Cruel Harvest: A Memoirby Fran Grubb
Little girls are hardwired to hold their daddies in high esteem, so it comes as a shock the first time a daughter feels the back of her daddy's hand across her face . . . or watches him punch and kick her mother to within an inch of her life. When she is fourteen, and weary, a girl begins to wish she were dead. Cruel Harvest is the compelling story of how she lived… See more details below
Little girls are hardwired to hold their daddies in high esteem, so it comes as a shock the first time a daughter feels the back of her daddy's hand across her face . . . or watches him punch and kick her mother to within an inch of her life. When she is fourteen, and weary, a girl begins to wish she were dead. Cruel Harvest is the compelling story of how she lived instead.
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Cruel HarvestA MEMOIR
By FRAN ELIZABETH GRUBB
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Frances Elizabeth Grubb, aka Fran Grubb
All right reserved.
When I was nine years old, Daddy abducted me from an orphanage in South Carolina. It was 1958, and he had just escaped from a California prison where he had been serving a sentence for raping my oldest sister, Brenda, and attempting to murder my mother. For years he abused me in every way he could. At one point, my family consisted of two parents, three sisters, and two brothers. By the time I was fourteen years old, they had all escaped one way or another. Everyone but me.
My decision to write down my story began with my husband's encouragement. He felt I could help others as well as myself by public speaking. I started slowly, revealing intimate details at speaking engagements with the hope that my life would help others. I was amazed when hundreds of people, every place I went, wanted to hear more. After a few years of traveling, speaking at churches, prisons, women's meetings, rehabilitation clinics, and orphanages, sharing my story with the audience and talking to men and women who had gone through similar experiences, I was certain he was right. Many men, women, and even children had never discussed their abuse before. I experienced how hearing what I went through helped people work out the troubles in their own lives. This is why I want to tell about these events in such detail—why I don't want to hold back. It's the beginning of healing for others.
One day, my husband, Wayne, drove me to a doctor's appointment. It was a nice spring day, so he decided to sit in the car and wait for me. When we left the house, he had grabbed my writings off the table and brought them with him to read. Why he chose to do that, I am not sure, but I found it touching that he cared enough to read my words again for at least the third time. He's a quiet man, polite and gentle in his ways, tall and handsome in my eyes. Meeting him is one of the many amazing blessings I have been awarded in my life.
Wayne began to read when I got out of the car.
"Wow, Honey. Are you going to read that again?" I asked, smiling down at him.
"It'll give me something to do while I wait," he said, glancing through it and smiling as I shut the door.
I left Wayne and attended to my appointment. I cannot even remember what I was there for. What I can remember is walking back out to our car and finding Wayne, still sitting in the same place I had left him, with tears rolling down his cheeks. He turned and looked at me when I got in the car and closed the door.
"Are you crying because of what you read?" I asked.
Wayne didn't say anything. I slid into my seat and gave him a hug. We sat together in the parking lot as tears ran down his face.
"Don't worry about it, Honey," I whispered softly. "That was a long time ago."
Wayne smiled, but there was determination behind his eyes. I could tell he had made a decision, and that he was up to something.
I had lived my adult life without any family other than my two children and Wayne. I remember wishing I could be like everyone else and have brothers and sisters and parents. I would have settled for a great aunt. When Christmas or other holidays came around, I celebrated, but there was always something missing. It was almost as if my family had not existed; as if they had become just what I feared they would—a story.
Wayne had siblings, aunts, uncles, and a mother and father, and they treated me with kindness. I was happy for him. Still it made me sad to see the family pictures he had hanging up all over our house. It was so different for me. I had forgotten what my sisters looked like.
Wayne knew how I felt, and on his own he decided to do something to grant my wish. He decided to find my family. A few weeks after my doctor's appointment, he came to me with a phone number for my sister Brenda. I had not seen her in almost forty years.
Making the call was very difficult. I didn't know what to expect. Maybe, I thought, she'd want to leave the past dead and buried. I couldn't blame her for that. But instead, she invited Wayne and me to her home for Thanksgiving dinner.
We arrived at Brenda's home in Mobile, Alabama, and were welcomed with hugs and tears from her children and grandchildren. They had a beautiful home, full of laughter and life; Brenda was raising three of her grandchildren. When I first walked in the door, the aroma of turkey, stuffing, pies, and gingerbread was like a fantasy come true for me. I felt at home, as our childhood home should have been.
Her kitchen was warm and cozy even though it was open to the rest of the house. The cabinets were cherrywood, and she had white, starched-lace doilies on the top shelves. An antique butter churn stood beside an old milking stool, and a large Raggedy Ann doll sat on the stool. Brenda stood on the tile floor by the stove in her bare feet. When I walked into the kitchen and saw her for the first time in decades, she had a spatula in her hand and wore a wide, white apron, folded and tied around her middle. "Hello, Sissie." I whispered the nickname I had grown up calling her. She crossed the kitchen floor in two strides and wrapped her arms around me. We hugged, and I felt I had found peace. It was what I dreamed coming home would feel like.
