By Jay Mitchell
*This story was originally published in The Oxford SO & SO
(This testimony that I give is the truth, nothing but the truth, so help me God.)
For many people, William Faulkner is a god, an icon of literary genius and should never be defamed, (but the truth shall set you free). In late 1945 I had an accident that put out my left eye. My family was a poor group of share-croppers in the Mississippi Delta. The small town near where we lived pitched in and sent me to Oxford, Mississippi for treatment. The infection was causing me to lose my other eye.
At that time the University of Mississippi Medical School was on the Ole Miss campus and one of the world’s greatest eye surgeons was teaching at Ole Miss, Dr. B.S. Guyton. Dr. Guyton removed my left eye but saved the other one. Now, this is not self pity (thank God for small favors), but is being told to let you know how an illiterate family got to Oxford and met William Faulkner.
Now here is my story:
World War II had ended, and in Oxford anyone that could drive a nail could get work on the Ole Miss campus. The war had ended and the GI Bill of Rights allowed veterans to go back to college. Many were married and needed a place to live, so the government was building veterans’ housing. My Dad could drive a nail. We were now off the farm.
Dad, not being a veteran, could not find a place for us to live. We lived in one room basements and would have to move every few months to let the veterans have our room. But when school started in 1947 I entered Oxford Elementary School. I was so out of place – all of the other kids were town’s people and I was country redneck. They had grown up together and knew each other and going to the first grade was not a big deal to them. (Sidenote: It was the scariest thing that I ever did!) Not only was I different but I was one-eyed with a new prosthetic, and children can be very cruel.
I don’t remember that I had many friends but one kid stands out. (I have changed the names to protect the innocent but we will call him “Butch”.) Now, of all people, Butch was the little fat son of the richest man in Oxford. He and I became fast friends – maybe the other kids didn’t like him either.
Along about the second or third grade, Butch invited me to spend the night with his family. Dad, knowing who his father was, thought it was a great idea. I accepted, and on the eventful day we were picked up in front of school by his chauffeur in a big black automobile. We sat in the back and were driven by a large black man by the name of “Bong”. We got to his house – or may I say, mansion – and was met by Bong’s wife, Ollie. We drove into a four-car garage and walked into a mudroom, where I saw two cases of Cokes. (Back then all bottle drinks were called Cokes.)
Some were grapes and some were oranges. I couldn’t believe that somebody had not drunk them, why were they there? We walked into a kitchen that was bigger than our apartment and on the kitchen table was a large bowl of fresh fruit (why hadn’t somebody eaten them)? Bong and Ollie were so nice and wanted to know if I wanted a snack. People, I thought I had died and gone to Heaven.
When Butch and I got settled, he brought out a double barreled .410 shotgun and said, “Let’s go squirrel hunting.” Right then I would have followed him into Hell! We walked across the road into some great woods and started squirrel hunting. We had moved into maybe two or three hollows when Butch said, “Be very quiet, we are in Faulkner’s woods.” That didn’t mean anything to me but I was very quiet. We moved very quietly into the next hollow. I was looking into the tree tops but I noticed to my right, a large house with a large front porch and a man sitting in a rocking chair. (Little did I know that it was a drunken William Faulkner!)
Butch and I saw the squirrel at the same time. I saw Butch raise the .410 and I said, “Don’t shoot, he is watching!” But Butch shot anyway and William Faulkner did the same. He had a .30-.30 on the porch with him and he shot at me two times. I am sure that he was shooting at me because nobody would shoot at Butch.
William Faulkner was a lousy shot. He missed me (Thank God!). Well, that is the way that I remember it.