This third song in our series, “Summertime”, was a poem I wrote from a memory as a child. I played with a young sharecropper boy, us roaming the hills and creeks. One day I was invited to lunch. His mother was much the way I described her – beautiful, really. She had cool, albeit weak, lemonade for us (no ice), and a plate of mustard greens with cornbread crumpled over it. I stared at the plate, my mouth watering, waiting for a fork. I looked over at my friend, only to see him snatching up finger-fulls of the greens and stuffing them in his mouth. I did the same, and nothing tasted better!
The last line of the poem is a saying in the country among the poor folk. When someone has cooked something delicious -- a pot of greens or a pot of beans -- they have “stuck their foot” in the pot. It is a saying I have long cherished.
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 (@marshmaster-1johneagle)
Lyrics - John Eagle
Music - Fernando Gonzalo
As shantys go, this one was brown,
As brown as a bluffside,
And the hill never looked so tall,
Until framed beside it.
She stood languid in the doorway,
A faded sundress swaying, barefooted,
A breeze blowing off the bean fields,
The summer air smelling of spawning perch.
She was just a woman, and mother,
And not so poor as to keep an untidy shanty.
Brown eyes stared glumly,
The dust swirling in the yard.
Although the glassless windows were open
She had the look of a woman who knew
Winter was coming.
Soon it would be time for the scythe,
Time for the reapers
Time for the dead smell of the woodstove
Time for the winter wind
To buffet the drafty shutters.
But now, there were fresh mustard greens,
Cool lemonade, hot cornbread,
A shady porch, two hungry boys
Fresh from the hills, and
Dang, that gal stuck her foot in them greens!
© 2013 John Eagle, Fernando Gonzalo