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`LAMB IN HIS BOSOM' CAPTURED A NATION IN 1934 BY REVEALING THE LIVES OF SOUTHEAST GEORGIA'S PIONEER DIRT FARMERS

Contributed by Robert Latimer Hurst.

 


All Was Not White-Columned `Big Houses'
 And Cotton Fields Stretching To Riverbanks


HANDWRITTEN AND SOMEWHAT SHAKY, CAROLINE MILLER'S LETTERS, NEVERTHELESS, CAPTURE THE STYLE THAT MADE `LAMB' AN INTERNATIONAL BEST SELLER

Her Turn-Of-Phrase, Choice of Words
 Pulls The Reader To Yearn For More

By Robert Latimer Hurst

 

    Caroline Pafford Miller Ray, in writing to Judge Ben Smith in
August, 1990, reported that "...until this day there are
people who believe those old lies --that I didn't write the
book. He did, and I stole it!" The Waycross-Baxley novelist is
referring to her 1934 Pulitzer Prize novel that brought this
young matron of three boys international attention but great
heartbreak as well. The "He" is her ex-husband, Will D.
Miller, the Waycross High School English teacher she married
shortly after her graduation. This was the man she once
described as "her college."

    She changes the subject in her letter and begins writing about
the old Pafford church, the one which Rowan Pafford, her
grandfather, "built in the wilderness. It was and is called
`Springhead.' The tupelos and little sweet bays guard the old
spring," she relates simply. "Anyway, my parents, Elias and
Levy Zan, lie just inside the gate." She continues urging Ben
to go to the annual reunion the first Sunday in September with
"Go you must! And stop there for a still moment and we'll
commune."

    In his response to her letter of August, 1990, Ben informs
Caroline that the "old silver-haired judge," who befriended
her during the divorce trial, was his Uncle, Judge Will R.
Smith. "You may be sure that he did know your father and every
other Pafford who had ever been spawned. Uncle Will was my
hero. I tried my first case before him --a murder case. He
kept calling me `Ben Jr.' instead of `Mr. Smith.'" 

    Since she remembered this Judge of the Alapaha Circuit and
Judge of the Pearson Superior Court, Ben elaborated on this
man: "He was quite tall, had a Roman profile and was the
epitome of dignity, a patrician if there ever was one despite
the fact that he picked cotton to send himself to Mercer. He
had the most wonderful dry wit; and without cracking a smile,
he would break up the courtroom with laughter. ..."

    Mrs. Ray had confided to Ben in her first letter that she had
just returned from a 74-day hospital stay -- "I have diabetes
and a lot of its friends".... But she adds that she always
sings "Oh, they tell me of an unclouded day, of a home
faraway." Ben informs that "The Unclouded Day" is one of his
favorites and that he has been a First United Methodist Church
choirmember for the past 20 years; therefore he has been
acquainted with this hymn for a long while. And, he adds, "I
have been to Springhead where my grandmother and grandfather
Richardson are buried, and I have drunk from the little
spring. Alas, those wonderful things are fast disappearing."

    "As a boy I read `Lamb in His Bosom' and marvelled that anyone
could gain that much insight into the early beginnings of our
part of South Georgia," writes Judge Smith in July, 1990,
referring to the 1934 Pulitzer Prize novel. "Even when I was a
boy, much of the primitive culture remained --log houses, rail
fences, smoke houses, syrup boilers, cane mills and the like.
I am re-reading the book at this time, having found it in the
library; and it is as good as I first remembered it."

    Ben also noted that Caroline used names from the Pafford
generations --Rowan, Jasper, Elias or Lias, Magnolia (the
location of the first courthouse in Clinch County) and
Wealthy. My father's school teacher at Mud Creek was Professor
Elias Pafford. Daddy said that he always wore a `jimswinger'
coat. They went to school to him at Bridges Chapel, which was
a church on Sunday and a school during the week.

    "One day Professor Pafford slipped up back of my Uncle Charlie
(later Sheriff of Clinch County) while he talking in class. He
thumped Charlie on the head with his lead pencil. Charlie had
cotton in his ear since he had the earache. When the cotton
flew out his ear, Professor Pafford asked, `What's that,
Charlie?' Charlie, quickly yet carefully, replied, `I reckon
you've knocked my brains out.'"

    As Judge Smith re-read "Lamb in His Bosom," he reflected on
those ancestors that both he and Caroline Pafford Miller Ray
share: Micajah, Gideon, Shadrach, Needham, Absalom, Rachel,
Matilda, Bathsheba, Queen Esther. "Thank you again for telling
the story of our pioneer people. The handling of dialect
(always a difficult task) is superb and accurate if I am any
judge. What we fail to realize is that their hardship and
suffering gave them a dimension that we can only sense from
afar (as you did so beautifully).

    In response to Ben's praise of her book, Caroline sent an
autographed copy with this message: "To Ben Smith, Jr., a
belatedly found friend who knows all about the beauty of the
long-leaf pine that reaches for the sky and withstands the
hurricanes as little hot (wind) blows off the Barbados and
Tierra del Fuego - Hot?

    "You said it ---And sandspurs - And hoppin-john, - And sliced
sweet taters fried in hot ham grease -And he knows faith, and
honor, and the soul healing word of God, with admiration and
old Georgia camaraderie. Caroline Miller."

    (Part III continues the colloquy between Caroline Pafford
Miller Ray and Judge Ben Smith that touches on heritage and
the writing of "Lamb in His Bosom," the 1934 Pulitzer Prize
for Fiction.)


Copyright 2002 Robert L. Hurst  
All rights reserved!

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