Greatgreatgrandpap George’s grandson−I called him Grandpa William−was born
of Martha Johnson and Manly Stephenson, on the farmof “badlybent”George,
off state road number 1517 in PleasantGrove, Johnston County,North Carolina.
As a boy William hired himself out to Deb Wood to cut wood;
helped his Uncle Naz, mauling and splitting rails
and hauling them home.
He picked cotton,
pulled corn, tended garden, raised goats, too,
hogs aplenty snuffling paths harder when he’d pass with slops for the trough,
slipping in his boots on the hill.
He moved across Middle Creek to Polenta, crossed the creek on a footlog, walked paths
One dark night a goat jumped up,
scaring the daylights out of him:
“If the goat had not bleated, I think I would have died.”
July was born ninety-eight years before I was.
Grandpa William was sixtyseven that year−1938.
He split wood for thirty cents a cord.
Got tired of helping Naz maul and haul those gums.
Hunted wild turkeys, rabbits, and squirrels.
Set traps in the swamps, catching anything he could: otter, mink, raccoon−
one hide brought a dollar.
A yea and nay man.
Couldn’t read or write.
Joined the church and started preaching.
And Grandmuh read the Bible to Grandpa every night.
Grandpa would listen, for he couldn’t read or write.
He couldn’t read or write.
You know that families moved in with one another back yonder,
a kind of underpinning: Manly and Martha with William and Nancy.
Martha had a skip she learned in Polenta.
Nancy joined the church in 1910.
-Shelby Stephenson, North Carolina Poet Laureate