Thursday, February 14, 2008


(Winston County, Alabama)

Another excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. The action in the story resumes immediately after my post yesterday. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

30 August 2004

Allie was up early, and consequently so was Myra. They had breakfast at the coffeeshop attached to the motel, while Myra explained what kinds of records they'd be pursuing. They were at the courthouse five minutes after the county clerk office opened. When they walked in, Myra noticed a brief flare of surprise on the face of the 50-something, well-dressed black woman behind the counter. Her face went back to neutral, however, as Myra requested access to the deed indexes, the vital records, probate, divorce, and marriage licenses.

"All of the records before 1966 are in the archives" said the clerk, pointing to a set of stairs going down. "You'll have to request copies up here, we don't have a copier down there and we don't allow folks to do their own copying, anyhow."

"How far back do your records extend?" asked Myra.

"1890. Courthouse burned from a lightning strike" said the clerk. Myra's heart sank. She'd been hoping to go back at least to the Civil War. An extraordinary number of Southern courthouses had been burned during the war, either by Yankees or by locals who saw a chance to eliminate paper trails for nefarious reasons. But 1890 meant the records of Reconstruction, the first assemblage of a free life on the part of Allie's ancestors, was also lost to them.

Myra showed Allie the ropes, how things were organized: It was the same for every county in the South, seemed like. Allie wanted to begin with marriage records, which thankfully here had a bride as well as a groom index. But there were separate indexes for whites and "colored" prior to 1960. Allie's lips tightened again. Myra decided to take on the deeds, which tended to be tedious and full of bad handwriting to decipher.

It was peaceful in the basement. Full of lovely old paper and massive bound books, with light from an airwell at the side: Myra began to have fantasies of a study this sequestered and quiet. But, she noticed after using her inhaler a second time, it was also dusty and likely had a high degree of ambient mold.

"Al? I need to go up into the air, get something to drink, I think" she said.

"Is there a break room in the courthouse, you think?"

"Well, on the square near where we parked, by the corner, was a little grocery store -- looked like something from the fifties. I'll walk down there, you want to go with?"

"No. But bring me back some orange juice, and something to snack on" said Allie, her eyes glued to the index on the table in front of her.

Myra told the clerk on her way out "I'm going for a Co-Cola, back in a bit", noticing how she had pronounced the word. There was a cluster of cars near the tax assessor's office, and one in front of a discount store. Otherwise, the square was empty.

The grocery store had high stamped tin ceilings obscured in shadow. All of the dairy cases were behind thick glass doors. She got Allie's juice, then found a case containing chilled soft drinks in real glass bottles, including RC Cola in a bottle shape she hadn't seen in over a decade. She grabbed two.

The candy aisle, disappointingly, did not hold vintage favorites she had hoped for -- no little wax bottles full of colored liquid, or Blo-Pops. She got a bag of Tom's peanuts for herself, roasted cashews for Allie, and headed for the front.

There were only two registers, one empty and one with a teased-hair white woman at the register. Another customer was ahead of her, a frail-looking black man in faded slacks and neatly-pressed tan shirt, buttoned up to the collar and at the cuffs. His hair was a snowy frizz, and when looking at his skin, she instantly remembered the line from Zora Neale Hurston that Allie quoted often: "High yaller, yaller, high brown, vaseline brown, seal brown, low brown, dark brown". Myra would guess him to be seal brown.

He had just done his shopping for at least a week, maybe two weeks. It was the 30th: Just got his Social Security check, she bet. With trembling, knot-knuckled hands he was carefully lifting items from a wire cart to the counter -- no conveyor belts here. A 10-pound bag of white rice, big can of Crisco, smaller can of blackstrap molasses, bag of chicken necks and backs, 5-lb bag of Gold Medal, bottle of light Karo (If he's got a pecan tree, that's a pie, thought Myra), baking soda, can of Maxwell house, quart of sweet milk, two cans of evaporated milk, pound of bacon, box of Spic'n'Span...No veggies or eggs, which means he's got a little bit of land, thought Myra.

She had been standing respectfully back and had apparently not been noticed by the woman at the register. When the old man asked for a can of snuff, however, the woman changed position enough to see Myra.

"Here, now" she called out sharply. "You come on up here, I'll check you out first."

