Link to live video performance:
This fourth musical poem, Where the Dead Once Gathered, was culled from the photograph that accompanies it. I found this photo online and after careful study of the people and their surroundings, I imagined this story. Of course I had seen many families like this in Wilkinson County, Mississippi in the 1960s -- a tiny shanty on the hardpan dirt, not a tree anywhere, the loggers clear-cutting all the way through, a triumph of the spirit to survive.
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 (@marshmaster-1johneagle)
WHERE THE DEAD ONCE GATHERED
Lyrics - John Eagle
Music - Fernando Gonzalo
Mama was always standing in the doorway,
A faded cotton dress made her blue.
Uncle Ike, hands clasped, sat the bench
His tattered hat rakish for the odd look;
And the barefooted kids looked
Like tombstones along the porch.
This was back during the pulpwood boom:
There wasn’t a hare or squirrel to be had
Across the scars of earth left by the haulers;
Yet it left plenty room for the turnip patch
And the hot sun beat a dusty path
Each day until the pop of jug and chord of blues.
Then came the khaki masses
With their broad smiles and rucksacks.
They mopped their brows planting little seeds;
Uncle Ike just waved, adjusted his hat,
But mama turned back into darkness,
Then shooed the children from the pie safe.
Years passed along this dusty parcel
And the turnip patch grew with the brood;
And when the sun’s long rays shortened,
And the orange of the horizon darkened,
The little trees grew into saplings
Like fine hairs on the ole hawg’s back;
But no one here would ever live to see the shade.
© 2013 John Eagle, Fernando Gonzalo