He was unassuming in voice and form, my new friend Joe. His visit to the farm came at my invitation, an inverted and unfair situation where I should be the one to offer me access instead of him giving it to me, but his visit was, nonetheless, in answer to my hopes – I knew that for sure. I prayed it answered some of his as well.
Joe is descended from three of the four most prominent enslaved families that lived and worked here on the farm. His great-great-great-great-great grandmother was Lucy Nicholas, the nurse; his great-great-great grandmother was Lavinia, the schoolteacher; his great-great-great-great grandfather was Ben, the carpenter. Joe was the man I had been seeking.
But as I watched him bend low to see Ben’s tombstone, as I saw him step around the back of the arch of granite and run his hand over the stone, I hoped that he had found something that answered his search, too.
Later, as we sat at the kitchen table and drank “just plain tea” and swapped stories of Judy’s gap, the gate named – we both assumed – for Ben’s wife, and of slave quarters by creeks whose names morph with the years, I found a new friend and renewed purpose for this work of dates and years and paper.
I wanted to be sure this was information he wanted – that I was helping him as much – more so – than he was helping me. So I did the only thing I could do, I asked. “Is this information something you want to know? Do you find this useful or valuable – to have these stories?”
“Oh yes,” he said quietly. “Oh yes.”
Tonight, as I sit in the darkness of this farm where the moon and stars shine like blessing over this old land built on the backs of Joe’s family, I find myself filled with the hope that comes with stories, with history, with gravestones first seen, and new friends made. “Oh yes. Oh yes.”