When the truth came out of R.E. Ludlow, it came quietly. There was no need for it to be loud, because it was explosive enough to shake a county hard in the middle of a shaking that was just about to come upon the whole world.
“I saw my mother's brothers, on more than one occasion, murder Black men in the streets of Big Loft, VA for some minor infraction. They were my uncles. I had to believe they were good men, and I was about the age that little Robert is now, so I blocked it all out, mentally, and kept it blocked until Melvin Trent spoke of a man like me murdering him in the street. I couldn't see myself doing that … and then I realized: I did see myself, so far as I resemble my mother's brothers, doing that.”
“Oh, Lord Jesus, help,” Mrs. Ludlow said. “I understand why you blocked that out as a little child – what choice did you have? The trauma of your loved ones committing murder in front of you – oh, Lord, help!”
“My parents kept me away from my uncles after that, and my grandmother disowned them. That was all she could do in 1968; law enforcement did not care, and civil rights was delayed in Lofton County, which defied the changes until 1975. So I was formed in those last defiant days, and had to believe that half the people I knew were good while they were actually murderers.”
“Good people on both sides – oh, wait,” Mrs. Ludlow said.
“Exactly. That is what we were formed to believe – that traitors to this nation down to the murderers in our own family were good and honorable men, without spot or wrinkle. That obedience was demanded just as you see me command the obedience of our grandchildren … and once, I was such a sweet and compliant child with eagerness to please as these here. To think I nearly led them down the same path!”
“Well, Robert, reading our little Robert stories about his most famous uncle Robert is not exactly murdering men in the street in front of him … and, you can tell him whole story of Lee and the rest as little Robert, George, and the rest of ours grow and can understand it. No harm done yet.”
“Stopped from doing harm through God sending the Trents to be our neighbors … I had to believe they were less than … there had to be a reason for what I could not remember happening that let my uncles be right … until I got to know them, and that young man Melvin Trent showed me his full manhood … his strength, his youth, his pain in carrying a burden of fear and anger he should not have to carry at 21 … but then I remembered why he must carry it, and my part in it.”
Captain Ludlow suddenly clutched at his chest … but Mrs. Ludlow had his pill right there, and the spasm eased off.
“I've got to get it all out – I've carried it almost 53 years and it has nearly killed me!”
“I've got you, Robert, I've got you, and God has got you. This is no mistake; go on.”
“Four of my five murdering uncles are still alive, and murder has no statute of limitations. The Black people who remember might still feel intimidated … there is only one witness left who was right there and could handle the consequences.”
“In the middle of everything else upon me – upon us – yes!”
Mrs. Ludlow just held on to her husband for a long time, and then said, “A wise man once told me, 'Life is not without risk.' You know what you have to do, Robert. We have to figure out how, because your uncles were not alone in such murders, or in covering them up, and they might indeed have consequences to bring – but you know I'm with you, all the way.”
“I know you are. That's why I could remember it now. Safety … there is someone who loves me, who I can depend on, who will not insist that I stand on, ignore, forget, or perpetuate a lie. I didn't have that as a child. I do now.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too, Robert.”