Susan Dodd Mamaw

ISBN 13: 9780670821808

Mamaw

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9780670821808: Mamaw
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This fictionalized biography follows the life of Zerelda Cole, a rapidly growing young lady who is sent to a convent, seduces a divinity student at the age of fifteen, and goes on to become the mother of Frank and Jesse James

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About the Author:

Susan Dodd, who has taught at Harvard and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, is the author of four critically acclaimed books. Her work has been honored by the Friends of American Writers, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Faulkner Society, among other organizations. She lives in Ocracoke, North Carolina.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Knowing

1825-1840

The tendrils of memory curl, twist, and tighten around all she knows, all she could possibly know and much she could not.

She knows things in her bones, young Zerelda Cole. The Coles have knowing blood--why, just look how her grandpappy, Richard, knew when a body was up to anything at all. In the tavern it was a good thing, too, that kind of knowing. The kind of men come to the Blackhorse was the kind usually up to something.

"Up to no good," Grandpappy'd say. He'd set their whiskey and ale and port down so careful in front of them, like the pewter tankards and tumblers was spun glass. All the while he'd be keeping his eyes fastened hard on the eyes of the men who were up to no good. Let 'em see his knowing. Take his knowing to heart. Take their troublemaking somewhere else, far from Midway, Kentucky, far from Richard Cole's tavern and his make-do family and his knowing.

When his son Amos was going to get killed, Richard knew. "I seen it coming the day before," he told Zerel years later. "Leastwise I knowed we's in for trouble. Didn't know how to head it off is all." A dagger ripped Amos open so wide some of his guts spilled out onto the tavern floor.

Richard's knowing had told him his other son, James, wasn't long for this world, either. "Your daddy got the look of doom about him. I tried to think like he's just sorrowing after his brother, but I knowed better."

Not three months later-Zerelda but two years old, her brother Jesse barely a year-James Cole flew from the back of a horse as he raced across a teal-blue Woodford County pasture. His head struck rock as if aimed for it. He was dead before they fetched him home.

"Reckon Grandpappy knowed he was gonna die?" Zerel asks her mother, Sallie.

They are laying out Richard Cole in the vestibule of the Blackhorse Tavern. He is bathed and combed, shaved under his chin, and got up in a yellowed shirt with a stiff, spotty collar. Grandpappy only owned one shirt collar. He used to put it on Zerel's head for a crown when she was a mite. "Queenie," he called her.

Sallie Cole doesn't look at her daughter when she answers. "Everybody's gonna die. Ever'body knows it." Sallie studies her father-in-law's face as if trying to figure exactly how much the old man knew.

"Yesterday, I mean," Zerel persists. "You reckon he saw death common' for him?"

"Don't talk foolish," her mama says.

Mama don't know nothin'.

But Zerel knows. And she knows Grandpappy knowed. Last night he had a faraway look and a faint voice when he asked Zerel to come downstairs to the tavern after supper. "Keep me company," he said. "Don't leave me down here by my lonesome."

Mama didn't like Zerel hanging around the tavern. So many ruffians coming through these days, the girl fourteen now, only looking older with the size on her, growed up, and the old man getting older every day, taking his granddaughter for just a child, never considering she might be taken by some for a woman....

But Sallie was no match for the old man...cuss, she called him behind his back. No match for the girl, either. Sallie never won. So Zerel was down in the tavern last night when Grandpappy slumped over a table, then slid to the floor, his beard sweeping planks soaked twelve years earlier by his son's blood, leaving a faint sad shadow.

Zerel remembers it all. She didn't see it, wasn't there to see or hear, couldn't understand, only two years old, the shouts, the blood, the shadow. Zerel a baby.., when Uncle Amos died, when Daddy died. Not there. But her bones know. Her blood remembers. Her knowing is choked by memory until knowing and remembering twist into a single great breathless thing, and Zerel is bursting with it, with nobody to tell it to, now Grandpappy is dead.

A widow at twenty-three, bereft of her childhood playmate as well as her husband (her cousin, James, her dearest, her only friend, who else could she have married?), Sallie Lindsay Cole had been entranced by grief. She'd groped through a week alone, one day at a time, hour by minute by second, as if she had no will, no sense, no feeling. She had two babies, nothing more.

Her father-in-law, her Uncle Richard, had come and got her then, knowing there'd be nothing but trouble otherwise. More trouble. On the eighth day after his son's burying, he came for Sallie and the children and put them in the rooms above the tavern where he'd been mightily pleased to live by himself since his wife had died several years before.

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