Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Chapter 3

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Romans 2:1

When I think of our growing up years, looking at our Mom was shrouded a little in mystery. She didn't like "to talk outside the family." I don't know exactly what that means and to say she was incredibly private is way beyond understatement.

Mom grew up knowing hard work. It was a part of life. She never talked lots about her early life but there was no doubt that she was absolutely devoted to her Mother. Her Mother was teacher, philosopher and above all, long suffering.

In my Grandma's household, all the women were in the kitchen lots. It was there they were taught those mysteries of preparing food and looking after a household.

So much of life revolved around eating. Since we were farmers, food was plentiful. I think that Mom developed a belief about food and being together as she made it central to our existence. We had these rules. Always on Sunday, there was a formal meal and most evenings, everybody sat down at the table. Mom was the last one seated. And, once she sat down, nobody was allowed to get up. If something wasn't on the table, then you did without it. Woe be until any of us to asked for something. We had to have our napkin, cloth, no less, in our laps and we did not talk with our mouths full of food. Where did she get these rules?

When she wanted to zap you, it was God that you were disappointing. She invented the concept of "natives starving in Africa and look at all this you're leaving on your plate.”

I can never remember not always having food around and although it was basic—fatback meat, butter beans, white ones of course, fried cornbread, it was always there.

Poverty is a relative thing, I think: we were poor and the joke was, "The first one up is the best one dressed." But, we always had plenty to eat. And what never ceased to amaze me was that when she put out a meal it appeared effortless and could feed an Army post. The idea that there would be just one meat, forget it—three or four, chicken, steak, fatback, things that might appear to be delicacies to others, especially today but then they were simply the bill of faire. This was soul food, long before it became popular and an ethnic identity.

Food always represented an act that would heal the greatest hurt, establish the greatest control over the situation, regardless of how grave the problem might be. The question always was, "are you hungry?" Well, a little. The next thing you knew, materializing right before your eyes—a complete meal. In some ways, it might be compared to asking for a tomato sandwich in some other household. Mom whipped it up with an effortless quickness that would make a short order cook envious.

As for the track that she could stop you in with a look, to go with that was an astute perception of the world that few had in my view. Even as a youngster, I can remember thinking, how did she know that? I don’t remember ever seeing her read although there were always newspapers around and my Dad seemed to be pouring over something constantly. Maybe they were discussing all of this between intimacies, I don’t know but she knew things.

Later on, it was TV. She seemed to be watching it constantly. When I was in college, she would call me up and chew me out for not coming home more often. I would load in my old 49 Ford and get home and then after greeting and eating, she was back watching her soaps. Early on, as I was half listening to her talk about people, I would wonder, “Who are these folks?” Later on, I would discover that she was talking about the TV family as though she was intimately involved with them. And, then when friends appeared, they discussed the latest dilemmas of the Soap characters.

I don’t know what her politics were but do remember that she watched Jesse Helms religiously when he did the news. He was constantly running for office when he wasn’t. When he finally did, she got out of her sick bed to vote for him. It would be fascinating for her to be alive today with all the media and politics. We would give anything to know her thoughts.

Hard work was the order of the day. We would get up before dawn, Mom would make sure we ate a hearty breakfast and out of there for the fields. We might or might not come back for lunch, more likely no. If we ate at all in the fields, it was a country ham sandwiched between one of Mom's great biscuits, along with sweet ice tea in a mason jar. When we all piled in at suppertime, it was a table ready for a group of hungry farmers. Much of these memories are surmised as my real work in the fields came after Raz and Corb were gone. Raz to the war and Corb to a real job. Farming for the family was never considered a real job—it was what you did. If you needed to earn money, you went to work somewhere else: the mill, a store, anywhere that one could be paid the cold cash.

Leaving home was always a matter of great trauma to Mom. It seemed to be a little piece of her disappearing. When I went off to war, she lost that stoicism and was constantly dabing her eyes. She and my sister would seem to be up and down constantly to collect themselves.

We never forfeited our places at the table. When we came back, even though nothing had changed and everything had changed, our place was preserved.

Mom as a role model was simply the best even if we can only see her through our very biased view. She was fiercely loyal to her family, sometimes maybe when she should have been more pragmatic. Our Mom was the haven of rest in any storm.

She was powerful in all kinds of ways. My Mom ruled, she knew about money, where life was and how it all stood in relations to all other things. I’ve often wondered, where she would be if she had been formally educated and had even the smallest of opportunity. She was educated in the school of hard knocks and her education far exceeded that which she might have ever gotten from a mere institution.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Chapter One

Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall. II Peter 1:10

It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.
Anne Sexton

If you do not know who you were yesterday, how can you know who you are today, and who you expect to be tomorrow? Author unknown

The Autrys were a pretty populous group and the Lees even more so. There’s lots of stories about where the Autrys hailed from. Purportedly, the name Autry means powerful. Sounds good. The name has several spellings according to one of our good cuz, Mayo Bundy. There are several towns in France named Autry, one along the banks of the Reim. Other towns are Autry-les-Grey, Autry-le Chatre, Autry-sur-June, and Autreville. For our brother Corb, this is going to be way too much France.

