Footsteps


 

model t

 

The day started off simply. In one run together breath I clamored out loud.  “I am here what do I do today?” I got up, made my bed, drank my coffee, ate my loving from the oven went for a walk around a very short block remarking that the trees were all tremendously tall on 3rd. Martha Pugh told me that these Oaks were planted for each one of the native sons of the civil war. The civil war! I was breathless.  There is a history here that defies present day with lingering pockets of its past.  At one time the town was built on Bayou Bartholomew. *1 “Down the bayou from Siemons was a small settlement referred to by steamboat captains and hands referred to as “the port”37 When a post office was established in 1857, the name became Portland. One had to reach it by ferry or ride the steamboat that navigated up and down it bringing supplies to the little towns that dotted its winding lifeline for 2oo miles.

*2 Pearl Etheridge Young wrote of crossing the bayou by ferry with her father in the early 1900’s.

“The road was now a dark tunnel, grass grown and arched by the over lapping boughs of the trees…It was early noon when we came to Bayou Bartholomew. A change in the quality of the landscape had become apparent some miles back. The feathery cypress trees sank their stark, flaring trunks into black, stagnant pools…one feature of the landscape set the tone of the whole-a profusion of Spanish moss hanging in cloudy filigree from the boughs above us. (The bayou) had no bridge at this point and it was a watercourse of parts, not to be trifled with. We could not ford it. We drew up looking for signs of life…At last, peering through the trees, we saw a rope stretched between the opposing banks of the bayou and there at our feet, moored against the slippery descent, lay a floating wooden platform…my father’s hello brought no answer. “Everybody down in the bottom field picking cotton,” he said and gave a mighty yodel. The response was long, musical and reverberating… stillness reigned again until the ferryman came, an old Negro with a grizzled head and wiry frame. The mare was coaxed onto the platform and the old man propelled us across by long rhythmic pulls on the rope. It seemed the right way to cross Bayou Bartholomew, the master bayou…in the swamp beyond the stillness deepened and the loneliness was unbroken.”

*3 “The site of the town may be found by turning north onto a farm road just east of the bayou bridge on Highway 278 east of Portland. The site is three fourths of the mile from the highway. A visit to the location may evoke a nostalgic illusion from the past. Sit on the bank of the quiet bayou on a moon lit night. Listen to the steamboat coming.

Experience what William Alexander-Percy wrote in Lanterns on the Levee.

“There still is no sound in the world so filled with mystery and longing at night of a river blowing for a landing one long, two shorts; one long, two shorts; the sound of a river boat changes inside your heart like a star.”

Leo and I trolled in a little fishing boat down that part of the bayou. He loves the bayou. He tells me that he use to ride his horse along in here as a kid with his lifelong friend since the age of five, Dave Hackett. They would set up a camp, run trot lines and live out their own Davey Crockett dreams. Once they forgot to bring food, and didn’t catch any fish, so they shot a black bird for supper. It was the “toughest meat they ever ate,” he said.

I am searching for this mystical portal into the past. It was all that people had written and said about it, haunting, ancient, and removed from contemporary times. The trees and the waters clung to its centuries as to not ever forget the people who once traveled and lived here. Native Americans still echoed down this murky avenue. It was their souls that I felt the most. It was then that I saw a panther, her ebony eyes, stopped and stared into my soul and then slipped invisibly through the Cypress shadows. She hauntingly impressed me with her captivating presence. To this day I never saw her again, but always sense her somewhere near in my spirit. I took her to be a sign from the Grandfathers. I respect the Native Americans that lived here so abundantly at one time. The age of the Indian, the story of the spirit that permeates in the trees and runs in the waters here like life’s blood is always nearby. This bountiful land is pregnant with possibility, but somewhere along the way the sadness of their departure lingers and longs to be remembered with honor. “I hear you Grandfathers,” I say to myself and burn some sage in your memory.

After a fire, which was suspected arson, the town of Portland was moved inland. It looks like a rundown movie set with a block of buildings facing the still running railroad tracks. The town use to have a lot more going on than it does now. Back in the 1990’s, everyone came downtown on a Saturday night. I can almost still see the old model T’s gathered in a stylish black line, the men all wearing top hats and women politely sipping tiny cokes in long dresses while children run behind in the alley. I am told there was an old hotel, a Chinese laundry, taxidermy, a Portland Drug Store, run by CC Stevens where one could get a soda and prescription. Miss Pearl had a dry goods and ice cream parlor where Gays Grab bag now stands.

