The Charlotte News

Saturday, July 5, 1941


Site Ed. Note: "Lee Also Won" puts in perspective the peril which Hitler brought upon his country by not only thinking himself the next Napoleon, but also patterning many of his ideas on both military operations and the unifying principle by which he achieved power within his followers of thugs and half-wits--instilling of prejudice against an identifiable scapegoat--after the Confederacy. As we have suggested before to Mr. and Ms. Stars N. Bars, it doesn't work. It never did.

After the dispatch of the Ox by shoving him in the drink, installment 30 of Out of the Night tells us of Jan and Firelei together for a time in Copenhagen doing the bidding of the Party. Now it is time for Jan to undertake the parlous task of returning illegally to Germany to restructure the courier set-up between the harbor in Hamburg and the Party apparatus inland. He must engage in intrigue to avoid the storm troopers. Firelie bids farewell with a folk song.

Oh, Carol, don't let him steal your heart away. Lucifer Strutt would be a much better match for you than Jesse, even if he is a part of one of those hillbilly bands they have, that is Lucifer, not Jesse. You're much too tall for Jesse anyway, dear.

And, Tops, leave Sally Snipe alone, please. She sure does like Polka-Dots, doesn't she? At least she changed her dress today.

Coffee grows on white oak trees. The river flows with brandy-o. We are glad to see that in 1938 coffee led all U.S. imports. But then in 1939, suddenly rubber shot up. They needed more coffee before Munich, more tires after Danzig.

And you know, Mrs. Jones, something is happening here, but you just don't know what it is.

Pardon us, as we must now do the crossword to determine who that actress is. She must bear some relationship to Louis Pasteur and Galileo Galilei.

Well, as Popeye learns, today is Saturday and school is out. It was a lazy paper day in a confusing time in which no one knew moment to moment whether they might perish by sunset, and so we'll take our cue likewise.

See you Monday.

Before we go though, for want of anything better to do, we shall impart to you the rest of Mary's May, 1957 statement, for compleatness.

We preface it by indicating that there are numerous plain errors of fact in her account, and numerous statements of opinion which we know simply weren't accurate. Cash's family, for instance, were not fundamentalists as Mary suggests. His parents met in church, went to church every Sunday without fail, at least until Cash's father became too elderly to go after his wife's death, at which time he became a devotee of Billy Graham. And they were Baptists. All true. But, as we have pointed out before, they also scoffed at anyone who was fanatical about religion and none of them wore it on their sleeves, as we think immediately of modern Fundamentalists as well as the Billy Sunday prayer-tent variety of Mary's day doing.

For perspective on this particular, Mary herself, we have been told, once wrote a novel, unpublished, full of fiery evangelists proclaiming hell and damnation. She was obviously not well-disposed to the flock, probably any flock, and anyone who went to church at all might have thus been considered by her to some degree a fundamentalist? We ask. We don't know.

Parenthetically, contrary to Mary's own apparent beliefs about the opinions she supposed Cash's family had of her, she was not considered the Bohemian outsider she thought. Cash's sister, for instance, never had anything but good things to say of her, and the two regularly communicated through the years right up through the months preceding Mary's death in 1980. But, perhaps Cash's sister had a streak of Bohemianism in her, too. We don't know.

Mary, we stress though, was a writer, like Cash, and given to flights of fancy at times, just to prick her reader in the eye a little probably, (though by 1957 when this report was written, was working in some unknown capacity with an insurance trust in Washington). That's why the two got on so well, no doubt. But she was a book reviewer, a reader in other words, and not a reporter or journalist. Her book reviews ran often to such flights of the fantastic--fine for its purpose and at times clever and entertaining, even if wild as the fluttering tail of a kite in the minstrel's breeze on occasion, whoopsy doodle whoopsy, weee.

In person, we can report, as we once met her, she was a gentle, genial person, quiet, unassuming, contemplative, piercing, but only fleetingly so--mainly somewhat as withdrawn in company as Cash was described, though perhaps not as much.

