Shattered shackles, p.1
Georgia Davenport McCain
Copyright 2016 Ron McCain
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Cover Art: Margaret O'Brien, artist-Convention Herald
Originally printed 1981 by Old Paths Tract Society, Inc., Shoals, Indiana, 47581
Lovingly dedicated to my sisters, Lois,
Edith, Oma, Bertie, Delia, Lucille, Billie, and
And to my brothers, David and Doyle.
4. Loving Care
5. Sharing Expenses
6. Sarah and Ben
7. The Mysterious Surprise
8. How the Shackles Were Shattered
9. The Birthday Party
10. Broken Hearts
11. A Faithful Shepherd
12. An Unexpected Reunion
13. Prayer Prevails
14. A Burdened Heart
15. Happy Commitments
About The Author
Books By Georgia McCain
Letters From Readers of Georgia McCain Books
Lola Reid lay, hot and exhausted, still clutching the old rag she had gripped tightly while the pains were on her. She opened her eyes and winced at the bright rays of the late afternoon sun, which glared mercilessly through the bare window of her bedroom. Listlessly, she turned the old rag over in her hand, then lifted it to wipe the perspiration from her face. "Oh, if only it would cool down!" she sighed. Reaching across the bed for her newspaper fan, she began to fan it back and forth across her face, trying to stir up a bit of breeze in the stiflingly hot room.
A pesky fly, about to settle itself on the little bundle beside her, served as a reminder that even tired mothers have unavoidable duties. She stirred herself enough to give the fly a futile swat with the newspaper she held in her hand. The little bundle, disturbed, moved slightly. At this Lola took sudden interest. She raised herself upon her elbow and peered intently into the tiny red face. Mother love welled up within her as she uncovered and examined the perfect little body from head to toe.
"You precious little innocent baby," she murmured, "why were you ever born? You deserve a better chance in life than you'll ever have in a home like this. Oh, how I wish things could be different for you-and for the others."
"What did you say, Miss Lola?" Annie Long stood in the doorway, looking at her expectantly. "Can I do something for you?"
Lola pulled the thin blanket back over the baby and lay back, disconcerted. She had forgotten that Annie was in the kitchen.
"No-no, Annie. You have a ways to go. The children can take over from here. Let Jimmie walk with you back to your house. You must hurry before dark overtakes you." She glanced gratefully at the lowering sun. Perhaps it would be cooler soon.
"Yes, Ma'am. Are you sure you'll be all right with jus' the children?"
"Don't worry about me, Annie. I'll be all right." Lola spoke with the resignation of one accustomed to accepting less than the ideal. "Thanks so much, Annie, for coming, and for coming so quickly! When I sent Jimmie to fetch you, I was afraid you wouldn't make it in time."
"I worried 'bout that, too, Miss Lola, knowing how fas' you deliver, but I came jus' as fas' as I could. Well, call on me again when you need me."
"Thanks, Annie, but I hope I never, never need you again to deliver a baby."
"One never can tell," Annie replied sagely. This was the sixth time Lola had needed a midwife in her ten years of marriage and Annie doubted it would be the last.
"Oh, Annie," Lola called as Annie started out the door, "pass by that little shed out back and get you a big mess of potatoes. We made a good crop this year."
"I thank you, Miss Lola, but don't think you have to pay me for coming. I'm glad to help you out. With all your troubles--" her voice trailed off as she went down the steps.
When Lola was sure that Annie was gone, she closed her eyes and gave in to weakness, desolation, and despondency. "I'm a miserable wretch," she mumbled to herself. "I'd be better off dead. But I'm so afraid--death seems so dark--so final--and I'm afraid I'm not good enough to die." She paused. Voices of the children at play, nearby, penetrated her consciousness. One by one she envisioned them: sober, gentle Jimmie, seven; carefree Jacky, five; inquisitive Katie, four; and little Sue, two - hardly more than a baby, herself; and now this little one beside her. "Oh, what would become of the children without me? Oh-h-h," she moaned in despair, "What will become of them anyway?"
