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Mules and Men

Chapter II

The very next afternoon, as usual, the gregarious part of the town's population gathered on the store porch. All the Florida flip players, all the eleven-card players. But they yelled over to me they'd be over that night in full. And they were.

"Zora," George Thomas informed me, "you come to de right place if lies is what you want. Ah'm gointer lie up a nation. 

 Charlie Jones said, "Yeah, man. Me and my sworn buddy Gene Brazzle is here. Big Moose done come down from de mountain."

"Now, you gointer hear lies above suspicion," Gene added.

It was a hilarious night with a pinch of everything social mixed with the story-telling. Everybody ate ginger bread; some drank the buttermilk provided and some provided coon dick for themselves. Nobody guzzled it,just took it in social sips.

But they told stories enough for a volume by itself. Some of the stories were the familiar drummer-type of tale about two Irishmen, Pat and Mike, or two Jews as the case might be.

Some were the European folk-tales undiluted, like Jack and the beanstalk. Others had slight local variations, but Negro imagination is so facile that there was little need for outside help. A'nt Hagar's son, like Joseph, put on his many colored coat and paraded before his brethren and every man there was a Joseph. 

Stebe Nixon was holding class meeting across the way at St. Lawrence Church and we could hear the testimony and the songs. So we began to talk about church and preachers.

"Aw, Ah don't pay all dese ole preachers no rabbit-foot," said Ellis Jones. "Some of 'em is all right but everybody dats up in de pulpit whoopin' and hollerin' ain't called to preach.

"They ain't no different from nobody else," added B. Moseley. They mouth is cut cross ways, ain't it? Well, long as you don't see no man wid they mouth cut up and down, you know they'll all lie jus' like de rest of us."

"Yeah; and hard work in de hot sun done called  a many a man to preach," said a woman called Gold for no evident reason. "Ah heard about one man out clearin off some new ground. De sun was so hot till a grindstone melted and run off in de shade to cool off. De man was so tired till he went and sit down on a log. 'Work, work, work! Everywhere Ah go de boss say hurry, de cap'n say run. Ah got a durn good notion not to do nary one. Wisht Ah was one of dese preachers wid a whole lotta folks makin' my support for me. ' He looked back over his shoulder and seen a narrer li'l strip of shade along side of de log, so he got over dere and laid down right close up to de log in de shade and said, 'Now Lawd if you don't pick me up and chunk me on the other side of dis log, Ah know you done called me to preach.

"You know God never picked 'im up, so he went off and tot' everybody dat he was called to preach."

"There's many a one been called just lak dat," Ellis corroborated. "Ah knowed a man dat was called by a mule."

"A mule, Ellis?" said Little Ida.

 "All dem b'lieve dat, stand on they head," said Little Ida.

"Yeah, a mule did call a man to Preach. Ah'11 show you how it was done, if you,stand a straightenin'."

"Now, Ellis, don't mislay de truth. Sense us into dis mule callin' business."

Ellis:These was two bothers and  'one of 'em was a big Preacher and had  good collections every Sunday. He didn't pastor nothin' but big charges. De other  brother decided he wanted to preach so he went way down in de swamp behind a big plantation to de place they call de prayin' ground, and got down on his knees. ?

"O Lawd, Ah wants to preach. Ah feel lak Ah got a message.If you don   called me to preach, gimme a sign."

Just 'bout dat time he heard a voice, "Wanh, uh wanh! Go preach, go preach, go preach! 

He went and tol' everybody, but look lak he never could git no big charge . All he ever got called was on some saw mill , half-pint church or some turpentine still. He knocked around lak dat for ten years and then he seen his brother. De big preacher says, "Brother, you don't look like you gittin' holt of much."

 "You tellin' dat right, brother. Groceries is ain't dirtied a plate today."

"Whut's de matter? Don't you git no support from your  church?"

"Yeah, Ah gits it such as it is, but Ah ain't never pastored no big church. Ah don get called to nothin' but sawmill camps and turpentine stills."

De big preacher reared back and thought a while, then he ast de other one, "is you sure you was called to preach? Maybe you ain't cut out for no preacher."

 "Oh, yeah," he told him. "Ah know Ah been called to de ministry. A voice spoke and tol'me so."

"Well, seem lak if God called you He is mighty slow in puttin' yo' foot on de ladder.If Ah was you Ah'd go back and ast 'im again.

