'Miz Logan,' he said, ‘you know I feels the same way you do 'bout them low-down Wallaces, but it ain't easy to jus' stop
shoppin' there. They overcharges me and I has to pay them high interest, but I gets credit there 'cause Mr. Montier signs for
me. Now you know most folks 'round here sharecroppin' on Montier, Granger, or Harrison land and most of them jus' 'bout
got to shop at that Wallace store or up at the mercantile in Strawberry, which is jus 'bout as bad. Can't go no place else.'
Mama nodded solemnly, showing she understood, then she said,'For the past year now, our family's been shopping down at
Vicksburg. There are a dumber of stores down there and we've found several that treat us well.'
'Vicksburg!' Mr. Turner echoed, shaking his head. ‘Lord, Miz Logan, you ain't expectin' me to go all the way to Vicksburg!
That's an overnight journey in a wagon down there and back.'
Mama thought on that a moment. ‘What if someone would be willing to make the trip for you! Go all the way to Vicksburg
and bring back what you need!'
'Won't do no good,' retorted Mr. Turner. 'I got no cash money. Mr. Montier signs for me up at that Wallace store so's I can get
my tools, my mule, my seed, my fertilizer, my food, and what few clothes 1 needs to keep my children from runnin' plumb
naked. When cotton-pickin' time comes, he sells my cotton, takes half of it, pays my debt up at that store and my interest for
they credit, then charges me ten to fifteen percent more as "risk" money for signin' for me in the first place. This year I earned
me near two hundred dollars after Mr. Montier took his half of the crop money, but I ain't seen a penny of it. In fact, if I
manages to come out even without owin' that man nothin', I figures I've had a good year. Now, who way down in Vicksburg
gonna give a man like me credit !'
Mama was very quiet and did not answer.
'I she' sorry, Miz Logan. I'm gonna keep my younguns from up at that store, but I gets to live. Y'all got it better'n most the
folks 'round here 'cause y'all gets your own place and y'all ain't gotta cowtail to a lot of this stuff. But you gotta understand it
ain't easy for sharecroppin' folks to do what you askin'.
'Mr. Turner,' Mama said in a whisper, 'what if someone backed your signature! Would you shop up in Vicksburg then !'
Mr. Turner looked at Mama strangely. 'Now, who'd sign for me !'
'If someone would, would you do it !'
Mr. Turner gazed into the fire, burning to a low ash, then got up and put another log on it, taking his time as he watched the
fire shoot upward and suck in the log. Without turning around he said, 'When I was a wee little boy, I got burnt real bad. It
healed over but I ain't never forgot the pain of it... It's an awful way to die.' Then, turning, he faced Mama .'Miz Logan, you
find someone to sign my credit, and I’ll consider it deeply.
After we left the Turners', Stacey asked, 'Mama, who you gonna get to sign!' But Mama, her brow furrowed, did not reply. I
started to repeat the question, but Stacey shook his head and I settled back wondering, then fell asleep.
The blue-black shine that had so nicely encircled T.J.'s left eye for over a week had almost completely faded by the morning
T.J. hopped into the back of the wagon beside Stacey and snuggled in a corner not occupied by the butter, milk, and eggs Big
Ma was taking to sell at the market in Strawberry. I sat up front beside Big Ma, still sandy-eyed and not believing that I was
The second Saturday of every month was market day in Strawberry, and for as far back as I could remember the boys and I
had been begging Big Ma to take us to it. Stacey had actually gone once, but Christopher-John, Little Man, and I had always
been flatly denied the experience. We had, in fact, been denied so often that our pestering now occurred more out of habit
than from any real belief that we would be allowed to go. But this morning, while the world lay black, Big Ma called: 'Cassie,
get up, child, if you gonna go to town with me, and be quiet 'bout it. You wake up Christopher-John or Little Man and I’ll
leave you here. I don't want them cryin' all over the place 'cause they can't go.'
As Jack swept the wagon into the gray road, Big Ma pulled tightly on the reins and grumbled, ‘Hold on! You, Jack, hold on !
