Morning came, another day in the life of Joseph Jones Jr. Mama, beautiful as always, was cooking breakfast while Lil'sis was playing with her doll. Things weren't easy for a poor, black family in the South especially without a father. I remember how things were when Daddy was around. Mama said he died on the railroad, but I couldn't understand how a big, strong, healthy man like Daddy could just die.
Mama did the best she could for Lil'sis and I. I remember when Daddy was around there would always be fresh coffee brewing, hot oatmeal cooking, which Mama would always sweeten up with brown sugar, cinnamon, and milk, the occasional bacon ends when Daddy had enough money left over from the railroad, and the cold taste of fresh milk. But now all we had was plain oatmeal and water when Mama couldn't scrape up enough money for milk. Mama told me and Lil'sis just have faith and things would get better.
"Joseph," Mama said, "watch Rebecca while I go and talk to Mr. Johns about the future of us staying here."
"Okay, Mama," I said, "but I do not like you talking to that old Mr. Johns alone."
"Stay in a child's place, Jo Jo."
We had a problem. Mr. Johns was the plantation owner. He let our family share crop when Daddy was alive. I knew since Daddy died that he didn't want us on his land. Mama was a tall, beautiful woman who was a quarter of Cherokee Indian. She was a strong woman with pride who didn't believe in getting anything that she didn't work for. Rebecca, my little sister hadn't a decent amount of milk in days. A four year old girl needs her nourishment. We hadn't anyone but ourselves as family.
"Sarah, oh, Sarah," Mr. Johns yelled. "Come out here girl."
"Good morning, Mr. Johns," Mama said. "I was just going to see you."
"See, Dad," Melvin Johns, his seventeen year old son said, "we didn't have to come all the way down here."
"Hush, boy. Sarah, I know things are tight around here, but it just ain't right you all staying here without putting out and taking up a harvest. Cotton is a man's job. And it don't help any with the Great Depression on this nation. Can't one woman and some fourteen year old boy do it alone."
do anything we want if we tried," I shouted.
"Watch your mouth boy, give my daddy some respect," Melvin Johns threatened.
"I give respect where respect is due," I responded. Melvin charged at me but Mr. Johns grabbed him before he could reach me.
"Make your boy hush, Sarah," Mr. Johns said. "I don't want Melvin beating up on him."
"Jo Jo, go in the house," Mama said with a bit of pride lost.
"But, Mama," I pleaded.
"Stay in a child's place, Jo Jo." I unwillingly went into the house. I put my ear up against the door and listened.
"Sarah," Mr. Johns said. "I'm sorry, but your Joseph had no right to work on the railroad. His place was here as a sharecropper."
live off this land alone....you know that," Mama said. "We owed a
lot to your store for the little food we bought on credit. We had
to make ends meet."
"Well, all I can say is that your Joseph would be alive today if he didn't go off to work on that railroad."
that is all your opinion isn't it, Mr. Johns?"
"No, it's mines, too," Melvin laughed.
"Hush, boy," Mr. Johns said. "I'm sorry, Sarah. I don't know how you're going to make a living or survive. I have my own to take care of. I'll give you two weeks to get off my land. Maybe you can get a job as a wash lady or a maid somewhere up North."
"What I do after I leave your land is none of your business, Mr. Johns," Mama said proudly.
"Well, what is my business is your credit at my store, Sarah. Before Joseph died he evened up the bill. But since I see you have no way or means to pay me back, I'm ending your credit."
"Mr. Johns, I have two hungry children to feed and clothe," Mama pleaded.
"That's none of my business isn't it!"
"Sure's not," Melvin laughed. "Sell some of your old man's things. You'll probably get a few dollars."
all I have to say is if there is anytime for that God of yours, it's now.
Two weeks you and your children are out, so I guess you better do some
praying." I heard footsteps leaving and coming. I hurriedly ran to
the table. Mama walked in.
"You've been listening, Jo Jo," Mama said.
"Yes, Mama," I said. "What really happened to Daddy? How could a man in perfect health die?"
"I should have told you this a month ago when it happened. Joseph was robbed by two men who regularly robbed the workers of their payroll money. Joseph fought them good and hard. He took off one of their masks. I guess they killed him to keep their identity hidden."
