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The Hammon and the Beans Once we lived in one of my grandfather’s houses near Fort Jones. It was just a block from the parade grounds, a big frame house painted a dirty yellow. My mother hated it, especially because of the pigeons that cooed all day about the eaves. They had fleas, she said. But it was a quiet neighborhood at least, too far from the center of town for automobiles and too near for musical, night-roaming drunks. At this time Jonesville on the Grande was not the thriving little city that it is today. We told off our days by the routine on the post. At six sharp the flag was raised on the parade grounds to the cackling of the bugles, and a field piece thundered out a salute. The sound of the shot bounced away through the morning mist until its echoes worked their way into every corner of town. Jonesvilleon-the-Grande woke to the cannon’s roar, as if to battle, and the day began. At eight the whistle from the post laundry sent us children off to school. The whole town stopped for lunch with the noon whistle, and after lunch everybody went back to work when the post laundry said that it was one o’clock, except for those who could afford to be old-fashioned and took the siesta. The post was the town’s clock, you might have said, or like some insistent elder person who was always there to tell you it was time. At six the flag came down, and we went to watch through the high wire fence that divided the post from the town. Sometimes we joined in the ceremony, standing at salute until the sound of the cannon made us jump. That must have been when we had just studied about George Washington in school, or recited “The Song of Marion’s Men” about Marion the Fox and the British cavalry that chased him up and down the broad Santee. But at other times we stuck out our tongues and jeered at the soldiers. The writer, a university English teacher, is presently a Guggenheim fellow. Among his published writings is the book, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez \(University of Texas Press, Americo Paredes Perhaps the night before we had hung at the edges of a group. of old men and listened to tales about Aniceto-Pizana and the “border troubles,” as the local paper still called them when it referred to them gingerly in passing. It was because of the border troubles, ten years or so before, that the soldiers had come back to old Fort Jones. But we did not hate them for that; we admired them even, at least sometimes. But when we were thinking about the border troubles instead of Marion the Fox we hooted them and the flag they were lowering, which for the moment was theirs alone, just as we would have jeered an opposing ball team, in a friendly sort of way. On these occasions even ri 1 Chonita would join in the mockery, though she usually ran home at the stroke of six. But whether we taunted or saluted, the distant men in khaki uniforms went about their motions without noticing us at all. The last word from the post came in the night when a distant bugle blew. At nine it was all right because all the lights wexe on. But sometimes I heard it at eleven when everything was dark and still, and it made me feel that I was all alone in the world. I would even doubt that I was me, and that put me in such a fright that I felt like yelling out just to make sure I was really there. But next morning the sun shone and life began all over again, with its whistles and cannon shots and bugles blowing. And so we lived, we and the post, side by side with the wire fence in between. THE WANDERING SOL-DIERS whom the bugle called home at night did not wander in our neighborhood, and none of us ever went into Fort Jones. None except Chonita. Every evening when the flag came down she would leave off playing and go down towards what was known as the “lower” gate of the post, the one that opened not on main street but against the poorest part of town. She went into the grounds and to the mess halls and pressed her nose against the screens and watched the soldiers eat. They sat at long tables calling to each other through food-stuffed mouths. “Hey bud, pass the coffee!” “Give me the ham!” “Yeah, give me the beans!” After the soldiers were through the cooks came out and scolded Chonita, and then they gave her packages with things to eat. Chonita’s mother did our washing, in gratefulnessas my mother put itfor the use of a vacant lot of my grandfather’s which was a couple of blocks down the street. On the lot was an old one-room shack which had been a shed long ago, and this Chonita’s father had patched up with flattened-out pieces of tin. He was a laborer. Ever since the end of the border troubles there had been a development boom in the Valley, and Chonita’s father was getting his share of the good times. Clearing brush and building irrigation ditches he sometimes pulled down as much as six dollars a week. He drank a good deal of it up, it was true. But corn was just a few cents a bushel in those days. He was the breadwinner, you might say, while Chonita furnished the luxuries. Chonita was a poet too. I had just moved, into the neighborhood when a boy came up to me and said, “Come on ! Let’s go hear Chonita make a speech.” She was already on top of the alley fence when we got there, a scrawny April 18, 1963 11