Cricket's Funeral

 

 


Saturday morning we were up and off to the country for Cricket’s funeral.. There was a

brief stop to photograph three crosses—Jesus and the two men or the Trinity—which

ever way you see it and the signs in yards and businesses all over Columbia that said

“Enough is enough. Let’s stand up for Jesus.” Plus the Ten Commandants in a front

yard that also held a building that had the American flag painted on the side made for

another stop.

 

We went straight to Cricket’s shack—the front yard covered with cars and pick up

trucks—most were white. There were young men were on the porch and people

scattered everywhere in her humble shack. One daughter led me to her bedroom to show

me the watercolor that I had done long ago of her shack hanging on the wall over her

bed. Cathy said she was so proud of the painting. I had never sat down and visited in a

black person’s house before. Her children and her grandchildren were so warm and

friendly. One young man was a policeman in New Orleans and proceeded to tell Bill how

it really was down there. This was in March 2006 after Katrina had struck the August

before. I snapped one daughter in the swing on the front porch with a wisteria bush

behind her. Every Southern home has a wisteria bush. I asked a mama if she would

bring out her small daughter in a pink play suit for me to take a picture of her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill and I left to go photograph Cricket’s parents shack—Uncle Joe and Mary—on the

highway to Louisiana that I had photographed with William the weekend before. It was a

lonely cabin in a wide space—a porch and a chimney—a story of long ago. On the way

from there to the church I spotted a white stretch limo turning down the road to Cricket’s

to take the family to the church. What a juxtaposition—that long white limo and that tiny

shabby shack. But the black people do their funerals up big time. The dead are honored

for their time here.

 

 

Anyway, the funeral was slow starting with the visitation from 10 am until noon. The church slowly filled with people. Many of them I had seen the Sunday before when I visited there never dreaming I would be back so soon for Cricket.  Betty, the hallelujahlady. was all over the place welcoming and seating people. I had asked Barry when I got back from Columbia and the Sunday visit what the woman in the white suit meant. She was all over clapping her hands and singing. He said the Hallelujah Lady whomped the Spirit up.

Cricket was laid out in style. Her hat and dress were pink and a lace handkerchief

covered her hands. She no more looked like herself than a spook. I could not look

at her because she didn’t look like the Cricket I loved. The family arrived in the limo.

The daughter I photographed by the wisteria bush was the first to land in her new dress—

then the other sister, then Cathy in her white suit and large white flying saucer hat. The

hat came off shortly after they were seated.

It was a long service. The ten page program with Cricket’s face on the cover was read

aloud, every word, by older teenagers. I wondered if that went back to the olden days

when not many people could read. The visiting preachers spoke, several hymns were

sung by the choir—swaying as they sang. Two young girls on the back row were

swaying in perfect harmony with the choir. I got amused at a little boy next to us in his

mother’s arms snoring as loud as a grown up during his nap. Tonsils… I guess.

Things progressed in order during the service until something went awry. As Mrs.

Franklin sang unaccompanied another noise joined her. I craned my neck forward to see

what was happening. The first sister by the center aisle was wailing, moaning—just plain

distraught. The fanning committee came running—a man and a woman with paper fans

started fanning her mightily—offering assistance. Finally, she was so inconsolable that

they had to help her go outside. After a while she returned and settled down. Then after

a bit the middle sister let loose with her wails and the fanning committee rushed to her

rescue eventually escorting her outside. More fanners came and fanned all three of the

women.

When they opened the casket after the service for the congregation to view her,

Cathy could not go up there because she had fallen out. With her hat off, and overcome

with grief, she was fanned, consoled and escorted out. And so old Cricket, sweet old

Cricket, had her moment of glory. The program called her birth “sunrise” and her death

“sunset.” She was buried next to her husband, Sonny Boy (Roy)—the tombstone already

engraved with her name, Ella Mae “Cricket” James.

There was lunch afterwards at the church. What a feast the women had prepared—fried

chicken, collards, dressing, potato salad, dirty rice, sweet potatoes, rolls, cornbread, two

cakes and sweet potato pie. I knew I was in the country with that dinner.

What a wonderful tribute to Cricket—a full church and a lot of love for a woman who

had worked hard all of her life.

I knew the aisle sister had recovered from her breakdown during the service when I saw

her plate piled with two chicken breasts and all of the other goodies. I forgot to tell about

the preacher’s sermon—what eloquence. He began slowly then the tempo increased—the

words rolling faster and faster then louder and louder and as his voice got higher my ear

drums felt it. There was never a stutter, never an uh uh—just a smooth oratory on rest,

peace and how all of us will find our rest one day. What an experience—telling my

beloved Cricket goodbye.

 

Jane Robbins Kerr
2006

 Sunday Dinner

 

 

 

 

 


Seems like ‘fore I was born, there were three things I knew; that the Ball family had land, the Ball family was and will be, and that Sunday dinner would be served promptly at 11:30. I didn’t want to miss it.

