Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Monday, February 15, 2010

Some Personal Reflections on Byron Herbert Reece (Part 3 in Series)

Bud Hill of Hill-Vue Farms, Blairsville, first contacted me about the newly-formed Byron Herbert Reece Society. Shortly thereafter, I received a letter from Dr. John Kay of Young Harris College, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Society. He invited me to serve on the Society’s Advisory Board.

Those with an interest in Reece and his works and the purposes of the Society may go online at to learn more and get a form for joining. This first year, 2003-2004, is the charter membership year.

In the membership application, I was invited to give some reminiscences about the poet and why I was interested in supporting the aims of the Society and perpetuating his works. Following are some of my comments:

Up until (and after) Byron Herbert Reece’s first book of poems, Ballad of the Bones, published in 1945, Hub Reece, as his family and friends called him, was a neighboring farmer close to my father’s farm in the Choestoe District of Union County, Georgia.

True, we had sometimes read an occasional poem by Reece published in the Union County newspaper in the early 1940’s. I knew, too, that he was two years older than my sister, Louise. One day at Union County High School, both of them missed the afternoon bus. They walked together the entire eight miles southward along Highway 129 from school to their homes in Choestoe. They were near dark or after getting home and my parents were greatly concerned about Louise. However, they took her word, and Hub’s, who accompanied Louise to her house, that they had been busy with a project after school and had simply “missed the bus.” There were no telephones in Choestoe in those days so they could call home explaining their dilemma. In the vernacular of the mountains, their only choice was to “foot it home.” That they did, with Louise having Hub as her companion and protector on that long walk.

In 1945, something happened to draw our attention to neighbor Hub Reece. The Atlanta Constitution, to which my father, J. Marion Dyer, faithfully subscribed, began printing reviews about Hub’s book, Ballad of the Bones. None other than the noted editor, Ralph McGill himself, wrote columns praising the “poet of the mountains.”

Some of the articles we read in The Atlanta Constitution were not as complimentary as those by Mr. McGill. Reviews in the Sunday paper often implied that this mountain man might have plagiarized his poems. With such ability evident in the poems, and yet from one so limited in formal education, it was not likely, the critics wrote, that he could have produced poetry of the caliber of that bearing Reece’s byline. However, we at the Dyer household knew the integrity and honesty of the Reece family, our neighbors. The poet would never pass off as his own something he had copied from someone else.

Farmer-turned-poet, Byron Herbert Reece gathering corn on his Wolf Creek Farm, Choestoe, Union County, Georgia, about 1946.

We had in our midst not just a neighbor farmer, someone I had known all my life, but a literary person of notable stature, receiving both accolades and criticism. From then on, we, his neighbors, stood in awe of him, viewed him in a completely different light. A genius lived among us and we were proud to know him. Yet he continued as humble and unaffected by the acclaim as before his national debut as a literary figure of note.

When I visited him with my high school teacher, Mrs. Grapelle Mock, to interview him for the school’s page in our local newspaper, I approached him with a sense of awe and shyness even though I had known him all my life. Now he was more than a neighbor with whom we passed the time of day, talking about crops, the weather, the health of his parents Juan and Emma Reece, or commenting on World War II (as we had during that conflict and when my brother Eugene lay critically injured in a hospital somewhere in Italy). Now Reece was somebody—a famous person. He had climbed in status through the words he penned from lowly farmer to literary giant.

He never let his fame go to his head. He remained humble and reclusive, preferring not to be in the limelight. In that interview, I shyly told him that I liked to try my hand at writing poetry. I had recently presented my first sonnet and another lyrical poem in my high school English class. His advice to me, a teenaged aspiring writer, was biblical and fitting: “Don’t hide your light under a bushel,” he said.

[Next week: More personal reflections on Poet Byron Herbert Reece.]

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 13, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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