Copyright Ross F. Lockridge, Jr., 1947, 1948 / All rights reserved
Selections from Raintree County Read in memory of Vernice Baker Lockridge, on August 13, 1994, Bloomington, Indiana.
The whole conundrum of the County was now embodied in the person of Nell Gaither. For Nell was nothing if not Raintree County. It had made her what she was, given her grace, demureness, tenderness, quick sympathies, strong enthusiasms, purity, endeavor, moral delicacy, religious fervor. Yet she was so habitual and easy in the ways of the County that she could doff the whole costume like a dress and return into her passively seductive attitude of Venus in the river. The more demure and sentimental she seemed, the more, by paradox, did she become to him a woman made for erotic and maternal uses, a strange meeting of the eternal feminine river with the illusory rectangle of Raintree County.
What gave his whole dream of her a touch of mortal pathos was Johnny's knowledge that the ideal she embodied was subject like all things human to plunder and ruin in the random collisions of life. p. 155
FAR around on three sides the ocean of July corn undulated toward the Danwebster Graveyard and broke, a gentle surf, against it, ebbing from the wire fence. Mr. Shawnessy opened the gate and stepped inside.
The graveyard, abandoned like the town, was a hundred stones beside the river. In the middle of orderly cornlands, it was an island of disorder. He kicked up crowds of grasshoppers as he walked through uncut grass, gravemyrtle, wild carrot, white top, blackberries, poison ivy.
He stopped and shaded his eyes, looking for familiar stones. In the place of death he felt overwhelmed by life. Life rushed up from the breasts of the dead in a dense tangle of stems that sprayed seeds and spat bugs. As he thought of other memorial journeys to the graveyard, the stones seemed to him doomed and huddled shapes around which green waters were steadily rising. He stood up to his knees in grass and weeds, holding in one hand a box of peaceful cut flowers and in the other a sickle, his eyes hurting with sunlight.
There are many mounds beside the running river, become beautiful and secret by the lapse of years. There are entire eras of lost lovers who have left only mounds full of bright boneshards beside the river. All the people who ever lived here were lovers and the seed of lovers. Where are all those who ever beheld beauty in bright waters?
They lie beside the river. They lie beside the river. p. 197
In the timesoftened valley of the Shawmucky, he stood, retracing with his finger a carven name. From the letters, he dug out a hundred little gray cocoons, blind dwellers in a legend unperceived, a hieroglyph that love and sorrow had wrought in stone.
The last car of the train rumbled by.
He opened the cardboard box and laid a handful of cut flowers, roses and lilies, on the mound. Backing away, he gazed at the stone. Its stately form tranquillized the emotion of farewell. Curved whiteness from the river had become a lapidary attitude. By Ovidian magic, young love was changed to stone. p. 232
Nothing is left of the dead but earth. Can you refute this wisdom?
--Perhaps I can.
--And how will you do it, hero boy?
--By the legend of my life, with which I refute all sophistries. By a myth of homecoming and a myth of resurrection.
Come back to Raintree County, wandering child. Remember the great deaths and the great homecomings. Come back, and bring a sprig of lilac. For you will always be on trains and coming home, and the legend that recalled you from the City will always be tingling along the wires of the Republic.
Come back to Raintree County and find your home again. And you will find again the sphinxlike silence of the earth. Knock hard, young hero, on the gates of death.
Listen to the wail of the train at the crossing. This is the myth of America and of those who cross America on trains. This is the myth of those who come back home.
Who would not suffer grief? Grief is the most beautiful garland given to love. (And who would not suffer love?)
For the saddest legend of my life was only some pencil marks on paper, a pulse of atoms in a wire. It was the one undissuadable legend. It had been coming all the time down all the wires and all the ways of the world since the world began, and it found a lost young man in the City and made him once more a passenger on trains, for it was
A MESSAGE FOR HIM TO COME BACK HOME TO RAINTREE COUNTY p. 988 * *
JOHN WICKLIFF SHAWNESSY:
COME HOME. MAMMA IS DYING. p. 994
Once upon a time a child looked abroad on the darkness of a Great Swamp. And a voice spoke and said a Word.
And behold! the child lived in a place called Raintree County, which had been forever, even as the child had been forever. This was the magic of the Word, for the Word was of God, and the Word was God.
But the child had forgotten the curving path by which he had come into Raintree County, and he had forgotten the location of the shrine where the Word was spoken, and he had forgotten the Tree, which was the living embodiment of the Word. And as he grew in strength and years, he had a quest to find the Tree and the sacred place, which was the source of himself.
Now, wherever he sought he found the earth penetrated by names and peopled by other souls, wanderers like himself in quest of beauty and eternal life. Each one was a private universe. And the feeling with which the child sought to understand and share the universe of other souls was love. When the child had grown in years and strength and had become a young man, his love was a strong desire to pluck forbidden fruit and know a sweet pleasure which only could be found with a mysterious creature like himself but subtly different, who embodied in her white beauty the ancient secret of the earth touched into breathing form. p. 1019
--And so he learned that Raintree County being but a dream must be upheld by dreamers. So he learned that human life's a myth, but that only myths can be eternal. So he learned the gigantic labor by which the earth is rescued again and again from chaos and old night, by which the land is strewn with names, by which the river of human language is traced from summer to distant summer, by which beauty is plucked forever from the river and clothed in a veil of flesh, by which souls are brought from the Great Swamp into the sunlight of Raintree County and educated to its enduring truths. p. 1021
. . . Fare thee well! and if forever----
--Still for ever, fare thee well
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