Rick Bragg •
Ava’s Man •
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Rick Bragg spent years piecing together the life of a grandpa he never met. Ava’s man was a rip-snorting cuss who couldn’t write his own name, had a hair-trigger temper and a heart “stitched together with steel wire,” and logged time in jail for bootlegging.
Sifting through family legend, interviews with relatives, and local archives, Bragg learns that his mother’s father was “a carpenter, roofer, whiskey maker, sawmill hand, well digger, hunter, poacher, and river man.” He called his wife Four Eyes, outsmarted the revenuers, and took in a simple-minded man to protect him from cruelty. He was the subject of so many Depression-era stories that it takes a whole book to tell them—and what a book it is. “His name was Charlie Bundrum and he was probably the only man on earth who could love that woman [Bragg’s grandmother, the Ava of the title] and not perish in the flame.”
Flame of the literal sort caught one of his young daughters on a night when Bundrum was out carousing; he had taken the car and there was no way to get her to a doctor until the next day, when “[her] blisters rose up big as teacups, and then got infected.” Years later Bragg asks the aunt if it changed how she felt about her father. She answers, “No, hon, I was real young, so it didn’t leave no bad scars.” He muses, “I guess she misunderstood me, that she thought I was talking about the fire itself.
“Or maybe she understood me just fine.”
Bragg’s storytelling catches you by the throat and won’t let go, and he has plenty to work with in the rich lore of his dirt-poor family.