Monday, May 02, 2005

Call & Response

Perry County Alabama
Perry County Alabama 2005
originally uploaded by Greatwork.

You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.
-Albert Einstein, physicist, Nobel laureate (1879-1955)

It all started here on a road somewhere in rural Alabama. The year was 1898, my dad was born on a small sharecropper farm. They say most sharecroppers grew cotton to the doorstep, but my great uncle wasn't just any sharecropper. They had a truck garden that fed them during the lean months. My uncle was a deputized sheriff for the colored population. He was respected by most and feared by many. He was known to be even and fair to all. For this part of the story the most important aspect was, that my Great aunt and uncle, did take my father in when my Grandmother succumbed to complications of child birth some time in April of 1898.

Reconstruction was over and the great second darkness was about to descend. Alabama and most of the South - North too truth be told - would languish under terror and near slavery until the 1950's. If you didn't do right according to the powers that b, there was an organized system that would pluck you out of the cotton fields and put you on the chain gang, or worse. Violence was under the surface like a root laying fallow in winter.

Men and women, all of my people, worked hard on the land, and for the most part walked the straight and narrow. Women tough as men, it was nothing to see my great aunt walking slowly through the cotton fields with a 200 pound sack of cotton trailing behind her. My father grew fast in that black belt soil, because they didn't allow kids his age to set. Each hand was needed; school was 3 months a year, if you were lucky. My father used to say you could study geology through the schoolhouse floor, geometry in the walls and astronomy through the ceiling. By ten he was working in the Black Belt soil.

But truth be told my father had a fondness for a good days work even in his later years he had arms like spring steel. He worked at something always. However don’t get me wrong he had a strong love for fun. In his early years he liked to gamble for example and could cut and shuffle with one hand, a skill that he refused to share with me and my brothers. He would break into a song in a New York minute. It didn't much matter if it was the Fox & Hounds Chase, with his harmonica or a work a chain gang song....

Looka here Cap'n
You must be cross
You work me all day long long
And you won't knock off

I'm going to Texas
From there to Mexico
Then I’m going everywhere
Lordy Lord
A man can go

Got a good notion
Lord I believe I will
On the next pay day Lordy Lord
Go to Jacksonville

Gone get on this rock
Try to beat my way
But all these rocks and gravel Lordy Lord
Beat me in my face

Where you start is where you stay some folks say. If he had a favorite song it was John Henry. Good gracious we heard it so much that each of us has admitted to learning it by heart….

When John Henry was a little boy
Sitting on his daddy’s knee
He picked up a hammer
and a little piece of steel
Said that will be the death of me
Lord Lord
Hammer be the death of me

The captain came to John Henry
Said boy I’m gonna give you my Will
If tomorrow you can beat that steam drill down
I’ll give you a fifty-dollar bill
Lord Lord
Said I’ll give you a fifty-dollar bill

John Henry Looked at his captain
Said next time you go to town
Just bring me back a 30 pound hammer
I’ll surely beat that steam drill down
I’ll beat the steam drill down

And so on…. The Stream Will flow on!

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