When we reached the house we climbed the long, sloping lawn to the porch and went into Mama and Papa's room, which also
served as the living area. Mama offered Mr. Morrison Grandpa Logan's chair, a cushioned oak rocker skillfully crafted by
Grandpa himself; but Mr. Morrison did not sit down immediately. Instead, he stood gazing at the room.
It was a warm, comfortable room of doors and wood and pictures. From it a person could reach the front or the side porch, the
kitchen, and the two other bedrooms. Its walls were made of smooth oak, and on them hung gigantic photographs of Grandpa
and Big Ma. Papa and Uncle Hammer when they were boys, Papa's two eldest brothers, who were now dead, and pictures of
Mama's family. The furniture, a mixture of Logan-crafted walnut and oak, included a walnut bed whose ornate headboard
rose halfway up the wall toward the high ceiling, a grand chiffonier with a floor- length mirror, a large rolltop desk which had
once been Grandpa's but now belonged to Mama, and the four oak chairs, two of them rockers, which Grandpa had made for
Big Ma as a wedding present.
Mr. Morrison nodded when he had t'aken it all in, as if he approved, then sat across from Papa in front of the unlit fireplace.
The boys and I pulled up straight-backed chairs near Papa as Big Ma asked, ‘How long you gonna be home, son !'
Papa looked across at her. Till Sunday evening,' he said quietly.
'Sunday!' Mama exclaimed. ‘Why, today's already Saturday,
'I know, baby,' Papa said, taking her hand, ‘but I gotta get that night train out of Vicksburg so I can get back to work by
Christopher-John, Little Man, and I groaned loudly, and Papa turned to us. ‘Papa, can't you stay no longer than that! Last time
you come home, you stayed a week,' I said.
Papa gently pulled one of my pigtails. ‘Sorry, Cassie girl, but I stay any longer, I might lose my job.
'But, Papa –
'Listen, all of y'all,' he said, looking from me to the boys to Mama and Big Ma, 'I come home special so I could bring Mr.
Morrison. He's gonna stay with us awhile.'
If Mama and Big Ma were surprised by Papa's words. they did not show it, but the boys and I looked with wide eyes at each
other, then at the giant.
'Mr. Morrison lost his job on the railroad a while back.' Papa continued. 'and he ain't been able to find anything else. When I
asked him if he wanted to come work here as a hired hand, he said he would. I told him we couldn't afford much - food and
shelter and a few dollars in cash when I come home in the winter.'
Mama turned to Mr. Morrison, studied him for a moment, and said, 'Welcome to our home, Mr. Morrison.'
'Miz Logan.' said Mr. Morrison in a deep, quiet voice like the roll of low thunder. ‘I think you oughta know I got fired off my
job. Got in a fight with some men ... beat'em up pretty bad.'
Mama stared into Mr. Morrison's deep eyes.' Whose fault was it !'
Mr. Morrison stared back. 'I'd say theirs.
'Did the other men get fired !'
'No. ma'am,' answered Mr. Morrison. 'They was white.' Mama nodded and stood. 'Thank you for telling me. Mr. Morrison.
You're lucky no worse happened and we're glad to have you here .,.especially now.' Then she turned and went into the
kitchen with Big Ma to prepare supper, leaving the boys and me to wonder about her last words.
'Stacey, what you think!' I asked as we milked the cows in the evening. ‘How come Papa come home and brung Mr.
Stacey shrugged. ‘Like he said, I guess.'
I thought on that a moment, 'Papa ain't never brung nobody here before.'
Stacey did not reply,
'You think .,,Stacey, you think it's cause of them burnings T.J. was talking 'bout !'
'Burnings!' piped Little Man, who had interrupted his feeding of the chickens to visit with Lady, our golden mare. 'What's
burnings gotta do with anything!'
'That happened way over by Smellings Creek,' said Stacey slowly, ignoring Little Man. 'Papa got no need to think ... His
voice trailed off and he stopped milking.
'Think what !' I asked.
'Nothin'.' he muttered, turning back to the cow.'Don't worry 'bout it.'
