If you’ve read my earlier post, Grandma’s House – Gone But Not Forgotten, you may recall that I was reminiscing about my grandparents’ houses and all the rich memories I have of visiting and staying at their homes in eastern North Carolina when I was a boy. If you talk to my sister, she’ll tell you that some of those memories were a little blurry if not down-right made up from my overactive imagination, but suffice it to say we had a loving childhood with many hours spent with our grandparents on both sides of the family.
One thing’s for sure, however, a story our father told us recently about Grandma’s house won’t soon fade from either of our memories. We were in Littleton, NC, around a lunch table with my Dad, my sister and several of our cousins. We had gathered to take my Aunt Martha’s ashes up to the family grave site in Roanoke Rapids, NC, to bury her near her mom and dad’s graves and beside her twin sister who died very young. It had been years since most of us had seen each other so, around that lunch table we were all sharing our fond memories of our times together at Granddaddy and Grandmother Bryant’s house. Reminiscing about the house and what we loved about being there – like the foyer where I used to sleep on one of the sofas and listen for my Granddad coming home from his second shift security job late at night. We talked about the swing on the front porch where we kids spent hours swinging and singing and playing together. The dining room had a large table with a doily table cloth under a clear plastic cover (Grandma had doilies everywhere) where we ate many meals together as a family.
“Let me tell you kids a story about that house that you probably never heard,” said my Dad. He had our attention, but none of us could have imagined what he was about to say. “A young man I used to go hunting with murdered his sister-in-law, then shot and killed his father-in-law and wounded his wife and her younger sister in that very dining room.” We sat stunned as each of us, no doubt, tried to (or not to) picture the scene he described in our Grandparent’s dining room!
Intrigued by the story, I looked into the facts of the case after our trip and this is what I found: On November 10, 1945, Edward W. (Lump) Floyd, 39, had words with his wife’s older, unmarried sister, Rosa Lee Cook. Floyd had married one of the Cook sisters and was living in the house with his in-laws. (The house that my Granddaddy would later buy to raise his own family in.) Lump and his wife lived in the front bedroom of the house and after the argument he grabbed his .22 hunting rifle, walked into the dinning room and shot and killed Rosa Lee Cook and her father, Wade Cook, “while they were seated at the supper table in their home.” He also wounded his wife and her younger sister, who was also seated at the table. He was tried and found guilty of the murder of Wade Cook, his father-in-law and sent to the gas chamber, at Central Prison, in Raleigh, North Carolina, on October 25, 1946 – less than a year after the killings. His attorneys had appealed the verdict to the North Carolina Supreme Court on the grounds that Floyd was “mentally irresponsible” – Floyd had testified that he blacked out and did not remember the shootings. His attorneys noted that “two of his uncles had committed suicide and that one of his brothers had died in an insane asylum”. The court held, however, that “no error was found in the lower court’s sentence and that Floyd’s killings were intentional and without legal provocation.”
I don’t know why my father waited more than 50 years to tell us that story, but I can assure you my sister and I are glad he did. That house was already a little creepy for us. It was old and smelled like aging furniture and newspapers – the musty smell of collected years. On the wall in the front bedroom there was a picture of my Aunt Martha’s twin sister, Dorthy Jo Bryant – who died when she was about 2 years old. The photo was of her in her little coffin! As a young boy that was something I did not want to see but could not keep from looking at. Even today after all these years, I can still feel what that house felt like at night; the sounds of the clock chiming on the mantle; the creaking sounds of the storm door when opened and allowed to slam; the sounds of the chains on the front porch swing clanging together in the wind and the lonely “whine” of truck tires out on the two lane in front of the house. Inside, the smells from the kitchen would linger in the night, and the floor would creak as you walked through the house. I can remember getting up in the night to use the bathroom, located at the back of the house, and walking through that dining room in the dark, where unbeknownst to me, all that horror occurred.
When I think about the fond memories I have at my Granddaddy and Grandma Bryant’s house, I’m thankful that my Dad never told me and my sister about the day Lump Floyd got angry. It would have scared us to death.
The photo at the top was taken in front of my Granddaddy Bryant’s old house, near Roanoke Rapids, NC, on the day of our trip. The photo of the swing is not from that house, but was taken by my friend Tom Brennan – who lives in eastern North Carolina and often takes photos that transport me right back to my childhood memories of the area.