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There is such a thing as honorable lying. Take the folks who lied to the authorities to protect enslaved people on the Underground Railroad. I’m sure if there is a St. Peter, he waved those liars right through the Pearly Gates when they finally arrived to heaven.
What people call “white lies” are a sub-category of honorable lying. They’re done out of niceness. Such as the time I told Dawn Spurlock she should definitely continue to pursue her knitting projects because she showed great potential in that area. Or, a long-ago girl writing to her soldier brother that everything is just dandy back at home, when to be honest, all the silver-plate has already been looted, and the pigs and chickens carried off to feed the troops.
Other honorable lies are the ones you tell to put a good face to the world. These lies have something to do with loyalty, which is important to us Hawkinses.
But school lies are a whole different category entirely. I learned all about school lies last year in Colonial History, when I read what our school textbook said compared to the books Mrs. Dooley helped me find in the library, and what I found out reading American History magazine, which I subscribe to. Mrs. Dooley helped me get what she called primary sources for the papers I had to write—like letters and diaries and proclamations and so forth. I finally figured out that my schoolbook was propping up some very wobbly ideas. There were all these ugly, unspoken facts swimming around the murky bottom, under the glossy surface pages of our textbook. And then I started to wonder if everybody was telling these kinds of wobbly, propping-up lies all the time, all around me.
If maybe they slid by so smoothly, I just never realized, even when I was bobbing like a cork in an ocean of falsehoods.
My grandma Lady is chock-full of opinions that tend to kink up the best-laid plans. I always knew Lady was a fusspot who drove a hard bargain, but it never really sunk in until we had to go live with her.
For example, six days after we move in with Lady and Grandpa Tad, me and Daddy are planning a road trip to Cherokee, North Carolina. We aim to go to the funeral of Daddy’s buddy Trilby Bigwitch, who fought with Daddy’s army unit in Vietnam.
Lady has one thing to say about this plan, and then she has another, and then another thing on top.
“You’re hardly even unpacked yet from moving in,” she says.
“You need to prepare for school starting Monday,” she says.
To tell the truth, I do not need to prepare for school; the whole idea of seventh grade is dreadful. I’m trying every trick I can dream up not to dwell on it. Though, she’s right—I haven’t technically unpacked any boxes. I did carry them up to the second floor. I did stack them in a corner of what is supposed to be my depressing bedroom, down the hall from Daddy’s depressing bedroom and the smaller room Ma sleeps in.
My so-called bedroom has purple floral wallpaper and a polished secretary desk with claw feet like a monster. It has a fireplace that looks like it hasn’t been lit for two hundred years. Clear as day, no child has ever inhabited that room. I don’t see why I have to be the courageous pioneer.
Lady and Tad’s farmhouse is only eight miles away from my real home, and it’s still inside the town boundaries of Love’s Forge, but it might as well be a million. It is a place that creaks if you put a toe down on any floorboard. It has wood shutters that bang in the slightest breath of wind. It has a musty parlor that attracts damp and that nobody sits in except after supper. It has a kitchen full of Tennessee knickknacks, including two framed needlepoint pictures.
The first one says: Blood makes you related. Loyalty makes you family.
The second one says: In Time of Test, Family Is Best.
Which I agree with one hundred percent. Only I would add:
A Family of Three
Was Plenty for Me.
Lady and Grandpa Tad’s house does come with an overgrown, weedy garden, which Ma could grow her gargantuan root vegetables in, if she ever has a mind to get out of bed again. But if any ponies or goats or chickens ever inhabited the barn or coop, my grandma Lady has long since run them off.
What I want most is to be back in our cottage where I was born, only us three, with the doghouse in the backyard, and the birdhouse by my window, and the playhouse in the walnut tree, all matching with white clapboard and shingle roofs. Daddy and I built all those little homes to look exactly like the sweet life-sized home we used to live in.
What I want second most, even though I am not partial to funerals, is to go on this road trip with Daddy. When you take a perfect road trip, you go somewhere you’ve never been before, and then you circle back to where you started out, and it makes you feel both adventurous and cozy.
But here we are on Friday afternoon in my grandma Lady’s kitchen, the hot air positively swimming with Lady’s opinions. She is objecting up one side and down the other to me going along to Trilby’s service with Daddy.
“It’s inappropriate, taking an eleven-year-old girl to be around all those rough men at a military funeral,” Lady says.
Inappropriate is one of Lady’s favorite words. It’s a word meant to shave the square edges off a person.
She adds, “You don’t know the first thing about raising girls to become young ladies, son.”
Daddy and Ma raised me up fine so far, I think. Without all of your opinions.
“I need Lyndie in the passenger seat to read road signs,” Daddy argues. “I’ll be concentrating on navigating the hairpin turns.”
