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Sometimes There's a Dove

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Sometimes There's a Dove

Cynthia Ward


Chapter One


We were leaving our small town of D'Lo and going to the Delta lands of Mississippi. We were going to be sharecroppers on a large plantation where, according to the ad, "THE MORE CHILDREN THE BETTER." There were four of us 'half-breeds'. At least that's what Grandpa says we are. He pure hates the fact that his daughter up and married the son of a Mississippi Choctaw squaw. Zeke, my twin brother, said he didn't care how Grandpa felt, he liked the idea of being part Indian. When we pulled up at Grandpa and Grandma's, Grandpa was standing on the porch. I knew he was just itching to plow into Daddy's ears with his opinions.

He strolled out to the wagon and propped his arm on the side. He glared up at Daddy, "I see ya got cha' tee-pee and papooses all loaded up and raring to go again. Injun-gypsy, that's what. Dragging my daughter and grandchildren around from pillar to post. Never staying in one place long enough for the dust to settle behind you. Hopping from here to there, always looking for that pot of gold at some rainbow's end. When you gonna stay put? You need to stay put. Get a real job and take care of your responsibility."

"Hey now. Wait a minute, Mr. Claude, sir. That's exactly what I'm doing. Going to provide for my family. There's nothing around these parts and we both know it. I'm not satisfied with hoe cakes and sorghum molasses. I have to go where I can get work to provide for us all."

"You have never provided Madge and the young'uns with anything but rambling and poverty. Darn well plenty of that. Just go ahead and admit it. Wandering is in your blood. You just gotta hitch up ever so often and go chasing after the wind. Always looking for what ain't there. Just itching to satisfy your wanderlust." Grandma came out of the barn, where she'd been milking the cow. She stood beside Grandpa with her hands resting in her stained apron pockets. She reached out and put her gentle fingers against his arm.

"It's their young'uns. Their lives. Their choice Claude. Let our good-byes be pleasant. The young'uns are listening to you two carrying on like this. It's no telling when we'll see them again. You knew his mind was made up before he got here. Nothing we say will stop this move no matter how much huffing and puffing is done."

"Well now, Ms. Jennie. Young'uns need stability. They need to depend on something staying the same. Where is any stability in such a gallivanting lifestyle?" Daddy smiled down at them and said,

"Well now, here's you some stability. We can all count on me for gallivanting." Daddy bowed his head and checked the reigns up. He yelled for Old Dolly, our mule, to "gad-up." We waved goodbye as we watched our Grandparents slowly fade into the distance. We jostled away all poked down in the wagon-bed full of belongings.

Mother's cast-iron cook-stove was hard against my back. I had no extra room. My spot was better than poor Zeke's, though. His space was so tight that he had to wriggle in and out of it like a worm from an apple. Shelly was seated directly behind the wagon bench where a tiny bit of shade blocked the early morning sun. It was beginning to rise from the trees and climb into the cloudless, blue, sky. Bay sat between Mother and Daddy with his head resting on Mother's lap. He'd occasionally pop up and happily inform us of things that were ahead.

We were all anxious to see what the next curve in the road would bring. A slight breeze was stirring across the slow moving wagon. Mother and Daddy's talking. The rocking rhythm of the wagon, along with the wheels crunching over the gravel, created a lull. It soon put us all to sleep. We had been rousted before daybreak and were easily put into napping. The next thing we knew, Daddy was standing beside the wagon with cold coca-colas in his hands.

"Y'all gonna sleep all day?" He shook me. "Don't y'all want to get up and have a cool drink and see this part of the country?" I tried to stretch. "O.K., y'all get out awhile and stretch your legs." We all four leapt out of the wagon. We took our drinks and walked around. There were lots of stores and houses here. Tall shade trees swept the skyline. A long sidewalk spanned the store fronts.

"Where are we?" Shelly asked.

"We are in Copiah County, at Crystal Springs. This is where, I think, your Indian Grandma was born."

"You don't know because she was left without her Mama, huh?" Zeke said.

"That's right Zeke. Nobody knows for sure. Our Indian families were scattered to the wind. That makes family history pretty hard to come by. They were killed and imprisoned on reservations." Talking about this usually got Daddy's dander up. Zeke liked to prod him along. He liked hearing about it. He liked anything that had to do with him being part Indian, but it made me sad. Daddy went on telling about the massacres. The forced moves. The broken treaties. Mother noticed the tears beginning to fill my eyes and said.

"Well, I think that's about enough history for one day, Daddy." She glared at him. "Now lets get some road behind us so we can rest at lunch time."

