Stories from my little corner of the world, the South. Some are from the present, some from the past...but all are from my heart.

They reflect my thoughts and views, my musing about the world, and each carries with it a bit of my heart
and soul.

Friday, March 25, 2011

How I Came to Own Wash Cason's Puppy

In the last ten years or so, as I've grown older, I've started to think about my life and how unusual some of my childhood and teenage years were simply because of where I grew up. 

It's then that I think to myself: Self, you really need to write this stuff down. Or at least make a list of things to write about later before you forget something. Because some of these stories are just too good, and they don't even have to made up!

This is such a little story, a story about where I grew up and some of the people that were part of my life way back then. 

I suppose, to fully appreciate this story, you need to understand a bit about the place I grew up.  It's a mere dot on a map these days, and on some maps it's not a dot anymore. It seems with Google and other such technological wonders, there no need to document a place's existence when it isn't really a town anymore.

For me this is all the more reason to write about it. That place and those people who lived there deserve to be remembered. Their lives mattered. They mattered a lot to me, and to this day, when I go to Council by myself, and it's still and quiet, I can almost swear I hear their voices in the wind.

Nobody lives there anymore, but back forty or so years ago it was a small turpentine village called Council, Ga. This place was my world for the first eighteen years of my life, and as with most other youngsters growing up, I believed that my environment was not that much different than anyone else's. 

Well, maybe that's not true so much these days with the way the world is all wired together with the Internet and cable television.  But way back in the sixties and seventies in rural South Georgia it was entirely believable. Back then we only had black and white TV and on it we got two channels...that was it!

I came to realize, once I started high school, that my life growing up was different in a lot of ways from other people. In high school someone would ask where I lived and when I told them, if they knew where it was, they would say: "Good God, how can you stand to be so far out in the boondocks!"  

I didn't understand their dismay, for Council and all its residents, were my little world and it was always enough for me. It was the place where I grew up learning to love the outdoors, and I had the pine forests as my playground. I had a tree house, got to ride my Daddy's work horse, got to ride on the back of his pick-up truck in the woods and walk in the sandy, tea-colored ditches while looking for arrowheads. And the people who lived in Council, they were like extensions of my own family, and I always felt safe and loved there. 

Why would I want to live anywhere else? It was unfathomable to me.

For a long time, until I was about fifteen, we were the only Caucasians that lived there~my parents, my little brother, and I.

The other inhabitants were all African Americans, a mix of families, and a few bachelors, all whom had at least one family member who worked in the surrounding pine forest "dipping gum." The part about someone from each family working gum was important, for if you didn't work, you couldn't live in one of the shanties.

Never mind that these shanties were shacks, most without glass window, just had old-style wooden shutters, or never mind that none of the shanties had running water (which meant no indoor bathrooms). It was the principle of the matter as far as the company was concerned. It was company housing for company workers.

There were no freeloaders, plain and simple. If you weren't making the company money, you had no reason to live in Council.

Anyways, suffice it to say, growing up in Council, as close to the Florida line as you could live without being a Floridian and on the very edges of the Okefenokee and Pinhook Swamps had a tremendous effect on me. It shaped who I am today and how I see the world. And, as you might guess, it gave me a LOT to write about. 

Hence this little tale of old Wash Cason and how I came to own his "puppy."

Mr. Cason was one of several African-American men who lived with their families in one of those shanties and worked long, hard days in the surrounding forests collecting turpentine. As best I can remember, Wash and his wife, Miss Lillie, were raising their three young grandchildren. 

He, like the other men, rose at daybreak, ate a meager breakfast, and then headed out in one of the mule wagons into the woods to begin work. Dipping gum was probably one of the hardest jobs a man in the South could have, outside of picking tobacco or cotton or working the in the logging woods. 

Days started before daylight, the men harnessing up the team of four large mules to pull the wagon. It ended late afternoon, but never before spending eight or more long hours in the hot, boiling sun in the summer or the frigid, blowing winds of winter.

