John Henry Faulk discusses the Vietnam War and current state of America
BROADCAST: Nov. 1, 1969 | DURATION: 00:57:33
John Henry Faulk discusses his experience lecturing at so-called knife and fork clubs and colleges across the United States; feelings of fear and powerlessness in America; the value of young people's activism in the United States; and the enlistment of poor men to serve in the Vietnam War. Faulk also speaks as several characters he plays to challenge and comment on the Vietnam War.
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Studs Terkel A friend of mine is John Henry Faulk, who is probably the greatest storyteller. Certainly the greatest storyteller I have met. I never heard Mark Twain, long before my time. Certainly Twain the remarkable storyteller. John Henry Faulk of our day of Austin, Texas, who is a chronicler of our day, too. He -- from Texas yet recreates a town and this century creates our society at this moment too. Grotesquery, at the same time truth, at the same time a remarkable understanding, and I was thinking about a year ago, John's now across the microphone from me visiting Chicago -- more than a year ago, it was before the My Lai exposé.
John Henry Faulk It's Will Boring, Will and his wife and son, they only have one named Frank live in a very plain little farmhouse out between Austin and Mainer, and a carload of television men and newsmen show up at his front door, he lives some 13 miles out of town, and Will comes out in his blue overalls and his sandy hair, his straight-lined face and pale blue eyes, and holds up his hands as they start in the house and said, "Sorry, boys, sorry I brung you all all the way out here, when you all called me on the telephone I said it'd be all right to come out at ten o'clock, but I'm afraid Frank ain't a-gonna to talk to you. He said to tell you all to go along, he didn't want to come out. No, sir, I don't know why. He, we're awful proud, me and my wife are to have him back, you know, we glad he come back but, he don't seem to be awful glad to be back. He'd just been sitting back there on his bed. I don't know. No, he ain't a-goin' down to that celebration they were going to hold for him, I know he, he said he didn't want to hear nothing about no heroes and nothing else. He don't want never hear about Vietnam no more. Well, I don't know, you see, we raised Frankie as our own son, we's awful proud of him, he's head of Four-H Club over at school and he -- we sometimes talked about him going on over there at San Marcos to that State Teachers College, you know, and but he's eighteen he said, 'I'm going to go and do my part for my country, by George, I ain't going to hang back like a heap of 'em doing,' and I didn't much want him to and neither did Eller, but he went on and a course, we'd back him on anything he'd decide to do, he had a good head on him you know, and he went down there Fort Sam Houston, come back in his uniform. I wasn't awful proud of no uniform, but I was proud of him for doing what he thought was good and he's proud and he went off and we'd heared from, you know, he is good about writing, he always wrote his Momma every week, and then he started dropping off in his writing, and then all this come up and, he I guess, I guess they knowed what they's doing over, and give them all them medals and everything, and he's supposed to -- did so good and all, but when he he got back yesterday he just -- he didn't wanna talk about it and he sit and talked to his Mom and me last night some at table, and that was after y'all had called and I said it'd be all right for you to come out ten o'clock, I thought he'd you know, he he's gone out and looked at the mules, he looked at the cat a lot, he looked at everything you know and stood there for the longest looking at it and then -- the only thing he told us was that he was -- he was just something had happened to him because he was -- said first he was proud over there and said he's pitching in with 'em and he'd go on them missions, yes, sir, he's in the infantry. He is, he is on his foot. They'd haul him places, you know, and he'd ride in them helicopters. But he'd jump off and then do the fighting in them bushes and that sort of thing, he sent us a picture of one of them places. He said that he didn't want to talk about them, their medals. He don't even want 'em. I don't know what he did with 'em, but they ain't been there in his room no more. He said what happened and he just told his mom and me that he was, him and boys there's a going into this place, you know, and they had run things down them holes and smoke 'em out and shoot 'em when they come out, you know. Them folks there's after was hiding out, and they're little bitsy folks and they can hide out, you know, and then him and his platoon was over in a place and they flushed out a heap of 'em and these people just looked at 'em, he said some of them and they knowed they's them there VCs there in one of them places, and they got around that house, and Frank said he's doing just as much shooting as anybody else and they say wasn't nothing in there but a woman and some children, and Frank got 'em when they come out. He said, "Why'd they make us do this? Shuckings, ain't nobody in there. Why didn't they just say so?" and he said one of his buddies said, "I reckon it was home sweet home to 'em." And Frank just said something happened to him then, and all he wanted to do was get back here and said somebody lied to him about that damn thing and that's the way he put it, said somebody's told him a damn line, and said some day he's going to get, get 'em. He used pretty bad language, he never did cuss in front of his momma before, but he said since -- well, he just quoted me, he said "Some sons of bitches lied to me to put me up to that. If I ever get at 'em, I'll God-damn well get at 'em." And then he just got up and walked in there. He's been -- I don't know whether he went to bed. His momma said she didn't know whether he went to bed last night or just sit down the side of his bed. He won't see y'all, ain't no use in you all staying out here no more. He don't want to see nobody no more."
Studs Terkel Well, that's terrific. I was thinking, and John it was a year and a half ago, when Will Boring told those television cameraman that his boy didn't want to see them. And it's a year and a half since, and what's happened.
