Publication Year: 1996
Sharecropper's son, mill worker, and ex-convict--Ellis Burt surely knows adversity. For a brief and cherished time there was a woman, and then a child, too, who had been a kind of salvation to him. Then they were gone, leaving Ellis to carry on with the burden of what he had done to them, of the ruin he brought down upon them all.
In The Sweet Everlasting, Ellis is seventy-four. Moving back and forth over his life, he recalls his Depression-era boyhood, the black family who worked the neighboring farm, his time in prison, and the subsequent years adrift, working at jobs no one else would take and longing for another chance to rejoin what is left of his family. Ever in the background are the memories of his wife, Susan, and their boy, W.D.--how Ellis drew on her strength and his innocence to resist everything that threatened to harden him: the shame that others would have him feel, the poverty he had known, and the distorted honor and pride he had seen in others and that he knew was inside him, too.
Like the hero of William Kennedy's masterpiece, Ironweed, Ellis Burt is a man of uncommon personal dignity and strength, always moving toward, but never expecting, redemption.
Published by: University of Georgia Press
Title Page, Copyright
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Out of a six-year-and-two-month sentence to the state prison at Milledgeville, I served it all—August 1954 to October 1960. I was crazy a while, and then I wasn't, and then I was. That's how it went. One second I'd be a free man—with Susan beside me and the boy on my lap—and the next I'd be awake on my back ...
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Mr. Stillwell had eight families working his land, five white and three black. His land was broke up into two parts—one of them right there at his house, where we had our farm and where a black family by the name of Cutts had one, and then there was another big piece about four miles down the road, the other side ...
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My daddy had them little strokes before he died. One night he come in from the field and wasn't himself, come to the table with his shirt off—the same man that always liked to wash up good before supper and might even put on a clean shirt if he had one. That evening when he sat down, he just started to eat right off, ...
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Where I live now is in Monroe, a little town about two hours north of Red Oak. I been here for about two years. I started out mostly doing yard work for folks—cutting grass and hedges and raking leaves and cleaning off roofs, but my balance is pretty well shot, and I don't trust myself up on a roof. ...
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I remember one day when I was playing with W.D., when I started teasing him and I let it get out of hand. He was about three years old then. We'd been rolling a ball across the floor, back and forth, and then one time I slipped it up under my shirt and played like it was lost. He started looking for it, ...
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All her life, Susan's Aunt Lenora had told her not to trust nobody, especially people that wanted to help her, and especially men. That's how come she acted the way she did when I pulled the Waycross boys off her. And she wasn't but nineteen at the time. Her aunt had been dead for two years then, ...
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After I'd served about half my time at the state prison, they put me out working on a road crew cutting weeds along the shoulder of the highway. They'd give us each a slingblade and they'd put a guard with a shotgun out there, and we'd work from right after sunup to nearly sundown. Most of the time I'd been locked up ...
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I done told about Uncle Mack, my daddy's brother, and his sorry ways, but he was pretty much like his own daddy. Their mama, who I never knew—all my grandparents died before I was born—she went to a early grave from having too many children too fast. They say my granddaddy wouldn't hit a lick at a snake, ...
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Isaiah was Otis and Essie Mae Cutts's oldest boy. They had three boys and four girls, and all of them had Bible names. You had Isaiah and Ezra and Ezekiel, and you had Mary and Martha and Sarah and Ruth. Ezra was about the same age as me, but we didn't play together too much. Him and Ezekiel, and the girls too, ...
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The cotton mill owned all the houses in the mill village, and they rented them out to the workers. The houses was small and the yards too, and some of the yards didn't have no grass on them. When we first moved in, ours had a few patches of scraggly grass, but that just made the yard look worse than if it was completely bare. ...
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In prison I used to look up words that was only in the Bible one time. I was surprised to see that belief ain't in there but one time. You got faith all over the place, and hope too, but belief just that one time. Who would have thought that the word piss would be in the Bible more than the word belief? ...
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We ain't exactly what you'd call real close friends, me and Pete, but we do get along all right, which is a good thing, since it's a little house and I been living in it with him for about two years now. Pete, he likes to talk a right smart, but most of the time it don't bother me. It's more likely to be the other way around, ...
