Authors: Elizabeth Musser
“Musser has written an inspiring coming of age novel set in the segregated South of the early 1960's. Chock-full of suspense, the novel's heroine has an intelligent innocence that searches for truth in the most unyielding of places, the human heart.”
Mary Rose Taylor
, Executive Director
The Margaret Mitchell House, Atlanta
“The deep wounding of Atlanta by a plane crash in Paris in 1962 and the consequential insight of a questing motherless daughterâa fact and faith-based novel of assuring conciliation and comfort.”
Books by Elizabeth Musser
FROM BETHANY HOUSE PUBLISHERS
The Swan House
The Dwelling Place
Searching for Eternity
The Swan House
Copyright Â© 2001
Cover design by Lookout Design, Inc.
Cover photo courtesy of the Atlanta History Center
Unless otherwise identified, Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâelectronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwiseâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The Swan House / by Elizabeth Musser.
1. Children of the richâFiction. 2. MothersâDeathâFiction. 3. Social classesâFiction. 4. Young womenâFiction. 5. SocialitesâFiction. 6. PoorâFiction. I. Title.
PS3563.U839 S9 Â 2001
This story is dedicated to my wonderful father, Jere Wickliffe Goldsmith IV, who loves Atlanta as much as anyone I know and who has spent his life supporting many of the organizations and endeavors that have made this city great.
Your generosity of heart and resources have been an example to me throughout my life. You have been not only a great, loving father, but also a confidant and friend; some of the most precious moments in my life are on our many walks together where we discuss life's joys and disappointments. We have walked in many different places around this globe, but my favorite by far is when I come back home and we walk around the block in that spot of Atlanta known as Buckhead.
I love you.
ELIZABETH GOLDSMITH MUSSER, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, attended The Westminster Schools and then received her B.A. in English and French from Vanderbilt University, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude.
Though passionate about writing since childhood, Elizabeth's first book was not published until 1996. Two Crosses was the first of a trilogy set during both the Algerian War for independence from France (1957â1962) and the present day civil war in Algeria. Her work has since been translated into Dutch, French, and German.
Since 1989, Elizabeth and her husband, Paul, have lived in Montpellier, France, where Paul serves on the pastoral team of a small Protestant church. The Mussers have two sons, Andrew and Christopher.
Abbie moved down to Grant Park today, and of course I helped her. Who would have imagined that my twenty-six-year-old daughter and her computer-whiz husband would be moving into the Grant Park district of Atlanta, Georgia?
Their little house is yellow with white trim, and there's an ovalcut etched glass in the front door. The yard is neat with green grass and a few pansies. Abbie and Bill have a hundred plans for what they want to do to the house. They've already spent a bundle having the outside repainted and the wood floors redone. And now they are moving in.
I smile and ooh and ahh as she shows me the rooms, but Abbie sees right through it. After all, she is my child, and she does know some of the stories, a few of them at least. I'm fifty-four now and learning to do everything by computer and glad for e-mail. Bill and Abbie gave me a scanner for Christmas to ring in the new millennium with pictures, and I haven't quite figured that out yet.
Abbie comes up and puts her arms around me. She's always been my most affectionate child. “Can you believe it, Mom? Our own home, and right here where it all began for you.”
I breathe deeply, the way I learned in therapy, because I really do not want to cry today. But the deeper I breathe and the harder I blink to keep the tears back, the more I find it is useless. Abbie has not seen me cry in quite a while.
We are covered in sweat. My hair is pulled back in a bandana, and my jeans have a lot of yellow and white paint stains on them, besides the other colors that have been there for goodness knows how long. Abbie kisses me on the cheek. “Sit down, Mom, and I'll get you some tea.” She knows I can't stand the coffee she makes or even the latte that comes from the new contraption that Bill gave her for her birthday.
So I sit there on the couch, which is covered in old sheets splattered with paint, and while she is out of the room, I start crying. And I don't want to do that because I'm afraid I may never stop. So I hop up and call to Abbie in the cheeriest voice possible, “Honey, I'm just going to take a quick walk down to the church, and I'll be right back.”
“Sure, Mom,” she calls from the kitchen.
So that's why I'm walking down Grant Street and admiring all the houses that have been recently redone and thinking how this is turning into a young, yuppie neighborhood. I am also thinking, with that crushing feeling in my chest, about how in 1962, Carl Matthews and I used to walk down this street, right past a house that is now a strange shade of purple, and how back then it was just white with peeling paint in what was a neighborhood of blacks and whites and Mexicans. And poor. So poor.
Then I get to the red-brick church with the sparse grass, and I smile, as always, when I see those stained-glass windows from the outside. The stained glass has gone through a whole lot. So I let myself think about Miss Abigail and Carl Matthews and Ella Mae and spaghetti meals for the poor and what I learned so very long ago.
I walk into the sanctuary because the church is unlocked on Saturday mornings, and there is a group of teenagers working downstairs. But I go into the sanctuary with the pretty stained glass, and I walk up to the altar. It isn't a big church; it only holds about 300 people when it's jam-packed. But today it's empty. I get on my knees before the altar, and I cry. I am swept back almost forty years when, as a teenager, I found myself in the same position in this sanctuary. Then I think of another moment in this church, and I can almost hear the voices singing and see the women wiping their eyes as they look at the painting.
Abbie has begged me a hundred times in the past six months to write down the story, or at least to tell it again so that she can record it. She's pregnant and suddenly becoming very family-oriented and wanting our history to be preserved. But, of course, I haven't written a thing down. I don't write anymore. But Abbie is right. The story bears telling and saving. For a hundred different reasons.
I guess I'm praying and crying together. A lot of times my prayers are like that. Of course, that's when I see the painting. It's been hanging there by the alcove of the church ever since the spring of 1963. Just seeing the painting there and thinking about the other one downstairs always makes everything come flooding back.
So I decide right there, in between wiping my eyes and staring at the stained glass and the oil painting, that I will go back and dictate the whole story to Abbie, even if it takes a month or two or even three. I'll stay with her in that house as she has begged me to do, while Bill is off at the convention next week, and we'll sip the hot tea and latte and she can hold the recorder and change the tapes and I'll talk and she can type it up later on the computer. . . .
So here I am, three days later, comfortably installed on Abbie's black leather couch, which has been mercifully spared from yellow and white paint. Bill is gone, and Abbie with her round belly is sitting across from me in this great old rocking chair that she and Bill found at a garage sale, and the tape player is on the floor.
“I'll try to tell it the way it felt, Abbie. As if I were sixteen again.”
“Perfect, Mom.” Things are always perfect with Abbie.
“I may cry a bit, but don't worry about it, okay?”
“Promise. No problem.”
“I have to start with the Dare. It'll take me a while to get to Grant Park. I'll start with the Dare and then talk about the plane crash and Mama and then Ella Mae and the church. . . .”