The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east…

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The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit
some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at
every chance to change Bailey's mind. Bailey was the son she lived
with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the
table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal. "Now look
here, Bailey," she said, "see here, read this," and she stood with
one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his
bald head. "Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose
from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here
what it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn't take
my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I
couldn't answer to my conscience if I did."
Bailey didn't look up from his reading so she wheeled around then
and faced the children's mother, a young woman in slacks, whose
face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around
with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like
rabbit's ears. She was sitting on the sofa, feeding the baby his
apricots out of a jar. "The children have been to Florida before,"
the old lady said. "You all ought to take them somewhere else for a
change so they would see different parts of the world and be broad.
They never have been to east Tennessee."
The children's mother didn't seem to hear her but the eight-year-old
boy, John Wesley, a stocky child with glasses, said, "If you don't
want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home?" He and the little
girl, June Star, were reading the funny papers on the floor.
"She wouldn't stay at home to be queen for a day," June Star said
without raising her yellow head.
"Yes and what would you do if this fellow, The Misfit, caught
you?" the grandmother asked. "I'd smack his face," John Wesley
"She wouldn't stay at home for a million bucks," June Star said.
"Afraid she'd miss something. She has to go everywhere we go."
"All right, Miss," the grandmother said. "Just remember that the
next time you want me to curl your hair."
June Star said her hair was naturally curly.
The next morning the grandmother was the first one in the car,
ready to go. She had her big black valise that looked like the head
of a hippopotamus in one corner, and underneath it she was hiding
a basket with Pitty Sing, the cat, in it. She didn't intend for the cat
to be left alone in the house for three days because he would miss
her too much and she was afraid he might brush against one of her
gas burners and accidentally asphyxiate himself. Her son, Bailey,
didn't like to arrive at a motel with a cat.
She sat in the middle of the back seat with John Wesley and June
Star on either side of her. Bailey and the children's mother and the
baby sat in front and they left Atlanta at eight forty-five with the
mileage on the car at 55890. The grandmother wrote this down
because she thought it would be interesting to say how many miles
they had been when they got back. It took them twenty minutes to
reach the outskirts of the city.
The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white
cotton gloves and putting them up with her purse on the shelf in
front of the back window. The children's mother still had on slacks
and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief, but the
grandmother had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of
white violets on the brim and a navy blue dress with a small white
dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed
with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth
violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing
her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.
She said she thought it was going to be a good day for driving,
neither too hot nor too cold, and she cautioned Bailey that the
speed limit was fifty-five miles an hour and that the patrolmen hid
themselves behind billboards and small clumps of trees and sped
out after you before you had a chance to slow down. She pointed
out interesting details of the scenery: Stone Mountain; the blue
granite that in some places came up to both sides of the highway;
the brilliant red clay banks slightly streaked with purple; and the
various crops that made rows of green lace-work on the ground.
The trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of
them sparkled. The children were reading comic magazines and
their mother and gone back to sleep.
"Let's go through Georgia fast so we won't have to look at it
much," John Wesley said.
"If I were a little boy," said the grandmother, "I wouldn't talk about
my native state that way. Tennessee has the mountains and
Georgia has the hills."
"Tennessee is just a hillbilly dumping ground," John Wesley said,
"and Georgia is a lousy state too."
"You said it," June Star said.
"In my time," said the grandmother, folding her thin veined
fingers, "children were more respectful of their native states and
their parents and everything else. People did right then. Oh look at
the cute little pickaninny!" she said and pointed to a Negro child
standing in the door of a shack. "Wouldn't that make a picture,
now?" she asked and they all turned and looked at the little Negro
out of the back window. He waved
"He didn't have any britches on," June Star said.
"He probably didn't have any," the grandmother explained. "Little
riggers in the country don't have things like we do. If I could paint,
I'd paint that picture," she said.
The children exchanged comic books.
The grandmother offered to hold the baby and the children's
mother passed him over the front seat to her. She set him on her
knee and bounced him and told him about the things they were
passing. She rolled her eyes and screwed up her mouth and stuck
her leathery thin face into his smooth bland one. Occasionally he
gave her a faraway smile. They passed a large cotton field with
five or fix graves fenced in the middle of it, like a small island.
