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Return of the Natives

Down in east Carolina, where barn sides serve as backstops and baseball stirs the soul, the folk heroes are long, lean pitchers. Most stayed home, but the Perry boys of Farm Life have gone far

This past Nov. 10 was Jim and Gaylord Perry Day in Williamston, N.C. (pop. 7,000), where the Perry boys got started playing baseball in a pasture full of weeds. In their honor a barbecue and Brunswick stew banquet was held in the high school gym, and there would have been a parade if sudden showers had not withered all the crepe paper on the float. It was a fine occasion, rain or no, but not quite consummated. People kept mentioning Slim Gardner and his era. It was as though inside Jim and Gaylord Perry Day there was another more fundamental Day. Call it Slim Gardner Memorial Southern Pasture Baseball Day.

Southern-pasture baseball, like ghetto-schoolyard basketball, is a distinct tradition and the product of indigenous needs and resources. As a boy on pavement and in and out of doorways takes to dribbling and the give-and-go, a boy surrounded by fields, crab apples, rocks, mud clods and the broadsides of barns takes to chunking, and you can't make a football out of a green unhusked walnut and tape. These and other factors have given rise to such good old boys of national note as Preacher Roe of Ash Flat, Ark., who was 6'2" and 170 pounds, and once said he knew he had lost his fastball when he let slip a wild pitch and had time to yell "look out!" three times. On a local level this tradition has produced the community pitcher, an institution comparable to the village priest, the corner druggist and the local Confederate veteran. Slim Gardner and his teammate Evan Perry were community pitchers.

Some other Southern rural facts of life boosting baseball are: a shortage of the flashier diversions; work that instills great doggedness and tensile strength, if not 100% fluidity; a desire for some more sociable and celebrated outlet for persistency than just hard work; an attunement to long, hot, ordered periods of time, compared to which six-run innings are brisk; and an urge to get away to the city.

Jim and Gaylord did get away—to Minneapolis and San Francisco, respectively, to make their fortunes—but Slim Gardner did not. For a traditionalist's taste, the Perry boys got away too far (much farther than Preacher Roe); a Slim Gardner Day would have had more flavor. For instance, no catcher of Slim's would have been reduced to saying, as Giant Catcher Dick Dietz said about Gaylord from the Perry Day banquet dais, "You know he's going to give you 120% on every pitch." It sounded like Gaylord (pronounced GAYlerd), a farm-growed pitcher, were some kind of stock-market bubble. By 1985 there may be 48 big-league teams, the minimum pension may be up to $500 a week and testimonial speakers may be saying, "He gives you 280% out there." But 280% of what? When Slim Gardner and Evan Perry were pitching around Williamston in the old days, 100% was good value.

Not that there are any flies on Jim and Gaylord. (Too few, in a manner of speaking.) They are by all accounts likable, upstanding men, and last season they became the first brothers ever to oppose each other in an All-Star Game. In 1970 Jim, the ace of the Minnesota Twins, won the Cy Young Award in the American League, and Gaylord was runner-up to Bob Gibson for that award in the National. With 24 and 23 wins, respectively, they became the first brothers ever to win 20 games each in the same season and they fell just two short of the alltime victories by a pair of brothers record—49, set by Dizzy (30) and Paul (19) Dean for the Gas House Cardinals in 1934, the year Dizzy predicted that "me 'n' Paul'll win 45," and they outdid themselves.

But such achievements invite comparison with some lean and lanky country-boy pitchers who were more than pretty fair: Cy (for Cyclone) Young himself, out of Gilmore, Ohio; Walter Johnson, out of Humboldt, Kans.; and Slim Gardner, out of the same tobacco fields whence the Perrys sprung. Gaylord and Jim are fine family men and competitors, ranking professionals and highly diversified businessmen. Slim Gardner was a plain old bony hardscrabble boy with no teeth—and a legend in his own time.

One of the authorities on that legend is Judge Elbert S. Peel Jr. of Williamston, a historian of the area's pitchers. Billy Wynne of the Angels is from there, Catfish Hunter of the A's is from nearby Hertford, and Judge Peel believes that Williamston Kid—the colt someone was supposed to have made $46,000 on from the Denny McLain bookmaking operation—was named for a Williamston pitcher who showed promise some years back but never got out of the minor leagues. And then there was Slim Gardner, whose glory was in the '30s and '40s.

"They are still talking about Slim down in New Bern, N.C.," says Judge Peel, "for his exploits during a July 4 morning and afternoon doubleheader one year. He shut out the New Bern Bears in the morning game, had a big barbecue lunch, swam the mile-wide Neuse River and then proceeded to shut out the Bears that afternoon."

