A Deep East Texas Memory
Publication Year: 2011
Novelist Gerald Duff grew up both in Polk County, in Deep East Texas, and in Nederland, near the Gulf Coast, two drastically different areas in terms of social and economic status, and the way they interact. These communities shaped the way Duff thought and lived, causing him to build up certain false personae to fit in with the crowd. These changes and more are described within the pages of Duff’s new memoir, Home Truths: A Deep East Texas Memory.
From dealing with intrusive family members to judgmental classmates to marital bliss and misery, Duff’s memoir describes situations familiar to anyone who has ever lived in a small town. Experiences unfamiliar to the youths of today include growing up during World War II and the descriptions of propaganda tactics, hunting for your own meals, and dealing with the social mores of the 1950s and 1960s. Other occurrences however, such as working a summer job and the awkwardness of first dates, speak to people of every generation, young and old.
Early in life Duff learned to tell lies as a survival mechanism against his meddling family and occasionally cruel classmates. He describes the ordeal of hiding both his domestic situation and his talent for the written word. Duff’s talents for lies and half-truths helped him not only to discover a hidden talent within himself, but also a future career.
Published by: TCU Press
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A home truth is a key fact, one uncomfortable to acknowledge, and the account I offer in this book of memory represents my attempt to state home truths, to face them, and to reveal as much about them as I am able. Put another way, what I attempt is to declare the impoverishment of truth and to claim the nourishment of lies. ...
Chapter 1: What You're Named Is What You Are
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The first memory I can recall is my being lifted over a wire fence by my father while my mother watches, and being placed down on a surface covered with snow. That was in Texas, but I didn't know it at the time. I must have been well over a year old because I can remember standing in the snow and looking up at my parents on the other side of the fence, ...
Chapter 2: God's Hospital
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I was born in Hotel Dieu in Beaumont, Texas, in September of 1938. Whenever I was told that fact as I grew up, the person pronouncing the word always made dieu rhyme with boo. I don't think anybody in my family realized the words were French and one of them meant God. ...
Chapter 3: The War in Texas
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I was afraid a good bit of the time in my childhood, as I remember, but that didn't worry me. It was usual. The war with the Japs was there, and I came to consciousness of myself and the place where I found myself located with the war as a steady presence and as expected and inevitable as the winter rain on the Texas Gulf Coast. ...
Chapter 4: The Cat and Dog Picture Shows
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While we were living in Nederland before I started school, my father worked days at the Sun Oil Company, which would eventually fire him for getting too old for manual labor. Once or twice a month my mother used to take me with her to Beaumont on the bus for shopping, or going to the doctor, ...
Chapter 5: The Calves of Dolly Robert's Legs
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It was midmorning, and I was lying across Dolly Roberts's bed, trying to understand why I was enjoying so much looking at the calves of Dolly's legs as she lolled on her stomach reading a magazine. Dolly was probably about nineteen or so, married to a young man named J.D. Roberts, who worked at the Sunl Oil Company with my father, ...
Chapter 6: The Brass Knucks in Mama's Dresser
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Along about that same time when we were living in the house on Detroit Street in Nederland, I was awakened late one night by the sound of a grown man crying. The sounds weren't soft, and they weren't expressions from someone who'd only had his feelings hurt. The sobs were loud, they were full of pain, and they had blood in them. ...
Chapter 7: What Reading Smelled Like
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I was sitting in the porch swing, making it move from side to side, since I couldn't reach the floor yet with my feet. I had just learned from my mother that since my birthday came a week after Nederland Elementary School was scheduled to start, I had to wait another whole year before I'd be able to begin the first grade ...
Chapter 8: The Fall from Grace
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It happened early in my fourth grade, just before Halloween, because I remember having in my hand a sheaf of construction paper cut into the silhouettes of black cats and witches on broomsticks as I arrived home that afternoon from school. My father and mother were standing on the front porch of the house ...
Chapter 9: A Talent for the Lie
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When we came back to school after the holiday for Christmas, Miss Amerine had each of us stand up in front of the room and tell our classmates what Santa Claus had brought us on the birthday of Jesus. Here I saw my chance to reestablish my rightful position as first and foremost, and I did. ...
