Annie Mae grew up a bit pampered by all her mother’s tenants that made it their job to look out for
her. Some may have had crushes on the young teenage girl, but most were rightly afraid of Bessie. She threatened each man
with hellfire and damnation when they moved into her place if the even thought about getting sweet on her daughter.
“Boy, I’ll cut you so bad, yo daddy will feel it. And you can forget about fathering any youngun’s.
Now pass me your dollar and breakfast is at 7.” Breakfast was pretty good at Bessie’s so most ignored the knife
she kept nearby. But they also kept their hands to themselves as far as Annie Mae was concerned. It also wasn’t a secret
that Annie Mae’s red hair and freckles came by way the the county sheriff. Not too many white men claimed their nigra
children, but those men working at the saw mill didn’t aim to find out if Walter was any different.
Of course, there was always one person that bucked the trend, which is how generations are made. This boy
Frank McLemore had heard all the rumors about how scary Bessie could be and how the sheriff could be Annie Mae’s father.
But he seemed to be irresistibly drawn to the girl. He snuck away from work at every opportunity to take Annie Mae on picnics.
Everyone at the mill knew what was happening, but nobody said anything to Bessie. They were waiting to see what whould happen
when she found out. Plus, no one wanted to be punished for telling her bad news.
However, Bessie already knew. She kept tabs on Annie Mae’s whereabouts as a result of what had happned
to her in the past. She had vowed, as had her mother and grandmother before her, that Annie Mae would Not be subject to a
white man’s whims unless she wanted to be. She had heard there were men in the area that would delight in making Annie
Mae their extra women in addition to the wife or girlfriend they already had. They had yet to approach her, but Bessie made
sure that Annie Mae’s true father Walter knew that Annie Mae was not for sale under any circumstances. Yet Annie Mae
was spoiled, and Bessie knew it. She followed her daugher on occasion to see what she was up to and she found out about Frank.
But she did not let her daughter know she knew. She simply stepped up her lectures on not dating until she found a husband.
“Don’t you be out there socializing with those saw mill workers. They’ll steal your womanhood
and leave on the next coach out of town. And can’t none of them keep a job. Why you think they here anyway? Most of
them been kicked out the last town they was in, sheriff’s probably already after’em…that ain’t the
kind of man you can marry. You need a man with a job that‘s gonna last longer than a month or two, a man that don’t
drink his paycheck away. And don‘t none of those men live near here!”
Annie Mae didn’t listen to Bessie, though. She hadn’t before she’d met Frank, and she
tuned out everything after she fell in love. She knew that her mother had been through some things, and felt sorry for her.
But she loved Frank, and her mother couldn’t stop her. She and Frank were planning on telling Bessie soon about their
relationship but were just waiting for the right time. So she pretended to listen to her mother’s speeches, but was
really just waiting for the time she could meet up with her lover again.
Finally, Frank came to Annie Mae and told her it was time for them to leave Wascom and the saw mill. He
told her that his time with the mill was done, and he was ready to seek his fortune in another city. What he didn’t
tell her was that he’d gotten in trouble with the mill managers and they wanted him to leave, or they sick the white
men on him.
“It’s time for us to tell your mother about us, and then get out of town. We’ll come
back after I make enough money to impress Bessie, and she won’t be mad at us anymore.” Annie Mae snorted as she
held Frank’s hand.
“That’s all nice for when we come back, but what about when we actually tell her we are going
away? She will be plenty mad then, and we may not make it out of town!”
The two went over the plan for several hours, and decided that the best way would be to get Bessie drunk
and then tell her. Annie Mae went home that afternoon and secretly packed her bag, then told her mother she was going fishing.
Bessie was busy getting dinner ready for the mill men and didn’t even look at Annie Mae on her way out. However, several
hours later, dinner had come and gone and Annie Mae hadn’t returned. Bessie was starting to wonder what her daughter
was up to. When another hour passed, Bessie knew what she was up to, and with whom. But she simply waited for the couple to
come to her. She figured that Annie Mae would try to slip in the house unnoticed and show up pregnant two months later. But
Bessie was almost right--it was Frank who slipped into the house to converse with her. And he brought a nice jug of liquor
and two glasses with him.
She eyed the glass in front of her with suspicion. What would make this boy bring a nice liquor like this
over here, when he knew she didn't like him? Bessie knew something was amiss, but decided to let the boy have his say. But
she still didn't pick up the glass.
"Now look here, McLemore! Just what kind of deviltry are you bringing 'round my house tonight?" Frank just
smiled and motioned to the glass on the table.
"No deviltry at all, Miss Bessie, just fine drink! Won't you have a glass with me?"
Bessie snorted and drilled Frank with her eyes.
"Boy, I asked you a question. Ain't nothing in that there glass gon' tell me what I want to know."
Frank's face blanched for a second before smoothing back into a lopsided smile once again. He felt it made
him look more innocent, but Bessie knew that too was a façade. The young man sat down, but stayed upright and attempted to
meet Bessie's harsh glare.
"Ma'am I just wanted to talk to you about Annie Mae. See, I--"
"Excuse yourself! You think you can just come up in my house any hour of the night? Like a pretty smile
and sweet words gon' get you whatever you want...WELL, IT AIN'T! Not in my house." Bessie sat back, satisfied by the cowed
look on Frank's face.
