Here’s a little background on the Stuckey’s Bridge Trilogy.
My childhood: I grew up in Meridian, Mississippi and heard the legend of Stuckey’s Bridge my whole life. It actually began in a book about the area written in the 1970s. The local paper, The Meridian Star, picked up on the legend from the book and the story spread like wildfire. The bridge instantly became THE place to party on the weekends, searching for ghosts and frightening girls into cuddling closer. (If you want to go there: head south out of Meridian on Interstate 59. Turn right at exit 142, then a quick left onto Meehan-Savoy Road. Travel 2.2 miles until you see a dirt road on your left. That is Stucky Bridge Road. The bridge will be about two miles down the dirt road. It is now closed, so you’ll have to turn around to leave. After you read the following legend, you may not want to go.)
The legend goes: In the late 1800s, a former member of the Dalton Gang came to Lauderdale County, Mississippi to find his fortune. He opened an inn near the Chunky River and stood on the old wooden bridge at night, flagging down merchants with his lantern, offering them a warm bed and a hot meal. Supposedly, he murdered his victims in their sleep and buried their bodies on the banks of the river. In 1901, the Virginia Bridge and Iron Company began rebuilding the old bridge and the bodies were discovered. The innkeeper, Old Man Stuckey as he is known to the locals, was hung by a posse from the iron rails of the new bridge.
If you know me, you know I couldn’t stop searching until I figured out who this Old Man Stuckey really was…that became the first book in the Stuckey’s Bridge Trilogy, THE LEGEND OF STUCKEY’S BRIDGE. (Check out the book trailer…creepy!)
While writing the story, I didn’t want Old Man Stuckey to be alone all the time, so I had him run across a young boy named Levi. In the story, young Levi took on a creepiness all his own, and I received tons of emails and messages asking what Levi’s past was. As usual with my overactive imagination, I was more interested in his future than his past, so I wrote STUCKEY’S LEGACY: THE LEGEND CONTINUES. At the end of that book, Levi “got his” and the story focused on the young woman he met during the story, Penelope Juzan.
Back to my childhood: There was a second legend around the area where I grew up. Supposedly there was an inn on Lake Juzan in the 1840s where an innkeeper murdered his guests for wealth, much like Old Man Stuckey. The man’s name was Pierre Juzan, and he dumped the bodies in the lake with the help of his Indian sidekick. Toward the end of the legend, one of them killed the other for the wealth of gold they had confiscated.
Side note: There were also a couple different accounts of trunks of confederate gold disappearing as they traveled through the area during the Civil War.
I thought all these stories had a similar thread, and I wondered if I could separate them.
Back to the trilogy: I came to the conclusion that these legends were indeed different stories, but thought they were probably connected in some way. Those crazy ideas in my head became the third book in the trilogy, STUCKEY’S GOLD: THE CURSE OF LAKE JUZAN.
These tales tickled me pink while writing them, and I hope you enjoy them too!
It’s been a while since I posted a snippet. The following is from my book Okatibbee Creek. The heroine of the story is my 3rd great grandmother. She barely survived the Civil War and typhoid running rampant through her family. In this scene, the war is over and disease has passed, she is older and having a discussion with the slave who raised her.
I look up and see Bertie slowly walking up the road toward daddy’s house. She’s wearing a dark blue dress and a floppy straw hat covering her eyes.
“Hi, Miss Bertie,” I yell to her as I wipe away my tears and put a smile on my face.
“Hi, baby girl.” She waves back.
“What brings you out on this lovely morning?” I ask when she finally reaches the porch and plops down on the step. She takes off her hat and reveals her gray hair tied in a bun. She sets her hat next to her and wipes beads of sweat off her forehead with her handkerchief.
“I was just on my way to your house to see the babies and to see how you are doing,” she says as she tucks her handkerchief back into her sleeve.
I can tell by her demeanor that there is something more on her mind, but I figure she will tell me when she is ready.
“Well, it’s nice to see you. We are all doing fine at home,” I reply.
“That’s good to hear, baby girl.”
“Bertie, I’m forty-one years old. How long are you going to call me baby girl?” I tease her.
She laughs. “You have been my baby girl since I came to your daddy’s house when you were six years old. You will always be my baby girl.”
“Aw, you know I love you, Miss Bertie.” I reach over and pat her bony hand.
“And I love you, too, baby girl. You know, you have always been the smartest and most beautiful of your momma’s children. And with everything you have been through, you have become the strongest and most courageous woman I have ever known.”
She pauses and looks out across the yard as her mind wanders to another time and place. After a moment she adds, “Your momma and daddy would be very proud of you, but it was a blessing they were not around to witness all the pain and loss we went through.” She pauses again and looks out across the yard. “You’re also a wonderful mother.”
I can tell she’s leading up to something.
“I don’t know what I would have done without you, Bertie. You helped me through so much.”
“I know what you went through, baby girl. I witnessed it all. I have seen you stand strong in the face of disaster and death and sickness and hunger. You have faced every adversity with courage and every defeat with dignity and grace. I’m very proud of you, more than you’ll ever know.”
My eyes well up with tears as I feel a mixture of being touched by her kind words, and trepidation that she is going somewhere awful with this talk.
“Bertie, your love has been one of the reasons I have been able to be strong and steadfast. Together, we have laughed and cried through so much,” I say as I stare straight ahead at the field.
Memories come flooding back, along with the sadness and the happiness. Rice, Daddy, Momma, Monroe Franklin. I shake the memories off and look back at Bertie.
“I have the feeling you weren’t headed all the way to my house just to tell me you’re proud of me.” I stop and wait for her to speak.
“Well, baby girl, like I said, you have always been the smartest of your momma’s children.” She takes a deep breath and exhales. I wait patiently as I watch her build up her courage. “Well, I have not been feeling very well lately and I saw the doctor. He said he can’t do much for me and I may not be around much longer. You know I have raised Tony as my own since his parents died of the fever. He’s only thirteen and not quite ready to face the world on his own just yet.” She looks away. I can tell she is trying to get through this speech without crying. Finally, she turns to me and looks me straight in the eye. “I want to ask you to take care of Tony when my time comes. I can rest easy if I know you will do that for me.”
“What? Bertie, of course I will take care of Tony. But I don’t want to hear anything about you being gone. We’ve been through too much together and everything finally seems to be turning around for the better.” I pause, wondering if that is really true. Is everything going to be all right?
I continue, “We’ve walked straight through the midst of hell and we are just now starting to find our way back.”
“I hope you’re right, baby girl, but we can’t control what the good Lord wants to do. We just have to handle it the best we can when it comes.”
I nod and quietly say, “Bertie, I will do whatever you need me to do.”
“I know you will, baby girl. I just thought it would be nice to ask.” She winks at me.
Using both arms to lift herself, Bertie slowly rises from the step. I stand up, too, and she gives me a long hug. She puts her hat on and carefully steps away from the porch, heading toward the dirt road. I yell “goodbye” to her and she waves her hand behind her head without turning around. She walks very, very slowly, favoring one leg more than the other, and I watch her until she shuffles out of sight.