The Flowering Vine: My Inspiration

MOM
Mom

Even at the ripe old age of 55, I’ve not yet accomplished all that I hope to accomplish in life. I still have obstacles that I wish overcome and goals that I aim to attain; a mountain of education to climb; a valley of physical improvements to traverse; an ocean of spiritual maturity to cross, and although I’ve reached a chronological age somewhere past “middle”, I keep pushing; pressing my way through; forging my way on, because I know for a fact that it is never too late. I know this because I have a role model who has shown me that it is possible; that all things are possible if you just believe; believe in God and believe in yourself.

The following essay is written by “MY INSPIRATION” and Mom.

“It has been said that, ‘Freedom is an attitude of mind and heart that frees the soul to soar.’ A caged bird may be limited in where it can fly and what it can see, but it has the spirit to soar freely as it sings its sweet song. In its spirit, all physical limitations are overcome and its true nature springs forth untethered by constraints.

I graduated from T.V. McCoo High School in Eufaula, Alabama. This school was formerly known as Van Buren High School. The year was 1958; four years after “Brown versus The Board of Education”. The Supreme Court decision was popularly known as “Separate but Equal”. The System’s solution was a new, “Separate but Equal”, black high school. The school was built and completed in the middle of my Senior year. We had been set free! For me, this was a year of great revelation.

My class was the first graduating class from a school named after a black doctor. I was voted Miss Senior and rode in the town’s parade. I also performed an oration, (even though I was frightened to death). In the spring of that year, I graduated from a new high school but not without personal setbacks. My maternal grandmother’s demise was right around that time. In spite of this tragedy, this new God given opportunity had set me free. I truly believed that this new environment was going to set my spirit free to soar beyond boundaries and appearances; to step out on faith and do what God had created me to do.

My vision would one day be realized but not without trials. First, I had to have faith and believe that; “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And all of us….seeing the Glory of The Lord…is being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” -2 Corinthians 3:17-18. Due to financial conditions, I was unable to begin my academic flight immediately; there were detours along the way.

Within the unfolding story of my life, I created a family. So from the first flowering blossom to the last; from one side of the room to the other; from one end of the country to the opposite end, there was always God’s presence, teaching me and guiding me in the care of my family. My children grew up and created families of their own. This created the freedom for me to soar.  “Finally” I thought, “I can sing and soar freely; exploring the limits of the skies of my ambitions.

For a moment, I imagined that I was a time traveler; traveling back through the centuries until I was side-by-side with Michelangelo as he turned a block of stone into something magnificent; chipping away– never giving up until a masterpiece emerged. My aspiration was to get a college education and that’s was what I was going to do, regardless of how long it took.

Upon entering college, I realized how woefully unprepared I was. I was lacking the proper educational tools, and background to compete with the younger generation. I was a generation behind; “Separate but Equal” had failed me. But like Michelangelo, I did not give up. I worked on my own stone. I worked to create something magnificent to me; my masterpiece, for God had given me the ability to create.  It was not a Michelangelo, but something as simple as helping a child to learn his multiplication tables was equally awesome.

So, after many, many years and despite my lack of the proper tools; like knowing how to use a card catalogue, or how to operate a computer;  I received a degree in Professional Studies and a Master’s in Education. I taught school for twenty years and have been retired for ten. I am free! I did as the caged bird had done; I broke free and I soared. I no longer allow doubts and obstructions to keep my blessings from me.

To my children and grandchildren I say, “Soar as high as you can soar. Chip away at your stone, just as Michelangelo chipped away at his; create something magnificent and then sing your sweet song.”  The sky is the limit.

The Flowering Vine: Harder Than Times in ’29

TRAVELING SALESMAN

During the years that my Mom, Uncle Jim, Aunt Joyce, Aunt Dot, and Uncle Leroy grew up—as the young folks say these days— “The struggle was real!” Not that the struggle wasn’t real before the 1940’s and 50’s; oh no! I don’t think anyone would disagree with me if I said that, the 30’s, 20’s and all decades prior, were as hard as hard can get. However, I am privileged to first-hand accounts of the afore-mentioned decades from Mom and her siblings.

One aspect of those times that I love hearing about, is the tales of the traveling salesmen. I can remember a man coming to our home selling Hoover vacuum cleaners. He put on one heck of a demonstration. I was amazed by the wondrous machine that this man introduced to us that day. I guess Gramp was as amazed as I was because, if my memory serves me, she purchased that silver torpedo with the elephantine trunk that day.

That vacuum served a twofold purpose, in those days. The first being the obvious one of sucking up the dirt that I and my siblings had tracked into Gramp’s house. Its secondary purpose was as various space tools and weapons, during my imaginary journeys through the galaxy, and yes, beyond!

