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Excerpt

Excerpt

An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood

Chapter 1: Land, Farm, and Place

If you leave Savannah on the coast and travel on the only U.S.
highway that goes almost straight westward across the state of
Georgia, you will cross the Ogeechee, Oconee, and Ocmulgee rivers,
all of which flow to the south and east and empty into the Atlantic
Ocean. After about three hours you'll cross the Flint River, the
first stream that runs in a different direction, and eventually its
often muddy waters empty into the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike the
Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains, our "divide" is not
noticeable, because the land was all part of the relatively flat
bottom of the sea in the not-too-distant geological past. It is
still rich and productive, thanks to the early ocean sediments and
the nutrients it has accumulated from plants and animals since that
time.

If you keep on for another thirty miles, still heading toward
Columbus, Georgia; Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama; and points
beyond, you'll come to Plains, a small town on land as level as any
you will ever see. As people have always said, "When it rains, the
water don't know which way to run." Its original name was "Plains
of Dura," derived from the place in the Bible where King
Nebuchadnezzar set up his great image of gold (Daniel 3:1).
Although the land was flat and rich, no one knows why the earliest
settlers wanted to commemorate the worship of a false god. It may
have been to honor Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to
bow down to the idol, and escaped the fiery furnace because of
God's protection.

Just beyond the town there is a place called Archery, where the
topography begins to change for the first time since Savannah, from
flat plains to rolling hills and poorer soils that extend on to the
Chattahoochee River, which divides Georgia from Alabama. Archery is
no longer there, except on the old maps, but it's where I grew up
and lived from when I was four years old in 1928 until the very end
of the Great Depression, when I left for college and the United
States Navy in 1941.

In addition to being 190 miles west of Savannah, Plains is located
exactly 120 miles due south of Atlanta, and the seat of the county
-- Sumter -- lies nine miles to the east. It is named Americus, the
Latinized first name of Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian navigator and
explorer who claimed to be the first European to land on the North
American continent and, as a mapmaker, also gave it his name. The
coming of automobiles and tractors has caused most of the small
towns in Southwest Georgia to wither away, but Plains is an
exception. It is surrounded by productive farms, and seems to have
citizens who are exceptionally inclined to resist moving away to
distant places.

Archery, on the other hand, was never quite a real town. At the
heart of it, a little more than a half-mile west of our farmhouse,
were the homes of the Seaboard Airline Railroad section foreman and
the six black employees who kept the rail bed in good repair. A
half-mile farther west was a strong African Methodist Episcopal
church congregation, across the road from the most notable
landmark, a small store by the railroad tracks that was sheathed
completely in flattened Prince Albert tobacco cans. Except for the
church, which is still vibrant and active, all the rest is
gone.

Our own farm, just to the east, occupied the last of the good land;
otherwise, around Archery the soil was marginally fertile and
somewhat hilly, and the surrounding sandy fields were some of the
first to be planted in pine-tree seedlings, which now compose an
almost monocultural forest, approaching maturity. Back in the
1930s, however, Archery was substantial enough to be the center of
my world.

My most persistent impression as a farm boy was of the earth. There
was a closeness, almost an immersion, in the sand, loam, and red
clay that seemed natural, and constant. The soil caressed my bare
feet, and the dust was always boiling up from the dirt road that
passed fifty feet from our front door, so that inside our clapboard
house the red clay particles, ranging in size from face powder to
grits, were ever present, particularly in the summertime, when the
wooden doors were kept open and the screens just stopped the trash
and some of the less adventurous flies. Until 1938, when a paved
highway was cut through the woods a mile north of our house, we
were proud that our small crooked dirt road was the official United
States Route 280! For those days, it was heavily traveled by
automobiles, trucks, and buses, but with few exceptions the local
people passing in front of our house walked or rode on mule-drawn
wagons. The railroad ran just a few feet on the other side of the
dirt road, and we never failed to wave at the conductors,
engineers, and passengers, who seemed as remote as travelers from
another planet.

It didn't seem that we watched outside all the time, but someone in
the house was always aware if a nonstranger was passing by, and we
knew a lot about the people and their vehicles. We recognized the
make of cars and pickup trucks as far as we could see them and
could identify most of the local vehicles by the sound of their
engines and rattles. One difference between then and now, I guess,
was that there was usually someone out in the yard, the store, the
garden, or a nearby field who was watching the passing scene.
Really old people, those who were not feeling well, and able-bodied
folks on rainy days or on Sundays were most often sitting on their
front porches. When we passed someone's house, we felt somewhat
uncomfortable if we didn't see anyone there with whom we could
exchange a wave or a hello.

Very few farm homes had a telephone, but there was one in our
house. It was number 23, and we answered two rings. On the same
party line, the Bacons had one ring and the Watsons picked up on
three. (In fact, there were usually two other listeners to all our
calls.) We seemed to have an omniscient operator in Plains. If we
placed a call to Mr. Roy Brannen, Miss Gladys would say, "He left
for Americus this morning at about nine-thirty, but he plans to be
back before dinner. He'll probably stop by the stable, and I'll try
to catch him there." She also had the latest news on any sickness
in the community, plus a lot more information that indicated there
were maybe three listeners on most calls.



I've often wondered why we were so infatuated with the land, and I
think there is a strong tie to the Civil War, or, as we called it,
the War Between the States. Although I was born more than half a
century after the war was over, it was a living reality in my life.
I grew up in one of the families whose people could not forget that
we had been conquered, while most of our neighbors were black
people whose grandparents had been liberated in the same conflict.
Our two races, although inseparable in our daily lives, were kept
apart by

social custom, misinterpretation of Holy Scriptures, and the
unchallenged law of the land as mandated by the United States
Supreme Court.

It seemed natural for white folks to cherish our Southern heritage
and cling to our way of life, partially because the close ties
among many of our local families went back another hundred years
before the war, when our Scotch-Irish ancestors had come to Georgia
from the British Isles or moved south and west, mostly from
Virginia and the Carolinas. We were bound together by blood kinship
as well as by lingering resentment against those who had defeated
us. A frequent subject of discussion around my grandparents' homes
was the damage the "damn Yankees" had done to the South during
Reconstruction years.

