I have always been amazed when I say my last name how many people say, and how do you spell that? Jesus. We must have a nation full of terrible spellers. How hard can Tingle be to spell? Or maybe people, having never heard the name before, can’t believe what they are hearing and so ask how to spell it to make sure they are hearing what they think they are hearing.
In any case, this problem with the spelling of the name, let me to assert a while back in these pages that Google Maps is falsely showing Tingle Road along the edge of Butts County as Teagle Road. Somebody didn’t know how to spell Tingle. This screw up in spelling set me to wondering some time back if perhaps one of the families portrayed in James Agee’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” were Tingles and not Tingels as I had seen reported in one place.
Agee’s book is really hard to read but it’s a kind of report—sometimes in very poetic language–on three white sharecropper families in Hale County, Alabama, I believe, during the great depression. And it stirred up some controversy at the time for its portrait of abject and desperate poverty. But the book may be more famous—to the extent that it is famous at all—for the pictures of these families and their surroundings taken by Walker Evans, a photograper whose pictures have become since objects of study. He is credited with having participated in or having created a particularly “objective” style of photography. For example, the 50 or so pictures he took of the families just appear scattered rather randomly throughout the text with no captions at all and with no necessary relation between the picture and what is being written about in the text.
They are just there.
Knowing whether one of the families portrayed in the book is a Tingle family is made all the more difficult by the fact that Agee did not use their real names in his book. But just today, I found on line in an article in Forture about the author’s visit back to Hale County to see if members of the families portrayed by Agee were at the time of the article still living:
At a service station in the town of Akron in northwest Hale County I [the author of the article} stop to ask where I might find some living members of the Tingle family. I’ve just come from the cemetery at Mount Hebron Baptist Church. There I saw a mound of freshly turned red clay baking in the sun; bright blue-and-yellow plastic flowers spilled from a tipped-over white plastic vase; a flat headstone, Guthrie Tingle, born June 4, 1946, died on his birthday in 2005; and next to Guthrie, Elizabeth Tingle, who was Guthrie’s mother and also, sadly, his sister (she died in 1997). Next to Elizabeth, Frank G. Tingle, the notorious father of both, whom Agee and Evans met that long-ago summer day in front of the county courthouse; born in 1872 and died … when? The date of death on the headstone is blank.
So I was right. The Tingels are in fact Tingles. In the book, the Tingles are called the Ricketts. I wonder why Frank G. Tingle was considered notorious?
That’s one of the pictures that appear in Let Us Now…. I don’t know which family lived in that house.