What He Say, Daddy?, What He Say?!

When we were boys, my brother and I had the run of Cypress Street in North Little Rock, Arkansas on oursl porchia Summer visits down home. We ate like kings and fished almost daily between stints of wrestling and throwing rocks at wasps nests and some, mean-as-hell, blue jays.

Early mornings broke thru a small window above the kitchen sink. It was always lined with the hard-skinned, green tomatoes from Madear’s garden below. Every morning, sipping cooled black coffee from Daddy S.L.’s saucer and crunching bites of beautifully browned toast, coated with runny egg and grits, there was little else to satisfy our boyhood needs.

I am certain that the early morning dew of Arkansas is medicinal. We never remembered our shoes and wore threadbare pajamas when walking Daddy S.L. to his blue and silver station wagon, but we were sorely protected from the 5:45a.m. chill. I think now that his smooth, baritone chuckle was our warmth as we skittered back into the kitchen to argue over the last sip of cold coffee and bites of breakfast left on his plate.  We would be curled asleep beneath the small, press board and vinyl table within minutes of his leaving…every morning.

He returned home at 3:30pm and walked in giant steps thru the curled up grandkids watching the black and white half hour of Lone Ranger and a local BOZO The Clown Show. We made it a good luck charm to touch the dirt dusted leg of his work pants as he swiped by. In the kitchen MaDear hard fried them palm-sized perch and boiled hot dogs and beans for the kid’s dinner. We heard them kiss.

Other afternoons he stuck his head thru the door and called for us to “come run with me”.  On those afternoons we headed down to the ballpark at Whitmore Circle to watch men play baseball. The best part of those “runs” were the Mexican tamale cart vendors who surely over delivered on those one dollar, corn husk wrapped bundles. But, the best thing  ever about those “runs” was a singing ball player, they called, “Big Cole”.

From the dugout Big Cole ran thru, what I imagined were, old songs; rifts of blues and names of women and men who had done him wrong. He was older than the players and rarely made it to the plate. I recall him swatting a slow lobbed ball over the Pitcher’s outstretched glove just once. He couldn’t “run slow”, the men teased Big Cole, and he slung the bat and settled back into the dugout. After awhile he began to hum, then riff on the idea of  finding a woman who could “wait til the bottle run dry”. “What He say, Daddy?” my bug-eyed query brought chuckles from the grown ups.

Again, Big Cole riffed on about Birmingham not being a ham at all! We oughta see the one up dat gals draws! And me, “What He say, Daddy? What HE SAY?” Soon, recounting stories of thunderous home runs were overshadowed by the salty tongue of Big Cole and a few others trying to jump into the rowdy workman’s calling.

Driving home, Daddy S.L. said that Big Cole was a “Caller” for the Gandy men who worked to straighten the tracks. The heavy loads of trees being harvested  from deep in the woods would damage the rail lines and could warp the creosoled drenched ties. He said the “Gandy Dancers” and work crews from the Penitentiary “throwed” them back in line. Big Cole sang to the men and got everybody on the same rhythm to make the job easier.

Daddy S.L. said that Big Cole hung around places and picked up stories to use in his songs. Later, in July, he drove me to the Little Rock Stock Yards and we parked near the junction where myriad train tracks snaked and fingered alongside the warehouses for delivery. We left the car windows down and a warm breeze had me nodding.

I awoke to a shadowy clanking of iron rods and deep laughter. A White man suddenly shouted, “Gwine up to de quarter head”, and men moved in unison toward a curved section of tracks. I sat up and leaned out the station wagon’s window just as the White man made a jerking arm motion and yelled out to the men.

On the hot breeze a long moan built quickly to a wailing, then nasally passage in Big Cole’s, familiar cadence.

Aahhh! Aaa-Ooohhh-Oh-Ohh-Oh

Aahh—Two lil’ gals was court’n Me

One was blind & One caint see

My Grandma put a switch to me

When I come home wit a kiss on me

Ol boys pull t’gether

Ol boys pull t’hether—HUH!

At “HUH!” the men shuttered, stomped, whipped their iron rods in a hard, short burst and I saw the track jut to the left.

He did it twice more before the White man gestured with his hand and the men halted. On the wind, that carried dry and hot back to the station wagon window, was laughter. Behind the guffaws came a question. “You couldn’t hide dem gal’s kisses, Cole?!”

Daddy S.L. shook his head, chuckled and started up the family car.

This story first appeared in the blog, Three Days In The City. All copyrights reserved.

Jas. Mardis is an awarded Poet, Radio Commentator, Editor and Fabric Artist. He is a 2014 Inductee to The Texas Literary Hall of Fame.

South of Eden

 

South of Eden

.

.
Sometimes

I have to be reminded

So, the rain comes flashing through

pouring life from on high

where the clouds have grown gray and fat

with what someone once said were

“The tears of the devil’s wife”

who was being spanked

 

and I’m reminded

when all is done

by how glorious and green the world turns

after being drenched and drained of its’ dullness

by the rain

 

and I’m reminded

by the copious pages of grasses turned again

toward the verdant sheets of green

stretching ever so fully

‘cross the fields and vacant lots

forever sprouting skyward into the heads of trees

sliding with elegance into the valleys and

over the hills

then climbing the ivy against the walls of lattice work and brick

and window trim

 

and I’m reminded

by how clear and blue and calm

the rain turns the sky

of how sacredly calm the earth’s beauty

can pulse the human blood

and excite the body toward passions long forgotten

of how one simple gaze of

grasses and tree tops turned back to green

and leaves reclaiming their reds and yellows

and the beige and white of buildings pulling up from the ground

the ground churning the brown dust and dirt and earth

into a thing of beauty

like the wide eyes of a woman  ready to love

and I’m reminded

by the early morning/late evening smells of that dirt

that   earth     sectioned off by garden fences

 

that earth

peeled back against itself into the frenzy of a mound

that earth

and the smell of it all

streaking through the air and finding the nostrils

sparking the heart and the memory

reminding

me to never forget the early mornings of my youth

when the open window brought me this same

fresh-earth aroma

 

and awoke me to it

so that I’d stumble to that window and look out

into my Mother’s garden

 

with the tall, green stems bending under the tomato’s growth

while swollen stalks of okra and peas watered the mouth

and branches of pecans and plums and persimmons

rallied their growth against our crunch of apple-pears

in their shade

 

and watermelons burst under the force of their juices

 

and sometimes I need to be reminded

that I am south of Eden

with her garden growing dense with promise and remembrances

 

and I open my mind’s eye to the beauty of it all

and make a wish on never forgetting to know

something this wonderful

is just   a   rain   away

 .

.

.

 

 

 

Jas. Mardis

KenteCloth: Southwest Voices of the African Diaspora

Page 62     University of North Texas Press  1997