Celeste was practically talking to herself now because Stamford and the baby were in a world of their own. The baby's hands had reached the man's face and he was tapping every feature of it, doing everything that was necessary for the man to say the words the baby had come to expect in their brief history together. Stamford's mouth opened more and more. 'You here early this mornin,' Stamford Crow Blueberry would say to Ellwood Freemen that day some twenty years later in Richmond. Ellwood would be walking up the street with the reins of his horse in his hand, and Stamford would be walking with a baby resting on his shoulder, the newest member of the Richmond Home for Colored Orphans. Mother and father killed in a fire. Walking and singing to the baby in the morning seemed to calm the infant for the rest of the day. Ellwood Freemen would say, 'I have come to fulfill my duty, just as I promised, Mr. Blueberry. Is that to be one of my pupils?' Stamford would shake his hand, nodding. Ellwood said, 'You look as if you didn't believe I would keep my word.' 'Oh,' Stamford said, 'I whatn't worried. I know where your mama and papa live. I know where I could find them to tell em that their boy didn't keep his word.' Ellwood told him he had to tend to some business elsewhere in Richmond and would return shortly to settle in at the home for orphans. He got on his horse and rode slowly out to the main street, the street that would be named for Stamford Blueberry and his wife Delphie. Blueberry, with the new orphan on his shoulder, followed. He watched Ellwood take his time going off and Stamford that day would realize for the first time just how far they had come. He would have cried as he had that day after the ground opened up and took the dead crows, but he had in his arms a baby new to being an orphan. Stamford, it don't matter now, he told himself, watching Ellwood and the horse saunter away. It don't matter now. The day and the sun all about him told that was true. It mattered not how long he had wandered in the wilderness, how long they had kept him in chains, how long he had helped them and kept himself in his own chains; none of that mattered now. He patted the baby's back, turned around and went back to the Richmond Home for Colored Orphans. No, it did not matter. It mattered only that those kind of chains were gone and that he had crawled out into the clearing and was able to stand up on his hind legs and look around and appreciate the differences between then and now, even on the awful Richmond days when the now came dressed as the then. Behind him, as he walked back, was the very corner where more than a hundred years later they would put that first street sign - Stamford and Delphie Crow Blueberry Street.
She went through her memory for the time, for the day, she and and her husband told him all about what he should and should not do. No goin out into them woods without Papa or me knowin about it. No steppin foot out this house without them free papers, not even to go to the well or the privy. Say your prayers every night...Pick the blueberries close to the ground, son. Them the sweetest, I find. If a white man say the trees can talk, can dance, you just say yes right along, that you done seen em do it plenty of times. Don't look them people in the eye. You see a white woman riding toward you, get way off the road and go stand behind a tree. The uglier the white woman, the farther you go and the broader the tree. But where, in all she taught her son, was it about thou shall own no one, havin been owned once your own self. Don't go back to Egypt after God done took you outa there.
His oldest child from his second marriage, Matthew, stayed up all the night before he was buried, putting his father’s history on a wooden tombstone. He began with his father’s name on the first line, and on the next, he put the years ofhis father’s coming and going. Then all the things he knew his father had been. Husband. Father. Farmer. Grandfather. Patroller. Tobacco Man. Tree Maker. The letters ofthe words got smaller and smaller as the boy, not quite twelve, neared the bottom ofthe wood because he had never made a headstone for anyone before so he had not compensated for all that he would have to put on it. The boy filled up the whole piece ofwood and at the end of the last line he put a period. His father’s grave would remain, but the wooden marker would not last out the year. The boy knew better than to put a period at the end ofsuch a sentence. Something that was not even a true and proper sentence, with subject aplenty, but no verb to pull it all together. A sentence, Matthew’s teacher back in Virginia had tried to drum into his thick Kinsey head, could live without a subject, but it could not live without a verb.
When Augustus Townsend died in Georgia near the Florida line, he rose up above the barn where he had died, up above the trees and the crumbling smokehouse and the little family house nearby, and he walked away quick-like, toward Virginia. He discovered that when people were above it all they walked faster, as much as a hundred times faster than when they were confined to the earth. And so he reached Virginia in little or no time. He came to the house he had built for his family, for Mildred his wife and Henry his son, and he opened and went through the door. He thought she might be at the kitchen table, unable to sleep and drinking something to ease her mind. But he did not find his wife there. Augustus went upstairs and found Mildred sleeping in their bed. He looked at her for a long time, certainly as long as it would have taken him, walking up above it all, to walk to Canada and beyond. Then he went to the bed, leaned over and kissed her left breast. The kiss went through the breast, through skin and bone, and came to the cage that protected the heart. Now the kiss, like so many kisses, had all manner ofkeys, but it, like so many kisses, was forgetful, and it could not find the right key to the cage. So in the end, frustrated, desperate, the kiss squeezed through the bars and kissed Mildred’s heart. She woke immediately and she knew her husband was gone forever. All breath went and she was seized with such a pain that she had to come to her feet. But the room and the house were not big enough to contain her pain and she stumbled out ofthe room, out and down the stairs, out through the door that Augustus, as usual, had left open. The dog watched her from the hearth. Only in the yard could she begin to breathe again. And breath brought tears. She fell to her knees, out in the open yard, in her nightclothes, something Augustus would not have approved of. Augustus died on Wednesday.
A man does not learn very well, Mr. Robbins. Women, yes, because they are used to bending with whatever wind comes along. A woman, no matter the age, is always learning, always becoming. But a man, if you will pardon me, stops learning at fourteen or so. He shuts it all down, Mr. Robbins. A log is capable of learning more than a man. To teach a man would be a battle, a war, and I would lose.