Virtually everyone in Williamston who is or has been a farmer—including the Perry brothers, who are both 6'4"—is at least more nearly slim than fat. Slim Gardner is said to have been slimmer than almost anybody, even during the Depression, and he was strong as a mule and 6'6". They say he pitched some minor league ball but couldn't make enough of a living out of it to support his family.

So he settled for "coming right up out of the fields" (as people in Williamston invariably put it) on summer Saturday afternoons to pitch, at $10 a game plus certain spontaneous ancillaries, for the Farm Life community team in the local semipro Beaufort County League, now defunct.

One of Slim's former catchers, Archie Perry, is no relation to Jim and Gaylord but was one of the movers behind their Day. The night before the banquet Archie confided that he himself once threw seven out of 10 pegs from behind home plate into a bucket lying on its side next to second base, and he recalled doing so much catching and sweating in terrible heat that "my left leg would draw up under me. I've had boys in the Beaufort County League set on my leg to keep it from drawing up." Concerning Gardner, Archie said, "He was still pitching up into his 50s, and I tell you Slim was fast and had a curveball. The other team would hear Slim was going to pitch that day, and their feathers would droop. They dreaded him. I got a hole right here in the bone of my hand you could stick a big old country match head into from a pitch of his. And control....

"In those days we'd have two, three thousand people at a game, all up and down the foul lines and in the outfield, all over. They didn't do any fighting, they didn't do any drinking, they was orderly. But a close situation come up, and you'd have people yelling, '$10 for a hit!' or '$10 for a strikeout!' and waving bills in the air. One time Slim had the bases loaded and the score tied in the bottom of the ninth and nobody out, and blim, blim, blim, there was $90 on the line. You know, Slim didn't have any teeth, and he said to me, 'Don wuy 'bout it, I 'mona strackum at.' Well, he throwed nine pitches."

Asked whatever happened to Slim, Archie said, "Whiskey. Farmin'. Coonhuntin'. He finally died."

As for Evan Perry, he is Jim and Gay-lord's father, and he brought them up in Farm Life, which is a cluster of farms just outside Williamston. Evan sat at the head table during the Perry Day banquet and heard Evan Griffin, a local insurance man and tobacco auctioneer, tell about a memorable local pitching feat back in 1941. Jim and Gaylord were toddlers, and Slim Gardner was evidently laid up. It was one of the hottest days in memory. A local farmer left off "following the south end of a northbound mule," as Griffin put it, in 100° heat and pitched Farm Life to a 4-1 victory over White Post in the first game of a Saturday afternoon doubleheader. And then, when Farm Life's second pitcher didn't show, this farmer pitched and won another complete game 9-3. "Those were the days when only big farmers had tractors," said Griffin, "and the horseflies were fat and lazy. The pitcher was Evan Perry."

Apparently Evan neglected to swim anything over half a mile or so wide between games, and no big-leaguer is said to have sworn that he threw every bit as hard as Bob Feller. (That being what Jimmy Brown, a North Carolinian who was an infielder for the St. Louis Cardinals in the '30s and '40s and who batted against Feller in his time, is said to have sworn about Slim Gardner. Rudy York came barnstorming through Farm Life during his prime as an American League slugger, they say, and Slim struck him out twice.) But they claim that Evan had speed and a curve he wasn't afraid to use on 3-and-2, and fine control, and Jim says his daddy's knuckleball was as good as Hoyt Wilhelm's.

Big-league scouts approached Evan, as they did Slim and Archie and others, but it was still the Depression in eastern North Carolina and, like Slim and Archie, Evan was dirt poor and had responsibilities. Evan was only 18 when Jim was born and 20 when Gaylord came along. In the summer a man had to spend five "kin till kint" (from when you just kin see the sun till you just kint) days a week and at least half of Saturday in the fields if he was going to keep his tenancy on a little piece of land. Evan had to have a little piece of something to keep his family on, and minor league pay wasn't nearly enough to provide for them all. So Evan confined his pitching to the Beaufort County League—one year, he remembers, he was 13-4—and to workouts with Jim and Gaylord.

They would play together at lunchtime and after chores, when there was still light. "Sometimes we only had one ball, one glove and one bat," says Jim. "So the pitcher never had a glove. And we frequently made our own balls."

The Perry boys' mother, Ruby, used to think "it was kind of a silly waste" when her sons asked for yarn and thread from her sewing basket. "I didn't know it was going to help the boys get where they are now," she says.

