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The Blacksmith's Daughter

The Blacksmith's Daughter

Автором Minnette Coleman

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The Blacksmith's Daughter

Автором Minnette Coleman

473 pages
8 hours
Apr 27, 2010


William Brown, one of the last blacksmiths in Atlanta, has become a rich and powerful man buying and selling land and requiring only the best for his wife Bira, his crippled son and five unmarried daughters. The Piano Man wanders into this life enticed by the carefree youngest daughter June, but destined to marry the eldest sister according to the blacksmiths plan. Junes desire to change these plans leads the proud family down a path that could destroy everything the blacksmith has worked for.

A heart wrenching tale of an autocratic fathers attempt to control the lives of his five daughters and in the process re-invent his sense of self. . .Minnette Coleman, in lyrical fashion, paints a downward spiral of envy. The Blacksmiths Daughter is a singular tale of love and longing but also one of redemption told through the voice of a poet.

- Grace F. Edwards author, The Mali Anderson Mysteries

The really masterly aspect of this book, beyond its authentic voice, its entirely credible characters and its compelling situations delivered in hypnotically cadenced prose, is the way it twists and turns you as to how you react to the behavior and values of the blacksmith himself.

- Tim Roux author- The Dance of the Pheasodile (Night Publishing)

An untold historical narrative of dedication to self-sufficiency and advanced education is interlaced within this imaginative love story focusing on family and community. Crisp, vibrant poetic imagery colors the dialogue about the big brown blacksmith and his world of the1920s in Atlanta.

Janice White Sikes Rogers,

Specialist in Southern History

Atlanta Auburn Avenue Research Library on
African American Culture & History
Apr 27, 2010

Об авторе

Minnette Coleman was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the great-granddaughter of one of that city’s last blacksmiths. She lives in New York and is a member of the Harlem Writers Guild.

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The Blacksmith's Daughter - Minnette Coleman


Chapter One

Dawn, the beginning of the southern work day. The sky ain’t blue yet, and the air is still damp with dew but all is right with mother earth once you hear the Blacksmith’s hammer hit the anvil.

The big man forges metal with long even strokes and the sound, a sound that assures you that God is in his heaven, echoes through the sweet smelling morning as the sun shines on trees filled with hummingbirds, bushes dripping of honeysuckle, roads lined with dogwoods and pines, yards filled with cocks crowing and their hens cackling as they lay. All God’s creatures and all God’s children are in dreamy attendance as the sound fills the universe for the steady ringing of the Blacksmith’s hammer is calling it to order.

While some folks still lay snug under their covers in the dewy Atlanta dawn, the big cocoa brown Blacksmith has risen and seen what those who dream under the watchful eye of the Lord could not see. While dark still rules the sky the big man, the Blacksmith named William Brown, rolls over in a bed almost too small for him to share with another person and kisses the long haired part Indian woman at his side. He clings to her with a passion they have never spoken of, and then he lets her go. There is no time to go beyond the morning kiss to linger in their familiar embrace. He is the last of Atlanta’s great smithies and the city will be waiting for him come dawn. She rises with him, the long gown that has rolled up above her hips in the night falling daintily to cover her legs. She stares at the mirror above the heavy wood dresser, picks up a silver handled brush and begins to go at her hair with quick strokes.

Out of the corner of his eye he watches her thinking this is my wife, this is my hair as he removes his night shirt and stretches in the almost dark. She sighs a bit, it is not often she sees him naked and there is the desire to turn and let him know that she misses that one thing about youth: the shamelessness of the body. But she brushes her hair faster, as if the passion in her arms and legs has found its way to the brush. She knots her hair tightly into a bun, as he prepares to shave in an old basin given to them by his mother on the day they were married and left Alabama. She lies out a freshly hand-starched jumper and work shirt and pats the muscles in his arm. They exchange glances and she grabs her robe and goes to the kitchen of the big house to start the coffee.

When the pot is on the stove with its fire burning big and high she goes to awaken their five daughters and lone son for the Blacksmith’s family always takes the morning meal together.