But her accuracy on facts was not what it should have been, obviously. We won't bother to parade for you the inaccuracies. If you have familiarized yourself with the presentation herein at all, you will readily spot them. We are not criticizing Mary, incidentally, as this report was written, as she indicated, hurriedly, was no doubt, even 16 years later, somewhat painful, given what she endured in Mexico. She was simply being kind and cooperative in fulfilling, gratis, a request from a teacher teaching Cash's book in her English composition class. She could have simply and abruptly declined to comment, claimed pain of memory and no one would have thought the less of her; she didn't, and for that we owe her a debt of gratitude. Without her guidance, after all, there would be no story at all on Mexico, just a cruel blank slate, save for the brief comments made by Josephus Daniels to his family on July 7. Mary obviously still held affection for her lost husband in 1957, though she had in the interim remarried to an Army major who had also died, circa 1950.

We are just offering the disclaimer so as not to spread more confusion in the facts or myth about Cash sprouted in the last nearly seven decades--some of which derived from his own tall tales about himself, probably--such as his whimsically offering that he spent whole days as a youth running with Pan in the treetops, as he once spread in an autobiographical synopsis printed in the Mercury.

Don't take it too literally, in other words.

As a picture may tell many words sometimes, the last known photograph of them, taken for The News, standing in their small apartment before Mary's sewing basket, heads down, just before departure for Mexico on May 29, conveys the humble nature of each.

Her report is, however, we think, interesting for its rawness and some of its words and description, less crafted than the Red Clay Reader version which she prepared with Morrison in several drafts over the course of two years before it was published in 1967.

Incidentally, Cash was also not the first in his family to use metaphor and simile. His mother, as we have indicated, was a founding member of the Boiling Springs newspaper in 1894; his father wrote a glowing defense of women's suffrage for a debate in which he participated in his final year of academy about the same time. Both were adept at use of metaphor and simile. We know; we met each of them, too, a time or two. When Mary knew them, they were both getting up in years, each in their mid-sixties by 1938 as Mary entered the picture.

One other particular from this account we shall correct to avoid any confusion: Cash finished the book at the end of July, 1940, not in a few days after the beginning of the invasion of Poland, as Mary suggests. But that was before they were married on December 25, 1940.

Cash--no one called him anything else except his parents who called him Wilbur, a name that would bring on one of his attacks of country-boy blues--Cash would have been flattered that your English students have been digging into The Mind of the South. Students were his weakness. When still quite young he taught two years in a small college in Kentucky where he fell poetically in love with a freshman, and he planned to acquire some degrees and return to teaching eventually.

The unilateral idyll with the freshman was surely one of the most romantic deals in history, for Cash was a Romantic above all. I think this explains why, from the standpoint of style, the book falls naturally into two parts. The writing was spellbinding until he reached the building of the skyscrapers and then, as Mr. Virginius Dabney put it, it turned downright pedestrian. When the Chambers of Commerce flew in at the window, poetry left by the door.

Cash was brought up in the village of Boiling Springs, North Carolina, the oldest of three boys and a girl. His forbears were German and Irish and his inheritance was the mysticism of the Irish. So far as is noted, he was the first of his tribe to employ metaphor or simile; to use the biologists' term, he was a "sport". By Boiling Springs standards he was a most peculiar child [ante the song about the gas attack, you will note]--books ate him alive. Luckily there was in town a small private school with an unexpectedly good library.

But in that little library were the makings of personal tragedy. The world in which he lived and the worlds of the books were so many light-years apart that, once away from Boiling Springs, he was not to lose until just before his death the feeling that he was somehow below the view of worldly people. Many years before The Mind of the South appeared Cash had become something of a literary lion in the South but he never knew that; in the tense and fearful months and years fomenting World War II, when the editorials he was writing were proving amazingly prophetic, people who still rendered him tongue-tied were calling our house, horrified and frightened but too self-effacing to "bother" him in person, to ask at second hand for assurance from his views. He raged at himself--and at Thomas Wolfe--for those poor-boy neuroses.

His family in all their ramifications and all that little town were Hell-fearing fundamentalists and Cash was not. Still, he chose to go to a Southern Baptist school, Wake Forest College, better known now that R. J. Reynolds tobacco money has moved it away from its dusty whistle stop and the team has tied Maryland. He loved it then and always, but once confessed that fear of campus Men of Distinction had made his choice. Background of the average Wake Forest student was identical to his own. Homespun or not, lacking a School of Business Administration and gay weekends, it was a good school for the analytical likes of him and he realized that and was humbled ever after.

