It all started back when I was about 12.
My father had a bookcase, and in it were books he particularly liked.
I had free run of this “library.”
One rainy afternoon I found myself bored and sought entertainment in those shelves.
Now if you have ever been a bored 12-year old you know that mischief possibilities are many. You also know that mischief is possible even when it is unintended. In fact, you know that you are likely to get in more trouble through unintended mischief than intended, for any 12-year old worth his/her salt knows not to engage in intended mischief without a ready excuse to explain why he/she did it.
If you are caught in unintended mischief you have to think fast or suffer the consequences.
I was about to get Daddy into unintended mischief.
Down at one end of the highest shelf, wedged between two mighty volumes, was a thin paperback. It had been out of my reach until recently, when what passed for a growth-spurt added a couple of inches to my unimpressive height. Now, on tip-toes, it was mine.
The cover was not particularly enticing – a knothole in a fence through which you could see a rundown cabin in a barren field, a rusted out automobile in front, an outhouse out back. But the title intrigued me God’s Little Acre.
I opened to the “Introduction” which told me that I was about to enter a world of “illiterate Southerners, with their carnalized appetites, their barbaric instincts and their animal jealousies.” So naturally I kept reading.
Soon I met Ty Ty, who promised an acre of land to God, but moved the acre when he suspected that the gold he lusted after might be there. I met Plato, who lusted after Darling Jill who didn’t lust after him in return. There was smokin’ hot Griselda, who was lusted after by most every man in the book. And there was Will, who lusted after Griselda and everyone else.
There was a lotta lust in God’s Little Acre.
I was well into this lusting when my Mama came in and saw what I was reading.
She didn’t say a word, at least not to me.
Instead she went right straight to Daddy and in a tone that was as accusatorial as interrogatory, I heard her ask, “where did your son get that book?”
It was clear from her phrasing that no son of hers would pick up such a book on his own, which of course was what I had done.
Daddy realized that like any good prosecutor, Mama had asked a question to which she already knew the answer. So Daddy decided to hide behind the truth.
“What book?” he asked, for to this point he was entirely the innocent.
God’s Little Acre!!
“He must have found it on my bookshelf,” Daddy confessed, shifting the blame from himself to me.
All this did was make us both guilty – he for giving me unlimited access to a library that contained such a book, me for taking advantage of my father’s liberality.
Listening to all this, I realized that even as Mama was trying to stake out the moral high ground she was revealing that she, herself, had read the book and was familiar with what it contained.
Her desire to protect me from the seamy side of life was based on what she knew, not what she imagined or suspected, which strengthened her position even as it undermined it.
Meanwhile, I read on, trying to get through as much lusting as I could before Daddy came and took the book away.
Only he didn’t.
Out of my hearing he must have calmed Mama down, reassured her that God’s Little Acre was not going to set me off on the slippery slope to degeneracy. Maybe he reminded her that she had read it and remained the paragon of virtue she had always been. Whatever he said, it worked.
I finished the book and put it back on the shelf.
All this came back to me a couple of weeks ago when, going through the papers my father left behind, I found that very copy of God’s Little Acre.
Which gets me to the point of all this.
God’s Little Acre was roundly condemned by folks who take it upon themselves to decide what people should and should not read.
Naturally it became a nation-wide best seller.
So if you are looking for something to read by the pool or on the beach, why don’t you go get one of those books you were once told not to read. Or Google up the Top Ten Banned Books, pick one, and go at it.
As for me, I’m going back to God’s Little Acre.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It all started back when I was about 12.