So de po' man went on back to de prayin' ground agin and got down on his knees. But there wasn't no big woods like it used to be. It has been all cleared off. He prayed and said, "Oh, Lawd, right here on dis spot ten years ago Ah ast you if Ah was called to preach and a voice tole me to go preach. Since dat time Ah been strugglin' in Yo' moral vineyard, but Ah ain't gathered no grapes. Now, if you really called me to preach Christ and Him crucified, please gimme another sign."

Sho nuff, jus' as soon as he said dat, de voice said "Wanh-uh! Go preach! Go preach! Go preach!"

De man jumped up and says, "Ah knowed Ah been called. Dat's de same voice. Dis time Ah'm goin ter ast Him where must Ah go preach."

By dat time de voice come agin and he looked 'way off and seen a mule in de plantation lot wid his head all stuck out to bray agin, and he said, "Unh hunh, youse de very son of a gun dat called me to preach befo'. "

So he went on off and got a job plowin'. Dat's whut he was called to do in de first place. TOP

Armetta said, "A many one been called to de plough and they run off and got up in de pulpit. Ah wish dese mules knowed how to take a pair of plow-lines and go to de church and ketch some of 'em like they go to de lot with a bridle and ketch mules. "

Ellis: Ah knowed one preacher dat was called to preach at one of dese split-off churches. De members had done split off from a big church because they was all mean and couldn't git along wid nobody.

Dis preacher was a good man, but de congregation was so tough he couldn't make a convert in'a whole year. So he sent and invited another preacher to come and conduct a revival meeting for him. De man he ast to come was a powerful hard preacher wid a good strainin' voice. He was known to get converts.

Well, he come and preached at dis split-off for two whole weeks. De people would all turn out to church and jus' set dere and look at de man up dere strainin' his lungs out nobody would give de man no encouragement by sayin' "Amen," and not a soul bowed down.

 It was a narrer church wid one winder and dat was in pulpit and de door was in de front end. Dey had a mean ole sexton wid a wooden leg. So de last night of de protracted meetin' de preacher come to church wid his grip sack in his hand and went on up in de pulpit. When he got up to preach he says, "Brother Sexton, dis bein' de last night of de meetin' Ah wants you to lock de do' and bring me de key. Ah want everybody to stay and hear whut At got to say.

De sexton brought him de key and he took his tex and went to preachin'. He preached and he reared and pitched but nobody said "Amen" and nobody bowed down. So 'way after while he stooped down and opened his suitsatchel and out wid his .44 Special. "Now," he said, "you rounders and brick-bats --yeah, you women, Ah'm talkin' you. If you ain't a whole brick, den you must be a bat and gamblers and 'leven-card layers. Ah done preached to you for two whole weeks and not one of you has said 'Amen,' and nobody has bowed down."

He thowed de gun on 'em. "And now Ah say bow down!" And they beginned to bow all over dat church.

De sexton looked at his wooden leg and figgered he couldn't bow because his leg was cut off above de knee. S ohe ast, "Me too, Elder?"

"Yeah, you too, you peg-leg son of a gun. You bow down too. "

Therefo' dat sexton bent dat wooden leg and bowed down. De preacher fired a couple of shots over they heads and stepped out de window and went on 'bout his busines

But he skeered dem people so bad till they all rushed to one side of de church tryin' to git out and carried dat church buildin' twenty-eight miles befo' they thought to turn it loose.  TOP

"Now Ellis," chided Gold when she was thru her laugh "You know dat's a lie. Folks over there in St. Lawrence din' class meetin' and you over here lyin' like de crossties from Jacksonville to Key West."

"Naw, dat ain't no lie!" Ellis contended, still laughing himself.

"Aw, yes it 'tis," Gold said. "Dat's all you men is good for?settin' 'round and lyin'. Some of you done quit lyin' and gone to flyin'.

Gene Brazzle said, "Get off of us mens now. We is some good. Plenty good too if you git de right one. De trouble is you women ain't good for nothin' exceptin' readin' Sears and Roebuck's bible and hollerin' 'bout, 'gimme dis and gimme dat' as soon as we draw our pay."

Shug said, "Well, we don't git it by astin' you mens for it. If we work for it we kin git it. You mens don't draw no pay. You don't do nothin' but stand around and draw lightnin'."

