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[2 of 5] Their Eyes Were Watching God, Chapters 5-8, by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)

Author: Zora Neale Hurston

“Chapters 5 - 8.” Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston et al., Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2013. Originally published by J. B. Lippincott, September 18, 1937.

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5

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On the train the next day, Joe didn’t make many speeches with rhymes to her, but he bought her the best things the butcher had, like apples and a glass lantern full of candies. Mostly he talked about plans for the town when he got there. They were bound to need somebody like him. Janie took a lot of looks at him and she was proud of what she saw. Kind of portly like rich white folks. Strange trains, and people and places didn’t scare him neither. Where they got off the train at Maitland he found a buggy to carry them over to the colored town right away.

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It was early in the afternoon when they got there, so Joe said they must walk over the place and look around. They locked arms and strolled from end to end of the town. Joe noted the scant dozen of shame-faced houses scattered in the sand and palmetto roots and said, “God, they call this a town? Why, ’tain’t nothing but a raw place in de woods.”

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“It is a whole heap littler than Ah thought.” Janie admitted her disappointment.

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“Just like Ah thought,” Joe said. “A whole heap uh talk and nobody doin’ nothin’. I god, where’s de Mayor?” he asked somebody. “Ah want tuh speak wid de Mayor.”

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Two men who were sitting on their shoulderblades under a huge live oak tree almost sat upright at the tone of his voice. They stared at Joe’s face, his clothes and his wife.

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“Where y’all come from in sich uh big haste?” Lee Coker asked.

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“Middle Georgy,” Starks answered briskly. “Joe Starks is mah name, from in and through Georgy.”

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“You and yo’ daughter goin’ tuh join wid us in fellowship?” the other reclining figure asked. “Mighty glad tuh have yuh. Hicks is the name. Guv’nor Amos Hicks from Buford, South Carolina. Free, single, disengaged.”

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“I god, Ah ain’t nowhere near old enough to have no grown daughter. This here is mah wife.”

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Hicks sank back and lost interest at once.

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“Where is de Mayor?” Starks persisted. “Ah wants tuh talk wid him.”

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“Youse uh mite too previous for dat,” Coker told him. “Us ain’t got none yit.”

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“Ain’t got no Mayor! Well, who tells y’all what to do?”

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“Nobody. Everybody’s grown. And then agin, Ah reckon us just ain’t thought about it. Ah know Ah ain’t.”

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“Ah did think about it one day,” Hicks said dreamily, “but then Ah forgot it and ain’t thought about it since then.”

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“No wonder things ain’t no better,” Joe commented. “Ah’m buyin’ in here, and buyin’ in big. Soon’s we find some place to sleep tonight us menfolks got to call people together and form a committee. Then we can get things movin’ round here.”

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“Ah kin point yuh where yuh kin sleep,” Hicks offered. “Man got his house done built and his wife ain’t come yet.”

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Starks and Janie moved on off in the direction indicated with Hicks and Coker boring into their backs with looks.

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“Dat man talks like a section foreman,” Coker commented. “He’s mighty compellment.”

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“Shucks!” said Hicks. “Mah britches is just as long as his. But dat wife uh hisn! Ah’m uh son of uh Combunction if Ah don’t go tuh Georgy and git me one just like her.”

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“Whut wid?”

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“Wid mah talk, man.”

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“It takes money tuh feed pretty women. Dey gits uh lavish uh talk.”

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“Not lak mine. Dey loves to hear me talk because dey can’t understand it. Mah co-talkin’ is too deep. Too much co to it.”

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“Umph!”

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“You don’t believe me, do yuh? You don’t know de women Ah kin git to mah command.”

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“Umph!”

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“You ain’t never seen me when Ah’m out pleasurin’ and givin’ pleasure.”

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“Umph!”

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“It’s uh good thing he married her befo’ she seen me. Ah kin be some trouble when Ah take uh notion.”

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“Umph!”

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“Ah’m uh bitch’s baby round lady people.”

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“Ah’s much ruther see all dat than to hear ’bout it. Come on less go see whut he gointuh do ’bout dis town.”

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They got up and sauntered over to where Starks was living for the present. Already the town had found the strangers. Joe was on the porch talking to a small group of men. Janie could be seen through the bedroom window getting settled. Joe had rented the house for a month. The men were all around him, and he was talking to them by asking questions.

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“Whut is de real name of de place?”

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“Some say West Maitland and some say Eatonville. Dat’s ’cause Cap’n Eaton give us some land along wid Mr. Laurence. But Cap’n Eaton give de first piece.”

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“How much did they give?”