I stared at my sister, taking her in as if she were the embodiment of the years I'd lost. She hadn't changed that much. Her sweet face was still very pretty, but now she had gray hair with touches of silver. She had gained some weight, which made me think about our hunger as children.
We pulled up chairs to the kitchen table and began catching up with each other and sharing our life events. All around us, her children and their spouses, her grandchildren, my husband, and people I didn't know yet filed through a buffet line she had set up on her long kitchen counter, filling their plates with baked ham, roast turkey, cornbread stuffing, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes, apple dumplings, and corn on the cob. Brenda loves to cook, and she loves to see people eat. Children crowded around the table with their plates filled, others wandered off to the dining room, and some took their food to the family room. All the while, Brenda waited to eat until everyone in the house had settled.
As we sat with our plates, talking just loud enough to be heard, a young man came to the back door of Brenda's house. He seemed to be in his early twenties—a good-looking boy. He walked right into the kitchen without knocking.
"Do you have any eggs we can borrow?" he asked. He opened her refrigerator and started gathering what he wanted as though it happened all the time.
Brenda stood up and introduced me to her young neighbor and invited him and his wife to come and eat with us. He politely declined, saying they would stop by later. She handed him a bowl for the eggs, they exchanged a few kind words, and the boy walked back out of the house. Awhile later, someone else came by to borrow another Thanksgiving ingredient. I leaned over to one of Brenda's daughters, my niece.
"It's like she's running a grocery store," I said, smiling.
I laughed and chatted with my sister and her family, and Brenda held my hand, but I noticed she never laughed herself. Although she was kind, she didn't seem happy, and she never really smiled with her eyes. I was bubbling over with pure delight, but there was a somber air about Brenda, even as she served and comforted everyone else. I could tell she was happy to see me, but it never showed in her face. She just never let loose a single chuckle. I avoided the subject of the past; it seemed that she had been scarred so badly and affected in a way far deeper than I could ever know.
Still, watching Brenda share with everyone deeply touched me. Later that night, while I was still thinking about Brenda's kindness, I bumped into one of her sons while getting some tea from the refrigerator. After looking at me for a second, my nephew said, "I've never seen my mama smile the way you do. I've never seen her look happy."
There was no way to tell how much he already knew. I determined that was up to his mom to decide, so I vaguely referred to the tough childhood she'd endured and led him back to the family. We talked the night away on happier subjects.
Time flew by. I can honestly say that up to that point, it was like nothing I had experienced before. On that night I felt the first inkling of being part of something bigger. The feeling only grew as family members sleepily peeled off to go to bed. In the end, it was just Brenda and me at the dining room table. Although her voice was gentle and sweet, she still did not smile.
"You remember that train?" Brenda asked.
I shuddered. The memory sent a chill through me. I shifted in my seat and nodded.
"You were so afraid of the trains." Brenda almost whispered, as though unsure of how I would react.
I remembered. I did not want to talk about it, but I didn't want to interrupt or be disrespectful to my sister either. I had succeeded in shutting out many of the horrid, mind-numbing memories and could finally fall asleep without waking up screaming. Many of the memories had faded into the past; a part of my mind let me pretend it was a dream. I sure didn't want to bring them back up.
I could tell Brenda needed to talk, though. I tried to sit still and not let her see how uneasy I was as she took me back to our childhood.
Chapter TwoThe Train
Smoke rose up from the dying campfire; a single wisp hit the trestles above and disintegrated like fragile glass thrown against the rusting iron. We had just finished another long, exhausting day picking apples. I was hungry again. Even at five years old, I could not stop thinking about food. Whenever I was allowed to eat, I swallowed it up fast, every bite, but I never felt full. That night, dinner was a little bruised apple I had snuck back to the camp from the farmer's orchard. I had hidden it in the pocket of my dress, a treasure to eat once everyone went to bed.
Sitting on a gravel bank, I could hear the soft trickle of moving water; it was barely enough to be called a stream. I stayed as still as I could, trying to fade into the ground and the gravel and the bridge trestles above. I sat on the bank away from our campsite and would not move until Brenda came to tell me it was bedtime. I knew something ugly and wrong was happening between my Daddy and oldest sister. I saw the way he groped at her chest as she tried to rush past him. I knew there was something horribly wrong with the way he touched her, and when she cried it hurt me too.
We were the only pickers left now, and everything was quiet that night. At five years old, I still did not understand the abuse that happened when the family bedded down. But I already had an unvoiced uneasiness when my dad was near. It was something evil, hidden in shame.
I didn't know to what extent he abused Brenda at that time, but I was to learn from firsthand experience as I passed from childhood to adolescence. Often, my cries at night, wrenched from the depths of my soul, brought me back to those nights when Daddy made Brenda cry.
She was only thirteen then, but I cannot remember a time that she did not take care of me.
