Category Archives: New Palestine

Short stories about a fictional town in Tennessee.

Put Out to Pasture

Pre-sales for my book Steel Decks and Glass and Glass Ceilings: A Navy Officer’s Memoir, and the announcement of the publishing date is imminent. This is a quiet, anxious time for me. My hopes are those who want to read it will buy it and enjoy it, perhaps even learn a bit from it, and finally i hope i don’t lose money on the effort and cost of publishing.

My original idea was pretty simple, looking back on when i started thinking about it just over forty years ago. i did want it to be the best it could be, which morphed the process into a business — it also has given me thoughts of writing a short information piece about how, or how not to write a book for folks who might be considering such a venture.

Now as i wait these final days before the book becomes available, i find my home projects, tasks, and even golf not quite as fulfilling as i expected. So, i turned to writing about a fictional place i have been writing about since i was in my last years of high school, three score or so years ago. Some of those stories have been in these posts. i’m not sure if they will ever be published otherwise. That’s okay. i’m writing them for me.

As i have previously indicated, the place, New Palestine, Tennessee is not a fictional version of my hometown. There are some characters and some locations from my home of Lebanon, Tennessee from which i drew as i wrote, but none of what is in the book should ever be compared to Lebanon, Tennessee.

Abner Moses, a retired boatswain warrant officer, is the narrator of most of these tales. i will write more about him when i turn to this little place again.  i like Abner.

Below is another short story in my collection about New Palestine. Even though i claim i’m writing just for me, i thought you might want to read it.

Put Out to Pasture

            Abner Moses sat on the stool at the diner’s counter, waiting for Ratliff to show up. Broadus Ratliff had called Erlene’s Diner to let Abner know Buckner Auto Parts had a big order to place, and he would be a bit late for coffee, their weekly Wednesday ritual. When Broadus finally arrived, Abner stood and shook his hand.

Abner asked Ratliff about the parts order from Buckner’s. After some more small talk, Abner began another tale. Broadus smiled. He enjoyed hearing Abner’s tales about New Palestine and the Navy. After some brief discussion, Abner began on another tale:

Walter Hill lived on a farm in the northwest corner of Jerome county. The farm was about a dozen miles from the New Palestine square and just a couple of miles east of the viaduct into Bertram county where that county was wet, not dry like Jerome county. Walter was raised on that farm, about 200 acres with cattle, milk cows, hogs, chickens, about two acres of garden, a couple of ponds out on the west side, a stand of walnut trees, and the farmhouse sitting about one hundred yards west from the two-lane gravel road running north south. Two wooden steps sinking a bit during Walter’s later years, led up to the front open air porch. A swing and a rocking chair adorned the porch. The side of the house had a larger square porch, screened-in so visitors might sleep, free from the flies and night critters, on the daybed with the duck feather mattress. The CCC built an outhouse in ’36 about twenty yards out back of the house near the barn. They used that outhouse up until the late ‘50’s when they attached a bathroom with plumbing to the back of the house.

Walter was born and raised there, milking the cows; feeding the cattle; planting, weeding the garden, and reaping the produce; slopping the hogs; tending to the winter slaughter of the choice steers, heifers, and hogs; cutting and bailing the hay before manhandling the bales up to the barn loft before they came up with those new-fangled machines that took a lot off the workload.

Walter was a big man, about six-three and swarthy. But he was nimble and was a hit with the women because he could dance well and never tired.

He was an only child, and his father died when Walter was eighteen. Walter took over running the farm and taking care of his mother until she passed when Walter was in his early 30’s. He met a pretty local girl named Flora at a church barn dance and got married right before his mother passed. Flora took over the house, cooking, canning, taking care of the chickens, gathering the eggs from the chicken coop, and cleaning the house.

The two of them just kept at it until Walter was in his mid-eighties. Oh, they had fun. They continued to go to barn dances and loved to hit the clubs alongside the liquor stores just over the bridge in Bertram county on Friday and Saturday nights. Walter made other trips over that viaduct to the liquor stores, being Jerome County and Nashville were the only places not dry, where you could get liquor during those days. He would get a case or two of Falstaff beer, a bottle of Jim Crow whiskey when they needed it, and nearly always a bottle or two of Gordon’s gin.

Walter was big, weighing well around 250 pounds and held his liquor pretty well. He kept one fifth of vodka behind the seat of his old GMC pickup, and when working around the farm, he would reach back, pull out the bottle, open the cap with his teeth, spit the cap into his seat between his legs and take a swig of the vodka. He’d put the bottle between his legs, grabbed the cap, screw it back on, and put the bottle behind the seat. He had been known to drink a whole fifth on a long workday.

He loved living on his farm. He never had any desire to live anywhere else. He didn’t listen to the news or watch it on the small, black-and-white television he bought Flora one Christmas back in the fifties. They watched the sitcoms, and Flora watched the news, but the only news Walter got was from Flora or the afternoon paper, the Nashville Clarion.

Walter and Flora never had any children. But as they got older, Flora’s niece Fiona and nephew Alvin were treated like grandchildren.  The children loved to come to the farm. Their folks, Flora’s younger brother Bud Wycliff and his wife Minnie felt it was good for the children. The six of them would often have picnics under the large oak in the front yard. As the children grew up, the children began to help around the farm. Alvin was a big help working with Walter tending to the cows and hogs and baling the hay.

As the years wore on, Alvin took on more and more work while Walter sat in the old truck and took more swigs on the vodka. When Alvin was a senior and accepted by Auburn to study agriculture, Bud called a family meeting at Walter’s farmhouse. He told Walter he was too old to work the farm and Alvin would no longer be available to help Walter. Bud said the couple should sell the old homestead and move to town. He added he had found a nice bungalow for them at a good price, and the profit from the exchange would allow them to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. Finally, he pointed out continuing to live on the farm would put an unfair burden on his sister Flora.

Everyone, except Walter, of course, agreed. The only one who mattered to Walter was Flora. He knew Bud was right. When Flora quietly nodded her head in agreement, Walter lowered his own head and mumbled “All right, let’s do it if that is what Flora wants.”

The deal was quickly done and the move to town was made. One of the new purchases was a color television. Walter was not comfortable with going into town or doing the menial tasks around the house. Flora attempted to coax him into visiting with Bud and Minnie and others in the town, but Walter just wasn’t into it. He settled into the large recliner in front of the television and watched from after breakfast until after dinner. He still wouldn’t watch the news. When it came on, he would lie down and go to sleep on the old porch daybed that was now by the window in the front room. Initially, he called it a nap, but as the trips to the daybed became more and more frequent and lasted longer, he would just rise from the recliner and slowly move to the daybed announcing he was tired.

Flora and Bud tried to get Walter to get up and walk, but now Walter was only getting up for meals. When he refused to go to the doctor, they convinced the doctor to come to the bungalow. As much as he could check with limited resources, the doctor could find nothing really alarming with Walter other than Walter’s weight was now over 300 pounds.

After the doctor and Bud left, Walter asked Flora to come over to the daybed. She leaned over to hear him better.

“Flora, I am the farm. I belong on the farm,” he explained, “I don’t think I’m going to last much longer. Would you get Bud to ask the new owners if they would let me buried next to Mom and Dad?

“Their graves are out by that northwest pasture beside the pond Dad stocked with crappie and used to fish. Alvin knows where it is.”

“I know, darling,” Flora responded, “But don’t you talk like that. I can’t have you leave me.

“Now you get a good night’s sleep, and we will talk tomorrow,” she said as she leaned over, kissed him on the forehead, and patted his hand.

Nodding, Walter mumbled, “I love you. I wish we were on the farm.”

Walter Hill died in his sleep that night. They buried him on the farm. They put him out to pasture.

Flora lived for another dozen years. When she died, they buried her beside Walter.

