William Faulkner Shot at Me and Missed
I swear the testimony I give is the truth, nothing but the truth, so help me God.
For many people, William Faulkner is a God, an icon of literary genius and should never be defamed, but the truth shall set you free.
In late 1945, I had an accident that put out my left eye. My family was a poor group of sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta. The small town near where we lived pitched in and sent me to Oxford, Mississippi for treatment. The infection was causing me to lose my other eye.
At that time the University of Mississippi Medical School was on the Ole Miss Campus. One of the world’s greatest eye surgeons was teaching at Ole Miss. Dr. B.S. Guyton removed my left eye, but saved the other one.
Now, this is not self pity, but being told to let you know how an illiterate family got to Oxford and met William Faulkner.
World War II had ended, and in Oxford, anyone that could drive a nail could get work on the Ole Miss campus. The GI Bill of Rights allowed veterans to go back to college. Many were married and needed a place to live, so the government was building housing for them. My Dad could drive a nail.
We were now off the farm. My dad, not being a veteran, could not find a place for us to stay. We lived in one-room basements and would have to move every few months to let veterans have our room. But when school started in 1947, I entered Oxford Elementary School.
I was so out of place—all the other kids were town people, and I was a country red-neck. They had grown up together and knew each other, and going to the first grade was not a big deal to them. It was the scariest thing I ever did. Not only was I different, but I was one-eyed, with a new prosthetic, and children can be very cruel.
I don’t remember that I had many friends, but one kid stands out. We will call him Butch. Now of all people, Butch was the little fat son of the richest man in Oxford. He and I became fast friends—maybe the other kids didn’t like him.
Maybe in the second or third grade, Butch invited me to spend the night with his family. My dad, knowing who his father was, thought it was a great idea. I accepted, and on the eventful day we were picked up in front of school by his chauffeur in a big black automobile. We sat in the back and were driven by a large black man by the name of BONG. We got to the house - or may I say, mansion - and were met by Bong’s wife, Ollie. We drove into a four-car garage and walked into a mudroom, where I saw two cases of Cokes—some were grapes and some were oranges. I couldn’t believe that somebody had not drunk them. Why were they there? We walked into a kitchen that was bigger than our apartment and on the kitchen table was a large bowl of fresh fruit. Bong and Ollie were so nice and wanted to know if I wanted a snack. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
When Butch and I got settled, he brought out a doubled barreled 410 shotgun and said, “Let’s go squirrel hunting.” Right then I would have followed him into hell.
We walked across the road into to some woods and started squirrel hunting. We had moved into maybe two or three hollows, when Butch said, “Be very quiet, we are in Faulkner’s woods." That didn’t mean anything to me, but I was quiet. We moved very quietly into the next hollow. I was looking into the tree tops but I noticed to my right, a large house, with a large front porch and a man sitting in a rocking chair.
Little did I know that it was a drunken William Faulkner.
Butch and I saw the squirrel at the same time. I saw Butch raise the 410, and I said, “Don’t shoot, that man is watching”—but Butch shot anyway and William Faulkner did the same. He had a 30-30 on the porch with him, and he shot at me two times. I am sure that he was shooting at me because nobody would shoot at
William Faulkner was a lousy shot. He missed me.
Jay Mitchell lives in Coldwater, Mississippi. He is a retired businessman, avocational archaeologist, and writer.