T. M. Brown invites you to share the news and links with friends and family. Whether they enjoy the Kindle, paperback, or new hardcover editions. He also invites you to leave a rating and a review for any of the three books you have read.
Watch for a special Fifth Anniversary Updated Edition in paperback & hardcover of Sanctuary & Testament coming for 2023!
As a writer, we learn our trade with the writing and publishing of each new story. I am thankful and most grateful to all those who have invested their time to read any of the three Shiloh Mystery novels. I never dreamt the stories would continue selling as they are five years afterward. Thank you for spreading the word and recommending the books to your friends and family members. Theo and Liddy’s exploits and hair-raising adventures involving their colorful, and often quirky, Shiloh friends have been truly a joy writing—I am pleased to discover how many readers like you enjoy the stories as well. Stay tuned. More plans are in store for Theo and Liddy in the days to come.
Days of Cotton and Cannons (The Last Laird of Sapelo: The Randolph Spalding Story)
UPDATE: The newly suggested title of Days of Cotton and Cannons seems to catch the attention of prospective agents and publishers. I hope to share the projected plans for the book’s release in the coming weeks. I am crossing my fingers that 2023 will unfold as a very special and busy year with my books, and just so happens marks my wife’s and mine 50th-Anniversary. That’s a lot to celebrate, so expect to hear about this time next year that we disappeared for an extended getaway vacation.
In the meantime, I am busy growing Hometown Novel Writers Association, Inc. What began five years ago as well was the notion there were enough aspiring and published authors south of Atlanta to form our own writers’ organization to promote local authors to the local audiences in our neck of the woods. This past month our fledgling troup of writers got word the State of Georgia accepted our application to become a new non-profit corporation. You might say, like Theo Phillips, I too am pretty busy in my peaceful, not-so-laid-back-retirement. But I love what is unfolding and keeping my life interesting. Every new dawn invites another adventure and opportunity that keeps me young at heart.
For my local friends and readers. Come, take part in the Sharpsburg Book Fair, August 27th in historic Sharpsburg, Georgia. Over 30 authors already have signed up to take part in this all-day event co-hosted by the Hometown Novel Writers Association and the Town of Sharpsburg. Proceeds benefit the promotion of literacy in Coweta County and surrounding counties.
Summer begins June 21st and so does the $.99 Kindle offer for each of the Shiloh Mystery novels… Offer runs through June 28th! So don’t miss out! Purchase one or all three to fill your summer reading time…
“T. M. Brown’s characters are rich, the story is compelling . . . the language is clever and poetic. . . It is an extraordinary tale written by an exceptional author. I will read this book again.” —RAYMOND L. ATKINS author of Set List, Sweetwater Blues, and Camp Redemption
How is it Margaret Mitchell, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Erskine Caldwell, James Dickey, Pat Conroy and the legacy of so many other great Southern authors have endured long after they left us? And, today Southern authors like Fannie Flagg, Alice Walker, Kathryn Stockett, Jeswyn Ward, Charles Frazier, Greg Iles, Charles Martin, Rick Bragg, and even John Grisham are still securing their legacy for future generations.
Let’s not forget the endless stream of fresh literary voices beckoning us with new Southern-laced literary works that supply the timeless and borderless demand for memorable flawed heroes, victims, and villains depicted in colorful Southern settings dealing with 21st-Century challenges and changes.
What constitutes a great Southern story?
First of all, truth be told, I don’t know how to write the next best-selling Southern Novel. Of course, if I did happen to know how, I’d be too busy writing it and more than likely have my eyes cast on writing at least three. Three best-selling Southern novels would leave the kind of legacy that any writer would only dream about. But at least I know one when I see one. That’s because really great best-selling Southern novels are discovered, not written. In fact, none of the aforementioned authors began writing the next great Southern novel. They merely wrote what resided within them to write.
The indelible mark of a Southern Author
Being reared in the South leaves an indelible mark on one’s soul where inspiration and motivation sprouts from fertile memories, the good and the bad, to write compelling stories. Aspiring writers with souls stained and strained growing up in the South cannot write anything else worthwhile. Southern stories come to life experientially. An author might learn the mechanics of creative writing, but no classroom can replicate growing up and experiencing life in the South. There’s no better fodder for storytelling than lending an ear to the tall-tales of folks spinning yarns in the South. We may hear such tales while eating dinner, attending church, getting a haircut at a local barbershop, or at a beauty parlor for the women-folk, and let’s not neglect sitting on a neighbor’s porch.
The Southern Author Is Too Polite to Name Names
I have learned one thing in my sixty-eight years, fiction is just the truth and reality wearing a mask and being stretched a might to be more palatable, and often more plausible. You see, more than not, the truth just ain’t as believable as the tall-tales that follow.
Now there are certain trademarks of any Southern story, they revolve around food, family, friendships, faith, and football. Right off, if any story fails to mention the sipping, swallowing, or gulping of sweet tea, consider it suspect right away. Also, in the South, a coke may not mean a Coca-Cola, and whiskey didn’t originate here, but it was perfected here. In fact, the tales of Cooter Brown’s perpetual drunkenness is a Southern-rooted legend.
