The inaugural title in the nonprofit publisher’s Woodford Reserve Series in Kentucky Literature, Watson’s debut perfectly recalls the summer when a black foreman taught her how to set tobacco plants, chew the best dried leaf, and survive the sudden squalls that roiled her otherwise loving family.
The author nicely describes Grassy Spring Farm, where her kin raised horses, cattle, and some of the best tobacco in the world. The family had cultivated this land since the Civil War, and though Watson’s father was a doctor with a practice in town, he was also a farmer. Grassy Spring defined her childhood: “I did not want to separate myself from it and I grieved for my time there long before it was gone.” Though Watson moves back and forth in time to recall changes in her own life and the farm, the heart of her story concerns the summer she turned seven, in 1942. Always close to farm foreman Joe Collins, the girl became his helper and dreamed of being a farmer like him. She rode the tobacco setter with Joe, looked for guinea-hen feathers for his hat, ate lunch with him by the well. On the surface it seemed an earthly paradise peopled with agreeably eccentric relatives, a laundress who sang to the spirits, and a grocer called Ocean Frog, but there were intimations of lurking instability and tragedy. Watson’s beautiful mother, Sally Gay, grew flowers to find serenity; her father could be the best of companions, but he often became dangerously irascible, threatening everyone by pointing a gun that Joe had to wrestle away. Other dark moments would come, but memories of that transcendent summer endure.
A clear-eyed memoir of a golden time that lightened the years ahead.