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Out the Summerhill Road: A Novel

Out the Summerhill Road: A Novel

by Jane Roberts Wood

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From Jane Roberts Wood comes a quietly riveting novel revealing the banal faces of evil in a small East Texas town. In 1946 a young couple is brutally murdered in Cold Springs. And, now, thirty-four years later, the rumor is that Jackson Morris, who had been the only person of interest in the murders, has come home. Or has he? When the four women of the Tuesday bridge


From Jane Roberts Wood comes a quietly riveting novel revealing the banal faces of evil in a small East Texas town. In 1946 a young couple is brutally murdered in Cold Springs. And, now, thirty-four years later, the rumor is that Jackson Morris, who had been the only person of interest in the murders, has come home. Or has he? When the four women of the Tuesday bridge club hear this rumor, their responses range from a reckless excitement to a shaky uneasiness. There's Isabel, compelling and passionate, who foolishly and inexplicably longs to see Jackson, her first love, again while the seemingly innocent Mary Martha prays that the sheriff will put Jackson's head in a noose. Although the eternally optimistic Sarah looks to the law to determine Jackson's fate, the fourth woman, an Irish immigrant and a misfit in Cold Springs, is guided by the spirit world, including a cat, in deciding his guilt or innocence. When a second murder occurs after Jackson's return, Cold Springs reacts with fear and paranoia while the women struggle to protect their friend's reputation and desperately try to find a murderer.

Editorial Reviews

Dallas Morning News

“In no time at all, you feel comfortable with these women and appreciate the changes they have gone through. That alone is enough to make you want to keep reading. … If you want to know Texas better, this is a fine book to read.”

From the Publisher

 Praise for Jane Roberts Wood’s Fiction:

“A genuine Texas treasure.”—The Dallas Morning News
“Wood handles whatever she touches with delicate precision, and leaves an impression, not of bitterness of life, but of the tenderness of the human soul.”—The New Mexican

 Praise for the Lucy Richards Trilogy:

“It’s a winner!—A real down-to-earth story that keeps you spellbound from page to page.”—Liz Carpenter, former White House press secretary
“A truly fine tale of the indomitable human spirit, told in the honest voice of a strong young schoolmarm in early day West Texas.”—Larry L. King, author of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
“Wood’s lively, eccentric characters leap off the page and will live in the reader’s heart long after the book is closed.”—Jean Stapleton, actress
“Wood has a rare gift for transcending the ordinary and this heartwarming continuation of her earlier novels is no exception. Wood’s narration is seamless and she is especially masterful in creating meaningful characters.”—Publishers Weekly

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University of North Texas Press
Publication date:
Evelyn Oppenheimer Series
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Read an Excerpt

Out the Summerhill Road

A Novel

By Jane Roberts Wood

University of North Texas Press

Copyright © 2010 Jane Roberts Wood
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57441-299-4


Girls in White Dresses

It was horrible! Just horrible! Rosemary Winslow murdered! Her body found in the Park the night, the very night, of Sarah's slumber party! Rosemary Winslow. A nice girl. Who could believe it? Not her best friends who waited until three in the morning before they woke up Sarah's parents to tell them they didn't know where she was or why she hadn't come. When the girls saw the grim look on Mrs. Claiborne's face and watched as Mr. Claiborne threw on his robe and rushed down the stairs to the telephone, they began to realize that something was horribly, dreadfully wrong.

But even as the police were called and a search was begun, nobody dreamed it would end in a nightmare. Who could believe that? Not Rosemary's father, who, after the call came from Sarah's dad, hugged his wife and said, "Stay here. By the phone. In case she calls." And Jacob Winslow threw a coat on over his pajamas, jumped into his car and drove slowly, forced himself to drive slowly, so that he could look down every drive between his house and the Claibornes' for his baby girl's blue convertible. But when he saw the two police cars blocking the entrance to the Park, saw a policeman holding his cap in his hand and with his face turned to stone, Jacob knew it was bad. He stepped out of his car and threw up before the policeman could say they had found a young man's body in the Park beside a blue Chevrolet convertible and that a search for his daughter had already begun.

