Front St. Arts


Hunt for Steel

Center City


Socratic Men

Wild Heart



At the Pond

Celia's Parade


Marsha Taylor

Put Up





The 1960s

Just Briefs


Black Sunday

The Big One

Clark Field

The One

Memphis Woes

A Miracle Maker

Last Standing

John Ealey

Just a Girl

Mary's Katrina

Al Cicada

Exalting Towers


The Rake

Hog Killin'

Sunday Call

Tough Birds

Run of Hollow


Horned Owl


Robbing Bees

Hay Hauling

We Got Married

The Shed

Dad Dive

Final Mission

Like About Bob

Exuberant Birds

Kickin' Cousins

Star Shadows



Man of Earth

With Neighbors




River Plunge

Not Winning


Keep It Moving



Trigger Sapping

Get Her Done!

Optimist Wager

Not for Sale

Elder Anarchy



Illustration by Jerry Murley


by Jerry Murley


Sell! That's what he's always done. Once he had a little country store; he claims that's when his health began to fail; he'd got some experience working for a big buyer firm in Memphis. This was at the beginning of the Depression. Dad had bought the farm before that but he never did work it; my brother and I did all that. Brother was at the farm most of the time during the '30s; he had a guitar, drums, and a herd of girls who came to all of his parties. On the weekends he went down early and spruced up the little lodge with the fireplace and all of his hundreds of categorized records, and the adjoining bedroom, for the three days' festivities. When war broke out, after we all moved back to Memphis, Brother had the farm all to himself, 'cause Dad was trying to keep him there, in Ripley, to keep him away from the draft.

No, Dad never farmed, he was always moving about – scheming deals. I hardly ever got to play with my friends: every weekend he packed the three of us off to Ripley, or to Oklahoma. When we moved to the farm during the Depression, we had some sharecroppers live on our land – they were cousins, a real large family. Well, then he went into insurance, taking chickens, pigs, or anything else he knew he could trade for the premiums. He would take them to the order store for things we needed – it was a barter system like. After that, Brother, Dad and I began to build houses, but we had to bring up lumber from some friends in Mississippi, because during the war there were certain priority restrictions on large lumber dealers and without wood you can't build houses. But b'iness sort of halted, or just slowed, while Brother did a spell in the Air Force. In those days Uncle Manuel was livin' in Memphis and he had the prettiest daughters I thought I'd ever see. When we came into town we took them vegetables and they would just giggle with joy, and they gave us store-bought bacon. Um-m! Um-m! That store-bought bacon sure was de-e-licious. I liked those girls, but they became too high-class for farm boys, dating wrestlers and other types of city hot-shots girls sometimes fancy.

Well, as you well know, we stayed in Memphis, or at least lived here, after that – for a while anyway. Mother has been wanting a house of her own for over nine years now. Before her operation she used to get on her hands and knees and just work in the flower garden when they had that two-story house on the highway in Frayser – the one out by us. That was until Dad came and hauled her off to drive him to Houston for some building project surveillance. Dad envisioned a chance for us all to make a lot of money; so a year later my family and then Brother's followed him out there. But that all turned out a bust: there just wasn't much more to be made in rebuilt houses in new neighborhoods during urban renewal – at least not on our scale.

Now Ealey's back in Memphis, still selling and still moving. He has three closets full of clothes he bought from the Goodwill. He always has to have some deal for making a little money, even if it's nothing; he loves to sell things. I remember driving down the street one day and seeing him seated in a chair alongside a load of junk waiting at the bus stop over by the university. When he saw me he just had that big self-pleased grin of his propped on that long neck under his white Panama – he still has the handsome chin and pink cheek bones of a 24-year-old. He'll be 84 in a year. Funny, he's been dying since the first day I can remember, always complaining and taking all that medicine.

I think most of us would like to visit them more – if he would just stop talking about religion all the time. Somebody's got to say something to him about that. No, he would just think everyone was against him. During the war, the war was all Dad listened to on the radio; he was an authority on war news and that's all he talked about. Now he has religion and the latest revivals at Myrtle, Mississippi, and the Scriptures; heaven and hell are all he can talk about with feeling and authority – he thinks it's a pretty comprehensive subject. He keeps every dang thing he's ever stumbled upon. We throw it away every time they move, but by the time we leave at night he's milling about in a stealthy way around the rubbish heap.


I was working at Western State Hospital and they delayed my being drafted for six months. I gave tests for the admittance patients to decide which ward they were to go to. There was one man there about seven or eight years older than me who had hair down to here, a beard to here, and fingernails about three or four inches long, who had been locked up in a room with little light and no furniture for no telling how many years. They fed him from under the door – he could tear up a hardwood floor with his bare hands.

