Luke Phillips, You Vex Me!

On the Phillips side I have tracked me, my dad, Hick, Frank, Oscar, and Luke.  Oh, Luke Phillips. Claiming to be born in 1808 in New York to people who were born in Connecticut, I find no evidence for his existence prior to 1850, when he shows up on the Federal Census AND when he bothers to marry Patience, the mother of his nine children.

By 1880, he’s taken up with Jane, a woman from England.

I can find no evidence of Luke before 1850. Not in Michigan. Not anywhere. I wonder if “Luke” is his real name. I wonder why he waited until all his kids were born before getting married (1860s).  And I wonder if he wasn’t who he said he was, who was he?

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26. The Cat that Said “Ma Ma”

The women who worked Dickerson heard the cat days before they saw it.  The noise sounded enough like a human voice, words in the distance, not quite made out. But the working girls had, if they had been on the street any length of time, learned to ignore voices not directed at them.

It was just safer that way.

But my god, can you imagine when the one of the noises the cat started to make was “ma ma”? Women who had children they hadn’t seen in weeks would gasp and shake. Girls who had come to miss their mothers so desperately would cry.

When the cat finally showed up and started to follow the women, for some it was a relief, when you could see the cat and see its open mouth and know the noise was coming from it, they thought it seemed cute and they called it “baby.”

For others, seeing it only made it worse, made it seem more unnatural, and they called it “demon.”

The police did not know about the cat, of course. So it’s hard to know if the disappearances really started after the cat appeared. Women along Dickerson Pike have a habit of disappearing.  Some go home. Some move on. And some just vanish.

The women contend that they are often preyed upon and that it’s ignored.  In the time the cat would follow them as they walked and waited for men in cars to stop, seventeen of them went missing in Nashville, six who worked Dickerson, meaning six who had heard the cat.

Every time a woman was arrested, she mentioned her missing friends.

If anything was being done about it, if they were even able to raise an alarm, they didn’t know.  A file was started, a detective was assigned. But he knew those women, he thought, and thought they’d probably just found something else to do with their time.

The women did what they could to keep each other safe, stood together, made sure every man who pulled over saw that someone else had seen his face.  And yet, one by one, over the course of the next three months, four more women disappeared.

With tensions running high, you can hardly blame the women who, when the cat showed up to follow her, grabbed it and tossed it into the street.  It was hit by a car, but managed to limp off.

Later that evening, she bent over to peer in a car window and saw the man in the car had a cast on his right wrist.  At first, she didn’t think anything of it.

“Wanna date?” she asked.

“Ma ma?” he grinned so wickedly at her.

“Excuse me?”

“Ma’am?” He smiled, like he was going to play it off like she misheard him.

“It was that damn cat,” she said later, “Or that damn cat was that dude. Either way, I didn’t get in that fucking car, believe me.”

Later, a different car, a different man, a different girl, still a right wrist in a cast.

“I’m looking for a place on Front Street.”

“There’s no Front Street, Mister.”

“I’ve visited a doctor on Front Street, before.”

“In Nashville?”

“It’s so easy to get lost when all the roads change names.”

“Shit, you’re creepy.  You go find Front Street on your own.”

What happened next is not the kind of thing any person wants to admit.  They killed the cat.  They killed the cat, put it in a garbage bag, and hid it in the basement of the Congress Inn, a motel they all were quite familiar with.

A week went by and no man with a cast in any car and no women went missing from Dickerson Pike.  Another week, another, and then another.

Then one night, they saw four police cars go by, lights flashing.  The cars stopped at the Congress Inn and a body was pulled out of the basement.  It was, of course, not the cat.  It was, of course, a man with his right wrist in a cast, badly decomposed.

Even still, weeks went by and no women disappeared.

Because weeks went by and no one claimed that body.  And finally, it was cremated.

The women didn’t know this, but they knew, soon enough, that almost-human voice, crying “Ma ma” in the dark.  And they knew, soon enough, that one of the would die.

