The ninth installment of this series, The Sharecroppers, wraps things up. We have a few more pieces related that we are calling “The Aftermath.” We thank you so much for indulging us with your ears and comments through all of this, and beyond!
This poem, “A Life,” was written toward the end of writing this series. I was thinking about the life of a man who toiled his entire life on a hard-scrabble farm, never rising beyond a shoddy existence, only to pass away and leave a sagging house as a legacy. What would he think, in the afterlife, looking back on his life?
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)
He wore bib overalls. One gallous hung.
He squinted down from the side of the hill,
The little house looking frail.
Kudzu crept along the roof
And the sun cast shadows along the weathered boards.
He squatted down on his bare feet,
His gaze on the fire pit, the ax,
Woodsplitter, hoe and scythe.
He could smell the fig tree at the base of the hill,
Heard the wind whistle through the barn’s slats.
He noticed the back door hanging by one hinge,
And thought he might miss the cold of the winter
As it came through the windows;
The heat in the kitchen at suppertime;
The sweat the garden wrought,
And the stench of the milk cow’s stall.
There was a time when none of it mattered
At all. And there was everything in between.
He stood and half turned, looked over his shoulder.
He would miss it, miss it all.
It was a life, he thought.
© 2014 John Eagle, Fernando Gonzalo