Excerpt from Jonah’s Gourd Vine

God was grumbling his thunder and playing the zig-zag lightning thru his fingers.

Amy Crittenden came to the door of her cabin to spit out a wad of snuff. She looked up at the clouds.

“Ole Massa gwinter scrub floors tuhday,” she observed to her husband who sat just outside the door, reared back in a chair. “Better call dem chaps in outa de cotton patch.”

“Tain’t gwine rain,” he snorted, “you always talkin’ more’n yuh know.”

just then a few heavy drops spattered the hard clay yard. He arose slowly. He was an older middle-age than his years gave him a right to be.

“And eben if hit do rain,” Ned Crittenden concluded grudgingly, " ef dey ain’t got sense ‘nough tuh come in let ‘em git wet.”

“Yeah, but when us lef’ de field, you told ‘em not to come till you call ‘em. Go ‘head and call ‘em ‘fo’ de rain ketch ‘em. "

Ned ignored Amy and shuffled thru the door with the chair, and somehow trod on Amy’s bare foot. " ‘Oman, why don’t you git outa de doorway? Jes contrary tuh dat. You needs uh good head stompin’, dass whut. You sho is one aggervatin’ ‘oman.

Amy flashed an angry look, then turned her face again to the sea of wind-whipped cotton, turned hurriedly and took the cow-horn that hung on the wall and placed it to her lips.

“You John Buddy! You Zeke! You Zachariah! Come in!”

From way down in the cotton patch, " Yassum! Us comin’! "

Ned shuffled from one end of the cabin to the other, slamming to the wooden shutter of the window, growling between his gums and his throat the while.

The children came leaping in, racing and tumbling in tense, laughing competition-the three smaller ones getting under the feet of the three larger ones. The oldest boy led the rest, but once inside he stopped short and looked over the heads of the others, back over the way they had come.

" Shet dat door, John!” Ned bellowed, “you ain’t got the sense you wuz borned wid.”

Amy looked where her big son was looking. “Who dat comin’ heah, John?” she asked.

“Some white folks passin’ by, mama. Ahm jes’ lookin’ tuh see whar dey gwine.”

“Come out dat do’way and shet it tight, fool! Stand dere gazin’ dem white folks right in de face!” Ned gritted at him. “Yo’ brazen ways wid dese white folks is gwinter git you lynched one uh dese days.”

“Aw ‘tain’t,” Amy differed impatiently, “who can’t look at ole Beasley? He ain’t no quality no-how.”

" Shet dat door, John!” screamed Ned.

“Ah wuzn’t de last one inside,” John said sullenly.

“Don’t you gimme no word for word,” Ned screamed at him. “You jes’ do lak Ah say do and keep yo’ mouf shet or Ah’ll take uh trace chain tuh yuh. Yo’ mammy mought think youse uh lump uh gold ‘cause you got uh IN’ white folks color in yo’ face, but Ah’Il stomp yo’ guts out and dat quick! Shet dat door!”

He seized a lidard knot from beside the fireplace and limped threateningly towards John.

Amy rose from beside the cook pots like a black lioness.

“Ned Crittenden, you raise dat wood at mah boy, and you gointer make uh bad nigger outa me.”

“Dat’s right,” Ned sneered, “Ah feeds ‘im and clothes ‘im but Ah ain’t tuh do nothin’ tuh dat IN’ yaller god cep’n wash ‘im UP.”

“Dat’s uh big ole resurrection lie, Ned. Uh slew-foot, dragleg lie at dat, and Ah dare yuh tuh hit me too. You know Ahm uh fightin’ dawg and mah hide is worth money. Hit me if you dare! Ah’ll wash yo’ tub uh ‘gator guts and dat quick.”

“See dat? Ah ain’t fuh no fuss, but you tryin’ tuh start uh great big ole ruction ‘cause Ah tried tuh chesstize dat youngun.

“Naw, you ain’t tried tuh chesstize ‘im nothin’ uh de kind. Youse tryin’ tuh fight ‘im on de sly. He is jes’ ez obedient tuh you and jes’ ez humble under yuh, ez he kin be. Yet and still you always washin’ his face wid his color and tellin’ ‘im he’s uh bastard. He works harder’n anybody on displace. You ain’t givin’ ‘im nothin’. He more’n makes whut he gits. Ah don’t mind when he needs chesstizin’ and you give it tuh ‘im, but anytime you tries tuh knock any dese chillun ‘bout dey head wid sticks and rocks, Ah’ll be right dere tuh back dey fallin’. Ahm dey mama.”

“And Ahm de pappy uh all but dat one.”

“You knowed Ah had ‘m ‘fo’ yuh married me, and if you didn’t want ‘im round, whut yuh marry me fuh? Dat ain’t whut you said. You washed ‘im up jes’ lak he wuz gold den. You jes took tuh buckin’ ‘im since you been hangin’ round sich ez Beasley and Mimms.”

Ned sat down by the crude fireplace where the skillets and spiders (long-legged bread pans with iron cover) sprawled in the ashes.

“Strack uh light, dere, some uh y’all chaps. Hit’s dark in heah. "

John obediently thrust a piece of lightwood into the embers and the fire blazed up. He retreated as quickly as possible to the farther end of the cabin.

Ned smoked his strong home-grown tobacco twist for a few minutes. Then he thrust out his feet.

“Pour me some water in dat wash-basin, you chaps, and some uh y’all git de washrag.“There was a scurry and bustle to do his bidding, but the drinking-gourd dropped hollowly in the water bucket. Ned heard it.” ‘Tain’t no water in dat air water-bucket, Ah'11 bound yuh!” He accused the room and glowered all about him, “House full uh younguns fuh me to feed and close, and heah I tis dust dark and rainin’ and not uh drop uh water in de house! Amy, whut kinda ‘oman is you nohow?”

The above is excerpted from “Jonah’s Gourd Vine” by Zora Neale Hurston. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022