Father Josephus (A Chapter Story Within – The Vanquished Plantations)

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(1877-1967)

Rise of the Redneck

It wasn’t the race per se that the south had to deal with-more so of the rise of the redneck, the tarnished south, those with no honor or same-contrary to the lifestyle of the prior aristocracy, and it all started after the Civil War, and would worsen for the next hundred years.

Josephus Hightower I, born 1847, died 1913 in New Orleans, mother: Pamela Swiler, his son and grandson, Josephus Hightower II (1877-1967), and granddaughter Ruth, born 1890, died 1957 (at 67-years old) and Jason Hightower (1920…) took on this lowly beginning, its mannerisms, hence, both son and grandson were looked upon as typical ‘Near poor white trash,’ the offspring of Charles T. Hightower’s affair. To such raw manners, they blended in with the realism of his times and environment: Josephus II, with the money his father had left him, hung out in New Orleans with scalawags, gamblers, into the careless cobwebs, of the city-the rootless people; folks started calling, Father Josephus, and it wasn’t because he acted like a priest, but the opposite.

The Hightower’s (outside of Ozark-even though at this point in time Charlie’s plantation was becoming unproductive), became plain people of the urban south. And the Abernathy’s were on the way to such an unsentimental view likewise.

Father Josephus

He was a living example of the astonishing-and Plato’s demise, of man’s unrivaled nightmares; in this case the nightmare is anarchy-what can be without law, will be. He had become legend in New Orleans in his time, but he was symbolic of the opposite of a priest-due to the form of behavior he displayed, as symbolic of an age before the Great Flood, where rules didn’t seem to exist. A well-built man with a handsome face, a bowtie often, white shirt, and Panama hat too boot (born 1877, and would die at the ripe old age of ninety-years old, in 1967). He had a typical frame of mind as a carefree gigolo might have on any Sunday morning. With this difference: Church goers usually have something to contemplate about-their sins, Christ, and so forth, Josephus II, derived an amusement out of it all, he was no more alarmed over lust than the world was alarmed over a world war, in 1897, when he was twenty years old. Had received his portion of the fortune His grandfather left him, Charles T. Hightower, and his grandmother, Pamela Swiler (never married), and his father Josephus Hightower I (the son of Charles T.).

He lived high off the hog, and off his reputation of his grandfather from Ozark, Alabama, now a disturbing image to those who knew the Hightower’s, passing the time of day with scalawags, gamblers, -the rootless and toothless, and the scare-faced people of New Orleans.

Hence, this is how he comes into the picture; hence he goes out of it, quickly forgotten, sunless, and sightless, and ageless, unsurprised by his group of roustabouts. For most of his younger adult life, his illusion was not so much to be smugly, or self-righteously, or even play the prosperous person per se, but busy, carefree, never looking out upon the world, he lived in, to him it was an invented one of booze, and mood altering chemicals, and stirred not a finger to the wrong doers, as he was their cult priest pert near (although withdrawn often, and disoriented often, and hyper at times if not disheartened), and this lifestyle was a ritual, he lived, and produced them with the very blood in his veins.

It boasts-the city of New Orleans-that in the following ten-years, to the age of thirty, the city itself saw him everyday, except for Christmases. That was his sobriety day. He felt he was one of the chosen: that Abraham and Moses, and perhaps even King David spoke to him, and he argued with their God. In a way he became a lunatic philosopher of the streets. So often, too often, he’d say “Here I am…!” when someone greeted him, then spit his tobacco out, constantly having a steady flow of saliva mixed with it: like many folks in his day, and I suppose not many folks ever saw him close, his eyes never saw more than a few hours rest. This is the man.

This story starts where the night part of twilight, found him, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, down sleeping on the bench in Jackson Park, this now urban southerner was near broke; $116,000-dollars only lasts so long. He was so drunk in these days folks thought he was talking a strange language when they stopped to speak to him, thinking he was speaking German or Chinese, he had spent his who life being a Louisiana man, however, this was quite known.

