For little Austin Moody, the sun rose and set behind his uncle Glen. But the day his uncle suffered a stroke and was admitted to Asylum Heights in Meridian, Mississippi, little Moody's world changed forever.
In his compelling story about life and love during the Depression Era, Moody shares fascinating insight into a time when hardworking men like his grandfather were threatened with foreclosure and had to create new ways of providing for their families. As Moody details his grandfather's controversial decision to partner with his son, Glen, and utilize his land to make wine in the midst of the Depression, he reveals what became one family's determined journey to survive America's greatest financial crisis. But when love leads Glen into a dangerous entrepreneurial adventure that forces him to commit an unthinkable act, he must face his most challenging obstacle yet-an obstacle that affects his entire family.
Asylum Heights retells the true story of a Mississippi farm family as they rely on faith, tenacity, and each other to survive amid the Great Depression.
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A Story of Life and Love during the Depression Era in Clarke County, Mississippi, and the South
By Austin R. Moody
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2014 Austin R. Moody, MD.
All rights reserved.
Uncle Glen had a stroke. It was 1934. I was almost six years old, and I vividly remember him lying upon a stretcher, moaning softly as the driver and my grandfather removed him from the ambulance. They carried him through the humid, sweltering August afternoon across the brilliant daylight of the courtyard and into the darkness of the entrance to Asylum Heights, the Mississippi State Mental Hospital in Meridian.
It was cooler inside, but not much. There was no breeze or blowing fan in the foyer, and a dank, clinical antiseptic smell pervaded the halls. He huddled beneath a sheet, and he could not walk or stand because of weakness in his right leg. His right hand was contracted into a fist, and I wondered if he were angry or in great pain. He did not know where he was or why he had come to be there. He could not speak, and he did not know me or respond as I repeatedly begged him to look at me.
He had been extremely handsome until I saw him that day. His mouth was sagging to the left, and his salivation steadily flowed across his bearded chin without his awareness or care. I did not understand the depth, the significance, or the permanence of the situation. I only knew that there was something terribly wrong with someone I loved, and I began to cry.
Mother whispered, "He is very sick. You must be quiet."
Two attendants in white uniforms approached from within the hospital. They lifted and carried him from the foyer through two heavy, metal doors, and after the stretcher passed through, I could hear the lock engage on the other side. His deep, stertorous respiratory sounds faded as he was taken away to his bed in the ward.
When we could no longer hear him, Mamma and Pappa Hailes accompanied my mother and me to the admitting office. The receptionist greeted us cordially, and after a rather extended interview regarding the developments that culminated in our arrival and presence in the admitting office, she looked into the file tray on her desk and extracted the necessary forms to be completed in order to justify Uncle Glen's entry into the hospital. Mother filled out a lengthy questionnaire, and we departed after providing the necessary information, leaving Uncle Glen in that brooding, lonely, and impersonal red brick edifice to await his coming tribulations.
I missed him so very much, wondering about his fate as my father drove along the red, rutted scars of the road through the deep, dark night toward home.CHAPTER 2
My mother and father had several brothers and sisters, but I always held Uncle Glen as my idol, my favorite relative. He was tall and thin with dark blue eyes and black, wavy hair. He was a witty storyteller with a quick magnetic, effusive smile and lots of money. He could afford the best clothes and brought home expensive suits, silk shirts, and ties when he returned from trips to New Orleans. He looked very sporty in his black and white oxford shoes and white snap-brim felt hat.
His convertible Studebaker was painted cream yellow and white. It had thin black body striping, and its presence had been rendered even more commanding with the addition of wire wheels and wide, classic white sidewall tires. It was the kind of car women couldn't resist. My mother didn't thoroughly approve of him, but she would always melt when he came to see us, and he never forgot to bring her a present.
I would shriek with anticipation when he drove up into the yard after his forays into the city. It was always like Christmas and Easter combined. I knew there was something for me in that car, but I had to find it. My benefactor wouldn't say a word. He would extend his arm to me with the car keys in his hand and break into laughter as I snatched them like a spider monkey and began my hunt—first in the trunk, then under the seats, the glove compartment, the ashtrays, in any orifice, even under the hood in the engine compartment. I never failed to find my treasure because I always knew that my search would be rewarded with the likes of candy, puzzles, a ball and bat, a wagon, a wristwatch, or even a brand-new Schwinn bicycle.CHAPTER 3
After his arrival, Uncle Glen underwent a period of profound clinical instability with septic fevers, intervals of coma, and shaking, tongue-macerating grand mal seizures. At times they would persist despite the aggressive administration of the usual and accepted medications. During the more severe episodes, the staff tried—and often failed—to stop or to prevent the uncontrollable jerking of arms and legs accompanied by total loss of consciousness. The nursing staff and attendants could only call the doctor who increased the medications. They would then apply cold or hot poultices to his tormented body as required and position him in order that he would not aspirate any regurgitated stomach fluids in the event he vomited and hold on to him until the storm had passed.