"What color were the men who killed Daddy?"
know Jo Jo," Mama said softly, "but that is not important. Black,
white, yellow, or red. It doesn't matter what color the skin is,
it only matters what's under it."
"We have to move?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Are we going to move up North, Mama?" Lil'sis asked.
"No, Rebecca, I really can't say, at least not now," Mama sighed.
I felt sorry for my little sister. I remember when she had all the milk she could drink, but now she hardly had any. A four year old girl shouldn't lose her daddy, neither should a fourteen year old boy. Mama was in her room going through Daddy's Sunday suit's pockets, then tumbling to the floor came ten dollars in coins. All of a sudden Mama dropped to her knees and started to pray. She got up and wiped tears from her eyes.
"Where did Daddy get that money from?" I asked.
"I guess God meant your daddy to save this. He knew that we would need it one day," Mama responded.
Mama handed me eight dollars in coins, which was enough for two week's worth of food and supplies. She also gave me a dollar for Lil'sis and I a week's worth of candy and cookies. A week passed and Mama had a one dollar coin left over from the money she found in Daddy's pocket. We hardly ventured the long journey to church since Daddy's death. Mama had to sell the horse and wagon the week after he died. We barely managed the five mile walk on the first Sunday of the month.
why are we going to walk all that way to church?" Lil'sis asked.
"Because I have to give my tithes to God," Mama responded.
"I don't feel like walking all that way. It's too far," Lil'sis pouted.
"Don't worry Lil'sis," I said. "You can ride piggy back on me." Lil'sis smiled. I knew our food was running out because we only had about a week's worth left.
are you going to give all of our money away?" I asked.
"Son, what is ten percent of ten dollars?" She asked.
"That's one dollar, Mama."
"Well, that's how much I owe God. Have faith Jo Jo. The Lord will work things out. Remember the woman in the Bible who gave her last cent?"
"Well, that's how the Lord wants us to give from our hearts."
We finally arrived at the old, wooden chapel next to the school house. Reverend Mathews was just beginning his sermon. It was strange because he preached on giving unto God as good as you expect Him to give unto you.
"Sisters and Brothers," Reverend Mathews preached. "Give ten percent of your income and the Lord will increase it one-hundred fold. He might not bring it back to you in money, but you'll get it."
The congregation all agreed with a Amen. Wow, I thought, one-hundred dollars. We could get a good place to stay with all the food we wanted. But how is that possible? I looked around at the congregation, all the people who I felt gave at least a dollar a month. They didn't look like they had something worth one-hundred dollars. Maybe it's true that God does work in mysterious ways. The choir sung, then it was time for the offering.
"Give unto God as you expect him to give unto you," Reverend Mathews preached.
Mama was first in the aisle. As I looked at her I didn't expect a smile on a woman who was giving her last money away, but she had one. She walked up to the table and put the dollar coin in. I heard the thunderous echo of our last means of food jingle in the offering plate. What did Mama do? A strong thought raced through my mind. Why did she give our money away on a chance we would get one-hundred times the amount? Mama came back to her seat.
"Mama, are you sure you did the right thing?" I asked
"Yes, Jo Jo," Mama said. "I didn't give that money because I wanted something for it. I gave it because I had already been blessed with it. That was my way of paying God back and thanking Him for it."
will God help us if we are hungry and have no place to live?"
"He will always be there. Joseph...Rebecca, what do you really want?"
When Mama asked this question the first thing that came to my mind was a good place to live...not that old sharecropper's shack, all the food we wanted...not just oatmeal. I wanted us to be happy most of all. I knew my little sister felt the same way.
"Well, I guess whatever you want," I said. Lil'sis nodded.
I want my children to have a nice, warm home to sleep in. All the
clothes and food that they need, and most of all for our family love to
"Will God give that to us?" Lil'sis asked.
"If you believe and have it deep within your heart, you shall receive," Mama responded.
ended as well as the church service. As we walked home
on the dusty road, a blue and white, fancy car drove passed. To my
surprise it stopped. A middle aged Mulatto woman stepped out.
"Do you need a ride?" She asked, "because I sure do not want you and your children walking this long way." Mama accepted.