"Ah don't say Ah'm detrimental," Gene said dryly, "but if Gold and Shug don't stop crackin' us, Ah'm gointer get 'em to go. "

Gold: "Man, if you want me any, some or none, do whut you gointer do and stop cryin'."

Gene: "You ain't seen me cryin'. See me cryin', it's sign of a funeral. If Ah even look cross somebody gointer bleed."

Gold: "Aw, shut up, Gene, you ain't no big hen's biddy if you do lay gobbler eggs. You tryin' to talk like big wood when you ain't nothin' but brush."

Armetta sensed a hard anger creepin' into the teasing so she laughed to make Gene and Gold laugh and asked, "Did y'all have any words before you fell out?"

 "We ain't mad wid one'nother," Gene defended. "We jus' jokin'."

 "Well, stop blowin' it and let de lyin' go on," said Charlie Jones. "Zora's gittin' restless. She think she ain't gointer hear  no more.

"Oh, no Ah ain't," I lied. After a short spell of quiet, good humor was restored to the porch. In the pause we could hear Pa Henry over in the church house sending up a prayer: 

Pa Henry's Prayer

 You have been with me from the earliest rocking of my cradle up until this present moment.

 You know our hearts, our Father,

 And all de range of our deceitful minds,

And if you find anything like sin lurking

In and around our hearts,

Ah ast you, My Father, and my Wonder-workin' God

To pluck it out And cast it into de sea of Fuhgitfulness

Where it will never rise to harm us in dis world

Nor condemn us in de judgment.

You heard me when Ah laid at hell's dark door

With no weapon in my hand

And no God in my heart,

 And cried for three long days and nights.

You heard me, Lawd,

And stooped so low

 And snatched me from the hell

 Of eternal death and damnation.

You cut loose my stammerin' tongue;

You established my feet on de rock of Salvation

 And yo' voice was heard in rumblin' judgment.

I thank Thee that my last night's sleepin' couch

Was not my coolin' board

 And my cover

Was not my windin' sheet.

Speak to de sinner-man and bless 'im.

Touch all those

Who have been down to de doors of degradation.

Ketch de man dat's layin' in danger of consumin' fire;

And Lawd,

When Ah kin pray no mo

When Ah done drunk down de last cup of sorrow

 Look on me, yo' weak servant who feels de least of all;

'Point my soul a restin' place

Where Ah kin set down and praise yo' name forever

 Is my prayer for Jesus sake Amen and thank God.TOP

 As the prayer ended the bell of Macedonia, the Baptist church, began to ring.

. "Prayer meetin'night at Macedony," George Thomas said.

"It's too bad that it must be two churches in Eatonville," I commented. "De town's too little. Everybody ought to go to one.

"It's too bad, Zora, and you know better. Fack is, "de Christian churches nowhere don't stick together," this from Charlie.

Everybody agreed that this was true. So Charlie went on. "Look at all de kind of denominations we got. But de people can't help dat cause de church wasn't built on no solid foundation to start wid."

" Oh yes, it twas! " Johnnie Mae disputed him. " It was built on solid rock . Didn't Jesus say 'On dis rock Ah build my church?' " 

 "Yeah," chimed in Antie Hoyt. And de song says "On christ solid rock I stand and 'Rock of Ages.'

Charlie was calm and patient. "Yeah, he built it on a rock,but it wasn't solid.  It was a pieced-up rock and that's how come  de church split up now. Here's de very way it was:

Christ was walkin' long one day wid all his disciples and he said, "We're goin' for a walk today. Everybody pick up a rock and come along." So everybody got their selves a nice big rock 'ceptin' Peter. He was lazy so he picked up a li'l bit of a pebble and dropped it in his side pocket and come along.

Well, they walked all day long and de other 'leven disciples changed them rocks from one arm to de other but they kept on totin' 'em. Long towards sundown they come 'long by de Sea of Galilee and Jesus tole 'em, "Well, le's fish awhile. Cast in yo' nets right here." They done like he tole ,em and caught a great big mess of fish. Then they cooked ,em and Christ said, "Now, all y'all bring up yo' rocks." So they all brought they rocks and Christ turned 'em into bread and they all had a plenty to eat wid they fish exceptin' Peter. He couldn't hardly make a moufful offa de li'l bread he had and he didn't like dat a bit.

Two or three days after dat Christ went out doors and looked up at de sky and says, "Well, we're goin' for an other walk today. Everybody git yo'self a rock and come along."