"We'd get a hard rubber ball from our sister Carolyn," says Jim. "You know, the kind girls play jacks with. Then we'd wrap it in yarn and thread and cover it with some black tar paper Dad used to hold tobacco leaves together for curing. It didn't look like much, except that it was sort of round. But it did the job and it didn't cost us anything."

Sometimes they would use a walnut or a rock for the core of the ball, and Evan says he has used an old oak root for a bat in his time. Archie Perry says his first uniform was made by his mother out of Smith-Douglass fertilizer sacks, and when he bent down to catch he had "SD" on his bottom. Even in the Beaufort County League they would tape and nail up a broken bat before giving up on it. All this, says Jim, "just made us appreciate it that much more when we got to the big leagues. I'd see them throw out a bat with just a little nick on it and I'd say, 'We wouldn't even have taped that around home.' "

When the boys got into their teens they played for Farm Life along with Evan, and they distinguished themselves in high school ball. "James was the type that if he felt like he was doing himself a favor he would work himself to death," says Larry Woolard, now an appraiser at the Martin County Savings and Loan and a contemporary of the Perry brothers who was better off financially as a boy than they were. "One year I had to play third base, which I wasn't too good at. I told James, 'Don't let them hit the ball to me and I'll buy you a milk shake and hamburger.' I went three games without a chance. Another year I said to Gaylord, 'If you'll pitch a no-hitter today I'll let you use my car tonight and I'll pay for the gas.' Course he pitched a no-hitter."

In Jim's last year and Gaylord's first at Williamston High the brothers won the state championship together. You can read about it in the back files of The Enterprise, Williamston's semiweekly paper, along with adjoining small news stories for incidental flavor:


"We do not have many hens, but what few we have really produce sizable eggs," Mrs. Clyde Modlin of near Jamesville said this week, when she displayed one that measured eight and one-half inches by seven and one-half inches.

Mrs. Modlin explained that she served her chickens with a feed mixture from the Martin Feed Mills in Williamston.

Perhaps the most interesting game during the playoffs leading to the state title was the one in which, according to The Enterprise, "in the fifth things began to happen. Bobby Hardison was safe on an error, Bobby Mobley and Gerald Griffin bunted for infield hits, James Perry sacrificed but was safe on an error, Gaylord Perry and Zack Gurkin bunted safely and the Coopers' catcher walked off the field and did not come back."

Even more intimidating was the Perrys' pitching. Gaylord had been a third baseman, but he was moved to the mound for the playoffs. In the last five games Gaylord won two and Jim three, and Williamston's opponents got only 12 hits and no man as far as third base.

"In fact," says Jim, "Gay and I won seven games in a cow going into the finals with Colfax High. All you could hear about was how good Colfax was and how good their best pitcher, Bobby Simmons, was. Then we met them in two games, a Friday and a Saturday. Well, they wouldn't pitch Simmons against me. They held him out. So I won the first game 9-0, a two-hitter. Then they came back with Simmons on Saturday, and Gaylord beat him 2-0, a three-hitter." From that point on it was clear that Williamston couldn't hold the Perry boys.

Today Williamston remains more rural than urban and people there still say, "This is baseball country." Eastern North Carolina has stayed sparsely populated and largely agricultural while the western part of the state—led by thriving Charlotte—has, as they say, developed. But the kids in eastern North Carolina have cars and widespread TV and other absorptions they did not have 20 years ago, and the Raleigh News & Observer has phones in two minor league press boxes today, as opposed to 23 in the 1940s. The small tobacco farms such as those on which Slim Gardner and Evan Perry were tenants have mostly been taken over by large landowners who can afford modern machinery, and the people who used to be tenant farmers are now day laborers or mill workers. They have more money, shorter hours and less access to pastures.

Williamston's hope is the extent to which it has industrialized—it has a shoe factory, a pulp mill, a metal products plant and prospects of a shopping center. The recent four-laning of the U.S. 64 bypass has attracted a Holiday Inn and a renovated Shamrock Inn to the outskirts of town. These developments are set against the facts that the town's population is declining and that most of the kids who leave for college move elsewhere to settle.

Williamston still has flavor. The leading restaurants are homey on the inside and easy for strangers to overlook on the outside. They serve distinctive fried seafood and steamed oysters (the coast is only 90 miles away) and those combinations of chicken, pork, cornbread and farm vegetables that in New York City are advertised as soul food. Kerosene lamps are on display in the front window of the hardware store, and a small black man in a wheelchair sells peanuts on Main Street with a hand-lettered sign saying, PEANUTS 10¢ A BAG CASH FOR ALL. The night life is limited to weekend dances and the beer-and-setups bar at the Holiday Inn.

