Single father and poor Southern farmer Ty Ty Walden has a plan to save his farm and his family: He will tear his fields apart until he finds gold. While Ty Ty obsesses over his fool’s quest, his sons and daughters search in vain for their own dreams of instant happiness—whether from money, violence, or sex. God’s Little Acre is a classic dark comedy, a satire that lampoons a broken South while holding a light to the toll that poverty takes on the hopes and dreams of the poor themselves. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Erskine Caldwell including rare photos and never-before-seen documents courtesy of the Dartmouth College Library.
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God's Little Acre
By Erskine Caldwell
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1961 Erskine Caldwell
All rights reserved.
Several yards of undermined sand and clay broke loose up near the top, and the land slid down to the floor of the crater. Ty Ty Walden was so angry about the landslide that he just stood there with the pick in his hands, knee-deep in the reddish earth, and swore about everything he could think of. The boys were ready to stop work, anyway. It was mid-afternoon then, and they had been down in the ground digging in the big hole since daylight that morning.
"Why in the pluperfect hell did that dirt have to break loose up there just when we were getting deep?" Ty Ty said, glaring at Shaw and Buck. "Now ain't that something!"
Before either of them could answer their father, Ty Ty clutched the pick handle in both hands and hurled it with all his might against the side of the crater. He let it go at that. There were times, though, when he was so provoked that he would pick up a stick and flail the ground with it until he dropped exhausted.
Buck gripped his knees with his hands and pulled his legs out of the loose earth and sat down to shake the sand and gravel out of his shoes. He was thinking of that great mass of earth they would have to shovel and carry out of the hole before they could begin digging again.
"It's time we were starting a new hole," Shaw told his father. "We've been digging in this one for about two months already, and we ain't struck nothing yet but a lot of hard work. I'm tired of this hole. We can't get anything out of this one, no matter how much deeper we dig."
Ty Ty sat down and fanned his hot face with his hat. There was no fresh air down in the big hole, and the crater was hotter than a pail of barbecue hash.
"The trouble with you boys is that you ain't found the patience that I've got," he said, fanning and wiping his face. "I've been digging in this land close on to fifteen years now, and I'm aiming to dig here fifteen more, if need be. But I've got a feeling the need won't be. I figure we're going to strike pay pretty soon. I feel it in my bones these hot days. We can't stop and start all over again every time a little loose dirt breaks away from the rim up there and comes sliding down. Wouldn't be no sense in starting a new hole all over again every time that happened. We've just got to keep plugging away like nothing ever happened. That's the only way to do it. You boys are too impatient about little things."
"Impatient, hell!" Buck said, spitting into the red clay. "We don't need patience—what we need is a diviner. Looks like you would know better than to dig without one."
"There you go again talking like the darkies, son," Ty Ty said resignedly. "I wish you had the sense not to listen to what the darkies say. That ain't a thing in the world but superstition. Now take me, here. I'm scientific. To listen to the darkies talk, a man would believe they have got more sense than I have. All they know about it is that talk about diviners and conjurs."
Shaw picked up his shovel and started climbing to the top of the ground.
"Well, I'm quitting for the day, anyway," Shaw said. "I want to go to town tonight."
"Always quitting work in the middle of the day to get ready to go to town," Ty Ty said. "You'll never get rich doing that. All you do when you go to town is to hang around the poolroom a while and then go chasing after some woman. If you'd stay at home, we'd get somewhere."
Shaw got down on his hands and knees when he got halfway to the top and crawled the rest of the way to keep from slipping backward. They watched him go up the side of the crater and stand on the ground above.
"Who does he go to see in town so often?" Ty Ty asked his other son. "He'll be getting into trouble if he don't watch out. Shaw ain't used to women yet. They can do him dirty and he won't know about it till it's too late to stop the clock."
Buck sat on the other side of the hole from his father and crumbled the dry clay in his fingers.
"I don't know," he said. "Nobody in particular. He's got a new girl every time I hear about it. He likes anything with skirts on."
"Why in the pluperfect hell can't he let the women alone? There ain't no sense in a man going rutting every day in the whole year. The women will wear Shaw to a frazzle. When I was a young fellow, I never carried on like he does about the women. What's got into him, anyway? He ought to be satisfied just to sit at home and look at the girls in the house."
"Don't ask me. I don't care what he does in town."
Shaw had been out of sight for several minutes, but suddenly he appeared up above and called down to Ty Ty. They saw Shaw with surprise.
"What's the matter, son?" Ty Ty asked.
"There's a man coming across the field, Pa," he said. "He's coming from the house."
Ty Ty stood up, looking around in all directions as though he could see over the top of the hole twenty feet above.
"Who is he, son? What does he want out here?"
