- Books, Literature, and Writing
That Tragic August Day
The Blood Stain On The Road
Chapter One - No More Days
It was late August, 2009, typically warm, and the light blue skies above Mountain Hill Road that summer day were beautiful, filled with lazy, white clouds that seemed in no hurry to get anywhere. You could lie outdoors in a hammock with nothing but a glass of iced tea and just while away the hours, if you wanted to. A day like this was meant for enjoying the soul soothing relaxation of listening to those whispering sounds of nature. There were the gentle rustlings of leaves in the trees singing to each other, the occasional far away drone of an airplane lazily passing overhead, a bird call blending in, and the unmistakable scent of summer filling the air, all of it lulling you into a blissfully slower pace. August in Maryland was always the time when summer was half over, when the heat could either bake you, or change quickly to mild weather that was followed by uncomfortably cool. And when those cool nights of late August came bringing unwanted frost, you were made suddenly aware that September, and the end of these wonderful summer days, was near at hand. But, while there was still time, you didn’t waste those extra hours of sunlight. The sun rose early, and it set late. Who did not take advantage of the long days of summer?
The House On Mountain Hill Road
Our home was there on Mountain Hill Road in a small section of the county that had always been called Principio. Though it had been a thriving village back in the late 1700s, all that was left of it today was a cluster of homes situated just three miles outside of the little town of Perryville. And, of course, there was the remnant of the once famous Principio Iron Works down in the woods, famous for having produced cannons and cannon balls during the Revolutionary War. The British had even come there, up the Principio River, to set fire to the factory during that war, and my brothers and I had hiked around all of what was left of it many times. Although none of us were born in Perryville, we had all come to know the town of Perryville and the immediate area around the town as our home. My older brother Gill, and my younger brother, Phillip, and I, had started school in Perryville Elementary School. Nearly all of our friends were from our childhood school days at Perryville, kids we ended up going to school with through all the grades to come. And my aunt, my mother’s sister, Nancy, who had come to live with us at a very young age when her mother died, became an older sister to us. Nancy and my two older sisters, Connie and Sandra went to Perryville High School. So many friends and memories were there for all of us kids, and I think even to this day, even though we have all moved away, each of us identifies with Perryville in more ways than with anywhere else we have lived. It is still “home.” Years later, my baby sister, Resa, came along, and our family was complete. Mama had it all, three girls, three boys, a loving husband, innumerable friends and a house on Mountain Hill Road that was never void of activity. Photo after photo in the old family albums show so many happy events in that house where every seat is filled with laughing, smiling and very entertained guests. And as many, if not more, are the photos of us kids out in front of the house having fun sledding in the winter, or summertime cookouts at the stone barbeque picnic area that my father had built in the back yard...or just sitting out on the lawn enjoying such days as this one in late August.
Early Days In Perryville
The home at Mountain Hill Road was one of the best chapters of my mother’s life. Mama had come a long way in obtaining that house. Before we bought that home, we lived about two miles away over on Jackson Station Road in a home that was less than adequate. Although you really don’t know what you are missing out on when you are young and growing up in a home where money was never plentiful and making do with less was the norm, because it takes getting older and being exposed to how people with good incomes live to finally notice, but I still will never forget the hardships that formed my earlier years, eleven of them having been spent there at the old house on Jackson Station Road. Of course, not everything was always harsh about life there. I can fondly recall my brothers and I walking the long country road to Mr. Jackson’s store, a two-mile hike, and we would look for soda bottles that people had thrown out of their cars in passing. Taken to Mr. Jackson’s store, those bottles brought two cents for the regular bottles and a whopping nickel for the big ones. That was big money for us kids. The ditches would usually have a treasure trove of bottles, and after washing them off in the creek along the way, by the time we got to Mr. Jackson’s store and cashed them in, we earned enough money to buy all the candy