Jonah saves the farm
Jonah began the story of how he got his last name. He projected a feeling of great pride when he spoke about his heritage, his history. He knew darn well that he alone might be the last oral historian in his family’s long line of storytellers, that brought the past to the present. Not all of Jonah’s memories were bad ones.
He was eager to share the next chapter in his life with his young listeners. “Some, time later, there was a great and powerful storm, all the winds came from the east. Blowed feathers off da chickens. Bent the trees over, then all get very scary and still silent. No wind no how. Hounds all a houlin, barking caring on an such.”
He paused long enough to hit the pipe and take a big spit right into the fire. “Animals all runned off. Overseer Black Adam he have a fit cuse he in a fix. He man-in-charge while the master off. He get punished, bad punished if things not right when master home. The thought of punishment was too great on Black Adam. So he runned off with the last horses. Now I Jonah, knowed that things getten badder. Then wind came up from the west stronger than other. It broke trees off in other direction leaving just stumps. Nothing but fire wood used for. All firewood, all firewood and broke stumps.”
There was an expression of amazement on Jonah’s face when he said, “How I now living now, I no, know. I was praying, Jesus up dar in heaven, gets us out this wind. I believes, I believes He hep me be safe, and gets us out this wind. Wind so high ain’t see no nothing. But I started singing. Singing like I’s in the field. Singing like calling for someone. And all the people, colored people, white people came running at me. There was so many people I scared. I ran to the shed with all the cotton. Just jumped in all that cotton. People and cotton. Wind and cotton, in you mouth, in eye. Some sang da Lord’s Prayer, some cry a lot and holler. All safe, only-est one person got front teeth knock off, hit by windy board. No kill. Thank Jesus in heaven. No kill. No kill.”
Jonah cowardly bowed his shoulders and said, “When master come home he seed the mess from long way. It days for he home. The master was so pleased when he found out all that had been saved, from all that was lost. All the peoples, colored folks, the white folks told him about Jonah singing. How they had trusted me to go to the safe place of the shed, because Jonah was trusting the Lord to save him. All them had heard me a praying to the Lord Almighty and me singing. Jesus had saved us all.”
Jonah somehow found the way to speak kindly, “The master broke right down and teared his face. He freed me and my missy wife. He gave to me a team and wagon, so supplies, tools and money to go north and buy a farm that belong, me owner.
The master told us that, “a great war was coming.”
Jonah said, “ he convinced us that me and my kind needed to be on the other side of the mountains where they be safer. Safer north. Safer North. When master freed me he name me whole.”
His old master told Jonah, “God saved you, God freed you, so now you name is Jonah Godfreed.” He said, “millionaires die and leave all they got. Everything they got, they ain’t carry nothing with them but thar name.”
Holding his head high and proud, Jonah said, “So, he named me Jonah Godfreed, so to, a good name to take with me.”
No encouragement from the children was needed, to keep Jonah telling them more about his coming to America, “When he, uh, when he bought me at New Orleans, he raised me, in Texas, Galveston, Texas where I was raised in. And the man that raised me, he name Jonah Godfreed, and that’s the name he give me. He gave me Jonah Godfreed. He always teached me and his children. He treated me just like he treated his children, in everything, not one thing, everything. We ate together, we slept together. All the boys now, we just talking not about the women now. All we the boys slept together. I was, uh, raised with his own younglings.”
Chunky asked, “tell us something about my great-grandma, your mother papa.”
“My mama was a house woman, and uh, my father was a field hand, and white folks kept me around the house to tote cool water. Houseboy like. And uh, they had two weavers weaving, had two looms running every day. I’s big boy, carry cotton onto weavers to make weaving.”
One young lady asked, “did all the children on the plantations play together?”
Jonah answered, “Well you know I’d go out in the quarter to play with them, other children. And if I hurt one and they caught me, they would wear me out. Well the, the white folk told me, when they get at me, make it to the yard. Well sometime I’d go out there and get to playing, one would hit me, I’d get a brick and show it to him and to the yard of younglings. Don’t nobody say nothing after that. And, uh, I, went on that-a-way.”
Jonah turned the right side of his face to the fire so all could take a good look. “Yes, sir. And that scar,” pointing to his forehead, “because a boy throwed a rock and hit me here. When, when, when ah, I was ah, young, you know, and hit me. When I was little. Coming on out there, I call it, Old Lady Slop Room, after done eating.”
A boy next to the fire asked, “what kind of things did they make you do when you were a slave, Jonah?”
He answered right away. “And then, as I went on to tell you about, they made molasses way back then. They made wood, the carpenters made wooden mills. And they’d grind that molasses and they had a vat, big kettle to make it in, you know, had big fire put the kettles on. And when that molasses was made, they had a big long trough to pour that molasses in. No barrels at all. I never seed a barrel then, nothing but long troughs. And when you get your molasses made, they had plank to cover them troughs.”
Jonah went on to tell them more about his experience with slave labor, “Now, now when I was a boy they used to make soap. Well I was large enough to tote water to the soap makers to put on ash hopper. Now they didn’t have no barrels, they had boards, you know. And uh, them boards come in that-a-way,”
Jonah pointed off to his left, ” you know.”
