Her Stolen Life
by Essie Nail
My baby sister rides up the stairs giggling on big brother’s shoulders. Of course, we all knew that he was actually afraid to go upstairs alone at night. This memory lingers even after some seventy years. I still see my brother’s face the day he burst through the door after hearing this same baby sister had been shot. He started to scream in agony. Only later did he learn that it was another of our sisters. There was to be no consolation for the Halton family that day.
This is Alana’s story
Our mother did not like sending us to Ralph’s Corner Store. Randy, the owner’s grandson, was known for his rowdiness and being generally out of control. Frankly that’s why he lived with his grandfather rather than with his parents. We all called him black Randy behind his back. The nickname just kind of naturally evolved due to his dark brown skin and his love for trouble.
On this particular day, we were out of milk and a lot was going on. I was changing the baby and we were in the middle of house cleaning. My brothers were nowhere to be found. They were likely out running liquor for the local juke joint owner, Jazzy Ray. My sisters and I were all over the place. At the time, Alana was 10, Maddy 13, and Hattie only 5. Today, the only male in the house and he was still in diapers was baby brother Paul. I am Doris, a middle child, and I was 11.
“I hate doing this,” mama had said, “but Alana I need for you to run up to Ralph’s store and get some things.” Alana jumped at the chance to get away from house cleaning even for a little while. She left home in her usual playful mood. My sisters and I went on about our chores, playing as we worked.
Some things were common place in our neighborhood, the barking of dogs, yelling of kids, or adults gossiping on the front porch. That day the neighborhood seemed business as usual or should I say play as usual. It was not an odd occurrence to hear gunfire emanating from the street. On reflection, some days the neighborhood could be compared to the wild, wild west. Everyone seemed to have a handgun. My brothers were real sharp shooters, especially Harry. I have seen him shoot a snake from a tree without even aiming. Joe, my older brother had chased a rival for his girl’s affection by shooting up in the air laughing as the fellow jumped at each shot as if dancing. Tommy was tamer but still a good shot. In fact, we all knew about guns. Mama taught us how to handle guns as soon as we were old enough. We could break them down, clean them, and shoot. It was par for the course for that time period. Mama also taught us a healthy respect for proper use of weapons in the process.
It was April, 1938 when our whole world was rocked. We heard gunfire nearby and thought nothing of it. And then Ms. Margaret came running to our front door as Ms. Louise came up to the back. Both had tears streaming down their face and could hardly speak.
“Jennie, Jennie, someone just shot Alana,” Ms. Margaret finally cried out to Mama. She’s at Ralph’s Corner Store.” We were to learn the details much later.
Mama flew out of that door with a look on her face that I shall remember always. As she entered Ralph’s store, the sight she encountered choked her. She couldn’t breathe. Alana was lying on the floor in her own blood, so much blood. She looked up as mama cradled her in her arms. “I hurt Mama, I hurt”.
Someone wrapped Alana in a blanket and put her in Uncle Robert’s car. Mama, with a look of despair on her face did all she could to comfort her child on the ride to the emergency room. But, my sister died within minutes after she was rushed in. She had been shot in the chest by black Randy in his grandfather’s store.
Mama had barely made it back home when my brothers ran in. It was good that two police officers were in our back yard by this time. Joe had been told that our baby sister Hattie had been killed. His relief that it was not her was short lived. His scream of agony combined with my other two brothers is beyond description. The police officers rushed in upon hearing all the commotion and had to help restrain them. They talked with them man to man and helped to bring some much needed calm into the situation.
I was so grateful, I followed the policemen, unnoticed as they left the house and walked toward their car. One officer had said “this won’t go nowhere, it’s just another nigger shooting. Who cares if they kill each other off?”
“But she was just a little girl,” the other officer rebutted. “I have two girls of my own at home.”
The first officer responded with just, “yeah right, but these are just niggers.” I was glad to be invisible to these men. Any gratitude I felt evaporated. I stood there alone, weeping.
This is what we were told later about the shooting. Black Randy was showing off in front of his friends, if you could call them that. Nobody really liked this bully but hanger-ons liked the goodies he gave them from his granddad’s store. Anyway, this day he told his friends, “just wait, I am gon kill the next person who walks through that door. I mean it. They’re toast.” Only 12 years old himself, black Randy had earned his bad reputation. He had been kicked out of school at least 7 or 8 times in the past year for fighting and just being mean in general. His granddad kept a loaded shotgun under the counter. He held the gun up and bragged, “I am gon take this gun and shoot me a human pigeon.”
As Alana walked through the door, he pointed, aimed, and fired! The impact was so great, it carried her small body several feet. Blood splattered everywhere. The front of her little print dress was soaked; a dark red stain slowly spread, spilling more blood over onto the floor. The other boys had run out by the time mama arrived but they later told the story to a grand jury.
As Alana was laid to rest, the faces of our brothers showed disbelief. My sisters and I cried buckets and huddled together seeking to help one another. Mama was silent but her face and body language spoke volumes. The disbelief, grief, shock, and helplessness spoke louder than any words ever could.
As predicted by the police officer earlier, black Randy was not held on murder charges. It was ruled accidental death. His grandfather shipped him off to Pittsburgh to his parents. A few days after the funeral, the grandfather paid a visit our house. “I am so sorry for what my grandson did,” he commiserated. “Please let me know if there is anything I can do,” he continued as tears filled his eyes. We did not blame him for what Randy had done. Ralph’s Corner Store closed not long after.
Ironically, we later learned that black Randy too had been shot to death when he was only 16 years old. According to reports, neighbors had called the police after observing him outside waving a gun. When the officers approached him, he fired wildly. A gun battle resulted in black Randy’s demise. No one else was hurt.
Upon hearing of black Randy’s death, mama summed it up quite well. “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.” Our little Alana is at peace. Her story passes from one generation to the next. Our sister lives on.