They all picked up a rock apiece and was ready to go. All but Peter. He went and tore down half a mountain. It was so big he couldn't move it wid his hands. He had to take a pinch-bar to move it. All day long Christ walked and talked to his disciples and Peter sweated and strained wid dat rock of his'n.

Way long in de evenin' Christ went up under a great big ole tree and set down and called all of his disciples around 'irn and said, "Now everybody bring up yo' rocks."

So everybody brought theirs but Peter. Peter was about mile down de road punchin' dat half a mountain he was bringin'. So Christ waited till he got dere. He looked at de rocks dat de other 'leven disciples had, den he seen dis great big mountain dat Peter had and so he got up and walked over to it and put one foot up on it and said, "Why  Peter, dis is a fine rock you got here! It's a noble rock! And Peter, on dis rock Ab'm gointer build my church."

Peter says, "Naw you ain't neither. You won't build no church house on dis rock. You gointer turn dis rock into bread. "

Christ knowed dat Peter meant dat thing so he turnt de hillside into bread and dat mountain is de bread he fed de 5,000 wid. Den he took dem 'leven other rocks and glued 'em together and built his church on it.

 And that's how come de Christian churches is split up into so many different kinds cause it's built on pieced-up rock.  TOP

There was a storm of laughter following Charlie's tale. "Zora, You come talkin' bout puttin'de two churches together and not havin' but one in dis town," Armetta said chidingly. "You know better'n dat. Baptis' and Methdis ' always got a pick out at one 'nother. One time two preachers-one Methdis' an de other one Baptis' wuz on uh train and de engine blowed up and bein' in de colored coach right back of de engine they got blowed up too. When they saw theyself startin' up in de air de Baptis' preacher hollered, 'Ah bet Ah go higher than you! ' "

Then Gold spoke up and said, "Now, lemme tell one. Ah know one about a man as black as Gene."

"Whut you always crackin'me for?" Gene wanted to know. "Ah ain't a bit blacker than you."

 "Oh, yes you is, Gene. Youse a whole heap blacker than Ah is. "

"Aw, go head on, Gold. Youse blacker than me. You jus, look MY color cause youse fat. If You wasn't no fatter than me You'd be so black till lightnin' bugs would follow you at twelve o'clock in cle day, thinkin' it's midnight."

"Dat's a lie, youse blacker than Ah ever dared to be. Youse lam' black. Youse so black till they have to throw a sheet over yo' head so de sun kin rise every mornin'. Ah know yo' ma cried when she seen you. "

 "Well, anyhow, Gold, Youse blacker than me. If Ah was as fat as You Ah'd be a yaller man. 

 " Youse a liar. Youse as yaller as you ever gointer git. When a person is Poor he look bright and de fatter You git de darker you look.

 "Is dat Yo' excuse for being so black, Gold?"

Armetta soothed Gold's feelings and stopped the war. When the air cleared Gold asked, "Do y'all know how come we are black?"

"Yeah," said Ellis. "It's because two black niggers got together. "

"Aw, naw," Gold disputed Petulantly. "Well, since you so smart, tell me where dem two black niggers come from in de first beginnin'. "

"They Musta come from Zar and dat's on the other side of far. "

 " Uh, hunh! " Gold gloated. "Ah knowed you didn't know whut you was talkin'about. Now Ah'm goin to ter tell you how come we so black:

Long before they got thru makin' de Atlantic Ocean and  haulin' de rocks for de mountains, God was makin' up de people.  But He didn't finish 'em all at one time. Ah'm compelled to say dat some folks is walkin' 'round dis town right now ain't finished yet and never will be.

Well, He give out eyes one day. All de nations come up and got they eyes. Then He give out teeth and so on. Then He set a day to give out color. So seven o'clock dat mornin' everybody was due to git they color except de niggers. So God give everybody they color and they' went on off. Then He set there for three hours and onehalf and no niggers. It was gettin' hot and God wanted to git His work done and go set' in de cool. So He sent de angels. Rayfield and Gab'ull to go get 'em so He could tend some mo' business.

They hunted all over Heben till dey found de colored folks. All stretched out sleep on de grass under de tree of life. So Rayfield woke 'em up and tole 'em God wanted ,em.

 They all jumped up and run on up to de th'one and they was so skeered they might miss sumpin' they begin to push and shove one 'nother, bumpin' against all de angels and turnin' over foot-stools. They even had de th'one all pushed one-sided.