Myra began to protest as the woman shoved aside the old man's last few items, saying "Oh, no, I'm not in a hurry and he's almost done -- "

But the old man shrunk even smaller into his already shrunken frame and stepped back from the counter, pressed into the corner. He didn't look up. Myra froze in horror.

"Give me what you've got there" commanded the woman, her voice not at all friendly. Myra's eyes were on the old man, willing him to make contact with her, as she numbly complied, dropping her bottles onto the counter. The woman voided her register with the push of a button and began punching in Myra's prices.

"I'm sorry" Myra said to the old man. He didn't acknowledge her at all.

"He can wait" said the woman shortly. She took Myra's money, counted out change, and bagged her items in impatient silence. Myra said "thank you" to her and then to the old man, but only the woman responded, saying "You're very welcome" before picking back up the Crisco and starting his checkout again.

Out on the sidewalk, Myra fought the impulse to vomit. She tried to find a way to believe that what had just occurred wasn't what she thought it was. She pulled out one of her RC's, only to discover she needed a churchkey to open the top. Well, she wasn't going back into that store, that's for sure. Maybe the car glovebox would have something to open her bottle.

No luck with the glovebox, but she had a dim memory from her teenage beer-drinking years that led her to find a leverage spot inside the open car door, popping off the cap on the second try. She drank down to the shoulder of the bottle, poured the peanuts into the neck, and sat down inside the car, closing the door as a kind of shield against the square itself. She glanced back at the store: The old man wasn't visible yet.

When he emerged, she could idle up and offer to give him a ride home. But she suspected that would send him into complete panic. She wasn't sure what the rules were, so how to intelligently break them was beyond her. She couldn't believe this was 2004, that his instant subservience could be still happening. If he was in his 70s, then he had been born maybe around 1930 -- well, if he lived through the Depression here, with his parents, that told her a lot.

She took slow sips, crunching a peanut or two with each drag, savoring the mix of syrup and salt. She didn't know how to go back in and face Allie. She had a strong urge to see Chris walk up: She could tell Chris about what had just happened, and if Chris chewed her out, got mad at her, it would help ease her guilt.

But that urge made her feel even more guilty. Leaning on one woman of color to deal with her guilt about another woman of color. Nope, she had to deal with this on her own. Well, and with Ginny, when she got that chance.

She finished her drink and put the empty bottle in the back floorboard, along with her second RC. She hid Allie's snack inside her pack and returned to the courthouse.

"I'll take this outside to eat" said Allie when Myra handed her the bag. "I'm going to take a metformin with this."

"How are you, are you okay?" asked Myra keenly.

"Yeah. My body's calm enough, it's my mind that's racing. I'll tell you about it when I get back."

Myra returned to her survey of deeds, going back and forth from grantor to grantee. Mostly very small transactions, liens against cotton crops, a meager trail but better than nothing at all. It would all tell a story eventually.

When Allie returned, smelling of oranges as she slid in close to Myra, she said in a near whisper, "I got done with the marriage certificates, and the death records, and began on the probate file. And lookie here -- my Nana is listed as the inheritor in the estate of Hulen Moffatt. His house and lot here in town went to her." Allie's face was excited.

"Who is that, some kin you didn't know about?"

"No, he's the old guy, old white guy, who she kept house for until we moved to Birmingham. We lived in the back of his house, this same house, one long room that had once been a porch. It had a divider between our bedroom and a little sitting area. Right off the kitchen, which is where we mostly hung out. Anyhow, I had no idea he left his house to her, and I'm not sure why he did. But that's where her money came from, the money I found in her account when she died, remember?"

Myra had come back with Allie to bury her grandmother, and she did remember Allie's shock at discovering almost $20,000 in her savings account. Money which had been split among her surviving children, including Allie's mother who had promptly spent it on drugs and alcohol.

Allie went on: "That's what she meant when she wrote me in Pensacola and tried to get me to go to school, she was offering to pay, not just trying to get me away from J.T. I wish I'da known that then."

"Would you have gone to school then?"

"I don't know. But it would've mattered to've had the choice" said Allie, her large brown eyes sad.

"Did he, this Moffatt guy, not have any other family?" asked Myra.

"I'm pretty sure he did. I remember fussy white folks, a daughter and her husband maybe, visiting at holidays. When they were there, I had to not come into the kitchen at all. If it wasn't too cold, I could go out to one part of the yard, behind the wellhouse, where I was allowed to play. The only view of it from the house was through the kitchen window, so Nana could watch me but I wouldn't bother the white folks. Had to be quiet, though."