Then he pointed back to his right, “that-a-way, them boards was there. Well, all these here, and you’d lay some crossway to hold the ashes. And then I’d tote water and put on that ash, ash hopper for the soap maker. Now he’d make soap for the whole plantation, and uh, make about two or three times a season. And along then, I ain’t seen none, no bar soap. They might have had some at the big house, but I never seed none.”
Jonah asked, “guess what was the worster job I’s remembers.”
No one answered right away so Jonah told them, “And had, uh, something dug in the ground, hole, deep hole and board up on each side, it was plank. Well it was about three-foot-deep I reckon, and about eight or ten foot long. Well, they tan leather. You smell if from far off, is bad, bad, nasty, is nigh as I can come at it, but I knowed right where it was and which way to walk.”
There was an unmistakable expression on each child’s face, something did not smell good. Laughing together they traded unpleasant sounds between each other and kept listening for what came next.
Jonah told them, “They’d lay a, lay a bark down in that hole, and then they’d lay, lay a hide over that bark. And then they would lay another layer of bark and another layer of hide, till they got it like they want. And then they’d fill that thing up with water. But now, before they’d tan that, that leather, they had to let it lay a while and get the hair off it. And when they got done with that leather it’s just like any tan leather, and they had a man there to make shoes for all us. Now we was children, good size children, going about, that shoemaker make shoes for we children. And the old folks too. Was my first shoes, Jonah shoes.”
The next request came from one of the older boys. When he asked his question, it sounded like the young lad had a big chip on his shoulder. “They treat you pretty good?”
“We had mighty good white folks, my memory, far as I can remember, you know, mighty good, mighty good,” Jonah answered him with confidence that he was telling the truth.
“You know they must have been good. Yes sir, they treat me nice. They treat me nice as they could treat me. I’s came up here, over here, from Texas to Pennsylvania, United States. An’ they all treating me mighty nice, all the white folks that know me, they treats me nice. And if I want anything, I’ll ask for it. I was taught in that-a-way by my old master. Don’t steal, don’t lie, and if you want anything, ask for it. Be honest in what you get. That was what I was raised up with. And I’m that-a-way today.”
One of the boys put some more sticks on the fire, and while he was stirring the ashes, he asked, “how were the black people mistreated back then in slavery times?”
Jonah paused again, he looked at his pipe, he glanced at the fire, and back to his pipe, He did not want to go here or what to say next. He was trying to avoid saying anything that would upset his grandchildren.
He saw no way out of answering the question, so he said, “I know of times they, when, when they mistreated people, they did, and I hear our folks talk you know, about them whipping you know, till they had to grease their back to take the holes from the, the back. Good Lord have mercy. That was bad sure. Them white folks were that a way. But master sure didn’t allow his colored people be whupped, no how. They use the whip on, horses and the ox, not ever hurt his coloreds. Not ever hurt colored folk.”
All the younger Godfreed children wanted to know about their grandma. Chunky was the only one that dared to ask his papa, “you haven’t told us anything about your missy wife?’
It got real still then. Everyone that had been up listing to Jonah all night had notice he avoided talking about her. The silence was deafening.
Then he spoke very sharply, “she dead too soon.”
As his own words sunk into his memory, the older man became young again, as he thought about her. “She good as any man, can plow and lay off a corn row as good as any man. Chop, and chop, pick cotton. She pick five hundred pounds of cotton. Knock out five hundred pounds. Then walk across the field and, and hunt watermelon, pomegranates and such. My missy, your grandma, was in the big house. She house slave.”
Jonah poured out his heart that was full of good memories of his missy, “My missy, she take care of the children. In the morning before sun, getup, put on the cereal, and stop and wash the children hands, brush their hair. She would put the tablecloth upon the table. And get the mat and put them on top the tablecloth. Then get this knife and fork and plate, put them upon the table. So, when missus and master and company sat down eat. Then she and the old woman feed all the colored.”
Someone asked, “Out of all you told us tonight what, do you remember, the most dear to your heart.”
Another voice, “What is your fondest memories of the older days.
And yet another, “What else did you do when you were our age?”
Jonah was, all-ready, with his answer before they had finished asking their questions. But his response was just not what they had expected when they asked him. He had lived, and survived, and grew up living as a slave. He evidently had seen more than what he had already shared with them. Their curiosity had the best of them now.
Jonah interrupted the line of questioning and said this, “The thing I’s member the most from all that bad happen, the thing most dear to my memories in my heart, most important thing I learned, I teached to you now. The Lord Jesus loves ya, he was always there for me, Him there today, right now, and He there for all of you to. The most valuable possession I’s still have with me today from my boy times, is my talk with Jesus.”
Jonah took a toke on his pipe, and another, and another, and finally got it going again. But the weed had all but run out. Now there was nothing left but hot ash glowing in his pipe. In one motion, with little effort, he was reloaded, puffing and spitting out tobacco, and his story.
“I was born in Africa. I’s born a slave to my mama, she was slave to Black men that sold colored men, woman, children, to white sea captains on big ships. They bring us New Orleans, United States to be sold. Black men started me a slave. Black men stole colored people from their home.”
With anger in his eyes Jonah said, “Black men put me in chains, and get to the white sea captains. There was some white folks that in slavery that teached us about Jesus. We did not understand, just want to be free from slave. So, we believe the stories. I’s pray just like they did. And I’s know Jesus going to hep me not be slave. I’s always talk’in to Jesus.”
