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That Tragic August Day Chapter Three

Updated on July 24, 2017

The Top Of Mountain Hill Road

Looking from the house at the road to the top of the hill...Mama would never drive over that again.
Looking from the house at the road to the top of the hill...Mama would never drive over that again.

Chapter Three - Into The Fog

Mama had won one small battle, and that was getting released from the hospital so that she could be with Daddy. Nobody could aptly describe how much her home meant to Mama. Little things like faithfully feeding the birds through the winter were such welcome rays of sunshine in her everyday life, and it took a lot of persuading to make her stop feeding them when springtime had come, even though there was now sufficient food around in the woods and fields. Daddy would tell her to stop feeding them, and she would stubbornly persist. She cared too much for all animals, and didn’t want to see any of them suffer. Mama loved seeing them, watching them enjoy what she had provided for them, and she daily cleaned the bird bath and refilled it with water so that they could splash and play while she watched from her kitchen window. She also loved to can vegetables and fruits during the summer, grape jelly being her favorite right up there next to homemade sweet pickles. Mama would always tell anyone who listened that the secret to making those great pickles was picking the right cucumbers - “Straight Eights,” she called them. Mama had learned over the years that feeding a big family meant huge gardens and lots of canning, hundreds of quarts of canned goods every season. These days, she canned less, because all of us kids were grown and living on our own, but every time we visited, she was giving us something that she had canned. It was all good, too. Mama was a renowned cook. The home at Mountain Hill Road represented the best of her married years, second only to her childhood days in Virginia. Even though she loved the home at Mountain Hill Road, she never stopped calling North Landing in Virginia “down home.” Mama greatly missed the long-departed relatives down home, but as long as she had Daddy and was living at Mountain Hill Road, she was genuinely at peace. Little doubt, then, why she wanted to come out of that hospital and get back to her house and the man she loved.

Connie and Resa brought Mama home, and Connie stayed at the house to make sure Mama was watched over. Resa, who lived only a few miles away, had to go to work in the morning. She would come over at lunch time to check on Mama, as well. I got the phone call from Resa telling me that Mama had been in an accident, and they were bringing her home from the hospital. So, I came down to the house to see how Mama looked. I lived an hour’s drive away. When I got there, it was a beautiful sunny day, and Connie had set Mama’s white wicker chairs out on the front lawn for Mama to enjoy the outside air and warm weather. That setting was one of Mama’s favorites, and many of her friends had often enjoyed this pleasurable rite with her and my father. White wicker chairs on a well manicured green lawn, beautiful flowers radiating colors in the flower beds, everyone having homemade iced tea and endless conversation, that was the ideal summer past-time here, so this, we thought, would be healing for Mama to be able to sit out there and just soak in the sunshine and fresh air. When I pulled into the driveway, there sat Connie and Mama. I gave Connie a hug, since I had not seen her in quite a while, then I hugged Mama and took a seat in one of the wicker chairs. Such a beautiful summer day, yet the beauty of the day was marred by my growing realization that Mama was not herself. I could tell that Mama had been through some major ordeal, because her mental state seemed a bit clouded. She wasn’t totally herself, but I thought it was just something that would pass, like fatigue. Then I saw some of the horrible bandages. I was wrong. Mama wasn’t tired, and the relaxing rest would not prove sufficient to restore her to the mother we knew. Eventually the bandages would be removed, but the bandages were the beginning, not the end, and it would take some time for us all to fully realize how terribly damaged she had truly been by this ordeal.

Mama & Daddy At 80

For their 80th birthdays, we children organized a big surprise dinner party.  Here they are posing next to a photo of them at 17.
For their 80th birthdays, we children organized a big surprise dinner party. Here they are posing next to a photo of them at 17.

In just a few days, infection set in, and she had to be taken back to the hospital to check on the redness around the wounds on her hands. That was September 4th. She was taken home, but the next morning, Mama was noticeably sick. She was mentally very slow, had no appetite, and was running a temperature. This time, she was taken by ambulance back to the hospital. They kept her overnight and wanted her to stay longer, but Mama, as always, would have none of it. In spite of the fog that was now fighting her, confusing her and creating anxiety, she wanted her life back, and this hospital was not her life. Life for Mama was Mountain Hill Road. Another thing about Mama and Daddy both, they hated hospitals and never wanted to be in one. The thought of having to stay in that hospital any longer began to make Mama very agitated and extremely anxious. Connie and Resa went through literal Hell with Mama during this ordeal, such was her indescribable agitated mental state in there. In desperation, they put Mama on the phone with Daddy several times, hoping that his voice would reassure her and calm her down, but if anything, the phone calls to Daddy only served to remind her of her home and where she was not. The doctor took a lot of convincing to let Mama go home, but Connie assured him that they would be monitoring her for any changes, and if anything warranted it, they would bring her right back to the hospital. Mama won, again. She was taken home.