The Cemetery: A Story of New Palestine

i found this one while completing the other story posted yesterday. It was first written in the early ’70’s. Again, i caution readers from my hometown, none of the characters represent a real person from my past. i drew two of the main characters here from two wonderful men with whom i worked in the Cedar Grove Cemetery during high school summers. But it is only the idea. Neither of those two men were like the characters in this story.

The Cemetery

News item from The Eagle, New Palestine, Tennessee, July 13, 1958:

Mrs. Lucinda Mae Quarry, age 88, passed away at the Hilda Burton Nursing Home in New Palestine Sunday morning after an extended illness. Remains are at the Quentin Howser Funeral Home.

Mrs. Quarry was a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy and a member of the First United Methodist Church South of New Palestine. Her husband, Bernard A., was a merchant in New Palestine. He expired in 1908.

There are no survivors. Rites will be at 2:30 p. m. Thursday at the funeral home with interment in the New Palestine City Cemetery.  

Imperturbable, Boaz sat silently on the tombstone, munching his sandwich noisily, Buddha-like. Even in the heat of July, he wore the threadbare, soiled blue serge sports jacket over his bib jeans. His ham-size hands protruded from the coat sleeves. The one good eye, jaundiced, peered from beneath the worn and sweat-stained fedora.

With a final gulp from the fruit jar, he arose and spoke to the boy beside him.

“I reckon we better stop mowing and get on that grave on the south side. With it as dry as it is, it’ll take us most of the afternoon and tomorrow morning.”

The youngster left his cool refuge, the flat marble tombstone under the shade of the big elm reluctantly. The two trudged across the cemetery.

“Good thing Mr. Johnny came out this morning and showed us the plot,” Boaz considered, “I don’t know nothing about those old graves over there. Mr. Johnny is the only one who knows who is buried where, especially in that old section.

“That’s the only reason they keep him around,” Boaz continued after a brief pause, more to convince himself than the boy, “He’s too old to be good for anything else.”

Hite had heard of neither Boaz nor Mister Johnny before he started his summer job. After he began his mowing, trimming around monuments, and finally digging graves, he quickly discovered the rumors ran throughout the town about each man.

Mr. Johnny’s great-nephew was a mechanic for Hite’s father, R. J. Beard, Sr., at Wilson’s Tractor Sales. Most of Hite’s information about the old man came from the boy’s father, the mechanic.

Mr. Johnny Bream was ninety-three. He had returned to New Palestine around 1916 after several years of playing minor league baseball. By the time Mr. Johnny had arrived back in Tennessee, almost half a century before, one of his teammates on the
Augusta Tourists in the South Atlantic League, Ty Cobb, was the toast of the nation, and Mr. Johnny became somewhat of a local celebrity by association. Though he had several more lucrative offers of employment, the city had offered a house adjoining the cemetery property along with the small salary, and Mr. Johnny realized that the job would afford him a great deal of free time.

His days became highlighted by the activity around the courthouse in the midst of the tobacco-chewing, cedar whittling men sitting on the courthouse steps. On afternoons following a broadcasted ballgame, he would reign supreme among the old-timers. His sagacity as a baseball tactician was never questioned, and he always managed to get in a story about his days of playing with the great “Georgia Peach.”

He had thoroughly learned the geographical makeup of the cemetery during his tenure as cemetery custodian. In 1952, a fire in the attic of the county courthouse had burned the majority of the cemetery’s records, Mr. Johnny became indispensable. He was the only man in the county who could say with any degree of certainty where a body was buried.

Hite was awed by the old man when he learned of the Ty Cobb episodes. The boy had made baseball his main concern since the age of seven, and anything relating to the sport gained his whole-hearted attention. The old man actually recalled little from his playing days. His fabrications were evident even to a naive and potentially gullible youngster. Hite’s growing lack of interest was further hastened by Mr. Johnny’s constant demands to be carried on various errands by Hite in the old Pontiac R. J. had let the boy use for the summer. The old man dribbled brown juice from the chaw of tobacco he always had lodged in his jaw, and in addition to having dried trails of tobacco juice through the stubble on his chin, he would spew a fine mist over anyone near whenever he talked. Not long after Hite began work, he learned of Boaz’s hatred for Mr. Johnny.

It amazed the boy to find the big black man docile in the face of Mr. Johnny’s harangues. Boaz cursed the old man constantly when he and Hite were working alone in the cemetery. The hatred evidently stemmed from when Boaz first began work for the city nearly two decades before Hite became a summer assistant. The initial cause remained vague though Hite had drawn out enough from Boaz to learn the original disagreement had come in a confrontation shortly after Boaz had started at his job.

It was a common occurrence for lovers to park in the cemetery, especially if the affair was illicit. Having just started his job, Boaz was unfamiliar with the problem. He had come across a married woman with a man other than her husband while he was working alone one day. Boaz consulted Mr. Johnny as to what he should have done. From Boaz’s invective-filled description, the old man had viciously, though only verbally, attacked him for even discovering any white man and woman in such a situation.

Hite also had learned of Boaz’s past from other sources. The boy played basketball on the grammar school courts with several black boys in the late afternoons of summer, and during the rest periods they had responded to his questions about Boaz with tales the boy barely could believe possible.

Boaz had dropped out of his freshman year at the county’s negro high school to become a laborer for a brick laying concern. His skill and strength assisted in a quick rise to mason. But on the weekends after he turned sixteen, he drank almost solidly and traveled to all the black night spots in the communities through­out the middle of the state. His popularity with the women soon became renown among the blacks. This resulted in numerous fights until one cuckolded lover caught Boaz across the face with a beer bottle. The bottle shattered and Boaz lost his eye. The story concluded that the assailant had suffered multiple broken bones and nearly died.

After the loss of the eye, Boaz’s drinking became a constant, rather than a weekend occupation, until he was fired from his job as a mason. He could not get a job for two years until the grave­digger’s position became available with the city. The two years had subdued the big man and his drinking was now restricted to several beers on Friday afternoons at a small tavern in the center of the negro district. The area was named the Black Elbow because it was formed around a sweeping curve in Highway 127 on the west side of the town. The incident with the discovered lovers had occurred shortly afterwards, and though the enmity increased between the two men, Boaz had never spoken crossly nor acted perturbed in the old man’s presence.

But this day, the boy’s major concern lay with getting everything completed as quickly as possible. His baseball team was to play at Travisburro that evening, and the team bus was to depart in the early afternoon. Hite had decided he could make the bus if he left work thirty minutes early.

Hite remembered how relieved he had been when, on digging his first grave, Boaz told him the required depth was only four-and-a-half feet and not six as was commonly assumed. Boaz explained there was the water table was just a shade deeper than four feet, and they could not dig much deeper without risking filling the grave with water.

After the second round of digging, the two stood back-to-back in the middle and cleared off the ends. Standing in their new positions at opposing ends, they worked toward the middle again. The earth became progressively harder, and the depth of each layer dug correspondingly decreased.

The grave was for one of the older ladies in New Palestine. Mrs. Lucinda Mae Quarry had been a staunch, militant member of the Daughters of the Confederacy. In 1928, she had led the irate Daugh­ters in a march on the old yellow-brick courthouse when the first proposal to move the statue of Gen­eral Lucas Hougenby from the middle of the town’s square was tendered.

Mrs. Quarry’s husband, Bernard, had been killed by a mule’s unfortunately aimed kick at the turn of the century. The owner of the square’s largest store, Bernard had been buried in the old cemetery, one block from the square itself, only to be exhumed and relocated at the present site in 1923. The Church of Christian Elders bought the old cemetery acreage from the city to construct a new building, forcing the city to move the bodies to the new location.

When Bernard had been unearthed and moved, Mrs. Quarry had her father’s CSA ring nailed to the coffin. Her father, Charles S. Stetson, had been a cook for General Hougenby. Several years after Bernard had been relocated, she began to claim her husband had been a lieutenant for the South. She neglected to point out in her accounts of his valor that he had only been eight when the conflict ended.

It was as if the ring, nailed to the coffin, had transferred the glory of battle to the dealer of harnesses.

