“Armed with good intentions, my mother raised me according to the fill-in-the-blank method of child rearing. I have no cause for complaint, for the endless line of my people had always been raised this exact same way. The fill-in-the-blank method of child rearing, passed from mother to child, was a sliding scale of my goodness or downright wickedness, where she would evoke the name of some insane relative to serve as my example. Relieved that I was not the reincarnation of little Rhoda Penmark from The Bad Seed
, my mother would coolly remark, ‘Well, at least she won’t turn out like ….’ Her reaction to crimes like petty larceny, spitefulness or an overly sour disposition ran more along the lines of, ‘Grace Elizabeth, I swear if you don’t behave yourself, you’ll turn out to be just like ….’”
With a family tree filled with kooky cousins and notoriously nutty great-aunties, Grace, now in her thirties, has come to accept the fact that her people are nuts. She accepts that her mother slaughters unruly appliances with a hammer and that her cousin earns a living crafting Jell-O desserts. As Grace put it, “Crazy was the one place where my people tended to end up when there was nothing to watch on TV and no place else to go.”
Grace believes the madness in her family began with Athena, Grace’s great-grandmother, who in 1931 pulled a .22 handgun from her black satin bag and shot her husband right between the eyes on the Carter County, North Carolina courthouse steps for no apparent reason. Grace never suspects Athena was anything but crazy. It’s not until Grace comes across a photograph of a baby she’s never heard of, while visiting her grandparents, that she begins unravel the mystery of Athena’s crime and the hand-me-down sins of her people. For Grace, the question is whether she’ll unlock the one memory and discover Athena’s real crime.
T. J. Nelson is an editor and writer for the online site WorldMusicCentral.org. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and two cats.