“I did not deserve the kindness you have shown me.”

By Michael Ledwith

February 3, 2023

Barcy Zachariah Jones was my great-uncle.

He lived by himself in a two room shack near Willacoochee Creek, next to an enormous sawdust pile. If you walked into his tin roofed wooden shack you immediately noticed stacks of magazines piled chest high on the floor. Piles of jumbled books here and there. A table. Two chairs. An ornate wood bed frame, the bedposts topped with beautifully carved Roman legion eagles, and hooks on the wall holding all the clothes he owned in life.

When you would visit, you visited by going for walks in the woods that made up much of his land. Barcy would point out where a beaver dam had been, or where he had found Choctaw arrowheads when he was a boy, or where he’d killed one of the last bears that had lived in Irwin County.

If it rained, you’d visit on the front porch listening to the rain come down on the tin roof and watch it puddle and splash in the red clay of the front yard.

There were many stories told about Uncle Barcy. You heard them from other people, he didn’t talk about himself a lot. My grandmother said he had been a normal boy, a rapscallion for sure, loud, funny, told taller tales than the Faulkner’s, which meant that they must have been taller than the sawdust pile.

But, then he had gone to the war, the first one, the big one, the one, she would say in a rather fierce way for a very nice church going lady, the one that was going to end all wars.

It didn’t, her best friend’s boy had been killed at Salerno.

Barcy got gassed in France, and came back quiet and mean. He looked the same, she would say, but he wasn’t the same.

He was always nice to us kids.

When we came back from living in Japan for three years, we stopped at his shack before driving on to my grandmother’s house. We had a load of magazines, books, and canned goods in the trunk to drop off. 

In Georgia, when you visit someone in the country, you pull into their yard and honk your horn before getting out. That gives whoever you’re visiting time to assess the situation and decide to act like they’re not at home, maybe grab a gun just in case, or walk out with a smile and a ‘Ya’ll git out! Are you hongry?”

Barcy was sitting on the concrete block front steps as we swung off the red clay dirt road onto his place.

He stood up, stretched, folded his Barlow knife and put it in his pocket. He’d been whittling toys for the kids that came by the place. He walked over to the open driver’s side window. Said to my Dad: Heard you been in J-pan. Are they still hostile or was it all right?

When he came home from France, he was hard on everyone. Drank. Got into fights every weekend. Once, after a flat tire one Saturday night, driving back from a dance in Hahira with another fellow, there was a dispute over who would change the tire. Words were exchanged and the other fellow cut Barcy across the chest with a knife.

Barcy beat him to death with the tire iron and buried him next to the road.

There were no charges brought for two reasons: you don’t draw a knife on someone without knowing you could get kilt, and some people deserve killing.

But, tempers were raw, and Barcy left to get work on the Florida East Coast Railroad.

He laid track through the Everglades which was as wild then as it had been during the Seminole Wars.

He was gone five years.

A Seminole Woman – George Catlin (1836)

One day, people saw smoke coming out of the shack’s chimney and discovered he had come home with a Seminole wife.

He called her Blossom, but no one knew her real name.

He wasn’t mean anymore, but was still quiet. He got a disability check from the government because of being gassed, and didn’t have to work, so he didn’t.

He and Blossom stayed very much to themselves. It was unusual for a white man to marry an Indian in those days. People would see them walking through the woods at all hours and, it was said that they would spend weeks in the Okefenokee fishing and hunting.

She died of the flu and he buried her somewhere in the woods.

After we got back from Japan, we would visit every few months dropping off magazines and K rations. He loved K rations, and would talk about how bad the food was in France.

Every year it seemed that his lungs got weaker, his voice raspier, his gaze not on things around him but on things that had happened to him during his life. When I asked him something it took a while to bring him back.

Then he died.

They were pretty sure that he knew the time had come. He was lying fully clothed on the ornate bed. 

A faded photo of Blossom placed carefully on the bedside table so he could see it. Somehow, and unbeknownst to even my grandfather who had been in and out of Barcy’s shack for fifty years, he had saved his Doughboy uniform. Torn in places, moth eaten, his Army ID card in the pocket, he was wearing it when they found him.

There was also a note to my grandmother. In beautiful cursive: I did not deserve the kindness you have shown me.