One hour later Rosemary's body was found. When that news came, Rosemary's best friends — young, innocent, heartbroken — tearfully told the police they did not know a thing that might have triggered the slightest alarm about Rosemary's safety while they waited for her to show up. And then, after a few questions, the girls were shielded by their parents from insensitive questions asked by the police, questions that bore no fruit and that might cause psychological distress to their sensitive daughters.

By good daylight telephones were ringing all over Cold Springs; parents were tiptoeing into their teenage children's bedrooms to be sure they were safe, and later that morning, the terrible news came from church pulpits, news sad beyond the telling of it.

At Bryce's cafeteria, the Gleeboff twins swore they would find the man who murdered Rosemary. They called their buddies in Troop 18, called all the guys who could finagle a car, to meet at the high school and form a search party. Bane and Hollingsworth, with red-rimmed eyes, said they would be there with their gas tanks full. Aston, red-faced and sweating, brought up the rear in his dad's old Chevrolet, but when the dozen or so cars arrived at the Summerhill exit that led into the Park, the boys found that road had also been closed.

* * *

On the night of Sarah's slumber party, a kind of madness had come over the girls. After all, they were seniors! Seniors in Cold Springs High School and about to go off to college where their lives could begin. Seriously begin. The night Rosemary was murdered not a one of Sarah's guests had arrived at Sarah's house before ten o'clock, and Sarah herself had shown up only a few minutes before ten.

For weeks rumors had been flying all over town about the Park. Tramps taking a short cut through the Park had worn a trail between the Summerhill Road and 29th Street. And by 1946, a year after the War, soldiers had begun to hang out at the Park. With its great old native oaks and loblolly pines, its spring-fed lake and narrow dirt paths winding through the woods, the Park brought these men the sense of camaraderie they had known all through the War. During the day, they looked for work; at night they hung out together and looked for women. "Bless them all," the people of Cold Springs said about their heroes and meant it. Cold Springs was grateful, but ... still, the soldiers were too old, too experienced for their young daughters. And there was this: at times it was hard to tell the difference between a tramp and a soldier.

Just last Saturday Isabel was driving through the Park when a veteran (she was pretty sure about this), leaning against a tree, raised his bottle of beer in a toast and hollered, "You wanna screw, Sweetie?"

She slowed down. "Not with you, Buster," she said and sped away.

When Isabel told her friends about it, they stared at her. "Isabel, you didn't! You didn't say that to him!" exclaimed Sarah. "What did he say?"

"Who knows? I was out of there before he could think what to say." Then Isabel raised her eyebrows. "But I'll bet it wilted his pecker," she said, setting the girls off into spasms of giggling.

And there was this other delicious, scintillating rumor: somebody — high school boy, tramp, veteran, who knows! — was sneaking up on couples parked out there. When the girls talked about it, they invariably broke into nervous giggling. But there was a Peeping Tom at the Park. There really was, although nobody took him seriously.

A couple from New Boston had seen him — a shapeless, hooded form, caught in the headlights of their car as he sprinted into the woods. When the young man from New Boston caught the bastard in his headlights, he had jumped out of his car and chased him all the way to the Spring House where he vanished. The Cold Springs boys agreed on one thing. Although the coward could run, he would be caught sooner or later. Armed with tire tools and hammers, every boy in high school was halfway hoping the S.O.B. would creep up on his car when he was parked out there with his best girl and if that happened, he swore he'd beat him to a bloody pulp.

However, on this balmy, star-filled night in May, the girls had promised their parents they would not go near the Park. "If you want to park somewhere, you can park right here in your own living room," Sarah's dad had told her. She took that with a grain of salt. A quick goodnight kiss from a boy was as much as her dad would tolerate. A long kiss brought on a malfunctioning porch light.

But afraid of the Park! Their parents' belief that the Park was dangerous sounded silly to the girls. It was, after all, their Park. Their very own Park that they loved better than any place in the world! Knew better! As far back as Junior High, the four would ride their bicycles out there, let them fall to the grass and then step into the coolness of the Spring House, kneel, cup their hands, and drink the cold, sweet spring water. Afterwards, more times than not, they would ride around the lake to a grove of pine trees, throw themselves down on the sun- dappled grass, lie back on folded arms and tell secrets. At other times, they would squeeze through a torn-away screen to enter the abandoned dance pavilion where their mothers and fathers had danced all through the War to "Sentimental Journey" and "I'll Never Smile Again" and "In the Mood" and "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree." Humming, singing words they all knew, the girls would dance alone or with each other, keeping the beat, their saddle shoes stirring up the dust motes lit by shafts of sunlight coming into the pavilion.

