The beautiful, gray-haired lady, Molla, smiled as she busily put the Thanksgiving meal on the table. She seemed vibrant for her age. A student of mine, who was her granddaughter, smiled at my question as to how old Molla was.
“Grandma thinks she is about 94 years old, but she’s not really sure.”
“How could someone not know their age?” I asked.
She told me that when her grandmother was a small girl, she had lived high in the mountains and deep in the backwoods in a state in the east. When she was about five years old, a wealthy farmer approached her parents about selling her to him to be his servant. They agreed.
I was shocked. “They sold her? You mean, like a slave?!”
“It still happens more than you think,” my student replied
As a girl, Molla worked 16 to 18 hours per day, hard work, both in the house and out on the farm. She was not allowed to go to school, and was treated very much as a slave, with extremely harsh punishment for anything her owner didn’t like.
When she was about 12, a young man named Daniel came to work on the farm. He worked hard, using the money he earned to make payments on a small farm of his own. After working all day there, he would go home and work his own land until well after dark. During his first two years there he fell in love with Molla, so he talked to the owner about her.
The owner told him that he had paid a lot for her, and if he were to give her up it would only come at a price. He demanded a full year of work in exchange, and Daniel agreed.
Daniel began working on the farm all day for free, then he worked the evening shift in a coal mine to get the money he needed to continue making payments on his own farm. He would then go home and do what he could before dropping, exhausted, into bed for a little sleep.
When the year ended, he went to Molla’s owner to claim her. But the man refused to give her to him, saying now that she was a year older she was worth more, and he wanted another year.
Daniel worked another year, only to once more have her owner refuse to give her to him. Daniel knew this might continue on forever, and he made a decision. When he told Molla what he was going to do, she tried to dissuade him.
“Daniel, you can’t sell your farm. It has always been your dream to have a place of your own, and you have worked so hard for it.”
He just smiled. “I’ve thought a lot about it. The Bible says Jacob worked 7 years for Rachel, and then another 7 after that. Besides, as long as we live around here, everyone will always think of you as ‘the servant girl,’ and I want so much more for you.”
Daniel could not be persuaded otherwise, and he sold his farm to pay the equivalent of another year of work. Molla thought she was about 16 at the time, though she wasn’t sure. Daniel was 24. They were married in a small country church, after which he immediately moved them clear across the country.
My student continued the story. “Grandpa taught Grandma to read and write, but most of all, he loved her and helped her to regain her dignity as a human being.”
After everyone was seated around the table, each person was given an opportunity to share what they were most grateful for. When it was Molla’s turn, she turned to look at Daniel’s chair, now long empty. As tears filled her eyes, she said, “I am grateful for freedom and for the love of someone who willingly paid the price for me to have it.”
Though I doubt I will ever truly understand life without freedom as Molla did, her story helped me realize how much I, too, am grateful for those same things.
(Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at email@example.com; or visit his website at http://ww.darishoward.com)