. Bound for glory (engl)


       First Plume Printing, September, 1983

       Copyright  1943 by E. P. Dutton
       Renewed copyright  1971 by Marjorie M. Guthrie

       Guthrie, Woody, 1912-1967.
       Bound for glory.
       Reprint. Originally published: New York: E. P. Dutton, 1943.

     Scan, OCR  & proofreadin':  T.A.G.  a.k.a. Copper Kettle,  November
2002, Ekaterinburg
       .      - .   -
        .  -       ,

     Woody Guthrie, 1912-1967
     0x08 graphic
     One of Woody Guthrie's last songs, written a year  after he entered the
hospital,  was  titled I  Ain't  Dead  Yet.  The  doctors  told  him he  had
Huntington's chorea, probably inherited, a  progressive  degeneration of the
nervous system for which there was no cure known. For thirteen more years he
hung on,  refusing to give up.  Finally he could no longer walk nor talk nor
focus his eyes nor feed himself, and his great will to  live was  not enough
and his heart stopped beating.
     The news reached me while I was on tour in Japan. All I could  think of
at first was, "Woody will never die, as long as there are people who like to
sing  his songs."  Dozens of  these are known by  guitar pickers across  the
U.S.A., and one of them has become loved by tens of millions of Americans:

     This land is your land, this land is my land,
     From California to the New York island,
     From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters,
     This land was made for you and me.

     He was a short,  wiry guy with a mop of  curly hair under a cowboy hat,
as I first saw him. He'd stand with his guitar slung  on his  back, spinning
out stones like Will Rogers,  with a  faint,  wry grin. Then he'd hitch  his
guitar around  and  sing the  longest long  outlaw ballad you ever heard, or
some Rabelaisian fantasy he'd concocted the  day before and might never sing
     His songs are deceptively simple. Only after they have become  part  of
your  life do  you  realize  how  great  they are. Any  damn  fool  can  get
complicated.  It  takes genius  to  attain  simplicity.  Woody's  songs  for
children are now sung in many languages:

     Why can't a dish break a hammer?
     Why, oh why, oh why?
     Because a hammer's got a pretty hard head.
     Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

     His music stayed rooted  in the blues, ballads and breakdowns he'd been
raised on in the Oklahoma Dust  Bowl. Like  Scotland's  Robert Bums and  the
Ukraine's Taras  Shevchenko, Woody was  a national  folk poet Like  them, he
came  of a  small-town background,  knew poverty, had a burning curiosity to
learn. Like them,  his talent brought him to the city, where he was lionized
by the  literati but from whom he declared his independence and remained his
own profane, radical, ornery self.
     This honesty  also  eventually  estranged him  from  his  old  Oklahoma
cronies.  Like  many an Oklahoma  farmer, he had  long taken  a dim  view of
bankers.  In  the desperate early Depression  years he developed a religious
view of Christ  the Great  Revolutionary. In the cities  he threw in his lot
with the labor movement:

     There once was a Union maid.
     She never was afraid
     Of goons and ginks and company finks
     And the deputy sheriff that made the raids.

     He broadened  his feeling to include  the  working  people  of  all the
world, and it may come as a surprise to some readers to know that the author
of This Land Is Your Land was in 1940 a columnist for the small newspaper he
euphemistically called  The  Sabbath  Employee.  It  was The  Sunday Worker,
weekend edition  of the Communist  Daily Worker.  Woody  never argued theory
much, but you can be quite sure that today he would have poured his fiercest
scorn on the criminal fools who sucked America into the Vietnam mess:

     Why do your warships sail on my waters?
     Why do your bombs drop down from my sky?
     Why do you burn my towns and cities?
     I want to know why, yes, I want to know why.

     But Woody always  did more  than condemn. His  song Pastures of  Plenty
described  the life  of the  migrant fruit pickers,  but ends  on a note  of
shining affirmation:

     It's always we've rambled, that river and I.
     All along your green valley I'll work till I die.
     My land I'll defend with my life if it be,
     For my Pastures of Plenty must always be free.

     A  generation of  songwriters  have  learned from  him--Bob Dylan,  Tom
Paxton, Phil Ochs and I guess many more to come.
     As we scatter his ashes over the waters I can hear Woody hollering back
to us, "Take it easy--but take it!"

       The Secretary of the Interior
       April 6, 1966
     Dear Mr. Guthrie,
     It gives  me  great  pleasure  to  present you the  Department  of  the
Interior's Conservation Service Award. In conjunction with this award we are
also naming  a Bonneville  Power Administration substation in your honor. It
will  be known  hereafter as the Woody Guthrie Substation in  recognition of
the fine work you have done to make our  people aware of  their heritage and
the land.
     You sang that "this land belongs to you and me," and  you sang from the
heart  of  America that feels this about its  land. You have articulated, in
your songs,  the sense of identification  that each  citizen  of our country
feels toward this land and  the  wonders which it holds. You brought to your
songs a heart  as big as all  outdoors, and we are  fortunate to  have music
which  expresses the  love and affection  each of us feels,  though  we  are
unable to express it so eloquently, toward this land . .  . "from California
to the New York Island-- from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters."
     Yours was  not  a  passing  comment on the  beauties  of nature,  but a
living, breathing, singing force in our struggle to use our land and save it
too.  The greatness of this  land  is that people such as you, with creative
talent, worked on it and that you told about that work--told about the power
of the Bonneville Dam and the men  who harnessed it, about the length of the
Lincoln  Highway and  the men  who  laid  it out.  You  have  summarized the
struggles and the deeply held convictions of all those who love our land and
fight to protect it.
     Sincerely yours,
     Stewart L. Udall
     Secretary of the Interior
     Mr. Woodrow W. Guthrie
     Brooklyn State Hospital
     681 Clarkson Avenue
     Brooklyn, New York

     0x08 graphic


     foreword: "So Long, Woody, It's Been Good To Know Ya" by Pete Seeger


     a  tribute to  woody  guthrie  by Stewart  L. Udall, Secretary  of  the
     soldiers in the dust
     empty snuff cans
     i ain't mad at nobody
     new kittens
     mister cyclome
     cain't no gang whip us now
     fire extinguishers
     a fast-running train whistles down
     the junking sack
     boy in search of something
     trouble busting
     off to california
     the house on the hill
     the telegram that never came
     stormy night
     extra selects
     train bound for glory


     Chapter I

     I could see  men of all  colors bouncing along in the  boxcar. We stood
up. We laid down. We  piled around on  each other. We used  each  other  for
pillows. I could  smell  the sour  and bitter  sweat  soaking through my own
khaki shirt and britches, and the  work clothes, overhauls  and saggy, dirty
suits of the other guys. My mouth was full of some kind of gray mineral dust
that was about  an inch deep all over  the floor. We looked  like a  gang of
lost corpses heading back to the boneyard. Hot in the September heat, tired,
mean and mad, cussing and  sweating, raving and preaching. Part of us  waved
our hands in the cloud of dust and  hollered out to  the whole crowd. Others
was too weak, too  sick, too hungry or too drunk even to stand up. The train
was  a highball and had the right of way. Our car was  a rough rider, called
by hoboes a "flat wheeler." I was  riding in the  tail end where I  got more
dust, but less heat. The wheels were clipping it off at sixty miles an hour.
About all I could  hear above the raving and cussing and the roar of the car
was the jingle and clink on the under side every time the wheels went over a
rail joint.
     I guess ten or fifteen of us guys was singing:

     This train don't carry no gamblers,
     Liars, thieves and big-shot ramblers;
     This train is bound for glory,
     This train!

     "We  would  hafta git  th' only  goddam  flat wheeler on th'  whole dam
train!" A heavy-set boy  with a big-city accent was rocking along beside  me
and fishing through his overhauls for his tobacco sack.
     "Beats  walkin'!" I was  setting down  beside  him. "Bother you fer  my
guitar handle ta stick up here in yer face?"
     "Naw. Just long as yuh keep up th' music. Kinda songs ya sing? Juke-box
     "Much oblige, just smoked." I shook my head. "No. I'm 'fraid that there
soap-box music ain't th' kind ta win a war on!"
     "Little too sissy?" He licked  up the side of his cigaret. "Wisecracky,
     "Hell yes." I pulled my guitar  up on my lap and told him, "Gonna  take
somethin' more'n a dam bunch of silly wisecracks ta ever win this war! Gonna
take work!"
     "You don't look like  you ever broke  your  neck at no  work,  bud!" He
snorted some fumes out of his nose and mashed the match  down into the  dust
with his foot. "What th' hell do you know 'bout work?"
     "By God, mister, I work just as hard as  you er  th'  next guy!" I held
the ends of my fingers up in his face. "An` I got th' blisters ta prove it!"
     "How come you ain't drafted?"
     "I never did get by those medical  gents. Doctors and me don't  see eye
to eye."
     A blond-headed man about forty nudged me in the ribs with his elbow  on
my left side and said, "You boys talkin' about a war. I got a feelin' you're
goin" to see a little spell of war right here in just a few minutes."
     "Makes ya think so?" I looked around all over the car.
     "Boy!" He stretched out his feet to prop his  self back up against  the
wall and I noticed  he  was wearing an iron brace on his leg. "They call  me
Cripple Whitey, th' Fight Spotter!"
     "Fight spotter?"
     "Yeah. I  can spot a  fist  fight  on the streets three blocks before I
come to it. I can spot a gang  fight an hour before it breaks out. I tip off
the boys. Then they know how to lay their bets."
     "Ya got a fight spotted now?"
     "I smell  a  big one.  One  hell of a big one.  Be some blood spilt. Be
about ten minutes yet."
     "Hey! Heavy!" I  elbowed  the big boy on my right. "Whitey here says he
smells a big fight cookin'!"
     "Awwww. Don't pay no  'tention to that crippled rat.  He's just full of
paregoric. In Chicago we call 'im P. G. Whitey'! I don't know what they call
him here in Minnesota!"
     "You're  a goddam lyin' rat!"  The cripple got  up and swayed around on
the floor in front of us. "Get up!  I'll cave  your lousy  dam head in! I'll
throw you out inta one of these lakes!"
     "Easy, boy, easy." Heavy put the sole of his shoe in Whitey's belly and
held him back. "I don't wanta hit no cripple!"
     "You guys watch out! Don't  you stumble an' fall on my guitar!" I eased
over  a  little. "Yeah! You're some fight spotter! If  you spot a  fight an'
then it don't  happen just when you said, why, you  just pitch in and  start
one yer self!"
     "I'll crack that box over your dam curly head!" The cripple made a step
toward  me, laughing and smearing cement dust down across  his face. Then he
sneered and told  me, "Goddam right! Hell yes! I'm a  bum! I  gotta right ta
be. Look at  that gone leg.  Withered  away! You're  too dam  low  down  an'
sneakin'  to make an honest livin' by hard work. Sonofabitch. So you go into
a saloon where th' workin' stiffs  hang out, an' you put down your kitty box
an' play for your dam tips!"
     I told him, "Go jump in one of these lakes!"
     "I'm settin' right there!" He pointed  at my guitar in my lap.  "Right,
by God, on top of you!"
     I grabbed my guitar and rolled over three or  four other fellows'  feet
and got  out  of Whitey's  way  just  as  he turned  around and  piled  down
backwards yelling and screaming at  the top of his lungs. I stumbled through
the car trying to keep my balance and hold onto my guitar. I fell up against
an old man slumped with  his  face rubbing up against the  wall. I heard him
groan and say, "This is  th' roughest bastardly  boxcar  that  I  ever swung
     "Why doncha lay down?" I  had to lean up against the wall to  keep from
falling. "How come ya standin' up this a way?"
     "Rupture. It rides a little easier standin' up."
     Five or six  guys dressed like timberjacks brushed past us cussing  and
raving. "I can't stand  this dust no longer!" "Out of our way, men!" "Let us
by! We want to get to the other end of the car!"
     "You  birds won't  be no  better off in th' other  end!" I hollered  at
them. The dust stung the roof of my mouth. "I tried it!"
     A big  husky gent with  high boots and red wool  socks rolled back on a
pair of logger's britches stopped and  looked' me over and asked me, "Who in
the hell are  you? Don't you think I  know how to ride a boxcar, sonny?  I'm
gettin' out of this wind!"
     "Go ahead on, mister, but  I'm tellin'  ya, ya'll burn  up back in that
other end!" I turned again to the old man and asked him,  "Anything I can do
ta help ya?"
     "Guess not, son." I could see by  the look on his face that the rupture
was tying him up in knots. "I was  hopin'  ta ride this  freight on  in home
tonight.  Chicago. Plumber there. But looks like I'll have ta get off at the
next stop an' hit the highway."
     "Purty bad. Well, it ain't a dam bit lonesome in here, is it?"
     "I  counted  sixty-nine  men in  this car."  He  squinted his  eyes and
gritted his teeth  and  doubled over a little farther. "Might be, I  counted
wrong. Missed some of th' ones layin' down or counted  some  of them  twice.
Pretty close ta sixty-nine though."
     "Jest like a car load of sheep headed fer th' packin` house."  I let my
knees bend in the joints  a little  bit to keep the  car from shaking me  to
     A  long  tall Negro boy  walked  up and asked us, "You men know  what's
makin' our noses burn?" He was wearing a pair of work shoes that looked like
they had seen Civil War service. "Eyes, too?"
     "What?" I asked him.
     "Cement dust. This heah cah wuz loaded down wid sack cement!"
     "Shore 'nuff?"
     "I bet I done sucked in three sacks of th'  damn stuff!" He screwed his
face up and mopped across his lips with his hands.
     "I've  breathed in  more'n  that!  Hell,  friend! You're talkin'  to  a
livin', breathin' stretch of concrete highway!"
     "Close as we is jammed an'  packed in heah, we'z all gonna be stuck 'n'
cemented together time we git outta dis hot box."
     "Boys," the  old man  told both of us, "I hope we don't have no trouble
while  I'm in here. If somebody was ta fall  on me or  push me  around, this
rupture, I know, it would kill me."
     "I'll he'p see to  it  dat  nobody  don't  push  nobody  on toppa  you,
     "I'll break 'em of th' habit," I told both of them.
     "What time of day is it? Must be fightin' time?" I looked around at the
     "Mus' be 'roun'  about two or  three o'clock," the Negro boy  told  me,
"jedgin' from that sun shinin' in th' door. Say! What's them two  boys doin'
yondah?" He craned his neck.
     "Pourin` somethin' out of a bottle," I said, "right by that old colored
man's feet. What is it?"
     "Wettin` th' cement dust wid it. Strikin` a match now."
     "Ol` man's 'sleep. They's givin' 'im de hot foot!"
     The  flame rose up  and  burned in a  little spot  about the size of  a
silver dollar.  In a few seconds the old man  clawed at  the  strings of his
bundle where  he was resting his  head. He  kicked his feet in the  dust and
knocked little balls of fire onto  two or three other men playing some poker
along the back wall. They fought the fire off  their clothes and laughed and
bawled the kids and the old man both out.
     "Hey! You old bastard! Quit bustin' up our card game!"
     I saw one of the men draw  back to hit the  old man. Another player was
grinning and  laughing  out to the whole crowd, "That wuz th'  funniest  dam
sight I ever seen!"
     The two boys, both dressed in overhauls, walked back through the crowd,
one holding  out the  half-pint  bottle.  ''Drinka likker,  men? Who  wantsa
drinka  good likker?"  The  boy  with the bottle shoved it up under my  nose
saying, "Here, mister  music man! Take a little  snort!  Then play somethin'
good an' hot!"
     "I been a  needin' a little  drink  ta ease  me on down ta Chicago."  I
wiped my hand across my face and smiled around at everybody. "I  shore thank
ya fer thinkin' 'bout me." I took the  bottle and  smelled of  the gasoline.
Then I sailed the bottle over a dozen men's heads and out of the door.
     "Say, stud! Who daya t'ink youse are? Dat bottle was mine, see?" He was
a boy about twenty-five, wearing a flop hat soaked through with some kind of
dime-store hair oil. He braced his self on his  feet in front of me and said
again, "Dat bottle was mine!"
     "Go git it." I looked him straight in the eye.
     "Whattaya tryin' ta pull?"
     "Well, since yer so  interested, I'll  jest tell ya. See, I might wanta
lay down after while an' git a  little sleep.  I don't wanta wake up with my
feet blistered. 'Cause then,  dam  yer hide, I'd  hafta throw  ya outta this
     "We was gonna use dat gas ta start a fire ta cook wid."
     "Ya mean ta git us all in jail with."
     "I said cook an' I mean cook!"
     Then my colored friend looked  the two  boys over and said,  "You boys,
how long you been goin' 'roun' cookin' people's feet?"
     "Keep outta dis! Stepinfetchit!"
     "You cain't call me dat an' git by wid it, white boy!"
     I put my shoulder against the colored boy and my hand against the white
boy's  arm, and told them,  "Listen, guys! Goddamit! No matter  who's mad at
who, we jest  cain't  start  a fight of  no kind on  this freight! These big
Burlington dicks'll jail th' whole bunch of us!"
     "Yaaa. Skeerd!"
     "You're a dam liar!  I ain't afraid of you ner twenty more like ya! But
do you know what would of happened if these railroad  bulls shook us down ta
look  at our draft  cards, an` found you with that bottle of gasoline on ya?
It'd be th' lockup fer you an' me an' all of th' rest of us!"
     The old  man with the rupture bit  his lips and asked me,  "Son, do you
suppose  you could get one of the men to move up out of the  door and let me
try to get a  little breath of that fresh air? I feel like I've just got  to
get a little air."
     The colored boy held the old man up while I walked over to the door and
tapped a nice healthy-looking boy on the back. "Would you mind  lettin' this
old  man  ride in  yer  place there in  th' door fer a  little while?  Sick.
Rupture trouble."
     "Not at all." The boy  got up and set down back where  the old man  had
been  standing. He acted  friendly  and hollered at us, "I  think it's about
time we took turns ridin'  in the doors.  Let everybody have a whiff of that
fresh air!"
     Almost everybody in  the car rolled over or stood  up and yelled, "Hell
yes!" "Turn about!" "I'm ready." "Too late, boys, I been  dead an' buried in
solid  cement  for  two  hours!"  "Gimme  air!" "Trot out  yer  frash airr!"
Everybody  mumbled and  talked,  and  fifteen or twenty men pushed their way
through the others to stand close to the doors, hoping to be first.
     Heavy walked through a bunch of them saying, "Watch out.  Men, let this
Negro boy through with this old man. He's sick. He's  needin' air. Back up a
little. Make room."
     "Who'n th' hell are you? Tubba lard! Dictater 'round here?" one old boy
popped off.
     Heavy started  for the man,  but he slipped back  in through the crowd.
"All of you men get up! Let a new bunch get  cooled off! Where's the old man
that the boys  put  the hot  foot on a few minutes ago?  There you are! Hey!
Come on! Grab yourself a hunk  of this nice, fresh,  cool climate! Set right
there! Now, who's to be next?"
     A red-eyed vino drunkard took a man  by the  feet  and pulled him along
the deck to the door.  "My buddy. Ain't  said a word since I  loaded  'im in
last night in Duluth. Bummed th' main stem fer two bits, then he scooped his
     A Mexican boy rubbed his head and got up from somewhere along the wall.
He drank half of a quart vinegar jug of water and then sailed the bottle out
the door. Then he set down  and  hung his  feet out  the door and rode along
holding his head in his hands vomiting into the wind. In each door there was
room for five men. The first ten being sick and weakly, we let them ride for
about half an hour.  Then they got up and ten more  men  took their seat for
only fifteen minutes.
     I was  watching  a  bunch of  men hold their fingers to their  lips and
shush each  other to keep quiet. Every one of them haw-hawing and  tittering
under  their breath and pointing to a kid asleep on the floor. He  was about
twenty. Little  white  cap  from  the ten-cent store,  a  pair  of  old blue
washed-out  pants, shirt to  match, a set of dirty heels caked over with the
dust of many railroads, and a run-over pair of low-cut shoes. He was hugging
his bed roll and moving his lips against the wool blanket. I saw him dig his
toes in the dust and kiss the bundle.
     I walked over and put my foot in the middle of his back and said, "Wake
up, stranger. Git ya some fresh air there in th' door!"
     The  men cackled  and rolled  in the dirt.  They rared  back and  forth
slapping  their hands  against their legs. "Ddrrreeeeeeeaaaammming of youuuu
with your eyes so bluue!" One man was grinning like an ape and singing worse
than that.
     "What's th' boy dreamin' about so purty, music man?" another
big guy asked me with his tongue in his cheek and eyes rolling.
     "Leave  th'  boy alone," I told him back.  "What th' hell  do you dream
about, freight trains?"
     0x08 graphic
     I  set  down with  my back against  the wall  looking all  through  the
troubled, tangled, messed-up men.  Traveling the hard way.  Dressed the hard
way. Hitting the long old lonesome go.
     Rougher than a cob. Wilder than a woodchuck. Hotter than a depot stove.
Madder than nine hundred  dollars.  Arguing worse than a tree full of crows.
Messed  up. Mixed-up, screwed-up people. A  crazy boxcar  on a  wild  track.
Headed  sixty  miles an  hour in  a big cloud of poison dust due straight to
     I  saw ten men getting up out of the door and I took my guitar over and
set down and stuck my feet out. The cold air felt  good whipping up my pants
leg. I pulled my shirt open to  cool off across my waist and chest. My Negro
friend took  a seat  by my side and told me,  "I reckon  we's 'bout due some
frash air, looks like."
     "Jest be careful ya don't use it all up," I kidded back at him.
     I held my head in the wind and looked out along the lake shoreline with
my ear cocked listening to the men in the car.
     "You're a lyin' skunk!" one  was saying. "I'm just as hard a worker  as
you are, any old day!"
     "You're a big slobbery loafin' heel!"
     "I'm th' best dadgum blacksmith in Logan County!"
     "You mean you use ta was! You look like a lousy tramp ta me!"
     "I c'n put out more manly labor in a minnit then you kin in a month!"
     "Hay, there, you sot! Quit spittin' on my bed roll!"
     "Yeah! Yeah! I know! I'm  woikin' stiff, too, see? But I ain't  no good
here! Yeah! I woiked thirteen years  in th' same weave room! Breakout  fixer
on th' looms! Poil Harbor comes along. Big  comp'ny gits alla de war orders.
My place is a little place, so what happens? Just like dat! She closes down.
An' I'm  out on de freights. But I  ain't nuttin' when I  hit th'  freights.
Takes it all outta me. Nuttin`. But a lousy, dirty tramp!"
     "If you're such a good weaver, mister, you  can come back  here and sew
up my drawers! Ha! Ha! Ha!"
     "Fancy pants! Whoooeee!"
     "I plowed th' straightest row of corn in Missouri three year ago!"
     "Yaaa!  But, mister  big  shot,  dey don't  grown no corn in  dese here
boxcars, see! Yaaa! Dat's de last bitta woik yez ever done!"
     "No Swede cut much timber as me, Big Swede! I cutta 'nuff of that white
pine ta build up da whole town!"
     "Quiet down! You dam bunch of liars, you! Blowin'  off at yer head what
all you can do! I hear this talk  all up and down these railroads! You had a
good job somewhere once  or  twice in your life, then you go around blabbin'
off  at  your  mouth  for fifteen  years! Tellin' people what all  kinds  of
wonders you done! Look  at you! Look at your clothes! All  of the clothes in
this car ain't worth three dollars! Look at your  hands! Look at your faces!
Drunk! Sick! Hungry!  Dirty! Mean! Onery! I  won't lie like you  rats! An` I
got on the best suit of clothes in this car! Work?  Me work? Hell, no! I see
somethin' I want, an' I just up an' take it!"
     Looking back  over  my  shoulder,  I saw  a  little man, skinny,  puny,
shaking like he had  a machine gun in his hands, raise up on his  knees from
the  other end of  the  car and sail a brown  quart bottle through the  air.
Glass shattered against the  back of  the well-dressed man's  head. Red port
wine rained all  over me and my guitar  and  twenty  other men that tried to
duck. The man in  the  suit of clothes keeled over and hit  the floor like a
dead cow.
     "I got my papers! I got my job already signed up!" The  guy that  slung
the bottle was tromping through the car patting his chest and preaching.  "I
had a brother in Pearl Harbor! I'm on my way right this minute to Chicago to
go to work rollin' steel to lick this Hitler bunch! I hope the gent with the
nice suit on is restin` comfortable! But I ain't apologizing to none of you!
I throwed that bottle! Want to make anythin' out of it?" He shook both fists
and stood there looking at all of us.
     I  wiped my  hands  around over me  where the wine  was spilled. I  saw
everybody  else was picking chips of glass out of their clothes and mumbling
amongst themselves. "Crazy lunatic." "Hadn't ought  ta done that." "Might of
missed 'im, hit one of us."
     The  mumble got loud  and  broke  into  a crack like zigzag  lightning.
Little  bunches of men circled around arguing. A few guys  walked from bunch
to  bunch preaching  over  other fellows'  shoulders.  At  the  side of me a
husky-looking man got up and said, "What all  he says about Pearl Harbor and
all is okay, men, but still he hadn't ought to have thrown that wine bottle.
I'm going to walk back there and kick his rear good and proper just to teach
him a lesson!"
     Then  from somewhere at my back a  half-breed  Indian boy dove  out and
tackled  the husky  man around  the ankles and they  tangled into a knot and
rolled around over the floor, beating,  scratching,  and clawing. Their feet
kicked  other men in the face and other men kicked them back and jumped into
the fight.
     "You're not gonna hurt that little fella!"
     "I'll kill you, Indian!"
     "Hey! Watch who th' hell you're kickin'!"
     Heavy  split through  the car  knocking men out of  his way  hollering,
"Hey! Cut it! Cut!"
     "You  fat pimp,  keep  outta dis!" A dirty-looking, dark-complected man
was pulling a little oily cap down over his eyes and making for Heavy.
     Heavy grabbed him by  the  throat  and busted the  back of his head  up
against the wall about  a dozen  times cussing,  "I'll teach  you  that  you
cain't call no decent man a pimp! You snaky-looking hustler!"
     All down the line it started and  spread, "You said I wouldn't work fer
my livin', huh? I'll bat your eyes out!"
     "Who wuz it yez called da loafer?"
     Shirts and pants ripped and it sounded like everybody was getting their
duds tore off them.
     "I didn't lak ya dam looks frum da very start!"
     Five and then ten other couples dove in.
     "Where's that low-life bastid that called me a bum?"
     Men walked up and down the car pushing  other  men  off  of their feet,
heaving  others  to one side, looking at the few that was still riding along
on the floor.
     "They're goin' an' blowin'!"
     'There ye air, ye foul-mouth cur, you!"
     I saw  six or  eight reaching down  and  grabbing others by their shirt
collars, jerking them to the middle of the floor. Fists sailing  in the  air
so fast I couldn't see which fist was whose.
     "I knowed you was nuthin' but a lousy chiselin' snake when I first seen
yuh climb on this train! Fight! Goddam yuh! Fight!"
     Shoe soles cracked all around over the car and heads banged against the
walls. Dust flew up in the air as if somebody was dumping it in with trucks.
     'I'm a tramp, am I?"
     Men's heads  bobbed around in  the dust like balloons  floating on  the
ocean. Most everybody shut their eyes and gritted their teeth and swung wild
haymakers up  from  the  cement and  men flattened out  on the floor.  Water
bottles flew through the air and I could  see a  few flashes that I knew was
pocketknife  blades. Lots of the men jerked other  men's coats up over their
heads to where they couldn't see nor use their arms, and they fought the air
like windmills,  blind  as  bats.  A  hard fist  knocked a  fellow stumbling
through the dust.  He waved his hands trying  to  keep balanced,  then fell,
spilling  all  kinds of junk and trash out of his  pockets over five or  six
other men  trying to keep  out  of the fight.  For every man who got knocked
down, three more jumped up and roared  through the mob  taking  sidelicks at
any head that popped up.
     "Boy!" My colored friend was shaking his head and looking worried. "You
sho' as hell bettah not git yo' music box mixed up in dis!"
     "I've got  kicked  in th' back about nine times. 'Nother  good poke an'
I'll sail plumb out this door inta  one of them there lakes!" I was fighting
to get  myself braced again. "Here, let's me an' you hook our arms  together
so  we can hold each other in th' dam  car!"  I clamped my hands together in
front of  me holding the  guitar on  my lap. "Be hell of a thing if a feller
was ta git knocked outta this dern boxcar goin' this pace, wouldn't it? Roll
a week. Hey! Look! Tram's slowin' down."
     "Believe she is at that." He squinted his eyes  up and looked down  the
track. "She's slowin' down ta make a switch."
     "I been lookin' fer you, mister music  maker!" I heard somebody talking
behind me. I felt a knee  poking me in my  back,  each  time hard  enough to
scoot me a little more out the  door.  "So  a  thought I'd forgot about  da
bottla gas, huh? I t'ink I'll jist boot yez offa dis train!"
     I tried to hold onto the colored boy's arm.  "Watch out there, ya silly
dam  fool! What're a tryin' ta do? Kick me out? I'll git up from  here  an'
frail yore knob! Don't ya kick me again!"
     He put his foot flat up against my shoulder blade and kicked me out the
door. I swung onto the Negro's arms  with both hands, and  the leather strap
of my guitar slipped out of my hold. I was  holding both feet  clear of  the
cinders down on the ground. When  my guitar fell,  I had to  turn loose with
one hand and grab  it by the handle. The Negro had  to hold onto the side of
the door to hold his own self in the car. I seen  him bend backwards as  far
as he could and lay down flat on the floor. This pulled me up within an inch
or so of the edge of the  door again, and I was about to get one arm inside.
I knew  he could pull me back in if  I could make it that far. I looked down
at the ground going past under me. The train was slowing down. The Negro and
me made one more hard pull together to swing me back inside the door.
     "l' on! Boy!" he was grunting.
     "No ya don't!" The  young fellow bent  down into a squatting  position,
heaving at the Negro's shoulders with both hands. "I'll jist kick da pair of
yez out!"
     The colored man yelled and screamed, "Hhhaaaayyy! Hheeelllpp!"
     "Goddam it, donnn't!" I was  about to lose all  of my  strength in  the
left arm locked around the Negro's, which was the only thing between  me and
the six-by-three grave.
     "Dis  is  where  da  both of  yez hits de cinders! Good-bye! An'  go ta
hell!" He stuck his tongue out between his teeth and throwed every ounce  of
his weight against the colored man's shoulders.
     Slowing down, the  train jammed its  air brakes and jarred every man in
the  boxcar off his feet.  Men  stumbled  against  each other,  missed their
licks, clawing and swinging their fists through the  air.  Two dozen hit the
floor  and  knocked hide and hair and all off each other's heads. Blood flew
and spattered everybody. Splinters dug into hands  and faces  of men tromped
on the  floor.  Guys dove  on their  faces on  top  of strangers and grabbed
handfuls  of loose  skin in their fingernails, and twisted  until  the blood
caked  into the dust. They rolled across  the  floor  and busted their heads
against the walls, knocked blind by  the jar, with  lungs  and eyes and ears
and teeth full of  the cement. They  stepped on the  sick ones, ruptured the
brave ones, walked on top of each other with loggers' and railroaders' spike
shoes. I felt myself falling out of the Negro's hand hold.
     Another tap on the brakes jerked a kink in  the train and  knocked  the
boy loose from his hold  on the Negro's shoulders. The  jar sent him jumping
like  a  frog from where he was squatting, over me and  the Negro both,  and
over the  slope of the steep cinder  grading,  rolling, knocking and plowing
cinders  twenty feet to each  side till  like a wild,  rolling truck tire he
chugged into the water of the lake.
     I pulled  the Negro friend over the edge with  me  and  both of us  lit
running  with  our feet on  the cinders. I stumbled and took a little spill,
but the colored boy run and managed to stay on his feet.
     I made  a  run for the door of the  same boxcar again, and  put my hand
down on an iron bolt  and tried to run along with the train and swing myself
up again. Men's hands reached out the door trying to grab me and help me in,
but my guitar was going  wild and I had to drop my hold on the bolt and trot
off to  the edge of the cinders. I was giving  up all  hopes of getting back
in,  when I looked  behind me  and saw my colored partner  gripping onto the
iron ladder on the  end of the car. Holding the ladder with one hand, he was
waving his other one in the air and yelling, "Pass me yo' guitah!"
     As  he went  by me I got  a running  start on the cinders and held  the
guitar up to him. He caught it by the neck and clumb up onto the roof of the
car. I swung the ladder and went over the top just at his heels.
     "Hurry on up heah! You wanta see dat fella in th' lake?"
     He pointed back down along the string of cars picking up speed again.
     "Off at  d' side of dat  little clump of trees there, there! Wadin' out
yondah? See 'im? See! Boy, I bet you dat dip sobered i'm up!"
     Both of us was standing side by side propping  each other up. The  roof
of the car moved and bounced rougher than the floor inside.
     The Negro  friend grinned over at me with the sun in his eyes. He still
hadn't lost his little greasy brown cap and was holding it down  on his head
while the wind made a few grabs at it.
     "Whoooee! Dat  wuz a  close one! Boy,  you set fo' a good fas' ride  on
top? Sho'  ain't  no way  gettin' back down inside dat cah when  this roller
gits ridin' ag'in!"
     I squatted down cross-legged and took hold of the boards on the runwalk
on top of the car.  He laid down with his  hands folded back of his head. We
laughed at the  way our faces looked with the cement all over them, and  our
eyes watering.  The black  coal dust from the  locomotive  made us look like
white ghosts with black eyes. Lips chapped and cracked from the long ride in
the hot sun and hard wind.
     "Smell dat cool aih?"
     "Smells clean. Don't it? Healthy!"
     "Me 'n' you's sho' in fo' a soakin', ourselves!"
     "Makes ya think?"
     "I knows. Boy, up heah in dis lake country, it c'n cloud up an' rain in
two seconds flush!"
     "Ain't no rain cloud I can see!"
     "Funny  thing 'bout  dese Minnesoty  rain clouds. Evah  cloud's a  rain
     "Gonna go hard  on my guitar."  I played  a few  little  notes  without
really  noticing  what I was doing. The air turned off cooler as  we  rolled
along.  A  second later I looked up and saw two kids  crawl from an open-top
car  just behind  us: a tall skinny one  about fifteen, and a little scrawny
runt that couldn't  be over  ten  or eleven. They  had  on Boy Scout looking
clothes. The older one carried a pack on his back, and the little  kid had a
sweater with the sleeves tied together slung around his neck.
     "Hiyez, men?" The tall one saluted and dumped his pack down a couple of
feet from us.
     The little feller hunched down and set picking his  teeth  with a rusty
pocket knife, talking, "Been wid 'er long?"
     I'd  seen a thousand  kids just like them. They seem to come from homes
somewhere that they've run away from. They seem to come to take the place of
the old stiffs that slip on a wet  board, miss a ladder, fail out a door, or
just  dry up and shrivel  away  riding the mean freights; the old souls that
groan somewhere in the darkest corner of a boxcar, moan about a twisted life
half lived and nine tenths wasted,  cry as their souls hit  the highball for
heaven, die and pass out of this world like the echo of a foggy whistle.
     "Evenin',  gentulmen, evenin'."  The Negro  boy raised up to a  sitting
position. "You gents is a little shade yo'ng t' be out siftin'  th' cinders,
ain't you?"
     "C'n we help how old we  are?"  The biggest kid spit away into the wind
without even looking where it would land.
     "Me ole man's  fault. Oughtta been bornt sooner," the little runt piped
     The big one didn't  change the expression on his face,  because if he'd
of looked any tougher, something would have busted. "Pipe down, squoit!"  He
turned toward us. "Yez hittin' fer de slaughter-house er Wall Street?"
     "I don't git ya." I looked over at him.
     "Chi? Er N'Yok?"
     I tried  to keep from busting  out laughing in the kid's  face.  And  I
could see the  colored boy turning his head the other way to hide a snicker.
"Me," I answered the kid, "me, I'm headed fer Wall Street, I reckin." Then I
thought for a minute and asked him, " 'Bouts you boys goin'?"
     "On da fly."
     "Kin ya really beat it out on dat jitter box dere, mister?"
     "I make a rattlin' noise."
     "Sing on toppa dat?"
     "No. Not on top of it. I stand up  and hold it  with this leather strap
around my shoulder, or else  I set  down and  play it in my lap  like  this,
     "Make anyt'ing wid it?"
     "I've  come purty close  ta starvin' a couple of times, boys, but never
faded plumb out of th' picture yet so far."
     "Dat's bad."
     I  come down  on some running notes and threw  in  a few sliding  blues
notes,  and  the kids  stuck  their  ears  almost  down  to the  sound-hole,
     "Say ya hit da boog on dere, don'tcha?"
     "Better boog all yez wants, sarg," the older kid said. "I dunno how dat
box'll sound fulla wadder, but we gon'ta be swimmin' on toppa dis train here
in about a minnit."
     The Negro boy turned  his head around toward the engine and whiffed  of
the damp air. "About one minnit's right!"
     "Will it wreck dat music box?" The biggest kid  stood up and  threw his
pack on his back.  The coal dust had covered his face over  in the days when
this  railroad was first laid, and a few drops of the spit and moisture from
the lower  streets  of a lot  of towns had  been  smeared like brushmarks in
every direction  around his mouth,  nose and  eyes. Water and sweat  had run
down his neck  and dried there in long  strings. He said it  again: "Will de
rain wreck dat rackit box?"
     I  stood up and  looked  ahead  at the  black smoke rolling out  of the
engine. The air was cool and heavy and held the big coil of smoke low to the
ground  along the side of the train. It boiled and turned, mixed in with the
patches of heavy fog, and spun into all kinds of shapes. The  picture in the
weeds  and  bushes alongside the  tracks  was  like ten  thousand  drunkards
rolling in the weeds with the bellyache. When the first three or four splats
of rain hit me in the face I said to the kids, "This  water won't exactly do
this guitar any good!"
     "Take  dis ole sweater," the smallest kid yelled at me, " 'S all I got!
Wrap it aroun' yer music! Help a little!" I blinked the water out of my eyes
and waited a jiffy for him to pull the sweater from around his neck where he
had tied the sleeves. His face  looked like a quick little picture, blackish
tobacco brown colors,  that somebody was wiping from a  window  glass with a
dirty rag.
     "Yeah," I told  him, "much oblige! Keep out  a few drops, won't it?"  I
slipped the sweater over the guitar like a man putting clothes on a dummy in
a window. Then I skint out of my new khaki shirt and  put it on  the guitar,
and buttoned the buttons up, and tied the sleeves around the neck. Everybody
laughed. Then we all squatted down in a little half circle with our backs to
the rain and wind. "I don't give a dam how drippin' I git, boys, but I gotta
keep my meal ticket dry!"
     The wind struck  against our boxcar and the  rain beat itself to pieces
and blew over our  heads like  a spray from a fire hose shooting sixty miles
an hour. Every drop that blew against my skin stung and burned.
     The colored  rider  was laughing and saying, "Man!  Man! When th'  good
Lord was workin' makin' Minnesoty, He couldn'  make up  His mind whethah  ta
make anothah ocean or some mo' land, so He just got 'bout half done an' then
He  quit an' went  home!  Wowie!" He  ducked  his head and shook it and kept
laughing, and  at  the  same time,  almost without me noticing  what  he was
doing,  he had slipped his blue work  shirt off  and jammed  it over into my
hands."One mo' shirt might keep yo' meal ticket a little bettah!"
     "Don't you need a shirt to keep dry?"
     I don't know why I asked him that. I was already dressing the guitar up
in the shirt. He  squared his  shoulders back  into the  wind and rubbed the
palms  of his hands  across his  chest  and  shoulders,  still laughing  and
talking, "You  think  dat  little  ole  two-bit shirt's gonna keep out  this
     When  I looked  back around  at  my guitar on  my lap, I seen one  more
little filthy shirt piled up on top of it.  I don't know  exactly how I felt
when  my hands  come  down and touched this  shirt.  I looked  around at the
little  tough guys and saw them humped  up with  their naked backs splitting
the wind and the rain glancing  six feet in  the air off their  shoulders. I
didn't say a  word. The little kid pooched his lips  out  so the water would
run down into his mouth  like a trough, and every little bit he'd  save up a
mouthful and spit it out in a long thin spray between his teeth. When he saw
that I  was keeping my eyes nailed on him, he spit the last of his rainwater
out and said, "I ain't t'oisty."
     'I'll wrap this  one  around  the handle an' the strings  will keep dry
that way. If they get  wet, you know, they rust out." I wound the last shirt
around and around  the neck of  the guitar handle. Then I  pulled the guitar
over to where  I was laying down. I tied the leather strap around a plank in
the boardwalk,  ducked my head down  behind the guitar and tapped  the runty
kid on the shoulder.
     "Hey, squirt!"
     "Whaddaya want?"
     "Not  much  of  a windbreak,  but  it  at least knocks a little  of th'
blister out of that  rain! Roll yer head over here an'  keep it  ducked down
behind this music box!"
     "Yeeehh." He  flipped over like a little frog  and smiled all  over his
face and said, "Music's good fer somethin', ain't it?"
     Both of us stretched out full length.  I was laying on my  back looking
straight up into the sky all gray  and tormented and blowing with low clouds
that whined when they got sucked under the wheels. The wind whistled funeral
songs for the railroad riders. Lightning struck and crackled in the air  and
sparks  of electricity  done little dances  for  us  on the  iron beams  and
fixtures. The  flash of the lightning  knocked the clouds full of holes  and
the rain hit down on us harder than before. "On th'  desert, I use this here
guitar fer a sun shade! Now I'm usin' the' dam thing fer a umbreller!"
     '"Pink I  could eva' play one uv  dem?" The little kid  was shaking and
trembling all over, and I could hear his lips and  nose blow  the rain away,
and his teeth chatter like a jack-hammer. He scooted his body closer  to me,
and I  laid an arm down so he could rest his head. I asked  him, "How's that
fer a pillow?"
     "Dat's betta." He  trembled all over  and moved a  time or two. Then he
got still and I didn't hear him say anything else. Both of us were soaked to
the skin a hundred times. The wind and the  rain was running  a race  to see
which  could whip us the hardest. I felt the roof of the car  pounding me in
the back of the head. I could stand a little of it,  but not long at a time.
The guitar hit against the raindrops and sounded like a nest of machine guns
spitting out lead.
     The force  of the  wind  pushed the sound box  against the tops of  our
heads, and the car  jerked and buckled through the clouds like a coffin over
a cliff.
     I looked at  the runt's head resting on my  arm, and thought to myself,
"Yeah, that's a little better."
     My own  head ached and pained inside. My brain  felt like a crazy cloud
of  grasshoppers  jumping over  one another  across  a field. I held my neck
stiff  so my  head was  about two inches clear  of the roof; but that didn't
work. I got cold and cramped and a dozen kinks tied my whole body in a knot.
The only way I  could rest was to let  my head and neck go limp;  and when I
did this, the jolt of the roof pounded the back of  my head. The cloudbursts
got madder and splashed through all of the lakes, laughing and singing,  and
then a wail in the wind would get a low start and cry in the timber like the
cry for freedom of a conquered people.
     Through  the roof, down inside  the  car,  I heard  the voices  of  the
sixty-six hoboes. There had been sixty-nine, the old man said, if he counted
right. One threw his own self into the lake. He pushed two more out the door
with him, but they lit easy and caught onto the  ladder again. Then the  two
little  windburnt, sunbaked brats had mounted  the top  of our car  and were
caught in  the cloudburst like drowned rats. Men fighting against men. Color
against color.  Kin against kin.  Race pushing  against race. And all of  us
battling against the wind and  the rain  and that bright crackling lightning
that booms  and  zooms, that bathes his  eyes in the  white  sky, wrestles a
river to a standstill, and spends the night drunk in a whorehouse.
     What's that hitting me  on the  back  of the head? Just bumping my head
against the  roof of  the car.  Hey! Goddam you!  Who th' hell  do you think
you're a hittin', mister? What are you, anyhow, a dam bully? You cain't push
that  woman around! What's  all of  these folks  in jail for?  Believing  in
people? Where'd all of us come from? What did we do wrong? You low-down cur,
if you hit me again, I'll tear your head off!
     My  eyes closed tight, quivering  till they exploded like the rain when
the  lightning  dumped a truckload  of thunder  down  along the train. I was
whirling and floating and  hugging the little runt around the belly,  and my
brain felt like a pot of hot lead bubbling  over a flame. Who's all of these
crazy men down there  howling out at each other  like hyenas? Are these men?
Who am I? How come them here? How the hell come me  here? What am I supposed
to do here?
     My ear flat  against  the  tin roof soaked  up  some music  and singing
coming from down inside of the car:

     This train don't carry no rustlers,
     Whores, pimps, or side-street hustlers;
     This train is bound for glory, This train.

     Can I  remember? Remember  back to where I was this morning?  St. Paul.
Yes. The  morning  before?  Bismarck, North Dakota. And  the  morning before
that? Miles City, Montana. Week ago, I was a piano player in Seattle.
     0x08 graphic
     Who's this kid? Where's  he from and where's he headed  for? Will he be
me when  he  grows up? Was  I like  him when I was  just  his  size? Let  me
remember. Let me  go back. Let me get up and walk back down the road I come.
This old hard rambling and hard graveling. This old chuck-luck traveling. My
head ain't working right.
     Where was I?
     Where in the hell was I?
     Where was I when I was a kid? Just as far, far, far back, on back, as I
can remember?
     Strike, lightning, strike!
     Strike, Goddam you, strike!
     There's lots of folks that you cain't hurt!
     Strike, lightning!
     See if I care! .
     Roar  and  rumble, twist  and turn, the sky ain't never as crazy as the
     Bound for glory? This train? Ha!
     I wonder just where in the hell we're bound.
     Rain on, little rain, rain on!
     Blow on, little wind, keep blowin'!
     'Cause them guys is  a  singin' that this train is bound for glory, an'
I'm gonna hug her breast till I find out where she's bound.


     Okemah, in Creek Indian, means 'Town on  a  Hill," but our busiest hill
was our Graveyard Hill, and just about the only hill in the country that you
could rest on. West of town, the wagon  roads petered themselves out chasing
through  some brushy sand hills. Then south, the country  just slipped  away
and turned into a lot of hard-hit farms, trying to make  an honest living in
amongst  the  scatterings  of scrub  oak, black  jack, sumac,  sycamore, and
cottonwood  that lay on the  edges  of  the  tough  hay meadows and stickery
pasture lands.
     Okemah was an Oklahoma  farming town  since  the early days, and it had
about  an  equal number of  Indians, Negroes, and Whites doing their trading
there. It had a railroad called the Fort Smith and Western--and there was no
guarantee that  you'd  get any certain place  any certain time by riding it.
Our most  famous  railroad man was called "Boomer Swenson,"  and every  time
Boomer  come to  a spot along the rails  where he'd run  over somebody, he'd
pull  down  on his  whistle cord  and blow  the longest, moaningest, saddest
whistle that ever blew on any man's railroad.
     Ours  was  just another  one of those little  towns, I  guess, about  a
thousand or so people, where everybody knows everybody else; and on your way
to the post office, you'd nod and speak  to so  many  friends that your neck
would be rubbed raw when you went  in to get  your mail if there was any. It
took you just about an hour to get up through town, say hello, talk over the
late  news,  family gossip,  sickness,  weather, crops  and  lousy politics.
Everybody had something to say about something, or somebody, and you usually
knew almost word  for word what it was  going to be  about before you  heard
them say it,  as we had well-known and highly expert talkers on all subjects
in and out of this world.
     Old Windy Tom usually shot  off at his  mouth about the weather. He not
only could tell you the  exact  break in the exact cloud, but just  when and
where  it  would rain, blow,  sleet or  snow; and for yesterday,  today, and
tomorrow, by recalling to your mind the very least and finest details of the
weather  for these very days last year, two years, or forty years  ago. When
Windy Tom  got to blowing it covered more  square blocks than any one single
cyclone. But he was our most hard-working weather man--Okemah's Prophet--and
we would of fought to back him up.
     I was what  you'd call  just a home-town kid and carved my  initials on
most everything that would stand still and let  me, W. G.  Okemah Boy.  Born
1912. That was the year, I  think,  when Woodrow  Wilson was named to be the
president and my papa and mama got all worked up about good and bad politics
and named me Woodrow Wilson too. I don't remember this any too clear.
     I wasn't much  more  than two years old  when  we  built our seven-room
house over in the good part of Okemah. This  was our new house, and Mama was
awful glad and proud of it. I  remember  a bright yellow  outside--a blurred
haze of a dark inside--some vines looking in through windows.
     Sometimes, I seem  to  remember trying to follow  my big sister off  to
school. I'd gather  up all of the loose books I could find  around the house
and start out through the  gate and down the sidewalk, going to get myself a
schoolhouse education, but Mama would ran out  and catch me and drag me back
into  the house kicking and bawling. When Mama would hide the books I'd walk
back to the front porch, afraid to  run away, but I'd use the  porch  for my
stage, and the grass, flowers, and pickets along our fence would be my crowd
of people; and I made up my first song right there:

     Listen to the music,
     Music, music;
     Listen to the music,
     Music band.

     These days our family seemed to be getting along all right. People rode
down our street in buggies and sarries, all dressed up, and they'd look over
at our house and say, "Charlie and Nora Guthrie's place." "Right new."
     Clara was somewhere between nine and ten, but she seemed like an  awful
big sister to me. She was  always bending and whirling around,  dancing away
to  school and singing her way back home; and she  had long curls that swung
in the wind and brushed in my face when she wrestled me across the floor.
     Roy was along in there between seven and eight. Quiet about everything.
Walked so slow  and thought so deep that I always wondered what was going on
in his head. I watched him biff the tough kids on the noodle over the fence,
and  then he  would just come on in home, and think  and  think  about it. I
wondered how he could fight so good and keep so quiet.
     I guess I was going on three then.
     Peace, pretty weather. Spring turning things green. Summer staining  it
all brown.  Fall made everything redder, browner,  and  brittler. And winter
was white and gray and the color of bare trees. Papa went  to town and  made
real-estate deals with other people, and he  brought their money  home. Mama
could sign  a  check for  any amount, buy every little  thing that her  eyes
liked the looks of. Roy and Clara could stop  off in any store in Okemah and
buy  new clothes to fit the weather, new things to eat to make you  healthy,
and Papa was proud because we could all have anything we saw.  Our house was
packed full of things Mama liked, Roy liked, Clara liked, and that  was what
Papa liked.  I  remember his leather law  books,  Blackstone and others.  He
smoked a pipe and good tobacco and  I wondered if this helped him to stretch
out in his big easy-riding chair and try  to think up some kind of a deal or
swap to get some more money.
     But those were fighting days in  Oklahoma. If even the little  newskids
fought along the  streets for corroded  pennies, it's not hard to  see  that
Papa had to outwit, outsmart, and outrun a pretty  long  string of people to
have everything so  nice.  It kept Mama  scared and nervous.  She always had
been  a serious person with deep-running thoughts in her head; and  the  old
songs and ballads that she sung over and over every day told me  just  about
what she  was thinking about.  And they told Papa, but he didn't listen. She
used  to say to  us kids, "We love your Papa, and  if anything tries to hurt
him and make him bad and mean, we'll fight it, won't we?" And Roy would jump
up  and pound  his  fist on  his chest and say,  "I'll fight!" Mama knew how
dangerous the landtrading business was, and she wanted  Papa to drop  out of
the fighting and the pushing, and settle  down to some kind of a better life
of growing things and helping other  people to  grow. But Papa was a  man of
brimstone and hot fire, in his mind and in his fists, and was known all over
that section of the state  as the champion of all the fist fighters. He used
his fists on sharks and fakers, and all to give his family nice things. Mama
was that kind of a  woman who always  looked at a pretty thing and wondered,
"Who had to work to make it? Who owned it and loved it before?"
     So  our family  was sort of divided up into  two  sides: Mama taught us
kids to sing the old songs and told us long  stories about each  ballad; and
in her own way  she told us  over and  over to always  try and see the world
from  the  other  fellow's  side.  Meanwhile Papa  bought  us all  kinds  of
exercising  rods and stretchers, and kept piles of kids boxing and wrestling
out in the front yard; and taught us never  and never  to  allow any earthly
human to scare us, bully us, or run it over us.
     Then more settlers trickled West, they said in search  of elbow room on
the ground, room to farm the rich  topsoil; but,  hushed and quiet, they dug
into the private  heart  of the earth to find  the lead,  the soft coal, the
good zinc. While the town of  people only seventeen miles east of  us danced
on their roped-off streets and held  solid weeks of  loud celebrating called
the King Koal Karnival, only the early  roadrunners, the smart oil men, knew
that in a year or two  King Koal  would die and his body would be burned  to
ashes and  his long  twisting  grave would be left dank and dark  and  empty
under the ground--that a new King would be dancing into the sky, gushing and
spraying the  entire country around with the slick black blood of industry's
veins,  the oil--King  Oil--a hundred times more powerful  and wild and rich
and fiery than King Timber, King Steel, King Cotton, or even King Koal.
     The wise  traders come to our town first, and they were the traders who
had won their prizes at out-trading thousands of others back where they come
from: oil slickers, oil fakers, oil stakers, and  oil takers. Papa met them.
He stood up and swapped and traded, bought and sold, got bigger, spread out,
and made more money.
     And this was to get us the  nice things. And we all liked the prettiest
and best  things in the store windows, and anything in the store was Clara's
just for signing her name, Roy's just for  signing his  name, or Mama's just
for signing her name-- and I knew how proud I felt of our name, that just to
write it on a piece of paper would  bring  more good things home to us. This
wasn't because there was oil in  the wind, nor gushers thrashing against the
sky, no--it was because my dad was the man that owned the land--and whatever
was under  that land was ours. The oil was a whisper in the dark, a rumor, a
gamble. No derricks standing up for your eye to see. It was a whole bunch of
people chasing a year  or two ahead  of a wild dream. Oil was the thing that
made other people treat you like a human, like a burro, or like a dog.
     Mama thought we had enough to  buy a farm  and work it ourselves, or at
least get  into some kind  of a business  that was  a little quieter. Almost
every day when Papa rode home  he showed the signs and bruises of a new fist
fight, and Mama seemed to get quieter than any of us  had ever seen her. She
laid in the bedroom and I watched her cry on her pillow.
     And all of this had give us our nice seven-room house.
     One day, nobody ever knew how or why, a fire broke out somewhere in the
house.  Neighbors packed water. Everybody made a run to help. But the flames
outsmarted the people,  and all  that we had left,  in an hour or two, was a
cement foundation piled full of red-hot ashes and cinders.
     How did it  break out?  Where'bouts did  it  get started? Anybody know?
Hey, did they  tell you  anything? Me?  No. I don't know. Hey, John, did you
happen to see  how it got on afire? No, not  me. Nobody seems to know. Where
was Charlie Guthrie? Out trading? Kids at school? Where was Mrs. Guthrie and
the baby? Nobody knows a  thing.  It  just  busted loose and it  jumped  all
through the bedrooms and the dining room and  the front room--nobody knows a
     Where's th' Guthrie folks at? Neighbors' house? All  of them all right?
None hurt. Wonder what'll  happen to 'em now? Oh, Charlie Guthrie will  jist
go out here an' make about two swaps some mornin' before breakfast an' he'll
make enough  money to build a whole  lot better  place than  that. .  . . No
insurance. ...  They say this broke  him flat.  ... Well, I'm waitin' ta see
where they'll move to next.
     I remember our next house pretty  plain. We  called it the  old  London
House, because a family  named  London used  to  live there. The walls  were
built  up out of square sandstone rocks.  The two  big rooms  on  the ground
floor were dug into  the side  of a  rocky hill. The walls inside felt cold,
like a cellar,  and holes were dug out  between  the rocks big enough to put
your  two hands in. And the old empty snuff cans  of the London  family were
lined up in rows along the rafters.
     I liked the high  porch along the  top  story, for  it was  the highest
porch in all of the whole town. Some kids lived in houses back along the top
of  the hill, but they had thick  trees all around  their  back porches, and
couldn't stand there and look  way out across the first street at the bottom
of the hill, across the second  road about  a quarter on east,  out over the
willow trees that grew along a sewer creek, to see the white  strings of new
cotton bales  and a whole lot of men and  women and kids riding into town on
wagons piled double-sideboard-full of cotton,  driving  under the funny shed
at the gin, driving back home again on loads of cotton seed.
     I stood there  looking  at  all  of  this, which was just  the tail-end
section  of Okemah. And then,  I  remember, there  was  a long train blew  a
wild-sounding whistle and throwed a cloud  of steam out on both sides of its
engine wheels, and lots of  black  smoke come jumping out of the smokestack.
The train pulled a  long string of boxcars along behind  it, and when it got
to  the depot it  cut its engine loose  from the rest of the  cars,  and the
engine  trotted  all  around  up and down the railroad tracks, grabbing onto
cars and tugging them here and yonder,  taking some and  leaving some. But I
was tickled best when I  saw the engine  take a car and run and  run till it
got  up the right speed,  and  then stop  and let  the car  go  coasting and
rolling all by its own self, down where  the man wanted it to  be. I knew  I
could go and get in good  with any bunch of kids in the neighborhood just by
telling them  about my big  high lookout  porch, and  all of the horses  and
cotton wagons, and the trains.
     Papa hired a man and a truck to haul  some  more  furniture over to our
old London House;  and Roy  and  Clara  carried all kinds  of  heavy things,
bedsteads, springs, bed irons,  parts for  stoves, some chairs,  quilts that
didn't  smell right to me, tables and extra  leaves,  a boxful of silverware
which I was glad to  see was the same set we  had always used. A few of  the
things had come out of the other house before the fire got out  of hand. The
rest  of the furniture was all funny looking. Somebody else  had used it  in
their house, and Papa had bought it second hand.
     Clara  would  say, "I'll be glad when we get to  live in another  house
that we own; then Mama can get a lot of new things."
     Roy  talked the same way. "Yeah, this stuff is so old  and  ugly, it'll
scare me just to have to eat, and sleep, and live around it."
     "It won't be like our good house,  Roy," Clara said. "I  liked for kids
to come  over and play in our yard then,  and  drink out of our pretty water
glasses and see our pretty flower beds,  but I'm gonna  just run any kid off
that comes to see us now, 'cause  I don't want anybody to think that anybody
has got to live with such  old  mean, ugly chairs, and  cook on an old nasty
stove,  and even to sleep on these filthy beds, and.  . .  ." Then Clara set
down a chair she was carrying inside of the kitchen and looked all around at
the cold concrete walls, and  down at the rock  floor. She picked up a water
glass that was spun  half full of  fine spider  webs  with a couple of flies
wrapped like mummies  and  she  said, "... And  ask anybody to  drink out of
these old spidery glasses."
     Roy and Clara cooked the first meal on the  rusty stove.  It was a good
meal of beefsteak, thickened flour gravy, okra roiled in corn meal and fried
in hot grease, hot biscuits with  plenty of butter melted in between, and at
the last,  Clara danced  around over the floor, grabbed a can opener out  of
the  cupboard  drawer, and  cut  a can of  sliced  peaches open for us.  The
weather outside was the  early part of fall, and there was a good wood-smoke
smell  in the  air  along  towards sundown and  supper  time,  and  families
everywhere were warming up a little. The big stove heated the rock walls and
Papa asked Mama, "Well, Nora, how do you like your new house?"
     She  had  her back  to  the cook stove  and faced  the east window, and
looked out over Papa's shoulder, and not in his face, and held  a hot cup of
coffee  in  both  of her hands, and everybody got quiet. But for a long time
she didn't  answer. Then she finally  said, "I guess it's all right. I guess
it'll have to do till we  can  get a  better place. I guess we won't be here
very  long."  She run her  fingers through her hair,  set her coffee down to
cool, and the look on her face twisted and trembled and it scared everybody.
Her eyes didn't look to see anything  or  anybody in that house, but she had
pretty dark eyes and the  gray light from the east window was about all that
was shining in her mind.
     "How long we gonna stay, I mean live here, Papa?" Roy spoke up.
     Papa looked around at everybody  at  the table  and  then he said, "You
mean you don't like  it here?" His face looked funny and his eyes run around
over the kitchen.
     Clara cleared away a handful of dirty plates off of the table and said,
"Are we supposed to like it here?"
     "Where  it's  so dirty," Roy went on  to say,  "an' spooky  lookin' you
can't even bring any kids around your own home?"
     Mama didn't say a word.
     "Why,"  Papa told Roy, "this is a good house, solid rock all over, good
new shingle roof, new rafters. Go take a look at  that upper attic.  Lots of
room  up there  where you  can store  trunks and  things. You can fix a nice
playhouse  up in that attic and  invite all of the kids in the whole country
to  come down here  on cold winter days, and play dolls,  and  all kinds  of
games up in there. You kids  just don't know a good house when you  see one.
And, one thing, it won't ever catch afire and burn down."
     Roy  just ducked his head and  looked down  at his plate and didn't say
any  more. Mama's cup of hot coffee had turned cold. Clara  poured a dishpan
of hot water, slushed  her finger around to whip up the suds, cooled it down
just right with  a dipper of  cold water, and told Papa, "As for me, I don't
like this old nasty place. 'Cause it's got old cold dingy walls, that's why.
'Cause I don't like  to sleep up there in that old  stinky bedroom where you
can smell the snuff spit of the London family for the last nine kids. 'Cause
you  know what  kinds of stories everybody tells  about this old  house, you
know as well as I know. Kids swelled up in that old bedroom and died.  Broke
out all  over with old yellow, running  sores. Not  a kid, not in this whole
town,  not a single  girl I  used to play with will ever,  ever play with me
again as long as we live in this town, if we let them find out we've got the
London House seven-year itch!" Clara  turned her head away from  the rest of
     Papa  wasn't saying much, just sipped his  coffee  and listened  to the
others talk.  Then he  said, "I've got something to tell  you  all.  I don't
know, I don't know how you're going to take it. Well, I'm afraid we're going
to  have to  live  in this house for a long time. I bought  this place for a
thousand dollars yesterday."
     "You mean . . ." Mama  talked up. "Charlie, are you trying to sit there
and tell me that you actually ... ?"
     ". . . Bought this place?" Clara said.
     "A thousan' dollars for this old dump?" Roy asked him.
     "I'm afraid so." Papa went  ahead drinking  his  coffee and leaving the
rest of his dinner setting in front of  him to get cold. "We'll pitch in and
fix it all up real nice, new  plaster, and cement all inside.  New paint all
over the woodwork."
     Clara dried her hands on  her apron and then pushed her curls back  out
of her  face and stepped  over to the west back  door, opened the  door  and
walked out onto the hill.
     Roy got up and pushed the door shut behind her.
     Papa said, "Tell your sister to come on in here out of  this night air,
she'll take down sick after standing over that hot stove."
     And Roy said, "Th' hot stove an' th' night air don't hurt us as...."
     "Bad  as what?"  Papa asked Roy.  And  Roy said,  "Bad's what Clara was
tellin' you about, that's what."
     "Roy, you mind what I tell you to do! I told  you to open up  that door
and call Clara back in this house. You do it!" Papa gave his orders, and his
voice was half rough and tough, but halfway hurt.
     "Call 'er in if you want 'er in,"  Roy told  Papa, and then Roy  made a
run  around  Papa's  elbow and through the front  room, and he  mounted  the
stairs outside  and chased up  to his bedroom and  pulled the  covers all up
over his head.
     Papa rose up from  his chair and walked  over and opened up the kitchen
door and  walked  out to find Clara. He called her  name a few times and she
didn't answer back. But somewhere he could hear her crying and he called her
again, "Clara, Clara! Where are you? Talk!"
     "I'm over here,"  Clara spoke  up,  and when Papa turned  around he saw
that he had  walked right  past her  skirt on his way out  the door. She was
leaning back against the wall of the house.
     "You know your old Papa don't want anything  to happen to you, because,
well, I get mean sometimes, and I treat  all of  you bad, but sometimes it's
just because I want to  treat you so good that I'd.... Come on, let me carry
you back in the house.  I'm your old mean Papa. You can call me that if  you
want to." He reached down and took Clara by the  arm,  and gave her a little
pull.  She let her body just  go limp  and limber,  and  kept crying  for  a
     Then Papa  went on talking, "I might be mean. I guess I am. I might not
stop often enough trying to work and make a lot  of money to  buy all of you
some nice things. Maybe I've got to be  so mean trading, and trying to  make
the money, that I don't know  how to quit when I come in home where you are,
where Roy is, and where Mama's at."
     Clara  snubbed a little, folded  her arm over her face,  and  then  she
wiped the tears away from her eyes with the wrong end of her fist and  said,
"Not either."
     "Not either, what?" Papa asked her.
     "Not mean."
     "Why? I thought I was."
     "Not either."
     "Why ain't I?"
     "It's something else that's mean."
     "What else?"
     "I don't know."
     "What is it that's mean to my little girl? You just tell me what it  is
that's even one little  frog hair mean to my little girl, and your old  mean
dad'll  roll  up his sleeves,  and double up  his fists and go and knock the
sound out of somebody."
     "This old house is mean."
     "It's mean."
     "How can a house be mean?"
     "It's mean to be in it."
     "Oh," Papa told Clara, "now, I see what you're driving at. You know how
mean I am?"
     "Not mean."
     "I'm  just  big and mean enough to pick you up just like a big sack  of
sugar and put on my shoulder, like this, and like this, and  then like this,
and ...  see ... I can carry you  all  of the way in through this back door,
and all  of the way in through this big, nice, warm kitchen,  and all of the
way..."  Papa carried Clara  laughing and giggling under her curly hair back
into the kitchen. When he was even with the stove, he looked up and saw Mama
washing the dishes and piling them on a little oilcloth table to drain.
     Clara kicked in the air and said, "Oh!  Let me down!  Let me  down! I'm
not crying now! And  besides, look what's happening! Look!" She squirmed out
of Papa's hold around her, and slid to the floor, and she sailed over into a
corner, brought out a mop, and started  mopping  up all  around Mama's feet,
talking a blue streak.
     "Mama,  look!  You're  draining the  dishes  without a  drain pan!  The
water's dripping like a great big ... river ... down ..."
     And then  Clara looked over the hot-water reservoir  on  the wood stove
and nobody in the house saw what she saw. Her eyes flared open when she seen
that  her  mama  wasn't  listening,  just washing the  dishes  clean  in the
scalding water; and when her mama set still another plate on its edge on the
little table, Clara kept her quiet, and Papa took a deep breath, and bit his
lip, and turned around and walked away into the front room.

     I found a new way  to spend my time these days. I went across the alley
on top of the hill and strutted up and down in front of a bunch of kids that
spent  most of their time making up games  to  play on top of their cellars.
Almost  every house  up  and  down the street had a dugout of some  kind  or
another  full of fresh  canned fruit, string beans, pickled beets, onions. I
snuck into one cellar after another with one kid after another, and saw  how
dark, how chilly  and damp it was down in there. I smelled the  cankery dank
rotten logs  along the ceiling of one cellar, and the hemmed-up feeling made
me  want to get back out into  the  open air again,  but the good  denned-up
feeling sort of made me want to stay down in there.
     The kid  next door had a cellar full  of jars and the jars were full of
pickled beets,  long green cucumbers, and big  round slices  of  onions  and
peaches as big as your hat. So we pulled us up a wooden box, and took down a
big fruit jar of peaches. I twisted the lid. The other kid took a twist. But
the jar was sealed too tight. We commenced getting hungry. "Ain't that juice
larepin'?" "Yeah, boy,  it is," I told  him,  "but what's larepin'?"  So  he
says, "Anything you like real good an' ain't got fer  a long time,  an' then
you git it, that's larepin'."
     All  of  our  hard wrestling and cussing didn't coax the lid off. So we
sneaked over behind the  barn. The other kid squeezed his self  in between a
couple of loose boards, stayed in the barn a minute, and came back  out with
a claw  hammer  and a two-gallon feed bucket.  "Good bucket," he told  me. I
glanced into it, seen a few loose horse hairs, but he must have had a pretty
hungry horse, because the bucket had been licked as clean as a new dime.
     I  held the  jar as tight as I could over the bucket, and he took a few
little love  taps  on the  shoulder of  the jar  with his hammer. He  saw he
wasn't  hitting the  glass hard enough, so he got a little harder each lick.
Then he  come  down a good one on it, and the glass  broke  into a  thousand
pieces;  the pewter lid and the red rubber seal fell first, then a whole big
goo of loose peaches, skinned and  cut in halves slopped out into the bottom
of the bucket;  and  then the neck of  the  jar with  a lot  of mean-looking
jagged edges sticking up, and the bottom  of the jar that scared us to  look
at it. "Good peaches," he told me.
     "Good juice," I told him.
     We fingered  in around the slivers of glass  and looked each peach over
good before  we downed it, pushing little sharp  chips  off through the oozy
juice; and the warm sun made the specks of glass shine up like diamonds.
     "Reckon how much a really diamond sparks?" he said to me."
     "I don't know," I said to him.
     Then he said, "My mama's got one she wears on her finger."
     And I said, "My mama ain't ... jest a  big wide gold'un. Some glass  on
yer peach, flip it."
     "Funny 'bout  yer mama  not havin' 'cept jest one ring. Need a  diamond
one too ta be really, really married ta each other."
     'What makes that?"
     "Diamonds is what ya  put in a ring, an' when ya see a girl ya jest put
th'  diamond ring on 'er finger; an' then next ya git a gold ring, an ya put
th' gold one on 'er finger; an' next-- well, then ya c'n kiss'er all ya want
     "Perty good."
     "Know what else ya c'n do?"
     "Huh uh, what?"
     "Sleep with her."
     "Yes sir, sleep right with 'er, under th' cover."
     "She sleep, too?"
     "I don't know. I never put no diamond on no girl."
     "Me neither."
     "Never did sleep with no girl, 'cept my cousin."
     "She sleep, too?" I asked.
     "Shore.  Cousins  they  jest mostly sleep. We  told  crazy  stories an'
laffed so loud my dad whopped us ta git us to go ta sleep."
     "What  makes  yore dad wanta sleep unner th' covers with a diamond ring
an' a gold one on yer mama's hand?"
     "That's what mamas an' daddies are for."
     "Is it?"
     "'At's what makes a mama a mama, an' a papa a papa."
     "What about  workin' together, like  cleanin' up  around  th' yard, an'
cleanin' up th' house,  an' eatin' together; how about talkin' together, an'
goin' off somewheres together, don't that make nobody a mama an' a papa?"
     "Naww, might help some."
     " 'S awful funny, ain't it?"
     "My mama  an' dad won't tell me nothin' about what makes you
a dad or a mama," he told me.
     "They won't?"
     "Naww. Sceered. But, I  keep my eyes open  wide, wide open; an' I  stay
awake on my bed, an' I listen over onto their bed. An' I know one thing."
     "I know one main thing."
     "What main thing?"
     "That's where little babies come from."
     "From mamas an' papas?"
     "Ain't no way they could.''
     "Yes they is."
     "You got to go somewhere to a store, or down to see a doctor, or make a
doctor come an' bring a little baby."
     "No, 'tain't ever' time that way. I hear my mama an' I hear my dad, an'
they said they slept together too much, an' got too many kids out from under
th' cover."
     "You don't find little babies under covers."
     "Yes  you do. Once in a while you find one,  an' he's a little boy or a
little  girl. Then this little  baby  grows up  big, an' you find
     "What's the next one?"
     "Like you, or like me."
     "I ain't no little baby."
     "You ain't but four years old."
     "But I ain't no little cryin' baby."
     "No, but you was when they first found you."
     "  'S purty bad, all right,  but maybe that's why my mama or dad  won't
tell  me nothin' about  th'  covers.  'Fraid I  might find  some more little
babies in under there, an' mama cries a lot an' says we done already got too
     "If your mama didn't want 'em, why don't she just put 'em back in under
th' sheet?"
     "Naww, I don't know, I don't think you can put 'em back."
     "How come your papa don't want so many?"
     "Cain't feed an' clothes us."
     "That's bad. I'll  get  you somethin' to eat over at my house. We ain't
got so many covers, I mean, so many kids as you got."
     "You know th' reason, don't you?"
     "No, why?"
     "Jest  'cause your mama  ain't got no  two rings, one gold one, an' one
diamond one."
     "Maybe she did used to have a diamunt ring;  an' maybe she got it burnt
up when our pretty big house caught afire an' burnt down."
     "I remember about that. I seen th' people runnin' up that way that day.
I seen th' smoke. How big was you then?"
     "I was just fresh out from under th' cover."
     "Say, if I ask you a favor, will you tell me it?"
     "Might, what?"
     "Kids say your  mama got mad an' set her  brand-new house  on fire, an'
burnt ever'thin' plumb up. Did she?"
     I didn't say anything back to him. I sat there up against the warm barn
for about a minute, hung my  head down a little, and then I reached out  and
kicked his bucket  as far  as I could kick it; and a million  flies that had
been eating the  peachy juice, flew out of the bucket, and wondered what had
hit them. I jumped up, and started to  throw a handful of manure on him, but
then I let my fingers go limber, and the manure fell to the ground. I didn't
look him in the face. I didn't look anywhere special.  I didn't want  him to
see my face, so I turned my head the other way, and walked past the pile  of
     I played around our yard some and talked to the fence posts, sung songs
and made the weeds sing,  and found all of the snuff  cans  the London folks
had throwed out into the high  weeds  around  the house for the last ten  or
fifteen years. I found  a  flat board, and loaded  the  cans  onto  it,  and
crawled  on my hands and knees, pushing it like a big wagon, in and out  and
all along under the weeds, and it  made a road everywhere it went. I come to
deep sandy places where the horses had to  pull hard and I  cussed out, "Hit
'em up, Judie! Git  in there, Rhodie! Judie! Dam yore muley hide! Hit 'em in
easy!  Now take it together!  Judie! Rhodie!" I  was  the world's  best team
skinner with the world's best team and the world's best wagon.
     Then I made out like I delivered my  load, got my money, turned all  of
my horses and mules out onto their pasture, and was going to  see some of my
people.  I slipped on loose rocks lying around the corner of our house, made
the white dust  foam up when I stomped through our ash pile, and  when I got
to the top  of the  hill,  I saw  the boy next door standing on  top  of his
manure pile watching more flies get fat on the slice of peach.  When he seen
me be made a hard run  down off  of the pile, jumped up  onto a sawhorse and
yelled, "This is my army horse!"
     I dumb up in a broke-down  wheelbarrow and hollered back  at him, "This
is my big war tank!"
     Then  he sailed down off his sawhorse and tore up on  top of his manure
pile, and said, "This is my big battleship!"
     "War tanks can whip ole battleships!" I told him. "War  tanks  has  got
fast, fast machine  guns! Battleships cain't go less they're in water! I can
chase Germans on land!"
     "But you  cain't shoot but  just a hunderd  Germans! Yer  l' war tank,
ain't got as many bullets as my big battleship!"
     "I can hide in my war tank, behind a rock, an' when ya start ta git off
of yore ship, I can kill ya, an' ya'll die!"
     He ripped down off  of  the manure pile, darted  behind his  barn,  and
after a little while, he poked his head out of the hayloading door up in the
top door. Then he hollered, "This is my big  fort! I got  my  cannons an' my
ship tied up down here under me! Yer ol'  war tank cain't even hurt  me! Ya!
     "Ya!  Yerself!  Yer ole fort ain't nothin'!" I pulled  myself up out of
the wheelbarrow and dumb up onto the first limb of a big walnut tree. "Now I
got my airplane, an' ya don't even know what I can do to ya!"
     "Cain't do nuthin'! Yore l' airplane ain't even as high as my fort!"
     "I can git up higher!"
     "I'm  still higher in  my fort than  yore  l' airplane! Cain't drop no
bumbs on me!"
     I looked up above me and saw that I'd come to the high top of the tree.
The limbs was already swaying around so much that the ground below me seemed
like it was a rough ocean. But I had to get up higher. "I c'n git up as high
as I wanta! Then I c'n dump out a big bomb on toppa yer l' crazy  fort, an'
it'll blow ya all ta pieces, knock yer head off, an' yer arms  off, an'  yer
both legs off, an' ya'll be dead!"
     The few limbs  in the top of the tree  weren't as big  as a broomstick,
and the wind was whirling me around up there like I was the last big  walnut
of the season.
     Mama slammed our back door and I kept real quiet so she wouldn't see me
up  in the tree. The  kid's mama  walked out  of her back door with a bushel
basket full of old cans and papers, and my mama said, "Say, wonder where our
little stray youngins are?"
     And his mama said, "I heard them hollering just a minute ago!"
     They stood  under my tree and asked each other little questions. "Ain't
these brats a fright?"
     "I tell  you, it's a shame to the dogs the way a woman's got to run and
chase and wear her wits out to keep  a big long string of kids from starving
to death."
     I looked down through the shady limbs and seen  the tops of the women's
heads, one tying a  hair ribbon a  little tighter in the wind, the other one
holding her hair by the big handfuls. The sun shot down through my tree, the
light places hit down the  back and shoulders of  my mama, and the  forehead
and  dress  of his mama, and the  whole  thing was traveling. I felt the sun
humming down hot and heavy on my head. It was a crazy feeling. The thing was
whirling, moving all  around, and I couldn't get it  to slow down or stop. I
grabbed  a better grip on the little limber  limbs, and  ducked my head down
and closed my eyes as  tight as I could, and I bit my tongue and lip to keep
from  crying out loud.  It was dark all over then, but my head was splitting
open, and everything in me was jumping and pounding like wild horses running
away with a big wagon with only one or two loose potatoes rumbling around in
     I yowled out, "Mama!" She looked all around over the lot. "Where 'bouts
are you?"
     "Up here. Up in th' tree."
     Both  of the women caught  their breath and I  heard them say, "Oh! For
heaven's sakes! Hurry! Run! Go get somebody! Get somebody to do something!"
     "Can't you just climb down?" Mama asked me.
     "No," I told her. "I'm sick."
     "Sick? For God's sake! Hold on tight!"  Mama got up on the  wheelbarrow
and tried to climb up to  the first limb. She  couldn't make it  any higher.
She looked up where  I was sticking like  a 'possum in the forks, and  said,
"It's a good twenty-five feet up to where he is! Oh,  Lord,'goodness, God, I
wish somebody would come along! Wait!  There's a bunch of kids yonder  along
the road at the bottom of the hill!  You stay here and talk to him. Tell him
anything, anything, but don't let  him  get scared. Just talk. Hey! You kids
down there! Wait  a minute!  Yes, you!  Come  here! Want  a dime each one of
     Five or six mixed colors of kids run up the hill to meet her, and every
kid  was saying,  "Dime? Golly, gosh,  yes! Whataya  want  done? Work? Whole
     "I'll show you, here, down this alley.  Now, I wanta know something. Do
you see that little boy hanging up yonder in the top of that tall tree?"
     "Shoot a monkey!"
     "Cain't he get back down?"
     "No," my mama told them, "he's hung up there or something. He's getting
sicker and sicker,  and is  going to fall any minute, unless we do something
to get him down."
     "I can climb that tree after him."
     "Me, too."
     "Yeah, but  you can't do no good; them little old weak limbs won't hold
nobody else."
     Mama was pulling her hair. "You see, you see, you kids, don't you?  You
see how much gray  hairs  and worry you pile on to  your old mothers' backs!
Don't you ever sneak off and pull no such a stunt as this!"
     "No ma'am."
     "I wouldn't."
     "I never would chase my folks up no tree."
     "Shut up, ijiot, she didn't say that."
     "Shh. What'd she say?"
     "She said don't get hung up in no tree."
     "I been hung up in every tree in this end of town."
     "Shut up, she don't know that."
     "Hey, guys! These lowest limbs is stout enough to hold us up! See here!
You just got to watch out and keep your feet in real close to th' top of th'
tree, an'  not out on the  limbs when you hit a fork! Okay, Slew, you're the
littlest,  skin up  in  there  far's you can;  climb right up next  to  him!
Sawdust, you're next  littlest! Flag it  up  in  there and stop right  under
     Slew and Sawdust skint up into that tree.  The little one's head was up
as high as my belly, and the next kid was right under him.
     "We're up here! Whatta you wanta do next?"
     "Buckeye, you got long arms  and  legs; you stand  yonder a-straddle of
them two wide limbs!"
     "I'm here 'fore you got it said."
     "Thug,  you set  yourself down right here low to the ground. All of you
watch; maybe if he  falls,  you can at  least  make  a grab and try to ketch
     "What's th' rest of us gonna do?"
     "Rabbit,  an' you, Star Navy, you too, Jake--you  three run  yonder  to
that lady's wellhouse, an' take yer pockit-knife an' cut that  rope, an' git
back here in nuthin' flat!"
     Three  kids aired out over the hill,  come  out lugging a long piece of
     "Okay, here, Thug, you  hand this  on up to Buckeye. Buck, you shoot it
on up to Saw, an' Sawdust, you wheel'er on in  to Slew! Got  a  good holt on
'er, Slew?"
     "Yeah! Whattaya want me ta do with it? Tie it around his belly?"
     "Yeah! But, first, you'd better'd put  the  end, th' knot  end, up over
that fork there where he's  hung!  That's her! Throw  loop around his  belly
     "Okay! He's looped so's he never could git loose, even if he's ta try!"
     Then the main  foreman  of the gang  took  off  a  little  dirty  white
flour-sack  cap, and rubbed the dirt and sweat back off of his head and told
Mama and  the other lady, "All right, ladies. Yore  worryin' days  is  over.
Keep yer britches on. That kid'll live ta be a flat hunderd."
     "The rope won't slip or break?" Mama asked him.
     "Good wet  rope." The  kid was watching every move that the  other kids
     "Okay! V'e're all set!" one kid yelled down out of the tree.
     "We're ridin' high, an' settin' purty!" another one talked up.
     Then the ramrod said, "Rabbit, Star, Jake, you three guys take th' tail
end of this rope, an' back off out across down th' hill yonder with it. Pull
it good an' straight. 'At's her. Okay!"
     "She's straighter'n a preacher's dream."
     "Thug, you, up  there!  Hold onto th' main rope! You grab 'er, Saw, you
too, Slew! Now, let me git a grip  on 'er down here on th' ground! You three
kids down  the hill  there brace yer feet, dig  yer  heels, dig  'em in! You
wimmen folks jist rare back, take a  big  dip of  snuff, an' tell some funny
stories! We ain't never dropped a  kid yit, an' this  is  th' first time  we
ever got paid a dime fer not droppin' one!"
     "Look what you're doing."
     "Okay!  Worry  Wart, you, Slew!  Now! Lift his legs up loose  from  the
forks! Hey, help make him help you. Lift  'im  plumb up! 'At'saboy! Jist let
'im hang down there!"
     "Man's unhung much's he can be unhung!"
     "You guys down th' hill! His weight's on this  rope now! You let it git
tight, real slow, then as I  feed th' rope through  my hands, why, you three
birds come  a-walkin'  up th'  hill, see? Like  this, see, an'  she slips  a
little, an' you walk a little, an' she oozes a little bit more, an' you walk
up a little closter!"
     "We're wheelin'!"
     "An' a-dealin'!"
     "Just  walk along slow, keep  a tight  rope, take it  easy. Okay, Slew,
he's down out of yore reach! Sawdust, keep th' rope stretched  under th' pit
of yore one arm, an' guide th' gent down past you with the other arm!"
     "He's slidin'! Easy ridin'!"
     "Keep 'im slidin'! Easy  on th' ridin'! Guide 'im  on down  ta where we
git th'  six dimes! You ladies  can be goin' to th'  house ta git  out  yore
     Mama said, "No, thank you,  sir,  I'll stay  right here,  if  you don't
mind, and  see to  it that you  get  him down  right. Are they  hurting you,
     "Not me!" I told her back.  "This is lotsa  fun. Got lotsa kids ta play
with now!"
     "You hold on tight to that rope, mister  fun-haver!" the other lady was
     "I will!" I said to her. "Mama, do I get a dime, too?"
     I come down past the last kid on the last limb and when I got both feet
on the ground, I forgot all about my headache and sun-stroke. I  laughed and
talked with  everybody like I was a famous sailor just back from sea. "  'At
wuz fun! Hey! I wanta do it all over agin'!"
     Mama grabbed me by the shirt  collar and pulled me home. I was fighting
every step of the way and yelling back, "Hey! Kids! Come  an' play with  me!
Come an' see my wagon road! I wanta dime, too, Mama!"
     "I'll dime you!" she told me.
     "You kids wait right there. I'll get your six dimes for you.''
     "I wanta dime! I want some candy!" I was letting it out.
     "We'll save ya a piece out of our candy an' stuff!" the head captain of
the kids yelled.
     "An'  we'll bring it over in  a sack all by itself,  first thing in th'
     Another kid said, "It was yore tree!"
     "It's yore yard!"
     "Yeah, an' it was even yer mama's dimes!''
     And just as our back door flew shut with me halfway caught with my neck
sticking out, Mama grabbed a better handful of me,  and I yelled, "It was my
sore  head,  it  was  my  dizzy head!" And Mama jammed the  door shut, and I
didn't see any  more of the big bunch of awful good smart kids. Regular tree
     Mama took my shirt and  overhalls off, stripped me down to my bare hide
and spent about an hour giving me a bath.
     "Come on, young sprout, I'm putting you off to bed. Come on,"
     "I'm comin'; I feel good an' warm in my new clean unnerwear."
     "Do you?"
     "You know, Mama,  I never do  like for you ta  do  anything to me, like
make me mind,  or make me stay home, or make me drink milk, or  take a bath,
but I hate most of all to  have you put a new pair of unnerwear on me. Then,
after ya do it, I like you a whole lot better."
     "Mama knows every little thing that's taking place  in that  little old
curly head of yours. You're my newest, and my hardest-headed youngin."
     "Mama, what's a hard head?"
     "It means you go and do what you want to."
     "Is my head a hard one?"
     "You bet it is."
     "What's a youngin?" I asked Mama. "Am I a youngin?"
     And Mama told me, "Well, it means you're not very old."
     She pulled the covers up around my neck and tucked me down into the bed
     "When I get up to be real big, will I still be a youngin?"
     "No. You'll be a big man then."
     "Are you a youngin?"
     "No, I'm  a  big  woman. I'm  a grown lady. I'm  your mama."  I started
getting drowsy and my eyes felt like they was both full of dry dirt.
     I asked Mama, "Wuz you good when you wuz first a little baby?"
     And she  rubbed my face  with the  palm  of  her hand  and said, "I was
pretty good. I believe I minded my mama better than you mind yours."
     "Wuz you just a little tiny baby, this big?"
     "Just about."
     "An' Gramma an' Grampa found you in under their covers?"
     Mama's  face looked like she was  trying to figure out a hard puzzle of
some kind. "Covers?"
     "That boy that clumb up  on his barn door, he tol' me all about married
rings, an' all about where you go an find little babies. Youngins."
     "What did you say?"
     "All 'bout married rings."
     "This ring is pure  gold," Mama  told me, holding up her hand for me to
see it. "See these little flower buds? They  were real plain when  your papa
and  me first  got married.... But  why don't you ever go to  sleep,  little
     "You know who I'd marry if I wuz gonna marry, Mama?"
     "I haven't got the least inkling," she said. "Who?"
     "Uh huh."
     "You  couldn't  marry me if you wanted to. I'm  already married to your
     "Cain't I marry you, too?"
     "Certainly not,"
     "I  told you  why. You can't marry your own mama.  You'll just  have to
look around for another girl, young man."
     "Mama, do you know somethin'?"
     "No, what?"
     "Well,  like, say, like  what that little ole mean kid acrost th' alley
asked me?"
     "Well, he asked me how many married rings you had on.'
     "And then?"
     "So I told him, told him you  didn't have  but one gold one. No diamunt
glass one."
     "And he said ever'body  in town would git awful,  awful mad at you  for
losin' yore diamunt 'un."
     "Did he?"
     "An' he  said, 'Where did you lose yore diamunt `un at?' An' so, I told
him maybe it got lost in our big house fire."
     Mama just kept listening and didn't say a word.
     Then  I went on, "An' he asked me how come it, our  big perty house got
burnt up.  An' then he  asked  me if--if  you struck  a  match an' set it on
     Mama didn't answer me. She just looked up away from me.  She  looked  a
hole through  the wall, and then she looked out through my bedroom window up
over  the hill. She rubbed my forehead with her fingers and  then she got up
off the  edge of  my bed,  and walked out  into  the  kitchen. I  laid there
listening. I could hear her feet walking around over  the  kitchen  floor. I
could hear the water splash in the drinking  dipper. I  heard everything get
quiet. Then I drifted off to sleep, and didn't hear a sound.