Also, I can remember the insurance salesman coming by Gramp’s house, or as he was commonly known, the “Insurance Man”. He came bearing a large black leather book with handles.  It reminded me of a Bible in shape, color and texture, but there was nothing else Biblical about it.  It was very messy and disorganized. Bits and pieces of what I assumed, were the lives of his clients, peeked out like little shy elves, trying to get a glimpse of me, while I did the same to him.  Then he’d sit, carry on idle conversation, with the big book opened on his lap. He’d shuffle the papers until he found the one with the lives of my Grandparents on it, then some more pleasantries and a small transfer of money from Gramps hands to his and he was gone.

THAT WAS THE 60’S AND 70’S 

During Mom and them’s formative years, things were different, but the same.

My cousin Gwin’s and my parents, lived and survived on practically little or nothing. As I stated before, times were hard!

The things they did have were bought from traveling salesmen. There weren’t any Wal-Marts, with row after row and shelf after shelf of Wranglers and what-not. There were no Footlocker’s for young feet full of fire. There was just that old traveling salesman.

According to the accounts of my Mom and others, there were several different types of door-to-door salesmen. For instance, there was the Watkins Products salesmen. His inventory of wondrous wares included, but was not limited to; liniments, hair products, and the pièce de résistance, Watkins Petro-Carbo Salve; used to heal cuts and draw out splinters.

Granddaddy Leroy and Mother bought, among other things, school clothes for their children from these salesmen. This clothing salesman hawked his habiliment from the trunk of his old DeSoto automobile. Granddaddy Leroy and Mother paid Mr. Macon (the salesman’s name) $2 per week. The salesman kept a “running tab” of what was owed him.

In relating these events, my mother expressed how excited she and her siblings would be to see and choose from crisp school dresses, and long-sleeved, striped, shirts & jeans. Mom’s favorite dress of all, from the trunk of Mr. Macon’s DeSoto, was a red, plaid one, with white lace pockets and white lace on the sleeves.

With a nostalgic tone and a wistful look flirting across her countenance, Mom told me how she was so excited and felt so pretty on the first day of school. At that time, she was in the third or fourth grade and I can tell you with a surety, founded in pictures that I’ve seen from those  years, that she was an especially beautiful child. It is easy for me to imagine how beautiful she must have been in that dress, smiling a smile, a mile wide!

Besides the salesmen like Mr. Macon who ventured in vestments, there were others who sold, sundry stock like: books; Bibles, almanacs, and encyclopedias. As a matter of fact, my own father—who taught school most of the year—sold encyclopedias during the summer. He even sold himself a set of Childcraft encyclopedias, when I was about 4 or 5 years old. In my opinion, that particular purchase was the best purchase he ever made. Before I could read, I spent hours just looking at the pictures. When my father would read the captions under the pictures to me, I would remember them, and quote them back, word-for-word.

When I learned to read, nothing could come between me and the knowledge those books contained. -Ron Brown

           

The Flowering Vine: Only The Strong Survive

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ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE

Oh, you’ve got to be a man, you’ve got to take a stand

Only the strong survive, only the strong survive

Well, you’ve got to be strong, you’d better hold on

Only the strong survive

Only the strong survive, only the strong survive

Well, you’ve got to be a man (yeah), you’ve got to take a stand (yeah)

Only the strong survive, only the strong survive

Only the strong survive, only the strong survive

Only the strong survive, only the strong survive

(JERRY BUTLER, the ICEMAN)

Summers were the worse!

Those hot, sweltering, sweating days, increased the demand for ice ten-fold! When the demand for ice increased ten-fold, Granddaddy Leroy’s workload increased ten-fold

In the 1940’s and 50’s, Granddaddy managed the “ice plant” in Eufaula, Alabama. In those days, folks stored their ice in “iceboxes”; not refrigerators–those new-fangled contraptions were only available to the rich, but the average middle-class family could probably afford the less expensive “icebox”.

As for the poor, well they generally dug a hole out in the yard; then lined the hole with sawdust; then placed the block of ice in the hole; then insulated it with more sawdust; then covered the hole until they were ready for some ice. Then, when they were ready for ice, they’d simply go out to the “ice hole”, armed with an ice pick, hatchet, or an ax, and “chip a piece off the old block”.

When that sizzling, searing, summer heat hit, people craved the cool, cold, comfort of ice. They wanted whatever storage mechanism they had on hand, to be chocked full of ICE! Hence, the “ICEMAN”.

Curiously, no “White” men worked in the ice plant. Granddaddy was the closest thing to a White man there, so I guess that qualified him to be the manager. But being “manager” did not mean his workload was any less than anyone else’s; as a matter of fact, he may have been the “hardest working man” in the ice plant. Granddaddy worked, and worked, his fingers to the bone—all 8 of them—trying to keep those ice-making machines humming.

