November 13, 1937
It was cold out but fair that night as Arthur Jasper Heflin walked along Franklin Pike. Middle Tennessee wasn’t as suburban as it is now, a place of shopping malls and celebrity sightings at the Outback Steakhouse by the Cool Springs Galleria. It was quiet once you left the pools of light by roadhouses like The Lousy Duck. Then you were under the canopy of stars and in the country of night, where the November trees were dead claws rising from graves, the green that would come in March seeming a century away.
Heflin went by Jasper. He was a laborer and farmhand by occupation, married to a lively woman named Mamie Johnson.
At some point during his walk, headlights appeared. They swayed a bit as they came down the long, gentle hill toward him. He bowed his head to keep the glare out of his eyes. He tried to step a little further toward the fence running between the highway and farmland. But something was wrong. The car wasn’t quite on the road. The driver was perhaps sleepy or drunk.
Jasper was a little drunk himself. He decided not to worry about it. A man couldn’t go through life afraid of everything. There was not enough whiskey in the world to ease that kind of fear.
Jasper thought of his occasional boss, a man they called the Bull o’ the Woods. It was an ironic name if you saw the man at a distance. He was slender and not even 5’10”. But he had the presence of a 7-footer with shoulders wide enough to haul a calf. That was a fella who wasn’t afraid of much, thought Jasper.
He looked up. The headlights of the oncoming car grew until they swallowed him.
November 14, 1937
The litany of injuries was gruesome:
- Compound comminuted fracture of the right frontal bone & extensive injury to the brain (his skull had virtually exploded on the right side)
- Fracture of both bones of both lower legs
- Secondary shock — due to loss of blood
They formed a list of what a good 1930s American sedan of modest size could do to the human body in the wrong hands.
The wrong hands that night, according to a report in the Nashville Banner, belonged to Frank Allen of North First Street. The shattered body belonged to the former Arthur Jasper Heflin.
Heflin’s wife Mamie, that lively girl, was alone in the world.
But she still had her job. A crisp $3 a week, cooking and cleaning for Ms. Bertha, whose nerves were constantly shot. At least in part due to her marriage to Jasper’s off-again, on-again boss, The Bull o’ the Woods, Harry Brent Dalton.
Mamie knew that Harry–my great grandfather–would take good care of her.
The preceding is the first installment in a work of fiction based closely on real events. Some names have been changed to protect me from the wrath of elderly, distant relatives.
While many dates will be accurate and events will be described as they were recorded in various legal and personal documents as well as aging memories, I elected to fashion the connecting tissues myself to lend structure to the narrative.
Sources: Nashville Banner and The Tennessean via newspapers.com; a variety of archived Tennessee state civil records found via ancestry.com.