The most popular story for the Autrys was their Irish linage with a little twist of French. The story goes that the family was in Ireland in the 1700s and then went from Ireland to France, some to England and then back to Ireland. One account says that some of the Autrys went to England and back to France as early as 1066. There is a wild story that says that one of the Autrys showed up on the Eastern coast of NC just before the war with England. In a fit of anger, he fought with an employer because of a political argument over breaking away from England. Nothing was so precious as freedom. This distant relative supposely spent the entire war leading a band of like minded individuals fighting the British. Eventually he became the leader of the NC militia.

Another batch of Autrys fled Ireland during the potato famine where the patriarch of the family had been imprisoned primarily for his political views. They can’t seem to stay out of trouble—they were Protestant in Catholic territory and constantly on the wrong side of most issues.

It is hard to know how true this is with the fact that most people we know want to be Irish, especially on March 17. But, it does make sense. The potato famine hit Ireland in the autumn of 1845. Somewhere along the way, there’s a Captain Jim Autry, not sure of what he was a Captain, but he was on the passenger list of the ship, Columbus, that sailed from Cork County, Ireland on September 7, 1849 via Liverpool, England to New York. In New York, Jim was arrested for fighting. Apparently, many of the new immigrants were forced into jobs or tightly controlled by something akin to an Irish mafia. After a vicious beating as the story goes, Jim seemed to comply and agreed to work on one of the trash collecting companies controlled by the Irish. However, sooner than later, Jim settled scores with the leader of the Irish mafia. Something dramatic happened of which we don't have a clue but some thereafter, Jim disappeared and apparently showed up on the coast of North Carolina.

In a remarkable turn of events, in late 1849, four of Jim's brothers appeared as indentured servants to work in the tobacco fields. Jim had a price on his head from New York but appears to have been feared to such a degree that he remained free. And, the idea that his brothers were indentured servants did not go over well. An indentured servant was a laborer under some sort of contract for a period of time, usually seven years, in exchange for such things as ship's passage, food, and once arrived, accommodations. Although this sounded good, it was a many faceted arrangement which more than likely favored the tobacco growers.

A major problem was that in many cases, an indentured servant would become indebted to the future employer, who would forgive the debt in exchange for an extension which could thereby continue indefinitely. The Autry brothers who were scheduled to work in the labor-intensive tobacco fields never quite fulfilled the arrangement. From what little we can determine, they either were bought out of the servanthood arrangement or were forgiven of it which is highly unlikely. A mystery but somewhere Jim Autry played a part.

One of the big problems with Irish ancestry is that it is almost all oral. Lineages often are skewed in the process—we like our Irish forefathers. It is our story and we are sticking with it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Yesteryear's Tales


History is mainly lived by the unknown and on more occasions than we would like to admit, the unknown in our own history. But, some things and parts of our stories are known to us, those who love them, possess their DNA, their history.

Unfortunately, history moves forward on a written record, those who might have left something. For our family, the record is pretty scant, make that like almost non existent. Our family left very little in terms of the written word. Why is simply an unanswerable question. Mostly, it had to do with the survival mode they were in. With six kids, attempting to eek out an existent on a farm, not even their own, there was no time for cogitating one’s navel. Survive is the mentality of the day.

It is mostly memory and memory from those left behind and in the peculiar way they can remember. It is someone like us asking the questions, attempting to figure it out--the way we lived our lives, if you will.

A memoir is really about an experience, in some wonderful way, putting on paper memory, interspersed with not a little speculation but just as meaningful. Part of the real difficulty is the question always: is what we are saying the truth, our opinion, just giving the facts, What! This is very hard.

Someone has said and I surely don’t know who, all writing is invention. Meaning I guess that it came out of someone’s head. What we have is some raw material and we’re trying to tell a story. Everybody has a story. Our folks surely had one and we’re trying to piece it together so we can know our story. We opt for the truth.

Our Mom, for example, was this incredibly strong woman. She didn’t dwell on such things as she was putting food on the table, nursing her kids to health and life. She didn’t think about her story. We do.

We are not out to recite actual events as much as share in our family’s experience as they saw it. And, also, it was the "times" in which they lived, which is no small thing. In our story, more than anything, there’s an experience and we’re out to capture it. If we are successful, we capture our own story. Our goal is to arrive at our family’s history which is about who we are.

Our stories are ones with meaning in capturing our little niche in one very small corner of America. It is how we lived when the mundane of the mule and horse were king and queen and mostly our world. It is also about one little segment of life which was divided by haves and have nots—the have nots made up the greater percentage of our little niche. The haves, either inherited their wealth or got it off the backs of the have nots. For us, it was a time of Landlords who owned the land and tenants who farmed it for them.

Our life situations demanded that we have a sense of humor and an indomitable will or be prepared to face a future with no more possibility than our parents.

