All Get Done in Time
A Tale for Sam Williams
By Rudolph Lewis
still wake with her breath on my neck, her snuggled up under me.
My Fannie, my darling Fannie. The night is still and blue black
with the chirps of birds in the morning wind. The frogs and
crickets resound their cacophony of sweet sounds in the ring of
mothering breasts on my back like life loving me. The smell of
her presence fills my nostrils. And when I turn to take her in
my arms there's only the memory of where she used to be. And the
circle of emptiness.
throw my legs over the side of the bed. My feet on the cold
floor and my forehead in sweaty palms. I gather my thoughts on
what I must do before daybreak. I must get beyond grief and
remorse, the mourning over yesterday. Such garments are
difficult to toss off; they cling like armor.
no time for yesterday and pleasant memories when I got three
chillun whose mouths are always open. I light the lamp and keep
* * * * *
longjohns I go to the window and pull the curtain, the wind is
in the trees and the morning dark as midnight. I putter around
the room, pulling on my pants and fastening my shirt.
your way of oiling your joints," Fannie used to say, when I
neared fifty. My sweet Fannie found my routines and quirks
was not even thirty-five and like that she was gone like smoke
in the hand. My soul thrown in midair with only God's hand to
catch me. I with only the scent of her left to caress. I
promised her things would get better. Pioneering is hard on a
young woman beautiful and used to being pampered. Just keep the
faith, I urged her.
house weighs on me heavy as a wet coat. I open the door and step
out into the morning. The chill in the air opens my head. The
wind is in my jacket. The snow is coming but not today. I smell
it. It will get colder first. Then the snow will come early
Sunday and cover the ground a foot or more, I reckon.
* * * * *
walk behind the barn and relieve myself. In the blue blackness
of starlight I look over the harvested fields. The speckled
whiteness in the blue shadows of night. Still a hundred pounds
in those bolls, I estimate. I hear the pigs grunting and the
chickens stirring in the coop.
go to the stall and release the latch and urge Sallie in the
yard. She bolts to the other end and comes back to the pea vines
I was throwing in the yard. With an ear of corn, I coax her. She
nibbles the grains from my hand. I pat her on the mane and rub
a good girl Sallie." From my hands, she takes the ear of
corn, falling among the vines. I answer the grunts of the pigs
with a few forks of vine and more ears of corn.
* * * * *
cotton field in the damp cool dawn was a dream--blue night
soaked into the whiteness of cotton pointing to the heavens. I
had a burlap bag tied to my waist, and halfway down a row with
mounds of cotton in my hand. I've cleaned two rows, damn near.
People talk about education. Well these fingers are "edjucated."
They can see in the dark, like my feet on a moonless night. I
stretch my back. "It's not that bad," I say to myself
out loud. "Not bad at all."
years out of slavery. I haven't done so bad. We didn't do so
bad. God be praised. I've got my own fifteen acres for me and
mine. My Lord has seen me through a many a scrape, while so many
fell by the wayside.
look down the row spying the bolls that will give me their
fruit, my fingers ready. The bottom of the bag fills. The sun
will rise soon.
survey the field. I see the cotton in my bag. The joy of owning,
of being one's own man, of being on one's own land, command of
my own children. And only one small hole in my fine garment. I
loved her too much.
* * * * *
had a mind to wake the chillun when I came out this morning.
Wake them to these hundred pounds. Teach them what it means to
survive in this world I bought with my sweat and spirit.
the little darlings . . . I see it in their eyes, especially the
boy and the girl. They remember their mama. The baby girl has
only a faint image of what happened. And they feel her absence
more than they have the words to express, except in their eyes
and the way they carry theyselves. The boy and girl still go to
their Mama's grave with wild flowers.
need the softness of their mama. My little darlings, I let them
rest this morning. Maybe dreams will take them to her. They
loved the child in her, the play of innocence in her eyes.
That's what we all loved. It's like the beauty of a flower that
fades under a summer heat when you want it to be forever. How
foolish the heart that brings on little more than tears.
* * * * *
crow caws in the far wood. A deer comes to the edge of the
field, spies me and turns back into the darkness of the pines. I
love this land. It's not the best. Too low in places, some hilly
clay. But it's rich if you tend it well. You got to love it like
a woman who's never had much. Coax it. You got to be attentive
and generous and it'll give you its all. What else can a free
strange how the Lord leads a man. I come here by accident to
this country, blind. Came out of Suffolk into this county. The
land in Sussex ain't so rich as the land down there with all the
great plantation houses. They big market men in Suffolk. I
learned a thing or two before I left there about farming and
every thing else a man needed to live and prosper.
was thirty-five or about when I was sent to Jarratt. The gray
and the blue were at each other's throat. Whites rooted hard and
well for General Lee, but Grant was a brutal man however
gracious he was to the Old Man in the end. And we knew our time
was near. Some left home for the Union lines, throwing caution
to the wind. Who knew what those white folks up north wanted?
was sent to Jarratt, a town, a depot, at the far end of Sussex.
Thirty-five miles south of Petersburg. We supported the Reb
defenses and shored up their position. News got back to us how
thousands of Negroes saved Grant at the Battle of the Crater.
was a strategic juncture for Gen'ral A.P. Hill and his
Confederates, 16,000 of them. headed north to defend Richmond.
Jarratt sat on the Halifax Road that connected Carolina to the
capitol of the Confederacy. Trains crossed at Jarratt,
connecting western Virginia with Norfolk and Petersburg with
Weldon, North Carolina.