I glared at him. 'I ain't worrying. I just wanna know, that's all, and I betcha anything Mr. Morrison come here to do more'n
work. Sure wish I knew for sure.
Stacey made no reply, but Christopher-John, his pudgy hands filled with dried corn for the chickens and his lower lip
quivering, said,'I –I know what I wish. I wish P-Papa didn't never have to go 'way no more. I wish he could just stay ... and
At church the next morning, Mrs.. Silas Lanier leaned across me and whispered to Big Ma, 'John Henry Berry died last night.'
When the announcement was made to the congregation, the deacons prayed for the soul of John Henry Berry and the
recovery of his brother, Beacon, and his uncle, Mr. Samuel Berry. But after church, when some of the members stopped by
the house to visit, angry hopeless words were spoken.
The way I hears it,' said Mr. Lanier, ‘they been after John Henry ever since he come back from the war and settled on his
daddy's place up by Smellings Creek. Had a nice little place up there too, and was doing pretty well. Left a wife and six
Big Ma shook her head. ‘Just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The boys and I sat at our study table pretending not to listen, but listening still.
'Henrietta Toggins,' said Mrs. Lanier, 'you know, Clara Davis's sister that live up there in Strawberry! Well, she's kin to the
Berrys and she was with John Henry and Beacon when the trouble got started. They was gonna drop her off at home - you
know John Henry had him one of them old Model-T pickups - but they needed some gas so they stopped by that fillin' station
up there in Strawberry. They was waitin' there for they gas when some white men come up messin' with them - been drinkin',
you know. And Henrietta heard 'em say, "That's the nigger Sallie Ann said was flirtin with her." And when she heard that, she
said to John Henry, "Let's get on outa here." He wanted to wait for the gas, but she made him and Beacon get in that car, and
them men jus' watched them drive off and didn't mess with 'em right then.
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'John Henry, he took her on home then headed back for his own place, but evidently them men caught up with him and
Beacon again and starts rammin' the back of they car - least that's what Beacon and John Henry told they aunt and uncle when
they seed 'em. John Henry knowed he was runnin' outa gas and he was 'fraid he couldn't make it to his own place, so he
stopped at his uncle's, But them men dragged him and Beacon both outa that house, and when old man Berry tried to stop it,
they lit him afire with them boys.'
'It's she' a shame, all right,' said T.J.'s father, a frail, sickly man with a hacking cough. 'These folks gettin' so bad in here.
Heard tell they lynched a boy a few days ago at Crosston.'
'And ain't a thing gonna be done 'bout it,' said Mr. Lanier. That's what's so terrible ! When Henrietta went to the sheriff and
told him what she'd seed, he called her a liar and sent her on home. Now I hear tells that some of them men that done it been
'round braggin' 'bout it, Sayin' they'd do it again if some uppity nigger get out of line.'
Mrs. Avery asked, 'Lord have mercy I' Papa sat very quietly while the Laniers and the Averys talked, studying them with
serious eyes. Finally, he took the pipe from his mouth and made a statement that seemed to the boys and me to be totally
disconnected with the conversation. 'In this family, we don't shop at the Wallace store.'
The room became silent. The boys and I stared at the adults wondering why, The Laniers and the Averys looked uneasily
about them and when the silence was broken, the subject had changed to the sermon of the day,
After the Laniers and the Averys had left. Papa called us to him. 'Your mama tells me that a lot of the older children been
going up to that Wallace store after school to dance and buy their bootleg liquor and smoke cigarettes. Now she said she's
already told y'all this, but I'm gonna tell y'all again, so listen good. We don't want y'all going to that place. Children going
there are gonna get themselves in a whole lot of trouble one day. There's drinking up there and I don't like it - and I don't like
them Wallaces either. If I ever find out y'all been up there, for any reason, I'm gonna wear y'all out. Y'all hear me !'
'Yessir, Papa.' piped Christopher-John readily. 'I ain't never going up there.
The rest of us agreed: Papa always meant what he said - and he swung a mean switch.