Many older Georgians still remembered vividly the anger and
embarrassment of their parents, who had to live under the
domination of carpetbaggers and their Southern allies, who were
known as scalawags. My grandfather Gordy was thirteen years old
when what he saw as the Northern oppressors finally relinquished
political and economic control of the state in 1876, eleven years
after the conflict ended. My mother was the only one in her family
who ever spoke up to defend Abraham Lincoln. I don't remember ever
hearing slavery mentioned, only the unwarranted violation of
states' rights and the intrusion of the federal government in the
private lives of citizens. Folks never considered that the real
tragedy of Reconstruction was its failure to establish social
justice for the former slaves. The intense bitterness was mostly
confined to our older relatives, who couldn't understand the desire
of some of us younger ones to look more into the future -- or at
least the present -- instead of just the past.



Georgia had begun its early colonial existence in 1733 by rejecting
fervently the concept of slavery, but this ideal yielded twenty
years later to the influence of large landowners along the Atlantic
coast who saw their neighbors in the Carolinas getting rich from
rice, silk, indigo, and cotton produced by the slave labor they
imported from Africa. Within a few decades after being legalized,
slaves made up two-thirds of a plantation family's total wealth,
with about one-half the remainder coming from the land they
worked.

My great-great-grandfather Wiley Carter is an example. He died
during the war, in 1864, and in his will he left to his twelve
children forty-three slaves, 2,212 acres of land, and other
property and cash, or $22,000 for each. Neither he nor his heirs
realized at the time that the slaves would soon be free, and that
the Confederate money would be worthless. His children ended up
with small farms, and they and their descendants retained a
deep-seated belief that only the land had any real and lasting
value.

Another legacy of the war was the refusal of white people to accept
the children of liberated slaves as legal or social equals. Having
been effectively disenfranchised themselves if they had been loyal
to the Southern side, white leaders considered themselves justified
in using every means to control the political system when Northern
domination finally ended. Elections quickly came to be decided
solely by the Democratic Party primary, from which black citizens
were carefully excluded, and rural dominance was guaranteed by
basing election results on counties (regardless of their size)
instead of on the votes of individual citizens. For more than a
century after the war, and even when I first ran for public office
in 1962, each vote in some of the smaller counties of Georgia was
worth a hundred votes in Atlanta.

Someone had to be blamed when the ravages of the Depression years
struck, and many of the smoldering resentments against Yankees and
the federal government were given new life in my childhood. Yet,
with the racially segregated social system practically
unchallenged, it seemed that blacks and whites accepted each other
as partners in their shared poverty. So there were negative and
positive aspects of our white Southern heritage. Our white families
were generally close-knit, relaxed in dealing with black neighbors,
deeply wedded to the land, and penurious with our cash holdings,
especially as we saw them dwindling away during the hard years of
the 1930s.

Despite the legal and social mandate of racial segregation, the
personal relationships among black and white families were quite
different from those of today, at least in many aspects of life on
our farm, because our daily existence was almost totally
intertwined. At the same time, throughout the years of my boyhood
and youth the political and social dominance of whites was an
accepted fact, never challenged or even debated, so far as I knew,
by white liberals or black protesters. I recall a few instances
when disreputable whites had to appeal to the larger community to
confirm their racial superiority by siding with them in a dispute,
but their very need to do so confirmed their own low social status.
For those who were lazy or dishonest, or had repulsive personal
habits, "white trash" was a greater insult than any epithet based
on race.

In fact, the final judgment of people I knew was based on their own
character and achievements, and not on their race. There is no
doubt that black families had to overcome severe and unfair
obstacles, but those who were considered to be honest, hardworking,
and thrifty had at least a chance to succeed financially and to
enjoy general respect, despite the unalterable social distinctions.
This was true even though they still came to the back door of a
white family's home, rode in a separate part of the passenger
train, sat upstairs in the Americus movie theater and in the county
courthouse, and attended their separate schools and churches. They
were not allowed to vote, serve on juries, or participate in any
political affairs. Their spokespersons could make appeals to the
local school board, the city council, or in various ways to the
system of justice, but they could not participate in the final
decisions made, and their appeals were often ignored if they were
contending with prominent whites.

All white children around the Plains community, including Archery,
attended Plains High School, from the first grade through the
eleventh. Black children in our part of the county had classes in
more than a dozen churches or private homes, often with all grades
crowded into a single room. They were usually furnished with chairs
of various sizes, a blackboard, and textbooks considered too
dilapidated for use by white students. The County School Board was
strict on mandatory attendance for white children, but quite
flexible for blacks, assuming that their education above an
elementary level was not important. This division of the two races
was supposed to meet the U.S. Supreme Court's mandate of "separate
but equal."



In Archery, a black man enjoyed the highest social and, our
community believed, financial status. He was African Methodist
Episcopal Bishop William Decker Johnson, whose primary religious
responsibilities encompassed five Midwestern states. His home base
was a combination private school, insurance company, and publishing
company located across the railroad from St. Mark African Methodist
Episcopal Church. The entire Plains community knew when Bishop
Johnson was at home, and about once a year he invited our family
and perhaps the Watsons to come to the worship service at St. Mark
AME Church. In honor of his presence, a choir from Spelman College,
or one of the other black institutions in Atlanta, would come down
to sing, and the bishop would preach.

In addition to St. Mark AME Church and one still-occupied tenant
house, the most important landmark in Archery now is one of the few
historical markers erected in Georgia to commemorate important
events or the lives of outstanding citizens. This one, in a couple
of hundred words, recounts the notable contributions of a famous
son, William Decker Johnson. (In one phrase, it also mentions that
the thirty-ninth president of the United States was his
neighbor.)

As a little boy, I was accustomed to the relatively sedate and
time-constrained services of our own congregation at Plains Baptist
Church, so our family's visits to St. Mark were strange
experiences. The small white clapboard building was always
overflowing with worshipers and would rock with music and with
religious spirit far exceeding anything we ever experienced. We
knew the words to many of the hymns, but we had to struggle to keep
proper time with the strange, slow rhythms, with syllables often
stretched into words, and words into entire verses. Soon, however,
we would be rocking back and forth in harmony with the swaying
bodies of the beautifully dressed choir behind the altar.

Bishop Johnson would preach, and his character seemed to change
during his sermon. He was well educated and a master of the English
language, but would shift to the vernacular of a semiliterate
sharecropper when he wanted to emphasize a key point. His voice
would sometimes become so soft that the congregation would lean
forward to hear, and then he would erupt with a startling volume of
sound. He used a singsong rhythm on occasion, even when quoting
scripture, so that long-familiar words assumed a different meaning.
There was no doubt that he dominated the consciousness of everyone
in the church, and, at least during the sermon, the sense of being
brothers and sisters in Christ wiped away any thoughts of racial
differences. To me, he seemed the epitome of success and
power.

