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the first jew i ever met and the devil’s den (1985) Editors’ Note: Looking back on his life as a farm boy and his earliest encounters with a Jewish peddler, as well as the reality of anti-Semitism in the South, West wrote this essay as a chapter in his uncompleted autobiography. It appeared in Jewish Currents magazine, December 1985, when West was eighty-one years old. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, West taught at a rabbinical academy in Baltimore, Maryland. He was a pack-peddler, a small stooped man. He carried a large oil-cloth bundle on his bent back.He had no buggy,no mule to ride.There were no automobiles and the closest train station was 16 miles away. He always came walking, often on the short-cut woods trails.There were no hotels,motels,or restaurants. He spent the nights and ate with mountain families. Our home was a regular. It was a one room log cabin with a lean-to kitchen and eating place.Mama fixed a pallet on the floor by the hearth for him to sleep. Years later I ran onto him in Atlanta. He was running a pawn shop on Decatur Street. He was one of those small Jewish business men who helped us with the Herndon defense in 1932. (It was the great depression time.Millions were unemployed.Angelo Herndon , a 19-year-old black man, led a group of some 2,000 hungry black and white workers down the streets of Atlanta to ask city officials for relief. City officials had said no one in Atlanta was hungry. If they were they should come and tell them. This was Herndon’s purpose, food for hungry people. He was sentenced to 20 years on a Georgia chain gang. It took us two years to get him freed from Fulton Tower prison. Many black and poor white workers helped. And a number of small Jewish shop keepers made contributions.The ex-packpeddler was one.) As we came home from school we had to climb over the rail fence by the big beech tree below the house. From atop the rails we could see the front porch.Whenever we spied the large black pack leaning against the porch logs we were excited. The pack-peddler was there! We loved his visits. 01.Prose.1-blnk 96/West 12/2/03, 11:48 AM 9 no lonesome road 10 We kids never did know his name. He was simply “the pack-peddler,” and a lot of fun. He was kind, friendly. He talked with us, told of the strange world over the mountains. We thought it must be a lot different. He was different. Even his accent didn’t sound like ours. He was interesting. We liked him. He was so small.We wondered at him carrying such a passel of things rolled up in the big black bag.Our mountains were steep.Trails were rocky and crooked . He must get awful tired. Houses were far apart. Our closest neighbor was at least a mile. That was Roxy Reece. She was a widow woman with three kids,Ivory,Mamie, and Price. Her man got killed.He had hauled a covered wagon load of apples the 100 miles to peddle in Atlanta.The elevator caught his arm and dragged him to a crushed pulp. We had no idea of what an elevator was. We just knew it was a contraption that went up. Some times when we cut a grapevine to make a swing out over the hill we called it our elevator. Price,the red head,was Roxy’s baby.She got no compensation for her man’s death.She raised her kids by farming patches on Turkey Creek.She went to the fields, between the plow handles, like a man, as most mountain women did. About half way between our house and Roxy’s was the Devil’s Den Hollow. The Devil’s Den itself was about 200 yards up from where the trail crossed the hollow. It was a monster-sized hole in the ground.Looked like a big house top sunk upside down. Must have been made by a lime sink6 or underground stream causing the earth to give way. At one end there was a great hole leading like a cave.That was the Devil’s Door. For us kids it was an awesome thing. Rumors and folk tales had made it so. Years long...


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