The Flowering Vine: The Reaper

sharecroppers_chopping_cotton_-_1941

The Reaper is a continuation of “To Mary” written by Ron Brown.  

 

Behold her, single in the field,

Yon solitary Highland Lass!

Reaping and singing by herself;

Stop here, or gently pass!

Alone she cuts and binds the grain,

And sings a melancholy strain;

O listen! for the Vale profound

Is overflowing with the sound.

All along the way, other sharecroppers could be seen laboring in their rented fields; men in torn, tattered overalls, and summer hats of plaited straw; women in patched osnaburg, cotton, and “plains” dresses with aprons; their heads covered with a rainbow of colored head wraps. The children were dressed as miniature versions of their parents. Everyone could be seen, swinging hoes and chopping cotton; dripping in sweat beneath the relentless Alabama sun.

As the old wagon crested the hill, Mary gave an ear-shattering shout to the figure below, toiling tediously in their own field. The weather-beaten house; with its small smokehouse, creaky corn crib, old outhouse, battered barn, and shady old oak, with the rope swing hanging from one of its strong, gnarled limbs; all surrounded by the slate-grey soil, now being tended by Jim; looked inviting, despite the fact that it was hardly large enough to accommodate Mary’s brood.

Jim ceased his tireless striving, as the wagon rattled to a halt in front of the house. Coley, disembarked the wagon and hitched the mules to the hitching post while the rest of the rest of the rowdy remnant, dismounted in a din of disorderliness. However, the confusion and chaos, almost magically, morphed into the apotheosis of order and the definition of discipline when Mary commanded, “Unload these supplies chillun!”

Lula, however, was exempt from this chore because her beautiful baby, little Leroy, needed tending to, immediately!

After receiving a briefing from Jim, on his progress—or lack thereof (due to no fault of his own, of course)—Mary declared the day’s work done and they all retired into the small house as the sun sank low. It was getting late in the evening.

No Nightingale did ever chaunt

More welcome notes to weary bands

Of travellers in some shady haunt,

Among Arabian sands:

A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard

In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,

Breaking the silence of the seas

Among the farthest Hebrides

Ella and Lula—who was now, temporarily relieved of baby business by Mary—prepared the evenings fare, while Mary—sitting in her old rocker—gently rocked Leroy to sleep. The rhythmic creak of the rocker curiously comforting to all, as they sat about and listened as Mary lamented the lack of fairness, wrapped in the hardship of the system, that was “sharecropping”.

She recounted the events of April, a year ago, when the notorious “Cyclone of 1909” struck the Southeastern states, including Barbour County Alabama, with a fierceness that fazed even the most stout-hearted of Southerners. She recalled being “summoned” up to the “big house” by ole Marse Hatfield.

‘“Mary’, he’d said, as he pulled on that old corncob pipe and blowed out that smoke in swirlin streams, like he wuz tryin’ to shape his words with it, ‘I know you don’t have no man’—like he ain’t tried to be my “man” evry since old man Harrell let me loose—anyways he went on; ‘even though your boy Jim is nigh grown’, then he blowed more smoke ‘I’ve got a proposition fer ya. Iffen you and yo young’uns wuz to gather up all of that corn, that the storm done blowed down up d’ere in the noff field, I’ll haul it to market fer ya and sell it fer you and give ya half the proceedin’s.

Natchully I seen that as a good deal. Ya’ll remember how we labored in that noff field fom sun-up, ta sundown. My po back ached me a’plenty. Ya’ll chilluns wuz so tied that ya’ll went off to bed without eatin’ a thing.

We’uns stacked that corn in piles taller than what Jim is, so’s Marse Hatfield’s big old wagons could just roll up to the piles and we toss the corn in ‘em till day wuz full. We worked for eight days straight! When finally, we wuz done, and ole Marse’s wagons was filled, I couln’t help but smile, watching them wagons ride off towards the settin’ sun. I knowed day would be money comin’ back to us, that is, if ole Marse wuz true to his word. But he wuzn’t!

We waited weeks and months for ole Marse to send our share of the proceedin’s for the sellin’ of the corn we’d picked, but nothin’ come. Bye and bye, I went up yonder on that hill and waited six hours fo ole Marse would see me. When he finally come a stalkin’ outta his liberry, he looked at me and say in his gruff voice, ‘What chu want gal?’

I say, Marse, I come for the money from the sellin’ of the corn. Ole Marse say, wit his eyes squinched and his pipe ‘tween his teef, “What corn?” I say, the corn we picked up that wuz knocked down by the cyclone, but he jest shake his big head and say, “I don’t know nuffin’ bout no corn!” and walked away.

Will no one tell me what she sings?—

Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow

For old, unhappy, far-off things,

And battles long ago:

Or is it some more humble lay,

Familiar matter of to-day?

Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,

That has been, and may be again?

See, that how dey do us Colored folks, don’t matter how light yo skin is. So, ya better have sum else goin’ fer ya!’”

As Mary finished her story, she looked around to see that everyone was asleep, except little Leroy. He was listening!

Whate’er the theme, the Maiden sang

As if her song could have no ending;

I saw her singing at her work,

And o’er the sickle bending;—

I listened, motionless and still;

And, as I mounted up the hill,

The music in my heart I bore,

Long after it was heard no more

Poem, “The Solitary Reaper” by William Wordsworth

to be continued

23 thoughts on “The Flowering Vine: The Reaper

  1. Both beautiful and distressing. A vivid reminder of America’s tragic past. As you probably know, the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration during the 1930s interviewed over 2000 former slaves. The accounts (which can be found on the Library of Congress’ website) are deeply moving. There are, also, some audio recordings.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve been wanting to say something about this work since my wife and I got back from our trip. I got up at four this morning…jet lag 😦 and found your response to my blog so I decided that it was definitely time to respond to yours!

    At first I didn’t understand what was happening…with Wordsworth’s poem and then who is Ron? But of course now I understand. It’s a marvelous idea and successful effort. I like it…a lot! It’s real. Ron has captured the relationship between ol SOB Hatfield and Mary exceptionally well. I really liked the descriptions of the workers, their home, and Mary rocking as she relates the story. It reminds me much of James Baldwin’s family scene in his great short story: Sonny’s Blues.
    Ron, you’re doing a fine job. I agree with other commentators. Keep writing. You are telling a story that needs to be told.
    And thank you Lady G for posting.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Paul 🙂

      Thank you so much for such a wonderful and honest comment.
      Actually, you’re not the only person to wonder, “What the heck is this?…Who are these guys?”
      LOL!
      But, like you, after looking at the entire project, holistically, most folks usually say, “Oh, now I see what they’re doing.”
      Bearing that in mind, I have categorized all of our writings (so far) under “The Flowering Vine.”

      The whole project is just our way of expressing ourselves creatively while exploring our biracial heritage.
      Again, thanks for your kind feedback 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  3. These stories remind me of Mildred D. Taylor’s series. I’m sure you’ve heard of them. The first is Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry. Anywho, her stories are centered on the reality and challenges of sharecropping, but written for middle school. I really think you and Ron could write a series for adults that’s like historical fiction because these stories are fascinating and fill a gap that Americans don’t discuss.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hey K!

      It’s funny you should mention the possibility of a historical fiction project.
      Ron and I are currently thinking aloud about how that would look.
      You professors would call that the pre-contemplation stage 😂
      Basically, we’re thinking about thinking about it! LOL!!!

      As you can see, Ron specializes in telling stories set in the immediate post-civil war time frame, as evidenced by this post, and “To Mary.”

      I do better with more recent settings.
      Hopefully we can put our minds together in order to combine our interests and produce something good.

      Thank you so much for your thoughts on this; as I’ve said before, your opinion is highly valued around these parts 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

        1. Have you checked in the Admin section? There should be an area where you administer comments. Sometimes comments go to spam or junk files there.
          It’s just crazy because it won’t let me comment on any of the threads on your blog. I know I haven’t been blacklisted 🙂

          BTW, this is not the first time that it happened.

          Liked by 3 people

  4. Ron- I really liked how you wove the story around Wordsworth’s poem. Very inventive. I could see the life that Mary was living with her children. I could feel the heat and the monotonous gathering of the crops. Well done, sir. I look forward to the next installment.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Tareau Barron

    It’s crazy that you mentioned resources. After the emancipation proclamation there were no resources for free slaves and would find themselves working back for their masters. To 75% of the free, they unfortunately saw it as a piece a paper. It’s either be a slave still while living in these unlivable conditions, or be free and starve to death. This was a great story brotha Ron. I love how when I read you and Lady G’s work, it makes me fill like I’m there. I don’t need no pictures because you SOUTHERN THESAURUSES do a great job. Hahahahahaha.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Ron:
    Isn’t that just how things went back then? Injustice with NO recourse.

    This was so beautifully written.
    Even without the picture, I could easily see every detail and nuance of this story.

    I am just so proud to have such a talented dude like you for a cousin.
    The world is waiting on that book Ron! Seriously! We are 🙂
    Love you cousin!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think the world is waiting on OUR book Cousin! I’ve got some ideas….LOL

      But, yes that’s how it was then. Sharecropping was not much different than slavery, in some instances.

      A poem by Langston Hughes says that the bandages on “Lady Justice’s” eyes, is hiding gaping wounds, making her unable to see the inequality we face.

      Or something like that!

      Liked by 3 people

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