Between Heaven and Texas
By MARIE BOSTWICK
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP. Copyright © 2013Marie Bostwick
All rights reserved.
Too Much, Texas 1970
Nineteen-year-old Mary Dell Templeton pushed her white lace veil away from her face, knelt down in front of the toilet, and seriously considered vomiting.
She could hear the staccato tapping of her mother's high heels coming down the hallway and reached up to click over the lock only a moment before Taffy tried the knob and then started hammering on the door.
"Mary Dell? Open the door. I will not put up with any of your nonsense today, young lady. Cousin Organza only knows three songs on the piano, and she's played them through four times already. People are starting to notice. Do not embarrass me in front of half the town, young lady!"
Taffy Templeton paused, then rattled the knob again. "Mary Dell? Do you hear me? You unlock that door and come out here right now!"
Mary Dell closed her eyes and leaned down, resting her forehead on the cool curve of the porcelain seat. "I can't. I feel sick."
Taffy made an exasperated sound. "Well, of course you feel sick. It's your wedding day. What did you expect?"
It was a fair question.
What in the world was she doing, marrying Donny Bebee? When he'd proposed, she'd immediately said yes, relieved that her problems had been so easily solved by uttering that one little word. But what if marrying Donny wasn't the solution it seemed to be? What if she was just exchanging one set of problems for another? She barely knew Donny. Four months ago, she'd never even heard his name.
Another wave of nausea hit her as she realized that even now, she didn't know his middle name. Or if he even had a middle name! How could she possibly promise to love, honor, and cherish until death did them part a man whose middle name was a mystery to her?
Before she'd met Donny, she was unattached and content to remain that way for the foreseeable future. Now she was engaged, nauseous, and crouched in front of the commode in a wedding dress, minutes away from either becoming Mrs. Donald Middle-Name-Unknown Bebee or busting through the bathroom door, knocking down her mother, and making a run for the nearest pickup truck and the Mexican border.
How had she gotten herself into this mess?
As Mary Dell's maternal aunt, Miss Velvet Tudmore, the executive director of the Too Much Historical Society, would tell you, it is impossible to separate the present and future from the history that precedes it. So to understand how Mary Dell Templeton came to lock herself in the bathroom on her wedding day, you have to take a look back through her personal and family history and, more importantly, the history of the town.
Like a lot of towns in that part of the state, there appears to be no geographic or economic reason to explain the existence of Too Much, Texas. Ninety-five miles slightly southeast of Dallas, it simply rises out of the scrubby brown landscape as though someone of great stubbornness, fortitude, or both simply woke up one day and decided to build a town, like Moses striking a rock and summoning forth water in the desert. According to legend and Miss Velvet, that's pretty much how it happened.
In October of 1962, Mary Dell Templeton and her twin sister, Lydia Dale, along with the rest of the fifth graders of Sam Houston Elementary, took a field trip to the historical society to learn about the origins of Too Much. It was an important rite of passage, one that the town's youngest citizens had taken part in for many years.
The day began with a tour of the society's collection of artifacts, housed in the basement of the courthouse, a mishmash of memorabilia that included a rusty hand plow; a menu from the Blue Bonnet Café signed by Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who stopped in for banana cream pie before robbing the First Reliable Bank; the journal of Justine Tudmore Plank, Too Much's most famous citizen, who wrote a series of children's books in the 1920s; a pine pulpit that emerged unscathed from the flames when the First Baptist Church burned to the ground in 1912; a wheel and axle from a pioneer wagon; and the black leather bag filled with rusty surgical instruments and glass bottles bearing labels for sterile catgut and chloroform that once belonged to the town's first licensed physician.
After the tour, Miss Velvet shepherded the children into the town square, ordering them to form a half circle in front of a bronze statue of a slightly scowling woman dressed in pioneer garb with her arms crossed defiantly over her chest. Then she related the tale of Too Much's founding mother, Flagadine Tudmore, just as she had learned it from her mother, who had heard it from her mother, and so on.
"When Texas was still a republic, George and Flagadine Tudmore and their four children set out from Arkansas to Austin with the intention of claiming the six hundred and forty acres of land that was being offered to new settlers. The journey was hard and long, and George, who never was much of a planner, didn't start off until high summer. By the time the Tudmores reached the Texas border, the temperatures had been above one hundred for twenty-two days running, and the family's water supply was dangerously low.
"On the seventeenth night of August, 1840, George picketed his two tired, lame horses out next to a little patch of scrub near Puny Wallow—"
Without raising his hand, Jack Benny Benton interrupted. "Don't you mean Puny Pond?"
Miss Velvet's flinty features became even sharper as she scowled at the boy. "No. If I'd meant Puny Pond, I'd have said so. Back then it was a wallow, little more than a mud pit with a couple of inches of brown water at the bottom. Flagadine sieved out the mud and boiled it to use for drinking, bathing, and doing laundry.
"When George was hitching up the horses the next morning, Flagadine, whose thinking had been cleared mightily by rehydration and clean undergarments, grabbed the reins of the bay horse and said, 'It's just too much, George. Too much sun. Too much wind. Too much heat. Besides, there's something about this place, don't you agree? But whether you do or you don't, this is as far as I go.'
"And George," the old woman went on with a proud tilt to her chin, "knowing the kind of woman she was—and being the kind of man he was—figured there wasn't any point in fighting her. He unhitched the horses while Flagadine unpacked the wagon. And that, boys and girls, is how Too Much, Texas, got its start: on the conviction of a strong-willed woman and the indolence of a handsome but shiftless man. Which," she concluded with a sorry shake of her head, "pretty well describes the makeup of our population to this day."
Elbowing the boy next to him, Jack Benny Benton, whose father spent his days sitting on the porch at the Ice House, nursing a bottle of Lone Star and tying knots in a length of rope, asked the plain-featured old lady, "Is that why you never got married, Miss Velvet? Because the men in Too Much are too lazy?"
"Yes," the old spinster said without a trace of irony. "Yes, it is, Jack Benny."
When the children lined up for the walk back to school, Jack Benny Benton jockeyed for a spot behind Mary Dell and Lydia Dale. He was about to give one of Lydia Dale's blond braids a tug when Miss Velvet's voice rang out from behind.
"Lydia Dale! Mary Dell! Come back here for a minute."
The two girls ran up to the old woman. "What is it, Aunt Velvet?"
Miss Velvet crouched down low and whispered urgently, "You steer clear of that Jack Benny Benton."
"Why?" Lydia Dale asked. "He's all right."
"And Momma says the Bentons are richer than Midas," Mary Dell added.
Mary Dell didn't have a clear understan
Excerpted from Between Heaven and Texas by MARIE BOSTWICK. Copyright © 2013 by Marie Bostwick. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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