My Life in Mobile Homes by John T. Edge

Where I grew up, singlewide trailers were as common as clapboard shotguns. On the far end of my Georgia town, near where the seg academy floundered, the mothers and fathers of my grade school friends worked at the mobile home factory, bending aluminum and punching rivets, constructing metal shoeboxes with roller skates on their bottoms. No matter. In my youth, trailers were jokes waiting for punch lines. We said terrible things. We said stupid things. We said, “Tornadoes are proof that God hates trailer parks.”

With time has come perspective. And humility. And a respect for trailers as shelter and conveyance. A few years back, I wrote a book on food trucks. Once I got beyond the hype and chickpea frites, I recognized that food trucks are trailers, too. Operated by new immigrants. And downshifting chefs. And aspirational hipsters.

When I first glimpsed the Massengill family photos of Arkansas folk, shot in a Depression era trailer studio and now being reinterpreted by Maxine Payne, I thought of old prejudices and of new realizations. And I thought of the everyday beauty that earned flashbulb pops then and deserves the klieg lights of fame now.

Alabama Chanin has invited a number of different artists, writers, musicians, chefs, and creative types to offer up their own interpretation of the Massengill photographs in a series of posts for the Journal, in collaboration with Maxine Payne and contributor Phillip March Jones. The posts will appear over the next six months and give voice to the images of the often anonymous figures that appear in the photographs. For this particular entry, we invited John T. Edge to write about an image of one of the Massengill’s mobile photo studio, built on a trailer and hauled across the state of Arkansas in the 1930s.

John T. Edge writes about the foodways of the American South. He is a contributing editor at Garden & Gun and a columnist for the Oxford American. For three years he wrote the monthly United Taste column for the New York Times. Edge is director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, where he documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South.

For more information about the Massengill photographs, click here.

–Contributed by Phillip March Jones. Photo courtesy of Maxine Payne.

3 comments on “THREE FOR A DIME: JOHN T. EDGE

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  1. Bill Smith

    Hey Natalie, My immigrant workers see trailers in an entirely new light. It’s an opportunity for home ownership even though they don’t often own the land under them. I view them with a new respect now. Bill Smith, Chapel Hill

  2. Liz

    Hi guys, checking in every day waiting for the announcement of a new book, all the way from the north west of Ireland, its quite a trek every day, when will you be putting me out of my misery, if there is no prospect let me know, thanks Liz, p.s.. I’ll still be dropping by….. every day!