Goldie Cook’s legacy was three illegal whiskey stills in rural Oklahoma and a business deal with a member of the Chicago Mafia. As the country struggled with Prohibition and the Great Depression, she fought to keep her family together after the death of her mother and the cold blooded murder of her father.
A young blonde girl shaded her eyes against the afternoon sun and glanced toward the old jail. Deep shadows hid the man inside but she knew the voice of her father and his arm waving frantically between the bars. She started to wave back and thought better of it as she heard a group of her schoolmates approach. Ducking her head, she quickened her pace hoping to outdistance them before her father’s shouts attracted their attention.
Her best friend, Ellen, ran to catch up with her. “Hold up, Goldie.”
“Have to hurry home,” she called over her shoulder. “See ya tomorrow.”
Her father’s call came again, louder this time.
Looking back toward the jail, she got a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. The snickering came from behind her and the ridicule followed. “Goldie . . . Goldie,” mimicked the preacher’s eldest son.
Tearing her gaze away from her father, she turned her attention to her tormentor. “Shut up, Charlie!”
Junior, Charlie’s younger brother, took a stance beside his brother. “What’s a matter, Goldie, is your old man in jail again?”
Charlie cupped his hands around his mouth. “Willie Cook’s in jail again, Willie Cook’s in jail again.” Both boys laughed and began to act out their own version of a drunk. Charlie staggered and fell down on the dirt road while Junior hiccupped, crossed his eyes, and whirled around in circles. Giggling came from the side of the road where Ellen and three other girls watched the show.
Filled with rage and indignation, Goldie’s petite frame seemed to grow in magnitude as she pushed past the girls and advanced on the boys with her fists clenched. “Stop it, Charlie Wicklow.” she screamed. “And you too, Junior. Stop it right now!”
“Got any moonshine in your lunch bucket, Goldie?” Junior asked.
Charlie giggled and slapped his brother on the back. “Yeah, Goldie, you got any hooch?”
Stooping to pick up a handful of dirt and gravel, she continued toward them. “Damn you two, I said stop it!”
Charlie stuck his tongue out at her and she rewarded him with a face full of dirt.
“White trash!” Junior yelled, pulling his older brother away from her. “You alright, Charlie?”
“I’m okay,” he said, wiping at his face with the back of his hand. “And you’re right, Junior, she’s no-account . . . just like her ole man.”
Goldie stepped toward them. They laughed, backed away, then turned and ran down the road toward the Baptist church. Remembering the girls, she turned her attention to them. “Anybody else have anything to say?”
Ellen was the only one not smiling and the smirks of the other girls disappeared under Goldie’s fierce gaze. No one answered; instead, they busied themselves brushing away the dust that filtered back on them during her attack on the Charlie. She turned her back on them, squared her shoulders and sniffed back angry tears. “I’m sorry, Goldie,” Ellen said, squeezing her shoulder as she and the others walked around her.
“Goldie, girl!” her father’s urgent call came again.
Taking a deep breath, she cut across Jefferson Street and ran down the path behind the courthouse to the fieldstone jail that dated back to when Oklahoma was still Indian Territory. The smell of sour whiskey, stale tobacco, unwashed bodies, and urine reeked through the barred window making her nauseous. She held her nose and stood on her tiptoes. “I’m here, Papa.”
Willie squeezed his face between the iron bars. “Goldie, run home and get some money to get me outta here. Bring whatever Mama’s got put back. Hurry now.”
She nodded her head. “Be right back, Papa.” Dashing around the courthouse, she ran across the road and down the wooden sidewalk on Main Street. Her flight was interrupted when the screen door of the General Store opened and her mother’s sister stepped out. Skidding to a stop did not prevent her from bumping into the package-laden woman. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Aunt Lou.”
Lucille Brown shifted her bundles and glared at her niece. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school?” she asked looking at a large clock mounted on a pole outside the store.
Goldie edged around her. “Oh, that old clock’s always wrong. School’s out and I’m on my way home.”
When she saw Lucille narrow her eyes in the direction of the courthouse, she knew her aunt was aware of her father’s incarceration. Smiling at the sour-faced woman, she bolted like a young colt. “Gotta go, bye Aunt Lou.”
Lucille shook her head. “Just like her father,” she said under her breath.
As she ran down the dirt road toward home, Goldie remembered how upset her mother had been the night before when her father hadn’t come home for supper. How against her protests, Annabelle had gotten out of bed and waited on the dark porch for any sign of his return. She felt ashamed when she remembered she’d fallen asleep sometime before dawn and left her mother alone in her fruitless vigil.
Then she thought of the mockery she’d just endured. It shouldn’t hurt so much after all this time, but it did. She doubted she’d ever get used to being looked down on because of her father’s profession. She smiled. Profession wasn’t a term usually associated with bootleggers. Businessmen owned companies or shops and were respected members of society.
