A Peace in Time
Herschel Waller's thirty-eight year career as a petroleum engineer included numerous positions in the States and in Norway and Egypt. Now retired, he is exploring his life-long interest in writing by authoring A Peace in Time, which is set in his native East Texas. Though this is his first novel, he has also written several short stories. He now lives with his wife in Fulshear, Texas, just west of Houston.
A Peace in Time
Sarah Bollinger, dead at only eighteen years of age, was laid to rest in the cold mud. A chilling light rain fell through the longleaf pine branches as the pallbearers removed the unadorned wooden casket from an ebony-colored wagon. The weeping women in dark gowns and bonnets and the stern men in ashen cloaks staring across the cemetery toward the plantation house created a tableau in black and gray. Normally filled with laughter, the house sat silent now, its eaves dripping with tears from heaven, its vitality sapped by the tragedy of Sarah's death.
"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust..." the minister recited monotonically as the coffin was lowered into the blackness of the deep, loamy hole.
The slaves watched in a small group from afar, some of them wiping their eyes with worn, leathery hands. Finally, the plaintive strains of an old prayer rose through the drooping tree branches toward the leaden sky, and it was over.
Overheated by the blazing East Texas sun, Granger Walker used the sleeve of his shirt to wipe the sweat pouring off his freckled forehead. Though he and his wife Teresa were accustomed to the heat, this summer of 2005 had been particularly brutal. The broken cement sidewalks around them generated waves of blasting heat like steaming griddles on a hot stove, and even the tall pines seemed to shrivel in the swelter.
"Over here. I think it's this way, but it's been a while since I was here last," he called to Teresa as he squinted in search of his great-grandfather's grave. Using his height to advantage, he peered over the tops of a row of cedar bushes in the direction of a distant magnolia tree.
Granger had visited Balfour Cemetery many times during his youth. The neat rectangular plots were almost all occupied now, most having been filled during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The tilted and fractured monuments reflected an earlier time, when miniature Parthenons and oversized lamenting angels embellished the final resting places of the affluent and simple gray slabs marked the graves of those of more modest means. Here Granger had learned about death as well as life; here he had absorbed family culture and traditions. He was rooted in this place.
"Oh, I found it." He waved at Teresa across five rows of monuments as he read the marker that rose only about two feet out of the clay-laced topsoil.
Francis Granger Lee
September 24, 1867
August 13, 1939
"Wow, the stone's a lot smaller than I remember. Guess things just look bigger when you're a kid."
"Okay, you found it. Let's go," Teresa blurted out as she adjusted her heavily tinted sunglasses and pressed a handkerchief against her tanned cheek. She felt the dampness in her dark curly hair and craned her neck toward the sound of her husband's voice. Despite standing on her toes, she couldn't see over the cedars. "Granger, where are you going? Hurry up. You'll blister in this sun." Then, after a moment, " Granger ! It's too hot to be out here." Her voice trailed off as she realized his attentions were elsewhere. Desperate for shade, she leaned up against a towering pine tree and rolled up her sleeves as far as she could.
In the distance, Granger was rattling on. "I was named after him, you know. He was a merchant here in Balfour for a long time. He married late in life...."
Teresa was thinking about the cool air conditioning back at the house and about where they might have dinner later. As she pondered the question of food and Granger rambled about his family tree, she noticed an old slab lying barely above ground level nearby. The badly cracked gray marble l