Sweet Home Alabama
Copyright© 2013 by Robert McKay
We rustled up a lunch in the kitchen – sandwiches and Cokes – and carried our plates out onto the front porch. As we sat down in the swing I said, "What we got here is a lot of front porch settin', but there ain't no guitar pickin'."
"That," Cecelia said, "has the sound of a quote."
"It isn't, not quite, but it's a reference to an Alan Jackson song about where he comes from."
"Who is Alan Jackson, and where does he come from?"
"He's from Georgia, and he's a country singer."
"No wonder I haven't heard of him," she said.
"Yep. You're a jazz lady."
"That I am." She took a bite of her sandwich – bologna, which I can't stand but which she's been eating all her life. There were times when bologna was the only meat in the house for a month at a stretch, when she was young.
"Whereas I dig both jazz, and the other two kinds of music."
"What kinds are those?" she asked, walking right into it.
"Country, and western."
"Were I not occupied with this food, I would sling you into that tree."
"An' you could just about do it, too," I said with a grin. My sandwich was pastrami, and I'd slathered it with mustard. A bit of the yellow stuff dripped onto my shirt, and I picked it up with my finger, and sucked it off.
"You are certainly a rural specimen," Cecelia said.
Just then Daddy came around the corner of the house on the east, and seeing us on the swing altered his course – I didn't know what he'd been planning on, but he'd been headed for the road – and came up on the porch with us. He sat down in his chair and stretched his feet out. "Somehow," he said, "I don't seem to be able to go as hard for as long as I did when I was y'all's age."
"You still work harder than any three people our age," I told him.
"That's cause people today's got lazy. They don't know how to do if they can't push a button or stick it in the microwave or whatever." He looked over at us – at me, I realized. "Speakin' of goin', y'all was out late again last night."
"I never knew the hours you keep doin' that job."
I shrugged. "Sometimes I have to stay out late, an' sometimes not. It's just whatever a particular case requires."
"An' this required it?"
"Yeah." I swallowed a bite of sandwich. "Y'all goin' somewhere with this, Daddy?"
"Well, I wondered if y'all had found out anything."
I grinned. "Sometimes when I'm working on a case, I wonder the same thing. But this time, yeah – we know more than we did this time yesterday."
"You know who burned that cross in our yard?"
I looked at Cecelia. She looked at me, and then over at Daddy to answer his question. "From what we overheard, it appears that there were five people involved. We have the names. But proving that these people perpetrated the infamous act may be more difficult."
"Shoot, jes' go tell the po-lice."
I didn't point out that in the past the police might well have broken a nightstick over Daddy's head for protesting against a cross burning, or pulled him over for DWB – Driving While Black. He surely knew that better than I did, and the fact that he was willing to send me in that direction was an indicator of just how much has changed in the south. It's still not perfect, but then the north isn't either, and neither is any other place in the world.
"Daddy," I did say, "with what we've got, the police couldn't do as much as we can. If we were cops, we couldn't have gone sneaking around last night, an' if we had, what we heard would never get into court. They're protectin' the crooks' civil rights so much these days that the people tryin' to enforce the law ain't got hardly any."
"You mean you can't walk into the sheriff's office an' say, 'I heard this cracker sayin' this an' that, ' an' get he'p?"
"I could, but any good cop would ask me a whole slew o' questions, and if I told the truth, it would come out that I'd been trespassing on someone's private property, an' the deputy takin' the report would tell me to go on home before he nailed me on that charge."
"That's wrong," Daddy said. He was quiet for a moment, looking across the road to the neighbor's field, or perhaps not looking at anything in particular. Finally he went on, "So what can you do?"
"Cecelia, here's an exercise for the student."
"Very well, Teacher," she said. "We could continue to prowl around, trying to learn more. We could use a pay phone – some still exist, in spite of the ubiquity of cell phones – and give the deputies an anonymous tip. Or – and I suspect this may be Darvin's favorite – we could summarize what we have, organize it in our minds, and with that armory at our disposal, confront Mr. Howell and try to pry further information out of him."
"She right, Son?"
"She's your daughter," I said with a laugh. "You know as well as me, if not better, how often she's right."
"An' she does know you. So I guess you'll be talkin' to Howell pretty soon?"
"Yeah, pretty soon. An' we'll do it in daylight, too. I'm gettin' too old to be hangin' around people's houses in the middle of the night listenin' to the sort o' stuff cows drop behind 'em when they walk."
"The world's full o' that stuff, Son – always has been since Adam sinned, an' always will be till Jesus returns in the clouds like the Bible says."