I'm thinking this morning of Town Creek. It begins in Pennsylvania near the tiny town of Rainsburg and flows from north to south 36 miles to Oldtown, Maryland, where it flows into the Potomac River. The Potomac can be easily forded at Oldtown. It's not very deep there.
If you were a slave fleeing the South before the Civil War, you could follow a stream like Town Creek up into Pennsylvania. In the absence of maps, it was a way to move north, and most of it can be waded, which helps cover tracks. You would also have a clean water source.
My ancestors lived along Town Creek, just over the Mason Dixon line in Pennsylvania. In one instance, documented in The Chaneysville Incident, by David Bradley, they discovered a group of 13 runaway slaves who had committed mass suicide on their property, rather than be taken back to Virginia. Those suicide victims are buried in the Imes family graveyard along Town Creek, in plots marked just with the local shale.
If the escaping slaves committed suicide, it follows that they must have known they had been discovered and were going to be captured. This means that my family must have had to stand up to bounty hunters. Dead bodies were as valuable in the South as live ones, because of the terror they would inspire.
My great-grandmother was an Imes, a direct descendant of the patriarch who would have had to make decisions in the days of the Underground Railroad. I was three when my great-grandmother died, and although I met her I have no memories of her. Second-hand I learned that she was hard to live with. She suffered from intense anxiety and projected the worse outcome for every small thing. My uncle told me that her favorite expression was "Hit's a carshun." Translated, it means "uh oh."
It's not a leap to imagine that the Imes family had a streak of anxiety in the days of the Underground Railroad. They were less than three miles from the Mason Dixon. Helping runaways of any kind must have been a fraught exercise for them.
Today I am imagining the conversations that must have occurred in that farmhouse along Town Creek. What's right? What's wrong? What can we do? How will we be held responsible? How will this impact our family? Do we really want to involve ourselves in this?
For people who (perhaps) projected the worst outcome, this must have been excruciating.
This is not to minimize the 10,000 times worse situation of runaway slaves. I'm only speculating on how my particular family might have reacted to the situation they found themselves in, situated on a stream that flowed from north to south, ending across a wadable river from Virginia.
I want to overhear those conversations in that farmhouse. I want to ask Aaron Imes a thousand questions. I want his courage in the face of atrocity. How did you do it, family?
I'm saying this because something has changed in America, and something has changed in my neighborhood as well.
In America, we have slid back into a dark era. Many people have lost autonomy over their very own bodies.
And in my neighborhood, three blocks from my house, this:
EXHIBIT A: RIPA Center
My friends, this morning I want to step back in time. First I want to go see the Imes family and ask them a thousand questions. Then I want to go to see Anne Johnson, circa 2008 and tell her that her cocky, cheeky, snarky belittling of the Christian Right completely minimized the damage they could do -- not just in matters of women's reproductive freedom, but in a larger and more sinister plan to control lives, ALL lives, on behalf of the wealthiest elites.
I feel like Town Creek has come to my doorway in Haterfield, New Jersey. Do I have the courage to be an Imes, anxiety be damned?
Gods help me. Gods help us all.