Picture Property of Elizabeth Harper
As I sit on the shoreline looking across Lake Purdy, I think, "the lake is only a mile across, but that one mile takes you to another world." It was a world of money, expectations and most of all lies.
I have lived here by the lake all my life. As a small child, I would sit and listen to the sounds of music and laughter as it floated across, occasionally a woman's laugh would be heard above all the others. I often wondered if that was my mother laughing. Of course, it was years later that I discovered it couldn't have been her, that secret was part of the lies.
I must have been four or five when I noticed the whispers. I lived with my dad, Solomon Newton Purdy, an attorney. His grandfather is who Lake Purdy is named after. The Purdy land is on one side of the Lake and on the other is the land of Silas Morton. At one time, Silas Morton's land was part of the Purdy land, it was given to my Uncle Morgan James Purdy by my grandfather when he died. Unfortunately, Uncle Morgan had a gambling problem and had to sell it to pay his debts. That's how Silas Morton's lived across the Lake from us. My dad still rants about how "if Morgan had just come to me, I would have helped him, I would have bought the land, it would still be ours!"
Uncle Morgan didn't really have a choice, Silas Morton owned his IOU's, he wanted the land, he needed a foot into the county to set up his club. The town of Purdy is right at the center of DeKalb County, surrounded by Jackson on one side and Marshall on the other with it's backside right up against the water. If you were to draw DeKalb, it would be in the shape of an ice cream cone. The main attraction though was, at that time, it didn't have any gambling and drinking restrictions. The club he built was a showplace, it sparkled like diamonds, he named it "The Tiger Lily". There was a restaurant, casino and club all rolled into one place.
A veranda circled the building so that a person could walk along and stop at the restaurant to eat, then afterwards go dancing or gambling. Tables and chairs were placed near the veranda edge, which looked out over Lake Purdy. As you sat there you could hear the lapping of the water when a boat crossed the lake or a plop when a fish jumped up and fell back. It was called "Purdy's Wonder", at first.
My dad met my mom at college, he said she was "like a fresh sip of cool water. She soothed him and put out the fiery restlessness in his soul". My dad was a poet at heart. He always knew how to say the right phrase. My Aunt Polly use to say, "Yes, Solomon has the gift of glib". For years I thought she was paying him a compliment, at least until I could read and look up words in the dictionary. I remember dad use to say that Aunt Polly had no sense of style and was a practical person without any romance in her heart. Aunt Polly was my mom's older sister. For all of their bickering, they were truly fond of each other. After my mom left, she lived with us and took care of me as though I was her child.
It was the summer I turned five that she left. She and dad were the center of my world. She was beautiful and so full of life. I can remember certain music blaring out of the radio, she would grab me up and dance around the room, swirling me around and around till I would get so dizzy. She loved to dance! She and my dad were the best of friends, they had a special look between them, that at times made me feel as though I was an interloper, but only for a second, then they would pull me into their world.
It was a May morning, that she came running up the steps, rushing into the house, it was all she could do to contain her excitement as she yelled, "Solomon, Solomon the doctor says I am, can you believe it, I am."
My dad was sitting at the dining table having his second cup of coffee, reading the newspaper, he jumped up, spilling coffee out of the cup, his newspaper falling to the floor. Grabbing her, he swung her around, "Audrey, are you serious". He kissed her face, and then sat her down. "Did the doctor say when it would be here?"
Her face flushed with excitement, "October". They stood and looked at each other with their special look, then turned to me and pulled me into their arms.
When I was five, people didn't talk about being pregnant, so I'm trying to understand about "I am". Being a child though, I quickly focused on other things and promptly forgot about "I am". That is until one night in June. I was awakened by doors slamming and my dad yelling, "Henry, bring the car around quick, we've got to drive Audrey to the hospital now!"
I climbed sleepily out of bed to see what why all the noise and door slamming. Dad had mom in his arms, his clothes rumpled looking, and mom's face was pale as he rushed down the stairs to the front door. My Aunt Polly was staying with us to help with the "I am". She was behind them listening to his instructions to "stay with me, he would call as soon as he knew anything."
That night everything changed. It was three o'clock in the morning when I heard the phone ring, and then Aunt Polly began to cry. Three days later, mom came home, at least it was mom on the outside. She walked around listless or sat and stared out the window. Her sadness was so overwhelming, that Aunt Polly and dad started having their look. I can remember dad talking with Dr. Johnson over the phone "can you prescribe something to bring her out of this depression"?
After that, mom had to take a pill every morning and night. It helped, she stopped being so sad, but now she was fidgety and restless. She would pace through the house, only at night did she seem to stay in one spot as she stood by the lake shore, swaying to the music from The Tiger Lily. One night she convinced my dad to take her the mile across the lake. When they returned she bubbled on about "what a place, why did you want to come home so early, Solomon. I still wanted to dance, and I was winning. After all that has happened to me, you could see I was having a wonderful time, why wouldn't you stay and let me enjoy my first moment of happiness in such a long time?"
"Audrey, it's two o'clock in the morning and I've got to get up and go into work tomorrow morning. It's time to get some rest. You're worn out."
Mom started going to The Tiger Lily at all times of the day, sometimes not coming home until the next morning. The fights between my mom and dad, even Aunt Polly begged her to see what was happening. She wouldn't listen. Then one day, she didn't come home. At first, I thought she had moved to live at the club. I was heart broken that she didn't want me anymore. That's when the whispering began, and would stop when I came into the room. That's why when I would go down to the lake shoreline and listen for her boat, that I thought a woman's laugh was my mom's.
It wasn't until I entered high school that I found out the truth. In my History class, I was assigned a school project that required me to look at old newspapers. That's when I ran across the news stories of my mom's disappearance, how my dad and Aunt Polly became frantic when she failed to come home, calling in Sheriff Baker. When he went to the club, they assured him mom was fine when she had left the night before in her little boat. Lake Purdy was dragged for her body, but the only thing found was the boat with a hole knocked though the bottom.
It's twenty years later as I sit by the lake. It's something I do every night. Looking across the Lake, wondering what could have happened to my mom. This morning I received a letter from Bingham, Parks and Tatum. They wanted me to know that "Mrs. Audrey Purdy had died at the prison, would I please come by and pick up her few belongings, plus she had left her estate to me". I was stunned as I read the letter to Aunt Polly, whose eyesight had deteriorated till she was almost blind. Even more shocking was the fact that the prison was located in Jackson County. I told her I would travel the next morning and find out what I could.
As I sat by the lake, I realized it had been a very long day. It seems mom had become addicted to pills and since the doctor wouldn't keep prescribing them for her, she went to other places for them. She did any and everything to earn money so that she could continue to feed her addiction. The night she disappeared Silas Morton set her up as his mistress. He supplied her pills so that she would stay with him. He gloated over the fact that he had put one over on Solomon Purdy. But she got the last gloat, it seems they had made joint wills, he left her "The Tiger Lily" and the land, she had left everything she owned to me. One night he wouldn't supply her with pills, so in an addiction rage, she stabbed him. She had been serving the last ten years in prison for the killing. Not having access to the pills, she had rehabilitated herself and had been drug free for the last five years. But she was too embarrassed about what she had done that she wouldn't contact me, dad or Aunt Polly. I felt so sad, I would have forgiven her, and we would have welcomed her back. As I leaned back against a tree, looking across, I thought I heard music and the laugh of a woman.
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