Grits, gravy, and greens are menu staples, morning, noon and night. Anything else worth eating is also usually fried. Peaches, pecans, and peanuts are the foundation of many epic desserts too.
In the South, Change Arrives Reluctantly
It may be the 21st-Century, however, “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir” are not derisive retorts but words of respect to our elders. Boys and grown men instinctively grab the door for a woman or young lady. Now, that’s not saying Southern gals don’t have spunk. Lord, just rile a Southern girl and you’ll learn right quick they invented sass. They also know, you know, you likely deserved it.
The 21st-Century Southern woman exited the confines of the kitchen and no longer remains in the shadows cast by men. She forges her own identity in society and dares men to catch up to her.
Some Traditions Linger
Of course, when someone approaches on a back road, there will be a casual exchange of raised fingers atop their respective steering wheels. It’s an evolution of the tradition that declares in the South no one stays a stranger for long. Handshakes and friendly howdies transform strangers into friends whether visiting or just passing through. What has changed is the inclusion of women in those customary exchanges.
But Some Traditions Remain Steadfast in the South
Last but not least, it’s downright hard to distinguish faith from football conversations. They both can offer the same fervor. In the South, the Lord’s Day is Sunday and everyone agrees that God graces every church, small or large, but Saturday, God sports our team colors, sits on our side of the field and favors our victories.
Now there’s a heap more we could wrangle back and forth about on this subject, but I reckon you’ve got the gist. We may not always plainly define it, but we sure know when we have read a great Southern novel. When we come to the last page and close a good southern novel, we feel sad because it ended.
T. M. Brown
First published May 2020, Purgatory, A Progeny’s Quest, is the third book in the Shiloh Mystery Series. Re-released March 2022. Theo just can’t seem to avoid landing smack dab in the middle of life-altering threats and conflicts that shatter the peace and tranquility of lil’ ol’ Shiloh. Some family trees get shaken and familiar characters face life and death decisions to protect others in the next story.
Watch for Fifth Anniversary Editions coming soon of Sanctuary & Testament!
Beginning Saturday, April 2nd until April 9th, the KINDLE edition of Purgatory will be available at $.99 each and slowly rise to $1.99 and then $2.99 over the course of the promo period. So, don’t hesitate! Read and the leave a review of this award-winning thriller… recognized as a finalist in the 2021 Silver Falchion Award for Best Suspense Novel at the Killer Nashville Annual Conference last summer. It placed third for the Southeastern Writers Annual Conference’ s Hal Barnard Fiction Award in 2019. Go to AMAZON and order today..
KINDLE UNLIMTED members. Order your copy today and please leave a review as well. Every click helps, as does every review. Thanks, Mike
In Purgatory, A Progeny’s Quest: Theo is knee deep in mystery—again. And it all began with a trip to an auction to help Zeb purchase a classic limo to use in the Miss Shiloh parade. Faster than you can say “come and get it”, an orphaned teenager is dropped at his door, a mobster hits town intent on making that limo his own, and a dead body is found floating in Shiloh Creek. But when Pepper and Woogie are kidnapped, Theo, Mitch, John, Hank, Camille, and more show the bad guy a thing or two about messing with folks in a small town.
“T. M. Brown’s characters are rich, the story is compelling . . . the language is clever and poetic. . . It is an extraordinary tale written by an exceptional author. I will read this book again.” —RAYMOND L. ATKINS author of Set List, Sweetwater Blues, and Camp Redemption
Save money and receive convenient no risk 90 days terms on orders for all three Shiloh Mystery novels. Contact Angela Durden at Blue Room Books to place your order. They can take orders on all three books and arrange shipment directly to you at below standard industry trade discount. Ask Angela Durden for the details.
Want to order a copy of Sanctuary or Testament?
Signed copies are available at the above booksellers, Amazon, and many book retailers, i.e. The Book Loft, Fernandina Beach; The Bookshelf, Thomasville, GA; Horton’s Books & Gifts, Carrollton, GA; Pretty Good Books, LaGrange, GA; Story on the Square, McDonough, GA; Posman Books, Atlanta, GA, to name a few. Again, order through Blue Room Books or on the above BOOKSTORE ORDER PAGE. Never any shipping costs.
My latest novel, a historical tale about Randolph Spalding, the youngest son of Thomas Spalding, the original Laird of Sapelo, is finally nearing completion. His story has consumed my attention and focus ever since Purgatory’s launch on May 26, 2020. I did not think I could take my focus off my Shiloh fictional characters, but since before last summer began, my attention has been on writing while researching Randolph Spalding and his family. My wife and I have made two trips to the Georgia coast and sailed to Sapelo Island, listened to stories, sat with and read books by renowned historians, scoured the internet, and cluttered my computer with images and documents to validate the story I have written. Though it is a novel, I based it upon his history, cut short by his untimely death in March 1862. More will come in the weeks and months ahead as I seek to find the right publisher for this gripping story.