So God hollered "Git back! Git back!" And they misunderstood Him and thought He said, "Git black," and they been black ever since. TOP

Gene rolled his eyeballs into one corner of his head. "Now Gold call herself gettin' even wid me--tellin' dat lie. 'Tain't no such a story nowhere. She jus' made dat one up herself.

"Naw, she didn't," Armetta defended. "Ah been knowin' dat ole tale."

 "Me too," said Shoo-pie. "Don't you know you can't git de best of no woman in de talkin' game? Her tongue is all de weapon a woman got," George Thomas chided Gene. "She could have had mo' sense, but she told God no, she'd ruther take it out in hips. So God give her her ruthers. She got plenty hips, plenty mouf and no brains. "

"Oh, yes, womens is got sense too,',' Mathilda Moseley jumped in. "But they got too much sense to go 'round braggin "about it like y'all do. De lady people always got de advantage of mens because God fixed it dat way."

"Whut ole black advantage is y'all got?" B. Moseley asked, indignantly. "We got all cle strength and all de law and all de money and you can't git a thing but whut we jes' take pity on you and give you." 

 "And dat's jus' de point," said Mathilda triumphantly., "You do give it to us, but how come you do it?"

 And without  waiting for an answer Mathilda began to tell why women always take advantage of men.

You see in de very first days, God made a man and a woman and put "em in a house together to live. 'Way back in them days de woman was just as strong as de man and both of 'em did de same things. They useter get to fussin 'bout who gointer do this and that and sometime they'd fight, but they was even balanced and neither one could whip de other one.

One day de man said to hisself, "B'Iieve Ah'm gointer go see God and ast Him for a li'l mo' strength so Ah kin whip dis 'oman and make her mind. Ah'm tired of de wa things is." So he went on up to God.

"Good mawnin', Ole Father."

"Howdy man. Whut you doin' 'round my throne so so dis mawnin'?"

 "Ah'm troubled in mind, and nobody can't ease mah spirit 'ceptin' you."

 God said: "Put yo' plea in de right form and Ah'll hear and answer."

"Ole Maker, wid de mawnin' stars glitterin' in yo' shin crown, wid de dust from yo' footsteps makin' worlds upo worlds, wid de blazin' bird we call de sun flyin' out of you right hand in de mawnin' and consumin' all day de flesh and blood of stump-black darkness, and comes flyin' home every evenin  to rest on yo' left hand, and never once in yo' eternal years, mistood de left hand for de right, Ah ast you please to give me mo' strength than dat woman you give me, so Ah kin make her mind. Ah know you don't want to be always comin' down way past de moon and stars to be straightenin' her out and its got to be done. So giv me a li'l mo' strength, Ole Maker and Ah'll do it."

"All right, Man, you got mo' strength than woman."

So de man run all de way down de stairs from Heben he got home. He was so anxious to try his strength on de woman dat he couldn't take his time. Soon's he got in de house he hollered "Woman! Here's yo' boss. God done tole me to handle you in which ever way yo' boss."'

De woman flew to fightin' 'im right off. She fought 'im frightenin' but he beat her. She got her wind and tried 'irn agin but he whipped her agin. She got herself together and made de third try on him vigorous but he beat her every time. He was so proud he could whip 'er at last, dat he just crowed over her and made her do a lot of things she didn't like. He told her, "Long as you obey me, Ah'Il be good to yuh, but every time yuh rear up Ah'm gointer put plenty wood on yo' back and plenty water in yo'  eyes. 

 De woman was so mad she went straight up to Heben and stood befo' de Lawd. She didn't waste no words. She said, "Lawd, Ah come befo' you mighty mad t'day. Ah want back my strength and power Ah useter have."

"Woman, you got de same power you had since de beginnin'."

 "Why is it then, dat de man kin beat me now and he useter couldn't do it?"

 "He got mo' strength than he useter have, He come and ast me for it and Ah give it to 'im. Ah gives to them that ast, and you ain't never ast me for no mo' power."

 "Please suh, God, Ah'm astin' you for it now. jus' gimme de same as you give him."

God shook his head. "It's too late now, woman. Whut Ah give, Ah never take back. Ah give him mo' strength than you and no matter how much Ah give you, he'll have mo.

De woman was so mad she wheeled around and went on off. She went straight to de devil and told him what had happened.

