Lost in 1920

Ashlyn Howell, guest writer

The sound of slamming doors and shuffling feet jerked me out of sleep. Mom was home. There was no point in trying to go back to sleep now, so I threw the covers off and walked down the hall to my older brother Archie’s room. Well, it’s not much of a room—it’s the attic. I climbed the small ladder to his “room,” and sure enough he was awake too.

“Hey Annie. Did Mom wake you up?” He asked when he saw my head pop up from below the floor.

“Yeah. Was she out partying, or was it a riot this time?”

“I believe she was at a party tonight due to the stumbling downstairs. Don’t worry about it. Many ladies these days are spending their nights partying.”

“Yeah, women who can afford it! She gets to party all night and you have to sleep in the attic because of it.”

“You don’t need to be worrying about that. Sixteen-year-olds should have something else on their mind.” He winked at me and pulled me into his arms. Rolling my eyes, I hugged him and sighed, “I’m going to see Mom before she goes to bed.”

“Alright Annie. Love you.”

I slipped down the ladder and tiptoed down the creaky stairs. She was sitting at the dinner table with a cigarette in between her fingers. Her dress, cut off at the knee, showed more skin than I ever thought acceptable for public eyes. Her makeup defined her face making her glow with beauty. “Hey Mom, how was your party?” Startled, she looked up at me, subconsciously trying to push her short hair around her neck. That’s when I noticed a bruise on her neck. “Mom? What is that?”

Obviously seeing her efforts to hide her sin were thwarted, she said, “Honey, you know what that is. Don’t be so surprised. These are grown up things. You wouldn’t understand. Why are you awake? Go to bed!”

“Mom, I am sixteen! You need to stop acting like a child and then turning around and treating me like one!”

“Never speak to your mother like that again, young lady! Go to bed now or you will never see the light of day again!”

“What is all that racket?” Bellowed a deep voice from the back of the house.

Oh no. We woke Dad up. I could see the fear sweep across Mom’s face when she heard his voice.

“Annie Elliot, what are you doing awake? And Margret, why must you be loud every night? You two can never do anything right!” With his last words he lifted his hand above my mother’s face. Just before he could make contact with her face, Archie appeared out of no where and stepped in between them. “Dad, you know Mom can’t go to work tomorrow with a bruised-up face without raising question.”

With a grunt he lowered his hand and went back to bed. That was close.

Archie swung his arm around me and guided me back to my room. “You know they’re right,” I whispered. “I can’t do anything right. No guy is ever going to like me. I have oversized clothes and I’m a tomboy.”

“Hey now,” Archie said as looked at me in my eyes, “you’re perfect just the way you are.

I buried my face in his shoulder. It didn’t matter if my parents or anybody else believed in me because Archie did—that’s all that mattered.


I loved our walks to school. Archie’s friend Jesse—our neighbor—always joined us when he saw us walk out our door. Jesse and I always ganged up against Archie just to get under his skin, yet he still seemed to always out wit us somehow.

Today, instead of Jesse coming to meet us, Archie said, “Wait here Annie. I’m going to go get Jesse.”

“I’ll come with you,” I said suspiciously.

“No. Stay here. We will be right back.”

I could tell Jesse was trying to convince Archie of something. I picked up the newspaper on the lawn and sat down on the curb. A column was updating the progress of Babe Ruth. He had just been traded to the New York Yankees earlier this year.

I looked up from the paper and the boys were still deep in conversation. I rolled my eyes and continued reading the paper. The big story was about the “first game of [the] National Negro Baseball League” had been played last week (Historical). I wondered how long that was going to last, especially here in Birmingham.

“Stop reading that! We all know they shouldn’t be allowed to play,” Archie said as he ripped the paper from my hands and handed it to Jesse.

“It’s about time you guys finished talking. Let’s go,” I answered, ignoring his previous comment. The three of us walked to school in silence—the boys eyeing each other and sneaking glances at me the whole time. They were up to something. We were almost there when Jesse and Archie stopped walking. “What are you guys doing?”

“We have something to do today. Cover for us at school.”

“Tell me what you’re doing and maybe I will.”

Archie walked up to me and put his arm around my shoulders. “I promise I’ll tell you everything when we get home. I promise.”

I walked the rest of the way alone. When I got to school I explained to the teachers that Jesse and Archie were sick. Then I went to my desk and sat down.

“Oh my gosh Annie, must you always wear something that disgusting?” Betsy said. Betsy was the meanest girl in school.

“Look at mine,” she retorted, “it’s above the ankles. That’s the style now. But you wouldn’t know.”

I wish Archie would have come to school today. He would have stood up for me.

I marched outside to let off some steam. When I walked back in and everyone was staring at me.

My teacher approached me with concerned eyes. ” Annie honey, something has happened to your brother. You need to go to the station.” I felt my face turn ghostly white. I turned around and ran.

