In the Old South, that land of white, Greek-columned houses and miles of cotton fields, there were hundreds of acres that didn't belong to cotton planters and slave owners, though they might be owned by one family. In the center of it all was the house--sometimes a many-roomed cottage, sometimes a large "shotgun house"--all the rooms attached to each other in a long row--where a generation of sons would grow up before moving away to purchase acreages of their own, build homes, marry their sweethearts and start their own families. No matter how far away they lived, however, they would always refer to that childhood home as the "Home Place", would return there during holidays, weddings, and funerals. It was their refuge, their anchor in the storm of Life.
My family had such a place. Silas Daniel Pinkney Scarborough was a yeoman-farmer, planter of cotton, corn, and millet. His farm stretched across two counties. He had a good life, a good wife, seven children. In 1864, Nimrod Ichabod, his 15-year-old enlisted in the Houston County Volunteers to fight in the "War of Secession." Shortly thereafter, he died at the battle of Cold Harbor, one of the bloodiest and unequal battles of the war, fighting against one of the assaults led by General Grant. When Silas brought his son's body home, his 12-year-old daughter, my great-great-grandmother, rode in the back of the wagon, sitting on the coffin. Silas and two of his other sons, Green and Troup, also fought in that war, leaving the farm in the hands of his wife, Laura Frances Marietta (Mittie). When his youngest daughter was born, Silas had written in his ledger, "Little Floy born today, has curly hair." While he was away fighting, Floy, still an infant, died of influenza, as did several other family members. Shortly afterward, Silas came home on leave, and never reported back to his unit. No one ever followed up on his defection; it was probably too close to the end of the war for anyone to care.
The Home Place is gone now (after the War, only 220 acres remained) but I know where it was located--across the road from my own grandfather's house, where "Cudd'n Rabun" (Scarborough) lived. Now, Rabun (my third cousin) is gone also, as is my grandfather, and the Home Place with its acres of buttercups--and the squeaky water pump which could be heard up and down Dunbar Road--have been replaced with the prefab walls of Colonial Acres, a housing development. Everything the Scarboroughs owned is gone...Gone with the wind of that terrible war...but they are still there for those who wish to remember them.
That is the world I used as the background for Jericho Road, a country cherishing its memories of brave men and boys who fought for what they believed in, even if it was contrary to what their government said they should believe, a state trying to bring itself out of those memories into the Present, and meeting those memories head-on.
Wade Conyers IV is returning from another war, this one halfway around the globe in Vietnam, bringing his bride, Marcella, to his own Home Place on Jericho Road, in Sardis Crossing, Georgia. When they get there, they are met by Lonnie Bright, the youngest son of Earl Bright whose family was once the Conyers' sharecroppers. Lonnie has a bad case of hero worship but Wade, impatient to get home, brushes aside his welcome, unknowingly hurting the child's feelings. Then, he and Marcella are again on their way.
Unconscious of the esteem he'd lost in Lonnie's eyes, Wade adjusted his sunglasses. Beside him, Marcella put on her own.
"You didn't tell me you associated with White Trash."
He didn't take his eyes off the road. "I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't call the Brights that, Marci!"
His voice was quiet but she had a sudden feeling she'd overstepped herself. She'd never seen Wade angry and realized abruptly how very little she knew about her new husband's opinions and dislikes.
"Of course, Honey!" she said quickly. "Whatever you say. It's just that I'm a little surprised, that child obviously being of a lower social class and all."
"The Brights were my Great-great-Granddaddy's sharecroppers," Wade said. "When that Yankee Sherman came through here--" To Wade, like a good many Southerners of an older generation, the War--and they didn't mean Vietnam or Korea or even World War Two--was still very real. "--and burned everything and the slaves ran off, Leonidus Bright stayed and helped Great-great-Granddaddy Silas rebuild."
He took his eyes off the road long enough to glance at her.
Immediately, she was repentant, leaning across the seat and putting one hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Sugah. I didn't understand. Of course, I can see how you might feel about them."
She smiled prettily and planted a kiss just under his ear, touching her tongue to his earlobe and nuzzling gently against it.
"Whoa!" He allowed the car to swerve slightly. "Better stop that, Lady, or you'll land us both in the ditch!"
Marcella giggled. "I wouldn't mind being in a ditch with you, Sugah."
His right hand left the wheel to rest against her thigh, almost totally exposed by the short hem of the dress. His fingers tightened slightly, then relaxed, brushing against her bared skin.
Marcella felt that startling, still unaccustomed rush of desire.
"How much farther is it?" Suddenly, she was eager to get to Wade's parents' home, and especially to Wade's old bedroom.
"We're practically there. We've been on Conyers' land since we left the bridge. We just about own Jericho Road."
One side of the road was bordered by a stand of pine trees, soon to be cut for pulpwood. The other held a field filled with rows of tall, green cornstalks whose ears would either be picked for the dinner table or left to dry on the stalk and harvested later for winter food for the cattle and horses.
Wade looked up, staring at the trees.
A crow startled out of one of the pines, cawing raucously, black wings beating heavily...
...becoming the swoop of the Huey's blades as it rode shotgun above the lurps as they started into the tree-cover. God, it's hot as Hell! Like being wrapped in plastic, a cellophane shroud, can't breathe, can't see--Number Ten, Man! and abruptly, all he can think about is Marcella and will he ever see her again and how can he ever feel healthy or clean or sane after this....
"Wade!" Marella's voice rose slightly. "Honey, watch where you're going!"
He swerved the Jag just before the right front tire hit the outer edge of the shoulder.
"Sorry. Guess I'm so glad to be home, I just got all wrapped up in looking at the scenery."
He couldn't tell her that he didn't remember anything for the few minutes before she'd called his name.
"Well, wait until we're out of the car before you decide to appreciate Nature any more." Somehow, she managed to rebuke him without making her voice angry. "I'd like to reach your Mama and Daddy's in one piece."
"Oh, you will," he assured her, giving her a loving leer to banish the strange disconnection he felt, "and a beautiful li’l piece it is, too!"
"Oh, you!" She struck his shoulder. He could say such awful but exciting things.
Wade's hand returned to her thigh. "You're pretty tired, aren't you?"
"No." She looked surprised, "As a matter of fact, I'm just bursting with energy," and wiggled slightly to illustrate.
"No." He shook his head and she was certain she saw the blue eyes laughing behind the shield of his sunglasses. "I think you're very tired from the plane flight and the drive. Almost exhausted, as a matter of fact."
"So tired," he went on. "That when we get home, you're going to have to go right to bed."
Abruptly, she understood.
"Why, yes," she agreed, feigning a yawn. "I do believe you're right."
"And I think I'm just a little weary myself." Wade was grinning now. "And as soon as the door closes--"
"As soon as the door closes?" she echoed, returning his smile.
"Then, we'll see just how much energy you've really got!"
(Jericho Road was released as an ebook in April, 2009, by Lyrical Press.)
Posted by Toni V.S. | 11:19 AM | Icy Snow Blackstone, Jericho Road, New South, Vietnam War | 9 comments »