|Here is another story told to me by the delightful Mrs. Inez Braswell during one of our several discussions as I gathered information to
write One Night of Madness. Her telling of this episode from her life literally made me laugh until I cried.
In fact, this is how Chapter 4, The Sheriff, began in all the early drafts of the book. I love this story, so it was with sadness that I cut it
during the book’s last major revision. Thus, I am happy to bring it back to life here. I hope you enjoy the story as much as I do.
~ Stokes McMillan
|“Pull over, Roy. I gotta pee,” came a voice from the backseat.
The words caused Roy Braswell to grip the steering wheel a fraction tighter as he glanced at his wife sitting to his right. Inez returned
his gaze with a glint of laughter in her hazel eyes. Roy’s eyebrows raised in a familiar look that said, “You handle it.”
Inez Braswell spoke over her shoulder at the woman sitting behind her. “Johnnie, we didn’t leave jail more’n thirty minutes ago.”
“Well, I cain’t help it,” Johnnie said emphatically. “I gotta go.”
Roy slowly shook his head. In resignation, he half-mumbled, “All right. Hang on; I’ll find some bushes.”
A half mile later, Roy eased the car off the road and stopped. Fifty feet to the right was a thick clump of salt bushes in front of a stand
of pine trees. Passing cars saw just another vehicle parked on the roadside. It had no extra lights, no siren, nor stenciled words
proclaiming “Sheriff, Attala County, Mississippi.” There was no indication that this four-door 1947 Ford that Roy and Inez had bought
two years ago was the County Sheriff’s official car. Since Attala County didn’t furnish its Sheriff with an automobile, occupants of the
office used their own vehicles.
Sheriff Roy Braswell stepped out of the car, an unlit cigar stump in his mouth. The sun glinted off his bald scalp as he donned a
Stetson hat. Taking his time, Roy walked around the rear of the vehicle. At the right rear door, he paused briefly to show that he was
the one controlling things, and then opened it. “Here you go, Johnnie. Hurry up now.” His tie fluttered in the breeze as he stood
behind the door.
A woman lifted her thick legs and scuffed leather shoes out onto the roadside grass and stood with an almost painful slowness. Her
blue cotton dress showed various stains associated with infants. Without a word, she walked through knee-high weeds to the bushes
and, with a brief look toward the Sheriff, disappeared behind the concealing vegetation.
Braswell closed the car door and leaned against it. He fished a small box from his pants pocket, slid open the cover, and took out a
wooden match. As a dirty old car flew by at full speed on its way south to Jackson, Braswell lifted up his left foot. He struck the match
on the bottom of the leather shoe and brought it up to his cigar, cupping the flame with his left hand. Two puffs of thick smoke floated
away on the wind.
He stood there for a moment relaxing with crossed arms when a crunching noise suddenly came from the distance. Looking toward
the bushes, he saw a flash of blue darting behind the trunk of a tree, heading deeper into the woods. Roy threw down the cigar and
sprinted toward the trees.
It didn’t take long to catch her. Johnnie was a housewife and mother in her thirties, not a runner. The Sheriff caught her from behind
and gently grasped her left arm. “Hold on there, Johnnie. You don’t have nowhere to go. Come on – let’s get you on back to the
car.” Roy escorted the woman back to his car and helped her into the back seat. A minute later, with his hat on the seat beside him
and a new, unlit cigar between his lips, he pulled the automobile back onto the road to continue the sixty-five mile drive from
Kosciusko to Jackson.
On this fall day in 1949, Roy and Inez were escorting Johnnie to the Mississippi State Insane Hospital at Whitfield, a few miles east of
Jackson. One of the duties of the Attala County Sheriff was to take “crazy people” to the asylum. If the soon-to-be patient was a
woman, his wife came along.
This wasn’t Johnnie’s first trip to Whitfield; she had suffered spells of temporary insanity for years. She’d have a baby and go
insane. Her family would bring her to the Sheriff, who would then house her in the Attala County Jail’s “crazy cell” until she could be
taken to Jackson. Once at Whitfield, Johnnie would spend a few weeks recovering and then return home as sane as anyone. Before
long, she’d have another baby and repeat the cycle.
Back in the car on the way to Jackson, twenty minutes later: “Roy, I gotta pee.”
The three argued for minutes about stopping again, but Johnnie finally convinced Roy and Inez that she was about to burst.
Once again, Roy parked on the side of the road; once again, Johnnie went behind some bushes. This time, however, Braswell didn’t
even get to reach in his pocket for matches before he saw a flash of blue running away. Roy caught her again, but this time he
skipped the gentleness. Grasping her wrist in mid-stride, he jerked her around and semi-dragged her back to the car. Sternly, he
pushed her into the back seat and slammed the door. Spewing dirt and grass, the car soon roared back onto the road heading
Miles later: “Roy, I have to go pee.”
A sudden blurt of laughter slipped from Inez, and she quickly covered her mouth. Eyes sparkling, she turned to her husband. Roy kept
looking straight ahead, but the hint of a smile showed. In a once-and-for-all tone, he answered, “Johnnie, just piss in your pants.”
Their next stop was the Whitfield asylum.