I feel a kind of honor to be living here. It is not often one is lucky enough to reside in a town that was born out of the Louisiana Purchase. I wonder what the ancestors would say about a Yankee girl walking around in their footsteps.

old school in stars

*1, page 16, * 2 pg 17, *3 page 21-22, Excerpts from Beyond Bartholomew-ISBN 0-9444609-22-8 by Rebecca De Armond-Huskey and friends of Portland-

Harvest in the Delta


Sunflower Field by Anne Weirich

   This is the time of year we here in the South treasure, harvest time, with the earthy woodsy scent of new cotton, green corn, and the dusty aura of trucks and tractors leaving the fields with their tended treasures. In the busy export of these crops to the River and grain bins, cars respectfully pull over and ride the shoulder some to let them get by.

    It’s changed much since I came her 34 years ago; back then we still tromped trailers from dawn till dusk, gathered up the escaping fluffs from the ground so as not to waste anything. We pulled weeds by hand, hoed rows and set out metal pipes to irrigate in the humid dry days of summer.

From Northern Bell ~ Journal of a Yankee Girl in a Southern Rural Town by Laura Botsford

“A truck came by with field hands riding in the back; their water coolers already dusty, their eyes resigned to another long hot day of running pickers and tromping cotton down in old iron trailers until the final rays of a hot August sun melted into the orange sweat of night. Crop dusters fly overhead circling like large mosquitoes reading themselves into a dive bomb as they shower defoliant on the unsuspecting leaves. Those that grew up here  say, “I love the smell of defoliant in the morning!”

The first time I came here was in harvest time. The first thing I smelled was defoliant. I held my breath certain I would be gassed an irreparably damaged. “Won’t we all be poisoned?” I asked Leo. “Oh baby, now that’s the just the perfume of a season coming to a close, he said.” “It is really strong I hope it doesn’t asphyxiate us.” I covered my nose and mouth hoping somehow the scent of my jasmine hand lotion would filter it out. Ah, no.

   I decided I would be more objective and really explore this new scent upon my olfactory. Underneath it, in a layer all its own, is a musky woody smell. The white earthen carpet is a field of its own kind of Oz poppies that lulls me into a meditative response as incense does.  The once leaves of green are crackling into brown, dropping off leaving only stalks, as more and more pods of cotton pop fluffing out the air  imbued with a mushroom smell that’s organic and clean, the original cotton of our lives.

    For a little town there is a lot of activity so early in the day. By sunrise an entire town was hustling to get their crops out. By noon they will have already worked six hours. By sunset they will have clocked in 14 hours. City people have no idea what goes into farming,  its seven days a week no holidays, no weekend barbeques; no time to just hang out. Life has to fit in here somewhere the best it can amid the clamoring of making a living and literally putting shirts on the backs of the world.

   There are clumps of cotton alongside the roads edge gathered like snow in summer where they have flown out of the trailers on their way to the gins. The air is thick with a musky hemp scent as gin trash burns in a haze of morning fog and smoke. I am still afraid to breathe. To them it smells like home and the end of another season. What we welcome around here, is the cycle of seasons, ever turning into one year after another, measures by good crops, bad crops, births and deaths that we all share in. There is nothing like the community of a small town that cares about each other, nowhere else on earth does it feel like this. It’s as if time stopped and everyone just stayed at the supper table.

   Leo’s Aunt Betty has a gift/clothes store called,  the Grab Bag, a watering hole mostly for us farmer wives. She always has a jar full of Nabs and a frig full of little cokes for twenty five cents. I don’t know what we would do without it, the nearest mall is 40 miles away and I have two baby gifts to get and a wedding present. The ladies, young and old all gather there at different times throughout the day, exchanging gossip and recipes all in the same breath.  I don’t leave there without a snack, a gift, and an earful.

    There are chores left to do before the men come home, supper to fix and baths to give the children. Their father will only have a little time to be with them until its time for bed. They fall asleep to the humming of the cotton gins that run all night overdubbed by Lullabies from Dreamland. The moon rises up like a golden biscuit right out of the oven. Underneath the house is a scurry and a few howls as  some stray cats have set up for the night in their adopted bunk house. Tomorrow it will all begin again, and there is much comfort in knowing that another year has provided for us.

