Natalie “Nattie” Mariam Johnson Moreland AKA Natasha McMorales

A character sketch

Nattie’s mother, Ingrid, was the youngest of two kids. Her parents had a small farm on the eastern side of Johnson City, Tennessee. Her older brother, who worked the farm, never married. Ingrid was seven years younger than her brother. Ingrid was a very bright student, who loved to read, and so did very well in school during her younger years. Ingrid’s school success was a source of pride for her family so she was allowed to pursue her cultural and academic interests rather than the farm work her family gave their lives to. School continued to come easy to Ingrid through her adolescence, but on those occasions when more effort was demanded of her, she learned to use her natural beauty and charming personality to make do. After a successful freshman year at ETSU as a literature major, Ingrid began to struggle under the demands of her sophomore year. In the fall of her sophomore year Ingrid eloped with Nathan Johnson.

Nattie’s father, Nathan Johnson, was four years older than her mother. He was from Indiana, where he worked as a salesman for a company that made industrial lubricants. Nathan had several clients in Johnson City and met Ingrid while clubbing during a sales trip. Nathan’s father and uncle were all tradesmen and construction workers in the Chicago area. They, like Ingrid’s family, were proud of Nathan for being the first in the family to get a college education. For his part, Nathan was not a gifted student, but he did graduate with a degree in business and a number of fraternity contacts that opened the door for him to get his first sales job.

Sales was very lucrative for Nathan so for the first two years of their marriage Ingrid and Nathan had a fairy tale marriage. They could afford any luxury or indulgence they thought of, and they thought of many. After two years they had Natalie, who was an easy child to care for. Four years later they had Kevin, who was not as easy to control as Nattie. From a very early age Kevin demonstrated a creative approach to exploring the universe, which often got him in trouble or hurt. Kevin’s antics were encouraged by Nathan, who found them amusing, but Ingrid was ill-equipped to mother such a child. By the age of 6 Nattie was already assuming motherly responsibilities for her younger brother.

When Nattie was in the 6th grade her father went from being a functional alcoholic and great provider to being an unemployed drunk. On a sales trip in Indianapolis Nathan was involved in a traffic accident that took the life of a 6 year old girl who darted into the street from between two cars. Although he was not found guilty he stood trial because his blood-alcohol level was just barely within the legal limit. Even though Nattie was only twelve at the time she went with her mother to court and provided support for Ingrid during the trial. Nathan’s alcohol abuse escalated rapidly after that, resulting in the loss of his job and ultimately his family.

After the divorce Ingrid returned to Johnson City with her two kids. A few years later Ingrid married Lionel O’Brien, a widower with a successful law practice in Johnson City. Ingrid was not particularly religious, but as an avid reader she read all sorts of things to her children. Reading about St. Francis was Nattie’s favorite, but that came to an end due to Lionel’s anti-Catholic religious conservatism. To Nattie’s disappointment, Ingrid got rid of all traces of St. Francis to appease her new husband. The ease with which Ingrid could use her attractiveness to get whatever she wanted from men and the degree to which she was willing to set aside her own convictions to maintain and charm “her man” was, in Nattie’s mind, a compromise to her integrity. Nattie re-claimed all the St. Francis books and art, but the riff and disappointment between she and Ingrid grew.

Nattie, an excellent student and an accomplished high school soccer player, never considered herself to be as attractive as her mother. She was uncomfortable when she was told she looked like Kristin Bell. Her standard response was to say, “Yes, I look like I could be her sister.” It was a way to downgrade the compliment, which was how she responded to all compliments.

Nattie went to Freedom University in Kingsport, TN and towards the end of her sophomore year declared a psychology major. Again, her step father’s religious conservatism stepped in and persuaded Ingrid to tell Nattie that they would not financially support a college education in psychology. By this time Ingrid’s parents had sold their farm to a developer, making them extremely wealthy. Then they were killed in a car accident, making Ingrid extremely wealthy. In spite of having plenty of money for her daughter’s education Ingrid still traded her husband’s judgment for her own.

Nattie solved her education problem by getting hired to be a residence assistant, which would have covered her room and board but not her tuition. Unfortunately her plan did not work. While meeting her brother, Kevin, for dinner she noticed a can of Coors beer lying in clear view in his back seat. He was under aged so she put the beer in her back pack and forgot about it. When she returned to her dorm room she forgot that the beer was there, which was a violation of the school’s no alcohol policy. Her roommate, a senior nursing major, was about to sign a contract to go to the mission field as a nurse. The contract required a no alcohol pledge so the roommate decided that if she was ever going to try a beer, this was the time. Her inexperience with beer led her to try it warm and then to throw the warm beer away in the trash can in her room. The smell was noticed and in order to spare her roommate from jeopardizing her mission career, Nattie took the blame. She explained to her roommate that she’d just have to do a few hours of community service.

Instead of community service Nattie’s RA job was taken from her, making it financially impossible for her to return to school for her junior year. Instead of returning to school Nattie took a job as the receptionist at the Hiram Moreland Detective Agency in Bristol, TN. After a year there Hiram, her boss, noticed that for some reason Nattie was able to get more information talking to people in the waiting room than he was in the consultation room. Under his encouragement Nattie began the process of getting her Private Investigator’s License. During this time Hiram’s nephew, named Nathan like her father, came to work at the agency and began the process of getting his PI license too. When Nattie and Nathan began dating she put the pursuit of her license on hold to support Nathan as he pursued his. They were married a year later. It took another year for Nathan to pass all the tests, after several attempts. Nathan’s drinking progressed from social to problematic and when he got his second DUI he lost his license. In spite of still loving Nathan, Nattie was unwilling to watch him follow the same pattern she had watched her father follow so they divorced and she resumed her pursuit of a PI license.

When Hiram had heart difficulties he decided to retire and sells the Detective Agency to Nattie. Nattie hires her creative under-achieving brother, Kevin, to be her office manager. While she is in Nashville getting the license she needs to head her own agency Kevin renames her agency ‘The Natasha McMorales Detective Agency’ believing this will be a memorable name for marketing.

What happens next is covered in the first of 6 “Natasha McMorales Why Mysteries.” More are coming.

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