This is our story of one family and the life they shared with their parents, brothers, sister and more kinfolks than space will permit. And, we want to tell it just so we will know. Let the journey begin.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Book Business--Impossible

Today, I get two boxes of returned books from Baker & Taylor...lots of GTC and Lee books. Ah, well. I have no idea how we are supposed to handle these...do you have to write them a check for all these returned books? And how on earth do they mess up the covers so badly, when they originally are sent to B&T shrink-wrapped? What a tough business...no wonder publishers get gray hairs! The paperwork included in the returned books tells me nothing about what to do, so I guess I'm just going to file it away in the B&T file until we hear more.

Here's a plan, let's give away Gun Totin Chaplain. If anybody reads this, send us an address and you've got it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Yesteryear's Tales

My brother and I have been working on our family memoirs for close to five years, much of it has to do with writing styles. He loves to merely tell the facts and I'm more into telling a story. Here's a story,

Chapter 2

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? James 2:15-16

The great difficulty of recording the lives of your loved ones is that whatever is written has to be relatively accurate and worthwhile and not embarrassing to them. No easy task. For instance, I could say about Dad: he was self-educated. He only had a 2nd grade education and could barely write his name. He wouldn’t go for me revealing this if he were alive but the amazing thing was that he was as skilled in math as any college math professor.

Mom was a pusher and a great believer in education. To her it was the door which would open so her children would have a better life. Plain and simple, she had one given: education rules. Translated to practical terms: her children didn’t stay out of school to harvest crops. We had plenty of drama around this issue. She was one tough 98 pound woman. She didn’t take a back seat to Dad or anyone for that matter. In a sense, we never doubted who was running the show–she never knew fear of any kind as far as I know.

This may sounds a little like grandiose worship but not so. Her children were the most important aspect of her life. One incident especially sticks out in my mind on how feisty she could be relating to her brood. As was the rule with most tenant farmers, the landlord called the shots concerning how and when the crops were harvested. The tenant was to do the harvesting which in our case, meant the children. Consequently, we couldn’t start school at the regular time if there were still crops to be harvested. Mom simply wouldn’t go along with it. We started school when the other kids did. In fact, I was witness to one particular encounter that went something like this.

“Bertie, I know you’re mad."


The silence was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Mom was staring out the window. The leaves were just beginning to turn. North Carolina was coming alive, school was starting for kids and the cycle was ending and it was beginning.

Yes, she was mad. She was lightning flashing mad to be honest and she was still seething over a previous conversation that she’d had with their landlord. She never liked him anyway. So pretentious and yet Bertie wondered if it was not her. She was determined that she was going to have more for their children than she got herself. The hardscrabble life of Gone with the Wind and Grapes of Wrath sort of existence even if she wouldn't use these concepts was not going to be part of her children’s lives.

“OK, what is it?”

Here's the conversation that probably went on in her head. Well, her kids were going to school this year and not starting late as they did each year. There was cotton to pick and her kids were part of the labor force but the Landlord’s kids were not part of the mix. No way, this is not right. Well didn’t you have kids to work? Some might have but she never went along with such a stupid concept. Kids were not commodities to be a labor force.

Raz was a little tired, but what the hay, being a farmer was not a piece of cake. “I think we got a bale today and maybe have about five more in the field,” he said as he sat down at the end of the table and poured himself a cup of coffee.

“Bertie, let’s have it, what’s wrong?” Raz knew his wife. A gentle woman except when she wasn’t. Now there’s a statement but he could tell when she was irritated. He thought it probably had to do with the kids. This was a battle every year. The unwritten rule was that with cotton in the field to be picked, the kids simply had to miss the first month of school and she seethed about it every year. She could be one independent woman.

“Well, if you insist, I’ll tell you. I am not having our children start late in school this year like we do every year. A month is a lot for kids to miss.”

Raz sat for a moment pondering his answer which needed to be good. He hated confrontation, especially with Bertie. When she got her mind made up, stubborn was not even close to the word. “Bertie, we got this cotton and I don’t see any way around it.”

“Do Ned’s children stay out of school?"

“Well, no.”

“So what is the difference?”

He hesitated again, this was not easy. These were probably his thoughts: She was right but when you are sucking hind tit in life, what can you do? They barely scarped by every year. Being a tenant farmer was tough. Each year by in large you went in debt for the crop that was to come that you hoped might even be enough to pay your bills. Most of the time it wasn’t and then the landlord who was suppose to be your partner really was not and the farmer who couldn’t make it, had to go deeper in debt. You were the servant, let’s face it. Might as well be a slave—the only difference in the tenant farmer and a slave was the color of their skin.

“OK, Bertie, I’ll talk to him.”

“I’ve already talked to him and he says there’s no way around it.”

“You talked to him?”

“I saw him stopped out by the road as I was walking from the garden.”


She probably said lots of things to him that she wanted to say. He’d mentioned before that Dad should get Bertie under control, like he could.

Raz actually liked Ned. As a landlord, he was pretty good and reasonable. They talked with some regularity and Raz always laughed to himself about Ned’s persona of himself. He talked of being a lady’s man. His hair was parted in the middle and slicked back with a little mustache that he thought made him look like a movie star.

Ned's charm didn't work on my Mom. We started school at the regular time with all the other kids. Soon afterwards we moved. WE MOVED OFTEN.