"Now. What's in this damn bottle?"
Frank found his smile again. "Ma,am, this is the best hooch my white man keep on his shelf!"
"Oh, so you STOLE it?!"
"No Ma,am!" Frank exclaimed, knowing he had.
"A liar and a thief; that's what Annie Mae brings home...Oh Lord!" Bessie gave a theatrical moan. She threw
the back of her hand across her forehead. Frank moved toward her as if to help and Bessie slapped at him.
"Don't touch me, boy. Just pour me one of those drinks. I feel a little weak."
Bessie sat back and watched young Frank pour the liquor into the glass. He did it expertly, spilling nary
a drop and slid the tumbler across the table. Frank in turn watched Bessie sip from the glass delicately, then smack her lips
in an exaggerated fashion.
"Good drink boy. Where'd you say you got it from?" Frank's smile came back. He was eager to answer to get
back into Miss Bessie's good graces.
"Oh, I got this from a white man I work for in town. I did a real good job for him this week and he gave
it to me. To celebrate, see, cuz I told him about me and Annie Mae."
Bessie interrupted him with an innocent wave of her hand, though Frank jumped back a little at the gesture.
"I ain't ask you all that. Just wanted to know where it came from." Bessie took another sip and peered
through the candlelight at the eager young man across from her. She studied his face and the emotions she saw there. Eagerness,
yes but she also saw hope. And determination. She raised her glass and emptied it.
"Pour me another, boy. And pour yourself one too. Don't make this beautiful woman drink alone. And while
you're at it, answer me a question. Where did you meet my Annie Mae?"
"I met her--your daughter--at the mill down yonder," Frank said, taking a sip of the sweet liquor himself.
Bessie tilted her glass until the amber liquid disappeared smoothly down her throat. Why, he looks downright confident, she
thought. She put her glass down and motioned to Frank for a refill.
"And what were you doing down yonder at the saw mill?"
Frank said, "Oh, I work there" and realized immediately what he'd done. He took another sip and his respect
for the formidable woman in front of him grew.
"So Frank, you know white men at the saw mill don't give away liquor to their employees. I reckon it's
illegal for ya'll to imbibe even. So stop lying to me, boy! Did you steal this bottle?"
Frank didn't bother to lie, and simply nodded his head in assent.
"So you're a liar and a thief! Just like I said, ain't that right? Don't' lie again boy, or I'll knock
you inta next week!" Bessie interjected when rank tried to please his case, so he just nodded again.
"I want you to say it out loud!"
Frank had now lost his smile completely, but repeated dutifully, "I am a liar and a thief." He then looked
Bessie straight in the eye and added, "But I would do that and more for your daughter Annie Mae."
The gall of this boy! Bessie thought. But again she saw the determination in his face and made up her mind.
She knew she wouldn't have a moment's peace with this boy bothering her all the time. How to get rid of him?
"Well, boy, you'se a liar and a thief to boot and as such, is liable to say anything. Can't say I believes
anything come out yo' mouth related to my Annie Mae." Bessie swallowed the last of her drink and grinned at Frank.
"So you just gonna have to prove yourself. Drink up boy!"
Bessie made Frank take several drinks to catch up to her, then match her every drink afterwards. They drank
till the bottle got low and Frank's eyes got lower. Bessie's eyes were dead red bloodshot. They also closed a lot. However,
she could still see the silhouette of her youngest child in the shadows. Bessie was pretty intoxicated, but she spotted the
knacksap at Annie Mae's feet. She switched her eyes to Frank, catching him sending Annie Mae a message over his shoulder.
Before he could turn back, Bessie lay her head down & closed her eyes. She let her words slur a little bit more than they
would have usually; she played drunk.
"Can't drink no more, boy. Go away now. We'll talk about Annie Mae more tomorrow." Bessie snorted, laid
her head down on the table and waved Frank away from the table.
Frank looked at Bessie and wondered how she had drunk as much as she had and stayed conscious. He had known
she was tough from the stories Annie Mae had told him, but he was still very impressed. He leaned over to Bessie and whispered
in her ear.
"Me and Annie Mae running away to get married, Miss Bessie. I loves her. I promise to take good care of
her, for sho." When Bessie didn't respond, Frank kissed her forehead--for he really did like her--and reached for the bottle
"Leave the bottle, Frank" Bessie said in her best drunk voice. But her hand was steady as she took the
bottle from Frank's hand. Frank burst into laughter at that, but left the bottle. He turned to Annie Mae waiting by the door,
and started to take his leave. Neither one saw the glass tumbling towards Frank's head.
On the road, Annie Mae tended to the back of Frank's head and wondered aloud how long Bessie would be mad
at them for running off.
"Oh, she won't be mad at all! I think she really likes me now. Did you see how she calls me Frank now instead
of 'boy'?" Annie Mae wasn't so sure.
"That's just what she wanted you to think, honey. That kind of thinking already got you a glass to the
back of the head."
Annie Mae turned out to be right. It was two more weeks before the newlyweds were allowed back home. Safely.