Election Day 2008
“Mercy! It’s 7:00 o’clock already!” Taylor Swift’s “Our Song” came out from the clock radio.
“Good thing school is close by!”
“I have to take Mama to vote. She wanted me to come by at 8.”
And so began November 4, 2008, in Room 12 at the Rendezvous, located conveniently close to Marion, a small-sized county seat in the Southeastern United States. The Rendezvous was one of those places where guests parked behind the room, rather than in front of them. In that way, passersby on Lake Cumberland Boulevard would not know exactly who was staying. Outside of a few travelers on the nearby Interstate, most of the clientele were locals who for reasons for propriety, could not be seen together.
Slerd Beaumont Botley and Jessica Sinclair Cavendish belonged to that second group. They were no strangers to Room 12, and certainly not to each other. High school classmates and sweethearts until societal conventions parted them; they had been occasional adulterers for a few months. She was to have been staying with a teacher friend in another part of the state after a visit to a high school. He was to have had business in the state capitol.
After completing his “3 Esses’ (Army jargon for shave, shower, and shit), Slerd got dressed and let Jessica have the bathroom. After a quick cuddle and kiss, he left for Mama’s house on the other side of Marion. Jessica would dash to school be fresh as a daisy for her first block English 3 Honors at Southwood High School, the premier secondary school of the Beaumont School District. The rural Springfield High School was “the other school.”
Once behind the wheel of his 2005 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, Slerd readied himself for the day ahead. He allowed a fleeting memory of Jessica to flash through his mind and put the car into reverse. Within a few minutes, he was passing by the Botley Cement Block plant, founded by his grandfather Jefferson Davis Botley in 1947, then guided by his eldest son of the same name. The plant was now run by Dexter, with some assistance from his elder brother, Slerd. Dexter was the businessman, Slerd the lawyer who had a law practice in town, although he spent some of most days at the plant.
At a red light, Slerd tuned in to the local radio station, 105 Z, for a laugh. Evangelist Joe Ed Crudup was on. The Botleys were Episcopalians and believed the airwaves were not created for religious indoctrination, except for a chorale piece. Joe Ed was live and histrionic this morning. He wanted Christians to get out and vote:
“The gates of Hell have opened, and the Afro-Leninist demons have been unleashed,” Joe Ed told anyone who was tuned in. “Please get out and vote for the Republicans! This might be the last free election in America! We might be the United States of Zimbabwe by 2012. Save us, Jesus! Glory!” Joe Ed’s screaming delivery degenerated into a maudlin pleading.
Slerd rolled his eyes as he watched his speed through downtown Marion, which was slowly waking up. No reason to be delayed for a ticket. All he wanted to do was to take Mama to vote and then get to his office.
Joe Ed was by no means finished; his voice grew more shrill and urgent. “Obama is a Muslim, and Biden a Catholic! We need good Christians in Washington! John McCain has seen the light! Sarah Palin is God’s agent to restore morality to our nation. Take a friend to vote with you!” Armageddon can be delayed a little longer if good Christian peop-…-“
Another button was pushed. Now Outlaw Country on Sirius XM played, with Waylon Jennings’ rich baritone soothing Slerd’s ears. The world was good again; at least until Slerd pulled up to 1487 Hampton Drive.
No sooner had Slerd pulled into the driveway when Eustacia Camilla Beaumont Botley slammed the side door shut and said to her firstborn, “Sonny, you’re late!”
In the way of much of the South, the first-born male was referred to as “Sonny”, as long as members of his immediate family drew breath. A sullen Slerd knew better than to say anything. In a moment they were en route to the Fairlawn Community Center to exercise their constitutional right.
On the other side of town, Jessica neared Southwood High “Home of the Rebels”. Running a little late, she was caught in that line of cars heading for the school. At the traffic light before her turn her modest green Saturn L 300 was behind a few tricked-out trucks and imports driven by students, hastily texting their locations to their friends. One of the vehicles literally shook with the bass notes of a rap song. ‘No wonder they can’t hear teachers’, Jessica mused.
The light changed, and most of the vehicles turned onto Rebel Road. Jessica was fortunate that she taught in the portables, where veteran teachers were placed to maintain discipline and to save administrators from walking outside of the building. She could park next to P-3 and get set for the day of teaching Emily Dickinson (whom the boys detested as an eccentric old maid) and check her mailbox off the main office later.