Jonah preached to his grandchildren, “I’m telling you now we ain’t nothing without the Lord. Got to put our trust in Him that gave us. That’s the onlyest way I’m still walking round today. I trust the Lord will bless you all. You all hold onto the best you can while we live. Take the Lord with you.”
Jonah begin to clap his hands and sing. “Ever hold you hands in his?”
Then he hummed a few lines. “I would say, get in trouble, all you got to do is call Him. See! Only one you can call.”
Jonah sang a little louder, “Yes, sir. Call Him. Call Him. That’s all of you. And this young lady right here, you know,”
Jonah leaned over and hugged the child under a blanket that had been leaning on him for a while to keep warm. “I know ah, you all’s buddy, that’s why I come up here tonight talking to ya. Talkin about slavery time and all. Great God almighty there’s our Lordy up heaven there. Him name Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. He fix’in a great place, gold roads, nobody hungry, no body hungry. Colored folks, white folks, all be gathered as brothers and sisters, brothers and sisters in Christ. Swing low sweet chariot take me home to Jesus.”
He was all wound up now and Jonah told them, “I’m telling you now, our people got to do right in the sight of God, because he knows all about us. And I’m, and I’m so thankful. And I tell you, young people these days, the young folk, the young folks ain’t taking the time. Is ya?
Jonah looked around to see if everyone was listening to him, “Time to read the Bible, those that read, those that read can teached those that ain’t read no how. For God himself up dar in heaven, he sent his onlyest boy child to be a slave down here on earth. He dead on a cross of wood, piece of a tree, then used them big-o-nails put thru hands and feet on him. He died to set all the slaves to sin be free men and woman.”
Jonah opened their minds to the blessed assurance that, “Now, all we-all do here and now, is believe, believe, just in what he say down in his Bible book. Younglings dat taking the time, read that book, knows what God want. All peoples book. All peoples book. For them.”
Jonah’s ability to remember the past was picking up speed. He found himself like a preacher man on Sunday morning. He looked out at his gathered congregation and said, “I was at ah, a white man church, and ah, a man got up to speak. You know, we never heared the sermon preached before, bout dry bones.”
One of the girls said, “what about bones?’
Without answering her he kept his story going saying, “The man couldn’t even speak, until they wanted him to. So, when he got put up on a bench, up front, he come there to speak, I take notice. I take notice, in that big Bible book in his hand. Preacher man say he talk bout dry bones in that Bible. And we ain’t know nothing bout no dry bones. Preacher man says God gave us, the Lord’s 10 commands. Lord is coming. Yes, sir, that day is coming. That day is coming. That day is coming and we got to prepare that day.”
One quick look at the children and Jonah saw they were all still listening, he said, “Now all us knowed God gave us, the Lord’s 10 commands. Yes sir, we all knowed Lord is coming, we just want to know bout dry bones in the Bible.”
Preacher man went on to tell Jonah, “That day is coming. That day is coming and we got to prepare that day.”
Jonah said, “ I want to hear the first trumpet when it blows that morning. God, gave us commandments, Lord. God gave us Christ and he taking us all home to heaven.”
Then the preacher man said, “God raising the dead, and how the Lordy his self, have to come and pick up all our dry bones. He raise to heaven all the dead folks.”
Relieving himself of a little chuckle, Jonah grinned, “We all just bust’in at the seams of our britches, laughing at that preacher man’s talk bout dry bones.”
Jonah went on with his sermon, “Well, I tell you don’t people, don’t, don’t pray like they used to. They don’t care so much for it. Who is we all without the Lord? Hmm? He hold us in the hollow of his hand. All power in his hand. But the young ones is forgotten that. Yeah. But I’m telling you myself. And then they shame, they don’t, don’t honor him like they ought to. I pray up to heaven, please don’t lock the door. Jonah is coming, Jonah is coming. The witness is in our breath. The witness is in our breath.”
Jonah picked up a bug with a small stick, and he surprised everyone when he put it into the fire. “Judgment is near at hand. It’s near at hand. It’s written in the Bible. Time ain’t long. Do you believe it? I said, Luther, you can go right ahead, be dat Satan. But it’s the truth, but God are going a put a curse on you. And I say, you mark what I tell you Devil man.”
Someone asked, “tell us about when you were a little baby and a little boy.”
Jonah just laughed, “Oh, when I’s was a baby I, well I, I’s couldn’t remember nothing. I couldn’t remember nothing from when I was a baby. No sir.”
That remark got a big chuckle from the peanut gallery. Jonah took a toke on the pipe, and the smoke came out his nose as he started talking again.
“Back when we was children, you know. Wasn’t able to, to, tend to no, tend to no other children. I had a older brother though, he could tend to children. In the, you know, just sit them down in a corner and put this child, you know how little children, put this child in between his leg, and then hug his hand around this child, that’s the way he nursed them. Couldn’t stand up with him. Couldn’t, you know, just enough, you know, shake him this way in the arms.”
Jonah pretended to be cradling a baby in his arms. “I, I can remember that. I had a brother, name, Willard. And he just shake that child so gentle like in his arms. Set him in the floor sleeping. And he, and if that child kick much, he’d fall down and play dead, kick him over too, you know, and catch him in his arms and hug him big time. Willard he got tick fever, mostly die, he can’t do to much no how sept baby keeping.”
