I have grown during the times of weak conjuncture from 1929 to 1935. People could not find work - there just was no work. They also had too little of food. If you have grown in 30's, you learn to save money. I in any case will not forget how hard was to earn it. And I tried later to teach my children, to treat money accurately so they never be in such a distress as people earlier.
Everybody suffered from the weak conjuncture. Besides that that time was full of racial prejudices. One of my first memoirs - that I, 4 year old kid, stand in line for rice, canned food, Oatmeal flour and sugar rations. Since the economy has been destroyed, whites too had to stand in a queue, but they always stood ahead. Blacks received what remained. Blacks were not allowed to have dinner at the same restaurant, as whites, or to drink from the same draw-well.
Already during childhood it was obvious to me that whites have more rights. For example, if white lady went along the street, we had to leave from the sidewalk and quietly stand in waiting, while she will pass. Only after that we could go further. Fortunately for me, we did not live in rich quarter of our city, and I needed to participate in this nonsense and not too frequently.
I am grateful to my parents that despite of all inconveniences which they have undergone, they always warned me of racism. When many years later I was the manager at my children, I intentionally appointed performances in those places where lived both white, and black. So they from the very beginning had fans of all races, and later it has essentially added them of popularity. However in days of my youth for the black artist it was absolutely impossible to address to the mixed public.
I owe a lot to my father, he was for me an example. Samuel was very hard-working man, and he became director of the high school. Mostly he went in a suit with a tie, and drove a new "Ford". And I have been amazed, that he presumed to himself a new car, when he needed to feed the big family. But I was proud of him because we then were unique blacks in our city that had such a car. It was class.
Also I admired my father because he has constructed our house by himself. The plan has been thought carefully over so that it was possible to make easily an extension if there will be necessary more places. When our family became bigger, he simply attached one more room. For this purpose he brought down trees, cut with their axe and put long beams on the ground in a square. Then he connected them with each other and on it constructed a floor. I then was still very small, it was difficult for me climb through them, I sat down on these beams from above and skipped on them, as on a horse.
As well as many people at that time, my parents planted vegetables in the garden. The daddy could see on phases of the Moon when it is necessary to sow, and he borrowed a horse to pull a plough. When I was about 8, I have tried to help him, but was enough strong to force a horse to keep the furrows. We willingly worked in a garden, laughed and joked during the teamwork. We had so much of peas, string beans, corn, potatoes, peanuts, melons and other vegetables, that we never bought it in shop.
When we were small, our father frequently sang to us every possible song. I and now remember, for example " Swing low, sweet chariot ". He had a beautiful high he also sang in chorus. Samuel constantly sang or whistled. We liked to listen to him: his songs told about a usual life and when he sang something sad, tears flew on his cheeks. I have learned to sing, because listened to the father.
My father whom I called Pops, was very friendly and smiled a lot. Besides he could fix anything you like. His one better feature - he always finished any business. From my father I have learned to never surrender, and I constantly encouraged my children that they finished their work.
Dad took care so we had what to eat doesn't matter how hard the times were. My force - from him. He used to say: "Joe, no matter what you do have to do it as better as possible" . He believed, that only that way it is possible to find peace of mind, and all my life I took this advice seriously.
We then lived in 1,5 miles away of small town Durmott, about 100 miles to the south from Little Rock. Houses there were unpainted and in with the time the tree has decayed. There was a pair of shops: grocery, shop of clothes, the hairdresser, except for that, mail and a big prison. In total Durmott hardly could count total more than 1000 inhabitants, and everyone knew all about the neighbours.
The most exciting days were Friday and Saturday when in the evenings people going out to the city. Our neighbours partied, drank wine and whisky, fried a fish, and music was so loud, that was audible in the next quarter. At restaurants played musical automatic devices, people danced. As soon as men got drunk, fight because of any woman began. However, black should remain in their part of city - earlier blacks and whites could not party together.
My father didn't drink ever. If he went out to the city to have a good time, he always took mum with himself. She liked very much to go to dance somewhere, but more often she remained at home and watched that father has been fed when he will come from work.
My parents had to work hard and we didn't have enough money. But we loved each other and it was the most important. Just as Nero loved his family, Samuel loved us. He told to me, that in days of his youth they were treated so bad on a plantation that their only pleasure was time which they could spend together as family, in the morning and in the evening before and after the work. The deprivations that he went through in the childhood have led to that he very much valued the family life, and it was transferred to me.
My cousin grandmother Verna lived in Durmott, only 50 m away from us. When we arranged washing, I went with buckets to her pump, filled them and poured out in a huge iron tank. When it was filled, I made under fire under it, she added soap. She boiled our linen in alkaline until it was washed off. Then she pulled it out there with a stick and rinsed in a bath. We had 3 linen cords on which all of us hanged it out. One of pleasures of my childhood - a fresh smell of the clean linen dried by the sun.
