The Prince of Frogtown

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-04-07
  • Publisher: Vintage
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With candor, insight, and tremendous humor, Rick Bragg closes his circle of family stories in an unforgettable tale about fathers and sons. The third installment of Rick Bragg's bestselling and beloved American saga that began with All Over but the Shoutin' and continued with Ava's Man documents a mesmerizing journey back in time to the lush Alabama landscape of Rick's youth, to Jacksonville's one-hundred-year-old mill and the troubled, charismatic hustler coming of age in its shadow, Rick's father. Inspired by the author's own journey into fatherhoodThe Prince of Frogtownis a brilliant and moving rumination on the lives of boys and men.

Author Biography

Rick Bragg is the author of two best-selling books, Ava's Man and All Over but the Shoutin'. He lives in Alabama.


The ditch cleaved frogtown into two realms, and two powerful spirits heldsway,one on each side. One was old, old as the Cross, and the other had aged only a few days in a gallon can. Both had the power to change men’s lives. On one side of the ditch, a packed-in, pleading faithful fell hard to their knees and called the Holy Ghost into their jerking bodies in unknown tongues. On the other side, two boys, too much alike to be anything but brothers, flung open the doors of a black Chevrolet and lurched into the yard of 117 D Street, hallelujahs falling dead around them in the weeds. In the house, a sad-eyed little woman looked out, afraid it might be the law. When your boys are gone you’re always afraid it might be the law. But it was just her two oldest sons, Roy and Troy, floating home inside the bubble of her prayer, still in crumpled, cattin’-around clothes from Saturday night, still a little drunk on Sunday morning. They were fine boys, though, beautiful boys. They were just steps away now, a few steps. She would fry eggs by the platterful and pour black coffee, and be glad they were not in a smoking hulk wrapped around a tree, or at the mercy of the police. She thought sometimes of walking over to the church to see it all, to hear the lovely music, but that would leave her boys and man unsupervised for too long. Her third son was eleven or so then. He could hear the piano ring across the ditch, even hear people shout, but he could smell the liquor that was always in the house on a Sunday and even steal a taste of it when no one was looking, so it was more real.

The holy ghost moved invisible, but they could feel it in the rafters, sense it racing inside the walls. It was as real as a jag of lightning, or an electrical fire.

The preacher stood on a humble, foot-high dais, to show that he did not believe he was better than them. “Do you believe in the Holy
Ghost?” he asked, and they said they did. He preached then of the end of the world, and it was beautiful.

They were still a new denomination then, but had spread rapidly in the last fifty years around a nation of exploited factory workers, coal
miners, and rural and inner-city poor. Here, it was a church of lintheads, pulpwooders and sharecroppers, shoutin’ people, who said
amen like they were throwing a mule shoe. Biblical scholars turned their noses up, calling it hysteria, theatrics, a faith of the illiterate. But in a place where machines ate people alive, faith had to pour even hotter than blood.

It had no steeple, no stained glass, no bell tower, but it was the house of Abraham and Isaac, of Moses and Joshua, of the Lord thy
God. People tithed in Mercury dimes and buffalo nickels, and pews filled with old men who wore ancient black suit coats over overalls,
and young men in short-sleeved dress shirts and clip-on ties. Women sat plain, not one smear of lipstick or daub of makeup on their
faces, and not one scrap of lace at their wrists or necks. Their hair was long, because Paul wrote that “if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her, for her hair is given her for a covering.” Their hair and long dresses were always getting caught in the machines, but it was in the Scripture, so they obeyed. Some wore it pinned up for church, because of the heat, but before it was over hairpins would litter the

They listened as the preacher laid down a list of sins so complete it left a person no place to go but down.

“They preached it hard, so hard a feller couldn’t live it,” said Homer Barnwell, who went there as a boy.

The people, some gasping from the brown lung, ignored the weakness in their wind and pain in their chests and sang “I’ll Fly Away”
and “Kneel at the Cross” and “That Good Ol’ Gospel Ship.” A woman named Cora Lee Garmon, famous for her range, used to hit
the high not

Excerpted from The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg
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