Thursday, May 16, 2013

Used Cows for Sale

Used Cows for Sale.  The sign will lead me to Emory Tucker’s house, or at least that's what I've been told. Emory is my father's first cousin. My driving directions are scant, nothing more than a few confusing words.  I scribbled them down in a hurry a week ago when I first called Emory to ask if I could explore his land: Hahira. Truck Stop. Left. Left. Brick house. Left. Behind the pond. He gave detailed directions, but I didn't write much of it down.

Licia Nicholson, my friend since the mid 1990s, is supposed to meet Hal Sutton and me for a day of grave hunting. It's my hobby. I enjoy the thrill of finding something in the woods, of uncovering a bit of history. We have plans to park our vehicles near the interstate and take Hal's vehicle. Our destination is somewhere in the boonies near Morven, a place I've never been.

Before leaving home, I make a quick phone call to Emory and repeat the directions to him. I want to be sure I'm not going to get lost. The phone is breaking up and he's not hearing me. “Yeah Brenda.  You’ll see the sign.  Used Cows For Sale.  We’re back here in the pasture.”  

I grab my camera, notes, purse, and car keys and head out through the art studio where my husband’s bridge club members are examining their card hands. My husband calls to me, “Watch for snakes.”

I'm good about watching for snakes. I've come across many while traipsing through the countryside, but I've never taken a bite.

Hal drives down country roads, and nothing around us lines up with my pathetic directions. It doesn't take long for me to realize my friends have not a lick of faith in my directions. Hal mumbles about my lack of planning and decides to use the GPS. It is soon obvious that I’ve led them down the wrong road. It helps to know where to turn left. Of course the GPS can take us only so far.  At some point we are on our own and in the middle of nothing familiar.  We ride down a quiet road so long I fear we might end up in Florida.  Spanish moss hangs from trees like freshly brushed witch’s hair. We are wasting gas and I haven’t written down decent directions. Hal, a military man, is unaccustomed to a lack of planning.

Somewhere near Morven, we come up on two young men working on a sign at a peach orchard.  I say, “Hal, let’s stop here and I’ll ask them for directions.” I want to make up for the mess I've made.

Stumbling out of the high truck, I catch my balance and approach the men. “Are y’all from around here?”

Their eyes walk across my sweaty, sun-ripened face, trying to place me. I'm sure they notice my husband’s size 10 army boots on my feet.  The boots are several sizes too big and clomp with every step I take. 

“Yep,” one of them says in response to my question. Short and sweet and to the point.  Just yep. I take it to mean he's from around here.

Determined to get directions, I leave the silence of their abrupt answer hanging in the air for no more than a moment before filling the void with another question. “Do you know where Emory Tucker lives?”

“Emory Tucker,” says the youngest one.  “Didn’t he die?”

“Unless he's died in the last couple of hours, I don't think so. I spoke to him this morning on the phone and he was still alive.”  

Hal and Licia watch the exchange from the truck. 

“He has a sign on his property that says used cows for sale.”

“Well yeah.  I suppose Emory does have some used cows. He sure does.”  The man smiles.  “Sure does. I think all his cows might be used.” His face is tanned.  He’s ruggedly handsome. “His place is about a mile down the road, back in the pasture. You’ll see the sign. Used cows for sale.”

I climb back into the truck with some decent directions. A few minutes later we spot the sign, Hal pulls over and stops so we can take photos. Behind the sign is a pasture, and behind the pasture is a pond rich with cypress trees, and behind the pond is Emory’s house.

This pond in front of Emory's house is filled with cypress trees with bulging lower trunks.

Emory's pond

After driving down a road in the pasture, we reach the entrance to Emory's place.

the pasture

Emory is outside when we arrive. He hugs me and says that I'm starting to look like Aunt Mary Eliza.  She was his aunt and my grandmother, my father's mother.  Emory introduces me to his wife and they take us inside a screened room for an icy cold root beer. Jeanette is an attractive and sweet woman. She makes us feel comfortable in her home.

A huge hornet’s nest hangs from the ceiling.  A cooler in the corner reads: Used Cows for Sale.  Tobacco pipes are spread over the table where we sit. 

Emory offers give us a lift to the woods on his golf cart.  The cart seats Emory, me, and Licia, all squished in together. Hal has no choice but to stand in the back, forward facing, leaning over the hood of the cart. He can’t sit because the rear of the cart is filled with items.  

Emory takes off toward the woods. Right before barreling under a low hanging limb, he yells to Hal, whose head is sticking up, “Duck!”  Then he laughs, a soft chuckle that goes a long way. I'm reminded of my father, a man of laughter.

