Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands

Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands

by Susan Carol McCarthy


$14.40 $16.00 Save 10% Current price is $14.4, Original price is $16. You Save 10%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Want it by Tuesday, November 20 Order now and choose Expedited Shipping during checkout.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553381030
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/01/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 133,469
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)
Lexile: 940L (what's this?)

About the Author

Susan Carol McCarthy lives in Carlsbad, California. Her acclaimed debut novel, Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands, was the winner of the 2003 Chautauqua South Fiction Award and was named one of the Best Fiction Books of 2002 by San Diego Magazine.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Luther's on the back porch knocking on the door. Inside my cocoon of bedcovers, first thoughts, like moths, flutter. Temperature's dropped and the men have come to work the smudge pots. I see them in my mind, dark, bundled bodies shuffling, soft calls anticipating the all-night battle against a freeze, gloved hands passing shiny thermoses filled with fresh, hot coffee, maybe something stronger. No, no, the dusky wings whisper: winter's gone, the trees long into bloom, new fruit already the size of sweet peas. I wake with a start. What is Luther doing here, now?

There it is again, his distinctive tappety-tap-tap. Across the hall, Mother and Daddy's voices arc in surprise, recognition, then concern. Daddy's feet hit the floor. I hear him yank on pants, belt buckle jangling, jerk open their door, and stride to the back. In my room Buddy's tags jingle at the window, nose pressed against the screen, tail gently slapping wood. I slip down beside him as, suddenly, the porch light slants across the tangerine tree outside my window. A breeze carries the scent of blossoms and the sound of voices into my room.

"Good Lord, Luther, what is it?" Daddy asks.

"It's Marvin, Mist' Warren. He ain't come home. Armetta's about worried herself to death. The boy went out 'round eight, telling his mamma he'd be back 'fore midnight. Ah been looking for him since one. Run into Jimmy Lee just now, swears he saw Klanners cruising the Trail where Marvin's s'posed to be."

"The Klan? Where on the Trail?"

"Joe's Jook, up to Wellwood. Marvin's sweet on one of them girls up there."

"Marvin had any run-ins with the Klan?"

"Nawser, but the girl say he left 'round 'leven."

"What do you think?"

"Ah'm hoping we could check on Mistuh Myer's Valencia grove this morning, drive slow-like past Round Lake, take a look."

"Come on in. I need to get my shoes on and some coffee."

Opening my door, I see Mother, a blur of dark curls and blue robe, flash through the hall and into the dining room. Buddy and I trail her into the kitchen.

Luther's at the table, chair nearest the door, staring down into the frayed innards of his field cap. Daddy's at the stove fumbling with the coffeepot. Mother moves to help him. Touching her elbow in thanks, he turns to retrieve his work boots from the porch.

"Sorry to bother you, Miz Lizbeth," Luther says to Mother's back. "Hey, Roo," he says to me, abbreviating his usual greeting. Everything about him, normally cola-colored, is gray-cast: his eyes glow darkly in ashy nests of wrinkles; a frost of unshaved stubble smudges his chin; his clothes, usually pressed and proper, hang loose and rumpled. Buddy pads over to him, tail wig-wagging, and rests his muzzle on Luther's knee.

"Luther and I need to take a drive, honey," Daddy says low-voiced to Mother. "Marvin's missing and it's cruise night on the Trail."

"But, Marvin's not . . ." Her eyes zigzag between the two men.

"Thought we'd check on Myer's Valencias, swing by Round Lake," Daddy says calmly, talking code in front of me.

"Can I go?" I ask.

"Reesa Roo, we don't know what's out there." Daddy lifts a booted foot onto the side bench, tying leather laces. "Besides, aren't you supposed to be watching for the DeSoto? She's due in today and your mother says her room's not ready." Thrust and parry, Daddy's a master at it.

"Your mamma comin' in today?" Luther asks, his smile showing a glint of the 24-karat canine Marvin calls his "golden dog."

"Yep, we get her for Easter this year," Daddy replies, tying the other boot.

"She somethin', Miz Doto is. And Ah love that car!"

"Fits her perfectly, doesn't it?" Daddy says, shrugging into his jacket.

