At last. This is the kind of post that should have been here three years ago, when this whole thing got started! First, a word on the setting is in order.
The location is on the southern edge of Johnston County, North Carolina, about 40 miles southeast of Raleigh, the state capital. It's in the unincorporated community of Meadow, but the ZIP code is in Newton Grove, in bordering Sampson County. The Barefoot family (whose last name originally described peasants in England so poor they could not afford any kind of footwear) has lived on that property and in surrounding areas since at least the 1820s.
They stay there through all kinds of events, past, present, and future, until the "glorious appearance" of Jesus Christ that ushers in the "new Heaven" and "new Earth" spoken about in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 22:1). This is the world Christians eagerly await, one without war, pain, suffering, or death.
But there's a twist: The new world the Barefoot family now lives in is exactly the same as that of 1921. I chose that year because that was when the first North Carolina State Gospel Singing Convention took place in Benson. It's an event that symbolizes the small-town nature and religious fervor of the area. It was also the last decade when the United States as a whole had more people living in its rural areas than its urban ones. That way of life would be forever changed in subsequent decades by technology, migration to urban areas, and the need to participate in a larger global society.
Among other things, that means no electricity, no running water, and an urgent need to be self-reliant. More on that in the posts to come.
For now, I begin a four-part series developing the 13 characters who live in the Barefoot house. (As B.W. explains in the first episode, "who made 13 an unlucky number? After all, it's a baker's dozen and the number of colonies that started our great country.") I begin with the three oldest.
ALONZO ("Popeye"), age 58
Alonzo Hoyt Barefoot is the elder statesman of the family. His nickname came from his facial resemblance to the famous cartoon character and his love of the water. Popeye is known for his practicality, quick wit, and laidback approach to life.
When Buddy Wayne went through his turmoil after his parents separated, Popeye came in as his "father figure." Popeye took B.W. to his first NASCAR race, instilling in his "son" the love that eventually led to B.W.'s championship career. Popeye was paid back in spades with a lot of the money that B.W. won in NASCAR, which he used to save some of the family property from development.
Today, Popeye helps B.W. run his farm; his biggest job is to train the mules that are used to help plow and plant the land, and are also used in transportation to nearby homes and villages. He also plants the seeds and maintains the fruit orchards.
Popeye is also the family historian and the organizer of the Barefoot-Johnston County Family Reunion, popularly known as the "Handy Jam." It's a summer block party honoring John Hannah "Handy" Barefoot, who first bought the land on which the current extended family lives just after the American Civil War. Handy's descendants, wives, and close friends are all invited to attend. As many as 150 people have attended, representing the last six generations before Jesus Christ's return.
His hobbies include crossword puzzles, playing card and dice games (his favorites are contract bridge and bunco), and sailing on board his own boat, the Lillie Belle.
Avatar: Brack Maggard, co-owner of the #09 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team. This is based on a picture taken when he was a driver in the ARCA Racing Series. I then used Photoshop to get rid of the picture "noise."
GILLIE ANN ("Annie"), 46
Gillie Ann Beasley Barefoot, who everyone calls "Annie," is Alonzo's wife. Her original life ended when she was killed in a car crash while going to the convenience store to buy more cigarettes and beer. These addictions was especially unfortunate given that Annie was a former beauty queen and college student. However, Annie lost her job while the local textile mill closed and she had no other skills. (Of course, tobacco and textiles are traditionally the biggest industries in North Carolina, where the family is from originally.) Annie left three children at her death, and a huge hole in Popeye's life that B.W. would fill later.
Since this family was organized, her new passion has been to make everything beautiful, whether it's people (she preps Brandy for beauty pageants and operates an in-house spa), plants (she maintains the front yard full of wildflowers), or animals (Annie keeps lambs and fawns as pets).
Annie also founded the Barefoot Mommas' Club, in which she, Brenda, Jennifer, and guest wives from the extended family meet for activities that include quilting, knitting, and themed parties. She considers her biggest challenge to be teaching traditional skills to the new generation, especially her rambunctious daughter Hambone.
Avatar: Emily Barefoot, real estate agent with Ellis Barbour and Company in Dunn, NC
Brenda Gayle Raynor Barefoot lived a hardscrabble existence in Benson, NC, where she grew up. She dropped out of school in 10th grade and bounced from one job to another. A family friend, concerned about her constant mood swings and lack of attention, had her admitted to a hospital. There, Brenda was diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome, an intellectual disability caused by the failure of an "X" chromosome to develop fully. By this point, Brenda already had two children and was about to have a third. Tired of the antics of her husband Alfred (whose name B.W. never utters publicly, preferring instead "birth daddy"), she broke up with him; however, an official divorce did not occur. Although she was an admirable single mother, Popeye helped her with "father figure" obligations. Just before the Rapture, a court finally ruled a de facto divorce giving Brenda sole custody of B.W.
Brenda is the best cook, by far, in the house; although all the older females know how to cook, it's her recipes that make up the majority of the family dinners. Her signature dishes are Memphis-style ribs, peanut butter pie, and cake batter flavored ice cream. She organizes the washing and housework schedules for the whole complex, and is also a member of the Mommas' Club.
To unwind, she listens to gospel and country music on a hand-cranked record player.
Avatar: Kim Blitchington, former teacher at a Montessori school in Columbus, OH