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1 The Angelina Country There's a land beyond the river . .. Traditional hymn, "When They Ring the Golden Bells" When I picked up the phone and my father answered from the other end, I knew something had gone wrong. Neither he nor my mother ever called long distance; it cost too much money. "Granddaddy died," he said. Looking out the window where I lived in Tucson, I saw green mesquite trees blur against the Santa Catalina Mountains. Thinking stopped. A whirlwind spiraled dust across the vacant lot next door. "When will they bury him?" I remember asking, and then, "Yes, we'll come." Early the next day my wife and son and I started on the long and by now familiar drive to eastern Texas. Soon the sun came up, stabbing through the truck's windshield. The tail end of springtime flowers lined the road. 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 ofthickening green, ofmoister country. After dark we strained to watch for careless hill country deer thatjumped across the headlight beam like rabbits. Daylight found us entering that land I still called home. In the morning mistiness, the woods pressed close against the road. IfI kept my eyes ahead, the trees looked as they had always looked - dogwood , beech, sweetgum, oak. But a sideways glance betrayed them as the screens they were meant to be: behind them you could see the clear-cut lands, infested with young loblolly pine. Driving down the final lanes between those veils of trickery always called to mind, for some perverse reason, the words ofRobert Frost: Whose woods these are I think I know, His house is in the village, though.... And then I'd invent other lines to keep myselfawake: His woods have lost their mysteries. He makes his living selling trees. The pickup kept on. The air felt sticky, whipping through the open window. We passed Dam B Reservoir, rolled across the Neches River bottomland beyond, and climbed the hill where widely spaced holly and magnolia trees someone had left in a roadside pasture to shade cattle in summer reminded me of the woods that used to be there. We 2 slowed for the turnoff that would take us out to Peachtree. The It was hard to keep from thinking that Granddaddy would not be Angelina there. Country ~The people at the funeral looked old. The prevalence of gray sprinkled on the heads ofmen and peeking from the shawls ofwomen alerted me that my grandfather had lived a normal span, though I had thought that he was younger. Mr. Ocie McBride, his long-time friend, had come. He helped my father, my brother, two others, and me take the coffin to the hole that gaped beside the grave of "Nama" Fannie. Mr. Ocie's suit would have fit someone taller, and he had rolled the cuff bands ofhis trousers up to keep them offthe grass. Corbett. I heard the preacher say the name, and others whispered it in conversation. My grandfather had been Corbett to his older friends. His real name was R. L.,just initials, but I don't think many people called him that. My mother had called him Daddy. My father usually spoke of "Mr. Graham," to show respect, and my brother, Jack, and I would not have thought to call him anything but Granddaddy. After the funeral, we drove to my parents' home. I walked the hundred yards up the lane to Granddaddy's barn. The crib, made to hold corn, had been built with cracks between the logs to let in air, and the roofextended wide beyond the walls. Beneath one wing, I found the hammer mill. Its belt lay slack, as if waiting for the life given by the power takeoffoftheJohn Deere tractor. I remembered how the mill's teeth whacked and whirred as they gobbled up the ears of corn shoved in. The mix of shuck, grain, and cob would disgorge into the trough, and the cows would wrap their tongues around the pulp and stufftheir mouths. I thought back to the years before the passage ofthe stock law in our county. Then Granddaddy's cows had eaten mostly pinewoods grass instead ofcorn. They had roamed the hills and bottoms. He would call them from the highest ridge with his peculiar yodel, and they...


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