Reading to my granddaughter reminded me of how precious freedom can be.
|The growing crescendo of crackling booms in the distance told us the city fireworks display was nearing the finale.
“Oh Maga, I wish we could have gone to see them!”
“Run upstairs and look out the bathroom window. You might be able to see the high ones over the trees.” I’d been at work all day and though I was happy to have my eight year old granddaughter spending the night while her parents attended a ‘grown-up’ party, I wasn’t up to facing the crowds and traffic jams that are an integral part of our town’s celebration on the Eve of July 4th.
Miranda dashed upstairs, sandy brown hair still damp from her bath, falling down her back as the towel she’d wrapped around her head fell to the floor. I gathered up the wet terrycloth and listened to her exclamations as she did, indeed, get a glimpse of the show.
“I see them! All different colors!” She called down as I prepared the pullout bed in the living room for our sleep-over. When the noise had faded away, Miranda hopped back down the stairs and began riffling through her knapsack to find a movie for the VCR. It was routine – a flimsy movie of no consequence playing to fall asleep by.
“I’ll have to return those books soon, so how about if we read one before you watch the movie?” We settled on two of the four she’d picked out on our last jaunt to the library and quickly finished one about a mummy that came alive to play with a lonely little girl one summer’s night. Then, Miranda directed, “You read the next one to me. It’s longer and my eyes are getting sleepy.”
I smiled to myself. The Mystery of the Caramel Cat, by Lynn Hall, was about sixty pages long, so with a little luck, my sweetie would be out cold by the time I finished. That would permit me to go spend the night in my own bed rather than the less-than-firm convertible. (I could manage to get to sleep on the thing, but could count on my granddaughter waking me at least once during the night to inform me that I was snoring!)
The story, however, was not about to let either of us fall asleep in the telling! What started out as another bored little girl heading out for a ride on her bicycle quickly turned into a puzzling adventure involving an old mansion that was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. Miranda had nestled into my shoulder, but her eyes opened wider with each chapter, as runaway slaves, seeking freedom in Canada were re-captured along with the kind home-owner who provided them shelter. The ‘Caramel Cat’ was to blame for revealing their presence with his loud ‘Meow’ and apparently the ghost of the cat had spent a century looking for forgiveness for his error.
As we came to the last page and the plot resolved peacefully, I glanced down at Miranda, wondering if my plan for sleep had back-fired. The seriousness of the institution of slavery and somber question of what those re-captured slaves might have gone through is hardly the stuff of which sweet dreams are constructed. I was somewhat relieved to recognize that her imagination was more caught up by the magical, mysterious cat and the mansion itself.
“Are there any underground railroad mansions around here, Maga? I’d like to see one.”
“I don’t know, honey. We’re pretty far south. This is basically where the slaves started running away from, not going to. Still, they’d have needed places to hide when they first started out on their escape. Maybe we can try to find out more, but now it’s time for sleep.”
“Don’t forget to put on my movie.”
“Oh yeah, the movie…Okay.”
As the mindless film lulled my grandbaby into a peaceful slumber, I laid beside her. I thought about slavery and oppression and how much the human spirit will struggle and suffer to gain and hold on to Freedom. I thought about how heroic people throughout the centuries have put themselves at risk to help others gain or keep that precious state of being. It seems to me an appropriate coincidence that my granddaughter and I should have stumbled into the story of the Caramel Cat on the Eve of July 4th. Freedom is a gift that deserves to be appreciated and celebrated.