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Daddy’s Money

A Memoir of Farm and Family

Jo McDougall

Publication Year: 2011

Jo McDougall brings a poet’s sensibility to memoir. Recounting five generations of Delta rice farmers, through family archives and oral histories, she traces how the clan made their way into the fabric of America, beginning with her Belgian-immigrant grandfather, a pioneer rice farmer on the Arkansas Delta at the turn of the twentieth century. As John Grisham has for a 1950s Arkansas cotton farm, McDougall illuminates an Arkansas rice farm in the 1930s and 1940s. The Garot family’s acreage near DeWitt and the town itself provide the stage for McDougall’s wry, compelling, and layered account of the day-to-day of rice growing on the farm that her father inherited. In that setting she discovers a rich “universe of words” in the Great Depression, comes of age during World War II, and finds her way alongside “that whole quirky, compelling cast of characters” that comprised her kin. In this conflicted, ironic, southern-but-universal account of betrayal, heartbreak, loss, and joy, “the vagaries and the grace” of the land join forces with the power of money as family bonds are both forged and dissolved. Deeply felt, unsentimental, and often humorous, Daddy’s Money presents McDougall’s life and the lives of her relatives in the way that all our lives are eventually framed—as stories. “When all else is lost,” the author maintains, “the stories remain.”

Published by: University of Arkansas Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

The shelf for the contemporary American memoir is increasingly occupied by accounts of incest and deprivation, drug and alcohol addiction, and grief. These narratives, nurtured as they are in sensational soil, almost always ripen into familiar success stories. Despite the horrors of an abject history, the subjects all come out okay. These personal testimonies are ...

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pp. xi-xii

I thank the MacDowell Colony for residencies during the writing of this book, as well as Melanie Baden, executive director of the Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie, and Donna Robertson, administrative officer of the Arkansas Post National Memorial, for help in research. ...

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Author’s Note

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pp. xiii

I grew up on a rice farm in southeastern Arkansas, near the small town of DeWitt, in a part of the Delta known as the Grand Prairie. I came of age during and immediately after World War II. Daddy’s Money is the story of that time and place. ...


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pp. 2

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1: Daddy’s Money

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pp. 3-7

MOTHER places one foot on the chicken’s head and yanks. It flops a few feet in the stingy grass, blood spurting from its headless neck. I’m nine years old, standing in the drought-bitten yard beside my mother, learning how to murder a chicken: Hold it upside-down by the feet, put its head under your foot, and separate its head from its neck. Blood spatters ...

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2. Red Wagon

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pp. 9-13

ON a sullen March morning in 1997, frost had set up housekeeping on the north sides of fence posts; the steely smell of sleet thinned the air. Mother had been dead twelve years, my father three. Recently retired from teaching at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, my husband and I had moved to Little Rock. My son, Duke, and I had come ...

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3. A Footstool with Hooves

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pp. 15-24

MY mother’s attic offers no electricity. Darkness weasels in, even on this faultless November afternoon. The outer corners of the house bemoan the wind—which, I’d learned as a child, was a mystical woman flying over the landscape, her long hair cascading behind her. It’s 1997, forty-two years after my marriage, and I’ve come to the attic looking for my wedding dress. I’m also looking for the stuffed dog I had ...

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4. Mother

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pp. 25-37

SCOUGALE’S Fine Jewelers loomed in a corner of DeWitt’s courthouse-square, its black-marble storefront sleek and formidable. Inside were tiled floors, brightly lit cases, and a cylinder of artificial flowers in colors not seen in nature. I was there under duress: Mother had decided it was time I chose a silver pattern. “That way,” she reasoned, “people will know what to give you for graduation.” I was a sophomore ...

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5. Pensacola

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pp. 39-47

WHENEVER my parents argued—and as I came into adolescence, their arguments were frequent and intense—my father often would remind Mother how far she had come, how he had taken her from that “red clay farm” where she “had to pick cotton dawn to dusk” and “go to an outhouse to piss.” ...

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6. Against My Skin

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pp. 49-60

I’VE just arrived in New Hampshire from Little Rock for a second residency at the MacDowell Colony, a retreat near Peterborough for writers, composers, architects, and artists. It’s May 1998, and I’ve taken early retirement from Pittsburg State, where I taught English and creative writing. My father has been dead four years. ...

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7. Town [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 61-85

MY earliest memories of DeWitt are its driveways. Mother maintained a milk-and-egg route in town; in the summer and on Saturdays, I’d go with her to make deliveries. She sold cream, milk, and hen’s eggs with brown or white shells. The money from this enterprise she kept for her very own—my early introduction, in the 1940s, to women’s ...

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8. Daddy

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pp. 87-102

On a Saturday in late September 1940, I’m playing hopscotch in the backyard of the house. It’s absurdly hot, and I’m dressed in my favorite pink shorts and white sandals. Adjacent to the yard lies one of my father’s rice fields, ready for harvest, the field I see every day from my room. Bob, the hired hand who, my father says, “hasn’t got the brains God gave a ...

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9. Where the Saltwater Can’t Get at the Rice

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pp. 103-113

MOTHER’S words brush my arm with foreboding like the wings of a moth. Searching the family archives for letters, I’ve found the one Mother gave me on July 3, 1957, before she, Dad, and Nancy traveled to Europe. Among other things, she writes of the homeplace and the farm. ...

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10. Villa Augusta

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pp. 115-127

WHEN my grandfather Garot left the farm for an undeveloped lot near Hot Springs, he entered the over-the-top, boisterous culture of a tourist town to surpass all tourist towns. By 1936, when my paternal grandparents built their cottage beside Lake Hamilton—naming it Villa Augusta in honor of Grandmother—the city had cobbled a history of ...

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11. City

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pp. 129-139

IN those nonchalant summers of my childhood, when I scampered off the farm to visit relatives in Hot Springs or Cabot or North Little Rock, I discovered another layer of being beyond my father’s fields. I was beginning to internalize the contrasts of other landscapes and cultures to our Delta farm, beginning to understand who I was. The lakes, ...

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12. A Circle in the Ground

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pp. 141-153

It’s a warm, silky day in January 1995, a Saturday. Taking a break from teaching to visit Arkansas, I’ve asked my grandchildren to come with me to the homeplace. I want to show them the imaginary circle in the ground—the house, the barn, the fields—where I grew up. I want to tell them my story. ...

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13. Little Diamond and the North Wind

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pp. 155-165

ONCE upon a time there was a boy named little Diamond, the son of a coachman. He slept above a stable of horses, in a bed surrounded by hay. All was well until one winter night a chink fell out of the wall of his room, and the wind found him. Not just any wind—this was the North Wind, an extraordinarily tall, elegant woman with thick, dark, miles-long hair, who invited Diamond to climb into her tresses and ...

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pp. 167-168

HAVING set down the legends of a farm, a time, and my kin in this tribute to them, I know better now who my vanished predecessors were, the complex worlds they inhabited, the subtle ways they shaped me. I understand more completely my parents’ obsession with hanging onto things, hoping to keep the past alive. I’ve answered many of the questions with ...

Works Cited

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pp. 169

E-ISBN-13: 9781610754835
E-ISBN-10: 1610754832
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557289674
Print-ISBN-10: 1557289670

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2011