Words by Heart (1985) - full transcript

The only black family living in a small midwestern town at the turn of the century confront prejudice, as seen through the eyes of the young daughter.

(adventurous music)

(birds chirping)

(soft piano music)

(wagon rattling)

(soft piano music)

- Get in there.

Go on!

Why don't you do as you're told?

That's all I can do.

(engine rumbling)

(soft piano music)

(crows squawking)

(soft piano music)

(Reverend's throat clearing)

(wagon rattling)

(door slamming)

(gentle music)

(engine rumbling)

(gentle music)

(crows squawking)

(wagon rattling)

- [Lena] I wanna go on.

- [Mr. Does] All right,
may the best one win.

- Lena?

Lena, you come on.

We're already gonna be late.

(dog barking)

Hush, Bullet.

(dog barking)

You don't know them verses yet,

you're not gonna learn them now.

(Ben laughing)

Come on.

- Come on, get up, yah.

Come on.

(wagon rattling)

(dog barking)

(bright piano music)


- It's just like Tater and
that little brother of his

to be actin' that way.

They still smartin' about Daddy's job

at the gym bein' there.

Now, Lena, child, this kind of
contest can't everybody win,

so you mustn't take it hard if you don't.

(people laughing in background)

- I'm sure this is going to be
a fine and glorious evening,

for we'll not only hear
the words of our Lord,

but we'll be hearing them
from the mouths of our young,

the future of our great country.

All of you young people
here in Bethel Springs

will be part of that glorious future.

- Thank you.
(crowd applauding)

Thank you, thank you Reverend Bells.

And now let me introduce the
organizer of tonight's contest,

Jay Bird Kelsey.

(crowd applauding)

(Jay Bird clearing throat)

- I, uh, have a prize for the winner.

So y'all do your best.

All right.

I think it's, ah, fittin' and right

that we start with the high honor student

and best memorizer in Bethel Springs.

Winslow Starnes.

(crowd applauding)

- In the beginning God created
the heaven and the earth,

and the earth was without form and void,

and darkness was upon
the face of the deep,

and the spirit of God moved
upon the face of the waters.

(crowd applauding)

- Next.

Continue where Winslow left off,

or select a new chapter and verse.

- And God saw light that it was good.

And God divided the
light from the darkness.

(crowd applauding)

- Okay, Alma, now it's your turn.

This is Alma Fenzel, everyone.

- Ashes to ashes.

Ashes to ashes.

(crowd applauding)

- And the evening and the
morning were the first day.

- Well, everyone knows
that was Todd Brewer.

(man laughing)

Very good, Todd.
(crowd applauding)

And next is Elsie Rawley.

- The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie
down in green pastures.

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

(crowd applauding)

- And our new student, Lena Sills.

- Yea, thou I walk through the valley

of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,

for thou art with me.

Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

(family clapping)

- [Boy] My son, if thou will tithe my-

- Put away the evil of your
doings from before mine eyes.

Cease to do evil, learn to do well.

- Come now, let us reason
together, sayeth the Lord.

Though our sins be like...



they shall be as...

- Come now, let us reason
together, sayeth the Lord.

Though your sins be as scarlet,

they shall be as white as snow.

Though they be red like crimson,

they shall be as wool.

(family applauding)

- To everything there is a season,

and a time to every
purpose under the heavens.

- A time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to pluck up

that which is planted.

(dog barking)

- Well, Winslow, Lena.

You've each said 50 verses and
you are beautifully matched.

No one could call this
anything but a perfect tie

if you would like to stop.

Now I know this has been a fine-

- [Lena] I wanna go on.

- What?

- I wanna go on.

(crowd murmuring)

- Oh, well, all right.

- May, may the best one win.

- Winslow, boy.

Are you stuck?

- No, wait.

Just a minute.

- Flowers of the earth.

The flowers on the earth.

- No, the flowers appear on the earth.

The time of the singing
of the birds is come

and the voice of the turtle
is heard in our land.

(crowd murmuring)

The fig tree putteth
forth their green figs

and the vine with the tender
grape give a good smell.

Arise, my love, my fair
one, and come away.

(Jay Bird sighing)

- Well, now, Miss Lena.

Ah. (throat clearing)

Well, uh, Miss Lena, you did real fine.

And, uh, Winslow did fine, too.

Even if he didn't win. (chuckling)

(throat clearing)

(crowd murmuring)

Well, uh.

We, uh.

Have a prize here.

You win the prize, Miss Lena.

Thank you, Mr. Kelsey.

- I wish it was just what you wanted,

because, uh,

you deserve.

- I don't want it.

(footsteps clomping)
(crowd murmuring)

(owl hooting)
(wagon rattling)

- Whoa.

(owl hooting)

- Here, I'll put him to bed.

Ben, you can tend to the horses.

Come on.
- Okay.

Lena, rewards don't prove you're somebody.

When you're somebody inside yourself,

you don't have to be told.

- Well how do you know
when you're somebody?

- You just know.

I'm somebody and I know.

And you didn't have to
throw Mr. Kelsey's blunder

up in his face.

- It was meant for Winslow Starnes.

He can have it.

- But you had the victory, baby girl.

Wasn't that enough?

(door slamming)

(soft dramatic music)

- Claudie! Claudie!

- What?

Lord, get your daddy.

- [Lena] Papa!


(dramatic music)

- Is that all?

- Is it all?

Does it have to be stuck in here

before you see what it means?

- [Ben] Will you hush now?

- Ben, it's happenin' again,
just like it always does.

- What's happenin' like it always does?

- Nothin', Lena.

Probably just some kid playing a prank.

Or some trap scared off
Jessie's fixin' to have

himself some supper.

- Ben, they tellin' us
they don't want us here.

- Who?

- They sayin' here in Bethel Springs

they ain't got no more use for
us than they did back south.

We never should've come.

- [Lena] Who's sayin'?

- We the only kind of family in town, Ben.

You have already taken a white man's job.

