Chapter 2: The Plan

CHAPTER TWO

 (available now at Amazon, print and kindle - Also available at Barnes and Noble-NookSmashwords, ePub/iTunes and Other Online bookstores)

 

One morning, a couple of weeks after I’d been killed, while hovering over the construction site of my new home that never got finished, I overheard through the open window next door a conversation between a couple of Clarksdale ladies.

If I’d lived to complete my new home, I would have been neighbors with Lucy Bingham Moore, a white female in her late fifties, who wears mid-calf synthetic material dresses and tells others how she hates what she calls homos, carefully getting in both syllables.

Missy Lucy was on the phone with Doris Lee Saylor, a prominent Clarksdale woman, who was gushing. “Lucy, your husband Tom’s lovely old home was voted by the Culture Club this morning as the site for our Fall Spectacular Event! We’re so happy for both of you! Keep this date open—September 27, 2014. We always plan ahead!”

While Lucy was digesting the call, I noticed Doris, who was off elsewhere on her own mental tangent. I guess Doris was picturing Thomas Moore III’s early twentieth-century home as the perfect site for her gala. It would make her look so important, once she inked the deal with Lucy.

Reminiscent of the Old South, the two-story red-brick home was set on a large piece of land at the edge of Clarksdale, just off old Highway 61 going north out of town and known as the Blues Highway. The picture of Southern hospitality, with its high white Roman columns, tall French windows swinging in to let breezes cool the interior, and forest-green shutters filtering the sunlight, this landmark brought a rich sense of history to the Delta, making it perfect for the event.

Of course it was Lucy’s home, too—sort of—but everyone knew about Lucy and Tom’s prenuptial agreement; Lucy would never own clear title to Tom’s place. Even if Tom died, it would go to his sister. He’d put this in writing, and I knew the lawyer who had prepared it.

But this was to be Clarksdale’s 164th annual Culture Club gathering. As Doris spoke to Lucy, I envisioned the fragile ash from her cigarette growing longer until it fell to the floor—that would be so Doris—a slim, anxiety-driven white woman in her late fifties, who liked her jeans tight, her blond hair cropped short, and a martini in her left hand.

Clarksdale was founded by Doris’s pioneer relative in 1848, thirteen years before the Civil War began. One year later, he had organized the Culture Club, to give white Clarksdale ladies a focus for their lives. The Club was Doris Lee Saylor’s to protect.

“Will there be a story in the Clarksdale newspaper with a photo?” Lucy appeared hesitant in asking about publicity, likely not wanting to make waves and lose this chance for her debut into Clarksdale high society. Doris mentally thought back to their phone conversation and assured Lucy that the local editor would take lots of photos for the society page.

“When can we get together and go over details?”

Doris hesitated. I’m sure she unwittingly concurred it would take more than one meeting for Lucy to grasp her total responsibilities.

“I’ll call you very soon.”

I heard a loud buzz when Doris placed the phone on its hook, interference that sometimes happens when messages are coming in from my new message board. I was still learning how dead works out in these aspects.

Curious, I made it over to Doris’s house via the Clarksdale city bus. I found her sitting at her Grandmother Saylor’s favorite writing desk, penning a quick note to Lucy. She was outlining Lucy’s role as hostess and requesting that she sign a memo of understanding, just to keep everything businesslike; she learned this from her daddy.

Rising from the old mahogany writing table, Doris paused to look out her living room picture window, which was located in back of their plantation home and faced the family’s one remaining cotton field.

A warm-colored glow engulfed her body. She probably was thinking about her family’s fortunes. Only those with true Delta roots could understand her pride. And yes, the “Lee” in Doris Lee Saylor stood for the old general—Robert E.—who was part of her direct blood line.

