Now, in I Lived To Tell It All, George Jones supplies a no-holds-barred account of his excesses and ecstasies. How alcohol ruled his life and performances. How violence marred many friendships and relationships. How money was something to be made but never held on to. And, finally, how the love of a good woman can ultimately change a man, redeem him, and save his life.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||9 MB|
About the Author
Tom Carter has co-authored books with Ralph Emery, Reba McEntire among others. He lives in Nashville.
Read an Excerpt
The grasshoppers were so thick that summer their swarming blocked the sunlight. Like the Old Testament locusts that fell on Egypt, they covered the parched East Texas ground like a rug. I had a brother-in-law, W. T. “Dub” Scroggins, who was much older than me, and I called him my uncle. His cash crop, cotton, had survived hail and high winds that year. But it would never stand up to the bugs.
Dub was never one to get hysterical, and he kept his composure when others lost theirs. His head was always as level as his spirit was sweet. He had a wisdom that sprang from the soil. He gave the ground his toil, and it gave him a savvy that made him smarter than his years.
I stayed with him and his wife, my sister Helen, on their farm twenty miles southeast of Waco during summers when I was a boy. I lived the rest of the year with my parents, brother, and sisters in one of three humble houses in East Texas.
Dub woke me one day that summer before daylight.
“George,” he said, “the grasshoppers are going to take the cotton. I don’t give it much more than a week. They’re devouring every farm in this county. I’ve been thinking about it, and today we’re going to take back what’s ours.”
We ate breakfast before sunrise, but that was not early enough to beat the insects to the field. By the time we had walked to Dub’s seventy acres, the grasshoppers had already flown from the weeds into the cotton, where they’d eat all day. At sundown they’d fly back into the weeds, where they would roost, filled with the cotton that Dub had planted by hand. There was probably a drop of his sweat in every boll.
My sister Helen is ten years older than me, and she was married at sixteen, before I started the first grade. I looked up to Dub, literally and figuratively, and thought he looked the way God would if God wore denim. This time, I was looking to Dub to see what he would do. Even as a child, I understood the tragedy that was happening before me—tons of ruin from insects weighing less than an ounce each.
From inside Dub’s barn, I heard the swing of his hammer. He was driving nails into scrap lumber, fashioning it into a sled. It was no more than a four-foot-square platform surrounded by two-by-fours that were waist-high to me. It had a rail, and I was supposed to hang on while I drove Dub’s mule through the cotton.
He opened a burlap sack filled with bran. Dust boiled inside the barn’s stale air when Dub thrust a scoop into the grain. The barn was like a furnace even though the sun was just barely in the sky. I’ve never been anywhere hotter than Texas in the summertime.
Dub poured the grain into a five-gallon bucket and added syrup. He stirred the mixture into a thick cereal.
“We’re going to feed the grasshoppers today, George,” he said. I thought I saw a smile.
Then he poured out a white-gray powder. A tiny cloud of dust again fumed upward as Dub poured arsenic into the mixture.
“Whatever you do, don’t get any of this in your mouth,” Dub said.
I drove the mule and sled that held the pail of poison through the cotton rows. Dub walked a few feet behind and slung his homemade brew from the bucket onto the cotton. In seconds, the bushes became the final resting place for the hungry grasshoppers.
As the sun eased over the horizon, its light glistened on the sticky bolls and the goo dripped onto the ground. Dub soon had globs of poisonous molasses clinging to his brogans.
The grasshoppers died the instant they ate, their fat bodies stuck in the mixture that had been their last meal. The cotton was dotted with dead bugs.
At least part of the crop was saved for another year. I could feel Dub’s excitement about his home remedy’s success. I stopped that mule only long enough for Dub to dip more poison into his bucket from the tub on the sled. We stood there, sweating and laughing at the wake of dead grasshoppers behind us.
“Get up there,” I yelled at the mule, and the sled and the killing went forward. Even Dub’s dog became excited and soon was barking wildly at something it had pinned down in nearby Johnson grass. Dub and I approached the dog curiously.
“Watch your step, George,” Dub said. “It might be a snake.”
Dub saw it first, a skunk with its tail raised and pointed toward our hound. It could spray its stinky mist in a heartbeat, and the stench wouldn’t evaporate from its target for weeks. Dub told me about a man whose English saddle was sprayed. The man scrubbed it with lye soap and a brush, but never got rid of the smell. He had to bury the saddle.
