Can Almost See the Lights of Home ~
Charles Hardy III & Alessandro Portelli
SIXTH MOVEMENT: VIOLENCE AND CARE
Portelli: In Chester's talk there really is this strange contrast between this very sweet man, who's become sweet, and all this obsession with violence —well, obsession's a strong—all this fascination with violence. And then, of course, the stories they tell about being in Chicago.
Chester Napier: I mean I was as green as a gourd. I mean I had been to Cincinnati for a little while at a time. But I was green as a gourd about a city as big as Chicago. I mean I was used to here you didn't take nothing off of nobody. Anybody called you something, especially a son of a bitch, you would kill for it.
Well I always got along good with the Italians,
Mexicans, Germans, and everything except for the colored. I mean I even
got along with the . . . Well, I did have one tuffle with a Puerto Rican.
I took my knife, what we call a hawk bill and cut his belly open. That
was over, over a girl I guess. There were two sisters. They were from Tennessee,
and I was seeing one of them, and he was seeing the other, and she had,
you know, I guess they'd broken up. She'd throwed him out. I was going
up to see my girlfriend, and he might have thought I was going to see his
girlfriend. So he comes at me with his knife, and I bring my arm up, and
he cut me across the arm. And by that time, I had my hawk bill out and
I cut him in his guts. They were pouring out of him. I walked on upstairs
to my girlfriend. I did have enough decency about me to call the cops and
tell them this guy on the street, somebody cut a guy on the street and
he's laying there with his guts all piled out. They came and got him. They
took him to hospital. I found out where he was in the hospital. I go see
him at the hospital. [Laughs]
Portelli: . . . this strange contrast between this very sweet man, who's become sweet, and all this obsession with violence—well, obsession's a strong—all this fascination with violence. And then, of course, the stories they tell about being in Chicago. Those are also very powerful.
Hardy:The one that stands out in my memory is whenhe's in Chicago
and he goes to visit a woman and there's somebody else there and he knifes
the guy and he sayswasn't it something? "There's nothing personal, but
if I see it, sorry it must have been—but if I see you again I'm going to
kill you." And that to me really drove home that sort of Southern ruralwhat
happens when the Southern rural culture makes its way to the city. And
it was just so matter of fact. But inevitable. There was no question about
what was going to happen if they met again.
Chester: And I didn't really start school until I was 14 years old. That's when Dad was making whiskey, him and my cousin and his son-in-law. And I was on the lookout with the shotgun to shoot three warning shots if the revenuers was coming so, the revenuers they come. And I go to my spot where they could hear me fire the shotgun three times. I was just a small kid. Let me see, and I shot my three warning shots, but they were all sitting there asleep! [Laughs] So Chad Haird and Leslie Ball, that was revenuers, and some of the deputies, they walked up on them and they waked them up. Told them, "You're under arrest." [Laughs] But in the meantime I had run and I had shot at the revenuers, trying to kill the revenuers. I was just a kid, but I was using a shotgun. It was an old 1913 shotgun, J. Stevens, name of it. I still have it. And I shot the hard hat off of Leslie Ball's head. But they never did return fire at me. I guess they knew I was just a kid. So they bringed Dad and Daniel Wilson and Kelly Smith.
SFX: Dogs barking
Q: (left channel) You got caught in the belt line?
Annie: (right channel) [Coughs] I've stayed in the hospital with Chester, but now, he was in Pennington, and basically they done—they done pretty good, considering. They had one aide and one nurse for 20 surgical patients. So basically what they did was just—the nurse, she was constantly busy giving them shots and stuff like that, and whoever was there took care of the patients. But now, that's changed.Annie: And then when Sherry broke her arm, I was over here with her every night. I'd go back and feed him of morning and bath him, and come back over here and take care of Sherry, and then go back and feed him supper. 'Cause see, he was in traction. He couldn't get nothing.
Q: And they didn't have the staff to help him?
Chester: I remember the doctor tellin' her. He was, uh, from Iran, and I remember him a-tellin' her that they, the doctors had done all they could do, and it'd be just a matter of two or three days 'til it'd be all over, and I'd be gone.
Chester: (left channel) And I went to raise up, hit the doctor and cuss him. But I couldn't raise up and I couldn't talk. [Laughs] I wanted to tell him, well, I'll tell you the words that I wanted to tell him. I wanted to raise up, tell him, you sonofabitch, I'm not ready to die yet, and I'm not goin die. And I guess if I hadn't had that attitude I prob'ly woulda died. And I had two small kids. You know, they just [snaps fingers]. Well, granny, she stayed with me. Day and night. And the kids could come in, sit on my bed or whatever they wanted to. And I had a pitcher o' my two babies there. And I guess really them two kids is what, what I really lived for to get outta there.
Annie: (right channel) They didn't have the help to do it. And down here, they really—you can have a child in there, they prefer a parent to stay with him. But, thank god, Sherry wasn't down there but two nights . . .
Q: How does it feel to be unable to work?
Q: People used to take teeth, ears, pieces of the enemy's
body? Did you do that?
Omy Gent: [rooster crows] But now the one that first died that I took care of was like a mother to me when my mother died. She was always there when I needed her. They took both of her legs off though.
Bill continues: She'd seen the change in me, but things I'd seen, you know, smells and around me. My own boys, how they look when they get hit, blowed up or whatever and you know. And the enemy, too. Much of it I inflicted on them, you know. Blow them apart.
Omy continues: It was pain to take care of her. But I's glad I was able to do it then. Right after they both died I got till I couldn't walk or get around. So if it wasn't for Billy I don't know what I'd do. Just sit here, I guess.
Bill: And I had to drop out for a while. Mom had a light stroke in her side, she had no use of it. I had to drop out for a couple of three years on count of that, help her, you know, stay with and take care of it. And then when I did go back to school . . . [cross fade]
Omy: So I say if it wasn't for Billy I don't know what I'd
do. He cooks for me. [Laughs] Well, I guess it all comes out. And then
I worked there in Michigan until one of my sisters got sick. And she wrote
me a letter and I come home. Stayed with her till she died and wouldn't.
How long was it until Mel got bad?
Bill: After the first few kills, in a way it gets a little
easier. It don't get real to loving it. But it gets easier to pull the
trigger. Slash one throat or whatever, you know. And you just turn everything
off. Stay alive. You know. Do your job to the best of your capability and
the way you was trained for it.
CHAPTER 6: THE ACTS OF GOD
Becky Ruth Brae: Which one you think now? "Don't Cry for Me"? Now this one I'll probably fade out to. Want us to do "Don't Cry for Me" the one we did for Aunt Liddy? This one was for my aunt that was here today. 'Cause this is one of her sayings. She goes around all the time saying, "Now don't cry for me when I'm gone." She says, "If you have prayers that you want to give to me, give them to me now." This song was hard for me because it was so personal. It is the hardest song that I have ever done to try to perform, that I have ever wrote.
Becky Ruth Brae:
I've had friends who have done gone on before
Don't cry for me when I'm gone.
To the ones that I'll have to leave behind
Don't cry for me when I'm gone
Q: How were you called to preach?
Q: Look, you really made Liddy's face drain the other night
when you said you weren't coming to church, you don't like church. Why
is it you don't like church?
Church service: (Liddy testifying)
Portelli: And then Liddy comes over. And Liddywell, Becky is Annie's half-sister. Liddy is Annie's sister. And Liddy is the one who talks about snake handling. She's a preacher. And thenI was just thinking about thisand Liddy asks us all to link hands and I'm naturally, just I'm not a believer, and she gives a prayer including me, you know, me, welcome to me. And raises "Amazing Grace." She's the only one who can't sing in the family, but she's a preacher so she gets to [??]. And of course, I join hands and I participate in the prayer and all these things. And I think it was authentic. Because I wasn't communicating necessarily with God but I was communication with them. I mean, I was speaking their language anyway.
Portelli (at church): And I hope that everybody has their rights and what they deserve in this life . . .
Hardy: The one otherand I'm surprised you haven't mentioned
it, because the one piece of tape that has stayed with me, and that I've
mentioned to other people was when you were interviewing, was it Liddy?
About snake handling? And you asked her, "Well, what does it mean when
somebody dies?" And she attributes that to a lack of faith.
Liddy testifying in Church
Q: Well, I heard somebody was killed over in Agis a couple
ofa few years back?
Liddy (in church): But one thing about it, it always pays off Sister Irma, because I'm glad that the Lord is good.
Portelli: You know what it tells me? I'm not sure it's a correct interpretation. It's my reaction. It's like jugglers. And maybe it's because of this physical image of handing the snake. And it's like you're—when they have three balls and they have to keep them in the air. It's like you're doing this with your life all the time. At any moment you can fall. It can happen at any moment. And you have to sustain it. And I guess, that's what faith is, in that sense.
And right now I'm also thinking of Jonathan Edwards, where he says in sermon, "It's only by God's will that the earth doesn't open." There's an active force that has to be active at all times to keep you alive. It's not just inertia. It's not that things go on naturally and then something happens. No. It's the other way around. You're always on the brink. You're always on thin ice. And you have to sustain it. You have to keep it up. I may be making it too neat, but I think
There are two stories about Liddy. And she tells it on that tape, but not as well she told it the first time, when the policemen go to her mother's church to arrest her for snake handling. And she says, "Get back. I feel like handling them right now." Is that on that tape?
Q: Now, this is in the Bible, but like, you know, the
police, the state, the government, do they try to stop it?
Sound bridge: "Don't Cry for Me"
Liddy: A lot of them seem to be real good people you know. They's two or three things I could tell you, and one of 'em, maybe they don't wait on the anointing. See, I believe there's a real anointing. A real anointing to do that. And if you wait on that, there ain't nothing can harm you. When that anointing gets on you, lions can't eat it, fire can't burn it, water couldn't drown it, the serpent bite won't even take no effect. But if you just get up there and you try to handle one just because the Bible says to, you may get in trouble.
Now, some people handles them by faith.
I'm sure of that. Some waits on the anointing, and maybe some just goes
ahead, you know, picks one up, and maybe it gets 'em, you know. I've seen
them shake them down, you know, and I've seen them, try to keep them away
from their face and keep them away from their body because they be just
wild, and if they're wild, they're dangerous, and I don't care—
Song:"Don't Cry for Me"