The older girls, no longer girls, but women no longer very young, have no trouble rising. Minnelsa and Fawn will dress before the others and then prepare to go teach at the college they once attended in a youth they remember as a million years ago. Rosa and Jewel are a little harder to get up having spent the night being courted by beaus both handsome and entertaining but useless in their father’s eyes. June will be the hardest to awaken. Barely 18 and the baby of the family she hates getting up at any time and her mother will have to call her only son to rouse his beautiful sister. The Blacksmith’s son, William Brown the Second, pulls himself about on crutches, his crippled legs so small and deformed, he can barely use them, but he has a way with June. She listens to him and loves him like no one else. Willie, as she calls him when everyone else knows him as Brother, will make her get out of bed with some story he has created in his ever fruitful mind, so that by the time the Blacksmith is at the table his children are all seated, the younger ones still dressed in their bedclothes but present and yawning ever so slightly.

Fawn, the best cook of the family, will prepare the breakfast under her mother’s watchful eye. And anyone who has ever eaten at the Blacksmith’s table knows of Jewel’s mouth watering biscuits. While Minnelsa feeds the chickens, Brother gets June to help him bring in extra wood for the fire. Mama Bira sets the table with the finest china owned by any black man in the south, china more beautiful and delicate than most white folks in Atlanta have ever seen, and Rosa sweeps the night off the porch.

Breakfast in the Blacksmith’s house was better than dinner in most. Plates of bacon or ham or maybe both served on silver platters were the centerpiece of the table. Next came the bowls of eggs, one day scrambled, the next day fried, and Jewel’s prized biscuits or whatever bread recipe she was teaching the girls at the high school. In the spring and summer there would be cut up fresh peaches or plums, even figs from the trees growing on the Blacksmith’s various properties, but in winter and fall the put up ones that mother had prepared before they all went bad were placed in dainty bowls on the table next to each plate. And of course there was lots of thick, black coffee that they sweetened with pure cane sugar and cream from a neighbor’s cow served in a sterling silver set.

The Blacksmith’s wife decided who said grace. And before starched linen napkins were placed in any lap, heads bowed and hands folded for the Blacksmith’s family to give thanks for all they had. Then the ladies and gentleman that had been sired by Mr. and Mrs. William Brown of Atlanta would eat their food as they discussed the dawning day. Who was teaching what, whose students were better, Rosa’s orphan babies that she nursed at the hospital and Brother’s painting. What will it be today, Brother? A dogwood tree, a neighbor on horseback prancing down the street? Or mother as she did her fine hand stitching? June never had anything much to say and the Blacksmith who loved her dearly would look past his son to this beauty of a girl and go: June, there must be something that you have to do today.

June would sigh and the family would hold its breath for in the past ten years papa left the house storming and furious at least once a week because of something June had uttered at breakfast. Before dawn, before most people even knew they were mad at each other, June had declared war on her elegantly old fashioned father so that when the anvil rang across the Piedmont more often than not the first strikes were blows William Brown sent to the metal dreaming, wishing, thinking, that this would be the only way to get something into that stubborn gals head.

Well, Papa, she looked at the mother she adored and the sisters she didn’t care much for and then at her favorite person in the whole world. I’m taking Willie over to the church with me and we’re doing the flowers in the pulpit for first Sunday. She went back to her eggs and ham and relief was syrup across the room.

The Blacksmith smiled at his beloved baby girl. Although relieved that there would be peace this morning, the sisters felt a twinge of jealousy every time he looked at his youngest daughter this way. He had never lavished his words or his smiles on them the way he did on her.

And she wasn’t perfect, mind you. Each of the sisters knew something just awful about baby June. Minnelsa had smelled liquor on June’s breathe when she escorted the young girl and some boy home from what she was told was afternoon tea with one of the snobbiest colored women in Atlanta. Jewel caught her with cigarettes in the back yard under the porch and was told, impudently: Don’t be such an old biddy. You’re worse than papa. You got to try something new. Nobody around here ever tries anything new.

Fawn heard she was taking money from the undertaker’s wife to teach her how to read although Fawn couldn’t prove a thing without embarrassing the old woman. And Rosa knew that some nights, when their mother and father thought they were all tucked safely in their single beds, going to sleep as early as farmhands, that sweet little June tiptoed down the back stairs and off to parts unknown. They kept their secrets from their parents, from each other, to keep the family peace and not be blamed for starting trouble.

They each waited for the day when June, rebellious little June, would be caught, brought back to her senses and shown the error of her ways.