" Everybody limbered up and ready to get started again?" Daddy said as he climbed in the wagon. We wedged ourselves back into our places. The wagon pressed onward toward our new life in the Delta. We began talking about the riches and fine foods that awaited us.

"If we can get money for filling a sack with cotton. I know I can pick the field clean all by myself." I said. Then Zeke smiled from ear to ear.

"We're going to be rich." He said. "After all, there are six of us to pick it."

"Yeah, all of us together. We'll be millionaires in no time." I just hoped there would be enough for everyone.

"Don't start counting your chickens before they hatch now." Daddy said.

"Oh, let them dream. It can't hurt nothing." Mother looked back and smiled at us. The wagon rattled along. We kept on sharing our hopes and dreams. Each one a little bigger and better than the last. It became a competition to see which one of us could tell the best dream.

The sun began to grow hot. Its scorching rays beat down on us. It heated any bit of air we may get. Passing cars sent billowing clouds of thick, choking, dust swirling around us. We'd duck and try to hide our faces from the suffocating powder. We called it "tire wind" or "car clog." We were starving for a bit of moisture on our parched throats and began to grumble. We wondered exactly what a darn 'sharecropper' was anyway. Around noon we came to a small row of stores.

"We need to stop here and get something to eat," Mother said, "the kids are tired and hungry. We could find a cool restful place and have a picnic."

"Oh good, a picnic." We all began talking at once. "We could get out of these papoose holes!" Zeke yelled. "My papoose legs want to run and leap and stretch." Everyone laughed at him calling our places 'papoose holes' because of what Grandpa had said. Daddy bought bologna, bread, and coca-colas. We found a place for our picnic. A cool lot with a running stream.

Mother spread a quilt under the shade of a tall, water oak. The limbs grew long and curved toward the ground. Its leaves danced against the pale blue sky like fluttering, green butterflies. After eating, we ran over to the trickling stream and waded in its cool, whispering waters. When the time came for us to go we begged to stay longer and longer.

"We can't spend the day here" Mother said, "we don't want the dark to catch us."

"We have lanterns on the wagon, let's stay here all day and travel at night. That would be a great idea."

"I know y'all are tired and hot. What if y'all get all sopping wet from the stream. That way riding on the wagon would be nice and cool."

"Yeah!" We all yelled as we plopped down into the cooling waters all at once. We laughed and rolled and splashed until Daddy said we had to go. It felt exciting again to travel all wet and cool.

That evening, Daddy reigned Old Dolly up in front of a rough wood shanty. Saw-groves swirled through its splintery grey boards. It was not beautiful, but sturdy. Daddy said these cabins had been built for slaves. The first Mr. Roberts had kept quiet a few. Now, this place belongs to his Grandson. He uses these cabins to house sharecroppers. Our small, bleak cabin, was just one among rows of others just like it.

They all seemed to fade into the dust. It was as if they and the ground were one. Cabins and cotton loomed before me as far as my eyes could see. The landscape was periodically dotted with a tree or two. There had hardly been any trees along the winding roadway. It looked as if no drop of rain or moisture had ever touched this drab, vast, naked land, of dust. A land of forever cotton fields. I was shocked to see so much. It seemed to go on and on without an end. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought so much cotton existed anywhere. There certainly would be enough for everyone.

As we pushed the heavy wooden door it screamed from its rusty hinges. It stood open to expose a large boarded room full of spider webs trembling in the corners. The late afternoon sunlight shocked the drab inside. Its brightness came blasting through the wall cracks and dusty window panes. A dirt dauber swept through a beam of light turning its shadowed wings a glistening, blue violet. Zeke picked it off the wall.

We walked out the back door. Weeds and bitter flowers were growing tall and stemmy. Mother was standing beside the well fanning her face with her apron. She waited for a cool drink as Daddy drew up the well bucket and started pouring the water into a pail. She quickly scooped up a dipper full and began swigging down its cool wetness.

"Oh, I thought I'd die of thirst," she said. Then, as Daddy finished emptying the water, a dead rat slid down the well bucket. It plopped over into the water pail.

Mother screamed. She threw the dipper far and wide then went into a fit of gagging and vomiting. Daddy immediately sloshed out the contents of the pail and began drawing up more water.

"Someone must have left the cover off," he said. "I'll draw up some more."

"I don't want to drink from a dirty well. Go to a neighbor's and draw up some fresh, clean, water." She said. She walked back into the cabin with her apron over her mouth groaning. "And please, do hurry."

