The following transcript details three interviews conducted between May 16th and 18th, 1909, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Only excerpts pertinent to my father, SAMUEL HURD’s melancholic state are enclosed.
(Interview: LENA HURD, alone, in her parlor on Eighth Street.)
Q6: When did you first regard a change in your husband’s disposition?
That evening in Bayliss Park. We were walking hand-in-hand by the fountain. Spare me that look, son, long ago your parents were young and carefree. We came across your grandmother sitting alone on a bench knitting. I remember being touched by the sight of her there, so calm just days after Father’s [pause] ceremony. I looked behind me when I felt my hand pull back and found your father rigid, gaping, as if turned to stone by Medusa, yet still clutching my hand. I thought it a jest at first. I waited for him to say something amusing. It wasn’t until I stepped toward him that I noticed a tear falling from his jaw. Mother looked up then, saw our queer tableau. She thrust her knitting needles into a skein of yarn and plodded off—I presume back to the house. I coaxed Sam to a bench to get his bearings, then we walked home, and have never talked of it since.
Q1: Do you remember the encounter of which your wife speaks?
Clear as day.
Q2: Do you remember what upset you so?
SH: The sweater your grandmother was knitting that night reminded me. [He stares at his splayed left hand.]
Interviewer: I don’t understand.
SH: It was the same color red and the same knit as the blanket I wrapped him in. After. The coward that I am chose to stay with the body instead of facing your mother, your grandmother. Not when I knew I was responsible for his death. Just weeks after moving his family hundreds of miles. And your grandmother having all those young mouths to feed.
Interviewer: Respectfully, sir, the typhus took him. He drank bad water is all. Some tainted creek along the way, I expect.
SH: No one else fell, boy! Only men in our caravan. And it was my hand that done it. I’m sure of it. I was the cook. I’d just recovered from the fever myself. Didn’t think twice about making supper until after we’d arrived. A father and son fell soon after, the McDevitts, then your uncle Noah and your grandfather. We were lucky to only lose the one.
Interviewer: If what you say is true, Father, no one blames you for it.
SH: Your grandmother does. Starting that very night on the park bench. The poor woman was mourning her husband’s death in solitude and we come in prancing about like songbirds. Oh, the way she looked at me. As if I were Death himself coming to collect her.
(Interview: OLIVIA JAMES, in her side yard on Avenue D. She shucked corn throughout the interview.)
Q3: Do you remember an evening when Father and Mother happened upon you in Bayliss Park?
I always set [sic.] in the park after dinner, Acey. All of Council Bluffs has occasioned upon me there at one time or ‘nother.
Q4: This was just after Grandfather’s wake. You were knitting a sweater? Mother said it was the day she realized Father’s black mood.
OJ: Now, I do remember one time lookin’ up to see your father eyein’ me right good. He was wantin’ some time with your mother. I had jus’ set [sic.] down and had to get right back up so’s they could court without this old hen clucking about them.
Q5: Father said you gave him a queer look?
OJ: Oh, Acey, I’m sure as shellfish I did. Back then, I could only get away from that house once in a blue moon. It was prob’ly the first time I’d been by myself in weeks.
Q6: Did you notice any changes in Father’s mood after that night, Meemaw?
OJ: They were both so forlorn after Josiah passed. I was glad to see them at ease after an ungodly week of undertakers, corsets, and house guests. Your mother eventually stopped treatin’ me as if I were a crystal decanter, but Sam was never the same again.
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