Note to readers: The character Edophel also known as Edith has been changed to Edie. The Wiley character’s name has been changed to Lysander.
Five boys, two sisters, and our parents Pearl and Will, made up our little family. We lived right on Number One Highway in Kershaw County, South Carolina. It was a small home, but we took in boarders in the five cottages out back. I guess cottage is an uppity word, more like one room shacks. But in the early nineteen hundreds, a shack is a roof over your head.
Pearl and Will both had been lint heads, they worked in the cotton mills and that was the term that put them and all of us who worked in the mills down and for the most part kept us down. It was a shame, as cotton made the South what it was, and it took all of us from the pickers, to the balers, to the spinners, to the machinists, to the dyers, to the fabric inspectors, to those who sewed garments in a plant to be shipped for sale, as well as, to most of us who sewed our own clothes from bolts of cloth that could dress a whole family.
By the time I was tall enough to reach the looms, I too, was a lint head. Our whole family worked and survived in the Mill Village. It wasn’t a bad life. We had our own Mill grocery stores, churches, schools, doctors; if we needed it, we either made it ourselves, or the Mill had a place we could use our hard-earned money to buy and give that money right back to the Mill. It seemed like such a set up to make the Mill owners richer, yet it worked; the Mill took care of us and we worked to take care of them.
I was the second oldest, and my sister followed me two years later. We helped Pearl and Will take care of those boys ‘best we could. That’s why what happened will forever lay heavy on my heart.
Baby boy was with me and Diane as we fixed pinto beans, cornbread, country ham, and sweet tea a’fore Pearl and Will got home. Those other boys had been botherin’ us somethin’ awful while we were tryin’ to fix supper. I had yelled at them to go ‘way and leave us be. Willy and Bubba and Alvin and Arty left and hung ’round the Mill tracks playing like they usually did. Let them bother them engineers and conductors. They’d soon be chased ‘way frum there, too.
There wuz always trains comin’ and goin’ frum the Mill. All night long we’d hear that train whistle long a’fore it got here. You’d think we’d never get any sleep; yet it comforted me; I knew I wuz home; I knew that for now I could rest; I knew for now no one wuz botherin’ me ’bout nothin’.
Them boys loved to play marbles for keeps. I wuz constantly fishin’ marbles outta the wash water when it was laundry day. Truth be told, I’d sneak one or two of ’em for my secret box. They were so pretty and I loved the way they caught the light when they were fresh cleaned. It really wuzn’t stealin’ as they would have lost ’em for sure if I hadn’t rescued ’em from the wash water.
Baby boy wuz being so cute on the floor playing with that kitty that showed up yestidy on thuh porch. I say showed up, I’m sure one of those boys probably encouraged him right on up those porch steps and sealed its fate by giving it a cup of milk. Wish’t I’d seen that! Bad as they be, those boys can make me laugh til it hurts!
Diane wuz pullin’ thuh cornbread outta thuh oven when Alvin came a screamin’ into thuh kitchen. We couldn’t make out whut he wuz sayin’, but it wuz clear we needed to follow him. I scooped up Baby boy, Diane put a towel over the cornbread and turned the fire down under thuh beans. We ran fast as we could. A bunch of men were crowded together. Two of the men had picked up Willy and Arty and were bringing them over to us. The boys looked like they’d seen a ghost! It wouldn’t surprise me if they had; so many tales and stories about men who’d traveled in thuh boxcars and fought their way on and off trains any way they had to; survival their only hope.
‘Bout that time Baby boy decided to start bawling. I stuck muh finger in his mouth, hoping that’ud help. One of thuh men came over to me; he wuz one of our Sunday School teachers at thuh Methodist Church. “Edie, take these children on home. I’ve sent for your Daddy. My wife’s gone to fetch your Ma.” “Yes sir, but where’s Bubba? I can’t leave him here! He’s got to come home, too!” “We’ll see he get’s home, Edie. Do as I say, Gal. Make your Ma proud.”
My mouth got so dry I could only nod my head. I gathered ’em up, and with thuh two men still holdin’ Willy and Arty, all six of us turned towards home. By that time, Alvin had caught up with us and had his arms wrapped around Diane. We moved not like children, but like old worn souls; our feet heavy as lead.
I never really knew whut happened. We never were told anything. Thuh boys acted crazy-like; all quiet and sad and nobody played marbles ever agin, not my boys.
John 14:1-4 The Message
“Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”
To be continued.