That truck? Wow man, that truck was something to behold! I think I might have a picture of one here somewhere. Kids would see that truck coming and stop whatever they were doing to chase that truck. No, it didn’t have a cute jingle ringing out; playing a “Pied Piper-ish” tune to entice them to follow. Ha! No colorful markings to E.N.T.I.C.E, but it had chips of I.C.E.I.N.I.T. There was no ICE CREAM MAN, but there was an ICEMAN, and that was good enough on those hot, hot, summer days.

The “Truck” went around every morning. Part of Granddaddy’s job, as manager, was to hire and pay men to drive the truck around the city to sell 5, 10 and 25 cent blocks of ice. The men would carry the ice into the homes with a set of ice tongs which would hook onto each side of the ice, making it easier for the “Icemen” to handle. Leroy Jr., also known as Uncle Leroy, even worked with Granddaddy from time-to-time.

Folks would put an “ice card” in a front window of the house which would indicate what size block of ice was needed. The card had four large numbers, usually “15”, “25” and “35”, with “50” on the reverse side. By taking note of these cards, the “Iceman” could tell, at a glance, how much ice was needed to fill the ice box chamber.  If a housewife wanted 25 pounds she would place the card in the window with the 25-pound number up, and the 35-pound number upside down.

For the younger siblings, having a Dad who was the manager of the ice plant had its perks. The plant was located by the railroad, alongside which they walked each day, to and from school. They would stop by the plant after school on hot days, and gather up ice chips in their hands and eat them on the way home. Who needed ice cream?

The ICEMEN who made the ice deliveries, wore capes. They were made of rubber, to protect them from the cold and wet, as they hoisted the ice blocks to their backs with the tongs and carried them into customers’ kitchens. The cape gave them the look of cape-wearing SUPERHEROES. But, Granddaddy’s children and grandchildren didn’t need to see him in a cape to know that he was a SUPERHERO; watching him fight the oppression that all Blacks faced in those days just to provide for his family, was good enough.

But alas, like all SUPERHEROS, he had his hamartia. For Superman, it was Kryptonite. For Granddaddy, it was the ammonia that was used in the ice-making process; that and the constant cold conditions, which together, caused irreversible damage to his lungs. However, despite the effects of his KRYPTONITE, he survived to a ripe old age. He SURVIVED because he was STRONG, and ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE.

“You can’t be too careful about work. It’s the most dangerous habit known to medical science.”

Eugene O’Neill, The Iceman Cometh

Love ya Granddaddy Leroy

The Flowering Vine: The Iceman Cometh!

the-iceman-cometh

Mama say, “The Iceman is coming Ronnie”.  I say, “What?” She say, “I was just thinking Ronnie, Daddy’s 107th birthday will be celebrated by those who love and remember him on March 1, 2017. She slick didn’t answer my question.

“You know”, she paused, gazing ceilingward, “Our conversations have stirred the old dusty spirits of long lost memories. These same spirits have crept once again, and stubbornly, from the dusty hallways in my mind. They’ve slithered and slipped from the cracks and crevices to see what is the commotion. ‘What they say Mama!’ I chided her. “’Someone is here!’ they are whispering. ‘Who goes there—yonder—here, the chorus of their cracked voices croak”’. “That’s nice Mama, but what about that ‘Iceman’ what ‘sposed to be coming?” I queried, attempting to rebuke those old spirits that were shuffling—leaping—lunging—lounging, in her mind.

“Except for the few White people who lived in the settlement near Clayton, Alabama where Daddy lived with Grandma Mary, he didn’t know many people nor did he possess a sense of being discriminated against—until he entered school, that is” her voice trailed off. I could almost hear those old restless—ruthless—recalcitrant—refractory memories roiling around her consciousness.  “Um”, I grunted, hoping to shut those ghosts up for a moment, “What about the ‘Iceman’? When he coming” I goaded, I had to see this guy.

She ignored me—again, and continued, “He visited his Father’s plantation, played with his White sisters and brothers, and ate at their table. Daddy once told me that he did not know anyone of his ancestors as Black. There was never a mention of Grandma Mary’s parents. After years of concentrated study of an old photograph of her, I have summarily surmised that at least half of her puzzling parentage was also White” she grew quiet, as if she currently studied—scrutinized—surveyed—sympathized with, that old sepia-colored photograph.

“Immo knock that invisible darn picture right out of her hands”, I thought evilly to myself. I wanted more information on the “Iceman”. Mama continued, “Daddy’s education ended after 3rd grade. I guess he grew weary of having to run like a gazelle as you described in your last post” she laughed to herself, and then continued, “Even though Grandma Mary and Daddy were biracial, her and Leroy lived as Blacks. They made no attempt to ‘pass’ as it was called back then. ‘Passing’ meant that a person, light enough to be unrecognizable as Black, chose to live as a White”. “So,” I chimed in, hoping to break—bust—bash—barge into her reverie long enough get this question answered, “What about the ‘Iceman’?”