"I can't make out who he is yet," Shaw said. "But it looks like somebody from town. He's all dressed up."
Buck and his father gathered up the picks and shovels and climbed out of the crater.
When they reached the top of the ground, they saw a large fat man walking laboriously over the rough field towards them. He was coming slowly in the heat, and his pale blue shirt was plastered to his chest and stomach with perspiration. He stumbled helplessly over the rough ground, unable to look down and see his feet.
Ty Ty raised his hand and waved.
"Why, that's Pluto Swint," he said. "Reckon what Pluto wants out here?"
"I couldn't recognize Pluto all dressed up like that," Shaw said. "I wouldn't have known him at all."
"Looking for something for nothing," Buck replied to his father. "That's all he ever does, that I've heard about."
Pluto came closer, and they went over to the shade of the live-oak tree and sat down.
"Hot weather. Ty Ty," Pluto said, stumbling over the ground. "Hello there, boys. How are you folks making out, Ty Ty? You ought to build a road out here to the holes so I could drive my car on it. You ain't quitting for the day, are you?"
"You ought to stay in town and wait for the cool of the evening before coming out here, Pluto," Ty Ty said.
"I wanted to drive out and see you folks."
"Ain't it hot, though?"
"Reckon I can stand it, if anybody can. How are you folks making out?"
"Ain't complaining," Ty Ty said.
Pluto sat down against the trunk of the live-oak tree and panted like a dog running rabbits in mid-summer. The perspiration oozed from the flat flesh on his face and neck, and trickled down upon his pale blue shirt, turning it several shades darker. He sat there for a while, too tired and hot to move or to speak.
Buck and Shaw rolled cigarettes and lit them.
"So you ain't complaining," Pluto said. "Well, that's something to be thankful for. I reckon there's enough to complain about these days if a fellow wants to bellyache some. Cotton ain't worth the raising no longer, and the darkies eat the watermelons as fast as they ripen on the vines. There's not much sense in trying to grow things for a living these days. I never was much of a farmer, anyway."
Pluto stretched out and put his arms under his head. He was becoming more comfortable in the shade.
"Strike anything lately?" he asked.
"Nothing much," Ty Ty said. "The boys are after me to start a new hole, but I ain't decided yet. We've gone about twenty feet in that one, and the sides are starting to cave in. I reckon we might just as well go and dig somewhere else for a spell. A new one won't be any worse than an old one."
"What you folks need is an albino to help you out," Pluto said. "They tell me that a man ain't got as much of a chance as a snowball in hell without an albino to help."
Ty Ty sat up and looked at Pluto.
"A what, Pluto?"
"What in the pluperfect hell is an albino, Pluto? I never heard of one before. Where'd you hear of it?"
"You know what I'm talking about. You know you've heard about them."
"It's slipped my mind completely, if I have, then."
"He's one of these all-white men who look like they are made out of chalk or something just as white. An albino is one of these all-white men, Ty Ty. They're all white; hair and eyes and all, they say."
"Oh, that," Ty Ty said, sitting back again. "I didn't recognize what you were talking about at first. Sure I know what one of those is. I've heard the darkies talking about it, but I don't pay no attention to what the colored people say. I reckon I could use one though, if I knew where to find it. Never saw one of the creatures in my whole life."
"You folks need one here."
"I always said I'd never go in for none of this superstition and conjur stuff, Pluto, but I've been thinking all the time that one of those albinoes is what we need. You understand, though, I'm scientific all the way through. I wouldn't have anything to do with conjur. That's one thing in the world I ain't going to fool with. I'd heap rather sleep in the bed with a rattler than monkey around with conjur."
"A fellow was telling me he saw one the other day," Pluto said. "And that's a fact."
"Where?" Ty Ty asked, jumping to his feet. "Where'd he see it, Pluto? Somewhere around here, Pluto?"
"Down in the lower end of the county somewhere. He wasn't far away. You could go and get him and be back here with him inside of ten or twelve hours at the most. I don't reckon you'd have any trouble catching him, but it wouldn't do any harm to tie him up a little before starting back. He lives in the swamp, and he might not like the feel of solid ground."
Shaw and Buck moved closer to the tree where Pluto was sitting.
"A real honest-to-God albino?" Shaw asked.
"As real as the day is long."
"Alive and walking around?"
"That's what the fellow told me," Pluto answered. "And that's a fact."
"Where is he now?" Buck asked. "Reckon we could catch him easy?"
"I don't know how easy you folks can catch him, because it might take a powerful lot of persuading to get him to come up here on solid ground. But then, I reckon you folks know how to go about getting him."
"We'll rope him," Buck said.
"I didn't aim to say as much, but I reckon you folks caught on to what I had in mind. I don't go around recommending the breaking of laws as a rule, and when I hint at it, I expect folks to leave me out of it."