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“Oh ’bout fifty acres.”

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“How much is y’all got now?”

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“Oh ’bout de same.”

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“Dat ain’t near enough. Who owns de land joining on to whut yuh got?”

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“Cap’n Eaton.”

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“Where is dis Cap’n Eaton?”

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“Over dere in Maitland, ’ceptin’ when he go visitin’ or somethin’.”

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“Lemme speak to mah wife a minute and Ah’m goin’ see de man. You cannot have no town without some land to build it on. Y’all ain’t got enough here to cuss a cat on without gittin’ yo’ mouf full of hair.”

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“He ain’t got no mo’ land tuh give away. Yuh needs plenty money if yuh wants any mo’.”

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“Ah specks to pay him.”

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The idea was funny to them and they wanted to laugh. They tried hard to hold it in, but enough incredulous laughter burst out of their eyes and leaked from the corners of their mouths to inform anyone of their thoughts. So Joe walked off abruptly. Most of them went along to show him the way and to be there when his bluff was called.

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Hicks didn’t go far. He turned back to the house as soon as he felt he wouldn’t be missed from the crowd and mounted the porch.

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“Evenin’, Miz Starks.”

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“Good evenin’.”

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“You reckon you gointuh like round here?”

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“Ah reckon so.”

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“Anything Ah kin do tuh help out, why you kin call on me.”

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“Much obliged.”

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There was a long dead pause. Janie was not jumping at her chance like she ought to. Look like she didn’t hardly know he was there. She needed waking up.

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“Folks must be mighty close-mouthed where you come from.”

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“Dat’s right. But it must be different at yo’ home.”

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He was a long time thinking but finally he saw and stumbled down the steps with a surly “ ’Bye.”

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“Good bye.”

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That night Coker asked him about it.

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“Ah saw yuh when yuh ducked back tuh Starks’ house. Well, how didja make out?”

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“Who, me? Ah ain’t been near de place, man. Ah been down tuh de lake tryin’ tuh ketch me uh fish.”

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“Umph!”

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“Dat ’oman ain’t so awfully pretty no how when yuh take de second look at her. Ah had to sorta pass by de house on de way back and seen her good. ’Tain’t nothin’ to her ’ceptin’ dat long hair.”

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“Umph!”

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“And anyhow, Ah done took uhlikin’ tuh de man. Ah wouldn’t harm him at all. She ain’t half ez pretty ez uh gal Ah run off and left up in South Cal’lina.”

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“Hicks, Ah’d git mad and say you wuz lyin’ if Ah didn’t know yuh so good. You just talkin’ to consolate yo’self by word of mouth. You got uh willin’ mind, but youse too light behind. A whole heap uh men seen de same thing you seen but they got better sense than you. You oughta know you can’t take no ’oman lak dat from no man lak him. A man dat ups and buys two hundred acres uh land at one whack and pays cash for it.”

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“Naw! He didn’t buy it sho nuff?”

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“He sho did. Come off wid de papers in his pocket. He done called a meetin’ on his porch tomorrow. Ain’t never seen no sich uh colored man befo’ in all mah bawn days. He’s gointuh put up uh store and git uh post office from de Goven’ment.”

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That irritated Hicks and he didn’t know why. He was the average mortal. It troubled him to get used to the world one way and then suddenly have it turn different. He wasn’t ready to think of colored people in post offices yet. He laughed boisterously.

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Nov 30
Brendaly N (Nov 30 2020 9:31PM) : Question more

I don’t understand why he isn’t ready to see that , you should want the best for your people , you shouldn’t Settle for less

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Dec 1
Jessica H (Dec 01 2020 10:19AM) : He’s been told the way he has to be all his life. Humans adapt even to bad situations in order to survive. In time he might get used to a new idea about how Black people can be in the world, but when we meet him, he is not there yet.
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“Y’all let dat stray darky tell y’all any ole lie! Uh colored man sittin’ up in uh post office!” He made an obscene sound.

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“He’s liable tuh do it too, Hicks. Ah hope so anyhow. Us colored folks is too envious of one ’nother. Dat’s how come us don’t git no further than us do. Us talks about de white man keepin’ us down! Shucks! He don’t have tuh. Us keeps our own selves down.”

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Nov 30
Brendaly N (Nov 30 2020 9:28PM) : Opinion more

I think this is true in some sense since a lot of people can have the crabs in a bucket mentality like trying to keep each other done in order to get up or not have the feeling of someone being better then them

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Dec 1
Jessica H (Dec 01 2020 10:24AM) : This is still true a century later.
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“Now who said Ah didn’t want de man tuh git us uh post office? He kin be de king uh Jerusalem fuh all Ah keer. Still and all, ’tain’t no use in telling lies just ’cause uh heap uh folks don’t know no better. Yo’ common sense oughta tell yuh de white folks ain’t goin’ tuh ’low him tuh run no post office.”

