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Peter G. Engelman

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A Letter to Alphia
By Peter G. Engelman
Thursday, August 09, 2007

Rated "PG13" by the Author.

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This essay is a fictional account of a former black slave that writes her daughter from a TB sanatorium. In her note, she recounts her childhood and details memorable if not unpleasant events of her upbringing. Written in the black dialect of the time, one can feel the pain of this black woman's lament.

Copyright, August 2007 Peter G. Engelman

Dear Alphia,

I'm sendin’ you this here letter ‘cause I don't knows how long I'm gonna be laid up in this sanitarium. They say I got somethin’ wrong with my heart and I need to rest here awhile. Sometimes these things don’t get better, so I got to think’n that in case the Lord decides to take me early, I better write you. I ain’t used to writin’ much, so I hopes you will be able to read my writin.’ When we’s at home together, we ain’t had much time to talk about my upbringin’, so I thought maybe you’s might be interested in hearing some stories ‘bout it.

I was born in Tallahatchie, Mississippi during the winter of 1854. I was born in a small two-bedroom bunkhouse. My mama, your Grandmom Sarah, I always called her Mammi, done told me it was so cold the day I came out, even the squirrels stayed in their nests.

We was slaves then and lived on a tobacco farm owned by Massah Timothy Rayles. Mama, my daddy and my older brother, Ray, we all lived ‘bout a mile down the road from the Massah’s house. I remembers how cold it got in that ol’ wooden house. We had us a small black potbelly in the middle of the livin’ room and when the nights was cold, we all slept ‘round the stove like Indians in a teepee.

I guess I was ‘bout five or six years old when Papa, your Granddaddy Thadeus, died. They said he had consumption real bad; said he only weighed ‘bout 80 pounds and coughed for almost a year before the Good Lord took him. Mammi said we was all lucky that God took him ‘cause he suffered some terrible.

I remembers one fall day when I was 12, Massah Timothy asked me to help him with his laundry. I remembers that day…sure do. The leaves were fallin’ off the trees; they was so pretty. I liked to walk ‘round the farm and see all the pretty colors. Some’s were bright gold and some’s were brown. I didn't like the dark ones; they was all shriveled up and fallin’ apart and made me sad. I told Mammi I was goin’ up to help Massah Timothy that day. I remembers her telling me to watch out for his hands. She said, I was lookin’ like a grown woman and Massah Timothy might be lookin’ for a might more than my doin’ his laundry. One day, you'll understand all ‘bout mens and that kind of stuff.

Mammi was right a good bit of the time and even though I didn't want to pay her no mind, I watched for Massah Timothy’s hands all through the afternoon. When I finished puttin’ all his and Missus Timothy’s clothes up on the line, Massah Timothy offered me a cup of tea and a few pumpkin cookies that the Missus baked. ‘Cause I didn't see no hands that whole afternoon and I could taste those sweet cookies in my mouth, I said okay to the Massah.

Everythin’ was goin’ okay and I was chewin’ away on those sweet pumpkin cookies when those hands suddenly came out of nowhere. I almost choked when I felt Massah Timothy’s hand goin’ down inside my blouse. Before I knew how he got there, he was squeezin’ me so hard, I thought my nipples would fall off. I thought bout Mammi and the lickin’ she would give me if she found out the Massah had touched me. So I grabbed me that hot teacup off the table and threw it right up in Massah Timothy’s face. You shoulda’ heard him holler. His hands came out of my blouse fast as a lightnin’ bolt.

Soon as I seen him grab his face and run to the kitchen sink to grab himself a towel, I grabbed me a bunch of them good pumpkin cookies from the tin and filled my apron pockets with them. Then, I run all the way home holdin’ on to those sweet treats for dear life.

When I done walked in the door all out of breath, the first thing Mammi said to me was ‘did that man put his hands on you?’ I said ‘no Mammi, he ain't never laid a hand on me, but look what all I brought you.’ I emptied my apron on the kitchen table and Mammi, Ray and I, we had ourselves a mighty nice dessert that night. I think Mammi knew somethin’ happened that day, but for some reason, she ain’t said nothin.’ I guess she figured I had been through enough. Oh yeah, and Massah Timothy, he never bothered me again. I guess he was scared that I would tell the Missus ‘bout his rompin.’

It wasn't till I was ‘bout 14 that we all heard ‘bout the Civil War bein’ over and that we was freed. Mammi, Ray and me, we didn't knows what to do or where to go. We was so used to livin’ with Massah Timothy, we decided to stay on. He said long as we behaved ourselves and didn't complain to no one, he’d let us stay on, feedin’ us in exchange for our work in the fields. We ain’t knowed nothin’ about wages and that kind of stuff backs then, so we was jes happy to have a roof over our head. Massah Timothy even let us go to the black church on Sundays.

When I was 18, I got myself pregnant with you, Alphia. Your daddy was a negra fellow from the farm next door. His name was DeWayne and he came callin’ on me one night when Mammi was out visitin’ your Aunt Berthea. I done fixed him some dinner and he done fixed me up in the barn with you if you knows what I means. I ain't never seen him since that night, but when I looks at you, I remembers his kind face.

When you was born, I had a bad time of it. I carried on so much that Mammi called Bishop Henry to see if the devil had taken over my soul. When the preacher man heard me ramblin’ on ‘bout all crazy kinds of things, he told Mammi that I wasn't fit to raise you and that she would have to take over.

That all changed after you came out Alphia. As soon as I saw your pretty face, I stopped all that crazy talk. I think maybe for a while there, the devil and God was havin’ a tug-a-war over you. I guess the Good Lord won that battle cause He let me keep you.

You’re nine years old now, and I knows you are worried about your mama bein’ away and all that, but don't you worry none. With the Lord’s help, I'll be outta here before you turns ten.

The women are tellin’ me I need to stop writin’ now; that it’s time for my nap. But don’t you worry none ‘cause I’ll write to you again tomorrow and tell you some more stories of whens I was grownin’ up. Tell Mammi that I miss her and you be sure to always listen to her. And remembers what I done told you about mens and their rompin’. You make sure you never let anyone put their hands on you lessen you’re in love with ‘em. I'll be watchin’ over you no matters where I am or where you are.

Love ya baby,





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