"Look at the graveyard!" the grandmother said, pointing it out.
"That was the old family burying ground. That belonged to the
"Where's the plantation?" John Wesley asked.?"Gone with the
Wind" said the grandmother. "Ha. Ha."
When the children finished all the comic books they had brought,
they opened the lunch and ate it. The grandmother ate a peanut
butter sandwich and an olive and would not let the children throw
the box and the paper napkins out the window. When there was
nothing else to do they played a game by choosing a cloud and
making the other two guess what shape it suggested. John Wesley
took one the shape of a cow and June Star guessed a cow and John
Wesley said, no, an automobile, and June Star said he didn't play
fair, and they began to slap each other over the grandmother.
The grandmother said she would tell them a story if they would
keep quiet. When she told a story, she rolled her eyes and waved
her head and was very dramatic. She said once when she was a
maiden lady she had been courted by a Mr. Edgar Atkins
Teagarden from Jasper, Georgia. She said he was a very good-
looking man and a gentleman and that he brought her a
watermelon every Saturday afternoon with his initials cut in it, E.
A. T. Well, one Saturday, she said, Mr. Teagarden brought the
watermelon and there was nobody at home and he left it on the
front porch and returned in his buggy to Jasper, but she never got
the watermelon, she said, because a nigger boy ate it when he saw
the initials, E. A. T.! This story tickled John Wesley's funny bone
and he giggled and giggled but June Star didn't think it was any
good. She said she wouldn't marry a man that just brought her a
watermelon on Saturday. The grandmother said she would have
done well to marry Mr. Teagarden because he was a gentle man
and had bought Coca-Cola stock when it first came out and that he
had died only a few years ago, a very wealthy man.
They stopped at The Tower for barbecued sandwiches. The Tower
was a part stucco and part wood filling station and dance hall set in
a clearing outside of Timothy. A fat man named Red Sammy Butts
ran it and there were signs stuck here and there on the building and
for miles up and down the highway saying, TRY RED SAMMY'S
Red Sammy was lying on the bare ground outside The Tower with
his head under a truck while a gray monkey about a foot high,
chained to a small chinaberry tree, chattered nearby. The monkey
sprang back into the tree and got on the highest limb as soon as he
saw the children jump out of the car and run toward him.
Inside, The Tower was a long dark room with a counter at one end
and tables at the other and dancing space in the middle. They all
sat down at a board table next to the nickelodeon and Red Sam's
wife, a tall burnt-brown woman with hair and eyes lighter than her
skin, came and took their order. The children's mother put a dime
in the machine and played "The Tennessee Waltz," and the
grandmother said that tune always made her want to dance. She
asked Bailey if he would like to dance but he only glared at her. He
didn't have a naturally sunny disposition like she did and trips
made him nervous. The grandmother's brown eyes were very
bright. She swayed her head from side to side and pretended she
was dancing in her chair. June Star said play something she could
tap to so the children's mother put in another dime and played a
fast number and June Star stepped out onto the dance floor and did
her tap routine.
"Ain't she cute?" Red Sam's wife said, leaning over the counter.
"Would you like to come be my little girl?"
"No I certainly wouldn't," June Star said. "I wouldn't live in a
broken-down place like this for a million bucks!" and she ran back
to the table.
"Ain't she cute?" the woman repeated, stretching her mouth
politely. "Arn't you ashamed?" hissed the grandmother.
Red Sam came in and told his wife to quit lounging on the counter
and hurry up with these people's order. His khaki trousers reached
just to his hip bones and his stomach hung over them like a sack of
meal swaying under his shirt. He came over and sat down at a table
nearby and let out a combination sigh and yodel. "You can't win,"
he said. "You can't win," and he wiped his sweating red face off
with a gray handkerchief. "These days you don't know who to
trust," he said. "Ain't that the truth?"
"People are certainly not nice like they used to be," said the
"Two fellers come in here last week," Red Sammy said, "driving a
Chrysler. It was a old beat-up car but it was a good one and these
boys looked all right to me. Said they worked at the mill and you
know I let them fellers charge the gas they bought? Now why did I
do that?"