"This'll be good enough to clean with I suppose. But yes we do need clean water to drink. I'll be right back"

He took another water bucket and walked across the way. Not long after we saw a big, black woman coming. She was pulling herself along with a sweet gum cane. She was swaying from side to side and loudly huffing with every step. A little dog was bounding along beside her like a fluffy ball of hair.

"Where's your Momma?" Her voice sounded like thunder rolling on the wind.

"She's inside, waiting for some cool, clean, water. There was a dead rat in our well. It made Mama sick." I said.

"Oh, that's bad ain't it? My name is Boo. Your Pappy was over yonder getting water and telling me about that nasty critter. He'll be along directly with some good water." Boo walked over and tapped on the misfittin' door. Mother opened it. " Miss Brown, I come over to make myself useful. My name is Boo Stokes. Your man says y'all are moving in this here sharecropper's cabin."

"Yes, I am Madge Brown and that's my tribe of young'uns out there." She pointed at us. "I've just been sitting here praying for the strength to get started unloading the wagon. To begin doing something to this place. I just don't know where to start. It's so drab in here."

"It looks mighty drab at first, but you'll get used to the bare walls. You can make it homey. Sometimes you just gotta look at small things of beauty," she said, "but I can promise you it won't be these unchinked cracks," she laughed. She poked her cane between a space in the boards to jab out a dauber's nest that was wedged there. "But you can make a home anywhere. These cabins beat a tar-paper shack, or a bridge girder tent."

Daddy came in with the water and we stood in line around the bucket. He looked at Mother and said,

"What do you want me to bring in first?" She handed the dipper to Shelly and said.

"Well, I guess what I need first, is the broom. The sooner I move these blasted spiders out, the better."

She seemed to liven up after the cool drink, like a wilted flower after the spring rains. We all tore into working and getting the cabin fixed up.

That night we sat around the table enjoying good company, a pot of boiled cabbage, and a skillet of cornbread. Levi, who was Boo's husband, had brought it over. The coolness of the evening washed away the heat of the long day. Because of Boo and her family we felt at home. We lay in bed feeling warm and safe. I watched the fireflies dancing about. They poked holes of light in the Delta darkness outside our naked window panes. I wasn't altogether sure about this new life, yet welcomed it as I drifted off to sleep.

In the morning, right after breakfast, we'd start our first day of work. Out on the porch six rolled up sacks lay waiting for us. We were all excited to start making money. Each of us grabbed a sack roll and skipped ahead of Mother and Daddy towards the fields. Bay, who was only four years old, yelled for a sack too, but the six foot rolled up sack was too much for him to carry. He unrolled it and dragged it behind him. It started getting caught on every limb, stick and briar along the way. Every few minutes he'd cry for one of us to come and untangle his sack.

When we actually entered the fields it was as if we had entered a beehive of workers. There was row upon row of ripe, fluffy cotton, with hundreds of pickers bent and weaving through the stalks. They were filling their sacks and humming. Some happy, some sad. But they all had a song. Children of all ages were running through the rows playing. Some were picking cotton. Some were in the cotton houses bouncing and sliding down the freshly picked cotton stacks. Infants and small children rode on their parents cotton sacks through the field rows.

I threw my sack out, put the strap over my head and acted like I had done this all my life. I reached out to pick a clump of the ripe cotton. A needle-sharp, dry boll-stem pierced my hand. I knelt down crying as I held my bleeding and stinging hand. Maxine Stokes, Boo's daughter, came over, knelt down beside me and rubbed my hand.

"Shush, it'll be alright I get stuck lots." She put her hands out. I saw several prick marks. There were many cuts too and scabs from old cuts. "You got to learn how to go around the stuff and pull up like this," she said as she reached around a boll and pulled the cotton out. "Don't try to pick the cotton out from the top or the things will stick you bad."

I wiped my eyes and reached again to start picking and shoving the stuff into my sack. Bay still played with straightening his. Shelly looked tired and red faced even before the heat of the day. Zeke was reaching for the cotton, jerking his hand back and saying "ouch" with every reach. "You can't help getting stuck at times," Maxine said, "but the more you pick, the tougher your hands get. You'll learn to reach inside the stalks instead of going at it head on."

"How long have you been picking?" Shelly asked.

"I don't rightly remember. I was born here. I've just been in the fields all my life. I began like Mr. Bay there, just play picking ya know. But now I pick and gets pay for my weigh-ins."

"When do we weigh-in?"

"Well, when you get a nice big clump in your sack, it'll weigh-in. I usually wait till mine's at least half full."

Every time I thought I had enough, she'd say, "shake it down." Then she would take her long sack, give it a quick, hard flap several times. The fluffy sack would flatten and leave a clump at the end. So I flopped mine a few good times.

