read chapter one >>>
buy the book
OAKS OF McCORD
Author: Mary Eaddy
Original Title from Bella Rosa Books
5.5"x 8.5" Trade Paperback
long as she could remember, fourteen-year-old Maggie Louise Gordon had
heard her grandmother Laney say, "Men rule the world without consulting
women, precisely why everything's in such a pure-T mess." That comment
offended her daddy, John Powell Gordon, a pillar of the business community
in the tiny railroad town of McCord, South Carolina, and led to heated
Maggie's daddy advised her to take
a lesson from Runella Barcus, their housekeeper, because unlike Laney
Gordon, Runella knew when to hush and when to speak her mind. Daddy said
that was a universal sign of wisdom.
Too bad Runella was off the day Laney
raised the Browning Classic Featherweight and aimed its muzzle at a team
of busy surveyors.
Pressing the butt against her shoulder,
Laney gripped the barrel, her scarlet fingernails vibrant against the
black iron. "If you don't leave my yard before I count to ten, Eldon
Rice, I'll blast you into eternity," she said. "God may love
you, but you're in my way." Mr. Eldon was the project supervisor
appointed to chop down dozens of historic oak trees on Main Street.
Laney's reed-like index finger rested
gently against the trigger. "You, a member of the Sierra Club, should
save these trees, but instead you stomp around in my Snow Queen hydrangeas,
a puppet of that sorry excuse for a mayor, Hobart Tinsley."
For a moment, Mr. Eldon and his men
froze beneath a blazing sun. "Maggie Louise," Laney said, her
voice low and steady. "Phone the ambulance service and funeral parlor.
We've got them a customer."
As she leapt from the glider, Maggie's
heart pounded. What if she asked for the shotgun, but Laney refused to
surrender it? Other crew members were working nearby. If Maggie were to
grab it, the Browning could fire in a tussle and hurt someone.
"While you're dialing, phone
the church, too," Laney said. "Tell the minister to slap Eldon
Rice on the prayer list in Sunday's bulletin. If this bullet misses him
and ricochets off his tripod, I'll have no choice but to fight. Either
way, he'll stand in need of prayer."
Given Laney's interest in courting
again, five years after Grandaddy's death, Maggie was dumbfounded. Her
mother, Beth Rutledge, had always told her to withhold political opinions
from men outside the family. Maybe she'd neglected to share her good advice
Before Maggie could talk any sense
into her grandmother, Mr. Eldon yanked off his straw visor and spun around.
Dime-size beads of sweat clung to his forehead. To Maggie's amazement,
he didn't look scared. "Put that thing down, woman," he ordered.
"Widening Main Street ain't about trees, it's about jobs. Our high
school graduates are gone, family farmland is wasting. Without good local
jobs, your property won't be worth much, not to mention your precious
flower bushes. Just hush and leave road-paving decisions to men. Mayor
Tinsley's onto something. If these Confederate oaks are in the way of
progress like that flag on the statehouse grounds, let's yank them down
and get set for a new day."
Laney replaced the safety and slammed
her shotgun between the cedar siding and the edge of a glass side table.
She paused for a deep breath before pouring a tumbler of strawberry lemonade.
Clutching it in both hands, she stormed across her wooden porch. A bowl
of freshly shelled butter beans quivered with every step. As she thrust
the drink toward Mr. Eldon, a splash leapt over the rim. "I reckon
shooting you won't cure the mayor's stupidity," she said. "Take
a sip, before you pass out in this heat. Even if I missed, you'd probably
fall to the ground to protect yourself and any bystander would wonder
if I'd shot you." She fired a glance up and down Main Street. "McCord
deserves better leadership."
Maggie's heartbeat returned to normal.
She grabbed the shotgun and went inside, where she hid it under the foyer
love seat, returned to the glider on the porch and resumed drawing. It
was the first time in her memory that Laney had backed down.
Laney usually held her ground on important
issues. Male dominance was one; the "G" word, another. Laney
claimed the "G" word, short for "grandmother," was
"nothing but a noose." But Maggie's friends called their grandmothers
either "Granny" or "Me-me." Why couldn't she?
If Maggie's daddy were around, there'd
have been a loud fuss. "Why do you refuse to accept your God-given
role as grandmother?" he would have asked and bam! There Maggie would
land, smack in the middle. This type of discussion over the "G"
word usually caused people to stare.
