Gallatin, Tennessee 1884
At six years-old, I was just startin’ to understand this world of mine. I think it was about da time I’s come to remember the words to da song I heard my poppa singin’ in da fields…
“Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin’ forth to carry my home…”
I’d stand out at the edge of the cotton fields watchin’ the women folk workin’ the hoe and the men carryin’ the bushels with sweat pourin’ down their backs. I just stared with the biggest frown on my face. What chariot? I didn’t see no chariot! Just the driver out sittin’ underneath the big shade tree. But from da time the mornin’ bell rang ‘til it sounded in da evenin’, those ole’ folk was always out there singin’ about dat chariot.
When I’s got to be a few years older, ole’ Massa sent me out to da fields to help da women work the hoe and pick da cotton. Up ‘til then, I’d only helped the old women back at the camp keep a tight reign on the chilin’. Now, I’s out in da field with my bare-feet sunk down in mud and my hands blistered ‘til they was bleedin’ from pickin’ all da Massa’s cotton. Well, that work was plumb hard ‘nough that I decided there ain’t no way I was doin’ it no more!
“Now, Eve, darlin’,” My poppa would tell me, “you ain’t got no choice in da matter. You pick the cotton or you be whipped.”
I stuck out my little lip and crossed my arms. “Massa can come down here and pick his own cotton! Why should I do it for him?”
I had great big ole’ tears in my eyes when poppa hunkered down so that he was eye-level with me. He stuck one of his big fingers under my chin and forced me to look up at him. “You listen here, Eve, and you listen good.” He told me. “I’ve told you da story in da bible ‘bout da first Eve. You know all about how man sinned against God. Remember?”
“Yes, poppa.” I nodded. “I remember. They ate the apple and got kicked on outta da Garden.”
Poppa nodded. “That’s right, darlin’. Then what happened?”
“They had to work hard to keep on livin’.”
He nodded again. “That’s right.”
I frowned and couldn’t help lookin’ over at da Driver underneath the shade tree talkin’ and laughin’ with ole’ Massa. “Daddy?” I suddenly asked.
“Did Adam and Eve go and get themselves some slaves too?”
A look of laughter flashed across my poppa’s face. He never did answer me. He just set me back to workin’ in the rows of cotton.
It took me a heap of years to understand that I’s put down here on da earth to work. The Lord gave me good solid hands for cotton pickin’, so I picked cotton. As unfair as the work seemed, I knew that the Lord looked past all that and looked clear down into my heart. That’s what mattered most to Him. So, I made sure that whenever He looked into my heart, He never saw any ugliness…no nasty seeds of bitterness.
When those Yanks finally helped set us free, well, I went from pickin’ cotton, to tendin’ my own gardens just to keep food in my babies’ bellies. Work was work…and I tried always to do it with a cheerful heart. Even ole’ Massa learned to work. He’d had his garden, he’d eaten his apple, and God had put the same curse down on his head as was on all ours. Work gets ya sooner or later, I ‘spose.
“Swing low, sweet chariot..”
That’s my hope and promise. I may be workin’ hard down here, but pretty soon, that ole’ chariot is gonna be takin’ me home where I won’t have to work no more. My promise, my hope, is waitin’ for me up in Heaven.
Which reminds me, my poppa would always kiss me good night and whisper close to me ear, “Don’t you ever let the troubles of this ole’ world get ya down, Eve, darlin’. Pretty soon, the Lord be bringin’ us home where all our sorrows fade away.” He’d give me one big hug, start to walk away, and turn to remind me, “Keep your eyes on Him, baby girl. Keep your eyes on Him.”
I never did take my eyes away. And you know what? I reckon you best be doin’ the same.
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