     It  was  an Indian summer morning and it  was  crispy and clear,  and I
stuck my nose up into the air and  whiffed my  lungs full of good weather. I
stood on the side of  the street in the  alley crossing  and saw Clara drift
almost out of sight  toward the  schoolhouse. I turned around and ran like a
herd of wild buffaloes back down the hill, around the house, and come to our
front  yard, skidding to a stop. I hollered in at the window to  where  Mama
was finishing up the breakfast dishes and said, 'Where's Gramma at?"
     Mama  slid the  window up and  looked  out  at me  and said,  "This  is
Grandma's day to come all right, how'd you know?"
     "Clara told me," I told Mama.
     "And why're you so fussed up about Grandma coming, young  sprout?" Mama
said to me.
     "Clara said Gramma'd take me with her to trade her eggs."
     "Who is she, might I ask you?"
     "She's my big  sister. She's bigga 'nuff ta tell me where all I can go,
ain't she?"
     "And I'm your Mama. Could you  tell  me what I'm suppose to be able  to
tell you?"
     "You can tell me I can go with Gramma, too."
     "Oh! Well, I'll  tell you, you've been having a hard time getting  used
to living in this old house.  So  I'll tell you what. If you'll  come in and
wash your face and neck and ears real good, and get both of your hands clean
enough for Grandma to  see your  skin,  maybe I'll be right real good to you
and let you go out and stay a few days with her! Hurry!"
     "Is my ears clean?"
     Mama took a  good look at both of my ears and  told me, "This first one
will do in a pinch."
     "How long's Gramma been yore wife?" I asked Mama.
     "T  told  you  a thousand times  Grandma  is  not my  wife. She's  your
Grandpa's wife."
     "Has Grampa gotta husban', too?"
     "No. No. No. Grandpa is a husband already, Grandma's husband."
     "Nobody ain't my husban', is there?" I asked her.
     Mama grabbed the washrag  away  from me and rubbed  my hide to a cherry
red. "Listen, you little question  box, don't ask me anything else about who
is  kin to  who;  you've  absolutely  got  my head  whirling around  like  a
     "Mama. Know somethin'?"
     "I ain't never gonna git real mad at you."
     "Well, that is good news. Why? Whatever made you say that?"
     "I jist ain't."
     "You're  being awful, awful  good for some reason or  another.  Nickel.
Dime. What?"
     "Not really, really mad."
     "You certainly will have to change your ways a lot. You get mad at your
old mama  just about every day  about  something.  You  get  awful riled  up
     "That ain't worst mad."
     "What kind of mad do you mean?"
     "Mad  that stays mad. 'At's th'  kind I'm tell in'  ya about. You won't
ever git mad at me if I won't ever git mad at you, will ya?"
     "Never in your  whole life, young  feller." Mama  patted my naked  hide
where the cakes of dirt had just been  washed  off and  told me, "That's the
best thing that could ever happen to all of us. Your little old head has got
it all thrashed out."
     "Thrashed where? What's thrashed mean?"
     "Thrash. Thrash. Means when you whip something and beat  it, and  well,
like Grandpa does his oats."
     "I got oats in my head! Oats  in my  head! Yumpity yay! Yumpity yay!  I
got  oats in my head! Git outta my way! Git outta my way!" I made a hard run
around the kitchen.
     "You crazy little monkey. Go ahead, have a good time. Just go ahead and
tear this old house down. You're my littlest baby. You're going out and stay
a long, long time with your grandma, and I won't have no little boy to drive
me crazy! Have a good time.  Let's see you!  Run! Holler!  Loud!  I'm  gonna
gitcha! Gonna gitcha! Run!"
     We chased all around over the front room and back  through the kitchen.
She grabbed me up off  the floor and swung me around and around till my feet
stuck straight out. She was laughing and I felt  hot tears salty on the side
of her face. When she  let me down on the floor, she knelt down on her knees
and held me up real warm, and I said, "Mama, I'll tell ya. I like ta have ya
chase me.  Play. Stuff like that. Talk ta each other. Hug on each other. But
I don't like fer ya ta call me secha little boy all th' time."
     "Oh, I thought so. I was looking for you to say that most any day now,"
she  told me, holding  me off  at arm's length and looking me up  and  down.
"You're getting to be a mighty awful big man."
     "Bigger'n I usta wuz?"
     "Bigger than you used to be."
     "Usta wuz. Cain't stay still."
     "I know," Mama said to me, and  she set down on the floor and pulled me
down in her lap, "You grow."
     "Up this way. Out this way. Across this way."
     "You can't stay still," she went on.
     "Gotta hurry. Grow."
     "Tell me, mister grower, this. Now, when you was just a little boy with
curly hair a little over four years old, you said to me that you never would
get mad  and  stay mad at me anymore. Will you  still say that  while you're
growing up so big so fast?"
     "Fast as I grow a little, I'll tell you it again."
     "You promise? You cross your heart and hope to die?"
     "Cross. Double cross."
     "Fine.  Now look right  out through that window there and tell me  what
you see coming down the road?"
     "Grandma's right!"
     "Hey! Hey! Gramma! Gramma!"
     I snorted out the front door running to meet the buggy, waving my hands
about  my head  like I was signaling a  battleship. When I got about halfway
down  the hill, I struck my big toe against a sharp  rock, and it tumbled me
so  bad the tears started down my cheeks; but  I  started running that  much
faster, for my only chance to get a free  ride was to  catch the buggy while
she  was on the level, because once she got headed up  the steep hill to our
house she wouldn't stop to pick me up.
     I had tears on  my  face and  dirt on the tears when I got to the road,
but I was  there ahead of the buggy. I jumped up and down at the side of the
road and  I made all  kinds of signals with my  hands, but Grandma just kept
looking straight ahead. I yelled, "Gramma! Hey! Gramma!" But she didn't even
as much as glance over my way.
     I trotted along  a ragweed ditch full of  fine  washed  sand, and  kept
hollering, "It's me! Hey!  It's me! Gramma! Me!" And she just kept old White
Tom and Red Bess trotting right along, throwing more dust, straw, and chalky
manure dirt back in my face.
     About six foot this side of where the level road took  off up the  hill
toward our house, the buggy stopped, and  I  made one long, sailing jump, in
between  the  wheels, and  up  into the  seat  beside Grandma, and  she  was
bouncing  the whole  buggy up and  down laughing and saying, "Why, was  that
you? Back  yonder? I saw a  little old dirty-faced boy  standing back there,
and I says to myself, "No, that's not Woody, not my Woodsaw.'"
     Sweat was in little bumps on Grandma's face, because she was so hot and
her whole face was  bouncing with the buggy  because she was so fat. A black
hat with some flowers on top and a  big pin that always made me wonder if it
wasn't  sticking  right on through  her hair and head  from  one ear  to the
other. Gray hair commencing to  make a stand  that had come from hoeing' and
working a crop of worries for about fifty years.
     "I was  clean when  I  seen ya comin'. Then I  started  a  runnin', an'
stumped  my  big  toe  on an l' rock. Hurt.  Real bad. Gimme th'
     She put one  arm around  me  and handed me the long leather  reins, and
told me, "Yes, you look like my little grandson now. I can tell by the shape
of your head that's my Woodchuck."
     I  stood  up on the floorboards and held both  of  the big reins in one
hand. It  was more than a handful, but I managed to wave at Mama. "Hi! Hi! I
got 'em! I got 'em! Hi! Lookit me! See me drive?"
     I  jumped out of the buggy  in  front of our  house and Grandma met  me
coming  around  the  horses.  She put  both  of  her hands  on  her hips and
straightened  her corsets up a little and smiled at me, and said, "Well, you
are a smart feller. Already know how to tie a slipknot on a buggy wheel."
     I spent the next few minutes looking  at the knot I'd tied on the buggy
spoke, tracing  the  reins up over the horses' backs, and up to  the bits in
their mouths. I handled  the loose bit and the steel shined in the sun. When
I rubbed Tom's bald  spot between  his eyes, Bess looked over  at me kind of
lonesome like, so I rubbed her, too.  I walked around and around  the buggy,
and it smelled like strong  paint and hot leather. At the back were seven or
eight gallon buckets, all full of  milk and cream and clabber to take around
to folks in town.
     I could hear Mama and Grandma talking through the kitchen window.
     Grandma was  saying, "You're  not looking  any too  good, Nora.  You're
working too hard. Straining yourself. Something. I don't know. What is it?"
     "Why, I feel all right; do I look bad? Just everyday housework. Nothing
     "Something  else,  too,  young lady. Something  else.  This  old house.
That's what it is. This old house is so old and rotten  and so awful hard to
keep clean."
     Grandma  was leaning back in a big wide  chair that just about fit her,
sizing  Mama up and down. A few gray  hairs had got loose from her hairpins,
and she was pressing  them back with her hands, and pinning  them down where
they belonged.
     "We're about to get all straight again," Mama said.
     "Here.  Something's wrong around here. Tell me the truth before I go. I
just got to know."
     Mama  rubbed her  hair back out of her eyes and said, "I  feel  good, I
feel good all  over. I work hard and feel good, but I don't know. Just seems
like right in through my  head some  way or another, something. Little dizzy
     "I thought  so,"  Grandma  told her,  "I thought so.  I could tell. You
can't  fool an  old fooler, you know. Might fool your own self a little. But
not me. Not your  old Mama. If  it was one of your own kids  sick, you'd  be
able to tell it a mile away. I'm the same way about my flock of kids. I know
when  one  of them is out of kilter.  I put diapers on you and I washed your
ears a  million  times  and  I sent you  off to  school  in  dresses we made
together, and if you just so much as blink one eye crossways, I can tell it.
You promise to get the doctor down here and let him look you over!"
     "Milk will sour in the buggy."
     "Oh,  to  the dickens  with milk and  butter, Nora! I'm talking  sense.
Promise me you'll get the doctor down. Have him come down every few days for
a while. He can keep up with you, and do you some good."
     "Your eggs  will hatch  out. Well,  all right, all right. I'll  get the
doctor. Here, kiss me good-bye." Mama kissed Grandma on the forehead.
     Grandma crawled back into the buggy seat and found me perched up beside
her. "What about this young jaybird going home with me? Is it all right with
you? Will you miss his hard-working hands around the place here?"
     Mama was  standing  in the yard  waving. "I will!  'Bye! I'll tell Papa
you're gone. He'll miss you!"

     The team knocked dust up between their legs and it was good because the
little biting flies  couldn't bother  their  ankles. Grandma was letting  me
hold the reins.
     She told me,  "Stop here a minute or two." I pulled the team to a stop.
"Get three  pounds of butter out of the back  and take it up to Mrs. Tatum's
door. Get the  money. Don't squeeze  the butter  too  hard,  it'll have your
finger marks on it."
     I knocked on the door and handed a  lady three pounds of butter and got
a dollar bill and a twenty-five-cent piece in the palm  of my  hand. It felt
like some kind of magic sheet of paper and a magic piece of silver. I handed
it  up to  Grandma  and  she yelled,  "Thank you,  Mrs. Tatum!  Mighty  fine
weather!  Thank you!'' And Mrs. Tatum yelled back, "I can just  smell a blue
norther on top of these pretty days!"
     We  drifted  on  down the road  a few more  blocks, passing  a  lot  of
scattered houses, and I held  the reins again, being  awful  careful to hold
them up plenty  high in the air so the people all along the road could see I
was ramrodding this driving business. Grandma just  sort of smiled and said,
"Turn here to your right. Which  a way's  my  right? North.  Cold  up there.
Hurry and  make your turn. Stop  over there  in front of  that  little white
house.  Get out and take Mrs. Warner three pounds  of butter. Then come back
and take three buckets of milk. That family of  hers is getting  bigger  and
hungrier all of the time.  I don't think  her boy is working anymore down at
the gin."
     "Howdy do," I said to  Mrs. Warner, and  she said, "Why, Mrs,  Tanner's
got a  mighty good little  boy working for her  now. Isn't three  big  heavy
pounds of butter a little too heavy for you?"
     "Nope." I ran back to the buggy and piled in again.
     "Now, do you see  that little old broke-down shack over there in  under
that black walnut tree?"
     "Yeah, I see  it. Say, Gramma, why  didn't Mrs. Warner gimme  no dollar
an' no quarter? I see th' shack."
     "Mrs. Warner does a  charge account with me. Sews. Fixes clothes for my
whole family. Now this next lady's  name is Mrs. Walters. Take two pounds of
butter to her. Then come back and take three buckets of milk."
     I walked up to the  little shack and tried to keep my feet  on a rotten
plank that was used as a boardwalk. It was too rickety and caused me to lose
my balance. I stumbled and dropped one of the pound squares of butter  and I
felt like one of  Oklahoma's worst outlaws when I saw the  wet cloth unroll,
and the  butter roll out across the ground, picking up little dark rocks and
a solid coat of hard  dust. I was  standing there with tears in my eyes, and
more coming all of the time, when I heard somebody talking in my ear.
     "I was watchin' you frum th' kitchen window. My, my. What a nice little
boy yo' gran'ma's got to go 'roun' an' carry her buttah an' milk.
I oughtta knowed you couldn'  make it ovah that l' trippy boardwalk. Lordy,
me! Jes' lookit  that nice  big yeller poun'  buttah all layin' theah in my
ol' dirty, filthy yard! Oh, well don'  you git no gray head 'bout it, little
'livery man. I  can use it all right. See  heah?  I can jes' scrape, scrape,
scrape, an' then they won' be too much wasted."
     I finally got up strength enough to mumble out, "Stumped my toe agin'."
     "Is he all right, Matilda?"
     "Sho', sho'! He's all right. Jes' a little toe stump.  Shoot a 'possum,
I goes 'roun' heah all barefoot jes' like  you do. See my ol  bare foot, how
tuff 'tis? Come right on in through th' front room heah, that's right. I bet
you this is th' firs' time you evah wuz in a black niggah's house. Is it?"
     "Yes ma'am."
     "I don'  hafta tell you no mo' than what yo' eyes  can  already see, do
     "No ma'am."
     "You leas'ways sez, yas ma'am an' no ma'am, don' you?"
     "An' me jes' an ol black niggah. Hmmm. Sho' do soun' good."
     "Are you a nigger lady?"
     "Whatta I look like, honey?"
     "Are you a nigger 'cause you're black?"
     "What folks all says."
     "What do people call you a nigger for?"
     " 'Cause they jes' don' know no bettah. Don' know  what 'niggah' means.
Don' know how bad makes ya feel."
     "You called your own self that," I told her.
     "When  I calls my own se'f a  niggah, I knows I don' mean  it. An' even
anothah niggah calls  me a 'niggah,' I don'  min',  'cause I knows it's most
jes' fun. But when a white  pusson calls me 'niggah,'  it's like a whip cuts
through my ol' hide."
     "I gotta go bring you in some milk," I told Matilda.
     "Did you speak 'milk'?" She got a big smile all over her face.
     "My gramma's got you three buckets."
     "Some weeks  it's  buttah.  Some weeks  eggs.  An' now  you  speaks out
somethin' 'bout milk. Lawd God, little rattlesnakes! C'mon, I'll he'p you."
     I went  running through the house chasing her and said, "I'm  driver 'n
d'livery boy!"
     We got back to the buggy  and Grandma said, "Did you tell  the lady you
were sorry that you dropped her butter?"
     I looked down at the dusty road and didn't say anything.
     Matilda  cut in and said, "Missy Tanner, any little boy that does  work
fo' you's jes' mortally gotta be good. You gives me th` buttah an' th' sweet
milk,  an' he 'livers it to me. My l' man's a-gonna chomp down on that same
ol' co'nbread, an'  'stead or it a-bein' all so dry an' gritty it
sticks  in yo' throat an' cuts through yo' belly, it's a-gonna be all  slick
an' greasy with good ol'  runnin'  buttah.  An'  it'll  go  down  his  oozle
magoozler so slick an' easy  it won't have time ta scrape his neck 'er belly
neither  one.  An' my kids'll git greasy all  over an' wipe  it off on their
ovahalls, but po' little fellas, I ain't even a-gonna cuss 'em  out 'bout it
if they  do;  'cause  they'll  be jes' like  me,  so hongery  fo' buttah  on
co'nbread, an' sweet  milk, they'll jes'  think they's oozin' ovah inta  th'
sho' 'nuff promised lan'."
     Grandma said, "I try not to ever just clean forget you."
     "I knows ya do," Matilda told Grandma.
     "I  just wish it  could be more of  it more often," Grandma  went on to
     "I wishes  I could he'p you out mo' an' mo' often, too. You knows that,
don't ya, Missy Tanner?" When she looked in under the back lid of the buggy,
Matilda went on, 'I'll see if I can see any of  mah own kids aroun'. Pack in
two of these heah big gallion buckets. Tuckah! Tuckah!''
     "Yes'm. Heah I is! Watcha wan'?"
     "Undo yo'self, Tuckah Boy, undo yo'self! Come out heah an' see with yo'
own big  eyes what all's a-gonna grease dat belly o' yo's! Sweet milk! 'Nuff
ta fatten an' raise fo' hogs ta butchah!"
     Tucker flew out from behind a patch of weeds, and  then I saw three  or
four other  little  heads  shoot out  and  stand up and  look and think  and
     Grandma smiled and  said, "Hi, Tuck! Still playing in that old patch of
gimpson weeds, I see."
     "Howdy do, Miss Tanner."
     Matilda handed me a gallon  bucket and  then she  handed Tuck one. Then
she said,  "Tuck, this is Mistah  Woodpile.  Mistah Woodpile, dis heah is my
boy, Tuckah."
     I shook hands with Tuck and we said, "Glad ta know ya."
     Then he laughed  at  the top of his voice  and grabbed a bucket of milk
between his two hands, bent over it with his face almost touching the top of
the milk, his breath blowing  rings out across it, saying,  "Good l',  good
l', good ol' milk! Good ol', good ol', good ol' milk!"

     For the first  two or three miles we just  trotted  along west down the
Ozark Trail Half a mile west past the Buckeye schoolhouse, we saw two saddle
horses tied  to the fence, the  Black Joker,  wild and mean,  that Grandma's
oldest boy, Warren, rode;  and an old tame family horse that the two younger
kids, Lawrence and Leonard, rode double.
     "I see  Warren's sneaked  out that Black Joker horse  and rode  him  to
school again. That fool horse is loco."
     I set there in the seat all loose and limber, both knees under my chin,
sort of thinking, and then I told Grandma, "Mama'll need me home."
     Grandma looked  down at  me and she put her arm around me and pulled me
over close  to her in the buggy seat, and  I held one rein in each  hand and
let both hands fall down  across  her lap.  "You're  worried,  too. You're a
worried little man, that's what you are, a worried little man."
     ''You know somethin', Gramma?  My mama don't never go out an' visit th'
other people acrost th' alley."
     "Why not?"
     "She jest stays an' stays an' stays home in that ole Lon'on House."
     "Do any of the neighbor ladies ever come around to  visit and talk with
Nora?" Grandma asked me.
     "Huh uh. Never nobody."
     "What does she do? Read a book?"
     "Jest sets. Looks. Holds  a book  in 'er lap mosta  th'  time,  but she
don't  look where th' book's at. Jest out across th' whole  room, an'  whole
house an' ever'wheres."
     "Is that right?"
     "If Papa tells Mama somethin' she forgot, she gits so mad  she goes off
up in  th' top  bedroom an' cries an' cries all day long. What makes  it?" I
asked Grandma.
     "Your mama  is awful bad sick,  Woody, awful bad.  And  she knows she's
awful bad sick. And it's so bad that she don't want any of you to know about
it ... because it's going to get a whole lot worse."
     It was a minute or two  that Grandma didn't say a word, and neither did
I. I stared along the side of the little old road. The rain had come and the
waters had run,  and  the road had wrinkled up like an old  man's skin. Over
across the tops of the weeds I saw Grandma's big high cornfield.
     "Gramma," I finally spoke  up, "is  Tom an' Bess  trottin' fast  'cause
they wanta git home quicker?"
     She didn't move or change the blank look on her face much. She said, "I
suppose they do."
     "Is one horse a girl?"
     "One's a boy horse?"
     "They live together, don't they?"
     "Same barn,  yes. Same pasture.  I don't know just exactly what  you're
getting at."
     "Can horses marry each other?"
     "Can they do what?"
     "Horses marry?"
     "Well, now there you go again with your dang fool infernal questions. I
don't know whether horses get married or not."
     "I wuz jest askin'  a."
     "You're always asking, asking, asking something. And half of the time I
can't tell you the answer."
     "Horses work, don't they?"
     "You  know  they work. I wouldn't even have a cat or a dog or a chicken
on my place  that didn't do his share of the work. Yes, even my old cat does
a lot of work. That reminds me, you know old Maltese Mother?"
     "l', l'  one? Yeah. She knows me,  too. Ever' time she  sees me,  she
comes over to where I am."
     "She's  got a  whole  bunch, seven  of  the nicest  soft, fuzzy  little
kittens that you ever saw."
     "Seven? How many fingers is seven?"
     "Like  this. Here. All of the fingers on this  hand and two  fingers on
this hand. That's right."
     "Are they good little kittens?"
     "Now, what could  a  little kitten do, anyway, to be mean? They're  the
best little fellers  you  ever saw. Sleepers.  You never  saw anything sleep
like these little baby cats."
     "Where  did ole  Mother Maltese go  to  come back with this many little
baby kittens?"
     "Out in the trees somewhere, somewhere  out in the grass. She found one
little  kitten here, and one little kitten over there, and  one  or two back
across yonder, and that's how she got all seven."
     "Is it?"
     "Certainly is."
     "Why couldn't old Mama Maltese go and find all seven of 'em in jes' one
     "Listen,  young  man, you'll just have to ask the mama  cat. Watch your
horses there, straighten yourself up. You remember we're coming to the gate?
You jump out and open it."
     I saw the old barb-wire gate coming and said, "Me? Shore! Shore! I know
ever'thing ya gotta do ta open a gate!"
     The gate  was tough. I put one  arm around the post that was set in the
ground,  and the other arm  around  the loose gatepole,  and got  sort of  a
headlock  on  them both. I heard Grandma  holler out, "I see the boys riding
down the road yonder! Come on!"
     Then  I  heard a  bunch of horses'  hoofs coming down the road,  and  I
looked up and saw just a big white-looking  cloud of  dust coming at me. Out
of the dust I could hear  the three boys  whooping and barking, "Wwaaahoooo!
Yip!  Yip! iii!  Looky  ooouuuttt!  Woodrow!  Looky  outttt!" The
thought of getting tromped under the horses' feet caused my eyes to fly open
like a goggle-eyed bee, and my two ears stood straight out from the sides of
my head.
     My first thought was to drop the gatepole and run off into the weeds to
get clear of  the  horses.  The boys  were  still coming  straight at me and
yelling, "Gonna git run  oovver! Run overr! Looky  outtt, Woodrow! Gonna git
run over an' killed!"
     The boys and the horses were within ten foot of me, when I decided that
I'd just hold the gate  shut.  I happened to take one last look back at  the
little  wire loop on top,  and it had slipped into the notch  where I'd been
trying to put it. The gate was shut good as she ever was. I fell down off of
the brace  post backwards and scrambled up  to my  feet again, and  made the
worst face I could, and  yelled back at the  boys, "Ya!  Ya! Ya! Thought you
wuz smart! Thought you'z smart!"
     Both  horses  run keeeblamm  into the gate.  Warren, riding  the  Black
Joker, was traveling too  fast to turn  or stop, or even slow down. Lawrence
and  Leonard had  figured on the gate being  open,  and their  own  dust had
blinded them. Their horse stopped so quick that the boys  slid right about a
couple  of feet up onto the horse's neck; the horse waved his head a time or
two  and threw both kids down  amongst  the  wires where Warren was  rolling
     All of this  time  I mostly just  run about  three times as fast as the
wild horses, till I  come to Grandma's buggy. I mounted the  back of it, set
there all humped up, and watched the crazy rodeo back at the gate. There was
the Black  Joker  stamping around still  crying and squeeling a little, over
yonder  in the west corner of the cotton  field; and over there in  the east
corner, in a few wild weeds, just on the edge of the cotton patch, there was
the horse without a name; and yonder in the middle of  the whole thing there
was a cloud of Oklahoma's very best dust, that looked about like where you'd
heaved a hand grenade; you  might not believe it to stand back  off and look
at it, but somewhere in that dust I knowed there was three awful tough boys.
You couldn't see the boys. Just the dust fogging up. But you could see a few
slivers of barb wire wiggling in the sun.
     "Warren! Lawrence! Leonard!'' Grandma was just about to yell
her yeller out. "You boys! Where! Wait! Are you hurt!"
     She waded into the  dust  and was fanning both arms, reaching in around
the loose wires and  fishing  for  mean boys.  Then all I  saw  was  her hat
bobbing  up and  down as she  bent  over and stood up, and bent  over again,
hunting  for kids. In a few minutes the dust crawled off of its own  accord,
like a big animal of some kind, away from the gate, across the little  rutty
     "Pore ol 'Gran'ma!  Leonard's got  killed, an' Warren's got killed, an'
Lawrence got  killed." I was setting on the  back end of the buggy, looking.
Tears the size of teacups was  oozing  down my cheeks and I  could taste the
slick salt when the tears run down to the corner of my mouth.
     "Warren! Warren!" Grandma called. "What are you doing over here in this
old ditch! Are you hurt bad?"
     Warren got up  and tried to brush the dirt off  of  his self;  but  his
school clothes was so full of holes and rips that  every time he brushed, he
tore a bigger hole somewhere. He was sobbing and his whole body was jerking,
and he told Grandma, "It was that little ornery runt, Woodrow, done  it! I'm
gonna cave his head in for 'im!"
     "Now, you just hold yourself, Mister Rough Rider," Grandma told Warren.
"Woodrow was  doing the best he could. He was closing that  gate for me. You
bigger boys had no reason to come ridin' down the road yelling and trying to
scare a little kid to  death. I  don't care if it did  skin you up a little,
you need it." Then she got to looking around for  another boy, and she found
one  laying  flat of his belly out in  a  clump  of sumac bushes, and it was
Leonard puffing and blowing like he'd been shell-shocked in four wars.
     "Leonard! You dead?" Grandma said to him.
     Leonard jumped up so quick that it would have made a mountain lion look
slow,  and he  started  running toward the buggy as hard as  he could  tear,
squawling out, "I'm goin' ta beat that  little  skunk inta th' ground. Goin'
ta tear him up just like he tore me up!" And he kept coming for the buggy.
     I was breathing pretty hard, and sometimes not at all. I knew what he'd
do. I let myself just sort of slide over the back of the buggy seat and down
onto the cushion, and  held the reins as tight as I could and bit my tongue,
and looked out over the horses' backs toward the house.
     Grandma found Lawrence in  the same patch of weeds, skint up just about
like the other two, some  hide and some duds and some  hair missing. Leonard
was climbing up on the buggy seat beside me.  He drew his hand back and made
a pass at my head, and I  ducked to one side  and let the lick  fly past. He
hit the back  of the buggy seat with his hand and that made  him a whole lot
madder. The next lick he swung, he caught me square on the side of the head,
and my ears  rung like a steam lliope. I fell  down  on the seat  with  my
hands  covering my head, and he rung two or three harder ones around over my
skull. I squeezed out of  his grip, but I banged my head on the sharp corner
of a heavy wooden box in the bottom of the buggy, and when I touched my hand
to the knot that raised up just above my  ear, and  seen  blood  all over my
fingers, I let out a scream that rattled pecans in trees for a mile around.
     The  horses  heard  me,  and jumped like they'd been  blistered with  a
lightning whip. They jerked the loose reins out of my hand. Tom made a lunge
in his harness, a  leather strap broke;  then  Bess  got  scared  and jumped
sideways,  and  snapped  a  hitching chain;  and then  both  horses  started
snorting, laying their ears  back,  and  running for  the barn  just like  a
cyclone.  Leonard  fell back  on the cushion of the buggy  seat. I was still
doubled up in a ball rolling around with the wooden box on the floor boards.
Neither of us could  get a chance to jump. The horses kept loping faster and
after  they got the buggy in motion, they broke out into  their hardest run.
Leonard got madder  than  ever,  and every  time the horses'  hoofs  hit the
ground, or the wheels went around, he would give me a good kick in the back.
He was barefooted and he didn't hurt me  much, but when he saw he wasn't, he
decided just  to put both  of his feet on my neck and  try to choke me.  The
buggy wheels bounced against  rocks, hit roots, and jolted both of us out of
our wits.
     Grandma was within three feet of the buggy when  the horses  broke  and
run away, and I could hear her  hollering, "Whoa! Whoa! Tom! Bess! Stop them
horses! God Almighty! There's a hundred sticks of dynamite in that buggy!"
     I heard the horses  grunt, and heard  the water in their bellies jostle
around,  heard  the  air  snorting through their  nostrils,  and their hoofs
beating against the ground.
     "That  box  you're  leanin'  up  against  is  fulla  dynamite!" Leonard
     "I don't care!" I yelled at him.
     "If this buggy turns over, we're gonners!" he told me.
     I told him, "I cain't stop 'em!"
     "I'm goin't' jump! Leave you with it!" he bellered.
     "Jump! See if I care!" I told him.
     Leonard got up and stood with his feet in the seat, and  the first time
he got his  chance, he piled  over the side, and hit rolling through a patch
of bullhead sticker weeds. All I saw was the seat of his britches as he flew
over  the wheels. And that left  me banging all around over the floor of the
buggy with nothing but a box  of dynamite, and TNT caps, to keep me company.
The  post of the gate swung  past, and I let out my breath when we missed it
by about an inch; but  I looked  ahead  of the horses and saw that the whole
barn lot was standing  full of things that we couldn't miss.  Straight ahead
was  a  steam tractor, and  beside that was a  couple  of wagons with  their
tongues  propped  up on their singletrees. Here was a  hog-oiling machine. A
pile of corn cobs was in our path. I could picture Grandpa's barn, barn lot,
all of his plows, tools, and machinery,  blowing up over the tree  tops; but
the old horses  knew more  about this  place than I did, and they made a big
horseshoe bend around  the thrasher, cut in real quick to shave the tractor,
sidestepped a little to pass the pile of cobs, and  then  curved wide again.
But when they made  a run for the barn  door, I  told  myself good-bye.  The
whole  barn was stacked full of  more wagons, machinery and plows, and there
was a concrete slab running across the ground just as you went  in the door,
which I knew was enough of a hump to throw that box of dynamite plumb out of
the buggy. With my ear against the box, I could hear the big sticks thumping
about inside.
     But, all at once, the horses come to  the  door. They  wheeled sideways
again and stopped; horses aiming one direction, and the buggy another.
     For a minute I  just laid there hugging  the  box. Then  I made a quick
high dive over the seat,  and  lit on the  ground. Warren and  Leonard  come
riding up and jumped off of their horse.
     "You little devil, you! You've caused us enough trouble!"
     Warren made a run and grabbed me  by the neck. "Come on, Leonard! I got
'im for ya! Here th' little bastard is! Beat th' livin' hell out of 'im!"
     "Hold `im!" Leonard was saying. "Hold 'im till I can get my belt loose!
I'm gonna whop blisters on yore little hide  that a dollar bill won't cover!
Yore whole dam family ain't nuthin' but bad luck! Hold `im, Warren!"
     Leonard took a few seconds to unloose his belt buckle and get it pulled
out of the loops.  I was kicking and crying, not loud. I didn't want Grandma
to think I was bellering so's she could hear me;  but I was  fighting. I was
using every cuss word that ever was or ever will be.
     Your  old  blisters won't  hurt me. Your  old stropping belt won't hurt
long. Your old arm will give out. You  don't  know. You think you're scaring
me.  You  think  you're takin' some of my fight out of me. You'll
whip me  now,  and I'll look like I'm cryin', but I won't  really be cryin'.
I'll be havin' tears in my eyes because I'm mad at you. My family can't help
what happened to them. My mama can't help what happened.
     You  used to be friendly and nice to  my mama  when she was pretty  and
healthy, and people was nice to you because you was  my mama's brothers. But
then, when she had some bad things happen to her, and lost her pretty house,
and got sick, and needed you to treat her 'nice, you stand off and how'l and
bark  like a crazy bunch  of coyotes, and laugh and poke fun at us. It makes
me tough enough to  stand here and let  you whack me acrost the back and the
neck and ears,  and blister my shoulders with that little old flimsy leather
strop, and I don't even feel it.
     I was thinking these things, but I only said, "Cowards! Two on one!"
     "Here's one  across yer bare legs, you little  runt,  just to  remember
that you caused us a lot of trouble!" And Leonard wrapped the belt around my
     "Hurts, don't it? I want yuh to feel it plumb down to yer bones! I want
it to hurt! Does it?"
     "Don't," I told him.
     "What?  You  mean  I ain't comin' down  hard enough on this here belt?"
Leonard doubled the strap up  in his hands and  said,  "I  can make you say,
'hurt'! I'll give it to you doubled up an'  double hard! I'll make you crawl
up to me on yer hands and knees and say, 'hurt'!" He was beating me one lick
after another  one,  all  over  my body, stinging,  raising  ridges,  making
bruises and welts. I was fighting Warren, trying to get loose from his grip.
     "Lemme loose! I want loose! I'll stand right here!" I told him.
     "Say, 'hurt'!" Leonard  brought  down another hard  one around  my bare
     "Turn me loose! I won't run!" I told them.
     And then Warren loosened his hold on my arms, and  said, "I'll just see
if you've got nerve enough to stand up like a man and take your beatin'!" He
let go of  me, and I  stood there looking at Leonard  while he drew back  to
give me some more of the strap.
     "Say it hurts!" Leonard said. "I want to know I ain't  been wastin'  my
time! Say it hurts!"
     Warren warned me  from behind, "Better say what  he wants  you to  say.
It'll be over quicker. Go ahead. Say it's hurtin'!"
     "Won't," I said back at him.
     "You little hard-headed, hard-luck  sonofabitch! I'll make you say what
I want, or I'll  beat you into the ground!"  Leonard started striking  first
from one side, and then the other, without even taking time to say a word or
to breathe in between. 'Talk like I tell yuh ta talk!"
     "Ain't," I told him.
     Then  Grandma spoke up  right  behind Leonard's back and said, "No, you
don't, you  young Kaiser Bill! You're too dang mean to be a  living  son  of
mine! Give it here!" Almost before he knew it,  she yanked  the belt  out of
his hand, and Leonard ran about twenty feet  away and stood there shivering.
He knew that Grandma was hell on wheels when she got her dander riled up.
     Warren  was talking  up  for  Leonard. "That dam  little  old  stinkin'
Woodrow was the cause of the whole thing, Ma."
     "Hush your  trap!" Grandma turned to Warren and  said, "You're just  as
much  in on this as your  mean brother  is! And you're running  your  old ma
crazy, both of  you together!" She wadded the belt up into a  little ball in
her two hands. Lawrence stood beside Grandma, not saying much,  just looking
at first one of us and then the other.
     "I  don't  know," she said, standing there with big tears  rolling down
her cheeks, "I don't know what to do. I just don't know what to try next!''
     The three  boys were wiggling their feet and toes around, ducking their
heads, looking at the ground, but not saying a word.
     "Any of you young studs got anything to say for yourselves?"
     Leonard talked out and said, "What good's he doin' us by comin' around?
We don't wanta hafta play with `im. We ain't a-gonna let 'im foller us! He's
just ol' Nora's  little ol'  sickly runt. I don't  like 'im, an'  I hate his
     Grandma made about  four quick steps and  grabbed Leonard by the  shirt
collar. She wound her hand around a time or two in his  shirt till she had a
good  hold on him, and then  she  started pushing  him backwards, taking big
long  steps, and he was falling back, listening  to her  say, "I've told you
this a dozen times before, young buck! Nora is just as  much my little  girl
as  you are my little  boy, get that? Nora's dad was just  as good, and some
ways a whole lot better than your dad! He was my first husband! Nora was our
only child!" She  jammed him  back up against the side of the barn and every
time she'd tell  him a word, she'd push him back a  little harder, trying to
jar  him into thinking.  "No. Nora's not like you. No.  I remember how  Nora
was,  even away  back  when  she was  just  your age. She  went to my little
schoolhouse where  I taught, over on the Deep Fork  River, and she read  her
books and got her lessons, and she helped me mark  and grade the papers. She
liked  pretty  music  and she sung  songs and played her  own chords on  the
piano; and she learned  just  about everything pretty that she got  a half a
chance, just half a chance to! She made herself at home everywhere she went,
and people liked her; and I was always proud of her because ... she ..." and
Grandma  turned her head away from the boy up against the barn; and her hand
fell open and  the  belt fell down onto the  ground, and she said, "Leonard,
there's your belt.  There. Laying on  the ground, there. Pick  it up. Put it
back in your britches.  They're falling  off. Come on. Come over here by the
wagon. I'm going to  set myself down there on the tongue. Here, now, come on
over here, all  of  you boys,  and your ma's going to hug all  of you. And I
want  you to put  your arms around me, too, just  like  you always did. Just
like everything was all right."
     Grandma rested  herself by sitting down  on the  wagon tongue, and  the
boys looked out of the corners of their eyes at each other, and walked over,
a little slow,  but they  walked,  and put their  arms around  her; loose at
first, and she used her  own hands  to take hold of their arms and make them
tighter  around her  neck and shoulders. When she did,  the boys hugged  her
tighter, and  she closed her  eyes, and moved  her head from one side to the
other,  first brushing the  bosom of  one kid,  and  then the shirt, and the
shoulder of another.
     She kept  her  eyes closed and  said, "Woodrow, don't stand  away  over
there by yourself. You belong  in my lap here. Come on and crawl  up. That's
it. You belong with your little old curly head snuggled right close up, just
like that. God,  this is good! Yes, all  of you  are my boys, doing the best
you've been taught.  All of  you will make mistakes, but, Lord, I can't make
any difference between you!"
     There wasn't a sound out of any of the boys. I  was  holding my head up
under Grandma's mouth, listening to her talk  real slow  and  long and soft;
and my eyes dripped  tears down across the front of her  bosom and faded her
town dress. The other three boys moved their heads, kept their eyes down.
     "I'm sorry, Ma."
     "Me, too, Ma."
     "Don't cry, Maw."
     "Gramma, I ain't mad at nobody."


     Up at the house an hour later, Warren and  Leonard had poured water and
washed  their cuts clean, and  drifted  off into the  house getting  on some
clean clothes. Grandma  talked  a  little  to herself,  getting  some coffee
ground for supper. Lawrence trotted out into the yard in a few minutes and I
set on the stone steps of the porch and watched him. He pranked around under
the two big oak trees and then walked around the corner of the house.
     I followed him. He was the littlest one of Grandma's boys.  He was more
my size. I  was about  five  and  he  was eight.  I followed him  back  to a
rosebush  where he pointed to old Mother Maltese and her new little bunch of
kittens. He was telling me all there is to know about cats.
     First, we just  rubbed the old mama cat on the head, and he told me she
was older than either one of us. "Cat's been here longer'n me even."
     "How old is l' mama cat?" I asked Lawrence.
     "An' you're jest eight?" I said.
     "She's all ten fingers old.  You ain't but jest this many fingers old,"
I went on.
     "She's two older'n me," he said.
     "Wonder how come you th' biggest?"
     "Cause, crazy, I'm a boy, an' she's a cat!"
     "Feel how warm an' smooth she is," I told him.
     "Yeah,"  he said, "perty slick, all right; but th'  little 'ums is  th'
slickest. But ol'  mama cat don't  like for strangers  ta  come out here an'
stick yore han' down in her box an' feel on her little babies.''
     "I  been out  here 'fore this," I told him,  "so that  makes  me not no
     "Yeah," he told me back, "I know that; but then, you went  back ta town
ag'in, see, an' course, that makes you part of a stranger."
     "How  much  stranger am  I? I ain't  no plumb whole  stranger; mama cat
knowed  me when I wuz  jest a  little  teeny weeny  baby;  jest  this  long;
an'  my mama  had  ta  keep me all nice an' warm jest  like  them
little baby cats, so's I wouldn't freeze, so's  nuthin'  wouldn't git me." I
was still stroking the old cat's head, and feeling of her with my fingers.
     She  was  holding her eyes  shut real tight,  and  purring almost  loud
enough  for Grandma to hear her in the house. Lawrence and  me kept watching
and listening. The old mama cat purred louder and louder.
     Then I asked Lawrence, "What makes 'er sound that a-way in 'er head?"
     And he told me, "Purrin', that's what she's doin'."
     "Makes 'er purr?" I asked him.
     "She does it 'way back inside 'er head some way," Lawrence  was telling
     "Sounds like a car motor," I said.
     "She ain't got no car motor in 'er," he said.
     "Might," I said.
     "I don't much think she has, though."
     "Might have  a little 'un, kinda like  a  cat  motor;  I mean a  regler
little motor fer cats," I said.
     "What'd she be wantin' with a cat motor?"
     "Lotsa things is got  motors in 'em. Motors  is engines. Engines  makes
things go. Makes noise jest like ol' mama cat. Motor makes wheels go 'round,
so  cats might have  a real  little motor  ta make legs go, an' tail go, an'
feet move, an' nose go, an' ears wiggle, an' eyes  go  'round, an' mouth fly
open, an' mebbe her  stomach  is' er gas tank."  I was running my hand along
over the old mama cat's fur, feeling of  each part as  I talked, head, tail,
legs, mouth, eyes, and stomach; and the old cat had a big smile on her face.
     "Wanta  see if she's really got a motor inside of 'er? I'll go an'  git
Ma's butcher  knife, an' you hold 'er legs, an' I'll cut er  belly open; an'
if she's got a motor in 'er, by jacks, I wanta see it! Want me to?" Lawrence
asked me.
     "Cut  'er belly open?" I asked  him. "Ya might'n find 'er motor when ya
got cut in there!"
     "I c'n find it, if she's got one down in there! I helped Pa cut rabbits
an' squirrels an' fishes open, an' I never did see no motor in them!"
     "No, but did you ever hear a rabbit er a squirrel either one, or a fish
make a noise like mama cat makes?"
     "No. Never did."
     "Well,  mebbe  that's why  they ain't  got no  motor.  Mebbe they gotta
differnt kinda motor. Don't make no kind of a noise."
     "Might be. An' some  of th' time mama  cat don't make no noise  either;
'cause  some  of th' time ya  cain't even hear no motor in  'er  belly. What
     "Maybe she's just got th' key turned off!"
     "Turned off?" Lawrence asked me.
     "Might be. My papa's  gotta car. His  car's  gotta key. Ya turn th' key
on, an' th' car goes like a cat. Ya turn th' key off, an' it quits."
     'There yore hand goes  ag'in! Didn' I tell you not ta touch them little
baby kittens? They  ain't got no eyes open  ta  see with yet; you cain't put
yore hands on' em!" He cut his eyes around at me.
     "Ohhhhhppppp!  All  right. I'm  awful, awful sorry,  mama  cat; an' I'm
awful, awful sorry, little baby cats!" And I  let  my hand fall back down on
the old mama cat's back.
     "That's all right ta pat 'er all you want, but she'll reach up an" take
'er claws, an' rip yore hand plumb  wide open if you make one of  her little
cats cry!" he told me.
     "Know somethin', Lawrence, know somethin'?"
     "What about?" he asked me.
     "People says when I wuz a baby, jest like one of these here little baby
cats, only a little bit bigger, mebbe, my mama got awful bad sick when I wuz
borned under th' covers."
     "I heard Ma an' them talk about her," he told me.
     "What did they talk about?" I asked him.
     "Oohhh, I dunno, she wuz purty bad off.''
     "What made 'er bad off?"
     "Yer dad."
     "My papa did?"
     "What people says."
     "He's good ta  me. Good ta my mama.  What  makes people say  he made my
mama git sick?"
     "What's them?''
     "I dunno what politics is. Just a good  way to make some money. But you
always have troubles. Have fights. Carry two guns ever' day.  Yore dad likes
lots of money. So he got some people ta vote fer 'im, so then he got 'im two
guns an' went around c'lectin' money. Yore ma didn't like yore dad ta always
be  pokin'  guns, shootin', fightin',  an'  so,  well,  she just worried an'
worried, till she got  sick  at it--an' that was when you was borned  a baby
not much  bigger'n one of these here  little cats, I reckon.''  Lawrence was
digging his fingernails into the soft white pine of the  box, looking at the
nest  of cats. "Funny thing 'bout cats. All of 'em's  got one ma, an' all of
'ems  differnt  colors. Which is yore pet color? Mine's  this 'un,  an' this
'un, an' this 'un."
     "I like all colors cats. Say, Lawrence, what does crazy mean?"
     "Means you ain't got good sense.''
     "Crazy's more'n just worry."
     "Worse'n worryin'?"
     "Shore. Worry starts, an' you  do that fer a long,  long time, an' then
maybe you git  sick 'er  somethin', an' ya  go all, well, you just  git  all
mixed up 'bout ever'thing."
     "Is ever'body sick like my mama?"
     "I don't guess."
     "Reckin could all of our folks cure my mama?"
     "Might. Wonder how?"
     "If ever single livin' one of 'em would all git together an' git rid of
them ol' mean, bad politics, they'd all feel lots better, an' wouldn't fight
each other so much, an' that'd make my mama feel better."
     Lawrence looked out  through the  leaves  of  the bushes. "Wonder where
Warren's headin', goin'  off  down toward th' barn?  Be  right  still;  he's
walkin' past us. He'll hear us talkin'."
     I whispered real low and asked Lawrence,  "Whatcha  bein' so still for?
'Fraida Warren?"
     And Lawrence told me, "Hushhh. Naw. 'Fraid fer th' cats."
     "Why 'but th' cats?"
     "Warren don't like cats."
     "Why?" I was still whispering.
     "Just don't. Be still. Ssshhh."
     "Why?" I went on.
     "Sez cats ain't no good. Warren kills all th' new little baby cats that
gits born'd on th' place.  I had these hid out under th' barn. Don't let 'im
know we're here...."
     Warren got within about  twenty feet of  us, and we could see  his long
shadow falling over our rosebush; and then for a little time we couldn't see
him,  and the rosebush blocked out of sight of him. Still, we could hear his
new  sharp-toed leather shoes screaking every  time he took a step. Lawrence
tapped  me on the shoulder. I  looked around and  he was motioning for me to
grab up  one  side of the white  pine box. I got  a  hold and he grabbed the
other side. We skidded the box up close to the rock foundation of the house,
and partly in behind the rosebush.
     Lawrence held  his breath and I  held my hand  over my mouth.  Warren's
screaky  shoes was the only sound I could hear.  Lawrence laid his body down
over the box of cats. I laid down to hide the other half of the box, and the
screak, screak, screak  got louder.  I whiffed my nose and smelled  the loud
whang of hair tonic on Warren's hair. His white silk  shirt threw flashes of
white light through the limbs of the roses,  and  Lawrence moved his lips so
as to barely say, "Montgomery girl." I  didn't catch  him the first time, so
he puckered  his lips to tell  me  again, and when  he bent over  my way, he
stuck a thorn into his shoulder, and talked out too loud:
     The screak of Warren's shoes stopped by the side of the bush. He looked
all around, and took a step back, then one forward. And he had us trapped.
     I didn't have the guts to look up at him. I  heard his shoes screak and
I knew that he was rocking from one foot to the other one, standing with his
hands on his hips, looking down on the ground at Lawrence and me. I shivered
and could feel Lawrence quiver under his shirt.  Then  I turned my head over
and looked out from under Lawrence's arm, both of  us still hugging the box,
and heard Warren say, "What was that you boys was a-sayin'?"
     "Tellin' Woody about somebody," Lawrence told Warren.
     "Somebody? Who?" Warren didn't seem to be in any big rush.
     "Somebody. Somebody you know," Lawrence said.
     "Who do I know?" Warren asked him.
     "Th' Mon'gom'ry folks,'' Lawrence said.
     "You're a couple of dirty little low-down liars! All you know how to do
is to hide off in under some Goddamed bush, an' say silly things about other
decent people!" Warren told us.
     "We wuzn't makin' no fun, swear ta God," Lawrence told him.
     "What in the  hell was you layin' under there talkin' about?  Somethin'
your're tryin' to hide! Talk out!"
     "I seen you was all  nice an' warshed up clean, an' told Woody you  was
goin' over ta Mon'gom'ry's place.''
     "What else?"
     "Nuthin  else. 'At's  all I said, swear ta  God, all I told you, wasn't
it, Woody?"
     " 'S all I heard ya say," I told him.
     "Now ain't you a pair of little old yappin' pups? You know dam good an'
well you was teasin' me from behind 'bout Lola Montgomery! How come  you two
hidin' here in th' first place? Just to see me walk past you with  all of my
clean  clothes on? See them new low-cut shoes? See how sharp  th'  toes are?
Feel with  your  finger, both of you, feel!  That's it!  See how  sharp? I'd
ought to just take that sharp toe and kick both of your little rears."
     "Quit! Quit that pushin' me!" Lawrence was yelling as loud as he could,
hoping Grandma would hear. Warren pushed him on the shoulder with the bottom
of  his shoe, and tried  to roll Lawrence  over across  the ground. Lawrence
swung onto his  box of cats so  tight  that Warren had to kick as hard as he
could, and push Lawrence off the box.
     The only thing I could  think of to  do  was jump on top of the box and
cover it up.  Lawrence  was yelling as  loud  as  he  could yell. Warren was
laughing. I wasn't saying anything.
     "Whut's  that box you're a holdin'  onto there  so tight?" Warren asked
     "Jest a plain ol' box!" Lawrence was crying and talking.
     "Jest a plain wooden box," I told Warren.
     "What's on th' inside of it, runts?"
     "Nuthin's in it!"
     "Jist a ol' empty one!"
     And Warren put his shoe sole  on  my back  and pushed  me  over  beside
Lawrence. "I'll just  take me  a look! You two  seems  mighty  interested in
what's inside of that box!"
     "You l' mean outfit, you! God, I hate you! You go on over an' see yore
ol' 'Gomery girl, an' leave us alone! We ain't  a-hurtin' you!" Lawrence was
jumping up. He  started to draw back and fight Warren, but Warren just  took
his open hand and pushed Lawrence about fifteen  feet backwards, and he fell
flat, screaming.

     Warren put  his  foot on my shoulder and  give me another shove. I went
about three feet. I tried to hold onto the box, but the  whole works  turned
over. The old mama cat jumped out and made a circle around us, meowing first
at  Warren, and  then at me and the  little baby kittens cried in  the split
cotton seed.
     "Cat lovers!" Warren told us.
     "You g'wan, an'  let us  be! Don't you tech them cats! Ma! Ma! Warr'n's
gonna hurt our cats!" Lawrence squawled out.
     Warren   kicked   the    loose   cotton   seed    apart.   "Just   like
tearin' up  a bird's nest!" he said. He put the sharp toe  of his
shoe under the belly of the  first  little cat,  and threw it up against the
rock foundation. "Meoww! Meoww! You little chicken  killers! Egg  stealers!"
He picked the  second kitten  up in the grip of his hand,  and squeezed till
his muscles bulged up. He swung the kitten around and around, something like
a Ferris wheel, as fast as he could turn his arm, and the blood and entrails
of the kitten splashed across the ground, and the side of the house. Then he
held the little body out toward Lawrence and me. We looked at it, and it was
just like an empty hide. He threw it away out over the fence.
     Warren took the second kitten, squeezed it, swung it over  his head and
over the  top wire  of the  fence.  The  third,  fourth,  fifth,  sixth, and
     The poor old mama cat was  running backwards, crossways, and all around
over  the yard with her back humped up, begging  against Warren's legs,  and
trying to jump up and climb  up his body  to help her  babies.  He boxed her
away and she  came back. He kicked  her  thirty feet. She moaned  along  the
rocks, smelling of her babies' blood and insides. She scratched dirt and dug
grass roots;  then  she made  a screaming noise that chilled  my  blood  and
jumped  six  feet, clawing at Warren's arm. He kicked her in the air and her
sides were broke  and caved in. He booted her up  against  the side  of  the
house, and  she laid there wagging her tail and meowing;  and Warren grabbed
the box and splintered  it against  the rocks  and  the  mama cat's head. He
grabbed up two rocks and  hit her in the stomach both shots. He looked at me
and Lawrence, spit on us, threw the loose  cotton seed  into our faces,  and
said, "Cat-lovin' bastards!" And he started walking on away toward the barn.
     "You ain't no flesh an' blood of mine!" Lawrence cried after him.
     "Hell with you, baby britches! Hell with you. I  don't even  want to be
yore dam brother!" Warren said over his shoulder.
     "You ain't my uncle, neither," I  told  him,  "not even my mama's  half
brother! You  ain't even nobody's halfway brother! I'm glad my mama ain't no
kin ta you! I'm glad I ain't!" I told him.
     "Awwww.  Whattaya know, whattaya know,  you half-starved little  runt?"
Warren was turned around, standing in the late sun with his  shirt white and
pretty  in the  wind.  "You  done run yore mama crazy  just bein'  born! You
little old  hard-luck bringer! You dam  little old  insane-asylum baby!" And
Warren walked away on down to the barn.
     Then  Lawrence rolled up onto his feet off of the grass and tore around
the side of the house hollering and telling Grandma what all Warren had done
to the cats.
     I scrambled up  over the fence and  dropped  down  into the  short-weed
patch.  The old mama cat was twisting and  moaning and  squeezing through at
the bottom of  the wire, and making her way out where  Warren  had slung her
little babies.
     I saw the old  mama walk around  and around her  first  kitten  in  the
weeds, and sniffle, and smell, and lick the little hairs;  then she took the
dead  baby  in her  teeth,  carried  it  through  the  weeds, the rag weeds,
gypsums, and cuckle burrs that are a part of all of Oklahoma.
     She laid the  baby down when she come to the edge of a little trickling
creek, and held up her own broken feet  when she  walked  around  the kitten
again, circling, looking down at it, and back up at me.
     I  got down  on my hands and knees and  tried to reach out and pet her.
She  was so  broke up  and hurting  that she couldn't stand  still, and  she
pounded the damp ground there with her tail as she walked a whole circle all
around me. I took my hand and  dug a little hole in the sandy creek bank and
laid the dead baby in, and covered it up with a mound like a grave.
     When I seen the  old Mama Maltese holding her eyes  shut  with the lids
quivering and  smell away  into  the air, I knew she was on the scent of her
second one.
     When she brought it in, I dug the second little grave.
     I was listening to her moan  and choke in the weeds, dragging her belly
along the ground, with her two back legs limber behind her, pulling her body
with her front feet, and throwing her head first to one side and then to the
     And I was thinking: Is that what crazy is?
     Chapter V

     "Here I am, Papa!" I ripped out the east door and went  running down to
where Papa was. "Here I am! I wanta help shoot!"
     "Get back away  from  that  hole! Dynamite!" He hadn't  noticed me as I
trotted out.
     "Where 'bouts?" I was standing  not more than three  feet away from the
hole he'd been drilling through a rock' "Where?"
     "Run!  This way!" He grabbed me in  his arms, covered me over with  his
jacket and fell down flat against the ground, "Lay still! Down!"
     The whole hill jarred. Rocks howled out over our heads.
     "I wanna see!" I was trying to fight my way  out from under him. "Lemme
     "Keep  down!" He hugged his jacket  around me that much tighter. "Those
rocks just went up. They'll be down in a jiffy!"
     I  felt him  duck his head down  against  mine.  The rocks  thumped all
around us and several peppered the jacket. The cloth was stretched tight. It
sounded like a war drum. "Wowie!" I said to Papa.
     "You'll  think, Wowie!"  Papa laughed when he  got up.  He brushed  his
clothes off  good. "One of those rocks hit you on the head, and you wouldn't
think anything for a long time!"
     "Le's go blow another'n up!"  I was  pacing  around like a cat  wanting
     "All  right!  Come  on!  You can  take  the  little hoe and dig a  nice
ten-foot hole!"
     "Goshamighty! How deep?"
     "Teen feet."
     "Lickety split! Lickety split!" I was  chopping  out  a hole  with  the
little hoe. "Is this 'teen feet deep?"
     "Keep on with  your work!"  Papa acted like a chain-gang boss. "Whew! I
don't believe I ever did  see it get so hot this late in the  stimmer. But I
guess we'll have to keep digging without air! We've just got to get this old
London Place  fixed up. Then we  can sell it to somebody and get  some money
and buy us another better place. You like that?"
     "I don't like nuthin'  bad. I wanta move.  Mama wants ta move,  too. So
does Roy an' Clara, an' ever'body else."
     "Yes,  little boy, I know, I know."' Papa  knocked  the blue
rock  smoke  out  of  the  hole  every time his crowbar come  down. "I  like
everything that's good, don't you?"
     "Mama had  a  piano an'  lotsa good things  when she was a  little kid,
didn't she?" I kept leaning on the handle  of my hoe. "An" now she ain't got
no nice things."
     "Yes. She always loved the good  things." Papa pulled a red bandana out
of his hip pocket and wiped  the sweat from his face. "You  know, Woody boy,
I'm afraid."
     "'Fraida what?"
     "This infernal heat. It's got me  guessing." Papa looked  all around in
every direction, sniffed in the air.  "Don't know exactly. But it feels like
to me there's not a single breath of air stirring."
     "Purty still, all right. I'm sweatin'!"
     "Not a  leaf.  Not a  blade of grass. Not a  feather.  Not a spider-web
stirring."  He turned his face away to the north.  A  quick,  fast breath of
cool air drifted across the hill.
     "Good  l'  cool  wind!" I  was  puffing my lungs full  of the new  air
stirring. "Good ol', good l', cool, cool wind!"
     "Yes,  I  feel the  cool  wind."  He stayed down on his  hands, looking
everywhere,  listening to every  little  sound. "And  I  don't like  it!" He
yelled at me. "And you hadn't ought to say that you like it, either!"
     "Papa, what'sa matter, huh?" I laid on my belly as close up beside Papa
as  I could  get, and looked everywhere that he  did. "Papers an'  leafs an'
feathers blowin'. You ain't really scared, are ya, Papa?"
     Papa's voice  sounded  shaky  and  worried. "What  do  you  know  about
cyclones? You've never even seen  one yet!  Quit popping off at  your mouth!
Everything that I've been working and fighting for  in my whole life is tied
up right here in this old London Place!"
     I never thought that I would see my dad so afraid of anything.
     " 'Taint no good!"
     "Shut your little mouth before I shut it for you!"
     " 'Tain't no good!"
     "Don't you dare talk back to your papa!"
     " 'Tain't no good!"
     "Woody, I'll split  you hide!" Then he let  his head drop down till his
chin  touched the bib of his overhalls  and his tears  wet the watch pocket.
"What makes you say it's not any good, Woody?"
     "Mama said  it." I rolled a foot  or two away  from him. An' Mama cries
alla th' time, too!"
     The wind rustled against the limbs of the locust trees  across the road
running  up the hill. The walnut trees frisked  their heads  in the  air and
snorted at the  wind getting harder. I  heard a low whining sound everywhere
in the  air as the spider webs, feathers, old flying papers, and dark clouds
swept  along  the ground, picking up  the dust,  and blocking  out the  sky.
Everything  fought  and  pushed  against  the  wind,  and  the  wind  fought
everything in its way.
     "Woody, little boy, come over here."
     "I'm a-gonna run." I stood up and looked toward the house.
     "No, don't run." I had to stand extra still and quiet to hear Papa talk
in  the wind. "Don't run. Don't ever run. Come on over  here and let me hold
you on my lap."
     I felt a feeling of some kind come over me like the chilly winds coming
over the hot hill. I  turned  nervous and scared  and almost sick inside.  I
fell down into Papa's lap, hugging him around the neck so tight his whiskers
rubbed my face nearly raw. I could feel his heart beating fast and I knew he
was afraid.
     "Le's run!"
     "You know, I'm not ever going  to run any more, Woody, Not from people.
Not from my own self. Not from a cyclone."
     "Not even from a lightnin' rod?"
     "You  mean  a bolt  of  lightning?  No.  Not  even  from  a  streak  of
     "Thunner? `Tater wagon?"
     "Not from thunder. Not from my own fear.''
     "Yes. I'm scared. I'm shaking right this minute."
     "I felt ya shakin' when th' cyclome first come."
     "Cyclone may miss us, little  curly block. Then again, it may hit right
square on top of us. I just want to ask you a question. What if this cyclone
was to reach down with its mean tail and suck away everything we've got here
on this hill? Would you still like your old  Papa? Would you still come over
and sit on my lap and hold me this tight around the neck?"
     "I'd hug tighter."
     "That's all I  want to know." He straightened up a little and  put both
arms around me so that when the  wind blew colder  I felt warmer. "Let's let
the wind get harder. Let's let the straw and the feathers fly! Let  the  old
wind  go crazy and pound us over the head!  And when the straight winds pass
over and the twisting winds  crawl in the air  like a rattlesnake in boiling
water, let's you and me holler back at it and laugh it back to where it come
from! Let's stand up on our hind legs,  and shake  our fists back  into  the
whole crazy  mess, and holler  and cuss  and rave  and laugh  and  say, 'Old
Cyclone,  go ahead! Beat your bloody brains out against  my old  tough hide!
Rave on!  Blow! Beat! Go crazy!  Cyclone! You  and  I are  friends! Good old
Cyclone!' "
     I jumped  up to my feet and hollered,  "Blow! Ha! Ha! Blow, wind! Blow!
I'm a Cyclome! Ha! I'm a Cyclome!"
     Papa  jumped  up and danced in the dirt.  He circled his pile of tools,
patted me on the head, and laughed out, "Come on, Cyclone, let 'er ripple!"
     "Chhaaarrrliee!" Mama's voice  cut  through  all  of  the  laughing and
dancing and the howling of the wind across the whole hill. "Where are you?"
     "We're down  here fighting with a Cyclone!" "Chasin' storms an' hittin'
'em!" I put in.
     Papa and me snickered at each other.
     "Wrestling a Cyclone!"
     "Tell 'er I am, too," I told Papa.
     Grandma and Mama walked through the trash blowing in the wind and found
me and Papa patting our hands together  and  dancing all around the dynamite
and tools. "What on earth has come over you two?"
     "You're crazy!" Grandma looked around her.
     The wind was  filling the whole  sky with a blur of dry grass, tumbling
weeds, and scooting gravel, fine dust, and sailing leaves. Hot rain began to
whip us.
     "We're heading  for a storm cellar, and you're coming with us. Here's a
     "Who will carry this Sawhorse?" Papa asked them.
     "I wanta wade th' water!" I said.
     "No you won't.  I'll carry  you  myself!" Mama  said. "Give him to me!"
Papa joked at Mama. "Put him right up here on my shoulders! Now the raincoat
around  him. We'll  splash every mudhole dry between here and Oklahoma City!
We're Cyclone Fighters! Did you know that, Nora?"
     The wind staggered Papa along the path. Grandma grunted and throwed her
weight against the storm. Mama was buttoning up a slicker and bogging in the
slick clay in the path.
     "This rain  is like  a river cutting loose!"  Papa was  saying under my
coat. He poked  his  face out between two buttons  and took two steps up and
slid one step back.
     At  the top of the hill the water was deeper, and in the dear alley the
wind hit us harder.
     "Charlie! Help Grandma, there! She's fell down!'' Mama said.
     Papa turned around and took Grandma by the  hand  and pulled her to her
feet. "I'm all right! Now! Head on for the cellar!"
     I felt the wind  drive against me so hard that I had to hug onto Papa's
neck as tight as I could. The  wind hit  us  again and drove us twenty  feet
down the alley  in the wrong direction. Papa's shoes went over their tops in
mud and he stood spraddle-legged and panted for air. "You're choking my wind
off! Hold on around my head!"
     The wind rolled  tubs and spun planks of ripped lumber through the air.
Trash piles  and  bushel  baskets sailed  against  clothes-line.  Barn doors
banged open and shut and splintered into a  hundred pieces. Rain shot like a
solid  wall of water  and Papa  braced  his feet in  the soggy  manure,  and
yelled, "You all right, Wood?" I told him, "I'm all right! You?"
     A wild push of  wind whined for a minute  like a  puppy under a box and
then roared down the alley, squealing like a hundred mad elephants. My  coat
ripped  apart  and turned  wrongside out over my head and I grabbed  a tight
hold around  Papa's forehead. We staggered twenty or  thirty  more feet down
the alley and fell flat in some deep cow tracks behind a chicken pen.
     "Charlie! Are you and Woodrow all right?" I heard Mama yelling down the
alley. I couldn't see ten feet in her direction.
     "You  take Grandma  on to the cellar!" Papa  was yelling out from under
the rubber raincoat. "We'll be there in a minute! Go on! Get in!"
     I was laying at first with  my  feet in a hole of  manurey water, but I
twisted and squirmed and finally got my head above it. "Lemme loose!"
     "You keep your  head down!"  Papa ducked me again in the hole of watery
manure. "Stay where you are!"
     "Yer drownin' me in cow manure!" I finally managed to gurgle.
     "Keep down there!"
     "Yes. What?" He was choking for air.
     "Are you and me still Cyclome Fighters?"
     "We lost this first round, didn't we?"  Papa laughed under the raincoat
till cellars heard him ten blocks  around. "But well make it! Just as soon's
I get a little whiff of fresh air. Well make 'er here in a minute! Won't we,
manure head?"
     "Mama an' Grandma's better Cyclome Fighters than we are!" I laughed and
snorted into  the slush  pool  under  my  nose. "They done  got to th' storm
cellar, an' left us in a 'nure hole! Ha!"
     Phone wires  whistled and  went  with the wind. Packing boxes from  the
stores down  in  town raised  from their  alleys and  flew  above the trees.
Timbers from barns and houses clattered through windows, and cows bawled and
mooed  in  the  yards,  tangled  their  horns  in  chicken-wire  fences  and
clotheslines. Soggy dogs streaked and beat it for  home. Ditches and streets
turned into rivers and  backyards into lakes.  Bales of hay  splitting apart
blew through the sky like pop-corn sacks. The rain burned hot. Everything in
the world  was  fighting against everything in the sky.  This  was the  hard
straight pushing that levels the towns before it and lays  the path low  for
the twisting, sucking, whirling tail of the cyclone to rip to shreds.
     Papa wrapped me in the  raincoat and hugged me as tight as he could. We
crawled behind a cow barn to duck the wind, but the cow barn screamed like a
woman run down in the streets, tumbled over on its side, and the first whisk
of  the wind caught the open underside and booted the whole  barn fifty feet
in the air. We fell six feet forward. I hugged around Papa's neck. He turned
me loose with both hands and swung  onto a clothesline, slipping  his  hands
along the wires, pushing off  sacks, mops, hay and rubbish of all kinds till
we got to the back  of  the first house. He  edged his way to the next house
and  felt along  their clothesline.  In a  minute or two we come  to  within
fifteen  feet of the cellar door where Grandma  and Mama  had gone with  the
neighbors. Papa crawled along the ground, dragging me underneath him.
     "Nora!  Nora!" Papa banged  against the  slanting cellar door with  his
fists hard enough to compete with the twister. "Let us in! It's Charlie!"
     "An' meee!" I let out from under the coat.
     The door opened and  Papa  wedged his shoulder against it. Five or  six
neighbor men and  women  heaved against the door to push it back against the
     I was just as wet as any catfish in any creek ever was or ever will  be
when Papa finally got into the cellar.
     Mama grabbed me up into her lap where she was setting down on a case of
canned fruit. A lantern or two  shot  a  little gleam  of light  through the
shadows of ten or fifteen people packed into the cellar.
     "Boy! You  know, Mama,  me  an' Papa is  really  Cyclome  Fighters!"  I
jabbered off and shook my head around at everybody.
     "How's your papa? Charlie! Are you all right?"
     "Just wet with cow manure!"
     Everybody laughed and hollered under the ground.
     "Sing to me," I whispered to Mama.
     She had already been rocking me back and forth, humming  the tune to an
old song. "What do you want me to sing?"
     "That. That song."
     "The name of that song is 'The Sherman Cyclone.'"
     "Sing that."
     And so she sang it:

     You could see the storm approaching
     And its cloud looked deathlike black
     And it was through
     Our little city
     That it left
     Its deathly track.

     And I drifted off  to sleep thinking  about  all of the  people in  the
world that have worked hard and had somebody else come along and take  their
life away from them.
     The door  was opened  back and the  man in  a  slicker was saying, "The
worst of it's gone!"
     Papa yelled up the steps, "How do things look out there?"
     "Pretty bad! Done a lot of damage!" I could see the  man's big  pair of
rubber boots sogging  around in the  mudhole by the door. "She passed off to
the south yonder! Hurry out, and you can still see the tail whipping!"
     I jumped loose from Mama and slid down off her lap. "I'm a-gonna see it
gitt a-whippin'!" I was talking to Papa and following him out the door.
     "Out south yonder. See?" The man pointed. "Still whipping!"
     "I see it!  I see  it! That big  ole long whip! I  see it!" I waded out
into the holes of water barefooted and squirted mud between my toes. "I hate
you, l' Cyclome! Git outta here!"

     The clouds in the west rolled away to the south and the sun struck down
like a  clear Sunday morning across town.  Screen doors  slammed and  cellar
doors swung open. People walked out in little lines like the Lord had rung a
dinner bell. A high  wind still whipped across the town. Wet  hunks of trash
waved on telephone poles and wires. Scattered  hay and junk of every calibre
covered the ground for as far as my eyes could travel. Kids tore out looking
for treasures. Boys and girls loped across yards and pointed and screamed at
the barns  and  houses  wrecked.  Ladies  in cotton dresses  splashed across
little roads to kiss each other.  I  watched for a  block  or two around and
listened to some people laugh and some people cry.
     Mama walked  along in front of  Grandma.  She  didn't  say  much.  "I'm
anxious to  see over the rim  of that hill," she told us "What's over it?" I
asked her.
     "Nora! Grandma! Hurry up!" Papa waved from  the alley where we bad been
blown off of our feet in the storm. "Here comes Roy and Clara!"
     "Roy and Clara!"  Grandma hustled  up a little faster. "Where have they
been during all of this?"
     "In th' school cellar, I  suppose." Mama looked up the alley  and  seen
them splashing mudholes dry coming toward us.
     "Why did  ya  stay in that l' school cellar?" I bawled  them out  when
they walked up. "Me  an' Papa  had  a fight  with  a cyclome twister all  by
ourselfs! Ya!"
     "Nora." Papa talked the  quietest I had  ever heard him. "Grandma. Come
here. Look. Look at the house."
     We walked in a little bunch to the top rim of the hill. He pointed down
the clay path we had come up to the cellar. The sun made everything as clear
as  a crystal. The air  had been thrashed and  had a good  bath in the rain.
There we  saw our old  London House. Papa almost whispered,  "What's left of
     The London House stood there without a roof. It looked like a fort that
had lost a hard battle. Rock walls partly caved in by flying wreckage and by
the push of the twister. Our back screen door jerked off  of its  hinges and
wrapped around the trunk of my walnut tree.
     Papa got to the back door first and busted into the kitchen.
     "Hello,  kitchen." Mama shook  her head  and  looked all around. "Well,
we've got a nice large  sky for a roof, anyway." She  saw very little of her
own furniture in the kitchen. Every single window glass was  gone. Water and
mud on the floor come  above our shoe tops. She turned around  and picked me
up and lifted me  up on  the eating table, telling me,  "You stay  up  here,
little waterbug."
     "I  wanta wade in th' water!" I was setting on the edge  of  the  table
kicking my bare feet at the water in the floor. "I wanta git my feet wet!"
     "There's all kinds of  glass and sharp things  on this floor. You might
cut your feet. Just  look  at that cupboard!" Mama waded across the kitchen.
The  cupboard was  face down  and half  under water.  Dishes  smashed  in  a
thousand pieces laid all around. Joints  of stove  pipe, brooms, mops, flour
sacks half full, aprons, coats, and pots, and pans, hay, weeds, roots, bark,
bowls  with a  few bites of  food still in them. She pointed to  a  big blue
speckled pot and said, "Mister Cyclone didn't wash my pots any too clean."
     "You don't seem to care much." Papa  was nervous and breathing hard. He
sloshed  all around  the room,  touching  everything  with  his fingers  and
caressing the mess of  wet trash like it was a prize-winning bull,  sick and
down with  the colic. "Jesus! Look  at everything!  Look! This  is the  last
straw. This is our good-bye!"
     "Good-bye to what?" Mama kept  her  eyes looking around over the house.
     Clara backed up to the eating table. "Hey, Woodblock," she said, "climb
up on my back. I'll take you for a horseback ride to the front room!''
     "You children hadn't  ought to be  joking and playing  around, not at a
time like this!" Papa cried and the tears wet his face like a baby.
     "Gitty up!" I kicked Clara easy with my heels and waved my hands in the
air above her head. "Swim this big l' kinoodlin' river! Gitty up!" I hugged
on around  her neck  as  tight as I  could while she pitched a few times and
splashed her feet in the water. Then I yelled back, "C'mon, Papa! Let's swim
th' big river, an' fight th' mean l' hoodlum leeegion!"
     "I'm coming  to  help fight! Wait for me!" Mama  cut  in splashing  the
water ahead of us. She jumped up and down and splattered slush and wet flour
and mud and sooty water all over her dress  and two feet or  three up on the
rock walls of the kitchen. "Splash across the river! Whoopie!  Splash across
the quicksand! Here we come! All of us movie stars, to  fight the crooks and
stealers! Whoopie!"
     "Ha! Ha! Look at Mama fightin'!" I hollered at everybody.
     "Mama's  a good  Cyclone  Fighter,  too,  ha?"  Clara was laughing  and
kicking slushy filth  all over the  place. "Come on, Papa! We got to  go and
keep fighting this cyclone!''
     Mama slid her  feet through  the water, sending long  ripples and waves
busting against the walls. "Charlie, come on here! Look at this next room!"
     Clara rode me on her back once around the whole front room. Sofa upside
down  in the middle of the floor, its hair  and springs scattered  for fifty
feet out the south window. Papers, envelopes, pencils floated on  top of the
water on the floor. The big easy chair in the corner was dropped on its side
like a fighter stopped in his tracks.  Big square sandrocks from the tops of
the  four  walls had  crashed  through the  upper ceiling and smashed Mama's
sewing  machine against the wall.  Spools of colored thread bobbed around on
top of the water like barrels and cables on the ocean.
     ''It didn't  miss anything." Grandma  looked the room over. ''I know an
Indian, Billy Bear, that swears a cyclone stole his best work horse while he
was plowing his field. He walked home mad  and  swearing  at  the world. And
when he  got borne, he  found  the  cyclone had been so good as to leave the
harness, $6.50, and a gallon crock jug of whiskey on his front doorstep!"
     Everybody busted  out  laughing, but Papa kept  quiet.  "Nora,  I can't
stand this any  longer!"  he yelled  out  all at once. "This funny business!
This tee-heeing. This joking! Why do all of you have to turn against me like
a pack  of  hounds? Isn't this,  this wrecked home,  this home turned into a
pile of slush and filth, this home wiped out, isn't this enough to bring you
to your senses?"
     "Yes,"  Mama  was  talking  low  and  quiet, "it has  brought me  to my
     "You don't seem to be sorry to see the place go!"
     "I'm glad." Mama  stood  in her tracks and breathed  the fresh air down
deep in her lungs. "Yes, I feel like a new baby."
     "Hey, ever'body!  Ever'body!  C'mere!"  I walked out a bare window  and
stood on the ground pointing up into the air.

