Wayland Garnett came from a family of field workers and sharecroppers on the property of Henry Ballard, who owned most of Howell County, Virginia. Now, at age 63, he's a long way from the life of hardship and poverty that killed his father and nearly destroyed one of his brothers. Wayland now owns a prosperous business, is married to a much younger woman and has a daughter. He has concealed his impoverished origins from his family and vowed never to return to Howell County.
As the book opens, Wayland is breaking that vow. Following a conference in Richmond, he decides to drive back to the old Ballard property. As he drives on once-familiar roads, now changed by time, the memories come flooding back. His best friend Willie Meekems. Josephus, the black youth who worked beside Wayland, with whom he's had a friend-enemy relationship. His first crushes, Henry Ballard's lovely daughter, Diana, and Henry Ballard's second wife, who gives him his first ride on a horse.
Memories of Wayland's father, who brewed corn liquor in a hidden still and lost an arm in a baling machine, flood back. He remembers his mother, hardworking and deprived of the beauty a woman should have in her life.
Wayland's memories take him through his childhood of hoeing tobacco and learning to steal corn from the boss's fields through his young manhood in the Ballard sawmill to his years in the Army, fighting in World War II. Like many poor Americans, Wayland has his first experience of life outside his closed circle in the service. He discovers the joy and advantages of reading and eventually develops an automotive machinery company and marries a solidly middle-class woman. He makes up stories of a Virginia planter background to conceal his real past.
Now, as he drives through the country that's in his blood, he wonders if he's done the right thing. Is it time to come clean and stop lying to his family and to himself?
This report prepared by David Gordon