On the tenth day, the doctors called a meeting with the family to render an announcement of the findings of the tests. The people who came home to be with us during this difficult time included our immediate family, Mamma and Pappa Hailes, my father, mother, my sister Dorothy and myself, and also Aunt Lessie Belle, Uncle Floyd from near DeSoto, and Uncle Foster, a lawyer who owned a furniture store in Atlanta.
We were assembled in the staff lounge and waited for the doctor. After approximately thirty minutes, the door opened. When the three physicians entered the room, the austerity of their expressions verified the gravity of their diagnosis.
Dr. Moriarity, a specialist in infectious diseases, turned to the nurse who had accompanied them into the meeting and said, "Mrs. Jenkins, what we have to say here is very serious. Please accompany the children down the hall to the playroom."
I suddenly realized that I too was a child. I was about to be removed and would not be able to hear what the doctors would say to the grown-ups about Uncle Glen's condition and what was wrong with him. I turned and said, "Daddy, Mother, I don't want to go out with the other children and play. I want to stay and find out what's wrong with Uncle Glen!"
They looked at each other, and my father said, "Let him stay. He has been living with this just like the rest of us and is entitled to know what's wrong."
The doctor looked evenly at my father and said, "What I have to say is not pleasant. It is ugly and not easy even for an adult to accept. However, if you are sure that you want this, then the others can leave and he may stay."
The nurse led the others out and down the hall, and all eyes turned upon the doctor after the door had closed behind them.
Dr. Moriarity turned and faced my grandfather. "Mr. Hailes, I much regret the necessity to inform you that your son, Glen Hailes, suffers from a life-threatening neurological disease. It is an infection in its late, near-terminal stage, and it has destroyed much of his brain tissue. He has had a stroke. This injury has created a loss of muscular function of his right upper and lower extremities.
"The cause of this condition is a microscopic infectious organism, which is called a spirochete. It is more popularly known as syphilis. Glen suffers from its most severe and more often than not, terminal, final form called tertiary or neuro-syphilis. He has had the disease for at least two years, and it is most difficult to understand how he could not have realized that he was ill and that he had not seen a physician for treatment until now."
Pappa Hailes maintained his silence.
Dr. Moriarity said, "We will do the best that we can for him. If he survives, he will never be the same as he was before. I will make every effort to keep you informed of his progress on a daily basis initially and thereafter. We shall see as it evolves. Does anyone have any questions?"
The only response to his question initially was the silent shaking of Mamma Hailes' shoulders and her gentle weeping. Pappa took her in his arms and comforted her while Uncle Glen's sisters and brothers gathered about her to console her and share their own pain and sadness.
Dr. Moriarity said, "You have my deepest condolences. This is the most difficult part of my profession." With that, he motioned to his attendant staff, and they quietly departed.
Uncle Glen underwent the standard treatments of the time. The physicians tried to control the rampant infection that consumed his body. Their efforts were barbarous and painful. They exacted as much from the victim as from the treatments themselves. His nerve damage would remain as a souvenir of his passion and recklessness. His transgression would walk with him, and he would bear it as a constant burden for the rest of his life.
To this day, I can recall the sounds of his approach as he walked down a hallway, displaying the characteristic slap-slap sound caused by contact of the sole of his right foot upon the floor by the loss of enervation, causing a foot drop and depriving him of the position sense of the leg.CHAPTER 4
I knew that Pappa Hailes' father's name was Michael and that he was born in 1792 in Ireland. In my childhood, my mother never spoke of him, but I am sure without any intent to withhold or to hide any information about him, his personality, or his character. I do not believe that he had been imprisoned, but I am unsure of that matter.
He obtained a writ of homestead from the State of Mississippi that allowed him to claim the land under his feet as far as he could walk. He drove a stake into the ground and placed three more, always turning to the left, until he had encompassed 166 acres. These wooden markers were his claim stake for himself and his heirs or assigns on our property in perpetuity.
After filing his homestead in the records of Clarke County, he established the rights of a township that he named Hale, Mississippi. For reasons unknown to me, he did not apply the family name, Hailes, and it has remained so named to this day.
Pappa's mother (my great-grandmother) was the daughter of an Irish tradesman and a Cherokee Indian. I have no knowledge of how they met, courted, and finally presented themselves before a frontier minister to make vows and pledges that to the knowledge of every member of our communicant family were never compromised or broken, at least on her part.
My mother told me on many occasions that she was a great being, devout in her faith, and steadfast in her devotion, work, and love for her family. I regret so much that I had no opportunity to gain some knowledge of her parents, her family, and her culture. I particularly wish I could have known her sufficiently to have shared the experiences of her life and to thank her for what she gave my offspring and me. In that way, I would have had some moment of identity and communication with our ancestors, those who shall forever remain in the shadows of the past.
She could have elucidated and clarified many of the mysteries with recollections, memories, stories, and the names of some of those who were responsible in part for our presence upon this earth.