     "What  is it?" Mama was the only one to  follow me  out into the  yard.
"What are you pointing at?"
     "Mister Cyclome broke th' top outta my walnut tree!"
     "That's the one you got hung up  in." Mama  patted  me  on the head. "I
think  old Mister Cyclone broke the top out of that walnut tree so you won't
get hung up there any more!"
     And I held  onto Mama's hand,  looking  at  her gold wedding ring,  and
telling her, "Ha! I think l' Mister Cyclome tore down this l' mean  Lon'on
House ta keep it from hurtin' my mama!"
     Chapter VI

     We  picked up and  moved across town to a lot  better  house in a  nice
neighborhood on North Ninth Street, and  Papa got to buying and  selling all
kinds of lands and property and making good money.
     People  had  been  slinking  around corners and  ducking behind bushes,
whispering  and  talking, and running  like  wild  to  swap  and  trade  for
land--because tests  had  showed  that there was a whole big  ocean  of  oil
laying under our country.  And then,  one day, almost out of a clear sky, it
broke. A car shot dust in the air along the Ozark Trail. A man piled out and
waved his hands up and down Main  Street running for the  land office. "Oil!
She's blowed 'er top! Gusher!" And  then, before long--there was a black hot
fever hit our  town--  and it brought  with  it several  whole armies,  each
running the streets, and each hollering, "Oil! Flipped 'er lid! Gusher!"
     They found more oil  around town along the river and the creek bottoms,
and oil derricks  jumped up like new  groves of tall timber. Thick and black
and flying with steam, in the pastures, and above the trees, and standing in
the slushy  mud of the boggy rivers, and on the  rocky  sides of the useless
hills, oil derricks, the wood legs and braces  gummed  and soaked with dusty
black blood.
     Pretty soon the  creeks  around  Okemah was filled with black scum, and
the  rivers  flowed   with  it,  so  that  it   looked  like  a  stream   of
rainbow-colored gold  drifting  hot along  the waters.  The oily film looked
pretty from the river banks and from on the bridges, and I was a right young
kid, but I remember how it came in whirls and currents, and swelled up as it
slid along  down the  river.  It reflected every color when the sun hit just
right on it, and in  the  hot dry weather that is called Dog Days the  fumes
rose up and you could smell them for miles  and miles in every direction. It
was  something big and it  sort of give you a good feeling. You felt like it
was bringing some work, and  some trade,  and  some money to  everybody, and
that people everywhere, even  way back  up in the  Eastern States  was using
that oil and that gas.
     Oil laid tight and close on the top of the water, and the fish couldn't
get the air they needed. They died by the  wagon  loads along the banks. The
weeds turned gray and tan, and never growed there any more. The tender weeds
and grass went away and all that  you could see for several  feet around the
edge of the oily water  hole was  the red dirt. The tough iron weeds and the
hard woodbrush stayed longer. They were there for several years, dead,  just
standing there like they was  trying to hold their  breath and tough it  out
till the river would get pure again, and the  oil would go, and things could
breathe again. But the oil didn't go. It stayed. The grass and the trees and
the tanglewood died. The wild grape vine shriveled up and its tree died, and
the farmers pulled it down.
     The Negro sharecroppers went out with their bread  balls and  liver for
bait. You saw them setting around the banks and on  the  tangled  drifts, in
the middle  of the day,  or  along about sundown--great big bunches of Negro
farmers trying to get a nibble. They worked hard. But the oil had  come, and
it looked like the fish had gone. It had been an even swap.
     Trains whistled into our town a  hundred  coaches long. Men drove their
heavy wagons by the score down to pull up alongside of the cars, and skidded
the  big  engines, the thick-painted, new and shiny machinery,  and some old
and rusty machines from other oil  fields. They unloaded the railroad  cars,
and  loaded  and  tugged  a  blue jillion different  kinds of  funny-looking
gadgets out into the fields.  And  then it seemed like all on one  day,  the
solid-tired  trucks come into  the country, making such a roar that it  made
your back teeth rattle. Everybody was  holding down one awful  hard job  and
two or three ordinary ones.
     People told jokes:
     Birds flew into town by the big long clouds, lasting two or three hours
at a time, because it was rumored around up in the sky that you could wallow
in the dust of the oiled roads and it would kill all kinds of flees and body
     Dogs  cured their mange, or else got  it  worse. Oil on their hair made
them hotter in hot weather and colder in cold weather.
     Ants  dug their holes  deeper, but wouldn't  talk any secrets about the
oil formation under the ground.
     Snakes and lizards complained that wiggling  through  so many oil pools
made the hot sun blister their backs worse. But on the other hand they could
slide on their belly through the grass  a lot  easier. So it come  out about
     Oil was more than gold ever was or ever will be, because you can't make
any hair salve or perfume, TNT, or roofing material or drive a car with just
gold. You `t pipe that gold back East and run them big factories, either.
     The  religion of  the oil field, guys said, was to get all you can, and
spend all you can as quick as you can, and then end up in the can.
     I'd  go  down to the  yards and climb  around over the cars loaded down
with more tools. And the sun was  peppering down on all of the steel so hot,
it kept  me prancing along the loads like a football player running. I heard
the tough men  cuss and swear and learned more good cuss words to use to get
work done.
     My head was  full of  pictures like a  movie--different from movies I'd
been  sneaking into. The  faked ones about  outlaws,  rich girls,  playboys,
cowboys and  Indians,  and  shooting  scrapes, killings,  and a  pretty  man
kissing a pretty girl on a pretty spot on a pretty day. It  takes a lot more
guts, I  thought, to  work and heave and cuss  and sweat and laugh and  talk
like the oil field  workers. Every man gritted every tooth  in his head, and
stretched  every muscle in his whole  body--not trying to get  rich or  rare
back and loaf, because I'd hear one beller out, "Okay, you dam guys, hit 'er
up, or else git down out of a workin' man's way, an'  let me put in a Goddam
oil field!"
     A block and tackle man showed  me  how to lift all kinds of heavy stuff
with the double pulleys, "Ride 'em down! Grab  'em down! When th'
chain goes  'round,  somethin's leavin' th' ground!" There was a twenty-foot
slush bucket used for getting mud and slush out of the  hole, and  it looked
so heavy in a railroad car that you never could lift it out; but you'd  hear
a  man on a handle of a crank  yell out,  'Tong bucker, tong bucker!  Mister
hooker man! Grab a root, boy! Grab a root!" The man on the hooks  would yell
back, "Gimme  slack! Gimme slack!" Some of the cable men would guide the big
hook over to the hooker  man and yell out, "Give 'im slack! Give 'im slack!"
"Take it  back! Take it  back! Won't do one thing you don't like!" "Take yer
slack! Bring it back!" "Ridin' with ya!  Got yer grab!" "Got my grab!" "Grab
a root an' growl! Grab  a root an' growl!" "Take yore  grab! Take 'er home!"
The men took in all of the  slack on the  chain or cable and it would get as
tight as a fiddle string, and the joint of bailing bucket would raise up off
of the floor of the car and one man would yell, "She was a good gal, but she
lost her footin'!"
     I piled on top a wagon every day and  set on a gunny sack stuck full of
hay, by the side of a teamskinner that told me all kinds of  tales and yarns
about the other ten dozen oil fields he, personally, had  put down. I picked
up five or ten books full of the cuss words  the mule drivers use to talk to
each other,  which are somewhat worse  than the ones they  use to cuss their
teams into pulling harder.
     Out in the fields, I walked from derrick to  derrick through the trees,
and hung  around  each place till the driller or the tool dresser would spot
me and yell, "Git th' hell outta here,  son! Too dangerous!" The bull wheels
spun  and the cable unrolled as  they dropped the mud buckets down  into the
hole; the boiler shot steam and danced on its foundation;  the derrick shook
and trembled, and strained every nail and every  joint when the mud  bucket,
full again, would  stick in the bottom of the hole, and the cable would pull
as tight as  it possibly could,  trying to pull  the bucket out. The rig and
derrick would creak and crack, and whole swarms of men would work like ants.
The slush ponds were full of  the gray-looking shale and a film of slick oil
reflected the clouds and  the sky, and  lots  of times I'd  take a stick and
reach out and fish out some kind of a bird that had mistook the oil pool for
the real sky, and flew  into the slush. The whole country was alive with men
working, men running, men sweating, and signs everywhere saying: Men Wanted.
I felt  good to think  that some day I'd grow up and be a man  wanted; but I
was a kid--and I had to go around  asking the  men  for a job; and then hear
them say, "Git th' hell outta here! Too dangerous!"
     The  first  people  to  hit  town  was the  rig  builders, cement  men,
carpenters, teamskinners,  wild tribes of  horse  traders  and gypsy  wagons
loaded full, and wheels breaking down; crooked gamblers, pimps, whores, dope
fiends,  and peddlers, stray musicians and street singers, preachers cussing
about love and begging for tips  on  the street comers, Indians in duty loud
clothes chanting along the sidewalks with their kids crawling and playing in
the filth and grime underfoot. People elbowed up and down the streets like a
flood on the Canadian, and us kids would run and jump right in big middle of
the crowds, and let them just sort of push  us along a block or so, and play
like we was floating down stream. Thousands of folks come  to  town to work,
eat, sleep, celebrate,  pray, cry, sing, talk, argue, and fight with the old
     And this was a pretty  mixed-up  mess,  but it was always three or four
times worse on election day. I used to follow the different  speakers around
and see who got beat  up for  voting for who. I would stay out late at night
to see the  election returns come in, and see them count  the votes. Lots of
kids stayed out that  night. They knew that it wasn't any too safe  down  on
the  streets on  account  of the  men  fighting  and  throwing  bottles  and
stuff--so  we would  climb up the cast-iron sewer  pipes, up to the  tops of
buildings, and we'd watch the votes counted from up there.
     A board  was all  lit  up, and the different names of the men  that was
running for office was painted on it. One column would be, say, "Frank Smith
for  Sheriff,"  and the  next,  "John Wilkes."  One column would say,  "Fist
Fights,"  and another column  would read, "Gangfights." A man would come out
every hour during  the night and write: "Precinct  Number  Two, for Sheriff,
Frank Smith, three votes, Johnny Wilkes, four. Fist fights four. Gangfights,
     In  another hour he'd  come  out with  his rag and  chalk,  and  write,
"Precinct Number  Three just heard  from. For  Sheriff,  Frank Smith,  Seven
votes, John Wilkes, Nine;  Fist fights: Four. Gangfights, Three." Wilkes won
the Sheriff's office by eleven odd votes. The  fights added up: Fist Fights,
Thirteen. Gangfights, Five.
     I remember  one  particular  gangfight. The  men  had  banged  into one
another and was really  going at  it. They spent as much time getting up and
down as they had working on their pieces of land for the past three  months.
Some swung, missed,  and fell. They each brought down  two more.  Others got
knocked down and only brung down one  or so. Others just naturally went down
and stayed down.  I  got interested in one big old boy from out around  Sand
Creek; he was in there for all it was worth, and I  wanted to crawl down off
of  the  building  and  ooze in  a little closer to where  he  was  standing
fighting. I edged through the crowd with fists of all sorts and sizes  going
past my head, barely missing, and I got right up

     behind him. He took pretty good aim at a cotton farmer from Slick City,
drawed back with  his fist, hit me  under the  chin with his elbow,  hit the
cotton farmer  from Slick  City,  on  the chin with  his  fist, knocked me a
double handspring backwards one direction, and the  cotton farmer from Slick
City a twin loop the other.
     I  was down on  my hands and knees,  and all  of the well-known feet in
that county was in the small of my back. Men fell over me, and got mad at me
for tripping them. Every time I started to get up, they would all push in my
direction, and down I'd  go again. My head  was in the dirt. I had mud in my
teeth, oil in my hair, and water on the brain.
     Right after the oil boom got under  way,  I  found me a job walking the
streets and selling newspapers. I stuck my head into every door, not so much
to  sell  a paper, but to just try to figure  out where in the devil so many
loud-yelling people had struck from. The tough kids, one or two of  them new
in town, had glommed  onto  the very  best-selling corners,  and so I walked
from building to  building, because I  knew most  of  the  landlords and the
other kids didn't.
     Our Main Street  was  about eight blocks long. And Saturday was the day
that all of the  farmers come to town to jump in  with the  several thousand
rambling,  gambling oil  field chasers.  Folks called them  boom chasers.  A
great big  rolling army of hard-hitting men and their hard-hitting families.
Stores throwed their keys away and stayed open twenty-four hours a day. When
one army jumped out of bed another army jumped in. When one army marched out
of a  cafe, another  one marched in. As fast  as one army  went broke at the
slot machines in the girly houses, it was pushed out and another army pushed
     I walked into a pool hall and poker room that had big pictures of naked
women hung along the  walls. Every table was going with from  two to six men
yelling,  jumping  up and down,  whooping  around  worse than  wild Indians,
cussing  the  jinx  and praying  to the god of good luck. Cue  balls  jumped
tables and shot like cannon balls across the hall.  Eight tables in line and
a whole pow-wow and war dance going on around each table. "Watch out fer yer
Goddam elbow, there, brother!"
     Poker tables wheeling  and dealing. Five or six little oilcloth tables,
five or  six mulers, hustlers, lead men, standing around winking  and making
signs in back of every table. And behind them, five or six more hard-working
onlookers, laughing and watching five  or six of the boys with a new paysack
getting  the screws and trimmings put  to them. A guy or two slamming in and
out  through  the back door, picking pints  of rotgut  liquor  out  of trash
piles,  and sliding them out of their shirts to  the boys losing their money
around the tables.  "Whitey's gettin' perty well stewed. Gonna bet wild here
in a minute, an' lose his hat."
     Along  the sides of the  walls was  mostly  where  the old and the sick
would  come to  set  for a few hours  and  keep track of the robbing and the
fights; the old  bleary-eyed bar-flies and drunks  that rattled in the lungs
with  asthma and  and coughed corruption all day and seldom hit a cuspidor
on the floor, I walked around saying, "Paper, mister? Five  cents." But kids
like me wasn't allowed on the inside of  dives like this, unless we knew the
boss, and then the bouncer kept his  eye peeled on me and seen to it that  I
kept moving.
     "Boys! That gal there on th' Goddam wall has got breasts like a feather
pillow! Nipples like a little  red cherry! Th' day I run onto somethin' like
that,  I'm gonna give up my good l' ruff an' rowdy ways! Whoooeee!" "Ya dam
sex-minded roustabout, you, c'mon, it's yore next shot!"
     I  very  seldom sold a paper  in the joints like this. The men were too
wild.  Too  worked up.  Too hot under the  collar to read a  paper and think
about it. The old dice, the cards, the dominoes, the steer men for the pimps
and  gamblers, the drinking and climbing the  old spitty steps that  lead to
the girly houses, maybe the wild spinning of all of these things had the men
whipped up to a fever heat, jumpy, jittery, wild and reckless. A two-hundred
pounder  would  raise up from a poker table  broke,  and stumble through the
crowd yelling, "You think I'm down! You think you got me down! You think I'm
drunk! Well, maybe I am drunk. Maybe I am drunk. But I'll tell you  low-life
cheating rats one thing for sure!  You never did hit an honest  days work in
your whole life. You follow the boom towns around! I've seen you! Seen  your
faces in  a  thousand towns. Cards. Dice. Dominoes. Snooker.  Pool. Flabbery
ass whores. Rollers. I'm an honest hard-working man! I help put up every oil
field  from  Wheeler Ridge  to  Smackover! What the hell have you done? Rob.
Roll, Steal. Beat.  Kill. Your kind is coming to a  bad end! Do you hear me?
All of you! Listen!"
     "Little too much noise there, buddy," a copy would walk up and take the
man by the arm. "Walk along with me till you cool off."
     In front of the picture show a handful of old batty electric lights hit
down on a  couple  of  hundred  men, women  and kids, everybody blocking the
sidewalks, pushing, talking,  arguing, and trying to read what was on at the
show. Wax dummies in steel cages showed "The Cruel And Terrible Facts Of The
Two Most Famous Outlaws In The History Of The Human Race, Billy The Kid, and
Jesse James. And Also The Doomed Life Of The  Most Famous Lady Outlaw Of All
Time,  The One And  Only  Belle  Starr. See Why  Crime  Does Not Pay On  Our
Screen. Today. Adults Fifty Cents. Children Ten Cents. Please Do Not Spit On
The Floor. To Do So May Spread Disease.''
     I sauntered along singing out, "Read all  about  it! Late night  paper.
Ten men drowned in a dust storm!"
     "Can't read, sonny, sorry, I've got horseshoe nails in my eyes! Ha! Ha!
Ha!" A  whole circle of men  would bust  out laughing at me. And another one
would  smile at  me  and pat me on the head  and say, "Here, Sonny Boy.  You
ain't nobody's fool. I cain't read yer paper, neither, but here's a dime."
     I watched the crowds sweat and mop their faces walking along, the young
boys and girls all dressed up in shirts and dresses as clean  as the morning
     "The day of th'  comin' of  th' Lord is near! Jesus Christ of  Nazareth
will come down out of the clouds in all of His purity, all of His glory, and
all of  His power! Are  you  ready, brother  and  sister? Are  you saved and
sanctified  and baptized in the spirit  of the Holy Ghost? Are your garments
spotless? Is your soul as white as the drifted snow?"
     I leaned back against the bank window and listened  to  the people talk
as  they walked  along.  "Is your  snow spotless?" "Souls  saved. Two bits a
lick." "I ain't wantin' t' be saved if it makes  ye stand around  th' street
corners an' rave like  a dam maniac!" "Yes, I'm goin' to join th' church one
of these  days  before I die."  "Me too, but I wanta have some fun an'  live
     I walked  across the street in the dark in front  of  the drugstore and
found a drunk man coming out. "Hey, mister, wanta good job?"
     "Yeah. Where'sh a job at?"
     "Sellin' papers. Make a lotta money."
     "How'sh it done?"
     "You  gimme a nickel apiece  fer  these twenty  papers. You walk up an'
down th'  streets yellin' about  th'  headlines.  Then  you sell  all of th'
papers, see, an' you git yer money all back."
     "Ish that th'  truth? Here'sh a  doller.  Gimme th' papersh. Shay. What
doesh th' headlines shay?"
     '' 'Corn liquor found to be good medicine!' "
     "Corn likker ish found t' be good medishin."
     "Yeah. Got that?"
     "Yesh.  But,  hell  fire,  shonny,  if  I  wash  t'  holler  that,  th'
bootleggersh would kill me."
     "Why would they kill ya?"
     "Cause. Jusht would. Ever'body'd quit drinkin' 'fore mornin'!"
     "Just holler, 'Paper! Latest tissue!'"
     " 'Latest tissue!'  Okay! Here I go! Mucha  'blige.'' And he walked off
down the street yelling, "Papersh! Latest tissue!"
     I  spent sixty cents for twenty more papers at the drugstore. "Listen,"
the paper man was telling  me, "th' sheriff is  gettin' mighty  sore at you.
Every  night  there's three or four  drunks walkin' up  and down th' streets
with about twenty papers yelling out some goofy headline!"
     "Business is business."
     I hopped up on top of a big high load of oil-field pipe  and rode along
listening to the teamskinner rave and cuss. He didn't even know I was on his
load. I looked up  the street  and seen twenty other wagons oozing along  in
the dark with men cracking their  twenty-foot leather reins like shotguns in
the night,  knocking  blisters on the  hips  of their  tired  horses.  Cars,
buggies and wagons  full of people waiting their chance to pull out  between
the big wagons loaded down with machinery.
     So this is my old Okemah. All of this fast pushing and loud talking and
cussing. Yonder's twenty men piling onto the bed of a big truck waving their
gloves and  lunch pails in the air and yelling, "Trot out yer oil field that
needs buildin'!" "See ya later, wimmen,  when  I git my bank roll!" "You  be
careful out there on that night shift in that timber!" a woman called out at
her man. "I'll take care of myself!"  Men  riding  along  by the truckloads.
Pounding each other  on the backs,  swaying and talking  so fast and so loud
you could hear them for a mile and a quarter.
     I like  all of this crowd running and working and  making a racket. Old
Okemah is getting built up. Yonder's a crowd around a fist fight in front of
the  pawnshop. Papa beat a man up there at that cafe last night for charging
him ninety cents for a forty-cent steak.
     I never did  think I'd  see no such a  mob on the streets of this town.
The whole air is just sort  of full of a roar and a buzz and a feeling  that
runs  up and down your back  and makes  the roots of your hair tingle.  Like
electricity of some kind.
     Yonder is the bus caller.  "It's a fine  ride  in  a  fine roller!  Th'
quickest, easiest, most comfortable way to the  fields! Get your bus tickets
here to all points! Sand Springs. Slick City. Oilton. Bow Legs. Coyote Hill.
Cromwell. Bearden. A big easy ride with a whiskey driver!"
     "You write 'em up! An' sign 'em up! Best wages paid!
     Hey,  men! It's  men wanted here! Skilled  and  unskilled!  Killed  and
unkilled! Brain jobs!  Desk jobs! Settin'-down jobs! Jobs standing up!  Jobs
bending over! Jobs for the drunk men, jobs for  the sober! Oil field workers
wanted! You sign a card and hit it hard! Pay and a half for overtime! Double
on Sunday! Right here! Fifteen thousand men wanted! Roughnecks! Roustabouts!
Tong buckers!  Boiler men! Dirt  movers!  Horse and mule drivers!  Let's go!
Men! Work cards right here!"
     There was  old Riley  the auctioneer standing in  front of  his  hiring
office, pointing in at the door with a walking cane. Gangs of men pushing in
and out, signing  up for field work. "Rig builders! It's carpenters! We need
your manly strength, your broad shoulders,  and your big  broad smiles, men,
to get  this  oil  field built!  Anything from  nail drivers, screw drivers,
truck  drivers,  to slave  drivers!  Wimmen! Drive your husbands here!  Yes,
madame, we'll sober him up, wash him up, clean him up, feed him up, fill him
up, rest him up, build him up, and straighten him up! You'll  have a big fat
bank  roll and a new man when  we send him back off of this job!  Write your
name and win your fame! Men wanted!"
     An old  timer was preaching from the other side in front  of  a grocery
store, "These here  dem wild boom  chasers is  tearin' our  whole town down!
They don't no more pay 'tention to th' law than if we didn't have laws!"
     "You're  a damned old liar! You old  miserly  crab!" a lady  yelled out
from the  crowd around him.  "We're a-buildin' this town up ten dozen  times
more'n you ever  could of! We do more actual work in  a  minute than  you do
settin' on yore rear a year!"
     "If you wuzn't a lady, I'd resent that!"
     "Don't  let that hold  you back,  brother!"  She knocked  four or  five
toughs  out of her way getting to him.  "As far as these  laws go, who  made
them up? You! And three or four more about like you! We come to this town to
work an' build up an oil field an' make it worth something! Maybe these boys
are a little wild  and  woolly. You've got  to be to  work like we work, an'
travel like we travel, an' live like we live!"
     I laid down on the load of pipe and stretched my feet out and looked up
where the stars was. My  ears still heard  the  babbling,  yelping, swushing
along the streets, wheels rolling, horses straining, kids chasing and babies
screaming. The big trucks  tooted their horns in the dark. I  wanted to ride
there  with  my eyes closed, listening.  I wanted  to ride past the  picture
show, gambling hall, whore house, drug store, church house, court house, and
the jail house and just listen to old Okemah growing up.
     Okemah. She's a going, blowing oil boom town.
     In the  summer  I  played  with other kids in the gang house.  Our gang
house  was built by a week's hard work of about  a dozen kids of  most every
sort, size, color, brand, trade mark, and style. It started when an old lady
told us a big long story, all about the howls and laughs you  could  hear if
you  went very close to the old haunted house of the Bolewares. So I figured
my whole gang  had ought  to go spend  a night  in the  old haunted house. I
rounded up about the whole dozen and over we went after it got dark. Nothing
but a stray goat come across the yard and some bats flew in and out of a few
broke windows. Right then we decided to haunt  the house our own selves, and
we all  moaned  and groaned  and  tromped around  in  the  dark, choking and
gurgling like we was being lynched, and stomping down with all of our weight
on the loose boards of the floor and the attic.
     Next, one of us got the bright idea of carrying the loose boards across
town to an old sawed-down peach orchard on a side  of  the schoolhouse hill,
and put up a gang house to haunt. Every night we'd sneak out from home after
supper, some of us  going to bed, creeping out from under covers  and out of
windows to get away from our  folks. Howls  and screams  from  the  Boleware
house caused neighbors to lock and bar their doors and windows; women stayed
in houses in bunches and sewed or knitted all night. As we kept haunting the
old house, rent come down to less than half what it had been on this street.
Dogs  hung along under  porches  and  whined with their tails pulled up real
tight  between their hind  legs.  And then nothing but the  very  worst  old
rotten boards  were  left on the outside of the  house, and we'd hauled away
all  of  the  nice  inside boards.  They  went  up like  a big toadstool  on
schoolhouse hill,  and neighbors  wondered what the  hell. Last  of all,  we
wrote a  sign with  dim paint that  we hung  on the front side  of  the  old
Boleware hull: "Haunted House. Stay Out." I heard two  ladies walk past it a
month  or so later and read the  sign. My ears was  like an old hound dog's,
and I heard one lady say, "See  the sign on  the front? 'Haunted House. Stay
Out'?"  The other one  said, "That  landlord is a  smart man.  Doing that to
scare the kids away." And I thought, "Bull."
     Pretty  soon  we had  a  regular early Oklahoma  township a-going right
there on the lot around that old gang house. It was our City Hall, mail box,
court house, jail, picture show, saloon, gambling hall, church, land office,
restaurant, hotel and general store.
     That shack was busier than our town depot. Each kid had a bin. In  that
bin he kept his junk, whatever that might  run  into. Most of the kids would
take a gunny sack and  go "junking'' about twice or three times a week. They
would come carrying in big sacks full  of rubber inner tubes, brass faucets,
copper wire,  light brass gadgets, aluminum pots  and  pans beat  up  into a
tight  little ball. Th city junk  man  bought  them.  That was money in our
pocket. We  packed  those  sacks  more than  we  did school  books. We  also
gathered  up scrap  iron,  lead,  zinc, rags, bottles, hoofs, horns, and old
bones, and you could put your own stuff in your own bin without being afraid
of somebody a-stealing it. We thought  it was a  mighty  bad  thing to steal
something somebody else had already stolen.
     We had gang money made out  of sheets of paper. Every time you brung in
a certain amount of junk, it was judged to be worth so much. You could go to
the bank and the banker would hand  you out a school tablet or two cut up in
squares like dollar bills, and a few fancy marks around the edge, and signed
by the  captain  of  the  gang. Fifty cents  worth  of  junk  was worth Five
Thousand Dollars. You could cash your gang money in  any time you wanted to,
and pack your junk down to the city junk yard and sell it for real money.
     A kid  named Bud run the gambling wheel. It was an old lopsided bicycle
wheel that he had found in the dumps and tried to even up.  He paid you  ten
to one  if you called off  the  right spoke  it would stop on. But there was
sixty spokes.
     We rode  stick horses, and some of the  kids had  nine, and all of  the
nags named according to how fast they could run. Like if you  was riding Old
Bay Tom, and  Rex took in after you with  a  red handkerchief  tied over his
face,  why you'd switch horses  right in the big middle of the road--and get
off of Old Bay Tom, and yell, "Giddyap, Lightnin'!"
     We made horse-wrangling  trips  to the river and back, and gathered the
best of our stick horses, the long, keen straight and springy ones with lots
of fiery sap  in them, and worth several hundred dollars each in gang money.
I jig-trotted the seven miles back from the river, with a big bundle of wild
broomtail Indian ponies tied up on both arms;  and there  was  always such a
showing and swapping and  training  of  horses on the side  of  that hill as
would outclass any horse-trading lot in the State of Oklahoma.  A kid buying
a horse would first, of course, want him broke to saddle; and there was four
or  five  kids that made their whole  living by  busting  bad  ponies at ten
dollars a head. Two or three kids grabbed the horse's  head  and blinded his
eves  while  the  rider mounted to the saddle, and  then would holler,  "Fan
`im!" The rider  and  the horse broke away,  bucked and jumped all  over the
place, beating the weeds to a frazzle, snorting, and nickering,  and humping
into the air. Founding and spurring the bronco, the

     kid frogged  over sticker patches, whammed through  can piles, flounced
down the hillside and  sidestepped rocks and roots and stumps. Since a horse
was  worth more if he was a wild  one to  break,  the buyer would tip you an
extra fifty  or maybe even  a hundred,  if you  showed all of the other kids
that  this was  the snuffiest horse  in the whole  history of the hill. With
always two or three  or four hoss  tamers out there busting a  mount at  the
same time, you can just picture in your  own mind how our hill  looked--each
kid trying and straining every gut to out-buck, and out-nicker, and out-ride
the others. And then, to make a horse really in the dollar-a-year class, you
had  to ride him till  he quit bucking, and then run  him through all of his
gaits;  through the hard  ones and  easy ones, running  as  fast as he could
tear,  till he slowed into a fast rough gallop, and then down to a slow easy
lope, pace  him down the  foot path, single-foot across the gang house yard,
fox trot up to the door, and then walk as nice and as easy as  an old member
of  the family till he was  tied at the hitch rack,  eating apples and sugar
out of everybody's hand.
     And  then you  got your  pay-off  and somebody  was the proud owner  of
another pureblood. And not only  did the horse get  a good  proud name,  and
pedigree,  and papers, but every little habit, onery  streak, nervous spell,
and fear, along with all of his likes and  dislikes, was known by his owner,
and  there  struck up  between that stick horse and  that kid a  friendship,
partnership,  and love. Lots of kids had rode  their  horses,  talked  their
troubles, winnings and losings,  sick spells, and streaks of good luck, over
and over a thousand times--for two or three years.
     In a patch  of  big high weeds,  near the gang house,  was  an  old oat
binder. We used it  one hour for an airplane, and the  next for a submarine.
The World  War  was on  over in France,  and  the  Americans had gone in. We
played war, war, war. We shot down  weeds and trampled  them into  the dust,
and we licked the same weed army every  day. We grabbed up sticks, and waded
out  into  the high weeds, fighting them  hand to  hand, cussing,  sweating,
hacking  them  down.  They surrendered  every  few minutes. Then  they'd  do
something mean to us again,  and we'd get out  and frail them  back into the
notion of surrendering all over again. We'd walk up and grab each individual
weed by the  coat collar, throw off his helmet, search him for Lugers, chuck
away his rifle, and say, "Surren'er?"
     In  the fall, when our school started, the kids got more  excited about
fighting than about books. New kids had to fight to find their place on  the
grounds, and  the old bullies  had new fights to  settle who  was still who.
Fights had a funny way of always ringing me in. If it  was between  two kids
that I didn't  even know, whoever won, some  smart aleck  kids would holler,
"Yeah, yeah, I bet ya cain't lick l' Woody Guthrie." And before long I'd be
somewhere out across the playgrounds whaling away and getting whaled, mostly
over something I didn't know a  thing about. I went around with some part of
me puffed up all of the time, and the other parts just going down.
     There was four of us that more or less respected each other, because we
was the fightingest four around there, not  because we wanted to fight,  not
because we was brave, or had it in for anybody, but just because the kids in
school had us picked out to entertain them  with our broke fists and  noses,
and they  would carry tales  and  lies and cuss words  back and forth like a
messenger service just to keep the old  fires going and the pot boiling  and
the skin a-flying.
     But  Big Jim Robins  and  Little  Jim Whitt was  the  only two  of  the
round-town four that fought amongst their selves.
     They beat half of  the weed  patches  back into  a cloud of hot, white,
cement-looking dust, every school season, and the kids would all gang up and
foller Big Jim and Little Jim home every afternoon when school was out, just
to get them to  fighting, which wasn't a hard  job,  since  they never could
agree just who'd got the best of  it. Big Jim was a head  taller than Little
Jim.  I  was  about  the  same size as Little Jim. Big  Jim was  red-headed,
speckle-faced, snaggle-toothed, and  broad through the shoulders, with great
big flat feet. His hands was like hog  quarters, and his arms was six inches
longer  than anybody else's in school,  and he walked  around  in  a  hunch,
slouched down careless, and he picked  up snipes. He was the big  Luis Firpo
around  that  schoolhouse,  and  depended  alone  on  his  main strength and
awkwardness to keep  him in  the Round Town Four Fist  Fighting Association.
His  dad was  a carpenter, his  brother a grocery man.  But  Big Jim was the
toast of the  town, the natural-born  comic,  the loud-mouth  insulter,  and
yelled at everybody that come along.  His great big size scared  the  living
daylights right out of most of the little kids. When it come to a fight, Big
Jim seldom won, but he roared so loud, snorted so big, and kicked up so much
dust and fine splinters that the  kids would holler and laugh, and cheer for
him,  because  wherever Big  Jim  had  a  fight, there  you  saw a  complete
two-feature show with two comedies and short subjects added on.
     Little Jim was mostly the opposite. Light whitish hair that looked like
frog fuzz, a slim, scary face and eyes that blinked and batted at everything
that rustled in the wind. He was famous for going around  dirty and slouchy,
and when the kids would  tease him, he  would blow between  his teeth like a
train starting, and  kick back dirt with his toes. Little Jim was quiet when
he was left alone, and would walk ten blocks out of his way to keep out of a
fight; but the  kids liked to watch him  sneer and blow, and so  they headed
him off across vacant lots, and pushed him into fights.
     One day it was Trades  Day, with sermons on the streets, singers in the
saloons,  and plotters and politicians lying  on every  corner. The town was
alive,  booming  with the mixed  voices of  Negro farmers,  the  broke-down,
hungry, dirt farmers, and the talking  of the Indians that sometimes took on
a high note, when some buck pointed away out yonder with his hand,  and made
a big curving motion, so that  you could tell that he  was talking about the
whole country, the whole thing,  the whole problem and, probably, the  whole
people. The  white folks talked of this and that, hogs, horses, shoes, hats,
whiskey, dances, women, politics, land, crops, weather and money.  Everybody
stood around with a long string of red tickets, for one of the merchants was
aiming to give a new buggy away. It was a-standing out yonder  in the middle
of the street right where everybody could see her set there in the dusty sun
and try  her  best  to  shine a little.  Kids of  all  three colors, and  an
occasional mixture of each,  crawled,  walked,  run, chased loose  chickens,
took  in after cur dogs, dumb poles, fell across wagon  tongues, and slipped
down on the sidewalk  with a brand-new pair of shoes on. Ice cream cones was
waving around up and down the streets.
     Down about the middle part of town, Big Jim and Little Jim  was playing
marbles on a flat, dusty place by  the side of  the drug store. Already they
had attracted a couple of hundred folks down there to see the big Dominecker
Rooster  and  the right little Game  Cock commence kicking  the pants off of
each other.
     The crowd mumbled, laughed, roared, and  talked, some taking sides with
Big Jim, and some with Little Jim. It was a game of agates up. Agates up was
about as high as you could get in Okfuskee County politics without being  an
     Little Jim was  shooting,  Big Jim watching him like  a hawk,  and both
hollered every five seconds,  "Dobbs!" "Venture Dubbs!" "You go ta hell, you
bastard, you!"
     When the fight started, even the  few idle wanderers who had  tried for
the buggy soon come running down the street  to see what was going on.  They
spied the big noisy crowd, and they knew it must be an awful good fight. The
dust flew, and the  skin, too, and  you could see Big Jim's red head bobbing
and weaving in the middle of the  crowd. He was taking long  haymaker swings
at  Little Jim's  blond,  silken-haired head, and  hitting about once out of
every nine swings. Little Jim was faster and surer. He laid it  into Big Jim
like a  young mule kicking a clumsy  old cow, and his  fists seldom hit  out
without landing in the neighborhood of Big Jim's nose.
     He  hit straight. But time was  passing. Months rolling by. Big Jim was
getting bigger and  bigger. He had  completely outgrown Little Jim. Head and
shoulders he raised  up above his little  opponent,  and lumbered down  like
thunder and  slow  lightning,  crushing when  he landed  a  blow. Little Jim
fought faster.  He fought much better. Barefooted in  the hot dirty ring, he
pranced  around, punching  the big hulk of  Big Jim, but just  naturally not
doing  one ounce  of  damage. He fought long. He got  tired. Dust choked him
down. It choked Big Jim and the  whole crowd, but Big Jim  wasn't having  to
spend  his energy. It looked as if he  couldn't decide what he wanted to do,
so  he just made his  hands sail around in the air to put  on a show for the
people. But after a while,  he wore  Little  Jim down, and gave him the best
beating that he had ever laid  onto anybody. He brought blood running out of
Little Jim's nose, thumped  his head and ears  till  they swelled and stung.
Beat his cheeks  till you could see blue spots  and red bruises.  Little Jim
Whitt lost his standing in the fist-fighting game  that day,  right then and
     The town went wild.  A decision had been reached. Little  Jim had lost.
Two other fights as to which kid had won started out in  the crowd among men
betting. But Big Jim was the stud buzzard in our town that day.
     The school kids yelled when  the fight was over. Their voices hummed so
fast that it sounded  like a  chant,  like  a wave swelling  out across  the
     "Where's  Woody?"  "Betcha  cain't lick  l' Woody!" "Woody ain't here!
Where's Woody? He was down here in town early this mornin'--he's gone!"
     Kids took out down the road like traveling preachers, by ones and twos,
and  the  others lit out through  streets and alleys  like a couple of dozen
little Paul Reveres. Grown men even strolled off  up the hill to hunt me up,
and to give Big Jim time to  rest up, and to rig us into  a fist fight. Bets
mounted  high.  The crowd moved around like  a big bunch of bugs on top of a
hole of water. It always stayed together, but it moved.
     I was across town. I  was up on  Main Street, climbing the  rafters and
braces  of  a big sign just across the street from  the jail  house. When  a
couple of kids seen  me climbing up on top of that signboard, they hollered,
"Hey, here he is! Here he is! Here's Woody! Bring on Big Jim!"
     Oklahoma  has had runs. Land runs and whiskey runs. But that crowd took
out in such a hard run up that  hill that they jammed the streets where they
crossed, shoved  each other  down the  boardwalks, skint their shins  on the
concrete curbs, tore off the wooden corner posts of  grocery stores,  pushed
over  stacks of chicken coops, turned the  chickens loose, made the feathers
fly,  slipped and fell  across sacks of horse  and  mule feed,  crawled over
wagons and  buggies parked in the road, made the hay  fly, lost their  kids,
dropped  plugs of  tobacco,  laughed, yelled, whooped,  and caused  teams to
break and run away.
     Like I  said,  I  was getting  closer and  closer to  the  top  of that
sign-board,  and  when  I  heard that big crowd coming up  the  steep street
raising so much cain, I didn't know what the devil was going to happen. They
was yelling my name, and running full blast. I hit the top of the signboard,
and throwed one leg across,  just as the crowd scraped a  coat of old  paint
off of the corner of the court house, crowding past it, to gather all around
the signboard  and  yell all kinds of  things, like: "Come on down! Lick Big
Jim!" "Little Jim just got beat  up!" "Whataya say,  boy? Coward?" "Git 'im,
Yallerback!" "Come on down offa there! You ain't no dam eagle!"
     Well,  I just hunkered over and made myself right real  comfortable and
set up there. I  knew  then what it was all about. Just another one of  them
dam fool  fights all rigged  up  and fixed up before you know what it's  all
about. I knew how tired Big Jim must be. Just had one fight. Now they wanted
to sic him onto me and see another one. I must of killed a full five minutes
just setting up there. They tried every kind of a trick to get me down. Kids
and men  dumb halfway up  to where I was. They lured  me and baited me. They
promised me  dimes. But I didn't come down. Then they fell back onto the one
and only dare that I couldn't stand. They yelled, "Old man Charlie Guthrie's
a fighter! Old Charlie Guthrie would come down to fight!"

     Something inside  of  me went out and something  come  in. I set  there
about two or  three seconds, my  face went sort of blank, and I  gritted  my
teeth; and then  I  slid down off of the frame of  the sign, and dumb like a
monkey down through the braces, and the crowd was in an uproar.
     The crowd got around me. There was so much noise I couldn't do nothing.
It  was just some kind of  a roaring ocean rising and falling in my  head. I
couldn't see Jim.  It was too crowded. I saw every  kind  of a face but that
big  speckled  one. The  crowd squared off, and  they  cleared out the usual
three-foot hole in the middle,  which was big enough for  two kids  to knock
off twenty-five square foot of hair and hide in. I couldn't see Jim.
     Something hit me right square between the horns. It was a big outfit of
some kind, a team of wild bay mares, or a wagon load of cotton seed--anyway,
it knocked me blind. I shook my head, but I couldn't see.  After a minute it
hit me again, Kkkkkkkeeeeeeebblllllooooooom!!!!!!
     Sometimes, you know, when you're fighting, it's a funny thing, one lick
will  knock you blind, and the  next one will knock you to where you can see
again. I could see Big Jim  right there  in front of  me. I was tired and my
head  was like a bread pan full of  dry dough. I  was sick. Couldn't get  my
breath good. My face was all numb. I  never had been hit that hard, I didn't
know how to fight this way. But I was in a good spot to learn. I didn't know
of but one  way to beat Big Jim. I knew that he was tired. He was big and he
was  slow. But many more  of them  piledrivers, and I'd be slower than that.
I'd  been still. Big Jim  couldn't fight a running fight.  I was bigger than
Little Jim, by a pound or two, but not near as big as Big Jim. I had to bust
loose with everything that I ever had or ever hoped to borrow. I had to beat
my fists to pieces over his big red  head. I  didn't  know why. Just had to.
Jim had busted me twice in the face. He didn't know why. Just done it.
     I started.  I started walking,  swinging, ducking,  dodging. I couldn't
even quit, not one  split second.  He wasn't used to  that kind of fighting.
Kids usually danced and wasted a little time. Some of them waste all  of the
time.  I had fought  that  way some, it was all right then, but it  wouldn't
work now. I kept my  fists sailing  to and  from Jim's head without  even  a
letup. It was  a  fistic sweatshop. And with low pay. I wasn't mad at Jim. I
was mad at this kind of stuff. Mad at the men that started the fight. At the
kids  that had been taught to yell for it. At the women that gossiped  about
it,  and spread lies about  it.  I hated fighting my home-town kids.  I  was
throwing my fists at Big Jim, but I was really fighting these crazy  notions
that folks get and keep in their heads.
     Jim was going backwards. He didn't have time to haul off  and wind  up.
He didn't have time to get his big feet to working. He just didn't have time
to do  anything.  He rained big  haymakers down across my back  and  over my
head, and it was like beating me up with a fire hose. I wasn't doing so good
myself. I fired  away  like sixty.  I got in  close, inside Jim's  big arms,
inside his reach,  and fought like a wild dog drunk on slaughterhouse blood.
I only wanted it to be over.
     Jim was stumbling backwards trying to get balanced long enough to break
my  whole body with  one of his fire-engine arms  and fists,  but  it didn't
work. He  stumbled over a wagon tongue. He got up and fell over it again. He
raised up and fell back  against the front  wheel, and braced  his  self  by
holding onto the spokes.
     He was  just standing there using one arm to sort of wave  and  push me
aside with,  but I couldn't let  him  stand there and get his breath and get
the  dust wiped  out of his eyes, and get rested up. Then he would take good
aim and knock my head to rolling down Main Street.  I  hit him  as fast as I
could and as hard. I really didn't  think I had that much power. He caved in
a couple of  times, and he laid back against the wagon wheel. He propped his
big  shoulders up against the rim. He couldn't fall. He plowed into my face.
I felt it turn  numb. My  whole  jaw was just hanging  there. It didn't know
why.  All  at once and for no good reason  that the crowd could see, Big Jim
stopped fighting, he held up both hands. He quit.
     I said, "Ya done?"
     Jim said, "--can't go."
     "Gotta 'nuff?"
     "--reckon so--gotta stop."
     The crowd hollered and jumped and screeched like a bunch of maniacs.
     "Big Jim's hollered calf-rope!"
     "He's all in an' down!"
     "Downed 'im three times!"
     "Tough titty!"
     Jim let his body sink down  a little bit, rubbed his  hair and forehead
with one hand and propped his self up on the wheel  with  the other. He  set
there for a few minutes, but the crowd  wouldn't let him  rest. I stepped in
close beside him and said once more to make double sure, "Gotta 'nuff, Red?"
     "I said I had ta quit. I'll see you later--"
     "I don't want it ta be later. I want  it ta  be settled right here once
an' fer all. I don't want it ta hafta take place ever' Goddam day. You wanta
go some more------er say, let this be th' end of it fer me an' you both?"
     "All right--this ends it."
     Poor old Jim was fagged completely out, and so was I.  "I'm--I've gotta
'nuff," he said.
     And I sort of whispered in his ear, "So've I."
     Men  handed me dimes. Others slipped me  two-bits pieces. I got  over a
dollar. I run down the street to where Jim was walking along. He looked bad.
I said, "Ice-cream cone, Jim?"
     "Naww. You git yore own self one."
     "How 'bout you one, too?"
     "'C'mon.  T' hell with all  of 'em. We ain't mad at nobody-- nobody but
them dam guys that keeps us a-fightin' amongst ourselfs."
     "Cream cone, Jim?"
     What kind did he want.
     "Strawberry," he told me, "how much ya git?"
     "Lemme see, dollar, fifteen, twenty-five."
     He handed me a dime. This wasn't a new thing. We done it everytime we'd
fought before. Split  up the money or part of it. He'd raked in a dollar and
a half.
     "How much ya got now?" Jim asked me.
     "Dollar thirty-five."
     "I gotta nickel more'n you."
     " 'At's all right."
     He held the new-looking buffalo nickel  out in the palm of his hand and
the  sun  hit down against it, and Jim was setting  down and thinking on the
     "Know who I'm gonna give that exter nickel to?"
     "Huh uh." I shook my head.
     "Little Jim."
     The fire whistle moaned out across the town like a panther moaning in a
canyon. Dogs  whined  and run tucktail. The whistle  kept blowing  and every
time it went low and high I counted the wards on my fingers so  I would know
which part of town to run to and see the fire.
     That's a  funny fire whistle. It just keeps  blowing. Okemah hasn't got
that many wards. It's still blowing. Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen times.
     Looks like everybody is running up South  Third Street  there.  Wagons.
Cars.  Buggies. People on horseback. I'll run with this bunch of kids coming
here. "Hey! Where's th' fire at?"
     'Foller us!"
     "We'll show ya!"
     "I don't see no flare in th' sky!"
     "It  ain't here in town! Look over  south yonder, way  out of town. See
all of that red?"
     "Oil field fire?"
     "Yeah! Whole town!"
     "Which one?"
     "Cromwell! We can see it when we hit th' top of th' hill there!"
     Several hundred people crowded up the hill talking  and  gasping, short
of wind.  Little bunches of men and  women trotted  along and talked. Horses
snorted and  jumped  all over the road. Dogs barked at weeds  and pieces  of
paper blowing in the dark.  All along in under the locust trees people  tore
as hard as they could run.
     "There she is!" I heard some guy talking and pointing.
     "Whew! Plain as day! That's a mean-lookin' fire!"  I was saying to some
kids along the top of the hill.
     "Seventeen miles away."
     "Flames jumpin' up higher th'n th' tops of th' trees!"
     "I know how high them trees is!"
     "Me too. I been there a lot of times!"
     "Yeah,  me, too. I  go a-swimmin'  right in  this side of there all th'
time. Them Cromwell kids is really  tough. Wonder how much of th'  town's on
     "Plenty of it," a man was saying.
     "Five or six houses all at once, huh?"
     "About a hunder houses all at once," the man said.
     "Them old  flames  is  really clawin'  and'  scratchin',  ain't  they?"
Another man talked up.
     "I know a lot of  people are clawing  and scratching, trying to get out
of there."
     "Them little old  tar-paper shacks burn up just like paper!'' an Indian
kid was saying.
     I walked along the hill listening to the people talk.
     "Is it th' oil wells er th' houses?"
     "Some of both, I would guess."
     "I  reckon there are already a couple  of  hundred people  on their way
from Okemah out there to help fight the fire."
     "I hope there is. That's a bad blaze."
     "Spreading all in through the timber  there. Lots of folks losing their
houses in that fire tonight."
     "All of their belongings."
     "But  th' people!"  A lady spoke out. "It's the' little  kids,  an' th'
mothers, an' people sleepin' and  sick people in bed, an' everything else in
those shacktowns.  I've got a  feeling that lots  of people are  just caught
like moths in a bonfire."
     I laid down on the grass and listened to folks talk for an hour or  so.
Then,  by families, and little  bunches, and one at a  time, they took their
last long look at the flames and turned around walking and talking and going
home to bed.
     I laid there by myself for about  another hour. Cromwell was one of the
biggest oil field towns in the whole country. I've  seen  the  boxcar shacks
stripped over with tar paper lots of times, the oak trees and the sandy land
and the fishing creeks and swimming holes.
     That night Okemah watched  Cromwell  crackle and roar and dance in  the
wind and fall into a flat bed of red-hot cinders.
     Fire is a funny thing. It helps you and it  hurts you. It builds a town
up and it eats it down.
     What could be left of  those little  old lumber houses with all  of the
boards as dry as powder and running full of rosin?
     What  could  be left of a  family caught asleep and  choked down in the
smoke? What could be left of a man that lost his family there?
     I forgot all about the cold dew and went to sleep on the top rim of the
hill just thinking about it.
     Chapter VII

     A new tribe of boomchasers hit town every day, families with kids, kids
looking for  work and  play. The  gang-house kids made a law  that new  kids
coming in couldn't have any say-so in how the gang was run, so the  new kids
got mad  and moved a little farther on down  the hill. I was sore at the old
gang  and  went and hooked up with the  new one. And trouble had  got so hot
between the two gangs that it looked awful dark.
     "Woody, did  you write that  war letter, like we said  last night?" The
captain of  our new gang was  saluting and  nodding to several kids as  they
come out for the day's playing.
     I read out:

     To the Members of the Old Gang:
     Dear Captain and Leaders and Members:

     We told you why we are fighting this war. It is because of your leaders
mostly. Most  of us kids is new here in town and we ain't got no other place
except  at your gang house, You  made us work  but you didn't let us vote or
nothing like that when it was time.
     The only way out is to let all  of us kids own the gang house together.
We  was always fighting  the other  way. One gang against the other one.  It
will always  be  this a-way unless we change it,  and you  don't  want us to
change  it, but we aim to anyhow. Both gangs has got to join up together and
be one gang.
     We will come to see you at eight  o'clock, and if you still try to keep
us split up, we will start a war.
     It will  not be  a play war.  It will take place with  sling  shots and
flint  rocks.  It  will be a real  war and it will last till one side or the
other wins out on top.
     The Boom Town Kids,
     Thug Warner, Chief.
     Woody Guthrie, Messenger.

     "Sounds okay."
     "Purty fair letter."
     "It'll do." Our captain pulled a big dollar watch out of his

     overalls pocket. "Fifteen minnits, then war's on!" Then he said, "Okay,
go on, read 'em th' letter."
     "Yessir." I touched the bill of  my corduroy hunting  cap I always wore
in a hard fight.  I put a white  handkerchief on my arm and went to  the old
gang house.
     "Git back thar, trater!" I heard a couple of highway flints  zoom  past
my ears.
     "Quit shootin'! I'm a mess'nger! Ya c'n see this white rag on my arm!"
     The  door  opened  up  and Colonel and Rex stepped  out  into the open.
Colonel had his early morning chew of scrap tobacco pretty well limbered up,
and spit three or four long  squirts while he gritted his teeth and read the
     Rex read over Colonel's  shoulder, "A real war ... till one side or the
other wins out  on top." He  flipped his lip with his  fingers and looked up
across the hill. "What  chance you fools think you got 'ginst our gang house
shootin' with flint-rock Sling shots?"
     "You'll see." I turned my corduroy hat around so the bill protected the
back of my head and neck.  "You guys  has  seen me wear  this cap  backwards
before, haven't ya? Ya  know that means fight, don't ya? I don't  feel funny
fightin'  on th' new kids'  side, 'cause,  ya see, men,  I  jes'  happen  ta
believe they're right an' you're wrong."
     "You  an' yore letter,  an'  yore pack of  mangy curs! Boom town rats!"
Colonel tore the war letter up  into a hundred little  pieces and slung them
into my face like a quick snow.
     Rex shut the door and  latched it. "Okay, fellas," I heard him tell his
fighters inside, "it's war!  Everybody ready?  Rocks easy to reach? Keep out
of shootin' range of these open windows!"  Then he  stuck  his head  out the
window that had been the jail and yelled at me, "You yeller-bellied quitter!
Git movin'!"
     I expected a rock to whack me in the back any time as I run back up the
hill, but nothing hit me. "I guess  you seen what happened ta our letter!" I
told the captain.
     "Three minnits, boys. Then she's war!" Thug turned to me and winked and
said, "Round up th' men. Bring all of 'em right here in th' alley."
     I whistled  through my teeth and waved my  hand in the air as  a signal
for all of the kids on our  side to follow me. Everybody  stood in the alley
above the trash pile at the top of the hill.
     "You four go with  Slew." Thug pointed out the squads. "You four foller
Woody through the trash pile. You three  fight  here in the middle  with me.
Git to yer places!"
     "Fire away, boys!" some kid yelled out.
     "Hold yer fire!" Thug bawled him out. "If we  shoot one second ahead of
eight o'clock, they'll go aroun' lyin' that we sneaked up on 'em, an' didn't
give 'em a chance!"
     "How long, Thug?"
     " 'Bout ten secinds!"
     "Places ever'bodyyyy! Gitt reaeeeedyyy!"
     We  ripped and tore and yelled  on  our way  to  our places. Three kids
pulled  homemade  coaster  wagons   loaded  to  the  hub  with  good  shaped
sling-shots  rocks. The  gang house was built on a flat place dug out of the
hill.  A patch of weeds about three foot high run along the upper part where
we stood and was the only thing that would hide us from the rock fire of the
fighters in the house. Kids eyed one another,  patted the old  trusty stocks
and rubbers of their sling shots. Then all eyes centered on Thug.
     He looked at his big dollar watch and hollered, "Chaaarrge!"
     "Down  on yer  bellies!" Slew yelled out to  the whole  line. He was as
good a fighting  captain any old day  as Thug. "Crawl inta these weeds! Save
your rocks! Keep crawlin' down th' hill! Let's put that guy in  th'  lockout
tower out of order first!"
     Thug  was standing  on the  north end  of our line. He  drawed back his
rubbers so tight they sung a bugle call in the bard wind, and whizzed a rock
through the jail-house window. Inside  some kid with the first punk  knot of
the war, hollered, "Ooohhhh!"
     Trick doors the size of a cigar box  slid open, first here, then there,
all over  the  front side of the  house. Hands of a  dozen kids  stuck  from
underneath and around the edges of the windows, rubbers stretched, and rocks
howled through the air.
     "Hot  rocks!  Red  hot!  Feel  that!" Claude  was cussing  next  to me,
touching  the  end of his  finger to an agate-looking flint that had dug the
grass roots a couple of inches from his head. "Heatin' 'em on that dam stove
they got inside!"
     I  bit  my  bottom  lip  and pasted  one  into  the  lookout  nest that
splintered a sliding trap  door to shavings. A red-hot rock flew back out of
the  tower and glanced off of my shoulder blade, leaving a  burnt red  welt,
about six inches  long. Claude heard the thump and felt me roll over against
him moaning.
     "Looky  here!" Claude  pointed to  the  rock  laying between us in  the
grass. "Simmerin'.  Scorchin' th' grass!" He tried to pick it up and load it
into  his  sling, but jerked his fingers  back saying,  "Wowie! Boy!  Howdy!
Hotter'n a bitch!"
     I  put my hand  up to  my mouth  and ducked  low and yelled back at our
bunch, "Hot rocks! Watch out! Hot rocks!"
     I  seen Thug crawling through the weeds toward me, wearing  a flop felt
hat a couple of sizes too big,  folded full  of newspapers, for a helmet. He
jumped to his feet  and run through  the weeds, pointing at a couple of kids
in  charge  of our  ammunition  wagons.  "Hey! You  two!  Git plenty of good
firewood!  Them birds'll  be awful sorry  they  ever  started  this hot-rock
     Before many minutes  a new fire  was crackling on  the side of the hill
behind our lines. The two kids lifted tin buckets from a wagon,  each bucket
piled brim full of round flints, and set on a  two-foot sheet of  corrugated
roofing tin. Papers, sticks, and weed stalks blazed underneath. The fire got
hotter and, before long, there was a tin bucket of the hot rocks within easy
reach of every kid on our side.
     "How'dya take a-holt of 'em  ta shoot, without blistering yer hands?" I
asked a kid when he set a  bucket  down between Claude  and me. I could feel
the  heat from the  bucket of rocks striking my  skin  from two  feet  away.
"Red-hot mommers!"
     The ammunition boy grinned at me and said, "Gotta par o' gloves on ya?"
     "I  ain't got none  here." I dodged a foot to one side and seen a  rock
knock a hole the size of a horseshoe track. It  buried itself a good inch in
the grass roots and shot sizzling hot  steam from the  damp ground under the
dead grass. "Kill a man if it'd hit 'im jest right,"
     "We got two  pairs  o' gloves fer our whole bunch.  Thirteen of us. So,
here, here's a  left-handed glove. Ya gotta load  an' shoot real quick, so's
ya don't git burnt." He dropped a glove between me and Claude.
     I  pulled  on the glove, fished a nice  juicy  roasted  rock out of the
bucket, slipped it into the leather of  my sling shot, stretched the rubbers
as far as they  would go, and felt the heat of  the rock burning the tips of
my fingers when I let go. The shot knicked a handful of splinters off of the
side of the house. "Trouble is, ya don't shoot as straight with a glove on."
     "Clumsy.  Yeah." He finished  digging his little hole.  "Think we might
oughtta switch back to just plain rocks, an' shoot straighter? More of 'em?"
     "We gotta use 'em hot. See, them guys in th' house knows that we cain't
crawl around on our bellies if they lay a lot  of heated rocks all over this
weed patch. One  of these here rocks'll stay hot fifteen 'er twenty minnits.
Step on 'er, lay down on one, or come down  on one with your knee, boy, it'd
dam near it put ya outta commish'n!"
     "Halfa our  kids is goin' barefooted, too." Claude squinted his eyes up
and said, "See  that  little  window up yonder in that there lookout  tower?
Watch it."
     "Got 'er kivvered." I  heard Claude's rubbers sing like a big  airplane
motor. "Like a  bat goin' home ta roost,"  I laughed when the rock clattered
inside the crow's-nest window.
     Zuuumm. Another kid from  the  weeds played  a nice little tune  in the
wind.  Then Zinnng. Sswwiiissshh. Rocks flew like  geese headed south in the
winter, lined up in good order, spaced well apart, each man sending his shot
when it come his time, and not one second before. Hot  flints in the wind as
heavy as .45  bullets. Thug trotted wide around our lines telling everybody,
"Take yer time,  boys.  Don't git excited. Shoot when yer time  comes." Just
then his head jerked back and his hand flew up  to his  forehead. He dropped
his sling shot to the ground and staggered across the hill.
     "Thug! They cracked 'im!" I could hear one kid yelling.
     "Thug, Watch out where you're goin' there!  You're gettin' too close to
th' fort!"  Ray  was Claude's little  runt of a brother, the  cussingest and
runningest kid in our  outfit. He darted  from his  hideout in the weeds and
made a bee line for Thug. "Thug! Open yore eyes! Watch out!"
     Several secret shooting doors slid open on the south side of the house,
and Thug was walking blind within twenty-five  foot of them. He  made a face
when a  rock caught him  on  the  backbone.  He stood  up and  stiffened his
muscles all  over as another  one  glanced off the  side of  his neck. Blood
splashed on his jaw and he covered his face and eyes with both hands.
     "Take my hand!" little runty  Ray was telling him. Thug ducked his head
in the palms of his hands  and shook  the blood all over his shirt.  "C'mon!
Back  this  a-way!" Ray  pulled Thug  by  the arms and  pushed him along the
ground.  Ray got  hit all over his body trying  to get  Thug back behind our
lines. "Okay!" he told Thug when they'd moved  out of  range. "Set down over
here out of th' way.  I'll  run over th' hill  an' git a bucket o' water an'
wet a rag!"
     "Thug! Need some help?" I yelled up over the weeds.
     "Yeah.  Best kinda  help you c'n  gimme is ta keep on puttin'  th'  hot
pepper inta that lookout!"
     "Gotcha, Cap!" I rolled back over in the  weeds and  laughed  at Claude
and raised up on my knees long enough to lay a nice one right in through the
middle of the window. "Bull's-eye!" I yelled at the rest of the kids.
     I  heard  a loud mouth  blurt out  from up  in  the piano-box  lookout.
"Here's yore answer!" The ground about an inch  from my nose popped open and
the damp dirt sizzed against the sides of a slick one. I heard another whine
in the air and felt my ankle crack and sting just above my shoe top. I tried
to wiggle  my  foot,  but it wouldn't work. A cutting pain felt like it  was
burning all  the way up my leg to  my  hip bone. "Mmmooohhhh!" I grunted and
rolled  through  the grass, grabbing my ankle  and  rubbing it  as hard as I
     "Gitcha ag'in'?" Claude looked over at me. "Better stay laid down, boy,
low! Leave your head stickin' up above th' weeds like that, an' them boys'll
chop you down just like you was a weed!"
     Little Ray trotted down the path  by the chicken house, and carried the
water  over to  where Thug was humped up holding his  head in  his hands. He
puffed and blowed and pulled out a rag. "Here. Good `n' wet. Hold still!"
     Thug grabbed the rag away from Ray and  told him, "I'll wipe off my own
blood. You skat back ta yer own place an' keep sailin' 'em."
     Ray  didn't argue  with the captain. He tore out across the hill toward
his  fighting partner  hid in the grass and yelled  what Thug  had told him,
"Keep  'em  sailin'! Boys! Hot rocks  hailin'!  Give  that buncha gang house
crooks a good, good frailin'!"
     A  big heavy one whirled through the  wind  humming  and knocked little
Ray's feet up  into the  air, laying him flat  on his back.  He didn't say a
word or make a sound.
     "Ray went down!" Claude punched me in the ribs. "See?"
     "Keep  down!" I held Claude  by the arms. I happened to be watching the
smoke rolling  out of  the  gang  house  stove  pipe,  "Boy,  they're really
throwin' th' wood ta that baby, ain't they?"
     "You know, a feller  could  go up there and stick a hat or a gunny sack
or something down in th' end of that stove pipe an' really smoke  them birds
outta there!"
     "Make their eyes so watery they couldn't see ta shoot straight!" I told
him. "But that lookout ... them kids up there'd drill ten holes in yer skull
while ya was stuffin' th' pipe."
     "Hey! Look!" Claude nudged  me with his  elbow. "What in th' dem livin'
hell is that?"
     "Hey, men!" I yelled back to the kids in our line. "Front door! Look!"
     That front door  was  coming open. "Okay! Men! Charge!" The gang ho'ise
captain bawled out from inside.
     A big wooden barrel with a hole sawed out  in front with a square piece
of heavy-duty screen  wire tacked over a peek hole, lumbered out through the
door. Our boys peppered more sizzlers into the open door.
     "That's good, men!" Thug was yelling at us, wiping  the  cut  places on
his face and neck. "Shoot inside th' house! Not at th'  barrel!" So thirteen
more rocks clattered in at the door.
     Inside  there was cussing, sniffing, squawling as the hot rocks bounced
against kids and kids stepped on the scorching floor,  "Lay 'em in! Keep 'em
sailin'!" Thug was trotting around back of us, wiping his face with  his wet
rag.  "Pour it on 'em! That war tank they've invented,  hell with it, we can
take care of that later! Blast away! Right on through th' door!"
     "Charge!" The gang  house captain  yelled again.  A  second double-size
barrel waddled out into the yard with  a kid walking under it. Thirteen more
cooked rocks flew  to roost through  the door, and thirteen more cuss words,
both imported and homemade, roared back at us.
     "Charge!  Tanks!" The  captain of the shack yelled  the third time, and
the third barrel tank waddled out onto the battlefield.
     Already the first tank had come to a bad end. The barefooted kid humped
under it had stepped down on a rock hot

     enough to cook hot cakes on, and had squealed like a pig  with his head
caught  in  a  slop bucket,  turned his barrel over upside down  against the
house, and run like a wild man across the hill.
     Tank number two had  shoes on.  Pretty tough. His screen-wire peek hole
was fixed so he could shoot his sling shot and a pair of  springs pulled his
screen  shield shut before we had a chance to put  a rock inside. We bounced
all kinds of rocks off of it,  but  he kept coming. He come to a  standstill
just  about  five or six feet from  where Claude and me was bellied  down. A
rock sung out from  the barrel and stung Claude on the shoulder. Another one
caught him on  the  back of  the leg. I got hit in the  back of the hand. We
jumped up and beat it back through the weeds.
     "What's a feller gonna do up aginst a dam reg'ler war tank?" Claude was
rubbing his stings and blowing through his nose.
     Tank number three  had shoes on, too. He  oozed up to the two guys next
in our line. Three or  four hot shots spit out from the  barrel. Two more of
our men jumped  up  out of the weeds and come limping  into the  alley. Tank
number two went to work on our next two men, and  they crippled away through
the weeds.
     "Run  fer  th' alley, fellers!" Thug was ordering  the  men facing  the
tanks. "No use ta git shot 'less ya c'n make it pay!'"
     The gang house roared and  cheered. The whole  little house shook  with
cries and  yelps  of victory.  Dancing jarred the whole side of the bill.  A
chant floated through the walls of the fort:

     Hooray fer th' tanks!
     Hooray fer th' tanks!
     That'll teach a lesson
     To th' boom town rats!

