Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Writing in Your Voice Assignment - Gettysburg 1863

Today’s Challenge:  Read these eyewitness accounts of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and then craft a post about them.  The sky’s the limit.  Be creative, be you.  Check out yesterday’s posts and today’s posts about voice.

Esther lifted her skirt and tried to keep up with Mrs. Thomas Lawson.  Esther was a free slave, but Mizz Lawson was good and kind.  She had been born on the property, but her momma died in childbirth.  Mr. Lawson brought the baby to the Missus and she had found a wet nurse.  Esther was raised to be a companion to the Lawson children and now that she was 12 years old, she was Ms. Lawson’s personal maid– in– training.  It was an honor to be a “house maid”.

As they stepped gingerly across the field, Esther felt deep sadness that the missus was reduced to walking into the town.  They were cutting across the fields Gettysburg for the shortest walk into town.  The missus was not the only one in dire and depressed circumstances.  Nearly all of the Gettysburg women had buried a husband, a son or a father.  Even as a slave, Esther had seen her share of burials.  Bullets did not discriminate.  Four months earlier, men both black and white had died on the very fields she now traipsed across.  She tried to step gently, it seemed a sacrilege to walk on the grounds where men had died.  The same grounds Mr. Lawson gave up his life fighting them Rebels..

Mrs. Myrna Lawson stepped softly across the clumps of dirt and grass.  She winched as she noted the brown stains that still showed on the ground.  Men had died on this field.  The thought made her pause as tears welled in her eyes.  Tom died on this field.  Myrna blinked away the tears and thought of her momma.  Momma taught her that “Southern women do not express emotion publically, particularly in the face of adversity.”  Well momma, she thought, I have had my share of adversity lately.

The Tom Lawson’s were not of the Southern Lawson’s that owned the antebellum mansion on the edge of town.  Tom was the “poor relation” and the Gettysburg Lawson’s did not have much charity for the poor.  “The poor,” Myrna scoffed.  “Our definitions of poor are so vastly different.”  Tom had wooed and wed her in the time of 4 weeks.  After the wedding, he proudly brought her to their home.  The beautiful stone cottage sat on a forty acre lot, with a deep well, and fertile fields.  After seven years and three children, Tom raised the roof and built a second story.  They were happy.  They felt wealthy.

Until 6 months ago.  Confederate raiders had ridden onto the property.  Tom was away, fighting on the union side yet those hooligans had treated her and the slaves like dirt under their feet.  They eyed the women, beat the men, and trampled the new corn and wheat under the hooves of their horses.  The men pushed over buildings and set fire to the slave homes around the property.  Everything was gone.  The men who had not left to fight, worked feverishly to rebuild mud huts for their quarters.  She thought it was over, but just three days later a score of men galloped up and demanded the women be brought to them.  The house gentlemen’s man Rufus, had helped te women down the narrow ladder into the coffin room under the dining table.  When he closed the hatch, Myrna said a prayer that she could get the women to safety and get back before the elderly man could be tortured or killed.  Silently she led the women through the underground tunnel to reach the safety of Marsh.  She left them with the people of  THE “railroad” and tracked back.  She arrived just in time to see that the men had evil intentions directed toward the elderly women and children still there.  Little Esther was one of them.  Their lust was damped soon enough, when they caught side of her long Kentucky rifle aimed at their private regions.  Not one of them was willing to bet she had never fired a rifle in her life.

Myrna snorted, shook the memory from her mind and looked up.  She was surprised to see that in the time her reminiscing, they had reached the Gettysburg railway station.  President Lincoln was here to dedicate the cemetery where her Thomas lay.  Ironic that the men who died were laid to rest, without consideration of who was confederate and who was union.  They just buried the dead.   She glanced down at Esther and cautioned her to stay at her side.   Esther’s eyes reached from ear to ear trying to capture all the sights before her.  Grabbing Esther’s hand, she took a place near the caboose of the long sooty train.  A large portly man was standing on the quickly constructed platform, trying to speak over the crowd.  It wasn’t working well.  Esther pulled at her arm.  “Is that the President?” Esther asked.  “What’s he sayin?” Myrna knelt down and pulled Esther down next to her.

“I have never seen the likeness of our President.  But I am certain that this man is not he.”  Myrna whispered. 

“What’s he sayin? Missus, what’s he sayin?”  Myrna blew away the strand of hair that had come out of its bun to play with her nose.  “Hush Esther,” she cautioned.  “I will explain what the men mean so you can understand.”

Rumors were circulating that the President was taking ill and might not speak.  Disappointed groans rolled through the crowd assembled there.  The echoes of the crowd were still ebbing away when the portly man called out in a loud voice, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States”.  Looking at Esther, she whispered “that tall man is Lincoln.” 

A long sigh escaped little Esther’s rosey lips.  “Ohhhhhhh,”  she whispered back.  “He’s the one who freed all the slaves.”  Tom had given each slave their “freedom papers” upon arriving at their farm.  He welcomed them to choose to stay or go.  Only one in 14 years had walked away the farm.

The tall, dark man wobbled slightly and grabbed the railing along the back.  His fist gripped the bunting spread across the compartment.  His eyes scanned the crowd.  They grew as silent as the graves they came to dedicate.  Lincoln’s eyes landed on Esther, and he gave her a small smile with a slight wave.  He looked up, cleared his throat, the adam’s apple working its way out of the stiff collar.  He swept the tall black hat from his head, leaving several wet tendrils pointing upward and onward.  His sonorous voice bounced around the sides of the train and station, enveloping them in the mesmerizing sound.

Four score and seven years ago,”  he halted.

“Hows many is that Ms Lawson?”  Esther asked her.  Oh dear, Myrna realized Esther could read and write but these were words they had not studied.  “Eighty seven,” she answered.

The President continued, ‘our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation,  Whispering to Esther she began to translate his words and the whole speech to Esther.  “Our ancestors came and made America.”

Conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. President Lincoln smiled softly again at Esther. 

Myrna continued, “They came to escape captivity and instead believe that all people are the same”.  Esther’s adoring eyes never wavered.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
She leaned again toward Esther.  “That means we are now fighting to see if the idea is real or not.”
We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
Her lips close to Esther’s ear, she whispered. “We are honoring the men that died here tryin to defend their people.  We’re setting aside this graveyard as a special place outta respect for the dead."
“But, in a larger sense, WE can not dedicate, WE can not consecrate, WE can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”
“The men who died here honor it more than we ever can.”
The President continued.  “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
“No one is gonna pay attention to what we talk about today, but they will remember them that fought and died.”
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion”
“Those of us still alive are the ones who have to complete the work our men died for.  It’s our job and we have to work harder at it.”
“—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
With tears streaming down her face, Myrna completed the translation to the young child, who was the very essence of why her Tom died.  “That we will make certain that they’re dyin’ was worth it. God as our witness, all of us…are free and that we will stay that way.  We will do it for our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren and beyond them even.”
“Amen,” Esther whispered.

Esther stayed with Ms. Lawson until she passed on.  Thomas Jr. deeded Esther the farm and the land it sat on, stating it was what his mother would have wanted. Esther married a good man at the church near the creek.  Their children were strong and healthy. 

This day, Esther rests her shriveled, knarly hand upon the head of the newborn in her arms.  She smiles.  It’s been a long eighty years, but just as President Lincoln had spoken in her very presence, her great great grandchild was born free.

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