Crittie

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Crittie picked up a lard bucket and packed inside it two hoe cakes, two pieces of pork, two sweet potatoes, and a glob of blackberry jelly. Then she tied a piece of cloth over the top of the bucket to keep the flies out. Next she poured a Mason jar nearly full of sweet milk. She picked up the bucket and the jar, closed the front door of the shotgun house, shooed the chickens off the front porch, and set out in a quick pace toward the bottom. Crittie had been fixing lunch for herself and her daddy ever since her mother died.
In the bottom Crittie's daddy and his mule, Noah, had been plowing since daylight; large patterns of broken land gave evidence of their labor. As the dirt split and folded around the plow, small clods of dirt fell over the tops of his shoes, mixed with his sweat, and quickly turned to sticky paste that settled around his toes. He spoke in soft tones to the mule. "Gee," "Haw," he would say to Noah, not commanding, but reassuring. Noah in return slowed his pace, so as not to rush the man guiding the plow behind him.
Occasionally the man would reach down and pick up a pinch of dirt and taste it. "Plum 'wore out," he would say aloud, talking to himself and to the mule.
Crittie's daddy was old and bent from thirty years of sharecropping. Most of his life he had plowed the red clay hills and bottoms of Clarence Rimes' place. The only thing he had was wwhat he could scratch out of the earth.
When his wife died, the source of much of his strength was taken. The cord of meaning was severed and grief settled somewhere between bone and muscle, leaving him tired and lonely. Crittie's daddy was plowing with a broken heart.
Above the plowed rows on top of the hill, flashes of sunlight reflecting from a lard bucket caught the man's eye. He looked straight up into the sun's strong rays, checking the time. Then he headed Noah for the edge of the clearing into the shade.
By the time Crittie reached her daddy, Noah was pulling chunks of grass from their roots, moving around at will to find others. It was lunch time and time to rest. Crittie's daddy leaned against a fence post, took off his straw hat and fanned himself with it, waiting for her.
When she got to where he was waiting, she set the bucket and the jar next to him and walked over to Noah to give him a gentle pat. Looking over the swayed back of the mule, she could see her daddy fumbling with the Mason jar. "Are you hungry, daddy?" she asked, smiling. He nodded and turned the jar up to his lips. He drank long and deep. "Ahh, that's good," he said. Crittie drew close to him and took the cloth from the bucket. He finished and leaned back against the post and closed his eyes. "Going to sleep, daddy?" she teased as she dipped the last of her hoe cake in the bucket. "No, just resting my eyes," he answered, but she knew better. Often now when he stopped to rest, his eyes would close and he would fall rapidly between rest and sleep and drift in channels of floating images and memories.
He dreamed of the land of his youth, the Delta, Minter City, acres of rich black dirt, and a tall straight lad in his own image plowing effortlessly behind a team of matched snow white mules
Finally he dreamed of Crittie's mama, the lodge hall on dusty Saturday afternoons, Loyd Star, and Ebenezer Church on Sundays with friends in ice-cream-colored clothes, shouting and getting sanctified.
When the man awoke, Crittie had gone back up the hill to her own chores. She had left him to his sleep and the only thing that could have borne witness to her coming was the Mason jar half-full of milk still sitting beside him. Noah had grazed much farther into the shade.
The rest of the day the man plowed until he could barely see, long past the time the sun set. He plowed, determined to finish the bottom before
he quit. When he finished, he stood looking proudly over the entire bottom.
Suddenly he saw a single illuminated figure standing in the middle of the field, wearing sandals of Nazareth-a figure unlike any he had ever seen before saying, "Come to me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden. I will give you rest." The figure pointed in his direction and a messenger of darkness settled over the bottom to do his bidding.