GRANDPA BENJAMIN


 

GRANDPA
 BENJAMIN
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN FIELDS, SR.

By
 
  URIAH J. FIELDS

 PROLOGUE
June 17, 1894 Homestead Claim - Ben Fields, Sr.
       Homestead Claim granted Ben Fields, Sr., 119 and 90/100th acres with the apparent signature of President Grover Cleveland and the Seal of the General Land Office of the United States of the Land Office of Montgomery, Alabama.
      This very important document established the right of a remarkable man who did not let being born a slave prevent him  from acquiring the rights and privileges that any free man of his era possessed. This is truly incredible considering the fact that Ben Fields Sr, overcame not being able to read and write by using his innate endowment, wits and what he was known to call common sense.

THE RECOLLECTION OF  BENJAMIN FRANKLIN FIELDS, SR.


The story a grandfather born into slavery told his grandson, just as he had been told by his mother, about the lives and struggles of their enslaved ancestors and how he and his half-brother, also born into slavery established the Zeals community that nurtured their descendants for generations.

 

AUTHOR'S NOTE

     This historical fiction book is a work of imagination. While some of the characters and incidents portrayed here can be found in accounts of the lives and times of Grandpa Benjamin who was born near the end of slavery and the first child in his family to have the surname Zeals, a surname that was neither that of his mother or slave master, or any other person known to him, they have been altered and rearranged by the author to suit the strict purpose of the storytelling of this family saga. These characters and incidents, despite their resemblance to actual persons and known events are therefore the products of the author's imagination. Accordingly, the book should be read as a work of fiction, not as a version or interpretation of history. However, to be truthful, this book is in part nonfiction.
      Nevertheless, the author wishes to acknowledge with gratitude the help and inspiration that he received from Wildflower Baptist Church records clerk, Gladys Peale, several senior age persons who lived in the hamlet of Wildflower and knew Grandpa Benjamin, and information that included biographical history received from the Hamilton County's record supervisor Buch Koenton.This bears repeating, is a work of fiction.
     The author also wishes to acknowledge and thank other persons who so generously provided information, aid, and encouragement, among them: Vashti, a daughter of Grandfather's oldest son, John Hampton, and his other two sons Benjamin F. Jr. and Edward Jr., who are my uncles.
     And special thanks to the late Malottie S. Karuven who during a sabbatical from an American university in Arizona where she was a professor made a study of the Zeals School that Grandfather had established in the early nineteen thirties in the hamlet where he was born and lived all the years of his life. Her research of the Zeals School was a contributing factor in helping me to make the decision to write about Grandfather Benjamin.
     To those persons who feel that their identities have been revealed in this story and, maybe not particularly to their liking, I say to you this book was written in innocence, nakedness of spirit, and with malice toward none, and that the writer's main concern was to give fullness, life, and intensity to the action and people in this book that he was creating. Also know, that fiction is not fact, but fiction is fact selected and understood, fiction is fact arranged and charged with purpose. Two chief ingredients in purpose are truth, in this case in a strict historical fiction sense, and love, both of which I have nobly embraced in telling this story.
 

In memory of the deceased descendants of
Grandpa Benjamin and Alexander
and their mother Rosalyn
and in honor of their living descendants

    And God said to "Benjamin,"as for you, you shall
    keep my covenant you and your descendants
    after you throughout their generations.
    Genesis: 17:9
    ("Benjamin" is author's substitution for ("Abraham.") 
    Genesis: 17:9

