Alabama Writers Project
Franklin County Narratives
BY R. V. WALDREP
Red Bay, Alabama
Bony Winchester was sleeping when he received a call. His brother and brother-in-law, Mason, were sitting out on the front porch, talking the hours away. Old Lady Winchester rolled out on the porch from the kitchen, and rolled back into the kitchen every little while — she was so fat she had to roll.
“Bony! Bony!” the old lady said loudly into the bed room though the door of the hall. The hall ran from the middle of the porch and made the lag of a T down the middle of the house; there were two rooms on each side of the hall, and an attic. Steps led from the hall to the attic.
A couple of dogs fetched themselves down to the gate to bark and leap in the air, and the visitors came through the gate, and walked up the weedy path for about ten feet, since the yard wasn’t bigger than ten-by-twenty. They went up the steps, and the old lady scurried around, getting chairs from inside the house.
Bony came out of the house scratching his head, and carrying his shoes.
“Bony was resting,” said the fat, barrel of a woman. She stood about five feet high and about three foot across. Her head was enormous with a peculiar dignity and matronliness to it. The hair was a sort of brown-gray, and combed toward the top of her head. She was bare-footed. When Bony had taken his seat, and was slipping his shoes on his bare, dirty feet, she went back into the kitchen. Once or twice the visitors caught a glimpse of her making a few swipes with the broom, standing in the bed-room door. Once she told Bony what somebody had said; for Bony is hard of hearing.
Could have been a handsome man
Bony could have been a handsome man, and may have been. His hair once was black and curly. Now his hair is in ringlets the size of two-bit coins. It grows thickly on his head, this hair does. It comes down to his ear, and his sideburns, almost white, curl. His profile is good, straight, and shows the traces of handsomeness. With good clothes, a clean shave, a good hair cut, and clean clothes, he’d look younger than his 69 years.
When Bony shook hands, it was like holding a cloven hoof. He was so sleepy, it was hard to get him to talk, and everybody knows he is a hard talker.
But Bony’s brother didn’t have any trouble in talking. He was a year younger, but looked older. He was minus teeth, and the Winchester profile was destroyed by a severe dip just below the nose.
Bony’s brother was a religious fanatic, as it could easily be seen, from the first word he said. He began to talk about religious things, making statements about heaven. He was a smiling chap, anyway; and everybody was polite enough to stop and let him talk; for everybody believed in religion even if they didn’t obey and sometimes said damn.
Heaven must be a fine place
The dogs took a couch on the floor, leaning their backs to a couple of short-logs of fire wood. The flies settled down everybody’s arms, legs and face, and tried their best to get on everybody’s lips.
“Heaven must be a fine place. The Bible says that everyday will be a new and better day,” said the fanatic. “The Bible says there will be harp-music in heaven,” he said mysteriously and fervently; “music on golden harps. Now, I never heard any music on golden harps, but I bet it is a mighty sweet sound.”
“Might be like the
clinking of golden coins,” said a visitor, but no one paid any
attention to that.
“I know heaven will be a wonderful place.”
“He seems to be a religious person?” asked a visitor over by Bony. “Is he a preacher?”
“No, but he is a right good man. He’s my brother. In never knowed him to do a mean thing in my life, and I never heard him speak a slighting word of anybody. He don’t know nothing, but the Bible and hard work. He don’t go to town. Swearing ain’t in him a-tall. I knowed him tuh say one swear word about twenty years ago. He was getting off of a wagon, and fell off on his face, and he got up and said, ‘I’ll be damned!”
“He’s never been away from here?”
“Nah, He don’t go no where.”
“How long have you been on this place?” The house, the visitor noticed was fairly new. He estimated the house was about 20 years old. There was moss on the roof.
“I’ve been here 60 years. I was up there on the hill.” Across the road, where Bony pointed, was a hill, a bare hill, which looked as if it once had a house on it. “I was burned out there. Me and Mason there, we built this house.”
“You’ve never left here?”
Change the renter-system
“I went out to Texas and stayed four years when I was pretty young, but the rest of the time I’ve been here.” He wouldn’t talk about his western trip. And he turned the talk to politics, and told how he thought the farmers needed some sort of help. “Shore I believe they ought to have some kind of help, but not the kind they’re getting. It costs 75¢ to give them 25¢.”