Have you ever felt invisible? Mama began her story again, “As he aged, that old foul villain, with the handlebar moustache, top hat, long black cape and white spats on his shoes; who went by the sobriquet, ‘Discrimination’ made his presence known. And from then on, wherever Daddy went, there he stood, cackling a vile laugh and wringing his long, white, bony hands”.  I looked up and Mama was wringing—wrenching–wrestling her hands against one another, as if envisioning this ‘Dick Dastardly’ reject, from ‘Perils of Penelope’. Sensing an opportunity—a break—a lull—a pause—a halt, in her discourse, I pounced! “Who is the ‘Iceman’?”

“For example, there were no hospitals for Black people”, she went on, as if I had again, done a “Sue Richards” impersonation. “The one or two hospitals that would take Black people put them in the basement.  The Black doctor, who had been taking care of them, possibly Dr. McCoo, was not allowed to practice in nor, attend to Blacks in the White hospitals. I am sure there were many other offenses that existed then, and still exist today. My first anamnesis, or as you phrase it Ronnie, “cryptic memory”, of Daddy having a REAL job was with the ice plant in Eufaula. By then he had married my Mom. I think I’ve given you that info”.

“The ‘Iceman’, finally I get to hear this story!” I shouted in my mind so loudly, my ears popped! Mama pause, and paused, and paused. I waited—wanted—wished—wondered, but she was done. “Damn, Damn, Damn!” my inner voice screeched, like an old Screech Owl that had just missed out on a juicy—jumpy—jittery—joyful mouse meal.

THE ICEMAN COMETH!

The Flowering Vine: Run Boy Run!

run-boy-run-1

Run Boy Run

(A song by)

Yoann Lemoine

Run boy run! This world is not made for you

Run boy run! They’re trying to catch you

Run boy run! Running is, a victory

Run boy run! Beauty lays behind the hills

Run boy run! The sun will be guiding you

Run boy run! They’re dying to stop you

Run boy run! This race is a prophecy

Run boy run! Break out from society

Tomorrow is another day

And you won’t have to hide away

You’ll be a man, boy!

But for now, it’s time to run, it’s time to run!

Run boy run! This ride is a journey to

Run boy run! The secret inside of you

Run boy run! This race is a prophecy

Run boy run! And disappear in the trees

Tomorrow is another day

And you won’t have to hide away

You’ll be a man, boy!

But for now, it’s time to run, it’s time to run!

Tomorrow is another day

And when the night fades away

You’ll be a man, boy!

But for now, it’s time to run, it’s time to run!

In youth, I ran like a gazelle. I first became aware of that “fact”, in the seventh grade. At that time, junior high school—of which seventh grade was a part—was on the same campus as the high school. The school was only a block from my home so, of course, I walked to and from school.

It was upon entering this phase of my education, that my very best friend—Curtis—turned on me. I didn’t know why it happened then and I don’t know now; maybe it was part of the “adolescent developmental stage”—children do get a bit rowdy at that age.

Whatever the cause, he did it. He turned on me—his best friend. We’d been besties since first grade. He even called my grandma—who was a teacher at our elementary school—Granny! We were brothers; tighter than panty hose two sizes small, but that year, something changed.

Curtis teamed up with two known bullies, and for most of that school year, joined them in chasing me every day, after school. Each day, the school bell signaling the end of the school day, was for me, analogous to the firing of a starter pistol. Upon hearing it, I ran like a gazelle: out of the classroom; through the hallways leading to the outside world and down the hill, on top of which, the school campus stood.

Once I hit the pavement of that downhill street, I knew I was home free, for I ran like a gazelle! Through the path that led behind the little church on the street below I flew, then another twenty or so yards, and I was home free. I never looked back to see if the boys were closing the distance. I knew they weren’t. I knew, and they learned, that to continue the chase, would be futile because, I ran like a gazelle. No shit!

However, one dreadful day, they got me. I didn’t say they caught me; no, they were never able to do that! I said they GOT me. They intercepted me. As I headed down behind the church, a big bully named Leaker stood in the path. One of the boys—it could have been Curtis, I don’t know—yelled out, “Leaker, stop him!”. Leaker stuck out a big yellow arm—just as I was about to streak past—and stopped me cold; knocking the breath—the very life, it seemed—right out of my body.

I laid there on the ground, dazed and confused; looking up into the blue sky—into heaven. I saw the heads and shoulders of Curtis and the bullies, forming a circle around me; no angels in this heaven. They grabbed me by my leg and dragged me, like a rag doll, back up the hill and proceeded to kick my ass. “Finally”, I thought, “the end has come”.

In spite of the beating I took that day, I lived. Curtis and I became best friends again in the eighth grade. I knocked one of the bullies silly when, at a later date, he tried to bully me on his own. I was threatened by another of the bullies, Andy, after I’d reported him for throwing pecan shells at the other students, but the sight of my Dad’s “Hawk Bill”, changed his mind.  I continued to run like a gazelle, but as a member of the track team; earning 3 letters and a trophy, before my high school education was completed.

