- Katherine Dudley Hoehn
My writing mentor, Richard, finally got through to me. I needed to remove sections of my book draft that were out of sync with the point of view and irrelevant to the story. He stressed that there was nothing wrong with them, but they didn’t belong in this historical fiction book.
I could still use the cuts, just not in this book. "This" implied that there might be another book. I cringed at the thought. It is too early in the process to think like that ... like asking a pregnant woman when she’d be ready for another baby.
Editing is hard. I thank the Lord that the first draft is behind me, but editing is harder. Paragraphs I created are now being Marie Kondoed into the recycle bin (Marie Kondo or KonMarie is the Japanese tidying expert). It's is a bit like cleaning out a closet of things I'm attached to.
The following short story is one of the outtakes from the book. It is based on a real person and a story her granddaughter relayed to me. "Mary" (not her real name; she is now in her 90’s) grew up down the street from Katherine, my great aunt, the protagonist of my book, Harry, my grandfather (also known as "Dr. Dudley"), and Alice, my grandmother. They all loved Mary and were often entertained by her antics. Mary was an accomplished pianist and Alice’s best student.
This story takes place in the mid 1940’s in Flemingsburg, Kentucky, a real town located east of Lexington and about 20 miles south of the Ohio River. It is the county seat of Fleming County, 350 square miles of mostly rural rolling hills and farmland. In 1940, the population of Fleming County was 13,327; in 2021 it was 15,224.
While this story is based on a story told to me, and true to the time, there is no way to substantiate the facts. So, much of it is as I imagine it might have been. The photographs following were taken recently, in Fleming County.
Dead Man in the Road
Katherine was returning home after a three-block walk to the pharmacy downtown. For most people, it was a quick walk. For her, having recently celebrated her 50th birthday and stricken with rheumatoid arthritis, it was tricky. She walked determinedly but with a crutch and a hobble.
She heard car horns and saw three cars stopped in the middle of Water Street, just past her house. What with gas rationing and tires being examined for excess wear, people avoided driving. It was rare to see two cars in the same block. Something must be going on.
Wondering what the trouble was, she passed Dudley House, crossed the alley, and saw a man, dressed in an unseasonably warm looking grey flannel suit, lying in the middle of the street. But on closer inspection, she saw that he had no head and was not actually a man; he was a suit stuffed with straw.
Peering from behind the hedges at the corner, she saw young Mary, Alice’s most promising piano student, with two of her neighborhood friends. “They stopped,” she heard Mary scream before the giggles began. Neighbors had begun to look out their windows and someone dragged the stuffed suit out of the road, easing the temporary congestion of what was now four cars. Katherine shook her head and laughed as she saw the girls run down the alley to avoid apprehension.
Once home, Katherine reported the incident to Alice. Katherine thought Mary was quite the spunky and courageous one, and obviously a ringleader. She was smart as a whip and seemed to enjoy coming for tea and cookies with two older ladies who loved and encouraged her.
Naturally, Katherine wouldn't be able to let on to Mary that she thought her antics humorous. She'd have to put on a stern face when Mary came by.
Later that day, Mary arrived for her lesson and explained to Alice and Katherine that she and her friends were “bored” and got the idea to stuff one of her father’s suits with straw and toss it into the road to see if any cars would stop.
At first, they had tried to toss it with a hat on, to disguise its lack of a head. But the hat caught the wind and sailed off, leaving just straw showing through the neck of the starched white shirt he wore beneath the suit jacket. “And we put the most splendid red tie on him, too,” she said.
This had apparently been prompted by an admonishment from her father for not looking before crossing the street. Mary had been told to be more careful because “cars may not stop for you.”
“Well cars do stop,” Mary said, “even if you have no head. Now we know the truth.”
“Mary, next time you are bored, please practice your piano lessons. You’re not likely to get into any trouble doing that,” Alice said.
"You must be careful about your reputation, dear," Katherine added. "It's most unladylike to be running around the street like that."
Hearing Mary in the living room, Harry came up from his dental offices below, rounding the corner just before Alice had a chance to close the pocket doors and begin Mary’s lesson. Both hands were behind his back, causing them all to look at him suspiciously.
“Mary’s here for her lesson, dear. Is there something you need?”
“I’m here to see Mary. After her antics this morning, which I heard about from two patients, I suspect she’s likely to be in trouble at home and this might help a little bit.” Harry held out his hands and revealed three little brown animals - a dog, a bear, and a horse. He had made them from alginate, a material he used for dental impressions.
“Thank you, Dr. Dudley,” Mary said, then looked at Alice to determine whether she could play with them or must begin the lesson.
“Those are adorable. You have a future as a toymaker if you get tired of dentistry,” Katherine said. “Now I think Alice wants to work with Mary so she can continue to be her star pupil.”
“Thank you both. Now we have work to do,” Alice said as she wound the metronome. Mary had a less than enthusiastic expression, but obediently sat down on the piano bench.
As Alice pulled the pocket doors together, the “tick-tock” of the timekeeper, then the sounds of the cheerful, syncopated melody and repetition of Albert Ellmenreich’s Spinning Song could be heard throughout the house.
From the dental chair in the office directly below the baby grand, Mrs. March recognized the tune and smiled. Her own daughter, Susan, who was now grown and a nurse in the Army Corps, had practiced that same song. When the music stopped and began again, Mrs. March said, “they always start again from the beginning when they make a mistake. I remember hearing that refrain over and over. Sometimes I carried it in my head all day.”
“You learn to tune it out,” Harry laughed. “I do enjoy having a parade of young people in the house again. It’s worth a bit of cacophony from time to time.”
Kentucky in the summertime