The loud whistle of Grandma’s tea kettle blew at 4:30 every morning. Breakfast was on the table by 4:35. This morning was no different, my job was to bring in water from the well. We don’t have running water but it was a roof over head. Everything moves in precision around the kitchen before time for school and work in this cabin, once in the main house it’s crazy here on the St. Clair plantation. Not only is it the first day of tobacco harvesting but Lady Monique is due to arrive any minute. Papa and the other men have been toiling away in the back 40 since five this morning and the ladies are hard at preparing for the evening festivities. I haven’t seen ‘Danny’ as she used to prefer to be called when we were small snot-nosed brats running around chasing fireflies. It’s been since Christmas four years back, before her 14th birthday. Like her sisters before her, three days after her birthday she left for finishing school and tonight at precisely 6p.m. her debutante ball will commence. Danny never liked the “much to do about nothing kind of crap dinners” as she referred to them many times before. She’s seen four in her family and countless others for family friend’s daughters. I don’t understand her hatred of a dress-up party in your honor; I guess it’s a “white thing”.
I will also be starting my new station at six … for the first-time I am serving the very folks that look down their upturned noses at my kind or just totally ignore us all together until we don’t fluff their pillows right, fetch their horse fast enough or disappear into the background when not needed. I have seen my share already but can’t wait to start earning my own 2 bits and a Schilling to help the family. I have 5 siblings beneath me growing like weeds and needing clothes, shoes and a dream to believe in. I dream of escaping but I can’t none of us can until the debt has been settled. What debt you ask? I didn’t know exactly because when we reach the end of one balance another charge is levied. At first it was for the three room shack all 8 of us call home. Then the wood to sure up the roof, the monthly rent, our uniform maintenance and food. Once about 2 years ago master caught mom buying a book for the youngsters from the general store and accused her of stealing. Even though she had witnesses that saw her pay, he claimed it had been from his household account so charges were again added. These charges included bail repayment and book repayment. The books were taken also. I’m convinced that master was more afraid of the children learning to read than anything else. He would be furious if he knew Danny taught me years ago.
I see a carriage coming down the long path. The horse hands are scrambling into place. The trip to the train station always spooks the brown steeds so the gallop home was intensified. Once back they didn’t want to be corralled… even the horses dreamt of escaping! Now each horse needed brushing, food, watering and a blanket before a cool down walk. I watch the men from a perch on the fence. I love horses but they scare me now ever since I saw my uncle die from being kicked in the head by a spooked horse rearing up.
Oh well, here I go, off the subject…. back at the big house Danny has disappeared upstairs but the glimpse I did catch she looked different. I didn’t get to talk to her but I could sense she had a different air about her. I wanted to have a chat with my childhood friend but mom called me into the hallway and warned me to stay away from her, saying “she’s not Danny anymore”. I didn’t understand but I heeded her words. I quickly left the mansion because I didn’t have a reason to be there and felt that my curiosity would lead to trouble. As I cleared the porch I could feel someone watching me… was Danny, was Mrs. St. Clair, was master or was it just a case of a very confused mind? I’ve never had this feeling before, don’t know why now or what it meant.
Around 5:40p.m. I adorned my new uniform to take my place amongst the servants. Another light skinned, fair haired, soft spoken Negro assigned to assist in the daily needs of those residing, visiting or having any sort of business dealings here at the ‘Rusty Horseshoe’ Ranch. I have for years tried to pitch in wherever I could to lessen the load for mom and papa. They both have achieved (HN) statuses: Mom is Lead maid in charge of all house affairs and papa is in charge of all the growing crops.
I did it again… this story was supposed to be about Miss Monique Danielle St. Clair’s coming of age party! I still haven’t been able to talk to her about our last encounter. Danny always marched to the beat of her own heart and nobody’s drum. Any way I have been confused for 4 years and wondering what that kiss meant…YES, a kiss that was different from any other. Danny was a kisser always pecking people on the cheek, hand or forehead. That evening before leaving for a tortuous four years Danny planted a toe curling, deep lingering, passionate kiss squarely on my quivering lips and said “don’t you dare forget me”. How could I? I haven’t been able to think of anything else except her return. Now that she’s back and off limits; my heart aches. The dinner bell was just rung…I need to focus because I’m helping with the arriving guest. There she is, so close but it just as well be a million miles away… she’s off limits and different!