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In her loneliness, Neeley was an easy mark. Aunt Lottie kept her close to home. Awkward about her imposing height and girth, she wasn’t surprised no one had come courting. In her feed-sack dresses and straight, chopped off hair, she’d never expected to be admired. Boys liked dainty little girls with curly hair and nice clothes. She felt like a work horse in a field of thoroughbreds. Saturday night, when she was allowed to attend a Holness Tent Revival with her cousins Louise and Bertha, she was embarrassed when a fellow kept staring at her. Her cheeks burned, and she looked away whenever they made eye contact, fearing he ‘d ridicule her, given the chance. Though she did nothing to encourage him, he found his way to her after meeting.
“Howdy, pretty girl. Can I walk you home?” He asked.
She answered without thinking. “No, sir. Aunt Lottie don’t allow me no callers. She’d tan my hide if I asked.”
“Now, how’s she gonna know? It’s a long, dark walk home. Ain’t you an’ these gals together? My buddies wants company, too. Who’s gonna know if we walk all of you gals home together? You shore ain’t gonna tell off on each other, are you?” Her cousins Bertha and Louise stood giggling at her side. Obviously, they were delighted by the offer. “How ’bout it, girls?”
The three girls held a giggling conference, deciding to give the boys a chance.
Neeley fell hard for Joey, agreeing to meet him the next night, and the next, and the next. He’d come to help with the harvest at his Uncle George’s farm. To hear him tell it, Uncle George was doing poorly, not likely to make it for long. He thought so much of Joe, he was gonna leave the place to him. Joe was gonna be well-set up. Him and Neeley could have a good life, if he was sure she loved him. He couldn’t marry no girl without her loving him. Neeley sure loved him.
Three months later, the curse had passed her by and Neeley needed a husband. Joe was long gone. There was no Uncle George, nor farm. When she told her cousins, they begged Neeley not to tell of their part in her story. They’d both escaped her fate. Lottie would have beaten them half to death if she found out what they’d been up to.
When her condition was obvious, Aunt Lottie took after her with a broom, maybe hoping she’d beat the baby out of her. When Uncle Jep got home and found Neeley brutalized, he threatened Lottie if he laid another hand on her and set off to see his friend and neighbor, Eddie. Eddie had a small daughter and needed a wife.