Chapter Four

I have to tell you about Becca.

North of Wichita Falls, west of Charlie and south-east of Burkburnett but north of Sheppard AFB (which was not there in that long ago) is the location of the cotton farm where I spent almost a year with my Great-Aunt Hettie and her family.  I don't remember the family name, but the older kids were: Jack, Rita Fay, Lucille and Merle.  My great uncle was "Talkin' John" because, like I said, he never said an unnecessary word to anyone.

That was over 80 years ago and forgive me, but I cannot tell you exactly where that cotton farm was located.  I've looked at maps and the nearest I can tell is that it was close to where Ashton Road crosses Gilbert Creek, somewhere south of the Red River.

The farm across the road was owned by a family named Taylor, and there were several black families who lived on the Taylor property.   They had a few shacks and some sod homes close to the creek just off Ashton Road near a small bridge and the collection of shacks and dugouts was known as Taylor Bridge.  I'm embarrassed to tell you this, but I was only five and knew no better... we called them niggers.  There was never any rancor in the word.   It just was.  They worked in the cotton fields and sometimes when they were stooped close to the house I could hear them singing.  I remember how I stood behind Jack when two of them came up to the house to ask if they could draw a bucket of water from our well.

Rebeccah, called Becca by everyone, was the half-black daughter of Margaret, the youngest Taylor daughter.  Several summers before I came to the farm Margaret had spent almost a year secretly spending time with Jonnsie, a young black man who hated working in the fields.  I heard stories about them when no one thought I was listening or didn't think I was paying attention, but I listened, and every word was etched in my memory because the stories they told scared the bejabbers out of me.  Margaret became pregnant.  Rita Faye said she told people it was a tumor but all of the women knew different... it was no tumor that caused morning sickness or made her walk that way.  When Rebeccah was born and there was no hiding the fact that she definitely had a black father, old man Taylor almost killed Margaret.  The same day the baby was born he took a leather strap to her and beat her until his arm wouldn't swing anymore and then told his wife to get her out of his sight.  Margaret and the baby were taken down to the shacks at Taylor Bridge and left there while her three brothers searched for Jonnsie.  He was gone, though.  They said he went up North to Kansas City and Aunt Hettie opined that he should have gone when Margaret started hanging around with him down by the creek.   Lucille said, "Yes, and he should have taken Margaret with him!"  I remember how Jack laughed at that and Uncle John just sat on the porch and smoked his corncob pipe.  I never heard him say anything about Margaret nor Becca.  Not once.   Margaret abandoned Becca when she was only a year old, leaving her for the small community to care for.  As she became a child Becca roamed the area, playing with the kids and eating whatever people would give her.  She never went to school and she slept in a dug-out cave down in a root cellar where she was found murdered at the age of 12.  Someone had hit her in the head with a Mason jar and left her naked body on the dirt floor. The folks who found her simply filled in the little cave and buried her in that tiny cellar. They said the sheriff came out a week or so later and looked at the dirt mound and then he went back to town.  Nothing more came of this story... Becca was there for twelve years and then she was gone.   Margaret was gone too, but I don't know where she went nor when she left.

My mom came and got us.  She arrived with her sister Francis in an old car and dropped down on one knee to hug me and Danny as we rushed out to greet her.  I remember she was wearing slacks and Aunt Hettie just couldn't get over her wearing trousers.

    It was early in 1940 and we were going to California!

But first we went back to Big Mama's to tell everyone goodbye, and of course Grandma cried.  When the day came for us to leave there was a man walking around the neighborhood leading a pony and carrying a huge camera on a tripod.  Grandma dug into her purse and paid the man for a picture of Danny and me on the back of the pony.  She said it was the only way she was ever going to see us again, and that made me wonder how far away was this place called California anyway.


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