I ain't got no time to be putting up with both you and T.J.'s foolishness.'
'T.J. !' Stacey and I exclaimed together. ‘He going!'
Big Ma didn't answer immediately; she was occupied in a test of wills with Jack. When hers had prevailed and Jack had
settled into a moderate trot, she replied moodily, 'Mr. Avery come by after y'all was asleep last night wanting T.J. to go to
Strawberry to do some shopping for a few things he couldn't get at the Wallace store. Lord, that's all I need with all the
trouble about is for that child to talk me to death for twenty-two miles.'
Big Ma didn't need to say any more and she didn't. T.J. was far from her favorite person and it was quite obvious that Stacey
and I owed our good fortune entirely to T.J.'s obnoxious personality.
T.J., however, was surprisingly subdued when he settled into the wagon; I suppose that at three-thirty in the morning even
T.J.'s mouth was tired. But by dawn, when the December sun was creeping warily upward shooting pale streams of buff-
colored light through the forest, he was fully awake and chattering like a cockatoo. His endless talk made me wish that he had
not managed to wheedle his way so speedily back into Stacey's good graces, but Big Ma, her face furrowed in distant
thoughts, did not hush him. He talked the rest of the way into Strawberry, announcing as we arrived, 'Well, children, open
your eyes and take in Strawberry, Mississippi!'
'Is this it!' I cried, a gutting disappointment enveloping me as we entered the town. Strawberry was nothing like the tough,
sprawling bigness I had envisioned. It was instead a sad, red place. As far as I could see, the only things modern about it were
a paved road which cut through its center and fled northward, away from it, and a spindly row of electrical lines. Lining the
road were strips of red dirt splotched with patches of brown grass and drying mud puddles, and beyond the dirt and the mud
puddles, gloomy store buildings set behind raised wooden sidewalks and sagging verandas.
'Shoot!' I grumbled. 'It sure ain't nothing to shout about.' 'Hush up, Cassie,' Big Ma said. 'You too, T.J. Y'all in town now and
I expects y'all to act like it. In another hour this place'll be teeming up with folks from all over the county and ! don't want no
As the stores gave way to houses still sleeping, we turned onto a dirt road which led past more shops and beyond to a wide
field dotted with wooden stalls. Near the field entrance several farm wagons and pickups were already parked, but Big Ma
drove to the other side of the field where only two wagons were stationed. Climbing from the wagon, she said, 'Don't seem
like too many folks ahead of us. In the summer, I'd've had to come on Friday and spend the night to get a spot like this.' She
headed toward the back of the wagon. 'Stacey, you and T.J. stay up there a minute and push them milk cans over here so's I
can reach 'em.'
'Big Ma.' I said, following her, 'all them folks up there selling milk and eggs too !'
'Not all, I reckon. Some of 'em gets meats and vegetables, quilts and sewing and such. But I guess a good piece of 'em sellin'
the same as us.'
I studied the wagons parked at the field entrance. then exclaimed, 'Well, what the devil we doing way back here then ! Can't
nobody see us.
'You watch your mouth, girl,' warned Big Ma. Then, arranging the milk cans and baskets of eggs near the wagon's edge, she
softened her voice and promised, 'We'll do all right. I got me some regular customers and they'll check to see if I'm here 'fore
'Not back here they won't,' I grumbled. Maybe Big Ma knew what she was doing, but it made absolutely no sense to me to be
so far from the entrance. Most of the other farmers seemed to have the right idea, and I couldn't help ii but try to make her see
the business sense in moving the wagon forward. 'Why don't we move our wagon up there with them other wagons, Big Ma!
There's plenty of room, and we could sell more.'
Them's white folks' wagons, Cassie,' Big Ma said gruffly, as if that explained everything. 'Now, hush up and help me get this
'Shoot.' I mumbled, taking one of the buckets from Stacey, 'by the time a body walk way back here, they'll have bunions on
their soles and corns on their toes.'
By noon the crowd which had covered the field during the early morning had thinned noticeably, and wagons and trucks
began to pack up and head for town. After we had eaten our cold lunch of oil sausages and combread washed down with
clabber milk, we did the same.