One of them, a woman they called Krissy, said, “We should have hid that body better, put it some place where we could keep an eye on it, but no one else could find it.”

That was the problem, though, of course.  Where could they put a body that would remain unfound?  He knew.  He knew where to put them where no one could find them.  But they were not monsters.

“We have to put him someplace and then we have to keep folks away from there,” Krissy said.

“And how are we going to do that?  Who’s going to stay there and keep folks away?”

And Krissy said, “I will.”

The cat was captured again, eventually.  And killed, again.  And its body was brought, again, to the basement of the Congress Inn, along with bricks and mortar.

I have heard it both ways, that Krissy was dead by her own hand before they put her behind the wall, guaranteeing that she would not rest, because of her unholy death and I heard that she helped brick herself up from the inside. But that’s almost too much to think about.

I just know that, when you go into the basement of the Congress Inn, and you feel like the proportions are wrong, that the basement is smaller than it should be, that the voice you hear whispering in your ear, the tap on your shoulder that sends youscurrying back up stairs, they call that Krissy.

And I asked the woman who told this to me if she thought it was true. She looked away from me for a long time and then said, quietly, “I just hope that place never burns down.”

The Tennessee State Library and Archives

I spent the morning at the state library and archives trying to figure out where Elizabeth Bennett’s tavern was. No luck. But all of the people there were a hoot–from the guard who was telling me his philosophy on women and why you shouldn’t run around on your wife (it boiled down to “If you piss off your wife, who will take care of you when you’re sick?”) to the women who, one after another, tried to help me track down Bennett/Hensley/Hemsley/Durrard/Durratt/Durand.

What a nice bunch of folks.

Young Buck

I was on my way to the gas station when a beautiful six point buck leaped across Clarksville pike and then across Lloyd (so I got to see him twice) and he leaped like he was almost begging to be chased.

Even the truck coming the other way stopped to watch.

The Myth of the ‘Reasonable’ Discussion

I get tired of the dynamic of Kleinheider says something, I point out how stupid it is, he points out that I’ve pointed out how stupid it is, etc., etc., etc., but today he wrote something not so much stupid as nefarious.

And that’s this column which is, in essence, about how reasonable people can agree about certain facts about immigration, if only we got beyond our binary political thinking.

It’s pretty clever, actually, how it works. Tiny Pasture gets to set the terms–“On the flip side, conservatives tend to think that if progressives are amenable to something like guest worker programs or other fixes short of outright restriction, then it must be a backdoor ploy to throw open our nation to the world’s undesirables.” for instance–and, if you balk at the whole idea of calling any groups of people “undesirables,” balk at even setting the debate up in terms that treat groups of people like garbage, you’re being unreasonable, unwilling to compromise. You’ve proven yourself unworthy of participating in the discussion.

And think about how this idea that we should have ‘reasonable’ discussions about immigration basically rules out participation by the people most affected. If it’s you who’s about to be stripped of your mother, who is being sent back to a country she hasn’t lived in since she was three, you’re not going to feel very reasonable, very calm, and collected.  You’re just not going to have the right tone for a reasonable debate.

This idea that good people, if we would just be reasonable, can find some acceptable compromise is a way for us to abstract the wrong we do. We can take policies that destroy the lives of our neighbors and make the discussion somewhat theoretical so that we don’t have to face the real effects on our community members.

Calls for this kind of discussion are just ways of reinforcing the idea that our community is made of up of people capable of having “reasonable” discussions about immigration, and, if you can’t, maybe because it hits too close to home, then you aren’t really a part of the community and it’s not the community’s job to look out for you.

If you stand against treating immigrants like they’re outsiders who don’t belong in our community, then how can you possibly participate in a discussion like this, where the whole point is to establish that some folks don’t really deserve a say?

If that’s what “reasonable” is, then I’m happy to be unreasonable.