“So them things ain’t all that important when you get right down to it. Fire is. You see why?”
“No,” I said, feeling uneasy, because I didn’t understand.
“It gives a man a say. Gives him a final say. It lets him destroy. Let’s him destroy anything. There ain’t nothin’ in the world that won’t burn or melt or change some way if you get it hot enough, if you got enough fire. An’ when the fire’s gone, there ain’t nothin’ left, for nobody. If a man comes to take your house, you can burn it, an’ he can’t have it. You can burn your crops. You do the same to his. You can get things right down to where they were to start with, down to ground an’ air an’ water an’ sun. Now, that ain’t much say, an’ it ain’t the best kinda say, but it’s bettern havin’ no say at all. Because a man with no say is an animal. So a man has to be able to make a fire, has to know how to make it in the wind an’ the rain’ an’ the dark. When he can do that, he can have some say.
“We’ll start tomorrow mornin’, he said. “We’ll start in the stove, where it’s easy. Then we’ll go on. ‘Fore we’re done, you’ll know how to make a fire anyplace, anytime. Then you’ll have a say.”
“Will that make me a man?” I said.
“No,” he had said. “Nothin’ makes you a man. It means you can be a man. If you decide you want to.”
— Old Jack Crawley talking to 9 year old John Washington. Excerpt from The Chaneysville Incident (1981) by David Bradley.