The Ordways

The Ordways by William Humphrey Read Free Book Online

Book: The Ordways by William Humphrey Read Free Book Online
Authors: William Humphrey
there was hardly a town of monument-aspiration size along the railway line from Clarksville to Atlanta—which was as far as that particular eastbound traveler had gotten—without its copy of our soldier. Still later, in the piazza of many a small Italian town, the touring descendants of that generation were to be reminded of home by the statue commemorating the march of Garibaldi and his Thousand. But at the time of the unveiling (which was three years after the delivery of the statue, one for the erection of the plinth and, prior to that, two years before the Board of Aldermen would give in to the fact that the only place from which a column of marble of that size could be had was Vermont) no one knew this. The entire county, black and white, young and old, was there that day. From the platform on the plaza, draped in Confederate flags, visiting dignitaries made dedication speeches lauding those who had made the supreme sacrifice, and those there present, more fortunate but no less courageous, who had survived the crusade. Then the rope was pulled, the veil came fluttering down, the applause went up, subsided, and as the first of many pigeons alighted on the soldier’s head, a solitary off-key voice accompanied by the tapping of a stick on the wooden paving bricks began to sing:
    In Dixie Land where I was born in ,
    Early on one frosty mornin ’,
    Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land .
    Often we were joined at our work by strangers. Along would come a man in a collar and tie and town suit who, after a glance at the name on our tombstones, would salute my grandfather with a “Good morning, Mr. Ordway,” in which the joviality was edged in black, and would pitch in as if he were one of us, as if he were that long-lost son and brother returning to claim kin and catch up in one day on his lapsed duties to his dead. Such feverish work could not be kept up for long; they soon tired, then they introduced themselves, said what office they were running for, and solicited my grandfather’s vote. (Not my grandmother’s; female suffrage had been won, but country women still thought it was not ladylike, nor properly respectful towards their husbands, to exercise the right.) For graveyard working day always fell just a week or so before elections, and candidates used to make the rounds of the country churches and bid for support by pulling weeds.
    Then the children were called in from play, the women stacked their rakes and brooms, the men climbed down out of the trees where they had been sawing off dead limbs, the fires of brush and leaves were allowed to die, and between the graveyard and the cars and wagons streams of women and children carrying food plied back and forth like ants. Campstools, car cushions, blankets were brought, tablecloths were spread, the baskets opened and the food set out. This was before the days of luncheon meats and bottled cheeses. Knowing that one of these Saturdays would be graveyard working day, the women had cooked each Friday for weeks in possible readiness, and among those in our family there was keen emulation. There were whole baked hams and roast joints of beef, fried chicken, cold turkey, fried squirrels. There were great crocks of potato salad and macaroni salad and chowchow; brandied fruits, and pies of every sort: chocolate, pecan, lemon meringue, coconut custard, banana, sweet potato, peach, berry cobblers—each the best of its kind, the product of that one of your aunts known for that dish, and you had to have a little of each for fear of offending any one of them. You were allowed to pass up only the things your own mother had brought. When it was all laid out we bowed our heads and my grandfather asked God’s blessing on us and thanked Him for His bounty and for bringing us all together again another year.
    We Southerners are accused of living in the past. What can we do? The past lives in us. And not just that single episode which those who accuse

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