At the same time, Slerd and Mama had parked and made their way into the Fairlawn Community Center. The parking was full of all sorts of vehicles. Some new and shiny, others not, some held together with duct tape, many having dents, different-colored fenders, and other signs of wear and tear.
The Botleys hurried through the gauntlet of partisans stationed outside the polling space just beyond the legally established limits. Republicans faced Democrats, eager to hand out their voters’ guides and “I Voted” stickers. A black teenager tried to give Mama something, but Mama glared and said “I have enough garbage at home already. And you should be in school!” The teenager was stunned speechless and Slerd grabbed his mother by the elbow and pushed her ahead of him.
There was a long line of people waiting to check-in, and a much longer line of people waiting to vote. Mama said almost too loudly, “Of course THEY would all want to come out and vote this time,” referring to the African Americans,
“Now, Mama, keep it down,” Slerd pleaded. “It’s their constitutional right.”
Eustacia was given to speaking without really listening to anything anyone else said in a conversation. “That’s why you lost re-election eight years ago to the State House. When they changed the district to include the East End, no white man was going to win.”
“That was a long time ago,” Slerd said, hoping to put an end to that portion of the conversation. His four years in office were moderately successfully and added to the luster of the Botley name. He had always been a Republican, having been born in 1968, that pivotal year when the Solid South switched its allegiance from donkeys to elephants.
But the Republican Party began its rightward lurch around the time Slerd’s political star ascended for its brief moment of glory. His GOP was anti-union, pro-business, patriotic (Slerd was a National Guardsman and Desert Shield/Storm veteran), but confined its railing against Democrats to speeches. Over a drink or a round of golf, members of both parties would talk and make deals. The Religious Right and Newt Gingrich’s revolution changed that. It was not the East End that thwarted his re-election bid; it was a challenge from a third-party candidate on the Right that took 6% of the vote from Slerd, ensuring a narrow defeat.
With that, the Botley legislative legacy ended, or at least paused, A Botley had been at the assembly that voted for independence from Great Britain, at another to secede from the United States, also in the short-lived Confederate Congress, and with one exception of a term in the State Senate, in the State House of Representatives. Mama alternated between blaming that “lame-brain trailer trash who siphoned votes from Slerd as easily as they siphoned gasoline from vehicles”: to her eldest being “too sophisticated to go to a wrestling match or tractor pull in order to get re-elected”, and occasionally adding redistricting.
If truth be told, Slerd was relieved when his political career ended; although he would rather have decided not to run than having the voters make that decision. He wondered what the next phase of his legal career might be. In many ways, Slerd was at a crossroads, a mid-life crisis. His children were focusing more on themselves and their worlds, as they should. His wife Violet threw herself into their activities, their schools, the Altar Guild at St. Clément’s Episcopal Church, and other secular organizations. Her marriage seemed to be an afterthought, the lowest priority, the least-favored role being a wife. These were the thoughts in Slerd’s minds as Mama dealt with her paperwork at the polls.
Once past the registration desk, mother and son entered the gymnasium. Today a concentric square of lines wound its way towards the voting booths. Slightly over half of those waiting were black. Mama said in that half-aloud way of hers to no one in particular, “Whatever are they giving out today? More free cheese or menthol cigarettes? Maybe cheap wine!” Slerd knew better than to say anything right away. “They weren’t here last time. I hope nothing funny is going on.”
Mama was not racist in a blatant way. The N-word never crossed her lips. She considered African-Americans who worked in her home or yard family. And she never opposed Civil Rights legislation. She just never thought that blacks would actually vote. After another intemperate remark or two Miss Eustacia settled down. As lines came closer to each other, she saw some friends, and her comments were confined to their well-being and that of others, the Garden Club, and St. Clement’s. Slerd prayed continually that there would be a familiar face every so often until their ballots had been cast.
