Stories


Clemmie

Clemmie was born in north Louisiana in 1903.

As a young man his family moved to Bradly, Arkansas to the Herron farm.  Later when Mr. Herron stopped farming his daughter and  son-in-law, the Holts,  took over the farm.  Clemmie stayed until he had to retire to the rest home.  Clemmie did marry but when he moved to central Arkansas his wife would not go with him.  Clemmie never saw   her again and did not remarry.

Clemmie

Clemmie at age 96.  Picture made summer 1999

   Clemmie, a black man who lived in our community, told this a few years back. Clemmie worked on a farm and was a man with natural talent,   musically and personality.  For a while, in his early years, Clemmie was  on the “Rabbits Foot Minstrels”.  When he bought  something and the clerk handed him his change, he had a special way of tipping his hat.  I can still see him doing that.

Clemmie told me about the time he and his friend, Junior, ran away from home.  Junior had an old guitar and Clemmie could play the   piano.  Between “jobs” they were going to knock on doors and ask for work in exchange for food.  It didn’t take Clemmie long to figure out that Junior was a little lazy.   They left home early and walked the Mississippi river levee until about noon.  By then they were hungry,   very hungry.  Up the road was a farm house, Clemmie and Junior laid down under a shade tree.  Clemmie said, “lets go up to that house and ask for work and food”.  Junior didn’t  want to.  After a while, Clemmie got up and said he was going to get some food.

He walked up to the back door and knocked but no one heard him.  He could hear the family in the front part of the house.  He slipped over to the kitchen window, peeped in, and saw the table set for dinner (lunch) and no one was in the  room.  He eased the window up, stepped in,  got a dish pan and  dumped all their dinner in the pan and ran back to Junior.  They ate and ate. After a while Clemmie said to Junior, “That food was sho’   good”.  Junior said “uh huh”.  Clemmie asked,   “Don’t you think it was nice of them folks to give us at that food?.” Junior said, “Uh huh. Clemmie said, “Junior, since they gave us all that food and I went to get it at least you can take the dish pan back!”

Clemmie was gifted with musical talent and a personality so different than anyone I ever knew.  Mrs. Holt told me that they used to have a piano and she would let Clemmie come and practice.

Once I asked Clemmie if he played the “blues”?  “Used to until I got saved.  Blues is the devils music”. I asked him to explain. This is what a lot of the older people believed, the blues is of the devil.

Clemmie explained that he knew he had to get up every day to do nothing but manual labor.  There was no future the for black folks.  He said once he got up he would put his mind in a trance uttering blues lines mostly made on the spot.  Once he got in the trance he could go and do any work, it made no difference, digging a ditch with a shovel or anything else.  He believed this was the devil’s way.

Once he was saved he never played the blues again.  It is sad to know that the only bluesmen with any recognition were people that made   recordings.  There were a lot of good players in our area and I am sure   others that were every bit as good as any one at that time.

Seaton Dump-

When I started this project I had no idea how to do it except go to the field and do it.  I made some contacts and found a freelance writer and gather some information to write the stories.  On a limited budget I took her on a field trip to Seaton Dump.  Seaton Dump is an area named after a railroad dump built for tracks through the flat area.  The dump has long since been destroyed and the land is now farm land but the name remains.

 Seaton Dump by Susan Bates

My traveling companion insisted that any such manuscript would be incomplete if it didn’t include something about a trip to Seaton Dump.  All right, so be it.  After all, he did promise me that he  would take me to all the right places.

We jolted down a dirt road several miles east of Scott,   Arkansas at a teeth-rattling clip.  Clearly my T.C. (traveling   companion) was quite familiar with the local terrain, and with negotiating a rented Oldsmobile through muddy fields sporting only the murkiest kind of a previously traveled track.

I clutched my seat-belt and prayed to Our Lady of Dirt Roads, if there is such and entity, that our outing to Seaton Dump would not result in a long hike back to Little Rock.

Soon as I was positive that we were definitely stuck, T.C.   jammed the Olds into a lower gear and we fairly shot out of the field we were traversing and wound up on a firmer dirt access road.

“Yonder comes Clemmie,” T.C. commented, seemingly as calm as a cat sitting in the sun.

I straightened in my seat and tried to look nonchalant.  I wasn’t about to be laughed off the dump for acting like a city-slicker.  Everyone should go mud-hogging in a brand new Oldsmobile, I thought, noting mud oozing down from the roof of the car.  Recent rains had turned newly plowed fields into a messy goop.

“Let’s see where Clemmie is going,” said T.C. He stomped on the brake and we sat on the edge of the field watching an ancient   blue Duster wheeze slowly up the highway in front of us.

Clemmie turned off the highway and picked his way down a lane   made mostly of pot-holes.  T.C. gunned the Olds and we caught up with  Clemmie in no time.  T.C. pulled the old man over and got out to chat with him.  I stayed in the car thinking of an old story I’d read about a gregarious toad who roared around in his motorcar getting into trouble and making all his friends very anxious.  Ah yes, that was the “Wind in the Willows”.  I looked back to the field we had just plowed with an Oldsmobile, and decided that both T.C. and the Olds had been built to last.

