Saturday, December 05, 2009

Old Josh Miner of St. Louis, Missouri

(Steamboats, along the Mississippi, 1906)

“We owned them back then, like horses, worked them like horses too but we had to feed them like cows also,” said old Josh Miner of St. Louis, Missouri, “they were our property,” he remembered, and reminded the captain of the steamboat, “they were the only ones that loved the river more than us, more than us captains and deckhands on those old steamboats going up and down this Mississippi, way back when, yes sir, those niggers, they loved the river more than any other folk I ever knew.
“They worked like horses, and they sang like birds, they did, I reckon they even had a soul, and we paid them all of seven dollars, ef-in we felt up to it. And if one happened to fall over the railing for some snotty-ass attitude, aint nobody made any such inquiry on whatever happened to-um.”
Old Josh Miner sat in the Captains presence (in the pilot-house), sat on a wooden stool behind him, as he navigated down the Mississippi, it was 1906, and he was reminiscing of the old days.
“Yup,” the captain said, “it isn’t like that anymore, old timer!”
He was now a slender, rather small fellow, at eighty-eight years old.
The Captain, Wilkins, of New Orleans, was almost always quite and reserved, but when Old Josh Miner came aboard, similar to other retired Captains—as they often did likewise, for conversations and free rides, frequently did, once Miner started speaking Wilkins, he’d become alive and eager. He knew Old Captain Miner; he was hard-boiled about people and the Mississippi River, with his icy-blue eyes, always acting as if he was sore for getting old, too old to pilot a riverboat down the river any longer, there he sat behind the captain, “Well,” said Captain Wilkins, “life sure isn’t consistent, it’s like the river, not in agreement with anybody.”

The old man watched the black deckhands running about the boat, fixing this and that. It had been hot all day on the narrow-deck riverboat, below and even hotter in the cabin, fiery red hot, and it was seemingly hard work for him to keep up a conversation with his companion, the broad-shouldered Captain Wilkins, rocking side to side with the boat and its steering wheel.
The boat came to a landing, one just before St. Louis, Missouri, where Josh Miner would get off. It was mostly mud under wooden boards, a river levee, a little levee town enmeshed on this parcel of wasteland—further down, only somewhat smaller than a hamlet, the old Captain watched supplies being taken off the boat for the levee folk, with his thick lips hanging open, while he listened to the black folk singing as they trotted up and own the landing-stage, as often he heard them singing in the old days—in his younger days, as he was a known as a harmless lunatic, who got a pilot’s license and knew the river perhaps better than most of the captains of his day.
“All right!” shouted Captain Wilkins voice, “let’s get moving we got to get on down to St. Louis...!”
Captain Miner liked the deep throats of the black men, humming the old songs, they held the tone strong, all thick lipped, “…black spirituality,” he called it. It seemed all the black men sang in unison, with the music, with one another, with the laboring, humming, with the river itself; and you could hear it far-off down the river.

Josh Miner lived in St. Louis, with his grandchildren, he looked in the river, he saw his aging face, and he saw the red-face of the captain, and a mate swearing below the pilot-house, cursing a few of the black men, telling them to shut their mouths and keep on working, work faster.
“The man’s harmless,” said Wilkins, “but he got a big mouth,” he explained to Miner.
Miner stood up straight and tall to get a good look at the mate.
The body of the young man, the mate, quivered as he shouted at the black men singing. Then all the niggers on the lower deck and those carrying the supplies to the levee folk went silent.
And the old man screamed at the mate, “Let them black throats sing, or I’ll have your hide!”
The mate grew strangely exited, and screamed back, “Ah, they’re just niggers!”
“He dont love the river,” said the old man to Captain Wilkins; the captain had been lost in the music himself, even the banjo had stopped playing.
As the boat labored down river, the old man went to meet the mate, there had been something between him and the mate now, something of which of they were both semi-conscious of.
Now the evening sun had come out, and the Captain said, “What happened to that mate, the loud mouth?” to Old Captain Miner. He hadn’t seen him in a while (and the music of the black men had started back up again, as did the banjo.)

