Meet the People of Mossy Creek
Miss Ida Hamilton, mayor
Sue Ora Salter, mystery writer
Sandy Bottoms Crane, a modern day heroine
Amos Royden, police chief
"Father Mike" O'Conner, barkeep
Maggie Hart, shop owner and daughter
Josie McClure, Failed Beauty Queen
Peggy Caldwell, Reluctant Gardener
Jasmine Beleau, New Bad Girl In Town
Tammy Jo Brown, Another Failed Beauty Queen
Anna Rose Lavender, Director of the Theater Guild
Louise Sawyer, Retired Teacher With Childhood Stories To Tell
Win "Bubba Rice" Allen, The New Chef In Town
Orville Gene Simple, A Man Against Nature
Eula Mae Whit, Mossy Creek's Oldest Living Woman
Ed Brady, Junior, The Returning Son
On that fateful day, the beginning of my life of crime, I put a Best of Fleetwood Mac CD in the sound system of my parlor office, turned up the volume on Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow, drank a swig of scotch straight from the bottle, unlocked my mahogany gun cabinet, and loaded shells into my heirloom twelve-gauge shotgun with the silver-inlaid Hamilton crest.
Manipulation of my name-my first protest-began when I was twelve. Instead of a signature, I signed my initials S O S ! with the exclamation point at the end. I thought it was pretty cool. When I married a Bigelow, I simply swapped the last s for a b, particularly when I found out how much it annoyed my husband, Michael Willingham Bigelow of the City of Bigelow and the Bigelow Banking and Real Estate Company Bigelows. The marriage didn't last but as a potential writer of mystery novels, my revenge was keeping my name. A writer who can autograph her books S O B ! makes a statement. My husband called me a smart ass. I prefer to call myself a writer with an attitude.
I ran down the sidewalk a few steps and edged through the small crowd that had gathered next to where Ingrid was screaming and flinging her apron at something on the ground. The "something" was a bird approximately the size of a lawn tractor, flopping its giant wings and screeching bloody murder. It had Bob's collar in its beak and Bob himself, who was unfortunately still wearing the collar at the time, dangled about six inches off the sidewalk as the hawk tried to gain altitude. I didn't say anything. I was still trying to figure out how hungry a bird would have to be to come all the way into town to hunt Chihuahuas.
In the South, you're not a man until your daddy says you're a man.
One thing I learned at the old man's knee was to live with reality. You can hate a Southern truism. You can even scoff at it. But you can't escape it any more than you can escape death and taxes. I knew full well what I was getting into when I pinned my daddy's badge on my shirt. But damned if I could resist the offer.
I'm Irish, you see, with all that entails. We recognize crazy in it's many forms. There's an old joke that goes..."God created whiskey so the Irish couldn't rule the world." Whiskey runs in our family you might say--not as a vice, although I've been known to down a belt or two, but as a living. My father owned a pub in Chicago like his father who owned one in County Cork. Now I had become the proud owner of O'Day's in Mossy Creek, named after my sainted mother's family for good luck since they were all legendary drinkers. Not difficult to find, O'Day's is right next door to town hall. I figured the best place to sell liquor was to those who needed it most in order to sleep at night-–lawyers and, without a doubt, politicians.
When Mother went on one of her little shoplifting expeditions, she didn't usually come straight home. That was the strangest part of her hobby. I never found any of the items she took. Over the years, there had been a toaster, a fancy garter from the Mossy Creek Bridal Shoppe, a golden heart necklace, a pair of lace gloves, and even a small, decrepit trunk from the Up The Creek Flea Market. How could she steal something as big as a trunk and not be seen?
When I began studying feng shui—led to it by an article about the Eastern philosophy of decorating in an issue of Martha Stewart Living—I learned that mountains are really sleeping dragons, the peaks the humps of their backs. Not only is dragon's breath the best chi—or energy—there is, but Snakes and Dragons get along extremely well. That's important because I'm a Snake, astrologically speaking. Blending the Eastern and Western astrologies—which I always do—I'm a Cancer/Snake. A shy, secretive, home-loving recluse. A wallflower, in other words, though I prefer to think of myself more as a mountain flower. A mountain laurel, perhaps, that blooms high up on the cold side of the mountain, mostly unseen.
I'd always loathed gardening, in part because gardening loathed me. That saying about 'if at first you don't succeed, try, try again,' is idiotic. If you don't succeed at something, then for pity's sake drop it and take up something you're good at. With that said, I have to tell you that none of what happened after I moved to Mossy Creek was my fault.
It was the zinnias'.
I believe when I sit down to write my memoirs-and I do intend to get around to putting them on paper--as soon as I lose interest in making new ones, that is-I believe I'll begin with a few simple feminine truths, such as: If there's one thing I've learned, it's that you can't start a car with a tube of lipstick.
