For those who may be following this blog, let me clarify a few things. This is not only a novelized account of my grandparents’ move to the Delta, but it is also fictionalized to some degree. In telling the story through the viewpoints of my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and later my father, I have tried to take the personalities of people I knew as adults and imagine them at various stages through their lives, a task both challenging and rewarding.
Many of the stories are ones that I heard hundreds of time growing up. Yes, I was that kid always anxious for another story at some family member’s knee. Through family stories and research, I know where they lived, when, how they got there, and why they moved. Some scenes are completely fabricated. For instance, I do not know how my grandfather arranged to buy the Ferguson place. I do not know the logistical details of their move to Friendship, or whether they rendezvoused in Greenwood. But Greenwood was a major cotton market in those days. It seems possible they likely spent the night there, and that vibrant little Delta city, where incidentally I was born, was a perfect backdrop to introduce this rather large and growing family in the middle of a life changing relocation from the Hill Country to the Delta.
Thank you to all who are reading and for all of your positive comments. Without further ado, here is Chapter 3.
Morris Bailey settled his hat on his head, looked in the mirror and adjusted it to a more rakish angle over his thick, wavy hair. He turned to his brother who was stretched out on the bed they were sharing. Grady’s socked feet were crossed at the ankles, his right arm was folded and tucked under his head, and his eyes were closed. He looked entirely too comfortable to Morris Bailey.
“Let’s go see the town,” Morris Bailey said.
“I’m too tired,” Grady replied.
“Tired? All you did was laze around with kinfolks for two days, then drive a car one day. I’ve been handling a team of mules for three.”
Grady always seemed to be harnessing his strength for when he might need it next, and Morris Bailey could not help but goad him about it regularly. He was rewarded when Grady opened one eye to glare at him.
“Go away,” Grady said. “All you had to do was sit there and let your team follow Father’s. You probably slept most of the time. I had to pay attention to the road, tend to the car, and take care of Mother and our sisters.”
“Sure,” Morris Baily replied. “I’ll bet Mother took care of the girls, and all you had to do was avoid wagons and stop for gasoline and oil. Besides, you have all day tomorrow to see the town, but Father and I will be leaving with the wagons at first light. I only have tonight.”
Morris Bailey ran his hand into his pocket and fingered the few coins there. “My treat at the first soda fountain we come too,” he said.
Morris Bailey knew his brother well, knew his love of sweets as well as his tendency to hold on to a nickel. His enticement worked.
Grady swung his feet to the floor and began pulling on his boots.
“Go ask Father and Mother if they mind.”
He dashed out of the door before Grady had his first boot laced and tied.
He heard Father’s deep “Yes” in response to his knock.
“It’s Morris Bailey, Father” he said, and his voice came out like a croak. It had been doing that a lot lately, and he found it somewhat embarrassing.
“Come in,” Father answered.
He opened the door enough to stick his head in. Mother was sitting on the arm of Father’s chair, and Father had his arm around her waist.
“Excuse me,” he mumbled.
“What do you need, Son?” Father asked.
“May Grady and I go out for a bit? Just to see some of the sights?”
“You know you and I are leaving mighty early in the morning. We have a long day ahead of us.”
“Yessir. We won’t be out late,” he pleaded.
Father looked at him like he wasn’t sure, like he was having a hard time deciding. Father never seemed to make a decision quickly. He shifted from foot to foot. Mother gave him a slight smile.
“Henry,” Mother said softly, like a mild admonishment.
Father’s expression changed. His eyes suddenly had that mischievous gleam they had when Father was teasing him.
He grinned back at Father.
“I expect you to be dressed and ready when I knock on your door in the morning,” Father said.
“Yessir,” Morris Bailey nodded and began to close the door.
“And I don’t want to look back a see you sleeping rather than handling your team tomorrow,” Father added.
“Yessir,” Morris Bailey nearly shouted and quickly closed the door, only to re-open it again just as quickly.
“Thank you,” he added as he closed the door again. He could hear both Mother and Father laughing as he ran back to the room he and Grady shared.
The sidewalks were lined with street lamps that created regular pools of soft, electric light on the sidewalk. The two boys walked from pool to pool, staring through the windows, some brightly lit, some dim. Conversation and the soft clatter of dishes spilled from the open door of a restaurant, laughter and the click of billiard balls from another storefront.
Morris Bailey had never seen so much of everything: churches, law offices, cotton factors, hardware stores, general stores, doctors’ offices, and restaurants. Greenwood was a world removed form Ackerman. He already found it hard to believe that he had thought of Ackerman as a town. He felt particularly fine and grown up, out on the town with his older brother.
He tried not to let Grady know it, but he looked up to his brother. He was quiet, strong, and steady. Grady’s voice had changed too. It must be grand to be fourteen, he thought, and almost grown. Suddenly, Morris Bailey spied a drug store.
“There. Let’s go in there,” he pointed across the street.
The boys waited as a couple of automobiles, a Ford and then a Winton rolled by, then trotted across the street. There were only a few patrons and the boys took seats at the counter. They placed their orders, and Morris Bailey slid a precious dime across the counter to pay for their treats, a Barq’s root beer for himself and a vanilla cream for Grady.
Morris Bailey swiveled his seat around to take it all in, sipping his Barq’s slowly to make it last, while Grady silently worked on his vanilla cream.
“That was mighty good,” Grady said wiping his mouth after draining the last sip. “Especially the price.”
Morris Bailey grinned at his older brother. Grady might be quiet most of the time, but Morris Bailey knew him well enough to appreciate his rare flashes of humor. After all, they had shared a bed ever since he could remember. They rode the bus and went to school together although they were two grades apart. They shared the same chores.
Morris Bailey slid off his stool.
“Let’s walk down to the river,” he suggested.
“Alright,” Grady answered with feigned resignation.
The boys crossed over to Fulton Street and turned north. The steel bridge was only two blocks away. They buttoned their coats and hurried through the increasing cold. Automobile traffic was heavier here, this being the only bridge over the Yazoo River in town. Electric lights on the metal framework cast crazy shadows on the road and reflected off of the steady flowing river, a dark, hissing, moving mass twenty feet below.
“That’s the biggest river I’ve ever seen. Bigger than the Big Black, and I thought that was big,” Morris Bailey said.
“That’s a lot of water,” Grady nodded. “Makes you wonder what the Mississippi must be like.”
“Do you think we’ll get to see it? The Mississippi?” Morris Bailey asked.
Grady turned to face him.
“Sure, I do,” he said. “You know how Father likes to hunt, and I have always heard that along the River is some of the best duck hunting there is.”
“Do you think Father will take us if he goes?” Morris Bailey asked.
His older brother turned and leaned against the rail, then grabbed his hat that the wind tried to snatch away. Settling his hat firmly, Grady stuffed both hands deeper into his pockets and stared up at the night sky.
“Of course, he will. Me anyway. I’m his favorite,” he said.
“Grady!” Morris Bailey exclaimed as he swung at his brother who only shrugged, taking the mock blow on his shoulder.
“You’re too easy,” Grady grinned. “I’m sure he’ll take us both.”
“I hope so.”
Grady shoved him back towards town.
“Let’s head back,” he said. “I’m ready for bed.”
“Me, too. I guess.”
He did not really want to go back. He was too excited, but he knew tomorrow would be a long day as Father had promised, and he had to be up and dressed before Father knocked on the door.