The girls were talking among themselves and finally one of them asked, “who fed the babies?”
Jonah explained to the girls, “They had certain times to come to them childrens. I think about this like a cow out there will go to the calf, you know. And you know, they’d have a certain time, you know, cow come to his calf and at, at, at night. Well, they come at ten o’clock. Everyday at ten o’clock to all them babies. Give them what nurse, you know. Them what didn’t nurse they didn’t come to them at all, the old lady fed them. Them wasn’t big, wasn’t big enough to eat, you know. She’d ah, the old mother had time, you know, to come feed um. When that horn blowed, they’d blow the horn, for the mothers, you know. They’d just come just like cows, just a running, you know, coming to the children. Out of the fields. Out of the fields. I don’t know how old they, couple years, till it was big enough to walk, I guess.”
Another one of the girls asked, “what bout when the babies get hungry at the nighttime, did they feed them?”
Jonah answered, “yes, ma’am, twice a day. Come there and nurse that baby. He couldn’t eat, you know. But one dat could eat, he wouldn’t come until dinner time. But little one what couldn’t eat they’d fed them in the shade.”
Chunky had a great interest in his father’s past. He had already retold some of the stories to the younger ones in his family. His favourite ones were about his papa when he was his age. So, he asked Jonah, “Did you mama pass down any stories about you when you were our age?”
“I remember when she used to tell me about the day when I’s was uh, little sprout and used to ride the oxen and things. Yeah. Oh, my papa drove some, the big old oxen. He had one with, uh, big with wide horns. Oh, looked like a house.”
Jonah seemed to slip into a second childhood as he described his childhood experience. He even got down on his knees to make himself shorter, as he encouraged his listeners to believe he also once was young.
“Wide horns, and, and, and I used to set up there in between them horns. And he, his name were, Old ’Steamboat. His name Old’ Steamboat. He named Old’ Steamboat, cuse when it be frost cold, the steam shoot out his nose like the old river boats smoke. The other ox him name Samuel.”
“And papa drive them to church that day. And put da children in the, in the old, old ox wagon and carry them there. And, and I’d get up there and on, and on, and on Steamboat, clinging on Steamboat horns, and sit up there. Sit up there just as big as I was setting in a house. Him back so wide, so big, I could lay down all flat and nap a while.”
“Well, papa went to, went to, to lumber. Want to get some lumber, and he had to go cross the river. It was in the summertime, about the same this year, in June, and the, the, the old oxen got hot. They got hot. Oh, and then, uh, when we no knowed anything, papa knowed anything, them old oxen done run off in, runned off in the river with us, with us, with that, with that wagon.”
“And, and there I sat up there in the old’ Steamboat horns. Sit up in old oxen horns. Oh, and he’s wading through the water, and I was setting up in there. I stayed in there too. I held to his horns. I held to his horns. I didn’t fall off in the river. I held, I’m telling you, I held it too, yes I did. Oh, oh, my papa was just a whipping with that whip, trying to get them out of that uh, river. And we was, and old Steamboat and Samuel was coming through. They come out too. Yes they did but not till they got good cooled, and a big drink. They no move till done gettin big drink.”
Someone asked, “Jonah, what was the worst thing you can remember about those days.”
Some things a person experiences in their own life are too bad to remember. From some experiences, we learn a more important lesson from going through it, and it should never be forgotten. Jonah tried to walk the very thin line between the two, when he spoke about the past, to his youth of the feature.
“Some white folks hurt bad the colored folks. I’s don’t, don’t much like talk bout dat, couse have to think bout dat slavery time, slavery time bad for colored. My eyes see bad, bad thing one day. Remembers a hanging. But ah, ain’t nobody know what the man done or nothing. Ain’t nothing at all about it. And they hung him. They tied and hung him. I went to that place, they were hanging a boy, standing there looking about was, his mama, brothers and all, out yonder held back by the overseers.”
An older young lady asked Jonah, “did you watch someone get hanged?”
Jonah answered her, “Yes, ma’am, I stood and looked. And the, the, a gallows was up as high as here covered this house, and got all the people all out the field coming around all standing in line. And this, this, this boy standing their rope around his neck. And ah, I tell you that’s something for you to look at. I don’t know what I ain’t seen in my life. Terrible sight I know. And when they got ready to touch the lever, and when they touch the lever, that boy, that he had the rope around his neck, and they just caught him hanging by his neck. I’m afraid that believe your eyes. Believe your eyes.”
There was a sudden burst of questions all at once but the voice that was the loudest got an answer, “You say his mother was there?”
Jonah replied, “Mama, father, brother, and all right there in the line. Overseers make them in the line, so they can watch good. And I never saw such crying in all the days of the Lord. And I’m telling you, start living on the Lord. And, I’m just telling you all. They say he moves in mysterious ways and his wonders are many. And he plants his footstep in the sea. And he rises up on the storm. And when this storm come, there was, this boy they hung, and they say there was a hundred men, right around here just to see. And they, they, they would not bury the boy. They burn him up. They burn him up. And they had to burn the boy up by tonight you see, you see, you see. And all the people stood and watched till dark.”
Everyone kind of knew that after so much time, one of the girls would ask, “tell us some more about our grandmother, please.”
No one ever heard of any other name for her, other than what Jonah always said, “my missy.”