Chapter 10: The Water We Had to Drink
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Soon after Willie Duff received his court settlement from the Sun Oil Company, he moved us out of his sister's renthouse into the Country, fifteen miles from Livingston, and us with no car. There was no family automobile tllltil I bought a 1952 Dodge sedan for $300 when I was a freshman at Lamar State College of Technology. ...
Chapter 11: Washed in the Blood
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At least, my mother and my sisters and I began going to church, never my father, who at that point in his life still had a bellyful of what he had been raised doing as a son and a grandson of Baptist preachers. His father Amos and his grandfather James had both been famous as backwoods Baptist ministers, ...
Chapter 12: What We Hunted
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My father bought me a .410 Stevens shotgun, bolt-action, when I was twelve years old. It was the only gun in the house. It held one shell in the chamber and four in reserve, but we never put more than one in at a time. More than that, and you'd want to shoot up all your shells like a spendthrift. ...
Chapter 13: Take, Eat, This Is My Body
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My first meal in the school cafeteria in Livingston, after we had moved there from the Gulf Coast, introduced me to another truth involving what I ate and how I ate it. I learned something new about the power and significance of food that midday as I stared into my plate among the other low school students ...
Chapter 14: Kissing Linda Smith and Loving Jannis Jones
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The first real attraction I felt toward a particular girl, apart from that session lying on Dolly Roberts's bed as she babysat me at age five when the strange fascination with her legs seized me, was in the fourth grade in Livingston when I came to believe that Linda Lee Smith should be mine. ...
Chapter 15: Leaving for Marshall Hall
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In the summer of 1954 at age fifteen, I got on a Trailways bus at the station in Livingston, headed for Washington, DC, and accompanied by a brown tin suitcase containing all my clothes and a set of sheets. My mother's brother, Uncle Roderick Irwin, aka Hooky, had the food concessions at Marshall Hall Amusement Park on the Potomac, ...
Chapter 16: Who Is a Cajun and Who Is a Negro?
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My uncle and his wife Augustina (Teeny for short) lived in Rayne, Louisiana, her home during the seven months of the year they weren't at Marshall Hall, and Hooky Irwin figured out early on that the way to pay low wages and avoid union problems in Maryland was to hire Cajuns from Southwest Louisiana to work in the restaurant, ...
Chapter 17: Wanting Some Tongue, Too
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Being at Marshall Hall the summers of 1954 to 1957 allowed me to do what I couldn't do back home in Texas: go out with girls. At home I had no access to a car---except if I rode along with friends who did. Invitations for that seldom came. I always did all my homework and made As in all my courses, teachers liked me, ...
Chapter 18: Burning the Sofa My Sister Slept On
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At the end of each summer spent at Marshall Hall, I came back home to Texas, resumed my role in the family, went back to school, and in all visible respects was not changed a hair in behavior or character. I was still what I was, and I knew where I properly and duly ranked in the social scheme of my life inside and outside of the high school. ...
Chapter 19: Arriving Late at Nederland High
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We moved into an apartment above a Gulf Oil filling station on Twin City Highway, complete with plumbing and a bathroom with a tub and commode, and the family of Big Willie Duff had access for the first time to indoor conveniences. I have a snapshot from that time of me and my mother sitting on the outside stairway which mounted to our apartment. ...
Chapter 20: The Way Louisiana Girls Smelled
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My best friend in my single year at Nederland High School was Wayland Austin, who dyed his blonde hair black to be different, and who became a favorite of my mother because of his manners and chann. Once when he had come by to pick me up in his '50 Ford, she asked me why I also insisted in going places with Pete Hardy, ...
Chapter 21: Margaret, I Could Have Been a Good Abe Lincoln for You
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Somewhere along in the middle of the school year, try-outs were announced for would-be actors in the senior class play. Something compelled me to give it a shot, probably my uncertain sense of who I was, wanted to be, or would be, and I showed up at the appointed time. I got a part, a small one certainly, but it had a couple of speaking lines. ...