He said: “We’ve got to change this renter-system of farming. When the tenant gets three-fourths and the land owner gets one-fourth it don’t work. A land owner can’t get along. I used to have five tenants but I don’t have but one now, and I’m figuring on stopping that. A land-owner can’t keep a house fixed up, and buy everything a tenant wants him to, pay the taxes, and all on no one-fourth of the cotton.”
He sighed: “I’m plumb ruined. This is the worst year I’ve had since 1900. That was a wet-un, just like this, maybe not near as bad. “Way back yonder I got 38 bales of cotton. Last year I got sixteen bales, and I’ll do good to get four bales next year. That ain’t nothing.”
“Do you think people are meaner now than they used to be?”
“There ain’t no doubt about it. I guess it is because there are more people now. And when you educate a person he feels like he oughter have something, and he just takes it.”
“Then you believe that education makes people worse than what they naturally are?”
He was speaking slowly and profoundly, searching himself for an honest opinion. His brother was talking to another fellow about the Bible, and Mason was talking politics. Sometimes Bony’s brother would raise his voice and wave his arms, and they knew he was preaching.
“I believe in giving a boy a education,” said Bony. The visitor knew that he was sending a nephew to Auburn. “A feller needs all the chances he can get.”
“Back in my day boys didn’t have no hanging-out places. We had tuh work all the week, and Sunday after church was all the time we had. We’d played townball. We couldn’t git into meanness like they do today.”
Bony’s brother wanted to know: “Do people sleep?”
Nobody ventured to know, and he accepted the ignorance of all by saying: “A Baptist preacher said that people don’t sleep, but that sleep comes to people.” Bony’s brother resumed his talk with the other fellow.
Bony pointed across the road, between the two knolls. On one had once stood his home. Between the hills there was land laying out, but beyond could be seen a corn patch. Tall graceful corn grew there. “There’s fifty acres in that of the best land in this country.”
Bony crossed his leg, showing his dirty ankles. His shirt smelled of long wearing; it was a deeper blue by the dirt, that had become part of the cloth texture. Bony’s brother had on new overalls, on the leg of which was still printed in chalk: 38-32. The cuff of each pant-leg had been given several rolls, but still the pants were too long. Bony’s brother had had a hair cut, and the hair was so short, it could not be combed.
Bony’s brother wanted to know; “I bet he,” he indicated a visitor; “I bet he has plenty of cornbread and molasses. Would you give us something, if we are starving to death over here?”
“We could all eat as long as it lasts.”
Bony’s brother slapped his new overalls, and appeared to be overcome with a kind of good-fellow glee. He said happily. “That’s feeling, people. That’s feeling! You’ve got feeling. He’s got feeling, people. If people,” he said subsiding, “if people didn’t have feeling you could cut off a person’s hand —” he held out a hand and made a slice at it with the other—“slice it off like that, and he wouldn’t know it!”
Bony said, “When a fellow’s hungry, he’s going to get out ant git something, somehow, before he gets too weak to.” Bony filled his pipe.
The visitor decided he would leave, and Bony got up, and went down the steps, and through the weeds to the gate. The dogs jumped up. Bony began to go toward the garden, which looked down on the house. The house was in a V-shaped valley. On one side, at an angle which permitted a leap on the house if you took a good running start, was the garden, on the other side was a field.
Bony and his visitor lifted the chain latch from the gate in the corner of the garden, and climbed up the side of the garden to the corn. There they picked corn, and the visitor could look out on the roof of the house, above the fruit trees that huddled it, to the field beyond.
Bony began to pull roast’n’ears, and talk, “I don’t aim to try to make another dollar,” he grunted at an ear of corn. “I’m just going to hang on to what I got.”
Out of the garden, loaded with roast’n’ears, the visitor looked at the greenness which was everywhere, the clean greenness, then at the house, with the green-weed yard, the sleeping dogs, the droves of flies, the dirty man, and he stepped into his car and drove off.
BUY ONE GET ONE FREE! The first four Alabama Footprints books have been combined into one book,
From the time of the discovery of America restless, resolute, brave, and adventurous men and women crossed oceans and the wilderness in pursuit of their destiny. Many traveled to what would become the State of Alabama. They followed the Native American trails and their entrance into this area eventually pushed out the Native Americans. Over the years, many of their stories have been lost and/or forgotten. This book (four-books-in-one) reveals the stories published in volumes I-IV of the Alabama Footprints series.