On the main street of Strawberry once more, Big Ma parked the wagon in front of a building where four shingles hung from a
rusted post. One of the shingles read: 'Wade W. Jamison, Attorney-at-Law.
'Mr. Jamison live here !' I cried, scrambling down. 'I wanna see him.'
'He don't live here,' said Big Ma, opening her large purse. She pulled out a long manila envelope, checked inside, then
gingerly put it back again. 'This here's his office and I got some business with him. You get on back in the wagon. Big Ma
climbed down, but I didn't get back in.'Can't I just go up and say "Hey" !' I persisted.
'I'm gonna "Hey" you,' Big Ma said, 'you keep pesterin' me.' She glanced over at Stacey and T.J.'Y'all wait here for me and
soon's I get back. we'll go do that shoppin' so's we can get on home 'fore it gets dark.'
When she had gone inside, T.J. said, 'What you wanna see that ole white man for anyway, Cassie! What you and him got to
'I just wanted to see him, that's all,' I said, going to the raised sidewalk and taking a seat. I liked Mr. Jamison and I didn't mind
admitting it. He came to see us several times a year, mainly on business, and although the boys and I were somewhat shy of
him, we were always glad to see him.
He was the only white man I had ever heard address Mama and Big Ma as 'Missus,' and I liked him for it. Besides that, in his
way he was like Papa. Ask him a question and he would give it to you straight with none of this pussyfooting- around
business. I liked that.
After several minutes of watching farmers in faded over- alls and their women in hour-sack-cut dresses promenading under
the verandas, 'T.J. said, 'Why don't we go on down to the mercantile and look around!'
Stacey hesitated. 'I don't know. I think Big Ma wanted to go with us.'
'Ah, shoot, man, we'll be doin' her a favor. We go on down to the mercantile now and order up our stuff, we'll save her some
time so when she come from seein' that lawyer, we can jus' go on home. Besides, I got somethin' to show ya.'
Stacey pondered the suggestion for a long moment. 'Well, I guess it'll be all right.' he said finally.
'Big Ma said stay here I' I objected, hoping that Mr. Jamison would come out with Big Ma.
'Stay here then,' Stacey called over his shoulder as he crossed the street with T.J.
I dashed after them. I wasn't about to stay on that side walk by myself.
The Barnett Mercantile had everything. Its shelves, counters, and floor space boasted items from ladies' ribbons to burlap
bags of seeds; from babies' bottles to brand-new potbellied stoves. T.J., who had been to the store several times before, wove
his way among the farmers and led us to a counter at the far corner of the room. The counter had a glass top, and beneath the
glass were handguns artfully displayed on a bolt of red velvet.
'Jus' look at it,' T.J. said dreamily, 'Ain't she somethin't'
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'What!' I said.
'That pearl-handled one. Stacey, man, you ever seen a gun like that before in your whole life! I'd sell my life for that gun. One
of these days I'm gonna have it, too.'
'I reckon I ain't,' said Stacey politely. 'It's a nice-looking gun all right.'
I stared down at the gun. A price tag of $5·95 sfa'ed back at me. 'Thirty-five dollars and ninety-five cents!' I almost screamed.
'Just for an ole gun! What the devil you gonna use it for! Can't hunt with it.'
T.J. looked at me with disgust. 'Ain't s'pose to hunt with it. It's for protection.'
'Protection of what!' I asked, thinking of Papa's sturdy shotgun that hung over his and Mama's bed, and the sleek Winchester
rifle which Big Ma kept locked in the trunk beneath our own bed. That thing couldn't hardly kill a rattlesnake.'
There's other things a body needs protectin' from more than a rattlesnake,' he said haughtily. 'I get me that gun and ain't
nobody gonna mess with me. I wouldn't need no- body.
Stacey backed away from the counter. He seemed nervous being in the store. 'We better get those things you need and get on
outa here 'fore Big Ma comes looking for us.
'Ah, man, there's plenty of time,' said T.J., looking longingly at the gun. 'Sure wish I could jus' hold it, jus' once.'
