03709_0170: I Don't Know What's the Matter

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Edward J. Bacon, no date given, Athens, Black, brick mason, Athens, 31 May and 14 June 1939

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the education they can get, for the more training a person has, the easier it is to get work. Who wants an ignorant person working for 'em these days?"

The daughter-in-law went out muttering about getting the clothes on the line, but she had been gone only a few minutes when a baby began to cry somewhere in the rear of the house. The woman hurried back in the house and soon passed through the room where we sat. In her arms she carried her infant, and it was as light in color as was its mother. Fred said a few affectionate words to the child. "It's so hot at our house," the woman said, "that I have to bring him over here to find a place cool enough for him to sleep." Her remarks did not seem to be addressed to anyone in particular, so I made no reply. "Babies are a lot of trouble," Fred said with a smile when the mother and child had gone, "and now-a-days when they grow up they don't try to make up to their parents for all the trouble they've been. They just keep on looking to their parents for help and support. I hope none of these young folks of mine will have more than two children, for they couldn't do the right thing by any more. I think two children are enough for any couple to undertake to raise. A boy and a girl are all the children needed in one home in these times, for a couple can't take proper care of more.

"I have a beautiful vegetable garden that I want you to see before you go. I also raise my meat and keep a cow, but my meat won't last much longer now, for whenever any of my children want a piece of meat to cook they come to me for it. The two hogs I killed last year weighed four hundred pounds apiece, and they cost me lots of money buying feed for 'em.

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"You know, I've been thinking lots lately about all the insurance I used to carry when times were better. Why, when I was working steady and making top wages, I carried five insurances and belonged to the K.C. order too. Now, I've had to drop all but two of those insurances, but I still keep up my K.C. dues. If I had all the money now that I've paid out on the insurances that I've had to drop I'd be on easy street.

"I calls myself owning two houses; this four-room house that we live in, the two-room house next door where my married son lives, and the vacant lot next to that. Taxes are so high and hard to raise money for, that sometimes I think I'll just let the tax man sell my property and give me what's left after he takes out for pastdue taxes. If ever I do get out of debt I don't intend to let myself get into this sort of fix again.

"When there's some big election for bonds or something else special and a certain amount of votes are needed to carry it, people make a beaten path to our door trying to get us to vote their way, but if we do like they want us to, what good does it do us? It don't do colored folks no good a t'all. Do you see that rough street out there? There ain't been no work of any kind done on it in two years. We can vote in the Presidential elections, but just to tell you the plain truth, I don't pay no attention any more to those things for there's nothing the colored folks can do to make things any different. The white people are going to run things like they want to anyway. Would you believe it if I told you city water is not provided for this thickly settled section of Lickskillet? A man on the hill paid $40

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to have a water pipe run into his house, and I paid him $10 to let me tap it. Now, all the colored folks below here comes to my house to get their water. They are supposed to pay me 25¢ a month, but sometimes they don't pay me a cent. Oh, well, it's all right how the white folks run things. They always have run things in the South, and they always will. They've been considerate enough of the colored folks in the past, but for the last few years they haven't let us have any work to do for 'em. If I had ever voted against 'em I would think that might be the matter, but I never voted in my life and don't expect to. I just don't know what's the matter.

"This used to be a respectable section of town. Distinguished people have been reared out here, but since the city put that old incinerator and the abattoir down here, decent people have to go away from here to get a breath of pure air. However, we ain't bothered with the scents like the people up on the hill, for we are below the smokestack. Yet they'll send a man to your house as often as once every week to inspect sanitary conditions while they are raising such a bad smell in the neighborhood you can't hardly stay on your own premises. As far as I know, there are no gamblers or bootleggers living in our neighborhood, nor have we ever been bothered with much of that. I guess the bad scents are too much for their business.

"Did you ever hear how Lickskillet got its name? Well, I was told that years ago a mighty peculiar man lived in this section. He lived all alone and never associated with his neighbors. He did his own housework, and his only cooking vessel was a skillet. Instead of washing the skillet, he always just licked it clean. Folks seeing

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him lick his skillet gave that name to this part of town, so they say, and the name has stuck throughout many years. Another story about the origin of this name is that a man give his wife such a licking with the skillet that it caused her death. To me the first story seems more logical.''

At this point the daughter-in-law brought the baby and sat it in Fred's lap, saying: "Do you mind holding him long enough for me to finish hanging out the clothes?" Fred jostled the child on his knee. "Now, Miss," he said, "I'm sure I've told you about all I can remember about my experiences. No doubt there are many things I've forgotten, and I'm sorry I can't remember better. It's like this; since I can't get regular work anymore it makes me awful nervous to sit still long at a time, and my mind ain't as active as it used to be. I guess I worry too much.

"Oh, hadn't I told you I'm a Methodist? Well, I guess I joined that church because my parents were of that denomination. You see they were slaves owned by the Bishop family, and the Bishops were Methodists. They took their slaves to their own church. Did you ever hear of a colored man named Matt Davis that used to be postmaster here? Well, he and his wife belonged to the same family, but he wasn't any relative of mine. No, mam! I never did understand just why he ever got as high as he did, for he never went to school a day in his life. I suppose his white folks taught him what he knew, for there wasn't any schools for colored folks in slavery time.

"Speaking of my religion again, I Joined the church where I'd been going to Sunday School when I was around sixteen or seventeen,

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and while I can't preach you no sermon, I do go to church and pay my dues. Sure enough now, I believe I've told you about all I know that could be of interest. Let me give this baby to my deaf son to hold so I can show you our garden before you go."

I followed him through a bedroom to the kitchen. In the bedroom I saw a golden oak suite, several chairs, some trunks and a large woolen rug. There was an atmosphere of long deferred cleaning and habitual disorder about this room, but one noticeable feature was that no pictures, calendars, or other of the customary wall decorations were to be seen. The pink flowered wall paper was cleanlooking and bright, no matter how dingy the furnishings of the rooms might be.

In the kitchen, the ceiling was smoked almost black. Soiled pots and pans were strewn over the wood-burning stove and the table was laden with unwashed dishes and cutlery. While Fred seemed embarrassed when he realized that he had led me through the house and its untidiness seem to mortify him, he failed to close the door and when he went into another bedroom to change his house slippers for shoes suitable for walking in the garden. This second bedroom was much like the other part of the house. A fresh coverlid would have helped the appearance of the battered iron bed. A general litter of various small articles was scattered over the dressed, tables, and about the room. The deaf boy, the baby in his arms, was rocking to and fro in a chair by the window. I did not enter this room but observed it in a swift glance from the further side of the kitchen. To my surprise, a plank seemed to be missing from the kitchen floor, and on the

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Last edit 2 months ago by AngelikaNorin
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