Myra suddenly remembered how much Allie had enjoyed her children's raucous, screaming play, never shushing them or trying to calm them down. A privilege she'd not had growing up. Myra leaned over and kissed Allie's cheek, lingering there for a minute. Allie didn't ask why; they were communicating on another level at the moment. Allie said in a whisper "I can only imagine their reaction when they found out about his will. Another riddle to be answered, if we can."

A couple of hours later, they broke for a late lunch. Allie presented a list of certificates and documents she wanted copied, saying they'd pick them up at the end of the day if that was all right. The clerk who'd been helping them took Allie's credit card and began writing down the information on it, then looked up at Allie sharply. "Billups? They's Billups from here."

"Yes, ma'am" said Allie. "I was born here. My grandmother was Sarilda Billups."

The woman's expression was unreadable. "I knew her well. In fact, I knew Oneta and Alvin. We all went to high school together."

Allie was trying to control her excitement. "I'm their daughter."

"I thought you must be. Ya'll buried Oneta yesterday, I read in the paper. I'm sorry to hear about her passing."

"She's been living with me in Seattle the last year" said Allie. "Her death was sudden."

"So, if you don't mind my asking -- are you trying to find out matters related to her estate?" The woman's eyes were opaque.

"Oh, no, she didn't have an estate. I'm research. For myself" said Allie.

The clerk resumed copying numbers. After a minute, she said "You might check at the library. They's a fella there real good with our people hereabout. Name of Nedrick. Tell him Ruthann sent you."

Myra felt a frisson down her spine. Allie, her voice calm, said "I'll sure do that, Ruthann. I appreciate it. We're needing to find a good place to eat, you got a recommendation for that?"

Ruthann cast an eye over Myra before answering "Try the Bluetick Diner, two blocks east. Have the catfish." Myra wished they could go to whatever place Ruthann would recommend to Allie if she didn't have a white woman in tow.

"Thanks much" said Allie. "We'll be back after lunch to do a bit more."

"See ya'll later" said Ruthann.

They took a corner booth because the place was nearly emptied from lunch. After ordering, they spread out their notes and began looking for gaps that could be filled.

"I bet we finish up today, at least with what we know so far" said Myra.

"Tomorrow, Nedrick" said Allie firmly.

"Indeed. And maps, either from the library or the local county road office. Maps will be essential for tracking land and cemeteries. Oh my god, look at that chicken!" exclaimed Myra as their food was served.

Myra passed on the dizzying array of pies, out of solidarity for Allie. Allie hadn't been able to even have tea with her lunch because they didn't offer any that wasn't already sweetened. It had been one hell of a meal, nonetheless. They returned to the Bluetick for supper, clutching a folder full of documents and drawing every eye in the place. Strangers, lesbians, mixed race -- Myra wasn't sure what was so compelling about their appearance. It was hard to walk by the silent stares and slide into a booth.

Once they'd ordered, however, the room's interest in them diminished. Myra drew a new family tree, leaving lots of room around each name to fill in details they'd uncovered. It didn't push them back any farther but did flesh out the biographies of folks Allie knew about. The most exciting find was still the bequest her grandmother had received from the "old white guy".

After dinner -- Allie insisted Myra get a piece of pie for take-out -- they drove to the neighborhood where Allie had lived until she was five. After searching up and down a block three times, they realized the house Hulen Moffatt had owned was no longer there. The wellhouse was caved in but that's what finally enabled Allie to locate the lot. A dilapidated Silver Stream trailer occupied the site now.

Allie looked rattled. "Things do pass on" she said softly. "What bothers me most is Nana's garden, her lilacs and pepper plants, all gone."

"Well, no, those peppers are still in the cells of your body" said Myra.

"She made the best piccalilli I ever ate" said Allie with a grin.

When they returned to the motel, Allie said "I need me a good long talk with Edwina, see how she doing."

"Ditto with Ginny and the kids. I'll take my cell and go out to the car, you can have the room phone if that works for you. Just come wave at me when you're done" said Myra.