" I thought I had a lot." I looked at my small lump. "I'm not going to shake mine down again."

"It won't weigh-in as much if you don't. Everybody shakes their sacks down. It saves walking all the way to the scale wagon and having the tally man shake it down. Only that will show you how little bit you got."

"O.K, O.K." I continued picking. I was hoping for a nice, big weigh-in as I flew into it. I started shaking my sack down after almost every handful.

"You gonna tire yourself out from all that slinging. You better spend more time picking and less time slinging."

"How can you just pick and pick and pick and not be tired? It feels like I've been out here a hundred years and this little clump at the end of my sack hardly growing an inch a year."

"Lawd girl, you exaggerating now! My Pappy tells us 'every bush is holding money and every boll is like white gold in your sack'. At least we know where the gold is. You gotta think of all the folks who pan and pan and never earn one cent for all their labor. There's always somebody who got it worst than you. Be thankful for what you got." I still thought only of my plight. I didn't see white gold. I saw hot fluffy wads of cotton, held in finger gouging bolls of nasty, dry, needle sharp, brown pods. It irked me when Maxine would sing out her little rhyme in perfect happiness. She sang as if she were sitting on the shore of a cool flowing stream without a care in the world.

"Pullin' and pickin' shovin' and shakin' look at all the money I'm makin'!" Her little ditty was in sharp contrast to all the mournful wailing songs of the field folks. Some sang about their heartaches. Some sang about their weary bones, while others sang about when they went on to glory land and this life would be over. My song was more in tune with theirs than with Maxine's. Her little spry mess did nothing for me!

Over time I learned the painful art of cotton picking and the positive art of relationships with every ethnic group in America. We were drawn together in the struggle to survive and perhaps even become self-sufficient. Sometimes all the sharecroppers would get together at the big plantation barn for a night of playing and dancing. On these nights, everyone would come with their children to be totally given to the happy time.

Reels from instruments like fiddles, guitars, wash tubs, rub boards, saws, harmonicas, jugs, jew's-harps or anything else that would make a note, filled the barn and washed over the lands. Sharecroppers worked hard and played hard. Life in the bottoms was a mournful crying of needs.

Mothers rocked babies to the buzzing of mosquitoes in summer and groaning of wind through the unchinked cracks in winter. The cabins were bleak and unadorned where dreams, like sweat, were washed away with the passing of time. Smaller children ran naked through the cotton fields and played in the cotton houses where they'd climb, leap, jump and slide down the fluffy stacks. It was easier letting them run naked than trying to keep them changed and their clothes scrubbed out. This would take time away from the picking, so only infants and older children wore clothes. The only time these children were dressed was in winter, at church or at one of the barn dances.

The summers were blistering on this shadeless dusty land. Even the breeze would burn your face, if there ever was one. There was a lonesome dead feeling that hung over the Delta. Winters weren't much better because of the freezing cold weather that no fires seemed to be able to chase away. The best times were spring and autumn, yet there was planting in spring, and harvesting in autumn. Sometimes in the afternoon, if we could get away, we'd walk to the old creek bridge on the quiet country lane. We'd stand in the cooling shade. We'd watch the water swirling from underneath its rickety old planks to go whispering forever onward, toward that big river. This place was a contrast to its surroundings. It was special to all of us. It provided a place to get away, to swim, to fish, or just to sit, listen and think in perfect cool peacefulness. This first year had gone by and we were seasoned sharecroppers now.




Author Bio Cynthia Ward is a self-taught Mississippi artist and writer who overcame a severe learning disability called dyslexia. In the third grade, at twelve years old, she made a decision to beat this disabling and painful situation after a special education teacher told her, and her Mother, that she would, 'never read past pre-primer'... She quit school and after a long struggle she learned how to read and write and went on, without any formal training, to earn her diploma.

Against all odds, she went into the field of writing, and challenged all the doubts. Thus making a statement of the undaunting spirit and never ceasing ability to be successful by holding fast to one's dreams. Keeping in mind the motto of her Mother, "How can you fail if you never quit?" she faithfully stayed in the race and now has had her first book, Sometimes There's a Dove, published by Twlight Times Books.




Sometimes There's a Dove Copyright © 2002. Cynthia Ward. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.


To order this book:
Format: PDF, HTML, Palm
    Payment Method
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List Price: $4.50 USD ebook

Format: Trade Paperback
    Available at
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List Price: $14.95 USD



  Author News

Cynthia has an author interview posted at Writers Manual.

From Dyslexic to Published Author: The Inspiring Story of author Cynthia Ward.

Cynthia also has an author interview in the latest issue of Twilight Times ezine.