Josh Miner told the Captain, in no light tone of voice, “The young man’s elbow leaned on the railing too far out, and he done slipped back yonder some place in the river, I hope he’s a good swimmer!”
And the captain looked at Josh Miner, the old man’s face, likened to his father’s who was a river captain before him, and his grandfather’s who had been a river captain in Josh Miner’s day. He turned around gripped his shoulder tightly, “I understand, old timer…”he said. And the empty night filled with eyes and ghosts as often it did, and a storm was over head—brewing, and stories flooded the old man’s mind, and the captain said, “I’ll have another good story to tell my grandchildren when I’m your age.”

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Old Josh, in: Heyo the Road!

1863, Ozark, Alabama—a Civil War dilemma!

When Josh Jefferson left for New Orleans with Mr. Hightower’s buggy and two horses, Silas and Jordon and I worked on preparing the barn. Silas went off on his own and to mend a fence out in one of the fields and there was just Jordon and me. Granny Mae was looking out of the Hightower kitchen window, at the new corral, Silas and Jordon had build a few days earlier; now they had two, one behind the barn the other alongside the field. That evening I was sitting outside with Silas, Jordon and Granny Mae, and Mr. Charles Hightower came back from the city of Ozark, seventeen miles down the road. He told us he had taken all the money he had out of the bank and bought supplies, and had given Josh a sum to pick up other supplies down in New Orleans, those that Ozark couldn’t provide. The plantation was going broke.
“Okay,” Charles said. “If you think you can run the plantation any better than I, go ahead and try.”
“I done already acknowledge,” I told him, “I couldn’t do any better as his manager, perhaps as a buyer though, you pay full price for everything.”
He turned about, spit out some tobacco, and then laughed. Mr. Hightower was all right in a way, stubborn like a mule, like his whole family. But he got along alright with Josh and his two boys, and Amos from the Stanley plantation, and the Wallace brothers, from their plantation, and Granny Mae, the cook, and sometimes me, his manager of sorts, but at times I think I was more his adviser.
“Yes sir,” said Charles murmuring in front of all of us, a fire going on in the yard—everyone sitting around it crossed legged, “it’s easy enough to talk about running a plantation, setting here without any responsibility to keep it going, no risk to you folks. But I’m the one that has to make friends with the gray and the blue; they all want something every time they come marching by my plantation. This civil war is getting to me. I don’t care for either one of them, Confederate or Yankee patrols; they don’t give a damn for me either, only that I can feed their troops free. Josh is down trying to buy some equipment for the plantation, maybe it’ll help production.”
“I suppose,” I said.
“Youall should sell da food to da soldier’s befur they take it from yaw!” Granny Mae said. Realizing there was a risk of running out of seed and food and soon they’d be eating the horses.
Charles said, “They aint satisfied with making a deal, they think it’s my patriotic duty to give and give until I can’t give anymore.”
“I git an idea,” said Silas, “dhe Yankees pays dare men in gold, wes jes’ gots to wait fur the pay wagon, and steal it, den we aint got to worry ‘bout findin’ money to pay da new bills.”
“Take from da taker,” said Jordon, supporting his brother’s whim.
Granny Mae started to holler now, “No, sir! I reckon wes need da gold, but I got more sense than to take it from da Yankee pay officer, wes niggers and dey hang niggers fur dat, or worse.”
“That’s enough,” Charles said. “Have you folks eaten yet?”
“Wes got our moonshine, that will do,” said Jordon.
“I see—” Charles said. Then Mae stopped yelling: she started to chew some tobacco. “Yessum,” she said, “I guess we-all got to do what we got to do…”
Charles stopped chewing. “Huh!” he said, in surprise. “I reckon they’ll be coming up from Ozark, tomorrow morning with the pay, most likely, very early, they use mules so they’ll be going slow, and a simple buckboard, with several soldiers surrounding it.”
Granny Mae looked at all of us, “So youall goin’ to do it fur sure?”
“You go on in the house, Granny,” said Hightower, “rest up.” Then he turned to me, “You’ll have a chance Fitzgerald, to see if we can get away with it tomorrow, then I can pay you for the last eight months due you.”
Charles stood in the side kitchen doorway, “You all got my respect,” he told us. He knew, and I knew by looking at him, all he really had was a handful of darn farmers, but we all knew he was smart……although, how was he going to pull this off we didn’t know.