The work slowed with the progression of the afternoon. Boaz had taught Hite that brute strength was less effective than smooth, rhythmic motion. The boy still tired much quicker than his tutor, but his anxious desire to finish early this afternoon in order to catch the bus drove him to work quickly.

It was approaching three when the two spotted Mr. Johnny slowly working his way through the tomb stones with a cane, more to steady himself rather than required for walking. His gait was tempered by the frailties that hinder the aged.

Hite was thankful it was his turn with the pick when the old man arrived at the diggings. “You know, I got to thinking this afternoon,” the old man’s voice quavered.

“I ain’t rightly sure the plot wasn’t three feet to the left.”

“Goddamn,” the exasperated Boaz exclaimed, “You mean we might have dug this damn thing in the wrong place?”

“I just ain’t sure is all,” Mr. Johnny apolo­gized. “It looks like you all are about done, so there ain’t no trouble evidently. I just recollec­ted about some trouble with the stone about twenty years ago, and we moved it a couple of feet.”

“Well, goddammit, which way did you move it?”

Boaz persisted.

Hite’s pick struck something hard, pene­trated and stuck.

“Boaz, I’ve got something besides dirt.” “Goddammit,” the black exclaimed again, scram­bling into the hole. He took the pick from the boy, pried it several times and jerked it loose. The ensuing odor almost choked Hite. He could almost see the gas, and he believed it had to be green, a vile and sickly pale green.

“I knew we moved that stone,” the old man mut­tered almost smugly as Hite leaped from the grave for air while Boaz stood futilely holding the pick at his side.

The odor slowly dissipated. The boy controlled his coughing, and the three figures stared down at the broken earth.

“I reckon we hit a side of the casket or straight on,” Boaz observed. “If it ain’t straight on, we’re going to have one helluva time getting it ready by tomorrow afternoon.”

“I just can’t recollect how far we moved that stone,” Mr. Johnny contributed.

“Well, the only thing to do is to scrape away the dirt until we know exactly where we are. Then, we’ll have to figure what to do,” Boaz said.

“I just hope we’re flat dab on top because then we can fill it up and start on the old lady’s again.”

“Damn,” Hite thought, “I’ll never get to that bus on time.”

Mr. Johnny took Boaz’s tombstone seat and the two diggers began to gingerly remove the loose earth.

After several moments, Boaz said, “Looks like we’ll be all right.”

Hite’s shovel was scraping across the top of the wood when it caught and held. “Feels like a root, Boaz.”

The boy leaned down and caught a reflection of light. It was a stone, a gem, surrounded by a dirt-encrusted ring. Inexplicably, he picked up the ring and quickly put it in his pocket before the two men saw the ring or noticed his action.

“Man, whoever built the coffin didn’t do it like they regularly do,” Boaz said as he examined the nail which had pinned the ring to the coffin. Mr. Johnny had left his seat quickly and was bent over the grave, squinting down.

“Let me see. Let me see,” he said excitedly. “What’s wrong with you, Mr. Johnny?” Boaz queried.

“That’s where they nailed the ring,” the old man said for an explanation.

“What ring?” Boaz asked.

“Old lady Quarry had her father’s Confederate ring nailed to the coffin when they moved it up here from the old cemetery.”

“That’s crazy,” Boaz dismissed the possibility.

“And besides, if it’s so, where’s the ring?”

“How am I supposed to know?” Mr. Johnny said. “It should be there. Look for it,” the old man commanded.

“Why should we?”

“Because it’s worth all sorts of money, dammit,” Mr. Johnny said. “Look, if we can find it, I can take it to this man in Nashville I know and he can sell it for us.”

“Old man, you’re dreaming,” Boaz said.

Hite, with his hands jammed into his Levi pockets, fondled the ring with his right hand.

“Come on, damn you,” the old man said.

“You’re as dumb as all the rest. I made a lot of money doing this before I was too old to dig. You’re too damn lazy to ever amount to anything.”

Boaz appeared to swell upward. The anger brought to his countenance a fierceness triggering Hite’s thoughts of beerhall fights with Boaz as the center figure.

“Now listen, old man,” Boaz seethed through his lips. “I’ve taken your guff for seventeen years and now I’ve got you.

“I don’t give no damn about no ring. Hite and me are going to fill this grave up and then we’re going to start on the old woman’s grave.

“And if you give me any trouble, I’m going to tell people down at the city about your grave rob­bing. Now you get the hell out of here, old man, so we can get this work done.”

The old man stood motionless for a few seconds as if vexed at his position, then turned and with the aid of his cane, hobbled off without speaking.

Boaz and Hite began to fill the grave without any discussion. The work went quickly.

As they were tamping the last returned dirt, the boy checked his watch.

“Boaz, do you mind if I leave now? There’s only thirty minutes left until quitting time and I’ve got to catch the team bus. “

“No, you go on,” Boaz said. “I’ll get this other one started, and we can finish up tomorrow morning.”

Hite walked back to his car studying his prize. It was gold with a red stone. Around the stone, “Confederate States of America” was engraved. On the inside, the letters “C. S. S.” were faintly visible.

As he pulled out of the cemetery onto the highway, Hite saw the distant figure of Boaz persistently digging out the beginnings of the new grave. Then as he passed the house bordering the corner of the cemetery, he saw Mr. Johnny rise from his porch chair, next to the old radio, and wave frantically at the car.

But Hite turned his head and drove past.

Crossing the small bridge over the creek that even­tually ran through the center of town, back past the cemetery before spilling into the TVA lake, he checked to see if there was any traffic in either direction. When he saw there was none, he slowed at the middle of the bridge and tossed the ring over the railing into the swirling water.

He smiled when he checked his watch while accel­erating. He could even eat a sandwich and still have time to make the bus.


Clay Wilson: A Story of New Palestine

This is a bit different from most of what i post here. When i find i’m not applying myself to other things , especially when i’m hung up  on writing my book about women at sea, because of many reasons and become frustrated, i now am weaning myself from going to playing spider solitaire mindlessly. Instead, i turn to this group of stories i began probably in high school about a fictional town called “New Palestine.” i am fully aware it may never be finished. i’m not even sure what to call it, a book? It is just something in my mind with no connection to anything other than they are ideas i want to write about. Just write.

i again would caution folks from my hometown of Lebanon, Tennessee they should draw no connection to the characters in these stories. Although the people and the locations are drawn from folks and places i know and love, the connection stops as soon as they become part of my little town of fiction. When Maureen read this one last night, her comment was she was surprised, that it was a bit different. It is different for me. Don’t know where it came from other than when i was top-40 deejay at WCOR a young girl called me and did invite me to come to her house and meet her (i did not do that and have forgotten her name). i hope those that read this enjoy it, but i put it here more to be an archive for me. i do like it.

Clay Wilson

Well, I am going to tell you it was all in my head. I mean I didn’t know whether it was real or not, but I was a’thinking all the time it was all in my head.

I just don’t how I got that way, thinking about them things like that, but it scared the bejeezus out of me, and I just didn’t know; I just didn’t know what to think, or even if I was a’thinking.

It all happened on the wrong kind of night for things like that to be happening, you know. It was early September. The hot, humid summer had finally given away to those crisp, dry, autumn days with a breeze: Tennessee autumn at its best.

I was back home after that one forlorn, lost, and pretty well misguided idea I was going to be some academic wonder kid. Duke and I didn’t get along. They expected me to study, and not go all slobbering after all those educated and prominent-family skirts with the long legs and blond hair and big tits, and join in all the hell raising to excess when I had pretty much been banned from any kind of that shit from knee-crawling, snot-blowing, diaper -crapping, upward bound redneck upbringing because that was who I was.

And I went all ga-ga and chased the women with no success and raised hell and drank like there was no tomorrow, and picked up a book every two weeks or so to flunk the exams and laugh and have another bottle of Jack Daniels before crashing in the dark night and getting up and starting all over again because I had gone too far from what I was and where I come from and who I is then and now.

