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Friday, August 28, 2009

She was born in Africa....

She couldn't remember her mother, but Phoebe was born in Africa. At twelve she had a lot of responsibility. She watched the little white children while the grown women worked. Each of them had their ways. Keeping them entertained was easy enough. She would sing songs first and if they were fussy she would make funny faces. They would laugh so. Sometimes a story or game or melody would come into her mind from somewhere, but she couldn't quite recall it, so she would make up something to play or sing or tell.
She was small for her age and both of her two dresses were way to big for her. They hung on her shoulders and the hems were both frayed and dirty from dragging on the ground. The red clay would not wash out even if she boiled them in the wash pot. When she wanted to run fast, she would hold up the bottom of the skirt with one hand and run, her bare feet so calloused and rough on the bottom that rocks, briers or hot sand never even hurt at all.
She slept by the fireplace in the kitchen on a pallet that she rolled out each night after the cook fire died down. In the winter it was the best place to be, and in the summer the floor felt cool, but the kitchen stayed warm until morning.
It seemed that everything went well for her until some of the children took sick. Oddly enough whenever they were feeling poorly, she would be poorly too. She wasn't really faking, but the queasy feeling that came when the other children were ill just over took her. She always got to rest when that happened like the sick children, and Lord knows she needed it.
Years and years past and she never married. She never grew any bigger than when she was twelve. At 45 she still looked like a child.
One day she was free to come and go as she pleased, but she had no where to go and no one to go to. So she stayed. She stayed and watched the grand babies until her eyes quit working and her arthritis made running after children too difficult.
They buried her in a special place in the family cemetery on the old home place, way in the back with the others under a Sassafras tree.
One day her mother met her there and finally took her back home.

*Based on a true account of the life of Phoebe a slave who belonged to Mama Butler's family as told to my father David A. Butler by his cousin Paul Clay and his mother Lydia Braswell Butler (Mama Butler). Cemetery located on Hwy 20 South 3 miles out of Loganville Ga on the old Braswell Homeplace.*

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