Some men were fortunate enough to have an education or family money. Willie Cook had neither. He only went to grade school long enough to satisfy the state truant officer, then quit to help his father make and deliver moonshine whiskey to the locals.
Times were hard, very hard and men did what they knew how to do to feed their families. At the very least, they had to give him that much. Willie loved his family and took care of them to the best of his ability.
Out of breath and with a painful stitch in her side, Goldie slowed to a walk as she approached the path that led to her home. The four-room house, covered with a roof so rusted it looked like dull copper, except for the newer tin patches that gleamed in the late afternoon sun, sat off the road among ancient oak trees. The drab, gray boards of the front porch boasted a colorful rag rug and two old rocking chairs that stirred in the afternoon breeze.
A German Shepard waylaid her as she approached the house. “Jack, stop it,” she cried, and attempted to ward off his slobbery kisses. “Be a good boy and you can go back to town with me, but first I have to go in and see Mama. Now stay here and wait.”
Opening the front door, she stepped inside as Jack took a seat on the top step. “Mama?” she called into the bedroom where her mother should have been resting. The room was empty. She frowned and walked into the aroma-filled kitchen. “Mama, where are you?” she called again. A column of steam blew past the window. She pulled back the thin curtains and saw the tiny frame of her mother all but hidden by plumes of vaporizing water coming from a kettle filled with the family’s laundry.
In her sweat-stained dress, Annabelle looked like a fragile child. Strands of her light brown hair had escaped the bun at the nape of her neck and were stuck to the sides of her flushed face.
Goldie ran out the back door. “Oh, Mama, no!” she screamed and grabbed a wooden paddle from her hands. “Mama, you know Doc Bailey told you to stay in bed and not wear yourself out doing chores.”
Annabelle wiped at the sweat on her forehead. “I know, Goldie, but I just couldn’t sit still. I’m so worried about your Papa. He’s never been gone so long with no word.” She paused to catch her breath and looked toward the house. “Where are the other girls?”
In her haste to get home, Goldie had completely forgotten about her sisters. “They’ll be along. I ran ahead to tell you I found Papa, he’s in jail.”
Annabelle’s body stiffened. “Is he alright?”
“Yes, I think so. I talked to him and he told me to run home and get some money to get him out.”
“The money’s in the hidy-hole. Go get it and bring him home. Hurry, Goldie, I need to see him . . .to see he’s alright. . .. ” She slumped toward her daughter.
Goldie grabbed her and eased her to the ground. “Mama, Mama, are you alright?”
Annabelle opened her eyes. “Yes sweetie, I just got a little dizzy.”
Goldie helped her to her feet and was horrified to feel her ribs through the damp dress. “Let’s get you to bed. You don’t need to be out in this hot sun.”
In the darkened bedroom, Annabelle began to shiver uncontrollably as Goldie stripped off her damp dress and replaced it with a clean nightgown. “Mama, are you sure you’re gonna be alright? Maybe I should go get Doc Bailey.”
“No, I’m fine,” Annabelle said, patting her daughter’s arm. Lying down on the bed, she pulled a quilt up to her chin and gave her daughter a weak smile. “I’m fine, really. I just got too hot, that’s all. Now go get your Papa.”
“Don’t you think you should have some of your medicine before I go?”
Annabelle nodded her head. “Yes dear, I suppose I’d better have some of the nasty stuff.”
Goldie pulled the stopper from the bottle and poured out a spoonful.
Annabelle swallowed the morphine and flinched at its vile taste. She knew she needed it for the pain, but she hated taking it because it robbed her of what precious little time she had left with her family.
Goldie pulled another quilt from under the bed and spread it over her mother. “Mama. . .”
“Goldie, you go bring Papa home. I hate the thought of him being in that filthy place.” She closed her eyes. “I’ll just rest until you get back.”
Walking to the door, Goldie looked back at her and silently asked God to watch over her.
Soon Annabelle’s mind was flooded with drug-induced memories, memories so hurtful even the morphine didn’t dull the pain they brought her. She heard her mother’s voice. “White trash, he’s nothing but white trash! Annabelle Brown, how dare you disgrace this family with that low life! Willie Cook will never, never be welcome in my house and if you leave with him today, neither will you.”
“Mama, I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“Thank God your grandmother did not live to see the day her flesh and blood would marry a bootlegger’s son.”
Annabelle’s father, Edward, glanced at her briefly when she walked downstairs and opened the door to leave. Her older sister, Lucille, sat on a piano bench, crying softly. “Goodbye. I’m going to miss you both,” Annabelle whispered. Neither one replied. Her father glanced at her and opened his mouth but closed it again without a word.
Lucille glared at her with red, swollen eyes.
“I love you,” Annabelle whispered to them through her own tears.