"Calling me 'Granny' kills my
chances of courting or counting again," Laney would say. "When
your granddaddy was alive, I changed this town. My ability to do that
died with him. Everybody sees me as your grandmother, which kills both
my sex appeal and political stature. Call me 'Laney'."
Mr. Eldon and his men resumed surveying.
"This isn't a matter of my pride," Laney continued. "It's
our heritage. Ed McCord's great-grandmother, half-sister of General Stonewall
Jackson, planted these oaks in honor of Confederate generals and other
local military men." She waved her hands toward the towering limbs
that spanned Main Street.
"They're a living legacy. Hobart
Tinsley ran roughshod over the entire council pushing them to chop these
trees. Why? What does he stand to gain? Which big outfit's coming here,
anyway, or is the manufacturing plant a secret, too, like that public
meeting with no dissent?" Laney's porcelain skin turned a deeper
shade of pink.
"Them eighteen-wheelers can't
shoot through this narrow Main Street," Mr. Eldon said. "Road's
got to be wider to ship those plastic bowls."
Maggie had heard the rumor about a
new factory coming to town. She'd heard her daddy mention Rubberbowl.
She knew Runella had stored some of last year's family garden crop in
Rubberbowl containers, and Laney liked them, but probably not enough to
cut the oak trees on Main Street.
Laney spread her white running shoes
and crossed her arms over her American flag T-shirt. "Tell those
plastics people they aren't south enough, to keep driving those big rigs
until they brush coconut palms in Haiti. They're not welcome here."
As Mr. Eldon sipped, Laney tapped
her right heel faster against the narrow plank porch. Maggie hunkered
over her sketchpad. This was the time to be seen and not heard if ever
there was one. Laney had said, 'Haiti' but clearly she meant 'Hades.'
Did coconut palms grow there? Maggie hoped the surveyors in her front
yard would leave before her grandmother popped a vessel.
Compassion wasn't her only motivator.
The drawing of her best friend, American Legion pitcher Tyrone Chellis,
looked hazy. Tonight could be Maggie's last chance to draw his arm right.
Laney, Tyrone's biggest fan besides Maggie, would drive her to the ballpark.
Other grandmothers weren't addicted
to baseball. Once when Maggie mentioned that, Laney had said, "I'm
nothing like your friends' grandmothers. Those poor old matrons shuffle
around town without purpose. They depend on men for their money and food
for their joy. That way of living is an outright sin."
True, Laney was slender and perky.
Her brand of entertainment revolved around one public issue or another.
Family legend held that, when home from Queens College one summer, she'd
marched for peaceful integration of schools. And Maggie's daddy loved
to tell how, as a young mother, she'd hauled hima six-year-oldup
to Washington, paying the driver of a Yellow Cab to watch him while she
marched against the Vietnam War. That was way before Maggie was born,
when her grandfather was a U.S. Navy Captain in Da Nang. Laney often told
Maggie that nothing else tasted so sweet as a cause.
Maggie's daddy said Laney's soul was
a significant source of green power. She walked every morning and rode
a stationary bicycle every night, although she had broken her left arm
in a fall from it two years beforeher "shelling arm,"
she'd called it. Maggie remembered the hidden shotgun. Laney's arm was
Returning the empty glass to Laney,
Mr. Eldon flung his arms toward the sky. "I leave the governing to
council," he said. "My job's to take down these trees. Consider
this: If we cling to history, the future will pass on by. I don't understand
why you need an opinion on this, anyway. Your job's to vote, not dictate
Mr. Eldon's insistence seemed unnecessary.
He should have been grateful for his life. "Daddy says only an idiot
would meet in secret at the bus station and then lie about it," Maggie
Over dinner last night, Maggie's daddy
said town council had called a public meeting, but the time and date went
unpublicized, except for a notice posted at noon on the door of the bus
station. No one ever thought to check the door of the bus station for
a public meeting, because the only people who went there were leaving
town. Her daddy urged the family to stay out of the fray, as town council
was trying to make a good business decision on an emotional issue. Brother-against-brother,
father-against-son, her daddy said it sounded like the War of Northern
Aggression again, one hundred fifty years later.
Mr. Eldon waved over Maggie's comments
about the secret meeting as though he were swatting a housefly. As he
turned his back and leaned into his transit, Laney moved her rocker to
face the cedar siding. She plopped down, stared at the wall and resumed
shelling butter beans. An awkward silence radiated across the porch.