Granddaddy Leroy knew exactly why the children at his school turned their ire against him. He was too White.  They let him know every day, with heatedly hurled epithets. “Hey White Boy”, would have been the gentler and most benign of their loathsome lexicon. I can imagine that they called him “Cracker”. I can imagine that they might have called him “Milkman”, “Flour bag”, or “Pale-face”.

They teased him because his father was White. They teased him because his complexion was lighter than theirs. Maybe they called him “Massuh’s Nigger”, “Massuh’s boy” or “Po-Bucker”. It’s impudently ironic that they would have been abjectly averse to being called “Nigger” or “Coon”, by Whites. But they were just children. Children can be ignorant! Children can be mean!

However, things could have been exponentially worse, if not for the actions of the benevolent teacher who oversaw the school. Each day, she’d let little Leroy leave earlier than the other children, so he could avoid their malicious onslaught. He would then run as fast as he could, until he was way ahead of the others.

I can relate to my Granddaddy’s torment; in kind, if not in the magnitude. I imagine that, when that teacher opened that door, Leroy ran like a gazelle; just like a gazelle I tell you!

The Flowering Vine: FACTORS of CAUSATION for the MULTIPLE and TRAUMATIC LOSS of LEROY’S PHALANGES

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The Cut Finger (a poem)

 by Ellis Parker Butler

An’ shure, me lad, ‘t is bleedin’;

But come, me hearty laddy buck, be brave an’ do not cry;

A lad that’s learnin’ readin’ sh’u’d be far beyant the heedin’

Av a tiny bit o’ finger cut that hurrts a bit foreby.

‘Ere ye come till wan an’ twinty

Ye’ll be havin’ hurrts in plinty

An’ ye’ll learn a bit o’ bleedin’ doesn’t mean ye’re goin’ t’ die

(excerpted from the poem, A CUT FINGER) 

Jerry Garcia, Grateful Dead guitarist; actress, Daryl Hannah; outlaw, Jesse James; James Doohan, “Scotty” of the Starship Enterprise; Christian Bale, the iconic star of the Batman movie; female members of the Dugum Dani tribe of Guinea; my late father’s, late first cousin, Congo, of Congo’s Cargo fame (see my story, Congo’s Cargo), and my granddaddy Leroy, ALL have one particularly peculiar commonality. They are all missing a part, or all of one or more digits—a.k.a. fingers.

  • Jerry Garcia, lost his finger while assisting his father with wood-chopping duties.
  • The rope pulley, on her grandmother’s well, divested the actress, Darryl Hannah—star of the 1980’s movie, “10”, in which, she was touted as being the “perfect woman”; a “10” on a scale of 1 to 10—of her digit, thus, leaving Daryl one finger shy of being an actual10” (or more accurately—having 10).
  • During WWII, James Doohan, who portrayed the venerable and irrepressible character, Scottie, on the USS Starship Enterprise, also served with the Royal Canadian Artillery Unit, where his heroic acts included; shooting two snipers and leading his men to higher ground through a field of anti-tank mines.

He was crossing between command posts when he was hit by six rounds fired from a Bren Gun by a nervous Canadian sentry—his own man! He received; four wounds in his leg, one in the chest, and one through his right bird finger. 

Although a fan of the Star Trek TV shows, I never noticed the missing finger, but it does explain why Scottie never gave Captain Kirk, the finger, when the Captain would demand, unrelentingly, “Scottie! We need more power!”

  • Jesse James—the infamous “outlaw” of the Old West—is alleged to have been missing a finger also; shot off while cleaning his shotgun, however, modern historians don’t agree on which digit Jesse James was missing, but I’d bet a dollar-to-a-dime that it is was not his “trigger finger”.
  • Christian Bale played Batman in three different movies. He has also had roles in many other successful movies. I’ve never noticed a missing finger.
  • It is a funerary tradition—in the Dugum Dani tribe—for young women or girls, to disjoin themselves from the distal phalange of one of their digits, whenever family members die. To not perform this ritual, would incur the wrath of a “Ghost Warrior”, whom it was thought, would terrorize the village. They simply could not have that sort of thing going on so; chop, chop!
  • I’m not sure how cousin Congo lost his finger. He was a mechanic so, maybe he was trying to make a Car-Go!

Granddaddy Leroy was missing parts of several fingers, however, I never had the courage to ask him about the factors of causation for the state of his extremities, but my Mom and her siblings did. This is how she related his ensuing response to me:

“My daddy had four and a half fingers on each hand. One of us inquisitive kids asked him what happened to his fingers. He patiently replied, ‘This finger got caught in a folding chair. It had to be taken off by the doctor’, he explained, as he held his hand out for us to see; his ineradicable, ‘roll-your-own’ cigarette, dangling precariously from his lips.