Shiloh Mystery Series approaching its Fifth Anniversary of Sanctuary, the story began the series.
Watch for exciting news of new editions to this award-winning series.
A brand new Hometown Novel Nights and HNN Writers Group website coming soon… HometownNovel.com
A busy October begins on October 1st with Octoberfest in historic downtown Newnan, Georgia–my hometown- and ends October 30th in Warm Springs narrating famous tales about graveyards, ghosts, and goblins while enjoying a Spooktacular evening among ghoulish dressed in black patrons.
Visit T. M. Brown’s Event Page for all the dates, times. and locations for events, programs, and appearances on tap in October. In the midst of the month he and his wife are racing north to visit grandkids too.
Happy Fourth of July! Here’s an excerpt from Testament, An Unexpected Return as little Shiloh celebrates its 115th Independence Day Jubilee in new Priestly Park…
The Fourth of July in Shiloh!
The storm front blew over as predicted, allowing the sunshine to break through partly cloudy skies by the time we arrived at Priestly Park. “God Bless the USA” blared over the park’s public address system as we snaked through the growing crowd in search of our friends.
Bob “Bubba” Patterson and Cecil Chambers, owners of Bubba’s BBQ, along with Silas Thrope from the Butcher Shoppe, tended twin smokers that filled the air with the mouthwatering aroma of roasted pork. Beneath a red, white and blue canopy, Barbara Patterson, Cora Chambers, and Bernie Thrope readied themselves to sell their husbands’ highly anticipated, finger-licking fare.
I surveyed the sea of people until I locked onto Larry Scribner waving his arms. A minute later we set up our chairs between Larry, his wife, Martha and Sam and Susanna Simmons.
Martha snickered. “Would have thought Mary warned you to get here early. The whole town has been abuzz for weeks since the city formally announced the Jubilee’s new venue, especially after news got out about the park’s dedication ceremony.”
Liddy peered at me with a told-you-so sneer followed by a playful punch to my arm when I said to Martha, “Don’t blame her. I just didn’t expect this kind of turnout, but I’m glad to see it for Harold’s sake.”
Sam added, “Give poor Theo a break. This crowd is the biggest I recall ever attending a Jubilee. No doubt Harold’s vision for Priestly Park intended to give Shiloh’s annual Jubilee a shot in the arm.” He pointed at the building under construction with its steel skeleton cordoned off by yellow caution tape and bright orange plastic barrels. “Can’t wait to see the new community center when it finally opens.”
Liddy asked, “Has anyone seen Arnie and Judy? What about Zeb, Marie, and John?”
“Preacher’s over behind the grandstand with Judy, waiting for the ceremony to get underway,” Martha groaned, craning her neck, half-raised from her chair. “And there’s Zeb behind the pavilion leaning against his truck shooting the breeze with John and Marie.”
“Susanna, where’s Andy and Megan?” Liddy asked, eyeballing the crowd.
Susanna shrugged her shoulders. “Not sure, but they promised they’d be here.”
Liddy nudged closer to me and whispered, “Hal just pulled behind the grandstand driving Harold’s dually with Harold in the passenger seat, and parked beside Phillip’s red Wrangler.”
Sam jumped from his chair and whistled above the clamor of the crowd. Susanna stood as Andy and Megan appeared making their way around the throng of blankets and chairs.
Megan’s relaxed smile, ponytail, and makeup-free, suntanned cheeks presented a welcome contrast to the pretentious, prim and proper young woman we encountered only a few months ago. In place of high heels and glamor, she clung to Andy’s elbow wearing green and gold GCU warm-ups and a white cotton tank top. After we all exchanged hugs, Andy and Megan sat down beside Susanna and Sam.
Moments later, the shrill of a fife and a rhythmic drum cadence quieted the crowd before a voice barked, “For-ard harch!” Pete, Jay, and Jim marched abreast in step to the lead of the teenage fifer and drummer, all wearing Minutemen costumes. Jay and Jim held shouldered muskets on either side of Pete, who carried the American flag with both hands. The crowd came to its feet as the color guard approached the makeshift stage until Jay shouted, “Color guard, halt!”
Hal Archer stepped to the podium and invited Miss Phoebe Thatcher, the high school’s music director, onto the stage to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Arnie Wright followed with a prayer of thanks for our nation, community, and today’s Jubilee. Hal then welcomed everyone to Shiloh’s one-hundred-and-fifteenth Independence Day Jubilee and added, “Before we enjoy all this scrumptious food and the activities planned this afternoon, I’d like to introduce my father, our Mayor Emeritus, the Honorable Harold Archer.”
Harold rose from his seat and gripped the podium to steady himself. His baggy shirt and slacks affirmed rumors of his declining health. His voice cracked as he spoke. “Friends, fellow citizens of Shiloh, first of all, I want to thank you for allowing me the joy of witnessing my son serving as your new mayor. He represents the third generation of Archers to be so honored. But, that’ll be enough of that. There’s a far better reason I am here today. Would John Priestly and Marie Masterson join me?”
