The Fodder Milo Stories
By Francis Eugene Wood
Illustrated by Robert W. McDermott
About the story:
When I was nine years old, I met a man along the banks of the Meherrin River in Brunswick County, Virginia, who loved to do two things: fish and tell stories. His name was Fodder Milo. His mother and father had been slaves, but Fodder was born into a free life. And what a life he had! He'd chased Indians and outlaws out West and helped defeat the Spanish in 1898. I had never heard of a Buffalo Soldier until I met this kind old gentleman. Our shared passions for fishing and storytelling brought us together beneath oaks and river birches on steamy summer days from 1963 until 1966. These were turbulent years for a country racked with the pressures of an unwanted war and civil unrest. The river was our escape from it all. It was there that a boy could put away his fears of the future and listen as an old man told of his past.
When I came to know Fodder, he lived alone. But there had been Bell, his wife of sixty-one years, and their three children. The boys were Shad and Boler, and there was a daughter named Anna. He told me about them in his stories, so I came to know them, also.
Buster, a black and white mixed-breed dog, was Fodder Milo's constant companion. The dog would bark and fetch on command, and he'd perform a little dance when Fodder played the harmonica. I can still recall the sound of the music and the clouds of dust which enveloped the dancing dog.
My grandmother once told me that we are destined to know a few pure souls during our time here. I came to know one in Fodder Milo. Time is a strange bandit, for even as it robs us of our youth, it graces us with wisdom. I realize now that times are never easy for any generation, as each one must bear its share of joy and strife. From Fodder Milo I learned how one can come through it all with dignity and a measure of understanding that hints of other-worldly knowledge.
Fodder once said to me, "One day I'll see my Bell ag'in, an' dat'll be a fine reunion."
He passed away in the fall of 1966 at the age of 94. I grew up and went on with my life, but I have never forgotten him. Grandmother was right. He was a pure soul and a fine gentleman, and he was my good friend.
These stories are from a self-taught man. He told them well, and I listened as a child listens, absorbing every word and inflection. My initial desire was to bring Fodder's stories to the public, using his own Southern Appalachian dialect. The original manuscript for the book retains that uniqueness. However, it is my belief that the stories are much more important than my effort to devise and duplicate his pronunciations. Therefore, I have softened his manner of speech to make a more easily read narrative. The more heavily laden dialect comes in the quotes from passing characters.
I have chosen certain entries from my personal journal (1963-1966) and placed them throughout this book. These serve as a link between the young journalist and the old storyteller.
As for the authenticity of Fodder's tales, I can only say that I never questioned his integrity or his intent. I hope you enjoy the Fodder Milo stories as much as I did.
In this book, Francis Wood has reached back into his earliest journals to jog his memories of Fodder Milo. And what vivid memories they are! These stories have the ring of truth to them-their muscular sound, the language in which they are clothed, and the skeleton of events on which they hang all show the marks of an authenticity that sets them far above ordinary fables and storytelling. This is a book that is written, and that I hope you will read, wholeheartedly.
--Scott Ainslie, singer, songwriter, whose works include the CDs Terraplane and Jealous of the Moon. Blues historian and author of Robert Johnson at the Crossroads.
How skillfully Wood reveals yet another dimension of his trade with The Fodder Milo Stories. The juxtaposition of a young boy's journal against an old man's wit and wisdom is charming. Fodder Milo's character development is so rich, so real-his words trigger echoes of yesteryear for me, too.
--Linda Reid, Entrepreneur Rolleighdon Books, Farmville, Va.
I was greatly entertained by Francis Wood's Fodder Milo Stories. Some of these folksy tales are very amusing, while others are quite serious. Whether he is dealing with great people or a great fish, Fodder's colorful narrative makes all his adventures memorable for us. And within these tales are some little gems of wisdom that perhaps we should already know or at least should have learned. In any case, they bear repeating, especially if done in such a charming, folksy manner.
--Douglas M. Young, Playwright, whose works include: Angels of the Half-moon, The Professionals and Miss Doris Anderson. Author of: The Feminist Voices in Restoration Comedy.
Robert W. McDermott is a retired radio broadcaster who lives in Keysville, Virginia. I came to know him through a mutual friend who shared a beautifully illustrated Christmas card Bob had designed and given to her. When I met him shortly thereafter, I knew we should work together. Bob met the challenge and embraced the character of Fodder Milo with his wonderful artistry. I have been both impressed and inspired by this artist, and his work will be featured in the soon to be published The Nipkins.