He was at work in the field. The sweat ran in trickles down his back and cascaded from his eyebrows into his eyes. The world was still and bright and fiery in the blaze of a July noon. He rested between the plow handles behind the mare. Sweat traced little rivers down the legs of the mare and dripped into the damp new-plowed ground between the corn rows.
The blades of the corn waved a little at the height of the mare’s back, they moved a little to the wind that came through them, diluted by each row of corn as it crossed the field. The wind was as active as a young pup in the sedge at the field’s edge. By the time it reached him it was like the warm and fetid breath of a dying animal.
As if it were the appointed time for her to come he looked up and saw Old Nance, his mother’s friend, hurrying toward him from the road. She came with her old ambling gait toward him down a corn row. He began to unhitch the traces. It seemed that he would faint from the heat and lie on the cool earth where the plow had turned up the dampness that dwelt below the surface of the soil.
He would escape the news bearer from the road. Old Nance, Old Nance who had been with his mother lying sick in her room. But he took the mare by the bridle and met her on the way.
From “Better a Dinner of Herbs” by Byron Herbert Reece
Byron Herbert Reece was born in 1917 at the foot of Blood Mountain in North Georgia. In 1935 he was admitted to Young Harris College, about 18 miles from his home, but had to leave to help out on the farm. When admitted he had already had some success publishing poetry in national publications. He attended sporadically from 1935 until 1940, but failed to graduate because of his refusal to take either mathematics or French.
He returned to the farm and wrote more poetry with increasing success in publication. In late 1943 Dutton agreed to publish a volume of poetry titled “The Ballad of the Bones.” By January 1946, the book was in its third printing and the mountain farmer found himself in increasing demand as an author. From 1946 until 1954 he published 4 volumes of poetry and 2 novels.
Byron Herbert Reece’s health began to fail and with it went much of his desire to write. The farm that was so central to him when he was younger became a burden, and he became ill with the tuberculosis that plagued his parents.
He entered a sanitorium in 1954 to control the TB, creating additional financial and emotional hardships. He relied on Guggenheim Fellowships and other grants to writers to cover his expenses rather than farming. He turned to teaching as well, spending terms at Emory, UCLA and finally returning to Young Harris College, too ill to continue to support himself by farming.
On June 3, 1958, with his final papers graded and neatly stacked and Mozart’s Piano Sonata in D playing on the phonograph, Reece shot himself in the diseased lung. He was not yet 41 years old.