At some time during the seemingly interminable service, when
emotion was at a high point, everyone would line up and pass by the
offering plates placed on a table immediately in front of the
pulpit, and the church stewards would call out the amount of each
offering. Daddy would always make a generous gift, acknowledged
with clapping and "amen"s from the congregation.

Bishop Johnson was certainly aware of the racial customs of the
day, but he did not consider it appropriate to comply with all of
them. It was understood, for instance, that he would not come to
our front door when he wished to talk to my father -- but neither
would he deign to come to the back. After ascertaining through a
messenger that we were at home, he would arrive in his chauffeured
black Packard or Cadillac, park in our front yard, and sound the
horn. My father would go outside to the automobile for a
conversation, while Bishop Johnson either stayed in the car or came
out so the two men could stand together under the shade of a large
magnolia tree. I don't remember that he ever came closer to our
house. We could see them talking and laughing together, and
afterward Daddy always said that they just exchanged ideas about
the bishop's work and the farming situation around home.

Like their father, the bishop's children were quite successful. His
daughter, Fannie Hill, lived in Oklahoma, and her husband was the
first black legislator in the state. (They supported me strongly
when I ran for president.) One of his sons, Alvan, was a special
friend of my mother, and attended one of the Ivy League
universities -- Harvard, I think. In any case, on his visits home
he always came to call on Mama. Representing a younger and more
liberated generation, Alvan came to our front door, where Mother
would welcome him and invite him onto the front porch or into the
living room. Since it was not possible for my father to acknowledge
this breach of Southern etiquette, he would just ignore the event
altogether. So far as I know, he never confronted Mama about
it.

Even before I was an adult and able to understand the difficulty of
overcoming racial barriers, I looked on Bishop Johnson as an
extraordinary example of success in life. He had come from a tiny
rural place, set his sights high, obtained a good education, and
then risen to the top of his chosen profession. Of no less
importance to me, he retained his close ties with Archery and the
people who lived there. I still go by his relatively modest grave
on occasion, and wonder how much my own ambitions were kindled by
these early impressions.

There were gross abuses of the "separate but equal" principles laid
down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896 that prevailed at the time,
but most people chose to ignore them. In the mid-1950s, almost two
decades after I left home, the Atlanta newspapers and civil-rights
leaders began to challenge these discriminatory practices, but most
of the distinguished lawyers and respected religious leaders in the
South defended them as justified under the U.S. Constitution and
the mandates of God Almighty.



Despite some early New Deal efforts to provide "farm relief," the
Depression years were marked by a sense of frustration and even
despair in our region. Cotton sales were slow, even at the
government-supported price of eight cents a pound. Uncertainties
about the impending war in Europe had reduced this most important
export market for our basic cash crop, and there was at least a
full year's carryover stored in Southern warehouses. Furthermore,
cotton production was moving to the Western states, where boll
weevils were less prevalent, yields were greater, and mechanization
and irrigation were much more advanced.

There was a rapid shift toward dependence on peanuts while I was
growing up, and this was the crop that made the greatest impact on
my life, both when I was a child and much later, when I returned
home with a wife and family. At first, we had to depend for cash
income on the small Spanish varieties, used as salted nuts and in
candy bars, while growing the more prolific Runner type for hog
feed on the farm. But the demand for both kinds increased when a
third of all peanuts began to go into peanut butter as a popular
food for urban consumers. This took place because of the innovative
work of George Washington Carver, a black agricultural scientist
who taught at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and began a career with
the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1935.



Some basic and unalterable circumstances perpetuated our farm
problems. From the time of the Civil War until after I became an
adult, too many people struggled to make a living on the limited
amount of productive farmland in our region. Despite the extreme
rural poverty that prevailed at the time, Southern farm population
increased by 1.3 million between 1930 and 1935, as desperate people
lost their jobs in failing factories, left their urban homes, and
eventually wound up in places like our community. The farm families
I knew had to divide the available cropland into ever-smaller plots
on which a husband, a wife, and their children could barely
subsist, then averaging about thirty-five acres. (With more
advanced machinery, grain farms in Kansas were then four times as
large.)

Throughout the South, and particularly in Southwest Georgia, there
had long been a growing dependence by landowners on destitute
families who owned little other than their clothes and some cooking
utensils and who were eager to occupy any vacant shack and to work
as day laborers or "on shares" under almost any arrangement. By
1935, families who owned no land worked more than half of Southern
farms. As I grew older, I came to understand the personal
consequences of this self-destructive scramble for a few small
fields on which a family could work as sharecroppers.

Some foreign journalists who toured the South during those years
reported that nowhere in Czarist Russia or in Europe under serfdom
had families lived in such abject poverty or with so few basic
rights as did the tenant families, black and white, of the South.
Despite their abominable living conditions, neither my neighbors
nor the economic or political powers in America were able to devise
a better alternative.

There was a lot of ballyhoo in the Northern press about industrial
progress, but not much change had taken place in farming techniques
since colonial times. As late as 1942, Fortune magazine honored an
outstanding Georgia farmer whose agricultural practices were
described as "revolutionary." He did not have a tractor, and relied
on five black sharecroppers, two other black tenants who worked by
the day, and fifteen mules to work his six hundred acres, and the
net annual income of his entire family was $1,500. The most
admirable accomplishments mentioned were the diversification of
crops and the annual production of $500 worth of food for his
family. On the farm I knew as my home, the achievements of my
father were much more remarkable, but even when I left home in 1941
to go to college, the absence of mechanized power, the almost total
dependence on manual labor, and the basic agricultural techniques
employed were relatively unchanged since colonial times. One
commentator said that Jesus and even Moses would have felt at home
on a farm in the Deep South during the first third of the twentieth
century.

Even as a boy, I could see a profound difference between my
father's practices and those of other farmers, especially the
sharecroppers among whom I lived and worked. A logical option for
all farmers was to diversify their agricultural practices, but this
choice was available in inverse proportion to the income of the
families. It took extra money to expand a rudimentary farming
operation. Daddy could afford to take a chance on new ideas; he
could buy superior milk cows, brood sows, and beef cattle, and we
were able to produce the feed for them. He could also pay the costs
of labor, seed, and equipment needed to produce noncash food crops
that would be used for our family's own consumption. This was
certainly better than having to pay retail prices for meal, flour,
syrup, pork, and other basic commodities. However, such choices
were almost impossible for the more destitute and dependent
sharecroppers, and particularly when their landowners also had a
store or commissary and wanted maximum sales of these items, often
at grossly inflated prices and exorbitant credit charges.