And it don't matter if you earned it.

And tonight she overstepped herself,

just like you always doin'.

- Be quiet!

- I have been quiet for six years

while she was growin' up
safe in Scatter Creek,

and you not telling her what
the rest of the world was like.

Or lettin' me!

- There's a time for it, Claudie May.

- Well, when?

(knife clattering)

- Papa?

Was I not supposed to win?

- I'm glad you won.

You won fair.

- But did somebody do this because I won?

(Ben sighing)

- Come on.

- Papa, I'm too big.

- Come on, sit down here.

I remember when I used
to hold you on my lap.

Your little feet 'bout
the size of a mouse,

all curly toed. (laughing)

You remember that?

Just after your mama died.

We sure missed her, didn't we?

Nobody done this tonight
'cause you won, Lena.

- But Claudie said that-

- I know Claudie said
what she thought was true.

What is true for her.

- Papa?

Do people want us to leave?

- No.

This is a good town we've come to.

You know that.

They took us in.

The church, the school.

This is big open country
with room for everybody.

Do you know what Bethel means?

It means the house of
God, a hallowed spot.

- But somebody came in here tonight.

- I know, but maybe somebody

young or angry

or scared of changes,

but one person or two or even 10,

they're not a whole town, Lena.

- But what can we do?

- Ah.


You can go to bed.

(kiss smacking)

(Ben sighing)

(door clicking)

(owl hooting)

(horse neighing)

(crickets chirping)

(coyote howling)

(Ben grunting)
(shovel thudding)

♪ Yea, God, from whom all blessings ♪

♪ Praise God ♪

♪ I know ♪

♪ Praise Him all of ♪

Hi, Lena.

- Pap, won't we be late for church?

- Well, we thought we'd skip today.

Let everybody rest awhile.

- That's funny, Papa.

Bullet should be right
there outside on the porch

waggin' his tail, waitin' for breakfast.

- Tell her, Ben.

Sometimes you put off things too long.

- Yeah, not wantin' to worry people.

That's why I wouldn't have
made a strong preacher.

I guess the Lord in his wisdom knew it.

Even though I really wanted
badly to serve in that way.

- Tell her or I'll tell her myself my way,

whether you like it or not.

- Get dressed, baby girl.

Your step-mama cried last night.

She asked to go back to Scatter Creek.

- No, I won't!

- Maybe we should go.

- No, I won't, Papa.

And you can't, either.

You said last night we
haven't done anything

to be afraid of or ashamed of.

And if you believe that,
then we have to stay.

(stick tapping)

- Bullet's there.

- What happened to him?

He was all right yesterday.

Did he have a fight?

- I can't say.

It's more like he been beat
or poisoned or somethin'.

- Tater.

It was Tater, wasn't it?

- You can't say that, Lena,
'cause you don't know.

- I do know!

I just know!

- Lena.

Somethin' always comes
to fill the empty spaces.

Somethin' always comes to take
the place of what you lose.

(chickens clucking)

(door slamming)

Uh, Miss Chism gave me some peach seeds

to plant yesterday, and
they were wrapped in this.

(Ben laughing)

September 12, 19 and 10.

Not a week old.

Uh, Ms. Chism wants you
to come help her tomorrow.

Ah, ah, ah.

She wants to put up her tomatoes
before the frost gets 'em

and she's fixin' to
clean up for a big dinner

she's gonna have next Sunday.

- Yes, sir.

- Don't forget to go by the school house

and tell your teacher you won't be comin'.

- Papa?

- Hmm?

- Is Russia gonna have a war?

- I hope not.

- If we had a war over
here, would you fight in it?

- I don't know.

- If they took ya it would
be so you could haul manure

and lift freight, not so
you could kill people.

- You sound like I'd be
missing the best part.

All the same, they had colored soldiers

in the Civil War and the Revolution, too.

- They did?
- Hmm.

- [Lena] Doesn't say
that in my history book.

- [Claudie] I'm talking about now.

- Well, I'm talkin' about anytime.

Killin' is wrong.

The Lord commanded thou shalt not kill.

- In Exodus does it say an eye for a eye?

- Wrong just the same.

I got cotton sacks to patch.

- Why do I have to miss school?

Is he scared of everybody?

He does everything that
crabby old lady says.

Yes ma'am, no ma'am.

Lena don't mind missin' school.

- Hold on a minute, Lena.

- And what about Bullet?

Do we have to let people like
Tater break into our house,

kill our dog and then try to
scare us back to Scatter Creek?

- Hush!

I think I better set you straight

about somethin', Miss Lena.

We all work for that crabby old lady,

and you better not let your daddy hear you

call her that, neither.

She our boss.

Sure, your daddy is scared.

You don't know the first thing

about what's bothering him, do you?

He's thinking about leaving.

Do you know why, Miss Magic Mind?

No, you don't.

You worried about missing
a few days out of school,

like that meant somethin'.

When your daddy got a
real life and death worry

to struggle with.

You know what it is?

This is it.

Your dad is a good man.

He believes the Lord meant it

when he said to love your enemy

and turn the other cheek
to them that hurt ya.

What he's struggling with
right now in his heart

is what he do if somebody
really tried to hurt us,

his family.

(engine rumbling)

- Got some things arriving over
at the freight depot, Haney.

I want you and Tater to
get yourself down there

and deliver them over to
my house this afternoon.

Now give it a crank.

- Yessum.

- Shoo.

- I think Ben would realize
that you need to be in school,

but you could do better
than most of your kind.

And an education is good for
everyone, even you people.

But I guess you
sharecroppers are all alike.

- My daddy don't sharecrop.

He pays Ms. Chism rent.

- All you people ever do
is think about your crops

and working for other people.

Then you wonder why you end
up working your life away

and never getting any further

than when you first started out.

Get back to work.

(engine rumbling)

(horn honking)

(engine rumbling)

(soft piano music)

(horn honking)

(soft piano music)

(cow mooing)

(soft piano music)

(dog barking)

(bell ringing)

- Well.