Mama began to have nightmares, or hallucinations, at night, thinking that someone was trying to get her. She was sure that someone was trying to get in the door, and she would not rest until Daddy went and checked. But Daddy’s legs were no longer those of the young sailor she had married decades earlier. He fell while trying to get out of bed, and we later found that he had fractured several vertebrae. At his age, 82, this was extremely dangerous, and this pattern of falling was to become an oft recurring thing that eventually would lead to debilitating consequences. Daddy took to his recliner all day now, never getting out unless he needed to go to the bathroom or return to bed at the end of the day, and he fell more frequently as the deterioration progressed. He was in constant pain, though he would not let on, and his ability to hide it meant that none of us saw what was coming.

September 6th, Sunday, Connie and Resa decided to take Mama to her favorite restaurant, hoping that this might help her heal. Mama always bragged excitedly on this restaurant, surely this would do the trick. But disappointment was in store. Sadly, Mama hardly touched her food. Connie and Resa knew that this alarming lack of interest in the restaurant did not bode well for Mama. How could she be sitting in a place that had always lifted her spirits and not perk up? This restaurant should have worked its magic, but the chest of magic tricks was empty. The magician was gone. The circus had left town. And my mother was not lifted out of her darkness this time. How do you save someone when you cannot reach them? It is agonizing. Deeply troubled, Connie and Resa were now at wits end, because Mama was not responding to even her favorite restaurant. Normally, she would have been effusive with joy at just being here. Her confused mental state and lack of life was now sending off alarm bells. Monday morning, September 7th, they had to take Mama back to the hospital by ambulance. She was very confused, very tired and not feeling well. This time, the doctors won a partial victory. They wanted Mama to stay for four days. She stayed two days and two nights. That was it. Her anxiety and agitation were through the roof, and they finally agreed to let her go home to continue her rest there. Her condition had improved, and Connie agreed to continue her antibiotic regimen at home. She was discharged from the hospital on September 9th.

Over the days that followed, Mama would have mood swings. Sometimes, she would seem like her old self, then she would suddenly get agitated and very angry for no apparent reason. There were times when she would swing her pocketbook at Daddy out of anger over his not doing something that she wanted him to do, usually taking her in the car to go someplace. Possibly some of this agitation might have been the lack of the car sitting in the driveway, a familiar sight for her all of those years. We had to repeatedly tell her that the car was in the shop being fixed, and it would not be long before she would ask again, many, many times a day. There was a terrible look of confusion on Mama’s face whenever she asked that question, like she was trying to figure out what had happened to her car, why couldn’t she remember taking it to be fixed? This was totally out of character for Mama. At first, we thought this must be a temporary phase that she would get out of as she healed, but we were to be disappointed. Many times, we would talk with her about the accident, trying to keep the memory alive for when she would have to testify in court. I had even printed out a paper with simple photos and the basic facts for her to read, and during the first few weeks, she would relate how the officer had pulled her so hard when he was trying to get her out of the car that she thought he would pull her arms out of socket and pull her wrist right off of where it joined her arm. “Get out of the car!” she would scream, “Get out of the car!” as she imitated how the cop had manhandled her that day. She would show the white scar tissue that had formed on both of her wrists and ask “Why did he do this to me?”