His once broad acreage is all but gone, as is the splendor of his family name. Shiftless he sits on the rocky banks along the Mississippi River, finds twigs and branches, amid the parks trees, and uses them as one would use firewood. The flames go high; reflect onto the river, a tamed and dim, monument to himself against the times: he now has very little to do with man and his busy city. This man is gone, he had no dream, but he did have pride, and that is among the dust of the city, and in its place, he has even forgotten how to read and spell-for the most part, it is his tarnished age, his ways his consumption (he is burning up); it comes to everyone who has no true value in anything. No reason to live, no reason to die, no reasoning period, just existing because you do, until you don’t.

Yes, he perhaps was from imperial blood, derived from the Hightower’s of Europe, and Ozark, Alabama, perhaps the dignity of a king. His father Josephus I, he was not only eminent on account of this, with a commendation on account of his righteousness, he carried a great reputation in New Orleans and the land his father had given him, in North Carolina, and as I have told you, he was acquainted with all the rubbish of the city, and in these following years, underwent great difficulties, but somehow went through them all, and he produced a son, Jason-out of wedlock of course-who contracted polio. It was at this point, his sister Ruth gave him fare to go to Rome-out of some homespun, or woman’s intuition, perhaps even providence-who’s to say, and he took the voyage, and this on the occasion, is which I shall now tell:

during these several months on small and trifling occasions he had talked to a number of nuns, priests and bishops, to plead cause before the Pope, and him plead to God for his deliverance, he was desirous, especially because he was informed he had dementia of some sort, a mental illness he could no longer endure (into modern terms, this might be called bipolar). They were not unmindful of pity, of him, and his afflictions (it was now, 1909); thus, Pope Pius the X held the pontiff office in the Vatican. It was at this time, in August of 1912, he became an appointed Deacon, and so he put a stop to his tumultuous years, and lifestyle. Ruth, raised Jason, and Josephus II, he received all the sacraments, and through good works and duty, his life become orderly, and became proficient in reading and understanding the Septuagint Version (in the Book of Esther), the first translation of the Hebrew Testament, made into Greek, and then translated by the Christians, and then into English. So he became a servant and minister, and was employed in this capacity.

Ruth Hightower

(And Jason and Betty)

Ruth Hightower, the sister to Josephus II, had always been a great one for attending to her own business, so much so that it had been hard for her to have given that boat fare to her brother, and support him those two and half years while in Rome, and often wondered warmly if Josephus ever would wind back up a drunk in New Orleans, but once he became a Deacon, it was time to strike a balance and close the ledger, and forget the price tag, it was all worth it. His father would have been astonished, if not alarmed at his recovery and end position. Not reduced to dried-up debris, as once expected, but rather he had produced human conduct to a single workable and honorable belief, and if he could do it, anyone could do it. But it is so true, that all men are not more honest than the occasion requires.

Ruth was a quiet, unselfish and slightly bowlegged woman, her eyes were all surface on her face pert near, which was a shinny white to rose color, and you never saw her eyelids close, or move, even briefly, if she had any affairs, they were secret affairs, it would seem she was still perusing a quiet life at the age of twenty, to thirty and all the way to forty or so. Lending money and getting her due interest, buying and selling live stock, along with renting out portions of her land for crops. She was not shiftless as many tenant farmers were-a race that accommodates nobody and remains rootless, owing nothing to the soil, only taking out of it what they can. Using the land as one uses a drunken friend.

These years were good to her, even though unrehearsed. And then Jason Married Betty though nobody had expected Jason to marry, and he had a daughter, or they did. And he inherited a house. Moved his leathered suitcase to their house and, chewing his tobacco like those Hightower’s before him, thrusting of his lower jaw, building up that saliva, he maintained tradition, perhaps only in that.

Ruth died at 67-years old, in 1957, and left her estate…and left the total sum to her brother, Josephus II, now in Rome: the plantation house being valued at $200,000-dollars, and the 400-acres at an undisclosed sum. Jason doubtless agreed with her, for one day in early winter he was asked to sign a paper indicating such, he was given $20,000-dollars for that signature, this voluntarily released all claims to the land.

Light at Goose Creek

(Josephus Hightower II)

Standing beside a pole alongside a corner grocery store, watching the folks walk down the street, Josephus Hightower II, thinks, ‘I have come from North Carolina: not too far of a place but pretty far distance; all the way from twenty-miles outside of Fayetteville, -a-hitchhiking (he had run away). Thinking, he had not been on the road but two days, and here I am, already in Georgia, farther from home than I have ever been previously, and only fifteen-years old.

