Monday, December 22, 2008

I Has a Garden


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These Are Our Lives
As told by the People and written by
Members of the Federal Writers' Project
of the Works Progress Administration in
North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia

I Has a Garden
Publishing Information
    Negro Cash Renters

  1. A ROCKY CHUNK OF A MAN, TOM DOYLE SAT STOLIDLY in his cane chair and talked in a soft clear voice. He seemed a part of the land, patient and enduring. The gray workshirt, opened comfortably at the throat exposed a thick-columned neck. It had to be thick to support his huge head. Tom is black, and the blackest of his features are large liquid eyes; their look is simple and direct. Tom's overalls are stoutly made, unpatched, and his brogans thickly soled.
  2. Dusk was falling. It was almost dark beneath the oaks that tower over Tom's small frame house. He brought a chair from the porch to the yard, swept clean in country style with a stick broom. As he talked his eyes wandered contentedly over the neat peanut stacks in his fields, with the land showing soft brown between them. Down the wagon road two dim figures made their way toward the house.
  3. "Them's my boys," Tom said proudly. Already it seems that the five-room house can hold no more. By count it shelters twelve, from the eighty-year-old uncle of the second wife to the fastest arrival of last year.
  4. The boys came into the yard, two tall healthy fellows about twenty years old. They stopped by Tom's chair and told him of the day's work. They had been helping a neighbor harvest his peanuts and each will receive a dollar when the crop is sold.
  5. The wife was sitting on the porch, a quiet figure in solid blue cotton dress with a white collar. The boys stopped and whispered to her, then passed on into the house to make ready for supper. Feet dangled from the edge of the porch, but the uncle never lifted his bright old eyes from the ground. His back was bent and his mouth hung open.
  6. There was a little chill in the air. Tom turned to the uncle, "Hit's gettin' cold, old man. You'd bettah go on in." The old man, his thin knees punching bags into worn bottle-legged trousers, tobacco drooling down an incredibly wrinkled face, tottered to his feet with the aid of the wife and went indoors. The woman returned to her seat on the porch. She was friendly and interested, but silent while Tom spoke. She leaned forward with her chin resting in her palm, her buckteeth and half an inch of gum exposed in a grin.
  7. "He's the third old pusson I'se taken care of," Tom said, referring to the uncle. "Fust there was my stepmammy. Then when I ma'ied that woman"--nodding at the woman on the porch--"she brung her uncle to live wid us. The one before that was ninety year old. His name was Toby Neal. No, he wasn't no kin to me. Just said he'd rather stay wid me than anybody he knowed. I tole him I was a pore man but if he wanted to live wid me I'd be glad to have him."
  8. "Tom's got a good heart," the second wife interrupted in a low voice.
  9. "I was bo'n in '89. I'm what they calls a off-child--my mother wasn't ma'ied to my father. She give me to her daddy to raise, then she took off up Nawth. I ain't heerd of her since. I don' know if she's livin' or dead. The man who was my father got matted. We didn't have nothin' to do wid each other. He jus' died about a yeah ago and lef a three-hoss farm to his chillun. My gran'daddy went by the name of Allen Doyle; my name's Thomas Doyle but everbody calls me Tom.
  10. "My mother didn't have no education and my father just had a common one. He went up to the third grade in school and got to be a deacon. My gran'daddy was a tenant and he didn't have no education neither. Hit was funny 'bout him, he couldn't read his name if hit was writ a foot high 'gainst the side of the house but he could figger as good as the next man. One day goin' across the fields he dug out a big bunch of peanuts and carried them up to the house. That night he set down befo' the fire and counted off a hundred. He taught me to count wid them peanuts. I remember hit as good as if hit was now. He made me go thru the fourth grade too. My step-mammy--that's what I called my gran'mammy--was as good to me as she could be. She didn't have much of a education neither and her father was a tenant.
  11. "Gran'daddy died when I was fourteen. Stepmammy went to live wid her sister. I went to work to make 'nough to keep her up. I hired out to Mr. Jim Bascum, a white man, for eleven dollars a month and boa'd. I sent mos' of the money to my step-mammy. She was a slave woman and never had over a dollar and a half pair of shoes in her life till I bought her a better pair. They cost me three dollars.
  12. "She died too a few months atter I started workin' for Mr. Bascum. I had to borrow forty-five dollars from Mr. Bascum to bury her wid. It kept me in the hole all the rest of the year payin' for that casket."
  13. Tom was silent for a moment, staring out across the fields. "Hit were a lot of work jest to put away a woman. But I never minded it nary bit. She was a mighty good woman.
  14. "When I was nineteen I left Mr. Bascum and went to work for Coy Blake, a colored feller what owned a little farm. I worked for wages and stayed wid him a year He give me eleven dollars and fifty cents a month and boa'd and then threw in a acre-and-a-half of peanuts so's I'd have somethin' toards the end of the year.