Old Josh came back that evening, with only one horse, and Mr. Hightower, just sunk his head into his chest, “What more could go wrong,” he whimpered.
“How far are the Yankees from us?” Charles asked Josh.
“I reckon da is ‘bout seven miles down yonder, campin’…!” said Josh.
Charles explained their little plan, the one he really didn’t have, the one Charles couldn’t figure out how to implement yet. Only Josh didn’t wait for Charles to ask him, or answer him, he told him, “I can git dat dare payroll, quicker than dhey can fill da hole under dare noses with food during breakfast!”
It sounded fine when he said it, like the shrewd man he was, but it baffled Charles nonetheless.
That night Josh, me, Jordon and Silas, went out hunting for forty-large, sleeping rattlesnakes. Josh had said they liked the sun, got their motivation then, and were the weakest in the night, and so we all went hunting. When we came to the first one, he looked at me, “Boy,” he said (Josh being sixty-years old), “when you grow up like me, it aint any no trouble to get dhem critters,” and he took a big swig of whiskey, “they like to bite mules and white folk, not niggers like me,” he commented, then grabbed the snake by the head, and back end and he made funny faces at the snake, and tossed him into a big potato sack.
That night we got twenty-nine snakes, some small, others big, but none too big. In the morning, Granny Mae looked at all the sacks outside her kitchen window, and heard the rattling of the snakes. She watched the sacks while they jumped, “How many?” She asked.
“Twenty-nine,” said Josh, “when they stop to rest the mules, and have breakfast, we is goin’ to release the snakes on the road, and the mules will go crazy, and so will the soldiers, and you can go on and grab the payroll bag (it was near dawn now).
“Yessum,” Silas said, “dhat sounds like a good plan.”
“And when da come a-lookin’ fur us, we goin’ to leave a few more snakes in back of us!”
Granny Mae stepped back from the sacks, didn’t sit down on the steps like Josh, and Silas and I did.
“The troops should be down the road some fifteen miles,” I said, “should we get Charles up?”
“No,” said Josh, “he ant any good fur this, he git us all hung!”

They kept hidden, and kept a fast pace through the wooded area, parallel the dirt road, that led to Ozark. I don’t know how Josh kept up with us all, but he did, stomping through the foliage, each of us with a sack or two of snakes. Granny Mae stayed behind, even though she wanted to participate, she was near as old, or perhaps older than Josh.
All they had to do now was spot the mules and soldiers. At first, Silas wanted us all just to sit still and wait for them, but I objected to that, feeling they’d think we were all from the Hightower plantation.
After two hours, we realized we needed to reserve our energy, and we heard a buckboard, and mules coming up the road, “I’m worried about this,” I told Josh, “perhaps we ought not to risk it?”
He didn’t say a word, just untied a bag, it looked like the five snakes in the bag wanted to jump out and eat Josh. Then he turned and looked at me. “Mr. Fitzgerald,” he said, “youall be ready to grab that leather bag,” it was just sunup.
We threw three sacks of snakes onto the road, the wagon was nearing us, and the mules sensed something was wrong, and we slipped back into the woods. We went just fast enough so they could not get a good look at us, perhaps thinking Josh and Silas and Jordon were runaway slaves. There bivouac was still three miles up the road.
We put the other sacks down on the path we were going to take, running, if they should decide to chase us. But the time they found us, we’d be long gone for sure, or at least that is how I figure it; the snakes would take care of that. So we did exactly that, loosened the sacks, so the snakes could fight their way out if I didn’t have time to completely untie the ropes around the sacks, as we ran through the woods, back to the plantation.

The mules went crazy, and the buckboard tipped over, and the four Yankee guards on horseback alongside the buckboard, got madder by the minute, as the snakes bit the legs of the horses, and they took off everywhichway, as did the mules. There was just enough light to see my way to the wagon, grab the leather bag and hightail it out of there, releasing the ropes around the snake sacks completely, for the snake to block the pathway, and again as the four soldiers came after us, I could hear their once galloping hooves, stomping fast, hard and mad at the snakes, as we all turned off into the woods.
That’s what we did; we couldn’t even see each other, until we got to the plantation. As I ran, I had my doubts about this, and then the sound of horses behind me was gone. We didn’t have time to tell Mr. Hightower a thing, we just all hid in the barn—and caught our breaths, and later that morning Mr. Hightower told us, “They came to my door, and asked if he saw four niggers, and I said, ‘I don’t know what you are talking about,” and I really didn’t. I think they didn’t want to tell me they were robbed, they wanted to see if I might have implied such a thing, thus spilling the beans, but as I said, I didn’t even realize what you did until now.”
And then I began to laugh, I had put axle grease on my face, making me the forth black person, and then I handed him the bag of gold, we never even counted it, and Mr. Hightower busted loose, and said, “What do I owe you now, Mr. Fitzgerald?” and he handed me eight months wages in gold, went into his house, came out with three jugs of whiskey, gave each one to Josh and his boys, with a $20-dollar gold piece to boot.