He held his hands before him, turning them slowly, first this way, then that; staring at them as he talked as if, once again, experiencing the painful event he was describing, then he pressed on, ‘the other hand’s missing finger was caused when me, Coley, and Jimmy was foolin’ around near the choppin’ block. I bet them that they wouldn’t cut off my finger.

So, I laid my hand on the choppin’ block’, then he paused. A shadow crossed his face, his brow furrowed, as if he was asking his hands, ‘Why?’, then the shadow and the furrowed brow were gone, and the insuppressible smile was back. Now, more matter-of-factly, he continued, ‘I lifted my hand from the choppin’ block and half of this finger’, he said, pointing at the missing finger, ‘was gone!’ he finished, indicating the remaining half of the victim of this aggravated assault of a phalange.” Thus, Mom completed her recounting of the Factors of Causation for the Multiple and Traumatic Loss of Leroy’s Phalanges.

In a different place and in a different time, my brother, Eric, was born with two extra digits. I wonder if some version of the Entanglement Theory could be implicated in these events? My paternal Granddaddy was missing a couple of legs, but that’s a story for another day.

In short (that’s a joke) …

Granddaddy didn’t seem to be, in any way, impaired by these missing digits. He worked, he tinkered, he rolled those cigarettes, and most of all, he cared for and provided for; his wife, his children, and grandchildren.

As for his Marbles game? Well, let’s do some reasoning, by way of induction:

  • Jerry Garcia, played the heck out of his guitar, until his recent death.
  • Daryl played a mermaid, among other things, and is still considered, a “10”!
  • Scottie, served as engineer of a starship.
  • Jesse was so good with his gun, that over the course of 15 years, held up 11 banks, seven trains, three stagecoaches, one county fair and a payroll courier, in the process stealing some $200,000 and killing at least 16 men.
  • Christian Bale played one the greatest superheroes of all time without missing a single bat beat.
  • Old Dugum women can still be seen walking around with several missing fingers and finger joints, having successfully birthed and raised children and taken care of their warrior husbands.
  • Congo continued to make Cars Go, until he had a stroke in his 60’s!

So, yes!  I believe he adapted to the missing fingers and became one of the deadliest Marble’s marksmen of all time, thus proving that, if you have the will, you can overcome any obstacle.

But I wonder if the children—who picked on him for his “Whiteness” and whom he ran from every day to avoid their hurtful remarks—also teased him about his missing fingers? Hmmm!

To Be Continued…

The Flowering Vine: Mary, Don’t You Weep

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Mary, Don’t You Weep

Oh, Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you mourn.

Oh, Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you mourn.

Didn’t Pharaoh’s army get drowned?

Oh, Mary, don’t you weep.

Cheer up, sisters and don’t you cry.

There’ll be good times bye and bye.

Didn’t Pharaoh’s army get drowned?

Oh, Mary, don’t you weep.

(Aretha Franklin – Mary, Don’t You Weep)

“Why didn’t he come Lee?”, Bernard asked his older brother plaintively. “Don’t you understand ‘Nard? There ain’t no such thing as Sandy Clause, probably nevah wuz”, replied Leroy, in a voice laden with sadness, disappointment, and a tiny tinge of anger. Always an extremely astute child, in the few hours since finding the empty stockings, he’d come to realize, that Mary’s absence was directly connected to the absence of stuff in their stockings. “Why didn’t Jim tell us?” Leroy whispered under his breath, to no one in particular.

The boys got dressed slowly, lethargically; like two convicts clothing themselves before meeting the hangman. That’s what facing a Christmas Day felt like for two boys begrudged the boon usually associated with Christmastide. Once dressed and outdoors, they sat on the woodpile, staring at the ground; frozen, white breath fleeing their mouths, like souls exiting cold, lifeless bodies.

Then faintly, at first, gradually growing louder, like thunder from an advancing storm, the boys heard it; the unmistakable grumbling rumble of wagons approaching. The boys lifted their heads, straightened their bodies and turned towards the approaching sound. “Hey boys!”, came the liltingly gay voice of Ma Hallie, as her wagon rolled to a halt in front of the house. Pa Babe sat at her side atop the buckboard. Their wagon was followed by the blacksmith’s wagon, the owner of which, pulled sharply on the reins while emitting a hearty, “Whoa mule!”. The sharply dressed figure of Doc McCoo, rode shotgun.

Ma Hallie sprang down from the wagon, dress tail flying, like a sheet hung out to dry on a windy day. She reached in the back of the wagon and pulled out a wicker basket covered with a snow-white cloth. As Ma Hallie approached the boys, the smell of fried chicken marched before her, like an advance guard, striking the boys in their guts, causing their bellies to growl like angered lions. The rest of the group stepped down from the wagons as Jim and Coley exited the house to investigate the commotion.