we needed. And swimming in the creeks around there in the summer time was always the best getaway. We were young kids growing up in the country, so bills and other such adult pains and tribulations didn’t usually register on our minds. We could simply run out into the woods and get away for the day. But all was not swimming in the creeks and hiking around the woods. One of the hardships that I do recall while living there was that the water in the well at our home on Jackson Station Road had iron in it, rendering all of the water from that well, and several others that we had dug, completely undrinkable. For all of the eleven years that we lived there, we carried all of our drinking water from a spring that was several miles from our house. Every drop of water we drank, every drop of water we cooked with, all of it meant long, difficult trips to the spring at all hours of the day and all hours of the night. Nothing made that hardship more real than to be roused in the early hours of the morning before the sun had even come up and told that we had to go get water before school. Carrying all of that water and the sacrifices it meant, only my sisters and brothers know the tales we could tell. Thus, when we finally got to buy the house on Mountain Hill Road, my mother was beyond elated. It was life-changing. I can still remember the day, before we bought the house, that Mama and I went over there to take our first look at the place, and she was the most excited I have ever seen her. Mama was beside herself just trying to imagine actually living there. Oh, she walked around, went from room to room, looked through every single window, admired the beautiful wooden floors, the fireplace, the full-length basement, a basement that was not damp and dismal, but a dry basement that had ample room for a washer and dryer, and plenty of room for storing canned goods, and Mama came out onto the breezeway, gazed out at the beautiful view in the huge backyard, stared, breathed in that beautiful fresh air and pondered...Mama was in total bliss! She really and truly could not imagine having this dream home, and I think for that very reason, Mama didn’t want to end this visit and leave too soon. She wanted to savor the moment, dream a little longer, as if getting in that car and heading back to Jackson Station Road would take it all away. She and I walked all around that place, inside and out, and I remember she was especially elated when she turned on the faucet, and beautiful, clear, drinkable water came out! Mama tasted it with some trepidation, waiting for the dream to become tarnished. But, it wasn’t tainted with the horrible smell of iron that had ruined every well we ever dug over on Jackson Station Road. Beautifully modern, roomy, with more than an acre-and-a-half of lawn...and it had clean drinking water! If we could buy this house, my mother just knew that life would certainly change for the better. And it did.
Family Fun In The Country
The Old Water Spring
When Daddy got home that night from work, Mama took him over to see the house, and he rained on her parade by immediately telling her that there was no way that they would be able to get this house. But Mama was not going to give up. She had had enough of the deprivations at Jackson Station Road, and Mrs. LaMonica, the real estate agent, had convinced Mama that she could make it all happen. Little guess, then, as to whom Mama wanted to believe the most.
Maybe she made him his favorite biscuits and gravy that night, because I otherwise would not know how Mama got through to Daddy, but she convinced him to let Mrs. LaMonica come to the house and tell him what she could do. Somehow, Mrs. LaMonica won him over and convinced him that it was possible. At long last, Mama had her dream home. Behind us lay years of sacrificial living. It was 1964, and the house on Mountain Hill Road brought such exhilaration. We had moved up in the world, and we were finally free from all of the doing without that life on Jackson Station Road had meant. Daddy was making the best money he had ever made. He was the Chief Administrator of Developments and Proofs at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and he was also the pastor of one of the churches that he had established for the Church of God. With my two sisters and my aunt having graduated from school and now living in New England, Daddy’s paycheck went further, and this beautiful house attested to that. For my mother, moving here was the true beginning of the life she had always dreamed of. In just a few short years, we remaining three sons were moving out and onward with our lives, too, which meant that my parents could now spend more time and money on making life better for themselves and Resa, our baby sister who was still growing up there. Mama, Daddy and Resa, the three of them would make Mountain Hill Road the home that we all knew for many years to come.
