Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Singing the Delta Blues

"True love comes quietly, without banners or flashing lights. If you hear bells, get your ears checked." ~Erich Segal

It was the Depression Era and thanks to the Prohibition Act of 1919 America was sobering up whether they wanted to or not. When Snooks's boyfriend heard that a Mississippi riverboat was cruising three miles from shore down the Big Mississip he was all over it. The man was no fan of probhibition.

"Not only can we drink and gamble, but there's a fellow on the boat plays the Delta Blues on a harmonica and people say when he sings he sounds like a screen door that needs oil."

In time, Snooks would discover that Harold was not musically inclined, and in addition, he was totally tone deaf.

"Do they have a piano player too," she asked.

He nodded. "They say he's another Jellyroll Morton." Snooks loved the blues; Harold loved the booze.

Snooks felt she had earned the right to love the blues because she knew what it was like to pick cotton until the tips of her fingers bled. Even at the tender age of twenty, she went to bed each night with a backache from stooping over in the field.

Since the Prohibition Act put a damper on the consumption of alcohol, folks quickly learned to BYOB. Those who could afford it boarded riverboats, bringing along their own spirits. A riverboat during that era was the place to dance, gamble and listen to live music. Young people in search of good times crowded the decks.

At first glance, the riverboat looked like other paddle wheelers Snooks often saw clanging their bells down the Yazoo River and the Mighty Mississip. Once on board, however, she discovered a far different view and she liked it. A lot.

"How about a swig of my hooch," Harold asked. Snooks sipped on the bottle concealed inside his jacket, and then headed for the dance floor. He followed.

Her smile just wouldn't go away. Her dancing feet wouldn't stop moving to the heartfelt songs sung by a man who called himself "Blind Man Sonny." The piano player banged out an occasional Scott Joplin tune trying as though to rouse those passengers feeling the effects of bootleg whiskey.

Throughout the evening and with each sip of hooch, the comfort level in Snooks's new surroundings grew as did her laughter. Never in her young life could she remember having so much fun.

While they danced close together a woman who sounded like Bessie Smith sang Backwater Blues. Harold whispered in her ear, "Will you marry me tomorrow?"

Snooks didn't hesitate. "Nope. I'm gonna have a hangover tomorrow." And she did.

Snooks was living with her older sister in a small town in the Mississippi Delta at the time, taking a break from the farm out in the country where she lived with the rest of her family. Big sister was a teetotaler whose membership in a hard shell Baptist Church preached zero tolerance for alcohol and dancing. She was not one bit happy when the morning after the riverboat excursion, Snooks was too hung over to eat breakfast. She was even more put out when the doorbell rang before nine o'clock and a gentleman asked to speak to her sister.

"Wake up, Snooks. Wake up," big sister hissed, pulling covers from her groggy and much hung over sibling. "There's somebody here to talk to you and he won't say what it's about. What did you do last night?"

The last thing big sister needed to hear was that little sister got pie-eyed drunk. "Get up out of that bed right now and go in there and find out what that man wants with you. You hear me?"

Snooks dragged herself into the living room to find Harold all decked out in a suit, tie and polished shoes, looking better than he had a right to.

Nervous, he held a hat in his hands and twirled it around and around. Next to him stood a stout man with a fringe of grey hair that circled his pate. He held a Bible.

"What are you doing here," Snooks asked Harold.

"I came to marry you."

She blanched. "I told you I was gonna be hung over today and couldn't marry you."

The heavy-set man cleared his throat. "Miss, you might as well go on in there and get yourself dressed. This man is determined to marry you today. I'm a Justice of the Peace and he won't let me go back home until y'all tie the knot."

A year after she agreed to marry him in her sister's living room, Snooks gave birth to a son they named Charles Harold, Jr., and three years later on Valentine's Day Snooks delivered a baby daughter and named her Cappy.