“Get away from here, boy!” Dub shouted, and I got excited and ran like I was on fire toward the waiting mule. I was yelling, and that’s probably what spooked the old mule. It bolted with the sled and sloshing poison in tow. Trouble is, the mule didn’t run down the cotton rows. It ran across them. Cotton bushes were uprooted and flying like bowling pins. I was hollering at the mule and wanted to dive for the sled, but I feared the flying poison.
Soon the tub was empty, and it began rattling loudly on the sled. The noise frightened the mule even more, and he cleared the cotton patch and started up the lane for the barn. By now nothing was left of the sled except one or two boards, and they were fast becoming splinters. I kept hollering and waving for the mule to stop. That also scared the mule, and Dub was right behind me, hollering and waving for me to stop hollering and waving.
There was a gate between the lane and the barn, and the mule ran toward it full-tilt. I don’t think it even slowed down before it went through. Dub said he could hear the barbed wire ping before it snapped on both sides of the gate.
The gate and sled were little more than splinters. The tub that had contained the poison was reduced to dented sheet metal. The mule was bleeding from cuts from cotton bolls and the shattered gate.
I started crying because of what I’d done and because Dub was screaming. I just knew he was going to be furious, and I ducked when he raised his arms. When they came down, they didn’t strike me. They wrapped around me. I could feel his heavy breathing inside his embrace. My tears ran into his sweat.
“Ain’t no reason to cry, George,” Dub said. “We’re a lot better off than the grasshoppers.”
We waited for the mule to cool off before Dub smeared something like lard on its scratches. We spent the rest of the day building another sled and hammering out the battered metal into another tub. At daylight the next morning we were out there again, Dab sloshing his killing paste and me driving the mule.
I refused to turn loose of the mule the second day. Helen brought food at noon, and I ate with one hand. I wouldn’t take the other from the mule’s reins.
I lived with Dub and Helen again the following summer and was joined by my sisters Ruth and Doris. We had no electricity, and no money for ice, so Doris did what a lot of folks did—she put milk and other perishables in the well to keep them cool.
She tied a glass jug of cow’s milk to the water bucket and let both sink gently beneath the dark water ten feet below ground level. The next day Doris drew a bucket of water, forgetting about the milk jug. It banged against the side of the well, shattered, and the water filled with glass and unprocessed cow’s milk.
Doris was always blaming me for what she did, so when I saw Dub walk his mules up to the gate after a day of plowing, I ran to him.
“Doris is going to tell you I broke the milk in the well, but she did it.”
She told him her story just as I had predicted. He didn’t believe her for an instant. Doris cried, but not as much as she did when Dub told her she’d have to drain the well—by hand.
The nearest water was seven miles away in Mount Calm. Dub couldn’t afford to give up the use of his wagon and team for the day required to haul it. Besides, the small amount of water he could carry would not have lasted long. And we could never drink the new rainwater that would fall into the well until it was drained of the spoiled milk.
“There is just no way around it, girls,” Dub told my sisters. “That well is going to have to be drained, bucket by bucket.”
I think he would have made me help Doris if she hadn’t lied.
When Dub arrived in the middle of the next morning, the girls were arguing about who had drawn the last bucket of water and crying and fighting. He had cut his plowing short because he knew those two could never finish such a big job.
“Why are you drawing your well dry in the summertime?” an old man shouted from the dirt road in front of Dub’s place. He’d been watching the goings-on for some time before he spoke. He couldn’t understand why farm folks were pouring drinking water onto the ground in the sweltering summer heat.
“Smell the well!” Dub answered. “These here silly girls broke a jug of cow’s milk in the water, and it’s not fit to drink.”
The old man spit out tobacco, laughed, and approached the well.
“You got a Mason jar?” he asked.
“Why sure,” Dub said.
“Go get ’er for me with some pounds of salt.”
With the precision of an Indian medicine man, the old fella measured the salt into the jar and poured it into the bucket. He lowered the bucket into the well and told Doris to pull the rope up and down to churn the water.
“That salt will dissolve, and what don’t dissolve will settle,” he said. “And when it does, your water won’t stink no more, and it will be fit for drinking after you boil out the salt.”
Before the old man left, Dub paid him with all of his remaining salt. The old man argued about taking it. The next day, his prophecy came true.