Authors: Jodie Cain Smith
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Coming of Age, #Historical, #Historical Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense
THE WOODS AT BARLOW BEND
By Jodie Cain Smith
THE WOODS AT BARLOW BEND
is published by:
Deer Hawk Publishing, an imprint of Deer Hawk Enterprises
Copyright © 2014 by Jodie Cain Smith
All rights reserved.
Without limiting copyrights listed above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means: electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without prior written permission of the copyright owner and/or the publisher, except for excerpts quoted in the context of reviews.
The author has tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from memories of them. In order to maintain their anonymity in some instances the names of some individuals and places have been changed as well as some identifying characteristics and details such as physical properties, occupations and places of residence.
Cover design by:
because you believed
A world of thanks to Aurelia Sands and Deer Hawk Publications. Aurelia guided me through the publishing process with patience and humor. She giggled at my often-psychotic enthusiasm, tempered my anxiety, and believed in the story I needed to tell. Her thoughtful edits allowed my voice to be heard and highlighted my truth within these pages. Thank you for taking a chance on a newbie.
To my first “editor”, Kim Frank. We had no idea how to write a novel, but you dove in with me, reading draft after draft, helping me craft the story, and crying with me over the hole left in our hearts by Granny’s absence. Of all our family, you remind me most of her: generous, devoted, gentle, and forthright.
To Beth Cain, my beautiful mother, thank you for reading every word, good or bad, accepting my interpretation of your mother, and helping me discover the truth. Thank you for giving me the courage to write and the freedom to write exactly what was in my heart. For tromping through cemeteries in ninety-five degree heat and 100% humidity, for being more passionate about my work than even I am, and for so many other wonderful memories, lessons, and gifts, I love you.
To all those who answered my call: I am on my knees thanking the heavens above for
Louise Andrews (no relation to the characters in this work) of the Clarke County Courthouse. She accepted the plea of a total stranger, digging through the basement of the Clarke County Courthouse for anything of use to my cause. Although I have never laid eyes on her, in my mind, she is a glorious creature. Look, Louise! We did it! Aunt Moren, Aunt Margaret, Uncle George, and Aunt Elaine, thank you for sharing your memories with me, especially those that still sting.
I believe ghosts
walk among us. Lives unfinished, they guide us toward what they did not complete. My Catholic upbringing called this Purgatory, a period of repentance–God’s gift of a second take
Walking through the pine trees and kudzu of the thick Alabama woods, I can feel the presence of my ghosts. I can almost hear their whispered taunts and encouragements urging me to live a life fulfilled; to find the right path; to make up for their shortcomings; to step carefully at times and wildly at others; or maybe to ask forgiveness for their sins.
In 1993, d
uring my junior year at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, I was given a simple assignment for my AP History class: Discover what life was like during the Great Depression. I decided to interview my grandmother as part of my research. I needed an A, and thought a personal reflection of the time period might be effective.
I expected to record the t
ypical story: A young girl struggling alongside her family to put food on the table and clothes on everyone’s backs. What I got that day from Granny, sitting at her dining room table; me with my list of sterile questions and tape recorder, her with her Carlton 120’s and simple housedress; was shocking.
Before that afternoon, I knew very little of Granny’s past.
Her parents and husband were dead. She had a sister and two brothers I rarely saw and could barely pick out of a crowd. She seemed content to live by herself in her three-bedroom home, but also appeared to long for a companionship she could no longer have. She always seemed slightly homesick and a little heartbroken, surrounded by artifacts from her past: Old record albums stacked neatly next to an ancient record player; furniture covered in scratchy, plaid upholstery; figurines that small fingers were never allowed to touch; oil paintings created by a young version of my mother. Granny’s house was never completely lit nor completely dark. The sunlight danced around the rooms, creating shadows that were cold and comforting at the same time.
looked to have stepped out of the pages of an old nursery rhyme with her housedress, socks with sandals, and soft, white curls. But she had mystical powers, too: She could make okra grow from the dark, Alabama dirt, and transform those ugly, fuzzy shoots into the most delicious fried wonders ever eaten. She could turn the process of snapping green beans into a delightful, hazy afternoon spent on her back steps; her affection for me present in every crisp snip. Her generosity knew no boundaries. She spoiled me with trips to McDonald’s for French fries and Gayfer’s for new outfits. Summer day trips to the beach were frequent and always included an ice chest full of fried chicken, pineapple sandwiches, and cold Cokes. Her hope for my life was in every conversation we had. I could feel her urging me to a life full of adventure before she ever said the words aloud.
also full of mystery. Children in my family learned that questions were to be asked quietly and rarely, and answers were to be given hurriedly so the adults would not get caught talking about past tragedies or scandals. None of my aunts or uncles ever talked about Granny’s past. Granny never mentioned her childhood or parents. As far as I knew, Granny came into the world wearing a housedress, socks with sandals, and soft, white curls. I never heard mention of Granny as a young girl from Frisco City, Alabama. Before that afternoon, I never thought to ask about her past.
On that February afternoon, part of me
felt like I was intruding on Granny’s privacy, but I knew Granny would give me what I needed to protect my fragile GPA, and I only needed a few slices of everyday life during the Great Depression. Granny gave me much more than that. Much to my surprise, she brought me into her private world, one that I had no idea existed. She told me the story of an idyllic childhood in rural Alabama, one virtually untouched by the typical hardships of the Great Depression. The story was perfect for my project. But then, she continued to talk. What Granny told next, over several cups of coffee and half a pack of her Carlton 120’s, was the story of the incident early in her adolescence that permanently altered her world, the tragedy that ended her childhood.
n’t know why Granny chose to tell me her story or let me into her private world. Maybe, she told me because she knew I loved a good ghost story. She knew I loved her old, jazz records and her accompanying tales of the glamorous, exciting singers featured on the covers. Maybe Granny wanted me to know the exciting woman she knew when she was a young girl, the woman who left her far too soon. Maybe she was still trying to figure out exactly what happened in the woods of Barlow Bend in Clarke County Alabama back in 1934. Maybe she told me because I was the only person who dared to ask. Maybe she had been waiting sixty years to finally tell the story. For whatever reason, Granny chose to share her ghosts with me that afternoon.