Forty-five years seem to go by so fast when looking back. By the time August 29, 2009, had rolled around, my parents were enjoying their Golden Years. That was as it should be. Daddy was 82 years old, enjoying his retirement, having pastored for more than fifty years. All the countless sacrifices he had made for the six churches that he had founded for the Church of God were behind him now. He could relax in his recliner and just read the paper and watch television all day without a care in the world. Mama had retired, as well, putting behind her seventeen years of driving the bookmobile for the Cecil County Library. They had their lovely home, and they had the love of so many friends, which was in evidence every year at Christmas when the countless Christmas cards, strung around the fireplace and elsewhere, took over the home. Just the sight of so many Christmas cards always amazed me. And we children were forever dropping in on them, which Mama never got tired of. In fact, if she called us on the telephone, she would inevitably ask when we were coming down, no matter where we lived. Of course, there was the never-forgotten fact that one of Mama’s children had passed away too early. Phillip was the baby of the family for so many years, until Resa claimed that title. Phillip had sadly and tragically passed away from a heart attack in 1984. The death of my brother had made a hole in my mother’s heart that never fully healed. I think it was the only thing that ever marred her happy years at Mountain Hill Road. Mama loved Phillip so much, she would have given up that house and moved back to Jackson Station Road if it would have brought him back. My mother cried over him for many years after his death. Mama often described to people how Phillip would give her the best hugs, how he would just squeeze her and rock back and forth with her when he hugged her. And Phillip was a big guy. Standing six-foot-two and weighing over two-hundred-and-thirty pounds, Sugar Bear, as his friends fondly nicknamed him, gave my mother the love of a son who wasn’t afraid to show her he cared. Mama missed him, and she never forgot him, either.
Resa Grew Up Here
So many memories filled that old home. Children grew into adults, and eventually there were grandchildren who came into the picture and loved visiting their doting grandparents at that magical place. Now, there were even great-grandchildren, and there was no reason for any of us to believe that my mother and father would not see their golden years continue, filled with the same joys, family and friends, all of it to eventually finalize somewhere off in the unimaginable, distant future. Perhaps, they would someday simply fall asleep in this very house that they both loved so much and wake up with the Lord, a fitting reward for all their years of selfless sacrifice. This is how we all thought it should be.
The View From Mama's Window
My mother certainly knew how to make the most of those summer days. Mama had the curtains pulled back in the living room as soon as the sun had sent its first rays into her bedroom.
She would routinely go through the entire house and pull back all of the curtains that she had so methodically closed the night before. August 27, 2009, a Thursday, was a day that beckoned anyone who loved summer to get out of the house and enjoy the day, and Mama was one of those individuals who could not stay pent up within four walls for long This would have been an especially nice day to go somewhere for a few hours. The car was her magic carpet to adventures that beckoned beyond our life at Mountain Hill Road, the road that was so synonymous with our home that we often just said Mountain Hill Road instead of home. I can still hear my father on occasion talking to my mother on the phone asking her when she was coming home to cook dinner. “When are you coming back to Mountain Hill Road?” he would plead jokingly. Our house there had been filled with so much of our lives, and we all felt that 591 Mountain Hill Road was our refuge in times of great difficulty. Mama and Daddy would always have the door unlocked for us when we showed up, and there would be a pot of coffee on in that kitchen. You could count on it. Mama and Daddy made that house home for all of us. But, as wonderful as it was to be at home, there still were times when Mama just needed to get out of the house and go somewhere.
Mama's Living Room
On this particular day, after opening the curtains in the house, she would have opened all the doors to let the sunshine in, then lifted every window to let in those fragrant summer breezes that floated in from the woods and hills surrounding the house. After she finished her morning “fiddling” around the house, she would, as always, try unsuccessfully to get my father to eat a healthy breakfast that she had cooked. He would find his way to his recliner in the living room, and there he would park himself facing the large picture window and the television until bedtime. Daddy was old now. He no longer tried to change the world. The firebrand Pentecostal preacher he had been in his younger days had gradually become an accepting and very accommodating individual who just did not make waves. When people would tell him about something upsetting that had happened to them, he would simply say, “Such is life.” Daddy just wanted to sit and relax, so he was not even going to make the extra effort it would require to come to the breakfast table. Mama would end up giving in, fix something for both of them, then set it for both of them to eat in the living room so that he did not have to leave the comfort of his beloved recliner. They would eat together, Mama sitting on the end of the sofa closest to Daddy’s recliner, then she would pick up their dishes and head to the kitchen where she would wash up those few dishes, put them away, clean up the kitchen, then try to talk Daddy into taking her somewhere. That, too, was a request that was seldom granted these days. Daddy was just too worn out to do much socializing, at least not the kind that meant going out of the house. Daddy’s legs weren’t what they used to be, and he felt more comfortable in that recliner than anywhere else on earth. Mama would eventually give up trying to guilt him into going anywhere, and she would decide where she wanted to go, get her car keys and say, “I’m going to get out of Dodge for a while.” That old Buick was soon heading out of sight over the top of Mountain Hill Road...and Daddy would just melt into his favorite chair and share time with the television and whatever he was reading. Mama’s getaway was the car, but Daddy’s was the recliner and his reading.