Myra's piece of peanut butter pie was still in the car along with a plastic spoon, and she began eating it as she dialed home. Margie answered and covered her disappointment that it wasn't one of her friends. She gave Myra a set of very brief answers about her day, managed to ask after Allie, then said "Here's Gillam" and vanished. Gillam was somewhat more communicative -- "We just got in the door, sure wish you were making us dinner, I could use a burger tonight" -- but didn't want to elaborate on his first day of school beyond "I told my art teacher about the Leica we found on EBay and she said I can use it for my photography section with her". The gladness in his voice was good to hear. Ginny was next, announcing that David had gotten in okay, they'd spent the afternoon grocery shopping and working in the garden. When Ginny said "I guess I should think about starting dinner for this crowd", Myra said "Uh...I kinda really need to talk. Could you find a quiet place and take some time with me?"

"Oh. Of course. Let me just -- Daddy, will you put in some potatoes to bake? And, I don't know, maybe marinate that halibut steak? Lime juice and chives will do fine. I'm going to be in my bedroom. Myra, I'm switching phones -- you still there? All right, honey, tell me what's up."

Feeling time pressure, Myra bypassed everything else and went straight to the grocery store encounter. She told it baldly, without adding in her feelings, licking the last of peanut flavor from her spoon at the end to create a pause.

Ginny said "Holy shit. I mean, that was racial, right? She wouldn't have done that if he'd been a white man, right?"

"That's what I'm thinking."

"Holy shit" Ginny said again. "And he didn't even look at you?"


"What did you do afterward? Did you wait out front to talk with him?"

"No. I went to our car and drank my RC. I didn't do anything, Ginny. Not a goddamned fucking thing." Myra's voice began choking up.

"Well, but Myra, what could you do? I mean, I'm really asking, what would have made sense in that situation?"

"That's the thing of it, Ginny. I don't know. I still don't know."

"What did Allie say about it?"

"I haven't told her, Gin. I don't think I can. I'm...humiliated."

"How's she doing, by the way?"

"She's better. Doing something, you know, gives you access to your own power. We had some luck today and an exciting lead tomorrow." Myra didn't want to leave behind her confession of humiliation so quickly.

Ginny, bless her, returned to it on her own. "Sweetheart, I don't think you've got anything to be ashamed of. I mean, you're dealing with entrenched cultural ways of living -- "

"I'm a revolutionary, Ginny, that's supposed to be my fucking bread and butter. I stopped thinking, and I'm still not thinking."

Ginny was silent for a minute. "Well, I don't know what I'd have done, either. But -- what do you think Margie would have done?"

"She'd not have stood for it" Myra said immediately. "She have said 'no way', and put her hands on that old man's arm, ushered him back to the counter. Clumsily and probably pissing off the woman at the register, but I can see her pulling it off."

"Yeah, I can too" said Ginny with a laugh. "And she's your daughter, Myra, she grew up with your lessons."

"Not just mine, or yours. Allie's" replied Myra.

"Well, but how made sure she had Allie as a mom?" asked Ginny. "Myra, okay, yes, you blew it. Your role as an ally means more than just being present for Allie, you have to stand in for white people everywhere. And sometimes you are going to blow it. You may not be from the Deep South but you're still Southern and white, you know where the landmines are and it's bound to be getting to you as much as it's affecting Allie. Cut yourself some slack."

"I need to not let her down, here" said Myra. "This really matters."

"And you're really there with her. She's no dummy, she picked you for this quest, she knows you're good for it. Unless you start wallowing in your sense of inadequacy to the point where you can't stand up any more" said Ginny.

The brutality of this last remark, lightly as it was said, made Myra laugh. "I guess you're saying to quit focusing on my own feelings about racism."

"Well, when you're with Allie, yes. I'm so sorry you had to experience what you did today, angel. I'm glad to hear about it" said Ginny, suddenly tender. Myra let herself cry few minutes, saying "I can't make up for what that man has lived through, I understand why people look away rather than take a good look." Her throat began to loosen, and her craving for the unopened RC in the back seat passed. Finally she said "Okay, I'm ready for what's next, I guess."

"I'm wondering where Edwina is, she promised to come here after work and eat with us" said Ginny.

"She's on the phone with Allie. I'm out in the car" said Myra.

"Oh. Good to know. Hang on, someone's knocking at the bedroom door -- Yes?"

Myra heard David's voice saying apologetically "The fish is done, a little overdone, I'm afraid, but the potatoes are still raw in the middle."

