Bayliss Park

Gentlemen—

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.

Respectfully,
Wallace Hurd

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

(Interview: LENA HURD, alone, in her parlor on Eighth Street.)

Q6: When did you first regard a change in your husband’s disposition?

Lena Hurd:
Leona JamesThat 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.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Samuel Hurd(Interview: SAMUEL HURD, same day, also quite alone. I began by reading his wife’s response to the question above.)

Q1: Do you remember the encounter of which your wife speaks?

Samuel Hurd:
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.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Don't be fooled by her humble expression. This woman is a troublemaker.

(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?

Olivia James:
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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19 thoughts on “Bayliss Park

  1. I really liked how you used the different interviews to tell this story. It reminds me of a stage play called Rashomon which does a similar thing. In it, the wife of a Samurai officer is assaulted and her husband killed by a roving bandit. Contradictory versions of what happened are reenacted at the trial by the bandit, the wife and the dead husband who speaks through a sorceress. Each version is true in its own way. I think you captured that same kind of unique storytelling in your piece and very much enjoyed reading it!

  2. Everything about this is great. I especially loved the photographs (as usual). This was very unusual. and I like this interview format. I might try something like this, if it’s okay with you. 🙂

  3. The approach you took is wonderful. The stories vivid and clear. The way that perspectives differed is a lesson we all need to keep in mind. Great job.

  4. First of all, I love the format you chose for this story. So creative and so clever! I also love the different perspectives and experiences that emerge as you go through the interviews. Well done! 🙂

  5. I love the history, the tone, the format, the pictures! Your pace and subtlety create an intriguing effect and really carry the story. This was amazingly creative and a great, great read.

    1. So glad to hear it wasn’t a snoozefest for you, Silver! I often worry that my fiction lacks energy. But inserting car chases and shoot outs into what I’m interested in just wouldn’t work!

      1. No, I think if you write with passion, even if it isn’t edge-of-your-seat drama, it’s compelling and interesting. At least, your writing is – and this piece definitely is. The energy just comes from somewhere else rather than spine tingling and car chases 🙂

  6. I thought you worked this piece really well, keeping the action so subtle, with all the tension residing in the characters’ psychology and mutual misunderstandings.

    1. Appreciate your feedback, Blake. I had Ian McEwan’s Atonement or Enduring Love in the back of my mind when I wrote it; so your comment makes me believe I at least scratched the surface of what he is so good at.

    1. Thanks for the enthusiasm, Jen! I went back and forth on keeping the pictures. Glad they brought depth to what I wrote. And those are the real Lena, Sam, Olivia. All relatives of mine. The story is made up though.

  7. The style of this piece, the interview format, is wonderfully original. It reads almost like a play with stage direction or a researcher with his notes, and allows you all these different POVs. Feel so bad for old Sam blaming himself! Hard to believe you shared so much in so few words. Well done, Nate!

    1. Thanks, Meg! I’m glad you caught the play/stage direction aspect; that’s what I wanted to showcase from the video prompt – the sense of narration. Yes, the interview format was great for POV, but limited the amount of description and setting I could offer. I was surprised to have to incorporate some feeling of place within the dialogue. Lesson learned.

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