I thought I had plenty of time to get there and enough left over to stop at Nelva’s to change clothes, repair make-up and fix my hair. Imagine my surprise when I realized I was marking time by the clock in my car which was not reset to reflect the new time. With 60 miles to go and 45 minutes to make it, I put the pedal to the metal on the back roads. It was no surprise when I was suddenly apprehended by flashing blue lights.
I pulled over, retrieved my driver’s license and insurance card, and rolled down my window. I knew the drill. When the policeman approached, I looked him in the eye and said, “Officer, I know I was going too fast and I don’t usually do this, but I am begging for mercy.” He looked a little stunned and asked me where I was going. When I told him, he replied, “I’m going to let you go this time, but slow down when you get to Bremen. I don’t think you’re going to get mercy there!”
With a grateful smile, I headed on down the road — just a titch slower.
I sighed with relief when I reached Carroll County and increased my speed, since Sheriff Langley is branch kin to Nelva and me. Once I hit the Bowdon city limits, I kept on trucking. Knowing that Mayor Keith Crawford is Nelva’s brother-in-law, I was counting on her charm and kinship to get me out of jail if need be.
I arrived after the covered dish dinner, but just before Patsy Upchurch finished the business aspect of the meeting. I asked the group for mercy and I apologized for blue jeans, boots, and unkempt hair. They assured me I looked just fine.
My goal for the evening was to share my own quest for family history and started the program off with one of my favorite slides. It is rather grotesque, but always evokes laughter. The slide is of Alf, Richard and Whack Benefield lying in coffins next to each other. As reported in the 1920 edition of the Cleburne (Alabama) News, Alf and Richard had been quarreling all day because Richard felt his younger, single brother had been too intimate with his wife. Whack, the eldest brother and father of nine, showed up and tried to intervene when the shooting began. According to the news article, “A large number of shots were fired and all three men died almost immediately.” Sheriff Rowell arrived at the crime scene where he found the bodies stretched out on their father’s bed. The senior Benefield, bent with age, sobbed helplessly with grief. Family folklore has it that his agony was multiplied because his favorite mule was killed in the crossfire.
I pointed out that technically, these were not my relatives, but relatives of Nelva’s on her mother’s side of the family. Nelva was startled and claimed she’d never heard the story. I suggested she check it out with family historian Rebecca Jane Lawley.
I often use this story and slide in presentations to demonstrate what can happen when there is a lack of trust or an inability to communicate effectively. The story is an attention getter and makes the point quickly. Most people I know don’t settle their arguments in the old-fashioned way, but an inability to settle differences often does result in the death of a relationship, friendship or business partnership.
I continued the presentation to the historical society with a recount of my own quest to find the roots of my birth family. I concluded by sharing that there can be many skeletons (literally) in our family histories and sometimes the family closet has some intriguing stories. I know mine will!
Driving home after the program, I thought to myself, “I wonder what would have happened if Alf had asked for mercy?”
And with a little introspection wondered if there are situations in my own life where I might need to ask for as well as bestow mercy a little more often. I’ll ponder that all week.
To see the photo of the Benefield boys or share your own family skeletons, send an email to DrShirl@ShirleyGarrett.com