My Granny Naomi, Daddy’s momma, was a sweet woman. But Daddy’s father was pure mean. Daddy said that he wasn’t around his daddy much…he tried to stay clear of the man when he was growing up. As far as I know, if Harold Turner would have ever tried to come around and meet my Momma or us kids, my Daddy would have made us steer clear of him too…but Harold Turner never did come around for a visit. From all the things I heard about him I was glad that I never had to smile, or shake his hand or make nice. If I would have ever met him, I’m not exactly sure what I would have done.
When Naomi Smith met Harold Turner he was all charm. He was so taken with the tall black-eyed beauty… his behavior couldn’t have been more chivalrous had he been the Prince of England himself. Harold was from a good family name that had been well-respected and successful for many years. He had honed the skill of appearing to be a gentleman.
“You’re marrying who?” Everybody would ask Naomi in surprise. People who knew the Turners thought that she was really marrying up. Naomi had grown up in a house that was not much more than a shack. Her momma, Joy, had to work as a seamstress and a laundress. Naomi and her sisters had all had to go to work right after high school to help put food on the table.
“You’re marrying who?” All Harold’s family would ask, disbelieving that he would lower himself to marry a no name half-breed. He had been raised from an early age to appreciate meek and gentle, small and simple fair-haired beauties. His family had accumulated land and wealth and respect… not the kind that is necessarily earned, but the kind that is demanded…the kind of respect that goes along with power. Harold’s family could not understand his obsession with the mysterious, dark beauty. Granny Naomi would laugh bitterly when she would talk about those days, “Imagine… and they called me the savage!” She would say.
But marry they did. Harold, broad-shouldered and fair stood in front of family and friends and everyone who was somebody in the town… and he made promises before them all and before God. Then he walked back up the aisle, after they said “I do” with his tall statuesque Cherokee princess. Some of the onlookers were pleased, some outraged, but all surprised at the unlikely pair. That was the only day of their marriage that Harold Turner would treat Naomi Smith like a princess… and that only lasted until the sun went down.
The wedding reception was held at the home that Harold had built for them …the home where they were to start their new life and family together.
“Hey brother, I brought you a wedding gift. I had to taste it to make certain that it was worthy of the occasion. Looks like we don’t have a peace-pipe to make your bride feel more at home. That’s a real pity.” The men all laughed, and Martin passed the nearly full bottle of whiskey to his brother. Harold took a big swallow and then another.
“Looks like the party has moved to a new location” the Sheriff stepped up, hand out for a swig, ignoring the legality of drunkenness and rowdy comments of the men caused by the alcohol going hand-to-hand. They passed the bottle of moonshine around until Harold forgot about his charming act and his true colors began to show.
Without any of the politeness that Naomi had come to expect, Harold dismissed the crowd. “It is getting late. I’d like everybody to go on home now. I hope everyone got themselves enough to eat and drink and had themselves a good time.” And to his brothers in a lower tone that could only be heard by a few and Naomi… “on me and my family’s penny” and he saluted his brothers with the nearly empty glass… “ Since we all know Naomi comes from nothing. She didn’t contribute…yet. But she will.”
And then again louder, Harold continued his toast, “I’ve been having a good time myself, but as soon as you’ll skedaddle I’m gonna have myself an even better time!” There were hoots of laughter and cat whistles and some ribald remarks tossed around by some of the most drunk and least mannerly guests. But everyone took the not so subtle hint that it was time for the party to wind down and leave… quickly. The guests went off talking about the wedding and the evening and how it had come to such an abrupt end…but hadn’t it been something! A good time had by all. So far.
Naomi Turner had no idea that life as she knew it was about to come to a screeching halt. There were times when she had thought that life had not dealt her momma and her sisters and herself a fair hand, but she had no idea what kind of player she was dealing with now. Up to that point she had not been pampered and her days had been anything but easy. But she had at least known what she was looking at. She could call a heart a heart or a spade a spade. But she was about to start playing a game that she didn’t know the rules… and she could never learn them because they were ever-changing. The day that she set foot in the house that Harold Turner built was the day that her world turned upside down.
