Author: Hunter Liguore
The day the president came to Corinth, my Pa bet Mr. Henley our last good laying hen that he wouldn’t show. “Oh, he’ll come alright,” said Henley, shaking Pa’s hand to seal the bet. “We’re a disgrace to the whole country, seeing it’s 1934—the Age of Civility—and we still don’t have electricity.”
Pa told me folks believed we were a bunch of backwards mollies, living in the Mississippi hills like cavemen.
“He’ll come,” repeated Henley, staking two fattened pigs on it. To him, President Roosevelt was our liberator, our Moses; he’d lead us from the desert into the twentieth century.
I only saw the loss of the hen. Those eggs got us by. Henrietta laid two eggs a day, one for each of us. Losing her would be the last straw for Pa, since Henley owned most of the town and everyone in it. It’d also mean Roosevelt came through on his promise, and that the houses—little more than shacks—would get strung up with wires and given life.
“We can’t even buy a new hen, Alice.” Pa’s fist hit the table, as Henley strutted from the house. “How’s old Roosevelt ‘spect we’re gonna pay for something we can’t even see.”
I tried to explain the marvel of electricity to Pa, as we waited for Roosevelt to show. Summer neared an end; the rolling hills surrounding the jigsaw neighborhood swelled with golden wheat, white cotton, and the endless sound of katydids.
By midday, Pa had fallen asleep on the porch; he’d scratched out on the floorboards how many cuts of meat he’d get from Henley’s pigs, if he won. But as the long line of black cars floated across the red roads toward us, I knew we were done for. If only I could’ve run down and told Mr. Roosevelt to go away, go away, before Pa woke and saw the hardship coming.
But Pa stirred, straightening his legs like he was being measured for a coffin. “Wish your ma was here to see this.” Ma had died four years ago; I was barely ten.
“Me too,” I said.
The cars stopped near Henley’s tact shop. Everyone congregated around, dressed in their best poor clothes, hoping to get a handshake or a smile. Roosevelt looked like a porcelain doll, hair slicked, clean face, pristine hands, and broad shoulders. Someone could’ve convinced me he was Moses.
Reporters clustered near him. Photos were snapped. Roosevelt towered over us, as if bending from heaven, and spoke about getting on the grid. “Electricity is man’s most useful servant. Every American has a right to it.”
When he left, and the dust settled, Pa fetched Henrietta and brought her to Henley. “You win, fair and square.” Pa turned to leave.
Henley, in good spirits, having shook hands with the president, called him back. “You can keep your chicken. I don’t want it. You’re gonna need it.”
Pa’s pride was hurt; I urged him to take the hen.
“Change is coming.” Henley spoke to everyone in the shop. “Electricity’s finally coming to Corinth.” He broke out a keg of beer for the men, and candy for the children.
In a few months, workers came in droves and laid the wires; Henley was the first one to turn the lights on, so to speak.
It didn’t take long for people to forget Roosevelt’s visit. For me, it was the day Henley did the first nice thing for us. From that day on, he was a changed man, and somehow it rubbed off on the rest of us.