1

     It was a gorgeous day in April of 1945, just three days after my fifteenth birthday and three days before my Grandfather's eighty-third birthday when I skipped school to help "Grandpa," as his grandchildren called him, tend his garden. The day before  he had told my mother that he would be working in his garden on tomorrow. My mother had approved of me staying out of school that day to  help Grandpa cultivate his garden. Two weeks had past since I last worked in his garden, plowing, hoeing and raking. But today to my surprise, there would be no plowing, hoeing and raking; just a lot of careful observing and me listening to Grandpa talk about and even to his vegetables and other things that were important to him. Included were things he told me about my ancestors that I would always remember.
      Grandpa acknowledged how beautiful his plants were and announced so that everyone near him and presumably the vegetables could hear what he had to say. To a tomato plant he said "I want you to give me two buckets of tomatoes" and to a row of beans he said, "From you I want four bushels of beans." His garden was his pride and joy. As far back as I can remember, each year until I was in my late teens, he planted and cultivated a garden that could have been called the community garden, if for no other reason than it was visited by most and patronized by many people living in the community.
     Grandpa's garden was located near a water brook at the southwest corner of a farm that once had been operated by him but was now being tended to by his youngest son. Near the end of winter Grandpa cultivated his garden, plowing it thoroughly with a horse-drawn plow. I recall that the rows were as straight as a yardstick. As spring approached and the earth became warmer, he sowed a variety of vegetable seeds and transplanted certain plants. Not only did he have the earliest crop but his garden was by far the most attractive in the area. In his garden there were tomatoes, potatoes, cabbages, corn, carrots, eggplants, turnips, collard greens, beets, butter beans, pepper, squash, watermelons, pumpkins  and other products. He usually began his workday at dawn.  Even though he did not advertise his garden some people learned about it and came just to see it. Others came to buy products. It was clear to me that he had little interest in the money he received for the products that he sold from his garden. His joy came from working in his garden and communicating with the people who visited it. He handled plants like he handled people, gently and with care. I was in my mid-teens when I became aware that in caring for his vegetables he cared for his soul. 
       Much 
too often Grandpa had a problem with some uninvited guests, deer, my favorite animals, that frequented his garden. It is unbelievable how destructive they can  be to a vegetable crop. In attempting to prevent their intrusion into his garden he made a barbed wire fence taller than the one that existed earlier but the larger deer, especially does that grew large and existed in greater numbers than bucks because by law hunters were forbidden from killing them, continued to enter his garden. I was delighted when this happened but needlessly to say Grandpa did not like it at all. So he decided to make a scarecrow, an object shaped and dressed like a man. The dummy man had a dummy deer complete with antlers and a covering of deerskin by his hind legs. Occasionally he would douse the scarecrow with an odoriferous substance that had the aroma of a farm worker at sundown and the smell of a skunk that had suddenly expressed his disapproval of having been threatened. It worked! The deer ceased entering his garden.
          Shortly after Grandpa and I left his garden and started walking toward his home he stopped and looked into my eyes for about ten seconds without saying a word. Then with a gentle voice he said "I know things have been hard for you, your brothers and sisters and Rosalyn, (referring to my mother), since your Papa died." (I, and my brothers and sisters called our father Papa even though other children in our community called their fathers daddy. It may also be noted  that while I and my siblings called our mother, "Mother," our cousins called their mothers, "Mama.") Papa had died seven months earlier.
         Although I am not able to prove it I have felt, and still do, that Papa was Grandpa's favorite child. With tears in his eye and noticing tears in my eyes and a somewhat conjured-up smile he said "I recall that your Papa caught a "big fish" about two years ago while fishing in the lake." I responded, "Yes sir, Papa liked very much to go fishing in your lake." Papa spent more time fishing at the lake than Grandpa or either of his brothers. It was a beautiful lake locates about five miles from Grandpa's home.
     Suddenly, I had a flashback that took me back to the day Papa had caught that big fish. I visualized the boat that he and I were in and the struggle he had before he was able to get that three feet plus fish into the boat. I recalled how I had helped Papa make that boat i.e., when he was building it I handed him his tools and the materials that he asked for. I also helped to plane the lumber so the seats would be smooth. What I remembered about the day Papa caught that big fish, perhaps, more than anythng else is how afraid I was when Papa was trying to get that fish into the boat. I thought that boat would turn over and sink and that Papa and I would drown. On our way back home I told Papa how afraid I had been when he was trying to get the fish into the boat, thinking that the boat would turn over. His response was, "I  was only concerned about the fish staying on the hook. For I knew that if the fish stayed on the hook I would get him into the boat. I never thought about the boat turning over."
     An exuberant Papa looking at the fish in the wagon said to the fish, "Big fish you have eaten a lot of little fish but now we are going to eat you." He stopped the wagon several times on our way home to let people see the big fish he had caught. Everyone who saw the fish was amazed and could not believe that Papa had caught such a large fish in Grandpa's lake. No one could recall a fish as large as that one having ever been caught in Grandpa's lake. This was the largest fish that I had
 ever seen.
        I remembered how 
Papa started cleaning that fish as soon as we arrived home but not before he showed him to mother and my siblings who were also amazed. Papa told them that this was the biggest fish that he had ever caught and added, "About two years ago Warren Thomas caught a fish about this same size while fishing in Habileet River." This was not a river even though the people of Wildflower called it a river. However, it was much larger, certainly much longer, than Grandpa's lake. Some people called it the Dark Sea, presumably, because the water in it was much darker than the water in the Kombigbee River or Grandpa's lake. After Papa finished cleaning the fish he cut off a piece of the fish and put it in a pan, and asked me to take it to Grandpa. When I gave it to Grandpa I was overjoyed. I told him the whole story about how big the fish was and how Papa had struggled trying to get the fish into the boat. When I told him that on our way back home from the lake, Papa had said to the fish, "Big fish you have eaten a lot of little fish and now we are going to eat you," he laughed. Then he thanked me for bringing him a piece of that fish and asked me to tell Papa "Much oblige" for sending him a piece of the fish.
       As I was about to leave his house he said, "Uchay," (the name I was called by most community people who were attempting to say my first two initials "U.J,") "I want you to know that you and all your brothers and sisters will always be able to fish in my lake just the same as your Papa. I am going to leave my lake and my land with your Papa and my other two sons." Grandpa knew how much I enjoyed fishing at his lake because he had seen how happy I was when he and I went fishing at his lake. On my way back home I thought about those times when papa, mother, myself and my brothers and sisters mounted our oxen-pulled wagon that transported us to the lake where we would fish. Mother with the assistance of one or more of my sisters cooked some of the fish right there on the banks of the lake after papa, myself and my brothers cleaned them. But my strongest thought was about when mother would cook a piece of  that big fish for me and other family members to eat.
