Mr. Granger studied Uncle Hammer. Uncle Hammer wore, as he had every day since he had arrived, sharply creased pants, a
vest over a snow-white shirt, and shoes that shone like midnight. ‘You right citified, ain't you! Course you always did think
you was too good to work in the fields like other folks.'
'Naw, that ain't it.' said Uncle Hammer. ‘I just ain't never figured fifty cents a day was worth a child's time, let alone a man's
wages.' Uncle Hammer said nothing else; he didn't need to. Everyone knew that fifty cents was the top price paid to any day
laborer, man, woman, or child, hired to work in the Granger fields.
Mr. Granger ran his tongue around his teeth, making his lips protrude in odd half circles, then he turned from Uncle Hammer
to Papa. 'Some folks tell me y'all running a regular traveling store up here. How tell a fellow can get just 'bout anything he
wants from up at Tate's in Vicksburg if he just lets y'all know,
Papa met Mr. Granger's eyes, but did not speak,
Mr. Granger shook his head. ‘Seems to me you folks are just stirring up something. Y'all got roots in this community. Even
got yourselves that loan Paul Edward made from the First National Bank up in Strawberry for that eastern two hundred acres.
Course now with times like they are. that mortgage could come due anytime .., and if it comes due and y'all ain't got the
money to pay it, y'all could lose this place.'
'Ain't gonna lose it.' said Uncle Hammer flatly.
Mr. Granger glanced up at Uncle Hammer, then back to Papa. He took a cigar from his pocket, then a knife to cut off the tip.
After he had thrown the tip into the fire, he settled back in his chair and lit the cigar while Papa, Mama, Uncle Hammer, and
Big Ma waited for him to get on. Then he said : 'This is a fine community. Got fine folks in it - both white and colored.
Whatever's bothering you people, y'all just tell me. We'll get it straightened out without all this big to-do.
Uncle Hammer laughed outright. Mr. Granger looked up sharply, but Uncle Hammer eyed him insolently, a smile still on his
lips. Mr. Granger, watching him, cautioned sternly. 'I don't like trouble here. This is a quiet and peaceful place... I aim to see
it stays that way.' Turning back to Papa, he continued. ‘Whatever problems we have, we can work them out. I ain't gonna hide
that I think y'all making a big mistake, both for the community and for yourselves, going all the way down to Vicksburg to do
your shopping. That don't seem very neighborly -
'Neither does burning.' said Uncle Hammer.
Mr. Granger puffed deeply on his cigar and did not look at Uncle Hammer. When he spoke again it was to Big Ma. His voice
was harsh, but he made no comment on what Uncle Hammer had said. ‘I don't think your Paul Edward would've condoned
something like this and risked losing this place. How come you let your boys go do it !'
Big Ma smoothed the lap of her dress with her hands, They grown and it's they land. I got no more say in it.'
Mr. Granger's eyes showed no surprise, but he pursed his lips again and ran his tongue around his teeth. ‘The price of cotton's
mighty low, y'all know that.' he said finally. ‘Could be that I'll have to charge my people more of their crops next summer just
to make ends meet... I'd hate to do it, 'cause if I did my people wouldn't hardly have enough to buy winter stores, let alone be
able to pay their debts...
There was a tense, waiting silence before his glance slid to Papa again.
'Mr. Joe Higgins up at First National told me that he couldn't hardly honor a loan to folks who go around stirring up a lot of
bad feelings in the community -
'And especially stirring the colored folks out of their place.' interjected Uncle Hammer calmly.
Mr. Granger paled, but did not turn to Uncle Hammer. 'Money's too scarce, he continued as if he had not heard, 'and folks like
that are a poor risk. You ready to lose your land, David, because of this thing!'
Papa was lighting his pipe. He did not look up until the flame had caught in the tobacco and held there. Then he turned to Mr.
Granger. ‘Two hundred acres of this place been Logan land for almost fifty years now, the other two hundred for fifteen.
We've been through bad times and good times but we ain't never lost none of it. Ain't gonna start now.
Mr. Granger said quietly, ‘It was Granger land before it was Logan.'
'Slave land,' said Papa.