"Mamma, what did you say?"
Lola started. It was Katie.
"What I was saying wouldn't mean anything to you, Dear. I was just talking to myself." With a thin, trembling hand, Lola lovingly patted her little daughter's head, which was very much in need of a shampoo and brush.
Then, noticing Katie looking wonderingly at the strange little bundle by her side, Lola asked, "Do you like your new sister, Katie? See her pretty black hair and cute little nose." Lola turned the baby slightly for Katie's inspection. "Look, Katie, at these little fingers." She placed her forefinger in the little closed fist and spread the little fingers across her own.
"Oh Mamma, she's so pretty and sweet." Katie stroked the little fingers with her own grubby ones. "What's her name?"
"She doesn't have one yet. What would you like to name her?"
"Let's call her 'Mary." There was no hesitation in Katie's answer because she loved the name "Mary." That was her latest paper-doll's name.
And so "Mary" it was. Lola added "Emma" for her middle name, but to her family, she was always just "Mary."
"Katie, run see if Jimmie's back yet. It's almost dark. And tell Jacky to bring Sue in, so you all can eat your supper. Annie said she would leave it on the stove for you. If Jimmie's back, he can warm it up. You can hand me a plate, also."
Katie ran to obey, and in a few minutes she was back with the others, including Jimmie. But they were not as interested in eating as they were in admiring little Mary. Katie had told them all about the new baby, and each one had to hold her hand and pat her silky hair. She squirmed and stretched obligingly while they looked her over.
"Now Children, let's put her little blanket back on her and let her rest. Little, teensy babies can't be fondled much." Looking at Jimmie, she told him, "Son, go into the kitchen and help the children get their supper. When all are through, you can fix me some of the stewed potatoes and corn bread."
"Are you gonna eat right there in the bed?" Katie asked.
"Yes, Dear, your mamma doesn't feel well. I can't go to the table tonight. Maybe in a few days I'll be up and around again."
As the children went into the kitchen, once again Lola was left to her dismal thoughts. Perhaps if Annie told Mrs. Simmons about the baby and that Jim was away, maybe she would come and help out a day or so. She would never come if she knew Jim was at home, for she disliked him. Jim. Where was he? No doubt he had meant to come home before the baby came, but when he got to drinking, he simply forgot--or didn't care. Lola sometimes wondered whether he cared at all for her and the children these days.
When she was seventeen and he was nineteen, they had thought they could not live without each other. She had defied her parents to marry him. With her hands on her hips and fire in her eyes, she h
The one time she had gone back home for a visit with her parents, she had not let on to them that she was having it rough. Better to pretend that everything was fine than to hear their, "I told you so." That trip was made when Jimmie was a baby. Jim had scraped up enough for her bus fare and encouraged her to go for a visit, thinking it might help her to be away awhile after the tragedy of losing their little Billy. But upon her return, nothing had changed; she had to face the same conditions.
"Perhaps, if I had not been so bitter about what happened to Billy, things would have been different," she mused. "Until then, in spite of Jim's occasional drinking, we were fairly happy, but--" Lola brushed the thought aside, refusing to take any of the blame for Jim's awful habit and his neglect of his family.
"Jim should shoulder his own responsibilities and provide better for us," she continued to ponder her troubles. "I have load enough trying to make ends meet on the little he gets from logging and the other odd jobs he finds now and then. When he stays away drinking all the time, it's pretty hard to remember why I wanted to marry him. If he'd act like the man I married, perhaps this coldness in my heart toward him would melt."
Times were hard for the Reid family. One baby had come after another, and Jim was more often away than he was at home. For a while he drank with his brother, Joe, who lived just outside Batesville. He stayed with him much of the time, especially during the shrimping season. He could make more money shucking oysters and peeling shrimp than he could logging, making crossties and hauling pine knots with Paul Simmons. And even though a big portion of his money went for drink he usually managed to bring home groceries when he did return.