       My dreaming had ended and reality had returned. Just before approaching the gate to Grandpa's yard I notice a wonderment in his eyes and while still thinking about what he had said about things being "hard" for my family since Papa's death, after I closed the gate I said, "Grandpa, you are not going to leave us like Papa did, are you?" He responded without hesitation. "I am not ready to die. I am going to be here a while longer, if it's God's will." "If it's  God's will." That phrase sturct me as being rather odd for Grandpa to use. I had never remembered hearing him use it before. Maybe, because in my mind he was God or at least more God-like than any other person I had known. He seldom spoke about God and his Sunday ritual seldom included attending church. However, there was not any doubt in my mind that he was a God-fearing or, more correctly, a God-trusting, man. Surely I had an idea of who a God-fearing man was because Papa, among other roles he assumes was that of preaching. Sometimes I got happy listening to him preach as he worked in the field or on some of his other creative projects. I will never forget the day when he was plowing and stopped his horse in the middle of the field and began shouting with great joy. This occurred after his almost useless left hand was suddenly restore to full strength. But with Grandpa it was different. Yet, for me to be in his presence was to sense the presence of God.
     While Grandpa was opening the side door to his house he invited me to come inside and have lunch. As he put it,"Let's have something to eat." During the first five or ten minutes while we were eating mostly products that he had harvested from his garden, including the pecans from a pecan tree in his back yard that were in the pecan pie that we were about to have for desert, there was silence, except for the occasional clanging of eating utensils against pots and plate and muffled-like sounds from our chewing food. Just before getting up from the table to pour Grandpa another cup of coffee and myself a glass of milk I noticed that he seemed to be in deep thought, something like a trance. It seemed as if he was pondering over some weighty matter. While slowly sipping his second cup of coffee and as I was gulping down my glass of milk, in the usual milk-drinking style that I had become accustomed to, he said, "Uchay I want to tell you some things that you need to know about our folk, i.e., our ancestors... my mother's mother and even before her." Following a pause he said, "Let me see how far back can I go in telling you about our family history." He got up from the table and went into his bedroom. He returned with a slender notebook that had faded pages. It looked very old. He opened the notebook but without reading from it and while gazing into my eyes he said, "Rosalyn, as you know, she is my mother, not your mother." (He smiled because my mother's name was also Rosalyn.) Continuing he said, "She told me things that I have never forgot and I want you to know them. I want you to remember them. My mother told me, most of the things I am about to tell you during the last year of her life. At that time I was about twelve, nearly thirteen, year old. She told me that more than one hundred years before I was born, the same time as the Revolutionary War was being fought, around 1776, her great-great-great grandparents...that would be my mother's-mother's-mother's-mother's-mother's... while fetching water from the Bimau River near their home in Benin, West Africa she and her husband were kidnapped by some white English and American slave catchers. Their names were Baatsi and Ashanti Nkrumga. They had two small children who were named Mumga and Akambi. The youngest child, only one year old, was at the home of Ashanti's sister and her husband the day they were kidnapped and the other child was at the river with them. Before the slave catchers could take the child an elderly man who had warned them about slave catchers in the area took their child and ran away. Baatsi and Ashanti were unable to escape. These slave catchers chained one of Baatsi's feet to a foot of another kidnapped man and one of Ashanti's feet to a foot of another kidnapped woman. Like animals they herded them onto a packed slave trader's ship named Liverpool with about two hundred other kidnapped Africans. It took them many days, even weeks to sail the Middle Passage and make the trip across the Atlantic Ocean. The ship anchored in Charleston, South Carolina where they were auctioned off and sold as slaves to the highest bidders. Just two days after arriving in Charleston Baatsi was sold to a South Carolina slave owner and that was the last time Ashanti ever saw her husband. Like their two children, her husband had disappeared from her sight forever. Three weeks later Ashanti was sold and taken to Georgia by a slave owner who called her Elsie and told her that her name was Elsie. He also told her that he was her slave master.
      Georgia 
had been established by England in 1733, as a New World Colony and designated to be a slave free colony. But in 1750 that law was repealed. About the same time two brothers,  John Wesley and Charles Wesley, from England who later founded the Methodist Church in America, were preaching to the American Indians in Georgia and crusading against slavery. But there were other preachers, including George Whitefield from Gloucester, in Georgia preaching and proclaiming that "God meant for black Africans who were inferior human beings to be the slaves of superior white people. "The gospel that John Wesley preached and his opinion of Africans were altogether different from Whitefield and other preachers who approved of slavery. In his antislavery pamphlet, "Thoughts Upon Slavery," he wrote:
 "Upon the whole, therefore, the Negroes who
 inhabit the coast of Africa, from the river Senegal
 to the Southern bounds of Angola, are so far from
 being the stupid, senseless, brutish, lazy barbarians,
 the fierce, cruel, perfidious savages they have been
 described, that, on the contrary, they are
 represented, by them who have no motive to flatter
 them, as remarkably sensible, considering the few
 advantages they have for improving their
 understanding; as industrious to the highest
 degree... friendly, and kind{er} to strangers than
 any of our forefathers were. "Our forefathers!"
 Where shall we find at this day, among the fair-
 faced natives of Europe, a nation generally
 practicing the justice, mercy, and truth which are
 found among these poor Africans... We may {have 
 to} leave England and France, to  seek genuine
 honesty in Benin, Congo, or Angola."
     A few months after the death of her mother Isabella and her Indian Lover, a Muskogean Indian name Hitchitaw, a slave owned by Daniel Cartrell whose plantation adjourned Shambock's plantation, joined with sixteen other slaves from three plantations, including two other Indians, and escaped to Spanish Florida where Choctaws and Seminole were giving refuge to runaway slaves. Soon after their escape posters asking for help in capturing them were posted in Georgia, Florida and Alabama. One poster describe Isabella as a young Negro woman who had scars on her back and a gash on the right side of her buttock occasioned by the whip and a Choctaw Indian who had the letter "S" branded on the left side of his face and lower left forearm. At the bottom of the poster was a warning: "The Indian may be violent!"  A reward was offered to anyone returning these slaves to their slave masters.
