The Gathered Words

part 3:  “I Am Gregory”

Always a Story ...

the Chapters


     When I was first a child outside on a summer morning, the sound of a train crossing the river came down, not just a low rumble but a muffled whistle too. If people in Mulberry ever heard the Nellie’s bell and whistle on engine No. 34, coming on the twists and turns of Caney Creek, it was at least thirty years before my time, when deep-nourished trees in Mulberry bottom were still being shipped out from Spies Switch. I never saw the trains I heard. The dew, when the sound came best, wet my bare feet; I dragged up firewood, filled the black pot, and helped my mother wash. I don’t remember that she noticed the trains, though she had traveled herself on one to the “World’s Fair” in Chicago (1933). I still hear them—the trains—because, when she told something, it was always a story. On the square in Bonham, waiting for Clayton in her car, Gladys watched the people and told herself about their lives, from their faces. One day she thought he might be a school trustee, got out and asked for a job. He wasn’t promising, but she got the school and “danced around the house” till Clayton came home from the field.


        Of my mother’s religion I can say almost nothing

from my
own memory. My childhood, at all events, was

not in the least other worldly. Except for the toy garden

and the Green Hills it was not even imaginative; it lives

in my memory mainly as a humdrum, prosaic happiness

and awakens none of the poignant nostalgia with which I

look back on my much less happy boyhood. It is not

settled happiness but momentary joy that glorifies the

past....                  —C. S. Lewis, in Surprised by Joy


“Clowning” at Mulberry school

Clayton and Gregory (1938) “the Tree still grows”

In a “cane chair” and “Miss Zona’s big black car”

Clayton and Gladys at the “Red House” (1940)

        1956 April 27. I came to Mulberry this evening.

Indeed, I know no place more beautiful than ours.

All so green; roses in bloom.  Think, Gregory,

now is the time to be happy.

Lying in bed as the morning sun pours in,


I can look at irregular brown shapes

made by the last invading rain on new ceiling paper,

till a form or face appears to move as a cloud

outside passes by. Without a word, thinking,

I watch. If I close my eyes

“it” will go away, and sometime seems to,

but I can remember without looking,

and usually when I look again, the form or shape

remains, unmoved. More than sixty

years later, the rain no longer finds

a way inside, but I, lying in bed

when the light starts to show through leaves,

can see a moving form or face. It is the wind,

a game almost: I look away or close my eyes.

“It” crouches still in branches of a tall tree

I planted in the yard myself.

I doubt the past should be much glorified, or needs to be.

It is about a joy subdued, on an autumn day in Mulberry,

facing the ruined oak, in fitful communion with shadows

(Marcel Proust, in Remembrance of Things Past, called them “divinities”)

gathered on the “gin lot,” to succor our deficient present,

saying “we’ll be there too,” when the time comes.

They didn’t know they were divinities, so I was able to purchase

from my father’s siblings, share by share,

all “interest and title” in the “Reid’s old homestead”

—but I’m giving it to you. It is time.