By the end of October the rain had come, falling heavily upon the six-inch layer of dust which had had its own way for more
than two months. At first the rain had merely splotched the dust, which seemed to be rejoicing in its own resiliency and
laughing at the heavy drops thudding against it: but eventually the dust was forced to surrender to the mastery of the rain and
it churned into a fine red mud that oozed between our toes and slopped against our ankles as we marched miserably to and
To shield us from the rain, Mama issued us dried calf- skins which we flung over our heads and shoulders like stiff cloaks.
We were not very fond of the skins, for once they were wet they emitted a musty odor which seeped into our clothing and
clung to our skins. We preferred to do with- out them; unfortunately, Mama cared very little about what we preferred.
Since we usually left for school after Mama, we solved this problem by dutifully cloaking ourselves with the skins before
leaving home. As soon as we were beyond Big Ma's eagle eyes, we threw off the cloaks and depended upon the overhanging
limbs of the forest trees to keep us dry. Once at school, we donned the cloaks again and marched into our respective
classrooms properly attired.
If we had been faced only with the prospect of the rain soaking through our clothing each morning and evening, we could
have more easily endured the journey between home and school. But as it was, we also had to worry about the Jefferson
Davis school bus zooming frolic behind and splashing us with the murky waters of the road. Knowing that the bus driver
liked to entertain his passengers by sending us slipping along the road to the almost inaccessible forest banks washed to a
smooth baldness by the constant rains, we continuously looked over our shoulders when we were between the two crossroads
so that we could reach the bank before the bus was upon us. But sometimes the rain pounded so heavily that it was all we
could do to stay upright, and we did not look back as often nor listen as carefully as we should; we consequently found
ourselves comical objects to cruel eyes that gave no thought to our misery.
No one was more angered by this humiliation than Little Man. Although he had asked Mama after the first day of school why
Jefferson Davis had two buses and Great Faith had none, he had never been totally satisfied by her answer. She had explained
to him, as she had explained to Christopher-John the year before and to me two years before that, that the county did not
provide buses for its black students. In fact, she said, the county provided very little and much of the money which supported
the black schools came from the black churches. Great Faith Church just could not afford a bus, so therefore we had to walk.
This information cut deeply into Little Man's brain, and each day when he found his clean clothes splashed red by the school
bus, he became more and more embittered until finally one day he stomped angrily into the kitchen and exploded. ‘They done
it again, Big Ma! Just look at my clothes!'
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Big Ma clucked her tongue as she surveyed us.' Well, go on and get out of'em, honey, and wash 'em out. All of y'all, get out
of them clothes and dry yo'selves.' she said, turning back to the huge iron-bellied stove to stir her stew.
'But, Big Ma, it ain't fair!' wailed Little Man. 'It just ain't fair.
Stacey and Christopher-John left to change into their work clothes, but Little Man sat on the side bench looking totally
dejected as he gazed at his pale-blue pants crusted with mud from the knees down. Although each night Big Ma prepared a
pot of hot soapy water for him to wash out his clothing, each day he arrived home looking as if his pants had not been washed
in more than a month.
Big Ma was not one for coddling any of us, but now she turned from the stove and, wiping her hands on her long white apron,
sat down on the bench and put her arm around Little Man. 'Now, look here, baby, it ain't the end of the world. Lord. child.
don't you know one day the sun'll shine again and you won't get muddy no more !'
'But. Big Ma.' Little Man protested. 'ifn that ole bus driver would slow down, I wouldn't get muddy!' Then he frowned deeply
and added, 'Or ifn we had a bus like theirs.'
'Well. he don't and you don't,' Big Ma said, getting up. 'So ain't no use frettin' 'bout it. One day you'll have a plenty of clothes
and maybe even a car of yo' own to ride 'round in, so don't you pay no mind to them ignorant white folks. You jus' keep on
studyin' and get yo'self a good education and you'll be all right. Now. go on and wash out yo' clothes and hang 'em by the fire
so's I can iron 'em 'fore I go to bed.'
Turning. she spied me. 'Cassie, what you want, girl! Go change into yo' pants and hurry on back here so's you can help me get
this supper on the table time yo' mama get hom'e.