He said, " Don't be disincouraged, woman. You listen to me and you'll come out mo' than conqueror. Take dem frowns out yo' face and turn round and go fight on back to Heben and ast God to give you dat bunch of keys hangin' by de mantel-piece. Then you bring 'em and Ah'll show you what to do wid 'em."

So de woman climbed back up to Heben agin. She was mighty tired but she was more out-done that she was tired so she climbed all night long and got back up to Heben. When she got to heaven butter wouldn't melt in her mouf.

"0 Lawd and Master of de rainbow, Ah know yo' power. You never make two mountains without you put a valley in between. Ah know you kin hit a straight lick wid a crooked stick."

 "Ast for whut you want, woman."

 "God, gimme dat bunch of keys hangin' by yo' mantel befo' de throne."

"Take em."

So de woman took de keys and hurried on back to de devil wid 'em. There was three keys on de bunch. Devil say, "See dese three keys? They got mo' power in 'em than all de strength de man kin ever git if you handle 'em right. Now dis first big key is to de do' of de kitchen, and you know a man always favors his stomach. Dis second one is de key to de bedroom and he don't like to be shut out from dat neither and dis last key is de key to de cradle and he don't want to be cut off from his generations at all. So now you take dese keys and go lock up everything and wait till he come to you. Then don't you unlock nothin' until he use his strength for yo' benefit and yo' desires."

De woman thanked 'im and tole 'im, "If it wasn't for you, Lawd knows whut us po' women folks would do."

She started off but de devil halted her. "Jus' one mo' thing: don't go home braggin' 'bout yo' keys. jus' lock up everything and say nothin' until you git asked. And then don't talk too much."

De woman went on home and did like de devil tole her. When de man come home from work she was settin' on de porch singin' some song 'bout "Peck on de wood make de bed go good."

When de man found de three doors fastened what useter stand wide open he swelled up like pine lumber after a rain. First thing he tried to break in cause he figgered his strength would overcome all obstacles. When he saw he couldn't do it, he ast de woman, "Who locked dis do'?"

 She tole 'im, "Me."

 "Where did you git de key from?"

"God give it to me.

He run up to God and said, "God, woman got me. locked 'way from my vittles, my bed and my generations, and she say you give her the keys."

 God said, "I did, Man, Ah give her de keys, but de devil showed her how to use 'em!"

"Well, Ole Maker, please gimme some keys jus' lak 'em so she can't git de full control."

"No, Man, what Ah give Ah give. Woman got de key."

"How kin Ah know 'bout my generations.

 "Ast de woman."

So de man come on back and submitted hisself to de woman and she opened de doors. He wasn't satisfied but he had to give in. 'Way after while he said to de woman, "Le's us divide up. Ah'Il give you half of my strength if you lemme hold de keys in my hands."

De woman thought dat over so de devil popped and tol her, "Tell 'im, naw. Let 'im keep his strength and you keep y' keys." 

 So de woman wouldn't trade wid 'im and de man had to mortgage his strength to her to live. And dat's why de man makes and de woman takes. You men is still braggin' 'bout yo' strength and de women is sittin' on de keys and lettin' you blow off till she git ready to put de bridle on you. TOP

 B. Moseley looked over at Mathilda and said, "You just like a hen in de barnyard. You cackle so much you give de rooster de blues."

 Mathilda looked over at him archly and quoted:

 Stepped on a pin, de pin bent

And dat's de way de story went.

"Y'all lady people ain't smarter than all men folks. You got plow lines on some of us, but some of us is too smart . for, you. We go past you jus' like lightnin' thru de trees," Willie Sewell boasted. "And what make it so cool, we close enough to You to have a scronchous time, but never no halter on our necks. Ah know they won't git none on dis last neck of mine."

 "Oh, you kin be had," Gold retorted. "Ah mean dat abstifically."

"Yeah? But not wid de trace chains. Never no shack up. Ah want dis tip-in love and tip yo' hat and walk out. Ah don't want nobody to have dis dyin' love for me."

Richard Jones said: "Yeah, man. Love is a funny thing; love is a blossom. If you want yo' finger bit poke it at a possum.

Jack Oscar Jones, who had been quiet for some time, slumped way down in his chair, straightened up and said, "Ah know a speech about love."

Ruth Marshall laughed doubtfully. "Now, Jack, you can't make me b'lieve you know de first thing about no love."