He had never been to Goose Creek, but he had heard about it from his father, Josephus Hightower I, now in Rome, a Deacon, and his aunt Ruth, who had heard about it from their mother Pamela Swiler, who had been taken there by her secret lover, Charles T. Hightower-six to ten times in the time they dated, how he’d take her in the buggy, in her white cotton dress, red laced around the neck, and kick off her shoes, and with her bare feet, soak them in the creek. She’d put her shoes on the edge of the bank, after she got undressed and would get down and into the water, and walk about instead of swimming. She’d try to act casual, so folks, who saw her and Charles together, might simply think she was visiting and a far-off relative.

When she was fifteen-years old (the same age he was now), her father and mother died in the same winter, in a hotel room in New Orleans, in a room unlit, by some drunk, next door who drunkenly shot holes in the wall for target practice killing them both in bed.

She was the only child of theirs. Her mother died screaming first, then her father slowly, both naked. She said, “If anything ever happens to us, take care of yourself the best way you can, find a rich man to comfort you…!”

Pamela did, just as she said. And later on, she had told her son, of those far-off days. “Someday get ready to go, cuz we’re going back to Goose Creek,” she told Josephus I, after Charles had passed on in ’69. Then she died.

And down the road Ruth came into the picture, and his father died.

The next morning, the third day on the road, he departed Atlanta forever, sitting in the backseat of a car that was stolen. The boy driving it, a sixteen-year old, told Josephus he had borrowed it for a joyride, but ended up taking Josephus all the way down to Alabama, even he got interested in this unknown creek, called Goose Creek as if it had some magic potion in it. The car pulled up to the creek, by nightfall, and the boy promised to return to pick him up in the morning, and take him back to Atlanta, but the next morning, he never showed up, he had went down to Ozark to find some booze he told Josephus, but never returned.

Josephus, noticed in the far distance the tall timber, a forest, the sound of a train, in the field he saw machinery, nothing moved, just sounds, and shadows, this all brought on an installment plan, it was 1902, he would stay there for a few days, swim, and see if the old Hightower plantation was still standing, and who owned it now. But for the moment he found some ragged weeds pulled them from their roots, made a kind of pillow out of them, no quality to it, he was mystified upon this scene though, peaceful, an unplowed creek bank, alongside the quiet sound of the creek water galloping by, his head a bit distorted, talking to himself a mile a minute, saddened by the thoughts of his roots.

He hardly remembered the complete story his father, told him each Christmas about his grandmother, who had told it to him, and he heard it for several years-half his lifetime; when he heard sirens in the morning, it was a police car, and two police men walking towards him, they had come to take him back home.

La Rio Malhumorado

((The River of Moods) (Part Three)) 1892

(Josephus Hightower II)

As the train neared Fayetteville, Josephus Hightower II, ceased talking to the deputy, who was escorting him back from Ozark, to the platform at the Fayetteville Train Station, his talking died away and he had now initiate a quieter and quieter persona. While during the initial voyage he and his so called accompanying companion, deputy, Epsom Dewy, eating away some watermelon, a cheese sandwich-and everything he could find to eat, with the quality of a redneck, to the point of stuffing himself, and even having a beer or two, running to the little stores on the platforms, or café, when the train made it stops, assuming now, the boy was trustworthy not to run, near five miles left to go to Fayetteville- apparently, assuming the boy didn’t notice his state of ingestion, to the point of near intoxication, moved the deputy’s briefcase to the side of the floor, made out of some cheap imitation leather, slated over-pulled something from his pocket, and said he had to go quickly to the bathroom, descended the train, as it slowed down into the railroad yard, and then onto the station itself.

Josephus’ father was waiting, in the stations waiting room: said to his wife, “Well, what’re we going to do with the boy?” Ella said nothing.

On the train the boy had pushed and shoved his way to the last car, nudged his way to the caboose.

“What’s the matter?” asked Ella to her husband.

“Well, what’re we going to do?”

“I don’t know Josephus, but we’ve been here before, ain’t we?”

“I reckon we have,” replied Josephus I.

Epsom Dewy was watching the train coming to its normal slow and steady, and noisy stop, his big mouth like a saw-mill, trying to stuff that last of his foodstuff into it.

