Friday, 30 July 2010

“Ecology of a Cracker Childhood” (Janisse Ray)

“Ecology of a Cracker Childhood” is a fabulous book written by Janisse Ray, and published by Milkweed Editions (1999).

It is an affectionate account of her up-bringing as a “Georgia Cracker” in the small town of Baxley, GA.

She writes with clear love and affection for her parents, grand-parents, and siblings. She tells of their life in the Apostolic Church; of her father’s inventive genius (he ran a scrap-yard); of her amazing and beautiful mother; her tough paternal grandmother; and of the mental illness of both her paternal grandfather, and her father.

She tells of her terrific maternal grand-parents in such a way as would make one long to feast at this grandmother’s table.

Interwoven with these memories, (and integral to her tale), Janisse introduces her readers to the bugs, beasts, and birds; and to the trees, grasses and plants with which she was surrounded in Baxley.'

Janisse Ray speaks of the material poverty of her childhood without shame or embarrassment.

She also celebrates the relational and environmental riches of her up-bringing.

“Georgia Cracker” is the name given to poor whites in that State. (Poor whites in Florida were/are also called Crackers).

Most people assert that this refers to the “crack of the whip” over the oxen which pulled their carts.

But the word was also used by William Shakespeare to indicate a “boaster or braggart – hence a liar”.

And as early as 1766, one G. Cochrane defined “crackers” as those who are “great boasters; ... a lawless set of rascals on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia, who often change their places of abode”.

Be that as it may I recommend Janisse Ray’s book.

Some months ago I wrote about Ferdie Pacheo’s memoir of growing up in Ybor City (Tampa, FL). I said that it made me nostalgic about a time and place I never knew. Janisse Ray’s book does the same.

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