Chapter 22: Multiple Choice Questions
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The possibility of having a free ride at A&M had been communicated to me several months before graduation day by the school counsellor, Mr. Rodney Branch, known popularly as Mr. Rod, a label he demanded that we students use when we spoke of him. When he called me in out of homeroom one morning in early spring, ...
Chapter 23: A Need for Relief
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Lamar's mascot was a bird, the cardinal, and the college was called, by the young of the Golden Triangle doomed to attend it, Tweety Bird High and Peeker Tech, and any other names we could come up with to demonstrate our understanding of our situation and where we truly were. We knew we had to do that before anyone else explained it to us. ...
Chapter 24: A Change of Major
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The breaking point in my academic career as a student in the college of engineering at Lamar State College of Technology came in the first semester of my junior year. I had passed enough math, physics, chemistry, and introductory engineering courses to be required to take my first serious class in electrical engineering, ...
Chapter 25: Licking Down My Lunch in Fayetteville
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When I arrived at Fayetteville in at age twenty-two with my new wife and some sticks of furniture and a few boxes, for the first time in my life I wasn't living with my parents. I had commuted to Lamar from Nederland, and I had worked at a series of jobs to finance my attempts at achieving a collegiate experience, ...
Chapter 26: A Foreign Student in Illinois
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When I pulled into Champaign-Urbana, the arrival was sudden. The month was August, and the corn in the fields was as high as an elephant's eye, as the Broadway song proclaims, so that the city with the huge tllliversity at its heart rose up abruptly in the midst of a sea of green stalks, brown tassels, and ears full of kernels as we entered town. ...
Chapter 27: Not the Thing, But the Thing about the Thing
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Three things new to my experience dominated my four years of graduate study at the University of Illinois. One was the physical cold of the winters, another was the growing mental illness of my wife, and the last was the way Illinois graduate study taught me to look at literature. All finally fell together into a heap. ...
Chapter 28: Fugitive at Vanderbilt
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We got there all right, moved into the home of a professor of philosophy on sabbatical for a year, and I left each morning dressed in a coat and tie, carrying a briefcase full of student papers and textbooks, to perform the duties of a new assistant professor at Vanderbilt University. ...
Chapter 29: A Fortunate Fall
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My first wife got what she wanted, the ability to seek a new and better life, as she has been able to continue doing in her next six marriages scattered over forty years, and I got what I wanted in reference to that first union. The cost was great. My children and I were apart, save for frequent visits and summer stays with me, ...
Chapter 30: As Kool-Aid Is from Gin
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We bought a house in Memphis in central gardens, the venue of many of Peter Taylor's best stories, and we moved to the Bluff City for me to begin my job as chief academic officer (dean to ordinary folks) at Southwestern at Memphis. All the way to Memphis, as we drove in two cars—my wife and I in the lead one and the children in the other, ...
Chapter 31: Women Writing about Women Writing about Women
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I took the job of chief academic officer at a women's college in Baltimore, fallen on evil days after a century of educating young ladies from up and down the east coast, and now about to become coeducationaL It had to make that change to stay alive. So few young women would choose an all-female college by the 1980s ...
Chapter 32: Cousin Joseph Winston Tells the Truth
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If the writing of fiction is the "conscious creation of a continuous dream," as the novelist John Gardner once said, the dreams we have in actual sleep are a subset of lies, the way the unconscious mind works to make it possible for us to keep living with ourselves. Or so psychologists tell us with certitude, their assurance a lie in itself. …
Chapter 33: From Honey Island to Menard Chapel
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At this point in my life, having just retired from the academic wars after ten years employment in an Illinois college, the truth of what Tolstoy once memorably said has powerfully kicked into my day-to-day existence. "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," he said, ...
About the Author
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In addition to writing fiction, poetry, and scholarly works, Gerald Duff has taught literature and writing at Vanderbilt University, Kenyon College, Rhodes College, and Johns Hopkins University. He has published eleven books, including Indian Giver and Fire Ants, which were finalists for both the Great Lakes Colleges Association First Novel Award ...
Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2011