John escorted his cousin Marie onto the stage before Harold continued.
“Last December, I promised the citizens of Shiloh that I would build this park for our city right here on this picturesque site next to Shiloh Creek. I humbly stand before you, proud we’re celebrating this year’s Independence Day Jubilee on this property my family deeded to the city.”
Harold looked back toward the unfinished steel framework and pointed. “And, my son Phillip assured me that the new community center will be open before summer ends.” Harold smiled at Phillip who stood beside Jeannie Simmons in front of the stage. “With that assurance,” Harold eyed John and Marie by his side. “I now and forever more declare that Priestly Park shall henceforth commemorate the Priestly family’s contribution in making Shiloh a better place for our families to prosper.”
Harold picked up a plaque off the podium and paused as he cleared his throat. John stepped closer and patted Harold on his back. Harold took a deep breath and slowly exhaled before he continued. “I asked Missus Masterson and Coach Priestly as members of the Priestly family to accept our city’s small token of appreciation for all that their family has meant to our community throughout the years.” He handed the framed pewter plaque to John. “A larger duplicate of this plaque will be mounted beside the entrance to the Betty Priestly Community Center when it opens in the coming weeks.”
Hal returned to the microphone as Harold escorted John and Marie off the stage. He raised his arms to quiet the crowd’s applause. “I’ve been advised that the roasted pigs are about to be carved. Don’t forget to check the pavilion bulletin board for times and locations of this afternoon’s activities. Otherwise, please enjoy the day at Priestly Park and remember the fireworks will begin right after sunset.” Patriotic music returned across the public address speakers as Hal exited the stage.
Pete, still wearing his 1776 Minuteman outfit, appeared moments later with Mary and invited all of us to an area they staked off near Zeb’s truck behind the pavilion. We gathered our chairs and found John and Marie already chatting with Zeb’s sons, Jim and Jay. Zeb sat on his tailgate and offered everyone a cold drink from the ice chest in the bed of his truck.
# # #
Long after I confessed to eating way too much, I found myself surrounded by empty chairs. The grunts and moans of the more athletic, younger members of our group drew my attention to their heated volleyball game. Zeb and Sam refereed the match, standing on opposite ends of the net. Liddy and Marie had disappeared earlier to sign up for the annual egg toss, thanks in large part to the persistent goading of Megan and Jeannie. Although Judy, Martha, and Susanna urged me to watch, I opted to catch up with Arnie meandering toward the creek.
“You know we’re both missing out on the celebrated egg toss.” I leaned down and flung a couple of pebbles into Shiloh Creek. Arnie chuckled and skipped a stone across the surface.
“Hey Arnie, you’re closer to Harold. You’ve known him as his pastor for a long time. Is he going to be okay?”
Arnie reached for another stone and juggled the smooth tawny pebble between his fingers. “Not sure Theo. Just because I’m his pastor doesn’t mean I’m privy to know everything. I know, like you, that second trip to the hospital in January sucked the wind right out of his sails.”
“But is it just physical? I’ve hardly seen him around town since.”
“I’m not a doctor, but I believe a broken spirit can be as lethal as any heart attack. And, in Harold’s case, he’s experienced both. Since his release from the hospital, he’s spent every day cooped up in his study. He hardly drives anywhere anymore. In fact, last month when I visited Hank at the county jail I learned Harold hadn’t visited him since Hank and Megan’s divorce finalized in May.” With an extended sigh, Arnie chucked the stone skyward and watched it disturb the water’s calm surface.
“He sure looked washed out as he shuffled on and off the stage. I know he’s holed himself up in recent months, but I hoped he’d get better, not worse. I’ve not reached out to him as I probably should’ve, but I’m glad you’ve talked with him.”
Arnie gazed at the expanding ripples on the glistening creek’s surface. “Theo, I fear Harold’s never gonna get better. Even the doctors warned him that his tired ticker needs lots of rest and less stress. But what I am afraid of the most is that he’s convinced he failed Hank when he needed him most.”
The stone I fumbled with slid through my fingers and fell into the wet sand at my feet. “What can we do to help? He’s not been to church since he got out of the hospital either. Maybe Liddy and I should’ve made a better effort to visit him.”
“I’m not sure you and Liddy can do anything more except keep him in your prayers right now. Hal and Phillip keep a close eye on him and…” Arnie looked up with a partial smile. “You and I also know Maddie’s using her, well, her mother hen instincts to indulge Harold’s needs.”
I chuckled as I pictured the look on Maddie’s face sharing her hard-love quips meant to snap Harold out of his woebegone moods. “If Maddie’s struggling to nurse Harold back to health, how much good can we offer?”
“Of course, Harold did agree to take part today. Maybe getting around the town’s people and laughing again will help. I also think him seeing how Priestly Park turned out has helped too. Perhaps this Jubilee outing will galvanize his mental and physical recovery. If not…” Arnie went silent as he squatted at the water’s edge and stared at the far side of the sun-drenched creek. I squatted alongside and tossed another pebble to break his locked gaze.