"You broiled it already? Listen, Myra, I need to go. Call me again later if you want to."

"I'll probably wait until tomorrow, I have the feeling I'll have more news then. Love you all there is, Ginny Bates."

"Same here. Kisses to Allie."

After showers, Allie and Myra curled up in bed and channel-surfed the motel's cable for a while. During a commercial, Allie said "Edwina's hot on the trail of Podinqo. Wherever it was is east of here, and she got hold of a Native lands map that shows east of here was Choctaw. So she think it might be a Choctaw word. She got access to online dictionaries, for Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Cherokee."

"Hot damn. When did she find time for all that today, I wonder?"

"She had her laptop with her, and she had time in class because she gave each of her classes a lengthy pop quiz, right off the bat. Told 'em it wouldn't count against their grade, but the questions she asks, it gives her a baseline to chart their progress as the term unfolds. Plus, it lets 'em know she's a hard-ass" chuckled Allie.

"Your hard-ass" said Myra.

In the middle of the night, Myra woke up to Allie's hand patting her rump. They were back to back, and Allie had reached behind her in her sleep to reassure herself that Edwina was there, Myra thought. She stifled her laughter and drifted back off.

They gave up on the coffeeshop entirely and instead headed for the Bluetick for breakfast, where Allie had a hard time holding herself back on their giant, fluffy biscuits. By this point, Myra anticipated that her habit of generous tipping would have won her friendliness from at least the woman who had waited on them two times out of three, but nope, the chill was still on. She was beginning to wonder what Nancy would have said about the energy of this town.

When they got to the small public library, there were only two staff members evident and it seemed abundantly clear that Nedrick must be the fat black man with pointed glasses reminiscent of Dame Edna Everedge. They went directly to him, Allie holding out her hand to say "Hi, I'm Allie and this is my friend Myra, we were doing genealogical research at the county clerk's office yesterday and Ruthann said we oughta check in with Nedrick here."

As soon as Nedrick opened his mouth, it became obvious he was, as Myra's brother Gil would have put it, queer as a three-dollar bill. Flamer, to be exact. All he needed was Mary Kay and a housecoat to make a dictionary definition. Myra missed the first few sentences exchanged between him and Allie because she was so distracted by wondering how on earth he survived here, how he kept from getting beat up, how he ever found men willing to be seen in his vicinity. The other librarian, an iron-jawed white woman who could have been a sister to the grocery store clerk of yesterday, ignored them utterly.

Myra zoned back in when she heard Allie say "number one goal would be to locate Podinqo."

Nedrick fluttered his hand: "Sorry? What's that word?"

"Podinqo. Alabama. A small town or village or enclave that was likely east of here -- " began Allie.

Nedrick began laughing merrily. "Oh, honey, that's a made-up place in a children's book, it doesn't really exist, at least not in Alabama."

Allie grinned. "Well, I based it on stories my grandmother told me about something that was a historical reality."

Nedrick stared at her, and a series of expression changes were easily charted on his open face. "Allie -- you are Allie Billups? Well, upon my word, as the gentleman says! What an honor! Could we impose upon you to maybe sign our copies of your books?" He began a hurried walk toward the children's shelves.

After dutifully signing a handful of books, Myra silently noting the titles so they could send them the volumes they were lacking, Allie returned to the topic of the real Podinqo. As she spelled out what she knew, including her grandmother's name and history, Nedrick showed sudden inspiration and said "Do you mean Apochanko?"

"What's that?" asked Allie.

"Oh, my dear, lots of folks think it's apocryphal but I've seen it on maps from the late 1800's. Similar to Nickajack. And it's not in Franklin County, it's in the Free State of Winston." Nedrick began scurrying toward a set of shelves on local and regional history.

As they followed him, Myra gave Allie a two sentence explanation of the Free State of Winston -- the county next door that had refused to go along with Alabama's secession from the Union and instead had tried to secede as a region from Alabama. "They were mostly poor whites who didn't own slaves and didn't aspire to, so they wanted no part of the war" she said.

"What's Nickajack?" asked Allie.

"That I don't know" said Myra. But Nedrick had a large book open on a table and answered "Nickajack refers to this mountainous area, Appalachian foothills, strung out here in Northeastern Alabama and into Tennessee. But it was also a town of refugees right after the Revolution, led by a freeman named Jack Civil. Runaways, renegades, white, black, Cherokee and Creek all gathered there, called themselves Chickamauga and were eventually rousted out by a military expedition." He pointed to a spot on an old map labeled "Nickajack Cave."