My grandmother's DeLuxe, drive-without-shifting, custom DeSoto coupe is the source of our family's nickname for her. Once, when I was two or three, I answered my parents' request to "watch for the DeSoto" with an eager "Here comes Doto!" and the name stuck.

"Coffee's ready, sugar's on the table." Mother lays spoons and two steaming mugs in front of them. "Get you anything else?"

Luther's eyes thank Mother for her kindness, then dart to Daddy's.

"I think we'd best get going, honey," Daddy answers, not sitting, swigging coffee deeply.

Luther stands, visibly relieved, and ducks out the door, tossing "See y'all later" over his shoulder.

Daddy throws his good arm around Mother and pulls her to the barrel of his chest. "Warren, take Buddy with you," I hear her urge in a whisper.

"Don't worry, Lizbeth," he replies with a kiss. "Bye, Roo, don't forget the hospital corners on Doto's bed. Here, boy!" As the shepherd jingles after him, I see Mother check the time on the kitchen clock.

"Where on Round Lake?" I want to know.

"Reesa," she sighs, clearly unsure how much she wants to tell, "there's been talk about a lemon grove, one of Mr. Casselton's, but . . ."

Mr. Casselton. In our county, where local boosters declare citrus is king, Emmett Casselton, owner of the sprawling Casbah Groves, considers himself the area's crown prince. In our house, where the only thing worse than an "arrogant son of a bitch" is an "ignorant damn Cracker," Emmett Casselton is both.

"You mean the Klan's taken Marvin to the Casbah?" My voice, my whole throat quivers on the phrase favored by local biddies, black and white, to reel in wayward children . . . "You better be good," they warn, "or the Klan'll take you to the Casbah!" I never understood it, never connected it to Emmett Casselton's vast acreage—until now.

"I don't know, Reesa. I doubt it. I do know, however," Mother says, retreating behind her Poker Face, "in the time it'll take me to fix breakfast, you can finish your grandmother's bed. Go on now. I'll call you when it's ready." Gentle hands turn me toward the door.

The window at the top of the stairwell glows oddly orange; daybreak's flaming the treetops of the back grove. Marvin, where are you?

Both my younger brothers lay sound asleep in Mitchell's room. I switch on the light in Ren's room opposite, its windows facing west and the driveway. Daddy and Luther should just about be there by now.

Ren's mattress is bare, except for the tidy stack of Doto's pink sheets. During the nine months she's elsewhere, our grandmother's sheets, two sets of them, sit folded in the upstairs linen closet. The sheets are from downtown Chicago's Carter-Ferris-Mott store. "I can't sleep on anything else," I heard Doto tell Mrs. Ruth Ferris at last year's Florida Party at the big Ferris house south of town. From there, she launched into "My aunt Ethel was a Carter, of the Cape Cod Carters; I'm sure we're related to your father-in-law's partner." If he's in that lemon grove, Buddy will find him.

Southerners set great store by their ancestry, but it's a rare Rebel who can go toe-to-toe with my Yankee grandmother and win. Doto dotes on her lineage the way other old ladies delight in dahlias or Staffordshire teacups. Given half a chance, she blatantly brags she named Daddy, her firstborn, for "Richard Warren of the Mayflower"; her daughter Eleanor for "the wife of William the Conqueror" and Uncle Harry for "the Revolutionary War hero General Light-Horse Harry Lee, of the New York Lees, not those people in Virginia."

Shouldn't they be back by now?

Stuffing and fluffing Doto's pillows, I hear, finally, the roar of the truck engine, Buddy's barking and the urgent blast of Daddy's horn. I run to the open window and yell, "Daddy, what's wrong?"

He jumps out onto the driveway and shouts, "Roo, get your mother. We need blankets, towels—quick!"

Hurtling down the steps two, three at a time, I nearly crash into her, arms full of linens from the downstairs closet. Together, we race out of the house to the truck.

Luther's on his knees in the back. Daddy grabs towels and blankets, yells "Stand back now!" and springs to the sideboard, bending low. A raggedy moan rises from the shadows of the truck bed. Mother steps forward to peer over the side and, with a sharp gasp, spreads her arms like wings and folds them backwards, trapping me behind her. I wiggle away and dash to the tailgate. Jumping up on the back bumper, I see with a shock the blood-covered body in the back.