The first thing that Harold did once his guests had dispersed was roughly carry his new bride to their new bed. He wasn’t interested in saving her new gown that she and her momma had worked every spare second on for months to make perfect. He wasn’t interested in her protests that she wasn’t ready.
“Harold, please wait a minute. I’m just not ready for this yet.”
“The hell you’re not. You were ready the minute you said, ‘I do’ . Actually you were ready the minute that I first laid eyes on you, you just didn’t know it yet. Don’t worry. This shouldn’t take me long. I’ve been way too patient with you. You might regret that you played such the prude. If I would have been smart I would have insisted that I get to try out the merchandise before I had to buy it unseen. My daddy always said that you should taste the milk before you buy the cow. Oh well, all I can say is that you had better be worth the wait.” Naomi’s cries were muffled in his shoulder, under the heavy weight that he had laid on her. A weight that wouldn’t be lifted and would grow heavier and harder to bear as the years wore on.
Harold never came to Naomi in love and Naomi never gave her love to her brutal husband freely. She had nothing but intense aversion, disgust and downright hatred for Harold Turner from the moment that he showed her how much he really thought of her…which was none at all. He demanded that she show him “respect” in the way that she was to submit, and serve, and remain silent through all of his abuses. Five boys were forced on Naomi – her five boys that she loved with all of her heart and who loved her just as furiously. They tried to protect each other from the man that they all learned to hate, but it would take something a lot bigger than a woman or a little boy to turn Harold Turner from his ways.
Harold had all day to play. He fished with his brothers, or went to town and played checkers with whoever he could find that had a few minutes to sit down and waste. But oddly enough, Harold mostly idled his day away in the jailhouse. The jailhouse was where he should have been for his crimes against his family, but of course he was never arrested. Everyone could have seen the green and yellow bruises and the downcast eyes if they had looked. But everyone averted their eyes from unpleasant things. When Naomi would clumsily break another bone, the doctor would be called to the house and she would be ordered by her concerned husband to stay near the house while she was on the mend.
Harold was never arrested or even confronted because his two best friends were the good old boy sheriff and the deputy. Harold was evil incarnate, but he wasn’t a stupid man. He was very calculating and everything that he did had a reason… even befriending the law. Harold used everybody, but at least he made other men feel like they were his equal. He cared nothing for women except for what they could do for him. Harold’s father had been the same way and his mother, they say, had died from a bad heart. Knowing what I know she probably had a real good heart, it just got broken.
Harold’s grandfather had been a very successful business man raising dairy cattle and beef cattle, and selling illegal moonshine…sometimes to the lawmen themselves. He had three big barns just to hold all of the tobacco that he grew. He was known to be a hard man but a fair man.
Harold’s father had inherited all the wealth and hardness from his father but none of the fairness. While his wife couldn’t take living with Martin, Sr. another day, and likely willed herself into an early grave, the son’s all vied for their father’s attention and his favor…and inheritance.
“Father, did you hear that Jim down at the bank said he thought I had a good head for numbers?”
“I think I’ve figured out a way to hire fewer workers but make them get more work done. They can all work half a day on Saturday…”
“I talked to Jeremiah Fox about running for a city council seat. I think he‘s interested in helping me…”
None of those boys really cared about the farm, or making their town a better place, and neither did Martin, Sr. All any of them cared about was money, power and control and keeping as much of the three as possible. When old Martin died of meanness, all of his greedy boys sold the family land and the animals and all of the heirloom jewelry piecemeal to the highest bidders. There were no memories that they cared to cling to. There was nothing of sentimental value. None of them had particularly fond memories of their home, their family life growing up, or of each other, so it was no surprise that they each started squandering the small fortunes they had been left. For a while, Martin Turner Sr.’s boys were thought of with high regard. They were wealthy, had pretty wives, a good family name, and powerful connections. But Martin Jr., Harold and Willard spent their money carelessly, cared nothing for their families or their good family name, and before long their powerful connections began to distance themselves from the golden boys whose images had began to tarnish.