"Now, Apochanko was not so famous nor nearly had such a bad reputation. When the U.S. government began stealing Chickasaw and Choctaw lands in Alabama, they used a variety of quasi-legal methods. One was to grant treaties, then assign the worst sections of land to the native folks and open up the rest to white settlers. In a remote, bluff-filled area cut off by rivers and creeks in the northeast part of Winston County, one group of Choctaw families held on for grim death, somehow making a living. It wasn't land that was useful to the whites pouring in, so nobody messed with them for a generation or two. Occasionally runaway slaves would find a way there and hide out, living off the woods. It had the reputation of being a protected spot, but eventually one of the Choctaws would drop a hint in exchange for a small reward and the slaves would be hunted down, returned to bondage." Nedrick had found a second map, crude and not to scale, but among the hills and woods was a circled clearing labeled Apochanko.

"I dunno" said Allie doubtfully, getting her face close to the map to study it. "My Nana talked about it like her folks -- these would be her grandparents, now, Ellick and Feneda Rascoe -- they lived there a while. And they were free, not runaways."

"Could they have been Choctaw?" asked Nedrick.

"Nope. Don't believe so" said Allie. Myra was looking at her rough family tree, however, and said "Well, Al...Your Nana was born in 1901, right? Which means her daddy Asa Rascoe was likely born in the 1870s -- we don't have dates for him yet, but stands to reason."

"He was born free, I know that for a fact" said Allie stubbornly.

"Okay, I'm not arguing that. But -- his parents would not have been born free. In fact, they might not have gotten free until five or ten years before he was born. So..." Myra trailed off, letting Allie fill in the gaps.

"Maybe they were free because they ran away to Podinqo? I mean, Apochanko? But the stories were about whole generations" said Allie.

"Things get collapsed in family stories" said Myra gently. "The generations were real enough, just not all in one place, maybe."

"You mean, maybe they only had one year or so of freedom? And it became this legend?" Allie's eyes were dark with pain. "I can imagine that. Dammit to hell."

"Can we get copies of these maps?" Myra asked Nedrick as she put an arm over Allie's shoulders. "Any maps at all of this county and the next that you know about, we want copies."

"I'll pull everything I can think of and you can use the copier in the corner. We can make change for you at the counter if you need it." As he was looting the shelves for volumes, Nedrick added "You might also want to look through our old newspapers on microfilm. They're not indexed, unfortunately, but I can point you to the most fruitful sections in the paper and from there it's just ruining your eyes."

"I can do that" said Myra, adept at microfilm work. "You look through these and copy anything that might be useful, no matter how insignificant?" Allie nodded. She said to Nedrick, "Do you have high school yearbooks here for the 1940s and 50s?"

"Not all, but some" said Nedrick. "I'll bring them to this table for you."

They were not done by lunch. Nedrick promised to keep their stack untouched while they went to the Bluetick. It was blisteringly hot outside, with a steady drone of cicadas making the air seem electrified. They didn't talk much over the meal. Myra was glad to not have to concentrate on anything for an hour.

Allie completed her copying long before Myra was done, and there was only one microfilm machine, so Allie settled into a chair next to Nedrick's work area and talked with him for an hour. He was ten years their junior and hadn't known her family personally, but he did know a wealth of information about local black culture. Myra couldn't hear what they were saying, only the steady hushed laughter. She hoped Allie was taking notes.

When Myra finally reached the end of the rolls, her eyes were exhausted and her vision was blurry. She added her stack of print-outs to Allie's in the folder that was now bulging and they took a long, grateful farewell of Nedrick, exchanging e-mail addresses. At the car, Myra said "You should be the one to drive."

"You okay?"

"Just fried. I need to eat, I need some caffeine, and I need to rest my eyes."

"Can do" said Allie. After that got back to the motel room, Myra checked the time and decided it was too early to have a decent talk with Ginny. "I think I'm going to sack out for a bit. Wake me up by 10:00 our time so I can call home, will you?"

"Okay if I talk to Edwina over here? I'll keep it low."

"Just fine."