That question, strangely, was avoided by all and was not being asked by the young listeners. None of them asked because that’s the way they all remembered her, “my missy.” She had died long before any of the children were born.
Once again, Jonah’s attitude abruptly shifted, back, back to a very deep sore spot in his memory. This was why he did not like to talk about his life as a slave. Sure, everything was terrible while he was a slave. But the hardest thing for him to think about it all was the memories of her. These memories were so unique and precious to him, but they reminded him of what he had lost. Lost long ago. That is why he never wanted to talk about slavery times because he had to think about her. But Jonah thought it was more important that the children know about their grandmother, so he kept answering all their questions.
Unwillingly Jonah began, “She was born behind a rich white woman. She sure was. She wasn’t no poor woman. No, she wasn’t. Her husband was living then. Oh, she wasn’t no poor woman. She, ah, she brought my missy up here from the South, oh from one the other, in this country. She brought my missy here to Texas, when she was young. Oh, my missy was young. She wasn’t grown. Oh, she brought there to the land where I was. Oh, way up Texas, and get grown.”
Jonah continued telling them about his wife, “In day time, my missy, she tends to all the children with the old woman. Tend to the children. Just like, you know, you bring a whole lot of children, you know, and put them down, you know, at one house. Well, there somebody have to look over them, you know and tend to them, that way. Just a house full of them children. And if one act bad, you know, they’d whup him. They’d whup him. And if the old woman didn’t tend to the children, they’d whup, they’d whup her too. You know to make her tend to the children, she wasn’t doing nothing. Well she was a cripted woman, you know. She was an old crippled woman, and they’d whup her.”
Still talking about his time in slavery Jonah said, “But there be a house, you know, where are feed all the other children. I call that a slop room place. After she done, in the morning, at the big house, my missy, goes and feed the coloreds. And they had trays, I don’t know where you see a tray today. Wooden tray. dug out, you know, all about that, that long.” Jonah held out his arms and stretch as far as he could while still setting down. “And all of them you know would get around that tray with spoons, and just eat. I can recollect that because I ate out the tray. With spoons, you know, and eat, treat you like mush or soup or something like that. But feed them, you know, before twelve o’clock. And all them children get around there and just eat, eat, eat out that thing. No table, no cloth, ain’t no fork and knife, big long tray, and gots his wood spoon.”
He had a disgusted look in his face when Jonah talk more about feeding the slave children, “And that old woman, you know, she would tend to them. Just like slopping hogs wasn’t it. It, just like a tray, you know, just like a tray, you know, you have, it’s made just like a hog pit, a hog trough, you know , hmm, that nasty. And, and ah, of course you know they’d wash them things and scald them out for the children. I didn’t see them scald, but that what they told me, they scald them out, you know. For the children. And ah, them children eat out of that, that thing and, that’s with wood spoon, if one would, if one reach his spoon over in the other’s hand, over in the other’s place, he going hit him. Hit him, you know. Knock that, knock that there, s-s spoon back, you know, on his side. On his side.”
Speaking more about his wife, Jonah said, “Oh. Well, my master, have me to help my missy with the big house work chores. Tote water, stacks the firewood box. I’s big enough to help her, she young yet. I be da yard boy. She be house slave in da, big house. I’s don’t know how we not get together when they has us in the pantry night time, so’s she can be ready to fix vittles in the morning. Stayed there till, was grown young man too. Kept the house, the yard and all the horses. Yah, sir.”
Then Jonah told the children, “Oh, oh. In them days, them days the white people had control over the, colored marriage, slavery time, that slavery time. Those wouldn’t hardly agree no matter no how. They brought my missy to this country, she wouldn’t let nobody take, take her away. She raised here there, with, with her children. She raised her there with her boys and girl. She didn’t have but one girl. Oh, but she had five or six boys, some die. She didn’t have but one girl, and she, and she was a little. She was little. She wasn’t no big girl. Oh. Oh, but she stayed there till she got to be older, then she sold.
Surprisingly it was not one of the girls that asked the next question, “Now, who did the cooking for the plantation?” From the young man’s size, you tell this boy liked to eat.
Jonah turned up his nose a little. He remembered what he mostly had to eat back then, mush, fried grease, and dough, and once the while, the salt pork and beans. “I don’t know what the old woman’s name done the, the cooking. A master Jake did tell me not, not long ago, who done the main cooking. You know they didn’t cook, cook in the ah, kitchen like here, they’d have a, off, off kitchen. Off from the house.”
Jonah explained, “In the south it was too hot to cook inside the house like folks does now. So, they had cook fires off the kitchen yah know.”
A heavy-set young man asked, “did they really do the cooking out side like a bar-b-que?”
Jonah answered, “They cooked, you know, on the outside. Right in the yard, but no, they cooked it out, out there, and then brought it to the house. They always brought it to their kitchen, when I was a child. And then pack the vittles, you know, to the kitchen. Pack it to the kitchen. They didn’t have, they wasn’t cooking in the, in the kitchen dining room. Once, the twice, a year they do da pit cooking, we got real full too just like this day here.”
Jonah rubbed his big belly and gave out a fake burp. Leave it to one of the boys to ask, “Jonah, did you hear anything about the Indians in the days when you were young and the things that they did.”
