03709_0148: Turnips Today, Turnips Tomorrow

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George Carter, 1842, Virginia, Black, formerly enslaved, Savannah, 17 January 1939

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Ga-1 Savannah Unit F.W.P. Georgia

January 17, 1939 George Carter (Negro) 109 Ann Street Savannah, Georgia Ex-slave & Stevedore Morris Adams, Writer

TURNIPS TODAY, TURNIPS TOMORROW

[side note](Why this title)[/side note]

[side note]Writers part overwritten. [unclear]AC[/unclear][/side note]

[side note]Not usable. [unclear]E.C.[/unclear][/side note]

Though he is a Negro the Negroes who pass him on the street mean nothing to him; in his estimation they do not exist. Occasionally he forces his six-foot frame to bow low in acknowledgement to some white friend's "Good morning, George."

I watch his as he approaches me.

He is even stouter than I thought. He weighs at least two hundred pounds. His hair is white and dusty, like last week's snow, though his face is full and brown. At first glance I do not believe he is old. He raises his head I see his eyes. It is in his eyes the secret of his age is hidden; they are cold, stark, and dead. Time has laid a thin grey [side note]gray[/side note] tissue over the once bright eyes.

He passes me; I follow slowly.

For two blocks he slowly picks his way down an opening, that once was a street; its surface is a fragmentary carpet of stones and broken brick; I believe it has been forgotten.

He turns left and enters a gate; it slams behind him.

I wait a few minutes. I look around me.

As far as I can see in either direction the street is narrow, unpaved, and strewn with debris. The houses are close together; they have long forgotten the friendliness of a warm

[mark: whiteout?]

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coat of paint; most of them are settled and warped with the discomfitures of old age. Though in time all have had little porches, these do not now exist; the Negroes have burned them for wood. I watch an old woman rip off a board from an old stable; no one else sees her; she hurries into the house; I say nothing.

I enter the yard expecting to find it cluttered with debris; I am mistaken. The only object to detract from its otherwise unusually clean appearance is an old warped garbage can. I look in it; for much can be learned of the habits, and welfare of a family by a look into its garbage can. It is half full of pumpkin peeling. Each peel lies loose and open on its supporting peels; I can see the bottom of the can. From bottom to top are three distinct colors of pumpkin peel; that means Greorge has had pumpkin for three days. Today is Tuesday, and garbage is emptied in this section on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

To reach George's house I must climb a long rickety stair that seems to be attached to a sheer brick wall; it leads to an unusually high second story. I am a little afraid.

I climb. I am halfway up; I look at the crack between the staircase and wall; it seems to be giving way; my breath stops; I dash, taking the remaining steps four at a time. When I reach the ramshackle landing at the head of the steps I see several boards missing; I am more frightened; I jump right into the middle of George's kitchen. I think of a thousand excuses for not knocking; none seems to fit. I say simply, "Morning George."

George is already busy. He is peeling pumpkin for dinner. The peelings will make the fourth layer in the can, "Good mornin',

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3 suh massa." His face beams. I have given him a cigar.

I too beam, for I am flattered; I have never been called "massa" before.

George sets his pan of pumpkin on a little table. "Just a minute, massa. Lemme git yuh a chair," he says.

He leaves me and goes into another room. I have a chance to look around. The room is small though it seems to be a perfect setting, for its furnishings which consist of a little "number seven" stove, two small pine tables, and a rocker. The ceiling is low; George's hair touches it occasionally and bits of slate-colored plastering fall. The walls are slate-colored too. The outer coloring has worn off in several places and sundry colors, evidence of different coats of calsomining, appear; one splotch is a bright red.

I look about the walls for pictures. I like pictures. There are none, not even a "God Bless Our Home." Where pictures ought to be hung, the space is filled with pots, pans, hand-saws, and "rabbit tobacco." I count them rapidly; fifty-four articles hanging on the wall and no two exactly alike.

"Heah yuh is, massa," George returns to the kitchen dragging a chair behind him. I am no connoisseur of antiques; I do not know what period the chair represents, I only know it is mahogany and that it is old. The seat has long been worn away and it has been recovered with goat skin. I sit down in it reluctantly, for I have an idea that most of the goat hair will follow me away, on the seat of my trousers . George seats himself in the rocker. He does not know whether I am a book agent, an insurance agent, or selling "hair straight1492

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4 ener." He only knows I want to talk to him a bit.

He waits.

I have been concentrating; I conclude that I should break the ice and make a few overtures to him first.

I ask, "Greorge, how have you been getting along lately?" George draws conclusions too; from my question he thinks I am from the welfare society; I have broken the ice in the wrong place. Nevertheless, I can not stop him.

"Ten dollars; ten dollars; who kin lib on ten dollars a month? All dese Niggers git mor'n dat. Heah I is ninety-seben yeahs old, an' down wid duh back ache mos' ob duh time, an' all I gits frum dat welfare is ten meazeldee dollars."

I shake my head sadly, wriggle around in my chair, and grunt, hoping to distract his attention. I have heard that one must not distract the attention of an old person while he is talking, for his mind, "comes and goes" and he will forget what he is talking about. There may be a good deal to this psychology, but it does not work with George Carter. He mistakes my sad head shaking and grunting as deep sympathy; he halts suddenly; in his mind he is backing up, he wants to start from the very foundation of this welfare trouble. He raises his big brown hand in order to hammer emphasis into his opening sentence.

I will not have it. I catch him before he brings that big hand down. "George," I say hastily, "have you ever been to school?"

His hand is poised midway in the air. He does not like my interruption. He shows it in his manner, "Hell-ll-l, I ain't nebuh seed de inside ob a school house," he says gruffly.

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perfectly good front teeth on the upper right side and three directly under these. There are none on the left side whatever.

"Do you go to the shows, George," I ask. There- I have said the wrong thing again.

George's six teeth snap. I irk him with such questions.

"Duh shows ain't nuffin' but a 'prade groun' fuh duh debil an' Hell." He ushers this sentence in with a great slap on his knee. "Us ain't hab 'em in slab'ry times, us ain't hab 'em atta duh big war, and us ain't hab no 'pressuns 'till duh show come. Duh show is ruint duh worl'." emphatically.

When George says "slab'ry times" and the "big war", his speech slows; I detect a kind of wistfullness in the way he utters these words. I believe I have discovered the topic of his heart.

"George," I ask, "will you tell me about your life?" He has been chewing on his cigar. I get up to light it for him, but he will not let me hold the match for him.

He commences, " 'Bout seben yeahs ago I got a job in duh sshh- . . ."

"George, please start the beginning. I want to hear it all," I tell him.

George smiles. He is so likable.

He scratches his head; his hand is gnarled; the fingers do not bend; they are stiff with age. A tense quietness settles over the shabby little room; shadows from a fire in the little "number seven" stove shine through the side grate and play upon its black apron. George's thoughts have gone on a long journey; I am waiting, anxiously.

He begins slowly. His voice is a little husky; I believe it is emotion.

"I wuz born in Vaginee, up dere nearly 'bout tuh Norfo'k. Duh massa who owned me name Carter; dat's where I gits muh name; he owned

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