The Blacksmith touched his napkin to his lips, a gentile gesture for such large hands and then he spoke. Each of you have a lovely day. Perhaps later Rosa and Fawn could bring my lunch to the shop and pick up the beef Mr. Gamble is bringing me. Ribs, mother, he said with affection to his bride and touched her face tenderly. She smiled back at him with a small knowledgeable look.

Papa, maybe we could bar-b-que them tonight. I mean it is Friday, Papa. Be enough for lunch and dinner for you tomorrow, Willie suggested.

The Blacksmith smiled at his son. Very well, Brother. A barb-b-que it is. Is it alright to eat under the trees mother, we still have weeks before fall is upon us.

Of course my dear. I think that would be lovely this evening. Everything will be ready by the time you get home.

They touched lips, barely what June would have called a kiss and nothing remotely like a peck and the Blacksmith headed out the door. While the others finished eating June watched her mother watching the big man leave. There was that look in her eyes again. Once June had noticed that look when she was almost 16 and in love for the first of a thousand times. She asked her mother: When papa leaves why do you follow him like that with your eyes?

Mother had blushed, crimson steaming beneath her pale brown skin. She squeezed June’s hand: I send my love with him and my eyes follow to watch over him.

June didn’t follow. Must have been the Indian in her was all the daughter thought.

Then she saw Minnelsa look that way the day John Woods went off to the war in 1917. June told Brother: You see how Minnelsa’s eyes sparkle every time John Wood comes around? You see how she just locked herself in her room so no one could see her crying? That’s real love. Then she added very proudly: I will know the right man for me, I’ll know when I am really and everlastingly in love when a man makes my eyes must follow him to protect him wherever he goes.

And so the Blacksmith took his horse drawn wagon across the two miles to his shop. While colored live-ins were sipping their sugar sweetened coffee and rolling the dough for the mistresses’ biscuits, sweeping their pine needles from the long white cement drives, polishing the breakfast service for the madam’s tray, the Blacksmith began beating the anvil stronger and louder than voices could lift to sing.

William Brown was the last of his breed in Atlanta. Other Blacksmiths existed in the sparse lily white communities that breed red neck trash and their reputations preceded them: horses improperly shoed, wheels that didn’t stay on, chipped metal works. Those with ‘the know’ came to Brown’s Shop as it has simply been known for over 35 years. He had never let a customer down, black or white. And just after dawn, so as to get the best service and the jump on the day, the colored with their needs would come to him first. William Brown had made a lot of money with his trade and for his people had his own sliding fee scale.

He charged coloreds and Indians less cause they had less. They would come to him with things to barter and trade. He would smile and make a deal, always a good deal, always in his favor. Their horses were shoed well, their wagons fixed to last for years. His work was perfection they’d tell you.

But they hated him.

After nine, close to ten in the morning with the day half wasted and gone, the whites would come. Most of them didn’t want to be in colored territory even if their boss told them: Take it to William Brown ’cause he knows best. Carriages, carts, race horses. Brown may have been the best and they may have called him a nigger under their breath but he made no house calls, no matter what the amount of money. He didn’t bow and scrape for them, like they felt he should. He didn’t greet them with a toothy smile and say Yes, sir, boss or No, sir, boss. He was the best and had known it for years. To them, he was no ordinary Negro, so they let him have his high and mighty ways.

But they hated him too.

William Brown had done everything he had ever wanted, things they said couldn’t be done by a big black man with a half Indian wife in the south. Some thought he was dumb, there are those with the theory that the bigger the man the smaller the brain. But Brown could swing a hammer with those large arms and huge hands and then figure out how much you owed him to the penny in his head, no paper, no pencil just more brains than should have been given to one man. It wasn’t supposed to be that way for the son of a son of a slave, but there it was. The common man, the Blacksmith, a colored man breaking all the rules. That alone was enough to make most people hate him.

The Blacksmith had his rules too. Rules that had to be obeyed by his daughters and by the gents, when there were some, that called on them. Education was the top of his list. The Blacksmith himself had never seen the inside of a school and yet each of his daughters finished secondary school and went on to college. He read a book almost every night, devouring each novel, each history, each volume of whatever he had read as if it were life sustaining nourishment. Not many people knew where he had learned to read. They knew that from the day he was ten and as tall and as wide as a fully grown man, he had been in the fields and then at the forge. No white man in his right mind was going to teach a big buck like that to read when he could be out working the muscles in his arms that God gave him to use.