Maggie unwrapped a cherry Tootsie
Roll Pop and jammed it against the inside of her left jaw. She bowed her
head over her smudger. No point in fanning these flames, her daddy would
have said. A volunteer firefighter, he'd taught her to hush in the presence
of smoldering words. That was just as well, since her mama, Beth Rutledge,
had told her more than once to accept adult commands, even when she disagreed.
Who was she to question authority? Especially when she rarely understood
"We can't cut these trees until
after third reading, anyway," Mr. Eldon said finally. "We're
just surveying the property to be sure they're in public right-of-way,
Laney let out a loud "Humph."
The fight was over.
A few minutes later, Maggie heard
the revving of a lawnmower across the street. With one glance at her friend
Tyrone Chellis, her heart quickened. A deep blush heated her face. Tyrone
said he'd soon be mowing the lawn across the street, but Maggie hadn't
known he'd start today. Having him as her model now was awesome!
Except, what if he saw her drawing
and walked over? What if she waved at him and he came for a glass of Laney's
famous lemonade? That would blow her surprise. She kept her head down
until her pink face cooled.
Glancing up when she thought he wouldn't
notice, she watched each muscle in his back as he pushed the mower in
a straight row across the lawn. She saw his black arms flex beneath the
sleeves of a white V-neck T-shirt and felt herself blush again. He was
handsome, but he was also much more. Tyrone was the nicest boy she knew.
At the end of the row, he turned around.
Now she could get the front of his arms. But as he turned, Tyrone looked
straight at her, paused, smiled and lifted his right hand in a shy wave.
She quickly lifted her hand and grinned.
He nodded, glanced down and resumed his work.
Maggie watched Laney shelling butter
beans in a silent huff. Good, she hadn't noticed. Maggie's mama Beth said
Laney held a grudge longer than anyone.
Laney should forgive Mr. Eldon and his crew. Although they weren't at
the Gordon home on a social visit, Maggie believed workers from Dumbarton
& Rice, a local engineering and surveying firm, deserved hospitality
anyway. At the very least, they deserved forgiveness. The more she thought
about it, Laney's outburst had embarrassed her. She leaned toward her
grandmother. "Is it time to turn your other cheek yet?" Maggie
Laney's head popped up from her task.
"Jesus meant that purely as a figure of speech," she snapped.
"A river of blood runs through the Old Testament. Sometimes a good
fight works miracles. You do believe in miracles, don't you, Maggie?"
As she glanced down the street lined
with whitewashed stately oaks, Maggie accelerated the motion of her glider.
"I . . . believe it's a miracle the McCord American Legion team is
tied in the playoffs tonight," she said. "And I believe it's
a miracle Mama and Daddy are letting me go with you to the game. I asked
if I could ride 'Pink Lady' over to the ballpark, and they said no because
the game won't end before dark."
Laney sighed and shook her head. "Sometimes
I wonder about your parents. They don't want me in the middle of this
fight over the oaks any more than they want you to grow up, but you and
I will show them, and the good mayor, too, that I can fight like any man.
If Mayor Tinsley doesn't straighten up, I'm likely to start a petition
for his impeachment for fiscal irresponsibility. There are still a couple
of lawyers he doesn't own in this town, and I know who they are."
Laney didn't have to prove anything
to Maggie, because she'd heard practically everyone in town describe Laney
as a "pistol." Even at church, when she disagreed with the minister's
theology, Laney insisted upon having the last sayfar too many times,
Maggie's daddy said. When her American Legion baseball team lost, pure
poison spun from Laney's mouth and hung in the air. It was a miracle Maggie's
parents were allowing their daughter to accompany Laney anywhere a fight
But that wasn't the sole miracle today.
Simply looking at Tyrone across the street convinced her he was a miracle,
too. Tyrone, four years older than Maggie, spent more time with her than
with teens his own age. They'd met two years before at an American Legion
baseball game. She was happy that this portrait of him was filling out.
"Your parents hover," Laney
said. "I never hovered over your daddy. He rode his bicycle all over
town day or night anywhere he wanted to go. I'd have let a girl do the
same. Nobody would think they're bad parents for letting you ride 'Pink
Lady' to that game. It's all about equal rights, but rights come with
Suddenly an abrupt crunching sound across the street caught their attention.
The mower blade must have caught a fallen patch of acorns. "Look-a-there,
Maggie, Tyrone's mowing the Hannas' grass, but he's tearing up their mower.
Lord Bless him, that boy works hard. If he ever learns to add two and
two, maybe he'll finish high school and enroll in a community college
somewhere. You think he'll pass ninth grade this year?"