"Because you're a good man!" the grandmother said at once.
"Yes'm, I suppose so," Red Sam said as if he were struck with this
His wife brought the orders, carrying the five plates all at once
without a tray, two in each hand and one balanced on her arm. "It
isn't a soul in this green world of God's that you can trust," she
said. "And I don't count nobody out of that, not nobody," she
repeated, looking at Red Sammy.
"Did you read about that criminal, The Misfit, that's escaped?"
asked the grandmother.
"I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he didn't attack this place right
here," said the woman. "If he hears about it being here, I wouldn't
be none surprised to see him. If he hears it's two cent in the cash
register, I wouldn't be a tall surprised if he . . ."
"That'll do," Red Sam said. "Go bring these people their Co'-
Colas," and the woman went off to get the rest of the order.
"A good man is hard to find," Red Sammy said. "Everything is
getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave
your screen door unlatched. Not no more."
He and the grandmother discussed better times. The old lady said
that in her opinion Europe was entirely to blame for the way things
were now. She said the way Europe acted you would think we
were made of money and Red Sam said it was no use talking about
it, she was exactly right. The children ran outside into the white
sunlight and looked at the monkey in the lacy chinaberry tree. He
was busy catching fleas on himself and biting each one carefully
between his teeth as if it were a delicacy.
They drove off again into the hot afternoon. The grandmother took
cat naps and woke up every few minutes with her own snoring.
Outside of Toombsboro she woke up and recalled an old plantation
that she had visited in this neighborhood once when she was a
young lady. She said the house had six white columns across the
front and that there was an avenue of oaks leading up to it and two
little wooden trellis arbors on either side in front where you sat
down with your suitor after a stroll in the garden. She recalled
exactly which road to turn off to get to it. She knew that Bailey
would not be willing to lose any time looking at an old house, but
the more she talked about it, the more she wanted to see it once
again and find out if the little twin arbors were still standing.
"There was a secret:-panel in this house," she said craftily, not
telling the truth but wishing that she were, "and the story went that
all the family silver was hidden in it when Sherman came through
but it was never found . . ."
"Hey!" John Wesley said. "Let's go see it! We'll find it! We'll poke
all the woodwork and find it! Who lives there? Where do you turn
off at? Hey Pop, can't we turn off there?"
"We never have seen a house with a secret panel!" June Star
shrieked. "Let's go to the house with the secret panel! Hey Pop,
can't we go see the house with the secret panel!"
"It's not far from here, I know," the grandmother said. "It wouldn't
take over twenty minutes." Bailey was looking straight ahead. His
jaw was as rigid as a horseshoe. "No," he said.
The children began to yell and scream that they wanted to see the
house with the secret panel. John Wesley kicked the back of the
front seat and June Star hung over her mother's shoulder and
whined desperately into her ear that they never had any fun even
on their vacation, that they could never do what THEY wanted to
do. The baby began to scream and John Wesley kicked the back of
the seat so hard that his father could feel the blows in his kidney.
"All right!" he shouted and drew the car to a stop at the side of the
road. "Will you all shut up? Will you all just shut up for one
second? If you don't shut up, we won't go anywhere."
"It would be very educational for them," the grandmother
"All right," Bailey said, "but get this: this is the only time we're
going to stop for anything like this. This is the one and only time."
"The dirt road that you have to turn down is about a mile back,"
the grandmother directed. "I marked it when we passed."
"A dirt road," Bailey groaned.
After they had turned around and were headed toward the dirt road,
the grandmother recalled other points about the house, the
beautiful glass over the front doorway and the candle-lamp in the
hall. John Wesley said that the secret panel was probably in the
"You can't go inside this house," Bailey said. "You don't know
who lives there."
"While you all talk to the people in front, I'll run around behind
and get in a window," John Wesley suggested.
"We'll all stay in the car," his mother said.