He had never been religious, so there was no ceremony. It was only us, the immediate family, that stood at the grave in the Ocilla Cemetery on a gray, cold afternoon. My grandfather had put ‘Blossom, Wife’ under Barcy’s on the tombstone.

My dad was the only person who spoke. He said we all had loved him and thanked him for his name.

Barcy had written my grandmother, pregnant when he left for France, to name my dad Truman after a friend who had been killed in an attack the day before. That the name suggested what they were fighting for.

The letter was mud stained and ripped here and there and was hard to read but everyone agreed it read ‘Freeman’. It made sense: they were over there fighting to free men the world over.

In 1919, when Barcy got back, the first time he held the baby, he gave him a fierce look of love and blood and cried: Truman!

Everybody thought it would be bad luck to change it at that point.

Years after Barcy died, my cousin and I walked along the banks of the Willacoochee past where Barcy’s shack had been. The sawdust pile was long gone. The undergrowth was mostly gone from a fire, the creek running clear, pine trees thick at its banks. We went farther than I had ever hiked back into those woods.

It was fall so there wasn’t much of chance of happening upon a rattler or water moccasin. We both jumped three feet in the air when we scared up a buck from right under our feet. It was silent. Deep silence. We pushed through a thicket, to a curve in the stream and found an opening in the woods. A clear pool had formed, the pines cleared and someone had planted oaks and red maples so long ago that they were tall and as thick around as a waist. It was a beautiful spot, as if you were not a half mile from the highway, a quarter mile from Barcy’s old house, not in Georgia at all.

Why, I’ve never seen anything like this spot, my cousin proclaimed. Wonder who cleared it and planted those trees?

We walked around, I tripped over something hard on the bank of the pool, and fell. It looked like a headstone. Weathered. Dirty. Walter took off his shirt, wet it in the still pool, wiped off the dead leaves and grime.

We thought there had been letters carved on it, now almost completely erased by years of rain. 

We were pretty sure the letters spelled ‘Blossom’.


Frequent contributor Michael Ledwith is a former bag boy at Winn-Dixie, who worked on the Apollo Program one summer in high school. A former U.S. Army officer, he ran with the bulls in Pamplona and in the process, almost got his friend Gary Fencik killed.  Surfer. Rock and roll radio in Chicago. Shareholder, Christopher’s American Grill, London. Father. Movie lover—favorite lines: “I say he never loved the emperor. Never!” and “You know, I’d almost forgotten what your eyes looked like. Still the same. Pissholes in the snow.”

Comments 20

    1. What a beautiful story. I would be so proud if I had American Indian blood in me. Great people and so sad what has happened to them. They were Americans and loved this Country. Look at the low class, uneducated stupid people in Congress that people out of I do know what Vote for them. The squad is Anti American, Anti Jewish and they are so low class it is frightening as to what is happening to this once Great Country they accuse Citizens of Racism that they spew on folks. We need honesty, and integrity and I do not see any. I love this story, and that is how America was built and became great.

  1. Having been raised in the MS Delta where many of the names arise from the Choctaw Indians, I certainly appreciate the tone and content of the story. The writing reminds me of Howard Bahr’s stories/books – simple, well written and flowingly descriptive.

    Reminds me of my childhood and early life in the rural South, a place long-lost in time!

  2. Thank you Michael. Makes one appreciate our loved ones around us – our family and friends. Hold them close, because we never know when we’ll leave – without warning. And our continued prayers for our beloved Yianni Kass – for his speedy recovery. I’m sure he shares this sentiment today about kindness being shown to him on his journey. But we – his loyal fans, relatives and kin – are simply “giving back” to him, for his honesty, loyalty to our town, and wit. We need it more and more these days!!! God Speed!

  3. My dad and one of his brothers fought in France in WWI, the war to end all wars. He did not talk much about it, but he did mention instances of being under gas attacks, of being instructed to sleep with their gas masks on, of waking up to find the dead soldiers who didn’t. He mentioned how people were badly affected by exposure to it but did not elaborate. Although an older brother and myself did not have to go through the horrors of gas attacks in our wars the sad commentary is, even though they were smaller wars, the great war didn’t end them and people still fight and die in them. WWI with the use of trench warfare, gas attacks, and the advent of mass killing may have been the worst one ever.
    RIP Barcy Zachariah Jones.

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