Arnie flinched and looked at me. “I was thinking back on what you said about Harold’s sluggish appearance today. It made me wonder about his state of mind. When Hal and I first persuaded him to come, he seemed chipper enough and much more upbeat than he appeared today.”
“Do you think something happened in the last couple of days?”
“I don’t know Theo, but it wouldn’t hurt checking up on Harold before Hal or Phillip takes him home.”
“Before who’s going home?” A familiar deep voice reverberated behind us.
Arnie and I stood and stared at Harold’s weak smile directed at us.
Arnie stammered, “Didn’t hear you walk up, but we’re sure glad you decided to join us.” Arnie picked up a stone and flipped it toward Harold who instinctively snatched it out of the air.
I said as Harold matter-of-factly let the stone fall and brushed his hands off, “You sure must be proud of how the park turned out.”
Harold offered a tired grin. “Hal and Phillip made me feel very proud today. I just wish the community center could’ve been ready.” Harold paused. “So tell me, how have you been Theo? Haven’t seen hide nor hair of you lately.”
“Guess that’s my fault.” I concentrated on his face though his eyes focused on the ground. “I’ve not seen you around town either, but I should’ve visited you long ago.”
Harold mustered a forced grin, but his hesitant look revealed the truth. “Not a problem Theo. I haven’t felt too sociable lately either. How’s that book working out?”
“Mary’s delivering the manuscript to Cornerstone Monday. Barring any unforeseen issues, books should be off the presses and arrive well in advance of Larry’s advertised book launch shindig before Thanksgiving. I reckon you’d like to know how it turned out?”
Harold nodded with a curious shrug.
“I chose not to dodge the truth about Hank’s mistakes, but in the epilog, I added how our country has failed to adequately care for our veterans, especially those coping with underlying mental health symptoms of PTSD.”
Arnie added. “Theo’s done a masterful job based upon what little he’s allowed me to read. He treated all the victims in Jessie’s Story with the greatest respect.”
Harold’s dark eyes looked up. “I’ve got no doubt, Arnie.” He rested his right hand on my shoulder but turned toward Arnie. “Preacher, do you know what a banshee is?”
Arnie stared back, speechless.
Harold squeezed my shoulder as he asked me, “Do you?”
“Some kinda witch, I think, or something ominous like that,” I replied with one brow arched.
“I dreamt, or at least believe I dreamt, that a banshee visited me last night. She wore a dark, hooded cloak that covered her face and wailed three times from the foot of my bed, ‘Death awaits. Get ready.’” Harold looked right through me as he spoke. “It brought back memories of my grandpa’s tales about a banshee’s visit days before his father passed. Though my father dispelled my grandpa’s tale as hogwash, I can assure you that I awoke in a cold sweat this morning.”
Arnie asked, “Couldn’t you make out the face beneath the hood of the cape?”
“Not really, but she, and it was a woman, seemed familiar, but she never answered when I asked.”
“Did she say or do anything more in your dream?” I asked.
“No, but she pointed directly at me before she spoke her final warning and disappeared.”
“Harold, this sounds like nothing more than a nightmare,” I said as I patted his hand still clenching my shoulder moments before I sensed a slight wobble in his stance.
Harold wrinkled his face. “I just can’t shake the chill it gave me.”
“Let’s head back up before someone wonders what happened to us,” Arnie suggested as he took a position on the other side of Harold. We walked together back to the pavilion ready to steady Harold if needed.
Hal met us near the pavilion. “Dad, you feeling okay?”
Arnie laughed. “Hal, I think your dad’s just a bit tuckered out. You might want to run him home.”
Phillip ran up as Hal drove off with Harold in the passenger’s seat. “What’s up? Is dad okay?”
“He’s just tired,” I answered. “By the way, did he share with you anything about a dream he had last night?”
Phillip’s head swayed with a puzzled look. “No, but he seemed lost in deep thought during breakfast. What dream?”
“Just a dumb dream that caused him to lose some sleep. He’ll be fine after he gets some rest. I think today took a lot out of him.”
“You’re right, I’m sure.” Phillip laughed. “You missed the tug-of-war and egg toss. Zeb, Bubba, and Silas got Mister Simmons and Mister Scribner to join Hal’s team to take on my team with Pete, Jay, Jim, and Coach Priestly. I couldn’t believe it. Those old men whooped us! More importantly, you better find Miss Liddy and Miss Marie. They won the egg toss.”
Click the link to continue reading more of Testament, An Unexpected Return or the other two Shiloh Mystery Novels. Please take a moment to leave a review and share the story with your friends and family.
God bless, America! And, God bless, our love of small town traditions and heritage. T. M. Brown
Time crept. Minutes became hours. Every attempt to capture any semblance of actual sleep proved futile. Capitulation arrived shortly after four when I poured a cup of coffee and sat down in the living room.
The bulletin from last evening’s service bookmarked the passage Arnie referenced in his message, but my Bible soon rested open on my lap. I massaged my eyes and petitioned, “Okay Lord, what’re you trying to share with me?”