- My daddy said you wanted me.

- I hope you're smarter than you look.

Get in here and quit gawkin'.

And while you're around here,

watch out for my dog Lulu.

She's almost as old as
I am and damn near deaf.

Now I've been up since four.

Can't sleep worth a damn anymore.

Now when we get these here things canned

and the kitchen scrubbed, we're
gonna clear out the attic.

Haven't been up there since Gooch died.


Now get me some water.

Well, I'll be.

Don't you know nothin'?

(pump thudding)

You'd think an 80-year-old man would

a lot rather pass away politely in his bed

instead of gallopin' down the track

to catch a 3:30 train at 3:34

with the clothes flyin'
out of his satchel.

And not Gooch. (chuckling)

He would've been 90 next year
if he would've caught it,

byin' any other crazy doings. (chuckling)

I was 27 years younger than he was,

you have to remember.

And we understood each
other very satisfactory.

I married him for his land

and he married me for

my looks.

(Mary Tom laughing)


Must be something you
can do right. (chuckling)

I cooked for a railroad crew.

Mmm, baked 12 pies

and 10 dozen rolls a day.

I still can't help cookin' 20 times

more food than I can eat. (chuckling)


I eat good, don't I?

My folks were dirt poor.

We lived in a chicken house one winter.

I said then

I was never gonna be poor again,

and now I got


acres of land

that says I won't. (laughing)

(knuckles rapping)

- Good afternoon, Mary Tom.

I hope I'm not interrupting anything,

but I would like to talk to you, if I may.

- Well, you're interrupted my lunch.

Take a seat in the parlor.

- Yes.

- When you finish eatin'
leave the dishes in the sink

and go up to the attic and
start straightenin' it up.

Sit down, Augusta.

Now, what is it that's
so all fire important

to bring you out here
in the middle of the day

to disturb my lunch.

- Well, it's,

it's about the church.

- What about it?

- Well, we'd never had a real church here,

as you know, Mary Tom.

We used to use the Melody Land dance hall

till that burned down.

Now we use the school house.

- So?

- So (clearing throat)

I was thinking it would be a true blessing

if we had a real church
here in Bethel Springs.

- And you want me to give you the money

so you can build one?

- I'm sure God would bless you for it.

- I'm sure he would.

But I ain't giving any
of my money to no church.

Gooch gave you the money
to build a school house.

That's good enough.

Besides, I don't go to church.

Why should I spend my money
on something I never use?

(Augustus clearing throat)

- Well, I'm not mad, Augustus.

You can always ask.

- I'm havin' a dinner next Sunday.

It's Gooch's and my 30th
wedding anniversary.

- I would look forward to that,

and it would give us a
chance to talk some more.

- Well, that'll be right after church.

Try not to be late.

- Yeah.

(footsteps clomping)

- And just what in darnation
do you think you're doin'?

- Are all these yours?

- Those?

Oh, hell.

I took 'em out of the
bookcases when my kids moved.

I needed a place to store my good dishes.

- But I mean, do you come
up here to read them?

- We'll start on the far corner.

I'm clearin' out all of Gooch's stuff

and the kids' stuff.

Sellin' the whole lot.

Well, they could've come and got it

if they wanted it.

A little visit wouldn't kill 'em.

I got grandchildren I haven't even seen.

- Could I read your
books, please, Ms. Chism?

- You?

Now what good do you
think books would do you?

- I learn things.

- The devil you do.

Chera Bell's Love Story.

Winsome but wicked.

That's what my daughter learned.

Romance, romance.

Now she's living over
a saloon in Milwaukee

with a one-eyed butcher.

So much for romance.

Do you know what my children are doin'?

They're sittin' on their hind
legs, waitin' for me to die.

All four of 'em.

Well, they're gonna be surprised

right down to their socks.

I'm gonna sell that land

and spend it doing the
things I want to do.

(Mary Tom laughing)

- Please, Ms. Chism, I'll take
real the care of your books.

- No.

- I'll work extra and you
won't even have to pay me.

- No.

- But why?

You don't read them.

They're just layin' up
here goin' to waste.

- I don't have to take sass
from no little Miss Swell Head.

Now you either do as you're told,

or you can start down those steps

and keep on right out the front door.

(clock chiming)

That no good Haney and
his stupid son Tater

was supposed to be bringin'
my things from the depot.

I wonder where they're at.

(footsteps clomping)


Well, I suppose you want to go home now?

- Yes, ma'am, before it gets too late.

- I suppose I can do the dishes.

If not, you can do 'em
first thing in the mornin'.

Go on home now.

Go on.

(cow mooing)

- [Henry] What the hell
do you mean by that?

Ain't no Sambo takin' no job away from me.

- [Ben] It seems to me you and I

don't have much choice in the matter.

- [Henry] What the hell
do you mean by that?

- [Ben] I mean that the
choice is Ms. Chism's.

I said to her the job at the
gin belongs to Mr. Haney.

But she said the job belongs
to who she says it does,

and either I take the job or
she gives it to somebody else.

- And I'm tellin' you
I've been workin' the gin

since before you came,
and I intend to keep on.

You got that, boy?

- Yeah, you hear my pap?

- Shut up, Tater.

- [Ben] Well, you best be
tellin' that to Ms. Chism.

And when Ms. Chism tells
me, then I'll know, too.

- I'm tellin' you that
there job is mine, nigger!

Come on, come on, boy.

Come on, Tater.

- [Lena] Papa.

- Baby girl.

I just comin' to walk you home.

- [Lena] Mr. Haney sounded awful angry.

- [Ben] Did he?

I don't think he meant anything by it.

How'd you and Ms. Chism get along?

- [Lena] I don't know.

She wants me tomorrow.

- [Ben] Oh.

- [Lena] I brought home one of the books.

- [Ben] You mean she let you keep a book

or just let you borrow one?

- [Lena] I meant I borrowed a book.

