The woman on the porch of the weather beaten old farm house was calling, “Scooter, Scooter… Robert Ethan Lee, get your sisters and get in here and get cleaned up for the church meeting”.
She was young; too young to have 4 children aged twelve to fourteen.
“Yes Momma, I’ll get them.” “They are out by the chinaberry tree.”
The boy ran around the house calling for his twin sisters,”Lucent, Lunette, y’all better get in the house Momma wants us to get cleaned up and dressed for the church meetin. An if you don’t want a whuppin you’ll get moving”
Wednesday evening in the country and even though times were tough there was always time for church, but the Lee family didn’t always go because their old truck didn’t always have gasoline. But when it did and
Sandra Lee (nee Myers) would get her brood cleaned up and changed and they would be off to First Salem Baptist Church in Cottonwood, Alabama
“Mommie why don’t Elroy have to go? If we do” cried Lucent”.
“Elroy is working out in the barn with Paw, and Uncle Robert, they are trying to get the old pump motor running, and it ain’t you place to ask questions, jest get cleaned up and dressed, where’s your sister?’
“Lunette is ready already.”
“Scooter” she called, “Scooter, you better get movin’ if you don’t want a whuppin”
“Yes… Mommie, I’m coming”
Almost instantly they were in the old Ford truck and bumping down the road toward route 84 and First Salem Baptist Church.
It was like this every time Sandra Lee tried to get the kids mustered and ready for anything, but the ‘whuppins’ weren’t just threats, they were real.
It was a drizzly fall day, there was a slight chill in the air me an Elroy was walking down to Mile Long Creek to check on our rabbit traps at the edge of the swamp. The sky was full of grey clouds, there was a buzzard circling over head and with the dreariness of the day the buzzard didn’t make it any brighter. The swamp is full of snakes, cottonmouths and others and some folks say there are gators in there too, but I have never seen one. We stay away from the water as much as possible for that reason and we set our rabbit snares close but not too close to the water.
We just walk around the edge of the swamp on the dirt and cypress knees, often we see snakes and try to bash them with a stick, and you never go into the swamp without a stick. Elroy looked up at the buzzard and said, “sumthin’ must be dead, let’s go see if we can find and see what it was.” Well, Elroy was my big brother and so I would follow his directions most of the time.
Cautiously we proceeded, jumping from one little clump of dirt to the next, trying not to get too wet and all of the while looking for a snake possibly lying on a log or dry spot to warm itself on this crisp fall day. We went down by the creek and crossed over on the log bridge, and made our way to the swamp the going was tough because it was late September and the briars had, had all summer to grow and they were thick and almost as tough as barbed wire. As we got deeper in the woods we could here the coughing caw of the buzzards and realized that there was more than just the one that we had seen.
Before too much farther, we could see the buzzards roosting in an old cypress tree and they would swoop down and then with their “choppy” wing beats the would fly back up and then they would roost again, this was happening over and over, well what it was, was awful, there was a “chainganger” lying on a small mound of dirt among some cypress knees, he was half in and half out of the water, he wasn’t dead but he was close to it and he was fighting off the buzzards, with a tree branch. I knew he was a “chainganger” cause he was wearing the stripped suit that they all wore. Elroy let out a whoop and charged into the water, waving his stick and yelling at the top of his lungs, “yeeee, yeeee haw, get, get, yeeee haw, over and over, I never saw him act so brave, but I never witnessed him in the face of danger before. I couldn’t imagine him doing sumthin as brave as that. He took his big stick and actually started beating on one of the big birds, I think that he may have killed it he ran, more like waded and slogged through the dark water and mud over to where the “chainganger” was a lying’, like I sad he was half in the water and half on the land, the buzzards didn’t want to give up their prize but Elroy kept on flailin’ at the buzzards, he yelled to me “Scooter, go get Paw and Uncle Robert, tell em’ what’s happening”
I tore out runnin and whooping and hollering, I got tangled in a big briar bush and got my arm scratched pretty bad, it was bleeding but it didn’t hurt because I was so excited about what all was happening.
I wasn’t too far from the house when Paw heard me and he come a runnin’, when he saw my arm bleeding he asked what had happened and if Elroy was okay, I told him that my arm was okay and it wasn’t Elroy who was in trouble, but it was a chainganger.
Well, it turns out thet the chainganger, who was a black man, had escaped from the road gang, the guards shot him while he was running but he swam across the river, made his way up mile long creek to the swamp.
He almost died.
Paw and Mommie patched him up. Mommie sewed up a gash over his eye and then sewed up his leg, where it looked like he’d been shot. Mommie was good at doctoring. Mommie told me to go out to the road and pull her up a mullein bush so she could make a poultice to put on the gunshot, “mullein will pull out the poison” she said. She had sewed up Elroy’s foot where he stepped on broken bottle in the creek, and had sewed up my leg where I got it caught on the barbed wire, while running from Mr. Jacob’s bull and she always made a poultice out of mullein or sometimes tobacco...
The next day she told the mail man to tell the sheriff that he was here.
He slept that night in our barn, Uncle Robert kept an eye on him but the chainganger was too weak to fight or run. he said that Mommie and Paw should have just let him die cause they would “Kill” him when he got back to the prison camp but he thanked them anyway and said “ God should bless you for taking care of a stranger and a prisoner and a black man, God bless you and your family.” We never heard anything else about him; they probably did kill him when he got back.
Barnstormer’s at the Fairgrounds
Life has changed at the “Lee” farm, since Paw got his job over at Jacob’s Dairy and the depression is getting over with, it’s not done but things are much better than they were a couple of year ago, heck they are better every day, that is better than the day before.
