Recap: Hope is living South Carolina in 1964 in a huge mansion with servants. She senses something is wrong when her parents are distracted while she is telling them about her ballet show. She overhears the servants saying that her father is in trouble because he sold a house to someone and there is something called the Ku Klux Klan that could cause them harm.
“Hope, I have some paperwork to do. Please tell mother we’ll be a bit delayed for supper.” Father disappeared into his study and closed the door.
I hurried to the den to tell mother.
“We’ll set for 7:30,” she called to Sarah.
“Mother, I found an old photograph in the attic today.”
Mother took out her needlepoint and was busy pushing her needle deftly in and out of the delicate fabric.
“It was of a girl with wavy blonde hair. She looked like she was around my age – 14 or maybe a bit older. Can I show it to you? I was wondering who it was.”
Mother’s needle stopped in mid-air. “Please, bring me a glass of water.”
I went to the kitchen and returned with the drink.
“I’m going to lie down before dinner, Hope.”
“But Mother, about the photograph…”
Mother had already walked away.
I couldn’t sit still so I went into the kitchen to talk to Sarah. Sarah was cutting up cucumbers and tomatoes. “Do you want to help me, Hope?”
She read my restlessness. Sarah always knew my mood. Sarah had been with our family for so long. She used to babysit me when I was a baby. She would always tell me stories of what I was like – how I used to climb over everything and I was always moving and dancing. “It’s no wonder you love to dance,” she would tease me.
“Everything all right, Honey?”
I wasn’t sure if I should confide in her about the photograph.”
“I saw a photograph upstairs in the attic. It was behind the bookshelf.”
Sarah handed me a cucumber to peel.
“It was of a young girl with blonde hair, very light blonde, and very deep blue eyes. I was just wondering who that girl was. I’ve never seen her photo in any of our family albums.”
Sarah cleared her throat. “Uh… I don’t know, Hope.”
Why did I have the distinct impression when she hesitated that she was going to say something and changed her mind? Why wouldn’t anyone tell me who that girl was?
Just then, Mother called me to come back to the dining room, and Father strode to the table. He smiled at me, but he had a faraway look in his eye.
Sarah brought in a tray of bowls of steaming French onion soup.
I was about to ask about the photograph again when Father turned to me with the special smile that he always has just for me. “Now, tell me all about this ballet contest. What music will you be dancing to? I want to hear all about it.”
Sarah cleared the bowls and brought in fried chicken and okra as I filled him in on all the details.
I would practice like crazy the next few days and I would make everyone proud and win the ballet contest.
It was after dessert that Sarah came in to tell Father he had a visitor. Father ushered the man into his office. The stranger wore a hat and suit and a blue necktie.
I went to my dance studio to practice. I pirouetted over and over spotting to make sure each turn was precise and crisp. “Frappe. Arabesque.” The beautiful French names slid off my tongue as I moved to the music.
Sarah stepped into the room. “Your parents want to speak with you in the living room.”
I did a grand jette and followed Sarah into Father’s office.
Mother was sitting close to Father and her eyes were red like she’d been crying.
“Father cleared his throat. Sarah turned to leave.
“Sarah, you can stay. You will all hear about this soon enough.”
My stomach clenched.
“The man who came tonight was a police inspector. He told me that the Ku Klux Klan set a fire in the front yard of the mansion around the corner. It means they plan to do a lynching there.”
“What’s a lynching?” I asked, not really wanting to know.
“It’s murder,” Sarah said. “They plan to murder someone or everyone in the house.”
My neck muscles tightened.
“They thought the mansion around the corner was our home.” Father’s voice shook.
“We have to leave. We have to leave tonight.”
I felt dizzy. “Leave to where?”
Mother dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. “We called my second cousin’s husband Edward Bowers. He said we can stay there temporarily.” I knew Mother had a second cousin up North somewhere, but I never met her.
“We didn’t explain the situation. We didn’t want to alarm them. They live in Pennsylvania. Hope, you mustn’t tell anyone where we’re going. It’s too dangerous for anyone to know.”
Sarah motioned me over. “Come, Hope, I’ll help you pack.”
I followed Sarah up the winding staircase into my beautiful pink bedroom. Tears blurred my eyes as I tried to pull out my belongings. Sarah folded my sweaters and skirts and blouses. “Your mother said just to pack one suitcase. We have to fit everything into the car.”
I pulled out my favorite books and my four pairs of toe shoes and I stopped when I saw the pink outfit mother bought for me for the contest. I grabbed it off the hanger.
“Will you need that, Miss?” Sarah asked.
“Just pack it,” I said, embarrassed at my raised voice. I’d never spoken disrespectfully to Sarah before.
She came and put her arm around me. “It will all be all right, Hope. You’ll see. G-d is above us and He will protect your family. You’ve been always so kind to us, and your father is just trying to do the right thing––”
I hugged Sarah. “Thank you. I’m so sorry for getting angry.” Why was this happening. I didn’t understand any of it.
I grabbed the China dog with its green spotted sweater Grandma Belle gave me for my seventh birthday. If only she was here now with her little prayer book. She could have calmed the terror rising inside of me. I packed my jewelry box with the little ballerina that spun to Fur Elise. My parents had bought it for me when I started ballet lessons so many years ago.
I threw my two journals on the bed. I liked to pour out my thoughts and feelings, and sometimes I would write poems or stories in them.
Sarah packed everything into a large suitcase and then zipped it shut.
Mother knocked on the door. “Go to sleep now, Hope. I’ll wake you when we’re ready to leave. We have to leave very early so no one sees us leaving.
“It’s like we’re criminals. I don’t understand. They’re the ones who are bad.”
Mother sighed and left the room.
Lying on my canopy bed for the last time, I stared around my room. The pink flowered wallpaper shone in the light of my China lamp with its tiffany blue design. I went over to the window. Fireflies flickered on the velvet curtain of night. Were we really leaving South Carolina, our home, the only place I’d called home my whole life? Heather, my friends – I couldn’t even say goodbye to them. What would they think? What would it be like to live in Pennsylvania? What were Mother’s second cousins like? Mother told me they had two daughters, but she didn’t know their ages.
If we had to leave in the middle of the night, did that mean there was someone out there looking for us? Would we even make it to Pennsylvania safely?
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of the newly released historical fiction novel, Flight of the Doves (Menucha Publishers, 2023), Please Be Polite (Menucha Publishers, 2022), A Bridge in Time (Menucha Publishers, 2021), Secrets in Disguise (Menucha Publishers, 2020), Denver Dreams, a novel (Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in Binah Magazine and Binyan Magazine, and “Moon Song” in Binyan (2021-2022).