1864, the Union forces burned Jarratt to the ground and ripped
up the tracks. It was like a shooting star in a sky that leads
was among a gang that repaired the railway and rebuilt the
station. I never went back to Suffolk. The bluecoats on Lee's
surrender came here and read the rail crew a paper that say we
free. There was celebrating that night and into the morning too.
peach brandy still in my head I asked myself the next morning
what did freedom me. My men too wanted to know where they be now
with their freedom. I knew I was not going back to Suffolk, no
where near until I knew what was what.
worked for one army that wanted to keep me slave, surely I can
work for one that set me free. From the army, the railroad, and
lumber companies I got my fifteen acres and my farm for work and
* * * * *
wind settles down. The sun is above the horizon and there is
smoke from the kitchen chimney. My chillun obey me. They are
learning something about life. Allan has made a fire for his
sister Tempie, who by now has dressed the baby Laura. Tempie,
she's an old woman already at twelve. And can cook too. A few
things, at least.
always showing her brother how it be done. How her mama did it.
I worry about that boy. He might miss his mama more than any of
was gentle with him when I knew he had to be a man. You got to
work no matter what. A man had to live and the sooner he learned
the better. Ain't no need of moping around. Being down in the
mouth about what you ain't got or who got something better.
That's like acid. It eats away at the soul and the joy of life.
man has to live with what he's given. And go from there. The boy
had to learn that. Every black boy has to learn that.
behind I hear the boy as he brushes through the rows of empty
cotton stalks. "Papa, we made you breakfast," Allan
lifted the pail. I raise myself up to my full height and take
the pail and set it at my feet. "Thank ya, son. What we got
here?" I push a few empty stalks over and sit on the
half-full bag. There was fat back, crisp and browned. Eggs
scrambled and molasses and pan-fried corn bread. More than
enough to last to supper.
* * * * *
down with me for a minute boy," I begin to nibble on the
bread and molasses. He has his mother's soft eyes.
know what you got to do today, don't ya?"
Papa. Tempie will clean and dust and put up beans. And I will
chop wood and make a fire under the iron pot and help Tempie."
Okay, lad, I said. And he got up to move away.
forget to feed the chickens on the way back. And give my good
morning to Temp and Baby Laura." I shout after him.
boy's going to be all right. He is much that I was not at his
age. And much more quick to get up and go without the threat of
the whip. He's the first generation out of slavery. And he's
going to be a dwarf, out of place still in the larger world. And
I am the father of that generation. They'll have much to say
that will startle the world. Not so much about the masters of
the world but about their fathers. Our folks were held back too
long. And they're anxious to have their say. Have it they will,
hell and high water.
* * * * *
down the eggs, finish the bread with molasses, and save the
skins to chew on. Let me get up from here. "Farming ain't
for a lazy man." I say aloud. I pull the bag back around my
waist. I'll finish this by mid-afternoon.
hear the ax's thud against the logwood up at the house, the boy
is struggling with the oak. The smoke wafts from under the pot.
be an old man by the time they get grown. In my seventies damn
near. But they won't have to do without if they follow my lead.
The morning dew is dry.
chillen'll have a legacy of land, work, discipline to buoy them
up in tough times. Into the next century. The century of the
Negro. We would have done our part and then some in reviving
this virgin land and spreading civilization to the far reaches
of woods and swamp. That's something to think about.
finish the cotton. The field clean as a whistle. The sun in the
western field. I heave the bag back to the barn and the scale.
Almost on the nose. A hundred and ten pounds. I pull the bag and
set it with the rest. That should bring in some cash and a few
holiday gifts for my darlings.
check the corn bin. With an ear of corn I coax Sally to me, pull
the bit in her mouth and her ears in the bridle. I buckle the
harness around her neck. I bring in the ropes and the traces and
hook Sallie to the wagon and head toward the corn field.
gal. Let's go." I tap her with the reins and we are off.
There's still so much to get done. There's food still to put up
for the winter. The girl needs help. I'll talk with A'nt Jane
tomorrow at church. I got some meat hanging in the smokehouse
and we have more than enough vegetables. We'll get it done, all
in time. All in time. It'll all get done in time.
* * *
* * *
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus
By Charles C. Mann
a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous
New Revelations of the Americas Before
Columbus, in which he
provides a sweeping and provocative
examination of North and South America
prior to the arrival of Christopher
Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched
but so wonderfully written that it’s
anything but exhausting to read. With
1493, Mann has taken it to a
new, truly global level. Building on the
groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby
The Columbian Exchange and, I’m
proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer),
Mann has written nothing less than the
story of our world: how a planet of what
were once several autonomous continents
is quickly becoming a single,
Mann not only talked to countless
scientists and researchers; he visited
the places he writes about, and as a
consequence, the book has a marvelously
wide-ranging yet personal feel as we
follow Mann from one far-flung corner of
the world to the next. And always, the
prose is masterful. In telling the
improbable story of how Spanish and
Chinese cultures collided in the
Philippines in the sixteenth century, he
takes us to the island of Mindoro whose
“southern coast consists of a number of
small bays, one next to another like
tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how
the spread of malaria, the potato,
tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar
cane have disrupted and convulsed the
planet and will continue to do so until
we are finally living on one integrated
or at least close-to-integrated Earth.
Whether or not the human instigators of
all this remarkable change will survive
the process they helped to initiate more
than five hundred years ago remains,
Mann suggests in this monumental and
revelatory book, an open question.
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
* * *
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