No: 477 (9-25-2009) Episode number 85/• •

Friday, June 19, 2009

Old Josh, in: Jes' a Damn Nigger

Old Josh, in:
Jes’ a Damn Nigger

Josh is feeding one of the horses some grass out behind the barn,
With Silas, and Toby from the Smiley Plantation comes
Up to talk to Josh about the trial down in Ozark,
And the hanging of Amos by several hooligans…

Josh: I been down Ozark to da trial today. It been some er dem white folk who killin’ Amos.
Toby: Who you see?
Josh: Two of ‘em.
Toby: Dere been seven of ‘em, but dey ain’ have but two, dey ain’ tryin’ to find dem haw?
Silas: Why I know who dey is, everyone does paw, ain’ dey murderers too?
Josh: Dere’ more reason dan one boy.
Silas: Wuh reason dey say?
Josh: Dey dont say, cuz dey dont want too, so you keep your nose out of it boy!
Toby: To de judge we is just niggers. Amos—a good man— when a nigger is kilt, it aint no big thing. I like to see dat de criminal git his punishment, but da judge I bet bein’ light in punishment of dem white boys.
Josh: I been to de trial, but dere ain’ no trial.
Toby: Well, I been to de court an’ I know how it is, an’ Amos been a good friend to de white folk?
Silas: Paw and Amos dey been raise up together. Dey been friend ever since dey been chillum.
Toby: An’ dey hang Amos cuz dey is drunk and wild boys.
Silas: How come dey kilt Amos paw?
Josh: Dey say he take a white boy and throw him off his hoss, when dey seven boys run on through Shanty Town, and one boy tried to rape a girl, and old Amos stopped him. But you got to know Silas, in de first place, a nigger was kilt, if-in he was a white man, dey hang him fer that, fer anything. Deys boys even plead guilty to manslaughter. I sees da jury have a little conscience, and dey give dem boys two-years in prison, or they fear a great cry ‘bout by us niggers. Amos he jes’ a poor helpless nigger, and they do a-heap er talk for two years in prison.
Toby: Why da court so lenient?
Josh: Fools like us is one reason. Toby, I ask you a question: who been kilt, an’ who de judge, and who de jury? Now brother, who is de sheriff, an’ da police? An’ dey all says: jes a nigger—a damn nigger, that all he is.

Story No: 418 (Episode No: 85) 6-20-2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Old Josh, in: Sweet Pea hard-hearted, 1893

Josh’s wife had left him and the kids at an early age, Rebecca Boston Jefferson, nicknamed, Sweet Pea; now that Josh was in his 90s, Jordon wanted to know the story of his mother…

Josh: Well, you axe me ‘bout your maw, Sweet Pea—wey she gone, wuh happen to her. I ain’ knowin’ fer sure. All I kin say is, if-in you know Sweet Pea, you know Sweep Pea? I guh tell you wuh I know cuz I know you dont know nothin’.
Sweet Pea be a bad woman to be wit. She talk kindly an’ she have a look dat satisfy you’ eye, but she be huntin’ for danger. You know Sweet Pea ain’ never known to not meddle in nobody affairs, an’ she pretend she is soft an’ kind to everybody, mens an’ womens, an’ old folk and all. She aint never change she friendly ways to nobody ‘less dey got somthin’ fer her. Your maw waz one of dese kind er niggers dat would cut you’ th’oat in-ef you do her wrong, an’ if-in you didn’t she been polite, a mannerable nigger I ever see. De white folks love her. And when I met her you’ ole paw was crazy ‘bout her, and she give me de chillum like God sent.
Her moest fault waz mens folk, an’ dey ain’ say nothin’ ‘gainst her, none on ‘em. An’ dem mens wuh likes her git tangle up with er other mens and she never have sense enough to stop. She were sure a dang’ous woman. I ain’ never seen a bad woman folk love so much.

