Study Guide

A Gathering of Old Men Chapter 6

By Ernest J. Gaines

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Chapter 6

Grant Bello—a.k.a. "Cherry"

  • Cherry starts his chapter off by mentioning Yank, an old guy in his seventies who used to make his living breaking in the horses that were once used to pull the ploughs when sugar cane was being harvested.
  • Yank is waiting for Cherry and the rest of the gang behind a bush just off of the road where Clatoo has dropped them off.
  • Looking at Yank's face, and the faces of the other guys he's with, Cherry says he can tell that they're all proud to be doing what it is they're doing.
  • After Clatoo and the rest pick up Yank, they pick up Dirty Red (a bummer of a nickname) and Talbot.
  • The crew heads down a dirt road, marching like a bunch of raggedy old soldiers—at least that's pretty much what Cherry says the bunch looks like.
  • Cherry gets to thinking to himself—which really means he's talking to us.
  • We learn that Beau Boutan, the guy who's dead in front of Mathu's place, owns most of the Marshall Plantation land up that way. He's been getting rich on the backs of poor African American workers for about three decades.
  • Cherry notices a field of cut cane and says that seeing harvested fields always makes him feel lonely and empty on the inside.
  • All of a sudden, Cherry hears a shot.
  • He sees a rabbit scurrying away, and Billy Washington taking his shotgun off of his shoulder.
  • When Cherry asks Billy if he missed, Billy is so embarrassed he doesn't even look up.
  • Dirty Red starts making fun of Billy.
  • Billy said the rabbit moved at the last second, but he says it really quietly, so it's pretty obvious that isn't exactly true—like at all.
  • The group stops when they arrive at the cemetery where the Black community has buried its dead for generations.
  • Cherry gives us a little info on the place: the number of headstones has grown over the years, but it used to be that hardly anybody put headstones up. People just knew where their relatives were. Sometimes a larger family had to take a space or two from the plot reserved for a larger family, but nobody minded.
  • The gang stops and hangs out in the shade of some pecan trees.
  • After a while, Jacob gets up and goes over to his sister Tessie's grave.
  • We find out that Tessie was murdered by white men who drove her into the St. Charles River to drown.
  • Cherry sees Jacob start cleaning away weeds and tidying up around his sister's grave, and he lets us know that he and his pals always clean the place up when they're going to bury somebody else, or during holiday called La Touissant—a French holiday kind of like the Mexican Day of the Dead where families honor the memories of their departed relatives and friends.
  • As if taking Jacob's cue, everybody there starts tending to the graves of their family members, taking the time to clean things up a bit.
  • Cherry mentions that, depending on how long ago somebody was buried, it could be hard to tell which plot belonged to a member of what family.
  • He notices Dirty Red standing off near his family's plot, which is a little farther off compared to the other ones. Cherry tells us that Dirty Red's family has always been kind of on the outs with the rest of the community, who thought they were lazy and shiftless.
  • After he prays over his own family's plot, Cherry walks up to Red.
  • Red rattles off an impressive list of all of the family he's got buried there.
  • Cherry says that there's a large part of that community there for sure, and asks Red if he wants to wind up there when he's dead and gone.
  • Red says he figures he does, if the cemetery is still there when he's dead.
  • Cherry agrees that white people are getting rid of more and more of these old cemeteries, that they've got no respect for the dead.
  • Seemingly changing the subject, Red asks if Cherry has tried any of the pecans (answer: he hasn't).
  • They both look off at the yards and yards of fields where sugar cane used to be. Cherry comments that Beau and Charlie seemed to get a lot of work done.
  • Red jokes that Beau won't be getting any more done—you know, because he's dead.
  • Cherry asks Red how he's feeling about this.
  • Dirty Red responds by saying he figures he's not got too many years left in him, that he may as well stand up for himself while he can.
  • Cherry and Red agree that their "people"—their relatives—will be proud of all of them once the day's over.
  • After Cherry asks Red if he thinks things might get bloody, Red just says that all depends on Fix.
  • Clatoo and the rest of the crew show up: Bing and Ding Lejeune (two twins), Clabber Hornsby, Jean Pierre Ricord, Gable Rauand, Cedric Tucker, and Sidney Brooks—who is sporting an old WWI service uniform.
  • Clatoo asks if everybody's shot off a round.
  • Red cracks another joke about Billy, and Billy makes the same excuse for missing.
  • Clatoo says that all the people who haven't shot need to shoot.
  • After some questions, the people who haven't shot yet do so.
  • Clatoo gives them all a chance to back out.
  • Nobody leaves, and they all head out to Mathu's place.

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