Perhaps family incomes are the best indication of living standards
in those days. Under average conditions, with cotton selling for
about ten cents and peanuts three cents a pound, what income could
our farm families expect? Although growers always anticipated much
more at planting time, it usually took about three acres of land to
produce a bale of cotton ($50) or a ton of peanuts ($60). My father
was pleased in a good year when he produced this much on two acres.
For most tenant farmers, permanent poverty was inevitable. Even
with high yields, a one-horse family with fifteen acres of cotton
would have a gross income of $300 to $400 for the year, and after
paying the landlord his share for land use and often the rent of
mules and equipment, the tenant would be lucky to keep half of this
for a year's labor for himself, his wife, and their children. The
cash "draw" from the landowner for the eight or nine months from
preparing land to harvest would be from $100 to $200, not counting
interest. So net indebtedness was almost inevitable for marginal
farmers on the poorer land, and the chance for a profitable year
was remote. Day laborers didn't have even this rare chance for a
good year, but with their weekly wage they could at least pay cash
for groceries and clothing and avoid some of the credit and
interest charges.

I knew a number of small farmers who owned their own land. Most of
them were white, of course, and it was their children who came to
our church and were my classmates in school. Many of them were as
poor as black day laborers, but they were expected to maintain
better houses, wear mostly store-bought clothes, and keep their
children in school more days each year. The income of small
landowners, who cultivated about forty acres, was approximately the
same as that of tenants with an operation of the same size. Paying
taxes and the full cost of livestock, seed, fertilizer, and other
supplies ate up the advantage of not paying rent. Even those who
owned enough land to work their own crops and to support a few
sharecropper families quite often made very little profit. They
bore the full risk of low harvest prices, and nonpayment of the
tenants' debts was their loss. In fact, with very few exceptions,
everyone in our rural community was in the same economic boat. All
of us had a chance to prosper when the weather was good,
particularly when the cotton price was high. Obviously, local
merchants welcomed good years, which brought a chance to collect
old debts and to sell new shoes, overalls, and perhaps even a
sewing machine to their usually destitute customers. Such years
were rare.



Although I was born in Plains and actually lived next door to my
future wife, Rosalynn, when she was a baby, the first thing I
remember clearly was when I was four years old and my father took
us out to show us our new home on the farm. There were four of us,
including my sister, Gloria, who was two years younger than I. The
front door was locked when we got there, and Daddy realized that he
had forgotten the key. He tried to raise one of the windows that
opened onto the front porch, but a wooden bar on the inside let it
come up only about six inches. So he slid me through the crack and
I came around to unlock the door from the inside. The approval of
my father for my first useful act has always been one of my most
vivid memories.

Our house was typical of those occupied by middle-income landowners
of the time. Set back about fifty feet from the dirt road, it was
square, painted tan to match the dust, and had a broad front porch
and split-shingle roof. The rooms were laid out in "shotgun" style,
with a hall that went down the middle of the house dividing the
living room, dining room, and kitchen on the left side from three
bedrooms on the right. We also had a screened porch that extended
across the back of the house, where we worked and stored things
such as well water, corn for the chickens, and extra wood to keep
it dry. The front porch was where our family congregated in warm
weather, which was about nine months of the year. We had a swing
suspended from the ceiling and some rocking chairs out there, and
Daddy often used the slightly sloping floor for a quick nap after
dinner and before going back to work in the afternoon. I relished
lying beside him as a little boy, long before I could do useful
work in the fields.

There is little doubt that I now recall those days with more
fondness than they deserve. We drew water from a well in the yard,
and every day of the year we had the chore of keeping extra
bucketfuls in the kitchen and on the back porch, combined with the
constant wood-sawing and chopping to supply the cooking stove and
fireplaces. In every bedroom was a slop jar (chamber pot) that was
emptied each morning into the outdoor privy, about twenty yards
from our back door. This small shack had a large hole for adults
and a lower and smaller one for children; we wiped with old
newspapers or pages torn from Sears, Roebuck catalogues. These were
much better facilities than those I knew when I was with the other
families on the place, who squatted behind bushes and wiped with
corncobs or leaves.

It was a great day for our family in 1935 when Daddy purchased from
a mail-order catalogue and erected a windmill with a high wooden
tank and pipes that provided running water for the kitchen and a
bathroom with toilet. We even had a rudimentary shower made from a
large tin can with its bottom perforated by nail holes. One extra
benefit was that the top platform of the windmill, up near the fan
blades, gave a good view of the nearby fields.

Our house was surrounded by a white-sanded yard, which we had to
sweep frequently to remove fowl and animal droppings and leaves
from our pecan, magnolia, mulberry, and chinaberry trees. Most of
our brush brooms were made of small saplings or limbs of dogwood,
which were resilient and long lasting. Several times a year we took
a two-mule wagon about three miles to a pit and loaded it with
fresh sand, which was scattered on the yard to give it a new white
surface. Behind our house and surrounded by fenced fields were a
small garage (never used for a car), a smokehouse, a chicken house,
and a large woodpile.

Our artificial light came from kerosene lamps, and it was
considered almost sinful to leave one burning in an unoccupied
room. The only exception was in the front living room, where we had
an Aladdin lamp about five feet high whose asbestos wick
miraculously provided illumination bright enough for reading in a
wide area. We turned this flame way down when we went to eat a
meal, both to conserve fuel and to avoid the lamp's tendency to
flame up and blacken the fragile wick with thick soot. When this
happened -- a mishap for which someone always had to be identified
as the culprit -- we had to endure an extended period of careful
flame control while we waited in near darkness for the soot to burn
off enough for us to read again.

One significant difference between my parents was their reading
habits. Daddy mostly limited his reading to the daily and weekly
newspapers and farm journals, but he also owned a small library,
which I still have, that included Halliburton's Royal Road to
Romance, a collection of A. Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories,
and a complete set of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan books, each
carefully signed and numbered by my father to indicate their proper
sequence. By contrast, my mother read constantly and encouraged us
children to do the same. Since we stayed busy most of the time,
Mama and I always had a magazine or book to read while eating our
meals, and this became a lifetime habit for my own family and me.
The only exception was Sunday dinner, which, for some reason, had
too formal an atmosphere for literature at the table. At night, at
suppertime, there was no such restraint.