John Henry Faulk Yes. And it hasn't stopped, Studs. It hasn't stopped, but somehow and other I still have a faith in this land that we live in. I've been visiting recently in a little place called Pear Orchard. It's a town somewhere located between Los Angeles and Atlanta, Georgia. It's populated by you and me and a lot of us just ordinary folks you know that inhabit the earth. And the last time I was down there, I heard about an old lady that had a antique chair, a rocking chair to sell, place is I say called Pear Orchard. And I drove out to her home, her name's Miss Fanny Rawlins, and I saw in the mailbox there "Rawlins," it's a country house, and I walked up through the oleanders and up the gravel walk, and sitting in a swing was this capacious lady on her front porch, as is a custom in southern homes, they all like to sit on pleasant days in their front porches. But she took up the entire swing. Her bosoms went all the way around to her backbone and her arm kind of rested out on 'em like a -- gave the appearance of a dominecker hen fixing to fly off the roost, and I said, "Howdy do, ma'am, I'm lookin for Miss Fanny Rawlins," and this great face of hers, broad smile looked like a great pan of dough that someone had started to work a countenance out on and then forgotten to finish up the job. It was kind of nondescript, but it was wreathed in a warm beneficent smile, and she said, "Well, honey, if you can't see her, you better go to an eye doctor and do it soon. I've been accused of a heap of things, but being invisible ain't one of them." I said, "Well, ma'am, I'm looking for a rocking chair that I understand you have." "You mean that little rocker setting right there on the porch? Well, that there, that's it. That's my papa's. Papa Nickels I always called him, you know my was a Nickels before I married Lloyd." And I said, "Well, you wouldn't be interested in selling it, would you, ma'am?" "Oh honey, no, you set in it and try it, and you'll see hit's the easiest little chair you ever set in, but I wouldn't want to get shed of it at all. No, honey, it has sentimental attachments for me. It's a chair Grandpa -- uh, that Papa Nickels passed away in. I was settin' here on the porch a-shellin' black-eyed peas. No, I wasn't doing no such a thing, what I was a-doin' was a-piecein' quilting scraps, and looking down in my lap naturally, you know, as I sewed, and a-chattin' with Papa Nickels, Papa he lived with us for so long. He was almost deaf, but he loved for me to talk to him, although he couldn't hear it, you know, he could just hear the buzz I reckon, and he'd grunt every now and then to let him know, let me know he was listening, you know? And I was a-settin' here, it was a sunny afternoon, I remember, and I forget now just what I was a-talking about, but I looked up and he passed away, and you know he had such a quiet passing there. His head just dropped forward on his chest. No death rattles, no death struggles. He might have been dead for as much as 15 minute fer as I know, and you know honey I've always said, had that been a straight chair, he would have come out of it. You know it's a scientific fact that a straight chair will not hold a corpse. But it bein' a rocker that way, he just rocked back in kinda, drop your arms a little bit and drop your head there and rock back. Now, that just the way he was a-settin.' No, you don't have to get out, honey, just set there, and you'll find it an easy rocker. Well, I wished you wasn't in a hurry, you know, my niece, cu-- my daughter-in-law Elouise come over here, she's married to Gurvious. Eloise, her last name was Stallnecker 'fore she got married, she's one of the Bohemian girls from down there close to LaGrange, you know, there's a heap of Bohemians there, I think they call them chicaslovaks or something down there now, but it used to be they was all Bohemians, but you know being a Bohemian that way didn't keep that girl from having talent. Oh, she's a sharp, she's the sharpest little ole briar, bless her heart. You know, she could rub her stomach in a semicircle, or a whole circle and pat her head at the same time, and you'd say, well you can't do that, you try it. Try it now. See there, you can't do it. She could do it, though, and let me tell you, she could recite all the verses of the Bible. Oh no, not starting at Genesis. Starting back there at Revelations and coming up to Genesis, backwards. And you know they tell me a heap of preachers can't do that. I ain't never seen a preacher could, as a matter of fact. I always said, "Eloise ought to be in Hollywood." But you know that whole family was talented that a-way. Her brother August, August Stallnecker, he's one arm but he was talented. I forget how he lost that left arm. It was either in a hay balin' accident or a car accident. I know this it was an accident. He didn't lose it on purpose, but you know his talent run to trainin' dogs, and he had that great big ole rawboned bluetick hound called Leroy. He had -- he's three-legged, Leroy was, and fortunately it was his left hind leg that was off and you know, it saved him a lot of trouble when he get up to a stump or something. Well, I didn't mean to bring that up, but you know, saving's like that's handy for a dog, but Leroy, now, he had that dog trained where he'd pack in a bucket of milk from out there to the barn. Couldn't milk it, but he could pack it in once August had milked it, and August trained him to pack in wood, and he'd be setting there by the stove, you know, and room, and he'd say, 'Leroy, woodbox is gettin' empty,' and old Leroy, that's all he'd have to say, old Leroy'd streak for that woodpile, you know, and he'd pick up a mouthful of kindlin' or stick'a stove wood, but bein' a dog that a way, he didn't have judgment, and he couldn't tell firewood from dynamite, and there was a road construction gang near there one time, and they left some dynamite layin' around, and old Leroy packed in a stick of it, put it in the woodbox, you know, 'cause the dog didn't know, Leroy didn't mean nothing by it, and August thoughtless-like picked up that stick of dynamite, stuffed in the stove near as we can tell. Well, I tell you this, honey, it was one of the most interestin' funerals they ever had down here in Pear Orchard now. Because they never did find nothing but August's left shoe and his foot was in it, left one, naturally, and you know this is where a funeral director always aggravates me. They wouldn't -- when their family went down to the funeral parlor tryin' to get a left shoe coffin, didn't have nothing that wasn't, couldn't been much, you know there didn't want a whole coffin, wanted part coffin, you know. No, he didn't have one. 'I'm sorry you have to take the whole thing,' and they got away with selling that family a whole coffin and I just couldn't help but be amused to think that there wasn't nothing but just a foot and a shoe in it, you know, at that there grave, it was wonderful funeral though. We never knowed what went with Leroy.
Studs Terkel But I'm thinking, you know, Johnny, one doesn't know whether to laugh or cry with your tales. That's the point, they -- I suppose that this is what's known as I suppose Texas Gothic, but it's that very point, isn't it? It's that division between laughter and tears, and as you talk about Mrs. Fanny -- Miss Fanny Rawlins. But wasn't that Gurvis, Miss Fanny, didn't she, didn't you have a son named Gurvis?
Studs Terkel Yeah.
John Henry Faulk Elouise had as smart a sister as you've ever seen, too. I'll tell you that. "Oh, that little old Annie Lee, Stallnecker? Just as -- purtiest little ole thing, she had little ole yellow curls, you know, come all the way down to her shoulders up 'til she's 12 years old, and she was out at the barn milking one morning? That they was a farmin' family, Bohemians mostly farmed down there at LaGrange, you know, and she was packing in two buckets of milk in full, and a thunderstorm come up, lightning struck her right between the eyes. Soured both buckets of them milk, and you know give her a headache?
