The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All Over but the Shoutin' continues his personal history of the Deep South with an evocation of his mother's childhood in the Appalachian foothills during the Great Depression, and the magnificent story of the man who raised her.Charlie Bundrum was a roofer, a carpenter, a whiskey-maker, a fisherman who knew every inch of the Coosa River, made boats out of car hoods and knew how to pack a wound with brown sugar to stop the blood. He could not read, but he asked his wife, Ava, to read him the paper every day so he would not be ignorant. He was a man who took giant steps in rundown boots, a true hero whom history would otherwise have overlooked.
Following up his bestselling memoir, All Over But the Shoutin', Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bragg again creates a soulful, poignant portrait of working-class Southern life by looking deep into his own family history. This new volume recounts the life of his maternal grand father, Charlie Bundrum, who died in 1958, one year before Rick was born. Lacking a grandfather, the New York Times reporter sets out to build one "from dirt level, using half-forgotten sayings, half-remembered stories and a few yellowed, brittle, black-and-white photographs." His investigations in the Appalachian foothills along the Georgia-Alabama border turn up a beloved, larger-than-life rambler who inspired backwoods legend among contemporaries, undying devotion from his wife, Ava, and unabashed love and awe from his large extended family. Big-hearted but flawed, Bundrum was a man of contradiction. Genuinely devoted to his wife and children, he was a tenuous provider (a roofer by trade, he also cooked and frequently tasted his own moonshine) who fiercely defended his clan from trouble and hardship even as he occasionally brought it on them. He lived by a code of country justice that tolerated brawling with lawmen but disdained bullying, distinguished "good, solid biblical cursing" from mere "ugly talk," and forswore spitting in the presence of ladies.Bragg strives for an unvarnished portrait and succeeds, mostly balancing tremendous affection for his grandfather with the recognition that Bundrum, the last of his kind and a connection to a culture of backwoods self-sufficiency long dead in the South, deserves and would demand an honest rendering. "He is so much more precious smelling of hot cornbread and whiskey than milk and honey," Bragg writes. "The one thing I am dead sure of is that his ghost... would have haunted me forever if I had whitewashed him." A man like that, he concludes, "would, surely, want a legacy with some pepper on it." Bragg delivers, with deep affection, fierce familial pride, and keen, vivid prose that's as sharp and bone-bright as a butcher knife. In this pungent paean to his grandfather, Bragg also chronicles a vanished South that like the once-wild Coosa River Charlie liked to ply in homemade boats is becoming too tamed to accommodate those who would carve out a proud if hardscrabble living on its margins. (Sept.) Forecast: Knopf is pulling out all the stops for this; know they've got a winner: 200,000-copy first printing, 19-city author tour, and a nine-copy floor display including audio and large-print editions, and paperback copies of All Over but the Shoutin'. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2000
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Excerpt from Ava's Man by Rick Bragg
From Chapter One:
The beatiný of Blackie Lee
The foothills of the Appalachians
Ava met him at a box-lunch auction outside Gadsden, Alabama, when she was barely fifteen, when a skinny boy in freshly washed overalls stepped from the crowd of bidders, pointed to her and said, ýI got one dollar, by God.ý In the evening they danced in the grass to a fiddler and banjo picker, and Ava told all the other girls she was going to marry that boy someday, and she did. But to remind him that he was still hers, after the cotton rows aged her and the babies came, she had to whip a painted woman named Blackie Lee.
Maybe it isnýt quite right to say that she whipped her. To whip somebody, down here, means there was an altercation between two people, and somebody, the one still standing, won. This wasnýt that. This was a beatiný, and it is not a moment that glimmers in family history. But of all the stories I was told of their lives together, this one proves how Ava loved him, and hated him, and which emotion won out in the end.
Charlie Bundrum was what women here used to call a purty man, a man with thick, sandy hair and blue eyes that looked like something you would see on a rich womanýs bracelet. His face was as thin and spare as the rest of him, and he had a high-toned, chin-in-the-air presence like he had money, but he never did. His head had never quite caught up with his ears, which were still too big for most human beings, but the women of his time were not particular as to ears, I suppose.
He was also a man who was not averse to stopping off at the beer joint, now and again, and that was where he encountered a traveling woman with crimson lipstick and silk stockings named Blackie Lee. People called her Blackie because of her coal-black hair, and when she told my granddaddy that she surely was parched and tired and sure would ýpreciate a place to wash her clothes and rest a spell before she moved on down the road, he told her she was welcome at his house.
They were living in north Georgia at that time, outside Rome. Ava and the five childrenýthere was only James, William, Edna, Juanita and Margaret thenýwere a few miles away, working in Newt Morrisonýs cotton field. Charlie always took in straysýdogs, men and women, who needed a placeýbut Blackie was a city woman and pretty, too, which set the stage for mayhem.
It all might have gone unnoticed. Blackie Lee mightýve washed her clothes, set a spell and then just moved along, if that was all that she was after. But weýll never know. Weýll never know because she had the misfortune to hang her stockings on Ava Bundrumýs clothesline in front of God and everybody.