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Authors: The Hand I Fan With

Tina Mcelroy Ansa

OTHER BOOKS BY TINA MCELROY ANSA

B
ABY OF THE
F
AMILY
U
GLY
W
AYS

FOR JONÉE,
WHOSE LOVE SUSTAINS ME

“At Last,” music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Mack Gordon, © 1942 (Renewed) Twentieth Century Music Corporation c/o EMI Feist Catalog Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. Warner Bros. Publications U.S. Inc., Miami, FL 33014.

“Bring It on Home to Me,” written by Sam Cooke, © 1962, renewed 1990 ABKCO Music, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by Permission.

“Do I Love You,” by Cole Porter, © 1939 Cole Porter. Copyright Renewed, Assigned to Robert H. Montgomery, Trustee of the Cole Porter Musical and Literary Property Trusts. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. Warner Bros. Publications U.S. Inc., Miami, FL 33014.

“For the Good Times,” by Kris Kristofferson. Copyright © 1968 Careers-BMG Music Publishing, Inc. (BMI). All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

“He Called Me Baby,” words and music by Harlan Howard, © 1961 (Renewed 1989) Beechwood Music Corp. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Used by Permission.

“Here Comes the Band,” by Burton Lane and Harold Adamson, © 1934 (Renewed) EMI Robbins Catalog Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. Warner Bros. Publications U.S. Inc., Miami, FL 33014.

“Love and Happiness.” Copyright © 1972 by Irving Music, Inc., and Al Green Music, Inc. (BMI). All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Used by Permission.

“My Handy Man Ain’t Handy No More.” Andy Razaf. Razaf Music (ASCAP) C/O SGA. 50% USA.

“My Handy Man Ain’t Handy No More,” lyrics by Andy Razaf, music by Eubie Blake. Copyright © 1930 Shapiro, Bernstein & Co., Inc., and Razaf Music. Copyright Renewed. International Copyright Secured. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

“Someone to Watch Over Me,” music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, © 1926 (Renewed) WB Music Corp. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. Warner Bros. Publications U.S. Inc., Miami, FL 33014.

“You’re My Thrill,” words by Sidney Clare, music by Jay Gorney. Copyright © 1933 by Bourne Co. and Movietone Music Corporation. Copyright Renewed. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

“You’re My Thrill,” by Sidney Clare and Jay Gorney, © 1933, 1949 (Copyrights Renewed) WB Music Corp. Rights for Extended Renewal Term in U.S. controlled by Gorney Music Publishers and Bourne Co. All Rights for the World controlled by WB Music Corp. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Blessings! That’s all I’ve gotten in the time it has taken to write this book.

Belief in God, Spirit, Life and Redemption has been a blessing.

Lena and Herman are a blessing.

My family, who respects the time and solitude my work calls for. A blessing.

The memory of my brothers Walter and Charles who continue to run through my life. A blessing.

Zora Neale Hurston, whose wise brilliant spirit hovers lovingly at my elbow the whole time I am writing, and often exclaims “Go on, little girl!” A blessing.

My sister Marian Kerr, who led me to the title of this work, continues to be a friend and source of inspiration. A blessing.

Mrs. R. J. Shelton, my beautiful, remarkable, rediscovered grandmother, who knows me better than I know myself. A blessing.

My two editors are indeed blessings. Blanche Richardson is a good friend who became my editor. Martha K. Levin is my editor at Doubleday who has become my friend.

I could not have done it without either of them.

Michael V. Carlisle, my agent. We have, as they say, “been through things together.” He is a blessing.

My island companions Zora, Ladysmith and Tuck. Blessings.

All my friends who loved, supported and understood me when I disappeared for nearly two years to write this novel.

Blessings all.

Including St. Simons Island, which continues to bless me by offering the love and acceptance of home.

CONTENTS

PROLOGUE CLEER FLO’

CHAPTER 1
BREEZE

CHAPTER 2
MULBERRY

CHAPTER 3
DANCING

CHAPTER 4
SECRET

CHAPTER 5
HOSPITAL

CHAPTER 6
HOME

CHAPTER 7
GIRLFRIEND

CHAPTER 8
DUTIES

CHAPTER 9
RITES

CHAPTER 10
MAGIC

CHAPTER 11
SMOKE

CHAPTER 12
VAPOR

CHAPTER 13
HERMAN

CHAPTER 14
CATCH-UP

CHAPTER 15
STARS

CHAPTER 16
LOVE

CHAPTER 17
BUSINESS

CHAPTER 18
LIL SIS

CHAPTER 19
LUCKY

CHAPTER 20
CHINABERRY

CHAPTER 21
MINISTRY

CHAPTER 22
SOM’UM-SOM’UM

CHAPTER 23
HAUNTED

CHAPTER 24
HORSE

CHAPTER 25
BLACKBERRY

CHAPTER 26
DOWNTOWN

CHAPTER 27
LIVIN’