Jordon: I ain’ known maw, ain’ nobody knowin’ maw but you paw, the last time I sees maw, was da first time I sees her, and she only wanted to visit wit you fur some money, I reckon, dat some years ago. She a walkin’ like a lion cat, she look back onct an’ den swing her self ‘way like a bird in flight, we ain’ never seen her since.

Josh: Sweet Pea fade wid de sun set an’ dat is good, and if-in I never sees her an’ youall never sees her ‘gain, we is two lucky niggers! Now lets find some moonshine son, and drink to dat.

Short Story /sketch, No: 416 (Episode 83, written 6-18-2009)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Old Josh, in: Catfish Stew (1855)

Old Josh, in: Catfish Stew

Silas: Where you been all day paw?
Josh: Down at Goose Creek, why you ask?
Silas: what you a-frying paw?
Josh: I is frying fish and makin’ catfish stew.
Josh: Aint you hear de news?
Silas: I aint hear a thing, I got to work paw on this here farm why you go fishin’ and drinkin’ all day long.
Josh: Why Amos and Toby they fight ‘bout da fish up yonder in the lake, dat comes down to Goose Creek.
Silas: Dey been up in those woods again…!
Josh: Yessum, an’ dey bring dey fish down to me, with all that fightin’ scare them out of the waterhole, and into mi lap.
Silas: Tell me more paw!
Josh: Dey half naked up there in the lake, and frighten in that slimy yaller mud, like two hogs in a mud-hole, near the edge of da creek, all those niggers goes up there to catch catfish, and they make catfish stew, an’ wey dey guts dey fish, they fish-fry right there, and Amos and Toby git in dis argiment, dey pushin’ an’ shovin’ each udder like two buffalo, and nobody kin ondersand and jes as well cuz the fish git away, and I katch them when they came down yonder…
I done grabbed them under de water, when dey was risin’ up. Amos holler at me, call me an’ try to ‘suade me to give em a few, I gits ten-fish, but I tell em, talk ain’ do no good, to my stomach. An’ I grab up my fish and my pole an’ run out of the creek, and I ain’ hear no more ‘bout ‘em since: Youall hungry?
Silas: I sure is, and that is one good tale pas!

Episode 82 (No: 415) Written, 6-17-2009
Written for the book “Old Josh, in: Poor Black”

Old Josh, in: Funeral from the Rocking Chair, 1896

Old Josh, in:
Funeral from the Rocking Chair, 1896

Elegy for JoshAsleep in de old Rocking ChairAbove him de mockingbird singsFree of de world below—,Old Josh is dead an’ gone;He at rest, asleep an’ free,Born a child, yet a slave;Guided by de conscience,Loved by those he loved—From de cotton fields of earthTo de mansion in de sky.An’ de white robes of JesusAn’ de black face of time—Yes, o yes, in de arms of GodHis sins are forgiven,Paid in repentance fullSing to de soul dat is flown.(#1686 2-7-2007) by Josh Jefferson, 1896
1896, Josh sleeping in his old rocking
Chair on the porch

Silas: Wakeup paw! You been sleeping in de ole rocking chair again
Josh: Brother Amos was on his knees, son, gallopin’ in heaven—
Silas: Paw yos sleeping again, Miss Emma Hightower back from Ozark, says whe wants to see ya!
Josh: I passed out en de clouds, son I her’ a voice callin’ “come, come, come my brother, come to de angel…” an’ dere Jesus was waitin’ fer me, and He say “If-en you is weary boy, I am comin’ to you all…” An’ I say, “Lord, I is comin’, Ah yes!”
Silas: Miss Emma is comin’ too see yaw paw, and she is in no mood for de chariot and Jesus in de clouds, up yonder; does yo hear dat voice callin’ ?(Josh sits up a tinge listens)
Emma Hightower: Josh, git on out here, I’m by the fence, stop your fiddling ‘bout, I got some work for you to do, if you remember what that is...!
Josh: Everybody should pay proper respect to de dead, even de white folk, she jes’ tryin’ to slow down de ole nigger so he goes first, I’m too old to do any work

Original name, “A Funeral for Josh” 2-7-2007

Old Josh, in: The White Nigger, 1840

Old Josh, in: The White Nigger 1840

Josh Jefferson is visiting Amos Jackson
Down in Shantytown, about four miles outside of Ozark, Alabama
Standing outside Amos’ shack having a conversation…