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Nov 30
Brendaly N (Nov 30 2020 9:30PM) : Statement more

Just cause a group of people don’t want you to do something or want you to fail , doesn’t mean you should or feel as though you should give up

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“Dat we don’t know, Hicks. He say he kin and Ah b’lieve he know whut he’s talkin’ ’bout. Ah reckon if colored folks got they own town they kin have post offices and whatsoever they please, regardless. And then agin, Ah don’t speck de white folks way off yonder give uh damn. Less us wait and see.”

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“Oh, Ah’m waitin’ all right. Specks tuh keep on waitin’ till hell freeze over.”

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“Aw, git reconciled! Dat woman don’t want you. You got tuh learn dat all de women in de world ain’t been brought up on no teppentine still, and no saw-mill camp. There’s some women dat jus’ ain’t for you tuh broach. You can’t git her wid no fish sandwich.”

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They argued a bit more then went on to the house where Joe was and found him in his shirt-sleeves, standing with his legs wide apart, asking questions and smoking a cigar.

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“Where’s de closest saw-mill?” He was asking Tony Taylor.

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“ ’Bout seben miles goin’ t’wards Apopka,” Tony told him. “Thinkin’ ’bout buildin’ right away?”

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“I god, yeah. But not de house Ah specks tuh live in. Dat kin wait till Ah make up mah mind where Ah wants it located. Ah figgers we all needs uh store in uh big hurry.”

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“Uh store?” Tony shouted in surprise.

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“Yeah, uh store right heah in town wid everything in it you needs. ’Tain’t uh bit uh use in everybody proagin’ way over tuh Maitland tuh buy uh little meal and flour when they could git it right heah.”

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“Dat would be kinda nice, Brother Starks, since you mention it.”

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“I god, course it would! And then agin uh store is good in other ways. Ah got tuh have a place tuh be at when folks comes tuh buy land. And furthermo’ everything is got tuh have uh center and uh heart tuh it, and uh town ain’t no different from nowhere else. It would be natural fuh de store tuh be meetin’ place fuh de town.”

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“Dat sho is de truth, now.”

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“Oh, we’ll have dis town all fixed up tereckly. Don’t miss bein’ at de meetin’ tuhmorrow.”

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Just about time for the committee meeting called to meet on his porch next day, the first wagon load of lumber drove up and Jody went to show them where to put it. Told Janie to hold the committee there until he got back, he didn’t want to miss them, but he meant to count every foot of that lumber before it touched the ground. He could have saved his breath and Janie could have kept right on with what she was doing. In the first place everybody was late in coming; then the next thing as soon as they heard where Jody was, they kept right on up there where the new lumber was rattling off the wagon and being piled under the big live oak tree. So that’s where the meeting was held with Tony Taylor acting as chairman and Jody doing all the talking. A day was named for roads and they all agreed to bring axes and things like that and chop out two roads running each way. That applied to everybody except Tony and Coker. They could carpenter, so Jody hired them to go to work on his store bright and soon the next morning. Jody himself would be busy driving around from town to town telling people about Eatonville and drumming up citizens to move there.

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Janie was astonished to see the money Jody had spent for the land come back to him so fast. Ten new families bought lots and moved to town in six weeks. It all looked too big and rushing for her to keep track of. Before the store had a complete roof, Jody had canned goods piled on the floor and was selling so much he didn’t have time to go off on his talking tours. She had her first taste of presiding over it the day it was complete and finished. Jody told her to dress up and stand in the store all that evening. Everybody was coming sort of fixed up, and he didn’t mean for nobody else’s wife to rank with her. She must look on herself as the bell-cow, the other women were the gang. So she put on one of her bought dresses and went up the new-cut road all dressed in wine-colored red. Her silken ruffles rustled and muttered about her. The other women had on percale and calico with here and there a headrag among the older ones.

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Nov 30
Brendaly N (Nov 30 2020 9:36PM) : Statement more

I love that they got straight to work and things are starting to progress and look better for this town

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Nobody was buying anything that night. They didn’t come there for that. They had come to make a welcome. So Joe knocked in the head of a barrel of soda crackers and cut some cheese.

