The turpentine gulag was in full swing in 1958 and we had 40 families of hands who lived in ‘quarters’ and were either employed in field labor or turpentining. Turpentining was a hot, dirty, nasty, hard way to make a meager living but at that time in history, a dollar was a silver dollar and worth 30 times what a dollar is worth today. Being as the turpentine business was filled with such drudgery, it was no wonder that on the weekends, after payoff on Friday afternoon, it was time for many of the hands to go to the ‘juke’ and boogie down all night. Every quarters had a juke joint and ours was no exception. At this particular time, the ‘juke’ was in old man Frank Baker’s house.
It got to where a professional gaggle of gamblers would ease out to the juke on Friday afternoon and by late evening all the money in the hand’s pockets was in the pockets of the pros. Of course, this meant that now those hands would have to come and ask for a loan against next week’s pay so their family could buy groceries.
After a while this became intolerable to Uncle K.D. and my Daddy and they cooked up a plan. The plan was this; the next time the professional gamblers came out, do something that would scare the daylights out of them. It was Daddy that came up with the idea to set off a charge of dynamite close to the house. Uncle K.D. agreed this might work and the plan was set in motion.
The night after the next payday, Daddy and I were alone in the house he had just built for us. It was late fall, just about the time the scrape, the hard gum that collects on the turpentine ‘face’ during the year and must be ‘scraped’ off, was coming in. George Odum, who was in charge of feeding the mules, and who lived right next to the only road in and out of the juke, had agreed to alert the Pay Boss, my Dad, when the gamblers sneaked in and he did.
Uncle George tapped on the door and said, “Dey here, Pay Boss.”
Daddy had a case of dynamite ready. A case is a lot of dynamite and Daddy decided to use it all because the sticks were old and sweaty. I later learned the sweat was pure nitroglycerine. We took the dynamite down to within about a hundred feet of the ‘juke’ and bent a twenty foot pine over and tied the box of Hercules Stumping Powder in the top, attached a cap and fuse, and turned it loose. The tree stood back up with the charge dangling just below the top. Daddy lit the fuse and we took off back to our house some three hundred yards distant.
It was years later that a man who was in the juke that night, Slim Armour, told me what happened.
He said, “I was sittin’ at the card table and I had a good hand goin’. “Bout ‘dat time ‘dat thang went off out ‘dere, an ‘dat ole’ house ‘riz up off’en ‘dem blocks, bowed up in ‘de back like an ’ole mule and bucked one time, and ‘sot right back down. White folks, I knowed it was time to go.”
People started coming out of every door and window in the joint and scattered to the four winds, including the ‘professional gamblers’.
The next morning, Daddy and I were working at the farm shop just up the hill from the ‘juke’. Frank Baker came up and just stood around, saying nothing. Daddy was about to bust to laugh out loud and finally could stand no more and he asked, “Can I help you, Frank?”
Frank said, “Mister Conway, Did you hear anything last night?”
Trying his best to suppress a laugh Daddy said, “No, Frank, I didn’t hear anything. Why?”
“I tell you ‘de truth, Boss Man. ‘Dey’s a jet plane fell close ‘round here somewhere las’ night. We ought to be looking for ‘dat thang.