     "Whattaya wanta do? What's best?" Thug was holding the wet cloth to the
back of his neck to make the blood quit dripping. "Whattaya say?"
     "I say fight!"
     "Charge 'em!''
     "Okay, boys! Here she comes! Git 'em! By God, charge!'' He led the way,
running fast  and jumping through the  weeds. "Knock hell  outta them tanks,
boys, no matter if ya hafta do it with yer head!"
     "Ain't no tank hard as my head!" I  was laughing  and trying to keep up
with Thug.
     "I'll  tear that barrel  apart, stave  from stave!"  Claude was running
faster on his club foot  than any of the  rest of us. He passed  me  up, and
then went past Thug. "Clear outta my way!"
     "Circle 'em, men!"
     "Knock 'em out!"
     "Hit 'em with yer shoulder!''
     About ten or twelve feet before he  got to  the  tank, Claude took good
aim.  The last five feet he cleared in one long  kick, swatting  the side of
the barrel with the triple  sole of his crippled foot. There was a cuss from
Claude and  a  squawl from the  barrel. Then the barrel,  kid,  rocks, sling
shot, and the whole works rolled away, and we  all pointed down the hill and
laughed at the kid's feet  turning around and around in the open end of  the
rolling barrel. It busted in a hundred staves against a rock.
     We charged tank number three, and in a few seconds it  had got the same
dose as the one before.  We  joked and  laughed, "I'd hate  ta be that  tank
driver!"  "Boys,  look at his feet  fiyin'  around! Look  like  an  airplane
perpeller in th' end of that barrel a rollin'!"
     Tank number one got straighted up again. It scooted  in after us  as we
hid around  at our old places in the weeds, and a kid  in the barrel  yelled
out, "This is ou'rn now! We captur'd it! Don't shoot! Jist gimme a bucket of
them  hot rocks,  boys, an' I'll roll up an' bounce 'em in at that window so
fast they'll think it's  snowin' hot  rocks! Ha! Yo!" He  got his rocks. The
barrel moved up within five feet of the window and  settled down to a  spell
of fast, steady shooting.
     "Armored  soldiers, charge!"  We all heard the captain  holler  in  the
house. Out of the  door pushed three kids with heavy overcoats and mackinaws
on, thick gloves, and a broom  handle apiece. We spotted all of our shots on
the open door again and heard  our rocks  bouncing from wall to wall. Inside
kids  raved and foamed. The  first armored man was loaded  heavy and wrapped
pretty good, a  mackinaw coat on  backwards, and  the big  sheep-skin collar
turned  up  to  hide his face. This made him a dangerous man. He  could just
walk up and push our  tank over and frail the knob  of the driver. Our rocks
rained all  around  him, hitting  his thick coat and he laughed because they
couldn't hurt him. He took just one step toward our tank. But, right off the
bat, the  armored man had trouble.  A good  stingeree bounced  and fell down
inside the collar of the thick mackinaw and come to rest against the skin of
his neck. Other kids had buttoned him into the coat, We last seen him airing
it out  down the hill, slinging a  glove here, and one yonder, slinging cuss
words and tears at the whole human race.
     The second armored man walked  within five  foot  of us, and  our rocks
bounced  off of  his  overcoat  padded  with  a  couple  of flannel blankets
underneath. He  was out  to rush the tank, push it over, beat the driver  up
with  a broom handle, and  capture  the  whole shebang. As  long  as  he was
walking, he was mean and  dangerous. He sneaked up out of range of  the tank
and stopped.  The tank turned  toward him. He moved around. The tank  turned
toward him. He moved  a  step or two in  a circle.  It looked  like  a  bird
fighting a  rattlesnake. The kid in the barrel was sweating.  His breathing,
even ten or fifteen feet away, sounded like  a steam engine. He shot  a rock
out with enough power to  down a Jersey bull. It cracked the  armored kid on
the  shin, and he hopped down the hill rubbing and cussing, his broom handle
laying where he'd  been standing. Slew chased  out, tackled him while he was
hopping on one foot, and marched the prisoner back of our lines.
     In a jiffy or two Slew was strutting up and down, wearing the blankets,
overcoat,  a fur hunting cap on backwards with the earflaps down all the way
around, laughing and joking  with the kids in the house, and following their
third armored man around and around the  house. They went out of sight. Then
armored  unit number three backed into plain sight again  around  the corner
with both  hands up in  the  air. He was wrapped about six times around with
gunny sacking tied around his chest, neck, belly and legs with cotton  rope.
Slew ordered  the prisoner to  keep backing up. When they  got to our lines,
the knots in the rope was untied, gunny sacking  rolled off, and rolled back
onto another one of our men.
     "Hold'er down a few minnits," I told Claude next to me. "Gonna see if I
know them two kids."
     I run a wide  bend back  of our men and  come to the place where little
Ray had went down in the weeds a few minutes ago. Ronald Horton, who was the
best whittler in that whole end  of town, had stuck right  in the weeds with
Ray  even when the rest of  us had retreated  from the tanks. "How's Ray?" I
ducked down in the weeds close to Ronald. "Hurt bad?"
     "He bats his eyes a little," Ron told me. "But then he ain't plumb woke
up  yet.'' Ron  held  his hand  out  and I  looked down  and  seen  a  steel
ball-bearing the size of the end of your ringer.
     "You ain't aimin' ta  shoot that!"  I  grabbed his  wrist  and took the
     "Somebody in that shack  plugged Little Ray with it!" Ron got down more
on his belly.  "Better'd  duck low,  boy, might be more  steel  balls  where
that'n come from."
     "I'm go in' over here ta see if I know who these two strange  kids is."
I  was  walking away,  hunched down like a  monkey  dragging his arms in the
dirt.  "I'm  wonderin' where  so many strange kids is comin' from outta that
     "Bring me back that bucket  of water, if Thug's done with it. We need a
Red Cross gal aroun' here." Ron rolled to one side to dodge a rock. "I wanta
wet a rag an' put it on Little Ray's face."
     "Okay." And then I  circled through the weeds till I  got to where Slew
and his four men was strung out.
     I asked one of the prisoners, "You ain't no member of th' gang  here at
th' house, are ya?"
     "Hell, no." The kid wasn't  very scared  of us. "I ain't been livin' in
this town but three days. Folks follers th' oil field work."
     "How come ya fightin' us kids?''
     "Gimme two bits. Cap'n uv that gang house."
     "Two bits? You jest a soldier  that goes aroun' hirin' out ta fight fer
money, huh?" I looked his old dirty clothes over.
     "They  said they wuz th' oldist  gang in this town. Best  fighters." He
rested back on his hands. Wasn't afraid of nobody.
     "I'll tell ya  one thing, stranger, whoever  ya  are, th' oldist  bunch
ain't always th' best fighters!"
     "Which bunch is you guys?" he asked us.
     "Most of us is new here in town," Slew spoke up.
     "Who's them ginks in th' shack?" he kept asking.
     "Home-town  kids, biggest part," I told him. "Like me.  Born an' raised
     "How  come you fightin' on  th' new side then?" The prisoner give  me a
good looking over, with a wise tough look on his face.
     "I didn't like th' old laws. Newcomers didn't have no say-so in how th'
joint wuz  run."  I heard a couple of dozen rocks humming  around  over  the
hill. "Old bunch booted me out. So I went in with the new kids."
     "Maybe ya got somethin' there,  fellas." He stood  back up on his  feet
and stuck out his hand. "Here. Put 'er there.  Could you sorter count me  in
on yore new side?"
     "Honist? Fight?" Slew doubted him a little.
     He smiled at both of us. Then he looked back  over our shoulders at the
gang house. "I won't charge you guys no two bits."
     "Did they pay ya yer two bits already?" I asked him.
     "Nawww. They c'n keep  their l' two bits." He didn't take his eyes off
of the  gang house. He whistled the first note of a little  tune and went on
saying, "Well take th' whole works."
     I shook hands with  the prisoner and said, "I think this man'll make us
a good captain one of these days."
     "Janiter by trade." The kid shook my hand and told us.
     "I'm runnin' fer scavenger nex' lection." Slew stuck out his hand. They
shook on the deal. "Gonna clean out this place from th' bottom up."
     I reached inside my shirt and offered the kid a sling shot.
     "Nawww. That's  too sissy  fer me.  You  guys  wanta win this war in  a
     "See that l' stumpy tree up yonder?"
     "With th' few old limbs. That 'un?"
     "Well, now, boys,  if you was ta run home an' git a handsaw, an' if you
was  ta  saw off that first limb  stickin' up, an' that lower  limb stickin'
acrost, what would ya have left?"
     "It'd be a stump shaped like a V!"
     "A V with a handle on it makes what?" he went on.
     "A big sling-shot stock!"
     "Take a whole inner tube! We can git that in two minnits!"
     "Some bailin' wire aroun' th' tops!"
     "Just take yer  pockitknife an'  split  yore inner tube,  see? Rope th'
ends onto th' forks of th' stump. Blim. Blam. Blooey!"
     Slew's face lit  up like the rising sun. "Rocks this big! We can  shoot
rocks as big as yer head!" He started backing away saying, "See you birds in
about two minnits flat!"
     He struck across the hill, jumped a deep clay ditch, and was almost out
of sight before I could ask the new kid, "What's your name? Mine's Woody."
     "My name's Andy."
     "Okay,  Andy.  Yonder's our captain.  Thug. Le's go tell `im  about th'
     Thug met us, saying, "You fellers look awful  friendly fer one of ya ta
be a pris'ner."
     "Andy's on our side now," I told Thug.
     "Yeah. I changed uniforms," Andy laughed.
     "Andy jus' now told us how ta saw th' extry forks off of that there old
peach tree stump up yonder. Make a cannon."
     "Ya figgered that up, Andy?" Thug started smiling.
     ''I want th' new side ta come winner on  top!" Andy had  a  look in his
eyes like a trained bulldog itching for a fight.
     "Slew's comin' yonder with th' saw an'  inner tube! Come  on, Andy,"  I
said. "We'll fix this cannon in about forty-four flat, an' about three  good
solid licks will settle this war once and fer all!"
     "Pour it on their  l' sore backs! After we win, Andy, maybe you'll  be
capt'in in my place!" Thug went away waving his hands in the air, making all
kinds  of  motions at  our boys fighting. "Double yer fire, men! Shovel them
rocks onta that house! Pepper it on 'em! Don't give 'em a chance ta breathe!
Shoot th'  buckets at 'em if ya run shorta rocks! Wow! Wow!"  He was bending
and grunting through the weeds,  counting slow  like a  string of jail birds
chopping on a logging gang. "One! Two! Wow! Wow! Fire! Load! Aim! Fire!"
     The  dribble of rocks doubled and  got twice as loud against the house.
I'd been  inside that little old house  through a  lot of wars and a  lot of
hailstorms. I know how it sounded inside now. It was loud, and as mean, only
a hell of a lot hotter than three years of rough weather all added up.
     "Tied all right?" I asked Slew and Andy.
     "My end's hot an' ready  ta ramble!"  Slew jerked the last knot in  his
     "My fork's sizzlin'!"
     "Gonna  take two guys!" I couldn't stretch the  big inner tube  much by
myself.  I  dug  my heels into the  hill and throwed  my  weight against it,
heaving backwards, but it was too tough. "Go gitta couple of kids  outta our
lines. Put 'em ta packin' rocks."
     Claude come over bringing four or five rocks about  the size  of  brick
     "Keep 'em  hailin'!" I  was yelling back along  our string  of kids.  I
turned back to Claude  and said, "Go take a look at yer bruther  Ray, that's
him they're  pourin' water yonder in them  weeds.  Didn't  no ice-cream cone
knock  'im out, either! Hell, no! A  steely ball!" I turned away from Claude
and said to Andy, "Load 'er up!"
     "She's loaded fer war!" Andy hollered. "Let's pull 'er back!"
     Andy and me pulled  the  rock  back in the 100-gauge sling shot. It was
all we could do  to stretch it back. "One! Two! Three! Fire!" We both turned
     The new hum of  the big rock  in the air  brought a big  loud whoop and
holler from up and down our string of kids. "Loooky! Cannon! Hooray  fer th'
     Everybody watched the big rock.
     A low shot. It hit the ground about fifteen feet this side of the fort.
It  plowed a  bucketful of loose rock and dirt when it hit, and went rolling
into  the side of the  house. A board screaked and split and the gang  house
got as still as a feather floating.
     "What th' hell wuz that?" their captain yelled at us.
     "It  wasn't  no steel ball!" Claude hollered  from over  where they was
pouring water on Little Ray. "It was a cannon!"
     "Cannon?" Their captain sounded a little shaky in the throat.
     "Yes, cannon! Here she comes ag'in!" I hollered out.
     "What kinda cannon?" another kid hollered out from in the house.
     "Cannon cannon!" Andy put in.
     "No fair usin' cannons!" a kid barked from the house.
     "No fair usin' a dam fort! Ha!" one of ours laughed back.
     I waited a second or two, then asked, "Like ta give up?"
     "Hell, no!"
     "Okay, Andy! Load 'er  up ag'in! Let's pull 'er back! One! Two!  Three!
     A zoom in  the air like a covey of quails, or  like  the wind whistling
through an airplane's  wings. A  bigger board  split  into forty-nine little
shavers and three or four flew in  every direction. We could  see  the kids'
feet and legs through the hole in the  house. Hunkered on boxes, beer cases,
rolls of gunny  sacks, and old rags, fidgeting and  traipsing the floor, and
standing then as still as a deer.
     "Surrender?" our captain yelled again.
     "Hell, no!" the gang-house boss howled at us. "What's more, I'll  shoot
th' first man  in this house that surrenders! I'll shoot  you in th' back of
th' head! You hired out to  fight `til  this war  is over! I'm th' boss till
it's over! See!"
     Claude caught  all of the  kids  inside looking in the direction of the
cannon. He sneaked  up  under the eaves of the house and took off his padded
hat and jammed it into the end of the stove pipe.
     "Sneak!"  The man in the lookout tower drew aim and shot square down on
top of  Claude's head.  We seen  him  stumble  over against the side  of the
house, then slip to the ground, "That'll teach ya ta sneak!" the lookout man
laughed back at all of us.
     "Load  'er up, Andy! Pull 'er back!  One! Two! Three! Fire!" I  watched
the rock leave the sling. We had pulled it back  a little harder  this time,
and learned how to aim it better.
     The  lookout  tower  swayed in  the  middle, screeched  like pulling  a
hundred rusty nails, and boards  shattered apart, sailing in every direction
and leaving a hole  several feet around tore out of one side  of  the  piano
     "No more! Don't! God! Surren'er! Stop!" The lookout man jumped down off
of the roof and started walking  toward our men with his hands  in  the air,
snubbing and crying, jerking his head and squawling, "I'm done! I'm done!"
     He keeled over to the ground with a little groan.
     "You dam right you're done!"  The captain of  the shack was looking out
the window, putting a new rock into his sling shot. "Well!" He ducked inside
and cussed at all of his kids,  "Whattaya  standin' there gawkin' at me for?
You cowardly dam snakes! I got lots more rocks where that'n come from!"
     "You kids inside! Surren'er?" I asked them again.
     No  sound. Only the captain sniffing and crying and breathing hard. The
smoke was filling  the  whole  house full of  red-eyed, snorting and hissing
kids. Claude's old hat was  still in the stove pipe.  Two kids  took him out
into the  weeds where they  had just woke his brother  up  with a  bucket of
water.  Ray blinked  when he seen them  carry Claude in. "Had  his  hat off.
Nicked 'im in th' toppa th' head," they told him.
     "Load 'er up!"
     Little Ray looked over our way and asked the boys, "Load what up?"
     ''Hahhh! Funny's hell! I wuz jis' dreamin' somp'in' 'bout a cannon!"
     "Run gitta bucket a water fresh fer Claude's head."
     "That ain't no dream, though!" Little Ray's eyes smiled  as  he trotted
up the hill past the cannon. "Knock  'em plumb offa  th' hill! I'll be right
back with Claude's water!"
     "Andy! Got 'er loaded?''
     "She's jam up!"
     Smoke rolled out of  the house. Sneezing. Coughing. Snorting  of noses.
Mad, fist-slinging  kids. The house  was darker  than night inside.  Cusses.
Insults.  Bad names. Poking. Everybody  cutting back at  everybody else. The
captain stood on a chair inside and kept his sling shot drawed  on the whole
     "Pull 'er back! Andy, boy!"
     "She's back, bruther cap'n!"
     "One! Two! Three!"
     Then I said, "Wait! Listen!"
     The house roared and pitched. Howls and cries of all kinds flew through
the  windows  and cannon  holes. The grumbling, scraping  of lots  of  feet,
grunting  and  straining, heads and  tail  ends whamming  against  the board
walls.  House  quivering.  Fists  and  feet  thumping  against kids'  heads.
Dragging sounds and the breaking of sticks, old  boards, clubs, and clothing
zipped and ripped open. A loud wrestling and clattering at the door. A heavy
board cracked. All got quiet and still. The door came open.
     "Don't shoot us!"  The first kid stepped out with his hands in the air,
waving a bloody hunk of white cloth.
     "We surren'er!"
     "I didn' wanta fight you guys in th' first place.''
     "Whatcha gon'ta do ta us?"
     The kids walked  out,  one by one.  Then every gang-house  fighter  was
searched. They  wiped their faces and pinched their toes where the hot rocks
had blistered  them. One by one, our  captain sent them  over to set down on
the ground.
     "What'll we do now, Thug? I  don't mean about th' men. I mean about th'
house here," I was saying at his shoulder.
     "House? We'll fix it back better'n th' dam thing ever was. We'll have a
votin' match to see who's captain."
     Thug looked around at  everybody.  He thought a minute and  then  said,
"Well,  men. Alla my men.  Stand around.  What're we gonna  do ta these here
     "Take over!"
     "No use ta hurt 'em!"
     "Give 'em all a job!"
     "Let ever'body have a vote. Say-so."
     Thug laughed at the ground covered with rocks still cooling.
     "Naw. We ain't gonna beat nobody up." He kept talking along the ground.
"You men wanta be in  on th' new gang? If ya don't, why, git up, an' beat it
ta hell offa this hill, an' stay off."
     The captain of the gang house got up, rubbing  dirty tears back  across
his face and walked up over the rim of the hill.
     "Anybody else wanta leave?" Thug  took a  seat on the ground and leaned
back up against  the side of the house, putting his  sling shot  in his  hip
pocket. Every  little ear and every little dirty eye and every little  skint
face  was  soaking  in what Thug was saying. "Well, ain't much use ta make a
big speech. Both gangs is one now. That was what we was fightin' for."
     He grinned up into space and wind blew  dirt across the blood drying on
his face when he said, "Cain't no gang whip us now."
     Chapter VII

     One  day  about  three  in the  afternoon  when I  was  playing  out on
Grandma's farm, I  heard  a long,  lonesome whistle blow.  It was  the  fire
whistle. I'd  heard it before. It always made me feel funny, wondering where
fire had struck this  time,  whose new  house it was turning  into ashes. In
about an hour a  car  pulled  in off the main road in a big fog of dust, and
rolled on up to the house.  It was my  brother, Roy,  looking for me. He was
with another man or two. They said it was our house.
     But first they said, "... it's Clara."
     "She's burnt awful bad ... might not live ...  doctor come ... said for
everybody to get ready...."
     They throwed me into the car like a  shepherd dog, and I  stood  up all
the way home,  stretching  my  neck in that direction. I wanted to see if  I
could see any  sign of the fire away down  the road  and up on the hills. We
got home and I saw a  big crowd around the house. We went in. Everybody  was
crying and sobbing. The house smelled full of smoke. It had  caught fire and
the fire wagon had come. It was wet here and there, but not much.
     Clara had caught fire. She had been ironing that day on an old kerosene
stove, and it had  blowed  up. She'd filled  it  with coal  oil and  cleaned
it--it was on her apron. Then it got to smoking, wouldn't bum, so she opened
the wick  to look in, and  when the air hit  the chamber full  of thick oily
smoke, it caught fire, blowed up all over her. She flamed up to the ceiling,
and run through the house screaming, out into the  yard and around the house
twice, before she thought to roll in the tall green grass at the side of the
house  and smother  her clothing out. A boy from the next house  saw her and
chased her down. He helped to smother the flying blaze. He carried  her into
the house and  laid her on her bed. She  was laying there when I  walked  in
through the big crowd of crying friends and kinfolks.
     Papa  was  setting in the front room  with his  head in  his hands, not
saying very much, just once in a while,  "Poor little  Clara," and his  face
was wet and red from crying.
     The men and women standing around would tell good things about her.
     "She cleaned my house better than I could have...."
     "Smart in her books, too."
     ''She made my little boy a shirt.''
     "She caught the measles by going to bed with my daughter."
     Her school teacher  was there. Clara had stayed out of school to do the
ironing. Mama and her had quarreled a little about it. Mama felt sick. Clara
wanted to get ready for her exams. The school teacher tried to cheer Mama up
by telling her how Clara led the class.
     I  went  in and looked  over where Clara was on  the bed.  She  was the
happiest  one in the bunch. She called me over  to  her bed and said, "Hello
there, old Mister Woodly." She always called me that when she wanted to make
me smile.
     I said, "Hello."
     "Everybody's  cryin',  Woodly.  Papa's  in there  with  his  head  down
     "Uhh huhh."
     "Mama's in the dining room, crying her eyes out''
     "I know."
     "Old Roy even cried, and he's just a big old tough boy.''
     ''I seen `im."
     "Woodly,  don't you cry. Promise me  that you  won't ever cry. It don't
help, it just makes everybody feel bad, Woodly. . . ."
     "I ain't a-cryin'."
     "Don't  do it--don't do it. I'm  not bad off, Woodly;  I'm gonna  be up
playing some more in  a day  or two; just  burnt a  little; shucks, lots  of
folks get  hurt  a little, and they  don't like  for everybody to  go around
crying about it. I'll feel good, Woodly, if  you just promise that you won't
     "I ain't a-cryin', Sis." And I wasn't. And I didn't.
     I set there  on the side of her bed for a  minute or two looking at her
burnt, charred skin hanging in twisted, red, blistered hunks around over her
body, and her face wrinkled and charred, and I  felt something  go away from
me. But I'd told Sis I wouldn't bawl about it, so I patted  her on the hand,
and smiled at her, and got up and said, "You'll be all right, Sis; don't pay
no 'tention to 'em. They don't know. You'll be all right."
     I got up and  walked out real easy, and went out on the porch. Papa got
up and walked out behind me. He followed me over to a big rocking chair that
was out there, and he set down and  called me over  to him. He took me up in
his lap and told me over and  over how good all of us kids was, and how mean
he  had treated  us, and that he was going  to  be  good to all of  us. This
wasn't true. He had always been good to his kids.
     I was out  in the  yard a few minutes later and cut  my hand pretty bad
with an old rusty knife. It bled a lot. Scared me a little. Papa grabbed  me
and doctored me all up. He poured it full of iodine. That burnt. I squinched
my face  around. Wished  he  hadn't put  it on there.  But  I'd told Clara I
wouldn't ever cry no more. She  laughed  when  the  school teacher told  her
about it.
     I walked back into the bedroom after a while with my  hand all  done up
in  a big white rag, and we talked  a little more. Then Clara turned over to
her  school teacher  and sort of  smiled,  and said, "I missed class  today,
didn't I, Mrs. Johnston?"
     The teacher tried to smile and said, "Yes, but you still get the  prize
for being the most regular pupil. Never late, never tardy and never absent."
     "But I know my lesson awful good," Clara said.
     "You always know your lessons," Mrs. Johnston answered.
     "Do you--think--I'll--pass?"  And Clara's eyes shut like  she was  half
asleep, dreaming about everything good. She breathed two or three long, deep
breaths  of  air, and I saw  her  whole body get limber and her head fall  a
little to one side on her pillow.
     The school  teacher touched  the tips  of her  fingers to Clara's eyes,
held them closed for a minute, and said, "Yes, you'll pass."

     For  a  while it  looked like  trouble had  made us closer friends with
everybody,  had drawn our whole family together and made  us know each other
better. But before  long  it was  plainer than ever that  it  had  been  the
breaking point for my mother. She got worse, and lost control of the muscles
in  her  body;  and two or three times  a day she would have  bad spells  of
epileptics, first  getting  angry at things  in  the house, then arguing  at
every stick  of furniture in  every room  until she would be talking so loud
that all of the neighbors  heard and wondered about it. I noticed that every
day  she  would  spend a minute or  two  staring at a  lump of melted  glass
crystals, a  door stop about as  big as  your two  fists,  and  she told me,
"Before  our  new six-room  house burned  down,  this  was  a  twenty-dollar
cut-glass casserole. It was a present, and it was as pretty as I used to be.
But now  look  how it looks,  all crazy, all out of shape. It don't  reflect
pretty colors any  more like it used  to--it's all twisted,  like everything
pretty  gets twisted, like  my whole life is twisted. God, I want to  die! I
want to die! Now! Now! Now! Now!"
     And she broke furniture and dishes to pieces.
     She had  always been one  of the  prettiest  women in  our part of  the
country: long  black wavy  hair  that she combed  and  brushed  for  several
minutes twice or three times a day medium weight, round and healthy face and
big dark eyes, She rode  a one-hundred-dollar sidesaddle  on a fast-stepping
black  horse; and Papa would ride  along  beside  her on a light-foot pacing
white  mare. People said, "In them days ur pa  and ma made a mighty pretty
picture," but there was a look  in people's eyes like they was just  talking
about a pretty movie that come through town.
     Mama had things on her mind. Troubles. She thought about them too much,
or  didn't  fight  back. Maybe she  didn't  know.  Maybe  she had  faith  in
something that you can't  see,  something that would  cause  it  all to come
back, the house, the lands, the good furniture, the part-time maid,  and the
car to drive  around  the country. She concentrated on her  worries until it
got the best of her. The doctor said it would. He said for her to get up and
run away,  for us  to  take  her  to  a place, a land somewhere  where there
wouldn't be any worries. She got to where she would shriek at the top of her
voice and talk for hours on end about things that had went wrong. She didn't
know where  to put  the  blame.  She turned on Papa.  She thought he  was to
     The  whole town knew about her. She got careless with  her  appearance.
She  let herself  run down.  She walked  around  over  the town, looking and
thinking and  crying.  The doctor called it insanity and  let it go at that.
She lost control  of the muscles of  her face. Us kids would stand around in
the  house  lost  in  silence,  not saying a  word for  hours, and  ashamed"
somehow, to go  out down the street and play with  the kids, and wanting  to
stay there and see how long her spell would  last, and if we could help her.
She couldn't control her arms,  nor her legs,  nor the muscles in  her body,
and  she would  go into spasms  and  fall  on the floor, and  wallow  around
through the house, and ruin her clothes, and yell till  people blocks up the
street could hear her.
     She would be  all  right for a while and treat  us kids  as good as any
mother,  and   all   at  once  it  would   start   in--something   bad   and
awful--something would start coming  over her, and it come  by slow degrees.
Her face would  twitch and her lips would snarl and  her  teeth  would show.
Spit would run out of her  mouth and  she would start out in a low grumbling
voice and gradually get to talking as loud as her throat could stand it; and
her arms would draw up at her sides, then  behind her back, and swing in all
kinds of curves. Her stomach would draw up into a hard ball,  and  she would
double over into a terrible-looking hunch--and turn into another  person, it
looked like, standing right there before Roy and me.

     I  used  to  go  to  sleep at night and have dreams;  it  seemed like I
dreamed the whole thing out. I  dreamed that my mama was  just  like anybody
else's. I saw her talking, smiling, and working just like other kids' mamas.
But when I  woke up it would  still  be all wrong, all twisted out of shape,
helter-skelter, let go, the house not kept,  the cooking skipped, the dishes
not washed. Oh, Roy and me  tried, I guess. We  would take spells of working
the house over, but  I was only  about  nine years old,  Roy about  fifteen.
Other things, things that kids of that age do, games they play, places  they
go, swimming holes, playing, running, laughing--we drifted into those things
just to try to forget  for a minute that a cyclone had hit our home, and how
it was ripping and tearing away our family, and scattering it in the wind.
     I hate a hundred times more to describe my own mother in any such words
as these. You  hate  to read about  a mother described in any  such words as
these. I know,  I understand you. I  hope you can understand me, for it must
be broke down and said.
     We had  to move out of  the  house.  Papa didn't  have no money, so  he
couldn't pay the rent. He went  down fighting, but he went right on down. He
was a  lost man in a lost world. Lost everything. Lost every cent.  Owed ten
times more than he could ever pay. Never could  get caught up again, and get
strung out down the road to success. He didn't  know that. He still believed
that he  could start  out on a peanut  hull and fight his  way back into the
ten-thousand-dollar oil deals, the farms, and ranchlands, the royalties, and
the leases, changing hands every  day. I'll cut it  short by saying  that he
fought  back, but he didn't make the grade. He was down  and out. No good to
them. The big boys. They wouldn't back him. He went down and he stayed down.
     We didn't want to send Mama  away. It would be better some other place.
We'd go off and start all over. So in 1923 we  packed  up  and moved away to
Oklahoma  City.  We  moved  in an old  Model truck. Didn't  take much stuff
along. Just wanted to get away somewhere--where we didn't know anybody,  and
see if that wouldn't make her better. She was better when we  got home. When
we moved into  an  old house out there  on Twenty-eighth  Street,  she  felt
better. She cooked. It  tasted good. She  talked. It  sure sounded good. She
would go for days and days and not have  one of her spells. That looked like
the front  door of  heaven to all of us.  We didn't  care about our selfs so
much--it  was her that we wanted to see get better.  She swept the old house
and put out  washings, and she even stuck a few little flower  seeds down in
the ground and she watched them grow. She tied twine string up to the window
screens, and the sweet peas come up and looked at her in through the window.
     Papa  got some fire extinguishers and  tried to sell them around at the
big buildings. But people  thought they had  enough stuff to keep them  from
burning down, so he didn't sell many. They was one  of the best 'kind on the
market.  He  had to pay for the ones that he used as  samples. He sold about
one a month and made about six dollars off of every sale. He walked his self
to  a frazzle.  We  didn't have  but one or two sticks of  furniture in  the
house.  An old monkey heater with  room  for two  small pots, one beans, one
coffee;  and we fried corn-meal mush and lived mostly on that when we  could
get it. Papa gave up the fire-putter-outters because he wasn't a good enough
salesman, didn't look so pretty and nice. Clothes wore  out. Shoes run down.
He put new soles on them two or three  times, but  he walked them right  off
     I guess he was thinking about Clara, and our  first  house  that burned
up, and all,  when he would lug those fire extinguishers around over the big
hot city. And the big cold town.
     Papa visited a grocery store and got some  food stuffs on credit.  They
gave him a job working  in  the store, helping out around,  and driving  the
delivery wagon. He got a dollar a day. I  carried  milk to the  store  for a
lady that had a cow. She gave me a dollar a week.
     But Papa's  hands  was  all  busted and broken from  the years  of fist
fighting. Now somehow or  other the muscles in his fingers and hands started
drawing  together. They got tighter every day and pulled his fingers down so
that he  couldn't  open his hands.  He had  to  go to a doctor and have  the
little finger on  his left hand  cut off, because the muscles drawed it down
so hard against the palm of his hand that the fingernail cut a big hole into
his flesh. The rest of the fingers tightened worse than ever. They  hurt him
every  hour of the day, but  he went on  working,  carrying  the  trays  and
baskets and  boxes  and sacks of big groceries for the people that had money
to buy  at the  store. He used  to come in for his meals and fall across his
bed fagged  out, and  I'd see  him working  his hands  together, and  nearly
crying with the  pain. I  would go over and rub  them for him.  My hands was
young, and I could work with the  hard,  crackling muscles that had lost all
of their limberness, and were losing all of their use. Big  knots  on  every
joint. Hard like gristle.  His palms were long, stringy sinews, standing way
up out of the  skin, pulled as tight  as they could  be. His fist fights had
done most of it. His bones broke easy. When he hit he hit hard. It shattered
his fingers. And  now it was the grocery-store work--it  looked like that he
got  the  worst job that he could  get for hands  like that. But he couldn't
think much about his hands. He was a-thinking about Mama and us kids. He was
going  to have them cut again, the muscles cut  into, cut loose, so  that he
could relax them, so that they wouldn't pull down any more. You could see by
looking at them that they hurt awful bad.
     At night  he'd  lie  awake and call over to me, "Rub  them, Woody.  Rub
them. I can't go to sleep unless you rub them."
     I'd hold both of his hands under the covers and rub  them, and feel the
gristle  on  his  knuckles, swelled  up four  times  natural size,  and  the
cemented muscles under each finger, drawing his fists together so tight that
they  would never come open again.  I forgot how to cry. I wanted to cry and
do a lot of it, but I wanted him to talk on and on.
     So I'd keep quiet and  he'd say,  "What do you want to do when you grow
up to be a big man?"
     "Just like you, a good, good fighter."
     "Not bad and mean and wrong like  me--not  a wrong fighter. I've always
lost out--won the little street fights but always lost the big fights."
     I'd rub his hands some more, and say, "You done good, Papa. You decided
what was good and you fought every day for it."
     We'd  been in  Oklahoma City  almost a year when Leonard,  Mama's  half
brother, turned  up.  He was a big,  tall, straight,  good-looking man,  and
always giving me  nickels. He'd been in the army now, and he was  an expert,
among other things, at riding a motorcycle. So he'd got a good break and was
given  the State  Agency for a Motorcycle Company which made the new, black,
four-cylinder Ace.
     He rode into our front yard one day on  one of those black motorcycles,
with a flashy side-car, all trimmed in nickel-plated steel, shining like the
state capitol, and he had good news.
     "Well,  Charlie, I been a-hearing about your hard luck, you  and  Nora,
and  I'm gonna give you a fine job.  You've  always been  a good office man,
good hand to write letters, handle books, and take care of your business--so
you're appointed the head of all of that for the Ace Motorcycle Co.,  in the
State of Oklahoma. You'll make around two hundred dollars a month.''
     The world  got twice  as big and four  times  brighter. Flowers changed
colors, got  taller, more of them. The sun talked and the moon  sung  tenor.
Mountains rubbed bellies, and rivers tore loose to have picnics, and the big
redwood trees held  dances every night. Leonard handed me nickels. Candy was
good. I'd  play with  an orange till it got all soft and juicy, and then I'd
kiss it  when I  was eating it. Roy smiled and told quiet jokes. Kids ganged
in. I was  a man of standing again. They quit jumping on me for two reasons:
I'd beat the hound out of one of them, and the others wanted to ride on that
     The big day come. Papa and Leonard got on the motorcycle and roared out
down the road to go to work. A big crowd of people  stood in the street  and
watched them. It was a pretty sight.
     The next day was Sunday. We didn't have no  furniture to speak of,  but
had been eating  a  little  better. I don't know how far you'd have to go to
find a family that was any gladder than ours that morning. We cooked and ate
a  nice round  meal for lunch, and  Papa went  out and  bought the  ten-cent
Sunday  paper.  He came back  with a new package of cigarettes, smoking one,
and when he went into the bedroom, he laid down and covered his self up, and
dug into the comics part of the paper, and laughed once in a while. First he
read the funnies. He read the news last.
     All at once he swept all of the papers away.  He jumped  up and  looked
around sort of wild like. He had turned into the news section, page two, and
something had knocked him blank like  a picture show with no pictures on it.
His face was just white and vacant.  He got up. He walked through the house.
He  didn't know what  to do or say. Read it to us? Keep it quiet? Forget it?
Burn the paper up and throw away the ashes? Kill it? Tear the building down!
Tear the whole  world down!  Make  it over, and  make it  right! He couldn't
     Roy looked at the paper and he couldn't  talk for  a  minute, and  then
Papa said, "Get your mama, get your mama!"
     "Mama, come here  for a minute. . .  ." Roy got her to come  in and set
down   beside  Papa   on  the   old  springy  bed,  and  Roy  read  sort  of
soft--something like this:


     Chicasha,  Oklahoma:--Leonard  Tanner,  Ace  Motorcyclist,  was  killed
instantly  in an accident that  wrecked  a  car and a motorcycle at a street
intersection yesterday afternoon. Tanner seemed  to be  driving about  forty
miles per hour, thus breaking the speed limit, when he crashed into the side
of a 1922 model Ford sedan,  fracturing his skull. Mr. Tanner was going into
business for  himself for the first time  when disaster overtook  him at the
crossroads in his life.

     I  walked  out in the  front yard and stood in the weeds in a daze, and
then all at  once  about  twenty kids chased  across . the street, skipping,
waving at each other, and they walked up to me and quieted down.
     "Hey. Where's the motersickle ride ya said we're gonna git?" The leader
of the kids was  biting on a bitter stick and  looking around  for  the  big
black machine.
     I chewed down  on  my tongue.  I  heard others say, "We come  ta ride!"
"Where's th' 'cycle?" "C'mon!"
     I run out through the high grass in our  back yard,  and  when I got to
the alley they followed me.
     "He ain't even got no  uncle what owns no motorsickle!" "Liar!"  "Lyin'
     I picked up  a  pocketful  of good rocks and sailed them into the whole
     "Git outta my  yard!  Say  gone! Who's a  liar? I hadda  uncle  with  a
motorcycle! I did! But--but--"


     I was standing up in  the truck with  my  feet on our  old sofa, waving
both hands in  the  air, when  we  hit the city  limits of Okemah. Leonard's
death had tore down  most of the good things growing up  in Mama's mind, and
we were coming home.  I looked a  mile away to  the  north and saw  the  old
slaughter pen where wild dogs had chased me across the oat stubble. I looked
to the south and seen the vacant lots I'd fought in a million times. My eyes
knew everything at a glance.
     When the old truck crawled past Ninth Street, Roy stuck his head out on
his side of the cab and yelled, "See anything you know, Woodsaw?"
     "Yeah!" I guess I sounded pretty washed out.  "House where Clara burned
     I  spotted a  couple  of kids jumping across a  plowed hill, "Hi! Matt!
Nick! Hi! I'm back! See? All of us!"
     "Hi! Come play with us!" "Where ya livin'?" They waved back at me.
     "Old Jim Cain house! East end!"
     They ducked their heads and didn't  ask  me to come and  play with them
any more.
     The model-T truck  almost  had a  runaway  coming down  a  steep  hill,
frogged across the railroad tracks, and bounced me down  on the bed-springs.
The  truck was  passing  the whole town by,  it seemed like  to  me. It  was
passing  the nice streets  and the shady streets where  the  kids with  good
clothes on  fought  wars in  the  weeds and raced  bareback  on  high-priced
horses. It was headed now for the east end, where every house  is  a pile of
junk.  Rotten boards soak up good  paint and just  stay rotten. Rotten  dogs
with dishwater  and  grease in their hair drift across the  old sandy roads.
Kids with  sores on  their heads and snuff rotting their  teeth  out yip and
yell and hide under mouldy floors of old crazy houses. Horses  try to switch
their tails hard enough to beat off  the big blue flies that had got  harder
lickings than that when they weren't  but little maggots. Dust flew up  from
under the truck wheels. Hot winds burned the patches of stinging  weeds. But
it felt good to  me. It was where I come from. Okemah.  To me the garbage in
the alleys of my home town was better than being in a big town like Oklahoma
City- where my papa couldn't get a job. If he couldn't he wasn't much use to
nobody, and if he  wasn't much use to  nobody, we would all unload  the  old
truck  and move into  the old Jim Cain house, and  try  to be of some use to
each other.
     "Okay!  Work hand!" Roy backed the truck off  the  main  highway and  I
piled down from the load.
     "So this is it?" Mama got out of the truck and walked through the gate.
     The Jim Cain house. Twenty-five  years ago somebody had  built  it. Two
rooms with  a little lean-to kitchen, and a front porch. Maybe it had housed
somebody, lots of people, before we  come, but  it never had got  a coat  of
paint. The rain rotted the shingles and the ground rotted the bottom boards,
and the  middle had just warped and  twisted itself into fits trying to hold
together.  Decaying boards  of all kinds had been  nailed over knotholes and
cracks;  tin  buckets flattened  out  and  nailed  up to  fight  against the
weather. And the whole yard was  running  wild with weeds  and wild flowers,
brittle and sticky and covered with a fine sifting dust that lifted and fell
from the highway.
     "This  is  she."  Roy got out and looked over the  fence.  "Home  sweet
     "Gosh! Looky at them purty flowers!" I told them.  "Look how thick they
are.  Like somebody had got  out here and threw big handsful of flower seeds
an' then jist let 'em grow wild!"
     "Mostly  hollyhocks,  few  zinnias," Mama  said.  "Just  look  at  that
honeysuckle climbing up the side of the house there."
     Roy walked up onto  the porch  and stomped  the boards  with his  feet.
"Whole piles of dust. I never saw that much dust before."
     "We can clean it out. I'm anxious to see the  kitchen and the insides."
Mama walked in the door.
     Bedroom  full  of spider  webs  and rotten papers.  Front room full  of
spider webs and scattered  old tubs full of trash. Somehow or other I looked
around  and  thought,  maybe our old  furniture would just about match  this
place. This is  the kitchen, with the roof almost hitting me on the head and
big  holes with rat  manure  around  them  rotted  through  the floor.  Dirt
everywhere, a half an inch deep. It was a long, long ways across that floor.
     "I smell something dead under this old soggy floor," Roy said. "I guess
it's a dead cat."
     "This  l' house is all haunted with dead cats," I yowled out. "I don't
like this l' dead-cat house!"
     "Maybe all of the old  sore-eyed cats come to this house to die."  Mama
laughed and took a look out the north kitchen window at the Graveyard Hill.
     "All  of  th' glass is busted. This  room. This room. This room." I was
walking around with my hands stretched out dragging my fingers on th' walls.
"Wallpaper all busted aloose. Dirt driftin' in through th' holes bigga 'nuff
fer a dog ta trot through. What makes us hafta live in this ol' bad dead-cat
house, Mama?"
     "We'll get something better before long. I just know. I just know."
     I carried  the first load  from the truck into the bedroom. "First load
in our purrrty  new  house! Hollyhocks! Sunny-hockle  vines! Buzzlin'  bees!
Picket fence!  New  wallpapers! We'll  git  some whitewarsh,  white,  white,
white,  whitewarsh." I skipped all  around the  house. "Then we'll git  some
newer  boards an' nail  'em up where th' ol' ones,  one ones, ol'
ones, ol' ones is!"
     I felt the dust on the flower leaves when I walked and skipped back out
to the truck.
     "Give you fifty cents to help unload this thing," Roy was telling a big
fat man walking  along with his  underwear  dropped down around his belt and
his chest and shoulders bare to the sun. "That all right with you?"
     "Fine. Fine with me. How long you been away, say?"
     "Year exactly." Roy was swinging up onto  the truck  and dropping a set
of bedsprings over the sides.
     I  had another  armload  of loose  clothes and  pots  and  pans,  "July
Fourteenth is my birthday! I'm twelve! But this of  house is  seven  hunderd
an' twelve! We  left Okemah on my birthday, an' come  back on it! Today! I'm
gonna plant  me a big, big garden  out in th' backyard! Sell cucumbers,  an'
green beans, an' watermelons, an' shellin' peas!''
     "That's my little hard-headed brother," Roy said to the man.
     "So you're our little  farmer neighbor, huh?" the man  asked  me. "Say,
where you goin' to sell all of this stuff that you grow?"
     "Up in town. Lots of people.''
     "That's just what's got me worried." He scratched his head. "Just where
you aim to find all of these people."
     "Oil   field   folks.   Gotta  eat,  ain't  they,  at  grocery  stores,
     "What few's left."
     "Whattaya mean, few?"
     "Have you been up on the main street today?"
     "Jist got  back from Oklahoma City. Ain't been on Main Street of Okemah
fer a whole year!"
     "You're in for a mighty big surprise."
     "I c'n grow stuff."
     "You're  still in  for  a big surprise. Oil field's went dead'er than a
     "I c'n work jist as much's you 'er  anybody else. I know th' store men.
I know th' eatin'-joint guys. They'll buy what I take 'em."
     "To feed who, did you say?"
     "Shucks,  they's  ten  jillion  folks  runnin' aroun'  needs  feed-in'!
Streets is full of 'em. You think I don't know all of 'em? You're crazy!"
     "Not so smart there, young feller," Roy cut in, "not so smart aleck."
     "You hush up!"
     "You can  grow  a  garden,  all right, little feller;  you're as good a
worker as me or your brother here, either one, any day; but when you get all
of this stuff raised and everything-- oh well, why should I tell you? You'll
go up  in town. You'll see something that will make your eyes bug out. She'd
one dead town.  People has ducked out just like birds in the bushes.  Nobody
knows where they went. Okemah's all but a ghost town."
     "It  ain't! It  ain't!"  I run past him on the porch. "You're tellin' a
     I  darted  out  the gate and headed south past piles  of rotten  boards
called other  people's houses. Mean dogs thought I was running from them and
wheeled  out behind my heels. "Ain't  dead! Ain't dead! Okemah  ain't  dead!
Okemah is where I was borned at! Cain't no town die! Old Luke yonder beatin'
that same little  mule. I  see Dad Nixon's mare had a new colt. Here she is.
Good ol' Main Street.  Full  of  people, pushing and trying to get past each
other.  They didn't get all of the oil out the ground. They didn't build all
of this country up. They ain't done all of the work yet. They ain't run off.
They're still right here working like the devil. Who said stop? Who said go?
Who said let Okemah die?"
     Main Street! I rounded the corner of the depot and skidded across a few
cinders and my feet hit  the sidewalk  with me trying to come to a stop so I
can look.
     Main Street. Main Street? What's so  quiet?  Lonesome. I  felt  a  cold
bunch of  goose  pimples bumping up  on my skin.  First  block nothing.  All
nailed  up. I  stood there looking  at  wild  papers drift  up and  down the
sidewalks and pavement like nobody tried to stop them. Snatches of grass and
dirt along the concrete. A few old cars asleep, and some wired-up wagons and
teams drooped along. I didn't budge from  my tracks. I didn't  much  want to
walk  on  up Main Street, How  come them to all get up and go? It wasn't any
noisier on Main Street than up on top of the Graveyard Hill. All  at once  a
tough-looking boy with a blue-gray shirt and pants to match, a soggy chew of
tobacco punching his jaw out, somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen, with
dirty bare feet, walked out from across by the cotton yards and said,  "Hey,
Kid! Stranger here in town?''
     "Me? I was borned here. I'm Woody Guthrie."
     "I'm  Coggy Sanderson. New kid comes  ta  town, I meet 'im.  Give 'im a
good welcome."
     Five  or  six kids knocked  up the dust  running  from  in  between the
strings of cotton bales by the gin. "Cog's caught a  new 'um!" "Le's see th'
fun!" "Welcome!"
     I looked around  at all of them and said, "Don't none of  you guys know
     They just stood there watching Coggy and me. Nobody said a word.
     Coggy stuck his foot behind my heels and pushed me down into  the dirt.
I hit on my back and knocked some hide off, Then I jumped  up and made a run
at Coggy. He stepped to one side and took a long straight jab with his right
hand and knocked my head back on my shoulders. I hit the ground again almost
in the  same  spot.  I got  up  and  his fists met  me  halfway again, and I
staggered about ten feet  batting my eyes. He cracked one up along my temple
that made my  head ring  like a church  bell. Another left crossed over  and
knocked me almost down and  he cut through with a right haymaker that batted
me back  up on my feet again. I ducked my  head  forward to try  to cover up
with my arms and he nailed a couple  of uppercuts  that whistled like trains
right on my mouth and chin and busted my lips against my own teeth, I turned
around and wiped the blood off with my hands and ducked my head with my back
to  him. He  booted me in  the  rear and knocked me  a yard or two, and then
grabbed my shirt out of my pants and jerked  the tail up over my head. I was
smearing blood and sweat  all over my face trying  to keep out of his reach.
Then he put his foot  up  on  my hip and pushed me about fifteen feet  and I
plowed up the deep dirt with my face.
     "Now. Yer  an  old-timer here." Cog  turned around  and dusted off  his
hands  while  the other  kids laughed and danced up  and  down in  the dust.
"Welcome ta Okemah."
     I pulled  my shirt back down and stumbled on up the main street holding
my head over  and spotting  the old sidewalk with big red drops of blood.  I
blinked my eyes and stopped over one of  the squares  in the  sidewalk. W.G.
1921. And  it was  funny to see the blood  drip from my face and blot out my
own initials in the cement.
     I humped along. Drug along. Maybe that old  man was  right. I looked in
at the lobby of the Broadway Hotel. Nobody. I looked through the plate glass
of Bill  Bailey's pool  hall.  Just  a long row of brass spittoons  there by
their self in the dark. I looked in at the Yellow Dog bootleg joint. Shelves
shot  all to  pieces. I looked in the  window of a grocery store  at a clerk
with  glasses  on playing  a fast game  of solitaire. Weeds and grass in the
door of this  garage?  Always was a  big bunch of  men hanging around there.
Nobody running  in and out of the Monkey  Oil Drug Store. They even took the
monkey  and  the  cage  from out in front.  Benches,  benches,  benches. All
whittled  and cut to  pieces.  Men must not have much  to  do but just  hump
around and  whittle on  benches. Nobody even sweeps up  the shavings. Chewed
matches  piled  along the curb.  Quids of tobacco. No cars or  wagons to run
over you.  Four  dogs  trotting  along  with  their  tongues  dripping spit,
following a  little bitch that draws her back up in a knot like she's scared
to death and glad of it.
     I walked  down  the other  side of the street. It  was  the same thing.
Grass in  the dirt crack along  the cement. I stood there  at the top of the
hill in front of the court  house and it looked like there never had been an
Indian lose his  million dollars  in  there.  A pair of sleepy-looking mules
pulled a wagon up through  town. No  kids.  No hell-raising.  No running and
stumbling. No pushing and  yelling. No town growing up.  No  houses  banging
with hammers all around. No guys knocked you down  running late to  work. No
ham and  stew smoke  sifting  through the  screens of the cafes; and no wild
herds of  men cussing  and laughing, piling  up  onto big oil  field trucks,
waving their dinner boxes back at their women. No fiddle music and  yodeling
floating out of the pool halls and gambling dens. No gals hustling along the
streets in their short skirts and red paint. No  dogs fighting in the middle
of  the streets. No crowds ganged around a pair  of little boys banging each
other's heads to pieces.
     I could look in the dark plate-glass window there and see myself. Hello
there, me. What  the hell are you  walking along so  slow for?  Who are you?
Woody Who?  Huh. You've  walked  along looking  at yourself in these windows
when they  was  all lit up with bright lights and hung full of pretty things
for pretty women, tough stuff for tough men,  fighting clothes for  fighting
people.  And  now  look.  Look,  you  lonesome  outfit. Don't you seem  lost
flogging  along there  in that glass window? You thought Okemah never  would
quit getting better? Hah.
     I  felt almost as empty and vacant and drifting as the town.  I  wasn't
thinking  straight. I didn't want to go back down there and help unload that
old truck and that  old furniture  into that  old house. l' dead-cat house.
l' long-gone Main Street. Who's gonna buy what I  grow? I don't  wanta burn
nobody for my nickels.  I wanta  grow  me a garden. But, gosh, who'd eat it?
Few people driftin' across th' streets now an' then, but most  of  them look
like  they ain't  eatin' very much. He's right. That l' fat man was  right.
Okemah's gone an' died.
     The chickens  argued with the turkeys and  ducks all along the sides of
the road when I walked back down through the old east end toward home. I saw
a light in our house  that looked about like the whole world was  going down
with the  sun. It would  be the same old thing when I  got  home. Mama would
feel worse  to know the town was dead,  and Roy would feel bad, too. Maybe I
wouldn't  tell them how  Main Street really did  look. Maybe I'd walk in and
say  something funny and try to make them all feel as good as I could.  What
could I think of funny?
     I opened the gate trying  to think up something, and  when I walked  in
the front door I hadn't thought of it yet.
     I was surprised  to see  Mama carrying  a couple of coffee  cups  off a
little reading table in the middle of the  front room floor, humming  one of
her songs.  I  looked all around. Beds all  up. Dirt  and trash cleaned out.
Three straight chairs and the reading table in the front room, and  our sofa
back  against the east wall. Roy must have just said  something pretty glad,
because  he  was  rearing back in one  of the chairs with his foot up on the
table, looking awful well pleased n his face.
     "Howdy, Mister Sawmill."  Roy waved  his hand in the  air by the  lamp.
"Well, by God, I got some good news!"
     "I'm hungry.  What news?"  I asked him as I  walked  past him into  the
kitchen where Mama was.
     "I'll tell you!"  Mama  was  frisking  all  around  over  the  kitchen.
     "I said I'd tell you!" Roy joked and tried to jump up out of his chair,
but  he  bent  backwards  too  far  and  fell  all  over  the  floor.  "I'll
     The three of us  laughed so  much for a minute that nobody could  talk.
But then Mama  managed to get her stomach quieted down  and she said, "Well,
your papa has got a good new job!"
     'P workin'?"
     "For th' State!"  Roy was  picking up a few things that  had
fell out of his pockets. "Steady!"
     "What?" I asked.
     "Bet you couldn't guess if you tried a thousand years!" Mama went  back
to her work in the kitchen.
     "Tell me!" I told them.
     "Selling automobile licenses!" Roy said.
     And Mama said, "Car tags."
     I danced all around the room, singing  and swaying my  head. "Yay! Hay!
Hooray! Really? Per th' who? Per th' State? Ever'  day? I mean, it ain't  no
little few-day job?"
     Roy acted like he was skipping around with me joking, "Best part is, it
gives me a job, too. Writin' on a typewriter! Papa gets so much for each set
of tags he sells!"
     "Both gonna work? Gosh, ever' kid in Okfuskee County'll be  wishin' you
was their brother an' papa! Sellin' real car tags? Wheee!"
     Mama didn't say  anything for a little bit, and Roy and me  got quieted
down. He took  a book from a box on the  wall  and set down to  the table to
read by the lamp. "Take my girl to th' show, now," he told us.
     "You can take me, too, Mister Smart," Mama said.
     "Gosh," I said, "I wuz  gittin'  tired of jest  l' 'taters  `n'  flour
gravy.  Be glad we c'n have somethin' ta eat better."  I took a seat  in the
middle of the floor. "Deeesssert!"
     "I'll see to it  that you boys and your papa get plenty of  good meals.
And  with good  dessert,  too." Mama  held  her eyes squinted  almost  shut,
picturing the good things she was talking about in the light of the lamp.
     "Mama," I asked, "what does it mean  when ya got  a job fer th'  State?
Mean ya'll always have work, huh? Git money?"
     "It's better than working for some one man." Mama smiled at me like she
was feeling a new light coming back.
     "Gosh! Will you'n Papa be like cops, er somethin'?"
     "No," Roy said  over  his  shoulder at  me,  "we're  just agents.  Just
auto-license  agents,  and get  anywhere from  a half a dollar or  more  for
writing out papers."
     "Woody. You look all fussed up." Mama  caught sight of my black eye and
scratches. "Come over here. Is this blood in your hair?"
     I  said, "He wuz  bigger'n me. It's quit hurtin'." Her hand tangling in
with the curls of my hair felt like olden times again.
     Roy and  me  kept quiet,  him  soaking up  what was in the book, and me
soaking up a game I was playing on the floor. I heard Mama say, "Woody, have
you got that box of matches again?"
     "Yes'um. Jist playin' with 'em.''
     "What are you playing?"
     "I thought  you  were too big  to play  little games like that.  You're
twelve years old."
     "Ya don't git too old ta play war."
     "You can just have a war, then, with something else,'' Mama got down on
the floor putting my rows of matches  back in the box. "So matches are  your
soldiers, huh?"
     "Fire soldiers." I helped her to pick them up.
     "Isn't  that another match  lying in yonder on the front  room  floor?"
Mama was putting the matches on their shelf and pointing back into the front
     "I don't see none. Where 'bouts?"
     I got down on my  hands  and knees  looking around over  the cracks and
splinters  on  the boards in the floor. Mama put her hand on the back  of my
head and pushed my nose down close to  the floor. She got  down on her knees
and I jerked loose and rolled over laughing. "I don't see no match."
     "In that crack there?  Now do you see?" She picked the match out of the
crack and held it up. "See that, Fire Bug?"
     "Ha! I seen it all th' time!"
     "Old mean  Woody. Mean  to his  mama. Teasing me because I'm so nervous
about matches.  Hhmmm. Little Woodshaver, maybe you  don't know, maybe  your
little eyes haven't seen. Maybe you don't even halfway guess the misery that
goes through my mind every time I hold a match in my hand."
     "Hadn' oughtta be skeerd."
     Mama got  up with  the match  in her hand. She struck  the match on the
floor and held it up  between  her eyes and  mine, and it lit up both of our
thoughts and reflected  in both  of our minds, and struck a million memories
and  ten  million  secrets that fire had  turned into ashes  between us.  "I
know," she said. "I'm not afraid. I'm not scared of anybody  or anything  on
the face of this earth. We're not the scared people, Woody!"

     Next  morning I jumped into my overhalls  when the sun shot through the
window. I seen a  few grasshoppers and  butterflies in the yard,  birds  out
there whistling and trying to sneak kisses in  our mulberry trees. It looked
like a mighty pretty day. I busted out the  back door and noticed  the whole
yard was  hanging  full of  fresh  washed, drippy  clothes, shirts,  sheets,
overhalls,  dresses. And this  made me  feel a whole light brighter  in  the
morning, because this was the first time in more than two months  that I had
seen Mama put out a washing.
     "You out of bed, Mister Mattress-Presser?" I heard her scrubbing on the
rub  board  out under the mulberry tree. "Wash your  face and hands good and
clean, and then go in the kitchen and you'll find some breakfast fixed."
     "I'm  hungery as  a great big alligater!  Yom. Yom.  Yom." I washed  my
hands and face and looked around for the eats. "Where's Roy an' Papa at?"
     "Selling automobile tags!''
     "Oh, gosh, I fergot. Thought I jist drempt that."
     "No, you certainly didn't  dream it. They're down there on the job now!
Hurry and eat!"
     "I'm a-gonna go  down an' git me a set of tags fer my four big long red
     "You can get me some for my steamboat!" she told me.
     "Yacht.  Yacht.  Some  fer  my  bran'-new  airplane,  too!  Them's good
scrammeled eggs!"
     "Them is, or them are, or they are?"
     "They wuz."
     "Now that you've got a good meal under  your belt, Mister  Farmer," she
smiled at me, "you'll find  your shovel right there under  the house. By the
back door. Awaiting your gentle and manly touch."
     I took my shovel out near the back fence and sunk it about a foot  deep
in the ground. That good ground  looked so fine to me that I  got down on my
hands and knees  and broke the dirt apart from the roots and little rocks. A
worm about six inches long was all bloody and cut in two pieces. Both halves
pulled  back into  the dirt. I got the  half that  was in the loose clod and
held it in my hands. "Ya hadn't oughtta  got in  th' way of my shovel, worm.
I'll coverya up in this here new dirt. Ya'll be  all right. Ya'll heal up in
a few days, then ya'll be two  worms. Ya might think I'm a purty bad feller.
But when ya  git  ta be two worms, why gosh, you'll have another worm ta run
around with, an' ya know, talk to, an' stuff like that.  I'll pat  this dirt
down on top of ya good. Too tight under there? Can ya git yer breath? I know
it might hurt a little right this minnit,  but ya jist wait an' see, when ya
git ta be two  worms, ya'll  like me so good ya'll be a sendin' all th'
other worms 'round ta me."
     Roy come  home  at noon bringing some fumigators with  him to smoke out
the house. "Look at this guy work!" he said to me when he walked through the
gate. "You've got the old back yard looking like a fresh-plowed farm!"
     "Good dirt! Lotsa worms!"
     "I'll say one thing,  you've  knocked under a pretty big spot of ground
for a man your size."
     "Hah! I'm workin' outta doors on my farm! Gittin' tough!"
     "I made three dollars already this morning. How's that?"
     "Three how much?"
     "Three dollars."
     "Didn't neither. Gosh!"
     "What are you goshing about?''
     "Be a long time 'fore I make any money on my garden,''
     "All of you farmers will just make barrels of money if everything  goes
just right."
     "Yeah,  I s'pose we  will. But  I  wuz jist  thinkin',  ya  know, mebbe
ever'thing won't go jist right."
     "If it don't, you can always go down and  have a talk with Big Fat Nick
the  Banker. Just tell him you know me, and hell hand you  a  big  bundle of
money out through the window."
     "Well,  I wuz rollin' it over  in my mind. Ya know, 'course, I'm  purty
busy these days a-gittin' my land all turned under. Jist don't git much of a
chance ta run inta town to th' bank. Mebbe it'd be a lot easier if ya  sorta
let  me have th' money ahead of time, an' then 'course I could always pay ya
back when my crop comes in."
     "I'm  not personally in the money-lending business. It would be against
the law for me to lend you money without letting the governor know it."
     "Th'   gov'ner?   Shucks,  me   'n'  th'  gov'ner's  always  goin'
aroun' with our hands in each other's pockits. Big friends."
     "Besides, my motor  boat is coming in on the train in the morning,  and
I'll be needing what  few thousand I've got  in  my pockets for gasoline and
oil and I'm having them send me  a part of the ocean to run my boat on. So I
couldn't be letting any money go out."
     "No. Don't see how ya could."
     "How much would it take to carry you over?''
     "Nickel. Dime, mebbe."

     And when Roy turned around and went walking across the yard to the back
door, I saw a new dime looking up at me out of the fresh dirt.
     I was  shoveling as hard  and fast as I could, trying  to finish out my
row, when Mama called,  "Woody,  come on here and  eat! You won't be able to
once we get this house full of fumigator smoke!"
     "And I've got to get back to my job," Roy said.
     I was humming and singing when I set down to my plate:

     Well, I gotta brother
     With purty clothes on
     Yes, I gotta brother
     With purty clothes on
     Got an inside job
     In a place up in town
     Where th' purty little girls
     Go walkin' around.

     Roy kept  on eating and not looking at me. He started singing  a little

     Well, I gotta little brother
     With overhauls on
     Yes, I've gotta little brother
     With overhauls on
     He's got a job on a farm
     And he works pretty hard
     But he can't make money
     In his own back yard.

     "My song's better'n yores!" I argued at him.
     "Mine's the best!" he shot back at me.
     When the fumigators got  all lit up and Roy  had gone on back  to work,
Mama took me by my hand and walked me out under the  mulberry tree. I set up
on the wash  bench trying to look back in at the door and see the fireworks.
Mama took a  shovel from against the tree  and  started digging  where I had
left off.
     For a few seconds I was looking at the house, then when I looked around
and seen her digging in my dirt there was  a  feeling in me that I had  been
hunting  for the bigger part of my  life. A wide-open feeling  that she  was
just like any other boy's mama.
     "Come on here. Go to work. Let's see who can turn under the most dirt!"
     "Awww. But yer jest a woman. ..."
     "I  can shovel more dirt  in a  minute than you can in an  hour, little
man! Look at the worms, wouldn't you?"
     "Full of 'em."
     "That's a sure sign this is good soil."
     "Hurry up! Why,  look how far you've dropped behind! I thought you said
something about me being a woman!"
     "I guess ya had ta be."
     "I had to be. I wanted to be--so I could be your mama.''
     "I  guess I wanted ta be yore boy!" And I suppose that when  I told her
this, I felt just about the closest to this  stuff that is  called happiness
as I have  ever struck. She seemed so all right.  Common everyday, just like
almost  any other woman out working with her boy and both of them  sweating,
getting somewhere, getting something done.
     After  about half an hour we dropped our shovels on the ground and took
a little rest. "How ya feel? Good?" I asked Mama.
     "I feel better than I've felt in years. How do you feel?"
     "Fine." I  watched  the fumigator fumes puffing out  the cracks  of the
     "Work is a funny thing. It's the best thing in the world. It's the only
religion that's worth a pinch of snuff. Good work and good rest."
     "We shore been takin' lotsa medicine this mornin', ain't we?"
     "We? Medicine?"
     "I mean work's makin' us weller."
     "Look. Look at the house. You can see the smoke boiling out between the
cracks in those old thin walls."
     "Yeah, man. Looks like it's on fire!"
     Mama didn't say anything back.
     "You know somethin', Mama? Papa feels better, an' Roy feels better, an'
it makes me  even feel better when all of us sees  you feel better. Makes me
really feel like workin'."
     Mama still didn't say  anything back.  Just set there with her elbow on
her knee and her chin in her hand, looking. Thinking. Rolling things over in
her mind while the smoke rolled out through the cracks.
     "Harder  I work  now, better I'm  gonna like it.  Boy, yip, yip, I feel
like  really  workin'  hard an' havin' me a big new garden all growed up out
here this evenin' when Papa an' Roy comes home. I bet they'd be su'prised ta
see me out here pickin' stuff an' sellin' it, an' all."
     Mama rubbed a fly or two off of her arm and kept quiet.
     "You  know how it is, I guess. After all,  you're th' only mama we got.
We cain't jist go down ta no store an' buy us a new mama. You're th' mama in
this whole family."
     No answer from Mama. She had her eyes on the house, Looking and opening
her eyes wider, and her  mouth and face changing into a stare that was still
and cold and stiff. I didn't see her move a single part of her face.
     Then  I saw her raise up to her knees,  staring like she was hypnotized
at the house with the smoke leaking out of it.

     I let the spade drop out  of  my hand and my heart felt  like a cake of
ice inside of me.  Fire and flames seemed to crawl across the picture screen
of my mind, and everything  was scorched out, except the  sight I was seeing
in front of  me. I was popping  out with smoky  sweat  and my eyes saw hopes
piled like silky pictures on celluloid film curling away into some kind of a
fiery hole that turns everything into nothing.
     Mama  got up  and started taking  long  steps  in the direction  of the
house. I  tore out  in front  of her and  tried  to  hold her back.  She was
walking with a strength  and a power that  I had  seen her use before in her
bad spells, and an  ordinary  person's strength wasn't any sort of match for
hers.  I held out my  hands  to  try  to  stop  her, and she brushed me over
against the fence  like I was a  paper doll she  had played with and was now
tossing into the wind.
     I sailed across the yard, left down the alley, right along  a dirt road
three blocks, running with every ounce that my lungs could pull and my heart
could pound and my blood could give me. A pain hit me low down in the belly,
but I speeded up just that much faster. My eyes didn't see  the dogs nor the
hungry people nor the shabby shacks  along the East  End Road, nor  my  nose
didn't smell  the dead horse  rotting in the weeds, nor my feet  didn't ache
and  hurt  getting hit against the rocks that had  bruised a thousand  other
kids running near as wild  as me down  that same old road before. That look.
That long-lost,  faraway,  fiery, smoke glare that  cracked  in her eyes and
reflected on the sweat  on  her face.  That look. That same old look. Houses
and barns and vacant lots and trees  whizzed past  me like I was riding down
the road on a runaway motorcycle.
     I blammed into Papa's office, knocking  people out of my way with their
papers  saying  something about somebody needing some license tags. I shoved
across Papa's desk,  and  puffed and  gasped for  air,  saying, "Run! Quick!
     Papa and Roy  left their  typewriters with papers rolled into  them and
people  looking sideways at one  another.  They busted out  the door and met
Warren just starting in to buy Grandma some car tags.
     "Take that kid back  home with you! Keep him  tonight!" Papa ran up the
street to the truck. Roy yelled back over his shoulder,  "Get Grandma!  Come
back in the morning!"
     Warren took  me up  into the seat of  his car and I was  screaming,  "I
wanta go home where Mama is! I don't wanta  stay all night with you! You ol'
     And it was cussing and mad that  Warren drove me the seven miles out to
Grandma's, and crying and bawling that I walked into their house.
     That  night at  Grandma's I  laid awake  and  watched  a hundred moving
pictures go through my mind, but I didn't have to make them up, because they
was snapping and cracking and flashing all around me.  The  crickets chirped
like they  was calling for their  lovers, but halfway scared their own voice
would cause them to  get stepped on. The frogs down around  the banks of the
pond seemed to laugh. I laid there in a  puddle  of cold late-summer  sweat,
and my body cramped in knots and I didn't move an  arm or a leg. I rolled my
head  on  my pillow once to look out the night window,  and beyond  a turtle
dove  hay meadow  I  could see a  yellow  prairie fire  that had broke loose
across a slope of dry grass, five or  six miles away to the south; and I was
glad  it wasn't  to the  east,  toward  home. I guess Grandpa is  asleep and
getting ready  to go to work with Lawrence  in  the morning, cutting wood on
the hill. Warren is asleep,  too; I can  hear  him  snoring here  beside me,
worried mostly about  his own  self. But  I  know that in  the  next bedroom
Grandma, too,  like me, is laying  there with her eyes stinging and her face
salty and wet, having  crazy dreams that  float across the  night winds  and
twist and turn and roll and coil and jump and fight and burn themselves out,
like the meadow fire over across the wind yonder, like the dry hay.
     Warren drove Grandma and me back  to  town when morning came. We walked
through  the yard gate and in at the  back  door of  the old Jim Cain house.
Windows smashed  and glass laughing in the sun on the floor.  Kitchen upside
down  and dishes and  pots and pans  slung  across the room and floor. Front
room,  a handful of torn books and old letters, chairs  laying over on their
sides, and a coal-oil  lamp smashed where the  oil  soaked the wallpaper and
then run down the north wall. Little bedroom, both beds  full of wild strewn
clothes that almost looked like people that had died in their dreams. Warren
and me followed  Grandma from the  bedroom, through the front room, and back
into the kitchen. I didn't hear anybody say a single word. The second-handed
oil  stove was  smashed in the  corner and the new  kerosene smelled strong,
soaking  in the floors and walls. Charred wallpaper  run up the  wall behind
the stove, some of the boards black and smoked and scorched with flames that
had been beat out with a wet gunny sack at my feet.
     Roy walked in from the back porch and  I noticed that he was all dirty,
messy,  and needed a shave; his new shirt and pants  tore in several places;
his  hair was in his eyes and his eyes had a beat-down look. He let his eyes
drift around the room without looking us in the face, and then he looked  at
the oil stove and said, "Oil stove exploded. Papa's in  the hospital. Pretty
bad burns."
     ''  'S funny,"  I said, "I was  afraid  yesterday  when  ya started  ta
fumigate  th'  house. `Fraid this coal oil would ketch  afire. So I took th'
oil tank off th'  stove an' set it out in th' back 'yard under  th' mulberry
tree. I cain't figger out how  it  blowed up." I was looking at the oil tank
piled in the corner with the oil  soaked out  across the floor. "Jist cain't
see how."
     "Shut  you  mouth!" Roy doubled up both fists and raved back at me, and
his eyes blazed wildfire. "You little rat!"
     I  set down close to the stove against  the wall and heard Grandma say,
"Where--how is Nora!''
     Warren was listening, swallowing hard.
     "She's  on the westbound  passenger train." Roy  slid down on the floor
beside me and fumbled with a burner on the wreck of a stove.
     "On her way to the insane asylum."
     Nobody said very much.
     Away off  somewheres we heard a long  gone howl of a fast-running train
whistling down.
     Chapter X

     With Mama gone, Papa went  to West Texas to  live with my aunt in Pampa
till he could get over  his burns. Roy and me hung on  for a while and lived
in the old Jim Cain house. When daylight come to our house and I woke up out
of bed, there wasn't no warm breakfast, and there wasn't a clean bed. It was
a  dirty house. A house that had  old dirty clothes throwed around here  and
yonder, or a tub  of water,  soap suds and soppy  pants  on the bench out in
back,  that had set  there now for two or three weeks, waiting for Roy or me
to wash  them. I  don't know.  That house, that old, old, big mulberry tree,
those  dried-up  flowers  in  the  front  yard,  the  kitchen  so  sour  and
lonesome--it  seemed like  everything in the world echoed  in there, but you
couldn't hear it.  Yon could stand  still and cock your ear to one side, but
you  couldn't hear anything. I  know how I  felt about  it,  I only had  one
feeling toward it: I  wanted to get the hell out of it when daytime come and
it got light outside.
     Then Roy  stumbled onto a job at the Okemah Wholesale House. The day we
moved out of the  Jim  Cain house, I  helped him  haul and store  all of our
belongings in the hayloft of the rottenest barn in town. He asked me to come
across town and stay with him in his  new three-dollar  room, but I told him
"no," that I wanted to shuck out on my own.
     Every day I combed the alleys and the  dump grounds with my gunny sacks
blistering my shoulders, digging like a mole into everybody's trash heaps to
see  if  I couldn't make  a  little something out of nothing. Ten or fifteen
miles walking a day, with my sack  weighing up to fifty pounds, to  weigh in
and sell my load to the city junk man along about sundown.
     The refuse heaps and trash piles didn't turn my stomach. I was baptized
into ten or  fifteen different  junking  crews by  getting splashed, kicked,
squirted on, throwed down, heaped over  and covered  under in every  earthly
article  of garbage and junk known to man. I'd come back to the  gang  house
laughing  and  scare  the  kids with  wild  tales  about the  half-kids  and
half-rats, half-coyotes, and half-men.
     When I told Roy good-bye I had brought an old quilt and blanket over to
the gang-house shack and made it my hotel.
     It had  rained and turned  hot, rained and  turned  hot, so many  times
lately that the whole gang house hill simmered and steamed. The weeds turned
into a jungle where spiders golfed  the  ladybugs and wasps dive-bombed  the
spiders.  A  world where the new babies of one came from the dead  bodies of
others. The sun was hot as fire on  the henhouse, and the chicken manure had
carried its lice across the hill in the  rains. A smothery vapor covered the
place with the smell and the poison of cankering wood.
     The waters oozed  from the hill above and kept  the floor of the  house
soggy  and wet. My  quilt and  blanket  soured  and molded. I  woke up every
morning in my bed on the floor, feeling as  if the matter that rotted in the
night had  soaked into my  brain and filled my body  with a blind fever. The
sun, fermenting the dew in the piles of trash,  put out some  kind of  a gas
that made me laugh and lay down in the path in the sun and dream about dying
and moldering.
     When the kids had gone home  on these nights, I'd lay on my back  on my
damp blanket and whirl away to a land of bloody, cutthroat dreams, and fight
and wallow in corruption and slime all  night, chased and trampled under the
feet  of demons and monsters, wound  up  in the coils  of a boa  constrictor
crawling  in  the city cesspool. I'd  wake  up  bug-eyed. The sun coming  up
brought the smell from  the weeds again, and the vapor from  the hill choked
me down.
     For several mornings now I'd been too weak to hang my  blankets out  to
air and sun while I was junking. My first thought every morning was to crawl
out on the side of the hill  and lay in the sun in the path. I felt the rays
cut  through my whole body and I knew the sun was good medicine. One morning
I  was so crazy and dizzy I crawled to the top of the hill and pulled myself
a block to  the school grounds. I flopped down on a bench by a fountain. The
world was hot and  I was cold.  Then the world turned cold and  I was hot. I
used my gunny sack for a pillow. It felt like lightning was cracking through
my head. My teeth chattered.
     The next  thing I knew somebody  was shaking my  shoulder  and  saying,
"Hey, Woody, wake up! What's the matter?"
     I looked up and saw Roy. "Howdy, brother. How come you ta be passin' by
     "How come you piled up here sick?" Roy asked me.
     "I ain't sick! Little woozie."
     "Where  are you living these days?  Hanging  out up at that  little old
gang house of a night?"
     "I be all right."
     "What's this old dirty sack under you head?"
     "Junkin' sack."
     "Still crawling  through the dumps, huh? Listen, young sprout, I've got
a good  room. You  know  where Mrs. Hutchinson lives over  there in that big
white  two-story house yonder? You go over there.  I'll send a doctor up  to
look  you  over pretty quick. See you about six o'clock. Get up! Here's  the
     "I c'n take care of my own self!"
     "Listen, brat, I mean brother! Take this key."
     "Go onta work!" I got up and pushed Roy down the sidewalk, "Shore, I'll
go sleep  in yer  room.  Send  me  yer good docter! An' go onta work!" I was
pushing Roy in the back and laughing at the same time. Then I got so dizzy I
caved in, and Roy caught me and  held me  up, and give me a little shove  to
get me started off toward his room.
     I  come to the  big two-story white house and clumb  the stairs to room
number  ten. My  junking  sack  was soaking wet  with the morning dew, so  I
struck a match to a gas heating stove and  set down in the floor,  spreading
out the  sack to dry. I felt a cold chill crawling  over me. I  took  off my
shirt on  the floor and let the warmth from the gas heater bake me.  It felt
so good I stretched out in front  of it,  put my hands  between my knees and
shivered a little while, and laid  there chilling and  wet with dew, getting
warm through my  overhalls, and thinking about other times  I'd been in hard
spots and somebody had always come along.  Junk was bringing  more  money. I
guess they  want brass. Copper's good. Aluminum's what's best. That old junk
man's a  Jew. Some folks around  town don't  like Jews 'cause  they're Jews,
Niggers 'cause they're  black; me 'cause  I'm  a dam  little junk boy, but I
don't care 'bout all  of that. This old floor's good  an' warm. What's that?
Fire whistle?   God, no! Not  a  fire whistle! Not  no  fire  whistle! Fire
whistles has run me nuts' Fire! Fire! Put it out! Fire!
     "Get up! Wake up! Move!" A lady rolled me over out of the way; then she
trampled and danced  up and  down in front of the stove.  Smoke all over the
place. She drew a  pitcher of water from  the sink, poured it along in front
of the stove' and a big cloud of white smoke  shot  up and filled  the whole
room. "Wake up! You'll burn up! You'll blister!"
     You'll blister. You'll blister. You will blister. Wait and see. Hot tar
and  hot feathers and you'll blister. Kloo Kluxx Klam. Wake up. Wake up  an'
crawl on your belly.
     The lady yelled at me. She took me by the hand and pulled me  up off of
the floor. I  walked to the bed and  crawled in  between the covers  with my
overhalls on. "Looks  like you'd at least take off your overhauls, boy! What
do you mean spreading that old greasy sack out here on the floor in front of
this  fire, and then going off to  sleep any such a way? You  ought  to have
your little hind end blistered!"
     You low-down lousy sneakin' Kluck Klucks!  Git th' hell outta my house!
Ol' ghosty robes! Wound up in a windin' sheet! Windin' sheet! Windin' sheet!
     The lady pushed her hair back out of her face and walked to the edge of
the bed. "Why, you're having a fever!' She touched her  hand to my forehead.
"Your face is simply blistered!"
     Tar me an' feather me! I hate ya! Hoodlum....
     I  made a  dive  for her  and  missed, and went  down to  the  floor. I
scrambled around trying to get up. Everything blacked out. ...
     "Feel better  now? This nice cool rag on your forehead?" She smiled and
looked into my  face like my mama used to look at me a long,  long time ago.
"It  burned a hole or two in my old rug, but you'll have to go  out and hunt
in the alleys and find  you a brand-new gunny sack. Don't worry about my old
rug. Do you know when I first bursted into this room and found the smoke and
the sack  blazing on the floor, and I  saw you  mere asleep on  the floor, I
wasn't mad.  Nooo.  Here. Eat this oatmeal. And drink this  warm  milk down.
Good? Sugar enough?  I  took  your overhalls  off. You ought  to  wear  some
underwear, little tousle-head."
     I looked out through the screened window across the old  school grounds
and thought of a million friends arid a  million faces, a million brawls and
fights, and a whole town full of  just  as good a people as you'll ever find
anywhere. The lady still knelt down at the side of my bed.
     She put her hand on my head and said, "Go to sleep?''
     "Back of my head. Hurts. Jumps."
     "You roll over  and lay on your tummy. That's a good boy. I'll  rub the
back of your head for you. Does this feel good?'' She rubbed and petted, and
rubbed and petted.
     "Is it rainin'?" I snuggled down under the covers deeper.
     "Why, no. Why?" She patted the back of my neck.
     "I'm all wet an' cold."
     "You're dreaming!" She rubbed and petted some more.
     "Is this train runnin' away?"
     "Go to sleep."
     "Ever'thing's funny, ain't it? I c'n hear it rainin'."
     "Does this rubbing feel better?" She patted me again.
     " 'At's better."
     "Quit your talking and go to sleep.''
     " 'At's better."
     "Want anything?"
     "New junkin' sack.''
     Chapter XI

     I was thirteen when I went to  live with a family of thirteen people in
a two-room house. I  was going on fifteen when I got me a job shining shoes,
washing spittoons, meeting the night trains  in  a hotel up in town. I was a
little past sixteen when I first hit the highway and took a trip down around
the  Gulf  of  Mexico, hoeing figs,  watering  strawberries, picking mustang
grapes,  helping  carpenters  and well drillers,  cleaning  yards,  chopping
weeds,  and moving garbage cans. Then  I got tired of being a stranger, so I
stuck my thumb  in  the air  again and  landed  back in  the old  home town,
     I  found me a  job  at  five  dollars a week in a  push-button  service
station. I got a  letter twice a week as regular as a clock from Papa out on
the Texas plains. I told him everything I thought and he told  me everything
he was hoping. Then, one day, he  wrote  that his bums had  healed up enough
for him to  go  to  work, and  he'd got  him a job managing a whole block of
property in Pampa, Texas.
     In  three days  I was standing  in the  little office shaking his hand,
talking old times, and all about my job with him as general handyman  around
the property. I was just past my seventeenth birthday.
     Pampa was  a  Texas oil  boom  town  and  wilder  than a  woodchuck. It
traveled fast and traveled light. Oil boom towns come  that  way and they go
that way. Houses aren't built to last very long, because the big majority of
the.  working folks will walk into town, work like a horse for a  while, put
the oil wells  in, drill the holes down fifteen thousand  feet, bring in the
black gushers, case off  the hot flow, cap the high pressure, put  valves on
them,  get the oil to flowing steady and easy into  the rich people's tanks,
and  then  the field, a big thick  forest  of drilling rigs, just sets there
pumping oil  all over the world to run  limousines, factories, war machines,
and fast trains. There's not much work left to do in the oil fields once the
boys have developed it by hard  work and hot sweat, and so  they  move along
down the road, as broke, as down and out, as tough, as hard hitting, as hard
working, as the day they come to town.
     The town was mainly a  scattering of little old shacks.  They was built
to last a few months; built out of old rotten boards, flattened oil barrels,
buckets, sheet iron, crates  of all kinds, and gunny sacks. Some  were lucky
enough to have a floor, Others just the dusty old dirt. The rent was high on
these  shacks. A  common price was five  dollars a week for  a three roomer.
That meant one room cut three ways.
     Women folks worked  hard trying to make their  little shacks look  like
something, but with the dry weather, hot sun, high wind, and the dust piling
in,  they could clean  and wipe  and mop and scrub their shanty  twenty-four
hours  a  day and never get  caught  up.  Their floors always was warped and
crooked. The old linoleum rugs had raised six families and put eighteen kids
through  school.  The  walls  were made out  thin boards, one inch thick and
covered over with whatever the women could nail on them: old blue wallpaper,
wrapping paper from the boxcars along the tracks, once in a while a layer of
beaver  board painted with  whitewash,  or some haywire  color  ranging from
deep-sea blue through all of the midnight blues to a blazing red  that would
drive a Jersey bull crazy. Each family usually nailed  together some sort of
a chair or bench out of junk  materials and left it in  the  house when they
moved away, so that after an even thirty-five cents worth  of hand-made wash
benches, or an old chair, or table had been left behind, the landlord  hired
a sign painter to write the word "Furnished" on the "For Rent" sign.
     Lots of  folks in the  oil fields come in from the  country. They heard
about the high wages and the great number of jobs. The old farm has dried up
and  blowed away. The chickens are gone dry and the  cows have  quit laying.
The wind has got high and the sky is black with dust. Blow flies are  taking
the place over, licking off the milk pails, falling into  the cream, getting
hung  up in the molasses. Besides that, they ain't no more work to do on the
farm; can't buy no seed for planting, nor feed for the horses and cows.
     Hell, I can work. I like to work. Born working. Raised working. Married
working.  What kind of work do they want done in this oil boom town? If work
is what they  want done, plowing or digging  or carrying something, I can do
that.  If they want a cellar dug or some dirt  moved, I can do that. If they
want  some rock hauled and some cement shoveled, I can do that. If they want
some boards sawed and some nails drove, hell's bells, I can do that. If they
want a tank truck drove,  I  can do  that, too, or  if they want  some steel
towers bolted up, give  me a day's practice, and I can do that.  I could get
pretty good at it. And I wouldn't quit. Even if I could, I wouldn't want to.
     Hell  with this whole dam layout! I'm  a-gonna git up an' hump  up, an'
walk  off of this cussed dam place! Farm,  toodle-do. Here I come, oil town!
Hundred mile down that big wide road.
     Papa's  new  job  was  the handling of an old ramshackle rooming house,
right on the main street, built out of corrugated iron on a framework of two
by four scantlings, and cut up into little stalls called rooms. You couldn't
hardly lay down to sleep in your room without your head scraping the wall at
one end  and your  feet sticking out in the  hall. You  could  hear what was
taking place  in the six stalls  all around  you, and it was  a pretty  hard
matter to keep your mind on your own business for trying to listen in on the
rooms on each side of you. The beds made so much racket it sounded like some
kind of a factory  screaking.  But  there  was a  rhythm and a song  in  the
scraping and the oil boom chasers  called  it "the rusty bedspring blues." I
got  so good at this particular song that I could rent a flop in a boom-town
hotel,  and go to my room and just  set there  and listen a minute, and then
guess  within three pounds of the other roomers' weight, just  by
the squeek of the springs.
     My dad run one of these houses.  He tended to a block of property where
girls rented rooms: the girls that follow the booms. They'd come in to  look
for work,  and  they'd  hit the rooming house so as  to set up  a  home, and
straighten out  their citizenship  papers with  the  pimps, the McGimps, the
other girls, and the old satchels that acted as mothers of the flock. One of
Papa's boarders, for instance, was an old lady with gray hair dyed as red as
the side of a brick barn, and her name was Old Rose.  Only there never was a
rose  that old.  She'd  been  in all  of  the  booms,  Smackover,  Arkansas,
Cromwell,  Oklahoma, Bristow, Drumright, Sand Springs, Bow Legs,  and  on to
East  Texas,  Kilgore,  Longview,  Henderson, then  west  to  Burke-Burnett,
Wichita  Falls, Electra, and farther west, out on  the windy  plains, around
Panhandle, Amarillo,  and Pampa. It  was a thriving business,  boom chasing;
and this old rusty  sheet-iron rooming house could have been in any of these
towns, and so could Old Rose.
     Come to think of it, I've been in every  one of these towns. I might of
slept in  this  old rooming house a dozen times around over the country, and
it was  awful high-priced sleeping. I might of paid out a lot of them sheets
of iron. And the girls that stayed here, they might of paid out a truck load
or two of them two by fours. The usual price is about five  dollars  a week.
If a girl is working, that is not so much, but if she's  out of  job, it's a
lot of money. She knows that the officers might grab her by the arm any time
for "Vag," for it's a jail house offense to be a-loafing in a boom town.
     I remember one little girl that come in from the country.
     She  blowed  into  town  one  day  from  some  thriving  little  church
community,  and  she  wasn't what  you'd call a good-looking girl,  but  she
wasn't ugly. Sort of  plump, but she wasn't a bit  fat. She'd worked hard at
washing  milk  buckets, doing housework, washing  the family's  clothes. She
could milk an old Jersey cow. Her face and her hands  looked like  work. Her
room in the rooming house wasn't big enough to spank a cat in. She moved in,
straightened it up, and  gave it a sweeping and  a dusting that is  headline
news in a oil  boom  town.  Then she  washed  the old faded window curtains,
changed the bed and dresser around every way to see  how it looked best, and
tacked pretty pictures on her wall.
     She didn't have  any extra clothes with her. I wondered  why; something
went haywire at home,  maybe. Maybe  she  left home in a hurry. Guess that's
what  she done. She just  thought  she'd come into town and  go to work in a
cafe or hotel or in somebody's house, and then when she got her first week's
pay, she'd get  what things she needed, and add to  them as she  went along.
She wasn't a town  girl. You  could  tell that. Everything  about her looked
like the farm, and the outhouses and barns, and the pastures, and  wide-open
spaces, and the cattle grazing, and the herds of sheep, or like  looking out
across the  plains and seeing a hard-working cowhand rolling down across the
country on a fat  bay  mare. Some way or another, her way of talking and the
words  that she knew just didn't seem  to connect up with  this oil-smeared,
gasoline-soaked,  whiskey-flavored,  wild  and  fast-moving  boom  town.  No
cattle; no milk buckets. Nothing about raising  an early  garden, or putting
on  a big-brim straw hat and driving a speckled  mare and a black  hoss to a
hay rake. I guess she was just a little bit lost. The other girls flocked in
to see her, walking on high-heel shoes, with  a bottle or  two of fingernail
paint, some  cigarets, different flavors of lipstick, and a  half a pint  of
pale corn whiskey. They  jabbered and talked a blue streak. They giggled and
snickered, and hollered, Oh,  Kid, this,  and Oh, Kid, that. Everything they
said was funny  and new,  and she would set, listen, soak it all in, but she
didn't talk  much. She  didn't know much  to talk about.  Didn't smoke,  and
didn't know how to use that  fingernail  paint. Hadn't seen the picture show
lately. Once  in a great while she'd get  up  and walk  across the floor and
straighten up something that had got  pushed over, or remark that she had to
scrape the grease and dirt off of her two-burner hot plate.
     When the girls had gone  off  to their rooms, she'd take  a  good  look
around over  her room  to see if  it  was neat  enough, and  if it was she'd
sometimes take a little walk down  the old dark hall, out into the back yard
that stood about ankle deep in junk and  garbage.  You'd  run onto her every
once in  a while out there. You'd catch her  with a handful of old sacks and
papers, carrying them in a high north wind  out to the alley to  put them in
the trash box. Sometimes  she'd smile at you  and say,  "I  just thought I'd
pick up a few of these papers."
     She's thinking it's over a  week now since I paid my room  rent. Wonder
what the landlord will  do? Wonder  if I'd grab the  broom and pitch  in and
sweep out  the hall, and  go  and carry a few buckets of  water and  mop it,
wonder if he'd  care? Maybe it'll get under his skin, and he might give me a
job of keeping it up.
     She'd  come to the  office where  Papa was, and she'd set down and turn
through the magazines and papers, looking at all of  the pictures. She liked
to look  at pictures of the mountains. Sometimes she'd look at a picture for
two or three minutes. And then she'd say, "I'd like to be there."
     She'd  stand up  and look out  the  window. The  building was just  one
story. It was all right down on the ground. The sidewalk went past the door,
and all of the oil field boys would crowd up  and down  the street, talking,
staggering, in their work clothes, khaki pants and shirts smeared with crude
oil, blue overhalls  soaked with grease and covered  with thick dust, salted
and flavored  with sweat. They made good money. The drillers drawed  as high
as twenty-five dollars a day. Boy, that was a lot of money. They wasted most
of  it. Whooped it off on slot machines and whiskey. Fights broke  out every
few minutes up and down the street. She could see the mob gang up. She could
see a couple of heads bobbing  up  and down  and going around in the middle.
Pretty  soon  everybody would  be beating the hound  out of everybody  else,
choked,  wet  with blood  and  hot sweat. You could hear  them breathing and
cussing a block  away.  Then the fight would bust  up and the men would come
down the sidewalk, their clothes tore all to pieces, hats lost, hair full of
mud and dirt, whiskey broke.
     She was new in town, I knew that because she  held back a little when a
fist fight  broke out.  She  just  didn't much  want to jump into that crazy
river of oil field fist fighters. She might have liked it if she'd known the
people  better, but she didn't know anybody well enough to call them friend.
It was plumb  dangerous for a strange girl  even to go from one joint to the
other  looking for a job, so she  waited till her money was all gone and her
room  rent  was  about two weeks  behind. Then she went  to a few places and
asked  for work. They didn't need her. She wasn't experienced. She went back
several times. They still didn't need her. She was flat.
     She got  acquainted with a one-eyed girl.  The one-eyed girl introduced
her to  a truck driver. The truck driver said  he might  find her a  job. He
would come in every day from the fields with a yarn  about a job that he was
trying to get her. The first few days they usually met in the office or hall
and he would tell her all about it. But he'd have to wait another day or two
to see for sure. The  day come along when they didn't happen to meet in  the
office or hall, so he had to go to her room to tell her about something else
that looked  like a  job for her.  He made this  a regular habit for about a
week  and she  turned up at the office one day with seven  dollars and fifty
cents to  pay  on  her rent. This  was  a big surprise to my dad, so he  got
curious.  In fact  he stayed curious.  So he thought he  would  do a  little
eavesdropping  around over the hotel to see what was going on. On day he saw
her go off uptown  with the  one-eyed  girl. In about an hour they come back
with their hats in their hands, brushing their hair back  out of their eyes,
talking and saying that  they  was awful  tired. The one-eyed girl  took her
down the hall and they went into a room. Papa tiptoed down to  the door  and
looked  through the keyhole.  He could see everything that was going on. The
one-eyed girl took out a teaspoon and put something in it. He knew then what
it was. The girl struck a match and held it under the spoon,  and  heated it
real hot.  That's one way of fixing a shot of  dope--morphine. Sometimes you
use a needle,  sometimes  you sniff it, sometimes you  eat it, sometimes you
drink it. The main idea seems to be any old way to get it into your system.
     He pushed the door open  and run in while  they was trying  to take the
dope. He grabbed the works away from the  one-eyed  girl and bawled both  of
them out  good and proper, telling how terrible it  was to get on the stuff.
They cried and bawled and  talked like a couple of  little babies, and swore
up and  down that neither of  them  used  it  regular, they didn't  have the
habit.  They just bought it  for  fun.  They didn't know. The  girl from the
country never tasted it. She swore that she never would. They all talked and
cried some more and promised never to touch the junk again.
     But  I stayed around there. I noticed how that  girl with  the one  eye
would come and go, and  come and  go, feeling one  minute like  she  was the
queen of  the  whole  wide world, all smiles, laughing  and joking; and then
she'd go and come again, and  she'd  be all fagged  out, tired and footsore,
broke, hungry, lonesome, blue, and her eyes sunk way back, her hair tangled.
This kept up after Dad  took away her morphine apparatus,  and after all  of
her  big promises to lay off the stuff. The farm girl never showed the least
signs  of  being on dope, but  the  truck driver  brought a little bottle of
whiskey along  with him after he got to knowing her better,  and through the
partition I heard them drinking.
     Mister truck  driver  ate his meals in a little greasy wall  restaurant
right next door. He  introduced her to the boss of the joint, a man with ,
about  six foot  four inches tall, skinny  and humped as  a  spider. He  had
studied to be  a preacher, read  most of the books  on the  subject, and was
bootlegging liquor in his eating place.
     He gave the girl a job in the kitchen of this place, where she done all
of her work, his work, and run over two or three swampers and helpers trying
to  keep the place from falling down, and all of the boards on the roof, and
all of the meals cooked and served. It was  so hot I don't see how she stood
it.  I more or  less  went  into and out of  these  places because  Papa was
looking after them. Personally, I  never have been  able  to figure  out how
anybody ate, slept, or lived around in this whole firetrap.
     He give her one dollar a day  to hang around there. He didn't call it a
job,  so he didn't have to pay her  much. But he said if she wanted  to hang
around, he'd pitch her a dollar every night just to show her that  his heart
was on the right side.
     The whole rooming  house  had been added  onto a  little  at  a time by
moving old odd shacks onto  the lot, till it had about fifty stalls. None of
them  were ever painted. Like a bunch  of match-boxes strung along; and some
of  them  housed whole  families with gangs  of kids,  and others  sheltered
several men in one room  where there was fifteen or twenty cots in a one-bed
space, dirty, beg-buggy, slick, slimy, and otherwise  not fit to live  in or
     It was my job to show folks to their rooms, and show the  rooms to  the
people, and try to convince them that they was really  rooms. One day when I
was  out bungling around with a mattress  and  a set of rusty bed springs, I
chanced to hear a couple  having more or less of  a two-cylinder celebration
in one of the rooms. I knew that  the room was supposed to be vacant. Nobody
was registered in there. The door was shut  and the thumb-latch was throwed,
I had a sneaking idea of what was up.
     Through a knothole  in the shack, I saw  a half a pint  of hot  whiskey
setting  up on the old dirty dresser, and  it  was about eighty-nine percent
drunk up. The bed didn't have a sheet on it, or any kind of covers, just the
bare  mattress.  It was  a  faded pink  mixed with a running brownish green,
trimmed around with a bed-bug tan  color  soaked into the cloth. The  boss
of the little cafe and the bootleg store was setting on the side of  the bed
with the country girl. Both of them had  had a few out of the bottle. He was
talking to her, and what he said had been said too often before by other men
like him to put into quotes. You've had lots of trouble lately, haven't you?
You look kinda sad. Even  when you smile or laugh, it stays in your eyes. It
never goes away.  I've noticed it a lot since  you've been around me lately.
You're a good girl. I've read  lots of  books  and  studied about people.  I
     She said she liked to work.
     He told her that she had a pretty face.
     You got pretty eyes, even if they are sad. They're blue. Sad and blue.
     She said she wasn't feeling so bad now since she had a job.
     He said he wished that he could pay her more than a dollar. He said she
made a good hand. He didn't feel like working  very hard. It was too hot for
him in his condition with the low roof.
     I could hear him breathe and could  hear the rattling in his lungs. His
face was pale and  when he rubbed his hand over his chin the red blood would
show through his skin. He said, I feel better when I got you around.
     She said that she was going to buy a few little things.
     Where do your folks live at? Must have run away from home once. Tell me
what caused it.
     Her family lived  thirty-five miles  away  in Mobeetie.  Thirty-five or
forty miles. She  never did  know just how far. Times got hard. And the farm
gets awful  lonesome when  the  sun comes up or when  it goes down. A family
argument  got started and she got mad at  her  folks. So she  bought  a  bus
ticket. Hit the oil fields. Heard lots about oil fields. Said they paid good
wages and always was needing somebody to work in them.
     You've got a job right where you are. Just as  long  as you  want it. I
know you'll  learn as you keep working. I don't think my  dollar is entirely
wasted. This fall  is going to be good, and you'll know my  business better,
and I'll pay  you better.  We'll get an old man to  be dishwasher. It's  too
much for you when business get rushing.
     Her hand was resting on the mattress and he looked down at it and said,
It looks nice and  clean, and I don't want the strong  lye  soap and the hot
dishwater to make it all red and dry  the  skin out. Cause it to chap. Break
open. Bleed. He put his hand on hers and give it a good friendly squeeze. He
rubbed real slow up and down her  arm with the back of his hand just  barely
touching  her skin, and  they stopped  talking.  Then  he took  her hand and
folded his fingers  between  hers and pulled her hand from the  mattress and
took the weight from her arm in such a way that she fell back across the bed
He held her  hand and he bent over and  kissed  her. And then he  kissed her
again.  They kept  their  mouths  together  for a long time. He rolled  over
against her, and she rolled up against him. She had good firm muscles on her
shoulders and her back, and he felt each one of them, going from one to  the
other. Her green cafe uniform was fresh washed and ironed so that  it shined
where the  light  struck it, and where it curved to  fit  her  body. Several
times he rubbed  across the belt that tied in a big  bow knot above her hips
and he pulled the sash  and the  knot came loose. The uniform started coming
open a little at the front and by the touch of his hand he laid it half open
almost without her knowing it.  His hands was long  and his fingers was slim
and he'd turned the pages of lots of books, and he took  the first two  long
fingers of his right  hand and  caught the thickness of the uniform  between
them, and with a twist of his wrist he turned the rest of the dress back. He
played  and felt of both of her breasts, his fingers  walking from first one
and then the other like some kind of a big white spider.  His   caused him
to make a  loud  spitry  noise  when he  breathed in  and  out,  and  he was
breathing faster all of the time.

