In this time of living life at a break-your-neck pace, “Swamp Water” by Vereen Bell (published by Brown Thrasher Books, The University of Georgia Press) is a welcome respite. Written in 1940, by Vereen Bell, the son of a Cario, Georgia lawer, it is a story that has it’s setting in the Okefenokee, back in the days before modern convenience, has stolen the passion of adventure. It’s the tale of Ben Ragan, his hound Trouble, and a fugitive named Tom Keefer. Ben is a young fellow that is trying to move into being his own man, from under his father’s house, and he meets up with Tom, who is in hiding out in the treacherous Okefenokee swamp, after killing his sister’s husband, because of the abuse she suffered at his hands.
The story is written in a 1940 southern Georgia speak, and it is like a step back in time, just to read it, in fact it’s like being in a time machine back to that day, without modern conveniences, or technology. When you lift your head back up after reading “fer a spell,” with knuckles white just from holding the book, you will feel like you just left another world….and believe me, through it’s 263 pages, you will always be anxious to return. Here’s a little taste….
In this passage, from the book, Ben is explaining to Julie Gordan, a girl that he is attracted to, what is wrong with love. They are standing inside Martin’s (the local general store):
” I ain’t no wise old man, and they’s a lot of things I ain’t straightened out in my mind, but I believe I got the woman business figured pretty nigh right. Soon as you commence a-courting, your headed for trouble. If she don’t care nothing about you, your poor heart’s busted, and you wish you had been dead-born. If she gits to be your girl, then first thing you know she’s telling you not do that and you better do this, and how come you wasn’t here before dark like you said you’d be. This here love, hit’s just a big calaboose, except your food ain’t free….”
I first heard about this book, from the Winter 2007 issue of GEORGIA BACKROADS, a wonderful magazine that covers the unique Georgia history, nature, and places to travel. Then I found that the owners of the company I work for here at in Moultrie, GA, were related to the author, (who was killed in action in 1944), and I was able to borrow a copy. It happened that grandfather of the one who had loaned me the book, was in fact, brother to the author’s mother, Jennie Vereen.
“Swamp Water” by Vereen Bell, was also picked up by Twentieth Century Fox (the movie rights were purchased for $15,000), and made into a major motion picture. It was filmed in the Okefenokee, and starred Walter Brennan and Walter Houston. The 1941 movie premiered in Waycross, GA, with $.28 cent matinee showings.
If you long for those action packed good old days, with a generous helping of drama, then take a couple of evenings and read “Swamp Water” by Vereen Bell. You won’t be disappointed.