Sadly, and very concerning to us, since we felt that we would eventually need to go to court for justice in all of this, day by day, week by week, Mama slowly forgot. Simple things at first, but in short order, Mama could not even remember the event that had changed her life forever...not even with the paper in hand that I had prepared for her. Maybe God in His mercy was removing that horrible experience from her memory so that she would no longer be tormented. Mama had seen enough sorrow in one lifetime. She’d had a dramatic childhood, with more sorrows than most people should have to deal with. Her father had been a very successful bootlegger during the Great Prohibition, running some major moonshining operations with his brothers. Granddaddy kept suitcases full of cash under the bed, and eventually built a huge dance hall that was very popular. Years later, it mysteriously caught fire and burned to the ground. But some of the disapproving parents must have told their kids to avoid young Nellie Mercer in school there at Great Bridge. Mama was shunned, and she especially never got over the hurt of losing her one true friend, Laura Jean Brothers, a fellow classmate with whom she enjoyed a great trust and friendship, something so necessary for little girls. But a little red-headed girl named Florence, who deliberately turned her nose up every time she saw little Nellie, convinced even Mama’s only childhood girlfriend to abandon her completely. And Mama never got over that hurt...never. She would often reminisce, her face growing suddenly pensive and serious as she thought back over the many years since then, and she would look off in space and wonder aloud what happened to her childhood friend. Mama felt the sting of being shunned by those who thought themselves superior, and maybe she felt some shame when in the school because of all the “holier-than-thou-arts” who participated in the dry spell of the Prohibition. Kids can be cruel, especially when they learn the condescensions of their parents and hurl them as insults at school. Mama bore a lot as a child. Small wonder she loved running to her grandmother’s house across the causeway to spend time away from it all. Meguttie, as she called her grandmother, was Annie Virginia Mercer, born on August 11, 1871, and Meguttie would always greet Mama with a “Howdy, Missus,” served up with some syrup and bread, or some delicious homemade soup while they sat and Meguttie regaled her with tales from the past. Grandmother Mercer was a balm in an often unsoothing world of sorrow that surrounded Mama as a young girl. There were some things that Mama told me later in life, I guess because she was strong enough and had put it all behind her. At the young age of ten, one of her aunts, perhaps in desperate need of money, had made a deal with a man who wanted to have sex with little Nellie. As Mama recalled it, a dark sedan pulled up, driven by a man who was wearing a dark fedora, and Mama's aunt told her to get in the car. The three of them rode to a deserted location, and while her aunt stood outside the car, perhaps as a lookout, Mama was raped at gunpoint in the back seat of that sedan. And the racial prejudice of the South was especially difficult for Mama, because, as she revealed to me one day, one of her great-grandparents had been “raped” by a Black man, resulting in one of our relatives being half-Black. Myself, being completely color-blind when it comes to race, had to understand that Mama was coming from a different time and place than I was, and she had grown up with a number of mental scars.

Mama And Her Sailor

Daddy, Mama and my grandfather, Papaw, in Tennessee, my father's home State.
Daddy, Mama and my grandfather, Papaw, in Tennessee, my father's home State.

My father came along as a dashing young sailor and rescued her. Mama was everything Daddy could want, and Daddy was equally Mama’s complete knight in shining armor. Mama must have told the story a million times about the day she and her mother were driving down the road in Norfolk, and they saw a young sailor walking along the road. She asked her mother if they couldn’t give him a ride, and her mother obliged. Mama would often repeat the conversation that took place when they pulled over. “Would you like a ride?” my mother asked. Completely independent and stubborn, my future father replied, “No, I’m fine.” But Mama didn’t give up, and the second time she implored, “Oh, come on, let us give you a ride,” he gave in. Daddy must have liked what he saw. They both fell madly in love, and a whirlwind courtship followed. Married at seventeen, they immediately started a family. But sorrow would continue to try to pursue my mother. Only a few short years later, her mother fell over in church from a stroke and was pronounced dead two days later at the young age of just 47. Mama was devastated, and with her big heart, she tried frantically to preserve the family that she had always known, the Mercers. Her father could not take care of Mama’s baby sister, Barbara Ann, because Barbara Ann was severely mentally retarded, and as Barbara Ann got bigger, the challenges meant that he would have to put her in an institution. My mother would have none of that, so she tried desperately to shelter her baby sister by taking her in to live with us. But, with a family that now included two daughters and three sons, the small house in which we lived, not to mention my father’s meager salary being all with which we had to make ends meet, it was not long before Mama had to face more heartache and give up her baby sister. Barbara Ann was placed in a mental institution and would later die in that deplorable place at the young age of 28. Later, with her two brothers, Bobby and Buddy living at home with their father, my mother took in her other baby sister, Nancy, and raised her with us until she left after high school graduation to move on with her life.

Oresa Mercer - Mama's Mother

My mother's mother, Oresa Mercer, died at the young age of forty-seven from high blood pressure.
My mother's mother, Oresa Mercer, died at the young age of forty-seven from high blood pressure.

Barbara Ann, Grandmother Mercer & Nancy

One of the few photos I have of my aunt Barbara Ann.  That is her on the left with her mother, Oresa Mercer, and sister, Nancy.
One of the few photos I have of my aunt Barbara Ann. That is her on the left with her mother, Oresa Mercer, and sister, Nancy.

Some sorrows wait a while, but the most painful one for Mama was coming. In 1984, my mother had her heart torn out once again when my baby brother, Phillip, died suddenly and unexpectedly at the young age of 30. I remember Mama grieving and saying, more than once, “I hurt when my mother passed away, but nothing like this!” I know Mama wished that God had taken her and spared Phillip. For many years to come, she could not pass that cemetery in Havre de Grace without looking over at the spot where Phillip was buried, lowering her head and crying.