Cotton Field Print by Jeanette Johnson

Just Cotton by Eloise Schneider

Sunflower Field by Anne Weirich

Sharecroppers Daughter


Sharecropper’s Daughter on Amazon and Kindle

    The life and times of a young girl growing up in the rural south as the daughter of a sharecropper in 1949. Penny comes of age through hard times, her love and talent for cutting horses and taming her first love; Smith who is heir to the Silver Leaf Plantation  her family works for.

Billy also has books at home and would be happy to autograph them for you too.

sharecropper's Daughter Front cover

Home


Our American Trilogy

Our American Trilogy

   This is a tribute to our southern people who have blessed the delta with their courage, determination and compassion and for all our generations to come.  The rural Delta is a continuing legacy of a people who are part of a great nation of individuals who are proud of their heritage. We look back and remember them here and look forward to up-coming generations that will always hold God and family in their hearts, embrace the call of hope and progress, acheiving the fruits of hard work and infinite prayers.

Delta Dirt.com   and Delta My Home were established as a way to remember and honor our forefathers who  stayed with the land and fought through the hard times and heart breaks this land often dealt. Most never lived long enough to share in the delta’s wealth.  Their contributions have gone largely unnoticed and unappreciated.  We want  to change that.

   Some ask what is delta dirt? A fair question. If you have to ask you may  never figure it out. In my mind delta dirt represents a sense of place and a  time of reflecting on the hard work, plain living, sweat, wit, grit, and spit  that it took to bring the delta from the hard life it dealt to the prosperous  life it offers today. The old shacks and farm house are now gone leaving no  trace of the past. I still love to walk through the fields on a hot summer day.  I still hear the dinner bell to call the farm hands to dinner. The sounds of children playing, sounds of the old field hollers. I still here the sound of a  lonesome airplane making its way through the sky interupting the silence. Those  sounds are still there and will forever be there for those who are tuned into the delta dirt.

   If you have an appreciation for the delta please join this page and share with us your stories of growing up in the delta. If you are not from the delta but you have an appreciation of the land, its people, their music and their  values we want to hear from you too. Please feel free to add comments and stories and for pictures to be posted,  just send us an email.

–  Billy Henderson


Delta My Home

Delta Dirt.com was established as a way to remember and honor our forefathers  and foremothers who stayed with the land and fought through the hard times and heart breaks this land often dealt. Most never lived long enough to share in the delta’s wealth.  Many of their contributions have gone largely unnoticed and unappreciated.  We want  to change that.

   Some ask what is delta dirt? A fair question. If you have to ask you may never figure it out. In my mind delta dirt represents a sense of place and a  time of reflecting on the hard work, plain living, sweat, wit, grit, and spit  that it took to bring the delta from the hard life it dealt to the prosperous  life it offers today. The old shacks and farm-house are now gone leaving no  trace of the past.

   I still love to walk through the fields on a hot summer…

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Poll Tax


On the Bayou . . . November 1952

by Bonnie Chaney Cooper, PhD

Poll Tax Freeze-Out

     After breakfast and straightening  up in the kitchen, Nora Rose went to the bedroom to change into her Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes. It was election day and she was eager to vote for her favorite General, Dwight D. Eisenhower.                                                                         Nora had five sons who served in World War II. She gave a great deal of credit to GeneralEisenhower for getting all her boys home safely. During the war years, she hung a service flag in her window. It was more like a white banner, bordered in red with a gold fringe at the bottom. In the middle was a blue star signifying an immediate family member serving in the military. The blue star flags were designed and first used for families of servicemen serving in WWI. They became very popular during WWII. Nora never had more than three sons serving in the military at one time, (nor more than three stars on her flag). More importantly, she never had to replace a blue star with a gold one which signified that a son had died in the service of his country.

   Near the end of the war, a convoy of German prisoners passed their home daily on the Stuttgart Highway. They were being moved from the Army-Air base in Stuttgart to different farms to work as day labor. Nora would sit on her front porch shelling peas or snapping beans. “Bet you think you got one of mine, but you didn’t,” she’d speak out loud towards the passing convoy. For this, and for everyday that she didn’t have to sew a gold star over the blue one on her Son’s in Service Flag, she gave thanks to God and to the General.