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“Everybody come right forward and make merry. I god, it’s mah treat.” Jody gave one of his big heh heh laughs and stood back. Janie dipped up the lemonade like he told her. A big tin cup full for everybody. Tony Taylor felt so good when it was all gone that he felt to make a speech.

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“Ladies and gent’men, we’se come tuhgether and gethered heah tuh welcome tuh our midst one who has seen fit tuh cast in his lot amongst us. He didn’t just come hisself neither. He have seen fit tuh bring his, er, er, de light uh his home, dat is his wife amongst us also. She couldn’t look no mo’ better and no nobler if she wuz de queen uh England. It’s uh pledger fuh her tuh be heah amongst us. Brother Starks, we welcomes you and all dat you have seen fit tuh bring amongst us—yo’ beloved wife, yo’ store, yo’ land—”

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A big-mouthed burst of laughter cut him short.

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“Dat’ll do, Tony,” Lige Moss yelled out. “Mist’ Starks is uh smart man, we’se all willin’ tuh acknowledge tuh dat, but de day he comes waggin’ down de road wid two hund’ed acres uf land over his shoulder, Ah wants tuh be dere tuh see it.”

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Another big blow-out of a laugh. Tony was a little peeved at having the one speech of his lifetime ruined like that.

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“All y’all know whut wuz meant. Ah don’t see how come—”

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“ ’Cause you jump up tuh make speeches and don’t know how,” Lige said.

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“Ah wuz speakin’ jus’ all right befo’ you stuck yo’ bill in.”

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“Naw, you wuzn’t, Tony. Youse way outa jurisdiction. You can’t welcome uh man and his wife ’thout you make comparison about Isaac and Rebecca at de well, else it don’t show de love between ’em if you don’t.”

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Everybody agreed that that was right. It was sort of pitiful for Tony not to know he couldn’t make a speech without saying that. Some tittered at his ignorance. So Tony said testily, “If all them dat’s gointuh cut de monkey is done cut it and through wid, we’ll thank Brother Starks fuh a respond.”

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So Joe Starks and his cigar took the center of the floor.

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“Ah thanks you all for yo’ kind welcome and for extendin’ tuh me de right hand uh fellowship. Ah kin see dat dis town is full uh union and love. Ah means tuh put mah hands tuh de plow heah, and strain every nerve tuh make dis our town de metropolis uh de state. So maybe Ah better tell yuh in case you don’t know dat if we expect tuh move on, us got tuh incorporate lak every other town. Us got tuh incorporate, and us got tuh have uh mayor, if things is tuh be done and done right. Ah welcome you all on behalf uh me and mah wife tuh dis store and tuh de other things tuh come. Amen.”

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Tony led the loud hand-clapping and was out in the center of the floor when it stopped.

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“Brothers and sisters, since us can’t never expect tuh better our choice, Ah move dat we make Brother Starks our Mayor until we kin see further.”

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“Second dat motion!!!” It was everybody talking at once, so it was no need of putting it to a vote.

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“And now we’ll listen tuh uh few words uh encouragement from Mrs. Mayor Starks.”

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The burst of applause was cut short by Joe taking the floor himself.

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“Thank yuh fuh yo’ compliments, but mah wife don’t know nothin’ ’bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home.”

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Nov 30
Brendaly N (Nov 30 2020 9:40PM) : Statement more

I’m happy about the things he has done but I don’t like his statement, making it seem as though she’s below him and she should just do house work

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Dec 1
Jessica H (Dec 01 2020 10:27AM) : These are very old ways of believing the way men and women should behave in society...but society is always changing.
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Janie made her face laugh after a short pause, but it wasn’t too easy. She had never thought of making a speech, and didn’t know if she cared to make one at all. It must have been the way Joe spoke out without giving her a chance to say anything one way or another that took the bloom off of things. But anyway, she went down the road behind him that night feeling cold. He strode along invested with his new dignity, thought and planned out loud, unconscious of her thoughts.

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“De mayor of uh town lak dis can’t lay round home too much. De place needs buildin’ up. Janie, Ah’ll git hold uh somebody tuh help out in de store and you kin look after things whilst Ah drum up things otherwise.”

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“Oh Jody, Ah can’t do nothin’ wid no store lessen youse there. Ah could maybe come in and help you when things git rushed, but—”

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“I god, Ah don’t see how come yuh can’t. ’Tain’t nothin’ atall tuh hinder yuh if yuh got uh thimble full uh sense. You got tuh. Ah got too much else on mah hands as Mayor. Dis town needs some light right now.”

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“Unhhunh, it is uh little dark right long heah.”