Josh: I sees it with me own eye Amos, an’ he a slave, I dont believe it!
Amos: I done hear a heap ‘bout Old man Ritt J.R. and his young-in, Hank, he but ten-year old…dey aint no friend to de nigger, I hear.
Josh: Dat’s de trouble an’ I reckon some er de things I hear is de worse, all bad intentions, like that there sheriff in Ozark, but I has my own idea ‘about da reasons, he rich and wants to be de man, and da Sheriff, wants to impress J.R.
Amos: Wuh de story of de white slave?
Josh: He come from de North he say, and he come to visit his kin, down yonder by Goose Creek, and he stop in Ozark, he a free slave from up in that there Minnesota…so he say, and he lost his paper so he say so, and Old man Ritt, see him walkin’ like he a proud nigger by da sheriff office, but he lookin’ white, hard to tell him from de white man, and da sheriff say, ‘Does you want to buy a nigger cheap?”.
Amos: a white nigger, I’ll be dogged!
Josh: And Old J.R. he say: Who is dat man? An’ he is a gentleman, and lookin’ fine, da white nigger don’t say a word, he scared like a jackrabbit from de wolf.
An’ da sheriff Parker say, ‘He a runaway slave from up North Carolina way, and he wiggle his finger say, ‘Come her’ nigger, open de mouth!’ An’ da nigger he obey, and when da nigger open hisn mout’ and when he do that, the sheriff spit down his th’oat an’ laugh, say: ‘I told you so…!”
Amos: What da white nigger say?
Josh: He dont say nothin’ he jes’ get onto the jail, and sweep it out.
Amos: What old man Ritt says?
Josh: he say, ‘That one humble nigger, I likes him, how much?’ and da sheriff say, ‘How much Youall give me?” And Ritt say, “I give you any hoss Youall wants from my stable.” And I is down there cleaning out his stable. And da sheriff say, “Okey, Youall got a deal.”

Josh: I wrote a poem down at the barn last nigh, Youall want to hear it?
Amos: If-in it aint too long!

The Stable Barn
And da White Nigger
By Josh Jefferson

I work dis barn here
Lookin’ out its iron doors
Its walls er brick?
An’ its roof got rafters
An’ I hear da hosses
Day wail an’ moan
Sound like day in Af’ica
Louder then da lion
And da white nigger
I hears his tale,
An’ I sings his song
Er misery to a nigger from
Up in da Minnesota way,
Here way down in
Ozark, Alabama!

Poem No: 2640 6-17-2009

Note: 414 (Episode: 81 of “Old Josh”) 6-17-2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

Old Josh, in: "Whoes Blacker?"

Old Josh, in: “Whose Blacker?"

Old Josh and Amos are at the Shanty Town race track (Leastways Downs), a few miles from Ozark, Alabama, it is in the 1870s, and it is summer, and Josh’s horse just lost the race, which often it does, and it always seems Josh knows when it will lose—and win as well—because he always bets on the other horse, that is to say, the right horse, and he never loses. And Amos just lost his last $15.00 dollars…and he’s as mad as a drunken hornet:

Amos, told Old Josh outright, and with mounting anger, after Josh’s horse lost the race at ‘Leastways Downs, ‘
“You done told your horse not to win, didn’t you?”
“Why you big black nigger, youall calls me a fixer I fix youall right her’ and now!” Said Josh in a heated rage, counting his money he just won on Old Ironsides, Mr. Ritt’s horse, the banker from Ozark.
“Who you callin’ big black nigger boy, cuz you is blacker than I is, you is like midnight in the day.” Said Amos, wide-eyed, and with clinched fists.
“I take this big black fist of mine Amos, friend or not, and puts it where the sun don’t shine effen you dont stop calling me blacker than you is, cuz everyone knows you is the blackest nigger in shantytown, maybe in all Alabama!” Said Old Josh hotter than dray wood burning high in a heath…!”
“Hay there Mr. Ritt?” yelped Josh in a hoarse like manner, “come-on over her’ effen you will, settle this her’ argument between me and Amos,” asked Josh.
“What you boys frighten about now?” asked Mr. Ritt.
“Who-da the blackest one of us folk here is?” asked Josh.
“Well everyone knows its Grandma Walsh!” Said Mr. Ritt.
“No, I means, Amos or me?” questioned Josh.
Mr. Ritt looked at Amos, and he often helped him at the Bank, cleaning out the backyard, and burning the trash; and Josh, a few times had help him out at the stables, he had purchased some years back, paying Mr. Hightower, his master back then for the time he had used Josh, but those days were over—far-gone now, slavery had vanished; said Ritt to Josh in a whisper, “Youall goin’ to paint my stable, cheap, I’ll help you out here with Amos then?”
“Amos,” said Old Josh, “I guess you is right, I is blacker than you, and he left counting his money as if nothing had taken place, laughing all the way, his back to Mr. Ritt, walking back to Mr. Hightower’s plantation, where he and his two sons lived, Silas and Jordon.