'Come on, T.J.,' ordered Stacey, 'or me and Cassie's gonna go on back outside.'
'Oh, all right.' T.J. turned reluctantly away and went to a counter where a man was measuring nails onto a scale. We stood
patiently waiting behind the people in front of us and when our turn came, T.J. handed his list to the man. 'Mr. Barnett, sir,' he
said,'I got me this here list of things my mamma want.'
The storekeeper studied the list and without looking up asked, 'You one of Mr. Granger's people !'
'Yessir,' answered T.J.
Mr. Barnett walked to another counter and began filling the order, but before he finished a white woman called, 'Mr. Barnett,
you waiting on anybody just now?'
Mr. Barnett turned around. 'Just them,' he said, indicating us with a wave of his hand. 'What can I do for you. Miz Emmaline!'
The woman handed him a list twice as long as T.J.'s and the storekeeper, without a word of apology to us, proceeded to fill it.
'What's he doing !' I objected.
'Hush, Cassie,' said Stacey, looking very embarrassed and uncomfortable. T.J.'s face was totally bland, as if nothing at all had
When the woman's order was finally filled, Mr. Barnett again picked up T.J.'s list, but before he had gotten the next item his
wife called, 'Jim Lee, these folks needing help over here and I got my hands full.' And as if we were not even there, he
'Where's hi going!' I cried.
'He'll be back,' said T.J., wandering away.
After waiting several minutes for his return, Stacey said 'Come on, Cassie, let's get out of here.' He started toward the door
and I followed. But as we passed one of the counters, I spied Mr. Barnett wrapping an order of pork chops for a white girl.
Adults were one thing: I could almost under- stand that. They ruled things and there was nothing that could be done about
them. But some kid who was no bigger than me was something else again. Certainly Mr. Barnett had simply forgotten about
T.J.'s order. I decided to remind him and, without saying anything to Stacey, I turned around and marched over to Mr.
'Uh ...'scuse me, Mr. Barnett,' I said as politely as I could, waiting a moment for him to look up from his wrapping. 'I think
you forgot, but you was waiting on us 'fore you was waiting on this girl here, and we been waiting a good while now for you
to get back.'
The girl gazed at me strangely, but Mr. Barnett did not look up. I assumed that he had not heard me. I was near the end of the
counter so I merely went to the other side of it and tugged on his shirt sleeve to get his attention.
He recoiled as if I had struck him.
'Y-you was helping us,' I said, backing to the front of the counter again.
'Well, you just get your little black self back over there and wait some more,' he said in a low, tight voice.
I was hot. I had been as nice as I could be to him and here he was talking like this. 'We been waiting on you for near an hour,'
I hissed, 'while you 'round here waiting on everybody else. And it ain't fair. You got no right -
'Whose little nigger is this !' bellowed Mr. Barnett. Everybody in the store turned and stared at me. 'I ain't nobody's little
nigger!' I screamed, angry and humiliated. 'And you ought not be waiting on everybody 'fore you wait on us.' 'Hush up, child,
hush up,' someone whispered behind me. I looked around. A woman who had occupied the wagon next to ours at the market
looked down upon me. Mr. Barnett, his face red and eyes bulging, immediately pounced on her.
This gal yourn, Hazel !'
'No, suh,' answered the woman meekly, stepping hastily away to show she had nothing to do with me. As I watched her turn
her back on me, Stacey emerged and took my hand.
'Come on, Cassie, let's get out of here.'
'Stacey!' I exclaimed, relieved to see him by my side. Tell him ! You know he ain't fair making us wait -
'She your sister, boy!' Mr. Barnett spat across the counter.
Stacey bit his lower lip and gazed into Mr. Barnett's eyes. Yessir.
'Then you get her out of here,' he said with hateful force. 'And make sure she don't come back till yo' mammy teach her what
'I already know what I am!' I retaliated. 'But I betcha you don't know what you are ! And I could sure tell you, too, you ole -
Stacey jerked me forward, crushing my hand in the effort, and whispered angrily, 'Shut up, Cassie!' His dark eyes flashed
malevolently as he pushed me in front of him through the crowd.