Laney's words stung Maggie as if those
acorns had fired across the street and popped her in the chest. Maggie
also knew her parents weren't wild about Tyrone, even if he was her best
friend. They opposed any sort of failure, and Tyrone had failed ninth
grade. Maggie figured Tyrone wasn't the problem. His family had held him
back from school one year to sharecropthat is, until the county
superintendent told them they'd go to jail if it happened again.
"Smart isn't everything,"
Maggie said. "Daddy says nice counts for something, and nobody's
nicer than Tyrone."
Because he'd missed so much school,
Tyrone had almost given up on book learning. Maggie had taught him how
to spell the name of his baseball team, how to make a verb and subject
agree, and how to count the money he earned most evenings at the sawmill
on the edge of town.
A loud clang rang up and down Main
Street. A worker yelled, "Whoa, Boss, over here! And hurry!"
He sounded scared.
Mr. Eldon abandoned his transit and
raced toward the row of Laney's Snow Queen hydrangeas next to the house.
He helped the worker pull something from the mulch. It looked like . .
. a man. Maggie catapulted from the glider, her pastels and sketchpad
flipping off the porch. She yanked Laney up from the rocker and pulled
her toward the steps. Even from far away, Maggie recognized her next-door
neighbor, William Herbert McCord.
Prone to falling into neighbors' shrubbery
occasionally after a night on the town, William was the only male descendant
of the town's founder and first mayor, Mr. Ed McCord. William owned interest
in the sawmill where Tyrone worked and was an investor in River Plantation,
the new upscale neighborhood on the edge of town. He ran the local movie
theater for fun.
The men stretched William out and
Mr. Eldon fell to his knees. He pressed his cheek against William's nose.
"He's breathing, but barely. Quick, Maggie, call Marion Ambulance
Maggie dashed inside to the foyer
and called information for the number. When a somber voice answered at
the ambulance service she said, "Hey, this is Maggie Gordon. Please
hurry. William has passed out dead drunk again in Laney's hydrangeas.
Mr. Eldon Rice says this time, he's barely breathing."
Maggie feared William's condition
must be serious. Hanging up, she bowed her head a moment to pray for him
and two tiny tears dropped onto her pink cotton shorts. In a world of
good drunks and bad drunks, William was definitely the former. On sober
days, he gathered fresh eggs from the chickens and cooked omelets for
the neighbors and his mother, an invalid seamstress, now nearly blind.
Maggie occasionally joined them for an egg biscuit and family stories
about the town, until her daddy summoned her home with the reminder that
it was impolite to drop in at mealtime.
By the time Maggie returned to the
front yard, she could hear the whine of the ambulance siren only two blocks
away. Maggie's heart sank as Laney stroked William's hand.
Squirming between the adults, Maggie
squatted and wiped his forehead with her palm. "How about some fresh
lemonade, William?" she asked. "Laney makes the best strawberry
lemonade." He groaned and turned away.
Mr. Eldon patted her shoulder. "Let's
wait for a doctor's orders first," he said. "There's a bad gash
here on his left side." Mr. Eldon lifted William's grey plaid shirt
and pointed to a nasty wound caked with dried blood.
"At least his belt was tight
enough to stop the bleeding, but his shirt is soaked," Laney said.
Maggie stood and turned away. She caught her breath to stop whimpering,
but the sound spilled out.
Laney clapped her hands. "Stop
that right now, child. It's no time for a crybaby. We have to stay strong
to help him. Run get Mrs. Ed, and make it fast."
Evelyn McCord, or "Mrs. Ed"
as close friends called her, was the mother of William and Julia. As Maggie
pounded repeatedly on the elegant mahogany and beveled glass door of the
old Victorian house, the ambulance, red lights flashing, backed into the
Gordons' front yard.
Still in her nightgown and hairnet,
Mrs. Ed opened the front door. She pushed it against the white pine siding
with her walking cane. Mrs. Ed must have been home alone, as her only
daughter Julia was nowhere in sight. "Why, hello, honey," she
said. "William and I haven't seen you in a while." Then, one
foot over the threshold, Mrs. Ed watched Mr. Eldon and the ambulance driver
load her only son onto a stretcher. Before Maggie could explain, Mrs.
Ed passed out cold.
Maggie screamed and jumped back.
The ambulance driver set William on
the ambulance floor and rushed over to Mrs. Ed. "I swear, Eldon,
this town's full of twofers this week," he said. "Must be the
full moon. Help me load up the old lady, too."
