Page 31 - Autobiography of a Law School
P. 31

Wanting a Seersucker Suit, 1933-1952

         Medical care was not a problem. Dr. Carriker was
accustomed to getting dressed fryers instead of cash, so a couple of
range chickens could buy my vaccinations. I did not require medical
care often. I credit my good health, then and now, to a water supply
that guaranteed either fast death or lasting immunity from disease.
Our tin roof captured rainwater that flowed untreated through open
gutters into a red cistern that sat on brick pillars by the side of the
house. We drank that untreated water, enriched with the residue of
animal carcasses, bird feces, and whatever else flowed from the
roof. The cistern’s output pipe was placed a foot above the tank
bottom to avoid contamination from the black sludge that filled
several wheelbarrows the one time the tank was cleaned. Attempts
to find well water near the house failed, despite the best efforts of
Mart Mason, the local water witch.

         A trace of our former middle-class affluence appeared one
night without warning when I was five or six years old. The
family’s former maid in Crandall, Bertha, showed up pleading for
shelter. Her bruised face showed that her husband had beaten her,
and her presence showed she had somehow traveled 120 miles to
Cushing. Bertha lived in our milk shed through Christmas, when her
husband came to apologize, said he wouldn’t do it again, and took
her away. She and I had spent a lot of time talking, and I was sorry
to see her go.

         I was not particularly aware of racial segregation’s cruelty
until I overheard my dad and Demps McGowan discussing whether
Demps should try to vote in the Democratic primary. Demps was an
African-American neighbor whose wrinkled face bore a perpetual
smile. He owned his farm, and he was respected by white and black
alike. Demps may not have descended from typical plantation
ancestry. His distinctive, high-pitched, musical voice attended a
dialect I have heard only one other time—a Houston doctor hired by
a life insurance company to give me a physical sounded so much
like Demps I wanted to ask his background, but didn’t. In addition

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