He wouldn’t boast. No, sir. Not a speck. Not Mr. Little Washington Jones. But under the right condition—perhaps on a May night in 1921, when the mimosa trees were pink, and the magnolia flowers had bloomed, and the catalpa trees were thick with blossoms, and he and his wife, Eugie, had just strolled through their front gate after a trip to RCO’s Ice Cream Parlor—he might admit that yes, indeed, he truly did have the finest, most well kept lawn in the entire neighborhood of Quakertown, in all of Denton, maybe, and, though he hated to have to say it, but there it was, slap in front of his eyes, perhaps the loveliest in all of Texas.
Consider, he might say, the American Sweetheart tea roses, and the verbena, and the periwinkle, not to mention—well, if he must—the rare white lilac bush.
And if he paused, then, at the low picket gate, and lifted his hand to one of the white blossoms, just for the sheer joy of letting the velvety petals skim his work-worn palm, who would fault him? Surely no one who knew how he had found the white lilac growing wild along Pecan Creek, showy and magnificent among the scrub of mesquite and bramble, how he had uprooted it, wrapped its ball in damp burlap, and hauled it in his wagon the two miles to Quakertown, hauled it first down Oak Street, past the grand homes and their green, green lawns where young men in white linen trousers played croquet, and ladies in ankle-length skirts batted feather shuttlecocks back and forth across badminton nets. Little sat up straight on the bench seat of his buckboard, gave the reins a shake, and listened to the jingle of the mule’s harness, the cloppety-clop of its shoes over the cobble street. He heard the pock-pock of the croquet games fall silent, a rocker squeak as someone leaned forward. “I swan,” he heard a woman say, that single voice, a voice of amazement and admiration he would carry with him for years. And he knew that what his father had told him was true: a black man with a talent could always make white folks take notice. “Find something they prize,” his father had said, “and do it better than they can. You’ll always have a place with them. You’ll make yourself an easier life.”