Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings

Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings

Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings

Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings


This fourth collection of essays by Paul Ruffin highlights his idiosyncratic wit and practiced storytelling skills in memorable autobiographic pieces ranging from the comic to the confessional.

The first section, "Things Literary, More or Less," includes the title essay, in which Ruffin takes the reader on a rollicking tour with iconic Southern writer George Garrett, which ends with the two men locating the ghostly remains of an obscure Texas hamlet called Ben Hur and talking with an eccentric representative of the town's handful of inhabitants. In other essays Ruffin workshops a cowboy poem with a couple of deputy sheriffs, reveals aspects of Edgar Allan Poe's life never before published, reviews some unusual books, and shares the story of a boy who speaks only in hymns. Ruffin concludes the section with the tale of an invigorating flight to San Juan in an old DC-6.

In the next section, "On Likker and Guns," Ruffin summarizes his drinking career, transcribes the conversation between two rats that destroy his university office, and tells the tale of a bowhunter who asked him for his deer bladder. He also introduces the reader to a sharpshooter who, while trying to demonstrate his prowess with an old rifle, kills an old man's tractor. Finally Ruffin takes the reader on a trip to a Texas gun show to meet the menacing Boram, the clueless Billy Wayne, and a vigilant wife dedicated to preserving the family budget.

The book ends with an excerpt from Ruffin's unpublished memoir, "Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White but Not Quite Trash." Every tale is vibrantly alive with the sincere voice, crisp details, bold images, and distinctive dialogue that readers have come to relish in Ruffin's writings.


Early on in my writing career I focused on little more than poetry—my first serious efforts and my initial publications were in that genre. It was only after I started a cattle operation outside Huntsville and for some reason began writing dramatic poems about cows and rabbits and drought and women (an odd stew there) that I realized how little more needed to be done to flesh them out into essays and stories.

This is not to say that I had not already written a whole lot of fiction and nonfiction. Whereas it is true that my love of poetry came from years of memorizing the lyrics in the Broadman Hymnal in church or going berserk from boredom, it is equally true that my love of fiction and nonfiction started there. I got so weary of hearing the same old Bible stories told over and over the same old way by the same old people that I started rewriting them to suit myself. I had one fine cast of characters to work with—Noah, Jonah, Lot, Moses, Daniel, David, the Magi—and I let myself go. You think God is whimsical? You ought to see Moses gleefully dashing about with a big basket picking up fish left flapping in the mud and then staring in horror as those towering sea walls close on him like a set of whale jaws. Oh, I scrambled things up.

In school I wrote poems and stories for classmates who had assignments due, and I cannot begin to tally the number of times I wrote essays as punishment for misdoings (until my teachers concluded that they were involved in a Brer Rabbit and the briar patch situation and put an end to that).

The Monday after I graduated from high school, I was on the way to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for basic and advanced-infantry training. the two things I wanted most in my life at that time were a woman of my own and a college education, but both required money for acquisition and maintenance.

You can imagine how little a buck private earned in those days—I realized soon enough where the term buck came from—but when all your living expenses are met, any revenue is cream. So, while others took off to Columbia or other points for the weekend, I stayed in the barracks and read and wrote.

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