And, besides all that, most of the people wanted to know when did he have the time making barrels of money swinging that hammer from dawn to dusk to put stock in what he read in the paper?

Perhaps because of his own menial upbringing, he would allow no field hand near his daughter. His first measure of a man was by his hands. One shake and William Brown could feel the size (too large, too small, too rough, or too smooth) and tell where you had spent most of your life.

He valued education, but for the most part he found teachers and professors did not make enough, unless they employed their knowledge outside the classroom to more lucrative ventures. As for ministers, well, he was a Christian and his faith was strong, but he did not favor them much. Outside the pulpit he found them to have the morals of a snake and any young one that came near his daughter was just itching for trouble. He believed that men of God should be like Catholic priests: chaste, wifeless and childless. Their minds dedicated only to the works of the Lord.

The few colored businessmen that lived in the small polite society of high yeller coloreds in Atlanta, the ones who owned property and had skin tones lighter than brown paper bags he deemed worse than carpetbaggers. They would not associate with any one his dark brown color except him. And their reasoning was simple logic to them: how can a colored man make it in the white man’s world if he looks and associates with those who look like his African ancestors? The Blacksmith had fair daughters who could pass for white and he had more land and money than any of them. Didn’t he want to better himself, meet with them once a week for tea and talk about the colored man’s burden of the underclass, the darkies? No, he had once told those uppity fools. He was one of the laboring darkies. And didn’t most of them owe back taxes, money to white folks and money to him? He didn’t need these light skinned people with a few acres of land and a good education and no love of their fellow man.

So the daughters from time to time had few if no callers at the large breezy house.

Most people thought his daughters hated him too.

Now if you walked into the Blacksmith’s house at any time of the day or night you would find that only two people in the world loved the Blacksmith unconditionally. His wife Bira whose life she felt she owed to him and the one person in the world that the Blacksmith could seldom admit he loved his crippled son. The boy was barely 19 and had never worked or walked a day in his life. Because of this boy the Blacksmith would never have someone to carry on his work to carry on his name. Sometimes when he looked at his son’s withered limbs he longed for the boy’s death. Not because he didn’t love him but because the boy suffered terribly in the winter from the cold, longed to be able to run with the others in the spring, and in the morning when he dragged himself to the breakfast table to eat with his father and his sisters he wished that he could climb into the wagon and go to the shop with him. He had said once, as a child: Papa, can I go with you today and watch you work?

The Blacksmith, not wanting to hurt the boy’s feelings but wanting him to understand the situation, told him, firmly: Son, it don’t make any sense for you to take that hard, bumpy ride with me to the shop. Shouldn’t waste your time watching what you can’t do, what you can’t be. Son, you stay here with your mother and paint some more of your pictures for the house. We need you to do that.

Despite this reaction, William Brown the Second showed his father no malice. He painted his paintings: house, people, trees, flowers. He cut the wood and made his own frames. His father would always smile at what his son had made but would never say it was wonderful that he was talented. He just wished the boy would understand that he didn’t expect half a man when he was born.

The blacksmith shop was to be named Brown and Son. On the day the boy came into the world William Brown had the sign made. But the doctors forbade Brother to even go out in the coolest of weather for fear of a chill, and in the warmest of weather in fear of the extreme southern heat. And although the boy painted lovely pictures and read as much as he could, it had never dawned on William Brown that his son was gifted in the art of finance. Having inherited his father’s talent for numbers the son’s talents could get him a job in the office of some local merchant, legs or no legs. It was Brother who kept the record of household expenses since Bira said the numbers hurt her eyes. Once a week he went over all accounts with his father. For this job the Blacksmith overpaid his son. The boy knew better than to ask if he could try to go to school or get some other work because William Brown, the big and powerful blacksmith that white men respected and colored men feared, seldom allowed the boy out of the house. Instead he made sure the boy was happy reading everything that he wanted and painting the most wonderful pictures. For this the boy loved him and sided with him in almost everything. This was his only chance, he saw through his father’s eyes, to be a man.

On any day save Sunday you could hear the beating against the anvil at least a mile away. If you came near the shop you saw him, this big black hulk of a man, covered with sweat, smelling of metal and dust, muscled arms, and large calloused hands banging out things that most folks had to look at and wonder how. For 37 years he had remained there in his shop working for white people for a lot, black people sometimes for free. Hammering out on that anvil a tune that nobody else could play. And if it stopped for a long time mid day you knew one of the Blacksmith’s daughters had brought him lunch or he was making a deal with someone about buying some land.