He and Mr. Eldon rolled a second gurney
over to Mrs. Ed's porch. They loaded her up and closed the door. In a
few minutes, she was lying beside her son.
Maggie climbed into the back of the
ambulance and perched on her knees between them. She hunched over to comfort
Mrs. Ed, now coming to. "Changing our wills was a big mistake,"
Mrs. Ed whispered. "Now see what's happened. With this River Plantation
mess, he could lose everything his daddy left him."
William, groaning next to them, reeked
of whisky and sweat.
"Maggie, honey, come out now."
It was Laney. "God is going with them. You're staying here."
Maggie jumped from the ambulance.
She prayed William would get to the emergency room fast. She opened her
eyes to see the ambulance pulling away. Turning back, she noticed her
sketchpad face down in the dirt and ran to get it. She shook off the light
layer of fresh loam, and was relieved to see her work wasn't damaged.
She set the sketchbook aside and wrapped her willowy arms around Laney's
shoulders. "He loves to watch me draw," she said.
Laney pulled her close and Maggie
took comfort in her grandmother's arms. "William knows talent,"
Laney said. "When he was your age, he could draw, too. An art teacher
in Asheville said he had the gift. Too bad it went undeveloped."
In the aftermath of all the excitement, Mr. Eldon and his surveyors packed
up their truck and left.
Laney sat on the porch steps and combed
Maggie's auburn curls with her fingers. "Honey, when I was your age,
all I could draw were flies and my paycheck," she said. "I don't
know where your talent comes from, but your work is a joy to behold. Don't
be like William, now, and let it die. Keep up with your work."
Maggie's eyes moistened again. Her
heart hurt for William. "What time is it?" she asked. The baseball
team would warm up at four.
"Not quite three," Laney
said. "With all that's happened, it just seems later." She paused
before adding, "Shouldn't we rest tonight and wait to see Tyrone
play another time?"
Maggie bristled. What was Laney thinking?
"No! If they lose, this will be his last game of the season. Please,
please, Laney. My picture! I have to get it right."
Maggie held up a rough rendition of a black baseball player rearing back
on the mound, poised mid-pitch.
Laney took the sketchpad. "I'm
so glad your mama insisted upon those art lessons," she said. "Your
eye for the human form is amazing." She handed the sketchpad to Maggie.
"Tyrone beats any other American Legion pitcher to hail from McCord
and he deserves our support. I bet nobody from his own family makes it
to the game."
Maggie noticed the lawnmower was silent.
She glanced across the street and saw it parked in the Hannas' tall grass.
"Where is Tyrone?" Maggie asked.
Laney pointed toward town. "Why,
there he is," she said. "Running away from us, over there, in
front of the Quick & Go. I wonder why he quit right in the middle
of the job, and why on earth he's running so hard in the other direction
instead of coming over to see us? Why, you'd think I'd pointed my gun
at him instead of Eldon. I hope Miss Cora didn't pay him in advance. She's
not going to like that way of doing things, not one bit."
Maggie hated for anyone to criticize
Tyrone. She hoped this lawn-mowing thing hadn't caused Laney to change
her mind about going to the game.
"Maybe the mower ran out of gas,"
"Yeah," Maggie said. "Tyrone
has to hurry if he's going to finish before time to warm up in the bullpen."
She noticed a metal can tucked against the Hannas' back left fence, next
to the Azaleas, but she didn't mention it. "So, can we please still
go to the game? Pleeeeease?"
"Okay," Laney said. "We'll
slip out for a little while. I want to see him play, too he's been
so sweet to youbut don't tell your daddy about all this hullabaloo
with Eldon Rice. He'll accuse me of bad judgment."
Laney was right. Daddy didn't relish
conflict. He liked everything to go smoothly, and that included her grades
in school. Maggie's final exam was Monday. If she froze for some reason
and didn't do well, Daddy might cancel their family trip to Myrtle Beach.
But Maggie, an honor student, wasn't focused on studying. All she could
think about was Tyrone.
Sometimes, when he had time off from
his part-time job, Tyrone and Maggie played neighborhood softball with
their friends on the town sandlot. Tyrone took her last hit at bat and
let her run the bases to score. And when their turn was over, his pitches
zoomed across home plate at ninety miles per hour. Two scouts had already
come to watch him play on the town team, American Legion Post 27.
If only her mama would see what a
fix Tyrone's family was in, if only she would like Tyrone, everything
except for the fate of the oaks in Maggie's world would be just fine.