When I read one more time, “I have seen you in your sanctuary…” my thoughts went into overdrive. I lowered my Bible again, laid my glasses on top, and stared at the colorless shadows beyond the window.
Stumped, I placed my glasses back on my nose and shut my Bible. As the pages flopped together, the bulletin floated onto my lap. I slipped it inside the front cover just as the sound of a stifled yawn drew my attention.
Rubbing her eyes, Liddy mumbled, “How long have you been up?”
I got up from my recliner and pointed to the kitchen table. “Sit down, and I’ll pour you some coffee. Did I wake you?”
Liddy propped her chin on the palms of her hands. “Nooo… I rolled over to cuddle but found only your pillow. Anything wrong?”
I placed a cup of coffee in front of her, topped off my own and then sat across from her.
“No, nothing’s wrong. I couldn’t get rid of a dream that haunted me through the night, so I got up and read a bit. I hoped I might at least understand why I couldn’t dismiss it and fall back to sleep.”
Still groggy, she wrinkled her nose. “Hun, you’re just getting too stressed over this Jessie Masterson and John Priestly project of yours.”
“Just hold one sec. Let me show you something.” I fetched my Bible, opened it and pulled out the bulletin again to bookmark the passage, but my circled reminder, “Sanctuary,” caught my eye.
Liddy raised her head off her palm. “What’s the matter?”
“Hmm… you’re probably right. It’s just my imagination working overtime, I reckon.”
My lopsided grin lingered as I recalled why I wrote the reminder. “How would you feel ‘bout you and I looking into helping to restart Sanctuary?”
She pulled the bulletin from my grasp and carefully inspected it, and then inquired, “Do ya think Pete and the others would be interested? I mean, we literally couldn’t restart it on our own.”
“Of course not. I didn’t mean we’d lead it but offer support from behind the scenes. I bet Mary, Jeannie, and likely Phillip would be interested in the idea.”
Liddy fiddled with her cup in one hand, holding the bulletin in the other. “It actually could be a great idea. It’d serve as a remarkable legacy to Jessie. Not to mention, we could do it together.” Liddy grabbed my hands, kissed them, and looked back up with a confident smile. “Want some breakfast?”
“Yeah, but only toast for me. We’ve got Thanksgiving dinner at Harold’s to look forward to today.”
# # #
We left for Harold’s around one thirty. As we passed Adams Feed and Hardware, Liddy said, “Let’s not forget, we need to stop there. How about Saturday?”
“Absolutely. We’re going to need a bunch of new Christmas decorations this year anyway.”
Liddy craned her neck as we passed. “Hey! There’s the fresh load of Christmas trees still on the trailer too. Saturday… It’s a date.”
We followed Megan’s easy-to-read directions and turned onto River Road as we left town. A few minutes later we pulled in front of an impressive gated entrance.
“Well, I guess we’re here.”
I lowered my window and pushed the red call button on the speaker. A polite voice promptly responded, “One moment please.”
The black wrought iron gates crept open seconds later.
The oak-lined drive wound back and around to Harold’s two-story estate home complete with an oversized detached three-car garage. Harold’s secretary waited on the front steps as we exited our vehicle. She waved and greeted us with a warm smile.
Liddy and I walked hand-in-hand to the grand front entrance. “Megan… what a surprise,” I said with a slightly puzzled look.
Megan smiled and said, “Mister Phillips, good to see you again. This must be Missus Phillips.”
I glanced at Liddy’s surprised expression. “Liddy, this is Megan from Harold’s office. She’s the young lady who dropped off the directions that guided us here so precisely.”
Liddy offered her hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Megan. Your directions were most helpful. Thank you. Are you joining us today?”
Megan giggled beneath her hand, masking a coy smile. “Why yes ma’am. I live here.” She received Liddy’s hand and then declared matter-of-factly, “Harold’s my father-in-law.”
“Which Archer are you married to, if I may ask,” I said.
“Hank’s my husband. I believe you’ve met him.”
“Why yes. In fact, we’ve met all of Harold’s sons and can tell he’s quite proud of them all.”
We removed our coats in the foyer and admired the double stairwell leading upstairs from opposite sides of the expansive front entry. A wide hallway led into a massive great room with seating on each side of a floor to ceiling, stone open-hearth fireplace. Two sets of patio doors on either side provided access to the veranda. Panoramic window panes offered an unobstructed, breathtaking view of the manicured fenced yard, rolling hills, and distant meadows.
Megan broke the silence. “Beautiful, isn’t it? I just can’t get enough of it either.”
Liddy recovered from her open-mouth stare. “Is all this part of your family’s property? It’s absolutely breathtaking and beautiful, as is this house as well.”
Megan smiled with a rehearsed nod and pointed to two imposing tan suede leather sofas. “Please join me. Harold’s upstairs and will join us shortly. He asked me to keep you company.”
Liddy, a pro at small talk, put on her most polite, inquisitive smile. “Megan, excuse me, but I was just wondering if you and Hank have any children.”