“I can’t prove it” Daddy told me once, “But I think that when my momma was in her mid 3o’s she knew that she was at a crossroads. The low road was the road that she had been on with Harold Turner for too many long years. She knew that road was her own personal trail of tears, and that it was only leading her straight to an early grave. The high road had a blind curve and there were no guarantees that it didn’t end at a mile high ledge with nowhere to go but down or back. I reckon your Granny Naomi decided that if the high road was a dead-end that at least she would be able to get a few seconds of freedom as she was falling if she was going to die anyhow. So, your Granny stepped out in faith, and what she found I can only speculate about.”
“What do you think happened, Daddy?”
“One of two things. I think your Granny looked hard within herself and found a warrior princess. Maybe she prayed to God and her ancestor angels and they heard her cry and they sent a Great Warrior Spirit to watch over your Granny and protect her from Harold Turner.”
That sounded fantastical it was hard to imagine…but I had a pretty good imagination being a possible fairy child and all…so I reckoned that could have happened. “What else are you thinkin?”
“She could have gone up to Boone North Carolina and found some of her Smith Cherokee cousins. They might have made a visit to our town, quiet-like. I know I wouldn’t have wanted to meet up with any of them in a dark alley. I met a few of those cousins when I was a little boy and they looked wild as anything. They wore their hair long with bright beads hanging from their braids and off of their deerskin jackets and britches. They even had moccasins on their feet. They were big men too. Bigger than my father, and with none of his bulk. They were straight, tall, wide shouldered and lean. ..Not what I would call unfriendly, but their faces were broad and hard. Their eyes had lines that made them look as though they were looking off into the distance. .. I could tell that they were looking at me, but they were looking at a lot more than me too. As unsettling as it was, it was also strangely comforting. Like they knew me because they could really see me… and because they knew that I could see them too.”
“What do you mean, Daddy?” I asked puzzled.
“Looking at something and seeing something ain’t the same thing, Katie. You can’t really know a thing unless you can see it for what it really is. Too many people think they know another person because they have been around each other and have talked about things… but sometimes all that does is confuse the truth. Some people don’t want to be seen so they will do whatever or say whatever they think other people want them to do or say. Sad thing is, that once folks stop acting true to themselves sometimes they get lost even to themselves. They don‘t know what they really think or even who they are anymore… and don‘t know how to find out.”
“I don’t really understand, Daddy.”
“That’s because you are real, Katie. You are true to yourself and so is everybody mostly that you are around… you wouldn’t necessarily know it if you ran into somebody that wasn’t real anyway… at least not at first.” Daddy got a serious look on his face like he had seen something for a split second. His look scared me… but he didn’t say anything else except, “Promise me you will take the time to know and see people… and if a person doesn’t know or see you, please try to notice that. Just beware. You can’t trust a person who is hollow inside.”
I got a chill on my spine and the hair on my neck stood up for a second, but then Daddy snapped back to me, back to his story about the Smith’s. “Anyway, I had a feeling like there was a lot more to those fellows then most of the other men that I knew. The Cherokee Smith’s had mouths that were as wide as a Halloween pumpkin…nearly a straight line, not a smile or a frown, just a neutral expression. And hard eyes that looked right at and through a person. I reckon they had learned the hard way that they needed to wear a mask until a stranger could be trusted. I could tell they were chock full of feeling and thoughts, but they weren’t going to show them to just anyone. It’s not safe to show yourself to people who will use what you give them for their own gain or to hurt you. Some people are like that, Katie. But when I was about five…when Harold Turner had gone to a cattle sale in Nashville, that was when Momma took us all up to North Carolina to see where our Grandpa Smith, who we had never laid eye on, came from. I think your grandma Naomi was trying to figure out where she came from too…and where she was going. I bet she was hoping that she might figure out a way she could find someplace safe. Maybe with them.”
I sat there for a few minutes thinking about all that Daddy had said.
“Well, what do you think happened to Granny Naomi? Was it a Spirit or did some of her Cousins come and save her?”
“Honey, I really don’t know. I just know that somehow Granny found a way. Either way, Spirit or Man, the God of all was watching out for her and must have heard her cry. Whatever she did, God saved her.”
And by being strong she saved much more than herself…she saved you and me too, Daddy. God is so good. I went over to hug my Daddy tight. I was so grateful that Granny Naomi had been strong and had found a way to raise her boys in love after all. I was so glad that she was part of me and that her story was part of me too.