Mama told us about the cotton fields, schoolyard memories and Great-Great-Grandmother Elvira, brought to America on a slave ship in the 1800s, the story passed down through generations.
West Texas hot sky, blue steel and white puffs of pain to be picked, black bodies toiling under the sun. Big Daddy ran a store and worked for the white folks across the track, rented out houses, 9 of his 11 children older,mama and uncle Joe, the last of the country brood. Big Mama inhabited traditional women’s space, concerned with family and helping Big Daddy where she could, their dreams manifest in their children’s successes and failures.
Daddy told us about the Hill, hustling, petty and desperate knife battles in the dark and fighting, every day.
Juke joints, small houses, hovels and shacks inhabited by the poorest of the poor lined the dusty, cotton-strewn dirt streets. The Hill led down to a small dry creek and churches to the immediate north, better houses and respectable black folk, the racial hierarchy delineated by the tracks to the west, both sides separate and unequal, reflecting the larger social realities of life beyond the small, country confines of Paducah, Texas.
Mama and daddy grew up together, high school sweethearts who married, raised three children and achieved successes far beyond the cynical promise of a social caste system doomed to extinction from inception, yet practiced doggedly by generations torn by prejudice and fear. Separate schools, unequal opportunities, yet life as lived, filled with happiness and sadness, excitement and the banality of dreary days, the very stuff of life as experienced by all,regardless of site or situation.
The ghosts of this dusty past tumble through the streets like weeds these days. The once bustling town square now reduced to empty storefronts and a quiet courthouse, broken windows and the crumbling detritus of decomposing buildings. The peanut gallery of the movie house overlooks a tattered screen and the hotel lies dormant, spirits of past indiscretions whispering in the dark. Displaced dreams exemplify the American Journey, as generations move past the past, into an uncertain future.
But the cotton fields and the Hill remain, bare of workers and residents, silently reminiscent of more lively days.