Now, I'm sure most logical folk would agree, and you might even think I'm a little cock-eyed to bring it up. But honey, a tube of lipstick in just the right shade and used in just the right manner will get men to start cars for you all day long.
I was, according to popular decree, the most feared rival in the Miss Bigelow County Pageant during the height of my reign back in the early 1990s. Only Francine Quinlin from Mossy Creek with her waist-length blonde hair and big blue eyes came even close to measuring up, but my singing and dancing beat her baton twirling by a landslide in the talent category. That made me a vital part of Bigelow's arsenal against our nemesis, Mossy Creek. Everyone in Bigelow loved me for it.
I stared at Waylon Sansbury, wondering how a man could forget lines he'd known perfectly only the day before. This was our big love scene. I disengaged myself from his arms and stepped back. "Waylon, how is it possible that you can't remember your lines?"
"You're real intense these days, Anna Rose. You make me nervous."
"Shakespeare deserves intensity, Waylon." I heard a chuckle and glanced toward my grinning daughter, Hermia, whom I call Mia. She was no stranger to my perfectionism, but she loved me, anyway. I nodded to Marya, our assistant stage manager. "Let's try it, again." She cued Waylon and waited while he hesitantly practiced his line several times. Then, as if launching himself off a front loader at a construction site, he threw his arms around me again and nearly knocked me down with an awkward kiss.
I staggered back. Nothing. The stage chemistry that had made me and Waylon a good romantic pair for A Midsummer Night's Dream had simply vanished. I was intimidating him. And we had only one week before opening.
My Cousin Minn was only in her mid-fifties at that time, but to me she seemed ancient. She weighed maybe eighty-five pounds dripping wet, and wore neat Liberty print dresses with hand-made Belgian lace collars, winter and summer. She was still slim and erect, and swore the scissors had never touched her hair. I could believe it. It was heavily streaked with gray, but the plait she did it up in every night was as thick as my wrist. She wore lisle stockings and sensible shoes whenever she went out. The only jewelry I ever saw her wear was an antique cameo brooch she said her mother had left her. I still wear it, although I'm hardly the cameo type.
Winfield Jefferson Allen. A perfectly reasonable name. If you don't mind being beaten up in grade school.
When the first day of school rolled around for third grade, I made the decision that changed my life. I asked the teacher to call me Bubba. The Bubba's of the world have a certain swagger of confidence. They're the elder sons, the big brothers; they rescue damsels in distress...usually from other Bubba's. However, in the third grade I wasn't thinking much about damsels. I was just concerned with making it through recess in one piece. I became Bubba. With the stroke of a pen on a roll-call sheet, I changed my life.
A beaver had taken residence in my pond.
As I stared in disbelief, I saw sudden movement in the water and then lo and behold, out pops the danged beaver as brazen as you please. He lumbered up onto the bank where he proceeded to chew off another limb of my poor willow. At that point I didn't think, I just started running.
"Dad blame it, you pesky critter! You have crossed the line of peaceful co-existence. One of us has got to go and it ain't gonna be me."
The beaver took the limb into his mouth and headed for the water, moving like a kid with a stolen lollipop making for the grocery store door. He hit the water with a splash, dragging the limb behind him. Just before the beaver reached the lodge, he slapped the water with that big old flat tail, then, along with the limb, disappeared beneath the water.
I took it as the insult it was meant to be and headed for the house. Something had to be done before that damned furry water bug ruined the rest of the trees.
If he was sprucing up for the reunion like everyone else in Mossy Creek, he was in for a surprise.
I used to think once Willard Scott called your name, your number was up no matter where you lived in the country. But then I heard through the Whit family gossip and information line that Willard was sweet on Southern women. Especially if they were from Mossy Creek. I watched him on the Peacock Station everyday to see if he was going to be on, because Mossy Creek women always got that cute little jelly label.
I was ninety-five when Clara told me Willard was married. For that bad news, I mixed a little concoction in with her soup and she sat on the toilet for the rest of her stay. She left on the first bus heading north. You can't trust a Whit who lives above the Virginia state line.
I stood in the cemetery of Mossy Creek Presbyterian Church along with everyone else in town that fall, watching my father, Ed Brady, bury my mother, Ellie. Pop looked like what he was--an old, tired farmer, wearing an outdated sports coat and a tie knotted loosely beneath a white shirt too large for his neck. I remembered how big I once thought he was. He didn't look that way any more. I felt out of place, standing there in my expensive pinstriped suit, a middle-aged businessman who'd left Mossy Creek almost thirty years ago and had only come back periodically since.
After the graveside service, the minister and every old-timer in the church congregation came up to me warmly. I shook the men's hands and hugged the women, while my father went through the motions. Every person who spoke to me said the same thing, Good to see you, Boy.
I was still Ed Brady's boy.