Megan’s smile tensed. “No, ma’am. Not yet, but Hank and I expect to surprise Harold soon. We just celebrated our fourth anniversary, and hope to be in our own house that’ll include a nursery by the time we celebrate our next anniversary.”
I said, “I bet Harold will make a proud grandpa. There’s nothing like it.”
Megan wrung her folded hands, though her posture and tone appeared relaxed.
Liddy rescued Megan and asked about the new house.
Megan’s tentativeness eased as she spoke. “Hank and I plan to build on the property Harold set aside as our wedding gift.” She pointed out the picture window behind her. “You can’t see it well from here, but it’s just beyond those trees. It’s a beautiful piece of property with a view of Shiloh Creek, ideally suited to raise a family.”
I smiled and nodded.
“Mister Phillips, how many children do you have?”
“Please, Theo and Liddy.”
“Why thank you, Theo.” She turned to Liddy. “And, Liddy is such a pretty name. Is it short for Lydia?”
Liddy blushed as she nodded. “Yes, it is.”
Megan said, “Lydia’s one of my favorite names. In the Bible, Lydia was a strong and confident business women who helped launch a church.”
Liddy’s reddened cheeks grew as she smiled and sat an inch taller in her seat. She knew the story of Lydia from Philippi well and enjoyed the image of her namesake.
Liddy held up two fingers and said, “We have two wonderful grown sons, and they’ll be visiting Shiloh with their families for Christmas.”
“That’s wonderful. Bet you’re anxious and counting the days.” Megan sighed. “As for me, I was born and raised right here in good ol’ Shiloh. My mom and dad still live just outside of town. And since I don’t have any brothers or sisters, mom regularly harps about any news regarding the prospect of their first grandchild.”
Uncomfortable, awkward silence followed before I changed the subject. “I’m not sure if Harold said anything, but did you know I’m working on a story about Jessie Masterson? Since you were raised here, I’d love to talk about your experiences and memories related to Coach Masterson. I imagine he was at Shiloh High when you went there.”
Megan beamed with the mention of Jessie, but an exuberant laugh interrupted our conversation.
Harold looked down from the balcony rail. “Theo! Liddy! I see you’re enjoying the company of my charming and talented daughter-in-law.”
Liddy and I both rose to our feet as he approached. He shook my hand and gave Liddy a generous smile.
“Mista’ Harold, you and your guests, ‘bout ready?” said Harold’s matronly gray-haired African-American housekeeper. She stood patiently at the doorway leading onto the veranda wearing a traditional white broad collared maid’s uniform with a starched apron.
“Maddie, if you’re about ready out there, I reckon we’re ready.”
With a little huff, Maddie said, “Come on then. I’ve been waitin’ on you folks, Master Harold, and I’m sure these nice folks has been waitin’ on you.” She opened the door and pointed to a table all set for us.
Harold sat at the head of the table, and we sat across from Megan. A plump, partially-carved roasted turkey accompanied by butter beans, green beans, collards, mashed potatoes, a sweet potato casserole, dressing and both pumpkin and pecan pies covered the other end of the table.
Harold pulled a bottle of Chenin Blanc off the side cart behind him and popped the cork. He rotated the label for us to see.
I smiled. “Yes, looks like a nice wine choice, thank you, Harold,” and then he filled four crystal glasses and passed them to each of us.
I took a sip pretending to know a little about savoring wines. I offered a modest grin of approval. Liddy took a smaller sip and smiled politely towards our host before she placed the wine glass down and nonchalantly reached for her glass of tea.
“I’m glad y’all approve. Thought it’d be an appropriate complement to Maddie’s honey-basted turkey.” Harold extended his arms wide, drawing attention to Maddie as she prepared a plate for each of us.
As I waited for my plate to arrive, I said, “Harold, this is a nice treat, and the Lord certainly gave us a beautiful day to eat outside like this.” I then pointed to his immaculate lawn and gardens. “How do you find time to take care of all this? I’m jealous.”
Harold’s laughter filled the veranda. “I’m far too busy. We’ve got a regular crew that maintains the grounds around here for us. But Theo, it’s me who’s jealous. You’ve done wonders with the old Priestly home. It’s obvious, y’all don’t mind getting your hands dirty.”
Maddie laid a full plate in front of me, careful not to disturb the pan gravy that floated atop the cornbread dressing and mashed potatoes. “I hope you ladies and gentlemens are hungree.” She pointed at the far end of the table. “There’s plenty more but leave room for some pie, and I’ll be right back if ya needs me.”
Harold applauded. “Maddie, mm, mm…you’ve outdone yourself, once again. Thank you.”
Liddy said, “Yes. Thank you, Miss Maddie.” Maddie’s round cheeks blushed as she stepped away.
Throughout the meal, Harold directed the conversation and offered an endless history of the house and the property that had been passed down to him. He boasted about his family’s long history in Shiloh that began not long after the Civil War ended.
He looked at Megan with a twinkle in his eye. “And it looks like Hank and Megan will be the first of my sons to build their own home. I’ve little doubt that Megan’s ready to move into her own house after putting up with four men coming and going all the time.”
