Life sucks your mind dry. Refill it by reading something new! 

Story Time (previous tales)

Slavery, Sayings, and that Younger Generation:

I'm reading a volume of Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. Compiled in the late 1930s, it is information collected from some of the last survivors of slavery in this country. The interviews are direct transcriptions of vernacular conversational speech (you'll see examples, below). It gets pretty thick, but it's honest story-telling at its best, especially when you take the time to read aloud.

Why bother with such a thing? I'm writing a book that includes the time in which the United States allowed slavery. If I'm going to consider writing even a paragraph on the idea of one person owning another, I need to know more than I do. The volume I have is based on information gathered from elderly ex-slaves living in Arkansas at the time of the interviews. Some were born in that state, but many more moved there after Freedom.

If you know your U.S. history, these tales tie together slavery, our Civil War, Emancipation, Freedom, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Great Migration. These huge, dry topics spring to life with these small and humble stories.

Why don't kids read this stuff in high school? Personal history is a very messy thing. Besides the descriptions of forced breeding, rape, and torture by overseers and owners, there's the language. 
Imagine the fuss over the following: "Us neber did leave our folkses eben atter de War's ober and de niggers git dey freedom. Yit an' still a heap of de niggers did leave dey mars (masters) and a heap of dem didn', an' us stayed on and farmed de lan'." 

Repeatedly described are actions of the "Parterolers" (Patrollers, white vigilante groups who violently enforced bans on unauthorized travel of all blacks), Yankee soldiers, and the start of the Klu Klux in the post-war South (the "Klan" came later). Patrollers are almost universally represented as buffoons. Yankee soldiers are often regarded more as vandals than liberators. The Klu Klux is viewed with mostly abstract fear.

Of particular interest to me are the proverbs I've never heard. Life's lessons boiled down to a simple turn of phrase. I've collected dozens. My two favorites, so far: "Dirt shows the quickest on the cleanest cotton" and "the noise of the wheels doesn't measure the load in the wagon."

It's also fun to consider the nearly universal disdain for what we know as the "Greatest Generation." An example: "Oh yes, I'se older dan most folks get (103). Still I may be taking my grub when some of these young whiskey drinkin' razzin' around young chaps is under the dirt. It pays to live honest, work hard, stay sober. God only knows what some of these lazy triflin' drinkin' young folks is comin' to."

The people interviewed are, by definition, survivors. What they tell is harrowing, heartbreaking, humorous, and heroic (how's that for alliteration?). They offer insight into what it's like to be considered no more than an animal, to experience the whims of sometimes cruel and perverse owners, to feel both the confusion of sudden freedom and the responsibility of choice. Taken together, they rival any adventure story you know.

Yet... The thing about an oral history is that the stories must be accepted for what they are–memories of individuals. Ask yourself: Are all the stories old people tell you true? Are they all false? The trick to understanding such a collection is to read enough of it to gain the over-arching structure and then decide, with the help of other sources, what you wish to believe.

I downloaded the volume I'm reading from Project Guttenberg where you can find a comprehensive list, organized by geographic location.

Pick any of them, spend a few hours, and prepare to be amazed.

top of page

Questions, comments, suggestions? Please email me!

Can we buy real poo next time?


So... This morning I get into the shower.


I’m carrying a brand-new bottle of shampoo. My favorite brand. I use it all the time. Really. It enables what little hair I have to be soft and glowing. Sure does. Yep. I saw it in a commercial. So it must be true.


I’m in the shower. I’m soaking wet (no surprise there). I snap open the lid of the shampoo bottle and hold it over my upturned hand... Nothing comes out. I squeeze the bottle. Nope. Nothing. At all. I unscrew the cap. Beneath, I find a plastic seal.


What the heck? On my shampoo? A plastic seal? Against what? Shampoo thieves? Shampoo diluters? Shampoo adulteraters?  Shampoo switchers with hair removalers?


What's this world coming to? I bought the same brand and size bottle a couple of months ago. There was no plastic seal. Probably some Homeland Security rule or something. The Shampoo Czar declared an orange state of emergency for all bottles. I shouldn't joke, I know, I'll end up on the watch list - if I’m not there already.


