The following transcription is from a series of recordings my father made in the early 1990s:
When I was a teenager and worked as the water boy to the field hands, I'd get up and walk down a dirt road to the Peck place every morning before daylight. I remember how cool that dust was on my bare feet. It would still be dark. I'd be walking down the back, down toward the Gillis place.
We didn't have anything but old dusty, dirt roads. The dirt road would be five or six inches deep with dust in the summer time. Early in the morning with the dew....that dust would be just as cool. I would walk along there kicking my feet in that dust. I can remember that feeling.
The strange thing to me now is that as a boy, say thirteen or fourteen years old, I was not afraid to walk that far in the dark. I was walking in the pitch dark most of the way down there because it would just be breaking day when I'd get down there on the Peck place. I had no thought of being afraid. There was nothing to be afraid of. This day and time you couldn't do that. You wouldn't do that; you would be afraid.
As I'm recording this tape...remembering back...I can just hear those old voices out in the fields, hear the laughter. Echoes and echoes from back in the past. Years and years ago.
We had farm tractors back in the 1940s. Small farmers didn't have any but places like the Peck Plantation had at least four tractors. Farmall tractors were the kind used on the Peck place.
If you were a tractor driver, you were the cock of the walk. Tractor drivers back then made about $3 a day. That was a couple of dollars more a day than anybody else made so we'd call the tractor drivers the cocks of the walk.
I could name the tractor drivers down on the Peck place back in the 1940s. In fact, I'll name a few...Dennis Jackson, Brady Skinner and Anthony Tolliver.
You've heard of working from sunup to sundown? That's not just a saying. That's the way it was. When the first light of day came, people were going to the fields. Those tractors were cranking up just at the crack of dawn. And late, late in the evening, just before dark, the sun would be going down before they stopped working. So, it was from sunup to sundown.
Louisiana Cotton Field
I don't guess I'll ever hear those field songs again. Late in the evening, about thirty minutes before quitting time, you'd hear the field hands singing. Some kind of old blues/gospel singing. Just a different sound. You could hear them, lord, I'd say you could hear them for a couple of miles because you could be up here in the little village and hear them singing down on the Peck place.
There would always be a leader. About thirty minutes before quitting time, you'd hear one of the field hands crank off and other hands would join in. That leader didn't need a watch to know what time it was. He knew just when to start. That's a sound that will always stay with me. I wish I had a recording of that.
On a cold winter day, a good warm fire feels just as good to a pair of old black hands as it does to a pair of old white hands. On a hot summer day working in the fields, a cool drink of water tastes just as good to a black person as it does to a white person.
Those memories hold me. I don't believe it will ever be in me to be a hater, a racist. I'm glad those memories hold me. I'm glad of it. It was worth something. It's worth something to me now.
(Parts 1-8 of 'The Stories That Should Be Told' can be found in the Tags List on the right-hand side of the blog.)