That evening, sitting on the gravel bank, I saw her face in the flickering light of the fire. Her eyes were red, her cheeks puffy from crying. She greeted me with loving words, but she did not smile. Instead, she led me in my bare feet across the gravel to where a frayed green woolen army quilt spread out across the ground. My little brother was already lying down. Susie and Nellie were there, too, and Susie was sitting up. Brenda told me to wait there so she could wash my face, patting my arm as she walked away.
Nobody spoke for fear of our dad hearing us. Susie touched my blond curls. My brother stirred but did not make a sound. Then Brenda was back with that awful washcloth in her hand. I squirmed.
"Hush now," she whispered.
I saw the water from the spring dripping off the moldy gray cloth. Even before it got near my face, the smell made me want to run. I reeled, throwing my hands out to stop it from touching my face. I knew Brenda meant well, but that cloth smelled horrible. We didn't have soap, and everyone in the family washed with this same cloth. It made me sick to smell it, much less have it touch my face.
Brenda would have none of it. Not harshly, but firmly, she grasped my chin and cleaned the day's filth from my forehead. Even when she was done, the smell stuck to me as if it was lodged in my sinuses. After she got me tucked in beside the others she went back to the spring. I lay quietly watching as Brenda tried to wash what looked like a slip and her ragged underwear in the little stream below. She didn't have any soap, but she scrubbed at the tattered clothes, dunking them with restrained fury under the rocky streambed. This was much like any other night.
The morning came too fast. Before I even realized I had fallen asleep, a hand shook me awake. I grumbled and shook the hand off.
"Be quiet and get up," Brenda whispered in my ear. "We're leaving."
I sat up. It was still dark out, the sunlight just barely peeking above the tree line to the east. Our camp was in chaos. The soot-blackened pots and pans were lying on the rocks, strewn by the open fire. Our army blanket was in a heap, and my little brother, Robbie, was lying on the bare ground where he had rolled off in the middle of the night. Some of the few clothes we had to wear hung on trees drying; others had fallen to the ground. A few empty bean cans were tossed near the cold campfire that had gone out during the night.
Brenda moved away, joining my mother. Together, they gathered up what few belongings we had and prepared to tie them up inside the green army blanket. Mama hadn't combed her dark hair, and it fell across her face in tangles. Brenda was quiet as usual, but she moved quickly, picking up everything in the camp and stacking it on the blanket we used for our bed. My little brother's blond curls brushed his shoulders; he could have passed for a girl except for his ragged overalls and a white shirt that had turned grey from not being washed. His knees stuck through his frayed pants, and his brown brogan shoes were two sizes too large and had no laces, which made him fall down a lot. He snuggled up to me. I could see my own fear mirrored in his large blue eyes. It mixed with a nearly overwhelming wish to sit still and not leave this spot. If I stayed in this spot and let them leave me here, I would never have to run to catch another train or see my mama hurt or hear Brenda cry.
Daddy would have none of that. He barked out harsh words, and my mother and Brenda tried to pick up their already harried pace. The sun continued to rise and, as the daylight pushed back the night, Daddy got angrier. I sat completely still and refused to move. I hoped if I stayed still enough, nobody would notice and I wouldn't have to run with them to that dreaded, black monster.
It was not to be. My dad grabbed me by the collar of my dress and dragged me out of camp. The rest of the family followed as quickly as they could. That was when I heard the distant whistle of what, in my mind, seemed to be an approaching monster.
As I begged my little legs to hurry, I saw the trail of gray smoke coughing out of the coal-black locomotive. Its whistle sounded again, echoing over the Blue Ridge valley. Its mighty engine whined as it fought to pull its heavy load up the winding mountain.
"Get down," Daddy growled.
By that time, my sisters had caught up to me. We crouched close to the ground beside the bushes running along the orchard we had worked the day before. The dawn light spread darker shadows across the gloom. We tried to disappear into them as the train slowly rolled past, so close that the engineer could have seen us if he was looking. The smell of burning coal made it nearly impossible to catch my breath.
This particular train passed our campsite every day. Daddy had watched it daily, and he learned that it moved slowly. Due to the steep slope of the mountain, the train was famously called the Virginia Creeper. He knew that, and he also knew that an empty boxcar followed the tender car.
"Now!" he yelled.
At the sound of his voice, we made a break for that boxcar. My eyes locked onto the metal ladder that hung down past the opening; I knew I would have to grab it to pull myself inside. I was small for age five, and undernourished, so I was more the size of a three-year-old. The icy morning air tugged at my stringy blond curls and pierced my tattered clothes. All I could think about, though, was that metal ladder rung. If I couldn't grab it, those giant iron wheels would suck me under and tear me up worse than any imaginary monster.
Excerpted from Cruel Harvest by FRAN ELIZABETH GRUBB Copyright © 2012 by Frances Elizabeth Grubb, aka Fran Grubb. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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