Back, lo, many months ago, after The Old Buzzard Had It Coming was published and before Hornswoggled, Marilyn at Poisoned Pen Press rang up to tell me that she had gotten a call from a woman by the name of Jean, who said she was married to my father’s cousin Charles Lee and lives outside of Boynton in my great-grandparents George Washington and Alafair Morgan’s house. She had read Buzzard, and recognized that the Tuckers’ house is based on the very house she lives in. Is this woman for real, Marilyn wondered, and if she is, here is her number.
Yes, indeed, she’s for real, and she hit the nail on the head, because I did indeed base the house in my books on my great-grandparents’ house. Everyone in my family called it “the farm”, and it was in fact to us THE farm of which there was none other. My father was very close to his grandparents and practically grew up out there. After my great-grandfather died, when I was about 10, the farm went to his children. Martha, the oldest child, lived out there until she died, and then Grace, the youngest. My grandmother took us kids out there on a regular basis, and my earliest memories of farm life have to do with that place.
After Grace died, the farm was bought by Charles Lee and Jean. Charles Lee is Charlie’s son. I called Jean right away, and she and I reconnected. I hadn’t seen them since my father died in 1967, when I was 19, so I certainly needed to be brought up to date. Jean and I spoke several times after that, and when I made arrangements to return to Boynton last month, she invited me to come out and have a look at the place. I jumped at the chance, of course. The last time I set foot on the farm was in about 1978, while my grandmother (upon whom Alice is based) was still alive and Grace lived there.
After the Boynton Historical Society event, Don and I followed Jean’s daughter Sandy on a long, winding trip from town. We didn’t go the usual way that I remember, since it was pouring rain, and the short way to the farm from town is still a dirt road. I recognized the place instantly, of course, a low white house with a picket fence set back off the road on a little rise, surrounded by trees. Because of the rain, we weren’t able to walk around outside as I would have enjoyed doing, but we were able to explore the house to our heart’s content.
Charles Lee and Jean have remodeled and restored the house up and down and built on an addition that easily doubled the size. Which is a good thing for them, because the original part of the house was amazingly smaller than I remember. Of course, I was amazingly smaller myself when I hung out there. I did wonder, though, how on earth Alafair managed to raise all those children in that tiny little two-bedroom house. The Tuckers’ house is laid out exactly the same – one large room and two bedrooms in the back, and a kitchen to the left of the entry – but the rooms in the house in my head are a lot bigger.
Jean not only gave us a tour, she showed us the original deed to the property (which was in Alafair’s name, by the way) and a treasure chest full of family pictures from the 1910’s, including pictures of my 17 year old grandmother in the dress and hat I describe at the end of Hornswoggled. She also gave me a copy of a picture of Alafair standing on the porch, leaning against a porch pillar, that is eerily reminiscent of the very first appearance of my fictional Alafair in Buzzard. I can only conclude that sometime in the misty past I had seen that picture, and it still dwells in my subconscious.
After the spectacular trip into the past, Jean put on a feast, and joined by many cousins whom I haven’t seen since my dewy youth, we ate until we foundered. There were so many things the visit brought back that I don’t have the room to go into here – the giant hog-scalding cauldron, the spring and well, the original outhouse (still standing). I guess I’ll just have to put them in the books.
I have had that place and family in my heart and head from the beginning. I am infinitely grateful to Jean for reconnecting me to them in the flesh.