“Take this basket in the house boys!”, Ma Hallie commanded, an order the boys obeyed with the zeal of Zouaves toadying to some great general. The smithy came forward holding three iron rings of ascending circumference, paired with hooked iron rods, which lengths duplicated the diameters of the hoops. The hoops and rods clanged together musically as the smithy approached Coley and Jim. The blacksmith conveyed the hoops and rods to Coley, along with the instructions; “The big ‘un fer you and the lil’ ‘un fer the youngest ‘un. Give the other’n to that brave boy Leroy”.

The blacksmith’s gifts, forged in his foundry, were called variably; “hoop-and-rod” or “hoop-and-stick”. The rod or stick was used to usher the hoop, as it rolled along the ground in whatever game the hoopsters might be playing; the number and variety of games that could be played with the toy, were limited only by the hoopster’s imagination. They were a common and popular toy among rural children. Some were simply bicycle rims and sticks; few were custom forged like these.

Leroy exited the house, licking his fingers. He’d obviously, taken an advance on a chicken leg, and was now, smiling with satisfaction, but the sight of the hoops elevated his elation. The boys were about to take off down the dusty dirt road with their hoops, when Doc McCoo stepped, abruptly, in front of them. In his hands, he held three, small, burlap bags, which rattled and clicked as he handed them to the boys. “Enjoy”, he enjoined, his grey eyes sparkling over the top of his round, wire-framed spectacles as he looked down at the boys and smiled a huge, pearly-white smile. He then handed Jim a neatly folded, crisp, one dollar bill. Jim thanked Doc profusely, while quickly shoving the buck into his pants pocket.

The younger boys opened their bags and reached in. Inside each bag were seven shiny, bright, multi-colored marbles. The joyful shine in the boy’s eyes rivaled that of the marbles’ that they held in their excitedly trembling hands. Leroy, especially, stared; mesmerized at a quarter-sized, green, and yellow, “Cat’s Eye”, marble. “This one”, he spoke quietly. “This one will be my ‘shooter’. I ain’t gonna never lose a game with this”. This declaration proved to be bona fide; that is, until Coley cut off two of Leroy’s fingers.

To be continued…

The Flowering Vine: ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas

 

twas-the-night-before-christmas-2-2_edited

If you haven’t already, please read parts 1 and 2 to this story 🙂

‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

These words, from the well-worn Yuletide ballad, swirled through Leroy’s head, as he weathered the rough ride back to his beloved grandmother, Mary. He’d learned the words of the rhyme while visiting with the little White boys and girls up at old Marse Hatfield’s house; his brothers, sisters and cousins, he’d been told. He’d sat, attentively, at the feet of Marse’s wife, along with the rest of the children as she’d served up the sonnet with almost as much spirit and spice as the ceramic cup of egg nog that had sat warmly in the palms of his hands.

Now, however, he could only remember the first stanza and so recited it to himself, in a vain effort to take his mind off of the fact that he was now riding roughly, albeit speedily, back to the location of his injured grandma. He held on for dear life, in the back of the buckboard of the kindly couple who’d seen fit to stop; and who had, after listening to his plight, offered their able assistance.

He guided them directly back to where his grandmother and Bernard were waiting. The lady gathered her long skirt and leaped from the wagon. As she rushed over and kneeled down to tend to Mary, she directed the man to “take them boys and bring back help. Bring Doc McCoo!” And with those words, the man hustled Leroy and Bernard into the wagon, then barked a hoarse “YA!” to his mule, and away they went; dashing down the dirt road; churning up a whirlwind of dust as they did so.

The lady who had stayed with Mary, laid her hands upon the injured leg; an action which Mary later related, “eased the pain mightily”. She’d stated, in a later recounting of the events, that the lady was “a gifted woman, a healer”. After what seemed, to Mary, like an eternity, she felt, more than heard, the rumble of wagons coming down the road, “Thank ya Lawd”, she whispered silently, and faded into a state of, not unwelcome, unconsciousness.

When Mary awakened, she found herself in a strange home, staring at blurred human forms milling about. Doc McCoo’s yellow, be-spectacled face slowly came into focus. “Mary”, he said, in his slow, deep, mellow voice, “you’ve taken a bad spill; broken your femu… uh, uh, your thigh bone. You’re going to have to stay here at the home of these kind people for a few weeks. You can’t be moved. We had a time setting your thigh bone. The muscles in your leg had contracted, like a cramp.” Mary listened intently.

“I had to call for the bonesetter from town to assist me. He had to close up his blacksmithy shop to come help us, and still it took the help of Mr. Babe and your neighbors here, to help me straighten that leg out. You have some strong muscles lady!” Doc McCoo made this last statement while shaking his head, in awe of Mary’s strength.

