One Who Came Home
Lonnie Lamar Puckett
He was an ordinary country farmer, lean from physical labor, with a face and neck reddened from time spent in the fields plowing. His uniform was a pair of brogan shoes bought from a Sears-Roebuck catalogue, a cotton shirt--long-sleeved despite the season -- and a pair of overalls. And, depending on the season, he wore either a felt or straw hat. He spoke with a soft Southern drawl with reference to chaps like me, a family expression dating back generations to the colonial days of South Carolina.
Lonnie Lamar Puckett was born in 1910 in a farmhouse in the Oakland community of Newton County to Henry Garland Puckett and Laura Jane Gibbon Puckett, the fourth of eleven children, three of whom would not survive infancy. When Lonnie was 14, his father sold their land at Oakland with its fine loam bottoms and bought a farm in the Crossroads community west of Decatur that was composed mainly of red clay hills, a decision that Laura Gibbon Puckett never let her husband forget. They moved into a four-room frame home that was expanded to make room for the two parents and eight children.
An L-shaped porch was added across the front of house. At the foot of the L was the washstand. This included a wooden table, a white (but chipped) enamel pan, a water pail, and a mirror nailed to the wall. This is where the men shaved and where everyone washed their hands before coming inside. The dirty water was simply thrown into the yard. For whatever reason, this damp area in the yard turned out to be a favorite chicken scratch. A shallow well was located near the back door, but rainwater was also collected in a cistern at the edge of the roof near the back bedrooms. A privy was located in a clump of shrubbery fifty feet beyond the well.
The outside of the house never saw paint, and in fact, experienced (like the rest of us) a deeper gray with age. The extra rooms built onto the house went unfinished as the family moved into the Great Depression. There were simply not enough boards to fill in all the walls and ceilings, so the interior of the house remained cool regardless of the season. A fire place in the main bedroom and a wood-burning stove in the kitchen were the only sources of heat. The fireplace had only two temperaturesfreeze or blisterdepending on how you turned your body.
Lonnie never dreamed of being any more than a farmer and living off the landat least he never expressed any other wish. But he was given a new uniform and a new job by Uncle Sam as the nation moved rapidly into World War II. A farm boy who only shot a gun in pursuit of squirrels or possums suddenly found himself thrust into battle in a place called Normandy. He came home with shrapnel wounds on his stomach and arms, but, more importantly, he came home.
He came home at the end of the war to an elderly father and handicapped brother, his mother having died in 1943, and his other siblings having married and started their own families. Here was a brother and father to be cooked for and fed daily, laundry to be done by hand once weekly the old-fashioned way, water to be drawn from the well daily, firewood to be cut in season, a fire to be made many mornings, three or four cows to be milked twice daily, mules to be tended to, hogs to be slopped, chickens to be fed and eggs gathered, a garden to maintain, and a crop of corn and cotton to plant, plow, and harvest.
Upon request, he would cut hair for two bits on the front porch of his house, a skill that he had apparently mastered in boot camp. He cut only one style, best described as an inverted-bowl halo. His limited income from the farm was supplemented by a small check from the government for his military service and disability. He owned no bank account, mortgage payment or credit card. He cashed his government checks and stuck the dollar bills and change behind one of the missing boards in the househis favorite hiding place. There was a battery-operated telephone in the house, but he never sought to replace the dead battery or connect to a telephone line.
He never married nor afforded himself of the electricity lines that passed by his house. Although a mechanic during World War II, he never owned a vehicle greater than a farm wagon. Periodically his sister Jessie and her husband, Henry Vance, would stop by his house in their car and carry him to Decatur to buy his groceries and shop. Everything was paid for in cash, there being no need for a checking account.
He rarely saw a doctor and it was only after cancer cells had eaten away at a deadly pace in his colon that he relented to see one. He died a few years later at the home of his sister Jessie Vance, the victim of a sudden heart attack.
He spoke only about his war-time experiences when asked, and he spoke only in modest terms of his involvement. A kind, humble, and gentle man, I would never expect anything else. In his eyes, however, I could see gratitude to be away from the trauma he had experienced on the battlefield and a gladness to be home. Yes, Uncle Lonnie came home, and in his own personal way found peace. For his service and the sacrifice of others like him who wore the uniform of Uncle Sam during World War II, we were all at peace. What a blessing!
Harold Graham, President, NCHGS