I didn't know of any rural families that had electric lights until
the rural-electrification program came along in the late 1930s. We
had a large battery-powered radio in the front room that we used
sparingly, and only at night, as we all sat around looking at it
during "Amos and Andy," "Fibber McGee and Molly," "Jack Benny," or
"Little Orphan Annie." When its power failed, we would sometimes
bring in the battery from the pickup truck to keep it playing for a
special event. I recall some rare baseball games re-created by the
announcer from telegraph reports, a few boxing matches, and the
late night in 1936 when Alfred Landon was chosen as the Republican
nominee for president. The voting went on so long that the battery
in our house gave out, and we took the radio outside and set it on
the hood of the pickup until the convention made its choice, hours
after midnight.

The most memorable radio broadcast was in 1938, the night of the
return match between heavyweight boxers Joe Louis and Max
Schmeling. The German champion had defeated the black American two
years earlier, and the world's attention was focused on the return
bout. For our community, this fight had heavy racial overtones,
with almost unanimous support at our all-white school for the
European over the American. A delegation of our black neighbors
came to ask Daddy if they could listen to the broadcast, and we put
the radio in the window so the assembled crowd in the yard could
hear it. The fight ended abruptly, in the first round, with Louis
almost killing Schmeling. There was no sound from outside -- or
inside -- the house. We heard a quiet "Thank you, Mr. Earl," and
then our visitors walked silently out of the yard, crossed the road
and the railroad tracks, entered the tenant house, and closed the
door. Then all hell broke loose, and their celebration lasted all
night. Daddy was tight-lipped, but all the mores of our segregated
society had been honored.



I don't remember much about the summer heat, but I have vivid
memories of how cold it was in winter. The worst job was getting up
in the morning to start a fire going somewhere in the frigid house.
We kept a good supply of pine kindling, which we called "lighterd,"
to start the blaze that would eventually ignite the long-burning
hickory and oak, but I always hoped that some live coals were still
smoldering under the ashes so the fire would start quickly. There
was an open fireplace in the living room that we lit only late in
the afternoon, when the family would gather there, but the fire
(later a wood-burning heater) in the bedroom where Mama and Daddy
slept was made at dawn, so we shivering children would rush there
in the mornings to put on our clothes. I had the northeast corner
room, which had no source of heat. We never thought about pajamas,
which would have been warmer than the BVDs that Daddy and I wore on
cold days under our shirts and trousers, and then slept in at
night.



Almost all our food was produced in our pasture, fields, garden,
and yard. My mother did not enjoy cooking, but was good at
preparing a few basic dishes, and Daddy liked to cook special meals
such as batter cakes, all-too-rare waffles, and fried fish. At
hog-killing time, he fixed souse meat, a conglomeration of meat
from heads, feet, and other animal parts that were boiled to a
thick, soft mush, heavily spiced, and then congealed into a loaf
that could be sliced for later consumption. He also assumed the
responsibility of preparing homemade mayonnaise throughout the year
and eggnog at Christmas. Whichever farm woman who came in to cook
for us when Mama was working as a nurse just embellished the basic
meals of her own family with a few of our fancier foods, like rice,
cheese, peanut butter, macaroni, and canned goods. Nothing went to
waste around our house, and we were expected to eat whatever was
prepared and to clean our plates before leaving the table.

Corn was our staple grain, and rarely would we have a meal without
grits, lye hominy, roasting ears, or one of the half-dozen recipes
for corn bread. We always had chickens available, either hens or
fryers, and it was usually my job to catch and kill them so they
could be dressed and then baked, fried, or made into a pie for
dinner or supper. (We never heard the word "lunch" applied to
sitting down at a table.) Chicken was standard for Sunday dinner
after church, when we also had fresh vegetables: peas, potatoes,
string beans, butter beans, okra, rutabagas, and all kinds of
greens, with collards our favorite, but never any spinach. We also
had mashed Irish potatoes or rice and gravy, biscuits, and a pie
made from seasonal fruit or sweet potatoes. Cured pork products
were available most of the year, and it was surprising how often we
ate seafood that Daddy bought from two local men who made regular
truck trips from Plains to the Gulf and brought back mullet,
mackerel, shrimp, and oysters. Canned salmon, which sold for either
a nickel or a dime depending on the quality or size of the can, was
usually transformed into fried croquettes and eaten with gobs of
catsup. Another staple was kit fish, which was dried mackerel
packed with salt in small wooden kegs. We soaked the pieces in
clear water overnight to reduce the saltiness, and fried them for
breakfast to go with our grits and biscuits.



I still have vivid memories of the home place where I spent my
boyhood. There was a dirt tennis court next to our house, unknown
on any other farm in our area, which Daddy laid out as soon as we
moved there and kept clean and relatively smooth with a piece of
angle iron nailed to a pine log that a mule could drag over it
every week or so. Next was my father's commissary store, with the
windmill in back, and then a large fenced-in garden. A two-rut
wagon road ran from our back yard to the barn, which would become
the center of my life as I matured and eagerly assumed increasing
responsibilities for the work of a man.

Beyond the garden and alongside this small road was a combination
blacksmith and carpenter shop surrounded by piles of all kinds of
scrap metal, where everyone on the farm knew that rattlesnakes
loved to breed. This is where we shod mules and horses, sharpened
plow points, repaired machinery, made simple iron implements, and
did woodwork, with Daddy providing the overall supervision. He was
skilled with the forge and anvil, and did fairly advanced
blacksmith work. This is one of the first places I was able to work
alongside him. I could turn the hand crank on the forge blower fast
enough to keep the charcoal fire ablaze, and to hold some of the
red-hot pieces on the anvil with tongs while Daddy shaped them with
a hammer and then plunged them, hissing, into water or oil for
tempering. It required some skill to keep a plow point completely
flat on the steel surface; otherwise a hammer blow would bring a
violent and painful twisting, with the tongs and red-hot metal
sometimes flying out of my hands. There was almost always something
broken around the farm, and only rarely would anything be taken to
town for welding. I learned a lot from Daddy, and also from Jack
Clark, a middle-aged black man who was something of a supervisor on
our farm and did most of the mule- and horse-shoeing.

