|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 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.
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.
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.”