And there was one or two, until then. Miss Eustacia and her firstborn retraced their steps back to the parking lot. She smiled at the McCain-Palin supporters, and glared at the Obama-Biden partisans, muttering to her not-listening son, “Of course THEY found a white man to run with him, although he is shanty Irish.” In a moment a much-relieved Slerd opened the car door for her, thus ensuring that her vitriol would be more-or-less privately expressed. “I guess Biden is supposed to be the brains,” she said to no one in particular. “At least he has more than Palin. She is TRASH from the get-go I know how she got on the ticket. Slerd winced at the thought of Sarah Palin sharing her favors with McCain or anyone to advance herself. His thought then turned to Jessica’s smiling face, which sustained his inner calm while Mama rambled on.
By now it was a quarter to noon. “I’ll have you home in time for lunch, Mama,” which normally would have been fine. But then they had spent all morning to vote, and she was tired.
“I have nothing ready to eat,” Mama protested. ‘How was I to know that every single one of them would be out to vote? They’re probably having lunch at Mt. Nebo AME, eating fried-this and fried-that. They KNEW it would take a while. Let’s stop at the Tea Room. Maybe one of my friends is there already and she can take me home.”
Julie Ann’s Tea Room was an institution, directly opposite from the courthouse and its Confederate memorial. The Johnny Reb on the statue appeared to be looking right into the Tea Room. “That’s a good idea, Mama,” Slerd agreed, secretly relieved. There was a parking spot near the front door, so Slerd eased the Cadillac into it and walked into the Tea Room with Mama to make sure she had a ride home.
Fortune smiled on Slerd because at a large table in the center of the dining area were several friends. Dorothy Draper Powell, Slerd’s mother-in-law, was peering at a menu as they approached. “Hello, Dee Dee,” Mama exclaimed!
“What a surprise, Eustacia dear!” Dee Dee smiled “Have a seat!”
“Hello, Miss Dorothy,” Slerd dutifully said, displaying the good manners of his upbringing.
There was no verbal greeting from Dee Dee to the man whom she wished had not married her daughter Violet. He had fathered two respectable children whom Dee Dee hoped would take after their mother instead of the man whose careers military, politically, and otherwise seemed to be in a state of stagnation.
Slerd was not surprised and moved away as the two women were speaking about the menu and discussing the ride home; they lived in the same neighborhood, as did the younger Botleys. Families in rural sections of Beaumont County gave land to younger generations. In Marion, families bought real estate; Slerd’s father had bought several lots in a newly-developed subdivision. Fortunately, there were not adjacent to each other, but they were close to each other.
Back in the Cadillac not soon enough, Slerd punched the button for Symphony Hall. He needed something instrumental, and Martin Goldsmith or someone had selected Elgar’s Enigma Variations for Slerd’s listening pleasure. He smiled wryly, given the enigmas playing out in his life on every level, from home to national politics.
Before the next piece could be announced, Slerd was at the plant and in his parking space. There was a one-story office building in front of the plant, which had a covered walkway and sidewalk running about 200 feet to the plant itself. Business was not bad at all until the Great Recession started in August.
First and hardest it seemed to be the construction business. While Botley cement blocks (more properly, Concrete Masonry Units or CMUs) and bricks were of good quality, there was no use in buying them if one was not going to do anything with them. Dexter and Slerd hoped to avoid layoffs by year’s end. Most of the nearly 100 employees had been with them for a long time, and some were even second or third-generation employees.
It being lunchtime, the office was not staffed, although anyone in the break room could hear a phone. Slerd walked directly into his brother’s office, passed the framed oil portraits of Jefferson Davis Botley, father and son, and closed the door.
Anyone could tell that the two were brothers. Dexter had dark brown hair and a mustache; Slerd was blondish and clean-shaven. Their faces, however, resembled those of the painted Botleys in the patrician good looks. They were both at an even six feet; Slerd was slightly stocky, Dexter still on the thin side.
Dexter knew exactly what to do for his older brother. He reached into a cabinet behind his desk, took out two glasses, and poured them each three fingers of Johnny Walker Red.
“How bad was Mama?” Dexter asked.
“I’ll tell you after my second one, Bubba,” Slerd answered. “You should have been there”
Dexter laughed into his glass. “I can imagine. But I hear that every Sunday after church.”