Mr. Granger nodded. 'Wouldn't have lost this section if it hadn't been stolen by your Yankee carpetbaggers after the war. But
y'all keep on playing Santa Claus and I'm gonna get it back - real easy. I want you to know that I plan to do whatever I need
to, to keep peace down in here.'
Papa took the pipe from his mouth and stared into the fire. When he faced Mr. Granger again his voice was very quiet, very
distinct, very sure. ‘You being white, you can just 'bout plan on anything you want, But I tell you this one thing: You plan on
getting this land, you're planning on the wrong thing,
Mama's hand crossed almost unseen to Papa's arm.
Mr. Granger looked up slyly, 'There's lots of ways of stop ping you, David.'
Papa impaled Mr. Granger with an icy stare. Then you'd better make them good,' he said.
Mr. Granger stood to go, a smile creeping smugly over his lips as if he knew a secret but refused to tell. He glanced at Uncle
Hammer, then turned and left, leaving the silence behind him,
'Uh ... Miz Lillian Jean, wouldja wait up a minute, please!'
'Cassie, you cracked!' cried Stacey. 'Cassie, where you ... get back here ! Cassie !'
Stacey's words faded into the gray stillness of the January morning as I turned deaf ears to him and hurried after Lillian Jean.
Thanks for waiting up,' I said when I caught up with her.
She stared down at me irritably. 'What you want !'
'Well,' I said, walking beside her, 'I been thinking 'bout what happened in Strawberry back last month.'
'Yeah!' commented Lillian Jean suspiciously.
'Well, to tell you the truth, I was real upset for a while there. But my papa told me it don't do no good sitting around being
mad. Then I seen how things was. I mean, I should've seen it all along. After all, I'm who I am and you're who you are.'
Lillian Jean looked at me with astonishment that I could see the matter so clearly. ‘Well, I'm glad you finally learned the way
'Oh, I did.' I piped readily. The way I see it - here, let me take them books for you, Miz Lillian Jean - the way I see it, we all
gotta do what we gotta do. And that's what I'm gonna do from now on. Just what I gotta.'
'Good for you, Cassie,' replied Lillian Jean enthusiastically. 'God'll bless you for it.'
'You think so!'
'Why, of course!' she exclaimed. 'God wants all his children to do what's right.'
'I'm glad you think so ... Miz Lillian Jean.
When we reached the crossroads. I waved good-bye to Lillian Jean and waited for the others. Before they reached me, Little
Man exclaimed. 'Owwww. I'm gonna tell Mama ! Carrying that ole dumb Lillian Jean's books!'
'Cassie, whatja do that for!' questioned Christopher- John, his round face pained.
'Ah, shoot,' laughed T.J. 'Ole Cassie jus' learned she better do what's good for her if she don't want no more of Mr. Simms's
I clinched my fists behind me, and narrowed my eyes in the Logan gaze, but managed to hold my tongue. Stacey stared at me
strangely, then turned and said, 'We'd better get on to school.'
As I followed, Jeremy touched my arm timidly. 'C-Cassie, you didn't have to do that. That - that ole Lillian Jean, she ain't
I stared at Jeremy, trying to understand him. But he shied away from me and ran down the road after his sister.
'Mama gonna whip you good, too.' said prideful Little Man, still fuming as we approached the school. "Cause I'm gonna sure
'Naw you ain't,' said Stacey. There was a shocked silence as all heads turned to him. This here thing's between Cassie and
Lillian Jean and ain't nobody telling nobody nothin' 'bout this.' He stared directly at T.J., caught his eye, and repeated,
'Ah, man !' cried T.J. 'It ain't none of my business.' Then, after a moment's silence, he added, 'I got too many worries of my
own to worry 'bout Cassie Uncle Tomming Lillian Jean.’
My temper almost flew out of my mouth, but I pressed my lips tightly together, forcing it to stay inside.
Them final examinations comin' up in two weeks, man, and ain't no way I can afford to fail them things again,' T.J. continued.
Then you won't,' said Stacey.
'Shoot, that's what I thought last year. But your mama makes up the hardest examinations she knows how.' He paused, sighed,
and ventured, 'Bet though if you kinda asked her 'bout what kind of questions -
T.J., don't you come talking to me 'bout no more cheating!' cried
Stacey angrily. ‘After all that trouble I got in the last time 'count of you. You got questions, you ask Mama yourself, but you
say one more word to me 'bout them tests, I'm gonna -
'All right, all right.' T.J. smiled in feigned apology. 'It's just that I'm gonna have to figure out somethin'.