I admonish every reader of this book to get to know the oldest members of your family, especially your grandparents of both sides and, if possible, your great grandparents. Get to really know them and ask them to remember all they can about their parents and grandparents. You will never regret it because you still have the opportunity that I would give anything to recapture.CHAPTER 5
Pappa Hailes had the voice of an Irish tenor, a love of people, and knew no stranger. He addressed everyone as "Neighbor" and was restless in his pursuit of kindness and generosity to everyone. He lived the Golden Rule, and though his rod of that linear measure was at times as malleable as the soft yellow metal from which its name was derived, I have no doubt that he faithfully adhered to the admonition, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." He was its embodiment, except occasionally.
To my knowledge, he never had an enemy in his whole life or much else besides a legion of friends, a household of loving children, their aunts, uncles, and all their brothers and sisters and their children. His ever-expanding pool of warmth and light basked in the summer of his life and was deeply mourned at its twilight and in the final darkness of its end.
Pappa Hailes took care of his own. He could raise cotton, as many cattle and hogs as his land would allow, could farm and garden more than enough onions, tomatoes, field peas, butter beans, string beans, turnip greens and collards, mustard greens, okra, new potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn for feeding the cows and for roasting ears, sweet corn for boiling, roasting, frying and for cornbread and crackling bread.
He buried sugarcane stalks for planting the following year, depositing them within mounds of earth, anticipating each sprout to replicate its parent with a peeling as blue and purple as the skin of an eggplant and as thick in circumference as a butcher's wrist with juice clear and sweet. The nectar's taste could best be experienced by placing a metal water dipper beneath the drain of a grinding press on an October day, driven by a mule as the stalk was crushed, releasing the pure juice and leaving a residue of pulp named cane chew.
It can easily be recalled to my mind over three quarters of a century distant just as though I were still there on that crisp, chilly fall afternoon. The leaves were crimson and burnt auburn. I was playing with the other children, fighting and clamoring up a mountain of cane chews embattled to become the King of the Hill.
Pappa Hailes would collect this godly mead directly from the press and convey it down along a tin roof conduit to huge metal trays. Early in the morning, before the day's pressing, he and the men would build a large wood fire. The wood was reduced to a dull red-gray ash of smoldering coals and was shoveled into fireboxes made of rock and cement that supported the juice trays suspended above the coals. These were called the molasses fires.
As the trays became heated, the juice developed a rolling, bubbling boil, releasing sweet smelling steam, caramelizing, and turning the contents of the tray to a deep and rich brown, almost golden black in color that thickened progressively with further evaporation. At just the right consistency, Pappa Hailes and three other men would don heavy gloves and carefully remove the trays to a workbench.
As the syrup cooled, it became and thicker and more viscous, and it was finally poured into gallon cans and sealed with airtight lids. When the molasses reached the temperature of the surrounding environment, it was thick and smoky and sweet beyond any description.
Excerpted from Asylum Heights by Austin R. Moody. Copyright © 2014 Austin R. Moody, MD.. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Beginning, 1,
Chapter 2 Uncle Glen, 3,
Chapter 3 The Diagnosis, 4,
Chapter 4 The Family, 7,
Chapter 5 Pappa Hailes, 9,
Chapter 6 The Depression, 11,
Chapter 7 Aftermath, 12,
Chapter 8 The Vine, 17,
Chapter 9 Mr. Thornton, 19,
Chapter 10 The Plan, 21,
Chapter 11 The Sunday Visit, 32,
Chapter 12 Callie, 35,
Chapter 13 The New World Vineyard, 51,
Chapter 14 Viticulture to Véraison, 66,
Chapter 15 The Harvest, 79,
Chapter 16 The Elevated Winery, 82,
Chapter 17 Tree Houses, 85,
Chapter 18 The Vintners, 89,
Chapter 19 Supplies, 95,
Chapter 20 The Packaging, 102,
Chapter 21 Southwest Louisiana, 108,
Chapter 22 The Louisiana Connection, 115,
Chapter 23 The Monteleon Hotel, 127,
Chapter 24 After Hours at the Big Boy Club, 134,
Chapter 25 The Big Easy, 139,
Chapter 26 The Owl's Nest, 145,
Chapter 27 The Restitution, 153,
Chapter 28 New Year's Day, 1932, 160,
Chapter 29 New Orleans Encore, 163,
Chapter 30 Dothan, 173,
Chapter 31 Moving It, 178,
Chapter 32 Belle Terre, 188,
Chapter 33 Claudine, 198,
Chapter 34 The Discovery, 206,
Chapter 35 The Investigation, 208,
Chapter 36 The Noose Tightens, 212,
Chapter 37 The Hallucination, 216,
Chapter 38 Marshal Winters, 224,
Chapter 39 Déjà Vu, 227,
Chapter 40 Sequelae, 230,
Chapter 41 Home, 234,
Chapter 42 The Meeting, 242,
Chapter 43 The Finale, 249,
About the Author, 253,