The other night, I went down into the basement to feed Jelly Roll and Sabeen, our mousers, and I stood at the bottom of the stairs.  Around me, 200-year-old stones sighed out their musty, cool breath. I could almost hear them.

Winter Kitchen at Ulysses S. Grant's Home

The winter kitchen at Ulysses S. Grant’s home. Ours probably looked much the same with the ladder and the fireplace.

This space was the winter kitchen, the space where an enslaved woman would have cooked meals when the weather was colder.  At least, that’s what I suspect the space was with its fireplace and mantel and long, narrow windows that opened, once, right into the air beneath the porch.

As I stood, still, at the doorway, I felt her again.  Judith, the name I call her quietly because I do not yet know her actual name.  She stood there, just beside me, near the fireplace, now cold and stoned over.  Behind her, I could see the grow lights that we will use to begin our garden.  We will have to use heat lamps to warm the space. It is just slightly warmer than the outside temperature.

I can imagine her, back bent straight to the fire, a large pot over the flame, her brow wet with the heat of it, and her back chilled in that damp air.

But now, in this dusky moment, she stood, still with me.  Waiting.


I haven’t left the farm much in the last couple of weeks.  It’s hard to travel with a puppy and a dog, and since most of my work is here, it just makes sense that I’m here most hours.

Yet, I feel myself going a little stir-crazy. I need new vistas and conversations.

This afternoon, I’m going out to the monthly Central Virginia History Researchers meeting, where I”m sure I’ll learn and come back feeling full.

Still, I’m hesitant.  It’ll be the first time I’m away from Mosey (he’ll be with Philip’s parents), but it’s more than that.  There’s safety here, allure.  The promise of quiet time.  Even as I know I need more than quiet time.

Judith, did you ever feel the same?


Judith would have only been able to travel on this farm – 100 acres – with some, but still little, choice: to be out of place, so to speak, would be to seem a threat. Perhaps she was allowed to travel to the market in town – a few miles up the road – for supplies once in a while. But most likely, she walked most of her days within this farmyard – from garden to hen house to  kitchen to parlor.  Her days were far more circumscribed than mine will ever be.

I remember this, now, when I feel hemmed in.  I remember my choices – myriad and broad – and am grateful.

As I walk from wagon shed to basement – from chickens to cats – I think of her footsteps – short, brisk strides, perhaps – and I walk beside her, so she can lead me into her story, walked long and deep into this land.

 To learn more about the woman who shares our house – Judith – please read:

The Woman Who Haunts Our Home

Finding Her in the Slave Census