  15. "Mr. Bill Bunting, a white gentlemun, went halves wid me on some of his land. He give me eleven acre of good land and paid me fifty cent a day to help him when I wasn't workin' on my crop. He give me a fifty dollar order on a town store. Mr. Yates who run the store charged ten percent in trade; he let me trade forty-five dollars wuth wid him and I paid him fifty dollars at the end of the year. His goods costs high. When we sold the corn 'n peanuts 'n cotton off that piece and I paid my half of the fertilizer and pickin', I cleared a hundred and twenty-seven dollars. It was the fust time I ever had a hundred dollars. I like to a-shouted.
  16. "Me'n my wife felt pretty good. I had got matted to a gal nineteen year old and she was pretty smart. We had a little two-room house that was right comf'table.
  17. "That next year Mr. Bunting give me thirteen acre and a dollar a day widout boa'd when I was workin' for him runnin' the peanut bagger, fifty cent a day when I was plowin'. My wife worked wid him too when he had need of her. That was beside goin' halves wid him on the thirteen acre and it come in mighty handy 'cause I made from a dollar and a half to three dollars a week sometime for workin' wid him.
  18. "Somethin' else I did. I took that twenty-seven dollars and paid out'n it for my share of the fertilizer, and I didn't run no account at the store. It sure opened my eyes when I seen how much cheaper you could buy things for cash. That yeah I cleared two hundred dollars. In them two years we had one chile, a boy chile, and we had the midwoman. Midwomen only charged five dollars and the doctor would'a charged twenty-five dollars.
  19. The next year I quit Mr. Bill Bunting and went back wid Coy Blake. I 'greed wid him to rent nineteen acre of ornery land for fifty dollars and then I went down to Mr. John Bales and paid fifty dollars for a blind mule. Everthing went along all right until my wife come down wid another chile.
  20. "The midwife got the chile out all right. It was another boy. But my wife was young and strong and she wanted to he'p me so she went out too soon and worked in the field. She took sick. I had the doctor and did everthing I could but she died with buth cold. She weren't but twenty-two year old. I didn't think nobody that young could die. Hit was a funny feelin' 'shout nobody to cook 'n wash 'n look atter the chillun. Hit was kinda lonesomelike.
  21. "The doctor bill took more'n I had and when I give him all the money I had left out'n that two hundred dollars--it was 'round a hundred and twenty-five dollars--I still owed him eighteen dollar and a half. I told Coy Blake he could take the crop and the mule if he'd square me wid the doctor and bury my wife. He give me forty dollars to bury my wife wid but he wouldn't square me wid the doctor like he say he would. He got the crop and the mule.
  22. "I went to Belhaven and got work with a big saw mill. They paid me a dollar and a half a day. I wouldn't stay at the camp. Nossuh, I got me a room in a colored hotel. It took most of what I made to live wid and send money back to my wife's father. He was keepin' my chillun for me.
  23. "I stayed at the sawmill for six month then I come back and got ma'ied to that woman yonder. I rented twenty-five acre from Mr. Glass and moved out wid my two chillun and that woman's two chillun. She had two gals. That year I got off sixty-four dollars. You see, I got started so late I didn't have no time to raise food for my mule and my wife and the chillun. I had to run a account wid the store. My wife did have a mule that she got from her firs' husband and that cut down on hit a little. Nossuh, you know I didn't ma'y that woman for her mule! Well, Mr. Glass charge me a hundred dollars for rent and the store charge me three hundred dollars for what I got so I come out bad sixty-four dollars. That woman had a boy. We used a midwoman. I alus' uses a midwoman.
  24. "The next year wid Mr. Glass I rented twenty-eight acre of land, I bought another mule, and I cleared three hundred dollars. All together I stayed wid Mr. Glass eight year. I had some off year, but I regular made from two hundred dollars to three hundred dollars. That woman had four chillun during them eight year. Mr. Glass come back to farmin' hisself and I moved here with Sheriff Dunne. I been here ever since, seventeen year.
  25. "I started out wid seventeen acre but now I rents sixty-five acre of land off him and lets my matted boy have part of the crop and use one of my mules. I got four mules. They's twelve here in this house and down my son's place they is five. I pays Mr. Dunne four hundred and eighty-five dollars rent. I spends two hundred and fifty dollars for fertilizer and the store run me 'bout three hundred and fifty dollars a year.
  26. The store is for my son's family and mine too; 'bout a hundred and fifty dollars of hit is for clothes and the rest for food and things about you need. I has a garden wid collards 'n' cabbage 'n' tomatters 'n' I raises my own meat. Want you to see my hogs in a minis. Reckin you better see 'em now 'fore it gets too dark."
  27. Tom led the way down to the pen and proudly displayed eight large hogs.--"They're Berkshire and Poland China," he explained. The pen was grounded with pine straw as was the shelter. He sprays them with disinfectant. In a field in the woods he had other hogs. Asked if he used the county agent much, he replied that he heard from him about once a week. Sometimes he does what the agent suggests, then sometimes he doesn't, depending on how the advice looks to him.