They turned onto the dirt road and the car raced roughly along in a
swirl of pink dust. The grandmother recalled the times when there
were no paved roads and thirty miles was a day's journey. The dirt
road was hilly and there were sudden washes in it and sharp curves
on dangerous embankments. All at once they would be on a hill,
looking down over the blue tops of trees for miles around, then the
next minute, they would be in a red depression with the dust-
coated trees looking down on them.
"This place had better turn up in a minute," Bailey said, "or I'm
going to turn around." The road looked as if no one had traveled on
it in months.
"It's not much farther," the grandmother said and just as she said it,
a horrible thought came to her. The thought was so embarrassing
that she turned red in the face and her eyes dilated and her feet
jumped up, upsetting her valise in the corner. The instant the valise
moved, the newspaper top she had over the basket under it rose
with a snarl and Pitty Sing, the cat, sprang onto Bailey's shoulder.
The children were thrown to the floor and their mother, clutching
the baby, was thrown out the door onto the ground; the old lady
was thrown into the front seat. The car turned over once and
landed right-side-up in a gulch off the side of the road. Bailey
remained in the driver's seat with the cat gray-striped with a broad
white face and an orange nose clinging to his neck like a
As soon as the children saw they could move their arms and legs,
they scrambled out of the car, shouting, "We've had an
ACCIDENT!" The grandmother was curled up under the
dashboard, hoping she was injured so that Bailey's wrath would not
come down on her all at once. The horrible thought she had had
before the accident was that the house she had remembered so
vividly was not in Georgia but in Tennessee.
Bailey removed the cat from his neck with both hands and flung it
out the window against the side of a pine tree. Then he got out of
the car and started looking for the children's mother. She was
sitting against the side of the red gutted ditch, holding the
screaming baby, but she only had a cut down her face and a broken
shoulder. "We've had an ACCIDENT!" the children screamed in a
frenzy of delight.
"But nobody's killed," June Star said with disappointment as the
grandmother limped out of the car, her hat still pinned to her head
but the broken front brim standing up at a jaunty angle and the
violet spray hanging off the side. They all sat down in the ditch,
except the children, to recover from the shock. They were all
"Maybe a car will come along," said the children's mother
"I believe I have injured an organ," said the grandmother, pressing
her side, but no one answered her. Bailey's teeth were clattering.
He had on a yellow sport shirt with bright blue parrots designed in
it and his face was as yellow as the shirt. The grandmother decided
that she would not mention that the house was in Tennessee.
The road was about ten feet above and they could see only the tops
of the trees on the other side of it. Behind the ditch they were
sitting in there were more woods, tall and dark and deep. In a few
minutes they saw a car some distance away on top of a hill, coming
slowly as if the occupants were watching them. The grandmother
stood up and waved both arms dramatically to attract their
attention. The car continued to come on slowly, disappeared
around a bend and appeared again, moving even slower, on top of
the hill they had gone over. It was a big black battered hearselike
automobile. There were three men in it.
It came to a stop just over them and for some minutes, the driver
looked down with a steady expressionless gaze to where they were
sitting, and didn't speak. Then he turned his head and muttered
something to the other two and they got out. One was a fat boy in
black trousers and a red sweat shirt with a silver stallion embossed
on the front of it. He moved around on the right side of them and
stood staring, his mouth partly open in a kind of loose grin. The
other had on khaki pants and a blue striped coat and a gray hat
pulled down very low, hiding most of his face. He came around
slowly on the left side. Neither spoke.
The driver got out of the car and stood by the side of it, looking
down at them. He was an older man than the other two. His hair
was just beginning to gray and he wore silver-rimmed spectacles
that gave him a scholarly look. He had a long creased face and
didn't have on any shirt or undershirt. He had on blue jeans that
were too tight for him and was holding a black hat and a gun. The
two boys also had guns.
"We've had an ACCIDENT!" the children screamed.
The grandmother had the peculiar feeling that the bespectacled
man was someone she knew. His face was as familiar to her as if
she had known him all her life but she could not recall who he was.
He moved away from the car and began to come down the
embankment, placing his feet carefully so that he wouldn't slip. He
had on tan and white shoes and no socks, and his ankles were red
and thin. "Good afternoon," he said. "I see you all had you a little
"We turned over twice!" said the grandmother.