Wash and the other men went out every day, Monday through Friday, and spent the weekends at home tending their gardens or in the woods fishing or maybe setting up a trap or two to catch a rabbit or quail to supplement their meager groceries bought at the company commissary.

 But these men knew how to have a little fun, and on Saturday nights, I would often sit out on our screened front porch in the swing and listen to the unbridled revelry going on down in the "quarters." 

Some of my best memories are of the songs I used to hear floating over the evening air to our house, old rhythm and blues songs and soul ballads. Those days introduced me to what I consider the best of American music, and I feel fortunate to have been a pupil. 

Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Albert King, B.B. King, Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker...they were all part of my blues musical education on Saturday nights.

Then there were the soul-pop artists whose silky voices caressed the evening: Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Brooks Benton, Etta James Smoky Robins and the Miracles, and Jackie Wilson often serenaded me. I longed, as I grew older, to own some of this sweet music that spoke to my heart.  Later, as I got old enough to work at the summer job, I bought 45s, and then albums to whet my appetite.

 But my favorite music was the rhythm and blues singers that rocked some of those old shanties on Saturday nights. It would vary from one house to another on any given weekend, but there would always be one particular house where the men and women would congregate to drink cheap liquor or homemade wine or moonshine and dance or play cards.

When I'd hear them crank up Sam and Dave's, Soul Man or 
 Hold On, I'm Coming, or anything by Aretha Franklin and James Brown, I'd know the party was on!

So many nights I've sat there, listening to the mix of music and laughter floating on the evening breezes and wondered exactly what it would be like to be there, hidden in a corner, and see the action taking place.

What I didn't know, but learned later, was that at one of the get-togethers, old Wash, after a few hits of 'shine had taken to the notion that somebody was cheating in the card game he and several other men were playing. He and another man exchanged heated words, with the crowd taking sides, and egging them on. It reached a crescendo when Wash stood up and pulled a pistol out of his pants pocket. 

Screams filled the night air then, and alarmed by what I was hearing, I jumped up to go inside and tell Daddy. I had no idea what had taken place, except that the music I loved was suddenly silent, and in its place were raised, angry voices and screams from some of the women.

Daddy, who was watching television, got up and went outside to listen. After a couple of minutes he muttered under his breath about them "aggravatin' niggers" and how he'd have to go down to see what was going on. He was frustrated that his peaceful Saturday night was interrupted.

 I asked could I go and was told: NO! 

I was disappointed; I so wanted to see what went on down there in the quarters on a Saturday night. This would be my first, and maybe only chance. 

I was never banned from going in the quarters during the day, and often rode my bike down the sandy roads to deliver telephone messages from relatives to those who lived in the quarters as we had the only telephone in Council at the time. But to go down there after dark, that was unthinkable. 

It was an alien world to me after darkness fell, as alien as the dark side of the moon.

Daddy went inside and before he came back out one of the men from the quarters, Edgar, came loping up the house.  I was still on the porch and went outside to meet him as he came to the gate.

"Miss Rose, please go tell Mr. J.T. to come down to Wash's house quick, there's trouble brewin'. "

Of course I was dying to know what it was! "He just went inside Edgar, I told him I heard arguing and screams, and he said he was gonna have to go down there to check it out. What happened?"

Edgar dropped his head and mumbled, "Aw, you don' need to know 'bout that trashy stuff, miss. Jes' tell your daddy to come quick." He turned and trotted off into the darkness.

By the time I got back up to the steps, Daddy came out with his deputy game warden shirt and badge on and his holster and pistol on his hip. I was alarmed at the sight of the gun.

 "Daddy! What's going on, why do you need your gun?" 

"Well, I don't need it except to keep them folks in line. Mostly this just makes them settle down and straighten up. Now go on inside and I'll be back in a few minutes."  He strode out to his company pick-up and headed off into the darkness down the dirt road.

