In loving memory of my mother Willie Mae Greer Pirtle, who passed away during the writing of this book. She was my one and only Alpha-Reader. Without her constant encouragement and support this book would never have been possible.
When Kelly Archie arrived in New York City, hungry and broke, he was riding in the hopper of a sand car, since he wasn’t able to scrape up the few coins that would have bribed the guard to let him into a boxcar. All he had on his mind was finding a way to make enough money to make it back to Misty, Texas. Cold, hungry, and broke in a city with no friends, the dying little town of Misty, was looking very warm, happy, and safe.
Kelly walked for a long time, after he was chased away from the train by a guard who hadn’t been as understanding as the ones who let him ride in the last town. Of course, he had nothing left to give the New York guard, since each train yard took part of his small assets, until nothing was left. He walked until he found himself deep in the city, passing through one dark street after another. As he walked down yet another cold, empty street, which seemed overwhelmed by towering buildings; up ahead he saw a man with a twig broom carefully sweeping the sidewalk in front of a restaurant that was still bright, cheery, and filled with patrons in spite of the late hour. Kelly was intending to offer to finish the sweeping for some food, when the man looked up at him. The man looked up and down, taking in all the aspects of his dress, which Kelly found himself so ashamed of.
“You are late. The party started some time ago. You better get on inside before all the grub is gone,” the man said, with a winning smile, in heavily accented English. Surprised at this greeting, Kelly entered the doorway, worried about his ragged clothes, and the scent of him that bespoke of days without a proper bath. Looking around he saw that he seemed to have joined a gathering of other railway bums, scruffy, ragged, and unwashed. His attention was pulled away from the crowd and he made his way to a table that was covered with the remains of a potluck dinner, which to Kelly looked like a banquet of unequaled magnitude.
The Texas boy didn’t know what he was eating, nor did he care. His goal was to eat as much as possible, before anyone thought to ask him pay, or toss him out as not belonging. Rather than wanting to kick him out, the people in the restaurant seemed to be amused by his hunger, and even pressed him to join with them in drinking coffee heavily laced with some strong spirit.
When he could finally eat no more, he sat down on a slightly unstable chair and sipped slowly at a cup of coffee, enjoying the warmth of the overstuffed room. Kelly realized that he was less a center of attention than he thought. The people nearest to him seemed satisfied that he was taken care of and focused their attention on a makeshift stage at the end of the room.
On the stage, made of produce crates, somewhat precariously stood, a willowy young man. As he spoke in halted twisted sentences, the crowd was raptly hanging on his every word. Kelly couldn’t make much sense of it, but when the young man hopped down from the stage looking dejected and beyond all comfort, Kelly found himself applauding along with all the others, who seemed mighty impressed with the young man’s speech.
“Hey you!” Kelly heard someone call out. Sure that he was going to be called to task for crashing the party, he turned and found himself looking into the face of the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
“Uh … ,” he tried to speak. He tried to stop staring.
“Hey, man, it isn’t her! It is just her twin sister,” a shaggy smelly man said, putting his arm around Kelly’s shoulder, and topping off his coffee from a flask.
“You are new here,” the woman stated, and turning, asked the old man who was standing inside the door, “Do you have room for one more, Mr. Abrahams?”
“Yes, but if he wants to stay, he will have to room with my son,” the old man said, giving a sharp look to the shaggy man still hanging onto Kelly.
“No problem Pops, I don’t think that Jack is coming back anytime soon.” Realizing that Kelly was looking quite confused he said, “I am Eitan Abrahams. My dad owns the place. He rents out the rooms upstairs to this crowd.”
“I am Genevieve Davies. I live here too,” the beautiful woman said, helping Kelly untangle himself from Eitan, and claiming Kelly as her own.
After Kelly enrolled in college and began to dream of becoming a professor of literature, he might have found himself pushed out of the group, but he managed to write enough reactionary prose to keep his status as a member of the Beat Generation.
As the years passed, Genevieve never surrendered her claim on the stray from Texas. With her guidance and support, Kelly found himself a respected professor with an impressive string of letters after his name, progressing at a rapid clip towards tenure. The others who were at Abrahams’ place that first night passed on to other lives as well, with various levels of success and infamy. Kelly and Genevieve as part of the Greenwich Village scene and like so many others believed that they were the chosen ones; the ones who would make their mark on the world.
One day when Kelly’s studies were done, and a professor’s paycheck was regularly dropped off at the bank, he and Genevieve left the safety of the Abrahams’ rooming house. Striking out on their own they found a place to live on the Lower East Side. While living life on a shoestring was fun when they first started out, they didn’t fight success, and the accompanying affluence, when it came. Kelly found that he was able to write books telling other people how to live their lives. The money his books brought in allowed the couple a more comfortable lifestyle than normally enjoyed by non-tenured professors.
Genevieve who was considered a critical success found that after years of trying to express herself in a profound and artsy manner, found that when she painted canvases she liked, she was happy. The critics often panned her work, bemoaning her as a lost genius; a great artist who sold out to become an illustrator. What made her even happier were the prices her new works demanded, in spite of the critics’ harsh words.
Over the years of their relationship, doctor after doctor assured the couple that there was no chance of having children, and they became accustomed to the fact. In spite of Kelly’s numerous proposals, Genevieve stuck to her belief that children were the only reason to marry.