After the benediction at St. Clement’s and a respectable time of talking to the people Mama deemed worthy of talking to, she would have the family over for luncheon. Violet and Claire, Dexter’s wife, would tolerate Mama’s direction in the kitchen. Slerd’s two children and Dexter’s three would be there. Slerd would have to miss once a month of National Guard duty. Every so often he would arrange with Jessica to meet at the Rendezvous, eager for any business on the Sabbath.
Savoring the Scotch for a moment, Dexter filled his brother in. “Third Quarter was not bad, but I anticipate a 25% drop this quarter No telling about 2009.”
Slerd winced a little and clutched his glass tighter in his hand. “Can we avoid layoffs?”
“We should be able to do that,” Dexter replied. “The plant could use some maintenance, and if we have about 25-30 of the guys doing that, we can keep up with orders and stock for a time. But if it lasts into the middle of 2009, I don’t know.”
“Maybe we will have to switch from Johnny Walker to White Mule,” Slerd quipped. One of the more interesting employees, Happy, drank the moonshine with breakfast and nipped on it all day. Everyone tolerated it because he was productive.
“If you need to hold back on my salary for a bit,” Slerd offered, “go ahead. The practice is going well enough, and the Public Defender work is steady even if Mama dislikes me doing it,”
A hearty laugh came from Dexter, “World’s longest book: Things Mama Dislikes!”
Slerd also laughed, “And the sequel, People Mama Dislikes!”
“I’ll sure drink to that, Sonny! Let’s have another one!”
Slerd held his hand over his glass, “Not for me, Bubba! You go ahead if you want to.” Secretly, Slerd hoped that Dexter would not pour himself another three fingers. But he did.
“Cavendish Hardware, May I help you?”
Randy, it’s me,” Jessica spoke into the phone. She was multi-tasking at lunch, but wanted to touch base with her husband,
“Hey there! When did you get back?”
“I got on the road late and had to run straight to school.” She spoke quickly because it was not true, and she was not a person who lied easily. There was no response from her husband.
“Have you voted yet?” She brushed back a strand of light brown hair that had fallen over her forehead.
“Nope. Line looked too long when I drove by this morning.”
“I was going to vote after school Maybe I could meet you after work and we could go vote, and then eat supper.” They had no leftovers and Randy was likely not to have thought ahead to put out something for her to fix later.
“Good idea,” Randy told her. “I sure as hell want to get my vote in so the liberals don’t take over.” Jessica frowned as she heard that. She had learned not to talk politics with him, actually with either his or her family. For years her vote and Randy’s canceled each other out.
“I’ll see you around six then at the store, and we can go over to vote then.”
“You might have to work your way through the crowds,” Randy was being sarcastic. Business was slow; Jessica winced when she heard that. She tried to be supportive, but it hurt her to hear him talk like that. The store was his life, as it was his daddy’s before him.
An alcoholic warmth descended in the office of Dexter Botley, removing if only for a short while the cold realities of economics and industry. At the University Dexter had been groomed for his current position with an Economics major, with a minor in Management. He spent his four years, three in the fraternity, making connections for the future with the sons of people doing the same, and looking for a future wife. As the cadet son, not much was expected of him, but he had to be respectable enough not to sully the family name. In his Macroeconomics class, he met Claire Wesley, whose grandparents moved from Beaumont County to the western part of the state. Although an Elementary Ed major, Claire grasped Macroeconomics better than Dexter and tutored him to a passing grade.
But being the first-born, Slerd was destined for the bar and a place with his father at the law office. That would be his springboard to politics; a military connection would help. He could negotiate a little bit. Accepting in Army ROTC and eventually the University’s Law School, he convinced his parents that a BA in English would make him eloquent. The real reason was that he loved reading, and dabbled at writing himself. When commissioned a Second Lieutenant on graduation day, that most pitiful of ranks, he entered the Field Artillery
His legal studies were interrupted by Desert Shield/Storm in 1990. Botleys had been in uniform for every American war since the French and Indian War. The handful of Tories and Yankees were not included in family legend. Slerd and Dexter’s grandfather had been with Patton’s Third Army, their father, the original Slerd, hastily joined the Guard in 1967 and to ensure staying at home, married Eustacia and begat his eldest. Some in Beaumont County thought the order of those two events really should be reversed.
