Daddy Had A Worm Farm

Tom Poland

Posted 5/28/24

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer
www.tompoland.net
tompol@earthlink.net

The towns sounded distant, not as miles go, but as memories. Hazlehurst, McRae, Baxley, Soperton, Alma, and Tifton. Tifton meant trouble.

I was studying a map for a six-day trek into South Georgia in August. Near a place called Fargo, I will sleep two nights where a road dead-ends in wilderness that spawns headwaters for the Suwannee River. You know it as the Okefenokee Swamp. First of all, I will seek the farm in Bacon County where Georgia writer Harry Crews lived as a child. Crews’s life, in an odd way, reminds me of my father’s career. As I drive into Crews country a ghost will ride along with me, my father. Together, we will retrace roads familiar.

I go back now though miles of memories, the ’50s and ’60s. In eastern Georgia, I woke six mornings out of seven to the snarl of chainsaws. In a shop of tin, Daddy fixed saws and welded the steel supports that cradled logs on pulpwood trucks. He cut steel. I see him now, adjusting the flow of acetylene and oxygen. He snaps the flint striker. Poof, a neon-blue plume of fire shoots forth, which he adjusts to a lethal blue point. His torch cuts through steel like a knife through butter, unleashing showers of molten steel, a scattering rain of fire.

Back in the day tin covered the saw shop. (Photo by Tom Poland)

The bread and butter of his shop’s trade were chainsaws. The South’s new cash crop, a green monoculture of loblolly and slash pines, was spreading like a plague. Pulpwooders brought their dead and dying chainsaws to Dad’s shop where he revived them. He understood all there was to know as chainsaws go, particularly Poulan saws. And that’s why a man in Tifton, Georgia, hired him away from fixing saws to selling saws.

Dad’s territory was South Georgia. He did not like being away from my mother. He would get up before daylight and drive south. He’d get back late at night. Even so he was the top salesman. “I’m John Poland with Poulan chainsaws.” But when some smart-ass marketing director in Tifton learned that Dad drove home most nights he added northern Florida to his territory. Faced with being away three weeks out of four, Dad quit. He was 46 years old. Thus began a struggle called Survival. One of my flaws is I never forget someone who inflicts unnecessary pain. I ask the fates to rain down hellfire on them, and I am sure the know-it-all paid a price.

At home for good, Dad continued to repair saw blades, he drove a schoolbus as a way to get decent health insurance, and the nearby Clarks Hill Lake sparked an idea. He would raise worms and sell them to bait shops. He raised wrigglers along the fence line across from my mother’s koi pond, a source of pleasure and torment for her.

I don’t know just how he got into the worm business. No one is left who knows. All dead. I remember the containers looked like sour cream cartons. I see him squatting over the ground working his farm. I do not remember why he gave up his worm business but he did. After my mother died, my sisters and I began to get the place ready for sale. One day I pulled up a concrete block from the bottom of the chain-link fence that enclosed the dog yard. The block had sunk into the soil. A handful of wriggling worms took off when I pulled the block free. I smiled.

To this day, when I see a log truck, smell pine resin, or hear a chainsaw whine, I am transported to boyhood and the shop pictured here. Then I think of earthworms. Come August I am going down to Bacon County, Georgia. I want to see where Harry Crews lived, that man who wrote a line that sticks to me like beggar’s lice.

“Survival is triumph enough.”


Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net

Email Tom about most anything at at tompol@earthlink.net 

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