T.C. returned to the car and informed me that Clemmie, being   the Deacon, was on his way to the church to do his chores, and that we were  welcome to accompany him.  I was game for anything, now that we were back on solid ground. A clapboard church materialized out of the cotton-field   landscape and we followed Clemmie’s sputtering Duster into its yard.

T.C. introduced us all around and the old man smiled as   graciously as if her had known we were coming. Clemmie seemed as old as the fields that surrounded his beloved church; yet his ageless black face regarded me with an energy that comes from a man doing what he loves to do.  I noticed that in spite of the balmy weather that followed the rain, Clemmie was wearing several shirts, a coat and a hat that set his kindly face, as though in a frame, to a different time.  Today I would probably see Clemmie in his hat even if he didn’t have it on.

With obvious pride Clemmie showed T.C. and me around his   church.   The dilapidated building was grappling with old age, yet   it was Clemmie’s garden, and he tended it with the utmost care.

Once inside the sanctuary I stopped, amazed.  In one corner sat an exquisite baby grand piano. In the other corner stood a handsome antique organ.  Between the two I saw a set of drums, several guitars, amplifiers, microphones, enough musical equipment to put on a right nice concert.  This church’s priority had to be that the music must be good music.

I stepped carefully over a snag of wires and sat down on a   wooden pew that had accommodated so many behinds.  The finish was long gone and its bare wooden seats gleamed thinly in the darkened chapel.

“Play something for Susan, ” T.C. urged.  The old man smiled and held out two long, arthritic hands.  “These ol’   hands,” he chuckled, “ain’t what they used to be.  But I’ll try, and you’ll `member when it was better.”

I wandered up to the choir loft to get a better perspective.  Clemmie waited until I was settled on my perch, then with the greatest respect he opened the piano’s keyboard and ran through and experienced warm-up.  His stiff old fingers protested at first, then loosened as he played.

“If I could only hear my mother pray,” he sang, and from behind his shoulder T. C. smiled up at me.

The resonance in Clemmie’s voice startled me.  I hadn’t   expected such power to emerge from the old man’s vocal cords.  I felt a  chill creep up my spine as I sat watching Clemmie.  I couldn’t get over his face.  Advancing years had done all the usual damage; yet the old gentleman’s memories gave his face a beautiful countenance when he sang.

All at once I realized Clemmie was singing “Amazing Grace”.  Out of the corner of his eye, Clemmie looked at me, and   somehow I felt myself to be inside the song with him.  I know that in that song I was being introduced to Clemmie; all he was, all he is, all anyone ever needed to know about the man.

My meeting with Clemmie ended as calmly as it started. T.C. and I continued on our way to Seaton Dump, bouncing mercilessly down yet another dirt road.

“You haven’t seen anything like Seaton Dump,” he informed me. “Well,” I demanded, “Isn’t a dump a dump?”   “Yes and no.” “Just what I admire about you, T.C.”, I snorted. “Always a straight answer.”

We approached a crossroads of sorts; T.C. aimed the Olds at a   right turn and set the wheel spinning.  With a shock I realized I   couldn’t get myself back to Little Rock on a bet.   I snuck a peek   at T.C., who was entirely absorbed in his surroundings. “I know where we are, ” he assured me. “Just look around you.”

I gazed out my window.  On both sides of the road ragged   shacks leaned against abandoned cars and assorted debris in a bewildering  spectacle of appalling poverty.  Some shacks had windows; some windows  had curtains.  Doors hung half-open on rusted hinges, leaning out on  porches that sagged dangerously to the ground.  In one yard a squad of  thin black children froze like marble statues on the lawn, staring at our  intrusion into their private world.  A recently used wringer washer dripped water; underneath it an old dog dozed.

We drove slowly down the lane for awhile, then T.C. turned the   Olds around.  “Once it was a dump, Susan.  Now it’s a suburb of society.”

I slumped in my seat, unconsciously hiding from the struggle  of life outside the windows of a brand-new rented Oldsmobile.  It was inconceivable to me that twenty minutes from my house people had to live like this, still did their laundry on wringer washers.

“Take me home, T.C.,”  I stopped, cleared my  throat, tried again. “I’ve seen enough of Seaton Dump.”

 

Plowing Corn

Here is another Clemmie story by Pete Hill

   One hot July day Clemmie was on the back side of the farm plowing corn with a team of mules.  The owner’s wife had invited some of her lady friends from the city to visit the farm.

They brought their “Kodaks” and they drove them where Clemmie was plowing.  The corn was tall and all you could see of Clemmie was his hat.

They got out of the car and focused the cameras on the rows Clemmie was plowing.  When he got to the turn-row and turned the mules around they were going to get his picture.

Clemmie never saw them until he had the mules turned around, it was too late then.  It was so hot in the field that Clemmie had pulled off all his clothes except for his hat and shoes.