Other pleasure was meal. Every morning mum milked our cow and baked rolls. Verna held pigs and that's why in our small smoking shed in a garden, always hung the ham and bacon. We slaughtered animals, and that meat was much tastier, than everything, that it is possible to buy today. We used to go to shop more likely to visit to city and to keep abreast of the latest news. We did not need almost to buy anything since we made everything by ourselves.
My great grandma was known in the entire town as "Ms. Verna Brown". When I was born, she was already elderly. She was hard-working and loved the life on the farm. And she loved her trees: nuts, plums and peaches. Verna had geese, ducks and hens. When she wanted to fatten the chicken, she caught her, locked in a small narrow shelter and fed only with corn. It proceeded 3 weeks, then she slaughtered the bird.
Back then there were no refrigerators. The seller of ice went along the street and shouted: " Ice! Ice! ". The climate was hot and damp, and many people held on their veranda a special chest for ice. Verna had it especially big. She filled it approximately 50 pounds of ice to keep her products.
For a breakfast she usually prepared for fried eggs with a ham and bacon, sometimes porridge. Her pastes were the best. Verna was an excellent cook, her meals has made me strong. She also taught me to be polite and to stay away of problems. I never saw, that her drinks something stronger than lemonade. Because of my father and Verna giving me a good example and because of religious reasons I never drank any alcohol. And I have transferred it to the children. I am proud that not one of them drinks.
Verna had 3 sons: Sylvester, Timothy, (we called him T.W), and Tommy, the younger. T.W was similar to me and my dad. He laughed like dad and was same friendly as it him. Sometimes he even talked like dad. And he cared of his family as my father. Verna deeply believed in God and has imparted to us her moral values. At her presence it was forbidden to us to swear, and certainly we should pray before meal. The card play was considered as the same sin, as well as alcohol.
I always had to accompany her when she went to Sunday school, to studying the Bible or to church. Already at doors I heard, how the chorus sings the traditional black church hymn: " Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home... ". If Verna did not hold my hand very strongly, I ran away from there at the first opportunity because I was frightened by how some people prayed. Women jumped, drop on benches, asked others to brush them away, as though they had an attack. They told me, that sacred spirit on them the sacred spirit has come down on them but I thought, they simply pretended. It is possible to study the Bible and to listen to the preacher easy, and to not behave so. It was not clear for me, why these women shouted and rushed on a floor, I did not think, that it is necessary to do so to be religious. I wouldn't do this in any case and Verna did not do that.
Sunday service always passed equally. The preacher spoke something, the crowd answered: " amen, amen". The more they repeated "amen", they burnt more. The preacher paced there - here before an altar, briskly gesticulated. I have darted a glance on Verna and saw that she cries; fortunately, she reacted to the sermon more likely internally, than externally, and not as openly as people around her.
I could not wait, until when we leave from church. Not that that I reluctantly was there - but shouts of these people frightened me. When the chorus sang last hymn, I sighed with relief. Simply it was not pleasant to me, that people had to keep each other from writhing in spasms and from wounding.
After the ending of service women with cry directed to the door. It looked like the ending of Jackson 5 concert . I stand offstage and I see, how girls in the forefront cry and faint, and they are being taken away. These women in church looked the same..
Of course, after the service, the young priest shook hands with everyone good-bye. Every Sunday numerous women invited him to a dinner, he always could choose, at whom he will have dinner. Almost all our priests were young, nice men, and always it seemed to me, that they stand at a church door and only and wait, that somebody has invited them.
Except the hours spent in church, life was not so rich with events. A river "Big Bayou" proceeded around our house. From one riverside to another has been thrown a bridge . One evening I stood there and have found out a gipsy camp on the other riverside.
I have run across on other coast so I could see better. From apart I have heard their music. It has seemed to me the most exciting music which I ever heard, therefore I have crept closer. The gipsy stood around of something that I did not see, I was too small to look beyond their heads. Without thinking twice, I have risen on four and have crept between their feet. It was a fire on which the corn was fried. They have begun to smile, when have found out in me the boy from the opposite house.
When corn was ready, they have invited me to have a meal together with them. Then the beautiful young woman in a long dress and with long black hair which she has tied with a black - red shawl with white brushes, danced around of fire. Silver ear rings in her ears sparkled in view of a fire. I could look at her for hours.
Eventually in family have noticed my absence and have called me. It was not pleasant to them, that I was at the gipsy. " Joe, better go home ", they shouted. The next evening I was there again. I just had to be with them because I really liked their music. I spent there every evening and remained, until parents did not call me.
When the gipsy has turned the camp to go in other place, I missed their songs and dances. They came back 2 more times and each time remained for some weeks. Some people complained, since the gipsy lived on their ground and ate their corn, but for my family it meant nothing. We had enough corn. When I was 8, they have left finally and have not returned any more. But always, when I see a fortune-teller in the street, I think of my friends - gipsies.
A lot of years later my younger son Randy, incredibly musically gifted, has named his group " The Gypsies ". Of course I, very much liked the name, it has reminded me of my carefree youth, and about long stuffy evenings when I sang and danced with gipsies at light of the Moon under the starry sky.