Mertice Mae Armstrong, or "Mert," as she affectionately became known later in life, was no ordinary woman. From the moment her mother's cheap pine casket was lowered into the blood-red clay ground of Geneva, Alabama, on a bone-chilling day in March of 1922, Mertice (pronounced like "Curtis") became a drifter and a quiet survivor. Cast off upon relatives by a weak and incompetent father, Mertice, only six years old at the time, and her eight siblings were tossed into the world--abandoned at their mother's gravesite. Thus begins a story of extraordinary sacrifice and loss, an epic novel of extreme faith and courage.
With less than a fifth grade education, divorced with two young boys, throughout the 1930s and '40s, the gentle and serene Mertice, an unlikely breadwinner, traipses through the South, ventures north, and migrates south again in search of work. Miraculously, she always finds it--in various cotton mills, nuclear power plants, factories, and restaurants. Although she never loses her sweet disposition, Mertice proves to be no mere powder puff. With rock-solid faith and an iron will, she and her boys live like nomads, moving constantly, at one point even living in a garage next to the restaurant in Miamisburg, Ohio, where Mertice car-hops, waits tables, and washes dishes. And, miraculously, both her boys, Lee Eudon ("Eudon") and Thomas Edward ("T.E.") Holland, grow up to become highly successful and prominent professionals.
Born in Esto, Florida, in 1932, Eudon lives in six different cities by the time he is fifteen years old. But his childhood in Enterprise, Alabama, is as sweet as watermelon savored on a hot July afternoon. It does not matter that he, T.E., and Mom live on the "wrong" side of teh tracks, separated literally from the wealthy white families by the railroad tracks upon which the train carries the town's cotton and peanut products across the country. T.E., the young genius, is a budding economist, and Eudon is a future football star. They share the same side of the tracks as the poor black families, and it makes no difference that they live in a two-room wooden structure owned by the Bama Cotton Mill. They have their radio, their country & western songs, their comic books, Martin's Drug Store, Mom's homemade biscuits, the Ritz ("Picture Show") Theater, and their hand-made toys. Dominating everything is the scent of fresh peanut butter mingling with the smell of cotton that constantly floats in the air.
On any given day, one can hear Eudon's famous sales jingle echoing throughout the streets of Enterprise as the young entrepeneur markets the Southern delicacies from a shoe box: "Fresh boiled peanuts, five cents a bag; fresh and fine, right of the vine. If you don't have a nickel, I can change a dime!" Later, Eudon's senses are awakened by football, and with the guidance of his first mentor, Ty Tyson, and later, his coaches, Waldo Matthews at Miamisburg High School and Paul Hoernemann at Heidelberg College, he is hooked for life. Yet, although he becomes a highly successful C.P.A./C.F.P. in Northville, Michigan, Eudon never completely leaves the South.
This is a novel based on fact. The story is true. Most of the characters, events, and places described are real. It is the story of the life of Mertice Mae (Armstrong) Holland and her sons, Lee Eudon Holland and Thomas Edward (“T.E.”) Holland, their struggles, their families, and the people who have influenced their lives. The historical and genealogical information regarding the Whitaker, Smith, Armstrong, Holland, and Wamble families is factual. Where necessary, those individuals written about have given their consent to have their stories told.
However, some of the characters, events, and scenes described are fictional, and in those cases, any resemblance to individuals living or dead is purely coincidental, accidental, or the result of faulty imagination.