“I thought I would have to use ether or laudanum on you, so you wouldn’t remember the pain, but Ma Hallie here” he said while gesturing towards the lady who’d sat with Mary until help had come, then continued, “must have had some kind of a soothing effect on you, because you didn’t whimper or moan, neither on the wagon ride up here nor whilst we were setting that leg bone”.

Somewhere, in the back of her mind, Mary could hear Doc McCoo, giving further instructions for her continued care, to the owners of the home; the home that would be her “hospital room” for the next two weeks. She heard him say something about “laudanum” and “splints”, but her main thoughts were on the fact that Christmas was a week away. “What am I gonna do ‘bout them children?” she asked herself, “They gone be ‘spectin sumthin in they stockings on Christmas Day”.

The purpose for Mary’s trip into town had been to try to pick up extra “wash work” from some of the White ladies there, so she’d have enough money to put something other than pecans and hickory nuts, in her children’s and grandchildren’s Christmas stockings. Now her plans were derailed. “Jim can’t do no wash, that’s ‘woman’s work’, she thought. “Besides, he got his hands full, looking after the children and working the farm and such”.

Lula had moved away with a man named Edwards, after Bernard had been born. Mary had been the only hope of a “merry” Christmas for her children and grandchildren. “Lawd, please let ‘Sandy Claus’ be real this Christmas”, she prayed silently; hopelessly.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” Leroy recited the only words that he could remember from the poem, while standing before the fireplace; staring at the empty stockings hanging there; holding little Bernard’s hand. “Tomorrow”, he thought to himself, “tomorrow”, then trudged off to bed, “in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there”.

The next day, Christmas day, looked promising and bright! The orange glow of the morning sun was just starting to fill the sky. Leroy jumped up and awakened Bernard. They dashed to the fireplace, where the stockings hung limply! Slowly, expectantly, nervously, Leroy reached out to feel for the contents of the stockings, but felt nothing. The stockings, which had been hung by the chimney with such care, were empty.

Down the road, a mile or two…Mary wept.

To be continued…

 

The Flowering Vine: Dem Bones

dem-bones

Today’s “Flowering Vine” entry tells the tale of an event involving my and Ron’s Grandfather (Leroy), our Great- Grandmother (Mary), and our uncle (Bernard).

 

Dem Bones

-By Ron Brown

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, and caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.

Leroy’s sixth birthday was made even more special because Mary was headed into town and—as was her custom—had invited Leroy and—by default—Bernard to ride along.  When Leroy turned six years old, he was already tall. He towered over his little, “brown brother”, Bernard. Leroy was Mary’s pride and joy. He was, in her words, “Grandma’s big boy”. Leroy always rode “shotgun”, while Bernard scooted from one side of the back of the wagon, to the other, depending upon which side’s sights were more stimulating.

For Leroy, what was in front of him, was much more mesmerizing than what was to the left, right or the rear of him. He sat quietly, keeping his eyes forward. Mary admired him for this trait and would often encourage him by leaning over to him and whispering, “That’s right Grandma’s big boy, keep them eyeballs peeled”.

This day however, as they rolled down the rambling road, neither Mary’s fierce focus nor Leroy’s eagle eyes could have saved them from what happened next, for just ahead of them, from out of the roadside briars and bramble shot a streak of white. It slithered swiftly and silently across the road in front of the two black mules hitched to Mary’s buckboard.

The two black mules reared simultaneously, at the sight of the albino coachwhip. The sudden jerk of the reins, held tightly in Mary’s tenacious grip, snatched her formidable form forward, in front of the wagon and behind the mules. The mules stepped back; one of them, adventitiously, stomping Mary’s thigh, fracturing her femur. Leroy heard the sickening crack as the bone in his grandmother’s thigh gave way to the weight of the thousand-pound animal’s hoof. The usually silent Leroy, screamed; the usually vocal Mary, was silent.

Leroy leaped down from his perch on the wagon’s seat, then calmed the frightened mules, whose pallid pariah, had now disappeared into the underbrush on the opposite side of the dirt road. Once the mules had regained their composure, Leroy rushed over to Mary and kneeled down beside her. She looked at him affectionately, then gently stroked the side of his face with a trembling hand and wheezed, go get help Grandma’s big boy.

Mary was careful not to instill any additional fear or panic into her grandson. Leroy worked his jaw muscles viciously, as he struggled to maintain his customary calmness. Leroy, looked sternly upon his baby brother Bernard and chided him, “Stay with Grandma boy, I’m going to get help!” and away he went, as fast as his long, lanky legs would carry him. The nearest house was just over a mile down the torturously twisting, dust-topped road.

And He said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knoweth. Again, he said unto me, ‘Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord”.

Mary lay quietly in the dust and sang to herself softly:

“Ezekiel connected dem—dry bones,

Ezekiel connected dem—dry bones,

Ezekiel in the Valley of—Dry Bones,

Now hear the word of the Lord.”

To be continued…

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