As soon as we were outside, I whipped my hand from his. 'What's the matter with you! You know he was wrong !' 2Stacey
swallowed to flush his anger, then said gruffly, 'I know it and you know it, but he don't know it, and that's where the trouble
is. Now come on 'fore you get us into a real mess. I'm going up to Mr. Jamison's to see what's keeping Big Ma.' 'What 'bout
T.J.!' I called as he stepped into the street.
Stacey laughed wryly .'Don't worry 'bout T.J. He knows exactly how to act.' He crossed the street sullenly then, his hands
jammed in his pockets.
I watched him go, but did not follow. Instead, I ambled along the sidewalk trying to understand why Mr. Barnett had acted
the way he had. More than once I stopped and gazed over my shoulder at the mercantile. I had a good mind to go back in and
find out what had made Mr. Barnett so mad. I actually turned once and headed toward the store, then remembering what Mr.
Barnett had said about my returning, I swung back around, kicking at the sidewalk, my head bowed.
It was then that I bumped into Lillian Jean Simms.
'Why don't you look where you're going?' she asked huffily. Jeremy and her two younger brothers were with her. 'Hey,
Cassie,' said Jeremy,
'Hey, Jeremy,' I said solemnly, keeping my eyes on Lillian Jean.
'Well. apologize,' she ordered.
'What?' 'You bumped into me. Now you apologize.'
I did not feel like messing with Lillian Jean. I had other things on my mind. 'Okay, I said, starting past,' I'm sorry.
Lillian Jean sidestepped in front of me. 'That ain't enough. Get down in the road.'
I looked up at her. 'You crazy?'
'You can't watch where you going, get in the road. May- be that way you won't be bumping into decent white folks with your
little nasty self.
This second insult of the day was almost more than I could bear. Only the thought of Big Ma up in Mr. Jamison's office saved
Lillian lean's lip.'I ain't nasty, I said, properly holding my temper in check, 'and if you're so afraid of get- ting bumped, walk
down there yourself.
I started past her again, and again she got in my way. 'Ah, let her pass, Lillian Jean.' said Jeremy. 'She ain't done nothin' to
'She done something to me just standing in front of me.' With that, she reached for my arm and attempted to push me off the
sidewalk. I braced myself and swept my arm backward, out of Lillian Jean's reach. But someone caught it from behind,
painfully twisting it, and shoved me off the sidewalk into the road. I landed bottom first on the ground.
Mr. Simms glared down at me. 'When my gal Lillian Jean says for youto get yo'self off the sidewalk, you get, you hear!'
Behind him were his sons R.W. and Melvin. People from the store began to ring the Simmses. 'Ain't that the same little
nigger was cuttin' up back there at Jim Lee's!' some- one asked.
'Yeah, she the one,' answered Mr. Simms. 'You hear me talkin' to you, gal! You 'pologize to Miz Lillian Jean this minute.
I stared up at Mr. Simms, frightened. Jeremy appeared frightened too.'I - I apologized already.
Jeremy seemed relieved that I had spoken. 'She daid. Pa. R-right now, 'fore y'all come, she did -
Mr. Simms turned an angry gaze upon his son and Jeremy faltered, looking at me, and hung his head.
Then Mr. Simms jumped into the street. I moved away from him, trying to get up. He was a mean-looking man, red in the
face and bearded. I was afraid he was going to hit me before I could get to my feet, but he didn't. I scrambled up and ran
blindly for the wagon. Someone grabbed me and I fought wildly, attempting to pull loose. 'Stop, Cassie!' Big Ma said. 'Stop,
it's me. We're going home now.
'Not 'fore she 'pologizes to my gal, y'all ain't,' said Mr. Simms.
Big Ma gazed down at me fear in her eyes, then back at the growing crowd. 'She jus' a child -
Tell her, Aunty -
Big Ma looked at me again, her voice cracking as she spoke. 'Go on, child ... apologize.'
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