Marvin Cully, who I've known all my life, who taught me to pick tangelos without ripping the fruit cap, who showed me the secret of steering a go-cart, who started the game of rhyming my name, lies drenched in blood in the bed of my father's truck. His head and eyes are covered with something, a familiar fabric, one of Ren's striped T-shirts, turned into a terrible blood-soaked turban. Bright red, dark brown, dried black blood is everywhere: congealing in cuts on his jaw and neck, seeping through rips in his shirt and pantlegs, oozing out of scrapes on the tops of his bare feet. "Marvin! You all right?" I cry as the sickening sweet smell heaves my stomach into my throat. His lips, bleeding in a bright red trickle onto his chin, don't move, can't answer.

"G'wan now, Roo!" Luther yells in a garbled plea, replacing a stained picking sack with a soft towel under Marvin's head.

"Lizbeth!" Daddy barks, settling blankets over Marvin's chest.

Mother's hands, like claws, yank me down, turn me around, clutch me to her chest. "No, Roo, no!" she cries, walking stiffly backward toward the house. Her heart, like mine, drums in my ear.

"Lizbeth, call Doc Johnny! Tell him we have a bad case of Klan fever, really bad! We'll be at his back door in ten minutes. Okay?"

"Okay," Mother says, steering us onto the walk. "Go!"

"Damn them," Daddy swears. "Damn those damn Crackers to hell!"

The truck engine growls and jerks into reverse down the driveway. As the front porch door slams behind us, two figures float in the bright sunlight now filling the stairwell. "Mother?" the boys call, sleepily scratching themselves.

"Ren, take Mitchell into the kitchen," she commands, waving them off to the back. She reaches for the phone to dial Doc Johnny and as she does so, lets me go. At my side, a dark, damp nose sniffs its concern; I feel myself sinking, sobbing into the furry softness of Buddy's neck.

Chapter 2

Our house is old, "turn of the century," my parents say. "New England saltbox in a Miss Scarlett petticoat," Doto always calls it, meaning the wide screened porches that flounce around the ground floor with the kitchen, like a bustle, in the back. When my parents bought it from old Mr. Swann, the house had two big bedrooms upstairs but, after Mitchell was born, they converted the broad side porch into a downstairs bedroom for themselves, with a smaller one in the back for me.

After Mr. Swann sold it to them, he just walked out, leaving his linens, china, dining room table, his piano in the living room—everything but his clothes—behind. Said he wouldn't need them where he was going. As it turned out, Daddy says, that piano was a lifesaver. When Daddy caught the polio, the summer I was born, playing the piano helped him regain the use of his right hand and most of his right arm. It also kept him from going nuts, he says. Still does.

Daddy glances at me when I enter the living room, but keeps on playing, nodding his okay to join him on the bench. He's dressed for the funeral in white shirt and dark tie; his suit coat hangs off the mantel, like a strange, coal-colored Christmas stocking.

Strangeness has descended on our house like a winter fog bank, blurring the lines between the last few days: Marvin's dead, gone forever, the words singsong in my head trying to convince my heart they're true; Doto here, finding everything in an uproar; Doc Johnny unable, or unwilling, to state the cause of death; Constable Watts shrugging it off as a jook-joint fight, stopping just short of calling Daddy a liar about Round Lake Road.

"Besides," the string-bean Cracker laughed, tall and rangy in his constable uniform, "everybody knows the Opalakee Klan don't kill niggers like they use to." Daddy came home fuming. "In the old days," he told us, meaning before the polio, "lawman or not, I'd have pretzeled that peckerwood." Before I was born, they say, my father had a torrential temper, huge as a hurricane, fast and physical. But the polio, he says, taught him patience. The man I know is more circumspect, with a temper that veers toward geological. When Daddy's upset, he turns to stone, granite-faced, flinty-eyed. Now, he sits rock-like at the piano, a one-man Mount Rushmore, fingering his thoughts.