When he finally saw the ladies he just tipped his hat, in a way that only Clemmie could do, and said, “good morning ladies”.

Collection of Short Stories

               by Billy Henderson

Pee Holes in the Dust

   There are about three or four stories that have to be told now before it’s too late. There are not many left that can give these stories the respect they deserve. The first two were told about a dear friend “Tinker” Dill. Tinker lived down the Seaton Dump road. He always said the further down the road you went the tougher things got. They lived at the end of the road in the last house. He said when he was a kid he was so tough he could climb a thorn tree barefooted with a wildcat under each arm; that’s tough.   He said when he was about eight years old, in the fall at cotton picking time he was out of school picking cotton. Because of a large family he had never spent any time with his dad by himself. One fine morning his dad called him out of the field and asked him if he would like to go with him to take a load of cotton to the gin. He was so excited. They hitched up the team of mules and started out toward town. On the way they stopped at country store and his dad bought them a cold drink. His dad looked around and bit and said, “Tinker you need a hat, come see if you see one you like.”  Tinker had never had a real Christmas present. This was better than heaven; a day out with his dad going to the gin. Tinker settled on a green straw hat that just fit. It cost 10 cents. He knew how poor they were and he knew how much of a sacrifice it was for his dad to buy him that hat. After they rested a while they headed on to the gin.

   For those that don’t know how a gin works,  you have to drive over scales and weigh loaded, then you wait your time at the gin. The gin uses a big telescoping “suck” pipe to suck the cotton from the wagon to the gin equipment. The suck stays active and was down a bit when Tinker and his dad ‘s turn came. Tinker didn’t know it but his world was about to come tumbling down. As they drove under the suck pipe it sucked the hat from his head and into the gin. He was so hurt he cried all the way home. He never forgot that day; some times the little things in life become more important than we can ever know.

The Rat and The Onion by Billy Henderson

   This one is not as sad but still reflects the depression times. Still living in the last house on Seaton Dump and just as poor. Tinker said he woke up one night hungry as he had ever been. He got up and went in the kitchen looking for something to eat. He lit a small kerosene lamp and begin to look around. He finally spotted a turnip. That’s all he could find so he sat down on the table and started gnawing on the old turnip.  All of a sudden a big ol’ rat came around the corner. The rat was tall but so thin you could count his ribs. Tinker said he knew the rat was looking for something to eat too!  He watched as the rat looked around searching for any crumb he could find. The rat finally found an old unpeeled onion lying over in the corner. The rat picked up the onion with his front paws and sat facing Tinker. The rat eating the onion and Tinker chewing on the turnip. It was a pitiful scene. Tinker said as the rat was eating the onion he spotted big ol’ tears coming from the rats eyes. Now that is hungry.

This one is different  It is a true story as told by Carroll Hillis

   About twenty miles south of Little Rock down the Arkansas River were several large farms.  Directly across the Arkansas River were also large farms. Problem was they had to go up the river to Little Rock to cross and come back down to get to the farms on the west side of the river.   This was in the 30′s. Over the years when the farms on the east side of the river finished gathering their crops they would load the field hands on a truck and travel to Little Rock and cross the river and go down and help the farmers on the west side of the river pick their cotton. This went of for years and some of the hands became friends. This particular year as had made their pilgrimage Caroll overheard sister Mary talking to Sister Mattie. She inquired as to what had happened during the year. Mattie replied.Yo ‘member Uncle John? uh uh ‘member him well Mary said. His house burnt. “Oh no,” Mary replied. “Sho’ did and BURNT UP A BABY!” Matie said. “OH NO! Mary cried back. “Sho did,” said Mattie. “You member dat old trunk Uncle John kept by his bed?” Mary said. “Yeah I member dat ol trunk.” “It burnt up too and burnt up fifty dollars,” Mattie said.” Oh no, no!” Mary cried. ” IT WAS BAD ENUFF ‘BOUT THE BABY.”

4 thoughts on “Stories

  1. You have a wonderful vision to sustain the feel and look of the Old South for History lovers and Delta home folks. I am happy to help and encourage all to contribute stories, pictures and music as well.

  2. Laura – absolutely LOVE your excerpt form “Northern Bell!” I too am originally from up North such as yourself…but have always had a never-ending deep love for the South. Probably have seen “Gone With The Wind” over a hundred times…and have always wanted to eventually wind up in the South. Your writing about Portland and Bayou Bartholomew is just absolutely superb ! As you know we’re currently working on a documentary about Bayou Bartholomew for completion by next December, and your words went through my soul like honey when talking about that enchantment of the deep South…can’t wait to get back down on the bayou come spring to continue our filming…including interviewing the people who grew up along it….

    • Thank You- I appreciate your comment and shared sentiment for the South. There IS something wonderful here, maybe it is in part the ever present history, people and natural beauty all blended in the fragrance of the earthy musk of cotton and honeysuckle air.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s