2018-05-10 / Editorial Page

Squatters

Across The Savannah
By TOM POLAND tompol@earthlink.net


Squatters homesite. 
(Photos by Tom Poland). Squatters homesite. (Photos by Tom Poland). Looking back, I realize they lived like frontiersmen. Looking back, I admire them for doing what they had to do. Find a place to survive. A squirrel-hunting boy who skirted their wooded encampment, I considered them bums. Looking back that seems harsh. Down on their luck some would say. Poor decision-makers others would say. Looking back, I say they were frontiersmen. Modern-day Daniel Boones.

Today, a debris trail of bot­tomless chamber pots, broken bottles, glass Clorox jugs, and assorted flotsam brings them alive one more time. Brushing away the dust, untangling the vines, and clearing away the pine straw, I uncover artifacts of un­usual people. In the lexicon of nomad types we have hoboes, vagrants, and itinerants. And squatters named Tom and Yank. Yank carried himself with a bit of dignity. Tom seemed shy and withdrawn.

I first saw these brothers in Clifford Goolsby’s country store. They wore felt hats and loose, rumpled, gray-brown garments. They looked like the Darling fam­ily of the old Andy Griffith show. Yank had a grayish, grizzled beard; Tom was clean-shaven. What I remember most shocks me still. It was the first time I saw a man with a missing arm. That would have been Tom. De­spite not wanting to look, I stared at his stump, the shirtsleeve dan­gling over it. And then later, Bill Goolsby, a character if ever there were, told me Yank had shot off his brother’s arm in a hunting ac­cident. As Bill recounted the sto­ry, I could see the muzzle blast and buckshot tearing into flesh and bone. I winced.


A bottomless chamber pot is part of the debris trail left by squat­ters. A bottomless chamber pot is part of the debris trail left by squat­ters. Yank, in penitence, said Bill, took care of his brother the rest of his life. As I worked at the store pumping gas and bagging groceries, the brothers came and went. “They must live close by,” I thought. I have no memory of seeing them drive or ride in a car or truck. Not one. Pedestrian they were.

Naïve of my own surroundings outside of the goings and com­ings of squirrels, I didn’t know the ill-fated brother, Tom, shot­gun wielding Yank, and their mom lived close by. And then one cold, October morning, one of those mornings when crystal­line shafts of light pierce wooded shadows, my squirrel-hunting adventures led me to their home. I was following a squirrel leap­ing from pine to pine in graceful arcs. In a pool of morning light I saw their shack. It stood in woods not far from the Augusta High­way. That home stunned me. It was made of cardboard. Large sheets of cardboard tacked to strips of wood and set among the trees, shelter nonetheless. I recall that it had a tin roof, and indeed, rusting sheets of tin take their place in the debris trail, a string of abandonment reminiscent of a sinking ship’s dying moments.


A squatters debris trail of bottomless chamber pots, broken bottles, glass Clorox jugs, and assorted flotsam brings them alive one more time. A squatters debris trail of bottomless chamber pots, broken bottles, glass Clorox jugs, and assorted flotsam brings them alive one more time. They long lived there. Looking back and doing some math I real­ize they were living there when Uncle Joe bought the land they were squatting on. Uncle Joe, as good a man as you’ll find, nev­er thought once about evicting them. And so they remained but for how long I have no clue. They lived without plumbing and with­out electricity. I saw what might have been a well, filled-in now, and I saw an old TV thrown into what might have been part of the old manganese mining operation nearby. Others, not the squatters, jettisoned this relic of the days of grainy test patterns there. Hard to run a TV without electricity.

As for me, the years piled up. My days of hunting squirrels faded, and fate had me move to another state. A lifetime entire passed before recent forays into the family woods brought Tom, me, and Yank together again. Cu­rious as to their fate, I went on­line to learn what might became of these squatters. All I could find was the date of Yank’s death, June 6, 1978. His birth date was given as 1910, no month, no day. His real name was Ansle, a noble name of the old days. Perhaps that’s why he seemed a bit dig­nified despite his position in life. He’s buried, if indeed, this is the Yank I remember, in the cem­etery of my church. I just can’t be sure he is one of the two mys­terious men who would walk into Goolsby’s grocery store. Gools­by’s. It had to be the source of the debris trail’s many bottles, jars, jugs, and cans, some of which I no doubt stocked.

We cross paths with all sorts. For this Georgia boy, working at a country store and hunting squirrels brought me into con­tact with frontiersmen. Had I not been so timid, I could have put myself at ease around them and learned much about survival. But that was then, and this is now. They are gone and the squirrel hunter’s a photojournalist. All I can do is walk their debris trail and see what it teaches me about these squatters of the 1950s and 60s, a family who lived like pio­neers.

Visit my website at www.tom­poland.net

Email me at tompol@earth­link.net

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