Image from vintage postcard “Itchy, Scratchy Romance in the Hay”
Lloyd Wright wasn’t the first boy Cassie Merrill had let go that far, just the one Ma caught her with. Right off, Ma sent Jep running for the preacher. Lloyd’s hateful old mama raged, swearing Cassie had trapped her boy and yelling she’d heard plenty about her “wild streak” long before Lloyd took up with her. No matter. They had to stay with her till they could do better. Resentful at the forced marriage, Lloyd and Cassie battled from the first with Mama Wright putting her two cents’ worth in every chance she got. After the baby’s birth, things settled down and Mama felt hopeful when she saw how Cassie doted on the baby girl. Then, just like a candle extinguished, she lost interest in the baby. Cassie’s raging hormones kicked in. Four months after Baby Neeley’s birth, Cassie dropped the her off with her own mother and took off with the first of many boyfriends. It was four years before she got back to see her little girl. Neeley grew up calling Grandma Merrill, “Ma.” Cassie was simply “Cassie”, a sporadic visitor who passed through from time to time and visited for a few days. Of course, Neeley knew Cassie was her real mother, but she had Ma. Her father wasn’t in her life.
Neeley’s days were full with chores, school, and working along beside Ma. She fed the chickens, gathered eggs, helped Ma in the garden, churned, and all the other things little girls growing up in the early nineteenth century did. She and Ma needed each other. In the evenings, Ma sat in her rocker and crocheted or did mending while Neeley played at her feet. Neeley could hem and crochet a few simple stitches by the time her ninth birthday rolled around. With her black hair and strikingly blue eyes, she looked nothing like Cassie. Ma hoped Cassie’s wildness had passed her over, too.
So far, Neeley was a docile, loving child, content to spend her time playing quietly or following Ma at work, nothing like her wild mama. Long before Cassie had reached her age, she was a trial. She’d climb on top of the house to tell a lie when she could’ve stood on the ground and told the truth. Ma couldn’t make Cassie stay in school and finally just gave up, hoping she’d at least learn enough housekeeping to be a decent wife. Though Cassie would grudgingly work along with Ma, the minute she turned her back the girl was gone. Cassie’s rages and temper made life a misery. By the time she was fourteen, she slipped out her window regularly to meet boys. Her mother initially felt some hope when Cassie seemed to be a loving mother until the day Cassie dropped Neeley off for a “few days” that turned out to be forever.