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They'd come into Ricksville and leave the mule and wagon in the woods south of town, where the swamp started and there wasn't many folks around, and they'd walk on into town. They'd walk in one at a time, putting about five minutes between them, so as not to draw attention. They got to be pretty good ...
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While W.D. was a baby, Susan stayed home with him, but after he was older she got restless. Even before then, she never was one to sit still—always scrubbing and washing and cleaning and mending. In a four-day span she scraped and painted the house. She had her flower bed, and back behind the house she put ...
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I'm a plain-looking man, and it's always surprised me that any woman would ever want to have anything to do with me, especially a woman with Susan's looks. What me and Susan had, there wasn't nothing else like it, and I always knew how lucky I was, and I wasn't about to do nothing to mess it up. ...
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Sometimes I eat in the dining room when I'm working at the nursing home, and that's one way I've met some of the folks. The first day I ate there, I sat with Jimmy Pooler, who ain't but about forty-five. He's paralyzed. They roll him up to the table and put him sideways to it, so his left arm's right at his plate. ...
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Uncle Mack said something was going to happen. He come to the house all excited and wouldn't sit down. He'd just left Hodges Store, where him and a group of men had been sitting around listening to Mr. Stillwell go on about what ought to be done to the boys that busted into his house. They never touched his daughter ...
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I've never been big on the sorts of things like you'll see in movies, where there's two people in love and the whole story is how there ain't nobody else in the world for either one of them. I don't think the world works that way, don't think it's even anywhere close. You find somebody to love like Susan and me did each other, ...
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I reckon Pete ain't seen either one of his children now for about two and a half years. They got their own families and jobs, and times are pretty hard for them. The daughter, she'll write him a letter or a postcard once a month or so, and they'll both of them call him every now and then, but not regular. ...
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That last summer there was a revival at our church, and they brought in this evangelist from over around Savannah somewhere, and all he wanted to preach on was race mixing and how the Bible said real clear it was wrong. He pulled out the old story of Noah and Ham and how God made the children of Ham ...
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Susan went in the bathroom and stayed in there so long I almost knocked on the door. It was dark when she come out. I'd already called W.D. in, but he'd begged me to let him keep on playing with his toy cars in the driveway till suppertime. The driveway was lit up by the porch light, and I said all right, ...
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I looked up hell, and I seen where in Luke, Jesus told the story of a man named Lazarus, who was a beggar that had gone to heaven, and how there was a rich man who died and went to hell, and how he looked up and seen Lazarus up in heaven with Abraham and he cried out for Abraham to send Lazarus down so he could ...
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After that, they started watching me, and it was harder. I got a piece of glass and cut myself deep on the side of my neck and into my wrists, but it didn't work. So then they tied me down, and all I could do was to beat my head against things. I knew if I hit my nosebone just right, it would go back up into my brain and kill me. ...
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There's a few things I learned from being locked up, and this is one of them, but one I only learned when I got out: you ain't free just because they let you go. And there ain't much of a story to tell about what happened after they turned me loose. I didn't move around a lot, only when the job run out, ...
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Nearly every time I go in her room, she'll be sitting up in her chair—not a wheelchair, but this easy chair next to her bed—and she'll wave me over and start saying she don't know how she's ever going to get everything ready for tomorrow. I've seen her do that to other folks too—everybody that comes in ...
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I got lost driving around, since they had messed up the roads, tore up the main highway, and run a stretch of the interstate across what used to be Mr. Stillwell's land. His big house ain't even there no more, and as best as I can figure, what sits there now is one of them roadside tourist shops where they sell peanuts ...
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My daddy used to say you can't love a thing, only a person. He didn't want me to say I loved Mama's chocolate pie, but only that I liked it. Didn't want me to say I loved how the honeysuckle smelled or that I'd love to be able to just lay in bed in the morning and not have to go out into the fields. ...
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Last night Pete and me drove down to the Dairy Queen in his old Chevy. It was about ten o'clock and the ball game on TV was already over, and he wanted to get him a milkshake, and so I went along with him and got me one too. The whole way there and back he talked about the ball game, played it all over again, ...
Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 1996