11/7/18 Crowder Peas and Voter Disenfranchisement

Some always decry voter disenfranchisement during elections. Were I hot-headed as a general rule, though I can sometimes be, I might have thought attempts were being made to disenfranchise my vote yesterday, but I knew better. Sometimes people just make mistakes. Sometimes the mistaken one is me. Sometimes others. Sometimes both, creating compound mistakes.

I live in Kemper County, Mississippi. To my best belief and knowledge, no one gets disenfranchised here. I cannot speak as to what may or may not have happened here prior to my political awareness, though many around me may have their own memories not similar to my experience. Their memories are their own.

The majority population in Kemper County is what the nation would refer to as a minority. This doesn’t seem to be a problem here, as everyone treats everyone else neighborly. The bellicose and belligerent are bellicose and belligerent in their own community and in their own homes; they come in all races and ethnicity. We think they are an anomaly in Kemper County. Methamphetamines and illicit opioids know no class or racial distinctions, and these are a significant contributor to whatever problems we have here.

Noxubee County, our neighbor to the North, is not quite the same. There have been some election shenanigans egregious enough there that both the Bush and Obama administrations sent Department of Justice officials down to observe elections, with at least one political party/election official getting banned for life from holding any election authority. Noxubee county is one of those places where dead people still vote, and some voting precincts had more absentee ballots than there were people who lived in the entire precinct. Well…that is Noxubee County. I hope they get all that worked out.

I had heard that polling places had changed. I decided that before I went to vote, the best thing would be to verify where that should be. Debbie had already told me that I would vote at the Library in DeKalb, our county seat, but nothing would do except for me to go online and check it out for myself. Debbie has worked the polls many times, and has served as poll foreman in countless elections. She knows all the ropes.

I had heard Mississippi’s Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman on a recent radio show saying that his office’s web site had all poll location information. So I went to their website. The Secretary of State oversees all voter registration, elections, and certifies election results. It is an important function of any state’s Secretary.

Sure enough, there was an easy page on the site where you simply entered your address, and voila! There was your polling place indication. The official website of the official curator and certifier of elections in the great and sovereign State of Mississippi indicated that I was to vote at the Community Center in Kemper Springs, just about the most rural part of just about the most rural county in what is arguably the most rural state in America, though I daresay Alaska is a bit more rural.

If Kemper County is predominantly African-American, then Kemper Springs is completely African-American. It does not matter. I have moved about Kemper Springs all my life. My grandfather owned timber and cattle land there, and our family had and has many friends, including the family and descendants of one of Kemper Springs’ patriarchs, Mr. Rossi Coates.

A story is often told by my family on Rossi Coates. When pea harvesting time came, and we all loved purple hull and crowder peas, Rossi would always come and bring two or three bushels to everyone in my family (and most everyone else’s family, too). He would not bring more than the customary two or three bushels, depending on the bounty of his own pea harvest, because his peas were in great demand, as they were the fattest, sweetest peas, their pods bursting with the fullness of their fat maturity, and a pod full of fat peas is a pod easily shelled and a pan soon filled.

Rossi delivered the peas as a favor. But he did not give his peas away. It was the delivery that was the favor; you were going to pay for the peas. Peas were a business for him, and I reckon the only free peas one would ever get from Rossi would have been those he served at his own table. I never had the opportunity to sit down and share Rossi’s peas at his own table, but I would have been welcomed there, just like my grandfather was, the peas heaped liberally and served up with cornbread and turnip greens seasoned with some of Rossi’s own cured pork. His table and mine aren’t much different.

Country folks don’t vary much from region to region, or from ethnicity to ethnicity. Nature and country living teach us that we all face the same adversaries, which mostly consist of nature’s capriciousness, the frequent folly of human endeavor, the aches and pains and sweat that come with country chores, of the necessity of being self-reliant in invention, craft, and amusement which is a requirement for living in a place where having none of those skills is expensive and tortuous, and, unfortunately, of having to deal with the evil in some men’s hearts. The blessings far outweigh those adversaries. The adversaries, all men face. The blessings escape many.

Rossi, my grandfather, and me still have those things in common even though the world is a much smaller place. Rossi and my grandfather could never have an audience in you, readers, like me. Now, even in the heart of rural, backward, Mississippi, the world comes right to my door…or to my screen…as fast as this computer can compile and thrust ones and zeroes through the internet pipeline, which even here is pretty fast, perhaps faster than you think.

While delivering his peas, in mid-negotiation over the price per bushel, which with Rossi was no negotiation at all since he only had so many peas and had the great bargaining advantage of knowing that he would ultimately sell them all or preserve them for his own table with not a single pea gong to waste, nor even the pea hulls as hogs sure do like pea hulls, my grandfather shook his head and complained that Rossi’s six-dollar-a-bushel price was too high.

Why, old So-and-So over at Tomola only gets four dollars a bushel for his peas,” declared Granddaddy.

