Originally published at the Jenny Jack Sun Farm blog, August 2014.
The old man in the long Lincoln Town Car died yesterday. Perry Gene Williams visited the farm nearly every single day, carefully weaving down grass paths, assessing our progress, or sometimes in his evaluation, a lack thereof. He would find which plot of land we were working and slowly, like time owed him a favor, gravitate our way. During his rounds Perry always paid the chickens a visit. He liked to watch them hunt for bugs and squawk, perhaps a reminder of his fifty years of farming by day and coon hunting by night. The notorious noisemaking of a chicken pen seemed to parallel Perry‟s legendary existence. From the way he tells it, sleeping took a backseat to the wide open woods, dirt roads, and wandering pasture that feverishly called to him. Those were fearless, freeing times; antithetical to modern culture‟s overprotected, under-skilled, over-medicated, screen-fixated masses. And he was never shy about remembering them.
The man could tell a story and when he started you had better forget time and get comfortable because you were hearing an experience artfully relived with impersonations, minute details, sound effects, and colorful characters, all delivered in a magnetic cadence that was too good to walk away from too soon. His voice was artisanal, slow-crafted, brackish and bold, and aged in southern dirt, tobacco, and the fragrant spirits that came before. Many of his stories, it seemed, began with or included the phrase, “I was bout‟ drunk and…”. Those memories always ended with laughter and the more questions we asked the funnier the story became. And then we would beg for repetition like we do when a toddler orchestrates a cute sound or a dog learns an unusual trick. “Perry,” we would excitedly inquire, “turn your hat sideways and talk like so-and-so,” or “show us how so-and-so looks when she starts talking to men” or we could mention certain people and then count how many times he used the term, “SOB.”
He always wanted your attention, he was a showstopper, a booming, unending supply of conjured up hilarity, a saint with a sinner’s ambition, and a gift of heavenly proportion to this farm and the hodgepodge of eclectic folks who have traveled through.
Perry was more than a witty quip or a hilarious impersonation. Perry was smart, like an instinctual smartness, a lived cleverness that develops, I gather, over decades of dedication to a place and a people and a work. C.G. Jung says that “Instinct is Nature…and consciousness may not be able to serve us as well as nature.” Jung figures that consciousness presents too many possibilities and uncertainties which cause fear and thus an inability to act instinctually. Being in and around nature is important for so many reasons, and one very critical one according to Jung, is that we learn to act instinctually. Jenny‟s dad and Perry‟s best friend, Maxie, mentioned this to me the other day after he returned from visiting Perry in the hospital. He said, and I‟m paraphrasing, “Perry knows things about people and about things that most people could never know and he does it almost instantly.” Perry told us one time that he sees more from his front porch than most people see over a whole lifetime. From his front porch chair, he would watch the habits of crows and then drive to the farm and report on their ways of practical genius. He could detect community gossip based entirely on traffic patterns. His views on rich politicians and the downward spiral of wayward youth developed from a patient porch view of road, cows, and sky. I think people like Perry should be allowed to live forever.
In a culture braced on half-truths we need his honesty, and in an era of growing up entranced indoors we need his outdoor, rambling tales, and on a White Cemetery Road farm with so many hours spent bending over, we need the inexhaustible pleasure of raising up to see his steadily approaching Lincoln and to hear his undeniable, weathered voice yell, “tighten up !”