Studs Terkel What?
John Henry Faulk But worse'n than that, hit straight into her. Just straight as a horse's tail. Bless her little old heart, you know. She got up courtin' age, she put her hair up in curlers, paper curlers for as much as three weeks at a time, you know, and it's so pitiful to see her try to get them curlers out and comb her hair, afore she could run a comb through it, it'd be straight as a horse's tail. And it flattened her chest. Yes, sir. Bless her little old heart, her little old chest just did -- I don't mean just flat-chested flat-chested; Honey, I'm talking about ironing board flat-chested. But let me tell you, them Bohemians just got get up and go in them now. That little old thing taught herself to typewrite, and she got her job working down there at state highway department. There in Austin, and saved up her money, bought her a pair of foam-rubber bosoms. Bless goodness, it changed little old Annie Lee's whole outlook on life from the front. Oh, my goodness, why, she'd come to church twiced on Sunday, a prayer meeting there Wednesday night you know, and takin' to singing in the Methodist choir, and she didn't have no more voice than a white-[legged bully?], but it was the bosoms, not the voice, you know? Yeah, she'd sit there, stand up thar you know, and I never will forget, she got to where she'd come to the third Thursday us ladies of the church, we'd do quiltin'? To make money for the church, you know, and the preacher little old brother Brewer was down there, sweet little old Methodist preacher, and he come down hoorah with us ladies, well, Annie Lee was sittin' right behind me at the quiltin' frame and we's sitting there quiltin', using them big old number nine needles you know, to run through the quilt, and as I say, she's sitting a little bit behind me, Brother Brewer was in front of me hoorah and all of a sudden his jaw went slack, sweat popped out on his head and his eyes started to roll back and his tongue lolled out like a choked-down yearly, and I thought he is having a faintin' fit. And I said, "Brother Brewer, are you well?" And he said, "My God, I don't know," and grabbed a door and went through it. Just went out the door. Turned my eyes and seen the whole thing right there. Annie Lee'd start using that left bosom as a pin cushion. Run that big old number nine needle in there, you know? Well, it hadn't hurt her, but it had give him such a jolt."
John Henry Faulk She was another capacious lady, she lives down in Pear Orchard too, and well, this was just the other day she was relating this incident to me, and I thought it was absolutely revealing. She said, oh I forget the occasion for me stopping by to see her there in Pear Orchard, but she was standing out working in her garden, you know, they garden early down there, that section because the freezes stop in February, and I said something about, oh, pollution or something of the sort. And she got around to the matter of violence. Now, I don't recall just how she did, but anyway, she said, "You know what's creatin' the violence in America today? Hippies. These old long-haired dirty thing mustaches and beards are hanging down and they were beatin' on them old guitars you know and just a-carryin' on? And you know where they pickin' up all that violence there? Well, let me tell ya. My nephew Frank told me about it. Franklin was over there, he you know went over there to Viet Nam. And he said he hadn't been over there three hours seeing some of them Vietnamese, and he seen the whole connection. Them Vietnamese is all hippies. Whole country just loaded with them. He said grown men and women wearing them old tacky clothes, hair hanging down every direction, and going barefooted and out in a public street in front of their own children. No shame, you know. And Frank said here's where the violence come in. He said he saw one of them search and destroy missions with his his buddy named Taber, him and old Taber. You know he said them ash ships go over them little old villages they call 'em, you know, and they hit 'em real good with that napalm and just burn the daylights out of 'em, but a heap o' times it don't burn 'em all, and so him and Taber was a-going in there to get them that hadn't been burned and says ain't nothing, they call him hoochies. That's what them people lives in, their hoochies. Said they just smelled to high heaven and said ain't nothing but straw and shucks and such as that, just whatever they can get to, you know, make 'em a house out of. And Taber and Frank was a-going along burning them that hadn't burnt down yet, you know, on that search and destroy thing. And he said he's standing there just a-burning one of them, you know, and good breeze blowing, and all of a sudden Taber yelled, "Look out, Frank!" and he turned his head and hears one of them old Vietnamese hippie-type women to come and runnin' out of one of them holes, you know, and her old face just contorted with hate, and she had a butcher knife in her hand or some such knife that was going to stab Frank right in the back, and he had hurt Frank's feelings. But thank goodness Taber got her right between the eyes, you know, and she went down, and here come one of them old grandpas, a pappy-san or whatever they call him, a-running out, and he snatched up that knife and he run. It -- Frank, and Frank got him with his service automatic. And then here's where the violence comes in. He said the child couldn't have been over 12 year old, come a-running out of that hole, come a-crawling out of that hole, and he run for that knife and said violence was just written in every line in that child's face. Yes, sir. And Frank got him too and left him stacked up there like cord wood. And Frank said, said that violence that them hippies over there practice in Viet Nam says it's what's a-givin' these hippies all this violence over here, and thank goodness you know President Nixon and the Pentagon understand that violence business. And when they get done a-puttin' it down over there, they're coming over here and put down a little bit of it too."
Studs Terkel Wow. Again we speak of John Henry Faulk as a chronicler, as an observer. There's laughter all of a sudden, the shock of horrendous recognition. Whereas I'm thinking Johnny, all these in Pear Orchard, if we just wander about, you, you met a man named Bo. I remember you talking about Bo Harkins, a Rotary. He's talking to Rotary.