- [Ben] Did you now?

That was nice to her, wasn't it?

♪ Just praise God together now ♪

- If I'd a known how rotten
my kids were gonna turn out,

I wouldn't of had any of 'em.

None of 'em.

- Ms. Chism?

- Hmm?

- This bird looks real sick.

- Don't he, though?

Gooch knew all about birds, but I don't.

I'm scared of the silly things.

(Mary Tom whistling)

- Mr. Kelsey at the feed
store might know about birds.

- Well, let's just go see if he does.

(engine rumbling)

- Come on, get in.

Right next to me.


(engine rumbling)

(horn honking)

well, I'll be swissed.

You two have some nerve, if you ask me.

Two days late in deliverin' my things

and still no delivery.

Hell, I don't need you now.

I already told Ben Sills
to bring those boxes.

And I'm gonna pay him the same money

I would paid the both of you.

He's worth it.

- But we're here now.

- I'm leavin'.

I've lost enough sleep over you two.

I got me a hand now that can work circles

around the two of you,

and he does what he says he's gonna do.

So I'm warnin' you,
and I mean both of you.

Mend your ways, or find some place else

to live on this earth.

(engine rumbling)

- She weren't so rich she
wouldn't talk to you like that.

- Hell!

(coyote howling)

- Ben, you know I don't like Roy

being out at night like this.

- [Ben] It couldn't be helped.

We had an emergency at the mill.

Nothin' I could do about it.

- Ms. Chism still needs me, Mr. Doens.

But I did my assignment, it's right here.

I need my assignments
for the rest of the week.

- You can copy down the
assignment off the board

and I'll pick a book report for you.

(kids talking and yelling)

- Hey, is this what you're lookin' for?

- That's mine.

Give it to me, Winslow Starnes.

- Wait a minute.

This is the best paper I've ever seen.

Is it a birthday present or somethin'?

- Yes.

I mean no.

It's, uh, Ms. Chism found it in her attic.

Now give it to me.

I have to go to the feed
store and then to Ms. Chism's.

- Well, maybe I can read
it when you're done.

Ask Ms. Chism if I can.

- No!

- Then I'll ask her myself.

(kids talking and yelling)

- It was smart of you, Randolph,

adding second-hand goods
to your dry goods store.

Don't do me no harm, either.

Gettin' rid of all these things.

- All I got left is that a load of books

and I'll be on my way.

- Mmm.

(horse hooves clomping)


Forget about them books.

Think I'll hold onto them
books a little while longer.

- Much obliged, Mary Tom.

- Your bird died, Ms. Chism.

But Mr. Kelsey wanted you to have this.

(wagon rattling)

(stick thumping)

- Why don't you tell me
how you are, Mary Tom?

We don't see each other that often.

- You know how I am, JB.

Same way I've always been
for the past 12 years.

Mean, crotchety, old woman

no one in this town can stand.

- That's not true, Mary Tom.

- Well, I'm not talking about you, JB.

You're still a fool
enough to feel about me

the way you used to.

- And you still feel the
same way about me, too.

- I was young

and poor.

And I did what I wanted to.

There's nothing that can
be done about it now.

It's too late.

- It's not too late.

Emily's been dead for three years.

Your husband's been dead for 12.

- And it's too late.

Just let it be, JB, let it be.


(cows mooing)

(foot thudding)

I'm havin' a dinner Sunday.

Would you like to come?

- I'd be happy to, Mary Tom.

- 12 noon.

Right after church.

For those of you who go to church.

Now I've got work to do.

(stick thumping)

(horse hooves clomping)

Do you think my little bird's in heaven?

- Are not five sparrows
sold for two farthings,

and not one of them is
forgotten before God.

- It says that?

- St. Luke, just like that.

- I'm glad.

Poor little Goochy bird.

(wagon rattling)

My things!

Your daddy's here with my things.

Hoo-wee, look at that!


I ordered from the catalog.


(door slamming)

(footsteps clomping)

Hey, Ben?

In a day or two you go over to the Haney's

and get the wire and post
and post hole diggers

I set there this spring,

if that son of a buck
hasn't sold 'em already.

I'm sending you over to Hawk Hill.

- Uh, Ms. Chism?

I sure would like to
get all that cotton in

before we get rain.

Could you send somebody else?

- Hell, I'd rather lose some cotton

than the sale on that place.

Since I sued that fellow west
of me over that boundary,

there's no tellin' what he's done.

The fences could be down all over.

Well, I can't show a prospective
buyer that. (chuckling)

- That lady sure don't take
no for an answer, does she?

- Don't you want to go over
to the Hawk Hill place?

- Well, I don't mind ridin' fence.

I just sure would miss all
y'all if I was way over there.

You're taking Mr. Haney's job again.

(wagon rattling)

- You stayed up all night
copying those poems?

She stayed up all night.

- I know, I saw the light last night.

(pitcher clinking)

- Roy, look what you did!

- I didn't mean it!

- Lena!

- Now you should've moved it
off the table before breakfast.

(door slamming)

I'll get her.

(Ben sighing)

Now don't want you to
go worrying now, Lena.

I'll go with you and help
explain to Ms. Chism.

- No, Papa, it's all right.

I'll go by myself.

I'll work extra and I'll
pay for the book by myself.

Please let me go by myself, Papa.

- Eat your breakfast,
honey, it wasn't your fault.

- You omitted to tell Ms. Chism

you took that book, didn't you?

Oh, Lena.

(Ben sighing)

(dog barking)

(birds chirping)

- I just wanted to read them, Papa.

Books are to read.

They'll just ruin up there.

She don't care if rats eat them.

She's wasteful.

She's ignorant and selfish.

- She happens to own them, Lena.

They're hers to do with, not yours.

- But ownin' things don't make it right.

People own slaves.

- Still, you did something wrong, Lena.

Do you understand that you did?

- [Lena] No!

- You robbed somebody, baby girl.

- I didn't!

I brought the first book back!

