In the early morning, before the sun got too hot, myself and my 2 brothers boarded a truck with slatted sides and joined the crowd of colored people on their way to the cotton fields. We had to work to be able to get clothes for school, and they had to work because it was their means of support. This was back in the days before all the colored people were herded into ghettoes and given welfare. I liked them. They sang and laughed and we worked one side of the field and they worked on the other. We were kept separate because that was just the way it was. They didn’t seem to mind, and they picked a heck of a lot more cotton than me and my brothers did. The tar-bottomed cotton sacks were heavy over our shoulders, the cotton barbs cut into our fingers and they bled, but the colored people kept us entertained all day long as sweat poured off of all of us equally.
One day my brother Jimmy dropped onto his sack, and scared the living daylights out of me. I hollered for help and two colored women and a man ran over and carried my brother up to the farmer’s house. I ran after them, my sack discarded in my row, and the farmer’s wife had Jimmy on the table in her kitchen. Do you remember those tables, with a formica top and 4 vinyl padded chairs that matched the metal trim around the table? Big old tables, heavy to move, but they lasted forever and were used for all sorts of things, eating and pie-crust making and you could put a hot kettle on them to wash out your undies, now this one was being used to spread my brother out. I thought at first he had died, it had been too hot out there for him, but one of the colored ladies took a hanky out of her bosom and rinsed it in cold water and so tenderly wiped Jimmy’s whole face with it. The farmer’s wife was trying to get hold of a doctor but it was tough, the party line was busy, so I just stood by the table and held Jimmy’s hand. The other colored lady took off Jimmy’s shoes and blew on his sweaty feet. The colored man went back to work as soon as it was determined that Jimmy just had heat stroke and wasn’t in danger of dying. I saw that I wasn’t needed, and went back out to sit at the splintery wooden table where I had my lunch of a warm banana with my best colored friend, Charlene.
The colored people lived behind all us white people on Rowland Street. There was a big field behind the white people’s houses, and on the other side of that field were lots of little houses, and on Saturday nights they always had a big party over there. Daddy always went around and shut our windows because he was a preacher and didn’t want his kids to be tempted by all the drinking and carousing over there, but truthfully, we were always envious of our colored people. They worked hard and partied hard and were happy with their lives. I can say that because, for the 3 years we lived in Louisiana, I never met an unhappy or bitter colored person.
I came to love them, but they were not like the black people nowadays. Their unwed girls did not have babies, their boys did not hang around on street corners selling dope. Everybody had to work in the fields, there was no time for tomfoolery. I wonder if some of the older colored people who are stuck on the welfare plantation ever think back to those days. I wonder if the pride they had back then has been stamped out of them. I hurt for them when I see the old Grannies having to raise their grandbabies because their mothers are in jail or on dope, and their fathers could be any of the Toms, Dicks and Tyrones that hung around on the street corners with nothing to do. I wonder if I picked cotton with any of them back when I worked with them in the cotton fields.
I think the old days were better for all of us, colored and white. If we had to be together to pick cotton, it was fine with all of us. Nobody ever heard of the word racist.
© 2014 Just Lynne - 2/26/14