Daddy was "deputized" by the Georgia Fish and Game Commission and even went up to take some schooling around Macon so he could assist the local game warden with poachers. He was their eyes and ears way out there in Council on the edge of the Swamp and saved them from having to do a lot of patrolling of the thirty thousand acres he oversaw as a forester for the Langdale Company. He did it willingly, without any extra pay, seeing it as part of his job responsibilities. 

To the residents of the quarters in Council, Daddy was The Law. His shirt, badge, and gun made him the official who could come to your house and tell you to straighten up and behave. 

 He wasn't their boss man, the turpentine farming of the forest by that time had been contracted out to a third party, but to those folks he was The Man. The badge and gun made it so, in their eyes.

To them he earned their respect because he lived there with his family in Council, where no other whites lived. He was the one they came to with arguments, and he and Momma were who they looked to for help or advice. 

My momma was the one who helped the women shop for their children for Christmas. She'd take a list and the money given her and go to Valdosta to shop for little brown baby dolls and cars and trucks. If they didn't have enough money to get what was on the list, she'd pitch in money of her own.

She cooked far more food than the four of us could ever eat, and often sent me into the quarters with plates of leftover food.  

We were, night and day, a part of their lives as much as they are a part of ours. 

What actually happened that night, when Daddy got down to Wash's house, I didn't learn about until nearly six years later. I heard snippets of it in conversations between Momma and Daddy later on, but they always hushed up when they realized I was listening. 

 I supposed I was being sheltered by them, sheltered from the hard life the residents of the quarters lived, sheltered from what happens when a person has too little money, too much disappointment, and too much moonshine. 

Years later, when I turned eighteen and was getting ready to go off to college at ABAC in Tifton, I finally learned what happened that Saturday night. 

My granddaddy Jim, my paternal grandfather, had come out to eat supper with us. Afterwards, while I was cleaning up the kitchen, he came to the doorway and asked me to come outside when I finished; he needed to talk to me.

Granddaddy smoked, but would never smoked inside our house as neither Momma or Daddy smoked. I finished the dishes and went outside to find him leaning up against his battered Ford Fairlane. 

Cigarette smoke hovered about his head and the cancer that would kill him just two years later was probably already growing inside his lungs. 

I walked over and leaned against the car beside him. In his slow southern drawl he said, as he exhaled, "I got something to give ya, sugar, something I think you need to have since you'll be going away soon to college. You'll be on the road by yourself a lot and, well, it's a mean world out there anymore, so I think you need this."

He reached in his overall pocket and pulled out a petite 22-caliber pistol. It was small and light when I took it in my hand, I held it gingerly. I looked back at him, smiling, a little confused.

"Granddaddy, I can't take this to school with me, I don't think they'd like me having a pistol there." 

"Well, dang it, I didn't mean fer you to take it in the school, you can keep it in your car. That's where you'll need it if you break down on the side of that dang interstate!"  

To Granddaddy, I-75 was the beginning of the end of the world. Nobody, nowhere had the need to drive that fast!

He had furrowed his brow and I was afraid I had offended him and his gift, so I hugged him and said thank you.

 "I already talked to your daddy about it, and he talked to your momma, and they both said it's okay. Your daddy's gonna show you how to shoot it and get you some bullets for it." 

There was an awkward silence as I tried to think of what to say. Even though I had grown up around guns, I didn't care much for them, and I didn't care at all about hunting. My daddy had shown me how to use one of his pistols and I'd done target practice before. But never had thought of owning my own gun crossed my mind. 

The stark difference between me and my brother, who owned a BB gun by the time he was seven, was huge. He was bringing home robins for Momma to cook robin and rice by the time he was eight.

Being a bird lover, I could never bring myself to eat any of it.

Until that moment, I'd never known the fear that makes a person want to own a weapon. For me, growing up in Council had absolutely no connection with being afraid of being harmed by another person.