The motel trade in Williamston consists of elderly tourists who don't like the Interstate, numbers of Canadians (for some reason) on their way to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and men in town to pay a commercial call or perhaps to attend a Department of Agriculture conference on hog cholera or a district fertilizer meeting. Earl and Bonnie Taylor moved into Williamston three years ago from Baltimore to buy the Shamrock Inn, and their restaurant has become a leading daytime gathering place.

"You walk downtown," says Earl, "and for every man you see there's three that'll talk to you. [Asked whether he ever had to be defended by big brother Jim, Gaylord says, "Our town was too small to have fighting enemies. We were happy to see people."] It's like a different nationality down here. Here they feel strongly about integration, they're very religious and they eat certain things. We tried some different foods on 'em. Spaghetti, garlic bread. They wouldn't eat them." What they do eat, says Earl, is "chicken and pastry" (known elsewhere as chicken and dumplings), "fried rock" (fried striped bass), "backbone and collards" (pork chops served with vertebrae attached and collard greens) and herring roe scrambled with eggs.

The Enterprise has flavor, too. It gives heavy coverage to local baseball—which, now that the Williamston area no longer has a Class D team, consists of Little League (ages 9-12), Junior League (13-14), Senior League (15-17) and a semi-pro town team. These kids' leagues reflect Williamston culture. Jerry Smith, the county parole officer, is the coach of a Junior League team that won the state championship last season. "Williamston's a good place to raise children," he says. "If he's a boy and he plays baseball. You have a daughter, well, she can't play baseball. When a boy gets off parole, I tell him, 'You haven't got any future here, go up North where some industry is.' Especially if he's colored. The colored don't really play much baseball here. The Little League park is independently owned, not city owned, and the teams are sponsored by the clubs—Ruritan, Moose, Jaycee, Lions. They're white. Me 'n' Archie get into it all the time; I say the colored maybe don't have as great an opportunity. He says, 'None of their people support 'em.'

"It's moving, though. We've got colored policemen and a colored doctor around town now. I think you have the Klan here, but even the white look down on it. I had to cut one of 'em's boy from the Junior League team, and I wondered if something might come of it but nothing did. I don't think the Klan around here means anything."

Baseball does. In one recent Junior League game, says Smith, "there was a call made at second base and a parent jumped over the fence, ran up and hit the umpire. In the summer sometimes the damned mosquitoes around here will tote you off. It doesn't bother these people. They sit out there and argue about the mosquitoes and hoot and holler about baseball."

Instead of bringing their sons along themselves, the way Evan did Jim and Gaylord, Williamston fathers can now put them in the hands of the league coaches. "The parents strongly want their sons to be taught baseball," says Smith. "They tell their boys, 'If you can't do anything else you can go to church and play ball. That doesn't take much.' A boy on my team walks five miles to practice every day, and some of the kids crop tobacco all day long. I've held up a game for a kid to come out of the tobacco patch and pitch a no-hitter. During the season the paper prints the top 10 batters—Little League on up—every issue. There are little kids around here 10 years old, you mention one of 'em's name and everybody knows what position he plays and what he's hitting. A kid will come in and people will say, 'That's Mike Todd.' Or, 'That's Bruce Lewis—they say he pitches like Gaylord.' We've got kids 13 and 14 who'll throw their curve on 3 and 2."

So Slim Gardner, who must have pitched for 40 years, has heirs in Williamston today, but few over the age of 17. When they get that old they have to go somewhere else for college or the scant chance of a professional career, or else stay around town to promote, umpire and look on, to help derive the stuff of legend out of kids or out of emigrants to Minnesota and California.

After the triumph in the 1955 state tournament Jim Perry went on to a year of junior college and then to a $4,000 bonus with the Indians. When Jim signed, says Gaylord, "I decided to quit football and get me a career." In his junior year Gaylord pitched five no-hitters and did not give up a single earned run.

Six years later, in 1964, it appeared that Gaylord had indeed found a career and Jim had lost one. In that year Gaylord—who signed with the Giants in 1958 for a bonus of some $80,000—made his way into the San Francisco starting rotation, never to leave it, except briefly when he was sidelined with an injury. But this was the year that Jim pitched only 65 innings for the Twins.

