Generation X Deep South

Wade

by Alan Caldwell

I was fifteen years old when I first met Wade. I had heard stories about him for many years before I met him. They told tall tales about Wade around November campfires, the way earlier men told tales about Daniel Boone or Mike Fink. I have always loved stories about such men. I collect those stories the way others collect stamps or coins.

In 1968, Wade had stood fast in that humid, drenched, provincial capital as the Viet Cong crossed the Perfume River and tried to flank the Republican Army’s position. Sometimes, if the wind were right, they said Wade could still detect the burnt nylon and brimstone smell of war. They said he later escaped from a POW camp, killing a guard and a guard dog along the way. They said he never stopped watching and listening for his enemies.

Wade had stood alongside, and even carried, dozens of coffins, some flag-draped, others not: parents, aunts, uncles, a still-born son, and his wife of five years, the only amelioration he brought home from Southeast Asia. When she died, after the Agent Orange malignancy took its time consuming her lungs, Wade sold most of what he owned, retaining only the most necessary impedimenta of living. He bought 180 acres of rolling hills in rural Georgia, adjacent to another 5,000 acres of virtually inaccessible Georgia Pacific timber company property. He then purchased, and restored, a 24-foot Country Squire camper and set up housekeeping in a small clearing near a small spring that flowed endlessly, even in the driest of Septembers. Wade made the long journey to town about once a month to buy a few items, mostly canned goods, to augment his diet of venison, wild pork, rabbits, squirrels and fire-baked bread.

He visited our South Georgia club that cold, damp, November Friday afternoon in 1983 to hunt with us for a few days. He drove a World War Two II-era Willys Jeep, a top but no sides and a really cool PTO winch. When he stepped out of that sardine can with wheels, I knew the stories I had heard were true. He wasn’t a tall man. He was built in blocks and chunks, his deltoids like cannon balls, his forearms like hirsute hams. They said he could support a TH350 Chevrolet transmission in one hand and start the bolts with the other. I tried it once. Don’t bother.

He shook my hand and introduced himself, chatted with the others for a few minutes, then went to his Jeep to get ready to go hunting. He pulled on a large olive-drab military coat and then a framed backpack. He unzipped his rifle case and produced a beautiful M1 Garand. He slung the rifle over his right shoulder and started down an old logging road headed for the backwoods, a distant and grey dissolution of an almost impenetrable tangle of slash pine, turkey oak, saw-briar, and perpetually wet soil. Not long before dark, I heard a distant shot in the general direction Wade went.

When I got back to the camp, the men were gathered around the fire, some in chairs and some squatting.

I asked, “I think that was Wade that shot. Are we gonna go help him?”

They all laughed, but no one answered.

We didn’t go help Wade. We ate our grilled burgers and then went to our respective campers and tents and went to sleep. I awoke a few hours later to the sound of a steady rain. Surely Wade had returned before the rain began.

He hadn’t returned. In fact, he didn’t return the next morning, even after the rain had turned to light snow. We were packing up getting ready to head back north on Sunday afternoon, when we saw Wade coming right back up the trail he went down forty-eight hours before, a back burdened with wrapped venison, and a pair of severed antlers dangling by his side.

I lost track of Wade for many years. I later heard that the cancer took him sometime around the turn of the century. I guess some enemies you can’t hear coming. I still tell stories about Wade around November campfires.


 

tidbits, fragments, and ephemera 21: what’s up, 1987?

tidbits, fragments, and ephemera is a usually weekly but not always, sometimes substantial but not making any promises glimpse at some information and news related to Generation X in the Deep South.


Louisiana’s Education Funding Amendment, 1987

In the late 1980s, Louisiana put forth an amendment for a public vote that would require the state to fund all of its required programs. (A radical move, to be sure!) While the amendment did pass, it only passed with 56% of the vote, meaning that 44% of those who cast ballots opposed funding programs that were required by law.

Mississippi’s Race and Marriage Amendment, 1987

That same year, Mississippi’s legislature gave its people a chance to vote on Amendment 3, which would “repeal Section 263, which prohibited the marriage of a white person with an African American or a person having a certain percentage of African American blood.” Again, that amendment passed as well— barely . . . with 52% of the votes. Meaning that 48% of voters in 1987 selected the option to keep that miscegenation law on the books. (Of course, the Loving v. Virginia case had made these law unconstitutional more than a decade earlier.)(And to be fair to Mississippi, Alabama put this issue on the ballot thirteen years later, in 2000, and it only passed by 60-40 margin.)

The arrest of Walter McMillian in Alabama, 1987

McMillian

Though few people knew his name before, Walter McMillian’s case became well-known in the recent film Just Mercy, which tells the story of Brian Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative law firm. McMillian was arrested for murder and other crimes in Monroeville, Alabama in June 1987. He was exonerated in March 1993 after spending six years on death row.

Charles Blackburn in Forsyth County, Georgia, 1987

excerpt: “Growth in Forsyth County only accelerated with the extension of Georgia 400 in the 1970s. […] Although the population remained almost entirely white, many of the new residents were from other parts of the country and did not share the same racist beliefs that some locals held. One new resident, a martial arts instructor named Charles Blackburn, wanted to organize a protest in January of 1987 to show that the county had overcome its prior racial intolerance. A flood of threats forced Blackburn to cancel the event (and eventually flee the county), but the march went on thanks to civil rights activist Hosea Williams and Dean Carter, a Gainesville resident.”

The South Carolina-Miami brawl in the 1987 Independence Bowl

This 2014 article offers a look back at the December 1987 fight between the two teams.


level:deepsouth is an online anthology about growing up Generation X in the Deep South during the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. The anthology is open to submissions of creative nonfiction (essays, memoirs, and reviews) and images (photos and flyers), as well as to contributions for the lists.

tidbits, fragments, and ephemera 19

tidbits, fragments, and ephemera is a usually weekly but not always, sometimes substantial but not making any promises glimpse at some information and news related to Generation X in the Deep South.


Black Festival Week at the University of West Florida, 1978

This image shows African-American students at the university in Pensacola.

A Klan Rally, a School Fight, and a Curfew in Ludowici, Georgia, 1985

This New York Times article from March 17, 1985 describes how a rally planned by the Ku Klux Klan led to a racially charged fight at the only high school in a small town in southeastern Georgia. This fight led local law enforcement to impose a curfew on the town, which then led the Klan to express its open support for the town’s white residents.

The Miss Louisiana Pageant, 1989

South Carolina joins the SEC, 1990

The Southeastern Conference expanded in 1990 when the Gamecocks agreed to join. Their first game in the conference was in 1992. Previously, U of SC had been in the ACC from 1953 until 1971. In their now-thirty years in the conferences, the team has never been conference champs.

“Tennessee” by Arrested Development, 1992


level:deepsouth is an online anthology about growing up Generation X in the Deep South during the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. The anthology is open to submissions of creative nonfiction (essays, memoirs, and reviews) and images (photos and flyers), as well as to contributions for the lists.