Take a small town in southern Alabama, and a young lady, just slightly out of step. Add gnarly family trees, entrenched traditions, and everyone living with skeletons in their closets - welcome to Gallagher. There one will find an extraordinary cast of insane characters. And, it could only happen in the South.
Sunday, October 8, 2017
Gnomes and Uncompromising Situations
When Bunny got back to the office, Colonel Walker was talking with Della and seemed to be a little worked up. Della looked lost. "Bunny, Colonel Walker . . ."
"Please call me 'George'," Colonel Walker interrupted her.
"Yes sir, George is asking me about a General being in your yard at Ivy Lane."
The Colonel looked at Della,"No offense Miss Lee, but not just any General - General James Holden Kirby." Then he turned to Bunny. "Miss Vontese, seems Miss Lee is not familiar with the situation in your front yard."
Della looked at Bunny,"Have I missed something?"
"Yes, it's a long story. I'll share it later." Then Bunny turned to the Colonel. "Sir, maybe you are not aware but they did not find General Kirby in my front yard. It was all a mistake of sorts."
"I know they didn't. He wasn't there," the Colonel said going over to the large table in the office and spreading an old map across it. "Here is Ivy Lane," he said, pointing to a point by the river. And here," he said moving his finger across the map back to a place in town, "is where the General was laid to rest."
Bunny and Della looked at the map. It was a rather large old yellowed piece of showing the Gallagher area as it was many many years ago, yet the main streets of the town were laid out, just like most of them still were today. Bunny found the city park and, with her finger, traced the streets to the the point the Colonel had marked. She adjusted the map slightly, as if to make sure she had the right street. "This looks like it's on Magnolia, between Elm and Moss."
"Exactly," said the Colonel very excited. "Right there." He pointed his finger to that location.
Della looked at the map. "That's an entire block. Can you narrow it down a little bit closer?"
The Colonel moved his finger to the corner of Magnolia and Moss. "My research says it's in the front yard of the cottage on that corner."
Bunny and Della exchanged looks. Della said, "That's where the Eldridge sisters live."
Bunny added, 'Sure is."
"Is it an old house?" asked the Colonel.
Bunny said,"I never thought about it. The house looks old. It is a typical wooden shotgun house. I'm sure Wade would know."
"We'll need to find that out, but right now we need to exhume the body."
Bunny crossed her arms,"Colonel, respectfully, you cannot decide to dig up someones yard simply on an unfounded rumor that 150 years or so ago, a soldier was buried there."
"First Miss Vontese, General Kirby, is not just a 'soldier'. He was a highly decorated officer of the Confederacy who managed to move in and out of the enemy lines getting critical intelligence back to the South."
Della asked,"Was he shot? Or hanged? Or court marshalled ?" She looked at the Colonel. "You know, how did he finally die?"
The Colonel cleared his throat."Well strange things happen during war. And not all the heroes die a heroic death." He could tell by Della's look that his comment did not satisfy her. "Well, the General passed away due to an unfortunate fall. . . off a porch."
Della continued to stare. The Colonel added,"He died of a broken neck."
Bunny found that odd,"How did he fall off the porch?"
The Colonel added,"He must have missed a step."
Finally Bunny said,"Colonel Walker, this is like pulling teeth. Just tell us the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would have said."
The Colonel looked a bit pained. "OK ladies, but remember the war was hard on everyone. Men were away from home and their women for, sometimes, years at the time." He just stopped.
Della, losing patience, said,"Colonel! We're still waiting."
"Well, seems that the General was visiting a lady friend of his that lived in that house on Magnolia and Moss. However, that lady's husband came home unexpectedly. The husband entered the back of the house. The General, not wanting to be found in a compromising situation, escaped through the front door. It was dark and he must have missed a step."
"OK," said Bunny. "That's quite the story. But why did they bury the General in their front yard."
"Well, General Kirby was such an icon, the husband realized he could not rightly explain the General's untimely death. So he and his wife buried him in the front yard and just acted like they had never seen him."
"So how did you find out?"
"The wife left a diary, a rather detailed diary, and in it she described the situation play by play." With that, the Colonel pulled from his coat pocket an old tattered faded pink satin covered book with a ribbon tied around it.
"So what do we tell the Eldridge twins?" asked Della.
"The Eldridge twins?" asked the Colonel.
Bunny said,"The house on the corner of Magnolia and Moss is owned by Mr. Gallagher and is leased at this time to twin sisters, Cora and Flora Eldridge."
"Can you take me over there and introduce me. I'm sure they'll be excited about having such a part of history in their front yard."
Della and Bunny looked at each other. Della said, "I'll call them."
While Della was making the call, Bunny told the Colonel,"Just a little heads up Colonel. The Eldridges are a little eccentric."
After calling the Eldridges, Della called Wade to give him a heads up. He found the entire situation humorous, particularly that the Eldridge twins were involved. He told Della whatever they needed to do, they were free to do it, as long as it was legal and the Eldridge twins were OK with it."
