By W.H. WATERS
As I sat listening to “Real Country” on my radio recently, and I heard the song “Reuben James.” Every time I have ever heard it my mind goes back to the days of my youth when I walked in the furrow behind a black man as he turned the fertile soil. Those were happy days, and I felt this man or these men cared about me.
Who was Reuben James? He was a big, strong black man whose hands held the turning plow and walked in the furrow that the plow made. Behind him, a little white boy with no name tagged along. Why did this little boy have no name? In the days when I was young and this boy was young, there were very few illegitimate children. This was the fate of this child and so as he tagged along, Reuben James became his protector and he would be his father figure.
Reuben James read his Bible and somehow developed a softness that led this little boy to truly love him. Reuben James, the strong plowman no doubt plowed along, talking to his mules and to that little boy. What he said and what he did said to him, “I love you.”
This little boy grew up and somewhere along the line Reuben James died. This little boy found his love for this man did not die. As he grew, he took the handles of the plow and as he waked down the furrow of life his heart reached back to his memory of Reuben James. His mind reached back to the fields where he listened and followed Reuben James. Oh Reuben James, how I loved you then and yes, how I love you now.
Though not as dramatic as the song, life in the fields of my youth had much in common so it is that I am writing this remembering Uncle George Jennings, George Draper, Will Seay, Lit Beasley and Will Page. These were all honorable black men. Of these, George Jennings was my Reuben James. He moved to our farm when I was 6 years old.
Uncle George had two sons, Pap and Demps. As they plowed the fields in the spring, I followed. Corn was planted and all this was such fun for a little boy watching the mules do their part and yes, knowing their names, Tom and Dock, Ada and Mandy, Julie and Queen.
In the fall we plowed to sow wheat, barley and oats. You see, we had 100 sheep and this was winter pasture. I followed the plows, the sheep and Uncle George. He was a kind man. I loved him, the sheep, the mules and everything that lived on that farm. Oh yes, I had a wonderful home. How easy it was to learn to love.
I look back to the furrows I walked. I look at the love and correction I received and somehow I realize all change has not necessarily been good. Without these experiences, how would I have come to value this song called “Reuben James?”
You know there are “Reuben James’s” today. In our society, our children don’t get to walk the furrows of life with them.
I am so thankful that I did! You see, our society was about half white and half black. I was privileged to walk with quality people who in my mind I do love dearly to this day. Reuben James has many compatriots in our past.
Editor’s Note: Mr. W.H. Waters is a resident of Lebanon and a contributor to The Wilson Post’s Opinion page.