“Hey-Lean” Jackson had to tell someone what she’d seen. She just wasn’t sure anybody would believe her.
Hey-Lean Jackson knelt at the edge of the woods wondering what she should do. A car had just parked at the end of the dark dirt road. She watched in silence as a white man and woman emerged from the car, they walked to the back of it and pulled out an object about the size and shape of a large shoe box. Hey-Lean crouched down a little more as she watched the couple reach inside the trunk again and pull out what looked like a shovel and a gunny sack. She knew she’d better stay quiet and just wait.
Hey-Lean Jackson grew up in the little village of Norman, out along Sperryville Pike in Culpeper County, Virginia. She was the oldest of three children, ten years old and in the fifth grade. Hey-Lean didn’t have a lot of friends so she spent most of her time alone in the woods. She’d found a little meadow surrounded by thickets, just up the hill from where she lived. There, the grass was silky and cool, she could lie for hours daydreaming about her plans of growing up. Hey-Lean didn’t want to end up living with some white family and helping raise their kids like so many other colored girls did where she lived. Hey-Lean had plans, she wanted to be somebody, she had dreams of becoming a famous writer, a poet maybe. It was in the midst of one of her daydreams that she was awakened by the sound of an approaching car on the gravel road. By now the couple had wrapped the box in the gunny sack and they were making their way further into the woods, they passed almost directly over Hey-Lean but did not notice her, it was getting on near dust. Hey-Lean began to worry that it was close to supper time and her Grandmother would be calling for her to come to dinner soon.
The man took the shovel and began clearing off a spot under Hey-Lean’s favorite Weeping Willow tree, “They’re burying a baby, they’re burying a baby, I know it”. Hey-Lean started moving backwards out of the woods as quietly as she could, they were far enough away that they couldn’t hear her footsteps. Once she got to the road, she read the license plate of their car and then she ran. She ran as fast as she could down that road, her feet barely touching the ground. She arrived home excited and out of breath, bursting into the door. “Gran! Gran! Guess what I saw!”.
“Quiet girl, can’t you see we got company?” Hey-Lean hadn’t noticed Mrs. Jeffreys sitting at the kitchen table. What Hey-Lean had to say would be best kept in the family, she would have to wait. “Sit down and have your supper, whatever you think you need to say can wait”. Hey-Lean ate her dinner but she was bursting at the seams to tell her grandmother what she’d seen. After a while it was obvious Mrs. Jeffreys wasn’t going to leave before it was time for Hey-Lean to go to bed, so that’s what she did.
The next morning Hey-Lean jumped out of bed and ran down to tell her granny about the white people burying the baby in the woods. “Child, I don’t know if we should be getting involved in white folkses business”. Hey-Lean begged and pleaded until Gran agreed to call the police and report what she’d seen.
It wasn’t long before the police arrived, they arrived with an ambulance, firetrucks, a tractor and a backhoe. To Hey-Lean, it looked like every white person in the county had gathered at her house that morning. One of the officers approached Hey-Lean and asked her to show them where the body had been buried. Hey-Lean took them to the spot where she’d last seen the couple, but there was no grave. The men fanned out and began to search for freshly dug ground. At the same time another police car pulled up and Hey-Lean could see the couple being pulled out of the car in handcuffs, the woman was crying. The man sobbing and in shock cried, “I didn’t mean to kill it, it was an accident! You have to believe me, I didn’t mean to do it”. Hey-Lean had seen enough, she ran and hid behind the old willow tree, peering around it, yet hoping not to see.
Finally someone yelled out, “Over here!”. The backhoe was brought in and they began digging. Not long after, the make-shift casket was uncovered and taken out of the ground. Carefully, the firemen removed the sack, then they lay the box on the ground, several of them reaching to remove the top at the same time. As the casket lid came off, Hey-Lean heard several gasps escape from the lips of the workers. One of the firemen reached into the box and pulled out the remains, he pulled out the remains of a little puppy, with a portion of its skull crushed in. Hey-Lean later learned that the couple lived on the next road over and had brought the dog to the woods to bury it after the man had accidentally run over it in his driveway. They’d brought the dog to her woods to give it a decent burial. A sad ending to an even sadder story. Hey-Lean never told another sole about what transpired back then, until she told me today.