Hunt recalls his life as a 13-year-old on a Louisiana plantation just after World War II.
In 1946, the sugarcane plantation was still in many ways a relic of the antebellum South. Hunt, because his father ran the farming operations, had the privilege of living in the “Big House” near the African-American workers’ shacks in “The Quarter.” However, in this fine memoir, there’s no hint of condescension in the white Hunt’s interactions with the African-American families. Hunt felt welcome at the parties they held, and he enjoyed hearing performers named Nat and Ella and Lena singing from their radios. One of the field hands described Hunt’s father as “nearly ’bout like us colored folks, he ain’t got no land, no money, and he ain’t got much schoolin’.” Hunt was so color-blind that a well-meaning worker advised him that it would be best if he spent more time with those of his own kind. The suggestion arose mainly because he spent so much time with his best friend, a younger African-American boy nicknamed Papa. Their association was as deep as a boyhood friendship could possibly be, as illustrated by Hunt’s selfless efforts to help Papa learn to read and write. Although Hunt was well aware that the world beyond the dirt road was all-white—including his school and church—he was genuinely bewildered by warnings that his friendship with Papa could eventually pose a risk to both of them. The author intensifies the poignancy by revealing that the plantation was slowly dying, as workers migrated north instead of waiting to be replaced by postwar farm equipment. Meanwhile, Hunt kept right on reading Superman comics to Papa; however, the author doesn’t reveal what the boys thought about the plots of those fantastic stories. More significantly, Hunt’s detailed epilogue leaves out any information about Papa’s fate, which may disappoint many readers. Nevertheless, this is a beautiful memoir, and the author renders the lives along that dirt road with vivid, unforgettable humanity.
A moving debut coming-of-age memoir.