  28. On the way back through the neat barn, Tom took to task one of the smallest of his numerous offspring for throwing the harness on the floor. He also detoured by way of the hen house. "The hogs is mine and these here chickens is that woman's." In the house were about a hundred fat hens, barred rocks and other straight breeds. "She makes about three dollars a week offen the eggs of these here chickens," Tom said. Other sheds house tools, a V-8 and model A Fords. The latter belongs to his oldest son.
  29. Back at the house, Tom opened the door of the living room. A lamp had been lit and a fire made in the silver-painted tin stove. Faded paper covered with tiny pink roses covered the walls. On one side of the stovepipe was a colored picture of Joe Louis sparring with a white man. Tom went to New York to visit "that woman's" oldest daughter last summer and brought back the picture as a memento of a place he wouldn't live in. There was a carpet on the floor and a two-piece living room set, upholstered chair and sofa. Several assorted chairs were in the room. There was a battery radio and a winder phonograph. On the side table were a few china figures of the kind given away as pitch-penny prizes at the fair.
  30. Tom doesn't vote for presidents or sheriffs. He did vote in the crop-control issue presented to the farmers. He doesn't mind government control, thinks it would work all right if everybody would cooperate. He complies with all the regulations, he says, and that ought to show he believes in it.
  31. If his interest in politics is little, Tom makes up for it by religious fervor. He is a deacon in the Missionary Baptist Church. Not only a deacon, but he is the treasurer of the church as well. Every Sunday he drives there with as many of his family as his '35 V-8 will hold. (In 1934 Tom had his most prosperous year and cleared one thousand dollars. Six hundred and fifty dollars of this he devoted to the V-8) His son follows behind in one Model A with the rest of the family. Tom doesn't drink, doesn't gamble. Dice? "I don't know the game!" He isn't in favor of movies, has never been to one in his life, and won't allow his children to attend. Neither has he ever been to dances. He won't sing John Henry now. He used to when he was a sinner, but church folks don't approve of reels. Regarding drinking, Tom says, "I doesn't drink before my boys and I doan want them 'round me drinkin'."
  32. He isn't interested in amusements. A tobacco farmer has to work all year. Tom rises every day at sunup and labors until sundown. He plants corn and cotton in April, peanuts and tobacco in May. He cultivates these crops in June and July. In August he harvests the tobacco; September, the cotton; October, the peanuts; and November, the peas. In December he starts getting his land in shape for another crop, making manure and "suchlike" things. In January and February he continues that work and plants his tobacco beds. In March he breaks land. When he comes in from work and eats, the family sits around and talks and when they get sleepy off to bed they go. Sometimes he walks down to the highway to hang around the filling station for a while. His sons take the car off to fill dates with their girls sometimes and the family goes visiting occasionally. But the real day is Sunday, when they all go together in style to church to see all their neighbors.
  33. "Education only hurts a fool," says Tom but he doesn't care if his family does no more than finish high school. Tom does think they ought to know enough to look after their interests, to "figger" and keep accounts so nobody can take advantage of them. Only one of his children has finished high school--"that woman's" oldest daughter, doing housework in New York. The boys went no higher than the seventh grade.
  34. Life in the country is the only life for Tom. It isn't like life in town, all cluttered up. He can get his wood and his water free on the farm. He wouldn't live in town.
  35. He doesn't think the owners he's worked for have done as well by him as they might have. The houses they have given him weren't as good as they could have provided. The sitting room is the best room in this house. He had to paper it himself. The other rooms, some of them, leak pretty bad and he has to repair them. His chief grievance is that they haven't given him sheds to put his tools and machinery under or his cars; he has had to build them. He owns a hay baler and rents other machines. He also thinks they charge him too much rent for the land.
  36. "What does I want? I got a option on a farm now. I'm hopin' the government's gonna help me get it. The county man's already been out and 'proved it. Guess I've paid eight thousand dollars rent these last seventeen year and I don' own a foot of land. I want 'bout a hundred acre of cleared land, 'nough for me and all these chillun of mine to work on. I want it good land and I want a good lil' house on it.
  37. "Chillun? I wouldn't ma'y a woman unless she give me some chillun if I was a young man. And I ain't but forty-nine year old now . . ."
  38. WILLIS S. HARRISON
    EDWIN MASSENGILL  

     

     

     

     

     

     


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