The barn was the center of our attention on the farm because all of our work was focused there. It was a very exciting place, as a matter of fact. We caught the mules and horses early in the morning, took them to the field hooked to wagons and plows. That’s where we brought them back at night for feed and for watering.
We also had a good time around the barn. For instance, when daddy thrashed oats and wheat, we had a thrashing machine just behind the barn and we would have a big pile of loose hay. We used to get a running start in the loft of the barn and leap out of the window and land on the soft pile of hay.
Throughout my young life I worked and played with my boyhood neighbors. My neighbors were African American. And we were equal to one another. But, when I was about fourteen years old, there was a profound experience that I had, that didn’t seem to be important at the time. But later in my life I realized it was one of the turning points in my life. I wrote a poem about it.
The pasture gate:
This empty house, three miles from town
was where I lived. Here I was back,
and found most homes around were gone.
The folks who stayed here now were black,
like Johnny and A.D., my friends.
As boys we worked in Daddy’s fields,
hunted rabbits, squirrels, and quail,
caught and cooked catfish and eels,
searched the land for arrowheads,
tried to fly the smallest kite,
steered barrel hoops with strands of wire,
and wrestled hard. At times we’d fight,
without a thought of who might be boss,
who was the smartest or the best;
the leader for a few brief hours
was who had won the last contest.
But then – we were fourteen or so –
as we approached the pasture gate,
they went to open it, and then
stood back. This made me hesitate,
sure it must have been a joke,
a tripwire, maybe, they had planned.
I reckon they had to obey
their parents’ prompting. Or command.
We only saw it vaguely then,
but we were transformed at that place.
A silent line was drawn between
friend and friend, race and race.