John Henry Faulk Well, no, I was thinking about another, Rotary meeting is on on Tuesday. They have Rotary on Tuesday and Kiwanis on Thursday. But they, they, one of my favorite people down there was one of the first people I met there. I was driving in town and I stopped at a little filling station grocery store combination. And Ben Rutledge was sitting in a hide-bottomed chair reared up against the wall of his little establishment, and I started to, pulled up to in front, and he thought I wanted gas, he started to get up and I said, "No, I don't want gasoline. I just want some directions." Well, his little boy was playing with a double-barreled shotgun, a little child 8 years old. Double-barrel 16-gauge shotgun. And he was looking down the business end of it, and that rather startled me, although having guns in Texas or anywhere in the South, I understand that Ramsey Clark said the other day that there are more guns in the South per capita than anywhere else on the face of the earth. But it did startle me to see a 12-year-old -- eight-year-old child playing with a full-size shotgun. At any rate, I told Ben not to get up, I just wanted directions to the county courthouse, and a warm smile came over his face and he didn't move a muscle, said, "Well, thank goodness. I can give you instructions a heap cheaper'n I can give you gasoline, an' easier, too. I can tell you just how to get there. You go right on down here -- just a minute. Elbert, now, I've told you honey, quit playing with that shotgun. And don't be a-looking down it, I've done told you it was loaded. You can't see by looking down the barrel from that end whether it's loaded or not, it's dark down there. Now, Elbert, quit it. Put it down, I told you a thousand times put down that shotgun, quit playin' with it. All right, you go blow your head off your shoulders, and your mama wear you out. Elbert, now put it down. P-U, however you spell it, down. Put it down, now Elbert. I didn't say point it at me. Put it down! I swear he's killed every chicken on the place almost, blowed two holes through the roof already. There's nothing to make him happy 'cept play with that shotgun. Now Elbert, put it down. No, not at that man, don't you point at that man in the car, he'll get mad at ya. Now, put it down. There you go, right on down the road here to the third red light and you turn left, and that's the courthouse. That light might be green when you get there."
Studs Terkel Let's hold off on Bo Harkins for a minute, because this reminded me, reminded me of something else that you were talking here about -- what was I thinking of, there's so many -- well, it's your town. It's your, it's your community.
John Henry Faulk Congressman Guffaw is the favorite son, being the only son of that congressional district. And I heard about him long before I ever met the good gentleman because I know there's a number of people down there that don't care for him at all, that say he's rather backward and he's about five foot high and about that wide, he's got jowls on him kind of like a Poland China shoat. And his eyes when he gets excited bug out like a bull yearling looking at a new gate, but otherwise they're enfolded in considerable flesh on his face and there are those that say Congressman Guffaw is very much like a baby mockingbird: a whole lot of mouth and very little bird. But on the occasion that I met him, they were having a big homecoming for him down at Walnut Springs near Pear Orchard. All the community gathered, you know, politics are big affairs down there, it's more of a social affair really than it is a political affair, especially what Congressman Guffaw furnished the barbecue free and all the soda water they could drink, and the whole community was down there and they backed a truck up with red, white and blue bunting around it under the shade of a big spreading pecan tree and the local political leader in that area got up and said it's, "Everybody come in close now, because we're going to have words of wisdom that'll affect the lives of every man, woman and child in this congressional district. Our hero is back, back from the wars in Washington. That great mind, that Atlas of integrity, that Gibraltar of intellect, I give you now Congressman John Guffaw." Well, Congressman Guffaw got up and he spread his arms out in kind of a semicircle and oozed sweetness, he said, "Feller Texans, ooh, I could just reach out and hug and kiss every one of you and back down in Pear Orchard with the people I love. Uh, you know my wife often teases me and says, 'John, you love those people too much. You sacrifice too hard for those people down in Pear Orchard. You're going to wear yourself out before your time.' And I tell her, Mae, you can't love the good people of Pear Orchard too much. They're the salt of the earth.' You know I'm not down here just to talk nonsense today. I'm down here to talk about burning vital issues. You know, my opponents have attacked me, and they've attacked me correctly. They've said, 'John Guffaw loves the American flag too much. John Guffaw worships the Bible too much. John Guffaw honors motherhood too much.' I plead guilty. I'm guilty of that, yes. I'm old-timey American because I happen to believe that's the way that people in Pear Orchard want it. But I'm down here to talk about burning vital issues today. I'm down here to tell you exactly where America stands today, and what issues I stand on and why I stand there on them, and you know they often accuse me of not being candid and direct. Well, I will hope some of my opponents are out there in the audience today, although I only see faces that I love, because I want them to hear it right out of the horse's mouth today. You know I have been accused by my friends. They say, 'John, you're too honest with people, you're too straight-forward. You can't afford, you got to the shade the truth a little.' I said, 'I'm sorry, I can't. I come from Pear Orchard, and I learned the truth a long time ago at the knee of that old mother of mine right there in Pear Orchard.' Oh motherhood, motherhood, the sweetest name I know. Feller Americans, good Texans, neighbors in Pear Orchard. I sometimes think that the Almighty in His divine wisdom when He saw fit to create in the most perfect work on Earth, selected this paradise on Earth, the Lone Star State of Texas, and He came to this garden of Eden on Earth, Pear Orchard, Texas. And He caught the gold from the Texas sunrise and the perfume from the Texas Blue Bonnet, our state flower. And He caught the sweetest notes from the throat of the Texas mockingbird, our state bird, and He compounded and molded them all together into that quintessence of sweetness, into that epitome of all virtue, my mother. Now, folks, I've enjoyed this little visit with you today. Don't nobody leave the barbecue grounds unless I've had a chance to shake your hands. I love y'all."