So they told me to go home because there weren’t no way in hell I was a gonna get a degree in engineering because I didn’t know shit about math and calculus and physics especially only working on it more than a couple of hours a week, and they were right, and I tucked my tail between my legs, bowed my head down low hoping no one could see me, and took that long Trailways bus ride over the Smokies back to the heart of Tennessee. I had hung on for that last summer hoping to get the grades up to at least go to college somewhere, but I pretty well screwed that up too because I still was attracted to those skirts and long conversations with Mr. Jameson of Irish whiskey fame because I had told Mr. Daniels to go bite himself and his charcoal.

So I wasn’t functioning all that well and looking for a job in New Palestine and my momma talked to the radio man and he said I could work FM at night if I got a license, so I did and back then, FM wasn’t much more than classical music and public service announcements till I showed up and started playing all kinds of music and talking about the music and where it came from and such and some people – I really don’t have a clue as to how many – started listening and occasionally called in, especially when I left my mic on and cussed, and I did a good enough job that the radio man put me on the AM on the weekend afternoons. It was a hick station all right, and they played news and religion and county music , not necessarily in that order, except on the weekends when they let me play Top 40 stuff from noon to sunset, and I did even though I didn’t like that bubble gum rock shit and I snuck in a lot of blues. While I was at it, I went back to college. New Palestine Junior College. Got my associate degree and was in my last year at Jordon River College.

But it was hard work commuting  to college and working because it was just me most of the time in the station ’cause that third class radio engineer license allowed me to turn the whole station on and off and no one else was there on the weekend, so I was working both AM and FM, putting on some bullshit light classical LP on FM and running down the hall to do the AM show and rushing into the back breeko block closet where the AP news wire was and ripping it off and reading the headlines and the weather (which was always wrong, but I read it all the way it was except for the temperature when I would run outside and look at the big thermometer and notice there weren’t no clouds like I was going to read about and did) and run back in and read the news and after the commercial put on a forty-five knowing I had two minutes to run up the hall, play an public service spot and put on another LP and run back down in time to do my thing when the forty-five was over.

But it was fun in a way because I could talk about shit while I played music I liked (most of the time), and I didn’t really care who was listening.

After a while, people would call in every once in a while and ask for a song, and I would hunt through the stacks of forty-fives and find it and play it and make some joke like “This is the Four Seasons’ hit ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and even though I think that’s a funny place to be ‘cause I imagine it itches like heck, but we’re playing this as a special request for Betty Jo,” and things like that.

This had been going on for about a year, when one Sunday afternoon, the phone call started it all. She had a sweet voice when she called that first time.

“You sure have a great show on weekends,” she said, “I love the music you play.”

“Why thank you,” I said, “Is there a song you would like me to play?”

“No, I like everything you play,” she said.

Then she said, “I really would like to meet you.”

“Oh, that would be nice,” I lied, not knowing quite how to respond.

“My name is Mary Beth Perkins,” she said, “Would you like to come out to my house after you get through with the show today?”

“Uh, I’m not sure,” I fumbled.

“Our house is behind the Route 127 Motel and Cafe,” she went on, “My daddy owns it. You just take the drive before the motel coming out of town, go up the hill, park out front, and knock on the front door.”

I was a bit flummoxed ‘cause no girl had ever asked me out before, and I just flat didn’t know what to do. I also was wondering what she looked like.

“Hey, can you call me back?” I stalled, “I’ve got to read the news and work FM.”

“Sure,” Mary Beth laughed

I’m thinking she ain’t gonna call back. I knew Elmer Perkins was the guy who owned that diner and the motel where a lot of clandestine and shady deals happened, not too mention it was a place where frowned upon copulations occurred. That girl is just blowing smoke, I thought. So I just cued the 45’s and ran the cassette ads. As a Motown hit was playing, I remembered her from a high school football game I attended. A looker; a real, young looker.

Then about two forty-fives later, the phone rings and it’s her.

She said, “Daddy’s out until late tonight, and I got some beer and sandwiches if you would like to come on out.”

And I guess that’s when I lost all of my senses and said yes, dreaming of things happening that never would.

When the sun set, because back then, some AM stations due to FCC rules had to shut down, I guess to eliminate interference with the more powerful stations. I mean I really don’t know, but that’s what one of the other deejay’s told me, and I headed out route 127.

I drove around the diner and the motel and drove up the gravel road to the house on the top of the hill just as it was turning dark. Mary Beth was on the porch a’waving at me. I got up and went inside. She offered me a can of PBR out of the refrigerator, and there weren’t no way I was gonna pass up a big blue. She guided me to the couch in the living room and after one sip of my beer, she took it out of my hand and laid a wet, tongue probing kiss on me before I knew what she was doing.

Well then we got serious, but I kept a thinking, calculating how old she was and if I was gonna get in trouble I couldn’t get out of. But I gave in and we started getting real serious.

We still had our clothes on, but were down to humping on the couch with me feeling her up and she grabbing my junk.

But her daddy had a deal go sour and came home early, really early. Seeing my car, he was ready when he slammed through the front door.

“Mary Beth, what is this son-of-a-bitch doing to you. Get to your room, right now.”

She collected her stuff and quickly shuffled out the hall door toward what I presumed was her room. I was watching her go and then turned to see Elmer pointing an Army .45 caliber pistol at me. I knew the weapon well, having learned all of its capabilities at my ROTC courses at the military prep school in town. I could still take it apart and put it back together while blindfolded, although I never figured out why I needed to do that until my daddy told me about trying to clean his carbine in a dark corner of the carpool on Luzon when the Japs were hitting his Seabee unit and the power had been shut off.

But this was no drill.

Elmer shook the pistol and motioned for me to get up.

“Come on, boy, we’re going for a ride.”

I was pretty sure it wasn’t for a pleasant look at the country side.

He directed me to the shotgun seat of his Ford pickup and climbed into the driver’s seat, holding the 45 pointing toward me and the steering wheel with his left hand, turning on the ignition and working the stick shift with his right. We drove east, toward the old Bethlehem stone quarry, which they had mined to death and left a cavernous pit, now filled with squalid, dirty water about forty or fifty feet deep and another thirty or forty feet below the top.

Old Elmer didn’t say a word, and I sure as hell wasn’t in the mood to start a conversation. He turned off the old highway onto the gravel past the long-abandoned operations tower and pulled toward the rim.

I was a’thinking. I remembered this crazy characteristic of those 45’s Sergeant Tilley taught us in that sophomore year of ROTC about the safeties on the pistol. They all made sense to me except one, which was if you pushed the barrel back, the gun wouldn’t fire. And I thought that was about the craziest thing it could be ‘cause who the hell who push the barrel back, presumably with their palm and risk getting their hand blown off.

But at this point in time with Elmer a‘fumbling with the steering wheel, the brake, the clutch, and the gear shift, I thought that crazy safety might be my only chance. If i could keep the gun from firing, i might be able to get it out of his hand and me out of the car and run like hell. So I reached across the bench seat, shoved my right palm at the barrel hoping to enable the safety.

Didn’t work.

Elmer turned and jerked the 45 away from me. My hand hit the side of the barrel pushing it up and away from me. Trying to recover control of everything, Elmer pulled the trigger. The bullet went through the bottom of his chin and out the top of his head. Blood and brain spattered everywhere as Elmer, or what was left of him and his head, slumped to the steering wheel. I recoiled and sat there for a moment trying to collect my thoughts. I got out and found an old towel behind the bench seat. I wiped the blood and stuff off of me and my clothes as well as I could. Then I wiped as much of the truck I could where my fingerprints might have been. After I thought i had gotten my prints off of everything, I sat down on the rear bumper and thought about what to do.

I knew Elmer ran with a bad crowd, bootleggers, johns, and who knows what. I decided I would just leave him there. But the gun; what about the gun? I wasn’t sure I had gotten any of my prints off of it. So I walked up to the quarry pit and threw the 45 into the deep dark pool below.