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“ ’Course it is. ’Tain’t no use in scufflin’ over all dese stumps and roots in de dark. Ah’ll call uh meetin’ bout de dark and de roots right away. Ah’ll sit on dis case first thing.”

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The very next day with money out of his own pocket he sent off to Sears, Roebuck and Company for the street lamp and told the town to meet the following Thursday night to vote on it. Nobody had ever thought of street lamps and some of them said it was a useless notion. They went so far as to vote against it, but the majority ruled.

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But the whole town got vain over it after it came. That was because the Mayor didn’t just take it out of the crate and stick it up on a post. He unwrapped it and had it wiped off carefully and put it up on a showcase for a week for everybody to see. Then he set a time for the lighting and sent word all around Orange County for one and all to come to the lamplighting. He sent men out to the swamp to cut the finest and the straightest cypress post they could find, and kept on sending them back to hunt another one until they found one that pleased him. He had talked to the people already about the hospitality of the occasion.

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“Y’all know we can’t invite people to our town just dry long so. I god, naw. We got tuh feed ’em something, and ’tain’t nothin’ people laks better’n barbecue. Ah’ll give one whole hawg mah ownself. Seem lak all de rest uh y’all put tuhgether oughta be able tuh scrape up two mo’. Tell yo’ womenfolks tuh do ’round ’bout some pies and cakes and sweet p’tater pone.”

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That’s the way it went, too. The women got together the sweets and the men looked after the meats. The day before the lighting, they dug a big hole in back of the store and filled it full of oak wood and burned it down to a glowing bed of coals. It took them the whole night to barbecue the three hogs. Hambo and Pearson had full charge while the others helped out with turning the meat now and then while Hambo swabbed it all over with the sauce. In between times they told stories, laughed and told more stories and sung songs. They cut all sorts of capers and whiffed the meat as it slowly came to perfection with the seasoning penetrating to the bone. The younger boys had to rig up the saw-horses with boards for the women to use as tables. Then it was after sun-up and everybody not needed went home to rest up for the feast.

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By five o’clock the town was full of every kind of a vehicle and swarming with people. They wanted to see that lamp lit at dusk. Near the time, Joe assembled everybody in the street before the store and made a speech.

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“Folkses, de sun is goin’ down. De Sun-maker brings it up in de mornin’, and de Sun-maker sends it tuh bed at night. Us poor weak humans can’t do nothin’ tuh hurry it up nor to slow it down. All we can do, if we want any light after de settin’ or befo’ de risin’, is tuh make some light ourselves. So dat’s how come lamps was made. Dis evenin’ we’se all assembled heah tuh light uh lamp. Dis occasion is something for us all tuh remember tuh our dyin’ day. De first street lamp in uh colored town. Lift yo’ eyes and gaze on it. And when Ah touch de match tuh dat lampwick let de light penetrate inside of yuh, and let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Brother Davis, lead us in a word uh prayer. Ask uh blessin’ on dis town in uh most particular manner.”

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While Davis chanted a traditional prayer-poem with his own variations, Joe mounted the box that had been placed for the purpose and opened the brazen door of the lamp. As the word Amen was said, he touched the lighted match to the wick, and Mrs. Bogle’s alto burst out in:

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We’ll walk in de light, de beautiful light

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Come where the dew drops of mercy shine bright

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Shine all around us by day and by night

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Jesus, the light of the world.

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They, all of them, all of the people took it up and sung it over and over until it was wrung dry, and no further innovations of tone and tempo were conceivable. Then they hushed and ate barbecue.

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When it was all over that night in bed Jody asked Janie, “Well, honey, how yuh lak bein’ Mrs. Mayor?”

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“It’s all right Ah reckon, but don’t yuh think it keeps us in uh kinda strain?”

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“Strain? You mean de cookin’ and waitin’ on folks?”

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“Naw, Jody, it jus’ looks lak it keeps us in some way we ain’t natural wid one ’nother. You’se always off talkin’ and fixin’ things, and Ah feels lak Ah’m jus’ markin’ time. Hope it soon gits over.”

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“Over, Janie? I god, Ah ain’t even started good. Ah told you in de very first beginnin’ dat Ah aimed tuh be uh big voice. You oughta be glad, ’cause dat makes uh big woman outa you.”

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Nov 30
Brendaly N (Nov 30 2020 9:45PM) : Opinion more

I do think it’s more important to be a big voice and start getting things to progress but that doesn’t mean you should neglect your loved ones

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A feeling of coldness and fear took hold of her. She felt far away from things and lonely.