I would have brought them all back!

- You robbed me, I trusted you.

I would've stood up in
court and swore Ms. Chism

lent you books 'cause I know you

wouldn't take 'em otherwise.

That's how I want to trust you, Lena.

- I want you to trust me, Papa.

I didn't lie to you.

- You led me to believe a lie.

- I want so many things, Papa, so much.

- I know you do, baby girl,

but you gotta get 'em the right way.

I want things for you, too.

For all of us.

And I'm tempted sometimes.

Lord knows I am.

We'll just have to help
each other to hold on.

All right?

- All right.

(metal scraping)

(horse whinnying)
(wagon rattling)

- Whoa.

Ms. Chism wants me to
pick up the wire and post

for the Hawk Hill place.

- Well, I'll tell ya.

I'm planning to be using
them posts and wire myself.

- Well, Mr. Haney, all I know
is she told me to get it,

and so that's what I'm gonna have to do.

- Well, she must have told you wrong.

Or more likely you just heard wrong.

'Cause I've done the Hawk Hill fences

the last three years,
and I mean to keep on.

- Well, since we can't
agree on this thing,

why don't you go see Ms. Chism?

We on our way over there now.

You're welcome to ride.

- I got my own mount.

I don't have to ride with Sambos.

(Tater chuckling)

- Well, then maybe you'd
like to go talk to her

about it yourself.

I can wait.

- You want to?

- Sure.

I might as well go see her,

bein' you got so much time.

- Want me to saddle up?

- Go ahead.

- What if I told her somebody stole

her blasted posts and wire?

- I don't think she liked to hear that.

- What if I told her you stole her stuff?

- I wouldn't like to hear that.

- [Tater] Come on.

- My hat.

You might as well make
yourself comfortable.

I might be awhile.

(Tater chuckling)

- Well.

- What the hell do you think you're doin'?

- [Ben] I'm seeing if you got
Mrs. Chism's wire and posts.

- You can't do that.

This ain't your place.

- It's Ms. Chism's place,

and I need to have some facts to tell her.

I need to know I'm not being fooled.

- Listen, nigger.

You stay out of our barn.

'Cause my pap, he'll kill
you quick as he would a bug.

- Now Tater, I don't want
to get y'all in trouble.

If you don't let me see in here,

I'm gonna have to tell Ms. Chism

that you done sold off all her material.

(door thudding)

- Oh!

(bag thudding)

- Baby girl, what are you doin'?

- They tried to-

- Baby girl, I'm not hurt.

- You lay a hand on me.

It's none of your business what
we've done with them posts.

- [Lena] Come on, Papa.

- Okay, get in the wagon.

- And you can tell old
lady Chism where she can

put her barbed wire.

(Ben sighing)

- I'm sorry.

Come on.

(wagon rattling)

- Just wait till I tell Pap.

Ain't none of ya gonna get away with that.

(dramatic music)

(knuckles rapping)

- So.
(door slamming)

You decided to stroll on
over three hours late, huh?

- No, we stopped by the
Haney's place, Ms. Chism.

He done sold off your wire
and posts, ma'am, and uh.

- And what?

- Well, Lena's got somethin'
she wants to tell ya.

- I took your books.


Two, one at a time.

I ruined this one, but I'll pay for it.

- Great balls of fire.

Ben, if you don't give her

the thrashing she deserves, I will.

This was the most expensive
book in my whole house.

And now it's not worth a dime.

I knew them bug-eyed no account Haneys

stole my wire and posts.

I already ordered new ones
and put 'em in the barn.

But I never thought any child of Ben Sills

would be stealing from me,

especially the way I've been treatin' her.

Eatin' at my table,
ridin' in my car and all.

- We're both sorry about
what happened, Ms. Chism.

Lena was wrong to take the book,

even though it was just
stacked away in the attic.

And we're both willin'
to work off the price

you would've got if you would've sold 'em.

- I'll think about it.

While you're here you
can polish the silver.

And Ben, I want you to come
in and see what you can do.

My piano rolls keep jammin' up.

(upbeat piano music)

- You wanna dance a minute?


(upbeat piano music)


- [Mary Tom] Well, do we have a deal?

- [Ben] Well, I couldn't
say no to that, could I?

We have ourselves a deal
and I thank you kindly.

When do you want me to be ready?

- Oh, you be ready Sunday.

Right after church.

Good a time as any to start off.

Oh, from now on, Claudie
is gonna have to help me.

Can't have nobody I
can't trust in my house.

- Yes, ma'am.

- [Lena] Be ready for what Sunday, Papa?

- You addin' eavesdropping
to your list of crimes?

- Well, I'd rather keep it a surprise,

but I guess I'll tell you
now so you can look forward.

Ms. Chism is gonna let you read her books,

and special even give 'em
all to ya after awhile.

- What happened?

What did you say to her?

- Well, I told her how
much books mean to ya,

how hard you try in school.

I even told her about the contest.

Gradually she mellowed up.

- Papa, I can't believe it.

Mr. Cook's Voyages.

- Yup.

- Dickens, Mr. Alger and Fanny Fern!

Papa, I'm sorry for all
the trouble you took

and I'm sorry for all
the trouble I caused.

- I'm glad you're glad.

- You really think she'll give them to me?

- Mmm-hmm, I really do.

Except it's gonna take a little while

to get used to the idea, but
she said she'd let me know.

- When, Papa?

- When I get back from Hawk Hill.

- You said you weren't goin'.

- Well, I changed my mind.

- You mean she said you had to.

- No, in fact she said I didn't have to.

But we both wanted
something from each other,

so we struck a bargain.

Don't worry, you'll be all right.

I'll just be gone a few days.

Just gonna be over yonder
back of Madison Hill

near the river.

I'm sure gonna miss you, though.

All of you.

- I wish you hadn't promised
just to get the books, Papa.

I'm scared.

- Well, I think books are
worth being scared for.