With that, I started a long walk.  I had to get back to town and circumvent the square where I surely would be seen and turn northeast to 127. It was about a ten-mile trek. I kept a’thinking how I was going to explain what happened to Mary Beth. But when I got to the diner and motel, I walked up to the back and only my old Vauxhall was outside. Elmer’s ’59 Plymouth, his other go-to-meetings car was gone. I went up on the porch and called. When there was no answer, I took out my bandana I always carried in  my back pocket and tried the door handle. It was locked.

I called a couple of more times and when there was no answer, I got in my car and drove home.

They found Elmer in his pickup the next afternoon. Then, Mister Blaylock, the bus station manager, said a pretty young girl calling herself Mary Buford had bought a ticket to Pensacola, Florida late the evening before. He remembered her because she had three suitcases and needed help boarding the bus. The New Palestine police found Elmer’s old Plymouth in the parking lot behind the bus station. The authorities traced Mary Beth to Pensacola but never could figure out where she went after that.

They finally decided Elmer had gotten into a bad deal with one of his whiskey partners who killed him. They never found the gun. They never found the killer either.

I worked at the radio station until I got my degree almost a year after the incident. Knowing the draft was going to send me to Vietnam as a ground pounder, I applied and was accepted to Navy OCS.

I left New Palestine and never came back.

copyright jim jewell 2020

New Palestine: Abner Moses’ Sea Stories

i am trying the new “improved” word press way of formatting my posts. i do not like, Sam i am. i am going back to the new one if i can, if i can, Sam i am, although i’m not Sam but my grandson is Sam and that is all right by me. But i will need to consult with the multi-media genius who helps this electronically challenged old man to get me back to where i want to be. Then, i had an epiphany while working through a cold at least abetted by fifty-four holes of golf in two days, or at least it was some kind of awakening, and it all makes no difference to you except i rededicated myself – for about the 467,386th  time to quit screwing around and writing. 

So i started looking at my stuff. i’m still working on my book, Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings, but found several things i want to put out there, eventually under the umbrella title of “New Palestine.”

It is a rambling thing — hell, after all it’s mine and therefore of course, it has to be rambling — with the central focus of a town in Middle Tennessee and the folks who are there or come from there.

A warning: Although the town itself resembles my hometown of Lebanon, initiated by some thoughts i had about my experiences there, and several of the characters come from some impressions and crazy ideas that crossed my mind about some characters actually in that town, these stories, this and the other stories about “New Palestine,” are in no way Lebanon, Tennessee and none of the characters in the story have any connection to folks in Lebanon except they generated my ideas for the stories.

One of the central characters in “New Palestine” is Abner Moses. You may have read at least one story here containing one of his tales. Abner grew up in the town, got in a bit of trouble, joined the Navy and had a successful career, retiring as a Chief Warrant Bosun. He returned to Lebanon and told a lot of stories to a salesman who came into to town on business on a regular basis.

A number of stories are Abner’s “sea stories,” several of which, like this one, i heard during my own Navy career. Here is one:

Abner Moses and the Pious XO

“Newport was different then,” Abner observed to no one in particular although Ratliff knew another tale was coming whether he wanted to hear it or not.

“You talking ‘bout Tennessee?” Ratliff queried, knowing full well the old Bosun had left Tennessee for his beloved sea stories and was launching on a Navy tale.

“Hell no, Ben,” Abner Moses grumbled, “I’m talking ‘bout Rhode Island: the real Newport. At least it was back when I was up there in the fifties.

“When the young Culpepper boy started OCS, it still was pretty much three towns in one, but the uppity side was getting the upper hand: just no one knew it.

“By the mid-eighties, even the Navy was uppity. Damn shame.

“But back in the fifties, it was good and different. Hell, when i first got up there, they didn’t even have enough pier space for the cans even nested back then. We all were out there in the bay, the channel really, moored to buoys.”

“Hold on, Ab,” Ratliff implored, “I ain’t got enough Navy in me to have a clue as to what you’re talking about.”

“Hell, Rats,” Abner apologized, “I plumb forgot. I’se sorry but sometimes when I get to talking about those times I forget where I am.

“Cans is what we called destroyers. Tin cans. Nesting was putting one ship outside another at the pier , which allows you to get more ships to the pier.


“Okay,” Ratliff nodded reaching for his coffee.

And Abner Moses began his sea story:

Back then, the world operated at a different pace, even a different rhythm, and the Navy sure as hell was one sight different from what it is today.

Took care of people, even the ones that couldn’t cut the mustard elsewhere.

Lots of things were different.

But even then there were folks that were gonna fix the world.

I was on a can back then, actually she was one of those early diesel destroyer escorts. She was a good ship with a good crew. Course, damn near every crew said that about their ship. The Morton. We were moored to a buoy. There was pier between the Naval Base and the town. That’s where the liberty launches would ferry us to and from the ships.

Had a bar right there at the head of the pier. Leo’s. Smart boy runnin’ the place. Had a big neon sign in the front. When you landed to go on liberty the seaward side of the sign read ‘Leo’s First Stop.’ When you was comin’ back from liberty, the shore side read “Leo’s Last Stop.” Boy had to make a mint. Damn near every sailor stopped on his way off the ship, so he could get a little oiled before getting serious. And every damn sailor stopped on the way back from liberty for one more before catching the liberty launch.

Back then, there weren’t no stigma to a sailor drinkin’. Fact is, guys that could toss it down were sorta admired although not being able to hold your liquor gave you a bad name too.

Cussin’ wasn’t quite so accepted in polite society back then, but sailors were sailors and cussin’ weren’t so much a way of life as an art form.

But even the Navy had its porcelain saviors. The XO on the Morton was one. He was a lieutenant commander named Harley from somewhere up in New England. Poor sum bitch was gonna save the world. He mighta pulled that off, but he started by trying to stop the Morton wardroom from cussin’.

Now on a ship like a regular can, he might’a had a chance. But the Morton had three warrant officers, including me. But i was fresh off of being a chief boatswainsmate and still a little tentative in the wardroom But those other two old salts weren’t gonna give up their inalienable right to cuss. Cause they were sailors first and officers second.

But the XO was Mormon, misplaced on the east coast from Utah by the Navy’s assignment whims, and he was gonna wipe out cussing come hell or high water.

So we had officer training in the wardroom one Wednesday afternoon, something about damage control. When the training’s over the XO gets up and starts a speech.

“‘Profanity is the scourge of the earth,” he says in about ten different ways. Then he says, “And there’s not one situation, when a regular word would not be a better choice than a profane one.”

The old gunner warrant, who was sitting at the back of the wardroom table, raises his hand.

“‘Okay, gunner,” the XO says with exasperation, “What do you want?’

“‘Well, XO,’ the old gunner drawled, ‘I don’t wanta be disrespectful or nuttin’, but i gotta differ with that last thing you said.’

“‘Go ahead, Gunner,’ the XO said, giving away the floor and obviously thinking he would have a good counter to whatever the gunner had to say.

“‘XO, we had a geedunk run the other morning…

(Rats, a geedunk run back then meant a Navy roach coach…, er, I’m sorry, it was a mobile canteen van would come out to the end of the pier in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and the ships would have boat parties come get snacks for the crew.)

The gunner went on, ‘Well, we collected up the money and the orders, and Seaman First Walker got two shit can tops to haul the snacks back. He boards the motor whaleboat and the party hits the roach coach.

‘They gets loaded up and start back to the ship, but the bowhook has let go of the bow line before the coxswain had started the engine.

‘So there’s Seaman Walker with one foot on the gunnel and one-foot on the pier, slowly doing the splits with a shit can top full of geedunk in each arm.’

‘So what’s your point, Gunner,’ the XO prods wishing to get this over.

‘Well, XO, Walker looked around at his predicament and said, “I’m fucked,” and there ain’t no other word that could ‘a described his predicament any better than that.’”