I try to remove the plastic seal. Should be easy, there's a little tab to pull. I pull on the tab. The tab pulls off. The seal stays on. I curse (out loud) at the wonderful engineering behind such a design. Now what? I’m nekked. Soaking wet. In the shower. What might I have that has a chance of piercing a plastic seal? My teeth? For a shampoo bottle? Even *I’m* not that dim.


I have a valve at the shower head that lets me turn off *most* of the flow, to save water while I'm soaping up. I don't use it, of course, being a Wasteful American, but it's there nonetheless. I manage to rip open the shampoo bottle's plastic seal using the edge of that shower head valve-handle. A couple pieces of plastic manage to escape. They hurry down the floor drain. To wait several months before causing a clog. At the worst possible time. Plastic's bad that way. Ornery plastic. Mind of its own, plastic has.


I screw the cap back on, trying not to get any water into the shampoo. That'll change the composition of the shampoo. And, somewhere, give a shampoo chemist bad dreams. I hold the shampoo bottle up and, with vim and vigor, snap open the top.


Hold on... What's that coming towards me? It's a big blob of un-watered-down shampoo. Heading straight for my right eye.


!! BLINK, FOOL !! My brain screams.


"Who, me?" Asks my eye. My eyes are sort of slow, sometimes. They've been headed downhill ever since I started wearing bifocals.


Blam! The shampoo lands right on the lashes of my right eye.


!! DON'T BLINK !! My brain screams.


"Who, me?" Asks my eye. And it blinks. I told you they were sort of slow, didn't I? My right eye is now filled with searing shampoo-lava. It burns. With a big B. And a big URNS, too. I hear a shampoo chemist giggling, somewhere (later, when I’m thinking more clearly, I'll put some water into the bottle to get even). I stick my face into the shower stream to flush the chemicals from my eye.




I don't know what mornings are like at your house. But here, it's a whole lot of people vying for limited resources. That's why I’ve always crawled outta bed first. No matter where I’ve live or whom I’ve lived with. I want to be at the top of the schedule. The first in line. I always want to kick off the schedule. It comes from being a second child. Really - ask any second child you know. If they say it isn't true, they're fibbing like a sack of (sham)poo.


Top of the schedule I am. Still, during mornings, everything has to run like clock-work. Everything. It's like the tides at Normandy on D-Day. The orbits of the planets on a moon launch. Everything has to be lined up just so. Bing. Bang. Boom. Including the amount of time *I* spend in the shower.


It's not that somebody's waiting to use the shower. Nope. But. There are only so many butts and only so many commodes, y'know? And, in a house this old, butts, commodes, showers, and faces are all connected by pipes. All in one nice, neat, sweet, perfectly connected string of events. Like the co-incidences that brought you to this point in time.


I'm running behind my regular schedule because of the sealed shampoo. And my face is in the shower because I’m rinsing shampoo-magma outta my eye. My right eye. My left eye wonders what's going on.


Somebody else, somewhere else in the house. Lifts their butt from a commode. Relieved at finishing one of their first tasks of the day, they push the flush handle... I feel a drop in the water pressure - the cold water pressure.


!! FACE...BACK !! My brain screams.


My face (which isn't nearly as slow as my eyes) pulls back from the soon-to-arrive flash of heat. I even manage a step back and away. Some reflexes, huh? Of course, it takes an instant before the water rises to scalding temperatures and another instant before I realizes that the course of the shower spray is now aimed directly at what some would politely term my “naughty bits.”


My brain screamed something at that point. I don't recall what it was. Except it started with bad words and went on with bad words and ended with bad words. I think I used every bad word I know. That's a LOT of bad words. Trust me. Lots. Luckily I was ‘way too busy dancing around the too-hot water to listen very much to what it was I was saying.


I was kind of tender toweling off. My shampooed right eye looked as if I smoked a bale of weed (perhaps I should say what I have read a bale of weed eye would look like. Homeland Security and all that). My left eye looked more angry than anything else. And slow.


Stupid shampoo.