That night when I was snug in the deep feathery bed beside Big Ma, the tat-tat of the rain against the tin roof changed to a
deafening roar that sounded as if thousands of giant rocks were being hurled against the earth. By morning the heavy rain had
become a drizzle, but the earth was badly sodden from the night's downpour. High rivers of muddy water flowed in the deep
gullies, and wide lakes shimmered on the roads.
As we set out for school the whiteness of the sun at- tempted to penetrate the storm clouds, but by the time we had turned
north toward the second crossing it had given up, slinking meekly behind the blackening clouds. Soon the thunder rolled
across the sky, and the rain fell like hail upon our bent heads.
'Ah, shoot! I sure am gettin' tired of this mess,' complained T.J.
But no one else said a word. We were listening for the bus. Although we had left home earlier than usual to cover the
northern road before the bus came, we were not overly confident that we would miss it, for we had tried this strategy before.
Sometimes it worked; most times it didn't, It was as if the bus were a living thing, plaguing and defeating us at every turn. We
could not outwit it.
We plodded along feeling the cold mud against our feet, walking faster and faster to reach the crossroads. Then Christopher-
John stopped. 'Hey, y'all, I think I hear it,' he warned.
We looked around, but saw nothing.
'Ain't nothin' yet,' I said.
We walked on.
'Wait a minute,' said Christopher-John, stopping a second time. ‘There it is again.'
We turned but still there was nothing.
'Why don't you clean out your ears!' T.J. exclaimed.
'Wait,' said Stacey, 'I think I hear it too.' We hastened up the road to where the gully was narrower and we could easily swing
up the bank into the forest.
Soon the purr of a motor came closer and Mr. Granger's sleek silver Packard eased into view. It was a grand car with chrome
shining even in the rain, and the only one like it in the county, so it was said. We groaned. 'Jus' ole Harlan,' said T,J.
flippantly as the expensive car rounded a curve and disappeared, then he and Claude started down the bank.
Stacey stopped them. ‘Long as we're already up here, why don't we wait awhile.' he suggested. ‘The bus oughta be here soon
and it'll be harder to get up on the bank further down the road.
'Ah, man, that bus ain't comin' for a while yet,' said T.J. 'We left early this mornin', remember !'
Stacey looked to the south, thinking. Little Man, Christopher-John and I waited for his decision.
'Come on, man.' T.J. persuaded. ‘Why stay up here waitin' for that devilish bus when we could be at school outa this mess !'
T.J. and Claude jumped from the bank. Then Stacey, frowning as if he were doing this against his better judgment, jumped
down too. Little Man, Christopher-John, and I followed,
Five minutes later we were skidding like frightened puppies toward the bank again as the bus accelerated and barreled down
the narrow rain-soaked road; but there was no place to which we could run. for Stacey had been right. Here the gullies were
too wide, filled almost to overflowing, and there were no briars or bushes by which we could swing up onto the bank.
Finally, when the bus was less than fifty feet behind us, it veered dangerously close to the right edge of the road where we
were running, forcing us to attempt the jump to the bank; but all of us fell short and landed in the slime of the gully.
Little Man, chest-deep in water, scooped up a handful of mud and in an uncontrollable rage scrambled up to the road and ran
after the retreating bus. As moronic rolls of laughter and cries of 'Nigger! Nigger ! Mud eater !' wafted from the open
windows, Little Man threw his mudball, missing the wheels by several feet. Then, totally dismayed by what had happened. he
buried his face in his hands and cried.
T.J. climbed from the gully grinning at Little Man, but Stacey, his face burning red beneath his dark skin, glared so fiercely at
T.J. that he fell back. 'Just one word outa you, T.J.,' he said tightly. 'Just one word.
Christopher-John and I looked at each other. We had never seen Stacey look like this. and neither had T.J.
'Hey, man, I ain't said nothin' ! I'm jus' as burnt as you are.
Stacey glowered at T.J. a moment longer, then walked swiftly to Little Man and put his long arm around his shoulders, saying
softly, 'Come on, Man. It ain't gonna happen no more, least not for a long while. I promise you that.'
Again, Christopher-John and I looked questioningly at each other, wondering how Stacey could make such a rash promise.