Jonah put on his best tuff man’s face and said, “The Indians were pretty well gone at that time down there I think. But not, farther north. Oh. I have seen them, but I didn’t know them. I’ve seen them, but I didn’t know nothing about them. But I did have doing with them a once. Met one with an axe. Caught them in the smoke house at the bacon, taking at night time. They were more hungry than us coloreds, let him take some meat but I’s took back the axe. Good for me he wanted food more than kill me. Then they all gone.”
Jonah checked his pipe, knocked out the ash on his pant trousers, and rubbed it into the cloth. He took out some more tobacco and reloaded his friend. With the stem of the pipe, he pointed to the nearest child. He said, “Another exciting thing in my early childhood was the colored baptizing. How they did it. All the candidates for baptism was standing on the bank of the pond over in the cow pasture. They all dressed in long white gowns, with white caps on their heads, ready to be buried in baptism. And the song, as they were being led into the water by the minister was this:
Oh, brother, keep your lamp a trimmed and a burning.
Keep your lamp a trimmed and a burning.
Keep your lamp a trimmed and a burning.
Just like the light of God.”
Jonah begin clapping his hands on the backbeat and stomping his feet on the down. He did some real ham-boneing, between slapping his thigh and clapping his hands.
“Oh, sister, keep your lamp a trimmed and a burning. “
Jonah grabbed a young girl about 8 or 9 years old by her hand, and they begin to dance around the fire. He kept on singing.
“Keep your lamp a trimmed and a burning.
keep your lamp a trimmed and a burning.
just like the light of god.”
By this time, all the children were singing to Jonah’s call and response. He sang the first line and then they all sang together. Everybody was thrilled and filled with a good spirit.
“Oh, mourners, keep your lamp a trimmed and a burning.
Keep your lamp a trimmed and a burning.
Keep your lamp a trimmed and a burning.
Just like the light of God.
Oh, sinners, keep your lamp a trimmed and a burning.
Keep your lamp a trimmed and a burning.
Keep your lamp a trimmed and a burning.
Just like the light of God.”
The choir gave themselves well-deserved applause, and they sang some more old tunes together. They all knew from school. Jonah asked two of the bigger boys to go over to the woodshed and get a few sticks for the fire. And he sent some of the girls to fetch water from the well because his mouth was too dry from talking so much.
Jonah said, “Maybe time for us-all-here to get down to doing some sleeping, hay?” The response is what you might expect from young children that are getting to stay up late. The answer was, “NO!”
A young man stood up and stirred the fire sending more sparks up into the night sky. Jonah pointed to some sticks on the ground, and the boy added them on top of the red-hot coals. The dry wood quickly took off burning, snapping, and popping. It lit up the darkness with an orange glow that sent spooky shadows dancing threw out the trees.
Then he asked, “Jonah, did you ever see anybody get punished, ah, did they ever whip you?”
Jonah answered right away without hesitation, “Master used the whip for the farm animals. Never hurts any of us coloreds, but did hear of some. Well, once when I’s bonded out to nother plant there was a, ah, house gal that got bad treated.”
“She be a house gal running and playing with another girl, and just catched her by her wrist this-a-way.” Jonah grabbed his arm with his other hand and gave it a little twist. “Both them pushed down in a rocking chair. When their mistress come home, that girl she crying, mistress asked her what was the matter, you know. She told, that gal hurt her, hurt her wrist. And ah, and mistress asked that gal, ah, what ya-all doing in this house here hurting this girl?”
Jonah shook his head in disgust with what he was about to tell these children. He was not too sure if telling them would be a good idea. Some things may be better left unspoken about. But, deep down in his heart, he remembered his master telling him to always do your best at whatever you are doing.
“Be good boy, be good man, be honest and always tell the truth.” That what master Jake always told Jonah.
And he thought to himself, “These children need to know the truth.”
This story was going to need a fresh pipe, so he got ready. But when he dropped it on the ground in front of him, there was a scramble of children trying to retrieve it for him. The fastest one won and handed it to Jonah.
He changed the subject right then and there and told all the children, “Listen to me, don’t ya all ever start, don’t ever start. Leave the pipe alone, Jonah wish he be, never even try. Don’t ever even try. Jonah gots the bad cough from the tabacca. Don’t even try.” Trying to change the subject again, he said, “Now where was we?”
Jonah was just stalling. He did not want to tell them this, but he did anyway. “That gal not hurt that girl, she told da mistress that. She say she wasn’t hurting the girl, but the thing is anyway, well the mistress dragged her to the peach orchard and, whupped her. I’s there, seen it happen. And, you know, just tied her hands this way, you know, around the peach orchard tree.”
Jonah held out his arms in a big circle. The children could quickly tell that this story was not easy for him to say to them. It was like he, Jonah, felt a little responsible himself for not helping her that day. “I remember that just as well, look around a tree, see, and whupped her. Well she couldn’t do nothing, but kick her feet out at them. The more she kick, more the keep whupped her. They didn’t have her plum naked, but they had her clothes down to her waist. And every now and they they’d, whup her.”
Jonah looked at hot ashes in his pipe, “You know, and then, snuff the pipe out on her, you know. Snuff the pipe out on her. You know, with embers in the pipe. I don’t believe what ever I seed, the pipe still smoking and snuff out on her there like that. You know, with embers in the pipe. Good God! I said, I don’t believe what I’s seed, I not stay to witness no more, I runned off. I was wake till morning that night.”