Daddy & His First Church
That particular day in August, Mama wanted to go check on Tomey, her grand-daughter, because she worried needlessly that the house that Tomey lived in was a fire hazard, and she had fears that her granddaughter was going to end up burned to death in a house fire. Mama always liked to worry. But, Mama also wanted to see her two great-grandsons, Tomey’s boys, Daniel and August. She had a boundless love of children. If you wanted to see Mama smile, just put a child in front of her. Last minute verbal exchanges between my mother and father would be about anything she needed to bring back from the store, things she wanted him to do while she was gone, and, at some point, asking him why he wouldn’t come with her. Fruitless, that last request almost always got the same response. At the end of that routine, Mama would typically stand in the doorway leading off to the breezeway and call out loudly, “I’ll be back after while,” (as if she wouldn’t), then, off she would drive in that Buick LeSabre. Mama swore by her Buick. She could not be talked into any other brand. When the Buick before that one had finally served its purpose, she got a new one...same make, same model, same color. Routine was calming to my mother. Change was a four-letter word. I remember once rearranging the furniture for her while she was out, thinking she would love the change. It took her no time at all to have all of the furniture right back where the indentations in the carpet were.
The Buick disappeared over the top of Mountain Hill Road heading toward Conowingo, and my father settled into his recliner to enjoy his newspaper. In the background, Daddy would have the television going, just in case something interesting came on, and his perpetual cup of coffee would be sitting on the lamp stand next to his recliner. A few chocolate candy bars pulled from his “private stash” inside the lamp stand would serve him well when he got hungry, because he would have to be really hungry to get up out of that recliner and actually make something to eat in the kitchen. No, my father would rather wait until my mother got home to eat a real meal, so the chocolate candy bars became his meals of choice during the day while my mother was out visiting. Coffee, candy bars, a newspaper, and the television playing in the background, all while relaxing in his recliner, that was my father’s idea of a perfect day. No running the roads for him, and that was where he and my mother were most definitely not alike. On all other points, they were two lovers who never stopped loving each other since the day they met. And they were a pair. Not even us kids could ever come between those two.
The Gray Family In The 1950s
When the paper was finished with, Daddy would pick up whatever book he was reading at the time and continue his peaceful routine. My father loved reading books, and he would routinely go through several each week. The recliner was my father’s “spot” for many years prior to this particular day. It was not healthy for his legs, however, and gradually, Daddy was losing his ability to walk. Mama fought hard to get him out of that chair and into the car to go anywhere. His socializing days were far behind him now. All he wanted was to sit there and read while listening, and occasionally paying attention, to the television that added company to the quiet home. Nothing more, nothing less. If my mother wanted to socialize, there was the car - go. That was his answer to her pleas. No matter how many times my mother would ask my father to go with her somewhere, it was a rare day when he would make the effort to disrupt his retirement routine. Daddy had given enough to everybody else as a Church of God preacher for more than fifty years. He really did not want to have to “pastor” anymore. Thus, it was common for my mother to be gone with the car, but, she always came home before it got close to sundown. If she wasn’t home shortly after she left, and some trips were that short...barely over Mountain Hill and heading back home... she was most definitely heading home before the sun got anywhere near the horizon. Mama wanted to be with the man she loved when the sun had set. He was her protector, her life-long love, and the man for whom she had lovingly cooked and cleaned nearly all of her life. And Daddy loved her, too. If ever there was a side to be taken, it was hers...in virtually all things and in all events. Theirs was a love that lasted. When Mama left to go to see her grand-daughter, Daddy had no worries that she would not be back, such was her changeless routine of departure and return. You could practically set your clock by my mother’s leaving and returning to that house. But, today was not to be like any other day. Their routine would end. Today, those white clouds in the sky lied. It was to be the darkest day of their lives.
