Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Mary Townsend Ratcliffe, Wheeling, VA, April 1856

The hardest decision is what to take
and what to leave behind. There is
not enough room on the riverboat
for all our possessions, even if we could
pay to have them shipped to Kansas.
So many items that have no value
other than the memories they spark,
I must sell or leave for others.
I will pack necessities—pots, pans,
bedding, clothing, books (yes, necessary)—
and a few niceties, but most I will leave.

And, Uncle Thomas’ collections—
we cannot take them with us.
We do not need his herbarium
or his geological specimen cabinet,
though, what a curiosity they would be…
Perhaps the medical society
will have an interest, or one
of the natural scientists in town.

I know we’ve made the right decision.
I know we should go, lest Kansas be lost
to slavery and ignorance;
that we must go to help assure free soil.
But, I struggle with the thought
that we might never see
family and friends again;
that I might never again
walk these green mountains.
And, what of natural science? Medicine?
What opportunities will I have
to pursue these, to continue my studies
when there will be so much work with the farm?

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