The Sharecroppers is an emotionally gripping tale that burns hot in the cotton field and cools gently on the porch in the sweet-smelling twilight. It is the story of a marriage, of silver dollars, a stolen home and a runaway baby. The novel is set in a time when family entertainment meant humid evenings on the front porch and uncles told tales so funny even the bull frogs chuckled.The Sharecroppers leads readers from tears to laughing out loud, and in the end, readers triumph in the knowledge that they are part of a good harvest.
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Prologue: For those of you whose roots grow deep in cotton soil, a legacy calls you back. The dirt whispers a name, echoing from a time when all that existed in the world happened right outside your door. It was where your life began, and to where your heart returns.
Life back then had the fullness of busy days without the rush. Days were predictable in routine, rich in value: chores, breakfast, choppin’ cotton, dinner time, choppin’ cotton, supper time, chores, then head off to bed. Half day on Saturday and nobody worked on Sunday.
Sharecroppers lived life in harmony with the seasons. The sun ordained the family’s rising and their setting. The growing season determined whether school was in session and if your folks let you go. No one ate watermelon in June because they understood the time spent waiting would make the red fruit that much sweeter in August.
Cold nights were refreshing when you were tucked in between a fat, feather mattress and three patchwork quilts. Sleep came with the security of knowing city lights were too far away to fade your own view of heaven.
The modern concept of “family time” was unheard of. It was all family time. Everybody worked together; everyone was needed. Chores weren’t proof your parents were abusing you. They were your function within the family. Even the smallest sharecropping children understood they played a part in harvesting enough cotton to buy what couldn’t be raised in the garden. It was an annual contest, and there wasn’t a farm boy around who didn’t brag about how much cotton he could pick in a day’s time.
Family entertainment meant humid evenings on the front porch when your uncles told tales so funny even the bull frogs chuckled. If you were a smart kid, you’d stay quiet so they’d forget you were there. Then you’d hear the really good stories.
Sharecropping parents didn’t worry about self-esteem. They knew anybody would feel good about getting that much work done. Kids did their chores because doing so made their own lives easier. They remembered to feed the mule ’cause, come spring, they didn’t want to pull that plow themselves.
Nobody felt compelled to be environmentally responsible. The family kept a compost pile because natural fertilizer grows bigger, tastier vegetables. They threw their scraps in the pen because plumper hens serve up better fried chicken. You ate everything on your plate not because kids were starving in China, but because you’d worked up an appetite in the field.
Mississippi County, Arkansas, calls you back to a place where you are known—not by what you did last year, but by what you did when you were ten, and by what your grandparents did when they were ten. Small town reputations never die; they are simply reborn in the next generation. At family reunions you revert to all the ages you have ever been and hasten to a few you have yet to be.
Cross the county line and your heart is hand tuned to its own personal history. Past and present merge. Property divisions are marked by a grove of trees, a ditch, or a change in crop. Never mind that old Mr. Duckett has been resting under a walnut tree in the Manila cemetery for over thirty years. To you, that acreage on the south side of Highway 18 still belongs to him. Everywhere you look you see shadows of an age before cell phones, texting, and Play Station IV, a time when the idea of virtual baseball would have been laughed out of town.
How could video games beat playing Grab the Fence? Do you remember? Kids joined hands standing perpendicular to an electrical fence. At an unexpected moment, the first boy grabbed the live wire, sending a shock through the line of bodies and depositing its full force on the child at the end. It was great fun until your mother found out. And even she calmed down after the whuppin’.
“Knee high by the Fourth of July.” That’s how old timers used to tell if a crop was on target for a bumper year. Now farmers plant early corn, late corn, even mid-season corn. Seems almost disrespectful. It’s gotten so a returning traveler isn’t sure whether to be amazed at the corn’s growth or to shake his head in dire prediction.
Many a boy and girl have moved on from the small farm towns that nurtured them. Others, like old Miz Hartmann, have lived over nine decades in the same county. Her years have been distinguished by the size of the crop, the cost of cotton seed, and the number of levy breaks along the Mississippi. Women, such as Marina Hartmann, have seasoned like the hardwood forests of Big Lake.
“Granny, if you could live anywhere on earth, where would you live?” her great-granddaughter once asked her.
“Why, right here in Manila,” Miz Hartmann answered, as surprised by the question as the girl had been by her answer. Along with the rich soil that allowed them to feed their children, Mississippi County outlined the dreams she and Jake had spent their lives pursuing.
Miz Hartmann’s eyes saw sights not even cataracts could dim. Her mind was filled with images of Jake, the children, Hattie, Doc, even little Oscar Fendler. That “runaway baby,” as Marina called him, did pretty well for himself, went to Harvard and became a big city lawyer over in Blytheville.
Marina remembered maneuvering a mule and wagon down the road before it was paved. Surely old Right Hand Stumpy Road is better off without all those tree trunks sticking up, hindering the mules, forcing the wagon to mark a zigzag path to town. Modernization has brought progress, but it has also served up a less interesting ride. Perhaps that’s true of more than just the roads.
Rice and soybeans have taken over much of Arkansas’ cotton fields. Even for those who were raised here, memories of choppin’ cotton under a blistering sun have faded like red paint off a weather-battered old barn. What is left is the knowledge that our lives are part of a good harvest. The birthright is in us still to be passed on. Some call it the heritage of the sharecroppers.
The Ladies of the Club: intimate friends, delicious food, and great literature. Who would have guessed
a gathering about books would have the power to change their lives?So while coworkers smile at their dedication to “Book Club,” the ladies turn from Tess of the D’Ubervilles to unraveling murder. Five ordinary women. One could pass them on the street and assume their lives never got more exciting than the neighborhood block party. One would be wrong.
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Introducing The Ladies of the Club
Lara Parker A cardiac intensive care nurse and acknowledged leader of the group. She’s known on and off the hospital floor as efficient and logical. Every inch genuine, Lara keeps her nails like she keeps her character: clean, unvarnished, and ready for work.
Grace Pappas European aristocrats bequeathed Grace high cheek bones, a creamy complexion, and a classic nose. Three generations of Kentuckians handed down a slightly quirky sense of humor and a smile as wide and generous as her heart. The Ladies of the Club refer to her as their Official Southern Belle.
Celina Rizkallah A corporate Vice-President, Celina is known for her analytical skills and an uncanny ability to read people. She also has a reputation for asking questions, a trait which attracts some people, and greatly annoys others.
Romy Kelly Methodical from the first flickering of her eyes each morning, Romy runs her life with the precision of an officer at the Naval Observatory. Loyalty induces the only exception to her methodical life-style. When club calls, this faithful friend answers.
Tamara Montgomery An accountant for Lincoln Township Schools, Tamara has an unfaithful husband, a knack for understanding numbers, and a lot of missing money to explain. Fortunately, she also has good friends.
The ladies most successful masquerades are based on allowing others to dismiss them as uninteresting. People tend not to see possibilities in someone they have already labeled predictable.