We learned that the lady was Mrs. Montgomery, a widowed woman who was well to do with beyond my belief. I sat in her luxury car. The soft seats and the gracious interior made me feel like I was a king in his carriage going to his castle, but harsh reality caught up to me when I realized I was going back to that old shack.
"You children need some meat on them bones," Mrs. Montgomery said. "Where is your daddy?"
"He's dead," Mama interrupted.
"That's ashame," Mrs. Montgomery said. "Children need their father."
I learned that Mrs. Montgomery's daddy was white
and her mother; the daughter of ex-slaves. She owned about five hundred
acres of land and a big three-story mansion. I learned that her business
was farming and cattle. I dreaded the ride home after hearing how rich
she was made me feel bad for Mama, Lil'sis and I.
"I need someone to help me take care of my house,"Mrs. Montgomery said. " It gets pretty lonely in that big house. You seem like a nice Christian lady, Ms. Sarah. You and your children could help me keep up the house and cook. Most of all keep me some company, I never had children of my own. Except for the people who work for me, I'm all alone. I have rows of apple, peach, and plum trees, and practically everything else a growing child will need. You and the children can have your own rooms, good pay, and all the food you can eat for as long as you like."
"Well, Mrs. Montgomery," Mama gasped, "you are truly heaven sent."
I couldn't believe it. Lil'sis had a smile a mile wide, and Mama had tears in her eyes. I guess God does work in mysterious ways. Mrs. Montgomery told us to move in a week from tomorrow. A week passed, Mrs. Montgomery was on her way. I couldn't say that I was sorry to leave the life of a sharecropper. Our food had ran out yesterday morning. Mama told us to fill our stomachs with patience. Everything was going just fine until Mr. Johns came walking up the path to the front door.
"Sarah," Mr. Johns yelled, "I'm sorry to throw you out but I have another family coming."
"Well, Mr.Johns," Mama said proudly as she walked outside the door, "take you and your shack. Remember when you told me to pray to my God? Well, I did and He worked everything out."
Mr. Johns white face turned red with anger. He spat out a big glob of tobacco juice.
"Well, is that so? Where are you going? To the poor house?"
Mrs. Montgomery's big, fine car drove up just as Mr. Johns was about to laugh. Mama had a smile of victory on her face.
"Come on Ms. Sarah," Mrs. Montgomery said, "a beautiful home is waiting for you and your children."
"Well, beat all!" Mr. Johns said, "You working for Mrs. Montgomery, Sarah?"
am, Mr. Johns," Mama responded proudly. "Not quite the poor house isn't it?"
We gathered in the car with our belongings. As we drove off we left Mr. Johns standing in a cloud of dust and disbelief. We arrived at our new home. A fish pond, chicken coups, cattle, plum, peach and apple trees. This was my home for as long as I wanted.
"How do you all like it?" Mrs. Montgomery said. "This is your home now. Jo Jo, why don't you get a fishing pole and catch some fish for dinner."
"Sure thing, Mrs. Montgomery," I said as I remembered how I use to love fishing with Daddy.
"It's Ms. Madeline," Mrs. Montgomery announced as she told us her first name.
This was almost too good to be true. Lil'sis happily ate a plum on the front porch, while Mama graciously viewed the house. I got a fishing pole from the shed as Mama came outside with Ms. Madeline to rest and sit on the sofa porch swing. They had lemonade for everyone as I gladly savored the bitter sweetness of the drink, which to me symbolized life.
there," This tall, strong black man said as he came around the other side of the mansion. "My name is Abraham. I'm
Ms. Madeline's caretaker, rancher, and butcher. It's very nice to meet you and your children, Ms. Sarah. Ms. Madeline told me all about you and your family. I hope you feel welcomed and at home." Mama gave him a big smile as if she was speechless. Lil'sis looked him over for good measure.
"Yes, Abe practically does everything around here," Mrs. Montgomery said. "We'll have fried fish and chicken tonight. Abe get a chicken while Jo Jo catches some fish. Ms. Sarah and I are going to fix some fine food tonight."
I wish Daddy didn't have to die for us to get this new life, but I guess it was God's will. Mama has a good job. Lil'sis has all the milk she wants, and for myself, well, I have found a new trust and love for God. It's a good chance Mama would have never met Mrs. Montgomery if she didn't go to give her tithes that first Sunday at church. I guess Mama's faith paid off.
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