Some woman approached him said, “What’s the matter with you? All the time on the train you’ve been feeding that mouth of yours while that boy just sat there looking at you as if you were a fat clown, and figured out how to escape you’re obesity. I bet you ain’t ever had a boy of your own?” And then she looked out the window and said “See…!”

Something jolted inside the deputy, thrust him apart from the woman standing by his side; and he pushed and shoved the people around him to his side, he was a porky specimen of a man, clutching his briefcase as he jumped off the train running to catch the boy in flight, fought his way into the main part of the train station.

“I have to find him,” he exclaimed, talking to no one in particular, looking hopelessly and exhaustingly and glass-eyed about.

“What you in such a rush for?” asked a policeman standing at a wide pillar in the middle of the station, as if they both were holding it up.

“Looking for a blue-eyed, red haired runaway white boy!” said the deputy.

“Which way he goes?” asked the policeman? “You know they got more than one boy in this here station.”

Epsom’s eyes were all about, wishy-washy white, with red streaks to them, as they looked wineglassily about.

“Well,” said the policeman, looking at Epsom, “you best go to it, if you want to find him.”

He moved towards the exit, the policeman shouted, “Over there…!” and Epsom looked, but it wasn’t Josephus, it was a boy with a red cap on his head. On the street, the boy was nowhere to be found.

Mexico/the Rio Grande

“So this is Mexico?” Josephus said. “Which way is it to a hotel, now?” he was speaking to a young girl, perhaps his age, fifteen or a so, a year younger or older, he was looking around and saw the river behind him-and Texas, and a bridge he had just walked over, calmly, as if he was a day visitor from Texas Laredo; in front of him main street and shabby buildings, and a motley dirty humdrum of a city it appeared to him, in the act of turning away, the girl remained silent, then as the boy was about to walk down the street replied the dark-eyed beauty from Nuevo Laredo “Straight ahead there are many hotels-?”

“This is a hectic place, pretty busy,” said the boy.

“You haven’t been here before?” asked the girl.

“No,” said the boy.

“What are you going to do then?” asked Angelica.

“Just kind of look about, I run away from home, took a deputy sheriff’s pocket money, got fifty dollars.”

They turned to each other, and then both looked up the street. It was three o’clock.

They went on walking down the street, looking around, Angelica pointing out the bars and hotels, and safe stores to go into if need be. Then they came to a dump of a hotel, it had potted plants everywhere.

“Here,” said the girl, “is a cheap place, my uncle Manual owns it, and I live with him and his wife, Sarah. They charge $2.”-dollars a night, but I’ll tell them I know you, so you get it for $1.-dollar.” And she smiled proudly and happily; the boy looking in the glass of the outside window, seeing inside of it, an old Mexican sitting in a wooden rocker, with potted plants all about him.

“You can’t walk around all night? What are you going to do?” said the girl. The boy looked down the street.

“Why, this will be fine,” he said, “How old is your uncle?”

“I think he’s fifty-four,” said the girl.

It was a three storey hotel, with only nine rooms to it, and a small grassless backyard, but the boy figured he could live there for a month or so, then figure out what then he was going to do, thereafter.

On the steps he said that evening with Angelica, watching two dogs fight across the street, the sound of wagons and horses moving about. She had paid her uncle $30-dollars, from the boys stash, although he didn’t care for the situation, he was too old to argue, and she might even run away with him, so he said, ‘Okay,’ reluctantly, and added to that, “Whoever heard of a fifteen year old white boy from across the river living in a dumpy hotel like this?” and went and sat down by his potted plants.

In the following days, they went around the city together. She introduced him to everyone she knew. They stood on top of the hotel many a night, on its edge looking across the city, daringly. I don’t believe the girl was any happier, or the boy.

“After a month, let’s go back to where I live and get married?” said the boy one week into the relationship.

“I can’t cross the bridge, they’ll tell me to go back,” said the girl.

“We can ask the guard, can’t we, I’ll give him…” and the boy looked in his pocket; he had fifteen-dollars left.

“He’ll want more,” said the girl.

“Let’s go see, try anyhow!” said the boy.

They left and returned. The uncle had fallen asleep in his chair as usual, and the guard had asked for $300-dollars, and laughed at fifteen.

