catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 13, Num 14 :: 2014.07.11 — 2014.07.24


Tragedy of errors

It was a Hatfield-McCoy drama, of sorts.  The families’ names were different, but their lifestyles similar, down there in the early 1930s, rural Southwest. Two men in families on the opposite side of “civilized” had become archrivals for the attention of the same sweet young thing. She left no question as to which young man she favored. They were a well-matched twosome. He was decent, protective and kind. His rival had none of these attributes. She was a winsome girl with a happy laugh, who doted and depended on him. Love bloomed, and they made plans to marry.

But before they finished high school and married, a dark truth emerged: she was pregnant. As soon as the archrival heard the news, he grabbed his double barreled shotgun and headed for the boyfriend’s house. Holding his shotgun head-high as he knocked on the door, he stood at the ready. The young thing’s sweetheart opened the door and heard these shocking, venomous words snarled out from between tightly pursed lips: “You have 24 hours ta get outta town for good, or I’ll blow your head off. And don’t you ever show your face around these parts again!”

Fear engulfed the boyfriend’s heart as he told his mother of this ominous threat. In a panic, they threw what belongings they could fit into a small, worn duffel, and she sent him fleeing silently into the black of night. Alone, he headed for an unknown destination, eventually ending up far in the Northland, where he remained for the rest of his life. Establishing himself in the North, he dropped his last name, and for the rest of his life used his first and middle names only. He kept sparse, secret contact with his mother alone, whom he never saw again. For many years, no one else in the Southwest knew what had happened to him, or where he lived. Not even his family. He felt safer that way, his fear was so great. 

In the Northland, he eventually met a young girl and married her. But he could not forget the love of his life back in the Southwest. He and his wife had one son, James, who never knew grandparents, cousins or aunts and uncles, nor did he know why he had no extended family — no other family at all. The few times he asked about this in his early years, the subject was quickly dismissed with a concocted lie. And so, from childhood, James’ belief of having no other family became his accepted normalcy. James grew up, went to college, had a career, married and had a family.

James’ mother was the first to pass away, leaving his father alone. A year later, his father passed away. Shortly after his funeral, a letter arrived in James’ mailbox. It was from the Southwest, and totally unexpected. It stated simply that if James wanted to know anything about his father’s family, he was welcome to call. It included a telephone number. There, in his hand, he held the promise of answers to unrecognized questions of a lifetime. But James decided that he did not want to delve into something that sounded so mysterious and potentially menacing, coming from people unknown to him.

Before long, James’ wife decided that she did, indeed, want to know, and she called the number. And that is when the family secret was revealed, including a full record of generational history and relationships. James’ cousin told her the account of why James’ father ended up settling in the Northland, and that James’ last name was not the actual family name. Eventually, James and his wife traveled to the Southwest to meet extended family. It was the beginning of new, but lasting, blood relationships for James in a time of positive connecting, while learning much about his family’s layered legacies. Both rival men’s legacies included horse thievery, dishonest dealings, vicious infighting and murder — nothing wholesome in either heritage for a child to hear. Now middle-aged, James discovered long-overdue answers, while also learning that his present relatives had broken the generational chain of evil by choosing to live respectable lives.

Not long after James’ father left the Southwest, the thickened plot was solved, and the final piece fit into the puzzle, but James’ father never learned of it. It was revealed that the sweet young thing, the adored fiancée, had been the innocent victim of her brutish stepfather, resulting in her pregnancy. Although James’ father died many years later, his heart still broken, the archenemy, who changed the course of his life in one minute, had never married her either.

A tumbleweed of both tragedy and relief, this family secret left a lasting imprint of deep, “if only” sadness.

Where could beauty rise from these ashes of despair? A loving, heavenly Father rescued future generations by wresting James’ father from the grip of unrestrained wrongdoing and in purposing that James would become a believer in the Redeemer, share this faith with his family and lead his children on a new, godly path.

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