He day-dreamed through the four years with honor grades and then set off for a year of travel--all honor to his parents. He dreamed through Europe grinning at himself in the role of Rich American Tourist. Then, a plain B.A., he took the teaching job in Kentucky and fell agonizingly in love with the little girl with a pretty name that was to be a great one in The American Theater so that she had no time for a poor and socially awkward young instructor. [Mary wrote in here for Morrison later in the sixties: She never made the grade--ended up a housewife as most of us do.]

It was all so magnificently elevated that I suspect he never actually popped the question but, nevertheless, he was rebuffed. There seems to have been a certain amount of just-who-the-hell-does-she-think-she-is, fortunately, but it was deeply traumatic. He was yearningly in love with that gal for a dozen years after he last saw her. He left the little college and took up newspapering, in several cities. In Cleveland, where he was a reporter until the Depression eroded most of the paper's staff, the sharpness of his misery was diminished by the courtships of the monkeys in a petshop window where he stopped to watch each noon for months [ten years before the movie came out]. I'm laughing even now.

Like so many others then he could find no job and so went back home. There, there was at least a roof and regular meals. Both brothers and their wives and babies and incipient babies had also returned in desperation so, although it was a large old house, he could find no peace for writing the articles he felt were the only means of making any money at all. There were no office buildings in Boiling Springs but the town's one bank had failed so he rented the bank. There he set up his clangorous old typewriter and went to work, but the bank also failed as a retreat because of the children lined up mashing their noses against the three glass sides as they watched him work. But there he turned out his first SALE. He thought the envelope from The American Mercury contained an advertisement and nearly threw out a $200.00 check which was to underwrite a new nephew among other things.

Mr. H. L. Mencken was then editor and Cash's skillful, wistful, iconoclastic probing under the layers of highly bruisable magnolia petals still blanketing the South was just his cup of hemlock. Before Mr. Mencken left the magazine Cash had written for it thirteen articles, all on some aspect of the South or some southerner. Perhaps I should say some outrageous southerner. Those were the ones who made him angry enough for expression, out of his love for his country. Blots on the Fair Face of the South Suh they were, but they were also Great Heroes or Duly Elected Representatives or Generous and Far-seeing Benefactors to the fellows leaning on the old Confederate cannon in Court House Square. News of their heroes' blothood never reached many of those fellows, of course, but the Charlotte (N. C.) News must have braved considerable criticism in making him associate editor, particularly as one of his pieces had concerned that bustling place and been called "A Calvinist Lhasa", and had accomplished the banning of the magazine from the public library, a situation well loved by Mr. Mencken [a claim the librarian later disputed]. Cash possessed almost total recall, and the presentation, the summation, of what he had read, learned and observed made out such convincing cases against some of North Carolina's leading citizens that there was genuine outrage in high places--except where there was laughter.

(As I write this, for the first time ever I am considering the nice but limited old girl who banned the Mercury from the Charlotte library; since I was seven and she was running the Children's Room she had been trying to supervise my reading, and my marriage to Cash must have appalled her.)

If you can remember so far back, [name], you may recall that Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., was connected with publication of the American Mercury. Mrs. Knopf, who was then active in the affairs of the house, had been interested by an analytical piece Mr. Mencken had accepted (called The M. of the S., incidentally) so Cash was summoned to Baltimore where she suggested that it be expanded to book-length. She asked just the right questions to set him on fire with the idea and he started to work at once. Ten years later he finished the book.

There were many reasons why it took so long. There was some ill health, some frustrating blank-mind periods when he could accomplish nothing at all, the resulting anger and despair that pyramided his failures. But eventually he had it all, scrupulously annotated up to three-quarters of some of the pages, with no feeling of accomplishment. In trying to find the reason for his dissatisfaction it struck him, blindingly, that he had written an utterly loathsome textbook fit to be read only by learned sticklers for minutiae. Admittedly (when I contested such--to me--casual obscurities as "proto-Dorian") he was not aiming it at the Literary Guild, but he saw that the book's labor would be lost if it could not be read by the people it actively concerned.

I don't know how long it took for him to haul himself out of that pit, but he set out to do it all over again, organizing and writing it in such a way that it carried its own conviction without one single footnote of reference. (Reviews comparing the book to Van Wyck Brooks made him chew up his hands; getting rid of those footnotes was the hardest work in his life.)