“Love? You don’t know the meaning of the word love, or respect either for that matter. Go on, get out of my house,” Grace screamed from the top of the stairs.
Annabelle looked over her shoulder at her mother. “Goodbye, Mama,” she said and walked out the door.
Grace followed her outside. “And don’t you come crawling back to me when you get tired of being poor and unhappy. A curse on you both!”
Struggling to sit up in bed, Annabelle found her vision blurred and the sudden movement made her sick to her stomach. Lying back again, she tried to clear her mind, but the powerful drug held her captive.
When the pains started, she dismissed it as nothing more serious than a stomachache, but when it worsened and her monthly curse became a never-ending flow of blood, she decided to go see Doc Bailey.
On that dreadful day, she undressed and slipped into a white cotton gown. The nurse told her to take a seat on Doc Bailey’s examination table. She even remembered how cold the table was.
The room was spotless. Colored charts of the human anatomy covered one wall. Annabelle tried not to look at them. She hated seeing the mysterious innards of the human body. Two metal cabinets, one on each side of the room, held shiny, wicked-looking instruments behind glass doors. She tried not to look at them either.
There was a light knock on the door. “Annabelle, may I come in now?” Doc Bailey called to her.
“Yes Doc, I’m ready.”
He smiled, nodded his head in her direction and leaned against one of the metal cabinets. “Well, what can I help you with today?”
Annabelle blushed. “Well, Doc, I... at first, I thought I just had a stomachache, but then the pain got worse and my monthly curse hasn’t stopped for nearly a month. So I thought I’d better come see you about it.”
“I’m glad you did,” he said, and covered her with a sheet. “We need to see what’s going on with you. Now just lay back on the table.”
When the painful examination was over, he asked her to get dressed and come into his office.
She tossed and turned on the bed. “No more. I don’t want to remember anymore,” she whispered to the empty room, but the hurtful memories continued.
Doc Bailey sat behind his desk, looking at her over his glasses. He cleared his throat. “Annabelle, I’m afraid I have some very bad news for you. I felt a mass in your uterus.” She frowned at the unfamiliar words. “Your uterus, your female parts. The lump is most likely cancerous. I suspected it when you told me about your symptoms.”
“It’s hard to explain, Annabelle. It’s been around since the beginning of recorded history. Even the Egyptians had it.”
“And I have it, Doc?”
“I’m afraid so. This is never an easy thing to tell someone, but as difficult as it is, I mean to be totally honest with you. To date there is no cure. This type of cancer grows rapidly and will spread to other parts of your body and eventually. . .” he said, spreading his fingers. “Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”
Annabelle stared at the man she had known most of her life as if he were a stranger. Opening her purse, she took out a handkerchief and began to twist it in her hands. “You saying...I’m gonna die?”
She looked at him with tear-filled eyes. “Are you sure, Doc?”
“Yes, I’m sure. From its size, I suspect it’s already in an advanced stage. The signs are very distinct, even to a country doctor like me.”
He walked around his desk to comfort the shaken woman. Annabelle grabbed his hand. “There’s nothing you can do?”
“I’m afraid not. I wish there was.”
“There must be something.”
He patted her shoulder. “There are some doctors in Dallas working on a cure. A breakthrough may come at any time, but for now all they’ve come up with is a few experimental drugs and roentgen therapy.”
“Yes, it’s done with x-ray machines, but you’d have to go to Dallas for the treatments and it’s pretty expensive.”
“Oh... but you said there are medicines?”
“Yes, a few. They wouldn’t cost you anything because they’re experimental, but I must warn you, they might have some nasty side effects. The worst being....”
“I don’t care. I have to try them. I don’t want to die!”
He took a bottle from a shelf behind his desk. “I know you don’t, Annabelle. I’m so sorry. I’ll do everything I can to help you. I’ll call Dallas today and get them to send one of those drugs but for now I want you to take this for the pain you’re having.” He handed her the large brown bottle. “It’s a strong drug called morphine. You can use it every six hours.” Annabelle wrapped her crumpled handkerchief around the bottle and put it in her purse.
“The morphine will make you sleepy, but take it just the same. The rest will be good for you. And Annabelle, I don’t want you tiring yourself out doing chores either. Let the girls do the housework from now on.”
He returned to his desk, sat down and waited for her to compose herself. “I’ll be around to check on you from time to time, but if you run out of that,” he said pointing to her purse, “send someone to my office to get some more.”
She nodded her head and patted her purse.
“Do you want me to speak to Willie for you?”
“No, I’ll tell him myself,” she said, wiping her eyes. “I’d best be going, he’s waiting.” She shook hands with the doctor and walked out of his office closing the door behind her. Leaning against a wall in the hallway, she thought about her mother. “Damn you, Mother! Damn you to hell for putting this curse on me and my family!” Her insides quivered as if the cancer within her, having now been identified, was taunting her.