'I got a solution,' I said, unable to resist just one bit of friendly advice.
After Uncle Hammer left on New Year's Day, Papa and I had gone into the forest, down the cow path, and to the misty
hollow where the trees lay fallen. For a while we stood looking again at the destruction, sitting on one of our fallen friends,
we talked in quiet, respectful tones, observing the soft mourning of the forest.
When I had explained the whole Strawberry business to Papa, he said slowly, 'You know the Bible says you're s'pose to
forgive these things.'
'Yessir,' I agreed, waiting.
'S'pose to turn the other cheek'
Papa rubbed his moustache and looked up at the trees standing like sentinels on the edge of the hollow, listening. 'But the way
I see it, the Bible didn't mean for you to be no fool. Now one day, maybe I can forgive John Andersen for what he done to
these trees, but I ain't gonna forget it. I figure forgiving is not letting something nag at you - rotting you out. Now if I hadn't
done what I done, then I couldn't've forgiven myself, and that's the truth of it.'
I nodded gravely and he looked down at me. 'You're a lot like me, Cassie girl, but you got yourself a bad temper like your
Uncle Hammer. That temper can get you in trouble.'
'Now this thing between you and Lillian Jean, most folks would think you should go around doing what she tell you ... and
maybe you should -
'Cassie, there'll be a whole lot of things you ain't gonna wanna do but you'll have to do in this life just so you can survive.
Now I don't like the idea of what Charlie Simms did to you no more than your Uncle Hammer, but I had to weigh the hurt of
what happened to you to what could've happened if I went after him. If I'd've gone after Charlie Simms and given him a good
thrashing like I felt like doing, the hurt to all of us would've been a whole lot more than the hurt you received, so I let it be. I
don't like letting it be, but I can live with that decision.
'But there are other things, Cassie, that if I'd let be, they'd eat away at me and destroy me in the end. And it's the same with
you, baby. There are things you can't back down on, things you gotta take a stand on. But it's up to you to decide what them
things are. You have to demand respect in this world, ain't nobody just gonna hand it to you. How you carry yourself, what
you stand for - that's how you gain respect. But, little one, ain't nobody's respect worth more than your own. You understand
Wow, there ain't no sense in going around being mad. You clear your head so you can think sensibly. Then I want you to
think real hard on whether or not Lillian Jean's worth taking a stand about, but keep in mind that Lillian Jean probably won't
be the last white person to treat you this way.' He turned toward me so that he looked me full in the face, and the seriousness
of his eyes startled me. He held my chin up with the wide flat of his hard hand. This here's an important decision, Cassie, very
important - I want you to understand that - but I think you can handle it. Now, you listen to me, and you listen good. This
thing. if you make the wrong decision and Charlie Simms gets involved, then I get involved and there'll be trouble.
'B-big trouble!' I whispered. 'Like the trees !'
'Don't know,' said Papa. 'But it could be bad.'
I pondered his words, then I promised, 'Mr. Simms ain't never gonna hear'bout it, Papa.'
Papa studied me. 'I'll count on that, Cassie girl. I'll count real hard on that.'
For the month of January I was Lillian Jean's slave and she thoroughly enjoyed it. She even took to waiting for me in the
morning with Jeremy so that I could carry her books. When friends of hers walked with us, she bragged about her little
colored friend and almost hugged herself with pleasure when I called her 'Miz' Lillian Jean. When we were alone, she
confided her secrets to me: the boy she had passionately loved for the past year and the things she had done to attract his
attention (with no success, I might add); the secrets of the girls she couldn't stand as well as those she could; and even a tidbit
or two about her elder brothers' romantic adventures. All I had to do to prime the gossip pump was smile nicely and whisper a
'Miz Lillian Jean' every now and then. I almost hated to see the source dry up.
At the end of examination day, I shot out of Miss Crocker's class and hurried into the yard. I was eager to get to the
crossroads to meet Lillian Jean; I had promised myself to first take care of the examination and then...
