The Boy Under The Bed – Februrary 1940

The following is from the first of GrandmaN’s journals. This incident was something we had been told about years ago. It was a defining moment in her life and it changed her forever.

My Carolina Grandma - Drawing

Note from Drawing: In my shirt & overalls and straw hat ready for field work in late 1930’s – Working in the fields away back when wasn’t always fun but we had some good times when the work was done.

 The night was cold and rainy and the wind was blowing. We went to bed sort of early that night.

It was in February of 1940. I was in the eleventh grade in school. I had gotten up my work in school since I had last period study hall, so didn’t have any schoolwork to do at home.

I’m not sure at exactly what time we all retired for the night, but I had been asleep and woke up suddenly. I saw something dark by my bed but thought it was the quilts sliding off the bed and knew my young brother Jimmy must be cold since he was on the bed with me. He must have been almost 6, although it doesn’t seem like he was that old. My sister Fannie usually slept with me but this particular night was spending the night with a friend, Magalene.

So Jimmy was sleeping with me. There was a light burning low – a kerosene lamp – on a chest of drawers in my room. I was in a room right next to the one Mama, Daddy, Bill and Tommy were in. Tommy was about 3 or 4 months old. Bill must have been 7 or 8. He was sleeping on a cot and Tommy was on the bed with Mama and Daddy.

As I stated before I thought it was the quilts falling on my side of the bed, so I reached down to pull them up and someone moved and went under the bed.

My bed had iron spokes. I got off the bed and got down on my knees at the foot of the bed and when I looked under it I could tell someone was there.

I called Daddy – Mama stated later, in a “normal voice” – and told him someone was under my bed. He and Mama came in my room and Mama said “Pauline, you just think you saw something.” I said “no Mama, I’m sure someone is under my bed.” From as far back as I can remember, I have seen things at times that no one could see. That is what Mama thought had happened this night.

Anyway, when I insisted I knew what I was talking about Mama pulled the bed spread up from the bed that had fallen to the floor. When she looked under the bed she said “Jim, somebody is under there”.

Daddy had a 7 barrel shotgun in the corner by the chest of drawers in my room. He got it and got down on his knees at the foot of the bed and told the person if he didn’t come out he was going to shoot. There was no answer. So Daddy said “alright here goes” and he shot under the bed.

Mama had taken Jimmy off the bed.

There was no sound so Daddy didn’t know if he hit the person or not. There was only one shell in the gun. Daddy told Mama to look in a box in the chest of drawers and get him another shell but Mama couldn’t find the box.

I can’t believe even now that I went out of the house in the dark and went up to Miss Zula’s.

I put on my coat and took an iron fire poker we had and I ran down the road right through mud holes. It had rained a lot.

This was about 9:30 I believe. None of them had gone to bed at Miss Zula’s. She came to the door when I knocked. I was so out of breath I couldn’t speak at first. I went up and sort of propped up by the mantle over the fire-place. Miss Zula said “Pauline what in the world is wrong?” – when I finally could speak Mr. Zeno took his gun and Dick his nephew who was living with them, took a baseball bat and went up to our house. I stayed with Miss Zula.

As soon as I left the house to go to Miss Zula’s, Daddy went back in the room to put on his pants because he thought Miss Zula might come up there. He was sleeping in his “Long Johns”.

While he and Mama were in their room the person went back out the window that he had gotten in the house through.

So he was not there when Mr. Zeno and Dick got there.

We went up to Pa’s {I assume she means Grandpa} to spend the night. This happened on a Thursday Night. None of us went to school the next morning.

There was a black man working for Daddy that was living with someone in the house down the road. I think the Highsmiths owned that place at the time this boy broke in our house.

This black man had been in jail a few times for stealing so he was the one Daddy sort of suspected had broken in our house. When Mama looked under the bed she could see the persons feet and could tell he was barefooted. She could also tell it was a black person.

Daddy mentioned to the cops about this man who worked for him, so they went to the house checking and he was barefooted so they thought for sure it was him. They arrested him and I believe they kept him in the jail over night. They thought they really had the right person.

Well the next morning Aunt Audry went down to the other tenant house of Pa’s – some black folks lived there that helped Daddy and Uncle Mark in tobacco. Aunt Audry came running back to Pa’s house and was out of breath when she got there. These people told her that Mr Zeno went to his tenant house right across the road from them to get the boy who lived there to do some work for him that morning. His mother, Aunt Tilly, told Mr Zeno that Mose had been to the show the night before and fell on a board that had nails in it and hurt his knees so he was not able to work.

Mr Zeno told her to let him see him and when he looked at his knees he knew it was gun shot in his knees. But he didn’t let Mose know that he knew that. He just told him that he needed to go to a Dr. to get a lock-jaw treatment because of his knees having the pieces from the nails. Mr Zeno went around the corner and got Mr. Ernest to take them to town. Mr Zeno had walked up to Aunt Tilly’s. He told Mr Ernest what had happened the night before and said he was almost sure Mose was the one that was in our house.

They didn’t let on to Mose what they knew, but when they got to town they took him right on to the jail. He told the cops he had heard Daddy had money in the house I believe.

