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10. The Roundup (lyrics John Eagle)

Fernando Gonzalo on January 30, 2014 13:33

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    We are calling this segment of the series “The Aftermath.” In the late 1960s farming philosophies changed in this area from agrarian to animal husbandry. The cotton fields and soybean fields were cleared, leaving rolling pastureland for livestock to graze. Some continued to grow soybean, but most became cattle ranchers, some choosing goats.

    In essence, the sharecroppers became of thing of the past. Some took jobs as wranglers, but most moved on, or opted to become fishermen.

    This first song is called “The Roundup.” They used to drive the cattle right through town, the cowboys tethering their horses on the hitching post of my uncle’s store to get a drink. The accompanying photo is my father’s painting from 1958 (I was two) of that store.

    The roundup was a big deal for us kids. We watched the cattle being driven through town, the waddies whooping, swinging their lariats, the thunder of the cattle’s hoofs resonant on the hardpan street. By the time they were done there were cow patties everywhere and the town became redolent with the fecund smell of pasture.

    This is a series of several musical poems chronicling the sharecropper era. Fernando approached me with the idea of a series of little stories that tell a larger one, all put to music. I loved the idea. I had these little poems about the sharecropper era and he thought he could make them work. I think you will agree he did a brilliant job.

    I spent all my summers in a little country town in very rural Mississippi called Fort Adams. When I say small, I am talking two streets – Front Street and Back Street. Wembley Stadium is larger. There were no more than 50 people in town, others lived out in the country – farmers and fisherman. A little one-room school house still exists where the sharecropper children went to school, when they were not working in the field.

    My Uncle Cy ran a dry goods store and fishhouse there. He had everything from canned goods, to Nehi soft drinks, feed and seed, to work clothes and boots, and to sewing implements. The fish house processed the fish and chickens that were traded to him. He was a furrier, bought baby turtles to sell to pet shops, anything to turn a buck.

    So, as child growing up in the 60s (born in 1956) I got to witness the last vestiges of this sharecropper era. While there are still farmers who work on a share, I am not sure any suffer as these people did. They lived in little one-room shantys that lacked electricity and water. The only heat came from a woodstove that filled the shanty with a woodsmoke odor.The children seldom owned shoes and a second set of clothes was rare.

    We would enter town down what was called The Mile Hill Road…a winding road with deep ravines on either side. At one point it travels straight down for a mile in a steep grade. At the bottom of the hill was a row ofshantys pressed hard into the hillside. None had glass in the windows, or doors. The people who lived there sharecropped and lived hard-scrabble lives.

    Hopefully these songs tell their story.

    John Eagle (@John Eagle)


    They use to drive the cattle through town
    We perched on the swinging gate
    Sometimes cattle paused at the guard
    I so often wondered what timid fears
    Kept them from tip-toeing across the bars

    It left the whole of the town encased
    In the distinct bouquet of cattle land
    We dodged cow pies en route to the store
    To see whose horses rested at the post
    To pat their sweaty flanks, hear their withers quiver

    The cattlemen drank Nehi sodas on the porch
    Their dusty chaps smelling of leather
    They talked of strays out in the brush
    Remembering how they dallied up
    Ran that maverick for its life

    We stood in awe at the foot of the steps
    Crushed bottle caps beneath our feet
    The store alive with the roundup rite
    Our youthful gazes bright and clear
    To every man that swaggered near

    What but this rite of historic passage
    Could carve a trough in memory
    Until they drank the last drop of drink
    Patted a small head so fair
    Before riding off to a ridge somewhere

    © 2014 John Eagle, Fernando Gonzalo


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