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Janie soon began to feel the impact of awe and envy against her sensibilities. The wife of the Mayor was not just another woman as she had supposed. She slept with authority and so she was part of it in the town mind. She couldn’t get but so close to most of them in spirit. It was especially noticeable after Joe had forced through a town ditch to drain the street in front of the store. They had murmured hotly about slavery being over, but every man filled his assignment.

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There was something about Joe Starks that cowed the town. It was not because of physical fear. He was no fist fighter. His bulk was not even imposing as men go. Neither was it because he was more literate than the rest. Something else made men give way before him. He had a bow-down command in his face, and every step he took made the thing more tangible.

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Take for instance that new house of his. It had two stories with porches, with bannisters and such things. The rest of the town looked like servants’ quarters surrounding the “big house.” And different from everybody else in the town he put off moving in until it had been painted, in and out. And look at the way he painted it—a gloaty, sparkly white. The kind of promenading white that the houses of Bishop Whipple, W. B. Jackson and the Vanderpool’s wore. It made the village feel funny talking to him—just like he was anybody else. Then there was the matter of the spittoons. No sooner was he all set as the Mayor—post master—landlord—storekeeper, than he bought a desk like Mr. Hill or Mr. Galloway over in Maitland with one of those swing-around chairs to it. What with him biting down on cigars and saving his breath on talk and swinging round in that chair, it weakened people. And then he spit in that gold-looking vase that anybody else would have been glad to put on their front-room table. Said it was a spittoon just like his used-to-be bossman used to have in his bank up there in Atlanta. Didn’t have to get up and go to the door every time he had to spit. Didn’t spit on his floor neither. Had that golded-up spitting pot right handy. But he went further than that. He bought a little lady-size spitting pot for Janie to spit in. Had it right in the parlor with little sprigs of flowers painted all around the sides. It took people by surprise because most of the women dipped snuff and of course had a spit-cup in the house. But how could they know up-to-date folks was spitting in flowery little things like that? It sort of made the rest of them feel that they had been taken advantage of. Like things had been kept from them. Maybe more things in the world besides spitting pots had been hid from them, when they wasn’t told no better than to spit in tomato cans. It was bad enough for white people, but when one of your own color could be so different it put you on a wonder. It was like seeing your sister turn into a ’gator. A familiar strangeness. You keep seeing your sister in the ’gator and the ’gator in your sister, and you’d rather not. There was no doubt that the town respected him and even admired him in a way. But any man who walks in the way of power and property is bound to meet hate. So when speakers stood up when the occasion demanded and said “Our beloved Mayor,” it was one of those statements that everybody says but nobody actually believes like “God is everywhere.” It was just a handle to wind up the tongue with. As time went on and the benefits he had conferred upon the town receded in time they sat on his store porch while he was busy inside and discussed him. Like one day after he caught Henry Pitts with a wagon load of his ribbon cane and took the cane away from Pitts and made him leave town. Some of them thought Starks ought not to have done that. He had so much cane and everything else. But they didn’t say that while Joe Starks was on the porch. When the mail came from Maitland and he went inside to sort it out everybody had their say.

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Sim Jones started off as soon as he was sure that Starks couldn’t hear him.

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“It’s uh sin and uh shame runnin’ dat po’ man way from here lak dat. Colored folks oughtn’t tuh be so hard on one ’nother.”

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“Ah don’t see it dat way atall,” Sam Watson said shortly. “Let colored folks learn to work for what dey git lak everybody else. Nobody ain’t stopped Pitts from plantin’ de cane he wanted tuh. Starks give him uh job, what mo’ do he want?”

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“Ah know dat too,” Jones said, “but, Sam, Joe Starks is too exact wid folks. All he got he done made it offa de rest of us. He didn’t have all dat when he come here.”

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“Yeah, but none uh all dis you see and you’se settin’ on wasn’t here neither, when he come. Give de devil his due.”

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“But now, Sam, you know dat all he do is big-belly round and tell other folks what tuh do. He loves obedience out of everybody under de sound of his voice.”

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“You kin feel a switch in his hand when he’s talkin’ to yuh,” Oscar Scott complained. “Dat chastisin’ feelin’ he totes sorter gives yuh de protolapsis uh de cutinary linin’.”

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“He’s uh whirlwind among breezes,” Jeff Bruce threw in.

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“Speakin’ of winds, he’s de wind and we’se de grass. We bend which ever way he blows,” Sam Watson agreed, “but at dat us needs him. De town wouldn’t be nothin’ if it wasn’t for him. He can’t help bein’ sorta bossy. Some folks needs thrones, and ruling-chairs and crowns tuh make they influence felt. He don’t. He’s got uh throne in de seat of his pants.”

