Foster Dickson is a writer, editor, and teacher who lives in Montgomery, Alabama. His collection Children of the Changing South contains eighteen memoirs about growing up in the South during and after the civil rights movement. He has also written the biographies The Life and Poetry of John Beecher and I Just Make People Up: Ramblings with Clark Walker. Foster teaches creative writing at Booker T. Washington Magnet High School and has received grants or fellowships from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Gannett Foundation, and the Center for Arts Education at Boston Arts Academy. Foster’s work has appeared in Callaloo, Evergreen Review, Montgomery Living, and Weird Alabama. His poems have appeared in the literary journals Steel Toe Review and Birmingham Poetry Review. His blog is called Pack Mule for the New School.
From “Highway 50”
Jimmy’s brother, father, and mother and were all killed on Highway 50. His baby brother Kyle was only two, his dad was coming home from a hard day’s work with the grocery money, and his momma, she died indirectly from it. It cut right through her family’s farm land, which broke her heart, then when Kyle was hit by a semi, that was it. She died of a broken heart.
Little Kyle remained unattended while Jimmy’s momma, Earline, shelled peas in the kitchen with her sister, Lucy. Kyle managed to unlock the latch that held the screen door closed, and out he went. He wandered like any two-year-old would out into the road. A passing semi nailed him and the driver never stopped. He must have thought Kyle was a possum or a raccoon.
Papa wasn’t so lucky. His death was slow. Used to be, there were country roads, mostly dirt roads, that lead to their farm house that had belonged to Earline’s parents before they died. Once Highway 50 was built, Papa came home using that road after working his day in the mill in Tallahassee. Papa’s real name was Frank; Frank had actually picked up a few fingers of whiskey on the way home from work and was drunk out of his gourd when he got into a one car accident. Because of his new route home he lost his bearings and bled to death trying to figure out whose house he was near, to ask for help. That left Jimmy all alone in the world from age fourteen, and he blamed Highway 50 and the government that built it. They would be alive today if it wasn’t for that road.
From I Just Make People Up
Through the course of our talks, a discrepancy showed up here and there. I didn’t quibble about them. None of our memories are perfect, not mine, not Clark’s, not anybody’s. As time passes, memories fade and distort themselves, causing the shreds of untruth to weave themselves into the fabric. Sometimes our thoughts on an event will wrap themselves around the facts of the events and blur them, even to ourselves. It really makes no difference whether some things were not true or just so long ago that they were difficult to pin down . . . I didn’t sit down with Clark Walker to pick his life apart, get down to the ultimate truth of it, or get his movements pinned down to specific dates. I sat down with Clark Walker to let him talk, which, thankfully, he did.