But now the War was over, thank God! And they were grown. Their parents said it. Their teachers said it. They said it to each other. They would soon be on their own, meeting heroes coming home from the War who were going back to college and these ex-soldiers, hundreds! no, thousands! would be waiting for them on campuses across the country.

Still, just days before graduation, their parents, despite what they said about adulthood, treated them like children. However, on this night, this Saturday night, the moon was full, the War was over, and to the girls danger seemed as distant, as removed as the stars, and they were determined to have fun. But not at the Park. Of course not! Unless ... and unless....

* * *

Rosemary was delirious with happiness. Her senior year was almost over and she was sixteen and practically on her way down to the University of Texas at Austin where she could begin a new life. And she had a late date! It was a secret. Not even her best friends knew about Mark. And after her late date, she was going to Sarah's slumber party. Then she would tell them about Mark. They would be excited and asking questions: "Can he dance?" And, "You went to the Park?" And, "You didn't kiss him on a first date! You didn't!"

She could hear the giggling now. They would have to bury their heads in their pillows so as not to wake up Sarah's parents.

When her mother had died in October of her freshman year, Rosemary began to feel as if she were drowning in sorrow. Smothered by it. Diminished. Disguised by weak smiles and silly remarks from friends and strangers alike, sorrow followed her around like a lost and hungry dog. She gave the imagined dog a name. She called it Sorrow.

By Christmas of that year she had become nothing more than the girl whose mother had died. Everybody seemed to have forgotten the Rosemary who made them laugh, who even made old stone face Lawson smile when he saw her coming down the hall; everybody had forgotten the Rosemary who could diagram whole paragraphs in Latin. They had forgotten the cheerleader who was tossed higher and higher to the beat of the drums and the roar of the crowd at football games.

The end of the week. The end of a semester. The end of cheerleading practice. The beginning of the Christmas holidays. Sorrow was at her heels. She had never realized life was so full of sad beginnings and endings.

"What are you going to do this summer?" Mary Martha had asked Rosemary at the end of their freshman year as the girls were sitting on the steps of Cold Springs Junior High School, waiting to be picked up by Isabel's mother. Waiting for her answer, Rosemary's friends, her three best friends, looked at her and smiled gently, smiled sadly.

"I don't know what I'm going to do!" Rosemary snapped, glaring at her friends. "But I'm not going to hang around with the three of you and whine. I know I won't be doing that!" she said. Turning away to hide her tears, "And I'm going to walk home by myself. I want to walk home!" she declared. Then the girl whose mother had died had straightened her shoulders and stalked away.

It had been sudden. She had had no time to get ready for it. They were shopping together, Rosemary and her mother, when her mother stumbled over a curb and fell, hitting her head on the bumper of a parked car. Rubbing the side of her head, laughing as Rosemary helped her up, "I'm fine," she said. "I'm perfectly all right." But she wasn't. She died the next day. "From a hematoma," the doctor said.

In the months that followed, "Don't feel sorry for me," Rosemary would say to Sarah. "It doesn't help." Or to Isabel, "Stop crying. Your mother's doing just fine." And then she would flash that brilliant smile she wore as a shield against pity all through her high school years.

But today she had a white dress for the prom and, maybe, a date for it, too. Although not superstitious, she was feeling lucky again, and maybe, just maybe, she had just about seen the last of Sorrow.

She looked at her watch and now she was hurrying, hurrying. She slipped on her white linen pleated skirt and white cotton sweater with the orange tiger on the front. She bent from the waist and brushed her hair forward. When she straightened and looked in the mirror, she saw that her hair was a thick, luxurious cloud round her face. She loved her hair, loved the way it moved when she jitterbugged. Leaning close to the mirror, she brushed on green eye shadow over her green eyes. When she was all grown up, she might be pretty. She knew she was smart. And she was still the cheerleader who flew!

Grabbing her overnight bag, she hurried down the stairs.

