Sean of the South

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By Sean Dietrich

This was the old world. The only thing worse than being a pregnant adolescent, was being one in a small town.

This is not my story, I just wrote it down. It was told to me by a preacher. His name was Jacob, but people called him, Brother J.J. When Brother J.J. visited our church, he was already white-haired and elderly. He was as tall as a telephone pole, and unlike most preachers, soft-spoken. I once saw Brother J.J. fill a church during a Christmas-season service. He sang hymns and played his fiddle for two hours. Before we lit candles, he told a story which has never left me. I wish I could tell it like him.

But this’ll have to do: THE 1930’s—A TENNESSEE TOWN OUTSIDE FRANKLIN. Wintertime. It was the worst time in rural America. A fourteen-year-old girl became the victim of a terrible mistake—the kind of mistake that makes a baby. Nobody knew who the father was, but rumors claimed her uncle had abused her. This was the old world. The only thing worse than being a pregnant adolescent, was being one in a small town.

People were vicious. In town, no one made eye-contact. At school, the teacher asked her to stop coming. Her mother called her a whore. Her father made her sleep in the shed. The shed. When her father sold the timber rights to his property, a truckload of loggers arrived to clear-cut the family land. That night, the migrant workers slept in the same shed she did. And even though the girl had a belly as big as a washtub, one man made lewd advances.

Another man came to her rescue. He fought off the offender with his fists and a furniture leg. The next morning, both men were fired. But before her hero walked away, he asked her to come with him. As his wife. “Why would you wanna marry me?” she asked. “You don’t even know me.”

“’Cause it ain’t right for a little girl to sleep in no shed.” He scraped his money together and bought an old car. It was a beat-up coupe that needed the radiator refilled every few miles. They married. They headed south, looking for work. During the nights, she slept in the backseat. He slept outside. Something had brought the two strangers together, but nobody knew what the hell it was. The miles piled behind them.

Then it happened.

Somewhere on Highway 31, late at night, she soaked the front seat. He pulled over. He tried to flag cars down, but there were hardly any on the road. She hollered. He didn’t. He stood still and reminded her to breathe.

It took a few hours to ruin the Model-T upholstery with blood and fluid. But it took the rest of their lives to wipe the glows off their faces. Because, you see, on a vacant highway, somewhere between Alabama and Tennessee, unto them a child was born—wrapped in a work-shirt, lying in a Ford. And they called that bastard baby, Jacob. But most folks called him, Brother J.J.

May this Christmas be your best.

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