“You Know Who I Am? I’m Mr. John Paul’s Boy”

Eudora Welty, A village pet, Mr. John Paul's Boy/Rodney, ca. 1940. Eudora Welty Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Return to issue

“You Know Who I Am? I’m Mr. John Paul’s Boy”

by Keri Watson
Southern Cultures, Vol. 29, No. 1: Disability

“‘He told me he asked every day but he’d never got a letter in his life. So I used to send him cards sometimes.’”

A middle-aged white man in three-quarter-length view proudly fills the frame of the black-and-white photograph. He stands on a cracked cement landing beneath a leafless oak tree. Behind him, peeling plaster reveals a crumbling, low-slung brick wall, over which a tangle of brambles gives way to a field bounded on the left by an old rail fence and on the right by dense woods. The man appears as worn as the landscape he inhabits: his hair is disheveled, his chin shaded with stubble, and he leans ever so slightly on a walking stick. His dark wrinkled work shirt is open at the collar, revealing a worn undershirt, and the uppermost buttons of his light-colored trousers, which are held up by suspenders, are missing. His paunchy stomach causes the waistband of his pants to fold over, its shadow echoing the deep contours of his downturned mouth, fleshy jowls, and furrowed brow. But he stands tall, filling the foreground as he squints and looks down over the right shoulder of an imagined viewer.