John Henry Faulk Strong supporter of his. You see, the Pear Orchard Garden Club meets the third Thursday of each month. Dynamic group, and on the occasion that I was invited to go, they had Miss Effie McDoo as their principal speaker, because it was a long and spring and the sweet pea plantin' time and she is the sweet pea authority, and when she got up, the chair-- chairwoman introduced her. I fell in love with her because she was a huge soul, with great bosoms that bulged out toward the audience and she had pince nez glasses on the left extremity of one, and she put them on her nose, bless her heart and they'd fall off, and the only thing that was broader than her smile as she got up was her bosoms. "Girls of Magnolia Garden Club! It's such a joy and a pleasure to be with you, but it's more than that. It's a challenge and an adventure because I don't believe that braver and newer things, more dramatic things are being done in anybody's beds anywhere than are being done right here in the Garden Club girls' beds. I know why you all asked me to come, you wanted me to speak on my sweet peas, cause my [fault?] has to be [called?] sweet peas everywhere I go, they can't culture sweet peas, can't culture sweet peas. It's true that my old tacky raggedy sweet peas didn't win a number of first prizes and Governor Chivas you know back in 1953 said, "Every time I think of Effie McDoo I think of a sweet pea." I thought that was so sweet of him. Girls, I'm not going to talk about [the canned?] culture sweet peas today. I'm going to talk about something that I think is far more important, something that is far more pertinent to the welfare of the sweet pea. I'm going to talk about the civil rights of sweet peas. A lot of 'em can say "Well, what in the world is civil rights sweet peas? Girls, the sweet peas' civil rights are threatened today. You hear about civil rights all the time? Sweet pea civil rights are threatened by whom? Two words explain the whole thing: Supreme Court. You're gonna say, "Well great goodness alive, Supreme Court hadn't been down here stomping around your sweet pea beds, have they? Have to tell you a story, girls, and you'll have to bear with me a minute. All of you that know me very well know that I have this wonderful old yard man I've had for the last 35 years, Uncle Cy, one of those grand old darkies you know that just know how to do, and do and do, and my husband's often teased me and said, 'Well, you ought to give Uncle Cy part of the first prizes you win for your sweet peas 'cause he knows more about sweet peas than you do,' and it's true that Uncle Cy does know a lot about sweet, did know a lot about sweet peas. He also knew that I had a sweet pea neuroses. You see, I like to have my sweet peas in the ground the week before Christmas. I know a lot of you girls don't put 'em in ground 'til late February, but I want my sweet peas in the ground the week before Christmas. I like for 'em to be asleep when Santy Claus comes. Well, Uncle Cy knew that. And for 35 years, the day before, week before Christmas, Uncle Cy came, got those sweet peas in the ground, I didn't have a thing in the world to worry about. Last year, a week before Christmas came, sweet pea day, and no Uncle Cy. Well, of course I had a thousand and one things to worry about, there was no Uncle Cy there, I asked my maid, I said, my cook, I said, 'Mabel, where in the world is Uncle Cy, he knows he's supposed to be here by daylight, and he's not here even yet, and it's an hour after daylight, you know, I'm just impatient." And she just looked at me very calmly and said, 'Well, law, Miss Effie, haven't you heard? Uncle Cy passed away in late October.' Well, girls, I was shocked. I was shocked and dismayed, because he certainly hadn't sent word to me to that effect. But of course as good as you are to them,, you know, they will disappoint you. I don't suppose Lee's thrown away an old pair of shoes or an old suit of clothes in the last 25 years that Uncle Cy didn't get first bid on, you know. But I decided right then and there that if he was going to treat me that way that I wasn't going to be defeated. I don't come from old Southern pioneer stock for nothing. So I just went to telephone, I called the county agent and I said, 'I want to know where there's a man that knows something about gardening and sweet peas,' and so he said, told me about a young man out here, he said he'd been to agricultural school and all is there, and he lived over in the colored part of town. But I just got in the car, I didn't have a chauffeur that day, but I drove out there myself. Just took my life in my hands, and drove out there and I finally am you know, the roads are so ruddy and everything and not fit to drive a car over, but I just drove out there to the house, and here was this man named Will something, anyway he was sitting there with his wife and his 10 or 12 pickaninnies around him, you know, like all [them all?]. And I asked him if he was the one, and he said yes, he had taken an agricultural course and he'd been trying to get work, and I said, well, explained about my sweet peas to him, he said well, he'd come tomorrow morning, I said, 'Oh no you won't. You'll go back with me right now. Those sweet peas are going in the ground a week before Christmas, and this is the week before Christmas. So he said all right, so he got in the car, came back with me and everything, and girls, when he got out there in my garden, I don't know whether you've ever had the exhilarating experience of having someone in your beds that knew exactly what they were doing. But I was, I tell you I was just thrilled to death. He was an expert. Oh, yes, he went about it you know and just a-sawin the [pan and the?], haulin' the mulch and all that, I was just beside myself, I just couldn't think of anything else, went around the house singing and talk, I know everybody thought I'd -- crazy neighbors. I went to piano and played, you know, I was going to be a concert pianist when I was down at [Wardell Mott?], they -- Beethoven and Wagner, all those big musicians came through there and urged me to continue with my musical career because I did have a talent for the piano. But of course, when one gets married, you know, they don't always care about the career. Home comes first. With us Southern ladies at any rate. And -- but I went to piano, I played Wagner's 'To An Evening Star,' just a lot of classical music you know. Everybody could hear it, I just, well I just was beside myself, I was just happy. End of the day came, young man came in, I saw, noticed that he hadn't gotten the frames up and hadn't gotten the peas in the ground yet, he'd gotten their beds all laid and everything set, and you know, I have righted a half-acre of sweet pea beds, and he came in though, came out of the kitchen door, and said he needed his money for that day, and I said, 'Well, you haven't got the peas in yet,' and he said, well he'd come first thing in the morning get them in, and get the frames up, you know, and so I just looked in my purse and got the money out, you know, thoughtlessly and gave him his money and I said, 'Well, I'll pay you now but you be sure you back here at daylight now.' Well, girls, he stood there and he looked at that 50 cent piece and that quarter, then he looked up at me with just defiance in his eyes, said, 'Madam, is this my day's pay?' And in all innocence I said, 'Well, why, why yes, I'm giving you a little bonus today.' Because I'd never had given Cy but 50 cents, you know, he'd been happy with it. All a sudden, his nostrils flared, his eyes widened, he flung that money on the floor right in front of me. Said 'Madam, I believe you need money worse than I do.' And turned around, flung out the door. Slammed the door in my face! Well girls, needless to say, I was there alone. I almost fainted. I had to grab a chair to keep from fallin' on the floor. You know I'd heard of this 'Black Power' and these Black Panthers and everything, I never expected to be confronted in my own home you know, with violence and that sets the, well we'd had, you know, I'd heard of violence and that sort of thing, I know we had a big -- oh, what do you call those things? Where they lynch, lynchin' thing down there when I was a little girl and everything, but I never had really confronted violence before right my own home. Well, I was sittin' there still shaken when Lee came home, and I was careful to tell him. You know, I didn't want to get him excited because you know he's very, very Southern about those things. And I was afraid he'd just get a gun and go out and do some shootin'. But I told him the story, and to my surprise he just sat there and drummed his fingers on the table, and I said, 'Lee what's the matter with you?' He said, 'Well honey, I could've told you that was going to happen.' And I said, "Could a told me what was going to happen?' He said, 'Honey, don't you know you -- that Supreme Court up there in Washington, D.C. that passed that rule about colored people and white people goin' to school together? Don't you know that rule hadn't got nothin' to do with colored people and white people goin' to school together? That rule has to do with people, these Blacks not working for six bits a day no mo'. Uncle Cy is dead and gone. You might as well forget about it. He'll never be back again. You'll never get anybody work six bits a day for you any mo'.' Well, girls, I was shocked, and I looked at Lee and I said, 'Lee, where in the world is red-blooded American manhood today? Where are the old values in America today that such a thing as a Supreme Court is allowed to run loose in this country?' He looked at me and he said, 'Well honey, I don't know what you talked about. I don't know what you think we can do about it. Us men folks can't do nothing. Now, what would you like for me to do about the Supreme Court?' And I said, 'Well I think the least thing you men, if you have any respect for the flag, if you have any respect for freedom, would get together and deport 'em!' Well girls, he looked at the floor a minute, then he looked up at me and he said, 'Honey, that's just the hell of it. The Supreme Court has pulled the same stunt that old Roosevelt and all that crowd pulled, these old radicals pulled, they come here and get theirselves born, and you can't deport 'em.' So girls, I don't have sweet peas this year, I'm not sure I'm gonna put on any sweet peas again until I know that the civil rights of sweet peas will be protected. Thank you."
