a childhood

A Childhood : the biography of a place – by Harry Crews

Since where we lived and how we lived was almost hermetically sealed from everything and everybody else, fabrication became a way of  life.  Making up stories, it seems to me now, was not only a way for us to understand the way we lived but also a defense against it.  It was no doubt the first step in a life devoted primarily to men and women and children who never lived anywhere but in my imagination.  I found in them infinitely more order and beauty and satisfaction that I ever have in the people who move about me in the real world.  And Willalee Bookatee and his family were always there with me in their first tentative steps.  God knows what it would have been like if it had not been for Willalee and his people, with whom I spent nearly as much time as I did with my own family.

Daddy didn’t have a very thick skin, and one of the things he was touchy about was how much he ate.  Just a little over a month before his run-in with the old man, he was at a church picnic and Frank Porter, a boy from Coffee County, said something about him being Long Hungry, which to the people in that time was an insult.  To be Long Hungry meant you were a glutton.  A hog at the trough.  So Daddy invited Frank Porter–since they were at a church and couldn’t settle it there–to meet him the next day on a scrub oak ridge separating Coffee from Bacon.

The next morning at sunup the two men met, daddy and the man who had insulted him, up in the middle of a little stand of blackjack oak on a sandy ridge full of gopher holes and rattle snake nests.  They had each of them brought several of their friends as overseers of the fight, or rather their friends had insisted on coming to make sure that no knives or axes or guns got in the way and resulted in one or both of their deaths.

They set to and fought until noon, quit, went home, ate, patched up as best they could, and came back and fought until sundown.  They didn’t fight the whole time.  By mutual consent and necessity, they took time out to rest.  While they were resting, their friends fought.  Those that were there said it had been a real fine day.  A little bloody, but a fine day.  For years after the fight, time was often measured by farmers in both counties by the day the fight took place.’

It weren’t no more’n two months after Ray and Frank met up on the line.”

“That girl of mine was born three months to the day before Frank and Ray had the fight.”


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