'Wide Meadows' - Ka'line's country

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Editor's note: This is a chapter installment from Jean Bell Mosley's book "Wide Meadows" that was first published in 1960.

"Kids have it easy these days, don't they?" Uncle Hayden asked Mama. They were sitting on the well porch and I suppose Uncle Hayden had been watching Lou and me put together a jigsaw puzzle. We did have a pitcher of lemonade close by and a plate of cookies, and living looked easy.

"Well, the girls do their chores, Hayden," Mama defended.

"Chores, bah. Kids don't know what chores are these days. Why, when I was their age. ..."

Lou looked at me across the puzzle and rolled her eyes heavenward. That very day we'd milked the cows, taken them to pasture, fed the chickens, gathered the eggs, hoed in the fields, washed and dried dishes three times, turned the separator, carried in wood, and done lots of other little odd jobs.

"Well, Hayden, chores for farm children haven't changed much since you were a kid."

"But I mean, Myrtle, they don't have any worries. They just eat and sleep, work a little and play a lot. When do kids begin to think seriously about things?"

"Time enough for that, Hayden," Mama replied.

"What is there to worry about?" Lou asked, trying a piece of the puzzle that wouldn't fit.

For answer Uncle Hayden laid his palms open appealingly and helplessly, as if daring us to say what wasn't there to worry about.

"Now, you take the price of cotton," he turned back to Mama.

"That's what I thought, Hayden. You're worried about your old cotton, aren't you?" Mama chided.

"You got cotton, Uncle Hayden?" Lou asked, surprised.

"Why, sure I got cotton, honey."

"Where?"

"Down at Cotton Landing. 'Bout a hundred miles south."

"What's it look like, growing?"

"You mean you haven't ever seen cotton growing?" he demanded of Lou and me, and turned accusingly to Mama.

Trip to Cotton Landing

"Well, corn, beans, oats, barley, wheat -- they've seen all those. Why so excited about cotton? I've never seen pineapples growing either, Hayden."

"Myrtle, cotton is an important cog in the wheels of industry," Uncle Hayden explained with exaggerated patience. "Here you live within a hundred miles of it and the kids haven't even seen it growing." He struck a match violently and lit his pipe in puffing haste.

"Don't you want to see cotton growing?" he asked Lou and me.

"Yeah," Lou said, sensing something interesting coming up.

"Myrtle, let me take these kids down to Cotton Landing with me next week. We can stay at Cousin Colar's. Be good for 'em. Broaden their education. Kids have to take over someday, you know."

"Oh, Hayd, you get carried away with yourself. It'd be a nice trip, but you wouldn't want to bother like that."

"Well, I wouldn't have suggested it if I didn't want to bother."

"No, he wouldn't," Lou said, handing Uncle Hayden a glass of lemonade.

Mama looked at us a minute. "You really want to go?"

"Yeah," Lou said. "We ought to see cotton growin'. Broaden our education."

It was the first time we'd been so far south, and only about the third or fourth time we'd ever seen Cousin Colar and his wife, Becky. The land was flat and uninteresting, we thought. The houses were either enormously big pretty ones or unpainted shacks. And they didn't work in the fields in twos or threes like we did at home, but dozens of them at the same time, some white, some Negroes.

"So that's cotton?" Lou asked, looking down the long rows of green plants. Uncle Hayden and Cousin Colar had driven us out to the fields the very afternoon of our arrival. "Where's the cotton?"

Cousin Colar laughingly explained that it came later, in the fall, the actual cotton that is, and maybe we could come back then, but to get out now and examine it and play around a while if we wanted to. He and Uncle Hayden went off to examine the work of the field laborers.

Didn't like it much

In no time at all we had seen cotton growing and didn't know what to do with ourselves. The folks working in the field yelled to us, did we want a hoe?

We shrank back and sat down in the shade of a tree. Hoes we'd had too much of.

"Do you like it?" Lou asked, letting her eyes sweep the surrounding countryside.

"Not much," I replied, honestly. The tree we were sitting under was the only one for miles and the fields were so big. It made me tired just looking at them and thinking how long it would take me to get to the end of it and back.

Far down the lane we saw a little girl coming with a bucket of water and felt a strange fellowship for her, for many such buckets of water had we carried.

"She won't have any left time she gets here," Lou said, and I saw, too, that it was slopping out with her peculiar run-a-step-jump-a-step-hop-a-step gait.

"Hurry on here with that water, Lynchie Sal," someone yelled from the field.

For answer Lynchie Sal turned the bucket up and let it all spill out at her feet. She stuck her tongue out at the man and wiggled her hands at her ears.

"Why, you little devil. I'll beat the livin' daylights out of you for that!" The man picked up a stick and started toward Lynchie Sal. She beat it down the road, leaving a cloud of dust behind her. A few minutes later we saw her coming back with another bucket full. The workers were at the other end of the field now, so she set it down at the end of the row and came hop-skip-jumping back out to the road. When she saw Lou and me, she stopped, surprised, and stared long and hard.

"Hi," she tried, experimentally.

"Hi, Lynchie Sal," Lou replied.

"My name ain't Lynchie Sal," she said. She stomped her bare foot, raising a cloud of dust, doubled up her small bony fists and advanced toward us.

"That's what they called you."

"They calls me lots of things. But my real name is Ka'line. That's what you can call me. Ka'line." She paused a minute to give us a chance to call her "Ka'line."

"We won't be here long," Lou explained.

"Oh, that's too bad. I was just a-fixin' to ast you all to come up to my house for suppah. We're gonna have fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, sweet 'tatahs, mashed 'tatahs, peas, baked beans, tu'nips, slaw, lettuce, ice cream, strawberries and chocolate cake." She paused for breath. "And soda water and candy and pork chops."

"All that?" Lou asked.

"Oh sure. We always eats well."

Next: Ka'line talks about travels with flying geese.

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