Then, shrugging, we hurried after him,
When Jeremy Simms spied us from his high perch on the forest path, he ran hastily down and joined us.
'Hey,' he said, his face lighting into a friendly grin, But no one spoke to him.
The smile faded and, noticing our mud-covered clothing, he asked, 'Hey, St-Stacey, wh-what happened!'
Stacey turned, stared into his blue eyes and said coldly, 'Why don't you leave us alone! How come you-always hanging
‘round us anyway I'
Jeremy grew even more pale. 'C-cause I just likes y'all,' he stammered. Then he whispered. 'W-was it the bus again!'
No one answered him and he said no more. When we reached the crossroads, he looked hopefully at us as if we might relent
and say good-bye. But we did not relent and as I glanced back at him standing alone in the middle of the crossing, he looked
as if the world itself was slung around his neck. It was only then that I realized that Jeremy never rode the bus, no matter how
bad the weather.
As we crossed the school lawn, Stacey beckoned Christopher-John. Little Man, and me aside. 'Look,' he whispered, 'meet me
at the tool shed right at noon.'
'Why!' we asked.
He eyed us conspiratorially. 'I’ll show y'all how we're gonna stop that bus from splashing us.'
'How !' asked Little Man, eager for revenge.
'Don't have time to explain now. Just meet me. And be on time. It's gonna take us all lunch hour.
'Y-you mean we ain't gonna eat no lunch !' Christopher- John cried in dismay.
'You can miss lunch for one day,' said Stacey, moving away. But Christopher-john looked sourly after him as if he greatly
questioned the wisdom of a plan so drastic that it could exclude lunch.
'You gonna tell T.J. and Claude!' I asked.
Stacey shook his head. 'T.J.'s my best friend. but he's got no stomach for this kinda thing. He talks too much, and we couldn't
include Claude without T.J,'
'Good,' said Little Man.
At noon, we met as planned and ducked into the unlocked tool shed where all the church and school garden tools were kept.
Stacey studied the tools available while the rest of us watched. Then, grabbing the only shovels, he handed one to me, holding
on to the other himself, and directed Little Man and Christopher-John to each take two buckets.
Stealthily emerging from the tool shed into the drizzle, we eased along the forest edge behind the class buildings to avoid
being seen. Once on the road, Stacey began to run. 'Come on. hurry,' he ordered. 'We ain't got much time.'
'Where we going!' asked Christopher-John, still not quite adjusted to the prospect of missing lunch.
'Up to where that bus forced us off the road. Be careful now,' he said to Christopher-John, already puffing to keep up.
When we reached the place where we had fallen into the gully, Stacey halted. ‘All right,' he said, ‘start digging. Without
another word, he put his bare foot upon the top edge of the shovel and sank it deep into the soft road. 'Come on, come on,' he
ordered, glancing up at Christopher- John, Little Man and me, who were wondering whether he had finally gone mad.
'Cassie, you start digging over there on that side of the road right across from me. That's right, don't get to~· near the edge. It's
gotta look like it's been washed out. Christopher-John, you and Little Man start scooping out mud from the middle of the
road. Quick now,' he said, still digging as we began to carry out his commands. ‘We only got 'bout thirty minutes so's we can
get back to school on time.'
We asked no more questions. While Stacey and I shoveled ragged holes almost a yard wide and a foot deep toward each
other, dumping the excess mud into the water-filled gullies, Little Man and Christopher-John scooped bucketfuls of the red
earth from the road's center. And for once in his life, Little Man was happily oblivious to the mud spattering upon him.
When Stacey's and my holes merged into one big hole with Little Man's and Christopher-John's. Stacey and I threw down our
shovels and grabbed the extra buckets. Then the four of us ran back and forth to the gullies, hastily filling the buckets with the
murky water and dumping it into the hole,
Now understanding Stacey's plan. we worked wordlessly until the water lay at the same level as the road. Then Stacey waded
into the gully water and pulled himself up onto the forest bank. Finding three rocks, he stacked them to identify the spot.
'It might look different this after-noon.' he explained, jumping down again.
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