Then his brother passed away. After that, Jim spent the next three years just rambling here and there, sleeping in box cars, under bridges, in the back of the saloon and anywhere else he could find a place. As long as the shrimp and oyster season was in, he had no trouble finding work while he was away from home; but when that was over, he had to take what he could find in odd jobs to pay for his liquor and buy food enough to keep his family from starving. Often he helped Mr. Michael in the saloon, and sometimes he took repair jobs on houses, did yard work, or whatever was offered him. Jim was not a lazy man, it was just that the drink had such a hold on him. Sometimes when he would be home trying to amend his ways, he would share some of his experiences with Lola. But when he was gone he never wrote, and she never knew where to find him.
Lola had to manage carefully and work hard to keep food on the table. With Jimmie's help, she raised a little garden twice a year--in the spring and early summer, and then again in the late summer and fall. To supplement their meager diet in the spring season, Lola and the children picked blackberries, which they enjoyed eating fresh. When there was an abundant crop, Lola canned some of the berries for later use. Through the summer months they depended on the potatoes and other vegetables from the garden. And in the fall, they gathered nuts and persimmons from the woods nearby. Their main meal then was often baked yams served with collards or turnip greens. Still in spite of all Lola's good managing, oftentimes the cupboard was so bare that the children resorted to cracking nuts and eating them to stop the awful gnawing hunger in their little stomachs between times.
Four years passed swiftly by and the children grew in spite of the hardships. But the passing years did nothing to improve matters in the home.
Perhaps the sadness in Lola's eyes helped drive Jim to the depths he had gone in those years, but she could not seem to change, nor could he. It was hard for Lola to look anything but sad under the circumstances. Her heart ached for all that her children were missing. She thought of them now.
Mary, now four, was an unusually perceptive child, always sensitive to the feelings of others. She was the peacemaker in the children's quarrels and the first to console their sorrows. This was brought sharply to Lola's attention one morning when she became the object of Mary's compassion. Lola was sorting dried beans to cook for dinner. Mary had been sitting on the floor, playing with her corn cob doll, never once seeming to look at her mother, until suddenly Lola felt a gentle pressure against her knee.
Lola put her arm around Mary's shoulder as the little girl looked up into her mother's face and asked, "Mamma, why are you so sad?"
Tears welled up in Lola's eyes. Not being used to sympathy of any sort, it unnerved her.
"Mamma, why do you cry?" was Mary's next gentle question.
"You wouldn't understand, Mary," Lola had answered. Then stifling a sob, she had added, "Run along now, Dear, and play." She did not want Mary to see her all broken up.
Mary had turned and walked slowly out of the house. Lola left her work long enough to watch, making sure her own sorrows had not unduly upset her little girl.
Mary had headed for her favorite spot under the old oak tree. She had cuddled her corncob doll against her breast and talked in admonishing tones to it, then sat it down beside her. Then Lola had seen her squeeze her arms across her stomach. She knew what that meant. She had seen that in all her children. And she, many times, had tied her own belt as tightly as she could. It helped to ease the hunger pain a little. The persimmons they had had for breakfast that morning just had not been enough. Turning, she had hurried back to her dinner preparations, wiping her tears on her apron. The beans had been mostly soup again on that day, she remembered.
Lola sighed as she continued her meditating .
There was Jimmie, her eldest. Although he was still just a little fellow, too small for his eleven years, yet he was becoming unusually manly and helpful. It was almost as if he understood that his daddy was not carrying his end of the load and he tried to help his mother all he could. Many times, he had to miss school to help with the work. And when Jim was home, Jimmie had to help him with the logging and cross tie making. To Lola, it seemed terribly unfair. He should have been in the sixth grade by now, but he had barely fumbled through fourth last year, and it wasn't that he was dumb, either.
