Old Ghosts Calling to Me 

I have a “thing” for old structures; old farmhouses, slab-sided barns or an aging general mercantile.  I grew up in and around them…like ghosts, they are only memories.  It is not the architecture they represent, but the history that speaks to me.  Old ghosts calling my name.

Decaying, hand-hewn structures…I just wonder about the hands that constructed them.  I feel the same way about fields of rusting cars covered in kudzu or the tools that once maintained them I find in antique shops or “high dollar” junkyards.  It’s about who drove the car, who repaired it…it’s about the history…about the ghosts.

Image result for dorothea lange country store.  Who colorized the picture

I first saw this photograph while researching lesson plans on the depression.  The black and white Dorothea Lange photograph whispered softly to me for some reason.  It was titled, “Country store on a dirt road. Sunday afternoon. July 1939. Gordonton, North Carolina.”

The structure spoke to me, but the ghosts were quiet.  My eyes were drawn to the old metal signs advertising different brands of cigarettes, Coca-Cola, the “Sweet Scotch Snuff.”  I listened to the Texaco gas and kerosene pumps, rough cut and unfinished lumber, a long porch gallery supported by stacked stones.  Cedar trees stripped of limbs used as porch columns and roof rafters that aren’t quite plumb.  I “heard” it, rather than “heard” them.

What I “heard” changed when I discovered the colorized version by Jordan J. Lloyd.  It drew my attention to the men and their ghosts spoke to me.  It became about the people instead of the structure.

Related image

The picture is described as “A lazy Sunday afternoon on a country road.”  Five black men relaxing on a “workless” Sunday with the brother of the white owner leaning in the doorway.  Smiles to go around as stories were told…embellished for listening enjoyment I’m quite sure.  The ghosts spoke but I am hard of hearing and I don’t really know their voices.  But I can research and create.

The colors are vivid…as vivid as khaki and denim can be.  Overalls over a white shirt, rolled up shirt sleeves and pant’s legs.  Dusty, beat up shoes and brogans.  Sweat stained fedoras and baseball caps pushed back on heads.  A “dope” drained to the last drop and the aroma of fine Virginia tobacco wafting in the breeze, “mildness with no unpleasant aftertaste.”

July 1939 in the South…in North Carolina…in the cotton belt.  The depression had been ongoing for ten years and would continue until the soaring production of World War Two finally buried it.  Farmers had been steamrolled by the depression as early as 1920 while boll weevils ate their fill and cotton prices dropping as low as five cents a pound….  Ever pick cotton?  I have.  A pound of cotton is a lot of picking for a nickel and boll weevils wiped out as much as eighty percent of cotton crops during the Twenties.

The depression was particularly hard on people of color in the South.  Many, only sixty or seventy years removed from slavery, found themselves forced into a type of pseudo-slavery, sharecropping and tenant farming…except many poor whites found themselves paddling in the same boat.  The difference? Post-slavery Jim Crow segregation.  As bad as things are, at least you “ain’t colored.” Separate and “unequal.”

Except maybe on “A lazy Sunday afternoon on a country road.”  I smile.  I see four men of color reacting to something said by the fifth man on the left while the white man is slow to get the point or at least react.  A slow smile coming to his face.  Men gathering to shoot the bull on their day of rest.  The simple enjoyment of not having to be someplace…not having to work your fingers to the bone for someone else’s profit.

Image result for dorothea lange country store.  Who colorized the picture

The old store on a dusty, country road still exists.  The road is now paved and the store is no longer open which for me seems a shame.  Boarded up and abandoned, I wonder if the ghosts still gather on the porch, talking of days past and the hard times they endured.  Seeing it closed I am sad for them…and for me.

The first photo is by Dorothea Lang.

The colorized photo is by Jordan J. Lloyd

The last photo was made by Wayne Jacobs.

For more musings go to https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Why?

If I go missing interrogate the squirrels, they are the ones gathering nuts.

Allow me the illusion I am not crazy…rephrase…allow me the illusion I am not insane.  I am crazy but not to the point of tearing wings off flies, wearing tin foil hats or using those last words so familiar to country boys like me, “Hey Y’all watch this.”

I’m more like Jimmy Buffett’s “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, if we weren’t all crazy we’d all go insane” crazy.  However, I do hear voices and am crazy enough to believe they are attempting to tell me something…possibly something important.  It has grown quite crowded in my head as a chorus of voices attempts to lead me down a path that is curvy and twisted as a mountain road.  Those twist backs are murder.

The voices I hear are usually having some type of debate…or an argument may be a better description.  I am reminded of the angel and devil from Animal House or maybe the food fight from the same movie.  Yes, more like dozens of angels and devils throwing food at each other while they debate the eternal damnation of my very soul.

A chorus of former acquaintances metaphorically yelling “F@#$ her, F@#$ her brains out,” followed by the chorus of former dead church members, led by the angelic voice of my mother, countering with “For shame Donald, I am surprised at you!”  All the while, creamed potatoes are flying.  Maybe I should rethink my declaration of sanity.

For the last few days, my voices have sounded like shrill blue jays having such a particularly raucous squabble, my earbuds and running can’t seem to drown them out.  Usually running will drown out everything except the pain of my running.

These are depressing voices…trying to pull me down by taking advantage of my predisposition toward depression.  Voices heralding the end of the world, protest, death… disrespect.  For some reason, Stephen Stills voice reverberates with the words from “For What It’s Worth,” …” Paranoia strikes deep, into your life it will creep, it starts when you’re always afraid, you step out of line, the man comes and take you away.”

Unfortunately, the song disintegrates into “They’re coming to take me away…to the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time, and I’ll be happy to see those nice young men, in their clean white coats, they’re coming to take me away”

A voice with a professorial lilt I can’t recognize points out, “Maybe the world hasn’t changed much, maybe we are still protesting the same things.  Maybe this is a never-ending film loop.  Maybe….”

I wonder about the order of issues bellowed out by my voices; end of the world in nuclear fire, protest, death by gunfire or abortion…disrespect….  Another voice is now asking if a lack of respect for ourselves is the underlying culprit.  Yet another is shouting “No it is the devaluation of life…if there is a lack of respect it is for the sanctity of life…my life and the lives of those I love.”  A fourth is screeching, “Bullying, bullying, bullying.”  A fifth, sounding like Billy Graham, softly states, “You’ve turned your back on God!”

More cacophony of dissonance…or is it?  My angel and devil have now become a mob and taken on the persona of our politicians except I don’t know which might be which, angels or devils.

It is a beautiful Sunday morning for a walk and run before church, but I worry my voices will ruin it for me.  Despite my trepidation, I push on.  My exertions seem to have quieted the voices.  They became quieter and quieter as I run along.  While not in unison, as they quiet themselves, the voices began to ask the same question, a simple one-word question…” Why?”  Their silence now worries me more than their question.  Could it be their silence is an admission there is no answer to the question?

The Why? meme is by Sami from the Meme Center at https://www.memecenter.com/fun/293612/why-meme

Please stop by Don Miller’s writer’s pages and at least like them if you don’t want to purchase a book…or five.

At Facebook https://www.facebook.com/cigarman501/

At Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM