All Over But the Shoutin'

Rick Bragg

All Over but the Shoutin'

“Like I said, we were too stupid to realize that, as our lives spun round and round on these trivial things, my momma's life was running through her hands like water.

As the years went by, she went out less and less when she didn't have to, to chase the work. She never went to church. She just prayed at home. She almost never went to the PTA meetings, or Halloween Carnivals, or Christmas parades, or, later, to see us play basketball or baseball. Our aunts Nita and Jo drove us where we needed to go. Years later when I was in junior high school, I won the Calhoun County public speaking championship sponsored by the 4-H Club. My momma didn't go.

A hundred times in my life, people have asked me why didn't she just get another husband. One idiot, one of those trust fund babies the newspaper business is riddled with, even asked why she didn't just go to college.

You have to understand the time and place. She was a married woman in Alabama in the 1960s. Divorce was shameful at best, and impossible if the man did not agree. She was not weak. She was never weak. But convention bound her....”

The passage above is from Rick Bragg's memoir of his mother, titled All Over but the Shoutin'. Bragg, a national correspondent for the New York Times, won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 1996. This book, the author notes, is “...not an important book. It is only the story of a strong woman, a tortured man and three sons who live hemmed in by thin cotton and ragged history in northeastern Alabama, in a time when blacks and whites found reason to hate each other and a whole lot of people could not stand themselves. Anyone could tell it, anyone with a daddy who let his finer nature slip away from him during an icebound war in Korea, who allowed the devil inside him to come grinnin' out every time a sip of whiskey trickled in, who finally just abandoned his young wife and sons to the pity of their kin and to the well-meaning neighbors who came bearing boxes of throwaway clothes.

Anyone could tell it, anyone who had a momma who went eighteen years without a new dress so her sons could have school clothes, who picked cotton in other people's fields and ironed other people's clothes and cleaned the mess in other people's homes, so that her children didn't have to live on welfare alone, so that one of them could climb up her backbone and escape the poverty and hopelessness that ringed them, free and clean.”

Bragg's tribute to his mother is haunting and moving, the record of a life at once harrowing and cruel, and yet triumphant. Beautifully written and deeply affecting, Bragg brings home the love and suffering that lie at the heart of every family. Be sure to read all about it.

Copyright © 2004, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.