“The XO looked just sorta fed up for a second and then he said, ‘You all get out of here.’”

New Palestine

My close friend from Lebanon days, Jimmy Nokes, has asked about my novel, New Palestine. i haven’t actually written the novel but have several chapters or short stories in various stages of completion. They are on the back burner until i have finished my book about my experience with women at sea and perhaps several others before i re-attack New Palestine.

i published the short story, “Leaving New Palestine,” several years ago on this  website, but it was lost when my previous web provider crashed a number of sites. At the beginning of  the original short story, the narrator, Abner Moses was introduced along with his good buddy, Ezekial Ratliff. Abner is a retired U.S. Navy chief warrant officer who returned to his hometown of New Palestine. Ratliff is essentially a traveling salesman. The two meet regularly when Ratliff’s route takes him to New Palestine. They usually meet at Erlene’s Diner just off the square. Ratliff enjoys hearing Moses’ tales and the novel was originally planned to be those tales told by Moses as in “Leaving New Palestine.”

i am reposting the short story here for Jimmy Nokes. i’m also including a work in progress introducing Abner and Ezekiel.

Once again, i want all of my Lebanon friends (and all other readers) to know although there is a great deal of my memories of my hometown used in the stories and many of the people and places may seem familiar, the story is from my ideas about story telling and neither any places nor any people are representative of folks or places back home.


I am Abner Carlisle Moses.

I was born in Nazareth Creek, a little settlement about twenty miles southeast of New Palestine, Tennessee in 1933. I was born in a depression and been in one pretty much ever since.

My great, great grandfather, Aaron Moses, came over the Cumberland Gap with Daniel Boone in 1775. He helped cut the Wilderness Road and married one of Daniel’s sister-in-laws in the process. But in 1782, Aaron and his family left the Boone conclave and moved to Boar Basin in southern Kentucky. From there, the whole family migrated to Nazareth Creek around 1804.

I was too young to fight in World War II, so i fought in high school. They kicked me off the high school football team because I beat up the star halfback with my helmet after he straight-armed me in a pre-season scrimmage. Then at the start of my junior year, I beat up a boarding cadet at the military prep school pretty bad with a tie rod off a 38 Ford. It happened in plain sight outside the Starlight Theater on Ferndale Pike, just south of the town square right after the Wednesday Matinee. The movie showing that afternoon was a Bob Steele oater. The judge told me I was lucky I didn’t kill the goober and gave me the choice of joining the Navy or going to jail.

So Abner Moses was the first of his immediate family to leave Tennessee, and I left it for a goodly while. I liked the navy. I tested high enough to be a radioman, but I wanted to be out on deck, so I became a boatswainsmate. Being a sailor back in the late forties, early fifties was a damn sight different than being a sailor today, and being a boatswainsmate meant long hours and hard work, and most of it was no-shit manual labor.

It wasn’t all that bad and I had a knack for working around boats and liked all the fancywork with line so i got along okay. I learned early on about staying out of fights. On my first ship, the U.S.S. Frederick Sinclair, an old 2200 ton destroyer, one of the duty master-at-arms, was this huge, hirsute, second class gunner’s mate. i had come back late on the liberty launch cause i got about three sheets to the wind and couldn’t get my lock to open at the locker club right outside the destroyer pier gate in San Diego. When the officer-of-the-deck, some smart ass first class yeoman, said he was going to put me on report, i started raising hell and the petty-officer-of-the-walk called this bozo duty master-at-arms.

He sorta picked me up with one arm around me and under my armpit and started shuffling me off, saying, “Boy, I think it’s bout time you learned a little destroyer discipline. It was just after taps when he shuffled me right on down to the boatswain’s locker, and proceeded to beat the living hell out of me. I figured I was tough and held up pretty well, but then the next day, Petty Officer Carrier, a second-class boatswainsmate and our leading petty officer, couldn’t find my liberty card. They couldn’t find it for two weeks before I could go on liberty again. That hurt a hell of a lot more than the whipping, so I learned: never was late again.

That pretty much led to quick advancement back then and after we got through the Korean War, I had made second class. By sixty-one, I had made chief and before I knew it, they had nominated me for the warrant officer program and i’d become a bona fide, no-shit Bo’sun warrant. And to tell you the truth, that was my hey day, my crowning moment, cause there just ain’t no shit like a Bosun’s shit.

I never married. Didn’t particularly want to and didn’t have to, being in the Navy and all. When I was in sixth grade and she was in the fourth, I had a dream about a girl named Mary Claire Dubonnet back in New Palestine – we moved from New Nazareth into a house bout two blocks off the square when I was four. But somehow this dream took my breath away and i was taken with Mary Claire. Course, New Palestine girls in general and Mary Claire in particular wouldn’t have much to do with me. I was wiry and small, with a big head and always getting in trouble. i probably scared ‘em. But even after I left, Mary Claire was the girl of my dreams and it was real hard to get serious about any other girl.

And the Navy allowed me plenty of opportunities to be with women, especially on deployment. There were several I seriously thought about marrying. Kazuko, whose parents were killed by the Nagasaki A Bomb was the closest. But my momma, Cora Mae Macon Moses, talked me out of it through letters when I told her of my intention. Probably just as well. I was way too independent to have ever been a good husband.

So after twenty-five years, the damn Navy decided I should be doing shore duty for the remainder of my career and I told ‘em to shove it. They gave me a pretty good pension so i used the G.I. bill and went to a San Diego college and picked up my B.A. in English. Took me most of three years.

So i headed back home. Momma was gone and Daddy had passed long before her. But New Palestine was home. I hooked on as a county correspondent with the Nashville Daily Blade, the afternoon city daily. It was a good deal: part time and let me as close to the inner workings of the county seat and city government as I could get, which was always interesting. i also got to cover the local sports, which was both the high school and Joshua Military Academy.

It was several years before I met Ezekiel Ratliff. He sold auto parts to the auto parts stores around the mid-state and New Palestine had a couple of his major customers. He stopped off for lunch at Erlene’s Diner just east of the square on nearly every visit. I was a regular at Erlene’s but Ratliff’s and my schedule had not matched up before that day in sixty-seven. We was both at the counter so just naturally started jawing. He’s a good guy and we hit it right off. We both liked to tell our stories; so pretty soon, we are getting there early and spending a couple of hours over coffee spinning our tales.

I suppose New Palestine ain’t a great deal different from most small towns in the South, although we all like to think New Palestine is a sight better than all of them others. Of course, come to think about it, all those other towns probably think they are better than the others. So i guess we are all more alike than we like to believe.

Leaving New Palestine

“Caroldeane was always a mite different from most of the girls round here,” Abner Moses mused.

“Ain’t a hell of a lot of women, young or old, who’ll take on a man straight up, but Caroldeane done it a bunch of times.

“Don’t know what possessed her to run away like she did, but she was always a mite strange, different from most of us around here.”

“What kind of family did she have; what was she like?” Ratliff asked.

“Well, the family didn’t measure up to snuff: poor folks, generally. Caroldeane was youngest and the only daughter out of six kids Missus Culpepper had. She had two die in childbirth, and two more died afore they started school. Course you gotta remember there was a hell of a lot more to die from when you were a kid growing up around here before the fifties. Hell, I lost a brother and a sister myself. The brother died when he was a couple of months early and my sister died at four from pneumonia.

“The other Culpepper boy joined the Navy ‘cause the judge told them he had to or go to jail. That’s what happened to me. I think his name was Henry.

“Quince, Caroldeane’s ole man never really had a job. Ran an automobile junkyard for a while, but that didn’t take. He kicked around doing odd jobs mostly, labor, not handiwork, even though he fancied himself a handyman. He was a little bit bloated from whiskey, but hard.

“Quince had three brothers as I recall. Reamus served quite a bit of time for slicing up some guy outside a beer bar up beyond four-mile hill. Another, Robert E. -it was hard not to remember his name -just sort of disappeared. Folks really don’t know what happened to him.