Someone else asked, “Didn’t she scream?”
Jonah choked as he tried to answer that question. He still felt like he should have done something to help that gal, but the truth was, if he had wanted to help her, he would have been punished far worse for just trying. “Yeah! I think she was. I think she did, but she mouth bound too. But you see there was we, was daring to go out there, where it was, you know. Because ah, the overseer he would whup us if he catch can. You see, that overseer, her papa, her papa was the overseer but he had to whup her. He whupped her too. He really sure did whup her. Well, he ah, he a whupped her so that at the night they had to grease her back. Grease her back. I didn’t know what kind of grease they had, but they sure greased her back, and night you know, that way. They just grease her back.”
As hard as it was, Jonah kept on telling the story, “And ah, so after him, after so long on the tree, so, whupping being so long, that way they quit. Then they give her, her dinner. Late that evening they give her dinner. Late that evening of course she been whupped so bad then, you know, she didn’t want to eat, you know. If for they whupped you half a day, you ain’t want to eat no how, you know.”
Jonah felt like he was going to lose some of that fine meal they all had just enjoyed. These memories made him just plain sick. He excused himself and went behind some trees. Then, the children could hear him sobbing in the darkness. They all wanted to go to him and comfort him, but before anyone could move, he came back out of the dark.
As Jonah was returning to his hot seat, he looked around to see if anybody had been watching. With a face full of tears, he said, “Man tears, man tears, those,” with his finger, he wiped tears from his face and held them up, “are man tears. Good for man to cry when pain so much. Jesus cried for us, cried tears, Jonah cried for that gal, her tears done all used up, all used up. Jonah cry man tears for that gal.”
Jonah was not the only one with tears in his eyes. He looked around, and he could tell that his young listeners were deeply affected by the truth. There is no way to soften the blow when the facts hit you in the face like an old wet dishcloth. It takes a while to get the stink off. But you always remember how it smells. They all knew that the pain they felt now about these stories was nothing in compared to what the colored folks felt when they went through slavery. Their heritage, their history was being passed on to them now.
Jonah told them that they hold the responsibility, to tell the truth. They had to pass on the good stories that made them laugh, as well as the tuff times too. But this is what he wanted them to remember the most.
He said, “members that the Lord loves ya. He loved us first, so we-all would know how’s, ah, to love each other.”
Jonah stood up, adjusted his self so that he stood really proper. Then he looked the children right in the eye, and said, “The most important I’s can ever teach you, is about Jesus. Jesus. The Lord, Jesus. He is everything to me.”
Jonah thought for a moment to himself. He could look back at his whole life in a flash, and he felt so unworthy of the precious gifts that the Lord had blessed him with over his lifetime. He had survived an unbearable trip here from Africa fighting for his life all the way.
He had been separated from his mother and left alone. And when he prayed to the Lord, He saved him by protecting him from harm with the white ship captain. He found himself on the block of slavery. And when he prayed to Lord, He saved him by guiding the hand of the man that bought him, to rise Jonah as his own.
Once again, Jonah looked up into the sky. The dawn was starting to cut through the clouds, and the fire was going out again. He smiled at the children that were surprisingly all still awake. He could not believe it.
Then he started to sing. “Do ya member a song, a old song, it called, Go Down Moses?” They all started yawning, but trying to pick up their spirit, Jonah began to sing, and they all followed in and joined him.
“Tell old Pharaoh let my people go,” Jonah sang with a real deep voice, and his choir sang back with the bright sounds of their youth. “Let my people go!?” and they all kept singing.
“When Israel was in Egypt’s land
Let my people go!?
Oppressed so hard they could not stand
Let my people go!?
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land
Tell old Pharaoh let my people go.”
Soon the yawning took over the singing. Slowly the younger ones went to sleep. But there were still a few that could not stop talking about what Jonah had told them that night. Jonah slipped off into the bushes to relieve himself. As he returned to the smoking fire pit, he could hear a lively conversation about whether or not the few remaining, could talk him into more oral history. They were hooked. And like a fish out of water, their mouths were open and begging for more. In his absence, the young adults had chosen one to speak for them all. A young lady that had been quiet voicetress all evening spoke. “Well, did they have church? Did the slaves have a church?”
Right away, Jonah’s spirit was lifted. He loved to witness to the young people, not only in his family but any of them that would listen to him. He believed there was a better chance of spreading the gospel to the young, more than an older person that may have hardened his heart to the word. Jonah’s voice was energized when he spoke, “And another thing that I members, on that old plantation, that we not talk bout before was church. Ya see, things real poor, but we have the best church God can give us, it outside.”
This was going to require a fresh pipe load. Jonah had scolded his young listeners earlier about smoking, and now he felt a little guilty doing it right in front of them.
He packed the pipe anyway, lit it, and gave a big spit, then said. “Well, I, I well I don’t know about the church when it first started up, no more than the, you know, ah, when I was a child, you know, they used to didn’t have no church, you know, in no house, you know, they always had it in the trees.”
The curious one asked, “In the trees?”
And Jonah answered, “Under trees. Under trees. Yes, ma’am. Under trees.”
Still curious, she asked, “Brush arbors?”
