I have a collection of pipes that sits in my kitchen windowsill. There are six of them there, balanced on their smooth, wooden noses in a stand; another three perched for display on bookshelves. I like these pipes very much. The curve fits so neatly against the fingers, swaddled in the palm; their stems so slender, like the necks of water birds. Moving them, even slightly, sends out a musky potpourri of long-smoldered tobacco – like baked vanilla. These were my great-grandfather’s, and they are now my own favorite heirloom.
I like to keep his picture in my living room, this great-grandfather of mine, a soft, gray oval that proudly shows Benjamin Harrison Macintosh III in his prime to all my hipster friends. And, kids, let me tell you – Harry was one Dapper Dan! He has fans. But apart from this lone photo and this collection of antique pipes, I know nothing about my kin. I can’t be sure of his story, and, because of time and death and cold memory, there is probably a great deal I’ll never know.
But not all of us face empty names where our ancestors are concerned. For author Judith C. Owens-Lalude, the family tree is rich and the stories in full bloom. Join her this Sunday, October 21st, at Carmichael’s Bookstore as she re-tells the tale of her own great-grandfather’s life in slavery with her new novel, The Long Walk: From Slavery to Freedom.
Born in 1850, Owens-Lalude’s great-grandfather, George Henry “Pap” Johnson, would live most of his life enslaved with his mother, Clarissa. Working on a six-hundred acre farm – land less than an hour’s drive from Louisville – George Henry and his mother would eventually escape bondage and take the trail of the Underground Railroad, following the North Star. Using research that has taken her from Central Kentucky all the way to Nigeria, Owens-Lalude uses her book, The Long Walk, to share not only the story of her family, but to explore how the slave trade impacted the lives of other African Americans as well as native Africans.
Sharing this poignant heirloom, Owens-Lalude will visit the Frankfort Avenue store for a special reading and signing beginning at 4pm. Copies of The Long Walk: From Slavery to Freedom are available at both Carmichael’s Bookstore locations in paperback for $14.95.
Often what we have from our own family past is small – pipes and a picture – but these bits and bobs are only placeholders for the people who actually lived full lives before us. There is meaning, yes, in the items and places they leave behind. But legacy is much more than dusty boxes, and what tales we can flesh out sometimes go far beyond their simple beginnings.
Carmichael’s Bookstore has two area locations: 1295 Bardstown Road and 2720 Frankfort Avenue. For more information, visit the event page or call the Frankfort Avenue store at (502) 896-6950.
Image: Courtesy of Carmichael’s Bookstore website www.carmichaelsbookstore.com