I stay scared

watching you grow up with that good mind,

all hungry for learnin',
nothin' to feed it with.

I want you to do things and know things.

Use your talent, pull yourself out.

I want you to believe
that you can do anything.

The world is full of
wonders and miracles, Lena.

And I wanted those books for a beginnin'.

I'll go further than Hawk Hill for that.

I'd go around the world.

(wagon rattling)

- Papa, there's Mr. Haney.

- [Ben] Yeah, I saw him.

- You got a gun, Papa?

- I got somethin' better.

The shield and buckler of the Lord.

And do you, so don't
you forget it, ya hear?

- Why don't he leave us alone?

- [Ben] He's leaving us alone.

- But he's not, he's watchin' us.

He scares me.

(wagon rattling)

(Claudie humming)

- Check the ham and the turkey.

Make sure all the lazy susans are filled.

Then go in the dining
room and check the table

and be sure it's laid out properly.

- I already checked the
table three times, Ms. Chism.

- Well, you just spend your
time doin' as I tell ya.

I'll worry about any countin'
that needs to be done.

♪ And his vine ♪

♪ His vine to meddle on ♪

♪ Amen ♪

(congregation murmuring)

- Mighty fine words there, Augustus.

Wouldn't be the same town without you.

- Thank you. (chuckling)

Oh, your wife's not sick,
is she brother Sills?

We missed her singin'.

- Oh, she's over to Ms. Chism's today,

helpin' out with the dinner she's havin'.

- You're a fine, quiet young fella.

I noticed I put you to sleep. (chuckling)

What's so funny?

- Got any more books from Ms. Chism?

- No, it's poetry.

- I have a poetry book you oughta read.

It's Shakespeare and a few other fellas.

Want me to bring it?

You can keep it till you
memorized all the good ones.

You sure are a good memorizer.

- So are you.

- [Augustus] Well, he'd take me to church

with him every Sunday.

(church bells chiming)

- Well, I'm goin'
upstairs and get dressed.

My guests should be
here in a little while.

(wagon rattling)

- Hey baby.



Now no need for you to go worryin' now.

I should be back in no
more than a couple of days.

Maybe sooner.

- Some extra food.

Ms. Chism asked me to give it to ya.

- Now, Ben, I want you to be careful.

Nothing to worry about,

but just to keep an eye out for
that old coot of a neighbor.

Still smartin' over that
boundary dispute I won

when I took him to court.

Did you give him that sack?

Well, don't be much longer.

My guests will be here shortly.

(kiss smacking)

- All right now, you take
care of everything, ya hear?

(Ben chuckling)

Even though Roy is expectin'
to be the head of the family.

You take care.

- [Claudie] Okay.

Bye bye.

- [Ms. Chism] Claudie, you best be makin'

that truffle again.

(solemn music)

(wagon rattling)

(solemn music)

(horse hooves clomping)


- Yes, Ms. Chism?

- I don't know about Jay Bird,

but I'm as hungry as a bear.

You can start servin' the dinner now.

- You always were a good cook, Mary Tom.

- Don't start that again, JB.

- Well, I'm not.

I'm just sayin' you're a
good cook, which you are.

I've been thinkin' about
expandin' my business.

- That so?

- I've been thinkin' about it.

- Not Mr. Gooch Chism's sister,

not the banker and his wife,

not Mr. Starnes and his wife.

Not one of Ms. Chism's children.

Just Mr. Jay Bird Kelsey.

Just one person and all
them tables of food.

Reverend Bell and his wife showed up

when the dinner was over.

Ms. Chism told them to leave.

Oh, I felt so sorry for that
crazy, stupid old woman.

I didn't know what to do.

- Can I go borrow a book from Ms. Chism?

- You mean go and try to cheer her up?

It won't do no good.

- I could go over and pump the piano

and play her piano rolls.

- All right.

Don't be surprised if she turn you down.

(suspenseful music)

(wagon rattling)

- Ms. Chism, can I let Lulu in?

She's waitin'.

(bell ringing)

(door clicking)

- Well?

- I just happened to come by

and I thought I might get a book.

- Leave.



- But Ms. Chism-
- A book.

Can't you even wait
until that daddy of yours

keeps his promise and mends that fence?

You can back out on me
like everybody else does.

And there where'd I be?

Out another book, no fences mended.

- My daddy don't back out on his promises.

But I can wait for the book.

I really just came by to,

I'm sorry about your dinner, Ms. Chism.

- Well, for your information,

and contrary to gossip
Claudie's spreadin',

I had a very satisfying dinner.

Me and Mr. Kelsey feasted

in real high style.

You don't believe me?

- I believe you, Ms. Chism.

- You'd better.

Big, noisy dinner parties are a pain.

30, 40 people.

Hell, who wants to go
to that kind of trouble?

And they gobble it all up and leave.

Even Kelsey, that old goat,
hasn't eaten this good in years.

(plate clattering)

His wife probably
couldn't even boil water.

Damn if he thinks I invited
him because he was a friend,

he got another thing comin'.

I owed him because of that bird.

And then he had to go
and get me this thing.

And now I still owe him.

I can't stand bein' embolden to anybody!

- Sure is pretty though.

- Hell, Gooch used to grow
ferns 10 times this big.

Yeah, you can do everything
better, couldn't you, Gooch?

Practically ran the whole town.

People couldn't do enough for you.

Your friends couldn't do enough.

Your kids.

I couldn't do enough.

Oh Gooch, if you were still here,

they sure as hell wouldn't
ignore me like I was dirt.

But you're not here!

(plant thudding)

(Mary Tom crying)

Well stop gawkin'!

Get home before I throw somethin' at you!

- I hate to leave you when you seem so-

- Like, hell you do.

You hate to leave me
without a bunch of them

leftovers I got.

You think you can fool me?

Well, I got a surprise
for you, Miss Greedy Gut.

I'm not givin' you a
single handout, uh-uh.

No, I'm eating 'em all.

Every bite.

If it takes me a month.