The black man still worked for Daddy some after this happened. I can’t remember his name but do remember what he looked like. He was a tall, slim man.

Sometime after this they say this man really did steal something. I believe it was chickens. Anyway, one day he was plowing for Daddy and saw the cops coming and he unhitched the mule from the plow and ran. I don’t remember if the cops caught him or not but do remember Daddy commenting on the fact that he did take time to unhitch the mule from the plow before he ran.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

I’m not sure just how long Mose stayed in the Greenville Jail before trial came up. I know it was somewhere about spring though because I remember I wore a silk Pink dress to court and had on a pink and brown waist length coat that matched the dress and also wore black sandals. A girlfriend of mine from school days, Lucille, who had married a Cox the year before this was in her car in front of the court-house. I went up to the car and spoke to her before I went in the court-house. She told me my dress was real pretty. I dreaded going in the court-house that day.

Daddy told the Lawyer to let him get on the stand first so I wouldn’t be quite so nervous about getting up there. The Lawyer defending Mose sure talked ugly to Daddy. The jailer had told Daddy there was nothing wrong with Moses’ mind that he acted as normal as anyone. Mose was 17 years old.

Well, when Daddy got on the stand the jailer had already testified to the fact that there was something wrong with Moses’ mind. Daddy told the Lawyer that when he talked to the jailer that he told him there was nothing wrong with his mind. The lawyer asked Daddy a few questions then he said, “Well Mr. Manning I bet he can’t talk as much as you can”. I thought that was real ugly of that Lawyer. What bothered me even more about this Lawyer was after the trial was over he saw me out in the hall and he came up to me and said “I sure am glad that boy didn’t harm you”. The way he was talking to Daddy it didn’t sound like he cared if he harmed me or not.

I was really nervous when I got on the stand. But Uncle Grover did make me feel a little better as I was walking to the stand. He came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder and said “don’t be afraid Pauline, that boy won’t ever bother you again”.

When I sat down in the chair the lawyer didn’t question me. The judge told me to tell in my own words what happened. That helped me a lot too. I told it as best I could. The judge asked me if Mose put his hands on me and I told him I honestly didn’t know because I was asleep and woke up and saw him stooping or bending over my bed. Since then it came to me that I believe I felt something cold. But I can’t be sure about that. But I honestly believe he must have put his cold hand on my face because I know something woke me up.

This night that Mose broke into our house made a nervous wreck out of me. Daddy put boards over the windows to the room we slept in and it helped some, but I would still wake up at night and it would feel like something pulling at my feet. I know that was nerves. I would have nightmares and wake up in a sweat in the cold weather. I had terrible dreams of people trying to harm me.

Up until this happened I could go out on the porch in the summertime to get me a drink of water from the pump after it got dark. After this happened, after it got dark I wouldn’t dare go out on the porch for anything.

To this day I am still afraid of every noise I hear at night. Time doesn’t take fear out of you when something like that happens to you. I have had a lot of people make fun of me because I am so scared. They say I should forget about it because it is in the past. Well I know things like that still happen today. So it is easier said than done when a person tells you that you should put it behind you and stop being afraid.

Mose was sentenced to 25 years in prison. We heard he broke out when he hadn’t been in prison so long but they caught him.

After this happened his family moved to Greenville. I hold no hard feelings toward his family. They couldn’t help what he did.

I imagine Mose suffered while he was in prison. But in a way I feel like I’ve been in prison too since this happened. Because my life has never been the same.

I’m not saying everything in my life has been bad. I’ve had a lot of good things happen to me. But I honestly believe this incident has made people more critical of my bad health. Because there have been so many times that I know I was sick that some people would remark that it was nothing wrong with me but nerves.

I’ll admit I’m nervous. But health problems can make you nervous. As for this thing about Mose breaking in the house, I’ll say I had a fear put in me that will probably never go away.

A person has to go through an ordeal like that to really understand the feeling.

More of My Carolina Grandma – Coming soon

Related Content:
She Walked in Beauty
Poetry and Drawings by My Carolina Grandma

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7 thoughts on “The Boy Under The Bed – Februrary 1940

    • I agree. There very well may be more to the story than what she wrote down. However, this is the southern US in the 40’s…and the boy was black. The courts in the US where (still are to some degree) heavily racist. I am curious though now and I want to see if I can find old transcripts of court records from the time.

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  1. Pingback: She Walked in Beauty | The Temenos Journal

    • I was always told this incident is what changed her. As I wrote in ‘She walks in Beauty’…she became Agoraphobic in later life…always suffered severe Panic Attacks as well as OCD. It’s a family trait that has been passed down. ALthough now it’s understood and treatable.

      I keep thinking how someone like my sister would be today if it had happened to her. She inherited some of those traits from Grandma, although on a much milder scale.

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      • I would think that your sister would be worse off. Thank God it didn’t. It’s one thing to have unfounded fears, but to have living proof that fears are justified must make matters much worse. 😦

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        • I never thought of it that way…you’re right though. I think it probably would have made it much more difficult for Grandma. Now we understand much more about mental illness…but we still have a long way to go.

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