Child of the Pack Saddle Part VI


I stood in Judge Schuller’s courtroom waiting for my fate to be decided.

As the judge spoke, Miss LaNora walked over to where I stood, took my hand in her hand, and said to the judge in French, “Your honor, if I may speak: I would like to say a word for this boy, if I may, please Henry.”

The judge said to Miss LaNora, “Do you know this boy Granny? But before you tell me what you have to say, let me find out a little about this boy and I’ll get back to you, Granny.

“And the first thing I have to tell you, son, is this: It is bad luck to tell a lie to a judge in a court of law. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

“Yes, sir,” I answered. “I understand, sir.”

“Good,” the judge said. “That’s one step in the right direction. Now then, tell me what is your name, where did you come from, what are you doing in Alexandria, and why are you here before me? Can you tell me or can you answer those questions, sonny?”

Taking a step closer to the bench and releasing Miss LaNora’s hand, I said, “My name is Earnest J. Sampson but everybody calls me Popcorn. I’m from Mansura, Louisiana, and I came to Alexandria to find my mama. But I don’t know how come they put me in jail.”

Placing his elbow on top of the bench and leaning forward, the judge said to me, “You from Mansura, Popcorn?”

“Yes sir,” I said.

The judge said, “Do you know where Grand Bayou is?”

“Oh, yes sir,” I said. “I been there a heap of times fishing and hunting rabbits.”

“Good for you, Popcorn,” said the judge. “Grand Bayou is where I was born and I got some cousins in Mansura. Maybe you know the Balzares.”

“I sho’ do know Mr. Claude Balzare. He got a lot of pecan trees and a big watermelon patch in Mansura,” I said.

“You know him alright,” said the judge. “Now tell me about why you came to Alex. To find your mama, did you say?”

“Yes sir,” I answered. “I don’t know her ‘cause I ain’t seen her since I was a baby and that’s why I come here looking for her.”

“Don’t you worry yourself none, Popcorn,” the judge said to me. “If she is in Alexandria, we will find her for you. We got a colored man by the name of John Henry who keeps the court house slips in shape and John Henry knows everybody in Alexandria, colored or white, and whatever they say you did or did not do, you are pardoned forthwith. And I am doing that because I know all too well Mr. Joe Billy’s tactics.

“Going to give you a pardon and place you in the hands of John Henry in hopes that he get you to your mama if she’s in this town. But I want you to promise me that you will not go back to Holly Street for no reason whatever! Do you hear me?”

“I hear you, sir, and I promise you that I won’t go back on Holly Street no more, not even to see Miss LaNora,” I said while my heart beat a resounding boom against the wall of my bosom.

The judge added, “But I wish you would answer me just one more question, Popcorn. Everyone that has a nickname has that nickname for one reason or another. What is the reason why you are called Popcorn?”

I said to the judge, “My cousin who is named Pooch named me Popcorn because I have a love for Popcorn balls. You ever eat any popcorn balls, Mister Judge?”

“Ha ha ha,” Judge Schuller laughed out loud. “Popcorn, it would appear that you have just given me my first nickname. ‘Mister Judge.’ That’s a good one! One that I can’t forget to tell my wife. She is always telling me I act more like a Creole than I do a Cajun. I guess now she’ll have our cook fix more gumbo for me. And yes, I do like popcorn.

“Now Popcorn, I want you to take a seat in the front row behind you there until I finish with the court’s business, after which I’ll take you down to the basement to see John Henry.”

Once Judge Schuller finished, he gave the latter-day John Henry all the particulars surrounding me and my desire to find my mama. Then, as everyone was making ready to go their merry way, Caroline and Granny walked over to where John Henry and I stood.

As Granny reached out and placed her arm around my neck, it was Caroline who said to me, “Popcorn, Granny told me to speak to you on her behalf and tell you that I don’t think we will be seeing each other after today. But I want you to know that I think you’re a wonderful little boy, a very smart little boy, too.

“If only I could have had a chance to do so, I would have seen to it that you went to school and studied law or something on that order. But it seems like that was not to be. Take care of yourself. May the Lord be with you always. Bon jour mon shad (good day my child).”

That said, the joy of my heart turned and walked away, leaving me with one of the most grief-stricken days of my life. Because when Granny turned and walked away, she left behind her a love-sick little boy whose memory of a beautiful old Cajun lady shall never, ever be removed from this heart, not only so long as he shall live but throughout the endless reign of death and evermore!

The memory of Granny’s long, flowing, silver hair, the melodic tone of her voice and her Cajun dialect, along with her heart-warming smile, shall remain in my heart-warming reveries and in my soul throughout all the days of my lifetime.

I took a liking to John Henry from the jump, not only because of his homeboy personality and the careful way he had of choosing his words before he spoke. But most of all, I could dig every inch of Blackness that he portrayed in his words and actions.

The ways and actions that are inherent in all people of color sometimes are favorable and sometimes are unfavorable but they are readily recognized by all people of color at all times. And that’s because Black people harbor a deep feeling of being responsible for the win and loss of our people. In other words, we celebrate with our winner and help our loser bear the cross.

At least black folks did when I was a boy. And all that was as it should be!

But as I was going to say, John Henry and I hit it off real good after I explained the nuts and bolts of my flight from home.

After I finished, John Henry said to me, “So they call you Popcorn, right?”

“Yes sir,” I said.

John Henry then said to me, “Well, Popcorn, you can save all your ‘yes sirs,’ ‘no sirs’ and ‘misters’ for the white folks. They like all that jive. Me, I don’t. Everybody that know me call me Hammer, the same as they did the man that I was named after. Hammer, you think you can remember that?”

“Yes, si..I mean, I sho’ do Hammer!” said I.

“Now then, the judge told me you came to Alex looking for your mama. That right, Popcorn? What is your mama’s name?”

I said to Hammer, “My mama’s name is Virginia Johnson.” Hammer said to me, “I don’t know any Virginia Johnson. Where did you say she was from, this Virginia, er, er, did you say her last name is Jones or Johnson?”

I said to Hammer, “My mama’s name is Virginia Johnson. And she is from…where did you say, Popcorn? Mansura. She is from Mansura, same as me, Mr. Hammer.

“There you go again with that ‘mister’ crap. Look, son, you ain’t talking to a white man so forget your ‘mister’ jive. Is that alright with you, Popcorn?”

“I’m sorry, Hammer,” I said. “I won’t say it no more.” Hammer said, “That’s OK, Popcorn. Get up off your knees. Like I said, Popcorn, I don’t know any woman named Virginia Jones.”

“The name is Virginia Johnson, Hammer,” I said.

“OK, OK, Virginia Johnson then,” said Hammer. “Anyway, the only woman I know with a name close to Virginia is Indian, Vi, and she’s from Bunkie, Louisiana, not Marksville. I’ll tell you what,” Hammer continued, “We will go down Lee Street on our way to my house. I live in the Sonja quarters and that wont be out of the way none.

“Then we will stop in a couple of places on Lee and ask a few questions. That way, maybe we will run into someone that knows your mother. That beans and corn bread with you, mister Popcorn?” said Hammer, extending his right hand, then saying to me, “Put err there, pal!”

To Be Continued…

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