Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Making A Difference With Books

Tokalopulli -- "an old crossing place"

Hundreds of years ago, the Chickasaw Indians traveled through what is now Pontotoc County Mississippi on their way to and from the Chickasaw Bluffs (Memphis, TN). At one point along the way, their trail intersected another trail from the south used by the Choctaws. An old crossing place.

To my knowledge, the Indians didn't have books back when they walked the Toccopola Trail, but if they had, they could have stopped off at the Toccopola Community Center and exchanged those books for books of equal value, with no requirement to return them. Okay, so that's historically inaccurate, but it makes a good segue into present-day Toccopola, and the good work being done by the Toccopola Homemakers Club.

With a population of 254, the town isn't quite big enough for a full-fledged public library (they have a good one a dozen or so miles to the east in the town of Pontotoc), but that didn't stop Margaret Ratliff, Harley Ann Thorne, Mary Frances Stepp, Melba Edwards, and the other members of their club from making books available to those with restricted travel as well as to those who simply like the idea of exchanging fiction with their friends and neighbors.
Margaret and Harley Ann

The Book Exchange began as a yearly project for the Homemakers Club. They liked the idea of offering a free service to the community while promoting literacy. As the idea took root, the members gathered books from their personal collections or purchased new books in order to stock the shelves their husbands would build with donated lumber and labor. Most southern men can drive a nail and operate a circular saw, especially when their wives ask them to.

Thanks to the mayor and board of aldermen, they were allowed to convert a small office in the community center to use as their library. Later, as their inventory of books outgrew the small room, two of the husbands built rolling bookshelves, allowing the library to expand into the larger meeting area during operating hours.

On the first Saturday of every month, from 9 AM to 11 AM, the Book Exchange opens for business. Margaret and Harley Ann
usually arrive early to roll the shelves out and lug the boxes of books from the tiny library to the tables in the meeting area. The exchange has between one and two thousand books now, and routinely donates books to nursing homes, assisted living centers, The Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Sanctuary Hospice House in order to keep their inventory manageable.

"If we know of someone who is disabled or ill, we will take some books to them or send them by their neighbor," says Margaret.

Toccopola Book Exchange receives no outside funding. All expenses are paid by the Homemakers
Club. The town provides the space free of charge because the mayor and aldermen realize the value of providing literary services to its citizens.

On a typical Saturday, the Book Exchange sees between ten and fifteen people. While that may not
sound like a lot, by my math, it is roughly 6% of the population participating on a regular basis.

The Homemakers Club won first place at State the year they started the Book Exchange, then followed it up later by winning first place for the Drive-thru Book Bank project on the corner near the Betty Allen Monument. Who was Betty Allen you ask? Google that one. Toccopola, you see, is as rich in history as it is in present-day community service.

The Book Exchange is more than an exchange of books. It's the exchange of fellowship and good will among neighbors. How can you help? By using the service. Exchanging books keeps the library alive.

What can you do to serve your community?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Child Abuse Prevention

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Shouldn't every month
be? Every day? Almost everyone either knows an abused child or suspects they might, or has at some point in their life. Abused children don't advertise it. Just because you don't see bruises doesn't mean everything is fine. So when is it time to interject yourself? To become involved?

There are many forms of child abuse. A myriad of reasons why, but no excuse. Not a single excuse for causing the abuse or for allowing it to continue.

As you may know, my first novel, The Night Train, deals heavily with child abuse. Young Jayrod Nash is terribly abused by his father, neglected by his mother, bullied at school, and sometimes chided by his fourth grade teacher. Now before you click away, this post is not a commercial for my book. I mention it because I've received so many comments from people telling me the book has either helped someone they know, or would help if only they knew to read it. One small disclaimer: I didn't write The Night Train to lecture on the ills of child abuse. In fact, the book doesn't lecture at all. Jayrod Nash is a boy on an adventure, and he just happens to be abused. The events in the book occur as a result of his trying to escape the life he is becoming to realize isn't normal. You see, it all began when I started asking myself if abused children -- kids who know no other way of life -- actually understand how wrong their situation is. So, the book takes the reader into Jayrod's days and nights through his eyes, interpreting events and situations as he sees them.

One of the highlights of my writing career has been going to schools and speaking to kids. Inevitably, in every single instance there's been at least one child who fit the profile. After one such visit I received a letter from a seventh grader telling me she saw herself in Jayrod. It was heartbreaking, and I admit I struggled with what to do with that information. Ultimately, I contacted the teacher, who followed procedure and shared the information with the principal. Privacy laws prevent me from knowing what happened after that, but that little girl thanked me for writing the book. If I've accomplished nothing else with my writing, I think I helped that little girl to at least know she is not alone.

That's important -- knowing you're not alone.

Another time, a young man approached me at an event and introduced himself. He very nervously shook my hand and told me (his voice cracking) that he felt like Jayrod. Words can't describe the mix of emotions I felt. Thinking I had helped ... helpless to do more.

You are not alone.

Enough with the commercial. Just to prove that my feelings on abused children didn't manifest themselves just to sell a book, I would like to share with you a poem I wrote when I was a teen.

   THE CRIME OF SILENCE

              by Carl Purdon

Through cries and screams and sobbing eyes
our children beg to be believed.
How long until we realize?
This pain they feel must be relieved.

So many lost along the way.
Graves and jails lock them in.
The guilty ones still free to prey,
on innocence with their sins.

The teacher sees the child alone,
shy and scared while others play.
Suspecting things not well at home,
she wants to help but looks away.

The preacher gives his message clear
"Spare the rod and spoil the child".
He fails to say "Let's hold them dear,
with patient heart and tempers mild."

The neighbor hears the loud abuse
and sees the marks on her tiny face.
He has no proof so there's no use
butting in is not his place.

The doctor mends the broken arm,
while bruises tell the nasty truth.
He knows inside what caused this harm,
but writes it off as part of youth.

The men we send to make our laws
ignore this truth - so hard to face.
And we with votes must see their flaws,
send someone else to take their place.

We seek a place to lay the blame,
while our children take another blow.
When another dies - the cause the same,
we swear to God we didn't know.

Child abuse is not private business. It's not the type of thing we should glance away from and pretend we don't see the signs. I'm no expert on the subject. I'm not a doctor, or a psychologist. The only degree I have is in electronics, but I do have some common sense. I suspect you do as well.

To learn more about child abuse and what you can to to help, I strongly urge you to visit child welfare.gov today.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Remember The Alamo -- but don't forget where you parked!

Monday, March 23, 2015 began as a special day for us. First, and most importantly, it marked the 14th anniversary of the day Sharon and I got married. It was also the release date for my fourth novel, Red Eyes.

Flashback to Sunday. We left Beaumont, Texas after driving all day Saturday from our home in Pontotoc, Mississippi. We arrived in San Antonio in the early afternoon without hotel reservations (our version of free-ranging) and drove downtown for a glimpse of Monday's destination, The Alamo and Riverwalk. I'm a huge fan of history, so visualizing myself standing in the mission where Davy Crockett died, along with so many other brave men, had me excited.

Downtown San Antonio, for those of you who have never experienced it, is a traffic nightmare. I've driven in my share of big cities, but I quickly found myself flustered and grouchy. It was like being thrown into a giant maze with hundreds of other vehicles all fighting for a way out. Not a problem, I told myself, because Monday will be all about walking. Just park the car and set out on foot.

Now back to Monday.

The weather in Texas was beautiful. Spring had popped out all around us. Birds sang and warbled, and darted from ground to branch and down again with little regard for the humans around them. I parked the car in the first public parking area we came to once we exited the freeway onto Alamo Drive. No way was I going to ruin my mood so early by throwing us back into the maze just to save a few steps. As we left the parking lot, I told Logan and Sharon, in a half-hearted manner, to remember where we parked. Logan looked up and saw Marriott on a tall building to our right and said we could just look for that. It seemed logical enough to me. The only other thing that registered with me was that the parking lot belonged to a Presbyterian church. I remember thinking it was a good way for a church to make money by renting out their parking lot during the week.

First let me say I was somewhat disappointed in The Alamo. At the risk of offending Texans, I found it to be severely lacking in historical upkeep. Pictures weren't allowed inside the mission (I gave them the benefit of the doubt that there is some valid reason for that). Inside the mission were display cases of old guns, and a lot of tourists. So many tourists you couldn't really stop and reflect on the historical significance of the place. What disappointed me most, however, was the lack of information about the battle. Other than a row of markers bearing the names of the fallen, I didn't see anything about the battle. Nothing.

Upon exiting the mission, we entered a beautiful garden with flowers and benches and birds (lots of birds). What I had expected to see was some authenticity. The garden made for a nice relaxing stroll, but it truly disappointed this history buff.

Not to be daunted, we bought a few souvenirs and headed for the Riverwalk to spend the remainder of the day strolling along the San Antonio River, not knowing that, though the Riverwalk is every bit as beautiful as the brochures make it out to be, navigating it is a bit like driving the streets downtown. A person can easily walk in circles. One thing Logan noticed first was that the maps posted along the way all had the "You Are Here" red dot in the legend, but not a single one we saw had the red dot on the map, so we had to try and figure out where we were by looking around and finding intersecting streets (which was not always easy to do). Still, walking in circles wasn't so bad because we had no particular destination in mind. Our goal for the day was to relax and enjoy.

We ate a nice lunch at a steakhouse, then took a riverboat tour. The boats looked crowded, and let me tell you they were. We were packed in like sardines, making it impossible for me to fully enjoy the ride. What could have been a very relaxing hour was made uncomfortable because the people running the tour shoved us in knee-to-knee, shoulder-to-shoulder, back-to-back, while other boats sat empty. For someone who dislikes crowds, it was hard to pay attention to the beautiful surroundings while trying to keep my knees from rubbing against those of the man sitting across from me. All was not lost, however, because our tour guide was a delightful man named Alfred, who intertwined bits of his history with that of the city. Alfred was one of those people born to interact with strangers. As we twisted and turned along the
San Antonio
river, we learned that Alfred was born and raised in San Antonio. He personally witnessed many of the buildings being built, or remodeled. His pride in both the city and his job left no doubt he absolutely loved what he was doing. I remember looking back at Alfred and thinking, it doesn't matter how much money a person has, or how much they have traveled the world, as long as they are happy.

Back on solid ground again, we continued walking in search of nothing but the joy of strolling as a family one story beneath the busy streets of downtown San Antonio. There's a certain peacefulness in not having a destination, especially when your daily routine so often revolves around scheduled places to be and deadlines to meet. We found humor in the fact that a man approached us and told us there were restaurants all around us, then frowned that he normally gets $1.25 for that information. I mean, how could we not know we were surrounded by restaurants?

Carriage Ride
As I said in the opening paragraph, Sharon and I were celebrating our anniversary, so a carriage ride seemed the perfect way to top off a day of walking. Neither of us had ever ridden in a horse-drawn carriage before, so that made it even more special. Our driver was very nice. He told us bits of history as we wound along the streets, but he didn't bombard us with talk. Those several minutes of sitting beside my wife, listening to the clop of the horse's hooves on the pavement, was truly the highlight of my day.

Remember that part about me telling Logan and Sharon not to forget where we parked? After the carriage ride, we set out in search of our car. It was getting late and the streets were mostly empty. Logan reminded us of the Marriott hotel, so we found that word in the skyline and headed toward it. Nothing looked
familiar, then we saw another Marriott in another direction, and had no idea which one was which. Walking the streets proved as confusing as driving them. Our feet hurt. We were exhausted. We walked toward one Marriott and realized it couldn't be the right one, so we headed toward the other one, only to find that it didn't look right either. I remembered the part about the parking lot belonging to a church. A Presbyterian church. Out comes my iPhone and Google Maps. To my dismay, there were about five Presbyterian churches in the area, all in different directions. I was starting to get concerned.

Let me pause here to say that I have a few recurring nightmares, one of which is that I leave some event and can't find my car. In the dream, I walk in every direction, trying to remember where I parked, frantically searching. I never find my car in that dream. As we walked the streets, tired and aching, I feared that dream might become reality. I tried to put up a brave front for my wife and son. They depended on me to protect them. We walked.

When I tell you this next part, it's important for you to understand how adverse I am to asking directions, or for help. I'm more likely to leave a store empty-handed than to ask someone if they have what I'm looking for. I'll drive and drive, refusing to stop and ask someone for directions far longer than I should.

As we walked down yet another empty street, Sharon told me she smelled fresh paint. So did I, though I hadn't realized it until that moment. We glanced to our right and saw freshly painted graffiti on the side of a box truck parked at the curb just feet from where we stood. At that moment it hit me how vulnerable we were. Hundreds of miles from home, lost and afoot.

One thing I had noticed all day was the almost total lack of a police presence in the Alamo Plaza. I had made up my mind to flag down the first police officer I saw long before we spotted him coming toward us. He turned into a parking lot and parked with his lights off. I approached him and told him our plight. At first he seemed disinterested to the point that I thought he wasn't going to offer to help at all. Yes, I had noticed his hand move to his holstered gun, but that didn't bother me. He had every right to be suspicious of someone approaching his car in a dark parking lot so late at night. He asked me a few questions, such as what street did I park on, how did I enter the downtown area, which direction did I arrive from. In the end he basically told me he didn't know. I left dejected, feeling almost hopeless. My last resort had been to ask a policeman for help, and here he was sending me away with only a point in a direction toward where there might be a church.

I collected Sharon and Logan and we started out again. I saw the concern in her face when she asked if he was going to help us and I told her no. We walked less than half a block before the police car appeared beside us. The officer called me over and told me he had located a Presbyterian church on Alamo Drive (he was looking at google Maps on his phone). He told me which streets to take, then drove away.

Roughly ten minutes later, Sharon spotted the church. Nothing about it looked familiar, but there appeared to be a parking lot about two blocks to the rear. It was dark, so we couldn't tell for sure. As we walked, things began to look familiar. We entered the parking lot and Logan noticed the Marriott sign in big red letters high above. A few steps later we saw a black car with a Nissan emblem in the grill, but I tried not to get my hopes up in case it proved to be another dead end. Not until we reached the car and I saw all of our clutter inside did I breathe that sigh of relief. Few things have ever felt so good in my life as pressing the button on that door handle and hearing the thunk of the lock disengaging.

As we drove away, I thought about the homeless people we had seen earlier in the day, especially the one I had given money to, and thanked God to be as fortunate as I am.

March 23, 2015 was indeed a special day. My anniversary. The release of my new book, and the day I hopefully put one of my recurring nightmares to rest. Been there, done that.


Monday, March 23, 2015

It's Here! Red Eyes

I never intended to write a sequel

Since its release, The Night Train has received more reviews and triggered more reader comments than my other two novels combined. I have had the honor of speaking to middle school students who read The Night Train as part of their curriculum, as well as to teachers (retired and active) who have told me it should be required reading for all middle school students because of its subject matter.

Again and again, readers have repeated two comments: it should be a movie, and I should write a sequel. I can’t do anything about the movie request, but there came a point when I felt I could no longer dismiss the second request without failing the very people who have made these past few years so special — my readers.

So often sequels fail to live up to the original. When I decided to do this, I made a commitment to write a novel that can stand on its own merit. I wanted readers who haven’t read The Night Train to enjoy the full experience of reading a novel that is not part of a series, while not including too many spoilers should they choose to go back afterward and read The Night Train. At the same time, I didn’t want to subject those who have read The Night Train to excessive repetition of the original story. Striking that balance proved to be the most difficult part of creating Red Eyes.

A word of caution to parents: Red Eyes is not a children's book. While it does not contain gratuitous profanity (I never use the F-word or GD in any of my writings)  or excessive sexual content, some of my characters do use some bad language. Since some people considered The Night Train to be a YA novel, and since so many young teens have read it, I feel the need to be clear that Red Eyes is written for an adult audience. My advice to parents is this: read it, then decide.

I know what you're going to ask: If a primary reason you wrote Red Eyes was because so many middle school students asked you to, why did you not write it to fit the YA category? To be perfectly honest, that is exactly what I set out to do, but as with all of my novels, the characters took over and I found it too hard to restrain them. That may sound silly, but that's exactly what happened.

People often ask me which of my novels is my favorite. My answer has always been, Norton Road. The reason? I fell in love with the characters. While it's too early to know how readers will react to Red Eyes, my gut tells me this is my best work to date. Why? Again, it's the characters. To put it simply, the cast of Red Eyes feels like family to me after a year of wrestling them for control of the story.

So what now? Hopefully, for you, it will be reading Red Eyes and enjoying it enough to tell your friends, your co-workers, your Facebook community, and the rest of the world by leaving a review on Amazon (reviews are an author's lifeblood). For me, it's working on the manuscript that will become my fifth novel, but more on that later.

Red Eyes is available on Amazon for your Kindle or in paperback format. If you would like a signed copy, visit my website and fill out the request form, or drop me a note at info@carlpurdon.com.


Come interact with me on Facebook and Twitter. I'll leave the door open.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Promoting Mississippi

The first time I met Patricia Neely-Dorsey, she gave me advice. I was attending my first event as an author -- an open house at our local library. I had copies of my brand new book, a pen for signing, and a terrible case of nerves. She sat at a nearby table looking every bit the professional. Calm as a cucumber.

I've gotten to know Patricia better during the three years since that first meeting. If you asked me to sum Patricia Neely-Dorsey up in one word, that word would be positive.

 Patricia has dedicated herself to promoting a positive image of Mississippi to her fellow Mississippians and to the rest of the world. Let's face it, our state doesn't always get the greatest reviews. If you listen to outside sources, you might think Mississippi has nothing to offer. If you listen to Patricia, you'll be reminded that Mississippi gave the world William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Elvis Presley. In her poem, Meet My Mississippi, she describes: 

Sprawling beaches

Along the Gulf Coast shore
One blues man's crossroads
And inspiration for more;
An abundance of history
Tradition and folklore
Warm front porch welcomes
With a wide open door;

In January 2015, Patricia was recognized as a Goodwill Ambassador for the State of Mississippi by Governor Phil Bryant. The proclamation reads:

KNOW YE, that the Governor of the State of Mississippi in the name and by the authority of the people of said state as vested in him by the Constitution and Laws of the State of Mississippi reposing special recognition for distinguished accomplishments , does hereby recognize:
Patricia Neely-Dorsey Mississippi Author and Poet as a GOODWILL AMBASSADOR for the State of Mississippi in appreciation for the poems Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life in Poems" that she describes as a "celebration of the south and things southern" and "My Magnolia Memories and Musings- In Poems " in which her writings continue her celebration of the south and promote a positive Mississippi.
In addition, she was recognized with an official resolution by the state's House of Representatives.

OFFICIAL RESOLUTION-STATE OF MISSISSIPPIAdopted January 19, 2015A resolution commending and Congratulating Talented Poet and Native Mississippian , Patricia Neely-Dorsey for her many achievements as a writer and extend best wishes for many more years of successWHEREAS Patricia Neely-Dorsey is not only a talented poet, who is loved by many , she is also a native daughter of Mississippi and WHEREAS she is a 1982 graduate of Tupelo High School in Tupelo , Mississippi , and she received a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Boston University in Boston , Massachusetts and WHEREAS , after living for almost 20 years in Memphis, Tennessee working in the mental health field , she returned to her hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi in August 2007, andWHEREAS, Mrs. Neely-Dorsey published her first book of poetry Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life In Poems in February 2008 and her second book My Magnolia Memroies and Musings -In Poems , was published in February 2012 and WHEREAS. , she continues to live in Tupelo with her husband James, and son Henry and miniature Schnauzer Happy , and she is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc, an avid reader andpassionate writer and WHEREAS, Mrs, Neely-Dorsey has always considered herself a "Goodwill Ambasador" for Mississippi and the South , and she believes that we can bridge many gaps of misunderstanding across regional , racial , cultural , generational and economic lines by simply sharing our stories andWHEREAS, it is the policy of the House of Representatives to commend the success of talented , humble, hardworking , Mississippians, such as Mrs. Neely-Dorsey , who have earned positive recognition and who claim their Mississippi heritage proudly with a badge of honor throughout this great nation :NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI , That we do hereby commend and congratulate Mrs. Neely-Dorsey for her many accomplishments and extend best wishes to our native daughter for many more years of tremendous success .BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED That copies of this resolution be furnished to Mrs. Patricia Neely-Dorsey and the members of the the Capitol Press Corps.

Being a Goodwill Ambassador is more than recognition to Patricia Neely-Dorsey. To her it is an opportunity to do what she does so well -- promote the state she holds dear. Our state has a state bird, a state tree, a state flower and a state song. What it does not have is a state poem. Join me in helping Patricia rectify that omission by signing a petition to have her poem, MEET MY MISSISSIPPI, officially declared state poem by our legislature.


When I asked Patricia why having her poem adopted as the state poem is so important to her, she said:

"I want to use my poem "Meet My Mississippi " to help teach the children of our state ( and people of all ages ) some important things about Mississippi in a way that can be easily remembered/recalled.
The state song, the state motto, the state tree, the state bird, and the state capitol are all included in the poem ... along with other famous landmarks and people of Mississippi."
How can you help? First, sign the petition. Second, contact your state representative and ask him or her to vote to adopt Meet My Mississippi as the state poem when it comes up for consideration. Third, share this with your friends, family, and acquaintances. Lastly, you can contact Patricia Neely-Dorsey on Facebook, Twitter, or her blog and let her know you support her efforts.


Deception -- A Short Story

Ma Frazier died for three days. Hard days. Days filled with groaning and wailing and profanities above and beyond her occasional hells and damns. Reverend Thomas admonished her to maintain her dignity, but Ma kicked at him with her good leg and told him to shove dignity up his ass. The good reverend slipped from the room and joined the men on the porch.

Uncle Doyle sat barefoot in a wooden swing that hung from the rafters of the tin roof by chains. His belly spilled over his belt and pushed out the tail of his shirt. Ben stood against the corner post at the far end of the porch, chewing on a piece of weed he had pulled from Aunt Molly's row of azaleas. He and Uncle Doyle ran a junkyard together and had been friends since grade school.

Conversation fell away when the preacher came out. A red pickup truck rattled up the gravel road and disappeared over the hill, leaving a thick brown cloud of dust in its wake. Over the next couple of minutes, the dust cloud drifted across the yard and added another layer of brown to everything it touched.

The screen door opened and Aunt Molly stepped out, hair disheveled, eyes tired. She took her first breath of fresh air in days, savored it, then sat beside her husband in the swing.

"Momma finally calm down?"

She took Uncle Doyle's hand and gave it a squeeze, then broke the news that his momma had passed. Reverend Thomas led them in a prayer. Aunt Molly and Uncle Doyle sobbed. Ben rubbed the back of his neck because the prayer dragged on too long.

"Amen."

"That was beautiful," Aunt Molly said.

"You have a way with words," said Uncle Doyle.

Ben snorted and spat into the azaleas.

"Your mother confided in me before she got bad," the reverend said after a while. He raked a partially decayed dog turd off the porch with the side of his brown loafer. It hit a pink flower, then dropped through the leaves to the dirt. "I waited until she passed to tell you because that's what she asked me to do."

"You've got some turd on your shoe, Preacher," Uncle Doyle said. His hands twitched because he couldn't get the bottle from the cabinet by the stove with the preacher around. Alcohol didn't own Uncle Doyle but it borrowed him on occasion.

"Did you hear what I just said, Doyle?"

"I know what you're gonna say," Uncle Doyle said. "Momma got on me all the time for not going to church regular."

"That's not it."

Ben left the corner post and joined the group. "Some souls just ain't worth saving, Lester."

"Ben!"

"Don't Ben me, Molly dear. Me and Doyle and the good reverend used to stomp these back roads together."

"I'm a different man now," the reverend said. "I'm like the thief on the cross. Redeemed in the Glory."

"Save it for the flock, Lester."

"Don't mind Ben," Aunt Molly said. "He don't mean nothing."

The preacher chuckled. "He don't bother me, Molly. I know where I've been. More importantly, I know where I'm going."

"Amen."

"Remember that time we picked up the Carter sisters -- "

"Shut up," Uncle Doyle said.

"I was just --"

"Don't just!"

Ben raised his hands, palms out, as a sign of surrender.

"I've been trying to tell you something important," the preacher said to Uncle Doyle. He shifted to the other foot and waited until he had their attention. "Apparently your father buried a large sum of money in the back yard."

Uncle Doyle stopped the swing from drifting. His eyes stroked the preacher. "Did you say money?"

"A large sum."

"How large?"

"Twenty thousand dollars."

Uncle Doyle came out of the swing so fast it almost dumped his wife. "Where?"

"In the back yard."

Uncle Doyle grabbed the preacher by the shoulders and shook him. "In the back yard? Where in the back yard?"

"She didn't say."

"How could she not say," Ben said.

"If you'll stop shaking me, Doyle, I'll tell you exactly what she told me."

Uncle Doyle unhanded the preacher, then looked around like he didn't know exactly what to do with himself.

"Sit down," Aunt Molly said.

He sat.

"It was Tuesday," the preacher said. "I'd been to the hospital to see Sister Rachel. She had her gall bladder removed."

"We don't care about all that," Ben said. "Skip the salad and get to the meat."

"Ben!"

"It's all right, Molly," the preacher said. "Ralph sold some land he inherited from a great uncle. 

Apparently he buried half of it in the back yard. A rainy day fund, so to speak."

"Your ole man was a strange bird all right," Ben said. "Probably all that talk radio he listened to."

"Twenty thousand dollars," Uncle Doyle said, gazing at the preacher like he saw clear through him. 

"You ever seen twenty thousand dollars, Ben?"

"Not in one place. Say, how do you know she wasn't hallucinating?"

 "She was lucid," the preacher said. "Whether what she told me is true or not I can't say, but she was lucid when she told it."

Uncle Doyle glared at the reverend. "Momma never told a lie in her life."

"Yes she did," Aunt Molly said, patting his arm.

"Why didn't she tell me?"

"I can't say," the preacher said.

"Twenty thousand dollars. Right in the back yard all this time. Damn me to hell."

"Doyle!"

"I didn't mean it literal," he said to his wife.

"How do we go about finding it," Ben asked. "Metal detector?"

"Tommy Harris has one," Uncle Doyle said. "We we can't tell him why we need it, though. We can't tell nobody about this until we find that money. You hear me, Preacher?"

"I'm not in the habit of carrying rumors," the preacher said."

Uncle Doyle shook his head. "This ain't rumor. This here's a deathbed confession."

"You're wasting your time with a metal detector, though. She said he buried it in a fiberglass box."

"Fiberglass? Who the hell buries money in a fiberglass box?"

"Your father, apparently. Maybe he didn't want anyone finding it with a metal detector."

"Sounds like him," Aunt Molly said. "Always suspicious. I remember one time he strung tripwires all over the back yard because he thought the Riley kids were stealing eggs from the henhouse."

"Shut up, Molly," Uncle Doyle said, netting himself a stern look from the preacher. He squirmed. "I mean, now's not the time for reminiscing about Daddy, unless you know where he might've buried a box full of money."

"Coins or bills," Ben asked.

"Bills."

"Probably dry-rotted by now," Ben said. "I hope he had the good sense to wrap it in plastic."

"Plastic? That's a fine way to make paper rot," Uncle Doyle said. "Don't you watch TV? You think a rat can chew through fiberglass, Preacher?"

"Rats can chew threw anything, Babe," Aunt Molly said.

"How many times I gotta tell you not to call me that in front of people?"

Aunt Molly rolled her eyes.

"I had a woman who used to call me babe," Ben said. "She said it was reserved for special people."

"You're special all right," Aunt Molly said. "Did this woman have a valve stem in her back?"

Reverend Thomas cleared his throat.

"Sorry," she said.

"You ain't exactly un-driven snow," Ben mumbled.

Doyle looked up from somewhere far away. "I think I got a shovel in the shed, Ben."

"I got one at home," Ben said.

"There's another hole needs digging first," the preacher said. "Let's not forget there's a body in the house."

Uncle Doyle blushed, then jabbed Aunt Molly with his elbow. "Well go call somebody!"

She scurried into the house and left the men alone again.

"We might be digging for days," Uncle Doyle said. "We'll have to close the junkyard."

"Weeks," Ben said. "Too bad we don't have a backhoe. We could rent one."

"What if we don't find anything?"

"Greed has undone many a good man," the preacher said.

"You'll get your share," Uncle Doyle said. "In the collection plate."

"Ten percent is two thousand dollars," the preacher said. "That's the Lord's share, though, not mine."

"In that case we'll give the Lord his share when we see him," Ben said.

"Blasphemy is a free-fall into hell," the preacher said. "You're not invincible, Ben."

Aunt Molly rejoined them and said the hospital was sending an ambulance.

Uncle Doyle and Ben started digging as soon as they returned from the funeral. Reverend Thomas stopped by later that evening and blessed their efforts. Aunt Molly toted ice water and sandwiches.

"Don't you think you should tell them," the preacher said to Aunt Molly.

"Look at 'em dig," she said. "Doyle ain't huffed and puffed that much since our honeymoon."

"When?"

"Tomorrow," she said. "Maybe."

When they stopped for the night, Ben crashed on the couch instead of going home. At first light they hit the yard again and dug more holes. Aunt Molly couldn't bring herself to tell them that day either.
Halfway through the third day, Uncle Doyle stopped and leaned on his shovel. He stood waist deep in another failure. "Ben, suppose Daddy set this up just to make me work?"

Ben stopped digging and sat on the edge of his tenth hole of the morning. "Damn me if I wouldn't put it past him."

"You think we should quit?"

Ben surveyed the place. Dozens of holes dotted the yard, each marked by a mound of red clay dirt. 

"Suit yourself." He stood and stabbed his shovel into the ground for another  turn. "I ain't quittin'."

Aunt Molly brought lunch and ate with them on the ground. They ate fried chicken and homemade biscuits, and washed it down with beer from a cooler she had brought out half an hour earlier.

Uncle Doyle tossed a chicken bone into his newest pit and belched. Aunt Molly frowned and shook her head, then cautioned them not to overdo it. It was hot out and they looked spent.

She stood and brushed the dirt from her jeans. "Doyle?"

Uncle Doyle looked up and saw her staring out toward what remained of the chicken coop. He scrambled up out of the hole and followed her gaze. "What the hell you looking at?"

She pointed.

"What?"

"That rock. Where'd it come from?"

Uncle Doyle looked at the big rock beside the chicken coop. "That rock? I don't know. Momma said it was decoration."

"Most people decorate their front yard," she said.

The two men looked at each other and grinned.

"Come on, Ben!"

They ran with their shovels toward the rock. It was a big rock. A handful for one man, but no match for two. Together they rolled it away and went to work with their shovels. Two feet down, Ben's shovel hit something solid.

"Doyle? Hear that?"

"I heard it."

Molly watched as they unearthed a white box about the size of a washtub. It took another ten minutes for them to get it out of the hole and up onto the grass.

"It's bigger than I expected," Ben said.

"Maybe there's more than twenty thousand," Uncle Doyle said. "There's a hasp but no lock. Why wouldn't he lock it? I'll shoot that damned preacher if it's empty."

"Why lock a box you're gonna bury?"

Ben had a point, Uncle Doyle agreed. Molly told them to open the damned thing and get it over with. Ben lifted the lid and threw it back on its hinges, revealing a large pile of paper money. Tens and twenties and hundred dollar bills thrown into the box in a disorganized heap. Spending money.

"Look at all that green," Ben said. "I say we count it."

Doyle reached in and dipped his hands in the cash. "I say we get drunk."

Aunt Molly trotted to the house and fetched his bottle from the kitchen, along with a garbage bag for the money. While the two men passed the bottle back and forth, she transferred the pile of loose bills into the bag.

They sat in the back yard and drank until both men passed out from liquor and exhaustion. Molly carried the bag of money to the front porch and called the preacher. Fifteen minutes later she heard a car coming up the gravel road, then saw his black Buick come around the curve. He stopped at the mailbox and waited while she ran up the driveway clutching the garbage bag to her chest.

"Last chance to back out," he said.


She reached over and squeezed his thigh. "Shut up and drive."



Copyright 2015 Carl Purdon. All Rights Reserved.