        A few weeks after they arrived in Florida a posse numbering twenty white slave catchers from Georgia and Alabama came to Florida with the intention of capturing runaway slaves there and returning them to their slave masters or selling them to other slave owners. Isabella and the other runaway slaves with her resisted the slave catchers as they put up a "hellava" fight. Isabella's Indian Lover Hichitaw overpowered one of the slave catchers, took his gun and killed him, one other slave catcher and a horse before he was killed. During that bloody confrontation four other slaves and three slave catchers were killed. Eight of these runaway slaves, including Isabella and the two other females in the group, were captured by surviving slave catchers and brought to Mason City, Alabama where they were penned up in a barn on Dauplinville Island. Isabella remained there for two weeks before she was sold to Peter Blount who took her to his plantation in Hilltox County, Alabama. A few months later Isabella's slave master learned that she was pregnant. She had been impregnated by her Indian Lover, as she affectionately called him. In 1798 at the age of twenty she gave birth to a girl who was named Betty by her slave master. Although Isabella called her daughter Betty in the presence of her slave owner and other white people she never called her by that name at other times. She named her daughter Dehgewanum, after her Indian Lover's mother. The name means "The Two Descending Voices."
          At the age of sixteen  Betty was impregnated by Jack Davenport. She gave birth to a child her slave owner named Sophia. When Sophia was seventeen Davenport's wife accused him of having sexual intercourse with her and soon afterwards Sophia was sold to a slave owner named Birmingham Stott in Hillcox County. Stott desiring to increase his slave holdings authorized or, more correctly, ordered, a slave who he called "The Stud" to have sex with Sophia. For nearly three years Sophia's strong will against having children who would be slaves was sufficient to prevent The Stud from impregnating her. But The Stud, whose real name was Walter, frequently engaged in sexual intercourse with Sophia sometimes to the cheering on and delight of Stott who occasionally watched their sexual performance. There were times that he would beat The Stud while he was having sex with Sophia on the pretext that The Stud would perform better sexually. In time The Stud did succeed in impregnating Sophia and at the age of twenty-three she gave birth to a girl who was named Rosalyn by her slave master. Following Sophia's untimely death that may have resulted from frequent beatings she received from her slave master who cut off two of  her toes after she attempted to runaway Suzanne replaced Sophia, in more ways than one, as Stott's chief house slave. In addition to being the house woman for Stott and his wife and his slave mistress, she was the surrogate mother for Rosalyn.
       Stott's wife taught Rosalyn how to read and write when she was six years of age and Suzanne taught her how to "be a lady, even though you are a slave," to borrow a phase Stott's wife occasionally used when speaking to Suzanne. When Rosalyn was fifteen her slave owner allowed her to teach other slaves how to read and write, including some slaves who were nannies for their slave owners' children.
        Some slave masters were eager to have their slaves learn to read and write, especially if they could be taught reading and writing by other slaves without the need for "pedestal elevated" white women having to stoop to the level of teaching slaves. They believed that these slaves who learned to read and write would have a positive influence upon their legal children who were often neglected by their own, again, "on a pedestal" mothers. They also felt that slaves who were able to read and write would serve their masters better. Today, some white people in America are still pushing slavery-fashioned education for black people. But the vast majority of slave masters were not so inclined to allow their slaves to learn to read and write and they did whatever they could to prevent slaves from learning how to read and write. They believed that slaves who could read and write would be more difficult for them to control and to keep as slaves than illiterate slaves. And there were other slave owners who maintained that slaves were incapable of learning to read and write just as were the beasts of the field.
      William Calhoun, a cousin of slave owner Stott, convinced him that teaching slaves to read and write was a bad thing for him to do and he urged him to immediately put an end to Rosalyn teaching slaves how to read and write. He told Stott that one of his trusted niggers had informed him just yesterday that some of his slaves who had been taught by Rosalyn were planning to escape and that some slaves she had taught were teaching other slaves how to read and write. Calhoun ordered one of his slaves to tell Stott what he had told him yesterday about what some nigger slaves were planning to do to their slave masters and their children. 
        A somewhat bully-looking slave in his fifties, said that he had been told by some slaves that they were planning to escape using the Underground Railroad. He also said that house servants had been told to put rat droppings, poison and their own pee and shit in their slave masters' food. He said that two of those slaves who were planning these things had been taught to read and write by Rosalyn.
        After listening to the things Calhoun and his slave collaborator said Stott decided that he would sell Rosalyn to another slave owner. Within days he sold nineteen years old Rosalyn to Henry Harold Hampton, a slave owner in Hamilton County, Alabama. Hampton was also known in Wildflower where he lived and beyond as Captain H. H. H., a title he received after returning home following a brief  battlefield engagement in which he was wounded during the War of 1812 that involved British and American soldiers and Indian warriors. Hampton was in his late sixties when he impregnated Rosalyn who became my mother on April 10, 1862   Captain H. H. H. named me Benjamin Franklin Zeals. While in the military he gained an appreciation for Benjamin Franklin. This was his favorite quotation that he attributed to Benjamin Franklin: "A penny saved is a penny earned." 
      My mother thought that this is why he named me Benjamin Franklin. She did not know why he gave me the surname Zeals. As far as she knew there was never anyone known by that name. She heard Captain H. H. H. tell another slave master that he created that surname for my and his son. He also said that he didn't want our son to have the same surname as his legal children or the surname Stott that I still used privately because he never forgave slave master Stott for having sold him an effete slave who died less than a year after he was purchased from Stott. But as you can see my surname should be Benjamin Franklin Hampton. I should have the same surname as my two half brothers. My mother taught me that my surname is Zeals, not Stott as is her surname or Hampton's slave as some people called her. So you can see what happened to my ancestor...and your ancestors...beginning with when they were kidnapped in Africa and continuing until the day I was born." After a pause...Grandpa said, "Now, you know the rest don't you?"
        I was speechless, unable to respond to his question. While he was talking I had been all ears, eyes and soul. His words and the expressions on his face were riveting and soul-wrenching. I was so overwhelmed by the awesome things that he had said that I had to wait before I could respond to his question, the last seven words he had uttered: "Now, you know the rest don't you?" When I gained my composure, after a significant delay I said "Yes Grandpa I know the rest." Beginning with Grandpa's name I said, "Benjamin." Continuing I called the name of his two brothers "Alexander" and "Edward" who had the same mother as he but Alexander had a different father than he and Edward." As I was in the process of calling the name of his oldest child, the first-born from the first Zeal's marriage, before I could say anymore than "John Ham.." he, convinced that  "I knew the rest," abuptly interjected without allowing me to finish calling his oldest son's (also my father's) surname, "I know that  you know the rest... and who you are."