CHAPTER 28
MULES

CHAPTER 29
REAL

CHAPTER 30
HER MAN

CHAPTER 31
THANKS

CHAPTER 32
FUCK YOU

CHAPTER 33
SHELTER

CHAPTER 34
FORGIVE

CHAPTER 35
TELL

CHAPTER 36
CRAZY

CHAPTER 37
STORM

CHAPTER 38
PERIOD

PROLOGUE
CLEER FLO’

P
eople in Mulberry had not put two and two together at first. Folks living out in the country along the Ocawatchee River hadn’t, either. Nobody had. But Cleer Flo’ was at the base of all the changes that were going on around town that spring after the Big Flood of ’94.

Everyone in the state of Georgia knew about Cleer Flo’, the newly miraculous time when the waters of the Ocawatchee River—usually, perennially, historically, almost always a red muddy, sometimes nearly ocher color—ran as cool as the dreams of a drought-stricken people, as clear as a melting glacier, clear right to the bottom. But no one connected it with the other unusual events.

All around the edge of the little Middle Georgia town of Mulberry near a gentle bend in the Ocawatchee. All around the crest and bottom of Pleasant Hill community. All around the nearly deserted neighborhood surrounding the old downtown district. All around unexpected pockets in and around Mulberry County in the spring of 1995, there was life going on and going on at a furious pace.

Flora
and
fauna.

Not only a record number of Mulberry babies were being created and born, but flowers were growing and pollinating with strange hybrids, forming new creations; long-dead perennials were coming back to life; Early Girl tomato plants grown in the muck that had been under floodwaters bore so much fruit that the plants sagged to the ground in home gardens all over town.

Migrating birds, especially ducks—mallards, teal, pintails, canvas-backs, shovelers, widgeons—were stopping in the area in record numbers. Even seabirds were being sighted on big inland ponds and lakes near town.

Birders from around the region were wildly enthusiastic. They scurried through Mulberry like coveys of birds themselves, high-powered binoculars hanging from their necks like wattles. They had reason to be excited.

The turkey buzzard population that had spent the winter at Lake Peak Park was almost darkening the sky in its migration back north and taking a few local chickens, young pigs and a newborn goat with it. The common loon’s unfamiliar loud crazy yodel could now be heard frequently at dusk. The vermilion, green and electric-blue feathers of the painted buntings, which never migrated north of the state’s lower coastal regions, were being spotted all over wooded spots. And in the forests around Lake Peak, the county’s largest lake, twenty-two southern bald eagles were sighted where none before had ever been spied.

Some naturalists said that the increased fowl activity was probably due to bad weather up north. But the experts didn’t have explanations for other happenings in nature. Albinos of all species were being born in and around Mulberry. The year after an albino buffalo was born in the American West, bringing Native American nations together, an albino doe was sighted in the woods by Lake Peak and two albino hummingbirds were spotted at a backyard feeder. Near Lake Seminole, two hunters fording a creek came across a ten-thousand-year-old mastodon’s massive jawbone stuck in the muddy bog.

After the Big Flood of ’94, all the receding water did not soak
back into the earth immediately. The ponds and puddles and ditches of standing water gave rise to generations of mosquitoes that swarmed all over the county in the warm spring. But no one really had time to complain about the biting, stinging pests because swarms of dragonflies appeared right after the mosquitoes showed up and began eating. The dragonflies zipped through the spring air feasting on the mosquitoes so quickly, so efficiently, that the bugs didn’t have time to bite and rebreed.

After a while, few folks in Mulberry paid the experts any attention. Most anybody with any sense finally laid the strange occurrences in nature to the unusual behavior of the river since the Big Flood.

The Ocawatchee was a different river
now.

It still came meandering out of the North Georgia mountains, but by the time it eased into Middle Georgia where it usually gently sidled up to Mulberry, it had taken on so much effluence from other swollen rivers and estuaries that its old banks could barely contain it.

Preachers and ministers and evangelists all over the state used the raging Ocawatchee in their “Jesus Baptized in the River Jordan” and their “Wading in the Water” sermons.

But the river’s new intensity was nothing compared to its other changes. Contrary to what the experts predicted, the state of the Ocawatchee River that rushed through Mulberry now was pristine. Although the river retained some of its old orange muddy color most weeks out of the year, now on some days it actually ran clear, a crystal-clear river green, like spring waters clear enough to drink.

Folks in Mulberry began thinking they could predict the days of Cleer Flo’, but they couldn’t. Cleer Flo’ seemed to come and go on its own.

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