The song "I am a poor wayfaring stranger" is one of the saddest in the Mayflower Baptist hymnal. We'll sing it on Palm Sunday, the week before we sing the happiest song, "Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o'er His foes."

"Daddy," I ask him, "is it true, what Doto says about Richard Warren being called the Stranger?"

"Yes, honey. On the Mayflower, the Pilgrims were the Saints and they called the people like Richard Warren, whose company was paying for the voyage, the Strangers."

"When we studied them last fall, Mrs. Beacham said she never heard of such a thing."

"True story, Roo," Daddy says, fingertips teasing out the chorus.

"Doto says she's afraid she jinxed you by naming you after him."

"Maybe so, Roo. Sometimes I know exactly how he felt."

"Will the funeral last long?"

"Several hours, I guess. There's the service and the burial, then the gathering at Luther and Armetta's. Afterwards, there's a meeting with Reverend Stone and some elders."

"What about?"

"Options, Rooster."

"You mean about finding out who killed Marvin?"

"The Klan killed Marvin, Roo. The question is why. And what's to be done about it."

"But you've always said the Klan was nothing to be afraid of, just a bunch of good ol' boys playing boogey-man."

Daddy lifts his hands off the keyboard and drops them in a ball in his lap. His back, ramrod straight when he plays, curls forward, shoulders falling. The right one, his "polio shoulder," dips lower than the left. His chin juts forward in a craggy outcrop.

"Like Doto says, we are strangers in a strange land. The Klan's been around here for years—stupid stuff mostly, burning crosses, pestering couples parking in the dark, picking on Negroes they thought were getting uppity, whatever that means. But this week, they crossed the line."

"But May Carol's Daddy's in the Klan. May Carol says it's nothing but a card club, an excuse to play poker. And, Armetta works for them in their house!"

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Susan Carol McCarthy’s LAY THAT TRUMPET IN OUR HANDS. We hope they will enrich your experience of this deeply affecting novel.

1. LAY THAT TRUMPET IN OUR HANDS opens with an evocative description of
Florida as the “baby sister to the Belles.” What do these initial paragraphs indicate about the state’s economic and social history?

2. Before reading the novel, were you aware of the Ku Klux Klan’s activities in Florida during the first half of the twentieth century? Do you believe that race relations evolved differently in Florida than in the rest of the South?

3. In what ways do the McMahons embody Florida’s contradictions?

4. What characteristics does a young narrator impart to a tale as wrenching as Reesa’s? Which traits make her a particularly appropriate guide for us? How might the story have changed if told from her brother Ren’s point of view?

5. Do Reesa’s role models—her mother and father, Doto, Luther, and Armetta—provide her with contradictory or consistent messages about human nature? What are some examples?

6. In chapter nine, May Carol’s mother begs Armetta to return to her job in their household. What does this scene reveal about the balance of power between adults and children in Mayflower, and between blacks and whites? Were you surprised that Mr. Garnet made no effort to hide his KKK robe from Armetta?

7. Discuss the author’s many references to baseball. How does baseball enhance the novel’s plot and tone?

8. Religion figures prominently in LAY THAT TRUMPET IN OUR HANDS, from the Marvin’s lessons in Bible study to the horrific Klan bombings of Catholic and Jewish citizens. How do these myriad experiences shape Reesa’s understanding of God? How does her faith change throughout the book?

9. The Red Scare is an important historical backdrop for the novel. In what way did the Klan align itself with those who feared a Communist insurgency?

10. Whose “hands” are implied by the title, in your opinion? Who are their contemporary equivalents?

11. What does the correspondence between Reesa and Vaylie teach both girls about life outside their own families? What do the letters convey to us that isn’t disclosed in the main storyline?

12. Two background characters, Maybelle Mason and Lucy Garnet, add an interesting perspective to the role of women in Mayflower. In what way does each woman’s tragedy affect your understanding of this town?

13. The women of Luther’s “C.I.A.” were crucial to a courtroom victory. How do they compare to the novel’s other female characters?

14. The Florida landscape makes an intriguing backdrop for this novel, complete with a swimming hole restored at the book’s conclusion. Discuss the influence of setting on your imagination as you read LAY THAT TRUMPET IN OUR HANDS.