(plates shattering)

Damn it, out of my way!

(dog barking)

Oh, Lulu, mama didn't mean to step on ya.

I couldn't see.

You love me.

You can tell your mama I can
clean everything up myself.

- [Lena] I'm gonna be late for school.

- Lena.
(chickens clucking)



Get that door for me, Roy.

(chickens clucking)

(knuckles rapping)

(water gurgling)

(crow squawking)

(horse whinnying)

(birds chirping)

(tools clanging)

- [Lena] Found any good
poetry books at home yet?

- Listen, Alma.

I can't lend ya any books.

- Why?

- My father said I couldn't.

- [Lena] Oh.

- I'm not even supposed to talk to you.

- Why?

- I don't know.

I think Mr. Doens talked to
my father about somethin'.

My father says if y'all keep
up the country out here,

you'll have to go to your own schools.

- Why?

- I don't know.

Because you don't need the
same things we do, I guess.

Father says you first
ones, you're like a wedge,

and the more that comes,
the more trouble they'll be.

And it'd be better if it
all stopped right now.

(dramatic music)

(horse whinnying)

(knuckles rapping)

- [Lena] Come on, open
the door, open the door!

- Mama's gone lookin' for the cow.

She said I left the
gate open, but I didn't.

She said keep the door locked.

When is Papa comin' back?

- Tomorrow for sure.

We better eat before Claudie comes back.

You set the table.

(dramatic music)

- [Roy] Is that a man?

- Just hush, come stand by me.

- [Henry] Hey, girl!

I know you're in there!

- Who's that?

- It's probably just
somebody who found the cow.

(door slamming)

- You better get your daddy.

- You better stay back, Mr. Haney.

- Your daddy's gonna pay for this.

She's, she's taken my horse.

That old woman.

She gets whatever she wants.

And that's my horse.

Sambo Sills!

You come out here and settle with me!

(gun firing)

- Who's that?

- You gonna disgrace
your husband like this?

- You already done that yourself.

(knuckles rapping)

- It's me, Claudie!

What was that?

- It was Mr. Haney.

He was drunk.

Ms. Haney took him off.

- What did he want?

- He wanted to see Papa.

He was mad about somethin'.

I think Ms. Chism has taken his horse

for the debt he owes her,
and he says Papa's to blame.

- That trash.

That good for nothin' trash.

Now he know your daddy's not home!

I got a surprise for y'all.

Sit down, sit down.

I was savin' it for when
your daddy come home,

but tonight a good a time as any.

- Would you look at that.

- I want you to stay
away from them Haneys,

especially Tater.

He the one that gotta prove his self.

- Of what?

- Whatever he got to prove.

How big, how much better,
how much of a man.

When I was little, these men,
white hats we called 'em,

they'd come ridin' down through
the flats where we lived

lookin' for somebody they wanted.

They used to do that.

They'd come down,

call a colored man out
on his porch at night,

and just take him off.

One time nobody came out,

so the white men started burnin' houses.

My family ran down to the river bottom,

and in the mornin' when we
came back just before dawn

our house was burnt down
with everything in it.

- But that was the South.

It's different here.

- Lena, it's like a blight.

One day it's not some
place, and then it is.

And you know it's gonna keep on spreadin'

until they kill off what
was growin' so good.

- [Lena] Papa says that won't
happen here in Bethel Springs.

- After the contest at school,

your daddy said he's
afraid you didn't know

how much he loved you
'cause he always so busy.

He never spend much time
with you to tell ya things.

He say he gonna try to do better.

You sure stretched the day out, didn't ya?

We all better get to bed.

Papa be home tomorrow for sure.

(soft pensive music)

(roosters crowing)

(wagon rattling)

Boy, have you gone crazy
trackin' mud in this house?

(soft pensive music)

(bird squawking)

(soft pensive music)

(dog barking)

(water gurgling)

(crow squawking)

(soft pensive music)

Come on now.

Come on in here.

Come in here.

(soft pensive music)

Oh, Lord, wherever my Ben and Lena are,

be good to 'em.

(soft dramatic music)

(horse whinnying)

- Papa!

Papa, it's me, Lena!

(horse whinnying)

(dramatic music)




Papa, I found you.

- I knew help was gonna come somehow.

But to be you, Lena, how wonderful.

(Tater moaning)

- Papa, what happened?

- Tater's horse bolted.

His foot got caught in the stirrup.

Horse dragged him down from the windmill.

I think his leg is broken.

His head's banged up.

He's been out since,

what day is it?

- Tuesday.

Papa, what did he do to you?

- He rode up to the fence
on his daddy's horse

and fired a shot that scared everybody.

Him, me.

The horse shot out like a hornet.

Dragged him all through that brush.

- Come on, Papa.

I gotta get you into the wagon.

- No, you better get Tater in there first.

- Papa, he tried to kill you.

I can't.

I can't touch him.

We'll send somebody for him.

- The Good Lord already
done send somebody.

Oh, Lena, I hope I'm not dreamin' you.

- No, Papa, I'm really here.

(horse whinnying)

(Tater moaning)

- Oh, baby girl.

I can't be fixed up none.

- Yes, you can.

- No I can't.

But Tater can.

So I want you to get
him back to his folks.

- No, I won't.

- For my sake, baby girl.

No reason for you to grieve.

This is wonderful.

And we get to say last
things to each other.

Most folks don't get to or can't.

It's what I held on for, baby girl.

So I could tell you how much I love you

and Claudie

and Roy.

And to thank you

for all you've given me.

(Ben and Lena crying)


- Why wasn't it Tater instead of you?

Where was the shield
and buckler of the Lord?

- Oh, I don't know, Lena.

I've been wrestling with that all night,

and you gonna have to
wrestle with it, too,

till you find the answer.

- Papa, I don't wanna live if you can't!

- I know, honey.

It feels that way at first but,

but if you live then I live,
too, right there with you.

(Ben grunting)

Now you bring the wagon close

and I'll try to help you get him in.