Driving The Library Bookmobile
Noon. My mother finished having lunch with Tomey and the two boys, and she headed home following the back roads like she always did. Mama disliked heavy traffic, fearing the worst from aggressive drivers. Those back roads were so much like her childhood home in Virginia, roads that she had walked and ridden on, roads that beckoned like good friends. Heck, for all those seventeen years that she drove that huge bookmobile, Mama had routinely covered all of these back roads in the county. She knew them like the back of her hand. Since Mama felt that she was safer on those trusted roads, it was normal for her to drive all the way home from Tomey’s using them. As she was heading down the last stretch of the return journey, she was driving along Theodore Road. A speed trap was set up there by several state troopers, and my mother drove right on by and never noticed that she was going about five miles over the speed limit. One of the officers headed after her, and the sorrowfully tragic event that would forever change everything...everything...would stalk and threaten the safe world Mama loved, and it would pursue her until it engulfed her like a storm cloud from Hell.
The officer went after my mother as if she were a convicted felon. The nerve of this person to run his speed trap! According to the newspaper the next day (yes, it made the newspapers), the officer followed Mama for seven miles. He stated that he even pulled along side of her at one point and could see her face, and that she appeared to wave him off, as if to indicate for him to leave her alone. The headlines said something very important - “Slow Speed Chase.” While this would seem laughable in any other situation, as if it were some old woman involved in a “slow speed chase” given by a state trooper bent on giving her a ticket, there was nothing even remotely humorous in any of what transpired next. The state trooper in question was getting very agitated. His adrenaline was pumping, and he was losing his ability to think rationally. To him, this was an insult to his uniform, his pride, his authority. How dare anyone try to show disrespect to him! He ran her tag number and saw that her address meant that she only had a short distance left before she would be home. He had to prevent this! He could not allow her to reach the safety of witnesses, possibly other family members. His plans required no witnesses, because he needed unfettered revenge!
Less than a half-mile from Mountain Hill Road, he suddenly pulled in front of my mother’s car, forcing her to collide with his police car. A chase that was undoubtedly causing great fear in my mother’s mind came to an abrupt and horrific end with major damage to her car. Apparently, from all the radio conversation, seven other cop cars had joined the situation and had pulled up to the scene at the top of the hill at Principio, directly across from the old Principio Mansion. We later learned from one of the doctors that the terrific force of the impact caused my mother to have a mild stroke. The seat belt across her chest bruised her severely. Disoriented and physically unable to respond, my mother, who was also extremely arthritic and small of stature by this time in her life, was not responding to the demands of this state trooper. “Get out of the car! Get out of the car!” he screamed furiously as he yanked Mama’s car door open. Overwhelmed with panic from the horror of this yelling psychopath who was now clawing at her car door, Mama froze and became catatonic. The cop, acting like a crazed, wild animal, tore viciously at my mother’s seatbelt while grabbing Mama’s arm and wrist, then began pulling her violently and savagely from the car. He threw her to the road face down, and all the while, Mama was calling on Jesus, praying for the Lord to intervene. “Oh Jesus! God help me! Lord Jesus, oh Lord Jesus!” Horrified, tears of fear streamed down Mama’s face, helpless before this onslaught of brutality. Sadly, no one was there to save her from the savagery this cop meted out. He was just getting started, and his vengeance was nowhere yet satisfied. Throwing Mama to the ground, and with his anger totally out of control, he began to vindictively manhandle her as he yanked her arms up behind her, all while she was lying face down in the dirty, abrasive surface of that hard, paved road. To add insult to unspeakable injury, he handcuffed Mama. The responding police officers raced to the spot with pistols and shotguns armed, cocked and ready...all aimed at my elderly, defenseless, sobbing mother! How this tiny, white-haired, elderly child of God deserved any of this will never, never be explained. There would be no re-set of the clock to the beautiful summer day that had begun just hours earlier. The routine that my mother so dearly loved was over...forever. Those who colluded in its demise now stood with their guns drawn, showing no pity, showing no remorse, showing no humanity...aiming at their helpless prey who was lying handcuffed and face-down... bleeding profusely… calling on Jesus...in the middle of the road...on that formerly...beautiful...summer day...in August.
Marked With Blood
Please Go To Chapter 2 - "The Last Mile"
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