After Winter

As a boy in the early 1900s, poet Sterling Allen Brown used to ride on a horse-drawn wagon to his family’s farm in North Laurel, near Whiskey Bottom Road. His family, who lived most of the year in Washington, D.C., where Brown’s father was a professor, spent summers on ten acres in Howard County.

Brown’s father, Sterling Nelson Brown, was born into enslavement, then attended college to become a reverend and a professor of the Bible at Howard. But in his son’s poem, he is depicted as “an old scarecrow” who loved to grow food for his children, Clara, Grace, and “de little feller,” Sterling the son.

The little feller became a poet, and a professor at Howard himself. When he came to Howard County for a reading of his work in 1980, Brown rhapsodized over the many summers he romped through the farm fields here.

In the 1950s, the Brown family’s farmhouse burned down and they sold the property. But this poem captures a farmer’s hopes and dreams, the anticipation of good food grown by hand, of the sweet corn in summer and the turnips for the winter.

Farmers in Ellicott’s Mills, at the beginning of the town’s development, needed to grow everything their family needed. The soil was good for most crops, especially the wheat, rye, barley, and corn that the Ellicotts encouraged farmers to grow. But transportation was difficult until the National Road was built and the railroad arrived.
The Ellicotts and Charles Carroll of Carrollton built the beginning of what became Frederick Road in the late 18th century, five miles from Ellicott Mills to Doughoregan, Carroll’s still- surviving plantation home.

For the early residents of this town, the Ellicotts’ general store carried sugar, coffee, and, of course, flour. But every farm family planted a garden, essential to fill the soup pots full of butter beans and corn, turnips and eggplants.

After Winter
by Sterling A. Brown

He snuggles his fingers
In the blacker loam
The lean months are done with, 
The fat to come.

His eyes are set
      On a brushwood-fire 
      But his heart is soaring 
      Higher and higher.
Though he stands ragged 
An old scarecrow,
This is the way
His swift thoughts go,
       “Butter beans fo’ Clara 
       Sugar corn fo’ Grace 
       An’ fo’ de little feller 
       Runnin’ space.
“Radishes and lettuce 
Eggplants and beets 
Turnips fo’ de winter 
An’ candied sweets.
       “Homespun tobacco
       Apples in de bin
        Fo’ smokin’ an’ fo’ cider 
        When de folks draps in.”
He thinks with the winter 
His troubles are gone; 
Ten acres unplanted
To raise dreams on.
       The lean months are done with, 
       The fat to come.
        His hopes, winter wanderers, 
        Hasten home.
“Butterbeans fo’ Clara 
Sugar corn fo’ Grace 
An’ fo’ de little feller 
Runnin’ space….”

“After Winter,” from The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown, Selected by Michael Harper. Copyright© 1980 by Sterling A. Brown. Reprinted by permission of the John L. Dennis Revocable Trust.

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