“Over the dam,” some would have said; others would say “Mark it up to experience”; and those persons with much greater financial means than Elmer might have said “Just write it off for tax purposes.” Yet, in the belly and guts of the Depression, he never succumbed to the great temptation to which so many did succumb—jump off a skyscraper, blow your brains out with a shotgun, or just go to bed and never get up, become an invalid, first through fear and then complete physical collapse.
Had Elmer been living in the city when Keystone Lumber bellied up, he might have entertained an alternative to trying like hell all over again. He knew all too well that the old adage—that lightning never strikes twice in the same place—was not necessarily true. It could happen again.
Roosevelt was his hope for the future, and somehow, some day, he would clear the debt to the sawyer, and he would be able to struggle along with what he owed the banks. He told Sylvia, “Hell, if I give up now, that’s it, we’re through, never have a damned thing. At the rate things are goin’ now we won’t even be able to make the farm payment, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna sit down and pity myself.”
“I don’t know, Elmer, things look pretty bad, and as long as we owe Mr. Stalnaker we can’t have anything,” Sylvia remarked as they lay in bed in the dark contemplating the here and now, and worrying about the prospects for the future.
“Well, if I don’t get paid, he can’t get paid.”
“He can sue you to get it,” said Sylvia, propping herself up on her right elbow above her wide-awake man.
“Sue and be damned,” Elmer stormed, irritated at the thought, for he was pretty sure that this is what would happen, and soon. “Let him go ahead and sue. Fact is, he’s already said he’s going to. But what can he get? Not an earthly thing. We don’t own anything, not a damned thing he can touch, and I’ve already told him that.”
“You’ve talked to him about it?”
“Sure, I’ve talked to him about it,” Elmer said fiercely. “I went down to his house there on Quality Hill, back up there on Second Quality; they have a real nice house up there. I talked to him a long time, and he’s a reasonable man; he’s not mad or anything, but he needs his money.”
“He knows you don’t have any money, doesn’t he?” Sylvia asked.
“Oh sure he knows, but he owes Herman Lambert’s grocery store, and he owes Minear’s Hardware store and Bell Swisher’s service station, he told me, and he has borrowed some money at the First National Bank. So, I know he’s gonna have to sue me to try to get what I owe him, because the people he owes will be pushin’ him to get their money.”
“Elmer, we’ll never be able to have anything. I can see it right now. Never.”
from Sugarlands, by Foster Mullenax, McClain Printing, Parsons WV, 2001
Mullenax (1927-2005) was born and raised in Sugarlands, WV. Sugarlands is a biographical novel of his parents Elmer Jackson Mullenax and Sylvia Catherine Knotts Mullenax.