     I heard  the  sound of  somebody's feet walking down the old boardwalk,
and I took  a quick glance  down  and out  of  the door, and saw  somebody's
shadow coming. I was standing on the steel frame of an iron folding cot, and
I jumped down from my lookout for a minute. It was my dad. He said he had to
go to the bank and for  me to come and watch the office.  There was a couple
there to  look at a room and the  room had  to be fixed up before they moved
in. Needed linens. I stood  there for about ten seconds  not saying a thing.
My  dad looked  sort of  funny  at me. I  didn't let on.  Just  stood  there
straining my ears  through  that wall,  and wondering what  I was a-missing.
But, shucks, I knew. Yeah, I knew, it was just exactly  like all of the rest
of them, and I wasn't a-missing out on nothing.
     About thirty minutes later and  along about dark, after the couple  had
been well rented and well roomed, and the linens had been put on for them, I
took  a  flying high dive  back out to the  old board wall and knothole  and
climbed up and took a last look. But they had left. Nothing left to tell the
tale but the prints of her hips sunk 'way down deep in the mattress.

     I'll never feel as funny as the day I walked into the office  and found
Papa behind the flowery curtain, setting on  the edge of the bed holding his
face in his hands.
     "Matter?" I asked him.
     His finger pointed to  the top of the dresser, and I found a check made
out to me for a dollar and fifty cents.
     At  first I grinned and  said, "Guess mebbe  it's some o' my  oil money
a-rollin' in."
     My blood turned to cold slush oil when my eyes saw on the corner of the
check the name and address of the Insane Asylum in Norman, Oklahoma.
     I set down by the side of Papa and put my arm around him.
     The letter said that Nora B. Guthrie had died  some days ago. Her death
was a natural death.  Because she only knew my address  in Okemah, they were
sending me the balance of her cash account.
     Papa was wiping his eyes  red with his knuckles, trying to quit crying.
I patted him on the back  and held the  check down between my knees, reading
it again.
     I walked  over across the tracks, uptown to  the bank,  not  wanting to
cash the check in our neighborhood. The man in the bank window could tell by
my  face  that I was nervous  and scared, and everybody standing in line was
anxious  for  me to  move  on out of their way. I  seen their  hands full of
checks, pink, tan, yellow and blue  ones. My face  turned a pale  and sickly
color, and my throat was just a wadding of dry cotton, and my eyes got hazy,
and my whole life went through my head. It  took every muscle in my body  to
pick up that dollar bill and fifty-cent piece. Somewhere on the outskirts of
town, a high whining fire whistle seemed to be blowing.

     I  got a job selling root beer.  It was just  a  big barrel with a coil
running around inside  of it, and it  cost you a nickel for me  to  pull the
handle, unless you was a personal friend of mine, in which case I'd draw you
off a mug free.
     Prohibition was on  and folks seemed like they were dry. The  first day
that I was there, the boss come around and said, "Oh, here's your day's pay.
We pay every day here, because we may have to close up any day. Business  is
rushing and good right now, but nobody can tell.
     "Another thing I want  to show you is about this little door right down
here  under  the counter.  You  see this little  door? Well,  you push  this
trigger right here, just like  that, and then  you see the door comes  open.
Then you see  inside. There's some little shelves. On  these little shelves,
as I  suppose you see, are some little bottles. These little bottles are two
ounces.  They are fifty cents a bottle.  They  are  a  patented  medicine, I
think,  and it's called Jamaica  Ginger, or plain Jake--a mixture of  ginger
and  alcohol.  The  alcohol is about  ninety-nine percent. So  now, in  case
anybody  comes  in with their thumbnail busted or  ankle sprung, or is snake
bit, or has got  ancestors, or the hoof and  mouth  disease, or is otherwise
sick and has got fifty cents cash money on him, get the fifty cents and then
reach down here and give him one of these little bottles of Jake. Be sure to
put the money in the register."
     While I worked there only about a month, I  saved up four dollars,  and
to boot I got an inside view of what the human race was drinking.
     You couldn't tell any more about  the rot-gut called whiskey  than  you
could  about the Jake. It was just about as poison. Lots of people fell over
dead and was found scattered here and yonder with different kinds of whiskey
poisoning.  I hated prohibition  on that account. I  hated it because it was
killing people, paralyzing them, and causing them to  die  like  flies. I've
seen  men set around  and squeeze that  old pink canned heat through  an old
dirty rag, get the  alcohol  drained out of it, and then  drink it down. The
papers carried tales about the men that drunk radiator alcohol and died from
rust poisoning. Others came down with the beer head. That's  where your head
starts swelling up and it just don't quit. Usually you take  the  beer  head
from drinking home brew  that ain't made right, or is fermented in old rusty
cans,  like garbage cans, oil drums, gasoline barrels,  and slop buckets. It
caused some of  the people  to  die. They even had a kind of beer called Old
Chock that was made by throwing everything under the sun into an old barrel,
adding the yeast and sugar  and water  to  it, and letting her  go.  Biscuit
heels,  corn-bread scraps,  potato leavings, and all  sorts of  table scraps
went  into this  beer. It is a whitish, milky, slicky-looking bunch of crap.
But especially down in Oklahoma I've seen men drive fifteen miles out in the
country  just to get a hold of a few bottles of it. The name Chock come from
the Choctaw  Indians. I guess  they just naturally  wanted to celebrate some
way  or another,  and thought a little drink would fire  them up so's they'd
break loose, forget their worries, and have a good time.
     When I was behind the counter, men would  come in and purchase bay rum,
and  I'd get a look  into their puffy, red-speckled faces, and their bleary,
batty eyes, that looked but didn't see, and that went shut, but never slept,
that  closed,  but  never  rested,  and  dreamed  but  never  arrived  at  a
conclusion. I would see a man come in and  buy a  bottle of rubbing alcohol,
and then buy a bottle of coke and go out and mix it half  and half, hold his
breath, wheeze for a few seconds, and then waddle on away.
     One  day my curiosity licked me. I  said  that  I was going  to taste a
bottle  of that Jake  for myself. Man ought to  be  interested. I  drawed up
about  a half a mug of root beer. It was  cold  and  nice, and I popped  the
little stopper out of one of the Jake bottles, and  poured the Jake into the
root beer. When that Jake hit that beer, it commenced to cook  it, and there
was  seven civil wars and two revolutions broke out inside  of that mug. The
beer was trying  to tame  the Jake down and the Jake was  trying to eat  the
beer  up. They  sizzled and boiled and sounded about like bacon  frying. The
Jake was  chasing the little bubbles and the little bubbles was chasing  the
Jake,  and the  beer spun like a  whirlpool in a  big  swift river. It  went
around and around so fast that it made a little funnel right in the  middle.
I  waited about twenty minutes for it to  settle down. Finally it was  about
the color of a new tan saddle, and about as quiet as it would get. So I bent
over  it and stuck my ear  down  over the mug. It was spewing  and crackling
like a machine gun, but I thought I'd best to drink it before it turned into
a waterspout or a dust storm.  I took it up and took it down, and it was hot
and dry and gingery and  spicy, and cloudy, and smooth, and windy  and cold,
and threatening rain or snow. I took another  big swallow and  my shirt come
unbuttoned and my insides burnt like I was pouring myself full  of home-made
soapy dishwater. I drank it all down, and when I woke up I was out of a job.
     And then a couple of months  wheeled  past, and  I found myself walking
all around with my head down, still out of a job, and asking other folks why
they had their heads down.  But most people  was tough,  and they still kept
their heads up.
     I  wanted to he my own boss.  Have my own job  of work whatever it was,
and be on my  own  hook.  I walked  the streets in the drift of the dust and
wondered where was I bound for, where was  I going, what  was I going to do?
My whole life turned  into one big question mark. And I was  the only living
person that could answer it. I went to the town library and scratched around
in the books. I  carried them home by the dozens and by the armloads, on any
subject, I didn't care which. I wanted to look into everything a little bit,
and pick out  something, something that would turn me into a  human being of
some kind--free to work for my own self, and free to work for everybody.
     My  head was mixed up. I looked into every kind of  an "ology," "osis,"
"itis," and "ism" there was. It seemed like it all turned to nothing.
     I read the first chapter in a  big leather law book.  But, no, I didn't
want to memorize all of them laws. So I got  the bug that I wanted to  be  a
preacher and  yell from the street  corners as loud as the  law  allows. But
that faded away.
     Then I wanted to be a doctor. A lot of folks  were sick and I wanted to
do something to make  them  well. I  went up to the town library and carried
home a big book about all kinds of germs, varmints, cells, and plasms.
     Them plasms are humdingers.
     They ain't  got  much shape  to brag  about,  but they  can  really get
around. Some of them, I forgot what  bunch it  is, just take  a notion to go
somewhere,  and so they start  out turning wagon-wheels and handsprings till
they  get there.  And every  time  they  turn  a cartwheel they  come  up  a
different shape.  Some of them they call amebas. They're made out of a jelly
that really ain't nothing to speak of. It's about as near to nothing as  you
could  get without  fading plumb  out. You can  see right through these here
amebas. But they  don't care. They just want  to turn handsprings  around in
your drinking water, and a few flip-flops in your blood.
     One day I was unusually lucky. I run  onto a hole of the very rottenest
and oldest  water you ever saw. I took  the  water up to the doctor's office
and he lighted up his microscope for me. He was an old  doctor, there around
town for s  long  time,  long enough not  to have many  customers. Since his
office was usually empty, he would let me use his microscope. One particular
drop of  extra live and rotten water was stagnant  and full of a green scum.
Under the  microscope, the scum looked like long green stems of  sugar cane.
They were  long and tangled, and you could see animules of every kind out in
there running around.
     One was a little black gent. He was double tough. He was a hard fighter
and a fast traveler. This little dark-complected gent was coming down across
the  country, and so I took out after him, just  sailing along above him and
watching him. He had  to fight three or four  times  in  one of his  days. I
don't know how long he calls a day. But there isn't a minute that he's  free
to fold up his hands, close his eyes, and dream. He circles the block and he
looks all around. Some kind of a white bug meets him. They both square  off,
and look the other one over. They  circle each other  and watch.  They  lick
their chops and smack  their lips. The  lips may be on  the side or  back or
around under  their belly somewhere, but  wherever they are, they  are lips,
and so they  smack them. They  measure their  blows.  The white  one tries a
light left hook, not  intending to  down the black one,  but just to get the
distance marked.  He sticks out his left again, and taps  the air twice. The
black has  got both arms moving like a clock. The white puts out a long  arm
that stretches  twice its ordinary  length. The dark  one  is buffaloed.  He
looks  for an umpire. Is this in the rules? The white grabs the black by the
neck with the  long arm and then  by stretching his other  one out he frails
the black's knob good and hard; but the black is solid and somehow the blows
ain't fatal. He throws his shoulders into a hump that hides his  chin. He is
taking the licks, but they are  hurting. It  looks bad for Mister Black, but
he's got  his eye skint under that hump, and he hasn't  had a chance yet  to
turn loose and fight. He doesn't  like this arm-stretching.  Don't know what
to  do.  He can't  get in close enough to  match  blows with  the long-armed
boxer, but he isn't out by a long shot.
     The long-arm holds  him with one hand and keeps on jabbing him with the
other in such a way that it turns the black one about. He lets himself drift
with  the weight of the  blows and he keeps his  hands and  arms limber  and
relaxed, but holds them up.
     All at once it happens. The black spins on his toe, round and round; he
spins in  close  with so much speed that his arms stick out whirling  like a
propeller.  He  gets inside the long  reach of the white. He sticks out  his
arms stiff, and the rights and the lefts  crack  the  white so  fast that he
thinks he's been lightning struck. He pulls his long arms back in.  He tries
to use them when  they are pulled in short, but finds he  is too clumsy. His
outlook changes. He wants  to  wire his Congressman, but it  looks  bad.  He
catches three hundred and forty five more hard lefts and rights. He lets his
body go limp  so  as  to drift with the blows,  but the  little black  boxer
circles  his  whole body, spinning and  whirling, trailing every inch of the
way around. The pale one loosens up, a mass of plasm. He makes one wild stab
at  the black  that  is peppering him with dynamite.  He  throws both of his
clumsy arms high into  the air, and exposes  his head, chest, and diaphragm.
The black is the king now. He wants to play with his groceries. He spins the
white around slow like, and the white goes  into a last coma. The black spot
fondles him carefully, finding his face, his eyes, and his  throat, and rips
his throat open before his jelly  can jell.  He  sticks  there for a  little
while sucking  the warm  life out of the pale carcass. When he gets full, he
spins  fast,  spins away  from  his kill, and comes walking in Fifth  Avenue
fashion down toward another patch of the same green cane.
     Now  in  the  canebrakes  there lives  some sort  of an animule that is
neither here  nor there. I mean he isn't white and he  isn't black.  He's  a
middle brown.  I run onto him just by accident while I was flying  over  the
most stagnant part of the water, and he looked like a hard worker. The other
little  black  speck was skipping through the morning  dew, full of pep, and
just  had had a  good warm meal  and  everything.  He wasn't exactly looking
where he was  going. He thought he'd just won a battle. He was whistling and
singing,  and when  he  got  within  earshot  of  the cane  patch,  why  the
cane-patch dweller spotted him.  The  speck in the  cane patch hadn't caught
his breakfast as yet that day,  and he commenced to  vibrating like a little
electric motor when he saw the  other  one cavorting in the cane. The  brown
one in the cane patch was at  home there. He  grabbed hold  of a good  solid
stalk of cane and waited. When the other one trotted by, he reached out  and
grabbed  him by the coat  collar, yanked him bodily into the  patch, and the
two of them made  the heavy cane leaves  rattle for forty acres around. This
was a real fight.
     At first, the little  black one was  doing  pretty well for hisself. He
had two arms stuck out and was  spinning and dodging and  hitting  hard  and
fast;  in and out, quick  as electricity shocking, he'd sock the boy  in the
canebrakes. He won the first two rounds hands down, but he wasn't at home in
the cane.  He tripped and stumbled around over the stalks, and he would  get
his two big strong  arms all tangled up in the cane, and  would have to come
to a complete rest, untangle himself, and start out spinning all over again.
This seemed to  make him mighty tired. The other one was some bigger and  he
didn't work very bard at first. He just weaved around a little. He had about
forty hands, short and sharp like hooks, but  not very deadly. H  used them
sort of two  or three at a  time and never wore his  self out. When two arms
would get tired, why, he'd just turn around a few notches, grab some kind of
a  new  handhold on the cane, and  fight with  a  brand-new  set of arms and
fists. He  didn't  smoke hump  cigarets. He had good wind. He was at home in
the brush. He just, so to say, let Mister Black Speck fight and fan  the air
till  he was so  tired he couldn't go any more. When he stopped, the  bigger
boy  set in on him with all  forty arms  and fists.  He whim-whammed him. He
dynamited  his  face, torpedoed his heart, and beat the  little black fellow
into a  pulp. He took him  gently and sweetly in the hug of his  forty arms,
and sucked the blood out of him, along with the blood that the black one had
just  lately sucked  out of somebody else. Then  when he  had his  fill,  he
chunked the dead body over among the tall cane stalks, walked his way slowly
into the patch, coiled up and  went off to sleep. His belly was full. He was
lazy. He'd won because he'd been hungry.

     For the next few  months I took a spell of spending all  of the money I
could  rake and  scrape for brushes,  hunks of  canvas, and all kinds of oil
paints. Whole  days would go by and I wouldn't know where they'd went. I put
my whole mind and every single thought to the business of painting pictures,
mostly people.
     I made  copies  of Whistler's "Mother,"  "The Song of  the  Lark," "The
Angelus," and lots of babies and boys and dogs, snow and  green trees, birds
singing on  all  kinds  of  limbs,  and pictures of the dust  across the oil
fields and wheat country. I made a couple  of dozen heads of Christ, and the
cops that killed Him.
     Things was  starting to stack up in my head  and I just felt like I was
going  out  of  my  wits  if I  didn't find  some way of saying what  I  was
thinking. The world didn't mean  any more than a  smear to me if I  couldn't
find  ways  of  putting  it  down on  something.  I painted cheap signs  and
pictures on store windows, warehouses, barns and hotels, hock shops, funeral
parlors and blacksmith shops, and I spent the money I made for more tubes of
oil colors. "I'll make 'em good an' tough," I said to  myself, "so's they'll
last a thousand years."
     But canvas  is too  high priced, and so is paint and  costly oils,  and
brushes  that you've got to chase a camel or a seal or a  Russian  red sable
forty miles to get.
     An uncle of mine taught me to play the  guitar and I got to going out a
couple of nights a week to  the cow ranches around to  play  for the  square
dances. I made up new words to old  tunes and sung them everywhere I'd go. I
had to give my pictures away to get  anybody to hang them on their wall, but
for singing a song,  or a few songs at a country dance, they paid me as high
as three dollars a night. A picture--you buy it once, and it bothers you for
forty years; but with a song, you sing it out, and it soaks in people's ears
and they all jump up and down and  sing it with you,  and then when you quit
singing it, it's gone, and  you get a job singing it  again. On top of that,
you can sing out what you think. You can tell tales of all kinds to put your
idea across to the other fellow.
     And there  on  the  Texas plains right in the dead center  of  the dust
bowl,  with  the oil boom over and the wheat blowed out and the hard-working
people  just  stumbling  about,  bothered  with  mortgages,  debts,   bills,
sickness, worries of every blowing kind,  I seen there was plenty to make up
songs about.
     Some people liked me, hated  me, walked with me, walked over me, jeered
me,  cheered me, rooted  me and hooted me, and before long I was invited  in
and booted out of every public place of entertainment in that country. But I
decided that songs was a music and a language of all tongues.
     I never  did  make  up many songs  about  the  cow trails  or  the moon
skipping through  the sky,  but at  first it  was funny songs of what  all's
wrong, and how  it turned  out good or  bad. Then I got a little braver  and
made up  songs telling what I  thought was wrong and how to make  it  right,
songs that said what everybody in that country was thinking.
     And this has held me ever since.
     Chapter XII

     My dad married  a mail-order wife. She  come to Pampa from Los Angeles,
and after two  or  three wedding celebrations most of  the relatives went on
back to their farms, and Papa and his new  wife, Betty Jane, settled down in
a shack in a tourist court.
     She put  an  ad in the paper and started  telling fortunes.  Her  trade
started  out pretty slow at first,  then it grew so fast that  the customers
overflowed her shack.
     Oil field  dying out, the  boom chasers  trickled out down  the road in
long strings of high-loaded  cars.  The dust crawled down from the north and
the  banks pushed  the farmers off their land. The big flat lakes dried away
and left  hollow places across the plains full of this hard, dry,  crackled,
gumbo mud. There isn't a healthier country than West Texas when  it wants to
be, but when the  dust kept whistling down the  line blacker and more of it,
there was plenty of everything sick, and mad, and mean, and worried.
     People hunted for some kind of an answer. The banker  didn't give it to
them. The sheriff never told anybody the answer. The chamber of commerce was
trying to  make more money, and  they was too busy to tell people the answer
to  their troubles. So the people asked the preacher, and still didn't learn
much where to go or what  to do. They even come to the  door of the  fortune
     I  was  about twenty-four years old at this time and living  in a worse
shack than Betty  Jane and Papa. It  had cost me twenty-five  dollars on the
payment plan a few months before. Oil workers don't build mansions when they
open up a  new boom  town. The work peters out.  The workers bundle  up  and
cripple off down  the same old road they hit town on. Their shacks are left.
Dirty, filthy, and all shot to  pieces, and  warped,  and humped, swaying in
every direction like a herd of cattle hit with a plague, these little shacks
lean around over the plains.
     "Your name Guthrie?" A tough-looking man had just knocked so hard on my
door that the whole little house shook. "I'm lookin' for Guthrie!"
     "Yessir, my name, all right." I looked out the door. "Come in?"
     "No! I won't come in! I've been spending  most of my time for the  last
few  months  going around to people of your kind. Trying to get some  decent
advice!''  He shook his hands in  the wind and  preached at me  like he  was
fixing  to pass the  plate, "I ain't goin' to pay out another red cent! Four
bits here. A dollar there. Two bits yonder. It keeps me broke!"
     "Mighty bad shape ta be in."
     "I'll come  in! I'll set myself down! If you can tell me what I want to
know, you'll get  fifty cents! If you don't, I won't give  you a penny!  I'm
     "Come on in."
     "Okay. I'll sit right here on this chair and  listen. But I'm not going
to tell you one single word why I'm here. You've got to tell me! Now, Mister
Trouble Buster, let's see you strut your stuff!"
     "Dust's gittin' party bad out there."
     "Start talkin'!"
     "You 'fraid of that dust?"
     "I'm not th' least bit afraid of that dust."
     "You must  not have  an outside  job, then.  You're not  no farmer. You
ain't no  oil  field roustabout. If  you had a store of any  kind,  you'd be
afraid that  dust  was  drivin' all of yer  customers  away.  So,  You know,
Mister, you've got the wrong Guthrie."
     "Keep talking!"
     "My dad married a fortune teller, but I never did claim ta be one, but,
I'd  like ta just see if  I c'n tell ya what  ya come here for,  an' what ya
wanta know."
     "Four bits in it if you do."
     "You're a inside man. You work in a oil refinery. Good payin' job."
     "Right. How did you know?"
     "Well, these farmers an' ordinary workin' people aroun'' here ain't got
enuff  money ta throw off  four bits here, an  a  dollar there fer a fortune
teller. So yore work  is high class. Yer mighty serious  about  yer work. Ya
really  take a pride in yer machinery. Ya like to  work.  Ya like ta see th'
most turned out  in  th'  shortest  time.  Always  thinkin'  about inventin'
somethin' new ta make machinery  run better an' faster. Ya tinker with this,
even when yer off of yer job an' at home."
     "Seventy-five cents. Keep talking."
     "That new invention you've got is gonna make ya some money one of these
here  days. There's a  big concern already on  yer trail. Wantin' ta buy it.
They'll try ta steal it cheap as they can. Don't  trust anybody but yer wife
with th' secret. She's waitin' out there in yer car. Ya gotta lotta faith in
yer  own self,  an' in  her,  too.  That's  mighty good.  Keep  on  with yer
inventin'. Keep workin' all time. Ya won't  git what ya  want outta this big
company fer yer invention,  but ya'll git  enuff  ta put ya up  in  shape ta
where ya c'n keep up yer work."
     "Make it an even dollar. Go on."
     "Yer mind is full of  inventions, an'  th'  world's full of  folks that
needs 'em bad. Ya jest gotta keep yer mind all clear, like a farm, so's more
inventions c'n grow up there. Th' only way ya c'n do this is ta help out th'
pore workin' folks all ya can."
     "Here's the dollar. What next?"
     "That's all. Jest think over what I told ya. Good-bye."
     "You are the only fortune  teller that I've found that  don't  claim to
tell anything, and tells everything!"
     "I don't claim ta be no mind reader. I don't  make  no charge  fer jest
     "You're  just  modest. I consider that dollar  well  spent.  Yes,  well
spent. And I've got lots of friends all over these oil fields. I'll tell all
of them to come down here and talk to you! Good-day!"
     So there  it  was. I stood  there looking at both  sides of the  dollar
bill, the picture on the gray side, and the big building on the green  side.
The first dollar I'd made  in over a  week. Just a man mixed up in his head.
Smart guy, too. Hard worker.
     The gravels  knocked splinters off  of  the side  of the house. And the
dust blew and the wind come down. In a couple of days the dollar  was almost
     Somebody knocked at my front door.  I got up and said, "Hello" to three
ladies. "Come in, ladies."
     "We ain't got no money ner no time to waste neither!"
     "This lady has a awful funny thing wrong with her. She can't talk. Lost
her voice. And she can't swallow any  water. Hasn't had a drink of water  in
almost a week. We took her to several  doctors. They  don't  know what to do
about it. She's just starving."
     "But--ladies--I ain't no doctor."
     "Some  fortune  tellers  can  heal things like this. It's  the gift  of
healing. There  are seven  gifts--healing, prophecy, faith, wisdom, tongues,
interpretation of tongues, and discerning  of  spirits. You've  just got  to
help her! Poor thing. She can't just die away!"
     "Set down right here in this here chair," I told the lady. "Do you have
faith that you'll git cured?"
     She smiled and choked trying to talk, and nodded her head yes.
     "Do you b'lieve yer mind is th' boss of yer whole body?"
     She nodded yes at me again.
     "You b'lieve yer mind is  boss over  yer nerves? All yer muscles? Back?
Legs? Arms? Your neck?"
     She nodded her head again.
     I walked to the water bucket and took the dipper and poured a glassful.
I handed it to  her and said, "Yore husbans' wants you ta talk to 'im, don't
he? An'  yore kids, ta boot?  No two ways about it! You say you ain't got no
money fer a doctor?"
     She shook her head no.
     "You'd better quit this monkey bizness,  then, an' swig this water down
you! Drink it! Drink it! Then tell me  how good if  feels ta be able ta talk
     She held the glass in her fingers, and I could see  the skin was so dry
it was  wrinkling and cracking. She looked around and smiled at me  and  the
other two ladies.
     She turned the glass up and drunk the water down.
     We all held our mouths open and didn't breathe a breath.
     "It's what?"
     "Good. Water. Water. Good."
     "You ladies g'wan  back  home  an' spend  th' next three et  four  days
carryin' buckets of good clear  fresh  drinkin'  water ta this lady.  Have a
water-drinkin' contest. Talk about ever'-thing. You don't owe me nuthin'."
     And so there  ain't no tellin'  where  the  wind will blow or what will
come up  out of the  weeds. This was the start of  one of  the  best, worst,
funniest and saddest  parts of my whole  life.  They thought  I was  a  mind
reader. I didn't claim to be, so some of them called me a fortune teller and
a healer. But I never claimed to be different from you or anybody else. Does
the truth help to heal you when  you hear it? Does a clear mind make a  sick
body well? Sometimes.  Sometimes nervous spells cause people to be sick, and
worry causes  the nervous  spells. Yes, I could talk. Did that make them get
well? What are words, anyway? If  you tell a  lie with  words, you cause all
kinds  of people to  get sick. If you  tell people the  real truth, they get
together and they get well. Was that it?
     I remember a German rancher that  would come to my house every time the
stock market  went up a  penny or  down a penny. He would ask me, "Vat do de
spirits sez aboudt my fadder's cattles?"
     "Spirits ain't  got  nuthin' ta do  with yer father's cattle,'' I would
tell him. "What you call spirits ain't nuthin'--nuthin" but th'  thoughts ya
think in yer head."
     "My  fadder iss dead.  Vat  hass  he got to tell me aboudt raising  and
selling his catties?" he would say.
     "Yer father  would  like fer ya ta do jist what he did  fer  forty-five
years out here on these plains, Mister. Raise 'em young, buy 'em cheap, feed
'em good, an' sell 'em high!" I'd tell him.
     He  woke  me up at  all  hours  of the night.  He  traveled  more  than
twenty-five miles to my place. And not  a week rolled past but  what he made
the trip and asked the same old question.
     An engineer on the Rock Island Railroad spur that runs from Shamrock up
north to Pampa used to ride along in his engine and look out at some new oil
land.  He wanted me to shut my eyes and see a vision  for him. "Where  had I
ought to buy oil land?"
     "I see an old oil field, with  black oily derricks. It's good  oil land
because it's an old proven field, an' it's still perducin'. In th' middle of
this  field of  black derricks, I see a white derrick,  painted with  silver
paint an' shinin' in th' sun."
     "I  see that same derrick every day when I pass that  field  on my run!
I've been wondering if I should try to buy some land around that field."
     "I  see a lot of oil under this  land, because this derrick  is  in th'
middle  of  a whole big forest  of  black oily rigs. When ya buy yer new oil
land, buy it as  close to that center derrick as  ya can. But don't  pay too
much fer th' deal."
     "You've  helped me to solve my whole problem!" he told me as he got up.
"You've took a big  load off  of my mind. How did you know about this silver
rig in this bunch of old oily ones?"
     And I said, "You're an engineer on this Shamrock spur line, ain't ya? I
just guessed that you'd been savin' yer money  ta buy--well, some  land that
ya seen ever' day on yer run. I know this oil field awful well, an' it looks
awful purty from a boxcar door--an' I s'pose it looks awful purty from up in
an  engine cab--'long  toward quittin' time, when yer thinkin' 'bout gettin'
home to yer wife an' family, an' tryin' ta think of how ta  invest yer money
so's it'll bring yer folks th' most good. I wuz jist guessin' an' talkin'--I
don't know, really, where you'd oughtta buy yer oil land."
     "Here's a dollar. I think you saved me several thousand."
     "How's that?"
     "You told me something I'd never thought of: to  buy my land closest to
the middle of  the  biggest field. But an acre of that  land  would take  my
life's  earnings. And while you  had your eyes closed there, talking, I felt
afraid to spend my money away off on some new wildcat  land that didn't have
any oil derricks on it; and so I just got to thinking, maybe the best hole I
could  put my  money in  would be the  Postal Savings  Window  of the United
States Government. You earned this dollar, take it." And then he walked away
and I never did see him any more.
     A little  girl six years old had big running  sores all over her scalp.
Her mama took her to the doctor and  he treated her for over six months. The
sores still stayed. The  barber  cut her hair all  off like  a convict  on a
chain gang.  The mother finally  brought her over  to  my place and told me,
"Jist wanta see what'cher a-doin' over here."
     ''Do ya keep 'er head good an' clean?" I asked the lady.
     "Yeh. But she  bawls an' squawls an'  throws  wall-eyed fits
when she has ta go ta school!'' her mama said.
     "The old mean kids make  fun of  me because my head looks  like  an old
jailbird," the little girl told us.
     "Take  th' white of an egg in a saucer  an' rub it  into 'er  head good
ever' night. Let it soak in all night. Then ya  can wash 'er head with clear
water ever'  mornin' 'fore she  goes off ta school. Ya won't even
hafta bring 'er back over here no more ta see me. Ya'll have a purtier  head
of hair than any of them old mean teasin' kids."
     "How long'll it take?" the little girl asked.
     "Ya'll have it by th' day school ends," I told her.
     "That'll be nice, won't it?" Her Mama looked at both of us.
     "But you--ya quit yer scarin' this girl! Ya quit makin' 'er play by her
self.  Quit makin' 'er stay inside th' house when all  of  th' other kids is
out whoopin' an' runnin'," I told the mother.
     "How'd you know this?" she asked me.
     "Quit makin' 'er wear that old dirty hat all of th' time," I
kept on. "Quit scrubbin' 'er head with  that old strong  lye soap! Give it a
little rest, it'll heal of its own accord."
     "How come you so smart, mister?" The  little girl laughed and took hold
of my hand. "My mama does everything just like you said."
     "Shut yer mouth! Yer talkin' boutcher Ma, ya know!"
     "I knowed all of this, because I can look at yer Mama's hands, and tell
that  she makes her own lye soap. I know she keeps ya in th' house too much,
'cause  ya haven't been gittin' no sunshine  on yer head.  I know
you'll  have  a  big  long set of  purty curls  by th' last day  of  school.
Good-bye. Come to see me with yer curls!"
     I watched the little girl skip twenty or thirty feet ahead as they went
down the road toward shacktown.
     The little shack was  swaying in the dust one dark winter  night, and a
man of two hundred and ninety pounds  banged in at the door, and brought the
weather  in with  him. "I don't know if you  know it or not," he talked in a
low, soft voice, "but you're looking at an insane man."
     "Off yer  coat, hawa seat."  Then  I happened to  notice that he wasn't
wearing any coat,  but several shirts, sweaters, ducking jumpers, and two or
three pairs  of overhauls. He  more than filled the  north half of my little
     "I'm  really  insane." He watched me like a hawk watching a chicken.  I
set down in my chair and listened to him. "Really."
     "So am I," I told him.
     "I've already been to the insane asylum twice."
     "Ya'll soon be a-runnin' that place."
     "I wasn't crazy when they sent  me there, but they kept me shot full of
some kind of crap! Run me out of my wits!  Made  my  nerves  and muscles  go
wild. I beat up a couple of guards

     out in the pea patch and run off. Now I'm here. I reckin they'll git me
purty quick. I see news reels in my head."
     "News reels?"
     "Yes. They get started and I see  them going all of the time. It's like
sitting all  alone  in a big dark theater. I see lots  of them and have seen
them ever since I was a kid. Farm Mama always told me I was crazy. I guess I
always was. Only trouble with these news reels is--they never stop."
     "What's th' news lately?"
     "Everybody's  going to  leave this country. Boom is over. Wheat blowing
out. Dust storms getting  darker and darker. Everybody  running and shooting
and killing. Everybody fighting everybody else. These little old shacks like
this, they're  bad,  no  good for nobody. Lots of kids sick. Old folks. They
won't need us working stiffs around this oil field. People  will have to hit
the road in all of this bad, bad weather. Everything like that."
     "Ain't nuthin' wrong with your head!"
     "Don't you think all of us ought to get together and do something about
all of this? I see stuff like that in this news reel, too. You know, the way
everybody ought to do something about it."
     "Need you fer Mayor 'round this town."
     "I see all kinds of shapes and designs in  my head, too. All  kinds you
could ever think of. They bust into my head like a big flying snowstorm, and
every one of those shapes means something. How to fix a road  better. How to
fix up a whole oil field better. How to make work easier. Even how to  build
these big oil refineries,"
     "Who was it said you was crazy?"
     "Officers. Folks.  They threw  me in  that jail  about  a hundred times
     "Oughtta been jist th' other way 'round."
     "No. I guess I  needed it.  I'm awful bad  to  drink and fight  on  the
streets. Guys tease  me and I light in and beat the  hell out of  them; cops
jump in to get me, and I throw them around. Always something haywire."
     "Work all time?"
     "No, work a  few days,  and then  lay  off a  few  weeks.  Always owing
somebody something."
     "I  guess this town is jist  naturally dryin'  up an' blowin" away. You
need some kind of steady work."
     "Did you paint these pictures of Christ up here on the wall?" He looked
around the room and his eyes stayed on each picture for a long time. " 'Song
of the Lark.' Good copy."
     I said yes, I painted them.
     "I always did think maybe I'd like to paint some of this stuff I see in
my  head.  I wish you would teach  me a little of what you know. That'd be a
good kind of work for me. I could travel and paint pictures in saloons."
     I  got  up and  rustled through  an orange crate full of old paints and
brushes, and wrapped up a good bunch in an old shirt. "Here, go paint."
     And so Heavy Chandler  took the paints and went home.  During  the next
month he  lost over sixty  pounds. Every day he made a trip  to my house. He
carried  a new picture painted on slats and  boards  from apple  crates, old
hunks of cardboard, and plywood, and I was surprised to see how good he got.
Wild blinding snow scenes. Log  cabins smoking in the hills. Mountain rivers
banging  down through green valleys. Desert sands  and dreary bones. Cactus.
The  tumbleweed drifting--rolling  through life. Good  pictures.  He  bucked
wind, rain, sleet, and terrible  bad dust storms to get there. And every day
I would ask  him if he'd been drunk, and he'd tell me yes  or no.  He smiled
out of  his face and  eyes  one day  and said, "I slept good all this  week.
First solid sleep I've had  in six  years. The news reel  still  runs, but I
know how to turn it off and on now when I want  to. I  feel  just as sane as
the next one."
     Then  one day he didn't show  up. The deputy sheriff drove down  to the
shack  and told  me they had Heavy locked up  in  the  jail house  for being
drunk.  "Boy, that  was some fight," the officer  told me. "Six deputies and
Heavy. God, he slung deputy sheriffs all over the south side of town! Nobody
could get him inside that patrol car. It  was worse than a circus tent  full
of wild men!  Then  I  says to Heavy,  'Heavy,  do you know  Woody Guthrie?'
Heavy--he puffed and blowed and said, 'Yes.' Then I took him by the  arm and
says, 'Heavy, Woody wouldn't want you  to beat up  on all of these deputies,
would he, if  he knew about it?' And  then old Heavy  says to me, 'No--where
did you  find out  about Woody Guthrie?' And I  says, 'Oh, he's  a real good
friend of mine!'  And, sir,  you know, Old  Heavy calmed down,  tamed  right
down,  got just as sober and nice as  anybody in about  a minute  flat,  and
smiled out of the side of his eyes and says,  Take me an' lock me up, Mister
Jailer. If you're a friend of Woody's, then you're a friend of mine!' "
     "Whattaya s'pose they'll  do with Heavy up there in  jail?" I asked the
     "Well, 'course  you know Heavy was an  escaped  inmate from the  insane
asylum, didn't you?"
     "Oh, sure, sure, we knew it, too. We knew where he was all of the time.
We knew we could pick him up any minute we wanted him. But we hoped he would
get  better  and come out of  it. I don't know what happened  to  Heavy. But
something funny.  He got just as sane as you or me  or anybody else. Then he
was learning how  to paint or some  dam  thing, somebody said, I don't  know
very much about it. But he's on the train now, headed  back  down to Wichita
     "Did Heavy tell you to tell me anything?"
     "Oh, yes. That is why I made the trip down here. Almost forgot. He told
me to tell you that he just wishes to God  that  you could tell all of those
thirty-five hundred inmates down there what  you told him. I don't know what
it was you told him."
     "Naww. I don't reckin ya do,"  I told the officer; "I  don't  guess you
know. Well, anyway, thanks. See ya again. 'Bye."
     And  the car  drove away with  the deputy. And I went back  in and fell
down across my bed, rubbing the coat of fine dust on the quilt, and thinking
about the message that old Heavy  had sent me. And  I never did see  him any
more after that.
     Several  hundred asked  me,  "Where  can I  go to get  a job of  work?"
Farmers  heard  about me and asked, "Is  this  dust th'  end of  th' world?"
Business  people  asked  me,  "Everybody  is  on  the move,  and  I've  lost
everything I ever had; what'll  happen next?"  A boom town dance-hall chaser
barged in on me and asked me, "I'm tryin'  to learn how to play th'  fiddle;
do you think I can get to be elected Sheriff?"
     All kinds of cars were parked around my little old shack. People  lost.
People sick.  People wondering.  People hungry. People  wanting work. People
trying to get together and do something.
     A bunch  of ten, twenty oil field workers  and farmers filled the whole
room and stood around most of my front yard. Their leader asked me, "What do
you think about this feller, Hitler, an' Mussolini? Are they out to kill off
all of th' Jews an' niggers?"
     I  told them, "Hitler  an' Mussolini is out ta make a  chaingang  slave
outta you, outta me, an' outta ever'body else! An' kill ever'body
that gits in  their  road! Try ta make us  hate each other on accounta  what
Goddam color our  skin is!  Bible says ta love yer neighbor!  Don't say  any
certain color!"
     The bunch milled around, talking and arguing.  And the leader talked up
and  told me, "This old world's in a  bad condition! Comin'  to a mighty bad
     "Mebbe th' old one is," I yelled at the whole  bunch, "but  a new one's
in th' mail!"
     "This Spanish  war's a sign," he kept raving on.  "This  is  th'  final
battle!  Battle  of  Armagaddeon!  This  dust,  blowin' so thick  ya  cain't
breathe, cain't see th' sky,  that's th' scourge over th' face of th' earth!
Men too  greedy for land an' for money an' for th' power to  make slaves out
of his feller men! Man has cursed th' very land itself!"
     "Now you tell us somethin', Mister Fortune Teller!"
     "Hell yes, that's what we come here for! Tell us a vision `bout all  of
this stuff!"
     I walked  out through the  door past five or six big husky guys dressed
in all kinds of  work clothes, whittling, playing with warts on their hands,
chewing tobacco,  rolling smokes. Everybody in the room  walked  out in  the
yard. I  stood there  on an old rotten board step,  and everybody hooted and
laughed and cracked some kind of  a joke. And then somebody else said, "Tell
our fortune."
     I  looked  down  at the  ground and said, "Well  sir, men, I  ain't  no
fortune teller. No more than you  are. But I'll tell ya what I see in my own
head. Then ya can call it any name ya like."
     Everybody stood as still as a bunch of mice.
     "We gotta  all git together an' find out some way ta build this country
up. Make  all of this here dust quit  blowin'. We  gotta find a job an'  put
ever' single  livin' one of us ta work. Better houses 'stead  of  these here
little old sickly shacks. Better carbon-black plants. Better oil refineries.
Gotta build  up more big oil fields.  Pipe lines runnin' from here  plumb ta
Pittsburgh,  Chicago,  an'  New York. Oil an' gas fer fact'ries  ever'where.
Gotta keep an' eye peeled on ever' single inch of this whole country an' see
to it that none of Hitler's Goddam stooges don't lay a hand on it."
     "How we gonna do all of this? Just walk  to John D. an'  tell  'm we're
ready  to go  to work?" The whole bunch  laughed and started milling  around
     "You ain't no prophet!" one big boy yelled. "Hell, any of us coulda say
that same thing! You're a dam fake!"
     "An' you're a Goddam fool!" I hollered out at him. "I  told ya I didn't
claim  ta be nothin' fancy! Yer own  dam head's jist as  good as mine! Hell,
     The  mob  of men snickered  and  fussed  amongst their selves, and made
motions with their hands like a  baseball umpire saying "out." They shuffled
around on their feet,  and then broke  up into little bunches and started to
drift out of the yard. All  talking. Above them, the big boy yelled  back at
me, "Look out who're you're callin' a fool, there, bud!"
     "Men! Hey! Listen! I know we all see this same  thing--like news  reels
in  our mind. Alla th' work that  needs ta be  done--better highways, better
buildin's,  better houses.  Ever'-thing  needs  ta be fixed up better!  But,
Goddamit, I ain't no master mind! All  I know  is we gotta git  together an'
stick together! This country  won't ever git much better as long as it's dog
eat dog, ever' man fer his own self, an' ta hell with th' rest of th' world.
We  gotta  all git together, dam it all,  an' make  somebody  give us  a job
somewhere doin' somethin'!"
     But the whole crowd  walked off down toward Main  Street,  laughing and
talking  and throwing their hands. I  leaned back up against the side of the
shack and  watched  the  gravel  and  dust  cutting  down the  last  of  the
     "News reels in my  head," I  was looking and thinking to myself,  and I
was thinking of old Heavy gone. "News reels in my head. By God, mebbe we all
gotta learn how ta see them there news reels in our heads. Mebbe so."

     I rolled my sign-painting brushes up inside an old shirt and stuck them
down in my  rear pants pocket.  On the floor of the shack  I  was  reading a
letter and thinking to myself. It said:

     ". .  .  when Texas is so dusty and  bad,  California is  so  green and
pretty. You  must be  twenty-five  by now, Woody. I know I can get you a job
here in Sonora. Why don't you come? Your aunt Laura."

     Yes, I'll go, I was thinking. This is a right nice day for  hittin' th'
road. 'Bout three o'clock in th' afternoon.
     I pulled the crooked door shut as best  I  could,  and walked one block
south to the main highway leading west. I turned west and walked along a few
blocks, across  a railroad track, past a  carbon-block warehouse. "Good  old
Pampa. I hit here in 1926. Worked my tail off  'round this here town. But it
didn't  give me  anything. Town had growed up, strung itself  all out across
these plains. Just a little old low-built cattle town  to start with; jumped
up big when the oil boom hit. Now eleven years later it had up and died."
     A three- or four-ton beer truck  blowed its air  brakes and I heard the
driver talking, "By  God! I thought  that looked like  you,  Woody! Where ya
headin'? Amarilla? Hustlin' signs?" We got off to a jumpy start while he was
spitting out his window.
     "Cal'fornia," I said. "Hustlin' outta this dam dust!"
     "Fer piece down th' road, ain't it?"
     "Enda this dam highway! Ain't a-lookin' back!"
     "Aww,  ain'tcha  gonna  take  one  more  good  look  at  good  ol'
     I looked out my window and seen it  go by. It was just shacks all along
this side of town, tired and lonesome-looking, and lots of us wasn't  needed
here no more. Oil derricks running  up to  the  city limits  on three sides;
silvery refineries that first smelled good, then bad; and off along the  rim
of the horizon, the big carbon-black plants throwing  smoke worse  than  ten
volcanoes, the fine black powder covering the iron grass and the early green
wheat that pushes  up  just in time to kiss this March wind.  Oil  cars  and
stock cars lined up like herds of cattle. Sun so clear and so bright

     that I felt  like I was leaving one of the prettiest  and ugliest spots
I'd  ever  seen. "They tell  me this  town has fell  down ta somethin'  like
sixteen thousan' people," I said.
     "She's really goin' with th' dust!" the  driver  told  me. Then  we hit
another railroad crossing  that jarred him into saying, "I seen th' day when
there  was more  folks than that goin'  to  th'  picture shows! She's really
shrivelin' up!"
     "I  ain't  much a-likin'  th' looks o' that bad-lookin' cloud a-hangin'
off ta th' north yonder," I told him.
     "Bad  time uv  year fer them  right blue  northers!  Come up awful fast
sometimes. Any money on ya?"
     "How ya aimin' ta eat?"
     "How's it come ya ain't packin' yer music box with ?"
     "Hocked it last week."
     "How ya gon'ta paint signs  in a dam blue  norther with th'  temperture
hangin' plumb out th' bottom? Here. Fer's I go.''
     "This'll  gimme  a good start  at  least.  Mucha  'blige!" I
slammed the  door and backed off onto the gravel and watched the track leave
the main highway, bounce over a rough bridge, and  head north across  a  cow
pasture. The driver  hadn't said good-bye  or anything. I thought  that  was
funny.  That's a bad  cloud. Five  miles back to town,  though. No use of me
thinking about going back. What the hell's this thing stuck here in my shirt
pocket? I be dam. Well, I be dam. A greenback dollar bill. No wonder he just
chewed  his gum. Truck drivers can do a hell of  a lot  of talking sometimes
without even saying a word.
     I  walked on down the  highway bucking into  the wind. It got so hard I
had to really  duck my  head and  push. Yes. I know this old flat country up
here on the  caprock plains. Gumbo mud. Hard crust sod. Iron grass for tough
cattle and hard-hitting cowboys that work for the ranchers. These old houses
that sweep with the country and look like they're crying in the dust. I know
who's  in there. I know. I've stuck my  head in a million.  Drove  tractors,
cleaned plows and harrows, greased discs and pulled the tumbleweeds out from
under the machinery. That wind is  getting harder. Whoooooo! The  wind along
the oily  weeds sounded like a  truck climbing  a  mountain in  second gear.
Every  step I  took  to the west, the  wind pushed me  back  harder from the
north, like it was trying to tell me, for God's  sake, boy, go to  the south
country,  be  smart,  go where they sleep out every  night. Don't split this
blue  blizzard west, because  the  country  gets  higher,  and flatter,  and
windier,  and  dustier, and you'll get colder  and  colder.  But  I thought,
somewhere west there's more room. Maybe the west country needs me out there.
It's so big and I'm so little.  It needs me to help fill it up and I need it
to grow up in. I've got to keep bucking this wind, even if it gets colder.
     The storm poured in over the wheat country,  and the powdery  snow  was
like talcum,  or dried paste, blowing along with the grinding  bits of dust.
The snow was  dry.  The dust  was cold. The sky was  dark  and  the wind was
changing the whole world into an awful funny-looking,  whistling and whining
place. Flat fields and grazing lands got  smothery  and close.  It was about
three more miles on to the little town of Kings Mill.
     I walked  about two of  the  miles in the blowing storm and got  a ride
with a truck load of worried cattle,  and a bundled-up driver, smoking loose
tobacco that blew as wild as the dust and the snow, and stung like acid when
it lit in my eyes.
     We hollered  the usual hollers back  and forth at each other during the
last mile that I rode with him. He said that he was turning north off of the
main road at Kings  Mill. I  said, Let me out  at  the post  office and I'll
stand around in there by the stove and try to get another ride.
     In  the general  store,  I bought a nickel's worth  of postal cards and
wrote all five of them  back to the folks in  Pampa, saying, "Greetings from
the Land  of  Sunshine  and just plenty of Good  Fresh Air. Having wonderful
tour. Yrs. trly. Wdy."
     Pretty soon another cattle man offered me a  ride on to the next cattle
town. He smoked a pipe which had took up more of his time in the last twenty
years than wife, kids, or his cow ranching.  He told me, "This old Panhandle
country can  be  one mighty nice place when  it's  purty, but hell on wheels
when  she gits  riled up!" His  truck was governed down to fifteen or twenty
miles an  hour.  It was a windy, brittle hour before  we crept  the  fifteen
miles  from Kings Mill over to White Deer. I  was so  cold when we got there
that I couldn't hardly get out of the truck. The flying heat from the engine
had kept me a degree or two above freezing, but stepping  out into that wind
head-on was worse. I walked another mile or two on down the side of the road
and, as long as  I  walked,  kept  fairly loose and limber. A time or two  I
stopped  alongside the  concrete,  and stood and waited with my  head ducked
into  the wind--and it seemed like none of the drivers could see  me. When I
started to walk  some more, I noticed  that the muscles in the upper part of
my  legs were drawn up,  and hurt every time I took a step, and that it took
me a  few hundred yards' walking to get full control over  them. This scared
me so much that I decided to keep walking or else.
     After  three or four  miles  had went under  my feet,  a big new  model
Lincoln Zephyr stopped, and I got in the back seat. I saw two people  in the
front  seat.  They asked me a few  silly questions.  I  mean  they were good
questions, but I only gave them silly answers. Why was I out on the highways
at any such a time as this? I was just there. Where was I going? I was going
to California. What for? Oh, just to see if I couldn't do a little better.
     They let me  out  on the streets  of Amarillo, sixty  miles  away  from
Pampa. I  walked through town, and it got colder. Tumbleweeds, loose gravel,
and dirt and beaten snow crawled along the  streets and vacant lots, and the
dust rolled in on a high  wind, and fell on down across  the upper plains. I
got across town and waited on a bend for a ride. After an hour, I hadn't got
one. I didn't want to walk any more  down the road  to keep warm, because it
was getting dark, and nobody could see  anything out there on  a night  like
that.  I  walked twenty-five  or  thirty  blocks back to  the main  part  of
Amarillo. A sign on a board said, Population, 50,000, Welcome. I went into a
picture show  to get warm and bought a hot  sack of good,  salty  popcorn. I
figured on staying  in the cheap show all I could, but they didn't stay open
after midnight in Amarillo, so I was  back on  the streets pretty soon, just
sort of walking up and down, looking at the jewelry and duds in the windows.
I got a nickel sack of smoking, and tried rolling a cigaret on every part of
Polk Street, and the wind blew the sack away, a whiff at a  time. I remember
how funny it was. If I did succeed in getting one rolled and licked down and
into my mouth, I'd strike up all of the matches in the country trying to get
it  lit; and  as  quick as I got it lit, the wind  would blow so hard on the
lighted end that it  would  burn up like a Roman  candle, too fast to  get a
good draw off, and  in  the meantime throwing  flaked-off red-hot  ashes all
over my coat.
     I went down to  the railroad  yards, and  asked about the freights. The
boys were hanging out in two or three all-night coffee joints, and there was
no lead as to  where  you could get  a free flop. I  spent  my last four-bit
piece  on a little two-by-four room, and slept in a good warm bed. If it had
cockroaches, alligators or snapping turtles in it, I was too sleepy to  stay
awake and argue with them.
     I hit the streets next morning in a bluster of gray, smoky-looking snow
that had  managed to get  a toehold during  the night. It covered  the whole
country,  and  the highway was  there somewhere--if you could  only find it.
This  side  of Clovis, fifteen or twenty  miles, I met  an A Model Ford with
three young boys in  it. They stopped and let me in. I rode with them toward
New Mexico all day long. When they came to the state line, they acted funny,
talking and whispering  among themselves, and  wondering if the cops at  the
port of entry would notice anything odd about us. I heard  them say that the
car was borrowed, no ownership papers, bill of sale, driver's  license--just
borrowed off of the streets. We talked it over. Decided just to act as blank
as possible, and trust  to  our luck that we could get across. We drove over
the  line. The cops waved us past. The sign read: Trucks and Busses Stop For
Inspection. Tourists Welcome to New Mexico.
     The three boys were wearing old patched overhalls and khaki work  pants
and  shirts  that looked like they'd  stand a couple or three  good washings
without  coming any too clean. I  looked  at  their hair, and  it  was  dry,
wind-blown,  gritty, and full of the  dust out of the  storm,  and  not  any
certain  wave  or  color--just the  color of the whole country.  I had  seen
thousands of men  that looked just the same way,  and could usually  tell by
the color of the dirt where they were from. I guessed these boys to  be from
the  oil-field country back up around Borger, and  asked them if that was  a
good guess. They said that we  could  ride together better if we asked  each
other less questions.
     We rolled along,  slow, boiling up the higher country, and  cooling off
coasting  down--until  we  hit the mountains  on this side of Alamagordo. We
stopped once or twice to let the engine cool off. Finally we hit  the top of
the mountain ridge, and  traveled along  a high, straight road that stuck to
the middle part of a flat, covered  on  both  sides by evergreen pine, tall,
thin-bodied, and straight as an  arrow, branching out, about thirty or forty
feet up the trunk; and the undergrowth was mostly a mixture of brown scrubby
oak, and  here  and  yonder, bunches of green, tough  cedar.  The air was so
light that it  made our heads feel funny.  We laughed and joked about how it
     I noticed  that the driver was speeding up and then throwing the clutch
in, letting the car slip  into  neutral, and coasting as far as he  could. I
mentioned this to the driver,  and  he said  that he was running on his last
teacupful of gas, and  it was twenty-five miles  to the next  town.  I  kept
quiet from then on,  doing  just what the other three were, just gulping and
     For five or six miles we held our breath. We were four guys out, trying
to get somewhere in the world, and the  roar of that  little engine, rattly,
knocky  and fumy as it was, had  a good  sound  to our ears. It was the only
motor we had. We wanted more than anything else in the world to hear it purr
along, and we didn't care how  people  laughed  as  they went around us, and
throwed their  clouds of  red dust  back into our faces.  Just take  us into
town, little motor, and we'll get you some more gas.
     A mile or  two of up-grade, and  the tank was empty. The driver throwed
the clutch in, shifted her into neutral, and  kept wheeling. The speed read,
thirty, twenty, fifteen--and  then  fell down  to five, three, four,  three,
four, five, seven, ten, fifteen, twenty-five, and we all yelled and hollered
as loud and as long as our guts could pump air. Hooopeee! Made 'er! Over the
Goddam  hump!  Yippeee! It's all down hill from here to Alamagordo! To  hell
with the oil companies! For  the next half an hour  we won't be needing you,
John D.! We  laughed  and  told all  kinds  of  good  jokes  going  down the
piny-covered  mountain--some of  the best, wildest, prettiest fresh-smelling
country you could ever hope to find. And it was a  free ride for  us. Twenty
miles of coasting.
     At the bottom we found Alamagordo, a nice little town scattered along a
trickling  creek  or two that chases down from out  of the mountains around.
There  you see the tall, gray-looking cottonwood sticking  along the watered
places. Brown adobe shacks and houses of  sun-dried brick, covered over with
plaster and homemade  stucco of every color. The adobe houses of the Mexican
workers have stood there, some of them, for sixty,  seventy-five, and over a
hundred years, flat. And the workers, a lot of them, the same way.
     On  the  north side of  town  we  coasted into  a homey-looking service
     The man  finally got around to coming  out.  One  of the boys said, "We
want  to swap  you a good wrench for five gallons  of  gas, worth twice that
much. Good shape. Runs true, holds tight, good teeth, never been broke."
     The service  man took  a  long, interested, hungry look at the  wrench.
Good tool. No junky wrench. He was really wanting to make the swap.
     "Got as much as fifty cents cash money?" he asked.
     "No  ..." the  boy  answered  him.  Both  forgot  all about everything,
keeping quiet for a whole  minute or more, and turning  the wrench  over and
over. One boy slid out of the  door and walked through the shop  toward  the
men's rest room.
     "Two bits cash ... ?" the mechanic asked without looking up.
     "No ... no cash ..." the boy told him.
     "Okay ... get your  gas cap  off; I'll swap with  you boys just to show
you that my heart is in the right place."
     The gas cap was turned, laid up on  a fender, and  the gas man held the
long brass nozzle down in the empty hole, and  listened to the five  gallons
flow  into the tank; and the five  gallons sounded lonesome and sad, and the
trade was made.
     "Okay, Mister, you got the best of this deal. But that's what you're in
business for, I reckon; thanks," a boy said, and the old starter turned over
a few wheels that were gradually getting toothless, and  the motor went over
quick, slow,  and then  a blue cloud  of engine smoke  puffed  up  under the
floorboards,  and the good smell of burning  oil  told  you that you weren't
quite walking--yet. Everybody heaved a sigh of relief.  The  man  stood with
his  good costly wrench in his hands, pitching it up and down, and smiling a
little-- nodding as we drove away.
     My eyes fell for a short minute away  from the healthy countryside, and
my gaze came upon  an old tire tool on the  floor  of the  car, a flat rusty
tire iron, an old pump--and a nice wrench, almost exactly like  the one that
we'd  just traded for gas; and  I remembered the boy  that  went to the rest
     Uptown  in Alamagordo, we  stopped at  the high, west  end  of the main
street. It was dinner time, but no money. Everybody was hungry and that went
without asking. I told the boys that I'd get out  and  hustle  the town  for
some quick signs, signs  to paint  on  windows which I could paint in thirty
minutes or  an hour, and we'd surely get enough to buy  some day-old  bakery
goods  and milk to take out  on the  side of the road and eat. I felt like I
owed them something for my fare.  I felt full  of pep, rested  and relieved,
now that there were five gallons of gas splashing around inside of our tank.
They agreed to let me hustle for a quick job, but it must not take too long.
     I jumped out in  a  big rush, and  started off down the street. I heard
one  of them holler, "Meet you right  here at  this  spot  in an hour and no
     I yelled back,  "Okie doke! Hour! No  later." And I walked down through
the town.  I peeled my eyes for an old sign that needed repainting, or a new
one to put on. I stuck my head into ten or fifteen places and got a job at a
shoe  store, putting a  picture  of a man's shoe, a  lady's  shoe, and: Shoe
Repairing Guaranteed. Cowboy Boots a Specialty.
     I had  left my brushes  in the seat of the car, so I made a hard run up
the main  street. I got to  the spot, puffing, grinning,  and blowing like a
little horse, and looked around-- but no boys, and no car.
     I  trotted up and  down the main street again, thinking that they might
have decided to come on down to where I was. But there wasn't the  old Model
A that I'd learned to know and admire, not for being a champion  at anything
but as a car  that really tried. It  was gone. So  were my pardners. So were
all of my paint  brushes. Just a  little rag wound  around some old brushes,
but  they were Russian Red  Sable, the best that money  could buy, and about
twenty bucks of hard-earned money to me. They were my meal ticket.

