Once the heir of the largest timber operation in Yancey, Mississippi, Ted Callahan has lost nearly everything; his wealth, his pride, and now his youngest son, Joshua. Born to his wife Mattie in the state mental hospital, the baby has disappeared into a system that has decided that her mental state and his drinking made them unfit parents. After Mattie dies while Ted is away at war, he devotes himself to finding his long-lost son.
Seven years later, Cliff Doe, who has only ever known the Mississippi Baptist Children’s Home, wonders often what it must be like to have a family. He pines for his forever home. One day, a well-off couple, the Baileys, show up looking like Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. They take him away to a new life in Jackson. When his adoptive father dies, Cliff finds himself the only son of a woman who never wanted him. The Forsaken and the Found is a novel about family, chosen and given, and ties that are often thicker than blood.
The Forsaken and the Found is a 92,000 word Southern family saga looking for a publisher.
“Good afternoon, Darlene,” Ted said, pausing at the foot of the steps.
“I see you’ve come back,” she said.
“It’s good to see you, too, sister.”
She shifted her weight, shook her head, and gazed out toward the cow pasture. “All right then. Come on up.”
He followed her into the house, into the kitchen where she poured two glasses of milk for them. He took the chair opposite her. There was nothing fancy about the house. She kept it neat. The furnishings were all catalog bought. Sears mainly. In addition to being righteous and godly, his sister was frugal. When the Depression hit, she did just fine. While all the farms around her went under, she kept plugging along. Holding on to every single dollar as if it were worth two hundred of them.
“God does work in mysterious ways,” she said, staring hard at him.
“Answered prayers don’t come out like you would think sometimes. I’ve been praying every night for your children, Ted, praying that they will be taken care of, looked after, given good Christian homes.”
“You and me, both.” He smiled, tipped his frothy milk her way as if it were a beer and chugged it down.
She did not offer a smile in return. “Every night I prayed that you and Mattie would never come back. And that these children could finally surpass the bounds of their parents. It would be the best thing ever to happen to them.”
The hair on his neck bristled. “Now, Darlene.”
She raised an eyebrow as if to ask if he really thought she was wrong. And maybe she wasn’t wrong. He’d had that very thought himself after all. But who was she to pray for his demise?
“I aim to provide for my own,” he declared. “They’re coming home. All of them.”
She shifted in her chair. She’d never married. No man was ever good enough for her, and she had inherited the Callahan stubbornness. “You got a job?”
“Not yet. I brought some money back from working up in Tennessee. It’ll be a start.”
“How much of that money have you already drank and gambled away?”
“Goddamn. That’s all you think of me?” He knew the answer to the question was yes. It had always been yes. She was the oldest child of Rise Callahan, but Ted was the first born son. From the moment their father had died of influenza and left the bulk of his holdings to Ted, she had resented him. As if he had done it himself. As if he wanted the responsibility of two thousand acres, a sawmill, and a thousand head of cattle for himself. She should be grateful that all he left her was the farmhouse and a dozen acres.
“Cursing the Lord’s name still I see.”
“It ain’t cursing if it’s the truth. God has damned it all, Darlene. Can’t you see that?” He glanced around the room. A copper pot simmered on the electric stove. Canisters, no doubt full of salt, sugar, flour, cornmeal, and rice as they were labeled, stood in a neat row on the counter. A portrait hung on the opposite wall of their mother, Amanda, who had died in childbirth along with the baby when they were children. He barely remembered her, but Darlene had been old enough to have fond memories of her.
“I see things differently than you, Ted. Always have.”
“Truer words were never spoken.” He took another sip of milk. “Look, Darlene. I’m not asking for my children back. Not now at least. I’ve quit drinking. I’m going to get a job. Gonna make things right.”
“I’ve heard it all before.” She dabbed her lips with a cloth napkin. “How is this time going to be different?”
“I actually mean it this time,” he offered, and he knew as soon as he said the words that being that honest with her was a mistake.
“So you admit to lying to before. All those times when you slunk in here with the same sheepish look on your face as you’ve got now and declared for once and for all you were done with the bottle, done with the cards. You didn’t actually mean it then?”
“I thought I did,” he said. He pushed back from her pressed wood table and stood, turning his back on her. He couldn’t stand her sanctimonious eyes any longer.
“And you think you do now, too. I ask again, how is this time different?”
“You don’t know what it is to lose a family.” He walked over the sink and was taken aback at the headless body of a chicken lying warm and dead in its depths.
“You’ve got that right,” she said. “Better to never have had one than to be blessed with one and lose it like you two have. I’m afraid Hell has a special place for you and Mattie, Ted.”
“Mattie’s doing the best she can,” he said, jumping to his wife’s defense. “I ain’t the easiest person to live with.”
“Why that’s the most contrite thing I’ve ever heard you say.”
He turned to face her, to take better measure of her. If what he said was the most contrite thing, what she said may have been the kindest. But her lips were pursed, back straight, fingers laced around the base of the milk glass. “It’s just the truth,” he offered.