We are all misguided by prejudices, even the smaller ones. Like how I, the daughter of a Kentucky farmer, hated the rain—the roof-chattering, bone-chilling, harvester of mud that always ended with our mutt, Duke, tracking footprints inside. Even after three years of drought, I still remembered and hated the petty annoyances. Yet, when the clouds gathered for days, and the deluge finally unleashed its vengeance, saturating every crevice from Salvange to Gainey’s Hollow, I awakened to the possibilities that come with foul weather.
Old man Willett’s east field had washed into the creek bed behind our house. Our first impression of the damage gave us little hope of clearing it before summer. But how was I to know as I surveyed the dismembered carrot tops and tangle of roots at the edge of the raging creek, I’d find a relic destined to change the course of my life? The warped leather barely protruded from beneath the ooze. I would have missed it had not Duke followed me. He pounced so close to the wash, the old Bible bobbed against a rock.
Where had the book come from? Any number of cabins for miles upstream could have lost this precious Word of God. And by now, the blackened and unreadable messages were good for nothing.
I stretched as far as I could, careful in my bending, so as not to slip into the current; I hefted the waterlogged mass and perused the only unhindered page, a thick parchment meant for recording a piece of someone’s life.
Ma, likewise, had scribbled in our family Bible our births, marriages, and the deaths of some who had settled this small corner of Kentucky. She had kept the book in her trunk at the foot of her bed, and every Sunday when she took the scripture out to read to us, she’d hug it to her chest, like an unearthed treasure, too precious to ever let go.
So how had this precious book slipped into the stream, and who had proven careless enough in its keeping? The water had washed away all signs of
sample: far fows the water
ownership, leaving the single page the only hint as to whom the book belonged. I squinted to make out the words still visible upon the mottled ledger and gasped when I read the name and passage.
Beloved daughter—Savannah Permelia Newton—born September 6, 1868 to James and Elizabeth—gone missin September 20 of that same year. There be no words to express my grief, no comfort as we head west to California and leave the pain of this valley far behind. Hope someday the wrongdoer will feel the curse of not knowin what happened to their kin. Hope they lose forever all they hold dear.
A chill tiptoed up my back, pricked a dissident chord inside me. Though my surname be Clarke, I was born, September 6, 1868. My eldest brother, Thomas, had always called me Vannah P, and it got me to pestering one day.
“Ma, what does the P stand for? Tell me my full name.”
Ma drew out a long sigh, paused for some time. “Savannah Permelia,” she finally said. “Now don’t you be askin’ us again.”
Pa didn’t say anything, only scowled out the window.
Even now, the memory of that moment brought a fresh lump to my throat. I reread the Bible passage again. Those words lying naked before me, hinted something far more reaching than I wanted to explore right now. I couldn’t help but wonder if somehow the page before me whispered a truth my parents had hoped to hide from me from the time I was a little girl.