Megan‘s cheeks turned pink, but she continued to focus on the food in front of her.
After we finished eating, Maddie reappeared over each of our shoulders and set a white coffee carafe on the table. “Missus Phillips, would you like pum’kin or pee-kan or maybe a little of each with your coffee?”
Maddie served each of us with the same soft voice question. She wasted no time or motion as she efficiently tended to each of us. She then loaded each of our dirty plates along with the leftovers onto her wooden serving cart and rolled it away.
Between nibbles, Megan shared stories about serving as Harold’s administrative assistant. She left little doubt that she enjoyed the status of the position, and Harold glowed as Megan told stories about him.
At a point during the playful and respectful roasting from Megan, Harold pushed his chair out from the end of the table, grabbed his empty dessert plate in one hand and leaned toward me. “Theo, now you’ll see why I struggle with my weight.” A jolly laugh followed him to the other end of the table.
Megan’s stories continued as her eyes appeared to scold Harold.
“Ah come on Megan, it’s Thanksgiving. You know Maddie always serves me just a tiny piece anyway,” Harold said before he gobbled down a loaded forkful of pecan pie and tapped his belly. “Um, good. Don’t you agree, Theo?”
I looked at Liddy, leaned back in my chair and tapped my stomach. “As for me, if I ate another bite, I’d bust, not to mention Liddy will make me walk home.”
After our dessert plates disappeared, Harold stood. “Megan, why don’t you offer Liddy a tour of the house and the grounds while Theo and me take a drive around the property.”
Liddy smiled at Megan and nodded, then I looked at Harold and said, “Sounds great to me.”
Before Harold and I walked away, he said to Megan, “We’ll probably be a couple of hours. I’ve got my phone if you need to reach me.” Then he looked at me. “We’ll go in my truck if that’s okay with you?”
“Sure,” I said as I looked over my shoulder and saw Liddy and Megan disappear into the house. “Harold, you’ve got a great daughter-in-law.”
A slight grin appeared on Harold’s face. “If only you knew how exceptional she truly is. That boy of mine doesn’t deserve her. There’re times I wonder why she puts up with him. I hope they’ll settle down soon because I just couldn’t do what I do without her.”
Harold pushed his truck’s key fob as we approached the garage, and his black dually’s diesel engine roared to life. “Door’s unlocked. Hop in. You can just toss my satchel in the back somewhere.” Country music already filled the cab but thankfully more appealing to my ears than Hank’s taste.
I adjusted my seat and buckled up. “Harold, this is nice. I’m impressed.” I ran my hand over the personalized logo burnt into the chaparral leather that covered the center console.
“I put a lot of time in my truck. Being mayor and all the other stuff I’m involved with around town; I figured long ago that I might as well enjoy my ride, don’t you agree?” He maneuvered the huge dually onto the gravel road and drove us to what he referred to as the Pine Groves. When we arrived, we stretched our legs along the path that wound through the property.
Harold boasted about the work involved in the maintenance of a profitable harvest of timber. I admired the patience and persistence required to cultivate and harvest pine trees.
“Harold, clearly your family’s been a big part of this community, and you’ve well-established deep roots on this property and in town.”
“That’s true. The family still owns 500 acres, but going way back, we once owned two thousand of the most fertile acres that ever produced cotton and peanuts in these parts. There’s been an Archer on this land since General Sherman served as military governor of Georgia. Sadly, though, my great, great grandfather sold much of the property during some tough times that ravaged the plantation owners around here about 100 years ago. Although he did hold onto the most fertile acreage.”
“How did your family end up in Shiloh? It’s been my impression that your family’s always been here.”
Harold hesitated before continuing in a loud whisper. “Shh… we’ve Yankee roots. My family migrated from Pennsylvania. The story goes, not long after the war ended, my great, great, great grandfather heard about the abundance of fertile plantation land being auctioned off for taxes, so he sold his farm near Gettysburg, packed up and came here.”
The word “carpetbagger” crept into my mind, but I kept that thought to myself. “I imagine he bought the land for pennies on the dollar. Although much of the original land got sold off, I’m sure you’re still proud to one day pass your family’s land and heritage on to your sons.”
Small Southern towns go all out for Christmas, and little old Shiloh exemplifies that kind of Christmas Spirit tradition. Here are two video readings inspired by fun scenes in Sanctuary, A Legacy of Memories and the conclusion of Testament, An Unexpected Return.
Please enjoy and consider ordering any or all three of the Shiloh Mystery Novels as a holiday gift to a friend, family member, or yourself. These “all-audience” stories offer hours of memorable moments that will keep you wishing you could visit Shiloh for yourself.
2020 has proven to be a challenging year for all of us between the pandemic and politics. We all deserve an escape! So, order your copies today, in Kindle or paperback, and allow your imagination to travel to South Georgia along the Flint River and a short drive below Albany to little old Shiloh. Theo & Liddy will introduce you to some special friends of theirs eager to greet you and share gossip about their time-lost community.
To order your copies of the Shiloh Mystery novels visit the bookstore tab.