"I'm leaving," she called into the living room.

Her father came into the hall. His face was round and friendly. He put an arm around her shoulders. "Have a good time at Coach's party."

"Oh, I will, and don't forget, Dad. I won't be home tonight. I'm going straight to Sarah's after the party.

"Be careful, Baby. Stay away from the Park."

She turned to blow him a kiss. "Don't worry. I'll be fine," she said and was gone.

The party had been exactly like all Coach Edwards' parties with Mrs. Edwards handing out cokes and Dr Peppers and popcorn, and everybody being polite and trying to think of something to say to kids they had seen yesterday and the day before and the day before that. Finally, she could take French leave and slip away early for her late date, and she did just that so that hours later the only thing anyone was sure of was that Rosemary had left the party early and alone.

* * *

Unfortunately, Isabel Jessup had seen Rosemary after she left the coach's party, unfortunately because if she told anybody about seeing her it would ruin her reputation. The sound of Rosemary's convertible had brought her from her bed, where she had been reading, to the window. Unlatching the window screen, she leaned out into the darkness. Muffled laughter floated up through the leaves of the magnolia tree outside her room. Rosemary's laugh. It was Rosemary's laugh. Rosemary's convertible. She leaned farther out. How could Rosemary do this to her? And never mind that Jackson was a party to it. Rosemary was her best friend. Rosemary would be at Sarah's slumber party tonight. Isabel leaned farther out the window to accuse, to confront, to question Rosemary. Then it dawned on her. Jackson needed a ride! That's all it was. That was the reason Rosemary's car was underneath her window. Jackson could never get the family car. His father was too stingy to let his son have the car!

More laughter floated upward, whispery laughter, followed by Jackson's voice. Then Jackson slapped the hood of the convertible, once, twice, Rosemary's lights flashed on, and Isabel followed the curving path of her headlights as she drove off the Jessup property.

Now Isabel made out the white blur of Jackson's shirt as he emerged from the shadows, moved into the center of the drive and trotted toward the house. When he reached the tree outside her window, he whistled his whippoorwill's call and then segued into the song. "When whippoorwills call, and evening is nigh," he sang.

Giggling, she leaned out her window. "They're not here," she said. "I'll come down and let you in."

But he was already climbing the tree.

Although Isabel had always had an iron allegiance to virtue, she was tired of virginity. She was, after all, almost seventeen years old. She would be going off to Ward-Belmont in the fall. Before this happened, she yearned to be initiated into a new world, the adult world. However, she was of two minds about welcoming Jackson into her bedroom and, just possibly, her bed. He was undeniably handsome and funny and no other boy in high school could set her heart to beating so fast that she had to put a hand over her breast to calm it down. Why his heart-stopping grace when he was shooting hoops or the look of wonder on his face when he answered a question about Shakespeare or about a poem by Robert Frost made her forget where she was or what she was doing. But, and this was a serious but, Jackson lived in a trailer. However, a bottle of her father's whiskey waited on her dresser just in case.

When Jackson came laughing through the window, he took her into his arms. "Izzy. Izzy. Let down your hair," he whispered, kissing her hair, her neck. "Way up here in your tower let down your hair." His voice was husky; his hand cupped her breast.

"Wait! Wait!" she said, pushing his hand away. "Let's have a drink. Don't you want a drink? Whiskey and coke?"

"This is all the drink I want," he said, kissing her lips. "Come," he said, pressing her down on the bed. Then "Oops!" And moving the book from underneath his elbow, he saw what it was. He sat up on the side of the bed. "You're reading Gone with the Wind! How did you sneak it out of the library?"

"I haven't read much," she said, proclaiming innocence. "I probably won't even finish it."


Excerpted from Out the Summerhill Road by Jane Roberts Wood. Copyright © 2010 Jane Roberts Wood. Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

 JANE ROBERTS WOOD is the award winning author of the Lucy Richards trilogy: The Train to Estelline, A Place Called Sweet Shrub, and Dance a Little Longer, as well as Grace and Roseborough, all published in paperback by UNT Press. Wood is a Fellow of both the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities. She and her husband, J. W. “Dub” Wood, live in the horse country of Argyle, Texas, with their two dogs.

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