Sunday, March 4, 2012
YELLOW CROCUS:A NOVEL (LAILA IBRAHIM)
Mattie was never truly mine. That knowledge must have filled me as
quickly and surely as the milk from her breasts. Although my family
‘owned' her, although she occupied the center of my universe, her
deepest affections lay elsewhere. So along with the comfort of her
came the fear that I would lose her someday. This is our story...
So begins Lisbeth Wainwright's compelling tale of coming-of-age in
antebellum Virginia. Born to white plantation owners but raised by her
enslaved black wet nurse, Mattie, Lisbeth's childhood unfolds on the
line between two very different worlds. Growing up under the watchful
eye of Mattie, the child adopts her surrogate mother's deep-seated
faith in God, her love of music and black-eyed peas, and the tradition
of hunting for yellow crocuses in the early days of spring. Yet
Lisbeth has freedoms and opportunities that Mattie does not have,
though the color of the girl's skin cannot protect her from the
societal expectations placed on women born to privilege. As Lisbeth
grows up, she struggles to reconcile her love for her caregiver with
her parent's expectations, a task made all the more difficult as she becomes increasingly aware of the ugly realities of the American
slavery system. When the inequality of her two worlds comes to a head
during an act of shocking brutality, Lisbeth realizes she must make a
choice, one that will require every ounce of the courage she learned
from her beloved Mattie. This compelling historical novel is a richly
evocative tale of love and redemption set during one of the darkest
chapters of American history.
Twenty-year-old Mattie was summoned to the big house to become a wet nurse for a white woman’s baby. Mattie was instructed by the housekeeper, Mrs. Gray to call the newborn babe, Miss Elizabeth. She was then taken to a dimly lit room where she was to stay while caring for the baby. Given only 2 dresses and 2 nightgowns, it was made clear that her clothing would only be washed once every week. Emily, the second-floor maid would bring Mattie her meals 3 times each day. Mattie was told by, Mrs. Gray that becoming a “house slave” was a privilege.
Poor Mattie was forced to leave her own 3-month-old baby, Samuel. Her poppy was caring for him and her friend, Rebecca another black slave, was being a wet nurse for her precious son. This pained Mattie terribly. Cut-off from her own baby to care for and feed a white woman’s baby was heartbreaking for her.
Ann Wainwright was, Miss Elizabeth’s mother and they lived on a Tidewater plantation which was hours away from her real home. Her husband, Jonathan and their family lived in Fair Oaks in Virginia and the plantation sat on the northern bank of the James River.
Mattie was only allowed to see her own baby on Sunday’s and then forced to return to Miss Elizabeth first thing Monday mornings. Hardly enough time for a devoted mother like Mattie to spend with her son.
Back in Fair Oaks, land grants were given in proportion to the number of people a grantee imported to tame the land. Commander Theodore Pryne had the money to bring 30 European and Africans as indentured servants, so he was given 1500 acres to plant. All of the indentured servants agreed to work off their debt for 7 to 15 years. After that they would be released and given 5 acres of land, a bushel of seed, and the freedom to pursue their own fortunes in the New World.
Quickly the landed gentry realized that their plantation would not be profitable if they paid their workforce. Unfortunately, Mattie’s African ancestors were not turned free or given the means to farm for themselves but instead held in perpetual bondage.
Family lore said that Mattie’s paternal great-great-great grandfather would have been free had the Virginia Assembly passed a law in 1705 clarifying once and for all the status of African’s in a colony. It said that all servants imported and brought into the country who were not Christians in their native country would be accounted as slaves.
Mattie continued to nurse Elizabeth until she was weaned and put on regular milk. She then became her full-time caretaker. As she grew, Elizabeth learned to have a deep love of God and faith. She had an incredible sense of right and wrong, thanks to Mattie.
Elizabeth’s mother, Ann, was a strict woman and raising Elizabeth to be a proper lady. When she was 12-years-old she began to attend dances and forced to dance with the list of young men whose names were written down on her dance card. Elizabeth really enjoyed the company of Matthew Johnson but her parents had other plans for her. They were determined that Elizabeth would marry Edward. His family was well-known in society, they were rich, and ran and owned the most beautiful mansion of all.
Once Elizabeth turned 19, the proposal was made and wedding arrangements began. Elizabeth wasn’t happy. A week before the wedding, Elizabeth caught her fiancé, Edward raping a young black slave girl. She was utterly disgusted and screamed for him to leave the girl alone. Elizabeth was now more than ever determined not to marry this man, but what would her parents say and how is she going to get out of this wedding?
Ms. Ibrahim has written a beautiful and compelling story of slavery, love, courage, hope, and learning that the reality of slavery was wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to others.