When I returned to Lucy’s house, she was seated at OUR Grandmother Frieda’s stained wood dining room table, sipping a fresh cup of tea. I’m sure she was trying to cover every angle of how she would look to the community as hostess of this prestigious event, perhaps figuring that Tom would have time to plant fresh pansies, ornamental cabbage, and dill in the front yard. If Tom’s new plants made it through the summer heat to survive the early autumn frosts, all this new foliage would brighten up the event and make Lucy look even better.

I’d been the keeper of family histories since high school, and when Lucy married Tom Moore, I traced her family to the Republican Walkers of Ohio. Her mother’s clan had invaded the South after the War, meddling with Reconstruction and making enemies of the losers.

Tom Moore had his own personal complications. Like many small southern towns, nearly all influential residents struggled with two versions of their family trees. On one side of Tom’s family were the white Moores of Clarksdale, and on the other side were the rest of us who held a pinch of the old white planter’s blood in our gene pool.

If an outsider was looking for a certain person from an important family in town say, Tim Harper, they’d do best to announce, “I’m looking for the white Harpers” or “Anybody know where I can find the black Harpers?” Especially if they wanted quick directions to the correct Harper household. Of course, this was the same with finding the black or white Moores of Clarksdale.

Seldom were all families cross-invited to reunions, like Thomas Jefferson’s mixed-race kin, but in these post-civil rights movement years, the two Moore families, like some others, were starting to tolerate each other, going so far as to wave hello at the supermarket.

Still, Clarksdale maintained, by everyone’s choice, its segregated beauty parlors and funeral homes; the most intimate personal care stayed separated.

Lucy Moore’s remarkable rise in this Delta town’s white society rested on Tom’s three-times great-grandfather, old man Thomas Moore (the first), who because of the South’s peculiar institution, and because of his loose genes, was also MY family’s old man, Thomas Moore.

Of course, Lucy had no idea that Tom and I shared roots. I sure as hell wasn’t going to deliver this news, and neither was he!

The old cotton-planter-turned-banker had earned his money off the backs of my people—his enslaved—and started his business at the end of the Lost Cause, or what some of us call the Civil War. My side of the Moore family never saw any of his money, and there were plenty of us around town, thanks to his virility. Only the white Moores got his money, and they lost most of it in bad investments.

The Moores of Coahoma County represented people from Africa to Ulster. The old white man’s pioneer relatives, who first came to the Carolinas in the mid 1700s as descendants of Scots, brought their captive slaves here to work the land. From my genealogical studies, I’d learned the black Moore ancestors were kidnapped from Senegambia, West Africa, but I’m still doing the research. There’s a good library where I’ve landed, with real Mormon archivists.

So, even with his family money mostly spent, Tom Moore still held the old plantation home, a decent job at the bank named after his family, his ancestral Bible brought across the Atlantic, and of course, the Moore surname, making Lucy Bingham Moore a grateful New South woman, despite her being a Buckeye.

Lucy’s euphoria appeared interrupted. She sat up in her chair, smacking her fine china teacup on its saucer hard enough to make it rattle, but not crack.

She had to be remembering me! Clinton Moore. A very gay, very black, activist lawyer who almost had been her next door neighbor. I watched her eyes rapidly shift to the left as she peered through the side window of her dining room, then rest on what she frequently called that damned white rusted-iron fence in front of that mess of a lot next door.

This was Lucy’s description of my specially machined white iron fence, the boundary that would have separated us, had I lived. Its front gate was frozen half-shut and covered with crawling green kudzu.

I’m sure she planned to ask Tom to buy my vacant lot from my sister, so she could rip out my fence, pull up my kudzu, and turn my whole place into a giant flowerbed. Before getting Tom to comply, though, she would have to fix him a nice supper.

At least I was dead. I could hear her clucking about me, while she took a final sip of fresh mint tea, then returned to Tom’s parlor, dusting his piano for the third time that day.

*****

(THE PLAN available now at Amazon, print and kindle - Also available at Barnes and Noble-NookSmashwords, ePub/iTunes and Other Online bookstores)