When I got there, Jesse was sitting on a bench by the front door; he stood up when he saw me. “Jesse! What happened? Where is Archie?”

“Annie look at me. Listen. I’m so sorry, Annie. Your brother and I are part of this group. The Ku Klux Klan. We do many dangerous tasks. This time, Archie got caught up in a fight and was shot a few times. I’m sorry Annie. I should never have made him go. He’s gone, Annie. He’s gone.”

My body began to shake, tears poured down my face. Jesse sat with me and held me. I don’t know how long we cried together outside the station, but it felt like an eternity.

The next few months I distanced myself from everyone. My parents didn’t seem to notice: no one did. Jesse is the only person who wouldn’t leave me alone. I avoided him at the funeral, at church and at school. He would stop by my house and I would let him knock on the door until he got tired and left. My dad hated my family, my only friend got my brother killed, and my mother was living the life at parties and riots for women’s rights. She was happy. Always with people who and knew what they wanted in life. Everything I didn’t have in life. Everything I wanted.


On my way home from school, I was balancing on the railroad tracks thinking about how I could get the life I desired. A life surrounded with people and purpose. Then it hit me. Literally, the train almost hit me. I jumped out of the way just in time. That near death experience gave me the plan I was looking for: I was going to run away.

I ran home and packed a bag: clothes, food, and a blanket. I hurried into Dad’s room, took his emergency money from his drawer—ten whole dollars. I stashed the money in my bag with my other supplies and headed to Mom’s room. I went into her closet and took a beautiful blackdress with fringes. I found a pair of silver heels to accent it.

I ran alongside the train and threw my bag in an empty car. I mustered all my strength and flung my body into it. I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t care. I was on my way to be a different, better person.

When the train stopped, it was dark. It was probably early morning. I jumped off and started walking. I learned I had arrived in Nashville, Tennessee. I found an empty alley and fell asleep against the wall.

The sound of shouting voices woke me from my uncomfortable sleep. Curious, I got up and asked the person nearest to me,”What’s going on?”

“Do you live under a rock? Many thanks to the ‘president of the National American Suffrage Association’—me, the19th Amendment was passed today. August 18, 1920, will go down in history!” replied the woman next to me (Great).

“Wow! Hey, I believe my mom worked with that organization!”

“Amazing! Well, then you should come celebrate with us tonight on your mom’s behalf. Here’s the address. Wear something nice. This is going to be the best party in the city!”

That night I walked up to the building that that address indicated. I pushed the door open and a wave of sound hit me. The smell of cigar smoke filled my nose.

“You came! My name isCarrie Chapman Catt. What’s yours?”


“I’m glad you’re here Annie! Let’s go mingle.”

From across the room, I noticed a man that had his eyes locked on me. With my new-found confidence, I walked over to where he stood.

“Hello. I’m Annie. Can I help you,” I sweetly asked, batting my eyelashes.

“Well hello Annie. I’m Roger. I’m sorry if I bothered you, but I could not help notice your beauty. Would you like to have a drink with me?”

I have never had a drink in my life! But he didn’t have to know that.

“Of course! Thank you.” It burned as it went down but I smiled to cover the pain. He ordered me another and another. We laughed and flirted for hours. The next thing I knew, he was leading me to a back room. He tossed me onto a bed and locked the door.


I woke to someone shaking my shoulders and screaming my name. My eyes opened enough to realize I was leaned against a trash can in an alley.

“Annie! Oh my! What happened to you?”

“Jesse? How did you find me?” I tried to stand up but pain shot through my body and I slumped back against the trash can.

“Oh no. Don’t try to stand. I’ve got you.” He sat with me and put his arms around me. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Why did you run Annie?”

I leaned into his chest and started crying. “No one loves me Jesse. The only person who ever loved me is dead. I ran away to be a new person and to find happiness. But I’ve learned that sadness just follows me wherever I go. Wherever I go, no one will love me.”

“Annie. Look at me.” He turned my chin so that I was looking straight into his eyes. “I love you. I always have. It may not be the same love that Archie had for you, but I love you and I always will.”

He kissed my forehead and helped me stand. I didn’t need to travel many miles or become someone I’m not to find the acceptance I was looking for. I threw my arms around Jesse and kissed him.

Grinning he said, “Let’s get you home, Annie. Where you belong.”


Works Cited

Great Events from History: The 20th Century, 1915-1923. Robert F. Gorman, ed. 2007. Print.

“Historical events in 1920.”On This Day. 22 March 2017.


History.com Staff. “New York Yankees Announce Purchase of Babe Ruth.”history.com. 2009.                A + E Networks. March 29, 2017.

History.org Staff. “Flappers.”U.S. History. 2017. April 5, 2017.

“The Remembrance of the KKK.”Khan Academy. 23 March 2017.