“The oldest, Broadus, got kicked by a mule, right in the forehead when he was ’bout twelve.

“Never was quite right again. You might have seen him on the square playing with his little stick and twine. Heard he crawled up in an unlocked car just off the square ’bout three January’s ago. They found him froze to death several days later. Damn shame, Broadus might have scared a couple of women once or twice cause they didn’t know he was harmless, but he never done anyone no real harm. Caroldeane’s old man and momma took in Broadus and sort of took care of him as much as they could. They put up a lean-to on that old shed they lived in for him to sleep. Some folks say they heated it, but I don’t see how they did that. I reckon he slept on the floor in the shed when it was too cold to sleep in the lean-to. They kicked him out after Caroldeane left town and he just sort of shifted around on his own, living on handouts and sleeping in barns or backyard shacks until he crawled up into that car. Somebody said that he had been doing that for years, but usually not in the winter.

“Quince stuck around, too. He ran that junkyard into the ground, and when that failed, he hired on with city works, doing all sorts of odd jobs. Drove a school bus for a while, right after they made the old high school into a junior high. But two or three girls claimed he made some advances or said some lewd things to ’em and they kicked him off the bus and put him on a scooter running around town and picking up dead dogs and such and taking ’em out to the dump. It was okay by Quince because he felt like that scooter was his own and he treated it like it was a car since no one in his family, at least not around here, ever had a car, excepting, of course, all of those broken-down ones in the junk yard. I suspect that had a good deal to do with the business failing. I mean what the hell is a man doing running an auto junkyard when he can’t put enough of a car together just so it would run?

“Nobody ever saw much of Caroldeane’s mom. She stayed pretty much out of sight, stayed mostly in that four-room shack at the back of the junkyard. Even after they got out of the junk business, they stayed on the land. No land around here is all that great with the limestone and all, but that old junkyard, out near the quarry was about as bad as any round here.

“Some say she was once a pretty woman, came down from Jerome County. Don’t know how they met or anything. I only saw her a couple of times and she had pretty much gone to seed by then: gaunt, gangling woman, bout five-seven and all bones and a hard look. Didn’t talk at all when I met her down at the farmers’ market about ten years ago. Just stood back of Quince and sort of glared at the world. But hell, anybody married to Quince and wearing nothing but old cotton dresses and brogans, and living in that shack in that junkyard on that worthless land with all that junk would have ended up looking and acting like that.

“Mary Beth Edwards once told me that Miz Culpepper was born Lilah Mundy. Mary Beth said that she was in Whiting’s hardware store on the north side of the square round the early 50’s when she came in with Caroldeane and was trying to buy a wash bucket. Old Nails Whitehead was a waiting on her.

Mary Beth said that Nails wouldn’t lower the price fifty cents and Missus Culpepper didn’t have enough money. They squabbled about it for about fifteen or twenty minutes when Nails finally called for Colonel Whiting. The Colonel told Miz Culpepper that the price was fixed but that he would put the fifty cents on account with no interest. Mary Beth said the poor old thing got all hot and irate and told the Colonel that the ‘damn Culpepper’s might not be bothered by owing people, but no Mundy and especially this Lilah Mundy was ever gonna owe anybody anything and that he could just keep the damn wash bucket.’

“That’s why Caroldeane was so surprising. You could see a bit of her mother in her. She was tall, bout 5-8 or so, but certainly not gaunt, just about right most of the boys around here would say. I guess even ole Quince might have had some good looks about him before that beer gut, and the whiskey-red, swollen nose got in the way of anybody noticing. But Caroldeane was a pretty kid from the get go and just kept getting better looking as she grew up.

“Caroldeane was a looker: not a classic beauty, mind you, but she had a woman’s figure by the time she was twelve, and it was a damn sight perfect. She had soft curves and skin that glowed like cream just out of the churn. Her nose turned up a bit, and her head was small. Her eyes were those dead pools of blue that haunt you. And her hair was thin, bobbed, but always blowing in the wind. It was sand colored, not brown, not blonde, with streaks of light running through it. She had a small mouth too, the kind that looks like a rose petal. A lot of babies have them but lose ’em before they get through with grade school. Caroldeane kept hers, at least up until she left.

“But it wasn’t Caroldeane looks that made her so different. She always seemed interested in people but snapped at them whenever anyone tried to be friendly. Actually, the kit and caboodle of them were like that except for Broadus, who was always running up in people’s faces on the square and almost screaming, “Do you know me?” with that silly ass grin on his face and snapping the string tied onto a little string. Caroldeane looked approachable. Lots of rumors ran around about how she let boys do things with her, but none of them was substantiated, and I’ve seen her chew boys’ heads off when they approached her too many times to believe it. She didn’t seem to like boys at all. Didn’t like women too much neither. Didn’t make much sense to me, and most of the other folks around here either.

“She spent a lot of time wandering around the square, watching folks, not saying much.

“Missus Thatcher, the old school teacher who retired and started up the city library – the one that use to be the old Macumber town house on main street fore they all died and left the house to the city in their will. Missus Thatcher used to say that Caroldeane was nearly always in the library when she wasn’t kicking round the square. Missus Thatcher said that Caroldeane read ’bout everything that she could but sort of gravitated to poetry books. Said she eventually started reading just poetry and weird kind of stuff like Ezra Pound who was some nut case who turned communist and lived in Italy.

“Caroldeane stayed away from the junkyard as much as possible, even around the age of six. Her mom would send her down the square to get Broadus. About the only time Missus Culpepper seem to worry about Broadus was getting him home for the evening meal. She’d apparently tell Caroldeane to come through the square on the way home from school and get Broadus.

“There’d be some pretty good arguments between the two of them down there on the square in the late afternoons. Sorta eerie: Caroldeane, between eight and sixteen, laying down the law to Broadus who was forty or so when this stuff started. Broadus was the oldest brother of Quince and Caroldeane was Quince’s youngest.

“Anyways, Caroldeane and Broadus would have these screaming arguments on the square and Caroldeane acted like a marshal or something and would finally shoo ole Broadus back to the junkyard. Then, Caroldeane herself would just sort of mosey around the square, looking in the windows, watching the people. Sometimes she would find a bench, usually the one outside Feller’s pharmacy over by the arcade, and just sit and watch people until after dark. Sometimes she’d stay there until the last store closed. Then she’d finally get up and wander back to the junkyard. Old Quince and Caroldeane’s mother were hard people but they apparently never got mad at Caroldeane, pretty much let her do what she wanted to do from the time she started school till she ran away. People use to laugh and say that Caroldeane and old General Hicks, the statue of the Confederate officer in the middle of the square, spent more time downtown than anybody.

“She especially liked hanging around the arcade in the winter. Tulip’s Five and Dime was on the other side of the arcade from Feller’s. Caroldeane would wander in just before closing and just look at all of the cheap stuff they had in bins up toward the front. I remember liking Tulip’s too. It smelled like they’d been making cotton candy and coffee for so long they couldn’t scrub the smell out. Always seemed like it was warmer in there in late fall and winter afternoons. Wasn’t much to buy really. Lots of small stuff from Japan. Trinkets. I liked it. Caroldeane liked it too. That’s where Robert first talked to her.

“Robert Witherspoon took her back to the junkyard one night. Just before Thanksgiving. Cold, rainy night, not quite sleet. I’d gotten back from delivering a load of fuel oil out on Chigger Lane and had stopped at Erlene’s Diner, just off the square on East Main. Wasn’t hardly anybody anywhere, being Monday. Robert came in from the office at the other stone quarry, the big one out on Ferndale Pike. It was just past five and dark already. The rain started just about when Robert and I finished our supper. I decided to have some pecan pie, ala mode of course, but Robert started to head home. The next Saturday, he told me what happened.

“Robert had to walk down to the square where he had parked his truck in the middle area.

“He said he really didn’t know why he didn’t just get in the truck and go on home. But he didn’t.

