By Dale Angel
The big black man sat in the back seat in worn overalls and a checkered shirt. He wore large, ankle-high, shiny, black work shoes that looked new, and a wide brim hat pulled down over his face. He was our passenger. He tolerated disrespect every morning on the ride to the cotton fields, as my dad made unkind remarks. He spoke rarely in a quiet voice to defend himself.
One day, my dad and mom went to town and left me alone at the cabin. Three young men wandered by. They wore black pants, had longish hair combed in a duck tail, and chains hanging from their waist. People called them Zoot Zooters. They stopped and began to tease me in a way I didn’t understand. I was frightened.
Out of the cabin door across from ours came the big black man. He took my hand, and it puzzled me. He talked with them. He kept hold of my hand. They left after a while.
He invited me into his cabin and gave me a cup of water. I had never been there before. Against the wall was a bed made of straw. A scrap made table was covered with an old piece of oil cloth. A box nailed to the other wall contained food stuff. A kerosene lamp sat on a shelf; in the corner was a wood burning stove. I never told anyone about the visits to the cabin. I promised I wouldn’t.
My father continued to be harsh and disrespectful.
One morning, we moved to another cotton patch. He didn’t ride with us. I cautiously looked across the field among the workers who were gleaning and stripping last of the cotton crop. I searched every row.
He wasn’t there.
I wanted to cry. I was angry, and hurt, I wanted to tell someone. Returning to my sack, I pulled the soft cotton out of its sharp fingers and used it to mop warm childish tears.
Those soft wounded eyes that looked at me, saw only me. When the hat was removed, crinkly grey and white hair wrapped around like a wreath. Gentle hands helped me butter warm biscuits, and explained how to cut them in half and dip them in coffee with sugar and canned milk in a whispered voice that covered me like a mantle of warm syrup. I felt taller in the presence of love. I wanted to be pretty and wear black shiny work shoes, and a wide brim hat to cover my head.
In the valley below the cotton field, the train whistled, as it gathered speed. The distant rattle of empty boxcars…were not empty. The freight train disappeared down the tracks…. She… still travels with me, I want her to know I kept our secret.
…..I want her to know …..I kept our secret.
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