February 2008

Some friends of mine from L.A. (Lower Alabama) were at their hunting cabin to get after some wild boar, as usual. They waited to take delivery of a truckload of firewood.

In this area, maybe the poorest rural area in the country, the local population holds dear a few odd customs. You might feel from the setting and the context of the place that it hasn’t evolved much since the Civil War. The resident population speaks a regional patois all its own, peculiar to the influences of French, Indian, Gullah and just plain swamp-living. Oak is spoken “erik,” rattlesnakes are “cudgeywitches,” hickory trees are “huckabah,” Christmas tree is “Krimmakree,” and a skunk is known as a “polecat.”

Coinciding with this year’s pig hunt is a local tradition which I will call Stokes Day. Old Man Stokes was a plantation owner, who, after Emancipation, provided free land for the freed slaves and their families to bury their dead. This annual Stokes Day revival falls in step with the end of the cotton harvest, when the moon is right, way out in the deep southern countryside of the state. This very loosely organized event draws thousands of descendants of slavery of the cotton and tobacco region to this part of the state, staying in small towns and camping out in the country. In addition to the ongoing southern cooking feast, the bonfires and moonshine, the voodoo and the river baptisms, the gospel singing and the blues, this festival is known for its foot-washing rituals and after-hours good times. Indeed, it is known among the knowing that some folks will get full of the Reverend’s Word, get one with the Spirit, fall out and then the real ritual commences.

The pig-hunters waiting on their winter cord of wood were anxious to speak with a local gentleman, as it can be quite interesting. Right on time, an hour late, on old beat-up, rusted-out 1960’s Ford pickup chugged up the driveway, dragging the cargo bed on the rear axles, creaking and groaning all the way. Out stepped an old black man named Honest, believed to be in his 70s. Believed, because there are no birth records from that time and this place. Honest said “How Do.”

He proceeded to discharge all that wood from the back of his truck, and mostly talked hunting with the boys as they stacked the seasoned firewood properly. You know, gaps wide enough for a squirrel to jump through but not big enough for a cat to follow. Honest collected $50 for this fine service, plus an additional $40 because my friend felt this was a paltry sum for such hard work to deliver all this wood, let alone gather, split and deliver the wood, as all knew Honest had done by himself. After payment and over an ice-cold NeHi, more small talk about how Honest (several times a great-grandfather) and his fambly were doing and what were our woodsman’s plans for the weekend?

Our woodsman clearly planned to take part as always in the Stokes Day Revival, same as every year since who-knows-when. Honest hitched up his overalls, and quietly told my friends that he was going to get home, clean up and “Ahmma git up-country, praise the Lord, sing bass…and hepp out with the fuckin’!”


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