Be that as it may, by autumn of 1990 now 1st Lieutenant Botley was in the desert at King Khalid Military City, inspecting pre-deployed artillery pieces intended for the liberation of Kuwait. His unit followed the rapidly moving echelons and never pulled a lanyard. Caught in the Reduction in Force that began under George H.W. Bush (although Bill Clinton would be blamed), Slerd found himself a civilian by autumn of 1991.
Back home he joined the VFW, where the Vietnam Vets kept their disparagements of “Four Day War Veterans” to themselves since their thinning ranks need a boost from nearly-created Desert Storm veterans, and a Field Artillery battalion of the National Guard a few hours from Marion. He made Captain and was a battery commander as the towed 105mm howitzers were being phased out. Since he was by then in law school, Slerd knew he would advance no further while wearing the crossed cannons. Field Artillerymen were a tight-knit group, and Slerd had no interest either in golf of the Masonic Lodge, his future was not auspicious. Yet he loved the rhythm of life in the field, punctuated by a fire mission and a change of position.
Once admitted to the bar, he joined the Judge Advocate Group. Now he was a desk jockey, barely breaking a sweat, never again to smell the almost-sweet whiff of gunpowder. While assigned to headquarters, he went throughout the state, especially as a newer JAG. With deployments for Bosnia and the frantic pace after 9/11., he was extremely busy, even doing some short stints himself drafting wills and Powers of Attorney.
And now he was on career lock! Nothing short of treason would prevent him from completing his military career. In a year and change, he would hit the magic 20-year mark, receive a letter to that effect from the Department of the Army, and then stay alive until age 60 to draw a pension. Currently, he was a Major. If he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, he needed to find a slot, and hold the rank for three years. He could switch to the Individual Ready Reserve, find something to do for Annual Training, and take correspondence courses, now online, for three years.
Darkness slowly descended over Marion as Jessica pulled up in behind the hardware store. Randy’s white F150 was parked in its usual spot. She entered through the back door.
“I’m here, Randy.” She put a cheerful inflection to her words, tired as she was.
“Wait a minute!” Randy finished his beer and put the can in the trash. Quickly putting on his jacket, he went down the stairs and gave Jessica a kiss.
Her perfume smelled good, he thought. She did not think the same about the Bud Lite on his breath. “Good to see you too, honey,” she said.
It was a quick trip to their polling station. Randy led the way, and Jessica was a little concerned by the slight weaving of his truck. The polling place was not too busy, and the two vehicles parked easily.
The Cavendishes greeted several neighbors as they registered and waited briefly in line. Ballots cast, they proceeded a few blocks to The Southern Pig for the dinner buffet. Randy heaped the first of his plates with a little of everything. Jessica was more selective and juggled a small salad plate along with her modest dinner plate. She had sweet tea, Randy another beer.
After they sat down, Randy smiled. “If Obama wins, you can tell your colored students tomorrow that they can grow up to be president.” He chuckled at his own joke.
Jessica was not going to take the bait. “Some of the girls were energized by Palin’s being on the ticket.” She left it at that because she did not want to start an argument.
“I just hope that McCain will remember who put him in there,” Randy said between bites of mustard-based barbecue. “He can’t ignore ‘Joe the Plumber’ and those like him.” He took over swig from his beer. A little louder, he added, “Obama wants to tax the small businessman out of existence!”
“Shhh, Randy!” Jessica told him. She decided to change the topic, “My visit went pretty well. I actually got a few ideas I’d like to try at Southwood.”
As usual, Randy was not too interested in hearing about Jessica’s career. “God, I hope he can pull it off! I don’t know how much longer I can hold on.”
They finished their meal in relative silence. On the way home, the F150 was a little more erratic and several miles over the speed limit. A Marion PD car followed them for some of the way; unbeknownst to the Cavendishes the officer came close to pulling Randy over but decided against it when he realized that it was close to home. Jessica breathed easier when she and her husband arrived at their house. Randy watched ESPN while Jessica unpacked her bag. Slerd had put something there for her. It was an untitled poem. She read it slowly and gasped a little at the end in admiration.
“To her who lies softly sleeping
I send these feeble lines.
Memories of her always keeping
For now and for all time.
We savor the stolen hours
That go too quickly by.
Meeting in these secret bowers
A place for you and I.
When I think of what might have been
if we had had our way,
O the wonders we would have seen!
But never dawned the day.
So I behold you in the night,
The vision e’er with me.
Often you are not in my sight;
In my mind you I see,”
From the living room she heard the announcer talk about the SEC standings. Randy would be engrossed in that. Jessica closed her eyes for a moment and slipped the page into a folder she had for the other poems.
At 9:30 Randy had switched to FOX News, where a succession of shocked conservatives, neo-conservatives, and assorted others expressed doom and gloom. Randy muttered an obscenity and walked into Jessica’s small study.
“Hey girl, wanna have a party?” He still had a nice smile after all these years.
“Not tonight. I’m tired from my trip and it’s a school night,” Jessica told him. “Let’s wait for the weekend.”
“All right! Sounds like a plan,” Randy said as he walked to their bedroom. Jessica stayed in her study for a few minutes and reread a poem.
Around 9:30 that evening Slerd and his family were watching the election results. Trey (actually Slerd Beaumont Botley, III) was 12. Part of his homework was to watch the results to prepare for a history class discussion on what contributed to the victory/defeat. Ashley Violet was 17 and had no assignment. Truth be told, she was more interested than her brother. Their parents sat in reclining chairs close together, which belied the emotional distance. Slerd nursed a drink, and Violet read a magazine
NBC was on; a sort of compromise channel. Miss Eustacia would be watching Fox at her home, Dexter and his family likely would be watching a movie on cable.
“Who’s that playing the guitar?” Trey asked as a large bearded figure, wearing an even larger hat sat on a stage at McCain headquarters in Arizona,
“That’s Country & Western royalty, Trey,” Slerd answered.
Violet sighed, “Hank Williams, Jr.”
“Who was his daddy?” Ashleigh asked
“One of the early great in Country & Western”, Slerd told her. “He died young.”
“Drug overdose?” Trey’s eyes lit up at the possible scandal.
“Booze and pain pills,” Slerd told him. “Died in the back seat of a Cadillac.” Violet glared at him.
Trey listened for a minute to the song. “He sounds sad.”
“It won’t be much of a party,” Violet told him. “Obama looks like he’s going to win.”
Two states near the Botleys had gone Democratic. Slerd imagined he heard his mother curse from several streets away. Their state stayed Republican, even with a large African-American turnout.
“Mommy and Daddy”, Ashley spoke, “why won’t McCain win?”
“Grandma said Palin was trash and needed to shut her damn mouth,” Trey interjected.
“TREY!” exclaimed Violet. “We will have none of that talk in this house.”
“For once Grandma has something,” Slerd chuckled. “But it’s also like this, son. We have had Republicans for two terms. The natural tendency is to let the other party have a shot, at least for one term.”
Trey nodded and resolved to remember that for tomorrow’s discussion
Violet told the children to get ready for bed. “You can watch a little more in your pajamas before you go to bed, but don’t be up too late.
Around 11:00 p.m. all the networks had called it for Obama. A quick kiss and the younger Botleys went to their respective bedrooms upstairs.
Slerd got up and stretched while Violet took some dirty dishes and glasses to the kitchen
“How bad do you think it will be?” She asked Slerd. “Will the stock market go bust again?”
Her husband pondered for a moment, “I don’t think so. If anything, the market will calm down now that we know who won. Everyone will give Obama some breathing room, except for cretins like Joe Ed Crudup.”
Violet shivered at the name, “Mercy! He only repeats what he hears from other people. The last time he had an original thought was when he set fire to someone’s locker in the 10th grade.”
“He listens to FOX right when he gets up, and he checks some of those kooky Internet sites for more,” Slerd agreed. “I agree with you; I don’t think either that he has had an original thought since that locker fire. . .” Violet laughed at the memory.
They had been quite the crew at the old Marion High, closed now for over a decade by the consolidation that saw the Beaumont County School District emerge, when four smaller high schools became two larger ones. Joe Ed was no intellect, and athletic prowess eluded him as well. He always made the team for whatever sport, but never saw much playing time. Violet’s remark set off a reverie in Slerd’s head.
He could see his senior English class. Jo Ed hiding his Cliff’s Notes for Shakespeare, Violet dutifully taking notes and giving correct answers, himself sitting next to Jessica, exchanging notes, and thoroughly enjoying Mr. Adrian’s class. Until Jessica had to leave in March, and…..
