River of Earth

by James Still

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The narrator, and the protagonist, is the oldest Baldridge son. We never learn his name. He tells the story of his family, living in the mountains and depending on the coal mines to keep his father in work and food on their table. He is a bit squeamish but longs to be a veterinarian when he grows up; he does not want to be a coal miner, probably because he sees the incredible hardship endured by his family, and especially his mother. His older sister is Euly, and his younger brother is Fletch. There is also a baby, Green, though he dies, likely in part as a result of malnutrition and perhaps breathing issues. Another baby is born at the very end of the text.

His parents are Brack and Alpha Baldridge. Brack and Alpha are often at odds concerning what is best for their family, but it is obvious that they care deeply about one another. Brack refuses to turn away family, and even neighbors, who need food, and this reduces the amount of food available for his own children. This greatly upsets Alpha, and she asks him to tell his family to leave. When he refuses, she moves the family's belongings to the smoke house and then burns the big house down so that there is nowhere for Brack's family to sleep. She seems like an incredibly strong woman who puts her own family ahead of any and all other considerations.

The narrator goes to stay with Alpha's mother, his grandmother, for a while. She is very old, though very strong, and he is meant to help her bring in the crops and even take care of her in the absence of her son, his Uncle Jolly, who lives with her (when he's not in jail, which is about half the time). People believe that Jolly is sabotaging Aus Coggins's farm because Aus killed his father, but it turns out that it is actually the narrator's grandmother who is doing the sabotaging, to which she confesses on her deathbed.

Harl and Tibb Logan, as well as Uncle Samp, are the family members who Alpha really wants to get rid of. The Logans, especially, are terribly immature and don't seem appreciative of the family's sacrifices made in order to house and feed them.

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