Studs Terkel That's Miss Effie McDoo. She lives in Pear Orchard, but doesn't Pear Orchard have a dissenter, too living. I remember you told me about someone who said he was not part of the silent majority. Involving
John Henry Faulk Oh, it's got a lot of dissenters. Hasn't this country got a lot of dissenters? And let me tell you something, Studs, I don't call dissenters dissenters. I call them truth seekers. It's a very fascinating thing about our society that the thing that gave it its distinction, its originality, the thing that those men in 1787 brought into being there in Philadelphia, our founding fathers, was a free society, a society in which men could express opinions, not be described as dissenters but be described as talkers, of building of building an ideal union, a society you see, and it's a mark of our period that the word 'dissent' has become a pejorative word, because to me it's the highest [thought?]. Do you know that women would never have voted in this country if there had not been dissenters? Do you know that there wouldn't -- the Blacks would never have been freed from this hideous, sinful, black crime against man called slavery had there not been dissension? Dissenters?
John Henry Faulk Do you know there would never have been a United States of America had there not been dissenters? So it's a word that's very honored in my lexicon, but there are dissenters in Pear Orchard.
John Henry Faulk Oh, yes. Oh, oh, I know who you're talking about now. Frank Oatman. Mr. Frank Oatman. Mr. Frank Oatman's in his 60s, and to see Mr. Frank Oatman, you'd say well, this is a weatherbeaten dairyman farmer that has stood the worst vicissitudes of the Depression back in the '30s. He came through it as he said without even a pair of socks and there are no drawers to wear. He's not bad off now, he's doing pretty well, but he was telling me the other day when I encountered him down there in [Cabiness'?] furniture store right across from Crawford's feed store in Pear Orchard there on the courthouse square. A car went by with two or three flags on the antenna and a bumper sticker saying "America: Love It Or Leave It." And I noticed Mr. Frank looking at it, eyeing it, and his eyes kind of narrowed, and he spit out into the gutter. Then I said, "What's the matter? You know that man?" He said, "No, I don't know him, but I don't like him. Johnny, you know my nephew down at my house here the other day. Come down there, he had six bumper stickers on his car. 'America: Love It Or Leave It.' And I says, 'Ernest, you know what them bumper stickers say?' He says, 'Yeah, they say 'America: Love It Or Leave It.' I said, 'That ain't what they mean, though, is it?' He says, 'You're darn tootin' it's what it mean, I'll knock a man's teeth down his throat don't love America.' I said, 'That ain't what they mean at all. They mean, by George, 'You better agree with me or I'll stomp the daylights out of you.' And that ain't what America means at all. America means everybody can hold what opinion he wants to and stand unmolested before the law. Frank -- Ernie looked at me and said, 'Well, now wait a minute. By George, you sound like one of them old left-wingers or old troublemakers or some such.' He said, I said, 'Well, I am a troublemaker. I'm getting tired of you and old Agnew and old Nixon are trying to cram that kind of idiocy down the American people's throat. Just gettin' good and tired of it. It makes me fightin' mad!' He said, 'You better be careful, by George. They'll get word of you up there in Washington, D.C. and come down here and take care of you.' I said, 'Well, I'm just liable to take care of some of them, and you phone your friend J. Edgar Hoover, a weak-minded thing a-going around a-peeking in on everybody. Creatin' all kind of devilment. Tell him to come on down here. Let me tell you something, Ernie. I want you to get this through your head with all those idiotic signs on your car. Old man Nixon and old man Agnew come to me two year ago, and they said 'Mr. Voter, please elect us. We know how to drive this American bus better than anybody does. We know the road to peace and prosperity. We'll drive along so smooth won't jolt nobody.' By George, we give him the job and they got under the steering wheel and they started driving. Now that they're off down there and don't know where the roads at and are taking all kind of bumps and curves and they hittin' every chughole that comes along, joltin' the daylights out of me and my wife and children, scarin' my neighbors to death, I reach up and tap him on the shoulder and say 'Nixon, get back up there where you said you was gonna drive that on that smooth road.' I don't want him nor don't want his friend Mr. Agnew a-turning around and saying 'Get off the bus if you don't like my drivin,' 'cause it happens to be my bus too, Ernie. This American bus is my bus just as much as it is Mr. Hoover's or the Pentagon boys or the whole shootin' matches of 'em. And I don't take no lip off of none of them. They don't -- they're the ones that can get out from under the driver's seat any time they want to, and I'd welcome their resignation. By the way, Ernie, when you're writin' to Mr. Hoover or Mr. Nixon, you be sure and tell them that they might have a silent majority, but it's minus one now, namely me."
