Friday, February 24, 2006

Fragments of a life

After my grandfather's old house was demolished, the house in which my mother grew up, I came across these fragments, sitting on the ground. I picked them up, and put them away. This is the front of the postcard, and it tells a story, a story of a fragment of a life. It tells the story of a generation uprooted and scattered across the country, people who had never been more than 50 miles from home in their entire lives suddenly at a military college in Alabama. A dry goods salesman in a small town in Louisiana suddenly become an Army captain in the Military Police in Alabama. And it tells a story about a man who married a woman whom he maybe did not love in the way that sappy romance novels and movies have conditioned us to think about love today, but who he did respect, and she likewise in her own way. A man who was largely deaf and spoke mostly unintelligably and thus was exempted from the Great War in order to continue working in a sawmill that was churning out the boards and timbers being used to build military camps around the world, who, against all odds, had a child in the middle of the Great War.

That child was my mother, and unexpected in all ways. My grandmother and grandfather were living at his father's house. I remember his father's house from before it was torn down. It was a four-square house -- four square rooms, with a cooking porch on the back and a sleeping porch on the front. No running water or electricity, of course. The heat was a fireplace in the front corner room near the sleeping porch, and a wood stove on the cooking porch, which was left open in the summer and had its screened windows covered in the winter. The roof was hand-split shingles. The walls were wood planks, and the wind blew through them in winter. All his younger brothers and sisters, a round dozen of them, were still living at home in these four square rooms. This was no place for a wife and a baby.

I do not know what happened next, but somehow he made the connection with the owner of the land next to his father's land, and bought that land, and built a house on that land for his wife and child. The postcard above, dated 1944, is part of the transaction where he bought the land.

The next postcard is a bit more mysterious: This one is from 1945. The house is obviously built by then, because my grandfather has an address other than "RFD Castor". Captain Caskey is now in Georgia, not Alabama. I don't know what he was doing there, and cannot ask him. I barely remember him as the elderly old codger at the dry goods store who would sell ice cream cones to myself and my grandmother when we went to town. I don't know anybody who would know. They are dead or dying fast, what few remain from The Good War. There apparently is still some business that has not been transacted in these days when everybody is dispersed all around the country.

These fragments of a life tell other stories, but you need to know more to know those stories. They tell the story of the death of the sharecropping system -- with so many able-bodied men overseas, the sharecropping system collapsed, leading to a drastic decline in cotton production and constant shortages of cotton fabric throughout the war, and the cotton planters, as soon as the war was over and civilian industry revived, replaced the sharecroppers with machinery to plant and harvest the cotton. The machinery was not as efficient at harvesting the cotton as nimble fingers of sharecroppers had been, and it was expensive, but machines do not get drafted. They tell the story of the death of the Confederacy. Before The Good War, the South was basically a part of the United States in name only. Culturally, politically, socially the South was a seperate nation. But with so many young men uprooted from their homes and scattered all over the world, experiencing things they had never dreamed existed, they came back home and changed the South (not enough, alas) and brought it into the United States or vice-versa. Those are the big stories. But all big stories are made of fragments, fragments like these. Fragments of a life.

And fragments is all I have of those lives, and fragments are all I will ever have, because all who could tell the tales around these fragments are gone, and, some day, so will I be gone, and these fragments with me.

- BT


  1. "You came from nothing, you go back to nothing. What have you lost? Nothing!" I swear that python song'll get me through anything , Tuxxer. Well that, and "Dust in the Wind", even though too wistful for my tastes occasionally. We be fragments for sure.

  2. Time and change just keep marching on...

    Interesing, I never knew that about the sharecroppers, and it makes me wonder, if this great mixing that's happening with this war, the tsunami, and the hurricaines, will benefit the world, or no

  3. Excellent. Thanks for sharing. This is the flavor and the reason for living.

  4. Wow, this was a great read. I love this stories of lives untold.


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