"Once", he corrected. "We seen it happen. Try their car and see
will it run, Hiram," he said quietly to the boy with the gray hat.
"What you got that gun for?" John Wesley asked. "Whatcha gonna
do with that gun?"
"Lady," the man said to the children's mother, "would you mind
calling them children to sit down by you? Children make me
nervous. I want all you all to sit down right together there where
you're at."
"What are you telling US what to do for?" June Star asked.
Behind them the line of woods gaped like a dark open mouth.
"Come here," said their mother.
"Look here now," Bailey began suddenly, "we're in a predicament!
We're in . . ."
The grandmother shrieked. She scrambled to her feet and stood
staring. "You're The Misfit!" she said. "I recognized you at once!"
"Yes'm," the man said, smiling slightly as if he were pleased in
spite of himself to be known, "but it would have been better for all
of you, lady, if you hadn't of reckernized me."
Bailey turned his head sharply and said something to his mother
that shocked even the children. The old lady began to cry and The
Misfit reddened.
"Lady," he said, "don't you get upset. Sometimes a man says things
he don't mean. I don't reckon he meant to talk to you thataway."
"You wouldn't shoot a lady, would you?" the grandmother said and
removed a clean handkerchief from her cuff and began to slap at
her eyes with it.
The Misfit pointed the toe of his shoe into the ground and made a
little hole and then covered it up again. "I would hate to have to,"
he said.
"Listen," the grandmother almost screamed, "I know you're a good
man. You don't look a bit like you have common blood. I know
you must come from nice people!"
"Yes mam," he said, "finest people in the world." When he smiled
he showed a row of strong white teeth. "God never made a finer
woman than my mother and my daddy's heart was pure gold," he
said. The boy with the red sweat shirt had come around behind
them and was standing with his gun at his hip. The Misfit squatted
down on the ground. "Watch them children, Bobby Lee," he said.
"You know they make me nervous." He looked at the six of them
huddled together in front of him and he seemed to be embarrassed
as if he couldn't think of anything to say. "Ain't a cloud in the sky,"
he remarked, looking up at it. "Don't see no sun but don't see no
cloud neither."
"Yes, it's a beautiful day," said the grandmother. "Listen," she said,
"you shouldn't call yourself The Misfit because I know you're a
good man at heart. I can just look at you and tell."
"Hush!" Bailey yelled. "Hush! Everybody shut up and let me
handle this!" He was squatting in the position of a runner about to
sprint forward but he didn't move.
"I pre-chate that, lady," The Misfit said and drew a little circle in
the ground with the butt of his gun.
"It'll take a half a hour to fix this here car," Hiram called, looking
over the raised hood of it.
"Well, first you and Bobby Lee get him and that little boy to step
over yonder with you," The Misfit said, pointing to Bailey and
John Wesley. "The boys want to ast you something," he said to
Bailey. "Would you mind stepping back in them woods there with
"Listen," Bailey began, "we're in a terrible predicament! Nobody
realizes what this is," and his voice cracked. His eyes were as blue
and intense as the parrots in his shirt and he remained perfectly
The grandmother reached up to adjust her hat brim as if she were
going to the woods with him but it came off in her hand. She stood
staring at it and after a second she let it fall on the ground. Hiram
pulled Bailey up by the arm as if he were assisting an old man.
John Wesley caught hold of his father's hand and Bobby I,ee
followed. They went off toward the woods and just as they reached
the dark edge, Bailey turned and supporting himself against a gray
naked pine trunk, he shouted, "I'll be back in a minute, Mamma,
wait on me!"
"Come back this instant!" his mother shrilled but they all
disappeared into the woods.
"Bailey Boy!" the grandmother called in a tragic voice but she
found she was looking at The Misfit squatting on the ground in
front of her. "I just know you're a good man," she said desperately.
"You're not a bit common!"
