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Larry L. King The Ole Country Boys Washington, D.C. Like everybody who has tried to sell you a used car, pick your pocket, or run for Governor of Texas, I am an “Ole Country Boy.” So when the phone rang a few nights ago and I recognized the voice of another Ole Country Boy, I instinctively clamped a protective hand over my billfold pocket and shouted to my wife to hide the silverware. “This is your Ole Country Boy buddy”the voice was saying across the miles”Willie Morris.” Willie Morris is from Yazoo City, Mississippi, and that will qualify him for the Ole Country Boy finals anywhere in the world. He later was editor of the Texas Observer, which might do for down-home credentials in a pinch, and he can still put some mush in his speech when backed into a cocktail’ party corner. He cannot, however, deny that he got part of his education at the Oxford that is not in Mississippi but in England. Nor that he is an editor of a hightoned megazine like Harper’s with offices slightly above the Mason-Dixon line at Two Park Avenue. Nor, even, that he is now writing a book that already has won a prepublication literary prize. He speaks French, if you must know the truth of it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he owns wine goblets. “Willie,” I said, “how are things in The City?” “Pure Hell,” Willie groaned. “Worse than Reconstruction or even Black Monday. The City is a pure plague.” He went on to bemoan the lack of breakfast grits, a paucity of Moon Pies, the harshness of Yankee accents on the ear. He wailed dithyrambs against traffic jams, exhaust fumes, the rationing of drinking water. About the time I thought he’d pucker up and whistle “Dixie,” he said: “One night a while back all the lights went out. I tell yew, this city life is rough on an Ole” 1 “Country Boy,” I supplied. “Yeah,” said Willie, so surprised that for a moment I feared he might lapse into French, “how’d you know?” THAT’S HOW I got invited out to Willie’s farm. If he called it a farm in Yazoo City they’d laugh him right out of the pool hall, for nothing grows on the sixacre spread but about thirteen miles of lawn which, it developed, Willie encourages his weekend guests to help him mow. Willie Morris now does his Country Boying out of Putnam County, New York. Across the genuine English fieldstone fence behind Willie’s place, and just beyond stately church spires in the misty hollow, is nothing but the lonely solitude of Connecticut’s clover-leafed freeways with their little fields of motels and gas stations blossoming in brilliant neon. Morning 10 The Texas Observer breezes waft in clean, sweet fragrances from the Reader’s Digest publishing plant over in Pleasantville. At night the country stillness is broken only by the distant roar of jet planes and maybe five dozen shaggy teenagers frugging somewhere among trees spangled with electric light bulbs of many hues and hi-fi speakers. It’s so quiet you could hear a meteorite drop. But it is a country place: a retreat where one may forget complexities of city life while tinkering with the motor of the &!%*!&!*-ing garbage disposal; a touch of Yesteryear where one may rough it in front of the new $3,000 fireplace that burns real wood logs going for four dollars a dozen down at the Frontier Wood Company in Patterson. Yea, it as a haven for simple folk: one of the Ole Country Boys who lives right down the road is named Thomas E. Dewey. And all this pastoral wonder lies but a frantic three-dollar cab ride and two happy commuter-train martinis away from the bustle of Two Park Avenue. It lies considerably further, however, when you make the trip in a gas-fumy station wagon burdened with 21 suitcases, six sacks of groceries, two wives, and a certain number of packages that gurgled to the touch. Willie Morris was at the wheel, his six-year-old boy and the world’s biggest black dog at his side. At this point you should understand that I am not a plumb damn fool about big black dogs, and choose to stand mute on the subject of little boys. On this Friday night \(the freeways jammed with the cars of other Ole Country Boys anxious to commune briefly with twelve miles per hour all the way across town. From the time we got 40 miles out of New York City, a reckless dude or a dare-devil could have clipped along at speeds approaching 25 mph. Willie said we were making pretty good time, considering that the lane he’d been in at that one point had dictated an unfortunate turn into the Bronx. YesI saidor considering that The Dog keeps knocking you into the steering works. And that we’ve had to stop several times to get The Dog off The Boy and at least once to get The Boy off The Dog. When I said that, The Boy released a balloon full of air into my face. If he ever pitches baseballas his father did at the University of TexasI predict he’ll be one of our greatest living spit-ballers. \(The Boy was born in England under Socialized Medicine; he was taught to read by the age of three. Be sure your sins will find you The Dog is a Labrador Retriever, and if we ever need to retrieve it The Dog will, no doubt, be equal to the task. He is big enough to ride, if you could just find somebody mean enough to saddle him. COME big black dogs, small boys, or gas fumes I couldn’t afford to miss this particular weekend party. No, for my personal Gods would be there. Mortals who made the earth move, and do: Robert Penn Warren, the Boss Writer of our generation as far as I am concerned, whose All The King’s Men merely won a Pulitizer Prize for fiction ; William Styron, whose Lie Down In Darkness I personally judge to be the best novel published since World War II; C. Vann Woodward \(The Strange Case of Jim “the most distinguished of our Southern historians,” and who doubtlessly is. Yessir, it was mighty tall literary cotton. As a late-blooming writer, I could no more have turned down a weekend with that bunch than H. L. Hunt could have turned his back on a tax-free oil deal. Red Warren was born in Kentucky, Bill Styron grew up in the Tidewater Country of Virginia, Vann Woodward in Arkansas. Ole Country Boys. Take away their Pulitzers, Rolls-Royces, and legions of adorning fans, and they are just the same as you and me. That’s what Willie kept telling me all of Saturday morning: they’re just like you and me. Then my host pointed me toward the lawn mower marooned in tangled convolutions of grass and weeds running so far the eye teared trying to follow. Later on, after I’d mowed about half-way to Connecticut and stood bedraggled and shrunken in the wind, a gentleman in a fine automobile drove up to briefly pass the time of day. We -didn’t talk long, for he called me “Boy” just before he asked if I would do his lawn next. He looked like the little man you see on a wedding cake. WILLIE’S SWEET ‘WIFE, Celia, was raised in Houston. She is much at home in literary circles and is on the verge of getting her Doctorate from City College of New York. My own sweet bride, Rosemarie, is from Athens, Greece, by way of Washington, D.C., and when I took her home to meet my wealthy old Southern family she was afraid of Indian raids from the moment we lost sight of the Lincoln Memorial. Despite such natural handicaps, Mrs. Morris and Mrs. King have become Ole Country Galsperhaps by osmosis or perhaps in self-defense. So it was not at to find them in the kitchen whipping up a dinner that any Ole Country Boy worth the salt in his bread would describe as a banquet: candied yams, black-eyed peas, tossed green salad, country-cured ham. Though such native dishes gave me comfort, I fretted in anxiety. What if I committed some great social vulgarity upon meeting the giants of Southron letters? What if my wife slipped up and told them that sometimes I read Mickey Spillane, Playboy, and the Austin American-Statesman? What if she said that my favorite poets are Edgar A. Guest and Nick Kenny?