The Blacksmith had learned from the Indians that nobody was supposed to own the land. That it belonged to all and in a sense he agreed. But he had to live in the white man’s world, he told them, not the Indian world and he had to get as much land as he could get. A man is the land he owns. Land is what a man is, he had learned in his youth from a mother who never owned any.

When he and his wife had left Alabama those years ago the first thing he did after getting settled in a little shack at the edge of the colored community was to scout out a piece of land. A piece of land big enough for a house and a shop. He had saved his money and wanted to move as quickly as he could on building a house for his precious Bira.

But the price of land overwhelmed the Blacksmith. He couldn’t afford more than a half acre, and that half acre was something no one else wanted. Couldn’t farm it, wasn’t big enough to have a big family spread.

The Blacksmith, being practical, decided to slow down. He went to his wife and asked her if she would mind putting off having children for a year, maybe two at the most. She agreed to it. He asked her, nervously because he wasn’t sure if it was appropriate and frankly because he knew that beating around the bush made no sense, if she knew of ways to not have babies for a while. She smiled sweetly and told him yes.

For two and a half years the Blacksmith worked on that half acre where nothing could grow. He built a one bedroom house on it. Six days a week he worked coming home each night to good cooking and meals from his wife’s loving hands. With his consent Bira took in washing from the line men and porters and other colored people that didn’t have time to do their own. It made them feel important.

This was the only money that was used for food and clothes. The rest of the money, the money he earned went into saving for land. William and Bira Brown worked like slaves to accomplish their dream - having their own land and a home one day.

Two and a half years later he found the perfect piece of land. All sorts of fruit trees grew on it. Had only one house and it was as dilapidated as it was old. The colored man who owned it sold to Brown quickly, afraid since he was up there in years and didn’t have a family to look after him, that they would take it away from him. Brown understood. The man was alone. And alone and colored in the south on any piece of land was dangerous. Might wake up dead one of these mornings and they would say, to anyone who asked, that they owned it.

He brought Bira to see it. To see the bushes and trees and fields of wild berries.

Children should play here, she said happily. Lots of children.

Yes, Bira, he smiled. We have our land and it is time.

But what she said next surprised him. Other people’s children, William. This place needs families, lots of families.

And that’s what gave the Blacksmith the idea.

He asked the old man to stay on the land and allow the Blacksmith to look after him. It was his right. He built his shop there, then his house. He put a dirt road right down the middle of the property, a road coming in from the main road. After all this was done he subdivided the land.

William Brown had people come and look at what he had done. In the heart of Atlanta, he designed a little colored town.

At one end of the property were the church and the reverends house. At the other end was the mortician. In between were the living houses, a shop and a general store. It was the late 1800’s and nobody could believe that he, a colored man, was doing this.

He rented the land and saved the money he got from the rents to buy more land.

At the end of three years his first child was born and he decided that she would always have land. He set aside 50 acres for her husband to receive on the day she would be wed. Then he decided he would set it aside for all his children. Fifty acres, a hundred if he could, but at least 50. And money, a nice fat dowry. Money for the children’s families to have a nice house built and some nice furniture. Money for the children’s education, for their clothes, for doctors. Money maybe to travel places. If a man married into a family like this, a family of land and wealth where everything was taken care of, the future provided for, the love of family about him, surely he would want to stay with that family and keep the land in that family forever. No need to move north and suffer in the cruel cold.

Now some folks heard about this and said the Blacksmith was trying to be white. By the time his baby daughter got grown he would have lost that land to taxes, to them or drunk it all away. Others heard about the dowry the Blacksmith set aside for his daughters and didn’t laugh for they wanted to dream with him. He worked as hard as ten men, and they couldn’t. But they could put aside a little every week so that when their boy got older he could go to Morehouse. Or their daughter could go to the Carolinas and go to Bennett College.

The Blacksmith made them see there was a future for them if they followed some of the white folks’ ways. Those that rented land from him and understood what he was saying asked if they could build their own houses, bigger nicer houses for their families. The Blacksmith felt proud that he had encouraged them to think like him, so he said yes. After the houses were built, and they had saved some more money they asked if he would sell them the land.