"How big is he?" Shaw asked.
"The fellow didn't recall."
"Big enough to do some good, I hope," Ty Ty said.
"Oh, sure. It's not the size that counts, anyway. It's the all-whiteness, Ty Ty."
"What's his name?"
"The fellow didn't recall," Pluto said. "And that's a fact."
Ty Ty broke off a double-sized chew of tobacco and hitched up his suspenders. He began walking up and down in the shade, looking at nothing save the ground at his feet. He was too excited to sit still any longer.
"Boys," he said, still walking up and down in front of them, "the gold-fever has got me steaming again. Go to the house and fix up the automobile for a trip. Make sure that all the tires are pumped up hard and tight, and put plenty of water in the radiator. We're going to take a trip right off."
"After the albino, Pa?" Buck said.
"You're durn tooting, son," he said, walking faster. "We're going to get that all-white man if I have to bust a gut getting there. But there's not going to be any of this conjur hocus-pocus mixed up in it. We're going about this business scientifically."
Buck started towards the house at once, but Shaw turned and came back.
"What about the rations for those darkies, Pa?" he asked. "Black Sam said at dinner-time that he's all out of meat and corn meal at his house, and Uncle Felix said he didn't have anything at his house this morning to eat for breakfast. They told me to be sure and say something to you about it so they could have something to eat for supper tonight. They both looked a little hollow-eyed to me."
"Now, son, you know good and well I ain't got the time to be worrying about darkies eating," Ty Ty said. "What in the pluperfect hell do you mean by bothering me right when I'm the busiest, and getting ready to go after that all-white man? We've got to get down to the swamps and catch that albino before he gets away. You tell Black Sam and Uncle Felix that I'll try to fix them up with something to cook just as soon as we find that albino and bring him back."
Shaw still did not leave. He waited for several minutes, glancing at his father.
"Black Sam said he was going to butcher that mule he's plowing and eat him, if you don't give him some rations soon. He showed me his belly this morning. It's flat under his ribs."
"You go tell Black Sam that if he kills that mule and eats him, I'll take out after him and run his ass ragged before I quit. I ain't going to have darkies worrying me about rations at a time like this. You tell Black Sam to shut his mouth and leave that old mule alone and plow that cotton out there."
"I'll tell him," Shaw said, "but he's liable to eat the mule, anyway. He said he was so hungry he didn't know what he might take a notion to do next."
"You go tell him what I said, and I'll attend to him after we finish roping this albino."
Shaw shrugged his shoulders and started for the house behind Buck.
Across the field the two Negro men were plowing in the newground. There was very little land remaining under cultivation on the farm then. Fifteen or twenty acres of the place had been potted with holes that were anywhere from ten to thirty feet deep, and twice as wide. The newground had been cleared that spring to raise cotton on, and there was about twenty-five acres of it. Otherwise, there would not have been sufficient land that year for the two share-croppers to work. Year by year the area of cultivated land had diminished as the big holes in the ground increased. By that fall, they would probably have to begin digging in the newground, or else close to the house.
Pluto cut off a fresh chew of tobacco from the long yellow plug he carried in his hip pocket.
"How do you folks know there's gold in the ground, Ty Ty?" he asked. "You folks have been digging around here for the past fifteen years now, and you ain't struck a lode yet, have you?"
"It won't be long now, Pluto. With that all-white man to divine it, it's going to turn up for sure. I feel it in my bones right now."
"But how do you know there's gold in the ground on this farm? You've been digging here since 'way back yonder, and you ain't struck it yet. Everybody between here and the Savannah River talks about finding gold, but I ain't seen none of it."
"You're just hard to convince, Pluto."
"I ain't seen it," Pluto said. "And that's a fact."
"Well, I ain't exactly struck a lode yet," Ty Ty said, "but we're getting pretty durn near to it. I feel it in my bones that we're getting warm. My daddy told me there was gold on this land, and nearly everybody else in Georgia has told me so, and only last Christmas the boys dug up a nugget that was as big as a guinea egg. That proves to my satisfaction that there's gold under the ground, and I aim to get it out before I die. I ain't aiming to give up looking for it yet. If we can find that albino and rope him, I know good and well we're going to strike the lode. The darkies dig for gold all the time, all over the whole country, even up there in Augusta, I hear, and that's a pretty good sign there's gold somewhere."
Pluto screwed up his mouth and spat a stream of golden-yellow tobacco juice at a lizard under a rotten limb ten feet away. His aim was perfect. The scarlet lizard darted out of sight with his eyes stinging from Pluto's tobacco juice.
Excerpted from God's Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell. Copyright © 1961 Erskine Caldwell. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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