                                 8

     "Uchay sent me this beautiful birthday card," Grandpa gleefully  announced as he showed it to family members and friends who had come to help him celebrate his eighty-eight, and what would be his, last birthday. I had selected a very special birthday card for Grandpa from the Army PX where I was stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, and mailed it to my mother, his daughter-in-law. I knew she would be present for his birthday celebration and take him the usual caramel cake on his birthday just as she had faithfully done for many years.
      After Grandpa's birthday party my mother wrote me a letter that was much longer than the letters she usually writes to me. Much of it was about Grandpa and what he had to say about me. She writes, "Your Grandpa wanted you to know that he really did appreciate you sending him a birthday card and asked me to tell you that he would like to see you. He told everyone at the party that you were a good boy and a hard worker. He remembered how you use to help him in his garden, cut wood for his fireplace and how the two of you would parch or roast peanuts in his fireplace. I told him that you had been in the Army for two years and that you would be eligible to be discharged from the Army in about a year. He said that he hoped that it will not be a year before he would see you. He didn't think he would be around that long. I let him know for the first time that I received a monthly allotment check from you that helps me a lot to pay family expenses, including helping to keep your brother Daniel  in Full Moon State College. When I told him these things he said, "Uchay, your oldest son, will stand by you. He will not let you down. When you write him let him now that I want to see him again before I go to my resting place." Just before I left he looked again at the  birthday card you sent him and said, "Oh yes, let him know that I really do like the birthday card,."Your Grandpa said that this would be this last April the tenth birthday and that he did not think that he would live to see the New year. I told him that I would tell you everything that he had said when I write to you."
     Subsequently, I decided that I would take a furlough and visit Grandpa beginning  on the fourth of July weekend. July the forth was the month and day I had been conceived in my mother's womb that accounted for me having been born nine months later on April the fourth, the same month Grandpa was born. My furlough approved on the first of June, authorized me to take a two-week leave of absence plus the holiday weekend that preceded. About a week later a lot of war talk was being heard. During our more frequent than usual, sometimes daily troop briefings and Troop Information and Education program meetings military officials began informing us that the Communists in North Korea with the support they were receiving from the Communists in China and Russian were fighting a war that was aimed at defeating the democratic and freedom-loving people of South Korea. Before that most soldiers, like myself, barely knew that Korea existed. Day after day we got news that the war was expanding and that more and more people in South Korea were being killed. The United States had already made it clear to the officials of the Government of North Korea that unless they ceased their military action in South Korea they would be attacked by American military forces.
        On June 27, 1950, just about a week before my furlough was to begin President Harry S. Truman issued a "declaration of aggression" order to engage in what he called "police action." to avoid the need for Congress to approve a "declaration of war" military action order to authorize Americans to fight in North Korea. The next day the Pentagon cancelled all military leaves except in the case of the death of a next to kin. Immediately after that I was informed that my furlough had been cancelled. A day or so later in addressing the nation, President Truman referred to the United States military involvement in North Korea as a "Police Action." But soon after that when American soldiers began returning to America as corpses in body bags he would have to change his terminology from "Police Action" to the "Korean War." The enlistments of all servicemen who had less than a year to serve on their current enlistments were extended by one year or longer, if needed, in the interest of America's national
security. I was one of those "e plubribus unum" - one out of many - soldiers who had his enlistment extended by one year so they could help America protect South Korea from the tyranny of Communism.
     I would not see Grandpa in July as I had told him that I would; nor would I ever again see him alive. I surmised that Grandpa's premonition of his own death was correct, i.e., he would die, as he had predicted, before the current year ended. I was almost certain that I would be sent to Korea where my own chance of being killed would be greatly increased. The soldiers in my regiment had already been put on  high alert and we had been instructed by our commanders to be prepared to leave the home fort on a twenty-four hour or less notice possibly for deployment in Korea but for wherever ordered to serve. In my outfit we were hearing talk from fellow-soldiers, including those working in personnel who usually got official information before the field soldiers, that my regiment, a mechanized Calvary unit equipped with medium and heavy artillery, was on the Pentagon's priority list for combat duty in North Korea. When would we be deployed, no one knew exactly or, if they did, they were not sharing that information with the rank and file soldiers.
       Admittedly, no less than my concern about being sent to Korea was my longing to see Grandpa just one more time. He loomed before my very eyes and in my mind seemingly larger than the Korean War. I wanted to see him because I knew how much he wanted to see me and I wanted to see him because he was the most significant man who had ever been in my life and that included my father, a creative man, who died when I was fourteen years of age. In my experience there was no other man who could compare with Grandpa, even though a General or President he might be.
     Although my regiment, including the entire division of which it was a part of, was on high military alert and some units were engaged in intensive war-like games and maneuvers I had not received orders to go to Korea. I received orders to join the reactivated 101st airborne in camp Breckenridge, Kentucky. Since I could not go see Grandpa I decided that I would write him a letter. It would be a longer letter, even much longer than I had imagined it would be when I began writing it. I had already written earlier to my mother and told her some of the things that I wanted her to tell Grandpa, including that my furlough had been cancelled and that I may be going to Korea any day but in my mind that did not suffice. I wanted to say something more, much more, to Grandpa. I wanted him to know my thoughts and feelings about him, particularly, what he had meant and what he continues to mean for me.
      It was mid-September when I finished writing my letter to Grandpa. I mailed it to my sister Vashti rather than to my mother. She is my oldest sister from my father's and mother's marriage. Vashti was the first Zeals in our family to finish college. One year after she finished high school she began teaching school but that didn't prevent her from attending summer school at Camden Teachers College where she earned her bachelor's degree. In my letter to her I requested that she read my letter to Grandpa in full and re-read it as many times as he wanted to hear it read. I knew how much he liked for Vashti to read to him. This is my letter to Grandpa:
     
Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky
September 15, 1950

You are the best man in the whole round world. My mother told me in the last letter that I received from her about the wonderful things you said about me when you celebrated your birthday. I was glad to hear that you had a great  birthday. In recent weeks you have been very much on my mind. I had expected to see you in person back in early July, but as you know, the Korean War is being fought and that is the reason I was unable to visit with you as I had planned. Mother said that she had told you that I would be home in early July. She also told me that you do not think that you will live to have another birthday or see another new year. I do not question your wisdom or prophetic powers, especially as they pertain to your death, but I feel that you will agree with me when I say we cannot always know when we will die. However, I would not dare to take exception to the prediction you have made concerning your death. I know that you are a very wise man.
     For quite a few years, even when I use to work in your garden, bring wood into your house and linger there for a while sometimes when just you and I were sitting near the fireplace, eating pecans or peanuts that you always kept in abundance and within arms reach, or talking and listening to your stories, I have wanted to let you know how you appeared to me and what you meant to me. But I did not let you know, perhaps, because I was afraid, not of you but of myself. How can anyone be afraid of you? Now I am ready to answer the questions I posed earlier. Across the years I have said in various ways how much I appreciated you and what you meant to me but I have never said or written in any detail manner, my thoughts and feelings about you as I am about to do in this letter.
     Most recently I have been thinking about your sense of wonderment and I had to say "Grandpa, you are a wonder." In my fantasy I have been admiring your familiar  bearded face. I always did like your beard. When I leave the military I am going to grow a beard just like yours. I never new a man like you before. I thought that to be true when I Iived in Wildflower and sometimes I reasoned that I felt that way because I had lived among and knew only the people in Hamilton County. But after being in the Army over two years and being privileged to relate to people of other races and cultures in other situations I am of the same opinion regarding your uniqueness and the specialness of your character. I cannot even imagine meeting another person like you. If I had not known you I would have never imagined you. And yet, you are so incredible, essential, and inevitable to my own being that had it not been for you supporting and empowering me, even during my early development years, I would have not existed and certainly not developed to be the person that I am. You are a polestar in my destiny, the seed and the gardener, and the thread in the web that, still being woven, will only, in a certain way, end when you are no longer alive, even if then. I sense that our lives, yours and mine, have been rounded out. You have been all for me that you could have possibly meant to be and now each of us, in his own way, goes alone, where he must go. Therefore, my dear Grandpa, friend and father of my youth even after my real father had died, farewell! But before our separation I want to shed some light on the questions I have posed regarding my perception of you, how you have appeared to me and how you have impacted my life. And I want to do this without attempting to define you, not that I can. Only you can say who you are. In my judgment you have done that with clarity and certainty. Nobody experiencing you in a personal way can truthfully say "I don't know who he is." Because what a person in your presence perceives with his total being is what you are. You are more than that to be sure, but you are that. Your transparency and all-pervasive presence reveal the authentic you. No one present can miss you.
     Well, first of all, Grandpa seems to be Ecclesiasticus. I think that this is just, and, insofar as descriptive definitions, not essence definitions, go I think you will agree. agree. This will become clearer as we proceed. I can think of no way of describing your attributes that could possibly go further. The twenty-first book of the Bible is called "Ecclesiastes." I have heard you quote from it. "Ecclesiasticus" means preacher. Some people, including some theologians question as to how this book was included in the Bible and its value. Obviously, these are lesser minds than the person who wrote it. Wise man Solomon who wrote it begins with these words: "The words of the Preacher." Now, I know Grandpa that you don't want to be called a preacher. I have heard you say that your oldest son John Hampton was the only preacher in the family and in the Zeals Community. Yes, your son, my father, was a preacher. I  have listened to him preach, mostly when he was working. Like Thomas Carlyle he would say in his own words.

"Give us, oh, give us, the man who sings at his work!
He will do more in the same time--he will do it better--
he will persevere longer."

     My father felt that way; I remember having heard him peach on the text below that is taken from the book of "Ecclesiastes," as he expounded on the subject: "There is a time for all things":

"To every thing there is a season and a time to every
purpose under the heaven."