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“Whut Ah don’t lak ’bout de man is, he talks tuh unlettered folks wid books in his jaws,” Hicks complained. “Showin’ off his learnin’. To look at me you wouldn’t think it, but Ah got uh brother pastorin’ up round Ocala dat got good learnin’. If he wuz here, Joe Starks wouldn’t make no fool outa him lak he do de rest uh y’all.”

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“Ah often wonder how dat lil wife uh hisn makes out wid him, ’cause he’s uh man dat changes everything, but nothin’ don’t change him.”

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“You know many’s de time Ah done thought about dat mahself. He gits on her ever now and then when she make little mistakes round de store.”

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“Whut make her keep her head tied up lak some ole ’oman round de store? Nobody couldn’t git me tuh tie no rag on mah head if Ah had hair lak dat.”

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“Maybe he make her do it. Maybe he skeered some de rest of us mens might touch it round dat store. It sho is uh hidden mystery tuh me.”

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“She sho don’t talk much. De way he rears and pitches in de store sometimes when she make uh mistake is sort of ungodly, but she don’t seem to mind at all. Reckon dey understand one ’nother.”

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The town had a basketful of feelings good and bad about Joe’s positions and possessions, but none had the temerity to challenge him. They bowed down to him rather, because he was all of these things, and then again he was all of these things because the town bowed down.

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6

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Every morning the world flung itself over and exposed the town to the sun. So Janie had another day. And every day had a store in it, except Sundays. The store itself was a pleasant place if only she didn’t have to sell things. When the people sat around on the porch and passed around the pictures of their thoughts for the others to look at and see, it was nice. The fact that the thought pictures were always crayon enlargements of life made it even nicer to listen to.

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Take for instance the case of Matt Bonner’s yellow mule. They had him up for conversation every day the Lord sent. Most especial if Matt was there himself to listen. Sam and Lige and Walter were the ringleaders of the mule-talkers. The others threw in whatever they could chance upon, but it seemed as if Sam and Lige and Walter could hear and see more about that mule than the whole county put together. All they needed was to see Matt’s long spare shape coming down the street and by the time he got to the porch they were ready for him.

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“Hello, Matt.”

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“Evenin’, Sam.”

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“Mighty glad you come ’long right now, Matt. Me and some others wuz jus’ about tuh come hunt yuh.”

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“Whut fuh, Sam?”

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“Mighty serious matter, man. Serious!!”

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“Yeah man,” Lige would cut in, dolefully. “It needs yo’ strict attention. You ought not tuh lose no time.”

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“Whut is it then? You oughta hurry up and tell me.”

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“Reckon we better not tell yuh heah at de store. It’s too fur off tuh do any good. We better all walk on down by Lake Sabelia.”

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“Whut’s wrong, man? Ah ain’t after none uh y’alls foolishness now.”

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“Dat mule uh yourn, Matt. You better go see ’bout him. He’s bad off.”

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“Where ’bouts? Did he wade in de lake and uh alligator ketch him?”

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“Worser’n dat. De womenfolks got yo’ mule. When Ah come round de lake ’bout noontime mah wife and some others had ’im flat on de ground usin’ his sides fuh uh wash board.”

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The great clap of laughter that they have been holding in, bursts out. Sam never cracks a smile. “Yeah, Matt, dat mule so skinny till de women is usin’ his rib bones fuh uh rub-board, and hangin’ things out on his hock-bones tuh dry.”

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Matt realizes that they have tricked him again and the laughter makes him mad and when he gets mad he stammers.

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“You’se uh stinkin’ lie, Sam, and yo’ feet ain’t mates. Y-y-y-you!”

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“Aw, man, ’tain’t no use in you gittin’ mad. Yuh know yuh don’t feed de mule. How he gointuh git fat?”

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“Ah-ah-ah d-d-does feed ’im! Ah g-g-gived ’im uh full cup uh cawn every feedin’.”

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“Lige knows all about dat cup uh cawn. He hid round yo’ barn and watched yuh. ’Tain’t no feed cup you measures dat cawn outa. It’s uh tea cup.”

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“Ah does feed ’im. He’s jus’ too mean tuh git fat. He stay poor and rawbony jus’ fuh spite. Skeered he’ll hafta work some.”

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“Yeah, you feeds ’im. Feeds ’im offa ‘come up’ and seasons it wid raw-hide.”

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“Does feed de ornery varmint! Don’t keer whut Ah do Ah can’t git long wid ’im. He fights every inch in front uh de plow, and even lay back his ears tuh kick and bite when Ah go in de stall tuh feed ’im.”