- You in first.

I can manage it.

I know what to do by myself.


Stand, Papa.

- Oh!

His horse is close by.

I heard him last night.

Find him while I rest a little.

- Do I have to leave you, Papa?

Yes, it's better to.

- [Lena] I can't.

- Can't?

Remember, after this

you can do anything.

Now go on.

(soft solemn music)

- Papa?



Forgive me.

I couldn't say last things.

(Lena crying)

- God's sake help me.


Help me.


- I can't.


Why wouldn't you give up on him?

Why couldn't you so I could to?

(crow squawking)

(soft music)

(Tater grunting)

- No.


(Tater yelping)

- [Lena] Don't you pass out on me.

(suspenseful music)

- Uh!


(Tater groaning)

(soft piano music)

(owl hooting)

(soft solemn music)

(wagon rattling)
(dog barking)

- Name of God.


(Tater moaning)

Come on, son.
(Tater moaning)

Come on, son, that's it.

Come on, son, that's it.

Now wait a minute, wait a minute.

Lord, let's turn your leg
around just a little bit.

That's it, that's it, son.


Here we go, son.

You're gonna be all right.

(Tater whimpering)

You're gonna be all right.

You're gonna be all right.

You're gonna be all right.

(Tater moaning)

(horse whinnying)

(Tater moaning)

(wagon rattling)

- Ben!







(Claudie wailing)


Oh God.

(Claudie wailing)


Oh God!


(coyote howling)

(Claudie wailing)

Tell me how it happened.

- I just found him and all killed.

- Well, somebody did this.

And if it takes me the rest of my life,

they're gonna pay for it.

Tell me who it was, Lena.

You have to tell me.

- I can't remember.

- You can't remember?

You're the best memorizer in school!

You know the Bible through.

What do you mean you can't remember?

I can guess who it was.

- You don't know who it was.

You won't ever know.

- How, child?

How in God's name can you let the person

that did this to your daddy go free?

- Papa didn't talk about any of that.

He just talked about lovin' us

and how we shouldn't
give up on that person.

And I didn't.

I won't.

- Oh.

Oh, little girl.

Little girl.

You gonna be just like him.

Oh, Lord have mercy.

(Claudie crying)

(engine rumbling)

- So, Ben's back.

I told you not to worry.



Starnes and Reverend Bell need to know.

Give her a crank.

(engine rumbling)

(horse nickers)
(chickens clucking)

- Come on, let's go.

- Are you all right?

- Yes.

Before Mr. Starnes comes,
do you wanna say goodbye?

- I already did.

- Sleep as long as you can.

(wagon rattling)

(Augustus clearing throat)

- Miss Lena.

- Lena, what can I say?

You know all the words already.

(chickens clucking)

- [Lena] What's Winslow
Starnes doing here?

- Mary Tom brought him out.

He flagged her down as she was passin' him

on his way to school.

He'd heard from his father what happened

and wanted to come out.

- Does his father know he's here?

- Not yet, but, uh, he
will in just a minute.

(wagon rattling)

- With Ben gone, I need a new hand.

I don't mean that there can
be as good a hand as Ben.


But you people always have a brother

or a cousin or an uncle.

Don't you have anybody
back there that could

make me a good hand?

- Sister is all.

- Well, maybe I can squeeze
enough work out of those Haneys

to get the crop in and get
me a new hand by spring.

- I thought the Haneys were movin'.

- Movin'?

I was throwin' them off,
but dammit, I need somebody.

They may as well stay now
till the last baby's welped

and on its way to travel.

I hear you don't know
anything that happened.

Don't you know I can't help
you if you won't speak up?

You people make me so tired.

But then, I probably couldn't help anyway.

That shoddy old coot I had
the boundary dispute with,

if he sent somebody over
to scare off my man,

he's already plenty sure I can't prove it.


What are you gonna do, hmm?


What are you gonna do?

Rent's paid up till the first of the year.

- Claudie, we could go back
to Scatter Creek if you want.

I'll go.

- This is where your daddy
brought you to have a chance,

and this is where we're gonna stay.

Right here.

I can wash and iron and work any job.

So can Lena.

We know how to earn our keep.

And we know how to knuckle to ya.

Only we intend to work and
knuckle the way we choose to.

And where we choose to.

I got a son comin' up.

Be a same threat to all
of y'all the way Ben was.

I hope you ready for him,

'cause I'm gonna have him ready for you.

- [Augustus] Amen.

- Boy, get yourself over here this minute.

Just what in the juice are you doing here?

If you don't get yourself
right back to school,

you'll feel my belt across your
backside right here and now.

- I'm gonna stay here in case
there's anything I can do.

- What?

- Right now we're gonna go for a walk.

We have things to talk about.

- Winslow.

Winslow, get back here!

- I'll stop by the school
and tell Mr. Doens.

Let the boy be, Randolph.

- All I'm gettin' is one broken
down plow for all of this.

I'll go bankrupt dealin'
with these people.

- Ben kept a good plow

and worth two of your
funerals and you know it.

Hell, it covers everything, Starnes.




Get out of my way, dammit!

- Till tomorrow, Miss Lena.

Services will be at the cemetery at 11.

I'll pray.

(engine rumbling)

(soft piano music)

- [Ben] There's no reason to grieve.

This is wonderful,

that we have last things
to say to each other.

- [Augustus] Shall be changed
and made like unto his own

glorious body according
to the mighty working

whereby he is able to subdue
all things unto himself.

- [Claudie] After the contest at school,

your daddy said he's
afraid you didn't know

how much he loved ya,
'cause he's always so busy.

(soft piano music)

- [Ben] I want you to do
things and know things.

Use your talent, pull yourself out.

I want you to believe you can do anything.

The world is full of
wonders and miracles, Lena.

(gentle music)

- Whoa, whoa!


Who's that in our cotton?

(gentle music)

Come on, come on.

(wagon rattling)

(gentle music)

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