Girl takes trip to womanhood during WWII

Clair, quick to love and quick to deliver a well-deserved school-yard stomping, is the highly developed, involving protagonist of "Sometimes There's a Dove."

Clair has an inner fortitude that has defined Southern women for generations; hers has been tempered by a lifetime of poverty as well as being a self-described "half-breed," half white and half Choctaw.

Hers is a family full of love. While her parents travel the country desperate to find work in the middle of World War II, Clair and her three siblings see every day as an adventure with fishing, dirt-dobber catching and playing catch on the daily list of things to do....

Reviewed by Leslie Hegwood for the Hattiesburg American.

Heading to Mississippi, this family of mixed heritage has grand dreams of becoming rich while working as sharecroppers. Wanting to believe all is well, and still seeing the stars in their future, they head out in their wagon. They settle down to the life of a cotton picker. The whole family -- Momma, Daddy, Shelly, Zeke, Claire and Bay -- takes part in the work.

They begin to enjoy living in a small community, meeting other good families, enjoying activities together. They work as a family unit, sharing parties within the group. Difficulties abound all around. They attend school after the picking and planting seasons are finished so that the children, who are needed in the fields, are available to lend a hand.

With the start of the [war], things begin getting bad. Increasing their debt to the landowner, Daddy soon realizes they will never make it out unless they leave. With goodbyes said, they board a bus for their very first ride, heading out to Tennessee and a new beginning.

Shelly, Zeke, Claire and Bay adjust quickly to the new house. Claire and the other children learn what it is like to have running water and electricity inside their home. Daddy works at a battery factory, helping the war effort. Wanting to give his support to the soldiers and the United States, he unwittingly aids in the building of the atom bomb.

Told from Claire's perspective, Sometimes There is A Dove contains some humorous antics common to all kids and memories from an era gone by with a slower and seemingly safer pace of life. Even during the depression and war..., Cynthia Ward reminds us of how people use to treat one another. Ward's words give the reader's imagination a way to view the life of this family, and many others.
Reviewed by Rita Porter for
Inscriptions Magazine

If you're looking for a down-home flavored slice of life, look no further than Sometimes There's A Dove by Cynthia Ward. I found the characters quite endearing and very real. The main character, Claire, wistfully dreams of adventure, seemingly unaware that the predicaments she and her siblings get themselves into are adventures in their own right.

The unexpected twists and turns of childhood had me sometimes laughing, sometimes nodding my head in solemn nostalgia. Sometimes There's A Dove is a coming of age story of a different kind. It illustrates how harsh realities, such as poverty and war, can make one wise beyond her years.

Given the year of this book's completion (2002), it is also a bittersweet reminder of how history repeats itself. One is left with the sobering yet comforting feeling that the more things change, the more they stay the same. It is also an inspiring reminder of the principles which never change for those who keep the faith.

Sometimes There's A Dove is a thoroughly enjoyable read. I have added Cynthia Ward to my list of admired authors!
Reviewed by Cynthia Lindsay.

Sometimes There’s a Dove is a touching story told by Clair, a young girl growing up in the middle of the Depression and W.W.II.

Clair and her family traveled to Mississippi to become sharecroppers. The advertisement read, "The more children, the better," and since there are 4 children in her family, they all expected to make a lot of money. When they arrived, they are shown to a small, rundown cabin with dead rats in the well. They soon make the cabin livable, and spend many hours working in the house as well as the fields, picking cotton. Money must be scarce, but Clair and her family are loving and close, and are happy there.

There is talk of the distant war, but the children paid little attention to it, until the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They became aware that life was different, but understand little of it. Many family members and neighbors went off to war. Food was rationed.

Clair’s parents, determined to make this Christmas a good one, went into significant debt trying to do so. Unable to get ahead, the family decided to move to Tennessee, where the father can get a home and a job making batteries and other war-related items.

The town was crowded and noisy, and very unlike living in the share-cropper’s cabin. There were blackouts, loud sirens, fences, and guards. But the family adapted, supported by their faith in God and their love for each other.

Unbeknownst to the father, he has actually been working on the atomic bomb. He came home one evening, terrified because no one seemed to know what it would do.

Shortly after, they heard that America had dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. Relieved that the war was over, proud of their part in the effort, the family celebrated with friends and neighbors. Shortly thereafter, they returned to their sharecropper’s cabin, ready to begin life again.

Sometimes There’s a Dove is filled with wonderful accounts of a child’s simple life. Tales of fishing, climbing trees, ghost stories, and new love were touching and well described....
Reviewed by Kathy Hill for Sharpwriter Reviews.


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