Danger comes at us again and again. Several times, Emory yells, "Duck!" Hal, dodging limbs, somehow avoids decapitation. Emory drives like a man who has some place to go and he doesn't care if he gets there dead or alive. If I’d known we were going so deep in the woods on a golf cart with a maniac as the driver I’d have taken out some life insurance before leaving home. Lord knows the man takes us to the brink of death.

We're bruised and battered from the ride when the golf cart comes to a halt. This is as far as the wheels will take us.  The rest we’ll make on foot.  Earlier in the day, the sun seemed to be burning a hole in the sky, but now, the woods provide a canopy of luscious green shade. Licia whispers to me that we have walked into a jungle of poison ivy. 

Unable to recognize the vine, I ask, “Emory is this poison ivy?”

He takes us right up to the fence then yanks the steering wheel and turns the cart.

This photo is taken while I'm beside Emory.  He's driving the golf cart, taking us to the woods in the distance.

This is the kind of growth covering the graves.

“Nah.”  He’s wearing shorts, a cut off shirt, and brogans.  

I believe Emory's denial of poison ivy until Licia whispers with urgency, her eyes widening, “It is, Brenda. There’s poison all around us.”  

Hal cautions me not to touch the sumac. I don’t know what sumac looks like either, but I’m being told I'm surrounded by the stuff.  
a grave



Emory is in the golf cart.  Hank is resting on the ground. 

Hank, a good dog

We wade through poison sumac and poison ivy and poison oak and grape vines.  Our boots tangled in vines, we free ourselves again and again, moving forward. Every now and again, Licia reminds me not to touch the greenery.  According to her, the woods are infested with poison. With tobacco sticks provided by my husband who is at home playing bridge while we fight for our lives, we beat our way through thick brush. I make a lot of noise in an attempt to shoo off any snakes that might be in my path. Our boots crunch rotten limbs the shape and color of snakes.  Smiling, Emory leads us deeper into the forest without ever looking down.  By now, he and Hal are so far ahead of me I lose sight of them. Licia is nearby, close enough to remind me again and again that we're walking through poison.

At last, sweat dripping from our faces, sweat blurring our vision as it slips over our eyes, we discover graves wrapped in a shroud of silence. Betty Nelson, 1828 – 1858. Ira Nelson, Infant.

Emory explains that Mr. Nelson, an African American, comes to the land now and then to visit the graves of his ancestors.  I think of how Mr. Nelson's people lived close to the earth yet could not put down roots until their bodies had been planted in the ground.  They had no freedom, no land to call their own.

The growth is so thick we can’t locate all the graves.  I imagine the thumping heartbeats of the past beneath my boots. Emory tells us there are more graves, some being swallowed by the earth. Many are lost at this time of the year, their graves strangled beneath a jungle of vines. Emory encourages us to come back after frost hits. Without the greenery, we’ll be able to see and touch the land and the graves.   
1828 - 1858

Most of the headstones are broken.  Many graves have no headstones.

Emory Tucker, son of J.P. Tucker and Ella Mae Tucker, is a man not to be forgotten.  He drives like a prisoner escaping the authorities taking us into the woods, and he drives with suicidal and homicidal tendencies taking us out. At one point, the golf cart nearly flips, the tires on one side lifting as our vision tilts.  Hal reacts quickly from the back, throwing his weight to the opposite side to balance the cart. Licia and I make every effort to remain calm, but I need a strong drink of moonshine to calm my nerves. Driving the cart painfully close to obstacles, Emory turns at the last second, and my face nearly collides with rusty nails driven into wooden posts. Emory's soft laughter surrounds us. I think of Satan with a sense of humor.

When the day is over, the three of us leave Emory and Jeanette behind. We take home yellow tee shirts with Tucker’s Place printed on the front and Used Cows for Sale on the back.  We take home an obsessive fear of rash covering our flesh before the night is over.  We take home photos of graves hidden in the woods. We take home the taste of icy root beer on our tongues. We take home memories that will warm us for months to come. I cannot speak for the others when it comes to this, but I take home the experience of finding something sacred and peaceful.  I take home a burning desire to discover the locations of more slave graves, the burial spots of people who watered our crops with their sweat and nursed many a white baby on their breasts. 

a hornet's nest hanging from the ceiling inside Emory's screened in room

the knock-out roses

I hope this is a grill and not a moonshine still.

A parting gift from Emory.  Three tee shirts, one for each of us.

My cousin Emory. 
We take home the mischievous smile of Emory Tucker tattooed forever on our hearts.


  1. What an intense place, the forest, a place for the departed...I had never thought of the deep forest like that before. Was consecrated land so small that churchmen couldn't bury the dead? Why did little Ira die? Bless her soul. So sad. Cousin Emory, a man of laughter, yes, I could smell the pipe tobacco almost. A good sense of humour, "used cows for sale."
    I enjoyed reading your blog and the photographs were fascinating.