“Let’s wait a while, another week or so, and think about this,” said the boy, it was almost ten o’clock.

She sat in a chair alongside the boy’s bed (it was at the end of his third week at the hotel); the hotel had no lights, other than candles, and kerosene laps for light. And she sat with a candle lit as she did every night, looking out the window, three floors down, and up, against the high serene Mexican sky. She could smell him, too. She watched people getting out of buggies, watched them go up the walk and into the bars. And she was worried, she wanted to marry this boy, she’d wait for him if necessary, if that was a possibility. He had told her, he’d never live- willingly her side and I think he meant it. And she got to loving him very much.

Then there was a knock on the door. And she knew better not to answer it, and she didn’t, because if it was her uncle, he’d had said so, and it was always better not to answer, the visitor would think the proprietor kept it locked-and bums would not find their way into a sleep room arrangement for the evening: anyhow, and it was near midnight.

“All right,” said the boy, “who’s there?” and as soon as he said that, the door was busted open. It was two policemen.

“Who sent you here?” asked the boy.

“Your father,” responded one of the two policemen. “You’ll be returning home tonight, we’ll walk you across the bridge and turn you over to the American authorities.”

Angelica breathed callously. “What are you police officers doing, he’s going to be my husband!” And they both looked at her.

“Miss,” said one of the policemen, “he can’t stay here, and his father aims to take him home, he’s waiting for him in Laredo Texas, across the bridge in a hotel.”

Miss Angelica, looked at the boy, he had slept with his cloths on. “Where you from?” asked the policeman.

“None of your business,” he said calmingly. The police told them their names, “We got to take him back Miss…!”

“Why,” she said after moments thought, and the boy pulled out $11-dollars, “Here, take it all, let me go.”

Both officers looked at them both, and one said, “It’s too late now.”

And one of the policemen said to the boy, “Look here you little whippier-snapper, if you cause me any trouble like you did to that fat police officer I heard about (and the boy started to laugh), you’ll end up under the river water looking up.” And the girl knew they meant what they said.

“Just a minute, please,” said the boy, now with a different, and defeated tone. And he kissed Angelica for the first time, and he told her he really loved her, and he’d be back. And she watched him go. And she felt, secretly, he’d never come back, or he’d never see him again, it was all to much, to exhausting, too frightening.

After about fifteen-minutes, the girl ran out of the hotel, towards the bridge, “Where you going?” asked the uncle.

As she ran her mind became imminent and remote from any logical reasoning, nor could see any threat, only promise if she could catch up with him, perhaps run to the edge of the bridge, see the father, and talk to him. A deep steady sound flooded her cerebellum, the flashing of lights wavered in front of her, she saw them at the edge of the bridge, talking to the American guard, ready to cross over, they were just coiling shapes but she knew the boys by heart. And when they began to move, she took a leap into the river, and the boy heard a splash, there was a strange nostalgic premise to it. And he thought, ‘…maybe by tomorrow I’ll find my way back here…!”

A crack of light came over the river, and the American guards saw a female in the water, spreading her arms out, yelling a name, and Josephus could hear a voice, a girl’s, then everyone started talking at the guard shack, and her voice blended in with theirs. And all of a sudden when the guard slammed the door, swift and hard, the voice stopped.

When they had found her, her face was a few inches under the water, she was floating on her back, looking up into the American sky, dead.

“She had a small family,” said her uncle to the American guards who gave him the body to return back to Mexico; Josephus and his father standing on the edge of the river, by the uncle, the boy’s voice already dull and in slumber.

The river appeared to be moody, filled with nothing now except people who had gathered on the bridge and banks to see what was taking place. Now Josephus could hear the running up and down of feet, and was conscious of ever sound, of female flesh, his ears strained to her the dead girl’s voice, once more. Her silk like hair, now wet and cold like her body, that seemed to be as much a part of him, as he was to himself, perhaps to her likewise, and would be forever and forever, as long as he breathed God’s air. And the father looked at the boy, said to himself inside his conscious mind: ‘What’s it going to cost this boy? Will he ever be able to have fun again, to love again?’

“Come on,” said the father to his boy.

“I’ll go dad,” Josephus said. “But don’t expect me to make any promises.”


write by Fergus

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