At first he didn’t want to sell. This was his land, his idea. But Bira told him that he had lots of land and could get more.

Sell them the land they live on, she told him as they sat on their porch and looked out at the world he had created. Sell them the fig trees and the honeysuckle bushes and the ponds and the dogwood trees. Then they will feel like neighbors, like friends.

The young, proud Blacksmith had responded: How are they going to be my friend when we don’t have anything in common?

Bira gave him a loving look. You’ll have something in common. You’ll be colored men with land.

By the time Fawn was born, he had donated some land to the church, moved his shop away from his home and sold every other piece of property on the block. He had neighbors and friends because of this. He had neighbors and friends because of Bira.

And he bought land, always more land.

But with the land and the money one question remained on everyone’s lips: where were the husbands for his daughters?

Chapter Two

No matter what the rest of the country said, something good had to come out of the South. Especially out of Atlanta. After all, God had blessed her with rich soil, bright blue skies, sweet smelling dogwoods, peach and pecan trees forever in bloom and big fir pines that blanketed the land like a spread of emerald jam. Out of these mornings, every morning except Sunday, you could hear the whistle of the 6:55 from the North, traveling all night stopping in Atlanta with passengers disembarking from the white and colored cars with sleep still fresh in their eyes. Over at Morris Brown College the first morning bell signaled the start of a new day in an area of town where life was hard, the work harder, but the desire to survive greater than both. And if you were still, if you could get above the sound of your neighbor’s kettle screaming to be rescued from the heat, the bacon or the fatback frying in that black iron skillet that lived on your mother’s stove, or arguing with the woman next to you telling her to get up and get you some coffee; you might hear the Blacksmith hit the first lick on his anvil, cracking the steel into the crack of dawn.

He had everything many of them wanted: the body of an ancient warrior bathed in eternal youth, the strength of an angry God forging the creation of man, a quiet un-domineering wife who never questioned him, and five of the most beautiful daughters many people had ever seen.

There was jealousy. Always there would be jealousy. You lay in the bed in the morning next to your fine woman whose coffee tasted like yesterday’s dishwater and whose cooking set like lead in your belly. The Blacksmith’s wife was the best cook in Atlanta. When she cut peaches from her tree and made cobbler she made at least five. For once it hit the oven and the smell hit the air of Atlanta everyone she knew thought of some excuse to come visit, come borrow, come return something long gone. They hummed didn’t that pie smell good followed by why sure you’d have a little piece. Just a taste. After all they couldn’t be rude.

Your children, while pretty to you and their mama, didn’t turn heads for beauty. But you saw the jealousy in your wife’s eyes as she stood on the street next to you as the Brown girls passed. You’d tip your hat and she’d shove you in the ribs.

Just being polite, you would say to her.

Oh hush up, she’d sneer back at you as all eyes fell on Minnelsa’s tall curvy figure, her hair shining and black as if kissed by the sun while rolled into a thick bun. Or on Rosa’s tiny waist, cinched even tinier by the whale bone corset that everyone knew was the best money could buy. Then you looked down at their dainty feet and realized your children had no shoes and these women were wearing brand new ones. Realized your kids wore hand-me-downs. Realized that you were jealous. And like every man in town, you thought of unlacing one of those fine expensive corsets and untying the ribbons in their silky hair and spreading that black fire across the bed as you spread their legs apart.

You were jealous alright. But these were the Blacksmith’s daughters. And like everyone else you remember the day when a man smelling of hard work, of sweat, manure and days of labor in the fields came to town and filled himself with too much of that ice water the old men made in their barns and sold in their wagons. He was standing rather drunk and proud on the corner of Sweet Auburn Avenue when young Miss Jewel passed on her way to the dress shop. Seeing this fine figure of a woman he smiled and tipped his hat when she passed him.

How do, miss, he said not bothering to shield her from the scent of his breathe. This stranger told you that this woman would want him. After all, he said all the ladies back home did.

But when Miss Jewel in her starched white dress just smiled politely and kept going, he got insulted.

So he followed her, even when you warned him not to. You remember the gleam in his eyes as he looked her up and down like she was some farm animal. You remember the frightened look on her face when he touched her shoulder, then wrapped his arm around her waist. I know what you got on under there. Come with me so I can loosen you up.

