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Circling Back

Chronicle of a Texas River Valley

Joe C. Truett

Publication Year: 1996

 “There was so much space.” These words epitomize ecologist Joe Truett's boyhood memories of the Angelina River valley in East Texas. Years and miles later, back home for the funeral of his grandfather, Truett began a long meditation on the world Corbett Graham had known and he himself had glimpsed, a now-vanished world where wild hogs and countless other animals rustled through the leaves, cows ate pinewoods grass instead of corn, oaks and hickories and longleaf pines were untouched by the corporate ax, and the river flowed freely. Truett's meditation resulted in this clear-sighted portrait of a place over time, its layers revealed by his love and care and curiosity.Truett celebrates his family's heritage and the unspoiled natural world of the Piney Woods without nostalgia. He recreates an older, simpler, more worthy age, but he knows that we have lost touch with it because we wanted to: he laments the loss but understands it. What makes his prose so moving and so redeeming is this precise combination of honesty and sorrow, overlaid by a quiet passion for both the natural and the human worlds.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

There was so much space. Joe C. Truett writes of the lost world of the Angelina valley in East Texas. He was born there in the early forties, of people themselves born there, and its life and his own intertwined the way place and being used to for most humans. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Several who still live in the Angelina country deserve special mention. My mother, Versie, supported me with encouragement and information and corrected me when my memory failed. To her excellent recall goes the credit for reconstructing events and circumstances in the lives of Corbett, Fannie, and others before my time. ...

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1. The Angelina Country

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pp. 1-5

Tucson fell behind. The sun climbed higher in the sky, and the blue-green GMC ate steadily at the miles. By the time the sun had settled to the desert rim behind us, you could feel a hint of thickening green, of moister country. After dark we strained to watch for careless hill country deer that jumped across the headlight beam like rabbits. ...

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2. Clovis

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pp. 6-20

When I was younger, the possibilities for adventure and romance seemed endless. Hoeing weeds and chopping wood offered temporary inconvenience only; once I got the proper motions down, I could yield to daydreams and still complete the tasks to Daddy's satisfaction. ...

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3. Corn

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pp. 21-31

Nama Fannie seemed to know it was no use counting. She cut the corn two rows at a time. Holding an ear in her left hand, palm up, she used her right hand to pull a butcher knife with its cutting edge toward her from the far end of the ear to the near end. ...

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4. Hole-in-the-Rock

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pp. 32-39

June 1958 marked the beginning of my second high school vacation. Early one morning I fought the drowsy comfort of sleep and pulled myself from bed before daylight. By the first gray light I had eaten breakfast, called the feist dog, Squeeze, and left a dark trail in the dew across the pasture. ...

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5. Trade Winds

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pp. 40-49

My first venture into trade and commerce came in the early grades through an obsession with marbles. Nearly all the boys and a few of the girls dealt in marbles. The school yard served as the trading rendezvous. Here we brought our goods and made our transactions. ...

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6. A Beast in Hand

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pp. 50-57

Ghosts of long-dead tribes inhabited the woodlands of my younger years. Arrowheads and sometimes pieces of broken pottery marked old campsites. I envisioned the daily lives ofIndians as having been far less regimented and thus a great deal more exciting than mine. ...

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7. Off the End of a Gun

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pp. 58-63

My brother and I measured life's progress in the early years by the stages in our acquisition of hunting weapons. Sticks dominated in preschool times, and in addition to making spears and clubs we fashioned bats to whack at bumblebees that hovered about the yard in summer. ...

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8. Farewell, Angelina

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pp. 64-73

Before my brother and I started school, we lived for a while in a one-room cabin a hundred yards or so from Pa Graham's house. Because Daddy shipped out periodically with the ocean-going transport system called the merchant marines, it made sense for Mama and us kids to live next door to a family support system. ...

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9. Beef Trail

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pp. 74-81

I never thought of Pa Graham as a cowboy. He was too old, for one thing, and I couldn't imagine him wearing a wide-brimmed hat or spurs. Besides, cowboys inhabited prairies and mountains, not forests, and they rode their horses fast. I can't recall ever having seen Pa astride a horse. ...