     Pulling from Alamagordo over to Las Cruces was one of the hardest times
I'd  ever  had.  The valley  highway  turned  into  a dry,  bare  stretch of
low-lying foothills,  too little to  be mountains, and  too hilly to be flat
desert. The hills fooled me completely. Running out from the high mountains,
they looked small  and  easy to walk over, but  the highway bent  and curled
around and got lost a half a dozen times  on each little hill. You could see
the road  ahead shining like a string  of  tinfoil flattened  out,  and then
you'd lose sight  of it again and walk for hours and hours, and  more hours,
and without ever coming to the part that you'd been looking at ahead  for so
     I was always a big hand to walk along and look at the things  along the
side of the road.  Too curious to stand and  wait for a ride. Too nervous to
set  down and rest. Too  struck with the traveling fever to wait. While  the
other long strings of  hitch-hikers was taking it easy  in the shade back in
the  town, I'd  be tugging  and  walking  myself  to  death over the curves,
wondering what  was just around the next bend; walking  to see  some distant
object, which turned out  to be just  a big  rock, or  knoll, from which you
could see and wonder about  other distant  objects.  Blisters  on your feet,
shoes  hot as a horse's hide. Still  tearing along. I  covered about fifteen
miles of country, and finally got so  tired that I walked out to one side of
the road, laid down in the sun, and went off to sleep. I woke up  every time
a car slid down the highway,  and listened to the hot tires sing off a song,
and wondered if I didn't  miss a good, easy, cool ride all  of  the way into
California. I couldn't rest.
     Back on the road, I hung  a ride to Las Cruces and  was  told that  you
couldn't catch a freight there till the next day. I didn't want to lay over,
so  I  lit out walking  toward Deming. Deming  was the  only town  within  a
hundred  miles where  you  could catch one  of them fast ones  setting  long
enough to  get on it. I walked a long stretch on the way to Deming.  It must
have  been  close  to twenty  miles. I walked  until past midnight. A farmer
drove  up  and stopped and said that he would carry me ten miles. I took him
up, and that put me within about fifteen miles of Deming. Next morning I was
walking a couple of hours before  sunup, and along about ten  o'clock, got a
ride with a whole truckload of hitch-hikers. Most every man on the truck was
going to  catch a  freight  at Deming. We found a whole bunch walking around
the yards and streets in Deming waiting to snag out.  Deming is  a good town
and a going town, but it's a good town to keep quiet in. Us free riders said
it was best not to go  around spouting  off at  your mouth too much,  or the
cops  would pull  you  in just to show the taxpayers  that they are  earning
their salaries.
     The  train out of  Deming was a fast one. I got to Tucson without doing
anything much, without even eating for a couple of days.
     In the yards  at Tucson, I didn't  know where to go or  what to do. The
train  rolled in with us after midnight. The cars all banged,  and the brake
shoes set down tight, and everything wheeled to a standstill.
     I was hanging  onto her, because she was a  red-hot  one, and  had been
fast so far, and other trains  had given her the right-of-way. I didn't want
to get off  now, just for a cup of  coffee or  something. Besides, I  didn't
have  the  nickel. I crawled down in a reefer hole--a hole  in the top  of a
fruit car  where  ice is  packed--and  smoked the makings with two men whose
faces I hadn't seen.
     It was cold there in Tucson that night. We laid low for  about a couple
of hours.  After a while, a dark head  and  shoulders  could be  seen in the
square hole, set against the  bright, icy  moonlight night. Whoever  it was,
said, "Boys, you c'n come on out--we're ditched on a siding. She ain't gonna
take these cars on no further."
     "Ya mean we lost our train?"
     "Yeah, we just missed 'er, that's all.''
     And  as the head  and  shoulders went out of sight above us, you  could
hear men scrambling down the sides, hanging onto the shiny iron ladders, and
falling out by the tens and dozens all up and down the cinder track.
     "Ditched. ..."
     "Shore'n hell. ..."
     "Coulda  got'er if we'd of knowed it in  time. I had this happen to  me
before, right here in Tucson."
     "Tucson's a bitch, boys, Tucson's a bitch."
     "Oh--just is. Hell, I don't know why!"
     "Just another town, ain't it?"
     " Tain't no town, 'tain't no city. Not fer guys like you an' me. You'll
find out soon enough...."
     "What's funny about Tucson?"
     Men  ganged around the black  cars, and talked in low, grumbling voices
that seemed  to be as rough as  they sounded honest. Cigarets flared in  the
dark. A little lantern started  coming down the tracks toward where  we were
ganged around talking. Flashlights flittered along the ground, and you could
see  the  funny  shadows of  the  walking  feet  and  legs  of men,  and the
underparts  of  the  brake drums, air hoses,  and couplings of the big, fast
     "Car knockers."
     "Boys--scatter out!"
     "Beat it!"
     "And--remember--take an old 'bo's word for it, and stay th' hell out of
the city limits of Tucson."
     "What kind of a dam town is this, anyhow?"
     'Tucson--she's a rich man's bitch, that's what she is, and nothin' else
     Morning. Men are scattered  and gone. A hundred men and more, rolled in
on  that  train last night, and it was cold. Now it's  come morning, and men
seem to be gone. They've learned how to keep out of the way. They've learned
how to meet and  talk  about their  hard traveling, and  smoke each  other's
snipes  in  the  moonlight,  or boil a  pot of coffee  among the weeds  like
rabbits--hundreds of them,  and when the sun comes out bright, they seem  to
be gone.
     Looking out across  a  low place,  growing  with  the  first  sprigs of
something green  and good to eat, I saw the men,  and  I knew who they were,
and  what  they  were  doing.  They  were  knocking  on  doors,  talking  to
housewives,  offering to work to  earn a little piece of bread and meat,  or
some  cold biscuits,  or potatoes and  bread and  a slice of  strong  onion;
something to stick to your ribs till you could get on down the line to where
you knew people, where  you had  friends who would put you up till you could
try to find some work. I felt a funny feeling come over me standing there.
     I had always played music,  painted signs, and managed to do some  kind
of  work to get a  hold  of a piece of money, with  which I could walk in to
town  legal, and buy anything I wanted to eat or drink. I'd always felt that
satisfied feeling of  hearing a coin jingle across the counter, or at least,
doing some kind of work to pay for my meals. I'd missed whole days without a
meal.  But I'd been pretty proud about bumming.  I still hoped that  I could
find some  kind of  short  job  to earn  me  something to eat. This was  the
longest I had ever gone without  anything  to eat. More  than two whole days
and nights.
     This was  a strange  town,  with a  funny feeling hanging  over  it,  a
feeling like  there were lots of people in it--the Mexican  workers, and the
white workers,  and  the travelers of  all skins and  colors of eyes, caught
hungry, hunting for  some kind of work to do. I was too proud to go out like
the other men and knock at the doors.
     I  kept getting weaker and emptier. I got  so nervous that  I commenced
shaking,  and couldn't  hold myself still. I could smell a piece of bacon or
corncake frying  at a half  a mile  away. The very thought of fruit  made me
lick my hot lips. I kept shaking  and looking blanker and blanker.  My brain
didn't work as good as usual. I couldn't  think. Just got into a  stupor  of
some  kind, and sat there on the main line of the fast railroad,  forgetting
about  even being  there... and  thinking  of homes, with  ice  boxes,  cook
stoves, tables,  hot meals,  cold lunches,  with hot coffee, ice-cold  beer,
homemade wine--and friends and relatives. And  I swore to pay more attention
to the hungry people that I would meet from there on down the line.
     Pretty soon,  a wiry-looking man came  walking  up across the low green
patch,  with a  brown paper sack wadded mp under his arm.  He walked  in  my
direction until he was about fifteen feet away,  and I  could see  the brown
stain of good tasting grease soaking through his sack.  I even sniffed,  and
stuck  my nose up in the  air, and swung my head in his  direction as he got
closer; and I could smell, by real instinct, the good homemade bread, onion,
and salty pork that was in the sack.  He sat down not  more than fifty  feet
away,  under the heavy squared timbers of the under-rigging of a water tank,
and opened his sack and ate his meal, with me looking on.
     He finished it slowly, taking his good easy time. He licked the ends of
his fingers,  and  turned his head sideways to keep from spilling any of the
     After he'd cleaned the sack out, he  wadded it up properly and threw it
over his shoulder. I wondered if there was any crumbs in it. When he left, I
says to myself, I'll go and open it up and eat the crumbs. They'll put me on
to  the  next town. The man  walked over to where I sat and said, "What  the
hell are you doing settin' here on the main line ... ?"
     "Waitin' fer a train," I said.
     "You don't want one on top of you, do you?" he asked me.
     "Nope,'' I says, "but  I don't  see none coming...  .'' "How could  you
with your back to it?" "Back?"
     "Hell,  yes,  I  seen  guys  end up  like  'burger meat  for just  sueh
carelessness as that...."
     "Pretty mornin'," I said to him. "You hungry?" he asked me.
     "Mister, I'm just as empty as one of them automobile cars there, headed
back East to Detroit."
     "How long you been this way?"
     "More than two days."
     "You're a dam fool-----Hit any houses for grub?"
     "No--don't know which a way to strike out."
     "Hell, you are a dam fool, for sure."
     "I guess so."
     "Guess, hell, I  know so." He turned his eyes toward the better section
of town. "Don't go  up in the  fine part  of town to try to work for a meal.
You'll starve to death, and they'll throw you in jail just for  dying on the
streets. But see them little shacks and houses over yonder? That's where the
railroad workers live. You'll get a feed  at the first house you go to, that
is, if you're honest, willing to work for it,  and ain't  afraid to  tell it
just like it is." I nodded my head up and down, but I was listening.
     Before he quit talking, one of  the last things  that he said, was,  "I
been  on  the bum like this for a  long time. I could have split my  sack of
eats with you right here, but  you wouldn't have got any good out of it that
way. Wouldn't learn you a dam thing. I had to  learn it the hard way. I went
to the rich part of town, and  I learnt what it was like; and then I went to
the working folks' end of town and seen what it was like. And now it's up to
you to go out for yourself and get you some grub when your belly's empty."
     I thanked him  two or three times, and we  sat for a minute or two  not
saying much. Just looking around. And then he got up sort of slow  and easy,
and wishing me good luck, he walked away down the side of the rails.
     I don't  quite know what was going on  inside my  head.  I  got up in a
little while and looked around. First, to the north of me, then to the south
of me;  and, if I'd been  using what you call horse sense, I would have gone
to the north toward the shacks that belong to the railroad and farm workers.
But a curious feeling was fermenting in me, and my brain wasn't operating on
what  you'd call pure sanity.  I looked in the direction that  my good sense
told me  to go, and started walking  in the direction  that would lead me to
even  less  to eat, drink, less of a job of work, less friends and more hard
walking and sweating, that is, in the direction of the so-called "good" part
of town, where the "moneyed" folks live.
     The time of day must have been pretty close to nine o'clock. There were
signs of people rustling around, moving and working,  over around the  shack
town; but, in the part of  town  that I was  going toward, there was  a dead
lull of heavy sleep and morning dreams.
     You could look ahead and see a steeple sticking up out of the trees. It
comes up from a  quiet little church house,  A badly painted sign, crackling
from the desert  heat and crisp nights, says something  about  the Brethren,
and so, feeling like a Brethren, you walk over and  size the place up. There
in the morning sun so early, the yellow and brown leaves are wiggling on the
splattered sidewalk, like humping worms  measuring  off their humps, and the
sun is speckling the driveway that takes you  to the minister's  door. Under
the trees it  gets  colder and shadier till you come to  the back door,  and
climbing three rotted steps, knock a little knock.
     Nothing happens. While you're  listening through  all of  the rooms and
floors  and halls  of  the old house, everything gets so quiet that the soft
Whoo  Whoo of a switch  engine back down in  the yards  seems  to  jar  you.
Finally, after a minute or two of waiting, threatening to walk off, thinking
of the noise that your feet would make smashing the beans and seeds that had
fallen from the locust trees on to the driveway, you decide to stick at  the
door, and knock again.
     You  hear  somebody walking  inside the  house.  It sounds  padded, and
quiet, and far away. Like a  leather-footed mountain lion walking in a cave.
And then it  swishes through  the kitchen,  across  the cold linoleum, and a
door clicks open,  and a maid walks out onto  the back porch, scooting along
in a blue-checkered house dress and tan apron, with  a big pocket poked full
of  dust rags of various kinds, a little tam jerked down  over her  ear, and
her hair jumping out  into the  morning breeze. She walks up  to  the screen
door, but doesn't open it.
     "Ah--er--good morning, lady," you say to her.
     She says to you, "What do you want?"
     You say back to her, "Why, you see, I'm hunting for a job of work."
     "Yes, I'm wondering if you've got a job of work that I could do to earn
a bite  to eat, little snack of some  kind.  Grass cut. Scrape leaves.  Trim
some hedge. Anything like that."
     "Listen,  young man," she  tells  you, straining her words  through the
minister's  screen,  "there's a dozen  of you  people that come  around here
every  day  knocking  on  this door. I don't want to make you feel  bad,  or
anything like  that,  but if the minister starts  out to  feed  one  of you,
you'll go off and tell a dozen others about it, and then they'll all be down
here wanting something to eat. You better get on out away  from here, before
you wake him up, or he'll tell you worst than I'm telling you."
     "Yes'm. Thank you, ma'am." And you're off down the driveway and  on the
scent of another steeple.
     I walked past another  church.  This  one is made  out of sandy-looking
rocks, slowly but surely wearing away, and going out of style. There are two
houses,  one on each side, so I stood there for a minute wondering which one
belongs to the minister.  It was a tough choice. But, on closer looks, I saw
that one house was sleepier than the  other one, and  I went  to the  sleepy
one. I was right. It belonged to the minister. I knocked at the back door. A
mean-tempered cat ran  out from under the back porch and scampered through a
naked hedge. Here nothing happened. For five minutes I knocked; still nobody
woke up. So feeling ashamed of myself for even being there, I tiptoed out on
to the swaying sidewalk and sneaked off across town.
     Then I come to a business  street. Stores just stretching  and yawning,
but not wide awake.  I moseyed  along looking in at  the glass windows, warm
duds  too high in price, and hot, sugary-smelling bakery goods piled  up for
the delivery man.
     A big cop, walking along behind me for  half a block, looking  over  my
shoulder, finding out what I was up to. When I turned around, he was smiling
at me.
     He said, "Good morning."
     I said the same back to him.
     He asked me, "Going to work?"
     "Naw,  just looking for work. Like to find a job, and hang around  this
town for a while."
     He looked over my head, and down the  street as an early morning driver
ran a stop sign, and told me, "No work around here this time of the year."
     "I'm  generally  pretty lucky at gittin'  me a job. I'm a  good  clerk,
grocery store, drug store--paint signs to boot."
     He talked out into thin air, and says, "You'll  starve to  death around
here. Or make the can."
     "That's what I said, can."
     "You mean, git in trouble?"
     He nodded his head, yes. He meant trouble.
     "What kinda trouble? I'm  a good hand ta keep outta trouble," I went on
to say.
     "Listen, boy,  when  you're not working in this town, you're already in
trouble, see? And there  ain't no work  for  you,  see? So you're in trouble
already." He nodded at a barber jingling his keys at a door.
     I decided that the best play I  could  make  was to cut  loose from the
copper, and  go on about my  door knocking.  So  I  acted like I  was  going
somewhere. I asked him, "Say,  what  time of the day is it, by  the way?"  I
tried to crowd a serious look onto my face.
     He blowed some foggy  breath out  past a cigaret hanging  limber on his
lip,  and looked  everywhere, except at  me  and  said, "Time for you to get
going. Get off of these streets."
     I kept quiet.
     "Merchants  gonna be coming down to  open up  their stores  in about  a
minute, and they don't want to think that I  let a bird like you hang around
on the streets all night. Get going. Don't even look back."
     And  he watched me  walk away, each of  us knowing just about  why  the
other one acted like he did.
     Rounding a warm corner, I met a man, that, to all looks, was a traveler
suffering from lack of funds. His clothes had been riding  the freights, and
I  was pretty certain that  he  was  riding  with them.  Floppy hat,  greasy
through the headband.
     A  crop of whiskers just about  right for getting into jail.  He was on
his way out of town.
     I said, "Howdy. Good-morning."
     "What'd the dick say to you?" He got right to the main subject.
     "He was telling me how to clear Tucson of myself in five minutes flat,"
I told the man.
     "Tough sonsaguns here, them flatfeet. Rich place. Big tourists get sick
and come here for to lay around," he said, spitting off of the sidewalk, out
into  the  street. "Mighty tough town."  He talked  slow  and  friendly, and
looked at me most of the time, ducking his head, a little bit ashamed of the
way he looked. "I was doing all right till I hung a high ball. Engine pulled
out  and left my car  settin' here." Then he nodded a quick  nod and ran his
eyes over  his dirty clothes, two shirts, wadded down inside a tough pair of
whipcord cotton pants, and  said, "That's how  come me to be so dam  filthy.
Couldn't find a clean hole to ride in."
     "Hell," I said, "man, you ain't  half as bad off as I am as far as dirt
goes. Look at me." And I looked down at my own clothes.
     For the first  time I stood  there and thought to myself  just  what  a
funny-looking  thing  I  was--that  is, to  other people  walking  along the
     He turned around,  took  off  his hat  and  ran  his  hand through  his
straight hair, making it lay down on his head; he moved over a foot or  two,
and looked at his reflection in the big plate-glass window of a store.
     Then he  said, "They got a County Garden here that's a dude." His voice
was sandy  and broken up in little pieces.  Lots of things went through your
mind when he talked-- wheat  stems and empty cotton stalks, burnt  corn, and
eroded  farm land.  The sound was as  quiet as a  change in the weather, and
yet,  it  was  as  strong as he  needed. If  I  was a soldier, I would fight
quicker  for his talking to me, than for the cop. As I followed his talk, he
added, "I been out on that pea patch a couple of shots; I know."
     I told him that I'd been hitting the preachers up for a meal.
     He  said, "That  ain't a very smart trick; quickest  way to  jail's  by
messing around the  nice parts. Qughtta get out on the edge  of town. That's
     The sun  was warm  on the  corner, and Tucson's  nice houses  jumped up
pretty  and clean, pale colors of  pink and yellow. "Mighty purty  sight  to
see. Make anybody want to come out here to live, wouldn't it?" he asked me.
     "Looks like it would," I told him. We both stood and soaked our systems
full of the whole thing. Yes, it is a sight to see the early morning sun get
warm in Tucson.
     " Tain't fer fellers like me'n you, though," he said.
     "Just something pretty to look  at," I said to him. "At  least, we know
it's here, towns like this to live in, and the only thing we got to do is to
learn how to do some kind of work, you know, to make a living here," I said,
watching the blue  shadows chase around the buildings, under  the trees, and
fall over  the adobe fences that were  like regular walls around some of the
     "Hot sun's good for sick folks. Lungers. . Consumptives come here all
shot to hell, half dead from no sunshine 'er fresh air; hang around here for
a few months, takin' it easy, an', by God, leave out of  here  as sound  and
well as the day they crippled in," he told me.
     I cut  in  on him  and said,  "You mean, as well as  they ever was. You
don't mean they go out as well as the day they come in sick."
     He shuffled his feet and laughed at his mistake. " 'At's right, I meant
to say that. I meant to  say, too, that you  can come  in here with a little
piece of money that you saved up, 'er sold your farm or place of business to
get  a holt  of,  an' it  don't last till  the sun can  get up good," He was
smiling and moving his head.
     I asked him how about the broke people that was lungers.
     He said that they hung around on the outsides of the town, and lived as
cheap as they could, and worked around in the crops, panned gold, or any old
thing to make a living, in order to  hang around the place  till they  could
get healed  up. Thousands of folks with their lungs shot to the devil. Every
other person, he told me, was a case of some kind of .
     "Lots of different brands of lungers, huh?" I asked him.
     "Hell's bells, thousand different kinds of it. Mostly 'cording to where
'bouts you ketch it, like in a mine,  or a cement factory, or saw mill. Dust
, chemical  from paint factories, rosin  from the saw mills."
     "Boy howdy, that's hell, ain't it?" I asked him.
     "If they is a hell," he told  me, "I reckon  that's it. To be down with
some kind  of  a trouble, disease, that you get while you're workin', an' it
fixes you to where you cain't  work no more." He looked down at  the ground,
ran his  hands  down into his pockets, and I guessed that he, hisself, was a
     "Yeah, I can see just how it is.  Kinda messes a person  up all th' way
around.  But,  hell, you don't look  so bad off to me; you can still put out
plenty of work, I bet; that  is,  if you could find some to do." I  tried to
make him feel a little better.
     He cleared his  throat  as  quiet  as he  could, but there was the  old
give-away, the little dry rattle, like the ticking of a worn-out clock.
     He rolled himself a smoke, and from his sack I rolled one. We  both lit
up from the same match, and blew smoke in the air. He thought to himself for
a  minute, and didn't say  a  word. I didn't know  whether to talk  any more
about it or not. There is something  in most men that don't like  petting or
     What he said  to me next  took care  of the  whole thing, " 'Tain't  so
terr'ble a thing. I keep quiet about  it mostly on account  of  I don't want
nobody looking  at me,  or treating me like I was a  dying  calf,  or an old
wore-out horse with a broke leg. All I aim to do is to stay out here in this
high, dry country--stay  out of doors all I can, and get all the work I can.
I'll come out from under it."
     I could have stood there and talked to this  man for a  half a day, but
my stomach just wasn't willing to wait much longer; and the two of  us being
in Tucson together would have  been a matter  of  explaining more things  to
more  cops. We  wished each other good luck, and shook  hands, and he  said,
"Well, maybe  we'll  both be  millionaires' sons next time  that we run onto
each other. Hope so, anyhow."
     The last glimpse  I got of  him  was when I turned around for a minute,
and looked  back down his direction. He was walking along with his  hands in
his pockets, head  ducked a little, and kicking in the dust with the toe  of
his shoe. I couldn't help  but think, how friendly most people are that have
all of the hard luck.
     There was one more church that I had to make, the biggest one in  town.
A big mission, cathedral, or something. It was a great big, pretty building,
with a tower, and lots of fancy rock carving on the high places. Heavy vines
clumb around, holding onto  the rough face of the rocks, and since it  was a
fairly new church, everything was just getting off to a good start.
     Not familiar with the rules, I didn't know just how to go about things.
I  seen  a young lady dressed in  a  sad, black  robe, so  I  walked down  a
mis-matched stone walk and  asked  her if  there was any kind of work around
the place that a man could do to earn a meal.
     She brushed  the  robe back  out of  her face and  seemed to be  a very
polite and friendly person. She talked quiet  and seemed to feel very  sorry
for me since I was so hungry.
     "I just sort of heard people  talkin'  up  in town there, an' they said
that you folks would always give a stranger a chance to work fer a meal, you
know, just sorta on th' road to  California.  ..." I  was too hungry to quit
     Then  she took a few  steps  and walked up onto a low  rock porch. "Sit
down  here  where it is  cooler," she  told  me,  "and I'll  go and find the
Sister. She'll be able to help you, I'm sure." She was a nice-looking lady.
     Before  she could walk away, I  felt  like  I'd ought to say  something
else, so I said, "Mighty cool porch ya got here."
     She turned around,  just  touching  her hand  to  a  doorknob that  led
somewhere through a garden. We both smiled without making any noise.
     She stayed gone about ten minutes. The ten minutes went pretty slow and
     Sister Rosa (I will call her that for a name) appeared, to my surprise,
not through the door where the first lady had gone, but through a cluster of
tough vines that swung close to a little arched gate cutting through a stone
wall. She was a little  bit older. She was just as nice, and she listened to
me while I told her why I was there. "I tried lots of other places, and this
is sort of a last chance."
     "I see! Well, I know that, on certain  days, we have made it a practice
to fix hot meals for the transient workers. Now, unless I am badly mistaken,
we  are  not  prepared to  give meals  out today;  and I'm not just  exactly
certain  when it  will be free-ration day again. I know that you are sincere
in your coming here, and I  can plainly see that you are not one of the kind
that travels through the country eating free meals when you can get work.  I
will take the  responsibility  onto  my shoulders, and  go and  find  Father
Francisco for you, tell him your  whole predicament, and let the judgment of
the  matter  be up  to  him. As far  as all  of the  sisters  and  nuns  are
concerned, we love to prepare the  meals  when the proper authority is given
to us.  I, personally, pray that Father Francisco  will understand the great
faith shown by your presence here, and  that he will be led to extend to you
the  very  fullest courtesy  and helping  hand." And Sister  Rosa walked  in
through the same door that the first lady had walked in at.
     I  set there  and  waited ten more minutes,  getting a  good  bit  more
anxious to get a meal inside of me, and  I counted the leaves on a couple of
waving vines. Then  counted them over again according  to dark green or pale
green. I was just getting ready to count them according to light green, dark
yellow  green,  and dark  green, when  the  first young lady stepped  around
through a door at my back, and  tapped me on the shoulder and said that if I
would go around  to the front door, main  entrance, Father  Francisco  would
meet me  there, and we would discuss  the  matter until we  arrived at  some
definite conclusion.
     I got up shaking like the leaves and held onto the wall like  the vines
till I got myself under  way, and then I  walked pretty straight to the main
     I knocked  on the door, and in about three minutes the door swung open,
and there was an old man  with white hair, a keen shaved  face, and a clean,
stiff white collar  that fit him  right up around his neck.  He was friendly
and  warm.  He  wore  a black  suit  of  clothes which was  made out of good
material. He said, "How do you do?"
     I stuck out my hand to shake, grabbed his and squeezed as friendly as I
knew how and said,  "Mister Sanfrancisco,  Frizsansco,  Frisco, I'm glad  to
know you! Guthrie's my name. Texas. Panhandle country. Cattle. You know. Oil
boom. That's what--fine day."
     In a deep,  quiet-sounding voice that somehow matched in with the halls
of the church, he said that it was a  fine day, and that he was very glad to
meet  me. I  assured him again that  I  was glad  to meet  him, but would be
somewhat  gladder if  I could also  work for  a meal. "Two days. No eats," I
told him.
     And then, soft and friendly as ever, his eyes shining out from the dark
hall, his voice spoke up again and said, "Son,  I have  been in this service
all my  life. I  have seen to it  that thousands of men just like you got to
work for a  meal. But, right at this moment, there is no kind of  work to do
here, no kind of work at all; and therefore, it would be just a case of pure
charity. Charity here is like charity everywhere; it helps for a moment, and
then  it  helps no more. It is part of our policy to  be  charitable, for to
give is better than to  receive. You seem  still to retain a good measure of
your pride and dignity.  You do not beg outright for food, but  you offer to
do hard labor in  order to earn your meal. That is  the  best spirit in this
world. To work for yourself is to help others, and to help others is to help
yourself. But  you have asked  a  certain question;  and  I must answer that
question  in your own words to satisfy your own thinking. You asked if there
is work that  you can do to earn a meal. My answer is this: There is no work
around here that you can do, and therefore, you cannot earn a meal.  And, as
for charity, God knows, we live on charity ourselves."
     The big, heavy door closed without making even a slight sound.
     I walked a half a mile  trembling past the yards, down to the shacks of
the  railroad  workers, the  Mexicanos,  the Negroes,  and  the  whites, and
knocked  on  the first door. It  was  a  little brown wooden house, costing,
alltogether,  less than  one single  rock  in the church.  A lady opened the
door. She said that she didn't have  anything for me to do; she acted crabby
and fussy, chewing the  rag, and talking sour  to herself.  She went back in
the house again, still talking.
     "Young men, old men, all kinds  of men;  walking, walking,  all of  the
time walking, piling  off  of the  freights, making  a run across  my tomato
garden,  and  knocking on  my  door; men  out  gallivantin' around  over the
country; be  better off  if you'd of stayed  at home; young boys taking  all
kinds of crazy chances, going  hungry, thirsty, getting all dirty and  ugly,
ruining  your  clothes,  maybe getting run over and  killed by a truck  or a
train--who knows? Yes. Yes.  Yes. Don't you dare run away, young nitwit. I'm
a fixing you a plate of  the  best I got. Which is all I got.  Blame fools."
(Mumbling) "Ought to be at home with your  family; that's where you'd  ought
to be. Here." (Opening the door again, coming out on  the porch.) "Here, eat
this. It'll at least stick to your ribs.  You  look like an old hungry hound
dog. I'd be ashamed to ever let the world beat me down any such a way. Here.
Eat  every bite of this. I'll  go and fix you  a  glass  of good milk. Crazy
world these days. Everybody's cutting loose and hitting the road."
     Down  the  street, I stopped at another house. I walked up to the front
door, and  knocked. I  could hear somebody moving around on the inside,  but
nobody come  to  the door.  After a few more knocks,  and  five  minutes  of
waiting, a  little woman opened the  door back a ways, took a peek out,  but
wouldn't open up all of the way.
     She looked me over good. It  was so  dark in her house that  I couldn't
tell  much about her. Just some messed-up hair, and her hand on the door. It
was  clean, and reddish, like she'd been  in the  dishwater, or putting  out
some clothes. Mexican or white, you couldn't tell  which. She asked  me in a
whisper, "What, what do you want?"
     "Lady,  I'm headin' ta California lookin' fer work.  I just wondered if
you had a job of work of some kind that a man could do to earn a lunch. Sack
with somethin' in it ta carry along."
     She  gave  me  the feeling that  she  was  afraid of something.  "No, I
haven't  any  kind  of work. Sshhh. Don't talk so  loud. And  I  haven't got
anything in the house--that is--anything fit to pack for you to eat."
     "I just got  a meal  off  of  th'  lady down th street here,  an'  just
thought maybe--you know, thought maybe a little sack of somethin' might come
in purty handy after a day or two out on the desert--any old thing. Not very
hard ta please," I told her.

     "My husband is sleeping.  Don't talk so loud. I'm a  little ashamed  of
what I've got left over here. Pretty poor when you need a good meal. But, if
you're not too particular about it, you're welcome to take it with you. Wait
here a minute."
     I stood there  looking back up across the tomato patch  to the railroad
yards. A switch engine was  trotting loose cars  up and down the track and I
knew that our freight was making up.
     She  stuck  her hand  out through an old  green  screen door, and said,
"Sshhh," and I tried  to whisper "thank you," but she  just kept  motioning,
nodding her head.
     I  was  wearing a black slip-over sweater and I pulled  the loose  neck
open, and pushed the sack down  into the bosom. She'd put something good and
warm from the warming-oven into the sack, because already  I could feel  the
good hot feeling against my belly.

     Trains were  limbering up  their big  whistles,  and there  was a  long
string of cars made  up  and raring  to step. A  hundred  and ten cars meant
pretty certain that she was a  hot one  with the right-of-way  to  the  next
     A tired-looking Negro boy trotted down the cinders,  looking at the new
train to spot  him a reefer car to crawl into.  He  seen that he had a spare
second or two, and he stopped alongside of me.
     "Ketchin' 'er out?" I asked him.
     "Yeah. I'm switchin' ovah pretty fas'. Jes' got in. Didn' even  have no
time ta  hustle me up  a  feed. I guess I c'n  eat when I gets  to wheah I'm
headed."  His pale  khaki work clothes were  soaked with  salty sweat. Loose
coal soot, oil  smoke,  and colored dust was smeared all over him. He made a
quick  trip over to a clear puddle  of water  and laid flat of his belly  to
suck up all of the water he  could hold. He blowed out his breath, and  came
back wiping  his face with  a bandana handkerchief as dirty as the  railroad
itself,  and then the handkerchief being cool and wet, he tied it around his
forehead, with a hard knot on the back of  his head. He looked up at me, and
shook  his head sideways  and said, "Keeps  th'  sweat from runnin'  down so
     It was an old  hobo  trick. I knew it, but didn't  have any  kind  of a
handkerchief. The heat of the day was getting  to be pretty  hard to take. I
asked him, "When's th' last time ya had anything to eat?"
     "El Paso," he told me. "Coupl'a days back."
     My  hand  didn't  ask  me anything  about it,  but it  was okay with me
anyhow, and I slid  the  sack out of my sweater  and banded it over to  him.
Still warm. I knew just about how good it felt when he got his hands on that
warm greasy sack. He bit into a peanut-butter sandwich together with  a hunk
of salty pork between two  slices of bread.  He looked toward the water hole
again, but the  train jarred the cars a few feet, and we both  made for  the
side of the high yellow cars.
     We got  split  up a  few yards,  and  had  to hang separate cars, and I
thought maybe he wouldn't make it.  I looked down from  the top of mine, and
saw him trotting easy  along the ground, jumping an iron  switchpost or two,
and holding his  sandwich  and sack in both  hands. He crammed the  sandwich
down into the sack, rolled the top edge of the sack over a couple of twists,
and stuck the sack into his teeth, letting both  of his hands free to use to
climb up the side of the car. On the top, he crawled along the blistered tin
roof  until he set facing me, me on the end of my car, and him on the end of
his. It was getting windier  as the train got her speed up, and we waved our
hats "good-bye and good luck and Lord bless you" to the old town of Tucson.
     I looked at the lids of my two reefer holes, and both was down so tight
that you couldn't  budge  them with a team of  horses. I  looked  over at my
partner again, and seen that  he'd got his lid open. He braced the heavy lid
open, using the lock-bar  for a wedge, so  that it couldn't fly  shut in the
high  wind. I seen  him crawl down inside, examine the ice hole, and then he
stuck his head out, and  motioned for me to come on over and ride.  I got up
and jumped the  space  between the two  cars,  and clumb down out of the hot
winds; and he finished his lunch without saying a word in the wind.
     Our car was an easy rider. No flat wheels to speak of. This is not true
of many cars on an empty train, because loaded, a train rides  smoother than
when  empty. Before long, a couple  of other riders  stuck their heads  down
into the hole and hollered, "Anybody down in this hole?"
     We yelled back, 'Two! Room fer two more!  Throw yer stuff  down!  C'mon
     A bundle hit the floor, and with it come an old blue serge coat, from a
good suit of clothes, no doubt, during one of the earlier wars. Then one man
clumb  through each of  the  holes, and grabbed  the coarse net of wire that
lined the ice compartment. They settled down into a good position for riding
and looked around.
     "Howdy. I'm Jack."
     The Negro boy nodded his head, "Wheeler." He put the last bite into his
mouth, swallowed it down, and said, "Plenty dry."
     The second stranger  struck  a match  to relight a spitty  cigaret, and
mumbled, "Schwartz, my name. Goddam this bull tobaccer!"
     The country outside, I knew, was pretty, sunny, and clear, with patches
of  green  farming  country sticking like moss along the sandy banks of  the
little dry desert creeks. Yes, and I would like to climb out on top and take
a look at  it. I told the other three men, "Believe I'll roll me one of them
fags,  if ya don't mind, an' then git out on top an' watch  th' tourists  go
     The owner of the tobacco handed me the sweaty little sack, and I licked
one together. Lighting it up,  I thanked him, and then I dumb up on top, and
soaked up the scenery  by ten million square miles. The fast whistling train
put up a  pretty stiff wind. It caused my cigaret to burn up like a flare of
some kind, and then a wide current  tore the paper from  around the tobacco,
and it flew  in  a million directions,  including my own face. Fighting with
the  cigaret, I  tilted my head in the wrong direction,  and  my hat  sailed
fifty feet up into the  air, rolled  out  across  the  sand,  and hung  on a
sticker bush. That was the last I seen of it.
     One of the men down on the hole hollered  out, "Havin' quite
a time up there, ain't you, mister?"
     "Quite a blow, quite a blow!" I yelled back into the hole.
     "Seein' much up there?" another one asked me.
     "Yeah, I  see enuff sunshine an' fresh air ta  cure all th'  trouble in
th' world!" I told them.
     "How fast we travelin'?"
     "I'd jedge about forty or forty-five.''
     The  land  changed  from  a  farming  country  into  a  weather-beaten,
crumbling,  and  wasted  stretch, with gully washes traveling  in every way,
brownish,  hot rocks  piled into canyons, and low humps  topped  with  irony
weeds and long-eared  rabbits  loping like army  mules to get  away from the
red-hot train. The hills  were  deep  bright  colors, reddish  sand,  yellow
clays,  and  always, to  the distance,  there stood  up  the  high, flat-top
cliffs, breaking again into the washing, drifting, windy face of the desert.
We followed a highway,  and  once  in  a  while a car  coasted past, full of
people going somewhere, and we'd wave and yell at one another.
     "Must be th' first time you ever crossed this country," the colored boy
hollered up at me.
     "Yeah it is." I blinked my eyes to try to wash the powdery dust  out of
them. "First time."
     "I been over this road so  many times I ought to tell the conductor how
to go," he said. "We'll be headin'  down through the low country before very
long.  You'll  run a hundred miles below sea  level and look up all at once,
and see snow  on the  mountains and then you'll start over the hump right up
to the snow. And you'll freeze yourself coming up out of all of this heat."
     "Mighty funny thing."
     "You can stay down in this  hole and keep  pretty warm.  If all  of  us
huddle  up and  cuddle up  and put our hand  in  each others'  pockets,  our
heat'll keep us from freezing."
     The coal dust and  the heat finally  got too  tough for me, so I  clumb
down. The low pounding of the wheels under us, and the swaying and quivering
of  the train,  got  so tiresome that  we  drifted right  off  to sleep, and
covered the  miles that would put us across  the  California line. Night got
dark, and we got closer together to keep warm.

     There is a little railroad station just east of Yuma where  you stop to
take on water.  It is still at desert altitude, so you climb down  and start
walking  around to  limber up a little. The  moon here  is  the fullest  and
brightest that you ever  saw. The  medium-size palm  plants and fern-looking
trees  are  waving real easy in the moonlight, and  the brush on the face of
the  desert throws black shapes and shadows out across  the  sand.  The sand
looks as smooth as a slick pool of crude oil, and shines up yellow and white
all around. The clear-cut cactus shapes, the brush, and the silky sand makes
one of the prettiest pictures that you ever hope to see.
     All of the  riders, seeing  how  pretty the night was, walked, trotted,
stretched  their  legs  and  arms  around,  moved their shoulders, and  took
exercise to get their blood  to running right again. Matches flare up as the
boys  light their smokes, and I could  get a quick look at  their  sunburnt,
windburnt faces. Flop  hats,  caps, or just bareheaded, they looked like the
pioneers that got to knowing the feel and the smell of the  roots and leaves
across  the early days of the desert, and it makes me want to  sort of  hang
around there.
     Voices talked and said everything.
     "Match on yuh?"
     "Yeah--shorts on that smoke."
     " 'Frisco--ship out if I can."
     "How's crops in South California?"
     "Crops--or cops?"
     "Crops. Celery. Fruit. Avacados."
     "Work's easy ta git a holt of, but money's hard as hell.''
     "Hell, Nelly, I wuz borned a-workin', an' I ain't quit yit!"
     "Workin', er lookin' fer work?"
     There  was a big mixture of people here. I could  hear the fast accents
of men from the big Eastern joints. You heard the slow, easy-going voices of
Southern  swamp  dwellers,  and  the  people from  the  Southern  hills  and
mountains.  Then another one would talk  up,  and it would be the dry,  nosy
twang of the folks from the flat wheat plains; or the dialect of people that
come  from  other countries, whose  parents talked another tongue. Then  you
would  hear the slow, outdoor voices of the men from Arizona, riding a short
hop to  get a job, see a girl, or to throw a  little celebration.  There was
the deep, thick  voices of two or  three Negroes,. It sounded mighty good to
my ears.
     All at once the men hushed up. Somebody nudged somebody else, and said,
     Then  everybody  ducked  their  heads,  turned  around  and  whispered,
"Scatter out. Lay low. Hey! You! Get rid of that cigaret! Bulls a-comin'!"
     Three  men,  dressed  in hard-wearing railroad suits,  walked up to  us
before we could get gone.
     Flashing bright lanterns and flashlights on  us, we heard them  holler,
"Hey! What's goin' on here?"
     We didn't say anything back.
     "Where you birds headed for?"
     Still silence.
     "What's  wrong?  Buncha  dam  dumb-dumbs? Can't none  of  you  men  say
nuthin'?" The three men carried guns where it was  plain to  see,
and  hard  to overlook.  Their hands resting on the  butts, shuffling  their
lights around in their hands. They rounded us up. The desert is a good place
to look at, but not so easy to hide on. One or  two men ducked between cars.
A  dozen or  so stepped  out across the desert,  and slid down out of  sight
behind little bushes. The cops herded the rest of us into a crowd.
     Men kept scattering, taking  a chance of going against the cops' orders
to "halt." The few that stood still were asked several questions. "Where yuh
     "That'll  be th' price of a ticket to Yuma. Step right into  the office
there and buy your ticket--hurry up."
     "Hell, fellers, you know I ain't got th' price of no ticket; I wouldn't
be ridin' this freight if I had th' money fer a ticket."
     "Search `im,"
     Each  man  was  shook  down,  jackets,  jumpers,  coats,  britches  and
suspenders, pants legs, shoes. As  the searching went on, most of us managed
to make a quick run for it, and get away from the bulls. Trotting around the
end of  the train,  thinking that  we'd  give them the dodge, we run head-on
into  their spotlights, and was face to face with them. We stopped and stood
still. One by one, they went through  our pockets looking for money. If they
found any money, whatever it was,  the man was herded into  the little house
to buy a ticket as far down the line  as his  money would carry him. Lots of
the boys had a few bucks  on  them. They felt pretty silly,  with nothing to
eat on, being pushed into buying "tickets"  to some town they said they were
heading for.
     "Find anything on you?" a man asked me.
     "Huh uh." I didn't have any for them to find.
     "Listen,  see that old boy right in  front  of you? Pinch 'im. Make 'im
listen to what I'm tellin' him. Ppsssst!"
     I punched the man right in  front  of me. He  waited a minute, and then
looked around sideways. "Listen," I said to him.
     The other rider commenced  to talk, "I just  found out"-- then  he went
down into a whisper "that this  train is gonna  pull out. Gonna try ta ditch
us. When I  holler, we're all  gonna make a break an' swing  'er.  This is a
hell of a place to get ditched."
     We shook our heads. We all kept extra still, and passed the word along.
     Then the train moved backwards a foot or two--and the racket roared all
out across  the  desert--jarring itself into the notion of  traveling again,
and all at once the man at my side hollered as loud as the high-ball whistle
itself, "Go, boy!"
     His voice rung out across the cactus.
     "Jack rabbit, run!"
     Men  jumped  out from  everywhere,  from between  the cars they'd  been
hanging  onto, and out from behind the clumps of cactus weeds, and the cops,
nervous,  and  looking in every direction, stuttered, yelled, and cussed and
snorted, but when the moon looked down at the train steaming out, it saw all
of us sticking on the  sides, and on the top, waving,  cussing, and thumbing
our noses back in the faces of the "ticket" sellers.

     Then it  got morning. A cold draft  of wind was sucking  in around  the
sides  of the  reefer lid.  I'd asked  the boys  during  the night how about
closing the  lid all of the way down.  They told me that  you had to keep it
wedged  open  a little  with the  handle of the  lock, to  keep from getting
locked  inside.  We stuck close  together,  using each  other  for sofas and
pillows, and hoped for the sun to get warmer.
     I asked them, "Wonder how heavy that big l' lid is, anyhow?"
     "Weighs close to a hunderd pound," the  Negro boy said. He was piled in
the corner, stretched out, and his whole body was shaking with  the movement
of the train.
     "Be a  hell  of  a note if a feller wuz ta git  up there,  an' start ta
climb  out, an'  that  big lid wuz  ta fly down an' ketch his head," another
fellow said. He screwed his face up just thinking about it.
     "I knew a boy that lost a arm that way."
     "I know a  boy that used ta travel around  on  these dam  freights,"  I
said, "harvestin', an' ramblin' around; an' he was shipped back to his folks
in about a hundred pieces. I seen his face. Wheel  had  run right across it,
from his ear, across his mouth, over to his other ear. And I don't know, but
every day, ridin' these rattlers, I ketch myself thinkin' about that boy."
     " 'Bout as bad  a  thing as I can think of, is  th' two boys they found
starved to death, locked up  inside of one of these here  ice cars. Figgered
they'd  been in there dead 'bout a week or two when they  found 'em. One  of
'em wasn't more'n twelve or thirteen years old.  Jist a  little squirt. They
crawled in through the main door, an' pulled it to. First thing they knew, a
brakeman come along, locked th' door, dropped a bolt  in th' lock, an' there
they was. Nobody even knew where they's from, or nuthin'. Just as  well been
one of your folks or mine." He shook his head, thinking.
     The heat got  worse as the train sailed along. "Git out on top, an' you
c'n see Old Mexico," somebody said.
     "Might  as well ta git yer money's worth," I told  him, and in a minute
I'd scrambled up the wire net again, and pushed the heavy lid back. The wind
was getting  hotter. I could feel the dry,  burning  sting that  let me know
that  I  was  getting a windburn. I peeled off my  sweater, and  shirt,  and
dropped them  onto  the hot sheet  iron, and  hooked  my arm around an  iron
brace, and laid stretched out flat of my back, getting a good Mexican border
sunburn along with my Uncle Sam windburn. I get dark awful quick in  the sun
and wind. My skin likes it, and so do I.
     The  Negro boy  clumb up and set down beside me. His greasy cap whipped
in the wind, but he held the bill tight, and it didn't blow  off. He  turned
the cap around backwards, bill down the back of  his neck, and  there was no
more danger of  losing it. "Some country!"  he  told  me,  rolling his  eyes
across  the  sand, cactus, and crooked little bushes, "I guess every part of
th' country's good for somethin', if you c'n jist only find out what!"
     "Yeah," I said; "Wonder what this is good for?"
     "Rabbits,  rattlesnakes,  gila  monsters,  tarantulars,  childs of  the
earth,  scorpions, lizards,  coyotes,  wild  cats,  bob  cats, grasshoppers,
beetles, bugs, bears, bulls, buffaloes, beef," he said.
     "All of that out there?" I asked him.
     "No, I was  jist runnin'  off at th' mouth," he laughed. I knew that he
had  learned  a lot about  the country somewhere, and guessed that he'd beat
this trail more times than one. He moved  his shoulders and squared his self
on top of the train. I saw big strong  muscles and  heavy blood vessels, and
tough, calloused palms of his hands; and I  knew that  for the  most part he
was an honest working man.
     "Lookit that  ol'  rabbit  go!" I poked him  in  the ribs, and  pointed
across a ditch.
     "Rascal really moves!" he said, keeping up with the jack.
     "Watch 'im pick up speed," I said.
     "Sonofa bitch. See him clear dat fence?" He shook his head, and  smiled
a little bit.
     Three or four  more rabbits began showing  their ears above  the  black
weeds. Big grayish brown ears lolling along as loose and limber as could be.
"Whole dam  family's  out!" he  told me.  "Looks like it! Ma an'  pa an' th'
whole fam damly!" I said. 'Purty outfits, ain't they? Rabbits."
     He  eyed the herd  and nodded his head. He was  a  deep-thinking man. I
knew just about what he was thinking about, too.
     "How come you ta come out on top ta ride?" I asked my friend.
     "Why not?"
     "Oh, I dunno. Said somebody had ta go."
     "How'd it come up?" I asked him.
     "Well, I sort of  asked him for a cigaret, and  he said that  he wasn't
panhandlin'  for  nickels to get tobacco  for boys like  me. I don't want to
have no trouble."
     "Boys like you?"
     "Yeah,  I  dunno. Difference  'tween  you an'  me. He'd  let  you  have
tobacco, 'cause you an' him's th' same color."
     "What in th' Goddam hell has that got ta do  with  ridin' together?"  I
asked him.
     "He  said it was gettin' pretty  hot down in  th' hatch, you know, said
ever'body  was sweatin' a lot. He told  me th'  further away from each other
that we  stay th'  better we're gonna get along, but I knew what he meant by
     "Wuz that all?"
     "This is one hell of a place ta go ta bringin' up that kinda dam talk,"
I said.
     The  train  drew  into El  Centre,  and  stooped  and filled her belly,
panting and sweating. The riders could be seen hitting the ground for a walk
and a stretch.
     Schwartz,  the  man with the sack  of smoking, come out  of  his  hole,
grumbling and cussing under his breath. "Worst Goddam hole on the train, and
I had to get  caught down in it all  night!" he told me, climbing past me on
his way to the ground.
     "Best ridin' car on th' rail," I said. I was right, too.
     "It's th' worst in my book, boy," Schwartz said.
     The fourth man from our  end of the car crawled out and dropped down to
the  cinders. All during the ride,  he hadn't mentioned his  name. He was  a
smiling man, even walking along by his self. When he walked up behind us, he
heard Schwartz say something else about how bad our  riding hole was, and he
said in a friendly way, " 'Bout th' easiest riding car I've hung in a many a
     "Like hell it is," Schwartz  spoke up, stopping, and looking the fellow
in the face. The man looked down mostly at  Schwartz's feet and listened  to
see what  Schwartz would say  next.  Then Schwartz  went  on  talking at the
mouth, "It might ride easy, but th' Goddam thing stinks--see?"
     "Stinks?" The man looked at him funny.
     "I said stink, didn't I?" Schwartz ran  his  hand down  in  his pocket.
This is a pretty  bad thing to do amongst strangers, talking in this tone of
voice and  running your  hand in  your pocket. "You don't have to be afraid,
Stranger, I ain't got no barlow knife," Schwartz told him.
     And  then the other man looked along the cinders and  smiled and  said,
"Listen, mister, I wouldn't be the least  bit  afraid of a whole car load of
fellows just like you, with a knife in each pocket and two in each hand."
     "Tough about it, huh?" Schwartz frowned the best he could.
     "Ain't nothing tough about me, sort  of--but I don't make a practice of
bein' afraid of you nor anybody  else."  He settled his  self a  little more
solid on his feet.
     It  looked like  a good fist  fight  was  coming  off.  Schwartz looked
around, up and down the  track. "I bet you a dollar that most of the fellows
riding this train feel just about like I do  about riding in a hole  with  a
dam nigger!"
     The Negro boy made a walk toward  Schwartz. The  smiling man stepped in
between them. The  Negro said, "Nobody  don't hafta take my part, I can take
up for myself. Ain't nobody gonna call me--"
     "Take it easy,  Wheeler, take it easy," the other  man said.  "This guy
wants something to happen. Just likes to hear his guts crawl."
     I took the  Negro  boy by the arm, and we walked along talking it over.
"Nobody else thinks like that goof. Hell, let 'im go an' find  another  car.
Let 'im  go. They'll run him out of every hole on th' train. Don't worry. Ya
cain't help what ya cain't help."
     "You know, that's right," Wheeler told me.
     He pulled his arm  away from me, and straightened his button-up sweater
a little. We turned around and looked back at our friend  and Schwartz. Just
like you would shoo a fly or  a chicken down the road, our friend was waving
his  arms, and  shooing  Schwartz  along.  We  could  hear him  awful faint,
yelling, "Go  on, you  old  bastard! Get your gripey ass out of here! And if
you so much as even open your trap to make  trouble for anybody  riding this
train, I'll  ram my fist down your  throat!" It was a  funny thing. I felt a
little  sorry for the old boy, but he needed somebody to teach him a lesson,
and evidently he was in the hands of a pretty good teacher.
     We waited till  the dust had settled again, and men  our teacher friend
trotted up to where we stood. He was waving at bunches of  men, and laughing
deep down in his lungs.
     'That's that, I reckon," he was saying when he got up to us.
     The colored boy said, "I'm  gonna run over across th' highway an' buy a
package of  smokes. Be  back in a minute--" He left us and ran like a desert
     There was a faucet dripping water beside a yellow railroad building. We
stopped and drank all we  could hold. Washed our hands and faces, and combed
our heads. There was a long line of  men waiting  to use the water. While we
walked away, holding our  faces to the slight breath  of air that was moving
across the yards, he asked me, "Say your name was?"
     I said, "Woody."
     "Mine's Brown.  Glad ta  meet you, Woody. You know  I've  run onto this
skin trouble before." He walked along on the cinders.
     "Skin trouble.  That's a dam good name for it."  I  walked along beside
     "Hard to cure it after it gets started, too. I was born and raised in a
country that's got all kinds of diseases, and this skin trouble is the worst
one of the lot," he told me.
     "Bad," I answered him.
     "I got sick  and  tired  of  that  kind of stuff when I  was just a kid
growing  up at home. You know.  God, I had hell with some of my  folks about
things like that. But, seems  like, little at a time,  I'd sort  of convince
them, you know; lots of folks I never could convince. They're kinda like the
old bellyache fellow, they  cause a  lot of trouble to a hundred people, and
then to a thousand people, all on account  of just some silly, crazy notion.
Like  you  can  help what color  you are. Goddam' it all. Goddamit all.  Why
don't they  spend that same amount of time and trouble doing something good,
like painting their Goddam barns, or building some new roads?"
     The four-time whistle blew, and the  train bounced  back a little. That
was our sign. Guys walked and ran  along the side of the cars,  mumbling and
talking,  swinging onto  their  iron ladders, and  mounting  the top of  the
string. Wheeler hadn't come back with the cigarets. I went over the top, and
when I got set  down, I  commenced yanking my  shirt off again, being  a big
hand  for sunshine. I felt it burning my hide. The train was going  too fast
now for anybody  to catch  it.  If  Wheeler  was on  the ground,  he's  just
naturally going to have a little  stay  over in El Centre. I looked over the
other edge of the car, and saw his head coming over the rim,  and I saw that
he was smiling. Smoke flew like a rain cloud from  a new tailor-made cigaret
in his mouth. He scooted over beside me, and flipped ashes into the breeze.
     "You get anything to eat?" he said.
     I said, "No," that I hadn't got anything.
     He reached under his sweater and under  his belt and pulled out a brown
paper sack, wet, dripping  with ice water,  and  held it up to  me and said,
"Cold pop. I brung a couple. Wait. Here's something to gnaw on with it," and
he handed me a milk candy bar.
     "Candy's meal," I told him.
     "Sure is; last you all day. That was my last four bits."
     "Four bits more'n I got," I joked.
     We  chewed  and  drank  and talked very little  then  for a long  time.
Wheeler said that he was turning the train back  to the railroad  company at
Indio. That's the town coming up.
     "I  know just where to  go," Wheeler told me,  when the train come to a
quick stop. "Don't you worry 'bout me, boy."  Then before I  could talk,  he
went on saying, "Now listen, I  know this track. See? Now, don't you hang on
'er till she  gets  to  Los Angeles, but  you  leave 'er  up here at Colton.
You'll be  just about fifty miles from L.A. If  you stay on till you come to
L.A., them big  dicks'll throw you so far back in that Lincoln Heights jail,
you never will see daylight  again. So remember, get off at Colton, hitch on
in to  Pasadena, and head out north through Burbank, San Fernando,  and stay
right on that 99 to  Turlock." Wheeler was climbing over the side. He  stuck
out his hand and we shook.
     I said, "Good luck, boy, take it easy, but take it."
     He  said, "Same to you,  boy, and  I always  take it easy, and I always
take it!"
     Then be stood still for a few seconds,  bending his body over the  edge
of the car, and looked at me and said, "Been good to know you!"

     Indio to Edom, rich farm lands. Edom to Banning, with the trees popping
up everywhere.  Banning to Beaumont,  with the  fruit hanging  all over  the
trees, and groceries  all over the ground, and people all  over  everything.
Beaumont to Redlands, the  world  turned into such a  thick green  garden of
fruits and vegetables that I  didn't  know  if I was dreaming or not. Coming
out  of the dustbowl, the colors so bright and smells  so thick  all around,
that it seemed almost too good to be true.
     Redlands to Colton,  A  railroad and farming town, full of  people that
are  wheeling  and dealing. Hitch-hikers are  standing around  thicker  than
citizens.  The 99 looks friendly, heading west  to the coast.  I'll  see the
Pacific Ocean, go swimming, and flop on the beach. I'll go down to Chinatown
and  look  around. I'll see the Mexican section. I'll  see  the whole works.
But, no, I don't know. Los Angeles is too big for me. I'm too little for Los
Angeles.  I'll  duck Los Angeles  and  go  north  by  Pasadena, out  through
Burbank, like Wheeler told me. I'm against the law, they tell me.
     Sign  says:  "Fruit, see,  but  don't  pick  it."  Another  one  reads:
"Fruit--beat  it." Another one: "Trespassers prosecuted.  Keep Out. Get away
from Here."
     Fruit is on the ground, and it looks like the  trees have been just too
glad to grow it, and give it to you. The tree  likes to grow and you like to
eat it; and there  is a sign between you and  the tree saying:  "Beware  The
Mean Dog's Master."
     Fruit is rotting on the ground all around me. Just what in the hell has
gone wrong here, anyhow? I'm not a very smart man. Maybe it ought to be this
way,  with the crops  laying all around over the ground. Maybe they couldn't
get no pickers just when they wanted them, and they just let the fruit go to
the  bad. There's  enough here on the ground to feed  every hungry kid  from
Maine to Florida, and from there to Seattle.
     A Twenty-nine Ford coupe stops and a Japanese boy  gives  me a ride. He
is friendly, and tells me all about the country, the crops and vineyards.
     "All  you have  got  to  do out  in this country  is to just pour water
around some roots, and yell, 'Grapes!' and next morning the leaves  are full
grown, and  the grapes are  hanging in big bunches,  all nice  and  ready to
     The  little car  traveled  right along. A haze was  running around  the
trees, and the colors were different than any that I'd ever seen in my life.
The knotty  little oak and iron brush that I'd been used  to seeing  rolling
with the Oklahoma hills and  looking smoky in  the hollers, had been home to
my eyes for a long time. My eyes had  got sort of used to Oklahoma's beat-up
look, but here,  with  this sight of  fertile, rich,  damp, sweet  soil that
smelled like the  dew of  a jungle, I was learning to love another, greener,
part of life. I've tried to keep loving it ever since I first seen it.
     The  Japanese  boy said,  "Which way do  you  plan  to  go through  Los
     "Pasadena?  That how  ya say if? Then north  through  Burbank, out that
     "If  you  want  to stay with me,  you'll be right  in the middle of Los
Angeles, but you'll be on a  big main highway full of trucks and cars out of
town. Road forks here. Make up your mind quick."
     "Keep  a-drivin',"  I said, craning my neck back to  watch the Pasadena
road disappear under the palm trees to the north of us.
     We rounded  a few  hills and  knolls, curving in our little jitney, and
all at once, coming over a high place, the lights of Los  Angeles jumped up,
running from north to south as far as I could see, and hanging around on the
hills and mountains  just as if it  was level ground.  Red  and  green  neon
flickering  for eats, sleeps,  sprees, salvation, money made, lent,  blowed,
spent.  There  was an electric sign for dirty clothes, clean clothes,  honky
tonky tonks,  no  clothes, floor shows, gyp-joints, furniture  in and out of
homes. The  fog was trying  to get a headlock on  the houses along the  high
places,  Patches  of  damp  clouds  whiffed  along  the  paving   in  crazy,
disorganized  little bunches, hunting some  more clouds to  work  with.  Los
Angeles was lost in its own pretty lights and trying to hold out against the
big fog that rolls in from that  ocean, and the people  that roll in just as
reckless, and rambling, from the country as big as the ocean back East.
     It was about seven or eight o'clock when I shook hands with my Japanese
friend,  and we  wished  each other luck. I got out on  the  pavement at the
Mission  Plaza, a block from everything in the  world,  and listened  to the
rumbling of people and smoking of cars pouring fumes out  across the streets
and alleys.
     "Hungry?" the boy asked me.
     "Pretty empty. Just about like an old empty tub,'' I laughed
at him. If he'd offered me a nickel or a  dime,  I would  of took it, I'd of
spent  it on a bus to get the hell out  of  that town. I was  empty. But not
starved yet, and more than something to  eat, I  felt like  I wanted  to get
outside of the city limits.
     "Good luck! Sony I haven't any money on me!" he hollered  as he circled
and wheeled away into the big traffic.
     I walked along a rough, paved street. To my left, the shimmy old houses
ran up a steep hill, and tried to pretend that they were keeping families of
people in out of the wind and the weather. To  my right there  was the noise
of  the  grinding, banging,  clanging, and swishing  of  the dirty  railroad
yards. Behind  me, south, the big middle of Los Angeles, chasing hamburgers.
Ahead of me, north, the  highway ached on, blinking  its red and green  eyes
and groaning  under the  heavy load of traffic that  it had to carry. Trains
hooted in the low yards close under my right elbow, and scared me  out of my
     "How'd ya git outta this town?" I asked a copper.
     He looked me over  good, and said, "Just follow your nose, boy. You can
read signs. Just keep traveling!''
     I walked along  the east side of  the  yards.  There was lots of little
restaurants  beside  the  road,  where  the  tourists,  truck  drivers,  and
railroaders dropped in for a meal. Hot coffee steamed up from the cups along
the counters, and the smell of meat frying  leaked out through the doors. It
was a  cold  night. Drops of steamy moisture formed on  the  windows, and it
blurred out the sight of the people eating and drinking.
     I stopped into a little, sawed-off place, and the only person in sight,
away back, was an old Chinaman. He  looked up at me with his gray beard, but
didn't say a single word.
     I stood  there a  minute, enjoying the warmth. Then  I walked  back  to
where he was, and asked  him,  "Have ya  got  anything left over that  a man
could do some work for?"
     He set right still, reading his paper, and then  looked up and said, "I
work. Hard all day. Every day. I got big bunch people to feed. We eat things
left over. We do work."
     "No job?" I asked him.
     "No job. We do job. Self."
     I hit the breeze again and  tried two or  three other places  along the
road. Finally, I  found  an old gray-headed couple  humped up in front of  a
loop-legged radio, listening to some of  the hollering  being done by a lady
name Amy  Semple Temple, or  something like that. I woke the old pair up out
of their sermon on hell fire and hot women, and asked them  if they had some
work to do for a meal. They told me to grab some scalding  hot water and mop
the place down.  After  three times  over  the floors, tables,  kitchen, and
dishes, I was wrapping myself  around a big chicken dinner,  with all of the
     The old lady  handed me a lunch and said, "Here's some-thing  extra  to
take with you--don't let John know about it."
     And as I walked out the door  again, listening  to the  whistle of  the
trains getting ready to whang out, John  walked over and handed me a quarter
and said, "Here's somethin' ta he'p ya  on down  th' road. Don't let th' l'
lady know."
     A man dressed in an engineer's cap and striped overhalls told me that a
train was making up right at that point, and would pull out along about four
in the morning. It  was now about midnight, so I dropped into a coffee joint
and took  an hour sipping  at a cup. I bought a pint of pretty fair red port
wine with the  change, and stayed behind a  signboard, drinking wine to keep
     A Mexican boy walked up on me and said, "Pretty cold iss it not? Do you
want a smoke?"
     I  lit up one of his cigarets, and slipped him the remains of the  wine
jug. He took about half  of the leavings, and  looked  at me between  gulps,
"Ahhhh! Warms you up, no?"
     "Kill  it. I done had my tankful,"  I told him, and  heard the  bubbles
play a little song that quit when the wine was all downed.
     "Time's  she  gittin' ta  be? Know?"  I said  to  him. "Four o'clock or
after," he said. "When does  that Fresno freight run?" I asked him.  ''Right
now," he said.
     I  ran  out into the  yards, jumping  dark rails, heavy  switches,  and
darting among the  blind cars. A  string of black ones were moving backwards
in the wrong direction.  I mounted the side and went over the top,  and down
the other side, and took a  risk on scrambling between another string at the
hitch. I  could just  barely see, it  was so dark.  The cars were so blended
into  the night. But,  all  at once, I looked up within  about a  foot of my
face, and saw a blur, and a light,  and a blur, and a light, and I knew that
here was one going my way.  I watched the light come along between the cars,
and  finally  spotted an open top car,  which was easier to see; and grabbed
the ladder, and jumped over into a load of heavy cast-iron machinery. I laid
down in the end of the car, and rested.
     The train pulled along slow  for a  while. I ducked as close  up behind
the head end of the car as I could  to break the wind.  Pretty soon  the old
string got the kinks jerked out of her, and whistled through a lot of little
towns.  Then we  hit  a good fifty for  about  an hour, and  started up some
pretty tough grade. It got colder higher up. The fog turned into a  drizzle,
and the drizzle into a slow rain.
     I imagined a million things bouncing along in the dark.  A quick tap of
the  air  brakes  to slow the  train  down, and  the hundred  tons  of heavy
machinery would shift its weight  all over me, I  felt so soft and little. I
had felt so tough and big just a few minutes ago.
     The lonesome whip of  the  wind sounded even more lonesome when the big
engine joined in on the whistling. The wheels hummed a song, and the weather
got colder. We  started gaining altitude almost like  an airplane. I  pulled
myself up into a little ball  and shook till my bones ached  all  over.  The
weather didn't pay any more attention to my  clothes than  if I didn't  have
them on. My muscles drew up into hard, leathery  strings that hurt. I kept a
little warmer by  remembering people I'd  known,  how they looked, faces and
all,  and  all about  the warm  desert,  and  cactus  and  sunshine  growing
everywhere; picturing in my mind  something friendly and free,  something to
sort of blot out the wind and the freezing train.
     On a big  slope, that  went direct  into Bakersfield,  we stopped  on a
siding to let the mail go by. I got off  and walked ten or fifteen cars down
the  track,  creaking like  an eighty-year-old  rocking chair. I had to walk
slow  along the steep cinder  bank, gradually getting the use of myself back
     I  was  past the train when the engineer turned the  brakes loose, give
her the gun, and started off.
     I'd never seen a  train start up this  fast before.  Most trains take a
little time chugging, getting  the load swung into  motion. But, setting  on
this long straight slope,  she just lit out. Running along the side, I  just
barely managed  to catch  it.  I  had  to  take a different  car as mine was
somewhere  down the line. In a  few minutes the train was making forty miles
an hour, then fifty, then sixty, down across the  strip of country where the
mountains meet the  desert  south  of  Bakersfield. The  wind blew  and  the
morning was  frosty  and cold.  Between the  two  cars,  it was freezing.  I
managed to mount to the top, and pull a  reefer  lid open.  I looked in, and
saw the hole was filled with fine chips of new ice.
     I  held on  with  all of  my strength,  and  crawled over and opened up
another lid. It was packed with chipped ice,  too. I was  too near froze  to
try the jump from one  car to the next, so I crawled down the ladder between
two cars--sort of a wind-break--and held on.
     My  hands  froze stiff around the handle of the  ladder, but they  were
getting too cold and weak to hold on much longer.  I  listened below to five
or  six  hundred railroad wheels,  clipping the rails  through  the  morning
frost,  and felt the windy ice from the  refrigerator car that I was hanging
     The fingers of one hand slipped from around  the handle. I spent twenty
minutes or so trying to fish an old rag out  of my pocket Finally  I  got it
wound around my hands and, by  blowing my breath inside the cloth for a  few
minutes, seemed to be getting them a little warmer.
     The  weather gained  on  me,  though,  and my breath turned  into thick
frosty  ice all over  my  handkerchief, and  my hands started freezing worse
than  ever. My  finger slid  loose again, and I remembered the tales  of the
railroaders, people found along the tracks, no way of telling who they were.
     If I missed my hold here, one thing was  sure, I'd never know what  hit
me, and I'd never slide  my feet under that good  eating table  full  of hot
square meals at the big marble house of my rich aunt.
     The sun  looked warmer as it came up, but the desert is cold when it is
clear  early in the morning, and the train fanned such a breeze that the sun
didn't make much difference.
     That was the closest  to the 6x3 that I've ever been. My mind ran  back
to millions of things--my whole life was  brought up to date, and all of the
people  I  knew, and all  that  they meant to  me. And, no doubt, my line of
politics took on  quite a  change right then and there, even though I didn't
know I was getting educated at the time.
     The last twenty miles into the Bakersfield yards was  the hardest work,
and worst pain,  that I ever run onto;  that is,  of  this particular brand.
There are pains and work of different sorts, but this was a job that my life
depended on, and I didn't have even one ounce to say about it. I  was just a
little  animal  of some kind swinging on  for  my life, and the pain was not
being able to do anything about it.
     I left the train long before it stopped, and hit the ground running and
stumbling. My legs worked more like toys than like my real ones. But the sun
was warm in Bakersfield, and I drank all of  the good water  I could soak up
from a faucet  outside, and walked  over to an old shack that was out of use
in  the yards, and keeled over on the  cinders in the sun. I woke up several
hours later, and my train had gone on without me.
     Two men said that another train was due out in a few minutes, so I kept
an eye run along the tracks, and caught it when it  pulled out. The sun  was
warm now, and  there  were fifty  men  lined up  along the top of the train,
smoking,  talking, waving at the folks in cars on  the highway, and  keeping
     Bakersfield on into Fresno. Just this side of Fresno, the men piled off
and walked through the yards, planning to meet the train again  when it come
out the north end. We  took  off by ones and twos and  tried to get hold  of
something  to  eat. Some of the men  had a few nickels, some a dollar or two
hid  on  them,  and others  made the alleys  knocking on  the back doors  of
bakeries,  greasy-spoon  joints, vegetable  stands. The  meal added up  to a
couple  or  three  bites  apiece,  after  we'd all pitched ours  in.  It was
something to fill your guts.
     I saw a sign tacked up in  the Fresno yards  that said: Free Meal &
Nights Lodging. Rescue Mission.
     Men looked at the sign and asked us, "Anybody here need ta be rescued?"
     "From what?" somebody hollered.
     "All ya  got ta do is ta go down there  an'  kneel  down  an'  say  yer
prayers, an' ya git a free meal an' a flop!" somebody explained.
     "Yeah? Prayers?  Which  one o'  youse boys  knows any  t'ing about  any
prayers?" an Eastern-sounding man yelled out.
     "I'd do it, if I wuz just hungery 'nuff! I'd say 'em some prayers!"
     "I don't hafta do no prayin' ta get fed!" a hard looker laughed out. He
was poking a raw onion whole into his mouth, tears trickling down his jaws.
     "Oh, I don't know," a quieter man answered him, "I sometimes believe in
prayin'.  Lots of  folks believes in prayin' before they go out to work, an'
others  pray before they go out to fight. An' even if you don't believe in a
God  up on  a cloud,  still,  prayin's a pretty  good  way to get  your mind
cleared up, or  to get the  nerve that it takes  to do anything. People pray
because it  makes them think serious about things, and,  God or no God, it's
all that most of them know how  to do." He was  a friendly man with  whitish
hair, and his easy temper sounded in his voice. It was a thinking voice.
     "  'Course," a  big Swede told  us, "we justa  kid along. These monkeys
dun't mean  about  halfa what  they say. Now, like, you take  me,  Swede,  I
prayed long time ago. Usta believe in it strong. Then, whoof,  an' a  lot of
other things happen that knock my prop out from under me, make me a railroad
bum, an'--I just forget how to pray an' go church."
     A  guy that talked more and faster  said, "I think it's dam crooks that
cause folks like  us to be down and out  and hungry, worried  about  finding
jobs, worried about our folks, and them a-worrying about us."
     "Last two or three years, I been sorta thinkin' long them lines--an' it
looks like I keep believin' in somethin'; I don't know  exactly, but it's in
me, an'  in you, an' in ever'  dam one of us." This talker  was a young  man
with  a smooth  face, thick  hair  that was bushy,  and a fairly honest look
somewhere  about him. "An' if we c'n jist find out  how ta make good  use of
it, we'll find  out  who's  causin' us alla  th' trouble in the' world, like
this Hitler rat, an' git ridda them, an' then not let anybody be outta work,
or  beat  down an' wonderin' where their next meal's a  comin' from, by God,
with alla these crops an' orchards bubblin' up around here!"
     "If God  was ta do what's right,"  a heavy man said, "he'd  give all of
these  here peaches  an'  cherries,  an' oranges, an' grapes, an'
stuff to eat, to th' folks that are hungry. An' for a hungry man to pray an'
try  to tell God  how to  run his business, looks  sort of  backwards, plumb
silly to me. Hell, a man's got two hands an' a mind of his own, an' feet an'
legs  to take him where he wants to go; an' if he sees something wrong  with
the world, he'd ought to get  a lot of people together, an'  look up in  th'
air an' say, Hey, up there, God, I'm--I mean, we're goin' to fix this!"
     Then  I put my three cents worth in, saying, "I  believe  that when  ya
pray,  you're tryin' ta  get yer thinkin' straight, tryin' ta see
what's  wrong  with th'  world, an'  who's ta blame fer  it. Part  of  it is
crooks, crooked laws,  an'  jist dam greedy people, people that's  afraid of
this an' afraid of  that. Part of it's all of  this, an'  part of
it's jist dam shore our own fault."
     "Hell,  from what  you say, you think we're to blame for everybody here
being on the freights?" This young traveler reared his head back and laughed
to himself, chewing a mouthful of sticky bread.
     "I  dunno,  fellers,  just  to  be  right  real  frank  with  you.  But
it's our own fault,  all right, hell yes. It's  our own  personal
fault if  we  don't talk up, 'er speak out,  'er somethin'--I ain't any  too
clear on it."
     An old white-headed man spoke close to me and said, "Well, boys,  I was
on  the bum,  I  suppose,  before any  of  you  was  born into  this world."
Everybody looked around mostly because he was talking so quiet, interrupting
his  eating. "All of  this talking about what's  up in the  sky, or down  in
hell, for that matter, isn't  half as important as what's right  here, right
now,  right  in  front of  your eyes.  Things  are tough. Folks  broke. Kids
hungry. Sick. Everything. And people has just got to have more faith  in one
another, believe in each other. There's a spirit of some kind we've all got.
That's got to draw us all together."
     Heads  nodded. Faces watched  the old  man.  He didn't  say  any  more.
Toothless for years,  he was a little bit slow finishing up his piece of old


     "Hey!  Hey! Train's  pullin'  out  in about  ten minnits! This  a  way!
     We got  rolling again. The high peaks of  the  Sierra  Nevada Mountains
jumped up their heads in the east. Snow  patches white in the sun. There was
the green  valley of the San Joaquin River, rich, good-smelling; hay meadows
waving with thick, juicy feed that is life; people working,  walking bending
down, carrying heavy loads. Cars from farms waited  at the cross-roads, some
loaded down with wooden crates, and boxes, and  some  with tall tin  cans of
cow's  milk. The air was as  sweet as could be, and like the faint  smell of
blossom honey.
     Before long we hit a heavy rain. A lot of us crawled into an empty car.
Wet and yelling, we hollered and  sung till  the  sun went  down, and it got
wetter and dark. New  riders  swung into our car. We curled up  on strips of
tough brown wrapping paper, pulling it over us  like blankets, and using our
sweaters and coats for pillows.
     Somebody pulled the doors  shut, and we rambled  on through  the night.
When  I woke  up again, the train had  stopped, and everything was in a wild
hustle  and a bustle. Guys snaking me, and saying  in my ear, "Hey! Wake up!
Tough town! Boy! This is far's she goes!"
     "Tough bulls! Gotta git th' hell outta here. C'mon, wake up."
     I rousted myself out, pulling  my wet  sweater  over my head. The train
was falling heavy as about twenty-five or thirty of us ganged up in front of
a Chinese bean  joint;  and when  a certain  big, black  patrol  car wheeled
around a  corner, and  shot its bright spotlight into our faces, we  brushed
our clothing, straightened  our hats and neck ties, and in order to act like
legal citizens, we marched into the Chinaman's bean joint.
     Inside,  it was warm.  The joint contained seven warped stools. And two
level-headed  Chinese proprietors, "Chili bean! Two  chili bean! Seven chili
bean!" I heard one say through the hole in the wall to the cook in the back.
And from the kitchen, "Me gotcha! All chili bean!"
     I  was going  through the  process,  not only of starving, but  also of
being  too hot and too cold about fifty times in the last forty-eight hours.
I felt  dizzy and  empty  and sick.  The peppery smell of the hot  chili and
beans made me feel worse.
     I  waited  about  an  hour  and  a half,  until ten minutes before  the
Chinaman locked  the  door,  and then I said, "Say, friend, will you gimme a
bowl of yer chili an' beans fer this green sweater? Good sweater."
     "You let me slee sletee."
     "Okay--here--feel. Part of it's all wool."
     "Chili bean you want this sletee for?"
     "Yeah. Cuppa coffee, too."
     "Price. You go up."
     "Okay. No coffee."
     "No. No chili bean."
     "Good sweater," I told him.
     "Okay. You keep. You see, I got plentee sletee. You think good  sletee,
you keep sletee. My keep chili bean.''
     I  set there on  the stool,  hating to go out  into the  cold night and
leave that good warm stove. I made a start for the door, and went past three
men finishing off  their first  or second bowl of chili and  beans. The last
man was a long, tall, irony-looking Negro.  He kept eating as I walked past,
never turned his face toward me, but told me, "Let me see yo sweatah. Heah's
yo dime. Lay th' sweatah down theah on th' stool. Bettah hurry an' ordah yo'
chili. Joint'll shut down heah in a minute."
     I dropped the sweater in a roll on the stool, and parked  myself on the
next stool, and a  bowl of  red-hot, extra  hot, double hot chili beans slid
down the counter and under my nose.
     It was long about two o'clock when I stepped out onto the sidewalk, and
the  rain was getting harder, meaner, and colder,  and  blowing stiffer down
the line. A friendly looking cop, wearing a warm overcoat, walked around the
corner. Three or four of the boys stood along under the porch, so as to keep
out  of the drift of the rain. The  cop  said, "Howdy,  howdy, boys. Time to
call it a night." He smiled like a man doing an awful good job.
     "What time yuh got?" a Southern boy asked him, dripping wet.
     "Bed time."
     "Say, mister," I  said to him, "listen, we're jist a bunch of  guys  on
th' road, tryin' ta git somewhere where  ther's a job of work of  some kind.
Come in on that  there freight. Rainin', an' we ain't  got no place ta sleep
in outta th' weather. I wuz jist wonderin' if you'd let us sleep here in yer
jail house--jist fer tonight."
     "You might," he said, smiling, tickling all of the boys.
     "Where's yer jail at?" I asked him.
     "It's over across town," he answered.
     Then I said, "Reckon ya could put us up?"
     And he said, "I certainly can."
     "Boy, man, you're a pretty good feller. We're ready, ain't we, guys?"
     "I'm ready."
     "Git inside out of this bad night."
     "Me, too."
     The same answer came from everybody.
     "Then, see," I  said  to the  cop,  "if anything happens, they'd, you'd
know it wuzn't us done it."
     And then he  looked at us like a politician making  a speech, and said,
"You boys know what'd happen if  you went over there to that jail  to  sleep
     We said, "Huh uh." "No." "What?"
     "Well,  they'd  let  you in, all right, not for just one night, but for
thirty nights  and thirty days. Give you an awful good chance to rest up out
on the  County Farm,  and dry your clothes by a steam  radiator every night.
They'd like you men so much, they'd just refuse to let you go. Just keep you
for company over there." He had a cold, sour smile across his face by now.
     "Let's go, fella." Somebody back of me jerked my arm.
     Without talking back, I savvied,  and walked  away. Most of the men had
left. Only six or eight of  us in a  little  bunch. "Where  we gonna  sleep,
anybody know?" I asked them.
     "Just keep quiet and follow us."
     The cop walked away around the corner.
     "And don't ever let a smiling cop fool yuh," a voice in back of me told
us. "That wasn't no real smile. Tell by his face an' his eyes."
     "Okay, I learnt somethin' new," I  said, "But where are  we gonna sleep
     "We gotta good  warm bed, don't you worry. Main  thing is just to walk,
an' don't talk.''
     Across  a  boggy  road,  rutty,  and  full of  mudholes, over  a  sharp
barb-wire fence, through a splashing  patch of weeds that soaked our clothes
with cold  water,  down some crunching cinders, we followed  the shiny rails
again in the  rain about a half a mile. This led us to a little green shack,
built low to the ground like a doghouse. We piled in at a square window, and
lit on a pile of sand.
     "Boy, howdy!"
     "Ain't this fine?"
     "Warmer'n hell."
     "Lemme dig a hole. I wanta dig a hole, an' jist bury myself. I ain't no
live man. I'm dead. I been  dead a long, long time. I'm gonna  jist dig me a
grave, an' crawl off in it,  an' pull my  sand  in on top of me. Gonna sleep
like old Rip  Van Twinkle, twenty, thirty, or fifty dam  years.  An'  when I
wake  up, I want things ta be changed around better. When I  wake up in  th'
mornin'--"  And  I was tired and  wet, covering up in  the sand, talking.  I
drifted off  to sleep. Loose and limber, I felt everything in the world just
slipping out  from under  me and fading away. I woke  up before long with my
feet  burning and stinging. Everything was  sailing and mixed up  backwards,
but when they got straight I saw a man in a black suit bending over  me with
a big heavy club. He was beating the bottoms of my feet.
     "You birds get up, and get your ass out of here! Get up. Goddam you!"
     There were  three men  in black suits, and  the black Western hats that
told you so plain that you was dealing with a railroad deputy.
     They had come in through a little narrow door  and were herding  us out
the same. "Get out of here, and don't  you come back!  If you show your head
back in this sandhouse, you'll go to the judge! Ninety days on that pea farm
would do you loafers good!"
     Grabbing shoes,  hats, little dirty bundles, the migratory workers were
chased  out of their bed of  clean sand.  Back outside, the rain was keeping
up, and in the V-shaped beam of the spotlights from the patrol car you could
see that even the rain was having trouble.
     "Git  on  outta town there!" "Keep  travelin'!" "Don't  you  even  look
back!" "Start  walkin'!" We heard low, grumbling  voices coming from the car
behind us. Heard, too, the quiet motor start up and the gears shifted as the
car rolled  along back of us. It followed us  about a half  a mile, rain and
mud. It drove us across a cow pasture.
     From the car,  one of  the watchmen yelled, "Don't you show up in Tracy
again tonight! You'll be dam good an' sorry if you do! Keep walking!"
     The car lights cut a  wide,  rippling circle in  the  dark, and we knew
that they had turned around and went back to town. The roar of their exhaust
purred and died away.
     We'd marched  out across the  cow pasture, smiling  and yelling,  "Hep!
Hep! Whattaya say, men? Hep! Hep! Hep!"
     Now we stood in the rain and cackled like chickens, absolutely lost and
buffaloed. Never before had I had anything quite so dam  silly happen to me.
Our clothes were on crooked and  twisted; shoes full of mud and gravel. Hair
soaking wet, and  water running down our faces. It was  a funny sight to see
human  beings in any such a  shape. Wet as  we could get, dirty and muddy as
the  ground,  we  danced  up  and  down through puddles, ran  around in wide
circles  and laughed our heads off. There is a stage of hard luck that turns
into fun,  and a  stage  of poverty  that turns into pride,  and a place  in
laughing that turns into fight.
     "Okay. Hey, fellers! C'mere. Tell ya what we're gonna do. We're a-gonna
all git together,  see, an' go walkin' right back into town, an' go  back to
sleep in  that sandhouse ag'in. What say? Who's with me?" a  tall, slippery,
stoop-shouldered boy was telling us.
     "Same fer me!"
     "Whatever you guys does, I'll stick."

     "Hell, I c'n give that carload of  bulls a machine gun apiece, an' whip
th' whole outfit with my bare hands!" an older man said.
     "But,  no.  We don't  aim  ta  cause no  trouble.  Ain't  gonna  be  no
     "I'd just like to get one good poke at that fat belly."
     "Get that outta your head, mister."
     Just walking back toward town, talking.
     "Hey. How many of us here?"
     'Two. Four. Six. Eight."
     "Mebbe  we'd  better  split up in twos.  Too plain to see  a whole  big
bunch. We'll  go  into  town  by  pairs.  If  you  make  it back to  the old
blacksmith  shop right  there by the old Chinese bean joint,  whistle  once,
real long. This way, if two gets caught, the rest'll get away."
     "What'll we do if we get caught an' run in jail?"
     "Whistle  twice, real short," and under his breath  he showed us how to
     "Can everybody here whistle?"
     "I can."
     Four of  us said yes.  So one whistler and one  expert listener was put
into each pair.
     "Now, remember,  if you  see the patrol  car's  gonna  ketch  yuh, stop
before it gits yuh, an' whistle twice, real short an' sweet."
     "Okay.  First pair  take that street yonder.  Second pair,  drop over a
block.  Third couple, down the paved highway; and  us,  last pair, will walk
back down this  same cow trail that we  got  run out of  town on.  Remember,
don't start no trouble with them coppers. Loaded dice, boys; you cain't win.
Just got to try to outsmart 'em a little."
     Back through  the  slick mud,  walking different  ways, we  cussed  and
laughed.  In a few minutes, there came a long, low whistle, and  we knew the
first pair had made  it to the blacksmith shop. Then,  in  a  minute or  so,
another long one. We came in third, and I let out a  whistle that was one of
California's best. The last pair walked in and we stood under the wide eaves
of the  shop, watching the water drip  off of the roof, missing our noses by
about three inches. We had to stand up straight against the wall to stay out
of the rain.
     The sandhouse was just across the street and up a few steps.
     "Lay low."
     "Hey! Ho! Got us ag'in!"
     The new model black sedan  coasted down  a side street, out over in our
direction real  quick, and turned two spots on us. We  held our hands up  to
keep the lights from blinding us. Nobody moved. We thought maybe they'd made
a mistake.  But, as the car rolled up to within about  fifty feet of us,  we
knew that we were caught, and  got ready to be cussed  out,  and took to the
     A  deputy opened his front door, turned off one spotlight, and shot his
good flashlight into our faces. One at a time, he looked us over. We blinked
back at him, like a herd of young deer, but nobody was to say afraid.
     "Come here, you--" he said in a hard, imitation voice.
     The light was in my face. I thought it was shining in everybody's, so I
didn't move.
     "Hey, mister. Come over here, please."  He was a big heavy man, and his
voice had a nice clank to it, like cocking back the hammer of a rifle.
     I shook the light out of my eyes and said, "Who?"
     I  turned around to the men with me and told them loud  enough  for the
cops to hear it, "Be right back, fellers."
     I heard the patrol man turn around to the other cops and kid them about
something, and as I walked up they were all laughing and saying, "Yeah. He's
th' one. He's one. One of them things."
     The radio in the  car was  turned on a Hollywood station, and  a lady's
voice was singing, telling what all of the pretty girls  were thinking about
the war situation.
     "I'm a what?" I asked the cop.
     "You know, one of them 'things.' "
     "Well,  boys,  ya  got  me there. I don't  even  know  what one of them
'things' is."
     "We know what you are."
     "Well," I  scratched my head in the rain, "maybe you're smarter  than I
am; 'cause I never did know jist what I am."
     "We do."
     "What am I then?"
     "One of them labor boys."
     "Yeah, labor."
     "I think I know what labor is--" I smiled a little.
     "What is it?"
     "Labor's work."
     "Maybe, you're one of them trouble causers."
     "Listen, fellers, I jist rolled inta  this town  from  Oklahoma, I mean
Texas, an' I'm on my way to Sonora to stay with my relatives."
     "Yeah," I said. "Aunt. Cousins. Whole bunch. Well off."
     "You're going  to stay  in  Sonora when  you get  there, aren't you?" A
different, higher-sounding voice wheezed out from the back seat.
     "I'm gonna settle down up  there in them  mountains,  an' try ta  go ta
     "Kinda work, sonny?"
     "Painter. Signs. Pictures. Houses. Anything needs paintin'."
     "So you don't go around causing trouble, then?"
     "I'm runnin' inta a right smart of it. I don't always cause it."
     "You don't like trouble, do you, mister painter?"
     "Oh, I ain't so 'fraid no more. Sorta broke in by this time."
     "Ever talk to anybody about working?"
     "Train  loads of 'em. That's what ever'body's talkin' 'bout, an' ridin'
in all of this bad  weather for. Shore, we ain'ta  'fraid of work. We  ain't
panhandlers, ner stemwinders, jest a bunch of guys out tryin' ta do th' best
we can, an' had a little streak of hard luck, that's all."
     "Eyer talk to the boys about wages?"
     "Wages?  Oh, I  talk to ever'body about  somethin'.  Religion. Weather.
Picture shows. Girls. Wages."
     "Well, mister painter,  it's been good to get  acquainted  with you. It
seems like you are looking for work and anxious to get on up the road toward
Sonora. We'll  show  you the road and  see  that you get out  onto the  main
     "Boy, that'll be mighty fine."
     "Yes. We try to treat an honest working man right when he comes through
our little town here, either by accident or on purpose. We're just a little,
what you'd call, 'cautious,' you understand, because there is trouble  going
around, and you never know who's causing it, until  you ask. We will have to
ask you to get out in front of this car and start walking down this highway.
And don't look back--"
     All of the  cops  were  laughing and joking  as their car  drove  along
behind me.  I heard a lot of lousy jokes. I walked with my  head ducked into
the rain, and heard cars of other  people pass. They  yelled smart cracks at
me in the rain.
     After about  a mile,  they yelled for me to halt.  I stopped and didn't
even turn around. "You run a lot of risk tonight, breaking our orders."
     "Muddy out there!"
     "You  know, we tried to treat you nice.  Turned  you loose. Gave you  a
chance. Then you broke orders."
     "Yeah, I guess I did."
     "What made you do it?"
     "Well, ta be  right, real truthful with you guys, we got  pastures just
about like these back in Oklahoma, but we let the cows go out there and eat.
If people wants  to  go out there in the cow pasture, we let them go, but if
it's rainin' an' a cold  night like this, we don't drive or herd anybody out
     Cop said, "Keep travelin'."
     I said, "I wuz born travelin'. Good-bye!"
     The car and  the lights whirled around  in the road, and the tail light
and the radio music blacked out down the road in the rain.
     I walked a few steps and  seen it was  too rainy and bad to see in  the
fog, so I went to thinking about some kind of a place to lay down out of the
weather and go to sleep.  I  walked up to  the headstones of  a  long cement
bridge that bent across a running river. And down under the bridge I found a
couple of dozen other people curled up, grinding their teeth in the mist and
already dreaming. The ground was loose dirt and was awful cold and damp, but
not wet or muddy, as the rain couldn't hit us under the concrete. I seen men
paired  up snoring together, some  rolled in  newspapers  and brown wrapping
paper,  others in a chilled  blanket, one or two here and yonder all snoozed
up in some  mighty warm-looking bedrolls. And for a minute, I thought, I'm a
dam fool not to  carry my own bedroll; but then again, in the  hot daytime a
heavy bedroll is clumsy, no good, and in the way, and besides, people  won't
give you a ride  if  you're lugging  an old  dirty bundle.  So  here in  the
moisture  of  the wind  whiffing under  the  bridge,  I scanned  around  for
something  to use  for  a mattress, for  a  pillow, and  for  a virgin  wool
blanket. I found a soaked  piece  of wrapping paper which I shook  the water
off of, and spread on the dirt for my easy-rider mattress; but I didn't find
a pillow, nor anything to use as a blanket. I drew my muscles down into just
a little pile of  meat  and bones, and  shivered on the  paper for  about an
hour.  My  breath  swishing,   and  teeth  hitting  together,  woke  a   big
square-built  man up off his bedroll.  He listened  at me for a minute,  and
then asked me, "Don't you  know your shiverin's keepin' everybody  awake?" I
said, "Y-y-y-es-s-s,  I  sup-p-pose  it is;  I  ain't  gettin' no  sleep, on
account of it."  Then he said,  "You sound like  a snare  drum rattlin' that
paper; c'mon over here an' den up with me."
     I rolled  across the ground and peeled off  my  wet clothes,  my  gobby
shoes, and stacked them up in a pile; and then he  turned his  wool blankets
back and said, "Hurry,  jump  in before  the covers  get  wet!"  I was still
shivering  and shaking  so  hard it  jerked  my whole body into  kinks,  and
cramped me all over so that I couldn't move my lips to say a word. I scooted
my feet down inside and then pulled the itchy covers all up over my head.
     "You feel like a bucket of cold frogs,'' the man told me. "Where've you
     I kept on shaking, without saying a word.
     "Cops walk you?" he asked me. And I just nodded my head with my back to
     "I'm not minding this weather very much; I'm on my way to where it will
be  a hell of a lot colder than this. I don't know about the cops, but, I'll
be  in Vancouver  by this time next  week; and I know it'll freeze the horns
off  of a brass bulldog up 'there.  Lumberjack. Timber.  I guess you're  too
cold to talk much,  huh?" And his last words blotted  and  soaked out across
the swampy river bottom and faded away somewhere in the fog horn and red and
green lights on a little boat that pounded down the waters.

