1940 Oil field, Marion County, near Salem, Ill...

1940 Oil field, Marion County, near Salem, Illinois (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now it’s just a barbecue stand on old Route 13. Used to serve as a guard shack. I haven’t been in there myself to try the food, but from the number of cars outside during lunch hours it must do good business. That’s a picture of the gang here. Taken… oh probably the late fall of ’26. Just before the Shady Rest was bombed and burned down that winter. See that guy standing near the back of that truck? One fella came in here said that was his uncle. Not part of the gang just sort walked into the picture. You believe that? Must have been huntin’ carrying that rifle…

You open a vein it bleeds. Same as the earth I reckon. After all these years of showin’ ‘em—these old photographs—black and white and newspaper clippings yellowed beneath the glass sometimes I feel like I just walked into them like I stepped back in time ninety years to when my father was a young man. To when men fought over these coal fields and prohibition was in effect when alcohol was considered “un-American”. And what would it say? The land? It’s in the pictures too I guess. Just looked over in the background as souls parade through. As they look into the eye of a camera and for an instant the motion stops and the light is a certain way. No, maybe the earth should tell the story. If’n it could speak. Like it does in the hands of a painter. In colors and shadows. If pictures could lie I guess they would change. We just do all the changin’ around them and give them the attribution. ‘Spose the earth needs seasons just the same as a man does though—so as to fool time. Or maybe time fools us. I don’t rightly know. What’s history for if even the land can’t learn from it?

In the end it was a bet. I’m not a violent man, but I do like to gamble. The earth is the supply and we are the demand. It was the coal fields of Little Egypt brought Charlie Birger to southern Illinois. And he brought whiskey and beer with him…

Advertisements