“Time to get to sleep,” Violet decided for the two of them. “Make sure you put your glass in the dishwasher this time.”
“Sure will,” Slerd said, hoping to dream of something else than his senior year at Marion High
I am Ashley Violet Botley. Most of my life has been spent in Beaumont County. For better or worse, all of my life has been influenced by it. My family is rooted here. While our roles have changed as the county has changed, we are part of it, and it is part of us.
Late in 2008 I became are aware of those changes. At the time I was a junior at Southwood High School. I was beginning to think about what I would do with my life after I graduated. Botley women were educated just enough, had their beauty maintained or improved, and married into one of the other leading families if possible, or a family with some promise.
Little did I realize that my world was going to change in ways I never expected, I want to share with you what happened and more importantly, introduce you to the people who were involved. Some of them I loved, some of them loved me, but all were part of Marion and Beaumont County. The entire process was crystallized in less than a year.
. The country was changing. No one in Marion, white or black, ever imagined there would be a black president. The political and cultural landscapes had been changed forever; some of that would impact where lived. A sense of dread settled in. Nothing bad happened, but the fear that it might was unsettling.
My home life was fine. I had everything that I needed and more than others. Both of my parents loved me, and I loved them. But there was something going on between them that worried me. There was no shouting or anything like that. Momma seemed tired and even short-tempered at times. Daddy worked hard in his law practice and helping Uncle Dexter at the cement plant. His National Guard service took him away one weekend a month and for a few weeks in the summer, but he did not complain.
Trey was annoying at times but usually did not bother me. Everyone assumed that he would grow up to follow in Daddy’s footsteps. For the life of me, I could not see that when I thought about Trey. He was so immature at times, but I guess everyone was. Maybe at the right time whatever he needed would descend on him like the dove did on Jesus like that stained glass window at St. Clément’s. It was near the pew where we sat at church. When Fr. Stallworth rambled on in a sermon I would look at it and pray that God would send me a sign about what I was supposed to do
Botley women were to marry the right people, give birth to the right children, and then become a matriarch like my grandmother. While I knew what I didn’t want, I had little idea of what I did want. I shuddered at that. Thankfully, Mrs. Cavendish opened a new world to me in English 3 Honors. Her daughter Laura graduated last year; not that I knew her well, but she was friendly and look just like her mother, except for having darker hair, almost black. I read more than what Mrs. C. assigned and loved talking to her about what I had read. She even lent me some of her personal books. Even if I couldn’t have her in my senior year, I hoped she would let me come back and talk to her about what I was reading.
At that time I had absolutely NO IDEA that Mrs. C. would be a major part of my life. I was so naive back then. Although I had figured out that my parent's marriage was not exactly happy, I never dreamed that either of them would have an affair. Mom had to be a Beaumont version of June Cleaver or Carol Brady. Maybe that’s why she popped pills. And Dad was the Ward Cleaver or Mike Brady. He kept a lot to himself. Looking back, I could see why Mrs. C. and he became… well, you know…” friends”. Or resumed their relationship.
People of our position and class simply did not do those sorts of things. Lower-class people were drunks, drug addicts, and promiscuous. Botleys were not supposed to be that way.
A lot of that did not come to pass, at least not in the way I thought it would. That year I had a front-row seat as my family crashed and burned. In the year that followed, I found out a lot about myself, and how I would carry on the family legacy in my own way.
Maybe I better pause and share a few pages from an unofficial family history I found one day in an old box of papers. It was typewritten; I suspect my father wrote it.
Marion and Beaumont County
Beaumont County lies slightly to the west of the center of its state. Marion, its county seat, is near the exact center of the county. To the north one can see the foothills of the Appalachians, towards the state line. In the other direction, several hours away is the Atlantic Ocean. Dividing the county roughly in half is the Talasee River, a tributary to one of the state’s major rivers. Its waters mingle and continue on to the Atlantic. Lake Cumberland can be found in the eastern part of the county. From it flows the Little Talasee, which runs westward to the Big Talasee (although unofficially the adjective is dropped). Marion now occupies that confluence.
