Booher will be at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest this weekend, April 25-26, so if you’re in the Bluegrass State don’t be a stranger, the pilot will be in!
Stone discusses the issue of race with his father Billy Molony and his brother Leck. Stone is trying to come to grips with the racism that is a part of the society around him, including his own family. The following discussion ensues.
I was quiet as we started back. Daddy focused on the road and whistled. Leck joined in, filling the cab with smell of moonshine. I could tell he had tipped the bottle a bit more than usual. As we turned onto the asphalt road and headed for home, I interrupted their whistling duet and asked, “Daddy, why don’t we have any colored members in our congregation at church? Is there some sort of law against it?”
Daddy stopped his whistling and cleared his throat like he always when he is thinking. “No, ain’t no law against it, but they have their own churches.”
“What would you do if a colored family came to church this Sunday?” I asked.
Daddy cleared his throat again and shifted in his seat. “Well, I reckon I would welcome them like any other new family, as long as they don’t sit in my spot,” he said with a smile trying to make light of the question, but I could see that he was nervous.
“What would you do if a colored person came sat beside you in the theater or on the bus?”
Daddy cleared his throat again, but he didn’t answer. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out, and he stared straight ahead at the winding road.
Leck intervened. “What did you and that nigger girl talk about while we was down at the barn?”
I had heard that word all my life and never felt it to be derogatory until that moment. “That colored girl has a name – Wonnie,” I spat back.
“Okay, what did you and Wonnie,” he drew out her name with alcohol filled breath, “Talk about?”
“She says the colored folks in Birmingham are itching for change,” I answered. “She said they’re tired of being second-class citizens just because of the color of their skin.”
“Aw hell,” said Leck. “They’ve been living that way for hundreds of years. Ain’t nothing gonna change.”
“Wonnie aims to change things around here too,” I stated, proud of taking her side, yet naïve to the cost of that stance. “She says she’s going to drink from the white water fountain down on the square and sit in the white section of the theater.”
We topped a rise in the road and the Cumberland River and Neely’s Ferry came into view. “You think she’s going to make a difference? You think she’s going to change things?” mocked Leck. “She might as well try to stick out her hand and stop the Cumberland River. It may seem like a courageous act at first, but in the end she’s just gonna get washed away like driftwood.”
We were all quiet as Daddy paid the toll and drove up onto the ferry. When he turned off the truck, Daddy looked out over the passing water and said, “She can’t stop the river by herself, but the river can be stopped. You get enough men working together and they can dam that river, even control it. It took a lot of hard working men and the power of the government behind the project, but they dammed the Cumberland River. It can be done.”
Leck fidgeted in his seat like he wanted to respond, but didn’t say anything. Feeling a little bolder I asked, “Do you think colored people get treated like second-class citizens?”
Daddy pushed back his hat and looked out the window. “Yeah, of course they do, but I try and treat them fairly.”
“If you think Wonnie is right, why don’t you help her change things?” I asked.
He let out a sigh and rubbed his chin. “Stone, do you remember when they finished Wolf Creek Dam a few years ago?”
“Remember all those folks that came up out of Burnside and passed through Burkesville?”
I did remember the parade of old trucks filled with destitute dirt farmers, and their families, displaced by the swelling river. One of the trucks stopped by the house. The father left the old truck piled high with family’s possessions, and while several of his kids looked anxiously on, he came to the porch with his hat in hand. I remember how his hollow, sunken eyes looked devoid of hope when he asked for food. “Yeah, I remember,” I said.
“You can dam that river,” said Daddy, “and in the process control flooding, generate electricity, and hold fresh water in reserve for times of drought. But when you dam a river like that it also wreaks havoc on the lives of some folks. Even though it was better for all of us, some folks got hurt in the process.” He started up the truck, eased off of the ferry, and we headed up the road for home.