Jamie McAllan: You ever miss it sometimes? Being over there. I don't mean being shot at, but sometimes, I actually miss it.

Ronsel Jackson: Yeah, me, too. Over there, I was a liberator. People lined up in the streets waiting for us. Throwing flowers and cheering. And here I'm just another nigger pushing a plow.

Ronsel Jackson: [narrating] Should my story end there? Silenced and defeated? Oppression, fear, deformity. It would take an extraordinary man to beat all that. I would have to wean myself off laudanum and self-pity... and travel with a little card in my shirt pocket that said "mute."And then, finally... I would have to cross the Atlantic yet again. This time not for war. But for love.

[Resl answers her door]

Hap Jackson: [narrating] What good is a deed? My grandfathers and great uncles, grandmothers and great aunts, father and mother, broke, tilled, thawed, planted, plucked, raised, burned, broke again. Worked this land all they life, this land that never would be theirs. They worked until they sweated. They sweated until they bled. They bled until they died. Died with the dirt of this same 200 acres under their fingernails. Died clawing at the hard, brown back that would never be theirs. All their deeds undone. Yet this man, this place, this law... say you need a deed. Not deeds.

Pappy McAllan: I don't know what they let you do over there, but you're in Mississippi now, nigger. You use the back door.

Henry McAllan: Go on, son. Son, we don't want no trouble here. Go on. Go on.

Ronsel Jackson: You know what? You're absolutely right. When we was overseas they didn't make us use the back door. General Patton put us on the front line. Yes, sir. You know what we did? We kicked the hell out of Hitler and them Jerries! While y'all at home, safe and sound...

Laura McAllan: [narrating] I was a 31-year-old virgin when I met Henry McAllan in the spring of 1939. I lived with my parents in the house I grew up in. My world was small, and he was my rescuer from a life in the margins.

Ronsel Jackson: [narrating]

[leaving for war]

Ronsel Jackson: Daddy borrowed Mr. Robert and 'nem truck to take me. That's what I remember most. The first things and the last things... they always stick the hardest.

Laura McAllan: [narrating] Violence is part and parcel of country life. You're forever being assailed by dead things. Dead mice, dead rabbits, dead possums. You find them in the yard. You smell them rottin' under the house. And then there are the creatures you kill for food. Chickens, hogs, deer, frogs, squirrels. Pluck, skin, disembowel, debone, fry. Eat, start again, kill. I learned how to stitch up a bleeding wound... load and fire a shotgun... reach into the womb of a heavin' sow to deliver a breeched piglet. My hands did these things... but I was never easy in my mind.

Jamie McAllan: You tanker boys ever piss in your helmets?

Ronsel Jackson: [coughs] Plenty of times.

Jamie McAllan: We had a relief tube up in the cockpit. Sometimes it was easier just to go in our flak helmets. But at 20,000 feet that piss freezes solid in less than a minute. It's that cold up there? Shit. I'm talking 20, 30 below. One time we were on this long haul, I pissed in my helmet, I forgot all about it. We were just over the target. I put the helmet back on. We're doing this bombing run, dodgin' enemy flak, and all of a sudden I started feelin' something runnin' down my face.

Ronsel Jackson: [laughs]

Jamie McAllan: Yeah, I thought I was hit.

[both laughing]

Hap Jackson: [eulogizing over the elder McAllan] Man who is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower and is cut down. He fleeth as a shadow and continueth not. And doth thou open thine eyes upon such a one, and bringest me into judgment with thee? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one. For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again. But man dieth and wasteth away. As the waters fell from the sea and drieth up, so man lieth down and riseth not. 'Til the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.

Florence Jackson: [narrating] No, I don't have favorites. I love them all equally. Every mother does.

[first lines]

Jamie McAllan: [in a hole digging]

Henry McAllan: You better get a hurry along. We ain't gonna make it.

[mopping his brow]

Henry McAllan: Oh, we will. We have to.


Henry McAllan: Take a break. Come on. My turn.

Jamie McAllan: "We will. We have to."

Jamie McAllan: [narrating] That was my brother, Henry. Absolutely certain whatever he wanted to happen would.

Henry McAllan: [narrating] My great-great-granddaddy and his slaves built the farm that I grew up on. One time my granddaddy told me to go out, grab a handful of dirt from the yard and bring it in. He said, "What are you holdin', son?" And I said, "Dirt." "That's right. Now give it to me." So I did, and he says, "Now what's this I've got in my hand?" "Dirt," I says. "No, boy, this is land that I've gotten. Do you know why? Because I own it. Because it's mine. And one day, it'll be yours."

Ronsel Jackson: So, what about you? What's the worst thing you ever done?

Jamie McAllan: Who, me? I'm a saint.

Ronsel Jackson: [scoffs] I bet. I bet.