Just like my dream…

Just like my dream… the road bent and bowed with little illumination once we made it out of town. The stars were thin and the crickets thick as they played back-up to the whispers from the trees as we sped along the Clyatteville –Nankin Road. There we were, counting the miles and adjusting the minutes retracing his steps from that night each mile at a time. Only this time Charley wasn’t at the wheel- I was. It was a pilgrimage necessary for us both. She the daughter… I the writer- both needing to be there at the hour appointed to know and see for ourselves how black the night- how still the heart and how deafening the silence. All day long we had made distractions of our own; research at the Historical Society, interview after interview- conversations upon conversations all to fill the anxious hours before tonight.

J read from Hazel’s journal before we headed out as reminder that there was more at stake than just the rumor of a girl and a cup of coffee. It was 8:58 P.M. when we got on the road for the second time to where Charley spent his final moments. Mustang revved- top down and nothing but the wind to keep us company we drove quiet for the better half of the drive, passing a fence that now appears to be of special interest as it has been mentioned twice in R’s readings. As we reached the spot we slowed to a crawl and turned off the lights. The deep velvet of the night folded in around us and I could not imagine a more hopeless setting. Even with the stars above, the earth swallowed itself whole and you could not see two feet in front of your face. Fearful as we approached the second bridge, we cut the lights back on and inched our way forward to a stop. J got out of the car and walked in front of me down the side of the road, navigating the slim shoulder and then asked that I turn the lights out once more to embrace what her father must have experienced.

Checking both side and rear mirrors for other vehicles, finding none, I complied. Again- even once your eyes adjusted there was nothing but the unrelenting pitch. In silent vigil we each cast our prayers into the void and bid her father freedom from pain. “He would have been dead by now, I think”, she said. Neither star nor human blinked a tear at the statement. No ghost exercised…or demon fought… just the night, the two of us and the endless silence.

I do not know what I expected of such a trial- or that I expected anything at all. But there we were- the three of us, caught somewhere between 2010 and 1966 and there was nothing but the night to act as segue… and nothing but the dawn to look forward to.

It has been a long day filled with introductions and unexpected blessings and information. We spent many hours talking and listening… trying to engage others to our cause. I thought about Charley throughout it and Rox too, not trying to forget that Hazel too shared these last hours with him- not knowing if the marriage would last or fail… not knowing if the coffee would still be warm when he returned. And the children… how they slept in their beds unaware that the world would come crashing in all around them before the last rain drop fell.

It is now 11:53 P.M. and approximately the same time of night that the second set of witnesses (boys from Florida who had passed the crime scene, made the infamous phone call to the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department) now might stand at Sam Daily’s store waiting for the call back to rejoin the Deputy Sheriff at the scene. It is also not long since J and I have returned from 44 years ago. The minutes will continue to click by as we recount the hours and the events that carried the beginning of lies through the night and decades beyond. We could have easily stayed away- returned to the hotel and dug in for the night and let the moment pass from where we were… but that would not have made either of us happy. W each had made a promise, for better or worse to be there for that hour when Charley’s world had come to an end and taken with it the infrastructure of a family.

May this trip, and his death not have been in vain. I read something on a church sign as we drove back from the spot earlier in the day I wanted to share with you. I thought it poignant.

“Nothing ruins the truth like stretching it.” I will bear that in mind as I strive to tell his story without interjecting my own.

Goodnight Charley…

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