It’s hardly even a two-hour trip to Cherokee, but Smoky Mountain roads are full of devilish curves, with sick-making drops alongside, so it pays to look sharp. Because Daddy is half-blind in his left eye thanks to a flying piece of shrapnel, and always drives over the speed limit, he needs me to copilot, and I am proud to do it. I’m standing behind his chair, and I put my chin on his shoulder and look down at the road map spread out on the kitchen table. That curvy, curly road from Love’s Forge to Cherokee, North Carolina, is a challenge I can handle.
“As a bonus,” Daddy says. “If there’s trouble, I can always count on Lyndon Baines Hawkins to fast-talk our way out of it, right Lyndie? She takes after her namesake that way.” He means old president Lyndon Johnson, who I was named for, and who was famous for his powers of persuasion.
I give Daddy a good kick under his chair. “There won’t be any trouble!”
“Tyrus Hawkins.” Lady is polishing my school loafers—she waves one at the map. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s a single road through the mountains. You’d have to drive blindfolded and seated backward to get lost. You don’t need Lyndie’s help with this.”
“Point.” Daddy swivels his head around at me. “As your grandpa Tad would say: Counterpoint?”
Grandpa Tad is a lawyer; nobody can beat him in an argument. I’m thrilled he isn’t here to take Lady’s side.
“The thing is,” I blurt out, “I have to go.” Even I can hear how raw and true those words sound.
Lady looks up sharply. She sets one polished loafer on a square of frayed towel and stares first at me, then at my father. “And why would that be?”
I can’t tell Lady I only yesterday found a half-full bottle of George Dickel Tennessee Whisky in Daddy’s car’s glove box. Lady is big on personal privacy—that is, when it comes to her own privacy. She doesn’t approve of children snooping in glove boxes, or in dresser drawers, or anywhere else either, so I’m in a pickle. A kid only gets to find out important stuff “on a need to know basis,” according to my grandmother.
Lady strictly doesn’t approve of liquor. Who knows what kind of lockdown she would put us all under, if she found out Daddy was secret-keeping whiskey? I’d probably never get to take another car ride with Daddy again in my life. I have chosen to accept my mission: to keep Lady’s nose as far out of our business as I can manage and make sure Daddy gets home safe.
“The old Hawkins homestead,” I croak out, drumming up a good lie. I give Daddy another kick with my foot. “We want to stop in Greeneville on our way back, to visit where Grandpa Tad’s granddaddy grew up.”
“Right!” Daddy picks up the thread with enthusiasm. He’s improvisational like that. “Lyndie’s been pestering me about the old homestead.”
“I haven’t seen that place since I was nine,” I add. “I want to make a diagram of the eighteenth-century barn. And the many log outbuildings.”
There isn’t a drop of truth in this, but there could be, and Lady knows it. Here is the one and only thing me and my grandma share in common—an appreciation for local history. Although I will say, we do disagree hotly on many of the historical particulars.
“That’s the most sensible thing I’ve heard,” Lady says. “Your grandpa’s grandfather Fayette Hawkins lived and died right here.” Lady taps her finger on the map and lifts her chin at Daddy. “And your grandpa spent many a summer there. Maybe some of Fayette’s unimpeachable character and high dignity will rub off on your daughter.”
“I believe that might happen,” Daddy says.
“I suppose if you’ll be in Cherokee, you could visit your sister in Bryson City,” she suggests. She means my aunt Palm Rae. We don’t see much of her because her husband is mayor, and “a very busy man.”
“We could look into that,” Daddy says.
“And what does Lyndie’s mother say?” Lady asks.
Lady knows Ma has no opinion how I come or go. Ma started having headaches last spring when Daddy was let go from his work. They’ve gotten worse since we moved in with Lady and Grandpa Tad. Ma has already relocated from the parents’ room into a smaller room down the hall. When she’s not at her new job at Miller’s Department Store, she stays holed up in that room chewing on Bayer aspirins.
Lady is stalling, conjuring up one last objection. A shimmer of doubt passes through her ice-blue eyes.
“Mama,” Daddy says. “We’ll be all right.”
Say yes, I pray silently. Please.
If Lady wins this battle, how will I fight her on the next?
It feels like forever before Lady sighs and her shoulders relax a notch. “I don’t like this a bit.”
“Duly noted,” Daddy says. “We appreciate your concern.”
I want to throw victory air-punches. But I am doing my best to look unimpeachable and dignified, like old Fayette Hawkins.
“You head right home after, you hear me, son? You leave tomorrow morning. I want you back before the sun sets.” Lady points to her wall calendar. “Back the same day. Saturday, September 7, 1985,” she says meaningfully to Daddy, enunciating all the numbers. “Lyndie needs to unpack her school clothes and get settled in.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Daddy barks. He offers me his pinky finger. We shake on our victory. And I feel my whole insides beginning to unfurl.
Holy Hallelujah! Me and Daddy together again in his El Camino, aka the Blue Bullet! Come tomorrow, we’ll be heading down the wide-open road to Freedom From Lady.
“Promise me,” Lady says. “You’ll get home before dark.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” I say. “We’ll be home before dark. We promise.”