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10. Frontier’s End

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pp. 82-88

Uncle Hardy was the brother of Pa's long-dead mother, Lavina. Years earlier, he had moved from Mississippi and settled down in the Angelina country near the Grahams' home in De Zavala. Eventually he had moved on farther west, "for his health." ...

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11. John Henry and the Iron Horse

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pp. 89-104

Abandoned roadbeds the grown-ups called trams stretched through the woodlands of my youth. We followed them like safety lines to help us venture into unknown places. On the flatter ground they made little dent upon the land, and you had to pay attention or you would lose them, ...

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12. Fannie

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pp. 105-118

Boose is my father's nickname. His name shows up as Richard on his driver's license and checkbooks, but I never heard anyone call him that. When my 4-H Club leader in grade school asked me his name and then kept pronouncing it "Booze," I felt obliged to correct him, for Daddy had given up alcohol when I was four. ...

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13. Mr. Ford’s Car

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pp. 119-130

If in 1920 Corbett could have looked ahead, he would have seen his daily life shaped more and more by men in other places. Those distant people brought control by temptation, not by force. They offered more convenient ways of doing work that had been done before by human sweat. ...

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14. Hard Times and Little Animals

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pp. 131-138

The Great Depression missed me by a few years. Even so, growing up shortly thereafter showed me the strategies my parents and grandparents had used to weather leaner years than mine. Of course, at the time I never made the connection between the grown-ups' ways of doing things and the avoidance of poverty. ...

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15. Poppin’ Johnny

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pp. 139-148

Mr. Ford's car no doubt had eased the depression's impact on Corbett and Fannie, but it had also planted the seeds of a vague unrest. Walking no longer felt fast enough. Old Queenie began to seem inadequate. Corbett took to leafing through all the farm magazines he could get his hands on and looking at the tractors. ...

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16. Wires

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pp. 149-156

In 1950 the Rural Electric Administration cut a right-of-way, put in poles, and strung wires up the sand hill to Pa Graham's place where Corbett and Fannie watched after my aging great-grandfather. An electrician came and installed lights. REA had come at last to the hinterlands. ...

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17. Power Brokers

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pp. 157-163

By the middle 1960s Boose had acquired a reputation as the best cabinetmaker in Jasper County. A few months before Fannie died, he received an unusual request. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wanted him to build a speaker's podium. ...

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18. The End of the River

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pp. 164-173

If you look at a map of northern Jasper County made before the dam went in, you can see where the Angelina River entered a great bend about five miles south of the county line. The bend looks remarkably like a three-mile-high horse's head facing eastward. ...

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19. Corporate State

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pp. 174-186

In the mid-lg8os my brother, Jack, built a house. During its construction I drove out to pay a visit. From Plum Ridge at the margin of Sam Rayburn Lake, the way to Jack's led south, holding to the high ground between the Neches and the Angelina Rivers and heading for their confluence. ...

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20. Field to Field

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pp. 187-195

In science they teach you how to measure big things by taking small samples. Dipping your finger into the cake dough for a taste can tell you about the entire cake without your having to eat it all. That's sampling. Chemists measure quality in lakes by taking water samples. ...

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21. The Price of Subsidy

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pp. 196-204

When asked about his ancestry, Corbett would say "ScotchIrish" and that would end the interview. Not until I learned more about the history of those people did I associate Corbett's frugal nature with his ancestry. ...

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22. Hope

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pp. 205-208

When Prometheus gave heaven's fire to mortals, it made the Greek gods angry. They created a beautiful woman, Pandora, and sent her to earth with a closed box full of mischief, knowing her curiosity would eventually make her open it. Sure enough, after some years she peeked inside the box. ...


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pp. 209-212

E-ISBN-13: 9781587292408
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877455318

Page Count: 230
Publication Year: 1996

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Subject Headings

  • Truett, Joe C. (Joe Clyde), 1941- -- Childhood and youth.
  • Angelina River Valley (Tex.) -- Biography.
  • Ecologists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Natural history -- Texas -- Angelina River Valley.
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