Authors: Grace Lumpkin
HERE are the human terms in which the transformation of southern mountain folk from farmers into mill hands is taking place. The story is told from their point of view, in their own poetic mountain speech, simply and powerfully, without any intrusion of literary devices. . . . . . . Poverty has stripped the life of the mountain people to primitive terms. Their virtues, their passions, their emotions rise naturally to dramatic intensity. . . . . . . The story moves from religious emotionalism, through primitive love struggles, to a powerful climax in a mill strike waged with all the desperation of a life and death struggle. All the drama of what is perhaps the greatest conflict now going on in American life is concentrated in these stirring pages. . . . . . .
To Make My Bread
is, we believe, an important contribution to American literature.
An imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.
4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706
10 Thornbury Road, Plymouth PL6 7PP, United Kingdom
Distributed by National Book Network
Copyright Â© 1932 by The Macaulay Company
First Rowman & Littlefield paperback edition 2014
All rights reserved
. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Available
ISBN 13: 978-1-59077-436-6 pbk: alk. paper)
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information SciencesâPermanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.
Printed in the United States of America
this side of South Range and thirty miles as the crow flies to North Range, the life of the mountain people centers around Swain's Crossing. At one place the road to the outside crosses the trail from South Range and Thunderhead. Here is Swain's store and post office. Beyond the store and the road, Laurel Creek runs in long, uneven curves. Seen from the side of Choah Mountain it is like a huge snake, the largest part just below, its head crawling past Swain's, and the tail somewhere out of sight toward North Range.
On April the nineteenth, 1900, two men left their steers, hitched to sledges, in front of the store and joined another man around the stove inside. A light snow had begun to fall and the warmth of the stove was very welcome. Presently another man came in. He was Sam Wesley, whose cabin was in Possum Hollow, on the South Range trail.
Sam took out his pipe and sat down on one of the unoccupied boxes at the stove.
“A sack of meal,” he said to Hal Swain. Hal went to the back of the store and lifted a sack to the counter behind Sam, who reached in his pocket and laid the change on the counter beside the sack.
“Still snowing?” Fraser McDonald asked Sam.
“Yes,” Sam answered, and being reminded of the snow, felt his shoulders to see if the wet had come through.
“Think it'll come up hard?” Jim Hawkins asked the company. No one answered. But presently Fraser McDonald said, “No danger of it coming up hard.”
“If it was winter,” Jim Hawkins said, “and it a-snowing, I'd be making tracks for my cabin.”
The men sat bent over, close to the stove. They puffed at their pipes and occasionally one of them spoke.
Young Sam McEachern, whose steer was hitched outside the store, had been at Siler's Cove earlier in the day. He had business there with old man Kirkland who had come to live with his daughter, Emma McClure. John Kirkland was from the South Mountains and the two older McEachern brothers still lived there. They had sent word to Sam that he must find old man Kirkland and get his help in the business they carried on.
“See Emma?” Sam Wesley asked McEachern. He had been a friend of Jim McClure's before Jim's death.
“Yes,” Sam answered and looked at Wesley as if he expected another question and was making up some particular answer. The question did not come, though Sam Wesley wished to ask if Emma's child had been born. His woman would wish to know. But the McEacherns could make a fool out of a man sometimes, with their smart answers, and unless a man was ready for a fight it was best not to give one of them a chance to get ugly.
With winter over, the afternoons were already getting longer. It was still almost two hours before dark and the men were in no hurry to leave the fire. The air near the stove had been quite warm. Gradually it became colder. Hal Swain moved uncomfortably on his box, then got up and filled the stove with short green hickory logs. Jim Hawkins, who was sitting behind the stove, quivered with a sudden chill. The pipe he held loosely between his teeth fell to the floor.
Sam McEachern, on a box next to Jim, looked out of the corners of his small, cunning eyes at his neighbor. “A rabbit run over your grave?” he asked.
“No,” Jim leaned over to pick up the pipe. “But a blast of air cold as the tomb came up through that hole.” He pointed with the stem of his pipe to a large crack in the floor. He was ashamed of that sudden chill; and to keep his eyes from meeting those of his neighbors he began to fill the bowl of his pipe.
From outside the store came a deep, melancholy bellow.
“That your steer?” Fraser asked Sam McEachern.
“It ain't my cow,” Sam answered quickly.
“I reckon mine's a-ra'ring to get home,” Fraser said calmly. But he did not move to go. He was comfortable by the stove, and his cabin was a two-mile drive over a rough road. A steer does not cover two miles in a hurry.
The steer's bellowing roused Sam Wesley from his comfort. He remembered that his woman must have the meal for supper. There was none left in the cabin. He raised himself from the box, and taking up the sack, limped between the counters to the door.
Steers hitched to the two sledges outside were standing with their thick necks bent down. The necks were not relaxed. They were taut as if the animals were preparing for an enemy. As Sam looked one of them raised its head a little, opened its mouth and gave a bellow. The other moved restlessly and planted its forefeet further apart in the mud. A cold northwest wind had come up as if a storm was getting ready to break. Yet there was so little snow in the air the mountains across Laurel Creek could be seen very clearly. Sam looked at them, then let the sack slide off his shoulders and spoke to the others.
“Something's a-happening up yonder,” he said.
He spoke quietly. But the others sensed an unusual inflection in his voice. There was excitement in it, and some apprehension. They came and stood about him.
The long summits of Choah and Little Snowbird were completely hidden by a snowstorm. Lower down the trees and bushes were visible. On top the sheets of snow curled and bellied like clothes hung out on a line in a high wind.
Fraser sniffed at the air. He gave another look at the storm raging on top of the mountains. Then he buttoned his short coat to the neck.
“I'd best be getting across that ford,” he said. “Something's about to break loose.”
His anxiety was felt by the other men. They left Hal Swain alone in the store and went out to the sledges. Jim Hawkins climbed up with Sam McEachern, for his cabin was on the same side of the creek as Sam's. Fraser drove away behind them. The sledges with their wooden runners bumped uncomfortably over the rocks in the deep ruts. Sam Wesley slung the sack of meal across his shoulder and limped behind them until he turned to the left toward Possum Hollow.
Half an hour later dark came suddenly over the whole region. Thick whirlwinds of snow filled the coves and valleys so that each isolated cabin was cut off more than ever from the world around it. The wind howled through the trees like a pack of hounds let loose.
Doors were shut against the storm except in places where the men were out hunting for the precious animals they had neglected to shelter. At these cabins there was much activity. Women stood outside the doors with the snow stinging their faces like wasps and called to their men, or crawled to meet them, trying to make their shrill voices heard above the wind. The excited cries went on until the absent ones staggered in.
The same thing was repeated in Siler's Cove, where the McClure cabin sat far down between mountains. In fair weather it was like a tiny boat in the trough of huge waves. Since the blizzard began the cabin was obliterated. It had become a part of the blank whiteness from which nothing stood out.
Granpap Kirkland and Emma McClure's two sons had ventured out to find the steer and cow. When they did not return Emma stood outside the door and screamed to them. She could not stand long against the strong wind. It blew her against the wall of the cabin with the force of a strong man's fist. Leaning over she held to the woodblock that served as a step and kept up intermittent screams until the others returned. They came crawling on hands and knees, and she did not see them until they were right on her, and Granpap called into her ear that they were safe.