“He walked across the empty square in that cold rain to Tulip’s. It was warm inside and it did smell of cotton candy and coffee. The old wood floors were dark and rough, but the place was well lit. That showed off the trinkets in the best light.

“Caroldeane was there. Young and wet and a bit shivering from the cold, she was rummaging through those trinket bins up front. Robert said he forgot what he came in for and wandered around for a few minutes, smelling and feeling warm. He was walking out and Caroldeane, with that old wet felt coat and those young, dead pool blue eyes was standing there, and he knew she had about three miles of walking in cold rain to get back to the junk yard. He asked her if she’d like a ride home.

“Robert said it sorta surprised him when she said yes. She had turned down a bunch of rides, even in the snow and one hell of a lot colder weather than that little piddling cold night in late November. But Caroldeane said yes. So Robert and her walked back to the middle of the square and that old GMC pickup he had. He started it up and fired up the heater. Caroldeane sat sort of like a knot against the shotgun door. Robert said she look like a fawn that just got cornered by a puma.

“He kept saying, ‘Child, don’t worry. I just wanna take you home so you can get a hot meal and get dry and warm and have a good night’s sleep.’

“He said Caroldeane seemed to shrivel up closer to the door and said, almost defiantly, ‘There ain’t no hot meal I’m gonna get and the folks are too stingy to turn on the heat, so it ain’t likely I’ll get warm, but I may get dry.’

“He said that bout the time he got two blocks from the square, the old GMC heater got warmed up and it got toasty inside. He said Caroldeane seemed to sort of melt with the heat. She relaxed and sorta moved away from the window. He said when he got up near the old mill offload for the railroad, he glanced over and she actually smiled at him. He said he could remember it because it was right across from Catfish Heaven and that damn neon sign kept flashing and he kept seeing her smile through the flashing old fish sign with the curly whiskers.

“Robert told me that he kept wondering how old she really was. He kept thinking she was ’bout the best looking woman he had ever seen, but he figured she had to be shy of sixteen. She just didn’t look it. ‘Moses, i’d swear on a stack of Bibles that there was all sorts of thoughts running through my mind, honorable ones and damn awful ones, but after we got past that damn catfish, I gulped, grabbed that steering wheel, stared at that road through the cold rain and drove straight to that junk yard.’ That’s what he told me.

“They got to junk yard bout when the rain slowed down near to a drizzle. Must been just after seven. Robert drove that old GMC through what was left of the junk in the junkyard and curled around broadside to the old rambling shack.

“As the truck got close to the house, all of the old lights of the junkyard security -about a dozen poles with twin floods hanging from each end of a yardarm -came on in sequence. Robert told me that he saw the three other Culpepper’s coming toward him in a line.

“‘Thank you, Mr. Whitherspoon’ were Caroldeane’s last words to him as she got out of the car.

“Robert said it was weird. Quince was carrying a poleax. Missus Culpepper had a baseball bat, and Broadus had that damn little switch with the string. ‘It kept running through my mind that I should be more afraid of Broadus than the other two,’ Robert told me.

“He said Quince yelled at him. ‘Where the hell you been with my daughter, you son of a bitch?’

“Fore Robert could say anything, Missus Culpepper screamed, ‘Caroldeane, that ole man done touch you?’ Robert said he remembered her yelling and seeing the veins in her neck all popped out.

“‘Momma, the man just brought me home from the square; he was just being nice,’ Caroldeane tried to explain to her momma, but ole Quince wasn’t listening to that. Didn’t care.

“‘Listen you son of a bitch, my daughter is special. She ain’t white trash. You can’t just go and do with her what you want. She’s special. If I ever see you with her again, I’ll beat you to death with this here ax.’

“Robert said he kept thinking a whole bunch of things. He kept wondering why Quince wasn’t listening to Caroldeane. He wondered how he could just gun that old GMC and get the hell out of there, but that seemed to him like it would look like he was running cause he did something bad. Poor manners, you know. He kept thinking that if Quince and Missus Culpepper lost it, the bat wouldn’t hurt him unless they got him out of the car, but that damn poleax would come right through the window if Quince’s aim was about half good. And he knew the worse thing that could happen would be for Broadus to lose it and charge him. He knew that he couldn’t get out of there before Broadus could get to the truck and that if he lost it, Broadus could kill him with his bare hands.

“Then in the middle of all this thinking, with Quince, Missus Culpepper and Caroldeane screaming in that cold dark drizzle, he realized that someone was singing. It was Broadus. Broadus was singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Everybody sort of quieted down and everybody looked at Broadus. He was standing in that cold rain with the junkyard security lights shining on his big flat face and that arched red lump of a scar across his forehead. He was standing at attention like he’d seen the cadets at the military school do with that silly stick with the string on the end, on his shoulder, like he was at right shoulder arms. And he was singing, ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is stamping out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on.’

“Fore he got to ‘Glory Hallelujah,’ Missus Culpepper fell down on her knees and started crying, ‘Oh Quince, Quince, what have we done?’ and she started sobbing hysterically.

“Caroldeane ran over to Broadus and put her arm around him, saying, ‘It’s okay Broadus. Everything is going to be alright. I’m here, Uncle Broadus. You can take care of me.’

“Robert said he looked over at Quince and he had dropped the poleax and kept looking back and forth between Caroldeane consoling Broadus and Missus Culpepper weeping on her knees in the mud. Robert said he didn’t know what the hell he should do. He decided to stay in the truck.

“Finally, Quince yelled to him, ‘I think you best be going now. Remember what I said I’d do if I ever catch you with Caroldeane again.’

“Robert said he didn’t say nothing. Just sort eased that old GMC back through the wrecks and out the gate. He said before he made the right hand turn back into town, he glanced back. It was still drizzling. Caroldeane had her arms around Broadus and they were a swaying back and forth. Missus Culpepper was still on her knees in the mud, a crying, but Quince had gone over and put his hand on her shoulder.

“Caroldeane still came down to the square after that, but more often than not she would walk home with Broadus, holding his free hand, the one without the stick and the string. This went on for several months. Missus Thatcher, the librarian, said Caroldeane kept coming to the library during all of this, especially on the weekends, but she said Caroldeane quit reading that Pound fellow and started reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Mary Beth Edwards said Missus Thatcher told her that it was one big jump from Pound to that particular Browning and not necessarily what she would have expected from a child.

“It was March when Caroldeane left, almost six months after the rain incident with Robert. The Culpepper’s kicked Broadus out about two months afterwards. Missus Culpepper quit coming into town altogether. She died of pneumonia bout a year later. Somebody told me she just quit eating and shriveled up, but as far as I could tell there wasn’t much shriveling to do. Quince lived in that shack for about twenty more years, then the quarry people bought him out. He’s moved to Jerome County. Folks say he’s living with Missus Culpepper’s family, the Mundy’s over near Lazy Snake Hollow.

“Robert left town bout six months after Caroldeane left. Told me he needed to get away. Said he couldn’t stand the smell of cotton candy and coffee anymore, that he nearly got ill every time he walked by Tulip’s. He wrote his sister, Margot Biddle, a few years back. He went to New Mexico, running a strip mining operation for the Navajos out there. Margot told Mary Beth that he had married an Indian girl, a Navajo, and was moving to Pittsburgh to the corporate headquarters of the strip mining company.

“Bout four months ago, Missus Thatcher said that she got a letter from Caroldeane. She said Caroldeane had wandered around, doing waitressing at truck stops and other restaurants and finally worked her way up to Boston. She landed a job someplace down near Haymarket Square. Then one day some guy asked her to help him with a paper for his class at one of the colleges there. One thing led to another and that she now is the head writer for one of the television channel news divisions up there. She wanted to thank Missus Culpepper for letting her do all that reading in the library.

“Said she didn’t much like the steam heat in her apartment and she missed the square but she liked Boston a lot. Then on toward the end of the letter, she asked Missus Thatcher to write and tell her whatever happened to that nice man, Mr. Whitherspoon.”