My grandparents were held hostage in their own home for two days and one night in May 1933. The bandits put on clothes that didn’t belong to them. They stole Granddaddy’s guns to add to their own formidable collection. They drank the prohibited whiskey they brought with them, imbibing till the bottles ran dry.
I wonder about so much. Oh, I have the facts – the basic facts, anyway. I can tell you the robbers’ names. Thanks to Mrs. Sarah Rivers (daughter of Mr. B. D. Adams who was sheriff at the time), I can tell you what they looked like and things they said. I can tell you when and where they were sentenced. I can show you in Mr. B. D. Adams’ own handwriting when they were brought to the Fayette County jail and when they were transferred to the Men’s State Prison Farm in Milledgeville, GA. I can even tell you how much money the bandits got and why they didn’t get more. But I wonder so many other things that I’ll never find answers for in the old newspapers or log books.
I wonder, for example, how this one event shaped me into the woman I am today. Sure, my daddy was only five years old, but I still just Know in that way that defies evidentiary proof that it helped make me the Jeanne who writes before you.
And Grandmother . . . how did it change her? She had just given birth to my Uncle Gene. Did she look to Granddaddy to do something to make the bad men go away? Did she expect him to take care of the situation, and how did she feel about him through the rest of their lives that he couldn’t do anything but let it all play out? Did that make him less of a man in her eyes? Was she disappointed? Embarrassed? Did she feel let down? Did Grandmother feel she could never rely on him ever again? Did she feel that the white horse rode right out from under her chosen knight, leaving him on the ground with his shining armor scattered in bits and pieces all around him? Or did she love him more than she ever imagined possible?
And what about Granddaddy? Did he hover in fear? Did he try to reason with the bandits? Did he challenge them in any way? How did he handle being helpless? Did he pray? Did he make deals with his God? Did he fantasize about taking one of the guns and annihilating every last one of the bandits, bringing the ordeal over much, much sooner than it actually played out? Did he know hate for the first time? Did he reassure Grandmother and if so, how – what did he say, what did he do that she found reassuring? How did he reassure himself with these trespassers in his home, holding guns to his five year old’s head? What went through his mind when they eventually kidnapped him, leaving his family there under the watchful eyes of two of the bandits? Afterwards, how long did he torment himself by replaying it in his mind, grasping at ways to change the outcome?
How did this change the relationship between Grandmother and Granddaddy as the years rolled on? Did this weekend of terror and vulnerability bind them together in ways they never thought possible or was a wedge permanently embedded?
When he went back to work at the bank, did Granddaddy approach his work differently? Over the years, people who knew Granddaddy tell me the same things about him: There wasn’t a dishonest bone in his body. He helped a lot of people. He was a good man, a real good man. Many remembered how they had come to town and forgotten the checkbook. Rather than make the long trek back home and back to town again, they went to the bank to see Granddaddy who lent them money to buy groceries and the other necessities. “Sometimes he didn’t even make me shake his hand,” they tell me, “he just loaned me the money I needed saying, ‘I know you’ll pay it back next time you come to town.'”
How did Grandmother and Granddaddy trust anybody ever again?
They were victims, there’s no argument or doubt about that. My grandparents were victims. But here’s the thing: they didn’t remain victims. They stepped right back into their lives, though surely it wasn’t the same lives they’d been living on Friday, May 5, 1933 before they answered the knock at the door. How did they go on living? What’s the magic ingredient that kept them from holding onto that victim mentality the rest of their lives? Some people seem to find it so easy to spend their lives in the big, soft victim chair, never having to take responsibility for their own lives, never holding themselves (only others) accountable for what happens to them. It’s always somebody else’s fault. They just can’t watch a break. If it weren’t for bad luck, they’d have no luck at all. Grandmother and Granddaddy had an indisputable free pass to the victim’s chair, but they didn’t take it. Why? Where did they find the meddle to go on?
The more I settle in to write this book I’ve worked on my whole life, the more I see the enormity of it. And I don’t just mean in asking questions that do not come with answers in the back of the book, though that’s surely going to be A Test. This book is going to take me places I never imagined going . . . though perhaps I’ve always secretly wanted to.