Neighbors holding sheets
The dark night wasn’t scary, just normal.
Until the squeaks of the wagon and team’s harness jingles came closer and stopped outside.
Company this late?
Unusual in the farming community.
Soft talk on the sagging front porch.
Clops of the hooves into the barn.
“Boys, get your rifles and come outside.”
Even the smallest, my dad.
And they stood: a small line across in the sand – in front of the barn.
The men arriving on horseback wavered – holding torches.
Holding them carefully away from their white sheets.
All bravado and slurred speech.
Let them hoot and holler on until they ran out of breath.
And notice the line didn’t move aside as told.
Noticed those rifles in the arms of those boys and their father – all know to be crack shots.
Without emotion, some quiet firm talk.
“You boys now go on home and stop bein’ foolish and botherin’ folks.
You done got all liquored up.
You don’t really want trouble. Now get on back down that road.”
Shuffling of horses.
Nervously shifting riders.
Huffing and leaving.
Armloads of quilts paraded into the barn.
The children giggled in pallets in the hay.
Soft adult talk.
“They won’t come back, but we’ll keep a watch.
It’s nothing. Don’t mention it.
Neighbors help neighbors”
Poor farmers just trying to make an honest living and raise their kids to be decent people.
Worked side by side in the fields picking cotton and watermelons when it was time.
Both hunted to put food on the table.
Collected raccoon and possum pelts to sell.
No mention was made of the color of skin.
It’s not about that or the men in sheets.
It’s about fathers.
”People are funny,” my dad used to say.
“You don’t always know who they are when you first meet them.”
“The best thing to do is to let them go on and talk. But sit back watch what they do – instead of their words. That’s really how you’ll know what sort they are. Then you can decide how best to deal with them.”
Sound quiet words from deep East Texas fathers.
(Useful just about anywhere.)
Echoes of the heart and soul.
Grounded in red dirt.
Whispers from tall pines,
Phil, the Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge