Thursday, April 20, 2017

Rough Justice


Aline’s entry, below, got us Type M-ers talking about how some of us keep notes, in one way or another, of stories we’ve heard or read about, that finally end up in our books. I am particularly guilty of doing that.

I’ve lived most of my life in the American West, which is a gold mine of eccentric behavior that is better than anything I could make up. My books and stories are full of tales that others have told me or snippets I have read in the paper, or events I was involved in when I was a slip of a lass—sometimes things that I have remembered for decades. A few weeks ago I was having lunch with a friend who is very into research on her ancestry, and she told me a tale about a forebear of hers who pretended to commit suicide on the front porch of the lady who had rejected him. I immediately filed that tale away for use in a future Alafair Tucker mystery.

My own relatives have provided me with a wealth of material, though I have to admit that some ancestral events are too grim or shocking to use in the type of series I’m writing without being…let us say, cleaned up a bit. There is one family tale that I’ve used as inspiration for murder more than once, but never actually written about. One of my maternal grandfather’s sisters, whom I will call Violet, was married to a man who regularly abused her, but she kept it a secret from her family for years. Until her husband (let’s call him Perry) finally beat her so badly that she took the children and went home to her parents. Her face was so pulped that her father, my great-grandfather, grabbed a pistol and ran out of the house, intending to do justice right then and there.

My great-grandmother didn’t care about the abuser, but she did care about her husband and had no desire to see him hanged for murder, so she persuaded her sons (including my grandfather) wrestle their father to the ground and prevent him from leaving the house. I fear that eventually my great aunt went back to her abuser, who also was a womanizer and cheated on her regularly. But this was in the late 1910s in the wilds of Arkansas, and women had few other options back in the day. My great-grandfather was a Baptist circuit preacher, and I’m sure divorce was not an option.

The story has an interesting ending, however. Shortly thereafter, Perry was found dead by the road, a bullet in his head, apparently shot right off his horse. No one was ever charged with the crime. Was he killed by a cuckolded husband or the relative of a wronged woman? Or did one of Violet’s brothers, or even my preacher great-grandfather, decided to take matters into his own hands? However Perry met his end, he brought it on himself in those days of rough justice.

Violet didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy her freedom. She was killed in a car wreck in the 1920s, and her children were raised by Perry’s parents.

I love to learn the details of a life, and there is no one who has ever lived who doesn’t have a fascinating story, whether they share it with us or not, whether we ever know about it or not. It seems important to me that our tales by shared, because the joys and tragedies of every life are what binds us together as human beings.

p.s. Someday I’m going to ask permission from my living relatives to tell some of our more shocking family stories. I’ll bet that when they brought into the light of day, we will hear from many people who have shared our experiences and lived to tell about it.


Sybil Johnson said...

What an interesting family story. I don't have anything quite so interesting. As far as I know, nothing like that has happened in my family. But then, maybe they're just not talking about it!

Donis Casey said...

This is what I've discovered, Sybil, families don't talk about their shameful secrets, even long after it matters to anyone living. It's too bad. My dad never wanted to talk about his experiences as a young Marine in the Pacific in WWII, but I would love to know. So would his grandchildren, I'm sure. Someday ask Vicki about her mother's WWII experiences. We all have such fascinating people in our backgrounds!

Rick Blechta said...

Interesting post!

Families can have some pretty amazing "secrets".

I found out when I was 36 that my mother was my father's second wife. His first had committed suicide in a rather horrible manner. To say that my brother and I (we were together when we found out via our aunt and uncle) were gobsmacked would be putting it mildly, indeed.

Donis Casey said...

Yikes, Rick, that would be a shocker indeed! Still, it would be difficult to decide on the right time to tell your young children something like that.

Vicki Delany said...

Ah yes, family secrets. The cornerstone of every good mystery novel! And if we don't have good ones in our family (or we don't know them) then we can make them up.