"Yeah he do, too," Clara, Jack's wife defended.

 "Whut do he know, then?" Ruth persisted. "Aw, Lawd,"

Clara wagged her head knowingly. "You ain't got no business knowing dat. Dat's us business. But he know jus' as much about love as de nex' man."

"You don't say!" Johnnie Mae twitted her sister-in-law. "Blow it out, then, Jack, and tell a blind man somethin'. "

 "Ah'm gointer say it, then me and Zora's goin' out to Montgomery and git up a cool watermelon, ain't we, Zora?"

 "If you got de price," I came back. "Ah got de car so al we need is a strong determination and we'll have melon."

"No, Zora ain't goin' nowhere wid my husband," Clara announced. "If he got anything to tell her it's gointer be right here in front of me."

Jack laughed at Clara's feigned jealousy and recited:

Song Poem

When the clock struck one I had just begun.

Begun with Sue, begun with Sal, begun with that pretty Johnson gal.

When the clock struck two, I was through, I was through with Sue, through with Sal, through with that pretty Johnson gal.

 When the clock struck three I was free, free with Sue, free with Sal, free with that pretty Johnson gal.

When the clock struck four I was at the door, at the door with Sue, at the door with Sal, at the door with that pretty Johnson gal.

 When the clock struck five I was alive, alive with Sue, alive with Sal, alive with that pretty Johnson gal.

When the clock struck six I was fixed, fixed with Sue, fixed with Sal, fixed with that pretty Johnson gal.

When the clock struck seven I was even, even with Sue, even with Sal, even with that pretty Johnson gal.

When the clock struck eight I was at your gate, gate with Sue, gate with Sal, gate with that pretty Johnson gal.

When the clock struck nine I was behind, behind with Sue, behind with Sal, behind with that pretty Johnson gal.

When the clock struck ten I was in the bin, in the bin with Sue, in the bin with Sal, in the bin with that pretty Johnson gal.

When the clock struck eleven, I was in heaven, in heaven with Sue, in heaven with Sal, in heaven with that pretty Johnson gal.

When the clock struck twelve I was in hell, in hell with Sue, in hell with Sal, in hell with that pretty Johnson gal.TOP

 "Who was all dis Sue and dis Sal and dat pretty Johnson: gal?" Clara demanded of Jack.

"Dat ain't for you to know. My name is West, and Ah'm so different from de rest."

 "You sound like one man courtin' three gals, but Ah know a story 'bout three mens courtin' one gal," Shug commented

"Dat's bogish," cried Bennie Lee thickly.

"Whut's bogish?" Shug demanded. She and Bennie were step-brother and sister and they had had a lawsuit over the property of his late father and her late mother, so a very little of Bennie's sugar would sweeten Shug's tea and vice versa.

"Ah don't want to lissen to no ole talk 'bout three mens after no one 'oman. It's always more'n three womens after every man.

"Well, de way Ah know de story, there was three mens after de same girl," Shug insisted. "You drunk, Bennie Lee. You done drunk so much of dis ole coon dick till you full of monkies."

"Whut you gointer do?" Bennie demanded. "Whut you gointer do?"

 No answer was expected to this question. It was just Bennie Lee's favorite retort. "De monkies got me, now whut you gointer do?"

 "Ah ain't got you to study about, Bennie Lee. If God ain't payin' you no mo' mind than Ah is, youse in hell right now. Ah ain't talkin' to you nohow. Zora, you wanter hear dis story?"

 "Sure, Shug. That's what Ah'm here for."

 "Somebody's gointer bleed," Bennie Lee threatened. Nobody paid him any mind.

"God knows Ah don't wanter hear Shug tell nothin'," Bennie Lee complained. "Ah wish yo' monkies would tell you to go hide in de hammock and forgit to tell you de way home. "

]Shug was getting peeved. "You better shut up befo'Ah whip yo'head to de red. Ah wish Ah was God. Ah'd turn you into a blamed hawg, and then Ah'd concrete de whole world over so you wouldn't have not one nary place to root."

 "Dat's dat two-bits in change you got in yo' pocket now dat's talkin' for you. But befo' de summer's over you'll be rootin' lak a hawg. You already lookin'over plus lak one now. Don't you worry 'bout me." Bennie Lee tried to ask his well-known question but the coon dick was too strong. He mumbled down into his shirt bosom and went to sleep.