At the age of 34, Genevieve surprised all the experts by becoming pregnant. They had never told their friends, that they were married in New York’s City Hall, not long after they learned of the coming child. In their set of artists, actors, writers, and poets, being married just wasn’t cool.
She and Kelly, were no longer young, and were rather set in their ways, so it was good that they were given the months of the pregnancy to become accustomed to the idea that they were going to be responsible for a new life.
During the winter of 1957, Genevieve was depressed and moody, frequently speaking to her friends about 15-year-old Michael Farmer, who was murdered the summer before. At over seven miles away from the Lower East Side, in city terms, the Washington Heights’ murder was a lifetime away. While the rest of the city moved on to worry about fresher tragedies, Genevieve could not forget, nor feel distant from young Michael. Already driven to the point of distraction by the changes to her body during her pregnancy, the case caused Genevieve to hate the city she had once loved. In one particularly rough bout of agitation, she became fixated on the idea that New York City was no place to raise her child.
“Kelly,” she said one day, “before the baby is born we are going to have to leave the city.”
“Where to?” Kelly asked, intrigued. He had been passed over for tenure again and didn’t find the idea of moving on objectionable. He could write his books anywhere.
“I don’t know,” Genevieve said flatly, having no idea of where she wanted to live; only not in her home town of San Francisco, nor New York.
Seeing his wife so despondent, Kelly thought he would cheer her up by being silly, never expecting her to take him seriously. “Just toss a dart at a map, and we will move to wherever it lands!”
To his surprise, Genevieve heaved her gravid body up from the sofa, and found a map, which came between the pages of a geographical magazine, and pinned the map of the United States to the wall of her studio. She threw one of Kelly’s pub-darts at it, swearing that she would raise her child in any city the dart hit. To her and Kelly’s amazement the dart landed squarely in a blank area of the map, with the nearest town being the town where Kelly was born and where his beloved mother still lived. Misty, Texas, the town he took that long cold journey to escape, was calling him and his family back.
“Well,” Kelly said, with traces of his East Texas drawl lurking at the edges of his voice. “I guess that with it being so big, and right in the center of the map, the odds were in favor of the dart landing in Texas. Good thing we didn’t use a world map, I wouldn’t have wanted to raise the baby at sea,” he continued, managing to get a laugh from his stressed-out wife.
In spite of his many worries about moving to the South during such volatile times of civil unrest, Kelly soon found himself in Misty, visiting his mother and looking for a house for his expanding family. After coming home from church one day, Louise went looking for her son, who managed to beg off from attending the service that day, and excitedly informed him that the children of Titus Post just decided to sell their old homestead.
It wasn’t long before the Archies were trying to fit into the lifestyle of the small southern town, without revealing that they truly belonged in the city. Some of the old men sitting on the benches around the courthouse thought Kelly was slinking home a failure, since he wasn’t a professor anymore, and others thought he was a triumphal success, since he could afford to buy the old Post farm lock stock and barrel.
Misty, Texas, was a small backwater town, southeast of Dallas, just off Highway 175, in Harper County. It was one of those towns that through the swirling passage of the years forgot why it was ever built. There was evidence that there must have been a reason the first families stopped there and made their homes. There was evidence that once things were happening in the little town. The buildings around the square were many more stories than were needed to support the businesses, which hung signs in the windows now. The signs in the windows informed the casual observer that the town still boasted a cafe, bank, newspaper office, hardware store, drug store, dress shop, and a thrift store. The buildings that housed this small offering of businesses still showed the elegant architectural flourishes, which indicated that when the buildings were erected, the owners had more money than they knew what to do with.
The residents of Misty rarely raised their eyes off the ground, as they walked around town. If they were to look up to the brick and stonework of the buildings to see the permanent signs, set in the structures, they would see that that the town once sported more than one bank, hotel, entertainment house, livery stable, and department store. The boarded-up factory and warehouse buildings at the edge of town, surrounded by grazing cattle, gave hints to the past as well. The rusty rails of long gone trains, now only acting as speed bumps in downtown, spoke of cargos that must have at one time rolled away from the factories out into the larger world. In downtown, four roads crossed, mapping out a square, where the courthouse, the town’s pride and joy, sat as a nod to the good old days.
The WPA came in the days when the little town had about given up the ghost after the hardest years of the great depression, and hired the local men to build the courthouse. Though no longer the county seat, the building was still the center of life for the residents of Misty, who managed to stay firmly attached to their old homesteads, as they watched more and more people just drift away.
Every little girl and boy who passed through the schools of Misty spent long hours in the courthouse attending meetings of the organizations that were meant to make them productive citizens: The Girl Scouts, The Boy Scouts, 4-H, Future Farmers of America, and Future Homemakers of America. By the time they grew up they knew their places in society, and lest they forget the lessons when they grew up, they could still spend evenings at the courthouse at meetings that were meant to remind them of their places. There were meetings for the housewives, meetings for the farmers, and meetings for the businessmen. Men and women got together when the Historical Society met every month, at the courthouse, in a desperate attempt to round up a plausible history for Misty. Not that they gained much success.
Such was the town that Kelly Archie fled as a young man. He fled in search of a place where he could be something more than a farmer and businessman. Now he was home again, a farmer, though not a businessman, with a wife and a child on the way.