Freebird

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Freebird

I. The Fraternity of Singing Men

It’s 1980 and August and hot and my back is nearly broke cause Big Rick got drunk with the rest of us camping in the cow pasture behind my house the weekend before college and we pretend wrestle and he power drives me into the ground from above his head and then I sleep on the hood of my car. And now my dad and uncle drive me five hours north—my back braced and chiropractored just enough—through Camilla, Albany, Cordele, Vienna, Unadilla, Perry, Macon, Gray, Eatonton, Madison, and Watkinsville to the big University in Athens. And the whole damn way the Bonneville rides at deep-load displacement, filled to the brim with all the records, speakers, turntables, tuners, amps, and dunnage of my young life, cruising at the speed of a tractor pulling a transplanter in a tobacco field. And the whole damn way we drag the plug of my new black-and-white TV, locked out the back door and scraped off down to dangling wires on 250 miles of shimmering Georgia blacktop. Oh well. But Pop and C. J. help with the carrying and stairs and boxes till I’m left in a room like a chicken coop and do the only thing there is to do—assemble the stereo and blast Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd like a mating song till Gimme Three Steps draws a bunch of rednecks to my place and we talk and dip and sing and smoke—cause God meant us to smoke wherever the hell we want, even inside—and smoke fills the dorm room and clings to our jeans and marks us all with ash the same so we remember the places from where we came—the barns and pines and gnat-swarmed, corn-growing dirt we leave without regret or escape.

II. Feed, Seed, and Speed

A Cracker is as a Cracker does. The son of a country mailman the son of a failed farmer the son of a lost clod who died from yellow fever and disappeared, not even a lightard knot to note the place they stuck his grave in the ground. And the Cracker’s mama? Orphaned by a stroke of bad luck and alcohol, the daughter of sharecroppers the daughter of cotton the daughter of cornmeal, dirt, and squirrels for dinner. Sleeping with a gun between her legs. Cause better a gun than a father or brother’s dank, bowed cock. And a Cracker is as Cracker does in Southwest Georgia. SoWeGa—So-WEEEEE-Ga! A man can call some hogs with that. To the slop, to the trough, to the blow-down, bow, crook, cup, and twist of a barn. Can you even imagine the barn? Or the mud? Imagine. And the corn scooped from the feedsack makes a stunning yellow arc in the air, gleams—and it does—every day in the thunder-building air, before it pellets the same hoof-trodden ground. But hogs will root it out. Cause a hog is a hog is a hog and a hog does as a hog is. And a Cracker’s son in the ’70s drives his daddy’s F-100 at the power ballad speed of sound. Down dirt roads and paved roads and ditches and cross the wooden bridges. And Freebird is his speed and sound. A Salem Light between his fingers and a beer between his legs, he tugs his feedstore hat into place—blazoned with winged yellow corn like Mercury riding a cob to hell—and punches stations into the radio’s face, singing I’ll be leaving here tomorrow, girl, cause I got too many places to go and so much more to know. Swearing he don’t need nobody to remember him or his name, thank you just the same. That—or he’ll be good and damned.

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