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This is the third song in The Aftermath segment of The Sharecroppers. And, sadly, this will conclude this entire series. Fernando and I thank you all for listening and cherish your oh so generous comments. I am sure we will have another project up and running soon.
This song is about a house that was nearly directly across the road from my aunt and uncle’s place. After old man Stricker died, his wife, Miss Rowena, shut herself in and was rarely seen. When she died the house just sat there stoically. It had been a working ranch, so large it needed two tack houses. There was much acreage behind it used for pastureland.
We snuck in the house one night because we heard it was haunted. We were not prepared for what we found. There was an open jar of mayonnaise, a plate with bread crumbs, just the way Miss Rowena left it. The room suddenly grew cold and her rocking chair creaked and began to gently rock. We hauled our butts out of there faster than a jackrabbit running from a brushfire!
The painting, by my father in the late 50s, was when the place was at its peak. You can see one of the tack houses next to it. The tack houses had previously been slave quarters when it had been a working plantation. Now the house is gone, burned to the ground. The tack houses still stand and are used as camps by deer hunters.
A quick note, when my father painted back then I was always in a “playpen” next to him. He used to sip a little vodka for inspiration. I snatched the glass up once and downed it, had to be rushed to the hospital. I haven’t had a drop of drink since….ahem!
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 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 fish house 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 of shantys 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)
THE STRICKER HOUSE
Ole Prentiss, he had some secrets
It was a big house framed by a large pasture
Flanked by twin tack houses
As gray as the mother house
A mysterious and somber countenance
It had been a working farm
But after the old man died
Well, the house became ghostly
As quiet as the far pasture
Miss Rowena playing Miss Havisham
We gave it a wide berth, passing to the store
And imagined cobwebs and a rocking chair
Never did we see the old palomino
That grazed in the painting
Made the house look so welcoming
One summer we learned, as expected
Miss Rowena passed on
The house never looked so shut
And the old ones said there were haints
But we were older and bolder, yet
The story was, a mulatto woman roamed the house
Looking for her one-armed lover
Killed by the old man in a jealous rage
And yet we expected to find Miss Rowena
But we thought it was not she that showed
As always it was a dark night
But bravery filled our hearts
We entered through the back door
Discovered the kitchen table still set
Mayonnaise and bread laid for two
And yes, there were cobwebs
And a rocking chair, dusty and blue
Death filled the house in the summer heat
We all just stood, taking in the scene
Then froze in our youthful surmise
The kitchen grew cold,
the rocking chair creaked
© 2014 John Eagle, Fernando Gonzalo