In front of the shop was a large Sears, Roebuck grinding stone, and
we would sit on a wooden seat and pedal to keep the thick disc
spinning, with the bottom of the stone running in half an
automobile tire filled with water. This was a busy place where we
sharpened hoes, axes, scythes, knives, and scissors. Daddy didn't
believe in paying for something we could do ourselves, so he also
had an iron shoemaker's last in the shop that he used for replacing
worn-out heels and soles for the family's shoes. As I got older, I
helped with all the jobs in the shop, but was always most
interested in working with wood, especially in shaping pieces with
froe, plane, drawknife, and spokeshave.

The centerpiece of our farm life, and a place of constant
exploration for me, was our large, perfectly symmetrical barn. It
had been built by an itinerant Scottish carpenter named Mr.
Valentine, whose basic design was well known in our farming region.
Daddy was very proud of its appearance and its practical
arrangement, which minimized labor in handling the large quantities
of feed needed for our livestock. There were special cribs, bins,
and tanks for storing oats, ear corn, velvet beans, hay, fodder,
and store-bought supplements, including molasses, a bran called
"shorts," and cottonseed meal. The sheep, goats, and cattle were
usually kept in stalls separate from each other and from the mules
and horses, and animals requiring veterinary care could also be
isolated while being treated. Hogs had their own pens, and were not
permitted inside the barn.

Before I was big enough for real fieldwork, Daddy encouraged me to
spend time with Jack Clark, knowing that it was the best way for me
to be educated about farm life, as Jack kept up a constant stream
of comments about the world as he knew or envisioned it.

Jack was very black, of medium height, and strongly built. He had
surprisingly long arms, and invariably wore clean overalls,
knee-high rubber boots, and a straw hat. Knowing (or at least
claiming) that he spoke for my father, he issued orders or
directions to the other hands in a somewhat gruff voice, always
acting as the final arbiter over which field each hand would plow
and which mule he would harness. He ignored the grumbled
complaints. When all the other workers were off to their assigned
duties, Jack was the sole occupant of the barn and the adjacent
lots -- except when I was following behind him like a puppy dog and
bombarding him with questions. We became close friends, but there
was always some restraint as to intimacy between us. For instance,
although my daddy would pick me up on occasion to give me a hug or
let me ride on his shoulders, this would have been inconceivable
with Jack, except when he might lift me over a barbed-wire fence or
onto the back of a mule or horse.

Radiating from the barn was a maze of fences and gates that let us
move livestock from one place to another with minimal risk of their
escape. This was one of my earliest tasks, requiring only a modicum
of skill and the ability to open and close the swinging gates.
Within the first array of enclosures was a milking shed that would
hold four cows at a time, adequate to accommodate our usual herd of
eight to a dozen Jerseys and Guernseys that we milked in two
shifts, twice a day. Later, we had a dozen A-frame hog-farrowing
structures, which I helped my daddy build after bringing the
innovative design home from my Future Farmer class in school. One
shelter was assigned to each sow when birthing time approached, and
the design kept the animals dry, provided a convenient place for
feed and water, and minimized the inadvertent crushing of the baby
pigs by their heavy mamas. Except during extended dry seasons, the
constantly used lots for hogs and milk cows were always ankle deep
in mud and manure, which made bare feet much superior to
brogans.

A little open shed near the barn enclosed a pump that lifted about
two cups of water from our shallow well with each stroke. It was
driven by a small two-cycle gasoline engine that we cranked up and
let run once or twice a day, just long enough to fill several
watering troughs around the barn and sheds. This was the only
motor-driven device on the farm, and was always viewed with a
mixture of suspicion and trepidation. We were justifiably doubtful
that it would crank when we needed it most, dreading the hour or
two of hand pumping as the only alternative source of water for all
the animals. Between the pump house and barn was a harness shed, an
open-ended building where we stored a buggy, two wagons, and all
the saddles, bridles, and other harness needed for an operating
farm. Also near the barn was a concrete dipping-vat about four feet
deep, filled with a pungent mixture containing creosote, through
which we would drive our cattle, goats, and newly sheared sheep to
protect them, at least temporarily, from flies and
screwworms.

The farm operation always seemed to me a fascinating system, like a
huge clock, with each of its many parts depending on all the rest.
Daddy was the one who designed, owned, and operated the complicated
mechanism, and Jack Clark wound it daily and kept it on time. I had
dreams that one day I would be master of this machine, with its
wonderful intricacies.

The workers on our place, all black, lived in five small clapboard
houses, three right on the highway, one set farther back from the
road, and another across the railroad tracks directly in front of
our house. This was the community in which I grew up, all within a
stone's throw of the barn.



Except for Jack Clark, who received monthly wages and worked seven
days a week, rain or shine, all the other hands worked and were
paid by the day, as the weather permitted and as they were needed.
To be more accurate, Daddy and Jack kept accounts in increments of
one-fourth of a day, with a full day being from before daybreak
until after sundown. For this amount of work, grown men dependable
enough to plow a mule received a dollar, women got seventy-five
cents, competent teenagers a half-dollar, and younger children a
quarter. The exception to this was during harvest time, when each
person was paid for the pounds of cotton picked or the quantity of
peanuts pulled out of the ground and stacked up to dry. Day workers
were paid on Saturday, when they were expected to repay any loans
and settle up for purchases made during the week at my father's
commissary. For too long, I thought, I was given a child's wage,
and I was always eager to be promoted.



Although I respected and admired Bishop Johnson as the most
successful and widely traveled man I knew, my own life was affected
most profoundly by Jack and Rachel Clark. Without young children of
their own to care for, they seemed to enjoy having me with them.
Jack Clark knew more than anyone about work around the home site.
He was in charge of the barn, the mules and horses, the equipment
and harness, and all the other livestock. He rarely worked in the
field but usually plowed our family garden and the community
sweet-potato patch. It was Jack who rang the big farm bell each
morning of a working day, at four o'clock "sun time," and again at
"noon." This was not at any precise time as measured by our clocks,
but was always about an hour before daylight and then when the sun
reached its highest point in the sky. Jack worked directly under
Daddy, and seemed to us boys to have ultimate authority over the
farm's life, an illusion he was careful not to dispel.

The Clarks' house was the one I knew most intimately, because I
spent a lot of time with them. Only about a third the size of ours,
it followed the standard design of the other tenant houses on the
place. There was a small private bedroom where Jack and Rachel
slept, one end almost completely filled by a bed frame on which was
a tick that could be stuffed with either corn shucks or wheat
straw. A large pine chifforobe in the corner held some clothes and
the Clarks' other personal belongings; with no closets in the
house, most of their clothing and other possessions were hung on
nails or placed on shelves along the walls. The main room, much
larger, contained a rough-hewn four-foot-long table with a bench on
each side, and two straight chairs that could be moved near the
fireplace or out on the front porch. Next to one wall was a pallet
on the floor, which consisted of a narrower mattress similar to
that in the bedroom. This is where I always slept when my parents
were away, dragging it near the fire on cold nights. Jack and
Rachel had a kerosene lantern that hung from the ceiling over the
table, and a lamp that could be moved around the house.