     So Grandpa, I see you as a preacher, not just any preacher, not even a preacher like my father or the preachers you have heard at the Baptist and Methodist churches in Wildflower. You are a preacher like the preacher in "Ecclesiastes." Had I never read the book of "Ecclesiastes" in just knowing you I would have known what that book was all about. It is like saying that all I ever learned from reading the book of "Ecclesiastes" I first learned it from knowing you. Before I say more about my perception of you as a preacher I want to let you know that I have been called to preach just as John Hampton was called to preach, but I am not the mature and unique preacher that you are, not even the preacher my Papa was. Maybe one day in the future I will become a better preacher than I am now, but I can't imagine, nor do I expect myself ever being the preacher that you are.
    Grandpa, earlier I said that you are "Ecclesiasticus," the Preacher. The Preacher presented in "Ecclesiastes" is not just Wise man Solomon. I know no better way to let you know how I see you than to let "Ecclesiastes" mirror you. For of all that I have ever seen or learned, including scientific knowledge I have acquired, the "Book of Ecclesiastes" seems to me the noblest, the wisest and the most powerful expression of man's life upon this earth of the earth's flowering, of poetry, music, truth, creativity, health, science, philosophy, religion and beauty. "Ecclesiastes" is the greatest single piece of writing ever known and the wisdom expressed in it is the most lasting and profound ever ascertained by humans. Nothing Shakespeare ever wrote, notwithstanding, that he borrowed from "Ecclesiastes," the United States Constitution (the most overrated document in history), the Declaration of Interdependence,  Supreme Court decisions, or any edict issued by a King or Queen, or a Pope or any other book in the Bible can equal "Ecclesiastes." This should come as no surprise. After all, "Ecclesiastes" was written by the wisest man who ever lived.
     And let me say, "Ecclesiastes" expresses your own position as perfectly as anything could. I could use other words to describe you, but these words in "Ecclesiastes" do it better than any other words that I can use. I have read it over many times, already three times this year, and I do not know a single word or stanza in it with which you would not instantly agree. But I am sure you would disagree with some of the things mentioned in the other books of the Bible, including some of the things that are attributed to Jesus and Paul, two chief architects of the New Testament. For I have heard you take exception with some of the things they said, but I have not heard you disagree with anything, not one iota of anything proclaimed by Ecclesiasticus.
     I am sure you would agree with the quotation cited earlier that your oldest son sometimes used for a text when he preached and bears repeating here. He probably first learned it from hearing you say it before he read it in "Ecclesiastes." It says:

"To every thing there is a season,
And a time to every purpoe under the heaven."

     And, Grandpa I think you would agree and give one of your seldom  exclaimed "Amens" to some other noble precepts found in the one-of-a-kind book such as this one:

"A good name is better than
precious ointment; and the day
of death than the day of one's birth."

     You would agree with what the Preacher says here, For I have heard you say ...

"All things are full of labor; man
cannot utter it: the eye is not
satisfied with seeing, nor the
ear with hearing."

    Oh yes Grandpa, you would certainly concur with the preacher and proclaim in unison with him...

"The things that have been, is
that which shall be: and that which
shall be done: and there is
no new thing under the sun."

     Oh how this truth coincides with the truth you express so vividly in your living...

"And I gave my heart to know
wisdom, and to know madness and
folly: I perceived that this
also is vexation of the spirit."

     You would certainly agree with these instructions for young people and people who are young at heart. For you gave them to me...

"Remember now the Creator in the
days of your youth.
Rejoice, O young man, in your youth;
and let your heart cheer you in the
days of your youth, and walk in the
ways of your heart, and in the sight
of his eyes, but know you, that for
all these things God will bring you
into judgment."

      You would agree with the wisdom embodied in this statement...

"Suffer not your mouth to cause
your flesh to sin; neither say
you before the angel, that it
was an error; Wherefore should
God be angry at your voice, and
destory the works of your hands?"

       Oh yes, you would agree with the beauty in the celebration of life for this harmonizes with your own way of being...

"...it is good and comely for one
to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the
good of all his labor that he taketh
under the sun all the days of his life,
which God gives him: for it is his
portion."

     You would agree with these words of wisdom. I have head you speak them to me...

"It is better to hear the rebuke of the
wise, than for a man to hear the songs 
of fools."

   Yes Grandpa, how you would concur with these words expressed by the Preacher..

"Cast your bread upon the waters: 
for you shall find it after many days.
You would agree with what the Preacher said about all is vanity...
Vanity of vanities, saith the 
preacher; all is vanity."

   You would also wholeheartedly agree with the Preacher that...
"...the lips of a fool will
swallow up himself."

    Oh how you would agree with all your being---mind, body and soul--that...

"Whatsoever your hand finds to do,
do it with your might; for there is
no work, nor device, nor knowledge
nor wisdom in the grave, whether
you go."

      Grandpa, you would agree with the Preacher's final words; for they are your final words that I have heard you declare...

"For God shall bring every work
into judgment, with every secret thing,
whether it be good, or whether it be evil."