Sometimes Lola was almost glad Billy was out of it all, at least she did not have to see him suffer hunger and need of clothes and lack of schooling because of their awful poverty. The only time any of them got clothes was when Jim would lay off his drinking for a while and stay home with them. Then he would be able to see their thin, ragged clothes and the shoes with the soles off. During these times, which were far too few, Jim would manage to buy them a few clothes. The rest of the time, they wore hand-me-downs and rags, patched to the best of Lola's ability.
Next, Lola's thoughts turned to Katie. Little blond inquisitive Katie had an unusually bright mind and wanted to know everything. She had only been able to attend school part time. She would have to stay in second grade again when Lola could get her started back. Sometimes, Lola tried to help her in her reading to keep her from getting so far behind, but there was very little time for such "extras" in Lola's busy days, and in the evenings, she was always tired.
Then there was Sue, a little beauty, and loving and helpful. She was almost too big to cuddle anymore, but her little body always curved so warm and comfortably against Lola's embrace that she still cuddled her, partly for the strength and sense of being needed that she drew from the little girl, but more because Sue was the kind of girl anyone would want to caress, that is anyone except Jim.
"Oh, Jim," her thoughts turned to him again. "I wonder sometimes if I don't actually hate you for what you are doing to me and these little ones." .
Oh it was not that Jim, with his dark wavy hair and brown eyes wasn't handsome and dashing enough for any woman. Those very features had, at one time, completely captivated Lola. He had been loving enough at first, but now with the drink and poverty, nothing was the same. As for the children, though Jim never showed any affection for them, yet they stood in awe of him and .eagerly awaited the ex
Then Alice came to live with them.
When Lola saw Jim come walking in with the pretty sixteen-year-old Alice, her heart sank to the bottoms of her shabby shoes. Thinking that he was throwmg her over for someone younger and prettier, a fierce possessiveness rose up in her. She realized at that moment that in spite of his drinking and apparent unconcern for his family, that she still had a special feeling for him.
"This is Alice, Lola," he introduced her. Alice, this is your Aunt Lola. She hasn't seen you since you were a little girl." Looking at Lola, he continued, "This is my brother Joe's daughter. I was sitting in this joint--uh--this place, and this young lady was the one who waited on me. She looked so much like Joe's wife, Maggie, until all I could do was sit and stare at her. Then after a while, I heard someone call, 'Hey, Reid, catch that order over yonder in the corner.' I couldn't believe my ears. You know I haven't seen Alice or her mother since Joe passed away seven years ago. Well, the first chance I got, I asked her some questions, and sure enough, she was my own niece. She told me her mother passed away a couple of months ago and she's really had it rough since then. Said she despised to work in that place but it was all the work she could find." He looked at Lola imploringly. "Lola, I guess we're all the family she's got. One more mouth to feed wouldn't make much difference, would it?"
Giving Jim a critical look, Lola drew Alice to her in a loving embrace. "It won't hurt you any, Jim" she thought. “You're not the one to scrimp and stretch and manage to make ends meet." But she kept her thoughts to herself and to Alice she said, "I'm so sorry about your mother, Dear. We'll do the best we can for you."
In spite of having another mouth to feed, Lola was grateful for Alice's companionship. She became a sort of combination daughter and sister to her. And she proved to be a blessing in another way for quite sometime. Her coming seemed to awaken in Jim a sense of his responsibility. Perhaps, it was because of family pride that he did not want Alice to see how poorly he provided for his family. At any rate, he was home more often and they were eating better than they had for many months.
Lola was almost happy for a while, until Jim started buddying around with John O'Banion. He started drinking heavily again and spending more time away from home. John was from a family in the neighborhood, and though much younger than Jim, they had discovered that they enjoyed each other's company, especially in the barroom. At first, when John began coming to the house, Lola thought it was to visit with Jim, but soon it became apparent that while he talked with Jim, his eyes were on the lovely Alice. Soon he and Alice began pairing off. Lola noticed them talking together more and more, and then later she saw them strolling through the woods or up the road hand in hand.
