Southern Gothic, Alabama Style

Effingham County 148My paternal grandfather provided me with deep roots in parts of Pickens and Lamar Counties , located in the western portion of the state of Alabama. He would reluctantly take my grandmother and my father back, upon occasion, to visit, as he wanted to remain in touch with his sisters, Aileen and Petronella,  and to have my father know his country cousins as he grew up. Granddaddy had escaped to Birmingham in the mid-1920’s once he finished high school.

He had lost his mother in 1916, at the young age of 7.  The type of cancer is uncertain to me – either it was cervical or ovarian – all that had been passed through the generations was the fact that Ann Bradley had passed from ‘the female sort’ of cancer. Richard Ladelle Bradley, my great-grandfather, had insisted all three of the children come into the bedroom one by one to say goodbye to their mother. Granddaddy, being the youngest, and thus the most unfortunate of the three offspring, was the last to go inside for the final farewell to his mother; the unintended consequence was that he was by her side at the moment of her passing – a horrific thing for a seven year old.

Two days later, the funeral was held at Macedonia Baptist Church, just across the county line – in Lamar County – where many of the Bradley’s were lifelong members. (the Lamar AND Pickens County Bradley’s pronounced it MASS-EH-DONEE. Nothing else added. For example, my great-great-grandfather, Jeremiah Bradley, per his kin, is buried over at MASS-EH-DONEE.) The closing hymn for Ann’s funeral was “I’ll Fly Away” – a tune my grandfather never, ever allowed his ears to hear or his tongue to sing ever again.

Eventually, Richard, my great grandfather remarried. And it was to an Absolute Terror. I am certain this woman invented the stereotypical evil stepmother. There was animosity for all three children present; however, the animosity was particularly strong for the only son of the children.  Granddaddy always had a queasy stomach, and runny eggs would cause him to become utterly ill – this woman would serve hard cooked eggs to everyone but him, just to see him run from the table, turning green. She was also very cruel to animals – on more than one occasion, either Granddaddy, Aunt Pat, or Aunt Aileen would come along as she was hanging laundry – only to find the cat hung up by way of the clothes pin holding it by the scruff on the line. Finally, one day, the cast just disappeared. One by one, the children left home – the girls married and moved, although they remained in the area. Granddaddy went into Birmingham and took a job at American Cast Iron Pipe Company – the employer that he stayed with his entire adult life. Within months, his father and step mother came to visit. The Step-Mother promptly walked out to 34th Ave North, pulled a bottle of strychnine from her purse, and drank it as she stood on the corner. She was dead within moments, in spite of my grandfather and his father trying to put a stop to it.

While tragic, there was a certain element of relief in the death of my grandfather’s step-mother. No one dared mutter that aloud, but no one dared mutter the insanity that possessed her, either. And to this day, I do not know her full name – it was not fully uttered in my presence. Suicide, especially in the early 20th century, was not spoken of. It was not iterated. If broached, it was in whispered, hushed tones. There’d been an element of ‘relief’ that she was not  blood-kin, as no one in their right mind wanted such a thing to be passed down to children. Sanity, or lack thereof, was passed through ‘bad blood’.

Anytime somebody mentions soft cooked eggs, I envision my poor grandfather on the verge of vomiting. I think I inherited my desire for hard-cooked eggs and well done meat from him. Anything less is disgusting.

 

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