Indentured servant: A worker, typically a laborer or tradesman, under contract to an employer for a fixed period of time, typically three to seven years, in exchange for their transportation, food, clothing, lodging and other necessities.
In my sixteenth year I was subjected to the duties of an indentured servant. I lived and worked on an Alabama farm owned by a man that was married to my first cousin. My home was broken, just as it had been periodically for the previous nine years, ever since my mother took a second husband. I had just returned to Mississippi after a circuitous journey that took me from Mississippi to Midland, Texas and on to El Paso, Texas and from there to jail in Valley Park, Missouri then to New York City for several weeks and then back to Mississippi, all in a period of less than one year. Click here for a comprehensive rendition of that Jason-like search for the Golden Fleece!
I did not voluntarily enter into indentured service—I had no choice. My mother had once again severed ties with my stepfather and Ruby Lee, my first cousin, was the only relative that was willing to shoulder the burden of looking after me. I would be remiss if I did not reveal that one of my sisters agreed to take me in, but became incensed when my mother offered the princely sum of $5 to assist in buying school clothes for the coming semester. The offer offended my sister and she scolded my mother, saying that my place was with my mother, and she should not pass that responsibility on to others. I hasten to add that my mother’s request for my sister to accept the somewhat difficult task of taking me in, her offer of $5 to assist the process, and my sister’s refusal to accept either the offer of money or the request to take me in aroused no animosity in me—the request to take me in, the offer of money and the ultimate refusal of both did not matter to me then and are of no consequence to me now. Not only have I survived—I have actually thrived in spite of all the hurdles placed in my path. I soared over all of them and landed safely.
Ruby Lee and her husband, Bonnie, agreed to take me in and provide a home for me and continue my schooling, and in return I would assist her and her husband in working a small farm, doing all the things that any farmer does—mind you, this was in the days of two-mule farms—we’re not talking about diesel tractors and milking barns and mile-long rows of crops and a cadre of hired hands. We’re talking about a hard-scrabble existence with two mules, one wagon, one cow, some chickens, a few pigs, a house cat and a yard dog and virtually no future, aside from decades of living from hand to mouth dependent on fair weather and good crops. With my addition to the family, the farm now had a cadre of one hired hand. Yes, that’s me in the image above, trying to dig my way to China just to get away from the farm! No, I’m kidding—that’s a photo I found online and I used it just for fun—at my age I’ve learned that one cannot dig all the way to China!
I left the farm after several short months. Click here to see the relationship between parched peanuts and crawling skin, and how my dog and I became farmers. That posting will also detail the reasons why I left the farm.
Now to the crux of this posting—it’s about Ruby and her life in later years, and most of what I know about her is hearsay, information gleaned from various relatives during infrequent visits, several that were generated by deaths and the requisite attendance at funerals. I never saw or heard anything about her husband Bonnie or her two young sons after I left the farm, and in all the intervening years I saw Ruby only once—we were together at a brother-in-law’s funeral in Mississippi.
I was there with my wife, and Ruby was there with her domestic partner. That relationship was all the buzz among her relatives attending the funeral—not that the buzzing took place within her hearing, of course. Ruby seemed very happy and secure in her relationship and showed no indication of what her future held. Several years later, I learned from one of my sisters that Ruby had taken her own life, although nobody was certain of the method she used. The consensus was that she had died from a gunshot wound. There was lots of speculation about her suicide among relatives and friends, but nothing concrete was ever known.
An interesting point about conversation at the funeral between Ruby and her erstwhile indentured servant—neither of us touched, even lightly, about our time together on the farm. I was filled with curiosity but I refused to broach the subject. She volunteered nothing concerning her husband killing my dog in my absence, nothing about their failure to enroll me in school per their agreement with my mother, nothing about her husband’s whereabouts and life since their divorce, and nothing about her two sons that went with her husband when they divorced. The absence of her speaking of those details is telling—I firmly believe that she had buried the details of those events deeply in the recesses of her mind, either inadvertently or deliberately.
No matter—whatever her thoughts may have been of the details of those events, whether negative or positive, she took them to her grave, at least as far as I am concerned. She may have discussed them with others over the years but if so, the discussions never reached me.
Many years have passed since my employment as an indentured servant, and many of my memories of that time are pleasant. I feel no rancor, none for Ruby nor for her husband. They are fixed in my memory, and when my thoughts turn to those days I tend to remember the good times and push the bad times away. I discuss them now only in order to provide the information to my children, and of course to any others that may find the facts interesting, for whatever reason or reasons. Quite aside from the fact that I enjoy writing about various facets of my life, these postings to Word Press are in nature autobiographical, thoughts that I can leave for posterity—ooooh, I just had shivers run up and down my spine!
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!