   Her husband, Tom, appeared to be as dedicated to General Eisenhower as Nora, that is until the day Eisenhower chose which ticket he was going to run on. Both the Democrats and the Republicans wanted to have General Eisenhower head-up their ticket for president. All Tom’s life he was a ‘yeller’dog Democrat; a loyal Southern Democrat who would vote for any candidate who was a Democrat, even if it was an old yellow dog. He and his wife had many an argument over the upcoming election. Nora wore an “I like Ike” button, but she had no success at convincing her husband to cross over party lines and vote for Ike. When Tom came in from feeding the animals that election morning, he stepped lively because it was election day. In 1952, voting was a special day. It was a day to put on one’s Sunday best and meet friends at the voting polls. Tom was on his way to put on his suit and tie when Nora emerged from the bedroom looking as if she was going to a wedding. She wore a hat and gloves that matched her coat and high-heeled shoes.

“Where do you think you are going?,” he asked matter-of-factly.

“To vote,” she answered with a smile, thinking he was joking with her.

“Where is your poll tax ticket?”

“Didn’t you buy me one?” she inquired. Nora didn’t drive. Tom had always taken care of that sort of thing in the past for the both of them. The poll tax was only $2.00.

“I couldn’t buy a poll tax for anyone who was going to vote for Ike.”

   It was cold in northeast Coy this early November day. However, it became a lot colder a the Rose household. Their younger son, J. T. cannot recollect a family argument worse than this one, nor one that lasted longer. All his mother would say to his father for days was, “I told you so.” To Nora, Ike’s winning verified that the way she wanted to vote was indeed the right way. As a matter of fact, for the next eight years she repeatedly informed him, “I told you so!”

   President Eisenhower was re-elected serving as president from 1953 to 1961. Nora had her poll tax receipt for every election thereafter.

   As for the poll tax itself – The Supreme Court ruled that a poll tax was a violation of the 15h Amendment and a method to disenfranchise poor whites and blacks from voting. Perhaps the honorable judges got wind of  Nora’s poll-tax freeze out. In 1964, the 24th amendment was passed that outlawed poll taxes for voting in Federal elections. The last southern states to remove the poll tax as a prerequisite to voting locally were Texas, Alabama, Virginia, followed in 1966 by Mississippi.

   The first poll tax was levied by John of Gaunt in 1377 to raise money for the English to fight the war against France. The price was one shilling, which was a lot in the 14th century. The English word “Poll” originally meant “Head,” as in per-person. The word “poll” became commonly used as a fixed tax applied to voting – thus six centuries later we go to the polls to vote.

   Our thanks to J. T. Rose for sharing a window into an election day with his parents. He is the only remaining sibling in his family. J. T. owned nursing homes in north Arkansas. He is retired, lives in Rogers, and has upon occasion worn a yellow dog button.

Hard Work Plain Living, Sweat, Wit, Grit and Spit


Delta Dirt.com was established as a way to remember and honor our forefathers  and foremothers who stayed with the land and fought through the hard times and heart breaks this land often dealt. Most never lived long enough to share in the delta’s wealth.  Many of their contributions have gone largely unnoticed and unappreciated.  We want  to change that.

   Some ask what is delta dirt? A fair question. If you have to ask you may never figure it out. In my mind delta dirt represents a sense of place and a  time of reflecting on the hard work, plain living, sweat, wit, grit, and spit  that it took to bring the delta from the hard life it dealt to the prosperous  life it offers today. The old shacks and farm-house are now gone leaving no  trace of the past.

   I still love to walk through the fields on a hot summer day.  I still hear the dinner bell to call the farm hands to dinner. The sounds of  children playing, sounds of the old field hollers.

 I still hear the sound of a  lonesome airplane making its way through the sky interrupting the silence. Those  sounds are still there and will forever be there for those who are tuned into the delta dirt.

   If you have an appreciation for the delta please join this page and share with us your stories of growing up in the delta. If you are not from the delta  but you have a love of the land, its people, their music and their  values; we want to hear from you too.

                                            Ten Miles East of Jones by Billy Henderson

©
2011