Oyster Boy Review 12  
  January 2000
» Cover

» Art
» Poetry
» Fiction
» Essays
» Reviews
» Contributors

» Oyster Boy Review
» Levee 67


Journal No. 3

Kevin McGowin

When I say that my family history (at least on my father's side) is very much connected to the history and culture of the American South and all that that entails, I'm not suggesting that I should be congratulated. For other things, perhaps, but don't get me wrong—I'm part of the family from whom I come and I've never denied it. And you could do worse—maybe you do for all I know, because just as every person has what used to be called a "dark" side, every culture has at its base the opposite side of all it congratulates itself on being: all the idealistic fervor of someone with something to hide. But if my family represented this side of things for the South in the emerging modern age, my particular branch of it was the black sheep of that. Ever since Old Sam McGowan stole the horse and robbed the bank back in 1843.He came from a hearty and rowdy bunch, old Sam—men and women who knew the value of work, who lived off the land and had fear of the Lord in their hearts. This is to say, of course, that ever since the first one of the lot, David, set foot on these shores in the then penal-colony of Georgia in 1772, they were the meanest and most vulgar bunch of hell-raising rednecks this side of twelfth-century Mongolia; men who beat their women and beat their slaves and beat up each other at the end of the hot Georgia day, with the corn whiskey oozing out their pores and the gaps in their teeth and their sweat keeping the wild animals a safe distance away. And they knew they were the chosen sons of God, you bet! What they didn't have they'd take and they just got richer, with blessings of harvests and male children and slaves and that good booze buzz at four a.m. that turned to the Devil's drunk by noon.And in the midst of all this bounty, ol' Uncle Sam started gettin' greedy. Wasn't enough for him to just sit on his ass and give thanks for the blessings the Lord had bestowed on a deserving family who owned half of Georgia and the panhandle to boot—he couldn't be content with a good horse, a good woman, six good servants, a full belly and a good dog. Sam drank too much one day, figured he needed some money and up and robbed the local Macon Run Bank. And what was local, well, that was family too, which was worse. And then he stole a horse.I don't know how much you know about the ethics of horse-stealing in the 1800s, but let it suffice to say that the locals appreciated this none too much. And when Sam came around the next day and saw what he'd done, well, he knew he'd best do somethin' and that there quick, 'cause a posse was comin', and was comin' fast.He had plenty of money, now, and the Alabama border was just 50 miles west; so with little planning and an aching head, Uncle Sam took a generous hair of the dog that bit him and he was Alabammy bound. But it was a hot day. The horse was thirsty. It hadn't rained and the scent was strong (and I thank the good Lord every other night we can't still smell it today). Sam and the horse had to rest.And this they did in Columbus, Georgia—know where it is?—Good. It's right by a river, and it was from this river that they drank as Sam heard a commotion some ways behind him.He looked up out of the water and I can see the drool now on his lips and his five-day beard and the fear in his bloodshot eyes. He cursed, but it sounded different then than it does now, sorta like "shig," and he spanked that horse on the rear and into the water he went. I don't know what his athletic history was, but I suppose he must have been pretty good on that afternoon; and when Uncle Alec and his boys rode up, Alec just got off his horse, took a huge gulp from the bottle of shine he was holding and said, "Ih da air 'runkah git cleean 'cross, leeit duh unkinf shigs cross dauh riverav 'em." This is exactly what he said, folks. To translate, it says, very roughly, "If the alcoholic gentleman you see in the water across the way is an accomplished enough swimmer to reach the shore, we'll just let him go and allow those unsavory fellows in Alabama to deal with his regrettable lack of character." And Sam was gone.When he got to Phoenix City he bought some land, took a wife and changed the spelling of his last name for protection. And the Lord blessed him: by 1894 his family owned south Alabama all the way down to Appalachicola, running lumber, drinking booze, having sons, and telling them about their people.