After his first payday, Paw came home from Montgomery, with a new dress for Mommie and some cloth for her to make the twins matching outfit’s, there was enough left over that she made me and Elroy matching shirts, boy if we didn’t look the part. Then Paw came home with a flyer from the County fairgrounds, the County Fair was coming up and Paw said that we was all going, and we could wear the outfit’s that Mommie had made, well that suited the twins and it didn’t bother me none, but Elroy threw a fit, saying,” all my friends will laugh at me dressed like my brother and sisters”, Paw asked, “if he was ashamed of us” and he said “yes” Well, mister Paw lit into him and told him how he should be proud of his family, but he didn’t have to wear the shirt, but he wasn’t going to give him any money for rides or nothing.
When the day of the fair finally came, we all loaded into the truck, Mommie and Paw in the front and a box for the twins to sit on and me and Elroy, sitting in the bed or standing up and looking over the top.
I had never been to the Fairgrounds before; I had only heard some of the other kids in school talking about it.
Boy, would you look at this, there was big tents with the livestock, there was cows, hogs, sheep, goats, and all kinds of birds, there was chickens with fluffy legs, and others with fluffy heads, there was more stuff to look at than you could see in just one day.
On the other side of that same tent there was food that folks had put up in jars, every thing that you could imagine peas, beans, tomatoes, okra, corn, you name it, and it was there. There was cooked stuff that was in a contest and I wish I could have been one of the judges, they got to eat an taste everything, there was cakes and pies, jelly, preserves, fruit and pickles and just about anything else that you could imagine.
Then over on the other side there was the “midway” that’s what they called it, I don’t know why thy called it the midway because it was on the side, not the middle, but on the midway there was this great big tent, not as big as the livestock tent, but big enough, and there was this man outside and up on the stage, talking into this megaphone, that’s what somebody called it, he was talking about the Eight Wonders of the World, Mommie had taken the twins away and had them riding the merry go round, be me and Paw and Elroy was watching the “Freaks” come on the stage, he had a bearded lady, and boy was she funny looking, and a “Giant”, a dwarf, the ‘serpent Man’ who had skin like a snake, a sword swallower a tattooed lady and a bunch more.
Elroy whispered something to Paw, that made him real mad, Paw said, “You ain’t old enough, for that show”, I asked what and Paw said ‘Boy, you mind your mouth too.” I didn’t ask any more.
Then it happened, none of us knew that there was going to be “Barnstormers” I had only seen one real Aeroplane in my life, and it had been way off and nearly behind the trees when I heard it and before I could get a good look it was gone. But, now here was a real Aeroplane, just sitting on the ground and the pilot was a lady, yes a lady pilot
Boy and she was pretty, too. I pushed up to the front so I could get a better look, there was a man, in a red & white striped shirt, and he was selling rides, just 25¢ for a ride around the fair grounds, I asked Paw, but he just gave me that look, that he gives when he means NO! And that was that, but then without saying any thing the “lady pilot” came across to where I was standing and said, “Mister, if it’s okay with you I’ll take your boy for a ride, free.” Well I almost fell out.
Paw grabbed me by the neck as I started to run, he bent down and said, “Don’t you forget your manners, and you tell her thank you when you get back.” Whoa, thank you, shoot, I’d do anything she asked me to do.
The man in the stripped shirt helped me and another boy up into the “cockpit” we sat in the front seat and the “lady pilot” got into the back, the man buckled both of us into the same seat with the same belt, I wasn’t very comfortable, but I was going for an Aeroplane ride.
Before the engine cranked I could smell the lady pilot’s perfume... it was wonderful.
Then the man went to the front of the aeroplane and the “lady pilot” gave him a sign with her thumb pointed up and he turned the big propeller, then it backfired like Paw’s old truck and then it fired off and the noise was unbelievable, the other boy said something but I couldn’t hear if it thundered. We started to roll and then we are off, we are in the air, we are flying, I am in the air, we, I, well she takes us up and turns the Aeroplane until I can see out and the people look like ants, they really do, look like ants.
Well we go around the fairgrounds and then she heads out away from Dothan, and makes big wide turn and I can see down again and there it is, the Lee farm, and Mile Long Creek, and then just that quick we are headed back and on the ground.
When I get unbuckled I raised my hands and give a wave to everybody, just as if I had been the pilot. When I got to the ground I turned to thank her but she was still in the plane, I ran over to the plane and knocked on the side and she looked down, she was beautiful, an angel, the sun was just behind her head and it glowed like a halo, I mouthed “Thank You Very Much”, and she blew me a kiss, Oh, wow.
I think that this was the first time that I felt like I was “in Love”, it was nice and then it wasn’t so nice at the same time, I some times had this feeling when I was talking with Mary Lou Reilly too. But this was a “Woman” not a girl.
I caught a glimpse of the boy who was riding with me and he was hiding behind a tree, he had “wet himself”.
When I found Elroy and told him what had happened he said, “Liar” and then Paw told him and he got mad and wanted to go flying, but Paw told him that I went for free and he didn’t have any money to go blowing off on Aeroplane rides, besides he didn’t wear the shirt that Mommie had made and Paw was a man of his word. Every time I think about Aeroplanes I can smell her perfume.
We stayed at the fair real late, it was well after dark when Mommie came running up, screaming “I can’t find the twins….I can’t find the twins, they are lost”.
Paw said, “Calm down Sandra, jus calm down, they cain’t be too far, did you look in the animal tent?”
‘I looked everywhere, on the rides and near the food and all up and down the midway”
“Did you look in the animal tent?” Paw asked again.
The twins were in the animal tent and a man was letting them hold a baby lamb, it had been born just that morning, I’ll have to admit it shore was cute.