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“Git reconciled, Matt,” Lige soothed. “Us all knows he’s mean. Ah seen ’im when he took after one uh dem Roberts chillun in de street and woulda caught ’im and maybe trompled ’im tuh death if de wind hadn’t of changed all of a sudden. Yuh see de youngun wuz tryin’ tuh make it tuh de fence uh Starks’ onion patch and de mule wuz dead in behind ’im and gainin’ on ’im every jump, when all of a sudden de wind changed and blowed de mule way off his course, him bein’ so poor and everything, and before de ornery varmint could tack, de youngun had done got over de fence.” The porch laughed and Matt got mad again.

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“Maybe de mule takes out after everybody,” Sam said, “ ’cause he thinks everybody he hear comin’ is Matt Bonner comin’ tuh work ’im on uh empty stomach.”

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“Aw, naw, aw, naw. You stop dat right now,” Walter objected. “Dat mule don’t think Ah look lak no Matt Bonner. He ain’t dat dumb. If Ah thought he didn’t know no better Ah’d have mah picture took and give it tuh dat mule so’s he could learn better. Ah ain’t gointuh ’low ’im tuh hold nothin’ lak dat against me.”

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Matt struggled to say something but his tongue failed him so he jumped down off the porch and walked away as mad as he could be. But that never halted the mule talk. There would be more stories about how poor the brute was; his age; his evil disposition and his latest caper. Everybody indulged in mule talk. He was next to the Mayor in prominence, and made better talking.

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Janie loved the conversation and sometimes she thought up good stories on the mule, but Joe had forbidden her to indulge. He didn’t want her talking after such trashy people. “You’se Mrs. Mayor Starks, Janie. I god, Ah can’t see what uh woman uh yo’ stability would want tuh be treasurin’ all dat gum-grease from folks dat don’t even own de house dey sleep in. ’Tain’t no earthly use. They’s jus’ some puny humans playin’ round de toes uh Time.”

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Janie noted that while he didn’t talk the mule himself, he sat and laughed at it. Laughed his big heh, heh laugh too. But then when Lige or Sam or Walter or some of the other big picture talkers were using a side of the world for a canvas, Joe would hustle her off inside the store to sell something. Look like he took pleasure in doing it. Why couldn’t he go himself sometimes? She had come to hate the inside of that store anyway. That Post Office too. People always coming and asking for mail at the wrong time. Just when she was trying to count up something or write in an account book. Get her so hackled she’d make the wrong change for stamps. Then too, she couldn’t read everybody’s writing. Some folks wrote so funny and spelt things different from what she knew about. As a rule, Joe put up the mail himself, but sometimes when he was off she had to do it herself and it always ended up in a fuss.

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Dec 2
Brendaly N (Dec 02 2020 6:17PM) : Statement more

He needs to stop bossing her around and help her out

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The store itself kept her with a sick headache. The labor of getting things down off of a shelf or out of a barrel was nothing. And so long as people wanted only a can of tomatoes or a pound of rice it was all right. But supposing they went on and said a pound and a half of bacon and a half pound of lard? The whole thing changed from a little walking and stretching to a mathematical dilemma. Or maybe cheese was thirty-seven cents a pound and somebody came and asked for a dime’s worth. She went through many silent rebellions over things like that. Such a waste of life and time. But Joe kept saying that she could do it if she wanted to and he wanted her to use her privileges. That was the rock she was battered against.

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Dec 2
Brendaly N (Dec 02 2020 6:19PM) : Question more

What does he mean by using her privileges, like being the mayors wife ?

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This business of the headrag irked her endlessly. But Jody was set on it. Her hair was NOT going to show in the store. It didn’t seem sensible at all. That was because Joe never told Janie how jealous he was. He never told her how often he had seen the other men figuratively wallowing in it as she went about things in the store. And one night he had caught Walter standing behind Janie and brushing the back of his hand back and forth across the loose end of her braid ever so lightly so as to enjoy the feel of it without Janie knowing what he was doing. Joe was at the back of the store and Walter didn’t see him. He felt like rushing forth with the meat knife and chopping off the offending hand. That night he ordered Janie to tie up her hair around the store. That was all. She was there in the store for him to look at, not those others. But he never said things like that. It just wasn’t in him. Take the matter of the yellow mule, for instance.

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Brendaly N (Dec 02 2020 6:21PM) : Statement more

The men definitely shouldn’t be touching Janie without her permission so I am kinda happy that she has her hair up so there wouldn’t be anymore of that but I feel like she shouldn’t have to change her appearance because of these nasty men

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