Jonah answered her, “No mam, they didn’t have no brush arbors, they just had it under the tree. You see. Just had it under a tree. And you know, because of church got no building, you know, when they started. But I know when mama and them used to go to church it be under the trees, you know.”
Jonah pointed to the grove of trees behind them. The shadows from the fire were starting to disappear in the early morning light. “Out and under, under the trees. And, and didn’t have no church houses much then. Just like, you know, you get a big old tree, but ah, and clear all out from under it, and make a, dry spot to sit down, you know, and make benches on it, you know, or sits on that ground. That’s what they have for church, in da trees.”
Chunky asked, “Just get together and sing and pray, eh?”
Jonah answered, “That’s all I heard, would hear them sing. And ya know, night come, ah, I’d go and sleep pretty soon. Most time I wake, so ah, I’d sing these here songs we just did sing. We used to go to church, in them trees, and sing them same songs.”
Chunky asked again, “Well, they had preachers under the trees, didn’t they?”
Jonah smiled and said, “Oh ya, I knowed one of them, he named Uncle John. He preached to us. Yes sir. His name, Uncle John.”
The next question came right away, “Was he a good preacher? Did they preach like they do now?”
“Yes sir, he’s a good preacher,” Jonah assured them with an even bigger smile, he said. “They did better. They preached better then. And I reckon, because you see they was ah then, now they preachers by scripts most of the time. But then, you knowed, they just preach, preach by the spirit.”
Jonah pounded on his chest, “They preached from the heart, cause the Spirit in dar. The spirit, spirit let them, you know, preach the truth, whats in the Bible book. They could not preach good without the words in the book. And, and the Lord’ll teach them, you know. Teach them what to say and how to say, you know. He leads um, that what they taught us then. But now you know, they preach us by scripts. You know, they don’t preach by that, seem no more.”
Then a rooster crowed announcing the beginning of a new day. No one seemed to notice because all their attention was still focused on every word that Jonah shared with them. They all wanted to know what he could tell them next. The questions kept coming.
But the rooster had crowed from the top floor of the hospital barn. Chunky was back to reality. The Chief Surgeon had left him just standing there, staring into space. He probably thought it was only best to get away from Chunky after insulting him with bigotry. It was “water off a duck’s back” to the big man. His papa, being a freed slave, had pushed Chunky to excel and do the best at whatever job he had.
Jonah always said, “do the best you can a whatever job they gives ya, even if you are digging a ditch, dig the best ditch you can.”
Jonah also had told him many times, “anything worth putting your time into is worth doing a good job of it.”
This confrontation about race would not slow down this young man. Chunky had the Lord Jesus in his heart, and Jonah had raised him to rise above the occasion when you are confronted by hate. He remembered that the Bible tells us to pray for our enemies.
So, Chunky said a quick, “Bless this man Lord,” and left it at that.
Playing in the band gave Chunky some special privileges along with some dirty jobs. The army could travel great distances marching, even if they did not have the proper footwear. They could fight all day on an empty stomach. But they could not go into battle poorly equipped. Chunky was ordered to help supply ammunition to the troops. He was sent in a company with another team on a secret mission. The soldiers were to deliver a load of cartridges and powder to the army up at the front lines. A six-mule team could draw 25 cases of 100 lbs. Each. It was very dangerous just to be close to the ammunition dump or supply train. The enemy was always trying to blow it up wherever by sabotage or artillery fire.
This trip was no exception to that rule. As the pack-train made its’s way slowly toward the front lines, it was hard for Chunky and the men to tell whose artillery was firing at whom. Shells were landing to and fro, as they pushed forward, towards the rifle fire. Wounded men of both sides were suffering all around them. Covered in mud and blood, it was hard to tell which side they were on. Humanity itself was visibly suffering, and it felt like civilization had broken down.
An incoming shell landed just beside the leading mule. It exploded, killing the animal instantly and igniting secondary explosions of the munitions he was carrying. The men had no place to run. No time to pray. Explosion! Explosion! Explosion!
There are times after a battle were there are no witnesses left alive to tell the living what happened. The onlooker can only guess. The first men to arrive at the scene of the explosions were horrified at the destructive force of the blast. The pack animals must have been carrying some kind of high explosives like dynamite or nitro-glycerine.
Nitro-glycerine was invented in Italy in the mid-19th century. It was a powerful explosive that degrades over time and makes it dangerous to transport and use. In its pure form, it is a contact explosive, and physical shock can cause it to explode
Alfred Nobel, in 1867, invented Dynamite, the first safely manageable stable explosive. Dynamite combines nitro-glycerine with absorbents and stabilizers, rendering it safe to use. But over time, dynamite will “sweat” nitro-glycerine. Crystals will form, making it shock, friction, and temperature sensitive. Old dynamite is prone to blasting accidents.
After his death in 1895, the will of this Swedish inventor established the Nobel Prizes, “for the Greatest Benefit to Mankind.”
The Nobel Peace Prize has been honouring men and women from all corners of the globe for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and for work in peace of the world.
This secret had been kept from the men and the mules. All the trees were pushed out around a six-foot-deep circular hole in the ground. Mud, blood, and guts covered everything left standing. There was no way of telling, man from mule. All had perished during the explosion.
The men that found them had no way of identifying anybody. No one knew who they were or how many men had been killed. They were among the many that were missing in action.
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