     It was hard for me to walk next morning  early  on account  of  my legs
being drawn  like torn  leather.  My  thighs felt like the  gristle was tore
loose from my bones, and my knees ached and jittered in  the joints. I shook
hands with the lumberjack and we went  our opposite ways. I  never did get a
real close look at him in the clouds; and when he walked away, his  head and
shoulders just  sort  of swum away  in  the fog of the morning.  I had  made
another friend I couldn't  see. And  I walked  along thinking, Well,  now, I
don't know if I'll ever see that man again or not, but I'll see a lot of men
a lot of places and I'll wonder if that could be him.
     Before  long the sun and the fog had fought and flounced around so long
on the river banks the highway run along  that it didn't seem like there was
enough room in the trees and reeds and canebrakes for the sun or the clouds,
either one,  to really win  out; so the clouds from  the ground got  mad and
raised up off of the earth to grab a-hold of the sunrays,  and fight  it out
higher  up in the air. I caught a ride on a truckload  of  grape  stakes and
heard a hard-looking truck driver cuss the  narrow, bad roads that cause you
to get killed so quick; and  then found  myself wheeling along  with  a deaf
farmer for an hour or two, an Italian grape grower in debt all  of the time,
a couple of cowboys  trying to beat their way to a new rodeo; and before the
day was wore very slick, I was walking down the streets of Sonora, the queen
of the gold towns, in the upper foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
     Sonera's crooked, narrow streets bent and run about as wild as  some of
the prospectors and their burros, and I thought as I pushed my way along the
tight alleys called streets, that maybe  the whole town had been laid out by
just  following  the tracks  of a  runaway prospector. Little  houses poking
their  bellies out  over the curbs and sidewalks, and streets so steep I had
to throw myself  in low gear to pull  them. Down again so steep, I  figured,
that  most of Sonora's citizens come and went by  way of parachutes.  Creeks
and rocky  rivers guggling along under the streets, where the gambling dives
and dram  joints flush their mistakes  down the drains, where,  on  down the
creek a-ways, the waters are planned by hungry gold-bugs.
     I walked along  with  my address in my  hand, seeing herds  of cowboys,
miners,  timber men,  and hard-working, pioneer-looking  women and kids from
the  mountains  around;  and  saw, too, the  fake  cowboys,  the  drug-store
calibre,  blazing  shirts  of  all  bright  colors  along  the  streets, and
crippling along  bowlegged in boots  never meant  to  be  worn  on the  hard
concrete.  And the honest working  people stand along in  bunches  and laugh
under their breath when the fake dudes buckle past.
     In the  smell of the high  pines  and the ripple of the  nugget creeks,
Sonora, an old town now,  is  rated as  California's second  richest person.
Pasadena  is first, and looks it,  but what  fools  you in Sonora is that it
looks like  one of the poorest. I  walked up the main  street loaded to  the
brim  with  horses, hay, children playing, jallopy cars of the  ranchers and
working  folks around, buggies of the Indians, wagons  loaded with groceries
for grubstake, town  cars, limousines,  sporty  jobs, the big V-16's and the
V-Twelves.  The main street crooks pretty sharp right  in the  business end,
and crooks another  time or two trying to get  out  of the first crook.  The
street is so narrow that people sneeze on the  right-hand side and apologize
to the ones on the left.
     I  asked a fireman  asleep on  a bench, "Could  you tell me where bouts
this address is?"
     He disturbed, without scaring, a fly on his eyelid, and told  me, 'It's
that big  rock house right yonder up that hill. No danger of  missing it, it
covers the whole hill."
     I thanked him and started walking up a three-block flight of rock steps
thinking, Boy, I'm as dirty an' ragged an' messed up as one  feller can git.
Knees outta my britches.  My face  needs about a half  a dozen shaves. Hands
all  smeary.  Coal dust an' soot all over me.  I don't know if I'd even know
myself in a lookin-glass. Shirt all tore to hell, an' my shoes stinkin' with
sweat. That's  a hell of a big rock house up there. Musta took a mighty  lot
of work ta build it. I'd go back down  in town to a fillin' station an' wash
an' clean up, but gosh, I'm so empty an' hungry, so tremblin' weak,  I don't
know, I couldn't pull it back up these long steps again. I'll go on up.
     A black iron fence and a cedar hedge fenced the whole yard off. I stood
at the  gate  with the letter in my hand, looking up and down,  back down at
the town and the people, and  then through the irons at the mansion. I wiped
the sweat off of my face on the arm  of  my shirt, and unlocked the gate and
walked through. Wide green grass lawn that made me think of golf courses I'd
caddied on. Mowed and petted and smoothed and kept, the yard had a look like
it had  just got  back from a barber shop. The whiff of the scrub cedar  and
middle-size pine, on top of the flowers  that jumped up  all around, made it
smell good  and  healthy, like a home for crippled children.  But the  whole
place  was  so  still and so  hushed  and quiet, that  I  was thinking maybe
everybody was gone off somewhere. When I walked the rock walk a little more,
the  whole  house  got  plainer to  see:  gray native stones from  the hills
around, flagstone porches and sandrock columns holding up the roof;  windows
so high and wide that the sun got lost trying to find a way to shine through
all of them big thick drapes and curtains. Iron braces in the  windows built
to  keep  the  nice, good, healthy sunshine  out for a long, long  time. Big
double doors with iron cross braces, handles like the entrance to  a funeral
parlor, locks bigger and stouter than any jail I'd ever slept in.
     I'll walk quieter now, because this porch makes a lot  of noise, and  a
little  noise, I  bet, would scare all of these trees and flowers  to death.
This place  is so quiet. I  hope I don't scare  nobody  when I knock on this
door. How  in  the dickens do you operate this knocker, anyhow? Oh. Pick  it
up. Let it just fall. It knocks. Gosh. Reckon it'll  bring any watchdogs out
on me? Hope not. Dern.  I don't know. I'm just thinking. This old rambling's
pretty bad in some  places, but, I don't know, I never did see it
get this quiet and this lonesome.
     Reckon  I  rung that door knocker  right? Guess I did. Things  so still
here on this porch,  I can hear my blood run, and my thoughts grazing around
in my head.
     The door opened back.
     My breath went away in the tips of the pines where the cones hang on as
long as  they can, and then fall down to the ground to get covered up in the
loose dirt and some day make a new tree.
     "How do you do," a man said.
     "Ah, yeah, good day." I was gulping for air.
     "May I do something for you?"
     "Me? No. Nope. I wuz  jist lookin' fer a certain party by this name." I
handed him the envelope.
     He  was  wearing a nice suit of  clothes. An old man,  thin-faced,  and
straight shoulders, gray  hair,  white cuffs,  black  tie. The  air from the
house sifted past him on its way out the  door,  and  there was a smell that
made me know that  the air had  been  hemmed up inside that house for a long
time. Hemmed  up. Walled in. Covered away from the moon and out of the reach
of the  sun.  Cut  away from the drift  of the leaves and the  wash  of  the
waters. Hid out from the going and the coming of the  people, cut loose from
the thoughts of  the crowds on the streets. Lazy in  there, sleepy in there,
cool and pale  and shady  in there, dark and dreary in the book  case there,
and the  wind under the beds hadn't been disturbed  in twenty-three years. I
know, I know, I'm on the right hill, but I'm at the wrong house. This wasn't
what I  hung that  boxcar  for, nor hugged that iron ladder for, nor bellied
down on top of that high rolling freight train  for. The train  was laughing
and cussing and alive with human people.  The cops was alive and  pushing me
down the road in  the rain. The bridge was alive with friends under  it. The
river was alive and arguing with the fog and the fog was wrestling the  wind
and boxing the sun.
     I remember a  frog  they found in  Okemah, once when they tore the  old
bank building down.  He'd been  sealed up in  solid concrete  for thirty-two
years,  and had almost  turned to jelly.  Jelly. Blubbery.  Soft  and  oozy.
Slicky and  wiggly. I don't  want to turn to no jelly. My belly is hard from
hard traveling, and I want more than anything else for my belly to stay hard
and stay wound up tight and stay alive.
     "Yes.  You  are at  the right house. This is the place you  are looking
for." The little butler stood aside and motioned for me to walk in.
     "I--er--ah--think, mebbe I made a mistake--"
     "Oh, no." He was talking  just about  the nicest I'd ever heard anybody
talk, like maybe he'd  been practicing. 'This is  the place  you're  looking
     "I don't--ah--think--I  think,  maybe  I  made a  little  mistake.  You
     "I'm positive that you are at the right address."
     "Yeah? Well, mister, I  shore  thank ya; but I'm purty shore." I backed
down  off of the slate-rock  steps, looking down at my feet, then up at  the
house and the door, and said, "Purty shore, I'm at th' wrong address.  Sorry
I woke ya, I mean bothered ya. Be seein' ya."
     When I  stood there on top of the  hill  and listened to that iron gate
snap  locked  behind me,  and looked all  down across the roofs  and  church
steeples and chimneys and steep houses of Sonora, I smelled the drift of the
pine rosin in  the air and watched a cloud whiff past me over my head, and I
was alive again.

     Chapter XV

     In a bend of the Sacramento  is the  town  of Redding,  California. The
word had scattered out that twenty-five hundred workers  was needed to build
the Kenneth Dam, and already eight thousand work hands had come  to  do  the
job. Redding was like a wild ant den. A mile to the north in a railroad bend
had sprung up another camp, a thriving nest of two thousand people, which we
just called by the name of the "jungle." In that summer of 1938, I learned a
few  little things about  the folks  in Redding, but a  whole lot more, some
way, down there  by  that big jungle where  the  people  lived  as  close to
nature, and as far from everything natural, as human beings can.
     I landed in Redding  early one  morning on a long freight train full of
wore-out  people. I fell off of the freight  with my guitar over my shoulder
and asked a guy when the work was going to start. He said it was supposed to
get going last month. Telegram hadn't come from Washington yet.
     "Last month,  hell," another  old boy said,  over  his shoulder. "We've
been  camped  right  here  up  and  down this slough for over  three months,
hearin' it would git started any day now!"
     I  looked down the train and seen about a hundred men dropping off with
their sleeping rolls and  bundles of all kinds.  The guy I was  talking with
was  a big hard looker with  a brown flannel shirt on. He said, "They's that
many rollin' in on ever' train that runs!"
     "Where are all of these here people from?" I asked him.
     "Some  of them are just louses," he said.  "Pimps an' gamblers, whores,
an' fakes of all kinds. Yes, but they  ain't  so many of that kind. You talk
around to twenty men  an' you'll find out  that nineteen of them are just as
willing  and  able to  work as anybody, just  as good a hand, knows just  as
much, been all over everywhere tryin' ta git onto some kind of a regular job
an' bring his  whole family,  wife, kids, everything,  out  here an'  settle
     It was a blistering hot day, and some of the men walked across a vacant
lot over to the main street. But the biggest part of  them  looked too dirty
and too beat-down and ragged  to spend much time on the streets. They didn't
walk into town to sign up at no hotel, not  even at a twenty-cent cot house,
not  even somebody's  green grass lawn,  but  walked  out slowly  across the
little hill to the  jungle camp. They  asked other  people already  stranded
there, Where's the water hole? Where's there a trash pile of pretty good tin
cans for cookin'; where's the fish biting in the river? Any of you folks got
a razor you ain't using?
     I stood there on a railroad platform looking  at my old wore-out shirt.
I was thinking, Well now, I don't know, there might be a merchant's daughter
around  this town that's  a little  bit afraid of all  of these  other tough
lookers, but now, if I  was  to  go an' rustle me up a couple of dollars an'
buy me  a clean layout, she might  spend  a little time talking to me. Makes
you feel better when you get all slicked  up, walking out onto  the streets,
cops  even  nod  and  smile  at you,  and  with your  sleeves  rolled up and
everything, sun  and  wind  sorta brushing  your skin,  you feel like a  new
dollar watch. And you think to yourself, Boy, I hope I can meet her

     before my clothes get all dirty again.  Maybe this little Army and Navy
store down the street has  got a water hydrant in the rest room; and  when I
put on my new shirt and pants, maybe I can wash up a little.  I can pull out
my razor and shave while I'm  washing, keep  an eye skint for the store man,
not let  him see  me. And I'll come walkin'  out from that  little old store
looking like a man that's all bought and paid for.
     I heard all kinds of singing and playing through the wide-open doors of
the  saloons along  the street, and dropped in at all of  them and  tried to
draw a hand. I'd  play my guitar  and sing the longest,  oldest, and saddest
songs  and ballads  I knew;  I'd nod  and smile and say thank you every time
somebody dropped a penny or a nickel into my cigar box.
     A plump Mexican lady wearing a sweated-out black dress, walked over and
dropped three pennies in my box and said, "Now  I'm broke. All  I'm  waiting
forr iss  thiss  beeg dam to start. For somebody  to  come running  down the
street saying, "Work hass opened up! Hiring men! Hiring everybody!' "
     I made enough  money to run down and  buy me the new shirt and  pair of
pants, but they was all sweat-soaked and covered  with loose  dust before  I
had a chance to get in good with the  merchant's daughter. I was counting my
change on the curb and had twenty some odd cents. A  bareheaded  Indian with
warts along his nose looked over in my hand and said, "Twenty-two cent. Huh.
Too much for chili. Not enough for beef stew. Too much for sleeping outside,
and  not enough for sleeping inside. Too  much to be broke and not enough to
pay a loafing fine. Too much to eat all by yourself, but not enough to  feed
some other boomer." And I looked at the money and said, "I reckin one of th'
unhandiest dam sums of money a feller c'n have is twenty some-odd cents." So
I walked around with it jingling loose in my pockets, out across the street,
through a vacant lot, down a cinder dump onto a  railroad track, till I come
to a little grassy trail that led into the jungle camp.
     I followed the trail out over the hill through the  sun and  the weeds.
The camp was bigger than the town itself. People had dragged old car fenders
up from the dumps, wired them from the limbs of oak trees a few  feet off of
the ground and this was a roof for some of them. Others had taken old canvas
sacks or wagon sheets,  stretched the canvas  over little limbs  cut  so the
forks braced each other, and that was a house for those folks. I  heard  two
brothers standing back looking at their house saying, "I ain't  lost my hand
as a  carpenter, yet." "My old eyes  can  still  see to  hit a nail," They'd
carried buckets  and tin cans out of the heap, flattened them on the ground,
then nailed the tin onto  crooked boards, and  that was a mansion  for them.
Lots of people, families mostly, had some bedclothes with  them, and I could
see the old stinky, gummy quilts and blankets hung up like tents, and two or
three kids of all ages playing  around underneath. There was  scatterings of
cardboard  shacks, where the people had lugged cartons, cases, packing boxes
out from town and tacked them into  a house. They was easy to build, but the
first rain that hit them, they was goners.
     Then about every few  feet down the jungle hill you'd walk past a shack
just sort of made out of everything in general--  old  strips of asphalt tar
paper, double gunny sacks, an old dress, shirt, pair of overhalls, stretched
up  to cover half  a side of a wall;  bumpy corrugated  iron,  cement sacks,
orange and apple crates took apart and  nailed together with old rusty burnt
nails from the cinder piles. Through a little square window on the side of a
house, I'd  hear  bedsprings creaking and people talking. Men played  cards,
whittled, and  women talked about  work  they'd struck  and  work they  were
hunting for. Dirt was on the floor of the house, and all kinds and colors of
crawling and flying bugs come and  went like they were getting  paid for it.
There were  the  big green blow-flies, the noisy little street flies, manure
and lot flies, caterpillars and gnats from other dam jobs, bed bugs,  fleas,
and ticks  sucking  blood,  while  mosquitoes  of  all army  and navy types,
hummers, bombers,  fighters, sung  some good mosquito songs. In  most cases,
though,  the  families didn't even have  a roof or  shelter,  but  just  got
together  once  or twice every day and,  squatting  sort of  Indian  fashion
around their fire, spaded a few bites  of thickened flour gravy,  old bread,
or  a thin watery stew. Gunny sacks,  old clothes, hay and straw, fermenting
bedclothes, are usually piled full of kids playing, or grown-ups resting and
waiting for the word "work" to come.
     The  sun's shining through lots  of places, other patches pretty shady,
and right here at my elbow a couple of families are squatting down on an old
slick piece of canvas;  three or four quiet men,  whittling, breaking  grass
stems, poking holes  in leaves, digging into the hard ground; and the  women
rocking back and  forth laughing out at something somebody'd  said. A little
baby sucks at a wind-burnt breast that nursed the four other kids that crawl
about the fire. Cold rusty  cans are their china cups and aluminum ware, and
the hot still bucket of river  water is as warm and clear as the air around.
I watch  a  lot of little circles waving  out  from  the middle of the water
where a  measuring worm has dropped from the limb  of  a  tree and flips and
flops for his very life. And I see a man with a forked stick reach the forks
over into the bucket, smile, and go on talking about the work he's done; and
in a moment, when the little worm clamps his feet around  the  forks of  the
stick, the man will lift him out, pull him up close to his face and look him
over, then  tap the stick over the rim of the bucket. When  the  little worm
flips to the ground and  goes humping away through  the twigs and ashes, the
whole bunch of people will  smile and say, "Pretty close shave, mister worm.
What do you think you are, a parshoot jumper?"
     You've seen a million people like this already. Maybe you saw them down
on the  crowded side of your  big  city; the  back side,  that's  jammed and
packed, the hard section to drive  through. Maybe you wondered where so many
of them  come from, how they eat, stay alive, what good they do, what  makes
them  live like this? These people  have had  a  house and a home just about
like your own, settled down and had a job of work just about like  you. Then
something  hit them and they lost all of that. They've been pushed out  into
the  high lonesone highway, and  they've gone down  it, from coast to coast,
from Canada to Mexico, looking for that home again. Now they're looking, for
a  while,  in your town. Ain't much  difference between you and them. If you
was  to walk out into this big tangled jungle camp  and stand there with the
other two thousand, somebody would just walk up and shake hands with you and
ask you, What kind of work do you do, pardner?
     Then maybe, farther out on  the ragged edge  of your  town you've  seen
these  people  after  they've  hit  the  road:  the people  that  are called
strangers, the people that follow the  sun and the seasons to your  country,
follow the buds and the early leaves  and come when the fruit and crops  are
ready  to gather, and leave when the work  is done. What  kind of crops? Oil
fields,  power  dams, pipe lines,  canals, highways  and  hard-rock tunnels,
skyscrapers, ships, are their crops. These are migrants now. They don't just
set along in the sun--they go by the sun, and it lights up  the country that
they know is theirs.
     If  you'd go looking  for  social problems,  you'd  find  just  a  good
friendly  bunch  of people  getting a lot  of laughing and talking done, and
some of it pretty good sense.
     I listened  to the talk  in the  tanglewood  of  the  migratory jungle.
"What'll be here to keep these people going," a man with baggy overhalls and
a set  of stickery whiskers  is saying, "when this dam job is over? Nothing?
No, mister, you're wrong as hell. What  do you  think  we're putting in this
dam for, anyhow? To catch water to irrigate new  land, and water all of this
desert-looking country here. And when a little drop of water hits the ground
anywhere  out across  here--a  crop, a bush, sometimes even  a big tall tree
comes jumping out of the dirt. Thousands and thousands of whole families are
going to have all the good land they need, and I'm a-going to be on  one  of
them little twenty acres!"
     "Water,  water,"  a  young man  about  twenty or so, wearing a pair  of
handmade cowboy shoes,  talks up. "You think water's gonna be th' best part?
Well, you're just about half right, friend. Did you ever stop  to think that
th'  most, th'  best part of it  all is th' electric power this  dam's gonna
turn out? I can  just lay here on this  old, rotten jungle hill with all  of
these half-starved people waiting to go  to work, and you know,  I  don't so
much see all of this filth and dirt. But I do see--just try to picture in my
head, like--what's gonna be

     here.  Th' big factories makin' all  kinds of things from fertilizer to
bombin'  planes. Power  lines, steel  towers  runnin'  out acrost  these old
clumpy  hills--most of all, people at work all  of th' time on little farms,
and whole bunches and bunches of people at work in th' big new factories."
     "It's th' gifts  of  th' Lord, that's what 'tis." A little nervous man,
about half Indian, is pulling  up  grass stems and talking. "Th' Lord  gives
you a mind to vision all  of this, an' th' power to  build it. He gives when
He wants  to. Then when He  wants  to, He takes it away--if we don't  use it
     "If we all get together, social like, and build something, say,  like a
big ship,  any kind of  a factory,  railroad,  big dam--that's  social work,
ain't it?" This is a young man with shell-rimmed glasses,  a gray felt  hat,
blue work shirt with a fountain pen stuck with a notebook in his pocket, and
his voice had the sound of books in it when he talked. "That's what 'social'
means,  me and  you and  you  working on something together  and  owning  it
together.  What  the  hell's  wrong with this,  anybody--speak up! If  Jesus
Christ was sitting right here, right now, he'd say this very same dam thing.
You just ask Jesus how the hell  come a couple of  thousand of us living out
here  in this  jungle camp like a bunch of wild  animals. You just ask Jesus
how many million of other folks are living the  same way? Sharecroppers down
South,  big  city  people  that work in  factories and live like rats in the
slimy slums. You know what  Jesus'll say back to you?  He'll tell you we all
just mortally got to work together, build things together, fix up old things
together, clean  out old  filth together, put up new buildings, schools  and
churches,  banks and  factories together, and own everything together. Sure,
they'll call it a  bad  ism. Jesus don't  care  if you  call it socialism or
communism, or just me and you."

     When night come down,  everything  got a little stiller, and you  could
walk  around from one bunch of  people to the other one  and  talk about the
weather. Although the weather wasn't such an -high subject to talk about,
because around Redding for nine months hand running the weather don't change
(it's hot and  dry, hot and dry, and tomorrow it's still going to be hot and
dry),  you  can hear little bunches  of  folks getting  acquainted with each
other, saying, "Really hot, ain't it?" "Yeah, dry too." "Mighty dry."
     I  run onto a  few  young people of twelve to  twenty-five, mostly kids
with their families, who picked the banjo or guitar, and  sung songs. Two of
these people drew quite a  bunch every evening along toward  sundown and  it
always  took place just about  the same way. An old bed was under a tree  in
their yard,  and  a baby boy  romped around on it when  the shade  got cool,
because  in the early parts of the day the  flies and bugs nearly packed him
off. So this was his ripping and romping time, and it was the job of his two
sisters, one around twelve  and  the other one around fourteen, to watch him
and  keep  him from falling  off onto the ground. Their dad parked  his self
back on an  old car cushion. He  throwed  his eyes out over the rims of some
two-bit specks just  about every line or two on his reading  matter, and run
his Adam's apple up and down; and his wife nearby was singing what  all  the
Lord had done for her,  while the right young baby  stood  up for his  first
time, and jumped up and down, bouncing toward the  edge of the mattress. The
old  man  puckered up  his face and sprayed a tree with  tobacco  juice, and
said, "Girls.  You girls. Go  in the house  and get your music box, and  set
there on the bed and play with the baby, so's he won't fall off."
     One of the sisters tuned a string or two, then chorded a little. People
walked from  all over the camp and gathered, and the kid, mama, and dad, and
all of the visitors, kept as still as day Light while the girls sang:

     Takes a worried man to sing a worried song
     Takes a worried man to sing a worried song
     Takes a worried man to sing a worried song
     I'm worried nowwww
     But I won't be worried long.

     I  heard these two  girls from a-ways away  where I was leaning back up
against an  old watering trough. I could  hear their words just  as plain as
day, floating all around in the trees and down across the low places. I hung
my guitar up on a stub of a limb, went down and stretched myself out on some
dry grass, and  listened to the girls for a long time.  The baby kicked  and
bucked like a  regular army mule whenever they'd quit their singing; but, as
quick as they struck their first note or two on the next song, the kid would
throw his wrist in his mouth, the slobbers would drip down onto his sister's
lap, and the baby would  kick both feet, but easy, keeping pretty good  time
to the guitar.
     I don't know why I didn't tell them I had a guitar up yonder hanging on
that  tree.  I just reared back and soaked in every note  and every word  of
their singing. It was so clear and honest sounding, no  Hollywood put-on, no
fake wiggling. It  was  better to me  than the  loud  squalling  and bawling
you've got to  do to  make  yourself  heard  in the old mobbed saloons. And,
instead of getting  you all riled up  mentally, morally and sexually--no, it
done something a lot better, something that's harder  to do,  something  you
need ten times more. It cleared  your head  up, that's what  it done, caused
you to fall back and  let your draggy bones rest  and your muscles go limber
like a cat's.
     Two little  girls were making two  thousand working  people feel like I
felt, rest like I rested. And  when I say two thousand, take a look down off
across  these  three little hills. You'll see a hat or two bobbing  up above
the  brush. Somebody is going, somebody is coming, somebody is kneeling down
drinking from the spring  of water trickling  out of the west hill. Five men
are  shaving before  the same crooked hunk of  old  looking-glass, using tin
cans for their water. A woman right up close to you wrings out a tough  work
shirt, saves the water for four more. You skim your eye out around the south
hill, and not less than a  hundred women are doing  the same thing, washing,
wringing,  hanging  out shirts, taking them down dry  to iron. Not a one  of
them is talking above a whisper, and the one that is whispering almost feels
guilty because she knows that ninety-nine  out of every hundred  are  tired,
weary, have  felt sad, joked and laughed  to keep from crying. But these two
little girls are telling about all of that trouble, and everybody knows it's
helping. These songs say something about our hard traveling, something about
our hard luck, our hard get-by, but the songs say  well come  through all of
these in pretty good shape, and we'll be all right, we'll work, make ourself
useful, if only the telegram to build the dam would come in from Washington.
     I thought I could act a little bashful and shy, and not rush the people
to get  to knowing them, but something  inside of me just sort of talked out
and said, "Awful good singing. What's your name?"
     The  two little girls talked slow and quiet but it was not nervous, and
it wasn't jittery, just plain. They told me their names.
     I said, "I like the way you play that guitar with  your fingers! Sounds
soft, and you can hear it a long ways off. All of these three hills was just
ringing out with your guitar,  and all  of these people was listening to you
     "I saw them listening," one sister said.
     "I saw them too," the other sister said.
     "I play with a flat celluloid pick. I've got to be loud, because I play
in saloons  and, well, I  just make it my job to  make more  noise than they
make, and they're sorry for me and give me nickels and pennies."
     "I don't like old saloons," one little girl said.
     "Me neither," the other little girl said.
     I looked over at their  daddy, and he sort  of looked crossways out  my
side of  his  specks, pouched his lips up  a little, winked at me, and said,
"I'm against bars myself."
     His wife talked up louder, "Yes, you're against bars! Right  square  up
against them!"
     Both  of  the sisters looked  awful  sober  and  serious at their  dad.
Everybody  in  the crowd  laughed, and  took  on  a new listening  position,
leaning back  up  against trees,  squatting  on  smoky buckets turned upside
down, stretched out in the grass, patting  down places to  lay in  the short
     I got up and strolled away and took my guitar down off of the sawed-off
limb,  and thought  while I was walking  back  to where  the crowd was,  Boy
howdy, old guitar, you been a lot of places, seen  a lot of faces, but don't
you go to  actin' up too  wild and reckless,  'cause these Little girls  and
their mama don't like saloons.
     I  got  back to  where everybody  was, and the two  little sisters  was
singing "Columbus Stockade":

     Way down in Columbus stockade
     Where my gally went back on me;
     Way down in Columbus stockade,
     I'd ruther be back in Tennessee.

     "Columbus Stockade" was always one of my first picks, so I let them run
along for a little while, twisted my guitar  up in tune with theirs, holding
my ear down against the sounding box,  and when I heard  it was in tune with
them I started picking out  the tune, sort of note  for  note, letting their
guitar play the  bass  chords and second parts. They  both  smiled when they
heard me because two guitars being played this way is what's called the real
article, and millions  of little kids are raised on  this kind of music.  If
you think of something new to say, if a cyclone comes, or a flood wrecks the
country, or a bus load of school children freeze to death along the road, if
a big ship goes down,  and an airplane falls in your neighborhood, an outlaw
shoots it  out with the deputies, or the working people go out to win a war,
yes, you'll find a train load of things you can set down and make up a  song
about.  You'll  hear people singing  your words around over the country, and
you'll  sing  their songs everywhere you travel or everywhere  you live; and
these  are the only kind of songs my head  or my memory or my guitar has got
any room for.
     So these two little girls  and me sung together till the  crowd had got
bigger and it was dark under the trees where the moon couldn't hit us.

     Takes a ten-dollar shoe to fit my feet
     Takes a ten-dollar shoe to fit my feet
     Takes a ten-dollar shoe to fit my feet, Lord God!
     And I ain't a-gonna be treated this a-way!

     When the night  got late and the men in the saloons in town lost  their
few pennies playing framed-up  poker, they drifted out to sleep the night in
the  jungle camp.  We  saw a  bunch of twenty-five  or thirty  of them  come
running over the rim  of  the hill from town, yelling, cussing,  kicking tin
buckets and coffee pots thirty feet, and hollering like panthers.
     And when the  wild  bunch  run  down the little  trail to where we  was
singing--it was then that the whole drunk  mess of them stood there  reeling
and listening in the dark, and then shushed each other to keep quiet and set
down on the ground to listen. Everybody got so still that it almost crackled
in the  air.  Men took seats and leaned their heads back against tree trunks
and listened to the lightning bugs turn  their lights on  and  off.  And the
lightning bugs  must of been hushing each other, because the old jungle camp
was getting a lot of good  rest  there listening to the little  girls'  song
drift out across the dark wind.
     Chapter XVI

     I  set  my hat on the back of my head and walked out west  from Redding
through the Redwood forests along the coast, and strolled from town to town,
my guitar slung over  my shoulder,  and sung along the boweries of forty-two
states; Reno Avenue in Oklahoma City, Lower Pike Street in Seattle, the jury
table in  Santa Fe; the  Hooversvilles on  the flea-bit rims of  your city's
garbage dump. I sung in the camps called "Little Mexico," on the dirty  edge
of California's green pastures. I sung on  the  gravel  barges  of  the East
Coast  and  along  New  York's Bowery watching  the  cops chase  the bay-rum
drinkers.  I curved along the bend of the Gulf of  Mexico and  sung with the
tars  and  salts in Port Arthur, the oilers and greasers in Texas  City, the
marijuana  smokers  in the  flop town  in Houston. I trailed the  fairs  and
rodeos all over  Northern California,  Grass Valley, Nevada City; I  trailed
the apricots and peaches around Marysville  and the winy-grape sand hills of
Auburn,  drinking  the  good  homemade vino from the jugs of  friendly grape
     Everywhere  I  went I throwed my hat down in  the floor and sung for my
     Sometimes  I  was lucky  and found me  a good job. I  sung on the radio
waves in Los Angeles, and  I got  a job from  Uncle  Samuel to  come  to the
valley of  the Columbia River and  I made up  and  recorded twenty-six songs
about the Grand  Coulee Dam. I made two  albums of records called "Dust Bowl
Ballads"  for the  Victor people.  I  hit  the  road again  and  crossed the
continent twice  by way  of  highway  and  freights. Folks  heard me  on the
nationwide radio  programs CBS and NBC,  and thought I was  rich and famous,
and  I  didn't have  a nickel to  my name,  when I was hitting  the hard way
     The months flew fast and the people faster, and one day the coast  wind
blew me out of San Francisco, through San Jose's wide streets, and over  the
hump to Los Angeles.  Month of December, down along old Fifth and Main, Skid
Row, one of the skiddiest of all Skid Rows. God, what a wet and windy night!
And  the clouds swung low and  split  up  like herds  of wild  horses in the
canyons of the street.
     I run onto a guitar-playing partner standing  on  a bad corner, and  he
called his self the Cisco Kid. He was a

     long-legged guy that walked  like he  was  on a  rolling  ship, a  good
singer and yodeler, and had sailed the seas a lot of times, busted labels in
a  lot of ports,  and  had  really  been around in his twenty-six years.  He
banged on the guitar pretty good,  and like me, come rain or sun, or cold or
heat, he always walked along with his guitar slung over his shoulder from  a
leather strap.
     We moved  along the Skid  looking in at the bars and taverns, listening
to neon  signs sputter and  crackle, and on the lookout for a  gang  of live
ones. The old splotchy  plate-glass  windows looked too dirty for  the  hard
rain  ever to wash clean.  Old doors and dumps and  cubbyholes had a  sickly
pale color about them, and men and women bosses and work-hands humped around
inside and  talked back and forth to  each  other. Some soggy-smelling  news
stands tried to keep their fronts open and  sell horse-race  tips and sheets
to the  people ducking head-down in the rain, and pool halls stunk  to  high
heaven with  tobacco smoke,  spit and  piles of dirty men yelling over their
bets. Hock-shop windows all piled and hanging full of every article known to
man, and  hocked there  by  the men  that needed them  most; tools, shovels,
carpenter kits, paint sets, compasses, brass faucets, plumbers  tools, saws,
axes, big watches that hadn't run since the  last war,  and canvas tents and
bedrolls taken from the  fruit tramps.  Coffee joints, slippery stool dives,
hash counters with open fronts was lined with men swallowing and chewing and
hoping the rain would wash something  like a job down  along the  Skid.  The
garbage is along the street stones and the curbing, a shale and a slush that
washes down the hill from the nicer parts of  town, the papers  crumpled and
rotten, the  straw, manure, and silt, that comes down from  the high places,
like the Cisco Kid and me, and like several thousand other rounders, to land
and to clog, and to get caught along the Skid Row.
     This  is  where the working people  come to try to squeeze a little fun
and rest out of a buffalo nickel; these three or four blocks of old wobbling
flop houses and buildings.
     I know you people I see here on the Skid. The hats pulled down over the
faces I can't see. You know my name and you call me a guitar busker, a joint
hopper, tip canary, kittybox man.
     Movie  people,  boss  wranglers,  dead  enders,  stew  bums;  stealers,
dealers, sidewalk  spielers; con men, sly flies, flat foots,  reefer riders;
dopers, smokers, boiler stokers; sailors, whalers, bar flies, brass railers;
spittoon  tuners, fruit-tree  pruners; cobbers, spiders,  three-way  riders;
honest people,  fakes, vamps  and bleeders; saviors, saved,  and side-street
singers; whore-house hunters,  door-bell ringers;  footloosers,  rod riders,
caboosers,   outsiders;  honky   tonk  and   whiskey  setters,   tight-wads,
spendthrifts,  race-horse betters;  blackmailers,  gin soaks, comers, goers;
good girls, bad girls, teasers, whores; buskers, com  huskers, dust bowlers,
dust  panners; waddlers, toddlers, dose  packers, syph carriers;  money men,
honey men, sad men, funny men; ramblers, gamblers, highway anklers; cowards,
brave guys, stools and  snitches; nice people, bastards, sonsabitches; fair,
square,  and honest folks;  low, sneaking  greedy  people; and somewhere, in
amongst all of these Skid Row skidders--Cisco and me sung for our chips.
     This December night was bad for singing  from joint to joint.  The rain
had  washed some of the trash along  the streets, but had chased most of the
cash  customers on home. Our system was  to walk into a saloon  and ask  the
regular musicians if they would like to rest a few minutes, and they usually
was glad to stretch their legs and grab a coffee or a  burger. Then we  took
their  places  on  the  little platform and  sung  our songs  and  asked the
customers  what they would like to hear next. Each joint was good for thirty
or forty cents, if things went  just right,  and we usually  hit five or six
bars every night. But this was  an  off  night.  Men  and  women  filled the
booths,  talking about Hitler and  Japan and the  Russian  Red  Army.  A few
soldiers  and sailors  and men in uniform scattered along the bar nodding to
longshoremen, and  tanker  men, and  freighter  men, and  dock workers,  and
factory men, and talking about the war. Cops ducking  in and out of the rain
stood around and took a good look to see if there was any trouble cooking.
     The Cisco  Kid was saying, "It looks like most of  these  old buildings
had ought to be jacked up and a new one run under  them."  He was on the  go
from door to door, trying to keep his guitar out of the rain.
     "Purty old, all right, some of these flop houses. I think th' Spaniards
found 'em here when  they first  chased  th' Indians outta this  country." I
dodged along behind him.
     "Wanta drop in here at th' Ace High?"
     I followed him in the  door.  "It'll be a cinch ta git ta play  here, I
don't know about makin' any money."
     The Ace High crowd looked pretty low. We nodded at Charlie the Chinaman
and he nodded back toward the music platform. The whole  joint was painted a
light funny  blue that sort of made your head spin  whether you was drinking
or not. All kinds  of ropes and  corks and big fishing nets hung around over
the walls and down from the ceiling. Cisco  turned a  nickel  machine around
with its face to the wall, while I flipped the strings of his guitar hanging
on his back and tuned mine up  to his. Then I waved at  Charlie the Chinaman
and he  reached  above the bar and turned  on the loud speaker. I pulled the
mike up to where  it  would  be  level  with our  mouths and we  started  in

     Well, I come here, to work, I didn't come to hang around
     Yes, I come here to work, I didn't come to hang around
     And if I don't find me a woman, I'll just roll on out of town.

     "Hey there, slim  boy," a fast-talking little bald-headed man wearing a
right  new suit of gray clothes told us, handing Cisco a  phone book at  the
same time, "turn in here and find me a name and a number to call."
     "Which number?" Cisco asked him.
     "Just  any  number," he said; "just read one  off.  I  never could read
those phone numbers very good."
     I listened to Cisco call out a number. The man handed  Cisco a dime and
then Cisco and me heard him talking.
     "Miss Sue  Perfalus? How are you?  I'm Mister Upjohn  Smith,  with  the
Happy  Hearth  and  Home  Roofing  Company.  I  was  fixing  your  next-door
neighbor's roof today. While I was on top of her house, I looked over on top
of  your  house.  The  rainy season  is here, you know. Your roof  is  in  a
terrible condition. I wouldn't  be  surprised to see the whole thing go  any
minute.  The water  will  cause  the plaster to fall off your laths and ruin
your piano and your  furniture. It might fail down and  hit you in the  face
some night while you're in bed. What? Sure? Sure, I'm sure! I got your phone
number, didn't I? The  price? Oh, I'm afraid it's going to run you somewhere
around two hundred dollars. What's that? Oh, I see. You haven't got  a roof?
Apartment house? Oh, I see. Well, goodbye, lady."
     "Wrong number?" I asked him when he hung up.
     "No. Here, you  take this phone  book  and try calling me  off one." He
took the book from Cisco and handed it to me.
     "Who is this? Oh, Judge V. A. Grant? Your plaster  is  falling off your
roof. This is the Happy Hearth  and  Home Roofing Company.  Sure? Sure,  I'm
sure!  The plaster might fall on your wife while she's  in bed. Sure, I  can
fix it. That's my business. Price? Oh, it's  going to run you right at three
hundred dollars. Fine. Come  around in the morning? I'll be there with bells
on!" He took his phone book and handed me another dime and walked out.
     Cisco laughed and said, "People  do any dam  thing  under th' sun these
days ta make a livin'! Huckle an' buck!"
     "Git ta singin'. There's some live ones comin' in th'  door. Boy howdy,
this is our first  catch tonight. I hope we  can git three more dimes out of
this  Navy bunch. Sail on,  sailor boys, sail  on! Step up an'  give  us yer
     "Let's sing 'em one first,"  Cisco  told me, "so they'll know it  ain't
juke-box stuff. What'Il we sing? Sailor boys are really wet. Got caught  out
in the rain."
     I nodded and started singing:

     Well, it's rainin' on th' Skid Row
     Stormin' down in Birmin'ham
     Rainin' on th' Skid Row
     Stormin' down in Birmin' ham
     But there ain't no stormy weather
     Gonna stop these boys of Uncle Sam!

     "You tell 'em, back there, bud!"
     "Let 'er reel! Let 'em ramble!"
     "Hey! Hey!"

     Lord, it's stormy on that ocean
     Windy on th' deep blue sea
     Boys, it's stormy on the ocean
     Windy on th' deep blue sea
     I'm gonna bake them Nazis a chicken
     Loaded full of TNT!

     "Hey, Bud! I ain't  got  no money, 'cept just a little here to get me a
'burger  an'  a  beer.  I'd give you a dime if  I  had it. But  just keep on
singing  that  song, huh?" A big  broad sailor was leaning his head  over my
guitar, talking.
     "He's just now makin' that song up, aren't you, friend?"

     I woke up this mornin'
     Seen what the papers said
     Yes, boys, I woke up this mornin',
     Seen what the papers said
     Them Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor
     And war had been declared.

     I didn't boil myself no coffee
     I didn't boil no tea
     I didn't boil myself no coffee
     I didn't boil no tea
     I made a run for that recruitin' office
     Uncle Sam, make room for me!

     We  stopped  singing and  the whole  bunch of sailors  got  around  the
platform. They all leaned on the rail and listened.
     "You boys ought to sing those two verses first every time,'' one sailor
told us.
     "Anybody know the latest news from Pearl Harbor?" I asked them.
     They all talked at the same  time. "It's  worse than we figured." "Japs
done a lot  of damage."  "First  I heard it was twelve hundred," "Yeah,  but
they say now it's closer  to fifteen." "I'm just askin' one dam thing, boys,
an' that's a Goddam close crack  at them Jap bastards'" "Why,  th' sneak-in'
skunk buzzards to hell, anyway, I hope to God that Uncle Sam puts me where I
can do those Japs the most damage!"
     A lone soldier walked  in through  the door and yelled, "Well, sailors,
I'll be on  a troopship  the first thing  in the morning! And you'll  be out
there keeping me company! C'mon! Beer's on me!"
     "Hi, soldier!  Come on  back here! Charlie will send us some beer. Five
of us! Oh, seven! Two of th' best Goddam singers you ever did  cock your ear
at! On your way to camp?"
     "Gotta be there in about an hour,"  the soldier  said.  "Knock me off a
tune! This is my last greenback! Seven dam beers, there, Charlie!" He  waved
the dollar bill.
     Five or six couples walked in the door and took seats m some booths.
     A lady waved a handkerchief from a booth and said, "Hey boys! Sing some
     "You jingle  a nickel  there on th'  platform,  lady," Cisco  told her,
"that'll sound like back where I come from!"
     A nickel hit the platform. A sailor or two laughed and  said, "Sing one
about th' war. Got any?"
     I scratched my  head  and told him,  "Well,  not to  brag about.  We've
scribbled one or two."
     "Le's hear 'em.''
     "Ain't  learnt 'em so good  yet." I  pulled a piece  of paper out of my
pocket and handed it to one of the men. "You be my  music rack. Hold this up
in  th'  light  where I can  see it. I don't  even know if I can read my own
writin' or not."

     Our planes will down these buzzards
     Before this war has past,
     For they have fired the first, folks,
     But we will fire the last!

     Charlie laughed  out  from behind  the  bar, "Plenty  quick!  Song come
     The  people in  the  booths  clapped their hands,  and the sailors  and
soldier boy reached across the rail and slapped us on the shoulders.
     "Whew!  That's gittin' songs out fast!"  The  soldier drained his  beer
     "You guys oughtta move up  to th' Circle Bar! You'd  pick up some  real
tips up there!" A  wild-looking cowboy turned around  from  the bar and told
     "Keep mouth shut!" Charlie hollered and waved a slick glass. "These boy
know  Cholly Chinee. Like  Cholly Chinee! Girly! Take two  beer back to sing
     "I'd set 'em up again, if  I could, guys," the soldier said,  "but that
was my last lone dollar."
     "Cholly!" I yelled. "Did you say two free beers fer us?"
     "Yes. I say girly bring. Two free beer," he said.
     "Make it seven!" I told him.
     "Seven free beer?"
     "If ya don't, we're gonna move th' singin' up to th' Circle Bar!" Cisco
put in.
     "Seven?" Charlie looked up quick. Then he held up his finger and  said,
"Cholly good man. Cholly bring."
     "By God, we gotta  treat our soldiers an' sailors  like earls an' dukes
from here on  out," Cisco  laughed.  We'd both tried  that  morning  to ship
aboard a freighter headed for Murmansk. They'd turned us down for some  damn
health reason  and now Cisco  and me was hot and crazy and laughing and  mad
clear through.
     "Well, men!"  One  of the sailors held up his new glass of beer off  of
Charlie's tray.  "I got th' prettiest gal in  Los  Angeles. Got a
good uniform on. Got a free glass of beer. Got some real honest music. Got a
great  big war  to fight  I'm satisfied. I'm ready. So here's to beatin' th'
Japs!" He drained his glass at one pull.
     "Beat 'em down!" another one said.
     "And quick!"
     "I'm in!"
     "Gimme a ship!"
     "I ain't no talker. I'm a fighter! Wow!"
     One of the biggest  and  toughest of the civilian bunch downed a double
drink of hard cold liquor and washed it down with a  glass of beer,  then he
stood  right in the middle of  the floor and said, "Well, people! Soldier's!
Sailors! Wimmen an'  gals!  I'm  not physical fit ta be  in  th' navy er th'
army, but I'll  promise  ya  I'll beat  th'  livin'  hell outta ever' Goddam
livin' Jap in this town!"
     "If you  ain't  got no more  sense than that, big shot, you just better
pull  your head in your  hole and keep it there!" a long, tall sailor yelled
back at him. "None of your wild talk in here!"
     "Cholly  got  plentee good  friend. Japonee. You say  more, Cholly bust
bottle. Your head!" The boss was shaking a towel over the bar.
     "We no fight Japonee people!"  Charlie's waitress talked  up at the far
end of the  bar by the door. "We fight big-shot Japonee  crook. Big lie! Big
steal! You not got no good sense! Try  start  Japonee  fight here! Me  China
girl. Plentee Japonee friend!"
     The soldier  boy  walked across  the floor with  his fists  doubled up,
shoving  his glass empty along  the  counter,  and saying in the tough boy's
face,  "Beat  it, mister. Start walkin'.  We ain't fightin' these Japs  just
because they happen to be Japs."
     The big man  backed out through the  door  into a  crowd  of fifteen or
twenty people. He ducked off up the street in the dark.
     "Hell!" The soldier walked back  through  the saloon  saying, "That guy
won't last a dam week talking that kind of stuff.
     "Far as that goes,"  Cisco was bending over, talking in  my  ear, "this
Imperial Saloon right  next door here is  run by a whole family of  Japanese
folks. I know all  of  them. Sung in there a hundred times. They always help
me to  get  tips. They're  just as good as  I  am!" He started a song on his
     "Music! Play, boys, play!"  The  sailors grabbed each other and  danced
around in the  floor, doing the jitterbug,  sticking their fingers up in the
air, making all sorts of goofy faces. and yelling, "Yippee! Cut th' rug!"
     Most  of the girls got up out of the booths and walked across the floor
smiling  and saying, "No two  men  allowed to  dance together in  this place
tonight." "No sailors  are allowed to dance unless it's with an awful pretty
girl." And a sailor  cracked back  when he danced his girl around, "It never
was this a-way back home! Yow!"
     Somebody else yelled, "I hope it  stays  this  a-way fer th' doorashun!
Yeah, man!"
     Cisco and  me played  a whipped-up  version of  the old One Dime Blues,
fast enough  to  keep up with  the  jitterbugs.  Everybody was wheeling  and
whirling,  waving their hands  and shuffling  along  like a  gang  of circus
clowns dancing in the sawdust.
     "Mama, don't treat yore daughter mean!" I joked over the loud speaker.
     "Meanest thing that a man most ever seen!" Cisco threw in.
     The  music  rolled from the sound  holes of the guitars and floated out
through the loud speaker. Everybody at the bar tapped  their glasses in time
with the music. One man  was tapping  a  nickel against the  rim of his beer
glass  and grinning at his face  in the big looking-glass. The joint  boomed
with music and dancing. Charlie stood behind the  bar and smiled like a full
moon. Music  turned a pretty bad  old night outside into a  good,  friendly,
warm shindig on the inside. Sailors bowed their necks and humped their backs
and made goo-goo eyes and clown faces. Girls slung  their hair  through  the
air  and spun  like tops. Whoops and hollers. "Spin  'er!'' "That
sailor ain't no slouch!" "Hold  'er,  boy!" "Hey! Hey! I thought  I had 'er,
but she got away!"
     And then just out  on  the  street  there came  a  clattering  of glass
breaking on the sidewalk. I quit the music and listened. People were running
past the door, darting around in big bunches, cussing and hollering.
     The girls and the sailors stopped dancing and walked to the door.
     "What is it?" I spoke over the microphone.
     "Big fight! Looks like!" the fat sailor was saying.
     "Let's go see, boys!" another sailor said. He pushed off out the door.
     "All time fight.  Me not bother." Charlie  kept  swabbing the  bar down
with a wet rag. "Me got work."
     I slung my guitar  across my shoulder and  run out the door with  Cisco
right in after me saying, "Must be a young war!"
     A bunch  of  men that had  the looks  of being  pool-hall gamblers  and
horse-race bookies stood on the curb  across the street hooting  and heaving
and  cussing  and  pointing. The  sailors  and working  men from our  saloon
stepped out and walked in front of the Imperial Bar next door. Already plate
glass lay  at  our feet  in the  dark. Out  of  all of the milling  and loud
talking something whizzed over our heads and smashed a second window.  Glass
flew like chipped ice all around us. A slice cracked one of  Cisco's  guitar
strings, and the music bonged.
     "Who throwed that can of corn?" a lady yelled from right at my elbow.
     "Was that a can of corn?" I asked her.
     "Yes. Two  cans," she told me. "Who throwed them two cans of  corn, and
broke them windows? I've a good notion to bust my parasol over his head when
I find out!"
     Two men in  the middle of the street  argued  and pushed each other all
     "You're th' man I want, all right!" the biggest one said.
     "You won't want me very long!"
     A soldier with a brown overcoat on was  pushing the big man back to the
curb. I elbowed near and saw it was the same soldier that had just bought us
the seven beers. I looked a little  closer in the night and seen the face of
the big pug-ugly  that had said he was going to  beat hell out of all of the
Japs in Los Angeles.
     About  ten  of his thug  friends  chewed on  old  cigars, smoked  snipe
cigarets, and backed him up with tough talk when he  said anything. "We come
ta git 'em, an' dam me, we're gonna git 'em! Japs is Japs!"  "I'm da guy wot
t'rew dat corn, lady, whataya gonna do wid me?"
     "I'll show  you, you big bully!" She  waved the can in the air to throw
it  at him, and her man right behind her said, "No, don't.  We don't want to
start no  trouble. What's this all about, anyhow?"  He  took the can of corn
away from her in the air.
     "We're at war with them yeller-belly Japs! An' we come  down ta git our
share of  'em!" A big man with a lost voice  was talking on the curb. "We're
     "You  ain't nuthin',  but th' worst dam  scum of th Skid  Row!  Two-bit
gambler!" A big half-Indian truck driver was trying to  push his  way across
the street to get the man.
     "Jap rats!" another tough one said.
     "Spies!  They tipped  off th' Goddam Jap army! These yeller snakes knew
to a split second when  Pearl Harbor was gonna be blowed up.  Git 'em!  Jail
'em! Kill 'em!" He started to cross from the other side of the street.
     A  couple of  sailors  edged their  way toward him  saying, "You're not
going to hurt anybody, Mister Blowoff!"
     "Where is th' cops?" a girl was asking her boy friend.
     "I guess they're on th' way," Cisco told her.
     "Cops ain'ta gonna put no stop ta us, neither!" one  of  the mob yelled
across at us.
     "But, brother, we are!" I answered him back.
     "You mangy little honky-tonk guitar-playin' sot, I'll  come over  there
an' bust that music box over yore bastardly head!"
     'I'll  furnish th' guitar, mister," I  talked back, "but  you'll  hafta
furnish th' head!"
     Everybody squeezed around me and laughed back  at the rioters.  Cursing
flew in the air and fists waved above the crowd in the rain and in the dark.
The people on our side of the  street  formed two or three lines in front of
the Imperial's door. Several Japanese men and  women stood inside picking up
glass  from the floor. "That's  it, folks," Cisco  told everybody,  "squeeze
together. Stand right where you are. Don't let that crazy mob get through!"
     "Wonder why they threw two  cans  of corn?" I was looking around asking
     Then  I listened  across the street and a wild man  mounted the running
board  of  a car  and hollered  out, "Listen people! I know! Why,  just this
morning, right here  in this  neighborhood, a housewife went into a Japanese
grocery store. She asked him how much  for a can of corn. He told her it was
fifteen cents.  Then she said  that was  too much. And so he  said when  his
Goddam country took th' U.S.A. over, that she would be doing the work in the
store, and the corn would cost her thirty-five cents! She  hit him  over the
head with that can of corn! Ha! A good patriotic American mother! That's why
we  smashed that Goddam window with th' cans of  corn! Nobody can  stop  us,
men! Go on, fight! Get 'em!"
     "Listen, folks," Cisco climbed up  on the  wheel of a little  vegetable
cart  at our curb. "These little Japanese farmers  that  you see up and down
the country here, and these  Japanese people that run  the little old  cafes
and gin joints,  they  can't help  it because  they happen  to be  Japanese.
Nine-tenths  of them hate their  Rising Sun robbers just as much as I do, or
you do."
     "Lyin' coward! Git down from dere!" a guy with  hairs sticking out from
his shirt collar bawled at Cisco.
     "Pipe  down, brother. l'll take  care of you  later. But this dam story
about the can of corn is  a rotten, black and dirty lie! Made up  to be used
by  killers  that never hit a day's  honest work in their whole life. I know
it's a lie, this can-of-corn story, because even two years ago, I heard this
same tale, word for  word! Somebody right here in  our country is  spreading
all kinds of just  such lies to keep us battling against  each other!" Cisco
     "Rave on, you silly galoon!"
     "You're righter than hell, boy! Pour it on!"
     "You're  a  sneakin'  fifth column  sonofabitch! Tryin' ta pertect them
skunk Japs agin' native-borned American citizens!"
     The crowd started slow across from the other side. We stood there ready
to keep them back. The whole  air was full  of a funny,  still feeling, like
all of hell's angels was just about to break loose.
     Just then an  electric train, loaded down with men and railroad  tools,
pulled past in front of them. The railroad workers hollered a  few cracks at
the two sides. "What goes on here?" "Gangfight?" "Keep back there, ya'll git
run over!" "Listen ta these ratheads bark!"
     Cisco dropped down fast off of the hub of the  wheel. "Me, I'm going to
stand right here,"  he  hollered, "right  here on this  curb.  I  just ain't
     "I'm with yuh, brother!" A lady walked up with a big black purse  and a
gallon jug of wine, ready to be broke over somebody's head.
     "I ain't a-movin', neither!" A little old skinny man was  flipping  his
belt buckle. "Let 'em come!"
     As the last two  or  three flat cars of men rolled down the street  and
kept the  wild mob back  for  a minute, I grabbed  my  guitar up and started

     We will fight together
     We shall not be moved
     We will fight together
     We shall not be moved
     Just like a tree
     That's planted by the water
     Shall not
     Be moved.

     "Everybody sing!" Cisco grabbed his guitar and hollered out.
     "All together! Sing! Give it all ya got!" I told them.
     So as the  last car of the train went on down the middle or the street,
everybody was singing like church bells ringing up and down the grand canyon
of the old Skid Row:

     Just like
     A treeeee
     Standing by
     The waterrr
     Shall not

     The whole bunch  of thugs made a big run at us sailing cuss words of  a
million  filthy, low-down, ratty kind. Gritting their teeth and biting their
cigar butts and frothing at the mouth.  Everybody on our  side kept singing.
They made a dive to bust into our line. Everyone stood there singing as loud
and as clear and as rough-sounding as a war factory hammering.
     Sailors threw out their  chests and sung it out.  Soldiers  drifted in.
Truck  drivers  laid their heads  back  and cotton  pickers slung their arms
along with the cowboys and ranch  hands  and  bartenders from  other saloons
     The rain come down harder and  we  all got wetter than wharf rats.  Our
singing hit  the mob of rioters like a cyclone tearing into a haystack. They
stopped--fell  back on their heels like you had poked them in the teeth with
a ball bat. Fumbled for words.  Spewed between their  teeth and rubbed their
fingers across  their eyes. Scratched their heads and smeared rainwater down
across their  cheeks.  I saw three or four in the front row coming toward us
that grinned like  monkeys up a grapevine. The  bunch  backing them up split
off and stopped there in the rain for a little bit, then mostly slunk off in
twos and threes in different directions. Four or five  walked like  gorillas
and waved their  arms and  fists  in  the  faces of the soldiers and sailors
standing along the curb singing. I thought for a minute that  the battle was
on, but nobody touched each other.
     And then, after some howling  and screeching that didn't  halfway match
with our singing,  there whined through  the clouds  that old familiar siren
that tinhorn pimps, horse betters, and  gamblers get to knowing so good, the
moan  of the police patrol wagon a block  away. In a second, the toughs bent
over and skidded away in between the cars, and  got lost in the crowds along
the walk, and hit the alleys and disappeared.
     A big long black  hoodlum wagon drove up and fifteen or twenty big cops
fell  out with all of the guns and sticks and  clubs it would take to  win a
war. They made  a step or  two at us, and then  stopped and  listened to the
raindrops  and the wind in  the sky and the singing echoing  around over the
old  skiddy row.  They  shook their heads,  looked at  their  address books,
flashed searchlights around.
     "The chief  said  this  was  where  the riot was." A  cop  pointed  his
flashlight onto his address sheet.
     "Jest  a buncha  people singnin'." Another big  copper shook his  head.
     "Sing with us, officer?" Cisco laughed out in the crowd.
     "How does it go?" the big chief asked him back.
     "Yeah. Dat's  it.  Tum. Tum. Tum.  Tum. Dat's  planted by  de water, we
shall not--be--moved!"
     All  of  the cops  stood around  smiling and swinging  their clubs. The
patted their feet and hands. They watched and hummed and they listened.
     "Okay! Dat's all!" the head officer told them. "Back on da wagon,  men!
Back on!"
     And when it drove off down the street-car tracks to fade away  into the
night rain, that old patrol wagon was singing:

     Just like a treeee
     Planted by th' waterrr
     Shall not


     "You look like one of these here pretty  boys that  tries to get out of
all th'  hard work you can!" a nice  pretty girl, about eighteen, was saying
to me as we rode along.
     It was about a 1929 sedan, the  kind of used car salesmen  call lemons.
No two wires quite connected like they ought to; there was a gap of daylight
between every two moving parts, and every part was moving.
     ''I  got jest as many callouses on my hands as you!" I hollered  at her
above the racket. "Take a look at th' ends of my fingers!"
     She  set  her eyes on the ends of my guitar  fingers. Then she told me,
"Well, I reckon I was wrong."
     "That's about th' only place ya get stuck pickin'  cotton, too!" I told
her. I pulled my hand back. I sung a little song and made my old guitar talk
about it, too:

     I worked in your farm
     I worked in your town
     My hands is blistered
     From the elbows down

     Ride around little doggies
     Ride around them slow
     They're fiery, they're snuffy,
     And rarin' to go.

     A middle-size lady in the front seat, with streaks of gray hair sailing
in the wind, grinned at her husband beside her and said, "Well, I don't know
if that guitar boy back there hits any of  th' heavy work or not, but he can
dang shore sing about it!"
     "Mighty near make work sound like fun, cain't he?" Her husband kept his
eyes running along  the road  ahead, and all I  seen  of him was just an old
slouch hat jammed on the back of his head.
     "Long ye been runnin' around playin' an' singin'?" the mama asked me.
     "Round about eight years," I said.
     "That's a pretty good  little spell" she told me. She  was watching out
the broke window at the scenery jumping past.
     "California's  mortally loaded  down with stuff to ride along an'  look
at, ain't it?"
     "Long on climate  out  here! But still, It costs  ya like th' devil  ta
soak up any of it!" the boy who was driving said.
     "All you folks one family?" I asked them.
     "All one family. This is  me'n my husband, an' these is all th' kids we
got left! Four of us now. Used to be eight "
     "Where's th' other four?" I asked her. The trees got so thick and green
along the river bottom that the leaves blotted out the sunlight.
     "They just went," I heard the lady say.
     The  girl in the back  seat with me said, "You know where they go," and
she didn't take her eyes off of the loaded orchard all along out through the
window.  She  had gray eyes  and her black hair  sort  of curled down to her
     "Yeah," I told her, "I know all right."
     And just about that time there was a  big racket and a tire right under
where  I was setting went out, Keeeeblam! The car got out of gallop with the
trailer  and jumped  along like a sick frog. I  could feel  the tire tearing
itself to pieces between  the  iron rim and the pavement, and  we all had to
hold what we had till everything bounced to a stop.
     "Good-bye, little trailer hitch!" The  driver boy  was talking  to  his
self as he piled out of the front door and trotted around to the back.
     "Shot to hell," the papa said.
     "Tire ration's on, top of all this," the mama was telling us.
     "Rubber's rubber,  old  'er new.  Uncle Sammy  says,  'Gotta  save that
rubber ta haul soldiers 'n' guns, 'n' cannons." The driver was talking while
he wired some  old wire around the bolt  that kept up the friendship between
the car and trailer.
     "I'd shore hate  to  see a  soldier ridin'  aroun' with  a hungry  gut,
myself." The old man was running a couple of fingers down  over his chin and
smacking his lips over the fence at the orchard.
     "Now, Mister Papa, just tell me, what has this old rotten  tire  got to
do with a hungry soldier?" the girl asked her dad.
     "Well, if we could  git on down th' country just a little  bit further,
'y God,  I could pick enuff fruit  an' stuff ta feed three er four soldiers,
heavy eaters." I seen a  light strike fire in the old  man's  eyes. '' 'Bout
all I'm good  fer, I  reckon. I can pick more  fruit with both hands over my
eyes than most of these new pickers fioodin' out here."
     "Don't  go to  braggin',"  the  old  lady told  him. "You  was th' best
blacksmith back in Johnson County, all  right, but I ain't seen you break no
pickin' records yet. That's one mighty fine-lookin' orchard right in through
there. Wonder what it is?"
     "Apercots," the girl spoke up.
     "Nice even rows," the old man told us;  "trees all just 'bout th'  same
size. Limbs just achin' full wantin' us to come over that old fence an' pick
'em clean. I suppose a soldier wouldn't smack  his goozler  over  a good big
hot apercot pie right about now!"
     "How we  gonna  get  another tire?" I asked the bunch, "Anybody got any
money in their clothes?"
     "Ain't a-packin' nothin' that jingles," one of them said.
     " 'Er folds either," another one talked up.
     I heard the slick drone of an easy motor oozing down the line. Before I
could  center  my  eyes  on  it  good,  there  was  a Ssssss  Swish.  And  a
Zzooommmm--a blue gray sedan lit up in the sun  like a truckload of diamonds
sailing past. The heavy tread on the  new tires sung a sad-sounding song off
down the highway.
     A  truck come angling  down the highway,  no two wheels running  in the
same direction. This truck just wasn't quite politically clear. But it had a
big  bunch  of men, women, and kids on it, and stopped on the shoulder  just
ahead  of us. Five or six  people yelled back,  but one big  raw-boned  lady
drowned most of the others out. "Need some help, or just lost?"
     "Both!" the mama of our little bunch hollered back.
     "Tire blowed off!"
     "Can't you fix it up?" the big lady asked us.
     "Not this 'un! It'd take th' Badyear Rubber Outfit three months to make
this thing ever hold air again!" the lady in our bunch said.
     'Tire ration got us!"
     "Wanta pick?" the lady asked us.
     "Pickin' around here? Where 'bouts? What?"
     "We ain't got no time to waste! But if ya wanta work, foller us!  First
gate here! Crank up and roll on that bad tire! Ya cain't hurt it no worse!"
     Our bunch piled back into the seats. I was riding right on  top  of the
bad tire and the girl  asked me, "What kind of a song would you make up now,
to sing about this?" I let out with:

     Tell me, mama, is your tread thin as mine?
     Hey! Hey! Woman, is your tread thin as mine?
     Work and roll, is your tread thin as mine?
     Every old tire's gonna blow its side sometime!

     'Wheel 'em an' deal 'em!" the driver laughed out.

     Say, Lord Godamighty, roll them wheels around!
     Hey! Good gal, you gotta roll them wheels around!
     Workin' woman, roll your wheels around!
     I'll find me a job or roll California down!

     "Where 'bouts ye hear that ther song? 'At's a mighty good 'un," the old
man asked me from the front seat.
     'That ain't even no  song. I just made it up," I told him.  There was a
big orchard passing us up on both sides.
     The  young  girl by me in  the back seat said,  "Boy, you sure can sing
about work, whether you get any done or not."
     'Time ya sing six hours or eight or ten, right straight  hand  runnin',
in some of these saloons or  places, like I do,  you'll  say music runs inta
work!" I told her.
     "Sing that long every night?" she asked.
     "General thing. Get  started  out about eight o'clock, sing till  'bout
two or three, sometimes daylight in th' mornin'."
     "Make how much?" she asked.
     "Dollar, dollar an' a half," I said.
     "Just about an orchard  day." She glanced out the  window at a stinging
bee trying to carry a big load of  honey and  keep up  with our car. "Looky!
This poor little old  bee. He's a havin' a  hard time tryin' to fly with too
much honey!"
     "Looks  like  even that  little old  bee's all  lined  up  workin'
fer Uncle  Sam Deeefense!" her papa said,  bending his neck  and  head
around to see the bee.
     " Tain't deefense!" she told him.
     "Deeefense. Beeeefense. Some kind of a fence,'' the old man said.
     She screwed her eyes up a little bit  and told him, " 'Tain't deefense.
Not no more, it ain't!"
     "What is it?"
     "Same thing, war's defense, ain't it?" her papa asked her.
     ''Not by a dam sight!" the girl talked back at him.
     "What's th' diff'rence?"
     "If  Hitler  made  a  run  at  me with a big club, an'  I  took a  step
backwards to get fixed, that'd be defense," she said.
     "So what?"
     "Then if I reached and got me a hell  of a lot bigger club," she made a
grab for the tire pump on the floor, "that'd be changin' my belt line!"
     'Then  when  I hauled  off  an' beat  old Hitler plumb into th' ground,
that'd be war!"
     " 'Y God, 'at's right, sis," the old man backed her up. "Only you don't
hafta swing that there pump  aroun' so much here in th' car. You don't  want
to konk none of yer own soldiers out, do you?"
     "No."  She smiled  a little  and dropped  the  pump  back down onto the
floorboards. "Gotta not hurt none of my own soldiers here.''
     The  mama  spit  out her  front  window and said, "Reckon all of  us is
soldiers these days. Look like th' gate where we turn."
     The car turned through a big swinging gate into an orchard of trees set
out in a deep sandy land.
     "Truck stopped on ahead yonder," I heard the old man say.
     People piled  down off th'  truck bed, men in their overhalls and khaki
britches, shirts  two or three colors where  a new patch had been sewed, and
the blue  and  brownish  color  sweated  out  a  lot  of  times.  Some  tied
handkerchiefs around their necks and slipped  on  their gloves. Tobacco cans
flew out and men rolled the makin's. You could see a snuff can shine like it
was polished in the sun.  Hoppers and  bugs  and all kinds  of critters with
wings  wheeled through  the air, and spider  webs ran from tree limbs to the
clods of orchard dirt.
     The  tall lady from  the truck jumped  on  our running  board and said,
"Keep drivin'. Careful, don't run over none of our pickers. Lucky to get 'em
these days to come out in the fields with  this gas and rubber cut down like
it is." I could see her arm and hand stuck through the  window, holding onto
the door handle inside. She had fair skin with light freckles and I took her
to  be a Swedish lady. "See  that bunch of cars and trailers through yonder?
Pull on ahead!"
     The Swedish lady stepped  down on the ground and the car stopped. I got
out and brushed some of  the dust out of my duds, and everybody was standing
there waiting for her to tell us something about something.
     "You folks pick for a living?"
     "Yes'm." Everybody nodded.
     "Know about apricots then, I suppose?"
     We all nodded that we knew.
     "Do you know how we grade the apricots?"
     "Grade 'em?"
     "I don't reckon."
     "Three grades  of apricots, you know. Just plain ones. Then,  next best
are called Selects. Very best, Extra Selects."
     "Plain ones."
     "Extry Seelects."
     We nodded our heads up and down.
     "Now, the plain ones ripen last in the warm  weather; anybody can  pick
the  plain ones.  Pay  so much a box. Selects ripen earlier.  Better  taste,
better shape,  less of them. You  get a little  more money for picking them,
about twice as much a box as the plain ones."
     "Is th' Seelects on now?" the old man in our bunch asked her.
     "No," the lady said to us. "Too early. The Extra Selects are on now."
     The  young girl  nodded  her head.  "Oh,  yes  ma'm.  They're  th' very
earliest ones, aren't they?" The sun was hitting  down in her face and I saw
her hair was going to curl up awful pretty  when she washed  the dirt out in
river water.
     "First to ripen. Moneyed folks want the very best they can get, and the
best is the Extra Selects. Now, here, I'll  give  you an idea  how you  pick
them, so when the orchard  boss gets here in a  minute, you'll  already know
the answers. See those limbs over there?"
     "Loaded plumb down."
     "Man alive, look at them apercots!"
     'Trees got a lot of patience, ain't they?"
     "Oooooooozin' in juice."
     "You've got to be able to tell an Extra  Select when you run onto one,"
the Swede  lady told us. "Here's one. See?  Clear bright  color.  Nice  gold
     "Makes my mouth run water," the old man said.
     "I won't even have time to dip my snuff, I'll be eatin' so many of them
there yeller outfits." The old lady was laughing and winking at all of us.
     "I'm sure we see what you mean," the  young  girl told the lady. "We've
picked lots of  other fruit where they graded them just  about the same way.
They're pretty, aren't they?"
     "One little thing,"  the lady  talked so  quiet I had to step closer to
hear, "I'll tell you to save the field boss from tangling horns with you. If
he catches you eating  the Extra Selects, he takes it out of your day's pay,
so don't say I didn't warn you. He's walking over toward us now. You'll make
out all  right. He's short-handed around here,  needs you pretty  bad. Don't
ever  let  him  back you down. I think he was born tough, and just naturally
likes to see everything tough."
     "New pickers?" He hollered out about fifty feet before he got to us. He
was  holding the  top wire of  a fence,  spraddling it, and he was sort of a
chunky built,  low-set man. You could  tell he had  to grunt and  stretch to
make it over the fence. "New hands?"
     The  mother said,  "Well, I  ain't so new  no more." She smiled  at the
boss, then she looked down at the deep dirt.
     "I mean you're new around here, ain't you?" He was  yanking at his belt
trying  to poke  his  two or three shirts down inside  his pants. Everything
about him seemed to be greasy, and bagging down to the ground.
     "New here," the mother said.  Everybody else was standing there waiting
for him or the  belt, one or the other, to come out winner. "Just blowed  in
on a bad tire."
     "Know yer Exter Selecks pretty well?"
     "We don't fool around with no thin' but the very best," I told him.
     "Well, far's that goes, I hope I don't ketch you foolin' around in this
orchard when the order comes in."
     "Order comes where?" the girl asked him.
     "Cann'ry order. Ain't come yet. Due today.  Very latest tomorrow. Well,
get  your  stuff all unpacked over yonder under those trees." He was looking
at  the old  car steaming  at  the  mouth. Then he turned around and started
walking away.
     I took a couple of steps behind him and said, "Say, boss, I don't think
these people quite understand all of this order business.  If we're goin' to
even eat, we gotta get some  work 'cause we ain't got  no money. Cain't wait
even another day."
     He stopped and turned around to me, and told  me, "Listen, I don't know
who you are, but you drive in here with a bunch of pickers.  You wanta work,
don't you?" He waved his hands around in the air so much that  he worked his
shirt out from under his belt again and fought with his  britches to try  to
keep them from falling down. "You don't act like you ever picked  an apricot
before! Or did you?" He eyed me up and down the front.
     "No, I never picked an apricot before, except to eat. I play  music for
a livin'. I  don't have to pick your dam apricots  for my livin'! Just these
other people.  That's their only way of eatin'! They've got a  busted  tire,
mister. This is far as they can get. No work, no eat!" I told him.
     "Come on down. Sign up."
     "Sign up? Where?" I asked him.
     "Store. Can't  you see that fillin'  station, big as it  is?
And store?" He was pointing ahead of himself and walking away.
     I took several steps alongside of him and then told him,  "I'm not with
these people, I cain't sign up for them. What is it we got to sign?"
     "Register  book," he told me. Then he stopped real quick  and asked me,
"You ain't with these folks? How come?" He  was giving  me  the real combing
down with his eyes. "How come you so interested in my business?"
     "I was just hitchin'. These people let me ride. I sing in saloons for a
livin'," I told him.
     "I guess I won't  need  you to work  for  me, then.  You can take  your
ukelelaydeehoo and beat it."
     "Well, I ain't in no awful big rush," I said to the man.  "I thought  I
might hang around till they get their tire fixed." Then  I turned around and
hollered to the people, "Say! Somebody's  got to come down to th' store  an'
sign some-thin'!"
     "Sign which?" I heard somebody say.
     "Register up! Sign somethin' or other!" I told them.
     "You better go, honey," I heard the old man say to the young girl. "You
got good eyes.  See  better'n  me. An' you  write  a  better hand  than  yer
     So  the girl and me walked  along kicking  clods  apart  in  under  the
apricot trees. She was trying to fix her hair back over her ear some way and
saying, "I've signed a  lot of these  register books. Just to  keep track of
who's working, and how much you've  got coming, and all how  many's in  your
family and stuff like that. You can sign up, too."
     " 'Fraid I won't," I told her.
     "Not going to work?" she asked me.
     "Not pickin' apercots."
     "I was just thinking how much fun we'd have picking together.  We'd get
a lot more picked, even if you didn't pick a single apricot."
     "Hows that? Now?"
     "You play your guitar  and sing for us  out  in the  orchard, and we'll
work just that much easier and better. See, mister singin' man?"
     "You  know, you're  an awful, awful smart girl. You know what I'm gonna
     "I'm gonna get  you a real good  job. Best  job in th'  whole state  of
     "Movie star?"
     "Hell, no. Gov'nor!"
     "Me be gov'nor?"
     "We can tell everybody that you're gonna win this war quick!"
     "Lady be gov'nor, hey?"
     'Tell ever'body  you're gonna  take all th'  pretty red  an' green neon
signs an' all th' pretty  lit-up nickel phonographs out of th' road  houses,
an' cat houses, an' joints, an' put  'em around in  th' factories an' in th'
shops an' in th' fields!"
     "What's a cat house?"
     "Skip it."
     "Home for little cats?"
     "Some  of  'em  ain't  so  little.  Anyway,  then,  instead  of drawin'
ever'body from out on th' job down  to  th' saloon, see, it'd draw ever'body
from  th'  saloon out on to th' job.  An' we'd all have  such  a  good  time
workin' that we'd work 'bout three times harder."
     ''And win the war! Here's the sign-'em-up store,'' she said, and I held
her hand till she could jump across a puddle of oil  on  the ground close to
the porch.  We slammed in through an old screen door.  "So dark  in  here  I
won't be able to make  out where to sign my  name. Say, mister  boss man, do
you hang around this old dark hole much of your time?" she asked the owner.
     "How much of my time I spend inside my  own place of business is my own
affair, little lady.  Here. I suppose you can at least  write your name!" He
growled and his belly ached because he  was such an old growler.  "Sign  th'
name of every member of your family an' put a cross  by th'  ones that'll be
pickin'. Right down this list here."
     I watched her write the names of all four members of her family. "Four.
Used to be eight," she told herself almost, I guessed, by force of habit.
     "Who owns your car an' trailer?'' the storekeeper
asked her.
     She looked up at him. "My father. Why?"
     "Be needin' some things to cook an' eat, won't  you?" He  glanced  over
his specks at her.
     "Yes, I guess so."
     "Take this  security note down to your old man. Tell `im to sign it an'
bring it back an' you're good  for  twenty-five dollars worth of credit here
at th' store. Just a little piece of paper we all sign."
     I'd been walking  around over the store,  taking  a look  at  the price
tags. "Eagle Milk, two bits a can?" I asked him. "Goshamighty, never did see
Eagle Milk cost more'n eighteen cents, even in all of th' Texas an' Oklahoma
oil booms!''
     "If you don't want it, leave it on th' shelf!" He cut  his eyes over at
     She let the pencil  drop. "Things are so awful high. I just don't quite
hardly see how we can even afford to eat  anything." She took me by the hand
and looked like she was sorry the boss had heard her.
     "Me, I wouldn't sign  th' dam thing if I starved plum to death," I said
to her. "But you folks, 'course, there's your whole family; bad tire;  sorta
stuck here."

     The girl carried the slip back to her folks and  we had  to shake hands
with  twenty-five or thirty other people around in the bunch before we got a
chance to  talk  about the  credit  business.  Gray-looking  clothes and old
floppy  sacks  and rags  everywhere. Broke-down cars and homemade  trailers.
People  smiled  and pointed to their own, bragging,  "Built 'er jist like  I
wanted 'er, my own way." "Yes sir, took me right onto six months of hard old
pinchin' an' savin' ta git th' money ta throw this'n together." "Our'n looks
like  th' Los  Angeles  junk heap headin' down th' highways, but them  slick
purty cars  duck  off ta  one  side  ta let  us  pass!" We'd all  laugh when
somebody told a  good one on their jaloppy or trailer. "Mine wants ta run so
fast I gotta keep it loaded fulla rocks ta keep it from jist takin' off like
a big bird!"
     "I just don't know. I just don't know," the old man was saying, rubbing
his hand  around over his face at the  same time.  "Mama, what do you think,
what you got to say about this here Goddem credit?" He looked around for his
wife, but she wasn't in the crowd. Then  he  asked his boy, "I dam me, if  I
know,  what do  you think?  Run a  big risk a-losin th'  whole business." He
looked at  the rest  of his family. "You helped  me, you helped me build th'
whole works. You got somethin' to say in  th' way things is  got an' got rid
of." Then  he asked another man there, "Hay, mister, do you know a dam thing
about this dam infernal credit slip?"
     "Do I know?"  A  tall gangling man thumbed his  overhall suspenders and
told the old man, "See this slip of mine? Just exactly like  yours. I advise
you not sign nothin' for nobody."
     "Much ablige," the old man said. "I wish to hell an' little  santypedes
I could find my wife! Runs  off  'n' hides. Cain't  find 'er high  ner  low!
Lory! Lorrry!  Where'n th'  hell are you hidin' at?" He was  calling through
his hands.
     "Go ahead and sign that thing, Pa." His  wife  was laying stretched out
on  an  old slice of  gray  canvas,  looking  up  through  the  limbs  of  a
wild-looking tree  of some  kind,  talking between the  leaves, right on out
into the open bright sky. "You know you'll sign it, anyhow. You'll think  of
ten thousand mean  things to say about the store man. You'll  think of  five
thousand things  wrong  with this orchard here.  You'll say  there's  a blue
jillion  things wrong with how th' country's run; but you'll sign it. You'll
cuss old mister Hitler  an' Mussolini and Kaiser Bill an' Father Coffin; an'
then you'll  think  about th'  soldiers fightin' Hitler, an' you'll say  you
just got to pick th' fruit for 'em; an' you'll  think  about yer  own little
hungry youngins, an' you'll sign it. ... If  it said bring your left eye an'
yer right arm down to that old store when  you  went to buy somethin', you'd
sign it I know what's  in back of that old head of your'n. Th' whole world's
fightin' to keep from bein' hungry. Yore own little family's standin' around
with their bellies crawlin'. Hand my man an endelible pencil, somebody. He's
goin' to write his name on a slip. Gonna lose all we got here. He's thinkin'
'bout all of them soldiers out yonder shootin' an' he's gonna write his name
down on a Comp'ny Credit slip. ..."
     The  sun  went down on everybody.  You could  hear the  jingle  of  the
four-for-a-nickel knives  and forks. "Smells like ever'body's a-eatin' 'bout
th' same supper 'roun' here," the father was saying.
     "Sow bosom  and  beans!"  The  girl  laughed  at my  elbow and her hair
touched my face when she took the tin plates away.  "But  when you've worked
real hard and are good and hungry, it smells good, don't it?"
     A lady from a car across from our trailer walked over with a tin bucket
in each hand and said, "I brung ye these rag buckits, bugs 'n' skeeters, `n'
all  kindsa bitin', stingin', 'n' jist arguin' vermits is a gonna make a big
land rush  f'r this place quick's we light these lanterns. Ye  jist strike a
match to these here rags, see, an' push 'em right back  down inta th' buckit
real tight, an' leave 'em smolder along. Makes a cloud of smoke almost's bad
as them fellers that usta sling tear gas at us 'fore th' war  come along an'
we quit our strikin'."
     "I'm one that's shore  glad we  quit that strikin'," the mother said, "
'cause  just  ain't right  for one  buncha people to up  an' quit  work, an'
another bunch to drive  down an' shoot you full of that old  tear gas, crops
of  all  kinds a-goin' to waste all  around.  That's a right  friendly lady,
ain't  she?  Just walked  off 'fore any of us had a chance to thank her  for
them buckets.''
     Her daughter eased around in the dark and  I felt her take a  good warm
seat beside me  on the beer case, and I  took her by the hand and said, "Yep
siree, you've got an awful honest hard-workin' set of hands on you."
     She squeezed mine a little and said,  "Could I, do you think, learn how
to play the guitar?''
     "If ya try, ya would. Want ta take lessons? Shucks, I could show ya th'
easy part in a little o' no time."
     "You two quit'cher flirtin'  an'  sing us  a  song. Happ'n  ta know th'
Talkin' Blues?"
     "I'll teach ya after th' dishes  an' stuffs all put away."  I was  just
catching  part of what  the  person talking was  saying,  "Huh? Th'  Talkin'
Blues? I know a few verses."
     "While you're  doing your Talking Blues,"  the girl  told me, "I'll try
not to make any noise, but I've just got to put these dishes back into their
     "Okay," I said, then started playing and talking:

     If you wanta get to heaven,
     Let me tell you what to do,
     Just grease your feet in a mutton stew,
     Just slide out of the devil's hand
     And ooze over into the Promised Land!
     Take it easy. An' go greasy.

     Down in the hen house on my knees
     I thought I heard a chicken sneeze;
     Nothin' but a rooster a-sayin' his prayers,
     An' givin' out thanks fer th' hens upstairs.
     Rooster preachin'. Hens a-singin'.
     Little young chickens jest a-hopin'.

     Now I been here an' I been there,
     Rambled aroun' most everywhere,
     Purtiest little gal that I ever did see
     A-walkin' up an' down by th' side of me.
     Mouth wide open. Catchin' flies.
     Knows I'm crazy.