They all headed over to Magnolia and Moss. Della said when she called the Eldridges, they were tepid at best about the situation. The Colonel was convinced that once he explained the historic significance of their front yard, they would share his enthusiasm. Bunny had her doubts.
When they reached the house, the twins were sitting on the porch. Bunny and Della followed the Colonel up the walk. Bunny introduced the Colonel to the women. They all sat on the porch and discussed the situation. Bunny could tell the Colonel was not sure about the gnomes everywhere especially the two perched on the porch railing staring at him. The twins were not too cotton about the idea of digging up their yard.
Try as he might the Colonel could not convince, charm, beg, or conjole the women into letting him have the grave exhumed. The Colonel assured them that their little "yard men" would be carefully moved, cared for in a secure place, and returned to their exact location. When the project was over, no one would be able to tell anything had been done. But it did not matter what the Colonel said, the twins were having none of it.
Bunny and the others left, unsuccessful in the Colonel's quest for the exhumation. But, he was not deterred. He promised Della and Bunny he would succeed.
On the way back to the office, Tula called Bunny. "Can we talk?"
"Of course. I'm busy right now. Can I call you as soon as I am free." Tula agreed and they rang off.
The Colonel left the lady's at the office, still determined the exhume the General. After Della was at her desk, Bunny gave her a short version of what had occurred at Ivy Lane, including the predicament Tula was in. Della, just shook her head. "Does the story ever end?" "Not in my life." Then, speaking of Tula, Bunny remembered she needed to call her back.
Bunny went into her office and sat down at her desk. At she entered Tula's number, she was determined that she would not back down from supporting the charges against her.
Tula answered quickly and after a few uncomfortable pleasantries, she got serious. "Bunny, the last time we spoke, you mentioned a daughter I supposedly had and grandchildren. I am just curious who you are talking about and who is spreading these viscous lies."
Bunny smiled to herself, "Tula, Vivian Vontese and her children just moved to Gallagher. As I told you, they live in a house on Magnolia. She told me that you were her mother and her father was William Vontese, my father. This only came out after she mentioned she had family in town."
"Well, obviously this is someone coming here with a poor song and dance trying to get money. We are such a prominent family, I'm not surprised more don't come out of the wood work with such lurid accusations."
Tula paused and Bunny imagined her smiling,"Besides, she got her story wrong. She should have done a little research. You know your father and I never had children while we were married. Hell, we were married less than a year. Besides, this girl is too young to have been conceived during that short time."
Bunny did not say anything for moment, then smiled to herself,"Tula, I never told you how old she was."
Tula was taken aback, "This is insane. Besides, this imposter has not tried to contact me. If she came here with that story, certainly she would have called me for money," she paused, "or whatever."
"She doesn't know you are here. I don't think she moved here to find you. In fact, this only came out after I pressed the subject, out of curiosity, when she mentioned she had family in town but she did not want to impose on."
"'Impose on' - isn't that thoughtful," Tula said sarcastically. And I guess you took joy telling her I was here, who you were, and that you were trying to put me in jail."
"No, actually, I did not comment one way or another. I did not feel that was my business. Unlike other people in this town, I try not to get involved in someone elses business."
Tula was quiet. Bunny smiled and just paused. Eventually she added, "Tula if we are finished, I have some work to do."
Tula rang off without a word or a threat, which was what Bunny had full well expected.
The only satisfaction Bunny got out of all this was her earlier conversation with her mother. Rarely did she get a chance to have the upper hand. Tula was beside the point. Bunny was tired of dealing with her meddling.
Bunny's thoughts were interrupted by a phone call. It was the Colonel. "Miss Vontese, after a very pleasant conversation with Misses Eldridge, I have their permission to exhume the body. I've already called Mr. Gallagher and he is happy to sign off on my request to the county to start."
"Well done Colonel," Bunny said with a laugh.
"Miss Vontese, can we talk, just between the two of us?"
"These ladies are a bit, how do I delicately say this - well a bit odd."
"Colonel, that is no secret. I think I told you they were eccentric."
"Do you know why their only request, or rather requirement, was that no one enter their backyard or their house?"
"Not a clue. The gnomes are enough to keep me away."
They discussed some other details and rang off.
Looking at her 'To Do List', Bunny called Wade to discuss a possible position for Vivian with the company. She asked for his confidence when she shared Vivian's story.
Wade just howled,"And, Tula thinks she can sweep that one under the rug. Bunny, this is no secret, at least to our generation. Our only question was what happened to the child. You just don't disappear from this town for 7 months or so and try to explain it was to live with a distant cousin."
Wade paused. "I do need some accounting help. Does she seem responsible?"
Bunny said, with no hesitation, "Wade I thought so."
"Well get a copy of her resume and let's set up an appointment. I'm sure she will be an asset to the company. Besides, I will enjoy seeing Tula squirm." They rang off.