While he was struggling with it the world was heading into war and Cash took the whole thing personally. Sometimes his greatest fear was that there would not be a war; that the "wave of future" Anne Lindbergh, then currently misled, was writing about would engulf us before we had the wits to struggle. By then I was in the picture (we met one night at a book fair, I was surprized [sic] to find him so young for all that wisdom and he was doubtless surprized when he ended the evening with the statement that we would be married) so I could observe the wild personal frustration with every Nazi advance into new territory. His editorials, sometimes within the space of a few days, were almost stunningly prophetic, and nothing made him so furious as to be asked about "hunches" and such. It was history dictating. Total recall, again, applied to current events by his own sense of direction and aptness.

I suppose the beautiful piece of work that was his only book was also the result of that combination--total recall of the factual history of the South presented from the viewpoint of sensible men before him, with whom he could agree, carried into the (then) present through his own observation of the present as the child of the past. I do not mean to imply that what he wrote of the South's early days was a re-write of known history and other men's writings about it. What he did was to arrive at inference. He heard old stories, handed down. Why some trashy lot went up in the world while the local seigneurs were going to seed. He lived as a child in a region where almost the only recreation was conversation--"visitin'". He listened and dreamed over things he heard, and understood them later.

The book inched to a close. The paper would give him a month's leave to finish it and Hitler would move into Austria. Cash would stand by the radio savagely biting his hands until he left the house to walk the streets all night. The book would not advance a dozen manuscript pages. The next year (or whenever it was) he would get another month for completing it and Hitler would parade triumphantly into Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain would go to Munich, and there would be no progress in the book. But then Hitler invaded Poland, and when that happened and war was openly declared (or was it, ever?) Cash grew quite calm and finished the book in a few days, taking no leave at all. Patient Griselda, also shaken by the world's tragedy and sweating out completion of the book all those years, and the suddenly normal editor of the afternoon paper were then united in marriage.

But doubts about the book set in now that the publication date (moved back fifteen or twenty times in ten years by the patient Knopfs) was actually fixed. Weren't they, if any of "them" ever bothered to read it, likely to think him filled with hatred of his own land? Wouldn't they damn him from the pulpits, at the meetings of Rotary, the D. A. R., the U. D. C.? The editorial pages, the BOOK pages?

The reviews ended those worries. With two exceptions, one of which he could dismiss with a grin as it came from a member of the so-called "Agrarian" group he had discounted in the book, the book was accepted as the final work on the South to that date. One very, very, very rich textile manufacturer (a group he had certainly not pampered) wrote to him that the book was "a cool breeze blowing through our land". Negroes individually idolized and idealized him, to his shame. Walter White, then president of NAACP, thanked him for the book in the name of the organization. The city manager of one of the fantastic Texas cities wrote to ask what he would suggest to make it "a better Southern city along your lines". Letters, letters, letters, to bring tears. And there were several--surprise, surpRISE--from union organizers grateful in finding an explanation of their failure to organize southern industries, which each had thought to be a personal failure. There were letters from people who only thought How True, How True, and wanted to tell him how right he was. I was amused to discover that where I had thought the book might hurt and anger (page one, labeling southern aristocracy a myth), it did nothing of the kind. Again they said How True, always adding "Look at the high-and-mighty Joe Smiths, for example--" or the Rhett Snopeses or the Legare Jukeses. Never "my own family".

And it all had the effect I prayed for. Cash never cared a hoot for money and the book made very little, but still, in this case, the Poor Boy had Made His First Million. He was now established in his own eyes, and all unease completely vanished.

But I could see other things I had not noticed before we were married. His vision, his muscular coordination--something was "off". The two were not working well together. Reaching for a glass of water he would upset it. Crossing streets at night he would yank me out of the path of a car a block away. He was visibly showing signs of strain, either overwork or the long strain of his reactions to the events leading up to war.

The day he received notice from the Guggenheim Foundation that he would receive the fellowship he resigned from the paper. He wanted to write a trilogy of novels on a cotton family, based on the history of some of his mother's people. He chose Mexico City as the place to live while doing the first (never stay home on a Guggenheim!) because the peso was then five to the dollar and had dollar value. He was delighted to be asked to make the commencement address at the University of Texas on the way down, and the first of June, 1940, saw us in Mexico City.

[Hereafter, the remainder as set forth yesterday.]


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