and this time Gwen noticed it.
"Who was that horrible family?" Gwen said, fresh and remorseful tears falling out of her green eyes.
"It was the Woodsons." Miriam said, shielding her eyes in case Gwen would look at with her in hate or in case Gwen would suddenly call her father and tell him to beat her. Instead Gwen just stared.
"It was us? It is us? I never thought you had a life before us. I never realized how we treat you. But you were made to be a servant, right? Thats why my mom treats you like that?" Gwen asked, almost under her breath.
"Everyone was made to be a servant. I wasn't more or less than any other person. We are all called to serve one another in brotherly love. I and my people do our part, but there is a part of the world who misuses us. Treat us as scum, under their feet. Now Miss Woodson, I'm sorry for burdening you with my distresses. I ask your forgiveness." Miriam started walking towards the door.
"No, I'm sorry. I ask for your forgiveness. I have treated you so awfully. Even today I did. You are no different because of your color, you are the same as me. We should be each other's servants, not mine yours or yours mine. Will you forgive me Miriam?" Gwen got up and embraced her faithful servant.
"Miss Woodson, would I ever. I forgive you and your entire family. In fact I do each and every day. I forgive your father when he beats me, I forgive your brothers when they call me harsh names, and I forgive you and your mother when you order me. It is not your fault you were raised in such a home." New tears, tears of joy were plastered on Miriam's face. She cried because she knew that this was the turning point of a new future. A future that wouldn't include slavery. She knew that it could take an eternity for everyone to be treated as equals, she knew it might never be so. But possibly, just possibly, Jude and his children wouldn't be slaves to the white people.
Two months passed. Jude grew to be older as Miriam and Gwen grew better friends. Mrs. Woodson went and came back from France, Mr. Woodson won and lost many more cases in court, and Miriam's husband died from a beating. It was hard for her although she saw everywhere a new hope was arising for black people. A hope in the form of protests, in the form of Martin Luther King Jr.
One morning Miriam and Gwen sat on the front porch while the rest of the Woodson family were away. Jude lay in Gwen's arms, sleeping with his little arm wrapped around hers. She had grown to care for this baby that had won a place in her heart. She still had to work through her own prejudice. She had been raised with a racist heart, and now she had to replace it. It would be hard, and it already was. She had no idea to the point she would be later in life.
"Miss Woodson, I have a piece of information to share with you." She said shakily.
"Yes, Miriam?" Gwen rocked the baby in her arms.
"The doctor came by yesterday. He wanted to check out Jude-" Miriam was suddenly cut off by Gwen.
"Is Jude alright? What happened?" She asked urgently.
"Jude is fine. I actually am the one who needs help, and unfortunately I can't have it. Yesterday I was...diagnosed." As she went on tears came to her eyes. Gwen looked questioningly at her.
"Diagnosed...with what? Will you heal?"
"I won't. I have a terminal cancer tumor." She placed her head in her lap. She started weeping for her life, for her babies, and for all of the unknown of the future. Gwen looked at her and her own tears started falling. She had just started building a friendship with this woman and now it was tumbling farther and farther away? How could that be?
"Oh no. Oh, no no. You are going to die? What about Jude? What about me? You are my greatest friend and mentor!" Gwen couldn't handle the grief she was experiencing. She looked at the adorable baby in her arms. What would become of him? How would he survive? How could a baby born hated, born with a world that looked at him and disliked him, survive without a mother?
"I don't know what will become of him," Miriam started, "I will try to work something out. You will survive without me. I have served my purpose after all, I changed the view point of you. I made you see others out of a kind of deepness, not out of superficiality, not by the color of our skin. Now you can share this mindset with others. You can raise your children into the next generation. Your children will love my people. That is definitely a purpose filled."
A month passed and Miriam slowly declined. She grew weaker and weaker. Her strength failed her until she had to be bed ridden. One day she called Gwen to her side.
"You needed me Miriam?" Gwen asked bouncing the wide-awake Jude in her arms.
"I found someone I want to raise Jude." She said with a creaky, just above silent voice.
"Oh, I am so glad. I have been so worried about him. It will be so hard to give him up though. I have learned to love him as my own." Gwen said equally quietly.
"I want to ask the person now." Miriam said.
"Yes, I'll go get them. If you could only tell me the name..." Gwen trailed off as she saw the look the dying woman was giving her.
"It's you Gwen...I've seen how you love him. You can take care of him better than any one else. You will raise him in a loving and anti-racist home." Miriam smiled a weak and failing smile.
"Me? No. I don't think I can. I come from a racist family! I would have to move, I could never get married to John, and it would turn my life into poverty. If I didn't move, my family would kick me out! I'm sorry, you are my friend, but not to that extent." She quickly placed the baby down into a box that served as a crib, and walked out of the room. Miriam started weeping once more.
Three mornings later Miriam was closer to taking death's hand than ever. She could hardly open her eyes. She was too weak to cry and too sad to enjoy her last hours on earth. Her baby didn't have a home, and her only joy was that she would go spend eternity with her husband. Gwen only came to try to feed Miriam and to help feed Jude. However, she only did this at night in secret from her family.
Gwen came in the room and looked at the lifeless woman on the bed. She rushed over to her and felt her cold flesh. She had passed on. Gwen's tears were the only thing that would ever warm Miriam's skin. For like a waterfall they fell. Pools of grief and guilt, heartache and deep sorrow. She took the woman's hand and whispered in her ear that would never hear, 'Your baby will always have a home with me. I'm sorry.'
That night Gwen gathered a bundle of clothing, food, and other necessities. She wrapped Jude on her chest as she had seen Miriam do one thousand and one times. That night she walked as she had never walked before. She walked miles and miles. She walked for her life and Miriam, no, her baby's. For now she was a mother. A mother at the age of eighteen. In three days she would have been engaged to John. Now she would never see him or her family ever again.
TEN YEARS LATER
With ten-year-old Jude holding on to her hand, twenty-eight-year -old Gwen was crossing a road. She lived in the basement of a kind older couple in poverty. Suddenly she spotted a familiar face in the street. The woman had her raven-black hair tied in an intricate bun and she had a baby in a sling on her chest. Her husband had a toddler in one arm and a child hanging on to his other.
“Lily, is that you?” She said, almost not believing that it was her childhood friend.
“Yes, it is. Who are you, might I ask?” Her eyes looked down on Gwen as if she was mere scum or trash.
“I am Gwen, we were best friends when we were children?” She was hurt that this girl she had confided into so often didn’t even recognize her and thought of her like garbage. Although she must had looked like such. Hair disgruntled and slightly tangled, eyes mellow and tired, unmarried, unemployed. Lily would look down on her even more because of her son Jude. It was almost comical how far apart the two best friends had grown.
“Oh, Gwen? Is that really you? Who is this boy? Maybe a new, umm, butler or servant you are training? Perhaps you are going behind the government and housing a slave?” Lily tittered and giggled. She must have wanted to say worse things but knew her children wouldn’t want to hear it.
“Lily, meet my son. This is Jude Woodson.” Gwen looked at Lily’s disgusted look on her face and immediately knew that she was glad she had never stayed friends with her. Her life would be in a semi-bland house, with a semi-bland husband, and a wall of sin surrounding her, and boy was she glad she had adopted Jude.