the Cotton Farmer’s Wife

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Alice Augusta Schmidt Jamieson was as stubborn as she was petite.
Her pristine white country home was kept by a local coloured woman. Alice held a great deal of respect for Esther. She had thick dark skin and eyes like molasses, that pulled people in with their sweetness.  Esther kept the house spotless, cooked the meals and stayed nights when the girls had sleep overs. Esther taught the girls the latest dance moves, listened to their gossip and secrets, and taught them that the word “nigger” was offensive.  Something the girls never forgot.

Despite that, Alice still favored Esther. Hiring Esther provided Alice with more time for gardening. Not everyone found help so easily, but Esther’s husband, Oodie, had been the straw boss in Hayes’ cotton fields for years. Even though Oodie was illiterate, he made sure the others were there on time, measured their satchels of cotton, paid them accordingly and sent the loaded wagon to the cotton gin.

The cotton gin was settled down the road, within walking distance from the two-bedroom home. Behind the house lay the horse pastures. Behind the pastures ran a bayou. Behind the bayou were fields and fields of cotton. During the season, when the sun started to wake early and the heat began to test its strength, Oodie would meet Hayes at dawn in the fields, verifying that all the workers were accounted for and that the day started off smoothly. Hayes would then head off on foot to the gin. Other farmers sent their cotton pickings to Hayes’ gin to be separated: cotton seeds for cotton seed oil and replanting, branches for baskets and satchels, cotton wrapped in tufts. It saved local farmers in labour and was a great source of extra income for Hayes and Alice, especially with their dinner parties. About once a month, the local farmers got together for a gala of a dinner party. There would be food and laughter and their local workers would serve. Esther always worked Alice and Hayes’ dinner parties, and if the night was expected to bring a large turn out, Oodie would valet the cars in the yard.

Alice couldn’t complain about life. Her girls’ spent their summer days riding their horses on the levee. Her dearest friend was within walking distance, down at the country store. Her husband was so well respected by both blacks and whites, that often he would frequent black restaurants or have their workers barbecue up some of their slaughtered cattle. Between the barbecued cattle and the catfish gifted from their workers, Alice’s life was quite good. Fires and rifts and desegregation lay hidden before her, but in 1955, as Alice let her Doral fill her lungs and fresh dirt slide between the flesh of her fingers, she knew she had all a Southern woman could hope for.

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