Studs Terkel You know what we haven't -- in your town I know there's a great deal of talk about this as in every town, this is Pear Orchard you're talking about. [You're?] talking about child raising and child rearing. I'm thinking of Aunt Edith, I think this is -- out of, before Spock's book came out, before he was -- Spock rather became known for other matters, you
John Henry Faulk No, as a matter of fact that's very interesting, because it was Spock that sprung this whole thing. I went out to see this lady that I call Aunt Edith actually, she's not my aunt at all, but everyone calls her Aunt Edith. Aunt Edith Matlock, and Aunt Edith lives outside of town a piece on a farm, and I was carrying a book of Spock's on child-raising home to my wife. You know, we have a baby there at home and as my family all says down there in Texas, it's the only child born under Medicare in the state of Texas. A reference to my age, folks. At any rate at any rate , I's taking this book of Spock's home, and Aunt Edith's sitting there in a rocking chair on the front porch at her home when I stopped by to get some roasting ears from her, and I said, she said something about the book and I said, "Well this is a book on child-raising. Have you heard of Spock on child raise?" "I sure have, honey. Oh yes, I have. You know, my sister tried to cram that thing down my throat, this business of child-raising. It's what's ruined America today is all this here scientific business on child-raising. You know my little -- my first boy, Ashford, little old Ash, was sweetest little old thing, he was my first child, and a lot of my family my sister said, "Well, you ought to get you a book to raise Dash by." I said, no such a thing. I've got a book, the Holy Bible. That's all I ever raised him by. And when Dash was three and a half years old, little old Claudie was born. We called him Tootsie Man. And Lee my husband used to just love to tease Dash, he'd say, "Well, we don't need you no more, we got another baby now. And we'd just throw you to the hogs if you keep a-cutting up like that. And oh, it'd make old Dash so mad you know, he'd just butt his little old head on the floor and turned black, you know. And I'd give him a wearing out fer it, I'd give him a good whooping fer it. And my sister said, "Now you got to develop a high temper in that child. But you know Dash would, was sweet little old thing, he'd, but he always had it in for Claudie somehow or another when Claudie was just a baby. Dash, if he could get at him, he'd tear him up. He hit him across the left ear with a pine knot one time like taking poor little old Claudie's left ear off. And Lee come home and said, "Well, sir, now you've just carried it too fer, young man," and Dash was about four years old, and said, "We're gonna carry you out there and lock you up in that corn crib and let them old gray rats eat you." And oh, Dash just carried on, you know, he is a big put-on. He just acted like he's gonna have faintin' fits, and he yelled and he turned purple in the face. Lee picked him up, carried him out there, though. Locked him up in the corn crib, we tried to go to bed that night and you couldn't sleep in this part of the county. Oh, Dash was just screaming and a-yelling and it carried on. Rattling that corn crib, you know, and making such a racket. So I told Lee, I said I can't get no sleep that young 'un a-carryin' on like that. Lee went out there and gave him a good whooping and brung him in, and made him sleep on the floor without no blankets, you know. And Dash, he, the next day he still couldn't eat that, you know he's just showing off, he's gonna pout about it, you know, [you just kind of jerk on over it?] and all that [sissy thing?]. But you know, when my sister said, what you gonna see, you better get you a book and raise that young 'un by. I said, "Don't you worry, I know what I'm a-doing. And little old Dash, he'd just, oh you know, he was a smart child. Honey he was smart. By the time that child's six years old, he told his ABCs all the way down to LMN. And when he was seven he started school. Over at the Magnolia schoolhouse? And Lee had that old cripple-leg mule, that [got-sheared?] mule, called him Pete, and Dash would ride over there to Magnolia schoolhouse, it's just a little old schoolhouse, you know two-room schoolhouse, and they didn't have toilets for the boys, the boys all went to the bushes, and girls had the toilet. And Dash would come home from school ridin' that mule every afternoon. And it's 5 miles over, you know, and he would be a-cryin, he'd be a-squallin', you know, and we'd say, "What's the matter, sugar?" And he'd say them old big boys jumped on him and slapped his little jaws 'til his ears rung. So Lee told him one time, Lee -- one night Lee just got tired of it. He said, "Now, tell you what. I'm going to give you my Dallas special. A Dallas special, honey, I don't know whether you're ever seen them or not, but they're a, they're a skinning knife. Got a long sharp blade and you press a button and throw the blade its a, it carries like a pocket knife, but if you press a button it'll throw a blade for you about six inches, seven inches long. And Lee just sharpened that just as sharp as a piano, ooh, he got it this sharp, you know, and showed little Dash how to press that button and throw that blade without cuttin' his little fingers with it, you know, and said, "Now, them old boys jump you tomorrow, I want you to cut 'em and cut 'em good deep." And bless his heart, little old Dash went ridin' off to school the next morning, he was the proudest little old thing. And sure enough, at recess time them two oldest Oatman boys and that old Simpson boy, Grover Simpson, you know. Now, Grover's his own third cousin. But they all a heap bigger than Dash, and Dash was a-going to the bushes, and he always had a weak bladder. Don't never say anything to Dash if you see him, but you know Dash never could -- he wet the bed 'til he was almost grown. Never could break hisself off of it. I'd whoop him and everything else, but at any rate, he was started to the bushes, and Grover and them backed him up again the wall and started slapping his little jaws. Just slapping his little jaws good and his little ears started ringing. Well, sir, Dash didn't say a thing. Just run his hand in his little pocket. Got that knife out, throwed that blade and he started slicin' on 'em. Oh, he cut 'em and he cut 'em good, oh, he just cut the daylights out of 'em, it was just -- he just cut 'em -- and surprised them. He cut that old, one of them oldest Oatman boys plumb to the holler, you know, they had to lay him on his back or his entrails would have dropped out just like the hogs at hog-killin' time, and he cut his own cousin. Left arm, all the ligaments loose in his left arm. Now, that was 33, no, 34 year ago. And you go down to that Sinclair station there in Pear Orchard where Grover's working now and he still runs that station, but he ain't close that left hand 'til this day, all them fingers is all pulled back. Never did get the ligaments tied back together. When Dash come home, he was the proudest little old thing, had blood all over him, but he'd just come home. He's so proud of hisself he couldn't see straight, and Lee was proud of him, too. And my sister said, "Well, you gonna see, he's gonna turn out bad. You ought to study a book or something on raising children. But Dash turned out just as good, you know, bless his little old heart. He always had a high temper, and I know when he set the church house on fire, everybody blamed me fer it. Said I taught him that [venous?]. Dash knowed what he was doing. He was mad at the Sunday school teacher, and I think when you get mad you've got a right to do something to show you're mad, you know, you don't want to suppress madness. And Dash turned out real good now, a lot of people said well, he ain't a-gonna turn out, he's gonna turn out this way and that way. Dash is up there you know in the eastern part of Louisiana. He was a-working on the railroad up there, he was a section boss on the railroad, but he ain't no more. He's, he's quit all that now. He's got an executive position. He's head of the Ku Klux Klan in all that section up there now. The Grand Kleagle or whatever they call it for the whole thing."