So, although heartsick, Lola was not at all surprised when, after several months, Alice came to her for advice. By this time, with Jim's reversion to his old habits, the food was so scarce that both Lola and Alice were pretending not to be hungry so the children would not suffer so much.
"Tell me honestly, Aunt Lo, what do you think of John?" Alice asked shyly.
"Alice, I hate to hurt you because it is obvious that you are fond of him, but I'm going to be truthful. I feel very uncomfortable around him and I'm always glad when he leaves." Throwing her arms around Alice, she pleaded, "Forgive me, Alice, for being so frank, but you asked me."
"It's O.K., Aunt Lo," Alice answered humbly. Blushing and looking at the floor, she stammered, "I--I guess you won't like what I'm going to say, but John has asked me to marry him. What do you think I should do?"
"Oh, Alice, I don't know how to advise you. I'm sorry things have gotten so bad here. I wish I could say that you'd be better off here, but I'm not sure." Lola felt troubled and ashamed that she could not welcome the girl anymore, ashamed that all the time she was thinking that if Alice did not have to have food, there would be more for the children.
"I think Uncle Jim expects me to marry John," Alice continued. "I heard him talking to him once about it. He wouldn't have so many mouths to feed then, you know." She glanced at Lola, embarrassed.
With it out in the open, Lola could not help lashing out, "I guess he needs to be looking for somebody to help him provide for his own. He's doing a mighty poor job of it himself. I'm starving!"
"I know," Alice answered, her arms tight across her own empty stomach. "Well, what do you think? Would it be better if I married John?"
"Oh, Alice," Lola caught her breath with a sob, "I know it's wretched here, but when I think of you being married to John, it gives me goose pimples. This may seem of little importance to you, Alice, but just the way he talks would be more than I could stand. His talk grates on my nerves terribly."
"It bothers me, too, Aunt Lo, but maybe I can teach him to pronounce his words as they should be, once we're married. Let's be fair. He's really never had a chance with his lack of education. But regardless, I've got to make up my mind. Uncle Jim might turn me out if I don't marry him." Tears glistened in her eyes and her lower lip trembled.
"Don't think too harshly of Jim, Alice. After all he has given you a home for a few months. It's just the drink. He doesn't seem to mind you staying here when he's sober."
"Yeah, but that's not often these days. I can't count on that. "
"I know," Lola sighed. "He didn't use to drink at home so much before the children; but since he and John are drinking together, he even stays drunk while at home. He's worse now than he's ever been, and just when I thought things were getting better for us. Oh, Alice, don't make me say what you ought to do. But I can assure you it's not much of a life being married to a drunkard. You can see that by looking around here."
"I know, Aunt Lo. I'm not blind to what you and the children go through here. But maybe if I marry John, he'll quit drinking. I do like him when he's sober. I'm supposed to give him an answer Saturday night. Well, what do you think?” She looked helplessly at Lola.
When Lola merely pursed her lips without saying anything, Alice continued, "I don't guess I've got much choice. I hate to leave you with all the work here, but I've got to have a place to live and something to eat." There was sad desperation in her voice.
"Alice, I'm afraid you're jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, but I guess you can't get much worse off." Again Lola put her arms about her and held her close. "If I could offer you anything better, you know I would, Alice. I just trust you're not making a mistake you will regret the rest of your life." She was thinking of her own unhappy marriage.
“Aunt Lo, just remember, that regardless of what happens, that I am doing all I know to do under the circumstances. Maybe everything will work out for the best. Everybody deserves a break in life once in a while." Giving her aunt a loving peck on the cheek, she turned and walked outside and toward the woods. Lola watched her go, knowing that she wanted to be alone.
"Poor child. What will become of her?" she wondered sadly.
Shattered Shackles by Georgia McCain / History & Fiction have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on34 votes