According to the 2000 Census, the county’s population was 31, 583, of whom 4, 852 lived in Marion. These figures represented a slight decrease from the previous tally and contained a large number of people under the age of 30. Racially, the county was 56.3 % White, 38.7 % Black, and 1.4 % Native American, with the remaining 3.6 % Asian.
The name for the county came from a Huguenot, Pierre-Fortune Beaumont; He received a grant from the English Crown nearer the coast outside of William Town, the first settlement, and through shrewd business sense and the hard work of slaves and indentured servants, obtained some 5,000 acres inland. This land remained untouched, so to speak, until Julien-Antoine, the youngest son of Pierre-Fortune, received an additional 3,000 acres from George II.
In honor of his royal patron, Julien-Antoine named the small town on the downriver from his plantation, Beau Rêve, Hanover. The colonial governor chartered the county and named it after the Beaumonts. During the Revolution, Hanover was renamed after a local Patriot leader who was said to have passed through the region on a regular basis. Whether he did or not, Hanover as a name had to go. Julien-Antoine was savvy enough to remain neutral during the conflict and to have his two sons align themselves with one of the two sides. George was a Loyalist, and as such, chose to head to William Town and board HMS Achilles for a new life in the Bahamas. Paul was on the winning side and feathered his nest in the newly-created United States of America.
For a county in the American South, former Confederacy, and then under Jim Crow legislation, Beaumont was spared the excesses of its time. Cornwallis passed through it and thought it was a pleasant-looking area (George had him as a guest). Sherman’s leftwing tore through in March of 1865 (no Botley had him as a guest), but with Union victory in sight, did not destroy anything, not even the railroad. The Klan was not really a presence in Beaumont County.
This is not to say that either Marion or Beaumont County was a beacon of tolerance. Far from it: there was rather an acceptance “that this is how things were going to be, and that this was for some good reasons, so everyone needed to lead their lives in that way”. There was no real hatred, but rather a sense that there were rules and they were going to be enforced if they had to be. The Botleys and other leading families ensured that no one would starve, go unclothed, or lack honest work for a nearly adequate wage. That is, along as no one challenged the status quo. Persons desiring a better life were free to go elsewhere
The fields cleared along the Talasee grew primarily corn and hay. Beaumont County developed a good number of dairy and beef cattle farms. Logging operations and sawmills also came into being. Along the river, there were a few pottery kilns that attained some regional prominence. Quarries for limestone and other valuable stones were excavated. Marion became a commercial center and especially after World War II, a few smaller industries were started. During the Great Depression, Lake Cumberland was created when the federal government bought and submerged 15,000 acres of forest and farmland. For many a resident of the county, success meant having a lakefront cabin or even a home. Many of those who cruised the lake distrusted big government and decried any federal program, not realizing that such a program made their recreation possible. People have short memories.
Originally part of the Cherokee Nation, what became Beaumont County had three waves and a ripple of European settlement. The Scots came in from the coast to put distance between them and the English. When the Cherokees moved back towards the mountains, in came the English. Germans came next, lured by offers of free land. After a few years, most of them moved north and west of Beaumont County, establishing a string of Lutheran congregations beyond the string of Presbyterian congregations of the Scots. The ripple was a small number of Dutch, who came in the 1840s as a result of an economic downturn back home. Jupp van Slerd was one of them; a shortened form of his name survived in the county
Clive Botley had actually been in the county since 1750. Originally from Shaldon, Dorset in England, he came for free farmland. During the French and Indian War, he enlisted as a soldier. Competent enough at that, by the conflict’s end he managed to make enough contacts to become a sutler to His Majesty’s army and also to the militia. By 1776 he had established himself in Hanover as a tradesman and as an active Whig. His great-grandson Andrew Jackson Botley (named after someone who also was said to have spent time in Hanover) married Jupp van Slerd’s daughter Floortje, uniting the two families forever. The Dutch were eager to prove their merit in their new homeland, and the Botleys were willing to afford them the opportunity, the infusion of van Slerd silver being much appreciated.
Beaumont County originally was in the hinterlands. As progress reached it and passed on through it, the scenically beautiful location did not bother much with the world at large and expected the same. When the Interstate system developed, and in fact ran right through it, some of the older residents were apprehensive. The start of the 21st Century would present Marion and Beaumont County with previously unheard of challenges