My Baby Brother, Phillip

My baby brother, Phillip, shown here with his daughter, Yvonne, on the front lawn at Mountain Hill Road shortly before his death at the age of thirty.
My baby brother, Phillip, shown here with his daughter, Yvonne, on the front lawn at Mountain Hill Road shortly before his death at the age of thirty.

Phillip's Tombstone

For many years, my mother cried every time she passed this cemetery, just knowing that her baby boy was no longer with her..
For many years, my mother cried every time she passed this cemetery, just knowing that her baby boy was no longer with her..

My mother had been hurt enough in her life, and maybe, just maybe, God was saying, “Let her now forget. Let her feel no more the pain of all these sorrows.” And slowly, with each passing day, Mama could remember less and less of what had just happened to her at the hands of these criminal cops.

We all believed that we had to do something, but what? For the moment, we felt that we should file a lawsuit against the police who exacted this horrible toll on Mama. Resa and I both began to look for attorneys that could fill this need. I found an attorney for us by the name of Selig Solomon in Baltimore, Maryland. My sister, Resa, is a warrior, a chip off the old block, a fighter like Mama was. If Resa had been an only child, she would not have needed anyone else’s help to get the battle fought and won...but, there were still five of us kids and Mama’s sister, Nancy. We were all emotionally engaged and desperately trying to help. Although Resa had also found an attorney and had been discussing options with them, I reasoned that maybe Mr. Solomon was the right choice, because, as I pointed out, his last name was like a biblical sign to us...the wisdom of Solomon? We were all desperate to get started, to seek justice for our mother. At this point, we had no idea what sorrows were waiting ahead. We thought that Mama’s condition was as bad as it was going to get, and that she and Daddy would both improve given sufficient time. Daddy had been used to his daily routine of sitting in that recliner for so many years that he now had lost much of his ability to stand and walk when he went to get out of the recliner, and he had taken numerous falls. He was spiraling downward , but desperately trying to hide it.

I met with Mr. Solomon in Belair, Maryland, in front of the courthouse. It was a beautiful day, and we decided to sit out under an oak tree next to the courthouse. I showed Mr. Solomon the papers from the medics who had attended to my mother in the ambulance, and I also showed him the hospital records. He read every single word meticulously, and I was immediately impressed when he stopped and commented on the drugs that had been administered to Mama that very first day in the hospital right after arriving from the scene of the accident. He noted that these were strong medications indicating that Mama had been subjected to an excruciatingly painful ordeal. From that moment on, I never lost confidence in Mr. Solomon. He wanted to meet my parents and speak with them about representing them, and I arranged a time for that to take place at the house. But the police were not done cleaning up after themselves. Of course, they had washed the blood stains off the road. Wouldn’t want anybody seeing that...they might take photos. Too late, Resa had already seen to that. Every photo we have of that tragic location was taken by Resa. But now the police figured that we might just take them to court, so they came to the house to intimidate Mama and Daddy. One day, without notice, they came to the house to have my parents sign papers. While there, they let Mama and Daddy know that the State would be going after Mama for damaging State property, namely the cop car that she rammed. What hypocrisy! The cop deliberately pulled his car in front of Mama’s car with the intention of ramming her, thus causing the horrific accident, and he had the unmitigated gall to shockingly suggest that it was the other way around. Further, he suggested that Mama might go to jail after the trial. As before when they had visited the day of the accident, the cops never sat, they stood, for the entire time that they terrified my parents as Mama and Daddy humbly sat at their kitchen table being lectured and forced to sign documents without a lawyer present. I told Mr. Solomon.

An Insulting Letter

The threatening letter from the State informing my mother that she was in trouble with the police.
The threatening letter from the State informing my mother that she was in trouble with the police.

