Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Screams

Julia Lee Pollock


It is a sunny day in September 1970, and I am in the seventh grade. At lunchtime I walk home like I often do, to fix myself some lunch. School is just across the back yard and through a field, and today the skies are clear and blue.

My mother is not at home but that’s no problem. I’m in the kitchen frying a hamburger, when I hear a strange noise, a howling, screeching type sound. What is it? My heart pounds – I think it is my cat – I think Thomasina has been hit by a car and I’m terrified to look. I cannot bear to see her dead. The howling and screeching sound continues, but it is muffled by the traffic on our busy downtown street in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee.

Soon I see Thomasina perched on the windowsill, and I wonder again about the sound. What was it? Relieved that my cat is okay, I walk next door to Flippo’s Service Station, my grandfather’s business, to see if my mother is there. Sometimes she keeps the station for my grandfather, “Bampy,” while he goes home for lunch.

Out in the middle of North Military Avenue, Mr. Honeycutt’s milk truck is parked catty-cornered and this is strange. I walk inside the gas station and see my mother propped up against the counter, covered in blood. I can see no skin on her head or face; it is literally slathered with blood. On the concrete floor beneath her feet lies a large puddle of fresh red blood.

She’s been hit by the milk truck, I think to myself. Her eyes are closed but she is not crying – she looks almost unconscious but I know she is awake because I see her eyelashes flutter. She looks like a wounded movie star in a faraway land, about to drift off to sleep. Even in her bloodied and altered state, there is glamour.

I stare at her and panic – my thoughts race and I vaguely recall men out in the parking lot rushing around doing something. She is standing alone and I wonder, How is she standing? What is holding her up? I just stand there fixated on her, and then I run away.

I run back behind the station to Mabel’s Beauty Shop and try to call my grandparents but they do not answer. I then decide to call my aunt, but the only telephone number I can recall at this point is our phone number from when we lived in Huntsville, Alabama, four years earlier.

I run back to school through the same blue skies and open field, not knowing I am in shock. I go into the restroom and no one is there. A girl comes in and I tell her to go get Rhonda, my best friend. The next thing I remember is our principal, Mr. Woneal Jones, taking me home and parking his car in front of the station at the scene of the crime. By then an ambulance has rushed my mother to the hospital.

My mother had around one hundred stitches in her head but she was going to live, the doctors said. William Wesley Goad had gone into the gas station while my grandfather was away. He’d asked for the restroom key and my mother had reached up to get it off the wall. When she’d turned back around, he was pointing a gun at her and telling her to open the safe, but she told him she didn’t know the combination. He then started hitting her over the head with his pistol, and she started screaming.

It was the sound of my mother’s screams that I had heard. While I was frying a hamburger and worrying about my cat, William Wesley Goad was slamming her head with a pistol, over and over.

When Goad began to pistol whip my mother, her screams alarmed him and made him hit her even harder. She then started kicking herself against his body to scoot herself into the wide open space of the asphalt out front, and he panicked. Her screams and her strength unnerved him and he fled.

It was Mr. Honeycutt, the milkman, who had helped my mother inside and propped her up like a Barbie doll against the counter inside the building. When he drove by and saw what was happening, he stopped his milk truck in the middle of the street and jumped out. A local man had also been driving by and gotten Goad’s license plate. The police caught him at Rockdale Hill, close to where he lived with his parents.

My mother recovered physically but she was always anxious after the attack. She stayed inside more and she had nightmares about Goad. Before she’d drift off to sleep at night, she’d see his face hovering above hers, holding a pistol that was about to slam into her head.

I saw it, too. It is indeed traumatic to witness your mother with her head and face drenched in red, standing over a puddle of blood that has already drained from her body. It is only now that I fully realize this was not a routine event at all, although at the time it snapped quickly back in place with the rest of my life.

We later found out Goad had been in my grandfather’s service station before, and he knew when my mother would be there alone. He knew she would turn and stand on her tiptoes to get the restroom key from the nail on the wall, and that when she turned back around to give it to him he’d be sticking a gun in her face. The whole thing was planned except for the screams.

The unanticipated screams changed the course of everything – they derailed Goad and saved my mother’s life. I can still hear them rattling around in my brain like a rickety old ride in a scary house, bouncing off spider webs and smiling skeletons.

You never know what you’ll do in certain situations, and screaming can get you killed. But a scream is a powerful thing that evokes fear and panic in even a criminal mind. No one wants to hear a full-fledged human scream directed straight at them because it is scary. Primitive terror, hurled into the recipient at hand.

I’ve heard there are two types of people in this world – those who flee and those who face the music. William Wesley Goad and I both fled on that September day in 1970, due to the echo of my mother’s screams.

All alone in his cell at Brushy Mountain, I’ll bet he stills hear them, too.


Note: My late mother, Patty Pollock, was William Wesley Goad’s first known victim. She died of a brain aneurysm in 1987, but her death was not related to the attack.

William Wesley Goad went on to rob and kill many other victims, and was at one time sentenced to Death Row at Riverbend Prison in Nashville.

Goad served in Vietnam, and upon his return, his behavior changed drastically. Due to a previously undiagnosed condition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, he later received a resentencing hearing, and is now sentenced for life at Brushy Mountain Prison.

I do not hate William Wesley Goad, nor do I excuse his behavior. Perhaps we will meet in Heaven someday; we have already met in Hell. – Julie Gillen

***

Julia Lee Pollock is a seventh grade English teacher in Columbia, Tennessee. She also writes feature stories for area newspapers, and she has just completed her first novel. In addition, she writes short stories and songs, and she is a member of ASCAP.

© Julia Lee Pollock

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012