Sometimes Rachel's mother, Tamar, or her grown daughter, Bertha
Mae, came to stay with them for a few days, and there were often
other farm workers visiting in the Clarks' house. As in the fields
or woods when no white adults were around, the place would be
filled with a natural exuberance, loud talk and arguments, and
subtle jokes that I enjoyed even though I didn't always understand
them. Except in my own room in our house, this is where I felt most
at home. At the table, three or four of us played a card game
called Seven-Up; it was similar to rummy, but every card could be
played with emotion. There was also a checkerboard, used for
playing "pool," a fast-moving form of checkers where even the
uncrowned pieces could be moved forward to the limit of the
unoccupied diagonals instead of just one space at a time. Crowned
pieces could move both forward and backward, of course.

An enclosed shed on the back of the house served as the kitchen and
held a woodstove, a wood box, a wide shelf against the wall, and a
churn. A back door opened onto a tiny back porch, where the major
item was a washbasin on a shelf, with a towel hanging on a nail.
Just below was Rachel's bait bed, where the red wiggler worms were
fed discarded water, coffee grounds, and any food scraps available
from the kitchen. The house also had a narrow porch extending
across the entire front, very close to the road, where we sat on
the steps or on the chairs and benches that were moved back and
forth from inside.

A different kind of special family lived in the smallest cabin on
the farm, also facing the main road and next door to the Clarks.
Fred Howard was relatively young, quiet, and one of the most
dependable workers on the farm. He minded his own business, settled
his accounts on time, barely made a living, and every now and then
mentioned how much he wanted children. His wife, Lee, was some kin
to Rachel Clark, and extraordinarily beautiful. She was
light-colored, small, and slender, and wore her long, silky-looking
hair under a flower-printed bonnet and pulled back from her ears,
either in a bun or a long ponytail. It never mattered that her
dresses were made of printed flour- or guano-sacks. Lee always
seemed timid to me, glancing downward whenever she talked to
another person. It was difficult for other eyes not to follow her
as she walked or worked in her graceful manner. For some reason, I
was rather uncomfortable in her presence, and resented the comments
I heard from both black and white men insinuating that they would
be glad to help if she decided to earn a little extra money with
her beauty. Lee's Aunt Rosa was widely known as an expert in
tatting, and my mother helped her sell her beautiful lace to
supplement the family's budget.

One of the most interesting men on the place was called Tump (he
said he didn't have another name). He lived by himself, claimed to
eat rats, and was even less educated than the other workers. It was
especially difficult to understand what Tump was saying, because he
used the intonations of the Gullah dialect of the Georgia coast. He
eliminated all "unnecessary" words, such as prepositions,
adjectives, and adverbs, and spoke in a strange rhythm with varying
tones and pitches to express his meaning. Respected as by far the
strongest man on the place, he was called on to do special jobs
that were beyond the capability of others. For some reason, Daddy
had a big iron weight under the windmill, with an eyebolt on top
and "500 pounds" stamped on it. Tump was the only one who could
pick it up and walk with it. He seemed to be a special friend of my
Uncle Lem, Mama's brother, who helped Daddy one or two seasons at
the peanut picker and the sugarcane mill.

One night, as we shut down the mill and headed home, Uncle Lem
said, "Tump, I've noticed that you don't usually get to work as
early as I do."

Tump responded, "'T'ain't so, Mr. Lem, I'm there time everybody
is."

Uncle Lem, following up, said, "I'll bet you a quarter I'm at work
before you in the morning."

With wages a dollar a day, this was a good-sized bet, but Tump
didn't hesitate. "Yes, sir, I bet."

When I asked Uncle Lem what was going on, he laughed and said,
"Well, Tump don't know it, but I'm going coon hunting tonight, and
will just come back by the cane mill long before daylight and pick
up my quarter."

It didn't seem fair to me, but I didn't say anything.

The next morning, even before the farm bell rang at the barn, Uncle
Lem arrived at the cane mill. Tump sat up from some cane pummlings
where he had spent the night and asked, "Dat you, Mr. Lem?"



Both in our house and in those of tenants, the long workdays and
the high price of store-bought kerosene prevented much staying up
after dark, except perhaps on weekends. All the workers' cabins
were constructed with rough boards produced by one of the traveling
sawmills that came to our farm every now and then to harvest our
pine trees. The clapboard siding was the only barrier to the
outside heat, cold, wind, and rain, so occupants covered the inside
of the boards with old newspapers pasted on with a mixture of flour
and water. The wooden windows were kept closed during cold weather,
making it necessary to depend on the lamp and fireplace to
illuminate the cabin. There were no screens on the doors or
windows, so flies and other insects had unimpeded access. It was
impossible to seal the floor, and I could see the ground underneath
through the cracks between boards. Except for these design
limitations inherent in any simple clapboard structure, Daddy made
sure that we kept our tenant houses in good shape, with necessary
repairs made during the winter months between harvest and
land-breaking time. This added to the skills I learned in the
workshop.

The only other buildings, far from our house, were the syrup mill,
located on a small stream, and two sheds where seed cotton,
fertilizer, and workers could find shelter from a sudden rain
shower.

All our fields were fenced with woven hog wire about three feet
high nailed to wooden posts, and topped with two strands of barbed
wire to hold the larger cattle, mules, and horses. Daddy also
bought some steel rods with corkscrew bottoms that were used as
temporary fenceposts. The fence corners were well braced, and the
gates were level, swung easily, and were strong enough for little
boys to ride on them. Daddy always said that the condition of
tenant houses and fences was a good indication of the pride and
industry of a landowner.

A lane from the barn extended north to connect all our lots,
fields, pastures, and woods. Most of our woodlands were also
fenced, having some value as forage areas for the livestock.
Acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts, a few chestnuts and chinkapins, and
leaves from bushes and trees supplemented the pastures and feed
grown in the fields. Almost all the leaves and even pine needles
were eaten as high as cows could reach, giving the woods and swamps
an openness that was convenient for us boys to explore, for hunters
to follow dogs, and for finding and observing the domestic animals.
There was a big black-cherry tree down the lane, and we boys used
to see and sometimes catch floundering blue jays that were
intoxicated from eating too much of the ripe fruit.



