Monday, April 26, 2010

Reflections of a Father

Since it's Father's Day and I'm a father, it seems I ought to talk about fatherhood, but in order to do that I'll have to talk about my father – a man about whom I have nothing bad to say.
Much of what I do in being a father, a lawyer, a story teller, a citizen of the world, is an imperfect attempt to emulate the example he set.
And as soon as I say that I realize I could never condense what I have to say in the space provided here, because when I think about my father my eyes well and my heart explodes.
This will have to be something of a largely hearsay memoir, a Dickenian serial that will run for weeks, so if you're not in it for the long haul you might as well switch over to the Rant and Rave column right now.
Still with me? We'll have to start with some biographical data.

Chapter One: In which Doris gets her oats:

The man Wallace Millsaps, known to thousands as Preacher Millsaps and whom his Appalachian relatives called “Wallus,” was born in the spring of 1909 in a log house build by Millsaps before him on Upper Jack's River in what is now the federally owned Cohutta Wilderness Preserve in Fannin County, near the Tennessee/ Georgia/ North Carolina line.
The spot where the cabin stood is fertile bottom land situated as high above sea level as such land could be in Georgia and is sometimes occupied by a U.S. Forrest Ranger station until miscreant locals burn it down again.

My father's parents Mount Aubrey and Lovey Jane Millsaps.

His father, Mount Millsaps, and his mother, Lovey Jane, lived on a parcel of land that was part of a 4,000-acre tract of Cherokee Indian land “given” to a Thomas Millsaps by the State of Georgia for his service in the War of 1812.
My father's great-grandmother was a member of that tribe.
The entire Cohutta range was then owned by descendants of the men who had received the original land grants, most of whom were land rich and dirt poor, and almost all of whom lost their land to the government for inability to pay it's taxes during the Great Depression.
The boy Wallace's schooling ended at the sixth-grade level because the one-room church that doubled as a school only had six grades.
To go to high school required a 15-mile trip to the hamlet of Epworth and you had to buy your books, both insurmountable obstacles.
He kept attending the sixth grade for a couple of years after he'd graduated to pick up what learning he could – which is not as time consuming as it sounds because the young women the state sent to Jack's River to be schoolmarms never came back to face the mountain winters of Jack's River, once they went home at Christmas.
As a boy, while much of the country was engaging in the excess of the Roaring Twenties, Wallace worked as a shepherd, tending sheep that foraged in the forest, living off of what he could kill and catch, away from home for days at a time, sleeping on the ground.
He wore shoes only in winter. He was 16 years old before he saw a town bigger than a country store doubling as a U.S. Post Office – the town being the county seat of Blue Ridge 18 miles away, the barefoot teen-aged Wallace driving a mule, (who may have been named Doris, and who may have eaten oats) down the circular paths out of the mountains, pulling a wagon load of watermelons to be sold for whatever he could get.
Next week: Chapter Two, in which the young adult Wallace gets the call.

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