     Everybody  would snigger and laugh between verses.  I played the guitar
while several other  folks added  verses they'd picked up somewhere. A woman
with  a blue bonnet on held her  chin in one hand and fanned the  insects of
all kinds off her baby asleep at her feet on a old sack; she sung:

     Down in th' holler settin' on a log,
     Hand on my trigger an' my eye on a hog;
     Pulled that trigger, th' gun went 'zip';
     Grabbed mister hog with all of my grip.
     Cain't eat hog eyes. But I need greasin'.

     "Well, this singing is fine  and dandy!" The girl talked up at her work
with  the dishes.  "But this isn't getting these dishes clean! Mister guitar
picker, come on here, help me carry up a bucket of water from the river!"
     As  I followed her along I heard somebody  in the  crowd laugh out, "He
shore didn't hafta be coaxed none!"
     "You  know I  never  did  ask  you yer  name  yet." I  was talking  and
following  her along  a path under the trees down to the banks of the river.
"I s'pose ya got one, ain't ya?"
     "Ruth. I already know yours; I'll call you  Curley. Lordy, I wonder how
deep this  water runs along  in here. It's pretty and  clear. You can almost
see the fish swimming around.'' She  waded out barefooted and left her shoes
kicked off on the bank. She dipped up two buckets of water and made an awful
pretty picture standing  there  reflecting upside-down with all of the trees
and banks. "Pretty cold," she  was trying to  put her wet feet back into her
     "Dry yer feet 'fore ya put 'em back in  yer  shoes!" I took the buckets
and set them on the ground a few feet from the path, and held her hand while
we walked back into the underbrush. We both dropped down on  some leaves and
I dried her feet one at a time with my handkerchief.
     "Feels good to have somebody kneel down and dry my feet!"
     "Makes 'em warmer. Yeah. It feels fine."
     "But  how do you know how it  feels,  it's  me that's  getting my  feet
     "Yeah, but it's me that's doin' th' dryin'."
     "My skin is  ail  sunburned and rough-looking. I'm always going without
stockings  and  scratching  the  hide off  on  twigs  and bushes.  They look
     "Look all right to me. You got 'em wet plumb up above yer knees."
     "You mind?"
     "Naw, I don't  mind.  Fact,  I was just thinkin',  I sort of wish you'd
waded out deeper."
     "Teach me a guitar lesson."
     "Right now?"
     "Show me something real easy to do."
     I  put both arms around her and made a pillow with my hand out  of  the
leaves; then  I picked up a  handful of leaves and dropped them in her  hair
and said,  "This is easy to do." And I kissed  her four times and said, "And
this is easy, and this  is easy, and  this, and this." I put my face against
her  neck and felt her put her arms around  mine, felt her cheek warm up and
she told me, "Is this your first guitar lesson?"
     "This is what you call the first and easy steps."
     "You're warm and I'm all cold from wading the water."
     "If you had ice-cicles hangin' in yer hair, you'd feel warm ta me."
     "Teach me the next lesson."
     "Next  lesson is  mostly  learning how ta use  yer  hands  an' fingers.
Gettin'  th'  feel  of th'  instrument. Gettin'  use ta  th' strings that're
     "Strings attached?"
     "A few."
     "I want  me 'n' you ta be tied t'gether, sort of b'long ta one another,
an'  be  like  this  all  th' time. Jest like  we  are  now. An' you  c'n be
     "Who's Governor?"
     "My gov'nor."
     "Teach me lessons on the guitar? Buy me penny candy twice a week?"
     "Penny candy, twice a week."
     "I'm thinkin' about it.''
     "You look mighty purty layin' here thinkin' 'bout it."
     "And you look good, too. Tell me  all about yourself. Tell me all about
where you've been. All about your guitar. I'll bet if it could talk it could
tell a lot."
     "It does talk."
     "Guitar talks? What does it say?"
     "Said it liked you. A whole big bunch."
     "All o' these  tree limbs full, an'  that river full, an'  two  buckets
over. That enuf?"
     "Gosh. Nobody ever did love me that much before!"
     "I did, but I jest didn't  see ya till now. I been a-lookin' fer you up
an' down a lotta roads--jest now  locatin' ya. I know. Tell it by lookin' in
yer eyes there, all over yer face, even behind yer ears there."
     "How does  it happen that  you've got  to play in saloons? I don't like
for you to sing in old liquor joints."
     "Oh, I  dunno,  goin' 'crost th' country,  ya know, saloons is handy on
th' side of th' road, make a nickel er two, an' light out ag'in."
     "Going where? Hunting what?"
     "Maybe some  day you'll find better places to play. huh? Sing? Oh, like
on the stage or radio or something like that?"

     "I like ta go where th'  big work jobs are, like buildin' dams, an' oil
fields, an' harvestin'  th' crops. Might find a steady job if you'd  push me
jest a little."
     We were silent for a while.
     "No,"  she said  in my  ear, "don't look. Don't watch  the sun go down.
Don't watch  it  get dark.  Don't  tell me any story about a sheet  of paper
called a  marriage license, no, don't tell me anything like that, just  stay
here and don't  make big  promises;  you're right  here  right now; tomorrow
you'll be up and gone; I know that; but for now, just say you'll think about
me, and wherever  you ramble off to, when you  get  tired  of rambling, just
think about this, huh?"
     "Okay." And I  heard her heart beat under my ear when I laid my head on
her breast.  "I'm  sorry I ain't no  very  good talker. Cain't think of much
worth sayin' right now. You talk awhile, I'll do th' listenin'."
     "Let's both just lay here and listen and think."
     Her skin felt  warm to the touch of my hands and my fingers  combed her
hair through the scattered leaves. Her lips were moist like damp earth under
the leaves there. She was a warmth and a movement and a life that no man can
live  good without. I blinked  my eyelashes in her ear, but she  just smiled
and kept her eyes closed like she was dreaming something.
     We lugged  the buckets of water up to the camp and I was walking behind
her, brushing leaves and twigs out of  her hair. We poured water and  washed
pots  and pans  together, and  listened  to the others.  Pretty  good  crowd
     "Hey, mister!"  a boy about fifteen was saying  above the others, "ever
find that indelible pencil you was lookin' for?"
     "No,  never did. Why? You got one?"  The father  of  our bunch told the
boy. "Thank ye."
     Then a big fellow, wearing a  patched and re-patched shirt with a quick
sharp sound in his voice, spoke up, "Say, old  man,  want me to tell you all
there is to know about these slips?"
     "Wis't somebody would."
     "Okay." He put  his foot up on an apple crate and pointed his pipe  out
into the dark, and while he was talking the only three things that lit up in
the night was his pipe, a white button on  his shirt, and the light from the
fires of the ragpots shining in his eyes. "You're  gonna think it over. This
fruit  will  be set back  a  week or ten days on account of one dam thing or
another. Cannery order.  Weather. Market. What the hell. Anyway, you'll sign
that credit slip  tonight. You'll take  it  down  in the morning to buy your
stuff and go to work. You'll get a bill of goods and find out the crops have
been held  up a  few  days. So you'll buy a few more days.  You'll  buy shy.
Skimp. Do without a lot  of things  you  need. Try to keep your bill  down."
When this fellow  talked  I looked  him over; he was wearing rags, hit hard,
stuck  down.  He kept smoking his pipe and resting his wore-out  boot on the
     "I'd buy light. We'd  try ta go  easy. Wouldn't we,  kids? Mama?" Their
papa  was holding his yellow  slip  in his hand  on  his knee, squatted down
cross-legged,  and every time he said a word he pointed his indelible pencil
around at everybody.
     "You'll get about ten days or two weeks behind at the store. Might be a
few scattered  'cots  to  pick, but not  half enough  to  feed and keep your
bunch. Then the  weather will warm up and force  the boss to pick the 'cots.
You'll go to work. Make enough to live on while you're working."
     "We c'n make that, all right, cain't we, Mama?"
     "You'll just barely make enough to keep you going while  you  work. But
you won't  make enough to be able to  pay the ten days' bill you owe. You'll
just be ten days behind the  world. Twenty  dollars, twenty-five. Ten  days!
Behind the world!"
     The crowd  drifted away  to  bed, everybody going his own way thinking.
Ruth and me set on the steps of the trailer and talked for an hour or two.
     Early next morning by the rising sun I was bending over washing my face
with water out of the filling  station hose, thinking I'd  get something off
of  the store boss even  if it was just free water. I saw the old  man  come
walking all by his self,  slow across the  orchard. I was drying my  face on
the tail  of my shirt when he walked  up  behind me and said, "Ain't you th'
guitar man?"
     I smiled up at him and said I was.
     "Early mornin' sun's right good on a man, ain't it?" he asked me. Then,
trying to hold the  little yellow slip behind his back so I couldn't see it,
he spit over into a little puddle of used oil and said, "I gotta step inside
of th' store here a minnit."
     I was thinking to myself that old man had come down a hard road, then I
heard  someone say, "Good-morning, Governor." I turned around  and there was
Ruth standing behind a little bush on the sunny side of the store,
     "What're   ya  hidin'  in  th'  flower  beds   about?"   I  asked  her.
"Eavesdroppin' on yer old man, huh?"
     She  was digging  four  holes with her  shoe heels in the  dirt of  the
flower bed, and saying,  "No. I don't have to sneak around  and eavesdrop on
that  old man of mine to  know what he's going  to do. He'll just  hand  the
Company  man  his  credit slip, and  won't  say  much. Maybe how pretty  the
morning  is. I'll tell  you a secret if you'll not tell." She got her fourth
hole dug and looked around to see if anybody was looking.  "I stole four  of
these  big pretty  yellow apricots.  I had them for breakfast.  And  now I'm
planting  them back here by the side  of this old store. Grow up  some  day.
Then I can rest easy knowing I paid him back."
     I lifted  her head up  and kissed  her and said, "Didja make a wish for
each one ya planted?"
     She shook her head "yes."
     "Any of 'em about you 'n' me?"
     "Yes."  She patted the ground with her foot  where she had  planted the
fourth seed. "First, I hope you go on with your rambling. Second, I hope you
get enough of it, and find out you don't like  it. Third, I hope you keep on
with  your music and  singing, because  you've got  it in you, and you think
you're some kind of a preacher or a doctor going around to saloons listening
to people's  troubles, and you think you can  lift  their spirits  a little,
make somebody feel a little  better. Fourth, I want to give you this mailing
address; it's a family of my kinfolks, they  always keep pretty close  track
of us and send all of our mail."
     We stood in the sun out  of  sight behind  a  bush and held each  other
close again, and I kissed her  eyelids while she said, "Both of us have been
looking for this very  thing for a  long time.  Both of us  have thought  we
found it somewhere before."
     "And somethin' happened an' busted it all up. I hoped a lot  when I was
a kid. Jest fast as one hope got tore up, I had all kindsa fun jest a-hopin'
somethin' new. But lately, I guess, my hopin' machine's been a little on th'
blink.  I think if you loved  me much's I love you, we could  sleep under  a
railroad bridge an' be all right."
     "You're one kind of a liar.''
     "Yes. You've had better things. I can tell. So have I. Ten dozen times.
Then they go. You hit the road and stumble around from town to town, and all
along, you see pretty farms, pretty  cars, pretty people, pretty  towns, and
you don't think you can ever make enough money with your  guitar and singing
to  have all  of this, so  you lie,  you  lie to your  ownself, and you  say
'Everybody else in the whole world is all haywire,  all wrong, I  hate their
pretty  world,  because I can't  find a  hole  to break into  it!' And every
breath  you're  a liar.  Maybe a good guy, and maybe I love you, but still a
liar." She put her face on my shoulder.
     We sat down out of sight between a tall bush  and the side of the store
building, and for another hour talked low and thought together.
     "Yesterday, last night, I pot my  handkerchief all wet  dryin' yer legs
off; now, this mornin' I b'lieve ya got more water in yer eyes th'n there is
in th' river down yonder. Feel bad?"
     "Oh, no." She tried to smile. "You don't mind me calling you a liar? We
all lie some. I lie, too."
     "Yeah.  I know. I am a  liar. I know th' real things I'm a-lookin' fer.
Workin'. Makin'  money. Buildin' up somethin'. Little  house with ever'thing
in  it. An' you  there. I knew what I wanted. But I couldn't have none of it
if I didn't find my work. I  wanted ta pick out my own kinda work. I'll work
like a Goddam dog, but I aim ta pick out my work. I coulda got a job pushin'
a  truck  er  a tractor,  wheelin'  a  wheelbarrow, pullin' a cross-cut saw,
paintin' signs, er even doin' picture work;  but while I was  singin' on th'
radio  in  Los Angeles I  got more'n fifteen  thousan' letters tellin' me ta
keep on singin' them good l' songs, makin' up new ones, tellin' tall tales,
jokes, an' singin' ta a whole ocean fulla folks I couldn't see. Letters from
guys on ships  at  sea; letters from  farm families, folks that trail around
pickin' crops; fact'ry workers all over th' country; desert rats pannin' fer
gold; even widders up in Reno there a gettin' on a beeline fer  their fourth
husban'.  People yell, an' laff, an'  cry, hug me, kiss me,  cuss  me,  take
swings at me,  in saloons an' likker joints. An' still,  th'  big shots that
owns them radio stations says I ain't got what folks wants. Ya see, I happ'n
ta know. An' I swore a long time ago  I'd stick ta my guitar an' my singin'.
But most radio stations, they won't let ya sing th' real songs. They want ya
ta sing pure l' bull manure  an' nothin' else.  So I cain't never git ahold
of money an' stuff  it'd take ta keep you an' me in a  house  an' home--so I
been a-lyin' ta my own  self now fer a good long time,  sayin' I didn't want
no little house an' alla that.
     "But,  Ruth, I  think  I  know. I'm hittin' th' road ag'in. Right  now.
Right this minute. Don't know how far I'll hafta go till  I find out where I
c'n sing  what I want ta sing an' my brain's hangin' jest as fulla new ideas
fer songs as  a  tree  on  hill  full of  all  colors o'blossoms. I'll sing
anywheres they 'll stand an' listen.  An' they'll  see to it  I don't starve
out. They 'll see to it that me an' you c'n be together."
     Her lips felt like butterflies lighting on m face. The people from the
trailers and cars walked in twos and threes, kicking up the morning dust and
gathering all around the store, forty or  fifty all told, stomping from  one
foot to the  other  one, whittling  or digging under finger  nails with long
keen knives. "Man, howdy! Am I  just fairly itchin' to grab that fruit off'n
them old heavy limbs!"
     "I did`nt come out hyere t' Californiooo f'r no Goddam sunbath!"
     'Trot out yore work, mister!''
     "Hurry out here, mister orchard boss, read that tellygram that says for
me to exert my manly muscles in th' art of snatchin' apercots!"
     "I done had my ham `n' eggs, `n' or'nge joose! My veins is runnin' full
a vitaphones!"
     When  one  would  blast loose with a wisecrack,  the whole crowd  would
laugh and a little rumble would run through them like an earthquake.
     "Hey!  Guitar  man!" One old boy seen me and Ruth walk up from the side
of the  store. "Could you turn loose of  that  purty gal  this  mornin' long
enough to sing us a little song?"
     I said I reckoned as to how I could.
     "Play us somethin' 'bout all of us standin' 'roun'  here  waitin' to go
to work!"
     So I flipped a few strings to see if  the box was in tune, and I smiled
a little at Ruth watching me:

     I work in your orchards of peaches and prunes
     Sleep on the ground 'neath the light of the moon
     On the edge of your city you see us and then
     We come with the dust and we go with the wind.

     Green pastures of plenty from dry desert ground
     From the Grand Coulee Dam where the waters come down
     Every state in this Union us migrants has been
     We will work in your fight and we'll fight till we win!

     They just kept quiet till I got  done. Then every single person  seemed
like they took a deep breath, started to say something, maybe; but I heard a
screen door slam behind me, and when  I looked around, I saw  Ruth's old dad
walk out  onto  the little porch, and the orchard  boss walked out with him.
The boss carried a piece of paper  in his hand, and he waved it in the  air,
meaning for all of us get quiet.

     "Quiet, everybody. Listen. Hhhhmmmmm. Won't bother  to read all of this

     'dear sirs: due to cold weather of  THE PAST THIRTY  DAYS, THE  APRICOT
at the company store'

     .... Hhhhmmm.  Yes. Anybody want to ask any questions?" He  looked  out
over the bunch.

     I  believe  this was  the  quietest crowd I was ever  in. A  kid  about
fifteen  asked his  mama, "What're  we alla gonna  do  now,  Mama?  Jes'  be
useless?" I  heard a little girl not more than nine crying, "Papa, why don't
we get in our car 'n'  leave this l' place?" And  her daddy told
her,  "We ain't got no  gas,  honey. We sent it all to th' soldiers to fight
that old mean  Hitler man with." Everybody talked so quiet the  orchard boss
never heard a word. He thought  we was  all scattering out without a  sound,
like a herd of lost sheep.
     Ruth squeezed my hand.
     "Why don't ye come on back down to th' camp an' sing us  ten days worth
of  them there good songs?" Her dad was asking at my back. "We got ten days'
credit. Ye'll eat. Stay?"
     "Mighty nice of ya." I put my guitar back over  my  shoulder, then told
him, "Guess I'd better hit th' road. Keep goin'.  Lookin'. I hope  you folks
come outta this hard spot."
     "I don't mind the spots  getting hard!" Ruth  leaned up against the gas
pump. "War ain't fought with powder puffs." She was blinking her eyes fast.
     "I'd kind of like  ta stay here,  spend some time. I  feel like half of
me's stayin' an' half of me's goin'. Kinda funny," I told her.
     "Remember the four seeds  I planted and the  four  hopes I hoped?" Ruth
looked  me up and down. "I'm hoping another  hope,  we can get some  work to
help win this war."
     I shook the old man's hand. Then  Ruth's. And as I walked  off down the
road, the old man hollered out to my back:
     "I'm mailin'  all  my gas  'n'  tires on to my son!  Drives one of them
there jeeps!"


     There was big drops of sweat standing out on my forehead and my fingers
didn't feel like they was mine. I  was floating in high finances, sixty-five
stories above the ground, leaning my  elbow on a stiff-looking tablecloth as
white as  a runaway ghost,  and  tapping  my  finger  on  the side of  a big
fishbowl. The bowl was full of clear water with a bright red rose as wide as
your hand sunk down in the water, which made the rose look bigger and redder
and the leaves greener  than they actually  was. But  everything else in the
room looked this same way when you looked through the rose bowls of water on
the  other  twenty-five  or  thirty  tables.  Each  row of tables  was in  a
horseshoe curve, and each curve a little higher than the one below. I was at
the lowest. The price of the table for the night was twenty-five dollars.
     Sixty-five stories back to the world. Quite a little elevator ride down
to  where the human race was being  run.  The name of the place, the Rainbow
Room,  in  the city called  New York, in the building  called  Rockefeller's
Center,  where the shrimps are boiled in Standard Oil. I was waiting to take
an audition  to see  about getting a job  singing there. Classiest joint I'd
ever seen. I looked all around at the  deep rugs like a grassy lawn, and the
wavy drapes bellied back from the windows, and laughed to myself as I  heard
the other performers crack jokes at the whole works.
     "This  must be th' ravin' ward, th' way they got things all padded up."
A  sissy-looking little  man in a long tail coat was waiting for his time to
try out.
     "I just don't think they mowed th' upholst'ry yet this year," some lady
with a accordion folded acrost her lap was whispering.
     "An' them  tables," I almost laughed,  saying, "is jest like  this here
buildin, th' higher up ya git, th' colder it gits.''
     The man that had been our guide and got us up there in the first place,
walked  across the rug with his nose in the air like a trained seal, grinned
up at us waiting to take our tryouts, and said, "Sssshhh. Quiet, everybody!"
     Everybody slumped down and straightened up and set tight and got  awful
quiet  while three  or four men, and a  lady  or  two  dressed  to match the
fixtures, walked in through a high arch door from  the main terrace and took
seats at one of the tables.
     "Main  boss?" I  said  behind the back of my hand to the  others at our
     Heads shook up and  down, "yes.''  I noticed that  everybody  put  on a
different face,  like wax people almost, tilting their  heads in the breeze,
grinning into the late afternoon sun that fell across the floor, and smiling
like they'd never missed a meal. This look is  the look that most show folks
learn pretty early  in the  game;  they paint it on their faces,  or sort of
mold it  on, so it  will  always smile  like  a monkey through his bars,  so
nobody will know their rent ain't paid up yet, or they ain't had no job this
season or last,  and that they just finished a sensational, whirlwind run of
five flops in  a row.  The  performers looked like rich customers shining in
the sun, and  the head boss with his table full of middle-size bosses looked
like they'd been  shot  at  and missed.  Through the water in the rose-bowls
everything in the  place had an upside-down look;  the floor looked like the
ceiling and the halls looked like the walls, and the hungry looked like they
was rich, and the rich looked like they was hungry.
     Finally somebody must of made a motion or give a signal, because a girl
in a gunny-sack dress got  up and  sung a song that told how she was already
going on  thirteen,  and  was getting pretty hot under  the collar, tired of
waiting and afraid  of being  an old maid,  and  wanting  to be a  hillbilly
bride. Heads  shook up and down and the  big boss and middle-size bosses and
agents and handlers smiled across the empty tables. I hear somebody whisper,
"She's hired."
     "Next! Woody Guthrie!" a snazzy-looking gent was saying over the mike.
     "Reckin that's  me," I was mumbling under my chin,  talking to  myself,
and looking out the window, thinking. I reached in my pocket and spun a thin
dime out acrost the tablecloth and watched it whirl around and around, first
heads, then tails,  and said to  myself, "Some difference 'tween that  there
apercot  orchard  las' June where th' folks  wuz stuck  down along th' river
bottom, an'  this here Rainbow Room on an August afternoon.  Gosh, I  come a
long ways in th' last few  months. Ain't made no  money  ta speak about, but
I've stuck my head in a lot of plain an' fancy places.  Some good, some just
barely fair, an' some awful bad. I wrote up a  lot of songs for union folks,
sung  'em all  over ever'where,  wherever folks got together an' talked  an'
sung, from Madison Square Garden to a Cuban Cigar Makers' tavern in  Spanish
Harlem an hour later; from th'  padded  studios of  CBS an'  NBC to th'
wild back country in  th' raggedy Ghetto. In some places  I was put on
display as a freak, and others as a hero, an' in th' tough joints around th'
Battery Park,  I wuz  jes' another shadow blund'rin' along with th' rest. It
had  been like this  here  little  ol' dime spinnin',  a whirl  of heads an'
tails. I'd  liked mostly th' union  workers, an' th' soldiers an' th' men in
fightin' clothes,  shootin' clothes, shippin'  clothes, or  farmin' clothes,
'cause singing with them made me  friends with them, an'  I felt  like I was
somehow in  on their work. But this coin  spinnin', that's my las' dime--an'
this Rainbow Room job, well, rumors are  it'll pay as much as seventy-five a
week, an' seventy-five a week is dam shore seventy-five a week."
     "Woody Guthrie!"
     "Comin'!" I walked up to the microphone, gulping and trying to think of
something  to sing about. I was a little blank in the head or something, and
no matter how dam hard  I tried, I just couldn't think up any kind of a song
to sing--just empty.
     'What will be your first selection, Mister Guthrie?''
     "Little  tune,  I guess, call'd New York  City." And  so  I  forked the
announcer out of the way  with the wiry end of my guitar  handle and made up
these words as I sung:

     This Rainbow Room she's mighty fine
     You can spit from here to th' Texas line!
     In New York City
     Lord, New York City
     This is New York City, an' I really gotta know my

     This Rainbow Room is up so high
     That John D.'s spirit comes a-driftin' by
     This is New York City
     She's New York City
     I'm in New York City an' I really gotta know my

     New York town's on a great big boom
     Got me a-singin' in the Rainbow Room
     That's New York City
     That's New York City
     She's old New York City
     Where I really gotta know my line!

     I  took the tune to church, took  it holy roller, shot  in  a few split
notes, oozed  in a fake  one, come down barrel  house,  hit off  a good  old
cross-country  lonesome note or two, trying to get that old  guitar to  help
me, to talk with me,  talk for me and say what I was thinking, just this one

     Well this Rainbow Room's a funny place ta play
     Its a long way's from here to th' U.S.A.
     An' back ta New York City
     God! New York City
     Hey! New York City
     Where I really gotta know my line!

     The microphone man come running out  and waved me to a stop, asking me,
"Hhhhmmm, where does this particular song end, sir?"
     "End?" I looked over at him. "Jest a-gettin' strung out good, mister!'
     "The number  is  most  amusing. Exciting. Extremely  colorful.  But I'm
wondering if it would be suited to the  customers. Ahemm. To  our customers.
Just a couple of  questions. How do you  get out  to the microphone and back
     "Walk, as a rule."
     "That won't do. Let's see you trot in  through that arch doorway there,
sidestep when you come to that flat  platform, prance pretty lively when you
go down  those three stairs, and  then spring up  to the  microphone  on the
balls of your  feet throwing your weight on the joints of your ankles."  And
before  I could  say anything he  had run out and trotted  back, showing  me
exactly what he was talking about.
     Another one of the bosses  from the  table at the back wall yelled, "As
far as his entrance is concerned, I think  we can rehearse  it a week or two
and get it ironed out!"
     "Yes! Of  course,  his  microphoning  has  got to be  tested and lights
adjusted  to  his size,  but that can  come  later.  I'm thinking about  his
make-up.  What  kind of  make-up  do you  use, young man?" Another  boss was
talking from his table.
     "Ain't been  a-usin' none," I talked  into the mike. I felt the faraway
rattling and rumbling of freight trains and transfer trucks calling to me. I
bit my tongue and listened.
     "Under the lights, you know,  your natural skin would look too pale and
too dead. You  wouldn't mind putting on some kind  of make-up just  to liven
you up, would you?
     "Naww.  Don't 'spose." Why was I  thinking one  thing  in  my head  and
saying something different with my mouth?
     "Fine!"  A  lady nodded her head from the boss's  table. "Now,  oh yes,
now, what kind of a costume shall I get for him?"
     "Which?" I said, but nobody heard me.
     She  folded her  hands  together  under  her chin  and clicked her  wax
eyelashes together like loose shingles in a high wind, "I can just imagine a
hay wagon  piled high with singing field  hands, and this carefree character
following along in the dust  behind the  wagon, singing after the day's work
is done! That's it. A French peasant garb!"
     "Or--no--wait! I see  him as a Louisiana swamp dweller, half asleep  on
the  flat top  of a gum  stump, his  feet dangling in the mud,  and  his gun
leaning near his head! Ah! What a follow-up for the gunny-sack girl singing,
'Hillbilly Bride'!" A man losing a wrestling match with a four-bit cigar was
arguing with the lady.
     "I have it! Listen! I have it!" The lady rose up from her table  with a
look on her face like she was in a trance of some kind, and  she walked over
across the carpet to where I was  standing, saying, "I  have it! Pierrot! We
shall  dress  him in a Pierrot costume! One of those darling clown suits! It
will bring out the life and the pep and the giddy humor of his period! Isn't
that a  simply swell  idea?"  She folded her  hands under her chin again and
swayed over against my shoulder as I sidestepped to miss her. "Imagine! What
the proper costuming  will bring out in  these people!  Their carefree life!
Open  skies! The  quaint simplicity.  Pierrot! Pierrot!" She was dragging me
across the floor by the arm, and we  left the room with everybody talking at
once. Some taking tryouts said, "Gosh! Gon'ta catch on!"
     Outside, on a high glass porch  of some kind, where wild tangled  green
things growed all  along the floor by the windows, she shoved me  down  in a
leather chair by a plastic table and sighed  and puffed like she'd  done  an
honest day's work.  "Now,  let me see,  oh yes,  now,  my  impression of the
slight sample of your work is a bit, so to  say, incomplete, that is, as far
as   the   cultural   traditions   represented   and   the    exchange   and
interrelationships and  overlappings  of  these  same  cultural patterns are
concerned,  especially  here in America, where we have, well,  such a mixing
bowl of culture,  such a stew-pot of shades and colors. But, nevertheless, I
think  the  clown  costume will represent  a large portion of  the  humorous
spirit of all of them--and--"
     I let my  ears bend  away from  her talking and I let my eyes drift out
the window and down sixty-five stories where the town of old  New  York  was
standing up living and breathing and cussing and laughing down yonder acrost
that long island.
     I begun to pace  back and forth,  keeping my  gaze  out the window, way
down, watching the diapers and underwear blow from fire escapes and  clothes
lines on the back sides of the buildings; seeing the smoke whip itself  into
a hazy  blur  that smeared across the sky and mixed in with all of the other
smoke that  tried  to hide  the town. Limp papers whipped  and beat upwards,
rose into  the air  and fell  head  over heels,  curving  over backwards and
sideways, over and  over, loose sheets  of newspaper with pictures of people
and stories of people printed somewhere on  them, turning loops  in the air.
And it was blow little  paper, blow! Twist and turn and stay  up as long  as
you can, and when you come down, come  down on a pent-house porch, come down
easy so's not to hurt your self. Come down and lay there in the rain and the
wind and the soot and smoke and the grit that gets in  your eyes in the  big
city--and lay there in the sun and get faded and rotten. But keep  on trying
to tell your message, and keep  on trying  to be a picture of a man, because
without that  story and  without  that  message printed  on  you  there, you
wouldn't be  much. Remember, it's just maybe,  some day,  sometime, somebody
will pick you up and look at  your picture  and read your message, and carry
you in his  pocket, and lay you on his shelf, and burn you in his stove. But
he'll have your message  in his head and he'll talk it and it'll get around.
I'm blowing, and just as  wild and whirling  as you  are, and  lots of times
I've  been picked up,  throwed down, and picked up; but  my eyes has been my
camera taking pictures of the world and my  songs has  been messages that  I
tried to scatter  across  the back  sides and  along the steps  of  the fire
escapes and on the window sills and through the dark halls.
     Still going like a Nineteen  Hundred  and Ten  talking machine, my lady
friend had said a whole raft of stuff that  I'd  not heard a single word of.
I'm  afraid  my ears had been running  somewhere down along the  streets.  I
heard her say, "So,  the interest  manifest by the manager is  not  at all a
personal thing, not at all, not at all; but there  is another reason why you
are so  certain to  satisfy the desires  of his customers; and I always say,
don't you always say, 'What the customer says is what we  all have to say'?"
Her teeth shined and her eyes snapped different colors. "Don't you?'
     "Don't I? What? Oh,  'scuse me jest  a minute, huh? Be  right  back." I
took one  good  long look all  up  and down the  red  leather seats  and the
plastic tables  in the  glassed-in room, and grabbed lm  guitar by the neck
and said to a boy in uniform, "Rest room?"  And I followed where he pointed,
except that when  I got within a couple of feet of the sign that said "Men,"
I took a quick dodge down a little hallway that said "Elevator."
     The lady  shook her head and  nodded with her  back turned to me. And I
asked  the elevator man, "Goin' down? Okay. Groun' floor. Quickest way's too
slow!" When we  hit bottom I walked out onto the slick marble floor whanging
as hard as I could on the guitar and singing:

     Ever' good man gits in hard luck sometime
     Ever' good man gits in hard luck sometime
     Gits down an' out
     Dead broke
     Ain't gotta dime!

     I never heard my guitar ring so loud and so long and so clear as it did
there in them high-polished marble halls.  Every note was ten times as loud,
and so was  my singing. I filled myself full of free air and sung as loud as
the building would stand. I wanted the poodle dogs leading the ladies around
to stick up  their noses  and wonder what in the hell had struck that joint.
People  had  walked hushed  up and too nice and quiet  through  these  tiled
floors too long. I decided that for this minute, for this  one snap of their
lives, they'd see a human walking through that place, not singing because he
was  hired and told what to sing,  but  just  walking through there thinking
about the world and singing about it.
     She mortally echoed around and glanced across the murals painted on the
walls. And folks  in herds and  family groups stopped  looking in  the fancy
lit-up shop  windows  along the  corridors and listened  to  me  telling the

     Old John Dee he ain't no friend of mine
     Old John Dee he ain't no friend of mine
     I'm a-sayin' Did John Dee shore ain't no friend of
     Takes all th' purty wimmen
     An' leaves us men behind!

     Little boys  and girls trotted up  alongside  of  me,  jerking out from
their  parents'  hands,  and  kept their ears and noses rubbing  against  my
guitar's  sounding  board.  While  I  was beating the blues  chords  and not
singing, I heard side remarks:
     "What is he advertising?"
     "Isn't he a card?"
     "A Westerner. Possibly lost in a subway.''
     "Children! Come back here!"
     I heard a cop say,  "Cut it! Hey! Yez cain't pull dat  stuff  in here!"
But  before he  could get at  me,  I'd  whirled  through a spinning door and
fought my way across some avenues  packed with traffic, and was lighting out
along  some sidewalks  and  not  even  paying much attention to where I  was
heading. A few hours could of went by. Or days. I wasn't noticing. But I was
'dodging  walking people,  playing  kids, and rusting iron  fences,  rotting
doorsteps, and my head was buzzing, trying  to think  up some reason why I'd
darted out  away from the  sixty-fifth story  of that big high building back
yonder. But something in me  must of knowed why. Because in a little while I
found myself walking along New York's Ninth Avenue, and cutting over another
long cement block to  come to the waterfront. I seen mothers perched on high
rock steps and out along the curbs on cane-bottom chairs, some in the shade,
some in the sun, talking,  talking, talking. Their gift  of the  spirit  was
talking, talking to the  mother or to the lady next to them, about the wind,
the  weather, the curbs, the sidewalks, the rooms, roaches,  bugs, rent, and
the  landlord, and  managing to  keep one eye  on  all  of  the hundreds and
hundreds of  kids  playing in the open street. As I walked along, no  matter
what they'd been talking about, I heard them first  to one side and  then to
the other, saying, "music man!" "Heyyy! Playa for ussa th' song!"  "Hi! Le's
hear ya tromp it!" "Would you geeve to us a museek?"  "Play!" "Ser'nade me!"
And so, not half caring, there in the last few patches of the setting sun, I
walked along winding my way through the women and young boys and girls,  and

     What does the deep sea say?
     Tell me, what does the deep sea say?
     Well, it moans and it groans,
     It swells and it foams
     And it rolls on its weary way!

     I  walked  along,  the day just leaving out  over  the tops of the tall
buildings, and sifting  through the old scarred chimneys sticking up.  Thank
the good  Lord, everybody, everything ain't all slicked up, and starched and
imitation. Thank God, everybody ain't afraid. Afraid in the skyscrapers, and
afraid in the red tape offices, and afraid in the tick of the little machine
that  never explodes,  stock market tickers,  that scare  how many to death,
ticking off  deaths, marriages  and  divorces, friends and  enemies; tickers
connected  and plugged in  like juke boxes, playing the false and corny lies
that are sung in the wild canyons of Wall Street; songs wept by the families
that lose, songs  jingled on the  silver spurs of the men that win. Here  on
the slummy  edges, people are crammed down on the  curbs, the  sidewalks and
the fireplugs, and cars  and  trucks and  kids and rubber balls are bouncing
through the streets.  I was thinking, "This is what I  call bein' borned an'
a-livin'; I don't know what I call that big high building back yonder that I
     I'd noticed a  quiet-faced young Mexican seaman  following along behind
my shoulder. He was of a small build, almost like a kid, and the sea and the
sun had kept his hair  oily and his smile smooth. After  a block or two we'd
got  to knowing each  other and he'd told  me,  "My name iss Carlos, call me
Carl." Outside of that Carl didn't say much; we just almost knew that we was
buddies  without making lectures on  the subject.  So  for about  an  hour I
walked along singing, while this man walked beside me, smiling right on down
through  the  wind,  not  telling me  no big  tall  tale  of submarines  and
torpedoes, no hero stories.
     A little  girl and boy  clattered on roller skates, and told me to sing
louder  so's they could hear me  above the noise. Other  kids quit  swatting
each  other and walked along listening. Mamas called  in  a hundred tongues,
"Kids, come back  here!"  The  kids would usually  follow along humming  and
singing with me for about a block, and then stand on the curb when I crossed
the street  and look for a  long time.  In each block a new  gang formed and
herded along, feeling of the wood of the guitar, and getting  their hands on
the strap, the strings. Older kids tittered and flirted in dark doorways and
pushed  each  other  around in  front  of  soda  fountains  and  penny-candy
hangouts, and  I managed to sing them  at least a little snatch, a few words
of the songs they'd ask  to hear. At times I stopped for a minute and  papas
and mamas and kids of all ages stood  around as quiet as they could, but the
whamming and  banging  of  big trucks, busses, vans, and cars made us  stand
jammed together real tight to be heard.
     It  got to be night, the kind of summer  night that pitches on the wind
and  dips in the white clouds and  makes  buildings  look like all kinds  of
freighters creaking along. Dark swarms of us sprawled  out along stone steps
and iron  railings, and I  felt that old feeling  coming back  to me. When I
reached the water front, the song I was singing over and over was:

     It was early in the spring
     Of nineteen forty-two
     She was queen of the seas
     And the wide ocean blue

     Her smoke filled the sky
     In that Hudson River's tide
     And she rolled on her side
     When that good ship went down

     Oh, the Normandie was her name
     And great was her fame
     And great was her shame
     When that good ship went down

     Folks joined  in  like one voice in  the  dark. I  could  vision on the
screen of fog  rolling  down a picture of  myself singing back yonder on the
sixty-fifth  floor of Rockefeller's  Center,  singing a  couple of songs and
ducking back into a dressing room to smoke and play cards for two more hours
until the  next  show, then more smoke and cards until the  next show. And I
knew that I was glad to be loose from that sentimental and dreamy trash, and
gladder  to be edging  on my way along here singing with the people, singing
something with fight and guts and belly laughs and power and dynamite to it.

     When Carl touched me on the arm  we  was throwing on our brakes in  the
green shiver of a neon sign that said, "Anchor Bar." We stood outside on the
curb and he grinned and told me, "This iss a nice place; always a good bunch
here."  By now we had a whole crew around us waving their heads in the wind,

     Oh, the Normandie was her name
     And great was her fame
     And great was her shame
     When that good ship went down

     I sung out by myself:

     So remember her sorrow
     And remember her name
     We will all work together
     And she'll soon sail again

     All kinds  of  hats, caps,  sweaters, and dresses stood  around tapping
shoes against the concrete, patting hands, like  getting new hope out of old
religion; and when my eyes  got a plainer look at the crowd,  I seen lots of
uniforms and sailor caps of all  kinds. Light  sifted through the  open door
and big windows of the bar, and hit against our backs and faces.
     "Crank up!"
     A funny little gang of us there on that curb.
     "Where'd ja pick up such songs at?" one lady asked me
     "Ohh," I told  her,  "jest bummin' aroun',  see stuff, make up a little
song about it."
     "Buy ya a drink if ya want it!" a man said.
     "Mister, I'll take a up in jest a minute! Cain't stop right now ta buy
no drink! I'd lose my crowd!"
     "What  th' hell you  doin'?"  he said back in  the  crowd  "Runnin' f'r
office with that whang-danger music box?"
     "Back in Oklahoma," I kidded him,  "I know  one Negro  boy that blows a
mouth organ, an' he's elected our las' four gov'nors!"
     There was a little laugh run through the listeners, and you could see a
pile  of  smoke  rising out  of our  huddle  from  cigarets  and  cigars and
ocean-going  pipes the people was pulling on. In the flare of the smoking, I
got looks at their faces, and when  I  seen how hard and  tough they was,  I
thought I must be in just about the best of company.
     A tall man  pushed through the rest, with both hands stuck  down in his
overcoat pockets, and said, "By  God an' by Jesus! Howya makin' out?" It was
my old friend, Will Geer, an actor playing the lead part of Jeeter Lester in
the  play, Tobacco Road. Will was a big  tall cuss, head  and shoulders over
the most of us, and I rocked considerably when he whooped me down across the
back and shoulders with his open hand. "You l' dog! Howya been?"
     "Hi! Will! Dam yer hide! Lay yer head back, boy, an' sing!"
     "Go right on. Don't let me stop you." Will's voice had a dry crackle to
it that sounded like a stick  in the fire. "Mighta knew who 'twas when I saw
this big crowd here singin'! Keep it up!"
     "Carl, shake han's with Will there."
     "Meester Will? I am glad to know you."
     "Hey! Ever'body! Here's another frienda mine! Name's Will!"
     He stood with his long chin and square  jaw set against the dampness of
the  fog,  and  folded his  hands together and  waved them above our  heads.
Behind him the doorway of  the Anchor Bar  was filled  with three people  on
their way  out, the bartender leading a lady and a  man by the arm. She  was
about  fifty,  little and slight, leathery  skin like  wet  canvas  full  of
pulling wind, coarse  black  hair  all tangled  up with  the  atmosphere and
scenery, and a  voice  like sand washing  back into the ocean, "I don't need
your help! I wanta  buy another drink!" Then she looked up  at the crowd and
said, "Cain't insult a lady this-a way!"
     "Lady," the bartender  was pushing  the pair onto the sidewalk, "I know
you're a lady, an' we all know you're a lady; but Mayor La Gad-about says no
drinks after closin' time, an' it's after closin' time now!"
     "Honey, sweet thing," I could hear her husband talking, "don't hurt th'
man, don't, he just only works here."
     "Who  ask'd you f'r advice?"  She marched out onto the sidewalk  beside
     "Put'cher coat  on!  Here, hold  still!"  He was tip-toeing around  her
trying  to get  the coat untangled. First he  held it upside  down  with the
sleeves dragging the sidewalk; then he  got  hold of the sleeves, but he had
the lining  on the  wrong side; and after a couple  of minutes, they had one
sleeve plumb on,  but she was still running her fist through the air feeling
for the last sleeve. She had a look on her  face like she was  searching the
waterfront for a man because she knew he had one sleeve of her coat,  and he
was  working  in the wind with  a serious look in his eye,  but always, just
about a foot or two south of where she was holding her arm up, fishing.
     Will walked  over and took her fist and jammed it through  the  sleeve,
and except for some mumbling and grumbling in the crowd nobody laughed. Will
lit up some kind of a long cigaret and took the pair by the arms and brought
them over to the bunch. "Meet ever'body!" He was smiling and saying, "All of
you, here, meet Somebody!"
     "Ever'body, gladta knowya!"
     "Somebody, hello! Join up!"
     "Don' mind  gittin' booted outa  that joint! We're  a-havin' a  lot th'
bes' time out here!"
     "Welcome ta our mists! Wahooo!"
     "What yez a-doin'? Sangin'? Oh! Lord Godamighty! I mortally luv ta hear
good sangin'! Sang! Make some racket!" The lady was  standing at my elbow in
the  middle  of the crowd.  We sung our song about  the  Normandie all  over
again, and her and her man both shook the wax out of their  ears in a minute
and started singing, and their voices sounded good,  like coal being  dumped
down into a cellar.
     I took  a  look over the heads  of the crowd  and  seen  the  bartender
standing just outside the door talking to a copper,  and  I knew our singing
had  cut off about  three fourths of his trade for  the night, so I  started
walking  with  my eyes up toward the stars, and the  little mob followed  me
along, filling the Hudson River's tide and the hulls of  the warehouses, the
markets, loading buildings, and all of the docks, and all of the ocean, with
good  husky  voices.  Some rasping,  some gasping,  some  growling  and some
rattling with whiskey, rum, beer, gin, tobacco, but singing all the same.
     We'd walked for  about  a block when we heard a tough talker  behind us
yell, "Hey, sailor!"
     We walked a few more steps singing, then it come again.
     "Hey, sailor!"
     "Keep on with th' singin'." A sailor was ducking at my ear saying, "Law
says he's got ta yell 'hey sailor' three times!"
     "Go on! Sing!" a second sailor said.
     "Keep it up!" a third one put in.
     Then it was, "Heyyyy, sailor!"
     And a dead still spell come over our whole gang. The Military Policeman
had yelled his third time. The sailors stopped and stood at attention,
     "Yessir, Off'cer."
     "Go to your stations, sailors!"
     "Aye, aye, Off'cer!''
     "At once, sailor!"
     "Goin', off'cer!"
     And the sailors walked away in good order, rubbing their eyes and faces
in the night air, shaking  their heads clear of tobacco smoke, and the dregs
of  beer. There in  a few steps,  they  seemed to  turn  into somebody else,
straightening up, fixing each other's shirts, blouses, ties, getting rigging
in order.  Low talk, laughs, thanks, and pats on the back was about all they
give me, but as  they  slipped off in their  different  directions for their
ships, some French, some British, some American, some Everything Else, I was
thinking, There goes th' best fellers I ever seen.
     "How'dya like ta be in th' Navy, Carl?" Will said.
     "I  would like  to  be  in the Navy just fine," Carl said, "but I don't
guess I ever can."
     "Reason?" I asked Carl.
     "I have a  leetle  something the matter  with my lungs.  Rosin.  .  I
worked  on  a shingle-saw a few years.  I'm in  4-F." His  eyes followed the
sailors  away in  the  dark, and then  he said, "The Navy,  yes, it would be
     A Military Policeman swung his club around doing tricks and said to us,
"Go ahead with y'r  party, by God, ya gotta perty dam good song there--'bout
that there Norm'ndie"
     Another cop  turned around  and walked away saying, "It's  jus' that we
gotta git our sailors ta werk on time. Those songs was doin'  them men a lot
o' good!"
     One or two of the bunch that was left  took off in different directions
and then three or  four shook my hand and told me, "Well, we had a  dam good
time." "Be  seem' ya." "Saved us money,  too!" And all that was left was  me
and Carl and Will and the lady  and her husband, standing there on the curb,
looking out toward the  waterfront, out across the big dark mountains moving
up  and  down  at their  docks, bigger than buildings, more alive  than  the
hills, sloshing at  the  portholes  and waterlines, floating still and quiet
like three women, the living Queen Elizabeth, the  breathing Queen Mary, and
the sleeping Normandie on her side.
     "Fellers  game ta go home  with me?"  the lady asked us. "Got a  great,
great big bottle, nearly almost half full."
     Her  husband  held his  hands in his pockets and  shook  his head after
every word his wife said, his little  hat rocking back and forth on his head
when he nodded.
     "Take us!" Will  told her, winking around  at us. "I haven't even had a
drink tonight!"
     We walked along just keeping our eyes on the red glare of  her cigaret,
first  bright, then dull, in the dark. The old  hard cobblestones was lit up
with the filtered neon light that leaks somehow or  other, some strange way,
down  into  all  of  the  big  town's  dirtiest  corners,  and  shines  like
million-dollar jewelry, even on the spitty, foggy stones.
     I seen the big hump-backs of five or six flat barges loaded full to the
brim. Heavy highway gravel. The tie ropes bucking and stretching, the waters
lapping and swelling and  falling  in the river with the up  and down of the
ocean's roll.
     "Fair  warnin'!" I heard the  lady holler  ahead of  us. "Walk careful!
Don't  want  hafta  waste my time fishin' no  land wallopers outa this slimy
     I followed  the  others across some narrow planks and I  held my breath
when I looked down under me at all of the moving, slurping water licking its
mouth under  my feet.  Finally, after  crossing  over more whitish loads  of
gravel and rocks,  we come to a little two-by-scantling shanty built  on the
head end of a creaking, heavy barge.
     "So this is your homestead, huh?" Will asked her.
     "I  ain't so  graceful out there much on that there solid  groun'." She
was fumbling with a lock at the door, and walked into the shack saying, "But
they ain't a  gal  in th' show  business c'n  foller aroun' over  these here
river boats!"
     She lit the lantern, lit the oil stove, and set a half a gallon  coffee
pot on the flame.  We all found chairs on boxes and  big lard cans; then she
said,  "Why not sing  me  a  song  about  somethin'  perty? While  this here
coffee's a-comin' ta a boirl? Likker goes  a lot  longer ways when ya mix it
with scaldin' hot coffee."
     "I'll make ya up one 'bout yer barge house here. Lemme think."

     My bottle it will soon be empty
     And I myself won't have a dime
     But I've hauled my freight from here to yonder
     A many, and a many, and a many a time

     While fishing under her tin-topped cupboard she chanted and sung almost
under her breath:

     I pulled this package from here ta Albanyyyyy
     From there ta Uticayyyyy
     From there ta Schenectadyyyyyy
     It's a many, an' a many, an' a many a time
     Ohhh yes
     A many, an' a many, an' a many a time

     The  only  thing  that  broke up her singing was the coffee pot spewing
over the sides and the fire barking at  the steam. Then she said, "Never did
ask me  my name. Dam that  stove  ta hell, anyhow! Boirl all  o'  my  coffee
away!" She grabbed a few cups from nails over the sink and poured  one  half
full in front  of  every  one  of  us.  Then she  popped a stopper out of  a
mean-looking bottle and poured the  cups the rest of the way full. "McElroy.
That's me! But don't tell  me your names," she said to all of us, " 'cause I
can't  remember  names  none  too  good   noway.  I'll  just  call  you  Mr.
Broadshoulders, an' you there, lemme see, I'll name you Eel Foot! Mister Eel
Foot;  an' next,  you  there  with  th' music  doin's,  I'll name  you--le's
     She jammed the red-hot coffee pot  down on the table under my nose, and
a half a cupful sloshed out like melted lead and soaked the front part of my
britches.  I  jumped to the floor  and fought and fanned the spots where the
coffee was scalding  me, but  she  was laughing as loud as  the barge  would
stand it,  and yelling, while she downed her hot drink, "Whheeeww! Yipppeee!
Flappin' salmon! What's th'  matter, Hot Pants? Scorch you?" Her face turned
against the lantern  light and it was the first time I'd got a real look  at
her.  Weather-whipped  and  wind-blistered,  salt-soaked  and  frostbit  ten
thousand  times  just like the skim that  shines across  the  humps and  the
swells of  the  tidewaters. "Mister Hot  Pants! Yah! Yah! Yah!" she  laughed
while I fanned my legs to cool the hot spots.
     Her husband in the deal got up and stumbled ten or fifteen feet through
a little  partition, heaving like  a sick horse,  and I heard him  fall down
across some kind of a couch. I watched her drain her cup into her mouth, and
men she stuck out her tongue and  made a witchy-looking face out through the
window  at the  moon splashing  along  on the  clouds.  Will and Carl and me
tipped our cups together,  held our breath,  shut  our eyes, and sloshed our
mouths full of the fiery mixture.

     While she  was waiting for us to fall over on the floor, we lit up some
smokes, and I sung her another made-up verse:

     I've freighted and barged it from New York and up
     I drunk my hard likker from a blistering cup
     And who was the pride of the brave river boys?
     A lass by the name of Miss McElroy.

     "Now ain't that  perty? Ain't that a slippery shame?'' She only had two
teeth in her head, one low and on the left,  one high and on the  right, but
she put a look  on her lace like she was a Freshman in a girls' school. "You
mighty rum-com-a-tootin'! I wuz th' only female she womern  up an down  this
Goddern slimy warsh! I wuzn't no dam house cat! No flower  pot! an' if I wuz
jus' twenty-five years  younger tonight, I'd give you gents a honest  ta God
run fer yer marbles!" Then she run the end of her tongue out over  her  pair
of mismated  teeth, and  tapped the oilcloth of the table, and  laughed; and
the whole string of barges rocked  in  the ooze  and the bellies of  the old
rafts pushed  against each other,  and  the waterfront  groaned  and  foamed
around the edges.
     Songs  rippled across the loads of  highway rock and dripped  off  down
across the edges, and such songs and such yarns and lies  and windy tales as
we pulled out of our minds  for  the  next hour or two  was  never before or
since topped by the humans on this planet.
     She said she'd had six children, that being pregnant so much had caused
her teeth to fall out. Four boys. Three alive. Two  girls, both up and gone.
She showed us picture post cards of  the places one daughter had worked as a
taxi-dancer.  The other girl lived across the  river  and come to see her on
Sundays. One son used  to  send picture cards, but he was a merchant seaman,
and she  hadn't heard  from him for  over  eight months. One son got in jail
four or five times for  little rackets; then he went out West to work in the
mines, and he never wrote much anyhow. Him and his pa was always a-scrappin'
when they'd get together, because the old man did believe in being honest as
the law allows. They'd of killed each other if the boy hadn'ta left. She was
glad he was gone.
     "What's this leave you with?" Will asked her.
     "Well," she smiled  around at all of us just a  speck  and let her eyes
fall  away to  one side,  "let me  see.  Thirty  years  o' river freightin',
twenty-six years  o' married ta  th' same man, if  ya wanta  call 'im a man.
This  old  rotten  barge here.  Three  nice gent  visitors, if  ya call  'em
gentlemen;  an'  well,  a  little  less  th'n a halfa bottle  o' perty  pore
whiskey. Plenty o' hot scaldin' coffee f'r th' nights run,  an' ta boot,  ta
boot,  ya might add, I liv'd  ta see th' day that by God, I gotta song wrote
up about me!"
     Will and me excused ourselves and walked out the door. We  stood on the
edge  on  the next-door  barge, and listened to the water  trickle into  the
Hudson River. The moon was pretty and scared-looking and the  clouds  chased
across  the sky like  early morning newskids. I could feel a  sticky veil of
fog settle over the wood and the strings of my guitar, and when I played it,
the tone was soft and damp and muffled  along the waters. I kept picking off
a little tune.
     "Been doin' last few days?" Will asked me walking along.
     "Awww, nuthin' very much. Singin' 'roun'."
     "Chances for any jobs?"
     "Yeah, few."
     " 'Bouts?"
     "Night clubs, mostly.''
     "Get on?"
     "Well, I, ah, that is, er, ah--I hadda big try-out ta day.
     Rockefeller's Center."
     "Rockefeller Center! Wow! Come out all right?"
     "I come out, all right."
     "Walk out on 'em?"
     "Goddammit! I jes' had ta walk out, Will! Couldn't take that stuff!"
     "Goin' ta keep pullin' them  one-man walkouts till you've ruined all of
y'r chances here in New York. Better watch y'r step."
     "Will,  you know me. You know  dam good an' well I'd  play fer my beans
an' cornbread, an'  drink branch  water, 'er anything else ta  play an' sing
fer  folks that likes it,  folks that knows it, an' lives what I'm a singin'
'bout. I'm all screwed up in my head. They try ta tell me if I wanta eat an'
stay alive, I gotta sing their dam old phony junk!"
     "You'd just naturally explode up in  that high society,  wouldn't  you?
But, money's what it takes, Woody."
     "Yeah.  I know." I was thinking  of a girl named  Ruth. ''Damit all  ta
hell, anyhow! Mebbe I jest ain't got brains 'nuf in my head ta see that. But
after alla th' hard luck I had, Will, I  seen money come, an' money go, ever
since I was jest a kid, an' I never thought  'bout nuthin' else, 'sides jest
passin' out my songs."
     "Takes money, boy. You want to make any kind  of  a  name f'r yourself,
well, takes all kinds of money. An' if you want to donate  to poor folks all
over th' country, that takes money." '
     "Cain't I jest sorta donate my own self, sort of?''
     Will grunted. "Can't you go back to the Rainbow Room? Not too late,  is
     I said, "No, not too late, I guess I could go back. I guess I could!"
     I looked up  at the  big tall building. The silence around us seemed to
be hollering at me--all right, whatcha gonna do? Come on, runt, make up your
mind. This is it! Christ, boy, this is it!

     A  little tugbout throwing  smoke plowed out from  ahead of us,  and  I
looked at it working in the smeared water like a black bug kicking up dust.
     "This barge a-movin'?" I asked Will.
     "Blieve  'tis." He walked a few  feet along the back end, made  a  jump
clearing a two-foot  gap, and landed back  on the McElroy barge. "That barge
you're on's  gettin' hauled  out by that  tug!  Better throw me y'r  guitar!
     I  didn't say anything right  then. Will walked  alongside where I  was
moving along and I stalled for a little time, saying,  "Looks like it really
is a-movin'."
     "Jump! Jump quick! I'll catch your  guitar! Jump!" He was  trotting now
at a pretty fair gait. "Jump!"
     I set myself down on the hind-end of the moving load of gravel, and lit
up a cigaret and blowed the smoke  up toward  tile  long,  tall  Rockefeller
Building.  Will had  a great big grin in his face there by  the light of the
moon, and he said, "Got any money on ya?"
     I flipped a rock  into  the  water and said, "Mornin' comes,
I'll feel in my pockets an' see!"
     "But, where'll ya be?"
     "I dunno."
     My old friend was left behind, panting and all out of breath. I drug my
thumb down acrost the strings of the guitar. In the river waters at my feet,
I could see the reflection of fire and kids  fighting their gang wars and  a
right young kid up  a tree and a mama cat hunting the squeezed-out bodies of
her kittens.  Clara  didn't look  burnt and Mama  didn't  look crazy in that
river water, but kind of  pretty. I seen the oil  on the  river and it might
have come from somewhere down in my old country, West Texas maybe, Pampa, or
Okemah. I seen the  Redding jungle camp reflected there too, and the saloons
along Skid Row except that they looked awful clean. But mostly I  saw a girl
in an orchard and how she danced along the mud bank of a river.
     Sail on, little barge, heave on, little tug, pound your guts out, work,
dig in, plow this river all to hell.
     It'll heal over.
     Chapter XIX

     The wind howled all  around  me. Rain blistered my skin.  Beating  down
against the iron roof  of the car, the sheets of rain sounded like some kind
of a high-pressure fire hose  trying to drill holes. The  night was as pitch
black  as  a  night can get, and it was  only when  the bolts  of  lightning
knocked holes in the clouds that you could see the square shape of the train
rumbling along in the thunder.
     "Jeez!" the kid was  laying up as close to me as he  could get, talking
with his face the other way, "I tink she's slowin' up."
     "I'm ready ta stop any old time," I was laying on my side with my  left
arm around his belly. "I'd like ta git cleaned up 'fore I git ta Chicago."
     I listened in the dark and heard somebody yelling, "Hey, you guys! Been
     'That you, John?" I yelled back at my Negro riding pardner.
     "Dis is me, all right! Been asleep?''
     "I been about half knocked out!"
     ''Me, too!" I heard the older kid yell out.
     "Youse boids is  softies!" the  kid I  was holding  grunted. "How's yo'
music box?" "Still wrapped up in them shirts! I'm 'fraid ta even think about
     "She's clackin' 'er gait! We'll be stoppin' heah in a few minnits!"
     "Hope so! Is this purty  close to Chicago?"  I  was  yelling loud as  I
     The little kid put in, "Naaa. Dis ain't ennywheres near Chucago. Dis is
Freeport. Tink."
     "Illinois?" I asked him.
     "Yaaa. Illinoy."
     "Son, is yore face got as much dirt an' cinders an coal dust  on  it as
mine's got?"
     "How can I tell? I cain't even see yer mug. Too dark."
     "I'd give a dollar fer a good smoke."
     "Come ta Chi, I'll git youse a smoke from me brudder."
     "Wonder if them guys got finished with their fightin` inside th' car?"
     "Shucks,  man!  Dey might of done  et each othah  up!" John slapped his
hand against the back of the kid he was holding.
     "I benna listinin' to 'em down through da rooof."
     "Shore 'nuff? What're they doin'?"
     "Banged aroun' a long time. Cuss'n. Been kinda quiet last few miles."
     "Sho'  been  still!  Man, I bet  dey jes' natchilly cut one `nothah  ta
     "I'm  jest  wonderin' how many we're gonna find that-away when this dam
train stops. These is good guys. Just outta work. You know how a feller is."
     John oozed along on his belly from the end of the car where he had been
riding with  his head to the wind. I felt him  lay down  at my side and hold
his arm  across my ribs to hang onto a plank  in the  boardwalk. "Seems like
dis heah rain jus' holds alla dis train smoke right down on toppa th' train,
don' it? I seen  'em befo'. Take  a buncha th'  bes'  workin' fellas  in th'
worl'.  Let  'em  jus' git down an' out. No kinda steady job.  Jus' makes ya
mean's all hell."
     "Me  ol' man  wuz datta way." I could hear the oldest kid talking while
he crawled up and laid down alongside of the little one. "He was okay, okay.
Man gits outta woik,  tho', goes  off on a  Goddam blink.  Wuz two diff'rent
fellas. I go upstate now an' visit me maw  when he ain't around. Slugged  me
'bout a month ago. Ain't seen 'em since." His voice sounded slow and dry  in
the banging and the rain.
     "None a ya mushy talk."
     "By gosh, little squirt, ya  know, I believe that you talk tougher than
that whole boxcar fulla railroad rounders."
     "Sho' do."
     "I say what I t'ink, see!"
     "Okay. Whatta yez men a-gonna do? Dere's de air brakes!"
     I lifted my head up and  looked over  the  top of my  guitar. I saw the
crazy  red glares from neon lights cutting against  the  clouds. Bushes  and
hedges  whizzing  past  with  nice warm smears  of electric lights  from the
windows  of houses.  Spotlights and headlights from other  locomotives  shot
around in the rain. Chug holes and vacant lots standing full of water shined
like new money when the  lightning cracked. I tried to  keep the  buckets of
water wiped out of my face long enough to see. "Edge of some town."
     "Freeport. Ain't I done told yez oncet?" The runty kid snorted rain out
of  his nose poking his head over the  guitar.  "I put  da bum on alla  dese
happy homes. Freeport."
     All four of  us got up  on  our  hands and  knees and  listened to  the
screaking and jamming  of the brakes  against the  wheels.  A red-hot switch
engine pounded past us. Heat flew from the fire box and every  single one of
us set  down and  held our hands out to warm  a little. The rain was falling
harder. Our car was wobbling along like a  crippled elephant. Red  and green
switch lights looked like melted  globs of Christmas candy. A purplish white
glare  was coming from  a danger  flare stabbed into a  cross tie across the
yards to the right. To  the left there I  could make out a lonesome dull red
electric  light  blinking  out  through  the  windows  of  a  burger  joint.
Headlights from fast cars danced  along the  highway past the chili  places.
Our  train  slowed  down  to a slow crawl, on both sides  nothing  but dirty
strings of every crazy kind of a railroad car.
     "Alla  dem  bright  lites  up  ahead, dat's de  highway  crossin'. Bull
hangout." The little kid was poking me and pointing.
     "Shore 'nuf ? This a tough town?''
     "Worse'n dat."
     "Hay, dere, Pee Wee. You'n me'd betta unload."  The  tall kid kept down
on his  belly and crawled over the  end  of the  roof. "We left our packs in
this open machinery car," he explained to me.
     "Wid ya."  The  little kid  slipped  along and  followed  him  down the
     I eased along on my hands and knees and looked over the end of the roof
between the two cars. "Take  it easy." I was holding  my breath and watching
them slip down the  slick ladder.  The rain and the clouds made it so dark I
couldn't see the ground below him. "Watch out fer them wheels, big shot! All
     "Made 'er!" I heard him tell me. Then I saw his head and shoulders drop
down into  the end of the carload of machinery. Just then a bright streak of
light shot up along the car. Both  kids kept ducked down out of sight, but a
man trotted along on the cinders and kept his flashlight beamed on them.
     "Hey! Hey!" I heard him bellering out. He mounted the steps  of the low
car and shot his light over  the edge. "Stand up! Stand up!  Stand up there,
you! Well! I be Goddamed! Where do you senators think you're going?''
     The pair of kids' heads raised up  between the machinery and the end of
the car. Wet. Dirty with coal soot. Hats gone. Hair  tangled. Sheets of rain
pouring down on  them in the bright  glare of  the cop's light. They blinked
and frowned and wiped their hands across their faces.
     "Mornin', Cap'n," the little one saluted.
     'Tryin' ta git home," the big one was slipping his  canvas pack  on his
     The little one grinned up into the flashlight and said, "Little rainy."
     "That's a dam dangerous place to ride! Don't you know wet weather makes
these loads  skid? Beat it!  Skat! Hit  th' ground!"  He  motioned  with his
     Both kids slipped over the wall of the car and I rolled across the roof
to the right-hand side and waved my guitar over the side at them. "Hey, want
yer shirts back?" I swung down the ladder where the cop couldn't see  me and
hissed at the kids as they walked along beside our train. "Shirts? Shirts?"
     Both kids pulled up their britches, laughed a little, and said, "Naaa!"
     I swung there on the ladder  for a bit watching the little fellers just
sort of fade out. Rain. Smoke. All kinds of clouds. Night  just darker  than
hell. I felt a little funny, I guess. Then  they was gone.  I pulled  myself
back  up on top of  the  car  and said, "Well, John,  there  goes our ridin'
     "Sho'  gone, all right. You still  got dem shirts  wrapped  'round  yo'
music box! Keep it dry?"
     "Naw."  I  patted my  guitar on  the sides.  "Couldn't be wetter.  They
wanted to give 'em to me, so I just took 'em."
     "Little tramps some day."
     "Well, one thing they gotta teach soldiers is how ta tramp."
     "I sho' wish't  I  could fine  me a good  fast  job of truck
drivin'. I'd sho' as hell quit dis trampin'."
     "Quiet! Duck down!"
     As we  oozed across the highway, a high-power spotlight shot its  beams
from  a black  sedan under a  street  light. The train pulled clear  of  the
highway and then stopped. The sedan  rolled up at the side of our car, a low
siren sounded  like a mean tomcat under a barrel. About a dozen harness cops
wheeled  the boxcar door  wide  open.  Flashlights played  around  over  the
sixty-six men while three or four of the patrol cops crawled in the door.
     "Wake up!"
     "Okay! Pile out."
     "Git movin', you!"
     "Yes, sir."
     "One at a time!"
     "Who're you? Where's your draft card?"
     "Whitaker's my name. Blacksmith. Here's my draft number."
     "Next! Dam!  What's  been going  on in  this car?  Civil  war? How come
everybody all tied up? Wrapped up?"
     "Greenleaf  is my name.  Truck  mechanic. Well, see, mister officer, we
was havin' a  sort of a picnic an' a dance in th' car here. Th' engineer hit
his air brakes  a little too quick. So quite a bunch of us got throwed down.
Bumped  our  heads up  against th'  walls. On th' floor. Ah.  Right here, My
draft card. That's it, ain't it? I cain't see with this rag over me eye."
     "I don't believe a word of it! Been some trouble in  this car! What was
it? Next! You!"
     "Here's my  card. Dynamite man. Lebeque. I broke my fist  all to pieces
when I stumbled."
     "Draft  card, bud! What  is this? Car load of  drunks? All of you smell
like liquor!"
     "Picolla.  There's  my  number. Oil  field driller.  Somebody  poured a
bottle of wine down my back while I was asleep!"
     "Asleep. Yeah! I see  they left the  chipped glass  all over your shirt
collar, too! Draft cards, men! Move faster!"
     "My name's Mickey the Slick, see! I won't lie to yez! I'm a gambler. Da
best. I wear good clothes an' I spent  good  money! I was lookin' all right,
new suit, an' ever'ting.  Den sombudy  popped me  with a quart wine  bottle.
Cracked my head. Ruint my suit! Here's my number, officer!"
     "Whoever  cracked this man, I wish to congratulate him! Move  on!  Fall
out the door, there! Line op over there by that patrol car  with the rest of
     'Tommy Bear. Quarter-breed Indian. Mechanic."
     "Hey, Cap!  Some of these birds are  all beat up! Trouble of some kind!
Every  single one of them has got a busted ear, or a  black eye, or a broken
fist,  or their  clothes ripped dam near off! Been a hell of a fight in this
car! About fifty of them!"
     "Herd 'em out! All in a bunch!" The captain stuck his head in the door.
"Match 'em out there under that street light! We'll make  'em talk! Any dead
     "I  don't know!" The sarg shot his light around over  the car. "I see a
few that don't seem to be able to get up!"
     "Load 'em out! Git along,  you guys! Walk! All of you! Right here under
this light! Line 'em up! Finding any dead ones back there?"
     "Three or  four  knocked out! Don't think they're dead! Well pull  them
out in this rain and wake them up! Load that one right out through the door.
Shake him a  little. He looks like  he's still flickering. How is  this one?
His eyes are  still batting a little around the edges. Stick his face  up to
the  rain.  Bring them  other  two, boys. Help them along. Shake them  good.
Looks like  they  might  be salvaged.  God,  they  really must  have  had  a
knockdown dragout! Hold them up a litlle.
     "This boid's okay. Rain brought 'im aroun'."
     "March him on over  yonder to where  the captain  is. What's the matter
with you dam fool men, anyway? Is this all you've got to do? Fight! Beat the
hell out of each other! Why, dam me, I didn't think any of you had that much
spunk left in you! Why in the hell don't you spend that much energy working?
Walk  along, there,  stud horse! Walk! Here's these four, Cap. That's all of
     "They look like a  bunch of dam corpses!" The captain looked the  crowd
over.  Then he  turned  toward the boxcar and hollered,  "Any more in there?
Look for guns an' knives around on th' floor!"
     "Here's a  pair!" A big tough looker stood up on  top of the car behind
John and me.  "Duckin'  outta sight, huh? Git movin' down  dat  ladder! Now.
Watcha got wrapped up dere, mister?"
     "This thing?"
     "Dat ting. Corpse a some kind?''
     "Aha. Yodel lay dee hoo stuff, eh?"
     "My meal ticket."
     "Where you headin', black boy?"
     ''Anywhere I c'n find some work."
     "Woik, eh? Where 'bouts is yer shoit?"
     "On his guitar."
     "Jeez! Christamighty. Do yez think more 'bout dat music box den yer own
     "Mah back c'n take it"
     "Drop down dere  on de groun'. Now git movin'.  Over dere where yez see
de whole gang 'round dat street light."
     I walked along, shaking the water out of my hair.
     John said, "Sho' some bad ol' stormy night,"
     "Here's de pair I caught up on toppa de car, capt'n."
     "You two line up. Where's your shirt?"
     "Ah done tole him,  Dis  boy heah got it wrapped 'roun' his  music box.
     "You tryin' to  tell  me?  It's raining!  Men! Did you know  that? It's
raining! Any of you get wet?"
     The sarg was shooting his light in  our faces and saying, "Wash some of
the  blood off of this  bloody  bunch.  What  was the trouble,  fellows? Who
started it all? Who beat up who? Out with it Talk!"
     The last two officers trotted from the boxcar over to the gang. "Here's
their artillery," one of them said. He dumped a double handful of knives and
the necks of three wine bottles, "No guns."
     "No guns?" The captain looked the knives over. "You could cut a man all
to pieces with the  neck of  one of these  broken bottles. How  many  drunks
among them?"
     "Smell and see."
     "I don't think  you could  tell by smelling, chief.  Some bird  broke a
whole quart over another one's head. Then two or three other jugs got  broke
over other's heads. Everybody smells like liquor."
     We passed by in double file, the cops guiding us, watching us. The sarg
looked at one string of draft cards. The big chief looked at another string.
     "You  two  boys. No draft card? It's  th' jail  if you haven't got 'em.
Huh?" the chief said.
     "Too young. Sixteen," one boy said.
     "Seventeen," the next one nodded.
     "All look okay, chief?"
     "You, there! What you got wrapped  up there--a  baby?"  The chief asked
     "Ohhh. Well. Why  not  take it out and  plunk us offa ditty? Like this.
Dum tee dum. Dum tee dum. Tra la la la la! Yodel layyy dee whooooo! Ha! Ha!"
He flumped his coat sleeve and danced around.
     "Too wet to play," I told him.
     "What th' hell do you  bring it out in this stormy weather for,  then?"
he asked me.
     "I didn't order this stormy weather.''
     "What's this all over you fellows?" the sarg asked us.
     "Cement dust," John talked up by my elbow.
     "With  all of this rain,"  the chief asked  us, "what's gonna happen to
all of you?"
     I said, "Gonna turn inta  statues. You can set us around in yer streets
an' parks, so rich ladies can see how purty we are."
     "No,  men. I ain't holdin' you  for nothin'." The chief looked us over.
"I  could jail you if I wanted to. But  I don't  know.  Vag. Disturbing  th'
peace. Fighting. Lots of things."
     "Riding the freights," the sarg put in.
     "Or just bein' here," I said.
     "Tell  you one  thing,  by  God. I never did  see such a  dirty, messy,
bloody, beat-up bunch of people in my whole life, and I've been a copper for
twenty years. I could toss you men in the jug if I wanted  to. I don't know.
You see, men...."
     A big eight-wheel driver locomotive pounded  across  the road, throwing
steam a hundred feet on  each side, easing along, ringing its bell, snorting
and letting out a four-time toot on its whistle, and drowned out the chief's
     "Westbound," John was telling me over my shoulder. "She's sho' a daisy,
ain't she?"
     "Mighty purty," I told him.

     An old gray-headed  hobo  trotted  past  us in  the  dark, swinging his
bundle up  onto  his  back,  splashing  through  the mudholes and  not  even
noticing the patrol men. He got a glimpse of  all of us guys there under the
light  and yelled, "Plenty o'  work!  Buildin' ships! War's  on! Goddam that
thunder an' lightnin'  to hell!  Work, boys,  work!  I  gotta  letter  right
hyere!" He bogged on  a few yards past us, waving  a white sheet of paper in
the dark.
     "Work?" One guy broke and trotted hi after the old man.
     "Job?  Where  'bouts?" Another  man swung his bundle  under his arm and
started off.
     "Lemme see it!"
     "Where'd he say?"
     "Hey! Old man! Wait!"
     "Don't let dat  stuff fool yez, men. Tain't nuttin' but justa dam hobo,
wid a dam sheeta paper!"
     "Seattle ! Seattle!" I  heard the old man holler back through the rain.
"Work, worrrrrk!"
     "Yuh know, men, they ain't no work out at Seattle. Hell's bells, that's
more'n fifteen hundred miles west uv here!"
     "Out toward Japan!"
     "Th' old man had th' letter right there in his hand!"
     "Reckin he's right?"
     Three more men tore loose through the dark.
     "I know  them Seattle people. You cain't beat 'em. Mighty purty  women.
An', by God, 'they don't write letters, less they mean what they say!"
     "I slep' under ever' bridge in Seattle! That's a workin' town!"
     "You men going entirely nuts?" a cop asked us.
     "I want as close ta Japan as I kin git!" Another man drifted off in the
     "Ah wants a crack at that Horehouse Heato man own se'f!"
     "Pahdon me,  mistah poleese. Is dat train headin' to'd wheah
them Japs is fightin'?"
     Men  sloshed holes of water dry,  and bogged off  through the spray  of
wind and rain.  Cops stood  behind us  in the  street light, scratching  and
laughing.  I snuffed my nose and squinched my  eyes  to keep  the water from
getting me.
     "Risin' sun! Wahooo!"
     "See ya latah, offisssahh!"
     "Rain on, little storm, rain on!"
     More men  charged  after the moving  rain.  It  creaked along, the  wet
enamel flicking the  dim light from  the telephone pole where the cops stood
around.  Big iron wheels groaning along  on  the shiny rails. Slick ladders.
Slippery tin roofs, bucking first to one side, then the other, and the black
shapes of the men sticking  like waterbugs,  sucking on like snails, swaying
with the cars, everybody mumbling and talking and cracking jokes back at the
     "Did Mr. A. Hitler say we was a nation of sissies?"
     Four more men sidled off down and caught onto a boxcar right beside me.
Six more  slushed along  behind  them.  Eight  swung up the ladder  at their
heels. Whole boxcars littered with men talking and going to fight.
     "Read that letter, old man! Yippeee!"
     Ten more come up the ladder. Twenty behind them.
     I told the cop next to me, "Those boys are shore gonna need some music!
Let her rain!" And I shinnied up the iron ladder of the next car.
     I hunkered down on top of the car, with John setting right beside me.
     "Thunder! Let 'er crack!" An older man  was waving his arms like a monk
praying on top of a mountain.
     "Ain't you th' dam guy I split in th' mouth? I'm sorry, man!"
     "You broke a wine  bottle over my head? We won'  break de nex' wine! By
God, we'll drink it! Yah!"
     Men  rolled  around  and  laughed.  Rocked back and forth as the  train
picked up speed. Smoke rolled back down along the tops of the cars, blotting
them almost out. I looked  back  at the dozen cops standing around under the
street light.
     "Too bad we cain't  ride inside!"  I  was yelling  around  at the night
riders. "Gonna git wetter'n holy hell!"
     "Let 'er ripple! What th' hell d'ya want  in a war, boy, a big soft ass
cushion? Ha! Ha! Ha!"
     "Trot me out a ship needs a buildin'!"
     I was having a  hard time standing  up, blinking my eyes to try to  get
some cinders out. I looked around with my head ducked down into the wind and
     And in that one blink of my one eye I got another look along the train.
Men. A mixed-up bunch of blurred shadows and train  smoke. Heard about work.
Just heard about it.
     "I'm da wattah boy!"
     I looked down at my elbow.
     "How. How'n th' hell come you two on this here train? I thought you was
a long time gone!"
     "Nawww. Nuttin' like  dat,"  the  little  runt spit out into  the rain.
"Nuttin' like dat."
     "This train's a-goin' ta Seattle! Fifteen hundred miles!"
     John was riding  at my  feet, setting down  with  his bare  back to the
wind, talking. "Gonna be one mighty bad ol' night, boys. Rainy."
     "So whattt?"
     "We're  goin' out  ta th' West Coast ta build ships an'  stuff ta fight
them Japs with, if this rain don't wash us out before we get there!"
     "Wid ya. Wid ya."
     "Hell! We're fightin' a war!"
     "Cut de mushy stuff."
     I listened back along  the train  and my  ears  picked some low singing
starting  up.  I  strained in  the storm  to hear  what  the  song was.  The
whoof-whoof of the big engine hitting her

     speed drowned the singing out for a minute, and the rattle and creaking
of the cars smothered it  under;  but  as  I listened as close as I could, I
heard the song coming my way and getting louder, and I  joined with the rest
of the men singing:

     This train don't carry no smoker,
     Lyin' tongues or two-bit jokers;
     This train is bound for glory
     This train!

     Wet wind curled in the drift of  the train and cinders stung against my
eyelids, and I held them closed and sung  out at the top of my voice. Then I
opened my eyes  just a  little slit, and a great  big cloud of black  engine
smoke pushed down over the whole string of cars, like a  blanket for the men
through the storm.

     Bound  for  Glory  was first published in 1943.  Since that time  Woody
Guthrie and his songs have traveled from one end of America to the other.
     Woody Guthrie  wrote more  than 1,000 songs between 1936 and 1954, when
he became hospitalized, a victim of Huntington's Disease (chorea).
     The  songs and  ballads  of Woody Guthrie  have continued  to  grow  in
popularity. His songs have become as much  a part of  America as its rivers,
its forests, its prairies, and the people  whom Guthrie chronicled  in them:
'This Land Is Your Land,"  "Reuben James," "Tom Joad," "Pastures of Plenty,"
"Hard Traveling,"  "So  Long,  It's Been Good  to  Know Yuh," "Union  Maid,"
"Pretty Boy Floyd," "Roll On,  Columbia," "Dust Bowl Refugee," "Blowing Down
This Old Dusty Road," and 'This Train Is Bound for Glory."
     These songs and  dozens more  have been recorded by  Guthrie  and other
folk singers. Pete  Seeger, Joan Baez, Tom  Paxton, The Weavers, Peter, Paul
and Mary, Judy Collins, Odetta,  and Jack Elliott are  among those who  have
expressed their love and admiration through their loyalty to Guthrie and the
songs he wrote.
     Woody's  songs and his guitar made him a spokesman for  the downtrodden
everywhere,  but he also sang of the beauty  of  America, a beauty he viewed
from the  open  doors  of boxcars as  they sped across the  country.  He saw
America from the open road, and he knew its people firsthand.
     In 1943 he and his old friend the late folk singer Cisco Houston joined
the merchant marine and Woody saw war and the world beyond the oceans.
     After  the war he briefly  rejoined the Almanac  Singers, a  group that
included  Pete Seeger, Lee Hays,  Millard Lampell, and  others.  He  wrote a
second book, American Folksong, a collection of thirty songs and sketches. A
collection of  prose  and  poems by  him, Born  to  Win,  'edited by  Robert
Shelton, appeared in 1965. He was a member of People's Songs, also with Hays
and  Seeger.  This  group  was  described  as  a "new  union of  progressive
     In  the  early thirties Woody Guthrie  married  the  former  Mary  Esta
Jennings  and  in  1942 the former Marjorie Mazia  Greenblatt. Woody died on
October 3, 1967. He is survived by five children.

: 15, Last-modified: Sun, 15 Dec 2002 23:06:23 GMT