by Joe Palmer
[ people - february 09 ]
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
"I ain't never gonna leave you, unless you ask me to."
Jackson Fentry (Robert Duvall), Tomorrow
Horton Foote's Tomorrow as an ethnic and historical document has a particular and personal meaning to me, because in somewhat similar circumstances to those of the little boys in the story, Jackson Longstreet Fentry, as he was returned to his father's family, I was given back to my father's family under protest.
My mother Edith Lenore Miley and my father Granville Harold Palmer lived in the village of Decker, Indiana, he with his mother Delta and grandmother Sarah and grandfather Abraham Heacock and their married brother and sister Kate and Elijah. That is, two brothers married two sisters and lived together. My mother lived with her father's, Orlan Pearl Miley's, sister Opha, married to Noble [Deuce] Frederick or with her grandmother who was married to a man named McGowan. [Back in the old country the McGowans, Mckeowns, Magoons, etc. were serfs to the MacDonalds] OP Miley had another daughter, Opharuth, who married a man named Chesser who lived in another village. Edith and Ruth got together when they were adults and became close friends again, after 30 years of separation.
My father was born in 1911 [on July 7], my mother in 1917. Father's father Jesse Darwin Palmer had joined the Army to guard the docks in Corpus Christi during WWI, later to follow a career with the Sheltons and other entrepreneurs around Herrin, Illinois, St Louis, Missouri, and Chicago.
My father was the proud and feckless man who brought my pregnant mother into that cabin in Decker to live with the Heacock family, where I was born, under protest, on November 16, 1934. I was a 10lb, 10-month baby, nearly killing my mother, with two doctors in attendance ñ Old Doc Hoover from Decker who was going to cut me up to save my mother, and the younger doctor my father fetched from Hazleton. My birth was my mother's favorite topic, and I have the scars from it on my head and heart.
For many reasons my mother was not happy with her situation. My father was a field hand and knacker, working with his grandfather Abe, buying and selling worn-out horses and mules and selling ice and bread from the county seat. Abe was said to have killed John Ready in a dispute over bootleg whiskey, although details are muddled. My mother Edith never had a good word to say about Delta, my father's mother, whom I lived with whenever my parents didn't want me around.
According to what I have been told, my mother ran away with me in her arms and with a man she was said to be living with out on the Illinois prairie. Father's oldest brother Nile Johnson found me sitting alone on a dirt floor in a cabin in a dirty diaper, and so he kidnapped me back. So they said.
My aunt Ruth Chesser and her daughter Rowena Kays told a different story. My mother's sister Opharuth [Ruth] was eager to take me in and raise me when my mother ran away from my father and his family. I do not know how many months or years I lived with Aunt Ruth and Rowena. They took me in and treated me as their own child. They lived in, I think, Winslow, Indiana, a few miles east of Decker.
One day my father appeared at their door demanding that they give me to him, threatening to kill them, at first, and then threatening to get the sheriff, the Law, and force them to give me up, which they did, to their chagrin and remorse, as related to me by my mother several hundred times. My parents got together again in 1941 when I entered school. We three lived in Vincennes, Indiana, until 1952. My father left us in 1948; they then were divorced. I went away to college. Mother married Jim Kimmel, went to Miami, Florida, with him, and divorced him the same year.
No wonder my wife's grandmother threw a shoe at me when we were introduced!