My playmates were mostly the sons of tenant families on our farm,
but a few others would join us from houses farther down the road.
We used to claim the most remote shed, not too far from the creek,
as our clubhouse, and slept in it when we couldn't stay awake all
night on the creek bank. I don't remember that my parents ever put
any limits on my explorations around the farm, even including the
more remote woods and swamps. They expected me to perform my
assigned tasks, know basic safety rules, and be on time for meals,
but otherwise I was completely free to roam throughout the 350
acres of our home place.

Just to the west of our house, and extending to the boundary of our
land, was a pecan orchard. I vividly recall helping my daddy plant
the grafted seedlings in precisely straight rows when I was nine
years old. The trees are still there, but not as well groomed as
when my mother tended them; harvesting the nuts was her special
moneymaking project. On a hill beyond our land and back from the
road was a large house with a windmill in back. The soil on this
neighboring farm was comparatively thin and sandy, and a series of
white families moved in for a crop or two before abandoning the
effort. One of them had children about my age, who joined my
permanent black playmates and me for a few months. Toward the end
of the 1930s, not long before I left home, my mother's parents
moved in and lived there for several years.

Just before getting to our house, the rather crooked westbound dirt
road from Plains ran into the straight railroad tracks of the
Seaboard Airline Railroad and had to make a very sharp turn to the
right so that the two could run almost exactly parallel for about a
mile. Since there was no warning sign, the deep ruts in the soft
sand on the curve caused a regular procession of wrecks, one every
week or so. Luckily, the quality of the road approaching the curve
precluded high speeds, so not much damage was done. Usually the
vehicles just rolled over naturally toward the outside of the
curve, slid along on the soft sand, and came to rest on their
sides. We children were alert to these accidents, and would respond
to the characteristic sounds by shouting, "A wreck! A wreck!" and
running to the scene. There were always interesting people and
conversations and, on occasion, some vivid language. Unless
something exceptional occurred, such as an injury, our parents
didn't bother to go out to see them.

The bad curve was right in front of Jack Clark's house, and he
assumed the responsibility of attending to the distressed
travelers. Since he was the "lot man" and in charge of all the
mules and harness, it was natural for him to perform this service.
After examining the situation, making sure everyone was all right,
and having a brief discussion with the driver, he was always able
to figure out what to do. Using two mules and a plow hitch, and
hooking a chain to the vehicle's frame, he could soon have it
righted. For larger, loaded trucks, he would have to get some help
from others on the farm -- first to unload the cargo, then to set
the truck upright before reloading it. He kept under his front
porch a large block and tackle (which he called a "tickle") that
could be rigged between the truck and one of the trees in his yard
to help with the heavier jobs. Jack never charged more than a
dollar for this service, and my father didn't demand anything for
the use of the mules and harness. Most of the time, for a small car
or pickup, Jack let any contribution be voluntary, since he knew
that some of the families didn't have much for themselves.

For some reason I have never understood, places along the dirt road
would develop a corrugated surface, with shallow indentations
running crosswise about every two feet along the way. When this
happened, there was an optimum speed for each stretch of roadway.
Driving too slow gave a teeth-jarring ride, with the wheels
dropping to the bottom of each groove. Faster was usually better,
with the wheels just hitting the tops of the bumps, but could be
deadly at higher speeds or on a curve, because the tires had no
grip on the surface. The county road-scraper would smooth the roads
every few weeks, usually after a good rain, but the washboards
would soon return.

It was an exciting event for us boys when one of the big
motor-driven "road scrapes" arrived on the road in front of our
house. We viewed the operators as some of the most exalted and
fortunate of men, and each attempted to demonstrate to us and to
the community that his handiwork was superior. They had to make at
least four passes along the road, first to pull the ditches clean
of sand and other sediment, and then to smooth the surface in both
directions, leaving a slight crown so water wouldn't stand on the
driving surface. Reducing the washboard effect and ensuring that
drainage paths were maintained out of yards and fields, down
through the ditches, and then into the branches and creeks was a
notable engineering feat.



We had one problem with the location of our home: there were a
cemetery and a haunted house between Plains and Archery. Neither my
parents nor my sisters ever had to walk down this road, so they
were not concerned, but there were many times, especially during
the winter, when I returned home after dark from work in town or
from a late school activity. None of my black friends would dream
of passing this way at night, and their fear had a great effect on
me. The graveyard was bad enough, but the haunted house was much
worse. There were frequent reports of a woman who could be seen
through the attic windows, wearing a long white flowing dress and
carrying a candle, apparently looking for something or someone she
had lost. The local newspapers ran a number of articles about this
house, quoting people who had lived there in the past. One
temporary occupant, Sonny Faircloth, claimed to be familiar with a
large black dog, which could be seen in the yard among his several
coonhounds. I heard Sonny tell many times how he finally got up the
nerve to go close to the animal and tried to touch it, but the hair
stood up on his head when his hand penetrated the dog's body
without feeling anything.

I really tried to discount these kinds of tales, but I sometimes
thought I had glimpses of the searching woman, which may have been
a reflection of the setting sun or Venus in the western window. In
the end, I was able to add my own horror tale to the others. When I
was in high school, Dr. Thad Wise bought the house and lived in it
with Mrs. Gussie Abrams Howell, who was the supervising nurse at
Wise Sanitarium, a much-respected local hospital. When he became
desperately ill, Miss Abrams (as she was always called) asked me to
spend some nights with them to help care for Dr. Thad. Late one
night, as she and I were preparing some food in the kitchen, we
heard all three of his dogs begin a weird howling, unlike anything
we had ever heard before. Miss Abrams rushed into the bedroom and
found that Dr. Thad had just died. We assumed that the dogs had
seen his spirit leaving the house.

Luckily for my friends and me, the railroad gave us an alternate
path home, and we usually used it instead of the road, balancing on
one of the iron rails. After years of practice, all of us could
walk the two and a half miles back and forth to Plains without
falling.

This was Archery, the small farming community where I lived,
worked, and played for fourteen years, with my greatest ambition to
be valuable around the farm and to please my father.

Excerpted from AN HOUR BEFORE DAYLIGHT: Memories of a Rural
Boyhood © Copyright 2011 by Jimmy Carter. Reprinted with
permission by Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood
by by Jimmy Carter

  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743211995
  • ISBN-13: 9780743211994