Granddaddy’s voice came out low and soft, "I just want to make sure you're safe, girl, you gonna be a long way from home and we're gonna be worried about you."

 My heart constricted with emotions and I felt tears at my eyes. I loved this man so much; he had always treated me like I was a princess. He had taken me with him so many times fishing, had given me my first knife and showed me how to hold it to whittle, he's let me taste coffee when I was only three, sitting on his knee and supping it from his saucer. 

I realized he was trying to protect me as I ventured out of the safe surroundings of Council and into the great big world and what dark meanness might lay beyond it's boundaries.

I hugged him again, harder this time, and kissed his stubbled cheek.

 "Thank you, Granddaddy, I appreciate it so much! I’ll put in my glove compartment."

 And that was the truth, I did. I appreciated the thought that was behind it more than the pistol itself, but that didn't matter as long as I made him know that I loved him for worrying about my safety and me.

Later, in talking with Daddy, I found out that this gun was confiscated that night six years before when he had to go down to Wash Cason's house. I was old enough now to hear the story so he told me.  

What could have been a bad situation turned out all right. By the time he'd gotten down to the house, things had settled down considerably. 

The poker game had gone sour, not from anyone cheating, but mostly from too much sour mash being drunk and people forgetting who had played what card. 

By the time Wash had pulled his gun out of his pocket and waved it at Earl, causing the commotion and screaming, Miss Lilly had taken matters into her own hands. She'd come out from the front porch where her and a few of the ladies were sitting and taken the gun away. She reprimanded her husband for having the gun in his pocket and told everyone the night was over. 

 When Daddy got there people were heading home, but stopped to see what "Mr. J.T." would do about it. Miss Lilly told Daddy what happened and he said he thought it would be best if he took the gun before somebody got hurt. 

She agreed, over Wash's feeble protests, and Daddy ended up with the pistol. I remembered, as he told me this, about several times in the following years when Wash would come up the fence and call me or Jamie to come out.

 I'd go out to see what he wanted and he'd ask me to have Daddy come out so he could talk to him. What I never knew until then was that he was asking if he could have his gun back, to which Daddy always said no.

Later Momma told me that they learned Wash was having an affair with a wife of another man there at Council about the same time, and both she and Daddy figured a gun was the last thing he needed to have in his possession. I always wondered who they were worried about using that little pistol if he ever got it back. 

Maybe they thought Wash would, but in my opinion, Miss Lilly would have used that thing on him if she ever found out he was cheating on her. I guess all that matters is that the gun was removed from what could have been a heated situation at the time, or later in the future.

Daddy ended up giving it to Granddaddy who took a shine to it the first time it was shown to him. Daddy had no use for the gun as he had a 38 revolver and several rifles. 

So, in the end, that's how I ended up with Wash Cason's puppy, and I still have it to this very day. I've never used it against anybody, and can't imagine ever having to, but I do still take it out in the woods now and then to do some target practice.

I've always wondered though, how peculiar my life was, that as a graduation gift from my grandfather, I got a pistol for protection. 

Some girls get a pearl necklace, some get diamond stud earrings, some get a new car, but me...Rose from Council, Ga....I get a 22 Puppy Pistol! 
I'm telling you, you might be able to make this kind of stuff up, but I don't HAVE to, I've got plenty of them like this :)

Rose Steedley Williams

* As a note~ Sorry if anyone is offended by the use of the N word as I struggled whether to include it or not. I decided I needed to be truthful to the situation and the times, and it was said, so I'm not going to be politcally correct, just truthful as a writer. No disrespect is intended on my part.


  1. I so want to see that gun, Rose!!!!!

  2. Rose I always love your writings.They have a way of taking you to a different place an time.thank-you for the reading pleasure. DEB.c

  3. Rose, Love all your stories. The Christmas Tree one is my favorite so far............James Grasso

    1. Thanks James, I have just now saw your comment, don't know how I missed it from last year. I appreciate your reading on my blog :)