Studs Terkel John Henry Faulk, as you're talking we suddenly realize that -- we suddenly we have realized all the way that these are grotesqueries that you offer. At the same time, these horrendous truths about the aspects of man, what can happen, you know. This is all in Pear Orchard. Perhaps a couple of more people before we leave your community. I was thinking of Bo Hawk -- Bo Harkins and Aunt
John Henry Faulk Cousin Ed Snodgrass is an old gentleman that has always fascinated me since I first met him there in Pear Orchard. He had a sign up, it's rathertell faded now, but you see the -- during World War II, they set an army camp up near Pear Orchard, and soldiers came from all over the parts, all parts of the country down there, and Cousin Ed heard that Yankees were coming, and he put a sign up that they'd have Yankee soldiers down there, and he put a sign up and said, "Yankee, beware. Robert E. Lee might a give up, but I ain't." And this rather epitomized his whole approach to life. Nothing had happened since 1860 really that pleased him, although he had been born much after that, he still lived in the dream of the Confederacy, and this always fascinates me, you know, Studs, that one can live in that period and in any way glorify a period, the most dismal and hideous period of our national history really. But he did, and he lived it true. But he's also up to date. He reads, he listens to radio, stays abreast things, and I went down to see him the other day, and he was leaning back on his hide-bottomed chair there on his front porch looking out under his Chinaberry tree in the front yard as he always is. I said, "Cousin Ed, what's been happening that pleases you?" "Nuthin'!" I said, "Well, I'm sorry to hear that Cousin Ed, you mean the world's still headed for hell in a hack like it was the last time I talked to you?" "Worse than that, Johnny. I'll tell you what's the matter with America today. Its all this carryin' on. A people a-criticizing and a-carryin' on." I said, "Well now, wait a minute, Cousin Ed, don't you believe in the right to dissent?" "Of course I believe in the right to dissent. Its a sacred American right. Mr. Nixon, Mr. Agnew believe in the right to dissent. What we've got to put a stop to is criticism. Criticize, criticize, criticize. Why can't these old critics leave the Pentagon alone and let it fight its war in peace? If they want to criticize somebody, let them go there Viet Nam, criticize that bunch of heathens over there. Look how two-faced and hypocritical they've been acting. Johnny, for the last 15 years, that Ho Chi Meany and Hadanoy, Veet Kong crowd been saying 'Get the foreigners out of Viet Nam, get the foreigners out of Viet Nam.' Just last week I seen a picture of some of 'em on television. Johnny, they the foreignest-looking outfits I ever laid eyes on. But these old critics don't pay no mind to that, peaceniks and doves and peace sign carryin' preachers. 'Stop the War in Viet Nam.' They're ignorant! It's I-G, I-G how the hell ever you spell it ignorance that's a-ruinin America, Johnny. These old critics, "Half-Bright" as I call that senator up there in Washington by God. Just, just ignorant! It's downright ignorance. I know, because I was ignorant on Viet Nam myself. 'Til I heared a sermon by Billy Graham, and he had opened my heart. And then I heared a speech by Mr. Nixon, President Nixon explainin' that Viet Nam thing, and that opened my mind. By George, I decided I wasn't going to be ignorant no more, I went and got me a geography book and looked it up. I went to a little trouble, that's more than these old peaceniks will do, and I seen right there where the peaceniks and all such as that is just ignorant. Viet Nam ain't in Cuber; it's way the hell and gone over yonder in a place called Asier. And what does that tell you about Vietnamese people? They're Asian foreigners, and it's in scriptures or it's in Shakespeare somewhere where an Asian foreigner is a most undependable type you could come across. Can't depend on them for shucks! Well, the Pentagon knows that. Mr. Nixon knows that. We've got to bomb them. You can't depend on them to bomb theyselves. Well, you can't even depend on that crowd to fight each other, less you stay there and keep their mind on their Christian duty night and day. No, they'd a quit fightin' long ago. Been down there workin' around them rice paddies and such as that. They're undependable. We go where, spent ten thousand dollars. Johnny, more than that, 10 million dollars, of [pies in and?] rice, trying to get shed of the rice. And they're out the next morning to plant it. By daybreak. They don't care what it costs taxpayers of America. Oh, Johnny, you can't depend, I'm just ask yourself this: If we wasn't bombing them, who would be? No, they're like, Johnny, you were raised a Christian. Put it to yourself this way: If Jesus Christ was over there in Viet Nam today, our Savior was over there, would he be down in them bamboo thickets and them rice paddies with a bunch of half-naked heathens? People that wouldn't come to church if you sent 'em an engraved invitation? People that don't even spend -- spell - speak the English language, the language the Holy Bible was wrote in? Or would Jesus be up in them B-52s and them Phantom bombers with them fine Christian boys it's been to church over here in America and know the love of God and know what to do when they get over those villages with that napalm and git that, that press that button, boy?"