[The setting: an afterlife where memories may be relived and shared, and where one may be any age that the situation and its emotions require. The personae: Cassidy and her mother Eleanor.]
Cassidy, age thirteen, looked up at her mother, somewhere in her twenties. Mom asked one more time, "You really won't tell me where we're going?"
Cassidy shook her head, grinning. Mom had been almost everywhere with Grandpa and Grandma, but here was somewhere she couldn't have been. "Nope! It's a surprise. Here we go!" . . .
They stood on an unpaved street. There was little traffic: a horse-drawn cart loaded with grain sacks, a fancier carriage pulled by better-groomed horses. Cassidy could smell the dust of the road and the tangy odor of horse dung.
Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, they saw no one in shorts or showing bare arms, let alone midriffs. In fact, the men wore ruffled shirts, vests and waistcoats, with velvety leggings that stopped just below the knee, and then stockings. The buckles on their shoes might have been shiny, if not for the dust from the road. The women swished along in gathered blouses and long skirts, or else in low-cut dresses with tight bodices, skirts puffed out to the side and multiple petticoats beneath. Some of the men and women wore neutral colors, but there was a good deal of red, yellow, and blue. The adult women and older girls wore caps concealing their hair, and hats tied on top of the caps. From the elaborate costumes came an incongruous smell of stale sweat.
Young children ran after their mothers wearing loose white gowns. Cassidy tapped Mom's arm and pointed to a baby toddling along, pillows strapped all around its middle and a quilted velvet cap on its head. "Bet you wish I'd had that get-up when I was learning to walk!"
Mom shook her head, smiling a little sadly. "You didn't need it. You didn't fall much. You were graceful, right from the start." She let out a short breath of laughter. "You must have got that from Grandpa and Great-Grandma. Not from me, at any rate."
Now Mom was looking at their surroundings. They stood near a typical
courthouse; up and down the street, they could see houses built with logs, and
other structures that might have been stores. One building looked like a
one-room schoolhouse. Mom looked around, her forehead furrowed, eyes squinting.
"This isn't — I thought we were in , but we aren't,
are we? Is this some other reconstruction of colonial times?" Old Sturbridge
Cassidy' burst out laughing. "Uh-uh! Try again."
All the while, she was listening. Finally she heard the sound she had been expecting: hoof beats. A man in a dusty uniform came riding down the street, thick saddlebags bouncing against the horse's sweaty flanks. Cassidy and Mom scurried aside, but the rider reined the horse in, just a few yards away. A tall man in a vest and shirt sleeves came running out of a doorway, toward the horse and rider. He turned their way for a moment to swat at a horsefly, and they could see his face: narrow, ruddy in complexion, with a long nose and a high forehead from which dark hair was already receding. One eyebrow had a crooked tilt that gave him a skeptical air.
Mom frowned as if concentrating. "I could swear I've seen that face before — but older, with a white wig on . . . . What was his name?"
Cassidy felt her face would split with grinning. "Would it be Isaiah Thomas?"
Mom's jaw dropped. She sputtered, "What? How?"
Cassidy knew she was looking smug. She didn't care. "I have a friend from
that is — and she took me pub-crawling one evening. The oldest pub she knew was
Moynihan's. This man was sitting at the bar telling a girl how this was nice
enough for a new place, but she should try his favorite, the Hancock Arms. My
friend grabbed my elbow and jabbered at me about how that was the great
patriot, Isaiah Thomas. She's a history buff. She dragged me over and introduced
us, and we bought him a couple of glasses of ale, and he ended up showing us —
well, wait and see!"
Mr. Thomas and the rider were engaged in animated conversation. In a moment the rider reached into one of the saddlebags and with some difficulty extracted a folded sheet of stiff heavy paper. He handed it to Thomas, who unfolded it and whooped with excitement. Thomas handed the man a coin and pointed toward a nearby public house. A crowd had begun to gather around; Thomas brandished the paper and shouted, "Listen, all of you!" (Cassidy had heard all this once already, but the way Thomas spoke, something in the vowels, still sounded strange to her.) "Here's news, the most important news you may ever hear! They've done it, they've done it at last!"
Murmurs, questions, cheers. As the crowd buzzed with reaction, Thomas ducked into the building from which he had come. He emerged a moment later wearing a blue frock coat, and addressed the crowd again. "Come, all of you, come and hear!" He turned and half strode, half ran down the street.
Cassidy tugged Mom to follow. They joined the gathering crowd, whose excitement seemed to grow with its size. People streamed out of houses, stores, taverns, forming an impromptu parade, with ever growing clamor as the newcomers tried to find out what was going on.
Wherever Thomas was heading, it was a good long walk. Finally he turned toward a narrow building with a tall spire. The townspeople clustered around, blocking the street in front of the building. Leaping up the front steps to the porch, Thomas turned to face the crowd, held up the paper he was carrying and pointed to the words written large at the top. From those in front, who could read the writing, came exclamations that traveled like a wave toward the spot near the back where Cassidy and her mother were standing. Cassidy caught the words "Unanimous!" and "States!"
Thomas turned the document back toward himself, stood up straight, threw out his chest, and began to read, almost shouting the words.
"In Congress, July 4, 1776. The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America.
"When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the Earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them . . . ."
Cheers erupted from the listening crowd. Thomas held up a hand for silence and went on, but the cheers, the calls of "
Independence!" and " Liberty!", kept
interrupting his reading. Mom gripped Cassidy's hand tightly and murmured in
her ear: "Certain unalienable rights . . . that among these are life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness . . . that to secure these rights,
governments are instituted among men . .
. ." When Thomas came to the long "train of abuses and
usurpations," Mom fell silent, and the two of them strained their ears to
follow every word.