I felt in sympathy with the man; he had a guitar there, but I didn't know if he could play it. I took him, after we tied him in one of those jackets, and trimmed him up and let him walk around on the outside every day. Eventually we had someone bring him a suit – a little torn though; it was a long time before he would wear it, but he finally did and we took him once to Boliver. We talked about Christ and he just loved me. When I was drafted from Brownsville, near where Mother here lived, they had a big party on the lawn and the hospital band played – they were good, too. I sang and then gave a parting speech. This man, he came running up to me just a crying, and I patted him on the head. They were real surprised that he could change like that. He was good on that guitar.

This was in 1918, I knew Mother here, but we weren't married. I wrote her flattering letters from the war. She was just a young country girl then and she held me to every word. Brother Manley couldn't bear to see me leave. His wife had to say good-bye for him at first, but finally he came out just a bawling and I hugged him and told him how kind he had been to Mamma and Papa (see he had hernias, but he carried cross-ties on his back to help them out). They were afraid I was going to die and not come back, 'cause a cousin of mine had been shot already.

My ship was bombed on our way to England, and a lot of the boys panicked and screamed, but I prayed and knew God wouldn't snatch me away so early. I was fortunate to grab hold of some piece of the boat, and I helped save a few others. I still have the scar where a piece of the metal went into my side.

In England, they checked us out physically and divided us out according to experience. Everybody else was a farmer, so when I told them I had had hospital experience they put me in charge of a couple of wards in a hospital at Winchester. Oh! It was awful: those boys would cry for their mammas and daddies to be told they were dying, but I didn't know who they were or how to find them. I talked to them about Christ, and some of them felt a lot better, then sometime they would just stiffen up and die, and I'd lay them back and cover them with a sheet. This Asian flu hit the hospital and in one day fifty-two men died before me; I caught it and didn't know nothing for three days. Later, before I went to France, they gave me a leave and I went with some soldiers into town. They wanted to buy me (I was a sergeant) some clothes so that we could go out with some harlots. But I stopped on the street and told them I didn't want women: I was in love with Mother here and the Lord said not to do things like that unmarried. I told them about eternal damnation and the burning soldiers, children, mothers and fathers who had forsaken God. But when I finished, I looked around and it was like I'd been talking to myself 'cause they was all gone.

I was a sergeant, like I said, and was sent to the front once, right before the end of the war. Our train was bombed, the engine was blown completely up and we had nothing to eat for two days. No one could get supplies to us because, first, they didn't know, and the tracks was all torn up. My men were just crying and almost hysterical. My mouth got so parched that I walked looking for water and found a pond. But they all said that I'd better not drink it because the Germans had poisoned it; there was scum about an inch thick on top. But I prayed to the Lord that he'd not let me die so young and waved my hand like this over the water to push back the top; then real fast I dipped my metal cup down into the water and it was just as clear as spring water. I took one sip an hour, and then when nothing happened, I drank a whole cup full. My men were afraid to drink it; they were afraid they'd die; so they watched me to see what would happen. They got so thirsty, but were afraid. I told 'em: See, if you have faith, come with me and you'll have water. A few did; two of us would push away and dip. They were a lot better off than me: there was two to shave away more germs.

At the fighting there were rows of trenches and they told us to go to the middle and stay there until it was time to go forward. Well, some of my men got anxious; I told them not to go but they wanted to fight. They were bombed while they were running. I told them not to go and stay like me right up against the wall and protect themselves, and not to move until necessary – and fetching food was all that was necessary. They announced that the peace had been declared a couple of hours later. To think, those boys had survived that long and were killed for nothin', after peace was acknowledged.

I went to Luxemburg as part of the occupation force and stayed with a fine Christian family there. They didn't have food either, and there, again, I did without food for a couple of days. We prayed together in the home I stayed in, and finally I went to headquarters to beg for food for these people. Yeah, I could speak a little of all them languages. Mother can tell you – didn't I?

That war was chaotic. It was death and crying. But I made a good many friends and met the Lord often. I'm just glad he brought me home.

I come up in the country. My Uncle Jeff couldn't read a word, but he could play the fiddle for the people to dance. When he was saved he decided to preach and he could read the whole Bible and pronounce all those long words. His congregation loved him. My mother, oh, she was a good woman; she died in 1914 at fifty-seven, when I was eighteen. Papa Lev was a stern man; I saw a cousin jump a ten-rail fence once when my daddy was after him. I found a silver pencil once, and he found it and said, "Ealey, whose is this?" "Ma-ma-ma-mine," I said. "Where did you get it?" "I-I-I found it." "Well, it's someone else's; you'd better find out whose." I couldn't help but stutter around him. We lived up by Boliver. Mother's kinfolk died up north and left her some money, which my dad took and bought a 400-acre farm with – which he gave half of to his brother. Oh, Mamma was a religious woman; when she died she and my aunt were just a wailing, and my aunt asked her to tell her little dead boy that she'd be to see him soon. My mamma's last words were: "I hope Ealey finds a good Christian woman." And then she raised up, stopped, gasped once and lied back, folding her arms over to the other shoulder.

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