Toni Morrison’s Civil War

Macon paused and let the smile come on.  He had not said any of this for years.  Had not even reminisced much about it recently.  When he was first married he used to talk about Lincoln’s Heaven to Ruth.  Sitting on the porch swing in the dark, he would re-create the land that was to have been his.  Or when he was just starting out in the business of buying houses, he would lounge around the barbershop and swap stories with the men there.  But for years he hadn’t had that kind of time, or interest.  But now he was doing it again, with his son, and every detail of that land was clear in his mind: the well, the apple orchard, President Lincoln; her foal, Mary Todd; Ulysses S. Grant, their cow; General Lee, their hog.  That was the way he knew what history he remembered.  His father couldn’t read, couldn’t write; knew only what he saw and heard tell of.  But he had etched in Macon’s mind certain historical figures, and as a boy in school, Macon thought of the personalities of his horse, his hog, when he read about these people.  His father may called their plow horse President Lincoln as a joke, but Macon always thought of Lincoln with fondness since he had loved him first as a strong, steady, gentle, and obedient horse.  He even liked General Lee, for one spring they slaughtered him and ate the best pork outside Virginia, "from the butt to the smoked ham to the ribs to the sausage to the jowl to the feet to the tail to the head cheese"–for eight months.  And there was cracklin in November.

"General Lee was all right by me," he told Milkman, smiling.  "Finest general I ever knew.  "Even his balls was tasty.  Circe made up the best pot of maws she ever cooked.  Huh!  I’d forgotten that woman’s name.  That was it, Circe.  Worked at a big farm some white people owned in Danville, Pennsylvania.  Funny how things get away from you.  For years you can’t remember nothing.  Then just like that, it all comes back to you.  Had a dog run, they did.  That was the big sport back then.  Dog races.  White people did love their dogs.  Kill a nigger and comb their hair at the same time.  But I’ve seen grown white men cry about their dogs."

From Song of Solomon (pp. 51-52)

2 comments… add one

  • Charles Bowery Mar 6, 2007

    Kevin,
    Brilliant, thanks. One set of events and personalities, but so many different ways of remembering. Keep up the good work.

    My wife (Army JAG officer) may be spending the next year in Charlottesville at the JAG school. I would enjoying sharing a beer or four with you and talking about your work.
    Charles

  • Kevin Levin Mar 6, 2007

    Hi Charles, — Sounds like a great idea. You know where to find me so I look forward to hearing from you.

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