15. In her author’s note, Susan Carol McCarthy emphasizes the fact that the characters Reed Garnet, J.D. Bowman, and their families are completely fictional: “The real Klansmen who roamed the back roads and groves of our area, including those who were indicted by the federal grand jury, have their own stories. Which, of course, are theirs to tell.” What do you imagine those stories might say? What motivated this novel’s antagonists?

16. How did the civil rights movement affect your community?

17. Susan Carol McCarthy began writing this novel as a gift for her father, whose heroism in Florida inspired the character of Warren McMahon. Who are the Warrens and Luthers in your life?

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
high_school_reader More than 1 year ago
I had to read this book for high school summer reading and expected another boring novel with little entertainment and excitement, but this far surpassed my expectations. Its interesting characters (sometimes quirky) and tense plot create a fabulous tale of a young girl, her family, and their neighbors and friends as they struggle through racism and KKK malice. It's definitely a good read!
NanceeMarchinowski 10 months ago
Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands literally made my heart ache. Details of life in Florida in the early 1950s, and the activities of the Ku Klux Klan are vividly told in this heart wrenching novel. A debut novel, it is written with the polish and insight of a seasoned author. The story is told by a young girl named Reesa. Her tale of life as a preteen during a violent time in our nation's history is told with grit and clarity. Her young black friend, Marvin, was killed violently by members of the KKK, an unthinkable crime that brought to light atrocities that no one should have to experience. I loved Reesa's family dynamics and the supportive relationships they shared. They set examples of tolerance and acceptance in a community of prejudice and suspicion, and stood firmly for righteousness in the wake of hate crimes. I loved this gritty, touching story of a girl's coming of age in a violent time in our nation. Descriptive, earthy and told with a bold honesty, I will be reading this impressive book again! I highly recommend it! Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book. All expressed opinions are my own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hated it!!!!!! It was soo boring... i had to read it for school i get that its educational but just could not get in to it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BRANDON FABEL More than 1 year ago
Not my style
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was somewhat interesting. I prefer books which I can relate too... I can't relate to this since I was not around in the 1950's and have never witnessed segregation like that.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The first time I read this book I shed a tear. It is reminiscent of another powerful book To Kill A Mickingbird. Both books send a message on the issue of racism. The message is that people should judge others on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. The book clearly reflects what life was like in the 1950's, and how much we as people have grown and changed for the better. Not many books touch me like Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands. It's the best book I have read so far.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Our daily newspaper published a review about this masterpiece a few years ago and because this book was recommended, I wanted to read it. This novel should be a classic. Ms. McCarthy wrote on a subject that will forever be a part of our culture, but most importantly it deals with how this racially motivated murder effected a decent family and their neighbors. I borrowed this book from the library, but this is a book worth purchasing and will be part of my ever-growing library of excellent, first-rate novels.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't see the rating that I put on this book for the last time so maybe I didn't rate it at all. Why? I don't know. This book was one of the most unique and intriguing books I've ever read in my life. It was so interesting to hear about a white person's perspective on the KKK and the plot was fabulous. Although I wish she wouldn't have had reason to write this story, I really did appreciate it. Thanks again!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm a huge fan of historical fiction and this book definitely rates near the top of my list. While reading Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands, I was stricken with many emotions. Susan Carol McCarthy weaves a heartbreaking story of life in central Florida during the years of 1951-1952. It begins with Reesa McMahon a young northerner who resides in Florida with her parents and two younger brothers. When her best friend Marvin, a young black man who worked in her parents' orange grove, was murdered by the KKK, Reesa is thrown into a world where she is forced to come to terms with the deception and brutality of the local government and become an adult when she should be enjoying childhood. If you're like me, this book will amaze you with what we didn't learn in history books. I'm not sure why, but I never thought of Florida as a 'Southern' state. This book reveals the truth behind one of the worst times in the Civil Rights Movement, and introduces new heroes who will forever be remembered! You WILL love this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This one should be on the list of required school reading. It put the beginnings of the Civil Rights into language that is understandable for everyone no matter what race, creed, or affiliation.