The Four Hundred Pound Day
Listen to “The Four Hundred Pound Day” by Fred Smith
Tiger Woods‘ victory at the Master’s is a myth. I know that sounds like a post on a fringe site but I’m not saying it is fake news. Instead, his winning is a perfect example of what Joseph Campbell in his book, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” would describe as a myth – a story that symbolizes one of the fundamental themes of our world. It is the theme of the hero’s quest and is not Tiger’s story alone. Campbell believed we each are on a quest.
Every heroic story develops in stages. First, setting off from the world of ordinary life for a great adventure. Meeting allies and enemies along the way, they are tested frequently. Yet, the severest conflict is often within as the hero must confront their own demons and either overcome them or be destroyed. If they survive that final test, they win the prize and return home to the world they left behind. Sound familiar?
As the world was watching Tiger’s restoration this weekend, I was privileged to meet a hero who, except for a brief stint in the Marines, never left home. That is not to say he had not been on a quest but it was different from Tiger’s. There would be no headlines about his journey because it was ordinary and mostly unremarkable.
Foy Magee is 91 years old and was part of an evening featuring ten storytellers hosted by the Tyler Loop. Wearing a Marine cap, brilliant red shirt and carrying a stack of yellow note cards, he began to tell his story, a story he’s also shared with The Loop in the past.
”In 1927, Mama and Daddy had a farm in New Hope and that’s where I was born, right between the Methodist church and the cemetery. We was raisin’ tomaters, cotton and corn, sorghum for syrup, peas and peanuts, you name it. My granddaddy hoed cotton every day of his life till he was 90 years old. He was blind from cataracts as long as I can remember, but he was still out there hoein’ cotton till it was time for lunch every day.
When I was itty bitty Mama’d go to the field and put me down at the end of the row in the shade while she worked. She pick me up and put me down on another row till she was done workin’ the field.”
Over the next few minutes allotted to Foy, we heard about his farming, keeping chickens and hogs, raising a family, and living the balance of his life in New Hope. “I was born in New Hope, Mama’s parents are buried there, and I’m gonna be buried in New Hope.”
The producers told each of the storytellers to pick one thing from their life they would most like to recount. What could Foy possibly share? What had there been in his life that would even qualify as a story? It was just one day after another. Get up. Work. Go to bed. Repeat that process over and over again for decades.
Foy reached back for something from seventy-five years ago. It was the day he picked over 400 pounds of cotton.
“Daddy was workin’ off the farm and I was workin’ on other people’s farms makin’ money. We’d start at six o’clock in the mornin’ till just before the sun went down. When I went home I could hardly walk. I got to stringhaltin’ (having leg cramps) somethin’ awful but I’d be better the next mornin’, ready to go to work.”
Up so early they had to break the ice in the water bucket on the porch, they washed their faces and hands while filling up on biscuits and jam. That morning Foy set out on his own quest. No sixteen-year-old boy had ever picked 400 pounds of cotton in one day. He was determined it would be him. Each of the boys was given a bag to throw over their shoulder, put on the wagon and sent out to the fields to work. Row after row, he grabbed the cotton and, while the cotton was soft, the protective boll was thorny and sliced into his hands. It hurt but he didn’t stop because you were only paid for what you picked.
The morning went quickly until the sun was full. After long hours of bending over, the bag was too heavy to lift so he pulled it behind him. Eventually, he dropped down on his hands and knees to pick and drag. Finally, just before sunset, Foy stood up on the scales at the gin and the prize was his. Four hundred pounds in one day!
Foy didn’t slip on a green jacket or pose for pictures before an adoring crowd. But that night we let him know he was the hero who had never left home, and we were proud he had chosen to be a part of our community. That was our prize.
*Art by Thomas Hart Benton