Finding Edith Allen

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     The sleek silver Trailway’s Bus rolled slowly into the make shift bus station, came to a stop and released the air pressure from its brakes. It was a late night stop just outside Marion, Indiana, the only stop on a twelve hour a trip from Detroit to Union City, Tennessee. There was just enough time to refuel and change drivers. Most of the passengers were asleep.

     From her seat at the very back of the bus, Helen Scott watched sleepily as a new driver in a beige cotton uniform climbed into the bus lit only by blue-green florescent station lights that filtered into the bus windows. He slid behind the wheel, then opened his silver thermos and poured coffee into the cap. The aisle between the seats was cluttered with children’s toys, strollers, and bags that wouldn’t fit into the small carry on racks above the seats.

     Because Helen had been one of the last persons to purchase a ticket, she ended up sitting in the back of the bus with a small group of black passengers. This would be her first trip alone, and although she had just turned twenty-three and it was 1954, young women didn’t usually travel alone. She was a little nervous. As she tried to get comfortable against the side of the bus, she remembered her mother had told her to get some sleep as the bus traveled through the night.

     Before Helen nodded off again, she could feel the motion of the bus accelerate up the ramp to US 25 south and didn’t wake again until several hours later when the bus came to a stop just off the main street in downtown Union City.

     Helen’s eyes opened slowly to early morning light. The sun was low and cast shadows across the extra wide avenue that ran north and south through the small, sleepy town. Union City was the county seat of Obion County, tucked up in the northwest corner of the state. The early morning light made the town glow like a postcard, but not many people were out and about at 6:30am.

     She pulled herself together and gradually made her way down the aisle. As she approached the driver, he emptied the last bit of coffee from his silver thermos into the plastic cap and looked over his check list. Helen stopped to ask the driver if he knew where the restroom was in the station. She noticed an oval patch over his shirt pocket spelling the name: Bud

     Helen made her way into the tiny ticket office and read the sign above the restrooms: “Whites Only” Coming from Detroit, this kind of blatant racism was something she had only read about. After she’d washed her hands and fixed herself up in the bathroom, she felt better. She pushed open the door on her way out, and accidentally bumped into the cleaning woman who was pulling a mop and pail on small wheels. “Excuse me,” said Helen.

     “Yes Ma’am. Excuse me.”

     Union City was a small town surrounded mostly by farms that raised soybean, tobacco, corn and wheat. The early Scot and Irish settlers had come from the Carolinas and Virginia. Locals who didn’t farm worked at the Brown Shoe Factory, the Canvas Duck Decoy Company, or the new meat processing plant on the edge of Reelfoot Lake. The monument at the center of town was erected in 1869 and was dedicated to all the unknown Confederate soldiers who lost their lives in the war. The County Courthouse, built by the Public Works Administration, dominated the town architecture and the Capitol Theater, the Central School, and the Union City Armory eclipsed the small park.

     Across from the bus depot, Helen stopped and looked into the windows of Turner’s Dixie Gun Works, the largest supplier of antique guns and parts. She spotted a restaurant, Dewey’s, that was just opening for business. A young girl inside was pulling up the window shades. Several farmers were milling around out front, chewing the fat, and waiting for the door to open. I need a cup of coffee, Helen thought.

     Helen sat down on a stool at the dairy bar and rested her suitcase close her feet.

     “Morning, Miss. Coffee?”

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