To add insult to injury, the State Police sent a notice to Mama that she would have to submit to their State psychiatrist for a mental examination to see if she was mentally fit to stand trial. We were all insulted that they would dare haul Mama into court, let alone have her submit to an examination of this type. But Mama was going away from us, away from reality. With the passing weeks, we were losing her to an ever-deepening fog of forgetfulness. Was this Alzheimer’s? We did not know, and we kept tiptoeing past this thought. We wanted Camelot to be put back together again, and we kept hope alive as long as we could. However, more and more, Mama was showing signs that she was never coming back from that other side of the darkness that was clouding her mind. I will never forget the meeting we had with the State Psychiatrist. When the day came for us to take her there, the psychiatrist had an attitude that he was going to be able to systematically “green light” this “criminal” so that she could stand trial and be judged for her misdeeds. It did not take long, mere minutes, for the look on his face to change from legal predator to very concerned and compassionate sympathizer...he began to change his mind. He saw before him a meek and feeble old woman, not someone who was arrogant and fighting back, but someone who kindly and sincerely tried to please his each and every request with the correct answer. There were no correct answers! It was saddening and obvious that Mama could not remember the things she needed to, she couldn’t even tell what day, what month, or even what year it was. She was painfully struggling to answer the questions “on the exam,” looking at times to Connie, then to me, as if we might give her the answers. Inside, I wanted to cry. God it hurt to see Mama struggling this way, to be unable to answer what was easy for us. And it was shocking, too. Mama had been robbed by that cop of her human dignity. He had done this to her, and as I watched her struggle to answer simple questions posed by the psychiatrist, I saw his hardened face melt into one of genuine sympathy and pity. He had come here as the friend of the State, and he left here disgusted at what the State had wrought. After what he witnessed, and after I told him the true facts of what had happened that awful day, he was now willing to testify against them. God in His mercy was letting Mama forget that event, but we, her children, could not. I remember reading the psychiatrist’s report later, and one line stood out to me above all others. He wrote that Mama had been so brutalized by the attack that she was pushed beyond a line of recovery from which she would never return. Horrible words, a death sentence, and with every ounce of my being, I prayed that he was wrong...but so very sadly, his dark and foreboding words were virtually prophetic.

I was filled with a newfound hatred of the cop, even though I had never met him. Each Sunday, while sitting in church, when we would come to our routine of repeating the Lord’s Prayer in unison, I would come to those words, “...and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Immediately, the image of that cop and what he had done to Mama came to my mind, and I knew that there was no way that I could apply this portion of the Lord’s Prayer to him. No! He was the exception, and he could rot in Hell! I would not stop until we saw him in court face to face. The State would pay for what they did to Mama, and I would not stop until I saw that day come to pass. I wrestled with that portion of the Lord’s Prayer, but my hatred of the cop did a good job of winning the argument. Funny how we can put our religious beliefs out of the way when convenient.

Mr. Solomon would update us frequently, and when he laid out the timelines that the court system would require, I thought of the path ahead of us, the fact that we were looking at years instead of rapid weeks. I began to wonder if Mama would even be with us to enjoy the therapies and reparations that would come with what monetary remuneration we were seeking for her. One victory at the beginning that gave us hope for the future was that Mama could not be hauled into court and tormented anymore by these cops. The State Psychiatrist had shut the door on that one when he wrote that she was not competent to stand trial, and we were all relieved to know that this part was over, even though the State would send us a yearly form to fill out stating that Mama was still unable to stand trial. That cold, diabolical and callous form alone was such a repeated insult. That, however, was to be our only victory. Almost immediately, a retired judge who was favorable to the cops was called in to listen to our case, and being the rubber stamp that he was, he predictably sided with the cops. They were immune in the execution of their duty. Case closed. We appealed. That was a short-lived hope, because with all of the erudite questioning that Mr. Solomon had done with those cops, even getting one of them to indict the other by his sworn testimony, the appellate court wanted nothing to do with letting the cops be sued. We would not be able to go any further. We lost. The cops won.


Someone once asked Mother Theresa, known for her unwavering devotion to God and her religion, what would be the first thing she was going to say to Jesus when she got to Heaven, and without batting an eye, she said that the first thing she was going to say to Him was, “You’ve got a lot of explaining to do.” Sunday after Sunday, I would sit in church during service, and I would think of all the years that Mama and Daddy had pastored faithfully, sacrificing in more ways than I can list or even begin to describe here, and I liked to think that God had some sort of “retirement plan” for their faithfulness. So, it should come as no surprise that many a time, I would sit there pondering the unfairness of it all. But, I always said that you don’t argue with God. As Daddy would have said in his retiring way, “Such is life.” Daddy would have simply shrugged his shoulders, accepted the situation and moved on. I still could not forgive the cop, even though I sat there during church service and said the magic words “...forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” That cop would come to mind every time...every time! Maybe God was trying to tell me something, but I may not have been ready to hear it yet. We humans like to dwell on anger sometimes, stew in it, get even. But what does it change? Getting even, that is. Does a single second of life come back when you finally exact revenge? You may not want to admit it, so hell bent on getting that pound of flesh, but when you have had enough time to get past what blinds you, you will eventually find a greater value in the magic words “...forgive us our debts.”

Life had more in store for Mama and Daddy, much more.

Please Go To Chapter Four

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