Jim had come on strong as a Cleveland rookie in 1959. "He was always so serious," recalls Milwaukee General Manager Frank Lane, who was the Indians' general manager at the time. "We brought him to Tucson that spring just to pitch batting practice. I saw him in the hotel lobby writing in a little black book. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was figuring out how to pitch to Bob Cerv in the first game of the season in Kansas City.

"He wasn't even on the roster. I asked Joe Gordon, 'Is he going to pitch your first game?' Gordon said, 'No—what do you mean?' I said, 'He's pitching the first game right now over there.' I never saw a more serious-minded kid. He pitched his way right onto the ball club that year."

Jim was a cocky rookie, saying things like, "Don't matter how small the ball park is if you've got it," and he won 12 games and lost 10. "Gaylord got the money," he would say, "and I got the arm." The next year, 1960, he was 18-10. But in 1961 he was 10-17, and from that point until well into the 1969 season he was a marginal pitcher.

Jim's cockiness, which had reminded many writers of Dizzy Dean, gave way to a mournful look, which to some extent he still has. Jim's critics said he had lost his deceptiveness when he developed polish and his herky-jerky motion smoothed out. One pitching coach said, "He wasn't using his body enough. His motion was sort of like a tree being carefully cut down. His body fell forward slowly."

After Jim was traded to the Twins in 1963 he was assigned to Manager Sam Mele's permanent doghouse because of a home run he gave up to Ron Hansen one ninth inning. Jim "was available," as Lane puts it, "for a cheese sandwich," but no team rose to the bait.

Then, in 1965, when Camilo Pascual was injured, Jim got a chance to start regularly. He went 7-7 after July 5 as the Twins won a pennant. In '66, '67, '68 he was back in the spot-start and long-relief category. "It doesn't seem to matter what I do," he told a reporter.

In late April of 1969 more injuries gave him another regular chance, and he was ready for it. No longer making cocky remarks (setting a certain standard for blandness, in fact, which he has maintained into his present stardom) but pitching with craftsmanlike authority, he won 20 and lost six. Last year, with Dave Boswell cutting up his hand in a bizarre locker-room accident and some other Twin pitchers suffering picturesque lapses, Jim kept plugging and finally became recognized as the team's best pitcher. From that eminence he looks back on his career and expresses satisfaction.

"I take care of myself," he says, "because the better you can do things the more things you get to do. And I enjoy what I'm doing—baseball—otherwise I'd do something else.

"I think my friends thought I should have said something when I didn't get to start. I did ask a couple of people in the organization why, and their answers weren't too good, but I know that the main thing in baseball is to be ready to do a good job when the time comes. As long as you stick in there," Jim concludes, "things will come around."

And so it is that Jim has settled into Edina, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis, and into promotions and public relations (for shopping center openings and a home-delivery orange juice concern), connections with a boat company and a snowmobile company, part ownership of a mobile home concern in Cincinnati and the directorship of a bank in St. Paul. Lately it seems he's always on a plane heading somewhere, to meet some people on business or to make an appearance. "I say the only time I get to relax is in the dentist's chair," says Jim, "and that's about the truth. I've got a poor dog I haven't even taken out duck hunting. But I like to stay busy, I like to meet people, and these are things you have to do."

Gaylord, who matured into a harder thrower than Jim, had six years in and out of the minors. He had been established with the Giants for two years when Pitching Coach Larry Jansen said of him, "Now that he's found the right combination he simply isn't frustrated anymore." Jansen was referring to the addition of a "hard slider" to Gaylord's combination.

Ever since that pitch clicked into place Gaylord has been accused of throwing a spitter. Not, however, with spit. At least not lately.' 'He's using a special surgical lubricant," claimed one hitless batter last year. "It's odorless, colorless and dries before it gets to the plate." If that, in fact, is Gaylord's secret (at the banquet Dick Dietz said, in reference to the weather outside, "I should have known anything connected with Gaylord would be wet and slippery"), it seems a comedown from the days when Pee Wee Reese or Billy Cox would come up to Preacher Roe on the mound, as Roe once told it, and "drop the ball easy in my glove and say: 'There it is if you want it.' That meant he already had the ball wet for me."

Thanks to whatever substances, Gaylord is now a reliable winner of around 20 games, and he is into insurance, real estate and absentee gentleman farming. He has kept up business ties and a house in Williamston but has settled in San Francisco. Evan runs one of Gaylord's two spreads back in Farm Life for him, but Evan has been laid up lately following an operation for a back injury he suffered years ago falling off a moving tractor. Since the operation, Ruby has had to do most of the chores. Neighbors don't pitch in and take care of everything when a man is incapacitated the way they used to in Farm Life. But then the wolf is not at Evan's door anymore, even when he's hurt.