At first, Rossi said nothing, only looking at Granddaddy over the top of his glasses. Then slowly, deliberately, and dispassionately said, “Well, I reckon he knows what his is worth.” Rossi, knowing the value of his own peas would not budge, did not intend to budge, knew when he started out that he was going to get six dollars a bushel, and was there merely to deliver his peas and collect his money.

Granddaddy feigned a frown as Rossi stifled a smile. Granddaddy reached for his wallet which was as thick as a brick and about half as long, unwound two or three rubber bands from it, carefully removed a ten and two ones from among the several Grover Clevelands and William McKinleys he was so fond of and always carried with him, carefully replacing the rubber bands and the wallet when he had removed the money he needed.

The tailgate came down on the red 1962 Ford fleet-side pick-up truck with the home built cattle body on the back, and I unloaded the two bushels of peas, dumping them into a washtub and handing Rossi his baskets back. It was the peas one was buying, not his bushel baskets.

Rossi pulled out a wad of bills from his overalls that would have choked a juvenile Hippopotamus I reckoned, took off half a dozen rubber bands from around it, carefully wrapped the ten and two ones around the wad, then slowly replaced each and every rubber band, stuffing the wrapped bill-wad back into his left-front pocket. There was likely an Iver Johnson .32 caliber revolver in his right front pocket, though I couldn’t swear to it, just to keep that money company. I suspect Granddaddy had a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver in his own pocket. No one would easily get away with their hard earned money. There were bad sorts about even back then. Well, no pea-thieves were going to make off with any of Rossi’s peas without paying for them. He planted them, he watered them, God gave the increase, then he picked them and loaded them up for delivery.

Everyone satisfied, Grandaddy and Rossi shook hands and Rossi climbed into the truck, the in-line six cylinder engine sputtered to life after several furious accelerator pumpings, pt-tuh…pt-tuh-tuh-tuh…pt-tuh, and Rossi grasped the three-on-the-column shifter, put it into first gear, revved up the engine, and letting the clutch slip far too much took off in a could of dust, his left hand waving out the window as we all waved back watching him speed off into the distance at the incredible rate of about twenty miles an hour, which seemed to be his favorite speed. Grandmother had already gotten pans and was sequestering both willing and unwilling pea-shellers before they managed to make their getaways. No one fooled Rossi. No one fooled Grandmother, either.

We had fresh peas that night, and turnip greens, and cornbread. I bet Rossi and his family did, too.

Into that memory of that environment and that actual current environment, I wandered into the Kemper Springs Community Center, armed with the certainty of the knowledge and the approval of Mississippi’s Secretary of State and told the ladies I was there to vote. I handed them my driver’s license, as in Mississippi, you are required to show a valid photo ID to vote. They looked at my driver’s license. They asked me my name. While they were scanning the voter registration rolls, I was making small talk with the poll foreman. I had driven in from Lauderdale, and the Clark Road that turned into Kemper Springs Road was not paved in Lauderdale County, and was treacherously muddy since it had rained most of the night.

How much water was in the road near Ponta Creek?” he asked.

I replied, “More than a man with good sense would have driven through.” We both had a good laugh at that.

In the mean-time, the ladies were fairly perturbed at not finding my name on the rolls. The were genuinely distressed in having to tell me that I could not vote there, since my name was not entered on the rolls at Kemper Springs. I told them that I had come because the Secretary of State’s office had indicated that this was my proper polling place.

I’m sorry,” the foreman said, adding, “You can cast an affidavit ballot if you’d like.”

Affidavit ballots furnished to those whose names have been purposefully purged from poll rosters is an old trick in politics. I wasn’t going to fall for that if it were a sinister ploy, which it was not.

Thank you,” I said. “If I have to cast an affidavit ballot, I’ll do it at the courthouse.”

Let me call the circuit clerk’s office for you to see where you’re supposed to vote,” one of the ladies very kindly offered, which she was not required to do. She called, had a brief conversation with someone at the Circuit Clerk’s office, and hung up. I knew what was coming.

She said, ever so gently, as if whispering a lullaby to a child she was trying to console that had just been stung by a guinea wasp, and I knew it was coming; I braced myself, The clerk’s office said you were supposed to vote at the Library.”

Now, didn’t Debbie already tell me that? I laughed out loud at myself. Everyone seemed relieved that I laughed.

I told them that sometimes it was just better to do what the women said, even if the Secretary of State of the great and sovereign State of Mississippi said different.

Thank you, fellow citizens, and neighbors of Kemper County, for making this a wonderful place to live. We’ve all sheltered and raised our children here in a peaceful place, provided for our families, thanked a kind and loving God in our homes and churches for the blessings we have received, and returned our fathers and mothers to the earth from whence they came as we watch ourselves become our mothers and fathers. We’ve done all that and still managed to take the time wave at each other every time we pass driving down the road or going past one another’s homes.

Sometimes it’s the most simple gestures that are the most profound.

©2018 Mississippi Chris Sharp

PS…And Yes, I went to the Library and promptly voted. 🙂

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