Slide Show - Images (mostly) from The Illustrated History of Painting


Friday, March 22, 2013

Life and Time Will Pass

Four years after this picture was taken he was born. At eleven he was just short of a man, in what was left of the culture that whelped him. When I was a boy of twelve he was already an old man. Although he never spoke of the darker times (unless he was in the bottom of a rare bottle) one could see the shadow of it in the back of his eyes. Considering where his people's settlements had once been (on fur-trade routes and atop the best regional bottom-land) one can imagine their territory  being taken off them before some others were robbed. Given the circumstances, one can assume he became a man while on the move … catch as catch can.

He came away with nothing but his woodsman skills - trapping, hunting, fishing and their attendant tricks – because of those abilities his children got strong bones and teeth by way of animal protein and extra victuals from the fur-money brought in.

Ranging about the remnant-wilds of the Missouri River bayous, his daily life was relatively free. But it must have been galling, when coming and going from the home-place, to see his close kin reduced to raggedy chattel.There  he was forced to watch his family slave alongside other sharecropping serfs, on company land that may well have once been his own.

Back in the near past - a past that preceded his own family's farm-indenture - when the small game was exhausted in sheltering hills, what was left of his fugitive band wandered down (rather than starve) onto the settled flats. Thereafter they were taken up by big cotton growers and sifted into an undifferentiated sea of likewise landless wage-slaves.

Later on, one by one, his children wandered off - his bloodline scattered and diluted out in California… a place where folk migrated, for work in the war economy. Now there's no land, no band, no family and little, if any, living memory of him. 

I spent most summers with him when I was a kid. And now, as a man, I keep his memory tucked in a small lock-box inside of me. When I die - which can't be too soon - all of his life and time will pass with me. 

I sometimes wish there was an afterlife, for one or two good reasons - the one I'm willing to tell has him on a distant oak-crowned knoll...tall and rangy with a squirrel rifle as comfortable on his shoulder as a third arm. With his other arm he's wind-milling me toward him.  Shouting "Boy … C'mon”. “No-account, what's keepin' you." Before he disappears down, down into a shadowy draw.

I never could - in so many ways - catch up to that wiry old man. I reckon now I never will.

Note: I was talking to someone the other day about this post. They'd reasonably assumed that the accompanying picture was a family photo. While the photo's date, geographical location, and other specific affiliations and associations are factually consistent with the text, this is not a family photo. There are no family photos - until after the children's west coast migration.  There was only oral tradition - gotten in fits and starts. And precious little of that.