All Commentary
Friday, February 1, 1963

A Man Named Frank

Mr. Raley is a free-lance author, speaker, phi­losopher from Gadsden, Alabama.

The article, “I Like Butter,” in the June 1962 FREEMAN has brought letters from people in all sections of these United States. You may recall my protest against a governmental program that is taxing me out of the market for my favorite spread while making “surplus” butter available in pro­fusion to welfare beneficiaries.

The reader response was most gratifying and, I confess, a bit surprising in that few of the letters were critical. Experience had led me to believe that readers seldom would write to an author unless they were vigorously op­posed to the proposition in ques­tion.

The few critical letters I re­ceived are explanations of the farm program and why such a program is necessary. In these letters need, real or imagined, is assumed to justify. If this were true, a man who needed money or goods would be justified in taking them from a neighbor. As a matter of fact, this actually happens, in­directly, when our earnings are taken by taxation and given to another.

There was also a letter, along with a pound of their product, from the producers of a well-known substitute spread. They believe their product is tops in its field, better, more uniform than the genuine article, and the price is less than half. They have abso­lutely no apology to offer for their product or for the position proc­essors of the genuine article have been forced into.

This is, of course, a commend­able American attitude with which I have absolutely no quarrel. If they can make and sell it for five cents a pound, I’m all for it; but personally, I still like butter.

Most of the letters were from people who had experienced a kin­dred frustration. The well-grounded statements and provoca­tive questions would seem to herald an awakening among the citizenry. But one letter in particular kept haunting me.

This letter, from a college stu­dent, informed me that there were many individual farmers who had never accepted charity or partici­pated in the farm program in any way. The student’s grandfather was such a man and I was invited to “drop by and see, any time.”

The grandfather, whom I will call Frank Roe, lives on a farm in the Appalachians. I promised not to use his real name or give the location of his farm. Mr. Roe feels that he has broken no law, but he is a cautious man. As a matter of fact, I would have failed to get his story had I not known the small farmer of pre-farm-program days.

The opportunity to meet a free man is not an everyday occur­rence, so the first weekend I could spare saw me headed for the hills.

As I drove deeper into the foot­hills, familiar sights and scents invoked a wave of nostalgia, for this was the same chain of hills I had lived in for two years in the early thirties. Entering alone, penniless and uncertain, I had emerged two years later with enough money to return to school. In those two years I learned how to find a bee tree, cut it, and sell the honey; catch wild animals, skin them, and sell their hides; dig and market medicinal roots; and many other ways to make a buck. More than this, I had learned that there was a way to accom­plish that which appears to be impossible. At the same time, I learned to respect the so-called “hillbilly” farmer. He was, beyond any doubt, a member of the last group to surrender their indi­vidual liberty to the state. Actu­ally, I now detest the farm pro­gram more for what it did to this breed than for its cost in dollars.

The back-country farmer, as I knew him, was not far removed from his eighteenth century an­cestors who insisted that a man had the right to make and sell spirits from his own grain. For the most part he had little money, but in the fall when crops were in he was filled with compassion for anyone, rich or poor, who didn’t have a crib of corn, meat to go through the year, potatoes, tur­nips, molasses, and the like. He might have lacked formal educa­tion, but his philosophy of life was a vibrant living thing, and he knew innumerable ways to earn an honest penny. He was not well-informed—generally dogmatic in his opinions. But he was a rugged individualist who wore no man’s collar.

The Man, and His Story

Frank Roe, at seventy-eight, was slightly stooped with large, rough hands and deep lines around mild gray eyes. He didn’t look impressive, but he was the genuine article. Three trips were required to obtain his story, but for the sake of brevity, I pass it on to you en masse:

“When all this started, way back in the thirties, I didn’t think about it catching on like it did. All the same, it didn’t seem right to me and I would have no part of it.

“You see, young feller, I had been a free man for so long I was right sot in my ways. Yes, sir, I remember like it was yesterday, the day I was twenty-one. Pa give me four hundred dollars in gold and a sorrel hoss with flax mane and tail. Then he sot me free. I reckon I wasted most of the money and the hoss died of colic before green up, but I have been my own man ever since. Guess I’ll die that way.

“No, it ain’t been easy. I didn’t think much about it at first, but when the government kept send­ing people around to pry into my business, I seen they were bound and compelled to take over every­thing they could. After that I quit talking to them. I just paid my taxes, stood ready to fight for my country any time I was needed, and let them do their darndest to trap me.

“You see, young feller, before all this started I had thought of the government and the nation as one and the same. Pretty soon I had to change my mind about this. I still think as much of my coun­try as I ever did, but nobody or government or anything else is about to make me go back on my raising. You see, Ma and Pa taught all us kids right from wrong.

“Well, I had to quit raising cot­ton because they wouldn’t let me sell it, wouldn’t even let the ginner gin it for that matter. Later on I sold most of my milk cows be­cause they wanted me to sign up to sell milk. I hear tell that in some parts a man can’t even raise grain for his own use. It ain’t hardly that bad here. They do come around, wanting me to sign up how much corn I will plant, but nobody has tried to keep me from raising enough for my own use.

“It was pretty rough going for a year or two after I had to quit raising cotton. It was, for a fact. After a while, though, I hit on the idea of raising chickens. I started out with a hundred at a time. The market was good and the govern­ment didn’t bother me, so I kept getting more chicks and better feed.

“At first I sold my broilers on foot, but more people took to rais­ing chickens. Someone built a processing plant and the price kept coming down. After a few years, the co-ops got into the pic­ture; they had their own hatch­eries, feed mills, and processing plants. The price went so low a man couldn’t afford to take a chance on raising broilers for him­self. I fed out a few batches, at so much a head, for the co-op since I had space and equipment for twenty thousand at a time, but I didn’t like it and switched to turkeys. Later on I found out that the co-ops were operating on government money, and after that I was mighty glad I had quit them.

“Yes, sir, young feller, it’s been pretty rough at times, but it’s been worth it. I kept my self-re­spect and the government kept their handouts for the man as wants them. What t’other feller does is no concern of mine, but I’ll tell you one thing: I’m not the only man in these parts who still runs his own home.

“You know, I’ve been thinking about that piece you wrote about not being able to buy butter. Mae’s boy read it to me when he was down here last summer. What you say makes a lot of sense, but did you ever stop to think how much cheaper broilers are now than they were twenty or thirty years ago? Yes, sir, I sold broilers for fifty cents each when a man couldn’t find a day’s work for a dollar. So many people got into the business, we all had to build better and bigger houses and buy better equipment to stay in the game. Even before the co-ops took over, broilers were the best buy on the market. Now it seems to me that the reason chickens came down and butter went up was because the government was mess­ing with butter while chickens were left to their natural course.

“Now, if you just must go, young feller, I want you to take a bucket of these molasses and try them for me. It seems to me they are a mite thin. I took the liberty of having one of the boys put a few punkins, turnips, and such in the back of your car, and the woman wants you to take a little tad of new corn meal to your wife. It just has a better taste when its fresh-ground. Don’t for­get to come back and bird hunt some with me when the season opens. And I want you to try one of my turkeys for Thanksgiving, just to see what you think about them.”

  • Mr. Raley is a free-lance author, speaker, philosopher from Gadsden, Alabama.