For six decades
, she carried the assumptions, rumors, and heartache alone. For sixty years, she had walked with her ghosts, taunted by questions that could not be fully answered, taunted by an unfinished life. That afternoon, Granny saw her chance to give her ghosts away, to rid herself of the story that had haunted her for so long. In her dimly-lit dining room, with plumes of cigarette smoke swirling between the shadows and sunlight, she introduced me to Hubbard and Addie, mother and father to Hattie: Granny.
The Woods at Barlow Bend
was inspired by the story Granny told me that afternoon. Many names were changed, and conversations were invented. Through months of research, as I unearthed secrets buried long ago, I pieced together Granny’s adolescence and the events that molded her life story. Discovering Granny as a teenage girl helped me better understand the woman I dearly miss. I hope that her story will motivate others to respond to the taunts of their own ghosts, but what if some secrets should never be revealed? That is the question I may never be able to answer. All I do know is, as I typed each word, I felt Granny’s arms around me again.
Clarke County, Alabama
The water was
like glass. The winter chill had finally settled into lower Alabama, and the sun hadn’t burned off the frost yet. It was still too early for that. Dawn had broken over the horizon, providing just enough light to see the opposite bank.
glanced at the bottom of the boat as he rowed across the river. He was surprised by the amount of blood that began to fill the seams between the planks despite his hope that the wool blanket would soak up most of it or at least keep it contained. Instead, the thick, dark liquid mixed with the dirt and debris on the bottom of the boat, forming a gruesome paste. He tried to focus on his rowing, to keep the tiny vessel as still and steady as possible. Finally, he reached the opposite shore and pulled the bow up on the beach.
lifted the soaked bundle out of the boat, careful not to expose any of Addie’s 100 lb. frame, especially not her face. He didn’t want to see her face again, not like that. Even in the shadows, he had seen the light leave her eyes instantly. She was looking right at him when the gun fired. One single shot was all it took. She was gone before her body hit the ground. He closed his eyes for a moment to let the feeling of it pass.
laid Addie on the riverbank. He had to rinse out the boat. The small skiff was used by anyone needing to cross the river at Barlow Bend, so he couldn’t leave it in its present condition. The next hunter, or whoever might come along, would wonder what on Earth had left so much blood. Luckily for Hubbard, the next traveler would probably think that someone had scored a large buck or a prize turkey, but was too lazy to clean up after himself. A few buckets of water washed out most of the blood, leaving the boat in an acceptable condition. He couldn’t linger on the riverbank any longer. He had to get moving.
put on his pack which contained the sparse supplies his wife, Addie, had packed for the morning, and the two guns they had brought safely tied to either side of the canvas. With Addie’s body still wrapped inside the blanket, he gently lifted her again into his arms and set out for the two-mile hike to the car. Addie always insisted upon hiking deep into the woods on their hunting excursions. She felt it was more of a sport that way: go deep into the prey’s territory undetected so that the prize was even more deserved. He regretted letting in to her as he realized the considerable distance ahead of him. Two miles through the thick pine and underbrush while carrying such a load would take considerable time, but he quickly realized that time didn’t matter to his Addie anymore.
walked, he was struck by the stillness surrounding him. The only sounds he heard were the crunching of pine needles beneath his boots and his own breath. His load was getting heavier with each step, and his arms were beginning to burn. He wondered for a second about how many other hunters had taken the same path, and if he might run into any of them. It was the last day of rifle season, so he feared the woods would be teeming with hunters hopeful for one last, great morning in the woods. He hoped he could avoid them. Hubbard didn’t need the distraction of having to tell the story of what happened or the waste of time to ask for help. Addie was beyond help.
“Stop it,” he said
aloud, and pressed forward.
ubbard mapped out a plan in his head. He would hike to the car and drive the approximate 30 miles from Barlow Bend to Jackson, where he hoped his cousin, Stephen, would be on duty at the Jackson police station. The upstanding Andrews name was synonymous with law enforcement in Clarke and Monroe counties, at least, until Hubbard came along. Hubbard would tell Stephen the story, and hopefully, he wouldn’t have to use too many details.
would know what to do with Addie’s body. Once that was taken care of, Hubbard would then drive the sixty miles back to Frisco City and try to wash up before the children saw him. They didn’t need to see him like this, frozen from the chill in the air, sweating at the same time, and covered in their mother’s blood. He would tell Hattie first, she was the oldest. Then, the two of them together would tell Meg, Billy and Albert. For a moment, Hubbard's thoughts went to the children. Where would life take them with no mother as guide? Hattie would help the younger ones cope, Hubbard reassured himself. He knew Hattie and Meg were old enough to remember, but maybe the boys were young enough to forget.
finally reached the car, Addie’s ragtop 1930 Model T Ford, and laid her carefully on the back seat. The blanket had shifted during the hike so a glimpse of her hair fell into view. Hubbard touched it, sticky and cold, the deep, coffee-colored brunette now streaked and matted with her blood. Suddenly, he was struck by the thought that he would never stroke her hair again, never hold her face in his hands, never hear her infectious laugh, never feel her heat. Suddenly, he became numb.