When Allie shook her gently hours later, the TV was on to local news. Myra hadn't woke up once. She dialed home and caught up on how things were going. Gillam wanted to set up a darkroom in the guest bath and Ginny wanted to take a community darkroom course with him during the fall. Myra suggested they talk with Chris about constructing a set-up that could be taken down easily for when guests were over and needed the bathroom temporarily. Margie talked about a new set of kids she was getting to know, "not quite nerds but brainy and political, but they also have a sense of fashion", and she sounded exuberant.

When she hung up, she went to brush her teeth. She called out to Allie, "How's Edwina?"

"She got the word Apochanko in her teeth like a terrier, say she'll tell us not only what language it from but what region of Africa the black folk who changed it to Podinqo are from, based on linguistic distortion, I believe was the term."

Myra returned to the room grinning. "Watch her knowing more about the place than we do by the time we get back."

Allie was slowly going through the stack of papers in their folder. Myra said "I'm still too fried to collate our findings today, can we do that over breakfast?"

"Sure thing."

"What's that, yearbook photos?" Myra got snared in spite of herself.

"My mama. And Alvin, my daddy."

"Wow, you really favor him, Allie. An extremely pretty boy, that Alvin."

Allie looked embarrassed but pleased. Myra said "So, tomorrow...Are we going to try to find Apochanko?"

"Funeral home first. Nedrick said they got a book listing every burial that has a legible headstone, for every known cemetery in the county. I'd rather make copies than walk around snaky ghost-fields."

"Especially in this heat. Okey-doke, I'm going to watch TV unless it'll bother you."

"Nope. I'm too worked up to sleep yet. Lotsa pieces here."

Myra found a cable special on crocodiles and settled under the covers happily. She was starting to get drowsy again when she heard Allie said "Holy fuck."

"What is it?" said Myra, sitting up. Allie looked at her with an amazed face.

"You copied the obituary for Hulen Moffatt. The old white guy we lived with when I was little."

"Yeah, Allie, by that time I was just pushing print without thinking much about it. What's wrong, what does it say?" She got out of bed and went to the table next to Allie.

"Look at him" said Allie hoarsely.

Myra stared down at the black-and-white image, grainy and smudged as newspaper photos tended to be, made worse by microfilm rendering. She wasn't sure what she was supposed to see.

Allie opened her dayrunner and pulled out a set of the photos of her mother that they had handed out at the funeral. She set one down beside the photo of Hulen Moffatt. Myra gasped. The skin color was different, but every facial feature, even the set of the eyes, was identical.

She looked at Allie, whose face was a mask of disbelief. "Your Nana..." began Myra, stopping herself.

Allie licked her lips, then said "I was his grandbaby. His own flesh and blood. And he treated me like I didn't exist."

Myra put both her hands into Allie's. "This is more wrong that I can hardly make sense of, Allie. My god...your mama must have known. And your poor Nana..."

Allie stood abruptly, her chair turning over behind her. "I fucking don't believe it. I'm left behind, to sort out this mess, his stinking mess. FUCK the legendary compassion of my stupid-ass people, this is too much!"

She strode toward the door, grabbing the car keys. Myra scrambled to intercept her.

"Where are you going?"

"For a drive. Over his grave, preferably" said Allie, her face livid.

"No, you're not" said Myra, blocking the door.

"Myra, you don't want to mess with this, you really don't" warned Allie.

"I know what this kind of rage feels like. Well, no, not this kind, of course I don't. But I can still hear it. Aim it at me if you have to, Allie. Get it out of you, I want to hear whatever it is."

Allie wheeled and kicked the side of the bed as hard as she could. The headboard slammed against the wall. It startled her a little. She looked around at Myra, then threw herself down on the bed, screaming into the crumpled covers. Myra lay beside her, giving her a pillow for added muffling. Allie screamed and thrashed like a two-year-old, her face becoming dark red, her lips swelling. After a few minutes, her screams abruptly switched to sobs. When she was finally done, the pillow was wet and had smears of snot on it. Allie leaned back to look at it, then Myra, her face puffy but clear.

"That's your pillow now" Myra said, sending them both into gales of laughter. Myra got a wet washcloth for Allie's face. As Allie rubbed herself clean, she said "I need to call Edwina again."

"You want privacy?"

"If you really don't mind" said Allie, giving her a kiss on the cheek.

"I'll go to the car. Come get me when you're done."