1-20-2009 Sketch: 77

Monday, December 15, 2008

Old Josh, in: Remembering Lick’Idy Luke Slim

(1903, Josh telling a story to Silas that took place just after the Civil War)

Old Josh, 100-years old, sat on his porch, laughing, and Silas comes up and stares at his old papa, wondering what the heck in going on, it is the spring of 1903, and because it’s spring, he remembers a girl down in shantytown, named Spring, says Josh,
“Sit on down son, be-fer the day gits on to bein’ sunset, eyes goin’ to tell yaw bout Lick’Idy Luke Sim (and in my better English, I shall tell it as Josh told it to Silas :)

It was back in ’46, Lick’Idy, as he was called, came up from the Florida swamps, those marshes you call the Everglades, he rode in on a mare to Ozark, then onto shantytown, I was there with Amos at the time, both of us fixing to sell our homemade moonshine, and here comes this stranger into our Alabama shantytown, I tell you I laughed a mile high when I saw him, he wore a rainbow colored weskit and pigeon-tailed coat and a fox-tailed hat that shined as if he were Davy Crockett himself, on his way to congress, oh we all thought he was mad for the moment, but he was more cleaver than mad.
He was white man in his lat 30s, had long wavy hair, a long picked nose, a big smile, and his teeth were large and white, a thin neck, and a tone to his muscles.
He looked pretty an a Christmas tree all let up on Christmas Day, or even prettier than a steamboat coming down the Mississippi, all decked out, tooting its horn.
He was looking for a wife to take back to the Everglades, down in Florida.
When he had stopped it the township of Ozark, it was just to freshen up a bit, before heading on to Shantytown. They say he blew into his harmonica all the way to Shantytown, some three miles outside the township.
Amos was standing there along side the dirt road, with his friend Josh, with four jugs of moonshine, they had been trying to sell for Granny Mae, and would keep half the profit. When Josh and Amos first caught sight of the stranger, they didn’t know if they should laugh, cry or ask how was business, thinking he was selling something also.
The tall thin white man, pulled out a horn from behind his saddle, said to Josh, “Fill it up with that corn whiskey, and let me know how much,” Josh pulled the cork off the jug, filled the horn up, and said, “Two bits stranger,” and he threw Josh a silver coin, said, “My name’s Lick’Idy Luke Slim, I’m aiming to find me a wife, if youall don’t mind?”
Josh and Amos were so stunned at the man, they just stood there mouth open, and silent, Josh putting the coin in his pocket. Then all of a sudden there was a crowd around him.

“Im goin’ to make youall a suggestion” said Lick’Idy Luke Slim, to the crowd about him, looking at a particular lovely Negress, I see a woman I wants for me wife…”
Said Josh before he could finish his sentence,
“You in the wrong place stranger, you best be headed back to Ozark—that away,” Josh pointed his arm and hand behind him.
There was twenty or more town’s folks standing about, said Lick’Idy with a happy grin,
“Im a bit, white, black and Cherokee Indian, and I wants a woman that is as brown as a dark mushroom, soft as a rabbit, and who was taught to cook well, from the day she waz born, and I give $200-dollars in gold fer her, and challenge anyone here to a cockfight over her…” and he pulled out a wild looking cock from his saddle bag, and he saw who he wanted, a young black girl, perhaps seventeen or eighteen, with a tall black man, twice her age…!
“I reckon I’ll take that one there, she looks like a pretty fox,” pointing at Asbury, but the tall bulky back man said,
“She’s my wife,” and someone behind him said, “And she is his second cousin, and they aint married, jes’ he like her so he support her, her mamma done left her long go,” the bulky man turned about, said, “Shut your mouth, put a lip-lock on that mouth, ole lady, you is nothin’ to her!”
“A cockfight you say, haw mister?” said Burly Sam.
“Well,” said Lick’Idy, “´We all can disburse that idea if these here coins will satisfy youall?” and he threw a pouch of gold coins on the ground near his feet, some fell out of the pouch.

