The spring season had been dry and dust cyclones were common sights on the dirt road. My dog Cookie and I went for a swim in the creek and were heading out for our morning adventures when I saw a huge cloud of dust in the distance heading my way.
The morning mist had not burned off and you could hear thunder in the distance. We desperately needed the rain, yet it seemed that we could only hope that the morning rumbles would bring relief. Parked at the crossroads near the end of our road were flatbed trucks and a horse trailer. Dust now mixing with morning fog was causing everything to seem like a portrait in sepia. Gradually I could hear a song muted by the distance, more a whisper, a sound hushed by the dust and the distance from our house.
As in a trance I watched them come closer and I could see the two outriders on horseback, one in the front and one in the back of the group of men. The riders were silent sentinels in mirrored sunglasses and Stetsons looking for Copperheads. Their eyes never left the group of prisoners that were in the ditches digging out the sand, weeds, and small shrubs. They had to be cleared before the rains came or there would be flooding and damaged crops.
Daddy and Mom stood watching from the front porch. Daddy was shaking his head not approving of the forced work being done by men with rakes, hoes, and shovels. It was brutal and backbreaking work that could be done in a day with a bush hog or a mule with a plow. I asked Daddy why they were in trouble, and he said they let themselves get caught up in the system and were put to work on the chain gang.
As they grew nearer to the house Cookie started barking and I could hear them singing old gospel songs. I asked daddy why they were singing church songs if they were not in church. Daddy looked at me for a long time rubbed his forehead and put his hat back on. He said boy you ask too many questions that I do not know the answers to give you. He asked Mom to take the workers out some chicken with some butterbeans and for me to help her.
You could hear the rifle shots echoing across the open fields as they worked their way down the road, they stirred up quiet a mess of Copperheads. The snakes escaped the heat by crawling into the deep ditches finding mud or puddles of water at the bottom. The outriders were deadly accurate at shooting the snakes sometimes just yards away from the workers. It was a day of Copperheads, the serpents of old.
When the workers drew closer to our house the overseer gathered everyone under the shade of our Pecan tree and we put out the feast on an old oak table that Daddy kept on the pouch for us to eat watermelons on. I was quietly taking in the talk and interaction around me. For that moment there was a cordiality that was confusing to me, men laughing and asking about friends or family even saying grace before eating. As they finished eating the outrider put back on the shades, picked up the rifle, his Stetson, and the laughter and smiles stopped.
There was a sadness as they all said Bless you for the food Mrs. Aileen and loaded back up into the flatbed trucks. They drove off down the dirt road in a cloud of dust. I could tell Daddy was upset as he set off to walk the fields to ponder the day’s events. He always got quiet when he felt things were not right and I knew he felt something today that unsettled him a bit.
While Daddy was out walking the fields with Cookie, I could hear her barking and knew the Copperheads had not settled yet. It seemed Daddy just did not care about the snakes, he walked on without giving any thought to them. I knew it would be a while as some things needed longer to ponder than others. I headed back to the house as I knew with Daddy it was going to take as long as it took. Disappointed with the quiet, I got back on the road being very mindful of the snakes, and headed to the creek to cool off and reflect on the day.
Tomorrow would be a new day and I was wondering how the adventures of today could ever be topped but topped they would be indeed.