Little Man ! Claude ! Christopher-John ! Come on, y'all!' I cried. 'There's Stacey !' The four of us dashed across the yard
trailing Stacey and T.J. to the road. When we caught up with them, it was obvious that the jovial mask T.J. always wore had
been stripped away.
'She did it on purpose !' T.J. accused, a nasty scowl twisting his face.
'Man, you was cheating!' Stacey pointed out. 'What you 'spect for her to do !'
'She could've give me a break. Warn't nothin' but a couple bits of ole paper. Didn't need 'em nohow.
'Well, whatja have them for?'
'Ah, man, leave me be! All y'all Logans think y'all so doggone much with y'all's new coats and books and shiny new
Packards!' He swirled around, glaring down at Christopher-John, Little Man, and me. 'I'm sick of all y'all. Your mama and
your papa, too!' Then he turned and fled angrily up the road.
'T.J.! Hey, man, where you going!' Stacey yelled after him. T.J. did not answer. The road swelled into a small hill and he
disappeared on the other side of it. When we reached the crossroads and saw no sign of him on the southern road leading
home, Stacey asked Claude, 'Where he go?'
Claude looked shame-faced and rubbed one badly worn shoe against the other. 'Down to that ole store, I reckon.
Stacey sighed.'Come on then, we'd better get on home. He'll be all right by tomorrow.
'Y'all go on,' I said. 'I gotta wait for Lillian Jean.'
'I’ll catch up with ya,' I said before Stacey could lecture me. 'Here, take my books, will ya!' He looked at me as if he should
say something else, but deciding not to, he pushed the younger boys on and followed them.
When Lillian Jean appeared, I sighed thankfully that only Jeremy was with her; it could be today for sure. Jeremy, who
seemed to be as disappointed in me as Little Man, hurried on to catch Stacey. That was fine, too; I knew he would. I took
Lillian Jean's books, and as we sauntered down the road, I only half listened to her; I was sweeping the road, looking for the
deep wooded trail I had selected earlier in the week. When I saw it, I interrupted Lillian Jean apologetically. ''Scuse me, Miz
Lillian Jean, but I got a real nice surprise for you ... found it just the other day down in the woods.'
'For me!' questioned Lillian Jean, 'Ah, you is a sweet thing, Cassie. Where you say it is!'
'Come on. I'll show you.
I stepped into the dry gully and scrambled onto the bank. Lillian Jean hung back. 'It's all right,' I assured her, 'It ain't far. You
just gotta see it, Miz Lillian Jean.'
That did it. Grinning like a Cheshire cat, she crossed the gully and hopped onto the bank. Following me up the over- grown
trail into the deep forest, she asked, 'You sure this is the way, little Cassie!'
'Just a bit further ... up ahead there. Ah, here it is.' We entered a small dark clearing with hanging forest vines, totally hidden
from the road.
'Well! Where's the surprise !'
'Right here,' I said, smashing Lillian Jean's books on the ground.
'Why, what you do that for?' Lillian Jean asked, more startled than angry.
'I got tired of carrying 'em,' I said.
'This what you brought me all the way down here for! Well, you just best get untired and pick 'em up again.' Then, expecting
that her will would be done with no more than that from her, she turned to leave the glade.
'Make me.' I said quietly.
'What!' The shock on her face was almost comical.
'Said make me.'
Her face paled. Then, red with anger, she stepped daintily across the clearing and struck me hard across the face. For the
record, she had hit me first; I didn't plan on her hitting me again.
I flailed into her, tackling her with such force that we both fell. After the first shock of my actually laying hands on her, she
fought as best she could, but she was no match for me. T was calm and knew just where to strike. I punched her in the
stomach and buttocks, and twisted her hair, but not once did I touch her face; she, expending her energy in angry, nasty
name-calling, clawed at mine, managing to scratch twice. She tried to pull my hair but couldn't, for I had purposely asked Big
Ma to braid it into flat braids against my head.
When I had pinned Lillian Jean securely beneath me, I yanked unmercifully on her long, loose hair and demanded an apology
for all the names she had called me, and for the incident in Strawberry. At first she tried to be cute - 'Ain't gonna 'pologize to
no nigger I' she sassed,
'You wanna be bald, girl?'
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested