of the town that George Sessions Perry knew and wrote about in the
first half of the Twentieth Century can still be found in Rockdale.
All it takes is a little scholarship and imagination.
A visit to the Lucy Hill Memorial Library in downtown Rockdale
is the first stop. Outside, a historical marker outlines Perry's contributions
to American literature and journalism; inside are first editions of
his books and copies of virtually every article he ever wrote for
the Saturday Evening Post, including one titled "The Little Town That
Rained Money" about the day Alcoa came to town.
Alcoa is still in town, but no one is writing about Rockdale
raining money these days. The issues are more contentious now. It's
hard to say which side Perry would come down on but we are sure his
affection for the place would shine through, regardless of his stand
on political issues.
The temptation to look for George Sessions Perry's Rockdale
can be strong because few writers are linked in readers' minds with
a hometown like Perry and Rockdale.
Other such writers develop, at best, an uneasy alliance, like Thomas
"You-Can't-Go-Home-Again" Wolfe and Asheville, North Carolina.
Perry wrote with lifelong affection about his hometown, first as a
novelist and later as a magazine journalist.
my hometown, is Texas' heart and significant part of its soul," Perry
wrote in his book, "Texas: A World Unto Itself." He describes the
pioneers of Rockdale
as typical of restless Southerners who hitched their wagons and moved
to Texas after the Civil War.
"The little group that landed at Rockdale
selected this spot because the land was sandy," he wrote. "It was
easy for a tired man and small, tired mules to plow. There were plenty
of building posts at hand, and the land would grow the broad variety
of items a pioneer family needed."
Noting that the fertile Blackland prairie was just three or four miles
away, Perry wrote: "Rockdale
folk were too tired, after their long, hard journey, to tackle it."
Hold Autumn in Your Hand
novel Hold Autumn In Your Hand which won the National Book
Award in 1941, is still the book for which Perry is best known.
The book was made into a popular movie, "The Southerner," starring
Zachary Scott as Sam Tucker, the story's main character. The book
is often compared with Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck,
with Perry's book often getting the higher mark from critics.
The book's main character is Sam Tucker, a poor tenant farmer in
the Brazos River bottoms "contending with nature, the seasons, the
river and more than a few of his fellow men." It's a hard look at
a hard life but Perry's affection for the land and people who live
on it is genuine and unabashed.
In the community of Liberty Hill, it's not hard even now, long after
the dethroning of King Cotton, to see Sam Tucker striding the land
and checking the skies for rain.
In his book Texas: A World In Itself Perry writes about the
"jovial prosperity" that came to Rockdale
with the coming of the railroad. He wrote also of the social order
imposed out of that prosperity: "Mrs. Hicks was the town's first
lady, social arbiter and senior member of a regency which built,
directed, and controlled Rockdale's
imposing stucco Baptist church," he wrote "The other member of this
regency was God."
served as a war correspondent in World
War II after a broken arm that never healed properly kept him
out of the armed forces. He was in the first wave of men to hit
the beach at Salerno, during the invasion of Italy.
He never got the images of war out of his mind and could not bring
himself to write a novel about what he saw. Yet he could not imagine
writing fiction without including his experiences in the war.
After the war Perry became one of the highest paid magazine writers
in the country. His series on "Cities of America" was collected
in hardback and he enjoyed success with other books but he never
published another significant piece of fiction.
According to friends and scholars, Perry believed he "sold out"
his talent for a lucrative career in magazine journalism. In order
to be closer to the lucrative magazine markets, Perry and his wife
Claire maintained a home in Connecticut; Perry felt he turned his
back on the hometown that nurtured and inspired him.
All of these doubts and demons were fueled by Perry's struggle with
arthritis, alcoholism and strong symptoms of increasing mental illness.
Those who knew him in those dark days were not completely surprised
when on a cold December day in 1956 Perry walked out of his house
and into a Connecticut River.
Three months later his body washed up in a nearby town. The coroner
ruled Perry died an "accidental death by drowning."
Few people who knew Perry believed there was anything accidental