The Saturday Evening Post published a story by Mississippi’s own William Faulkner titled
“Race at Morning.” The entry to the Post’s editors broke a long, dry spell of writer’s block for the Nobel-Prize winner. The little-known short story, published in 1955, is set at a Mississippi deer camp and references a “boy” who had tempted Faulkner to look for a stag with a "rocking chair" set of antlers that moved in a "canebraken" bayou:
“It was jest dust-dark when I seen him, about half a quarter up the river, swimming, jest his head above the water. But I could see that rocking chair he toted on it and I knowed it was him, going right back to that canebrake in the fork of the bayou where he lived all year until the day before the season opened, like the game wardens had give him a calendar, when he would clear out and disappear, nobody knowed where, until the day after the season closed.”
And for every tale there is a back-story that is mostly true. My father’s double-cousin, Julia Smith, was recently widowed by her devoted husband, a Mr. Pim Smith of Mississippi and Louisiana.
Pim’s hard road began at an early age when his father hauled him from a boxcar and ambled upon a small farm in our great State. The father and son had left Appalachia where no jobs could be found which meant there was little-to-no food on the table. The boy was eventually left at the farm because his daddy couldn’t feed the both of them and the farmer--Pim’s newly selected patriarch--ran a deer camp near a bayou. The man was near deaf and blind so, Pim was in charge of just about all “scut-work” at the tender age of eleven. He would work hard into the night doing any and all simple tasks just to keep his britches mended and hot food on his plate.
The great William Faulkner typically hunted at that deer camp and Pim would wait on him hand-and-foot as he did for the other hunters (Faulkner was said to have strapped his own horse down to the bed of his pickup truck whenever he traveled to hunt). It was Pim, the “boy” in Faulkner’s story, that alerted the writer to the heavily-spiked deer which was certainly a prize for any Mississippi hunter at dawn.
The Saturday Evening Post paid Mr. Faulkner a whopping $2,000 for the story set in
Yoknapatawpha County. Pim just got another meal at the farmer’s table as his part of the
A few years ago, my father had taken Pim and Julia to see Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s old home in Oxford. My dad had a special connection with William Faulkner who--while Dad was a part-time butcher at Kroger--would ask for a slender slice of raw calf’s liver on a cracker for a mid-day snack. My father happily obliged.
Rowan Oak was under renovation and debris lay about the premises. Out of the corner of my dad’s eye, he watched a much-older Pim pick up a Rowan Oak brick and shove it into his old coveralls. Pim didn’t mention the protruding brick on the way back to Dad’s home in Water Valley. Dad said nothing.
Pim Smith was one of the anonymous literary heroes who lived in a world of want and need. In these times of instant gratification many a youngster is festooned with everything they could want and desire but not everything they need. Pim the elder understood need but took his past in stride and held on to an ancient brick in his old, callused hands that certainly, in a moment of time long gone, reminded him of a prized piece of venison sporting a rocking chair on it’s head, swimming right above the surface of a Mississippi bayou.