“Whut den happened Pa!” said Silas to Old Josh,
“Whut you think happened?” said Josh, adding “he done grabbed the money up so fast, that he never noticed that little girl jumping up on Lick’Idy’s horse faster than a cat after a mouse and said,
“Git on a-goin’ be-fer he changes his mind,” and they were gone out of shantytown faster than a hundred bees after a bear.”

Note: written in the morning of 12-9-2008 “Old Josh, in: Lick’Idy Luke Slim” in my apartment in Huancayo, Peru.
(Episode 77, written the morning of December 9, 2008)

Old Josh, in: Nelly’s Fine

(Ozark, Alabama, 1867…s/episode No: 78)

“You got old Nelly the cow, en you aren’t satisfied yet?”
Mrs. Ella Hightower told Josh, standing by his shanty.
“Whut does you want,” exclaimed Josh, looking as if he was puzzled at Ella’s guessing she might have Nelly, but she knew Josh had taken Nelly hidden the cow someplace; Old Josh had taken a liking for the cow, and she for him.
“For the last time Josh, are you, or are you now going to tell me where Nelly is? Because you best be bringing that cow back before the sheriff comes!” Asked Ella.
“Give whut back?” questioned Josh, as if he didn’t know what the heck she was talking about, “…cuz I aint git no cow anyhow, dey think I do but I dont!”

Old Josh had hid Nelly the cow down by Goose Creek, and now Josh as he looked towards the main road, parallel the mansion, he could see the Deputy Sheriff dismount his steed, his silhouette showed, he was framed in-between the mansion on one side and a thick old tree to he others side of him, about twenty feet from the house fence.
Ella turned to see whereabouts the sheriff was, knowing it must be the sheriff Josh was looking at, when she turned back to say something to Josh, he was gone, he had disappeared into the fields quicker than a clap of an eye.

Old Josh was stumbling across the fields, his knees giving in as he tried to rush his getaway, his pace, towards Goose Creek; to Ella and the Sheriff, he was just a dark shadow, like the blackened smoke coming from the Hightower chimney.
Against the receding west, they, Ella and the Deputy, followed Josh, flinging voice gestures for him to stop.
Josh kept his tempo, with clinched fists, saying several times, “Nelly’s fine…Nelly’s fine…!”
Then the Deputy Sheriff pulled out his revolver, shot a round in the air, and Josh halted, waited for his demise, “Josh,” said Ella, before he Sheriff could say a word, knowing if he did, he might say something he could not retract, and thus, have to take Josh into jail, and who knows what would follow, to him, Josh was just another ignorant nigger, who got too good of treatment for an Alabama black. Said, Ella,
“What did you take Nelly for?”
Old Josh leaned forward, whispered to Ella, “They shot her!” he said.
“Josh,” said Ella.
Then the Deputy Sheriff said, in passing, “It’s a damn cow that is all it is…a cow, what in tar-nation is wrong with this nigger Ella?”
“Dat’s whut youall call jestice, that there cow he as old as me,” –said Old Josh.
“Is the cow down by the Creek Josh?” asked Ella.

A tear came from Old Josh’s eye, said chokingly,
“Yessum, Mrs. Ella, dat where she is alright! —she a sleepin’ like a baby, under a willow tree, snorin’ away, I done fixed her wound, she on a bed of green grass she is, she done feels like the queen-bee of cows!”
Ella turned to the Sheriff, said with a half smile, hoping she’d let her handle it,
“I’ll go fetch Nelly, and bring her back to her owners, if you don’t mind, and if you just hush this matter up, I think Granny Mae, she got a quart of her good moonshine in the kitchen she’ll be willing to part with for yaw?”
Said the sheriff, nodding his head up and down, “Aint this been a day!”

Written 12-11-2008, during lunch at the La Mia Mamma, in El Tambo, Huancayo, Peru