June bugs were buzzing stupidly in the dark, giving Myra a bad case of heebie-jeebies: She hated Junebugs. She rolled the car windows up and sat drenched in sweat until Allie opened the motel room door and waved at her.

"I need a shower" Myra said, heading for the bathroom.

"Let's go swimming instead" suggested Allie.

"It's after hours..."

"We'll be quiet as minnows" said Allie, pulling out her suit.

When they finally went to bed, they spooned sweetly and slept easily.

Copyright 2008 Maggie Jochild.


kat said...


Anonymous said...

from little gator, who had this mostly finished when I discovered I wasn't logged in:

I want to check Google maps for them.

My mystery location- My ancestor Catherine Cassidy left Ireland in 1860 for San Francisco. She lived in a town called Kaython, in county Clare Cork(sic) on the coast. After her last breakfast in Ireland she and her twin Ellen walked to the ship. They were only 14 and travelling alone, crossing Panama on mules. There's some circumstantial evidence that their father died and their stepfather didn't want them around. Whoever passed that on didn't even know that Clare and Cork are separate but not adjacent coastal counties.

The twins were children during the famine years. Catherine was married at 20, widowed at 40 (her husband fell down a mineshaft because somone had a left a trapdoor open)
and died at 82. One of her children was born totally disabled and she believed it was because of the rough stagecoach ride when the family moved to Nevada. For over 50 years Fred spent his days in a chair in the living room, completely helpless while she did everything he needed. Those who knew him believed he was engaged and intelligent but had no way to express himself, since he couldn't talk, walk, or use his hands to any useful degree. I wonder if he had cerebral palsy-it is often caused by trauma before or during birth.

Ellen never married but Catherine married a man who'd been born in Australia to Irish convict parents.
I've proved some bits of the family lore and totally disproved others.
Their youngest of 7 was my greatgrandmother. Fannie was 5 when her father died. Catherine took the family back to California and opened a boardinghouse to support them all-age 5 to 15.

I've been looking for any hint of Kaython existing, and experts believe the keepers of the story garbled the name beyond hope of locating it. Most of what I have was written down by my grandfather's brother, who has been dead almost 30 years.

Maggie Jochild said...

Yeah, Google maps would be a logical route.

Unfortunately, Apochanko/Podinqo does not in reality exist. I made it up, based on similar places and stories I've heard from African-American friends, stories about Native American tribes who took in runaway slaves -- which did occur among the Seminole but extremely rarely anywhere else. These stories have a survival value, as all myths do. They have enormous meaning, but it's not literal.

The Free State of Winston and Nickajack ARE true. The geography and regional Native American information is accurate (and the etymology of Apochanko is Choctaw, as will eventually come clear). Also "real" are most of the genealogical research anecdotes, with locations and individuals altered somewhat. But the most factually true (to the best of my seared memory) part of this chapter is the grocery store incident. Really happened to me -- in Fayetteville, Tennessee, on the courthouse square of Fayette County, which is only five counties removed from Franklin County, Alabama and very similar in terms of racial history/culture.

little gator, you need a linguist who could make educated guesses about how the name Kaython could have been garbled. I've seen it done on genealogy sites for Jewish shtetls, predicting how Yiddish, Polish and Russian names got handed on by American immigrants. Maybe someone has done that with Gaelic-based names and words.

little gator said...

Yes, I know it's fiction. That's why I want to check maps. If I thought it was a real place I'd have checked it already before writing.

In To Kill a Mockingbird there is a reference to the place that seceded from Alabama, but I beleive it was called a county there. Scout's first schoolteacher was from there, and therefore not to be trusted.

little gator said...

One guess was that Kaython was "K-town" which could be any town with a k name." Plus I'm guessing she may not have lived in the town the ship left from, and Kaython may have been inland, making it even harder to pinpoint.

Maggie Jochild said...

Wow, little gator, that's fascinating about the To Kill A Mockingbird connection. It IS a county, you know, Winston County. I once knew an old white guy from there, who filled me in the fascinating history. He was a great anti-racism activist, and connected that impulse in him to being raised in Winston County.

Also -- are you aware that there is an island which is part of County Cork called Clare Island? Which in Gaelic might look more like K-something?

Caethon is a common Gaelic place name, from what I could find, but it's Welsh and all the locales were in Wales.