Often, when I dread what lies ahead, I visualize something to look forward to, and for reassurance,

The Pebble In His Shoe

By —— Bio and Archives--February 19, 2019

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The Pebble In His ShoeIn a discussion following a tour of William Faulkner’s home, I asked students in my creative writing course how the great writer felt about mankind’s capacity for endurance.

“He summed it up in one line from his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech,” a student replied. ‘I believe man will not merely endure, he will prevail.’”

Another great thinker, my boyhood best friend and mentor Jaybird defined man’s capacity for endurance by living it, day by day.


Few tasks test endurance more than hoeing weeds, a common practice before the advent of herbicides. Stretched across fields of my father’s Mississippi Delta farm, the rows seemed endless. It was a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, enduring sweat, dust, monotony, and the pitiless gaze of an unrelenting sun, inching slowly toward the horizon.

For my tenth birthday, Dad gave me a hoe and sent me to the field with Jaybird. I didn’t even know what endurance meant, and certainly didn’t have enough of it to withstand working all day alongside the old black man. With patience but not pity, he helped me catch up when I lagged behind.

“Get used to hard work, boy. It’ll be the biggest part of your life, and if you face it like a man, the best part.”

Returning to his row, he’d resume singing a favorite ditty: “We have come a long way togeth-o, but we got a long way to go, though.”

One day, I noticed that Jaybird was limping, and asked, “Got a hitch in your git-along?”

“Naw, just a pebble in my shoe. I’ll remove it when we get to the end of these rows and stop for a drink of water.”

“If I had a pebble in my shoe, I’d dump it right now,” I quipped.

Chuckling, he said, “Then you wouldn’t have anything to look forward to.”

Years passed before I understood what he meant. Because he was a man of unfaltering Christian faith, Jaybird viewed all of life as a process leading toward something to look forward to. From that premise, he developed the ability to make the most onerous tasks endurable, even the drudgery of chopping weeds out of cotton.

When we reached the end of the rows, he dipped a cool drink from the water keg and drank his fill. Then he sat on the keg, removed the pebble, and tossed it to me.

“Mercy! That sure feels better,” he sighed. “Let’s get to work. We’ve got a ways to go before sundown.”

So many of Jaybird’s lessons are imprinted in my mind, especially the ones about enduring and prevailing.

Often, when I dread what lies ahead, I visualize something to look forward to, and for reassurance, I often pick up the old cigarette case that was in Jaybird’s shirt pocket on the day he collapsed and died of a heart attack. Inside it, what he tossed to me that day so many years ago provides all the reassurance needed: the pebble in his shoe.


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Jimmy Reed -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Jimmy Reed is an Oxford, Mississippi resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran (Vietnam Era), former Mississippi Delta cotton farmer and ginner, author, and retired college teacher. His short story anthology, Boss, Jaybird And Me, is available at Squarebooks.com (telephone: 662-236-2262). His latest collection of faith-based short stories, entitled One Hundred By Five Hundred, is also available at Square Books (telephone: 662-236-2262) and at amazon.com. To receive Reed’s free weekly newsletter, send an email address to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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