    Is this abridgment and description of your character just, my Grandpa? Yes, when I saw those things I marveled. I knew those things because I learned them from you from the time I became old enough to understand you until I enlisted in the United States Army, just days prior to my eighteenth birthday. And why you are no stranger to death in that the lives of some people you loved so dearly have been claimed by death you have seldom talked about death and you have talked even less about epitaphs, especially your own epitaph. But your epitaph was written many centuries ago and I find no need to "reinvent the wheel," not even in this eschatological statement about you that describes your legacy better than any words I know. "Ecclesiastes" is your epitaph. It is not brief as epitaphs generally are but it is not too lengthy to be right for you as it was not too long for Ecclesiasticus, the Preacher. Your portrait had been drawn already in the portrait of Ecclesiasticus the great Preacher had for himself. You are he, his words and ideas are yours so perfectly that if he had never lived or uttered them, all of them, all of his great and noble sermon, could have been derived afresh from you. You are a reincarnation, the ressurection, the full embodiment of Ecclesiasticus.
     If I could, therefore, describe your own philosophy of life--and his--I think I should describe it as the existential philosophy of a hopeful providential surrender with ways to escape while flowing and at the same time embracing and being embraced by destiny. On the surface this appears to be passivity or fatalism, two qualities that no one can ascribe to your life, but when more carefully examined it is the interfacing of you with grace. Observing you it has been easy to recognize that you have been favored by "Amazing grace" that is ultimately responsible for you being who you are, Ecclesiasticus.
     Grandpa I have learned so much from you and whenever I read "Ecclesiastes" I am reminded anew of the things I had learned from you. From both of you--the Preacher and you--I learned the importance of work and play, to accept what is, live in the flowing present, celebrate life, embrace truth and beauty, engage in intimacy, fear no man and love powerfully. I also learned from both of you that death is as certain as life, to be born is to die, and that to know how to live is to know how to die. You have helped me to realize that I am not an accident or mistake, that I have a right to be here, at this particular time, for the sole purpose of delivering a message that I have been entrusted with and that nobody else can deliver except me. For if I don't deliver it nobody else will or can.
     Now I must bring this letter to a complimentary close and there is one thing I want to say in acknowledgment that this will likely be the last message you will receive from me. Although I am much younger than you, having lived only one score years, not one-fourth as long as you have lived, and have no idea about what the future holds for me this one thing I know: Grandpa, as long as I live I will experience your presence because it is indestructible and eternal. Even death cannot obliterate it. Even though during the last two years I have not seen you, your presence has been with me, guiding me in making decisions, comforting me in times of despair and befriending me when I was lonely. I am confident that this faith we have in each other and in ourselves individually will abide with me all the days of my life whether you are alive or transmuted.
     My mother has told me that you said that you will die before your next birthday or the New Year. I am sure that you will face death as you have faced life, with courage, and that in death you will experience victory.
     I learned from you to keep the faith and that the faith you keep is the faith that will  keep you. What final words then can your grandson say to his beloved Grandpa on the eve of his transition and commencement? Grandpa, to you I say:

To lose the earth you know for
greater knowing;
To lose the life you have for
full life;
To leave the friends you love, for
heavenly living and angelic fellowship;
To find a land more sweet than home 
and more awesome than earth,
Behold! a wind is rising and rivers
are flowing;
Your soul too is rising and flowing;
You are communing with the wind and
the rivers.
You, the wind and the rivers are one.

Farewell Grandpa!
Your Grandson,
Uchay

(Grandpa Benjamin departed this life on December 15, 1950)

      On other pages of this book, other than Chapter 1 and Chapter 8, there are voices other than the voice of Grandpa that will be heard telling this awesome story about incredible "Grandpa Benjamin." Despite the various storytellers there is only one story and it is the story that Grandpa began telling his grandson. Yet, each person will tell his or her own part of this story about the patriarch who began the Tribe of Benjamin. And there are many other things he told his grandson that are presented in this book.     

To my readers

       Many of the people who have read  chapters 1 and 8, of "Grandpa Benjamin," presented above, have read this entire fascinating saga about the author's Grandfather, who he hails as the man who had the greatest impact on his life.

From the back cover of the book. (The front cover has a 3" x 4" photo of Grandpa Benjamin)

      A triumph of the imagination and masterpiece of storytelling. "Grandpa Benjamin" is narrated by Grandpa Benjamin himself. He told his grandson this story that he had been told by his mother about their ancestors beginning with the year 1776 when his great-great-great grandparents, Baatsi and Ashanti Nkrumga, were kidnapped by American slavers in Africa, separated from their two small children and enslaved in America. This is also the story about Grandpa Benjamin and his half brother, Alexander, also born into slavery, and how they established the Zeals Community and the Zeals School in Wildflower, the place of their birth, where for several generations they and their descendants were nurtured. Their legacy continues to inspire their descendants to live productive and dignity-affirmed lives. Grandpa Benjamin, the first person in the linage to have the surname Zeals, is a character that even in contemporary perspective, will live in the reader's imagination forever."

To order this book, go on-line and purchase from: www.amazon.com or www.bn.com. Or from/through some book stores. The best price may be on-line. 

To contact the author, write:
Uriah J. Fields
P. O. Box 4770
Charlottesville, VA 22905

Follow Uriah J. Fields on Facebook and Twitter. This is also a way to send him messages.
Visit frequently www.uriahfields.com for other writings by Uriah J. Fields

(Please note: The author's supply of books are limited. Therefore, we suggest that you purchase "Grandpa Benjamin" from the booksellers mentioned above.

Thank you.

Copyright 2010 - 2017 by Uriah J. Fields


ANOTHER BOOK BY URIAH J. FIELDS

P.S. You may also want to read, "The Fields School - An African American School Without Failures Located in Rural Alabama 1933-1949" by Uriah J. Fields. Grandpa Benjamin had the major role in establishing this the Fields School. This is an important book, especially in a time when African American young people are failing and dropping out of school at an unacceptable and unpresident rate. The Fields school had no failures and more than two-thirds of the students attending that school have college degrees. The author's first eight years of schooling was at the Fields School.
You can purchase this book on line or through your local book sellers. This book can also be purchased on line from www.authorhouse.com.

END

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