Living On The Dark Side of Dixie

I kin hear the music and angels chime

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Dad and daughter living best they can

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Where'd I come from?

(Writer’s note: Writers, both of book, essay and song, have tried to capture just how deporable the living conditions were in the early south. This is “my” attempt to capture those painful feelings that came to visit those downtrodden people everyday of their lives. If I have failed, I do not mind. At least I tried. Kenneth).

Yeah, I came from a shimmed-up, beaten-up shanty a sharecropper would call “heaven.” It had a roof with two leaks, the wooden-floor has ants, other men’s pants, snakes and splinters, yeah, mama, I was proud to be from the south. Iron skillets and greasy pans, my mama’s soft skin was blisters on her hands, but papa, bless his soul, stayed on the dirt five days, and in the dirt the other two. Yeah, mama, Jesus loves me. I still have one shirt, and can write down my name.

Devil whikkey, demon in glass, hard rains, old pains, painted eyes and ice. That was papa’s life. Swearin’ Monday he’d quit ‘til Sat-tidy, yeah, mama. I am from the south—Greenville, Delta, Greenwood Springs. Vardaman, Hauca, and Indianola Springs. White, black, B.B. too--hungry for Blues, and soles on my shoes.

Modern shacks is all that's changed

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How'd we live?

Raised dem swine, sucked my wine, lied to girls livin’ in pine. Yeah, mama. She left me whilst it was dark—never seed it comin,’ she smelt like my pillow and two days back, we laid in the shade of my willow. What a gal. Wanted my scratch and an open latch. Yeah, mama, can’t leave my south with Big Pink rollin’ from inside my mouth.

Plowstock, city block, what does it mean? Work, die, live and sing. Funeral pyres, pusher’s jar, and papa’s drunk again. Sunrise six, bacon raw. Fire’s out, mama, where on earth did your girlhood go? Drag my bones against the coals, sinning my time, working the sod, crying for God and brother ain’t here anymore. Sweatin’ my love to early death—getting’ my meals in poison seed, oh Lord, if ye’ hear me, take me quick, for my tongue can barely lick.

Yeah, mama, I know the song—are ye’ listenin’? I wanna sang . . .

Saddness thicker'n darkness

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My song. My words

“Wish I wasn’t in the land for-gott-en . . .we use-ta’ grow wheat, corn and cotton . . .what a day . . .what a day . . .what a day . . . Memory Land.”

“Oh, I wish you were the Dix-ie, to-day, to-day . . .In Dix-ie, man, I sell my stand . . .to fall and die in Dix-ie . . .to-day . . . to-day . . .away from poor man’s whi-kkey.”

Pretty good, huh, mama? I missed one verse, but you know, mama, why’s that hearse ridin’ gravel roads to us with loads? Can ye’ tell me that? I sits on the porch--you cook and hum . . . count ‘em . . .one, two . . . three . . .Delbez, Dixen, Poor Lily too . . .why the hearse drive so slow . . .mama, please know! Mama, please know! My sun’s down again, mama. I sleep in the dirt in the shade of “the cross” at night . . .yeah, mama. The dark part of the south is mine. All mine.

Hate the dew on my sore feet, mama. “Jake,” is getting’ too old to pull dis plow and I can’t tend these four-acres by my lonesome, mama. Nobody seems to “neighbor us,” with fatback, beans, and cornpone . . . some plague hit ‘em I guess. Come up, “Jake,” let’s break some clods. And iffen ye’ gets tired, gest stop an’ nod. Hey, mama. This is the south. The crueling South.

Mama, don’t scorn me so. My feet’s dirty, I know, but the plowin’s done. Got dinnuh ready? Mama? What you mean, no water? Ol’ Jess’ll fetch ye’ some. Mama, reckon I’ll ever get me a woman? Oh, I need to live heah. Mama, I’m a naturally-growed man with needs my life . . .oh Lawd, just to have one dime, and wouldn’t ye’ know it, the rusty ol, beat-up pump is needin-a prime.

Sharecropper heaven

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Mama, pleeze lemme go!

