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'The Yearling,' by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, finds a place in prison

Just in time for Father's Day, prison inmates in an English class turned the paternal wisdom in 'The Yearling' into a talk-radio script.

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Caller # 1: But how’d you handle it, Penny?

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Baxter: His Ma don’ hold with ramblin’. So I cover fer ’im but then I tells him he’s got to fess up. I says, "Tell the truth, Jody, and shame the devil."... But I makes it clear that he got to do his chores, all his chores. 

Caller #2:  Mornin’ Penny. First-time caller, long-time listener. 

Baxter:  Good mornin’ to you. How're you today?

Caller #2:  Ahm ah-troubled. My boy got into a fight ta otha day an’ I ain’ know what to tell um ’bout fightin’. Seems to me that ta-other guy had it comin’ ’cause he dun stole stock we bin raisin’ for food dis comin’ winter. My boy sees how it bin dun, and know’d who dun it. Those no-counts who dun it don’ need our meat.  They git plenty of their own, lot’s more ’an us. I ’spect they jus’ itchin’ for a fight.  What’s a Pa ta do?

Baxter:  Dogged if I kin understand cold-out meanness....

Caller #2:  An’ what would you tell ’im ’bout goin’ inta a fight if ’en a friend ah-his-n is plumb in the middle? Does I tell-um ta steer clear ah the roockus?

Baxter:  Well, if his friend is takin’ a lickin’ – gittin’ the wust of it – he might set about evenin’ things up a bit. 'Twer otherwise if ’en his friend were doin’ all the punishin’. Generally speakin’, though, when one man’s on-reasonable, t’other has got to keep his head. Speakin’ a’ losin’ yer head. I plumb disremembered that I got tu put in a good word for our sponsors.... After trackin’, or plowin’, tain’t nothin’ like settin’ down to a hot plate o’ swamp-cabbage stew cooked in panther oil. I, myself, am partial to the smoked squirrel en brochette. Why, the meat is so tender you could kiss it off the bone. Jody’s a'tryin’ the vegetarian line but when he gits hongrey, he’ll wolf down gator-conk quiche and bear-paw pate. “Let’s git back to the phones.... Hello, you’re on the air.

[The show’s final caller asks Baxter for advice about a boy who runs away because he can’t accept the discipline necessitated by a family’s misfortunes.]

Baxter:  I guess you hope you’ve done enough to make the boy want to come back. It happened with my boy, Jody. I was able to let him see how relieved and happy I was to see him. I says to him, ‘"I’d be proud to know where you been." And after I hears his tale, I says, "I’m sorry you had to learn ’bout starvin’ thataway." Then we sat by the fire and I explained to him, best I could, how every man wants life to be a fine thing – and easy – fer his kids. And I tells him, "Well, life is fine, powerful fine – but tain’t easy." I explains to him, "I wanted it to be easy fer you, easier than it was for me." I explains to him that a man’s heart aches seeing his young 'uns face the world. I told Jody that I’d be proud if he’d live on Baxter Island and farm the clearin’ with me. I asked him if he were willin’ and we shook on it. That was a very special moment for me. [pause] What made it possible, I think, was all what we done tu-gether, and my saying to him – so’s he understood it real good – "Boy, it’s food and drink to have you home.”

The words in that final answer may have been taken from Penny Baxter, but they illustrated a state of mind that we all could admire – and even aspire to. My students did well with their project. And so, just in time for Father's Day, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lives on.

Joseph H. Cooper teaches ethics and media law courses at Quinnipiac University.  His “Pauses and Moments” columns appear at PsychologyToday.com.

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