People around Williamston have things going for them that they didn't have in the past. And although fellow townsmen see Jim and Gaylord infrequently in the flesh, they manage to keep up with them by radio and TV. For some reason Williamston-area residents cannot get any Carolina AM radio stations to speak of at night—but they can, with dedicated tuning, get stations from as far away as St. Louis and Des Moines. As Evan Griffin pointed out at the banquet, when the bases are loaded, Gaylord is winding up and suddenly the game fades and gives way to "Bésame, bésame mucho," you know right away that all kinds of people—from an FBI agent in Rocky Mount who once "caught two crooks real early in the morning" so he could go to Atlanta to see Gaylord pitch in person to Booger Scales over in Greenville, N.C. to "that wonderful blind lady Mattie Coltrain"—are hanging over their radios, too, and the only trouble is that you can't call them up right then at midnight to find out whether they had been able to stay tuned, "because late-night calls shake people out of bed on the party line."

The next day everybody coming into the Shamrock Inn or Griffin's Quick Lunch will be asking about how Jim or Gaylord came out, and when either the Giants or the Twins are on network TV both staff and clientele at the Quick Lunch, where the Perry boys once washed dishes, are so preoccupied with the set over the counter that anyone who orders anything while Jim or Gaylord is trying to get out of an inning must be from a long way out of town. Archie Perry says that when Gaylord stops through town himself in the off season, "We know he's a celebrity and all, but he's still one of the boys," and the other boys can get on him about things.

Jim and Gaylord, who don't really represent Farm Life anymore, might be called community pitchers in absentia. Not that it would occur to people in Williamston to accuse the Perrys of betraying the heritage of Slim Gardner—at least not so long as they keep on behaving around Williamstonians in such a way that "you wouldn't know they had a dime." It would be hard to deny, after all, that the Perrys have amounted to what Slim Gardner himself would have given his eyeteeth, if he'd had them, to amount to.

The farm Evan runs for Gaylord has a nice frame house with a big front rocking porch and a square four-room tenant's dwelling like the place the boys grew up in. Gaylord has refurbished the latter with wall-to-wall carpeting, pine paneling and air conditioning to stay in when he wants to give his kids time in the country. On the day after the banquet, all the Perrys met at the farm, and they got to talking about the hog-killing they used to have in Farm Life.

There would be a good 30 hog-killings a year, each family in turn having 100 people over to do the family's butchering, and the host family would give away half the 5,000 pounds of meat produced and then take a share of the next family's when the next killing came around. Ruby would have 10 different kinds of cakes and assorted pies on the table, and everybody would eat dinner until he popped. "When Gaylord signed," says Evan, "all the scouts was at one table eating. Tim Murchison with the Giants, he was the biggest eater and he was the one got him."

"We don't have the hog-killings now we used to have," says Ruby. "The older people's died out and the younger people don't know how to do the work. They go to the grocery store."

Jim says it's probably cheaper to get the slaughtering done commercially in terms of a man's time. But country people used not to think about time in terms of money. "You don't have the fellowship with the neighbors that you had at hog-killings," says Ruby.

However, a visitor is liable to feel more sentimental than Ruby does about the satisfactions of the old way of life. Mrs. Perry is a ruddy, maternal woman built along the lines of Nina Khrushchev. She is a former Farm Life High girls' basketball star who blushes and gives a modest little wave when her cakes are praised. She has been known to give interviews to local radio men while walking around barefoot in the mud. When she met Billy Martin, Jim's former manager with the Twins, she liked him because he was so friendly and down-to-earth. "You get somebody putting on," she says, "that's not worth a doodle." She would seem to have had a rich life staying down on the Southern pastures with Evan. But her response is not to that effect when she is asked whether she ever wished Evan could have played in the major leagues, in which case he would perhaps be wearing a blue suit, blue shirt and blue socks like Jim and scouting for some big-league team instead of sitting there in his overalls looking content.

"I surely did," Ruby says, giving a sad little shake of her head. "But he didn't have the opportunity that he give his boys."


Back in the collard patch, Minnesota's Jim Perry (left) and San Francisco's Gaylord visit their father, who had his own fling.


Shaking hands all around before the banquet in the high school gym, Gaylord remains what he has always been, "one of the boys."


Gaylord, who owns the farm his father now runs in Williamston, shovels peanuts for his son Jack, who wears a familiar number.