Page 28 - Autobiography of a Law School
P. 28

Wanting a Seersucker Suit, 1933-1952

lunch, fried country-style with a flour crust. C.K., a boy my age who
lived several farms over, had walked two miles to play, and he
stayed to eat. My dad sat to my left, at the end of the table; I sat on a
side facing the kitchen; C.K. sat at the end next to the window; and
my mother sat with her back to the kitchen. The plate with four
pieces of meat passed first to my dad, who took one piece of the
thinly sliced steak. It passed to me, and I knew to take only one
portion. But then it passed to C.K., and my playmate did not hesitate
before raking both remaining pieces of meat onto his waiting plate.
Gentle soul that she was, my mother did not claim her portion from
my guest. But the meal lived in her memory for years, even after
food became plentiful.

         The fried steak story stuck with me, not so much because I
took note at the time, but because, for years afterward, my mother
commented on the injustice of C.K.’s taking more than his share. I
got her heavy lesson on justice, but I secretly defended my friend,
thinking he was probably hungrier than we were. Justice was not
simple.

         We were not alone in our poverty. Virtually all local
families suffered in varying degrees from the Great Depression, but
I noted that some suffering was different from others. Sharecroppers
with nothing to sell but their unneeded labor suffered a poverty of
spirit that did not extend to debt-free, able-bodied landowners who
grew food for their tables and reaped occasional income from crops
or timber. A few of those farmers weathered hard times reasonably
well. I also knew about a shadow community of outlying timber-
cutters whose offspring had hands and, I suppose, feet adorned with
extra digits. Affluence in that community meant accumulating
enough cash to have the marks of incest surgically removed, leaving
small white scars on otherwise normal hands.

         The nearby town-folk were also different. They maintained
a middle-class dignity that distinguished them from farmers who

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