Oh, mama, that’ll be fine . . .I kin hear thu music and angels’ chime . . .Lemme stand heah, mama, no harm in dat, I can feel “his” dark hand ‘round me . . .brittle, cold, and flat. Mama Hard tack’s good, mama. Red peaches in the pie was Okay sumthin too. Supper? Oh, just hush myself, bathe myself and sleep. Oh, mama. Why is life suh bad? I be blind if it wuz good. Oh, Lawd, why we still living heah? Tell me! Lawd don’t talk tuh sinner folk, that’s what a radio preacher spoke, but all we knows is sufferin,’ starvin,’ beggin’ and broke.

Run heah, mama! Read to me . . . Blues man Hopkins and Howlin’ what? Com—ing to . . .Green—wood for one s-how . . .tonite, mama! Tonite! Canst I go, mama? Oh, Lawd, mama, I needs tuh go---lissen to some songs, talk to Sissy Jean and fuhget who and whose I be. What, mama? Lets it be? Sin’s on foot—walkin’ at me, Mama, pleeze! They ain’t no getting’ fuh me! I gives dirt my blood, you my love, the Lawd my soul, look, mama! Muh hands, eyes, and back’s-a getting’ old! And look, mama, the leaves is gone, and time’s getting cold.

Gest one time, mama. Gest once, let’s me be uh man, standin’ sure, an’ holdin’ “her” hand . . .I don’t’s wants the front uv his stage, out da fence will be gest fine . . .mama, pleeze! Can I git papa’s old hat? I ain’t wore city clothes since the day we lay him flat . . .pleeze, mama! . . .

, I’ze goin’ . . .little at a time . . .a measured life with bloody twine . . .ne’er knowin’ what wuz mine . . .see that muh seed gets thu sun . . .for mama, “Ol’ Jess’ work in dis natchel hell is done.

Got wooden floors with splinters, ants, and snakes

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Comments 10 comments

Treasuresofheaven profile image

Treasuresofheaven 2 years ago from Michigan

You did an amazing job capturing the language and the photos to go along with the story-line. Living in the South wasn't easy long ago - just don't know how blessed we are.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

This was awesome, Kenneth. You've captured the language and rhythm of Dixie along with the tribulations of the poor. I recognize many of these terms from my southern roots and from my Daddy who was raised by a sharecropper in South Georgia. These pictures truly speak volumes.


sheilamyers 2 years ago

My mom has told me stories about the people you describe. She was raised in Tennessee and knew many of the sharecroppers and other poor people. I love how you wrote the hub using all of the words as you did.


Ann1Az2 profile image

Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

I think you described conditions pretty realistically. Well done and the photos are perfect.


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 2 years ago from California

Except for the hunger, ants and splinters people are trying to live in tiny houses and have only one pair of pants again calling it minimizing and sustainable. Strange what people think.

Must confess I thought the little houses guest workers lived in during harvest in the central valley were neat. There was nobody there after harvest. The workers all went home to Mexico the rest of the year. Those houses looked lonely when they were empty. This is a beautiful piece of work.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

tirelesstraveler,

Thanks for the insightful comment, but this wasn't about Hispanics, but the poverty-stricken places over in the Delta lands of Mississippi a few years after the Civil War and when our nation was still one race in dominate positions.

Still, it could be interpreted as what you viewed.

But your line, "beautiful piece of work," put a lump in my throat.

My sincere thanks.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Ann1Az2,

Thank you, dear friend, for the sweet words.

You and your comments mean so much to me.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Hi, Treasuresofheaven,

Thank you for your kind words. They moved me. And I agree. We do not know how blessed we really are.

Thanks again. Things like this piece grieve me to depression.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

PegCole17,

Thank you, dear friend, for the sweet comments. I have told you and others that I was the son of a sharecropper and those memories do not leave.

But this was about the lands of the Delta toward Clarksdale, Miss., Indianola and that region in the old south.

It was by the grace of God that people even survived.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Hi, sheilamyers,

Sharecropping was a noble work and my dad was a sharecropper. We did not know how poor we were even in northwest Alabama during the mid-50's and early 60's, but once I sat foot into the city school system having been thrown from the rural schooling system our state used to support, I knew I was in a culture shock.

But oh what good times that were interwoven into the bad.

Thanks, Sheila, for your friendship and following.

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