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WAYCROSS-BAXLEY NOVELIST CAROLINE PAFFORD MILLER RAY GAINED FAME BUT ALSO HEARTBREAK

 

Contributed by Robert Latimer Hurst.

 

Though The World Sent Her Roses,
 This Writer Would Find Many Thorns Along The Stems


JUDGE BEN SMITH REMEMBERS THE PULITZER PRIZE WINNER THROUGH A SERIES OF LETTERS


These Two Shared Happy And Sad Moments
 By Correspondence Shortly Before Her Death In 1992

By Robert Latimer Hurst

 

    Though she achieved worldwide fame, Caroline Pafford Miller
Ray faced her share of heartbreaks. Receiving the honor and
awards for writing "Lamb in His Bosom," which won the Pulitzer
Prize for Fiction in 1934, was one thing; but the Waycross
native, who had penned the novel about Southeast Georgia dirt
farmers while in Baxley, found that there was another side to
fame. And, perhaps, it's the "another" that created a sharing
of correspondence between Mrs. Ray and Judge Ben Smith. 

    These letters, written in the 1990s, also give insight into
this individual's thoughts and feelings, as well as a lesson
in the use of words to create images.

    "Dear Benjamin Smith, you might think that I did not
appreciate your beautiful letter referring to my father. It
happens to be my only echo about my father from the past. I
thought so much of it that I sent `zeroxed' copies to my
children. I was quite small when my parents died...." She was
writing Waycross' Judge Smith a few years prior to her death
in 1992. 

    "There was one other beautiful `happening' that meant much to
my family --and me. We were aligned on the back seat of the
courthouse in Pearson. In court!" She is writing her
remembrances of the painful divorce that separated her and
first husband, Will Miller, a former Waycross High School
teacher. Her ex-father-in-law, A.G. Miller, had testified that
he "was afraid that I would abscond with the three little
boys, to Mexico, and he would never see them again." The older
Miller served, at one time, as Waycross' Superintendent of
Schools.

    "The old silver-haired judge leaned forward a little," she
tells, "and made a statement, ponderously: `I knew her father!
She will never do anything that is illegal and underhanded.
The reporters gave me very kind smiles, and no newspaper
account was written. Unusual." One can almost hear the sigh
that accompanies both painful and kind remembrances of times
past. 

    "How I wish I knew the name of that magnificent judge! He was
beyond doubt one of the grand men of our old country in the
loblolly pines and huckle-berry bushes and ladies' big
palm-leaf fans (for sweltering Sunday sermons!). God bless
them! There never were, never will be stronger, more loyal,
more honest men anywhere ever!

    "They knew about galluses and old mules (smarter than any
thoroughbred!) and `taters baked in hot ashes pulled forward
and on the `hearth.' They were noble men!" Mrs. Ray is now
Caroline Pafford again, and her remembrances return to that
time when Cean and Alonzo, main characters in her
award-winning book, took that wagon ride to their new home in
the oak scrubs of Southeast Georgia before the Civil War.

    "Overalls and bare feet and watermelons and `mush-melons'
stacked higher than your head in the hallway (breeze-way!) of
my Uncle Richard Hall's country home out of Tifton...

    "I'm proud that I was a little country girl. I never heard of
a drop of liquor or a cuss-word in those old days..." She
interrupts her nostalgic rambling to ask Judge Smith, "Did you
know about my father's brothers --Jesse, Marcus --Was there
another? I hope you'll go to the old Pafford Church and
grave-yard for (the) Pafford Reunion always on First Sunday in
September. And it has never rained on it! I'm inviting you!
Go! Never will you eat such wonderful country food!

    "H.M. Jr. and his wife, Allie, were there last year. My son,
George Miller, will be there if he lives and does well.
Remember that `ole chicken n' rice'? It'll be there..."

    Caroline, then, requests that Judge Ben tell her relatives
living in Waycross about her day in court. "His father,
Morrison --what a wonderful man he was! --sat beside me on the
last row at that courtroom, with a loaded pistol in his
pocket.

    "Those were terrible times for me, grossest calumnies... But
until this day, there are people who believe those old lies
--that I didn't write the book...." 

    (Part II continues the word pictures created from Caroline
Pafford Miller Ray's letters to Judge Ben Smith and his
response.)

Continued...NEXT.

Copyright 2002 Robert L. Hurst  
All rights reserved!

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