The fist that hit him came out of nowhere. The Blacksmith stood over him and with a look of fury on his face snarled: This is a lady, you drunken scum. You don’t touch ladies without their permission. Without my permission.

From then on everyone knew what no one ever said. You didn’t want no scum touching your daughters but you could safely say no one would ever touch the Blacksmith’s daughters.

Still at dawn you wished for the Blacksmith’s daughter next to you in bed, for his strength to forge through the day, for his wife to cook your meals and cater to you when you came home. At dawn you got out of your bed so that one day you might be the Blacksmith, and maybe you might have that daughter.

Into this dawn came the Piano Man. Fresh from the colored cars of the 6:55 from the North, trying to pull himself together from the long ride from New York. With the other colored men, men dressed in faded old clothes and too big shoes, he followed the porter to a space behind the station to relieve himself, seeing how there were no colored lavatories on the train and he had refused to be rushed out into a field in the cold of night to take care of his business every time they stopped. Smiling, relaxed and now refreshed, he adjusted himself grabbing his bags and his portfolio of music.

Finally, he was in the south. He looked around him at the train yard. Colored on one side and whites on another. Porters carrying bags for white passengers, colored passengers carrying their bags themselves. He knew they didn’t fault the porters from the looks on their faces. It was money, it was business. He guessed the whites could tip more, the coloreds probably not at all.

From the rail yard he found the street where those from the train were getting into horse drawn carriages, and a few automobiles. He saw a colored woman that had been on the train with him climb up next to a man in overalls and hold her weather beaten valise in her lap. The back of the wagon was full of baskets of produce. He knew these people would be off to market before they made it home.

Across the street a frail white woman complained of the long ride, the smells and the heat then swooned into the arms of her husband. The older woman next to her fanned her insisting that they hurry the car homeward.

He grinned at everything he saw. The Piano Man was in the south.

He had been the Piano Man most of his life. The ivory keys were like extensions of his long, strong, brown fingers. He could hear anything and immediately he could play it. Back in New York, where his mother had been the servant of a very wealthy white spinster, he had sat at the piano with the old woman amazing her with the sounds he played from what he heard on the street and on the Victrola. She paid an amazed white man to teach him to read the notes off the page, this black boy that astounded her friends by playing everything in the universe when they came to call. He entertained the white woman, and she loved him, buying him fancy clothes and paying for his education until he was too old to be just any entertainment at their teas and was a refreshing masculine distraction. The old woman died and the others tried to suggest his presence in their circle was needed. But he needed them no longer, his mother long dead, he remained in Europe with the few pennies she had left him, only to find that the treatment might have been kinder but the feeling was the same.

Now standing on the sidewalk in the south, looking out of place in his suit and vest and tie, his shoes shined and wiped clean of the red clay with a rag he kept in his pocket, his scent not totally clean but fresher than the field hands and workers that had surrounded him on the train, he needed a place to stay.

A porter passed him walking away from the station with a carpetbag in hand. Excuse me, sir, The Piano Man said. The porter turned, surprised that the eloquent voice came from one of his own. He stopped and sized up the Piano Man before he gave an indignant Yes?

Sorry to bother you, sir…

The porter looked intrigued. When was the last time a colored man called him sir?

But I’m new here and in need of lodging. The porter stared waiting for the dapperly dressed man to say something he could understand. I’m looking for a place to stay. I was hoping you might point me in the right direction.

Why sure, the porter replied happily now that he understood. Your first time here? he asked the dapper man that he remembered seeing on the train from New York.

The Piano Man nodded.

You from New York?

The Piano Man nodded again. It was going to take him time to get used to these people, this accent. So he listened to the man talk on and on as they walked towards the sound of a clock that was ringing 7:15, a walk that ended in front of a rooming house in the colored section of town near the colleges when the clock tower rang 8 am.

That had been yesterday, and what a long day it had been. The porter, whose name was Jim something or other had left him at the rooming house and promised to be back that afternoon to show him around. But afternoon turned into evening and Jim something or other showed up with his brother Roy. Two men looking for a good time and hoping that the new man from the north would be willing to pay. Roy owned a large wagon and after a few deliveries the three men took the rig into the woods for a night the Piano Man would not soon forget.

Now he smelled coffee, fresh ground strong coffee. And he smelled meat. But he didn’t open his eyes. Just his nose, then his mind. Meat. Too early in the morning for meat. But the smell meant he was

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