This fifth musical poem, 1936, was again written from the photograph that accompanies it. This photograph captured a moment in 1936. During the depression, many farms failed and sharecroppers like these were rendered homeless and forced out onto the open highways, much like their “dustbowl” brethren, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath comes to mind. They congregated at roadside camps, sharing meals and commiserating with each other.
It just so happens that my mother’s father died the same year, her family being thrown into the maelstrom of losing its patriarch and chief bread-winner. My mother was about four months old. So I thought about the parallels and came up with this little story about the boy in the photograph and the day my grandfather died.
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)
Lyrics - John Eagle
Music - Fernando Gonzalo
1936 was the year my mother was born
As she lay in her bassinette, swaddled
A little black boy, with his little red wagon,
Along a rutted dirt road
Tilted his head to look back
With his tilted newsboy hat
Something was back there
He looked back at what was home
By the time this happened
My mother’s father was dead
Something about work
It was cold storage, I think
He just had a cold
But the job was scarce
And the family waited
In granny’s boarding house
The man next to the little boy looked back
And so did all the others…at what?
And for all the cotton picked that year
The little red wagon was empty
Empty as the road beyond
Perhaps a tent colony lay ahead
With a fire and an iron pot
For biscuits and Hoppin’ John
They waited for the milk and bread
That came from Papa of an evening
Gathered ‘round the table
Were Gramps and his Vaudeville jokes
Uncle Durphy with is Irish nose
And Ma with her doily hair
Then came the man in the suit
It was a real fine suit, for 1936
© 2013 John Eagle, Fernando Gonzalo