Sunday dinner in the country was a feast set on a while damask cloth. Pa Gene had told Mammy when they married that he’d never eat off oil cloth. Imagine, two meats instead of one! ….fried chicken and fall apart roast with gravy, rice, candid sweet potatoes, tiny butter beans that were grown in the garden, stewed corn, green salad, rolls, hoe cake all nice and crusty and hot from the griddle, chocolate pie—the chocolate so dark it was ebony—not to be confused with the pale imitation mocha stuff. Then came the most delectable of all desserts-- “pudding pie”—banana pudding to anyone but me and always gigantic glasses of iced tea with mint and lemon.

 

 

Conversation lagged as we ate our way through the bounteous spread of food. “Pass the butter beans.” “May I have the butter?” was the extent of it. Puss, My maiden aunt, (known to the rest of the world as Carrie) would hover over us exclaiming, “that’s not it to eat!” –never would she join us at the table after cooking the wondrous repast. I wonder if she really convinced herself that “it wasn’t fit to eat” after the whole clan heartily devoured nearly every morsel in the briefest of time. Anyway, she would pick over what was left as she set it in the cupboard where it would be available later for the first person with the urge to nibble .

Gradually everyone would struggle out to the large screened porch that ran the side and front of the house. Rocking chairs lined up like lonely sentinels came to life and matched their groaning to the occupants as they rocked their dinner away.

I would race to the swing and curl up on the pillows and gradually lapse into a daze as I made the wooden womb move from side to side.


 The vacuous conversation would drift over my head—I could hear my Aunt Fay talk about her “regularity” and another aunt mutter in polite response. Uncle Henderson would talk about the swamp and how the cows were doing and how many mules were left or how the oil well crews were ruining the land. Pa Gene would say, “You chaps don’t know a thing,” and proceed to tell them what was needed to be done. Mammy would just keep her peace, rocking and reflecting.

 

 

As I would near sleep, I would want to ask Mammy to please stick her teeth out at me tonight before we went to bed.  Everyone quieted down—semi asleep in their chairs, a lone car breaking the silence rudely blowing dust clouds as it raced down the gravel road.

 

I lay there motionless nearly caught by sleep, seeing the oak trees dance—their garlands of Spanish moss gently moving as a summer breeze comes into maturity as a rain storm.

And I am gone—back into today—a world apart but yet still a part of me.

Jane Robbins Kerr

 

 

 

 

Walls of Memories 

 

 

The sign reads Jackson Gallery open 10--6 Tues.—Sat. I climb the stairs rather curious about this Mississippian’s collection of photographs concerning Delta Juke Joints. These Juke Joints conveyed memories of the Honkey Tonks where I danced during college—the 45 Club, Silver Spur, Dew Drop Inn. No way was I prepared for the pictures of dives in the Delta—a side of life that I had never experienced.Wonderful tin signs with mottos to live by were nailed on poles by the pool tables, vivid art work was painted on the cement walls by the patrons, beer signs, smoky haze, blank stares—the Delta for these people was not only the vast flatness of the land, but a flatness of life and spirit mirrored in their eyes. I hear a lone juke box wailing the blues—telling the tired old story of worn out love, the need for a good woman. Swigs of beer—a pull at a cigarette—long stares into nowhere—the pain assuaged for a moment. forgotten is the story of no money, food stamps, too many children, no future, sameness of life. Thank God for the Juke Joints.

 

I pass the Juke Joints and see the walls lined with photographs to my past. Memories swirl when I eye the caption underneath the first picture—“Front porch near Saunders Carson‘s home Crawfordsville.” I am pulled into the space of my college years in Columbus when Saunders was Johnny Reb personified. He was soft spoken, charming with his heavy drawl—just the kind of man that thrills your Mama but ten years too old to be testing out the new crop of freshmen girls year after year at the “W.”

 

 

The wild eyes of a young black boy grab me. Labeled “A Baptism at Crawfordsville,” his eyes could attest to finding the Lord or scared to death of being dunked in the river. Who knows? Next comes the Sisters(I call them the Vestal Virgins). lovely, tall young black women in long, flowing white cotton dresses with white bathing caps clinging to their skulls marching down to their Baptism. Then pictures made around Artesia come into view—porch scenes—one of a black woman and her dog—the other of four coke bottles and a box of matches. I remember the Artesia of years ago and Sunday dinner at my boy friend’s house. Back then there were about 500 people in the town, lots of hay grown in the area and harness races some weekends. The Artesia that I saw last year during my college reunion was a dead end—turn to the right there was the Artesia Café hand lettered in sharp contrast to the new post office across the street. Turn left and the Artesia Hardware Store looms in hand letters. Houses are in disrepair—a lone soul on the street—a deserted hamlet in that rich Black Prairie Belt.

 

The show ends—a wonderful collection of old memories captured by this apt photographer—Birney Imes. A thanks to him for reminding me that a part of Mississippi will always be etched on my heart.

Jane Robbins Kerr

 

 

Club Ebony, Mississippi
Jane Kerr, Club Ebony

 

 

The Last Juke Joint
Jane Kerr, Mr. Po Monkey