Synopsis of Hiding Ezra - Historical Fiction
In the fall of 1918, Ezra Teague, a young farmer from southwest Virginia who has been drafted into the army, is only weeks into his basic training at Camp Lee, Virginia, when he receives word that his mother is dying. When he arrives home to say his goodbyes, his mother makes a dying request: that he stay and help the family. Ezra’s family is very poor and his father is bedridden from a stroke. With Ezra gone off to war and his mother gone, his sister Eva will be left to shoulder all the burdens alone. Ezra makes a promise to his mother. In a few weeks, when his leave is officially over, Ezra becomes AWOL, and the Army sends word through the local Sheriff that Ezra must return immediately or face harsh consequences.In a panic, Ezra goes on the run. The community is very divided on his actions, with many sympathetic and willing to help him and others calling him a coward. One member of the community is particularly concerned, and that is Alma Newton, a beautiful daughter of privilege in the community and longtime admirer of Ezra. She takes an active role in trying to save the man who stole her heart way back in elementary school.
Ezra Teague’s case is only one of many such cases for the military, as there were over 170,000 men, particularly minorities and poor whites, who were in the same position. Since this was long before the days of welfare, social security, disability insurance, or any of the myriad other government services available today to poor people, the massive call-up of men during World War I presented tremendous economic and practical challenges to families, even greater than those faced by today’s military families. The military had a real public relations problem on its hands with these large numbers of deserters, and it decides to send someone who knows the southwest Virginia area well, Lieutenant Andrew Nettles, down to look for Teague and several other deserters. They hoped that Nettles could persuade these men to surrender or capture them without bringing too much attention to himself or the issue of desertion.For a year and a half, Teague “hides in plain sight” within 40 miles of his home, in a cave in Scott County known as the Rock House, finding surreptitious ways to help his sister Eva, while neighbors help hide and feed him. At various times, Nettles or his emissaries get close but can’t capture him. Eva and Alma devise many ingenious little schemes, including disguises, to help them get supplies and information to Ezra.
To keep from losing his mind from anxiety, worry, and isolation, Ezra keeps a journal of his days, recording his observations about the natural world, local culture and history, the military, and he also undertakes an intensive study of the Bible. Spending most of his time outside eventually causes him to become ill with pneumonia and he’s taken in by a local preacher and his wife, who hide him in their barn all winter and nurse him back to health. When he finally recovers, he decides it’s time for him to surrender. Lt. Nettles captures Ezra before he can do so, and Alma rescues him in a daring move. Alma and Ezra finally declare their love for each other for the first time in the cave; each one now knows that their fates are entwined. Ezra is now more determined than ever for his long ordeal of being an outlaw to be over. He decides to go over to Wise County and hire himself out to a logging company so he can make some money before he surrenders. He realizes now that there’s a possibility that he could be in jail for a long time and if he can’t do anything else, at least he can help Eva financially.
Military authorities continue to struggle with what to do about the deserters. Unable to devote sufficient manpower to the hunt for so many AWOL soldiers, the military calls Lieutenant Nettles back to his duties at Camp Lee. But Nettles doesn’t give up so easily and uses an excuse to come visit his family, who are from Big Stone Gap, to look for Ezra one more time. Nettles has developed an admiration for Ezra—his cunning, his strength, his knowledge of basic survival—but even more surprising, he’s developed a crush on Eva, and she is beginning to return the feelings. So these two natural enemies begin to process the feelings of attraction they have for one another.
Ezra is eventually court martialed for his actions, with a surprising witness turning things his way. He does eventually find his way to a better life, but not before lots of good luck and lots of bad luck comes his way.