"Nome, I ain't a good man," The Misfit said after a second ah if he
had considered her statement carefully, "but I ain't the worst in the
world neither. My daddy said I was a different breed of dog from
my brothers and sisters. 'You know,' Daddy said, 'it's some that can
live their whole life out without asking about it and it's others has
to know why it is, and this boy is one of the latters. He's going to
be into everything!"' He put on his black hat and looked up
suddenly and then
away deep into the woods as if he were embarrassed again. "I'm
sorry I don't have on a shirt before you ladies," he said, hunching
his shoulders slightly. "We buried our clothes that we had on when
we escaped and we're just making do until we can get better. We
borrowed these from some folks we met," he explained.
"That's perfectly all right," the grandmother said. "Maybe Bailey
has an extra shirt in his suitcase."
"I'll look and see terrectly," The Misfit said.?"Where are they
taking him?" the children's mother screamed.
"Daddy was a card himself," The Misfit said. "You couldn't put
anything over on him. He never got in trouble with the Authorities
though. Just had the knack of handling them."
"You could be honest too if you'd only try," said the grandmother.
"Think how wonderful it would be to settle down and live a
comfortable life and not have to think about somebody chasing you
all the time."
The Misfit kept scratching in the ground with the butt of his gun as
if he were thinking about it. "Yestm, somebody is always after
you," he murmured.
The grandmother noticed how thin his shoulder blades were just
behind his hat because she was standing up looking down on him.
"Do you every pray?" she asked.
He shook his head. All she saw was the black hat wiggle between
his shoulder blades. "Nome," he said.
There was a pistol shot from the woods, followed closely by
another. Then silence. The old lady's head jerked around. She
could hear the wind move through the tree tops like a long satisfied
insuck of breath. "Bailey Boy!" she called.
"I was a gospel singer for a while," The Misfit said. "I been most
everything. Been in the arm service both land and sea, at home and
abroad, been twict married, been an undertaker, been with the
railroads, plowed Mother Earth, been in a tornado, seen a man
burnt alive oncet," and he looked up at the children's mother and
the little girl who were sitting close together, their faces white and
their eyes glassy; "I even seen a woman flogged," he said.
"Pray, pray," the grandmother began, "pray, pray . . ."
I never was a bad boy that I remember of," The Misfit said in an
almost dreamy voice, "but somewheres along the line I done
something wrong and got sent to the penitentiary. I was buried
alive," and he looked up and held her attention to him by a steady
"That's when you should have started to pray," she said. "What did
you do to get sent to the penitentiary that first time?"
"Turn to the right, it was a wall," The Misfit said, looking up again
at the cloudless sky. "Turn to the left, it was a wall. Look up it was
a ceiling, look down it was a floor. I forget what I done, lady. I set
there and set there, trying to remember what it was I done and I
ain't recalled it to this day. Oncet in a while, I would think it was
coming to me, but it never come."
"Maybe they put you in by mistake," the old lady said vaguely.
"Nome," he said. "It wasn't no mistake. They had the papers on
me." "You must have stolen something," she said.
The Misfit sneered slightly. "Nobody had nothing I wanted," he
said. "It was a head-doctor at the penitentiary said what I had done
was kill my daddy but I known that for a lie. My daddy died in
nineteen ought nineteen of the epidemic flu and I never had a thing
to do with it. He was buried in the Mount Hopewell Baptist
churchyard and you can go there and see for yourself."
"If you would pray," the old lady said, "Jesus would help you."
"That's right," The Misfit said.
"Well then, why don't you pray?" she asked trembling with delight
"I don't want no hep," he said. "I'm doing all right by myself."
Bobby Lee and Hiram came ambling back from the woods. Bobby
Lee was dragging a yellow shirt with bright blue parrots in it.
"Thow me that shirt, Bobby Lee," The Misfit said. The shirt came
flying at him and landed on his shoulder and he put it on. The
grandmother couldn't name what the shirt reminded her of. "No,
lady," The Misfit said while he was buttoning it up, "I found out
the crime don't matter. You can do one thing or you can do
another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later
you're going to forget what it was you done and just be punished
for it."
The children's mother had begun to make heaving noises as if she
couldn't get her breath. "Lady," he asked, "would you and that little
girl like to step off yonder with Bobby Lee and Hiram and join
your husband?"
"Yes, thank you," the mother said faintly. Her left arm dangled
helplessly and she was hold