I drifted in and out of sleep as strained voices rose and fell on the edge of my consciousness. The faint notion of bodies scuffling in the next room crept into my mind. I tried to bring myself fully awake, but did not have the will. I was in the top bunk and Lucinda was in the bottom one. Our bedroom in the small hundred year old, Early American-styled log cabin was on the creek side of the house and the window looked out across the way at Papa and Granny Bellar’s home next door, maybe 100 yards to the north on Monroe street in Charlestown, Indiana. Papa (he and Granny were no relation to us) had a farm he worked out on Highway 3 towards Otisco, growing corn and tobacco for the local markets, but lived in town. The year was 1968, and it must have been fall or winter.
Mommy burst into our room breathless, flipping on the lights, and allowing the door to swing around and clatter into the wall. Between chest heaves, she blurted out, “Get up kids, we’re leaving!” Her hairdo was a wreck. We scrambled out of bed rubbing our eyes and trying to get them to focus. Lucinda in her pink flannel nightie started to cry, and I in my Lone Ranger footie pajamas, snapped at the waist, started to worry. I was 5, Lucinda was 4, and Mommy was 21. I had been wetting the bed for a few months and could not get control of it. I’d wake up wet in the night, distressed, shuffle down the hall to Mommy and Daddy’s room, and crawl into bed with them. I once remember waking up from a dream where I was in a giant sink and the spider woman kept trying to turn on the fawcett and wash me down the drain while the Lone Ranger kept turning the water off to save me. Mommy and Daddy were always both gentle with me when I woke them up wet.
What could possibly be going on in the middle of the night? Our life was idyllic in the small Indiana town. Our daddy, Mousie, was short, stocky, and balding with a broad nose and a big happy grin. He tickled us and told us stories about scary red-eyed trolls in the basement under our room. We’d nearly faint with fear, but what delicious fun. While Mommy made supper in the kitchen, Lucinda and I would stand at the screen door every night waiting for him to come home from the Ford plant across the river in Louisville, where he drove a fork lift. Every set of car lights we saw coming down the road were exactly like his, exactly. We just knew the next car would pull into the driveway, and if not this one, then the next one for sure. The anticipation killed us. He would squat down on one knee and scoop us up into his arms, and we’d bury our faces in his prickly whiskers. I loved his heavy black lace-up work shoes, the white crew socks he wore, his white pocket tee-shirt with the maroon Pall Mall pack inside, and the blue Dickies he rolled up enough so the socks showed. He was Daddy. We didn’t know any different. We went by his last name, Hall.
Mommy told us to get on our car coats and hurry out into the kitchen. Mousie was sitting over in the living room chair where he watched the news and read the paper every night after supper. He and Mommy were having a fight. We’d never seen such a thing before. A bar counter separated the kitchen from the living room, and old black skillets and kettles hung over the bar helping to divide the space in two. Lucinda and I were both now balling. Mommy said Lucinda was going with her, and then to me said in a taunting tone, “Are you coming with us or staying with your dad?” I was speechless. What kind of question, what kind of choice, what kind of horror? I collapsed onto the kitchen floor in a pile of sobs. Lucinda clung to her leg.
Mommy helped me up, walked us out the side door, and across the crunching gravel driveway, to our 1956 copper and cream 4-door Chevy Bel-Air. She must have driven around town for a while, finally settling on the police department parking lot across from the town square as the safest spot for the night. I awoke to the tap-tap-tap of a police flashlight on the back seat window. I saw a policeman standing there, but was afraid to move or say anything. He kept tapping, Lucinda stirred, and then Mommy sat up in he front seat, tried to smooth out her hair, and rolled down the hand crank window lever to speak to the officer. He said something about how we couldn’t stay there, and Mommy fired up a cigarette, started up the car, and drove away. We never went home to Mousie again.
I don’t remember Rusty being with us when we left. Rusty was our half brother and was only 2 when all this happened. He must have stayed behind with his father, Mousie. That makes sense now. Mommy and Mousie divorced and a custody battle raged over Rusty. Lucinda and I adored him. Mousie’s family was powerful in our small town. His older brother, Clay, was the mayor of Charlestown, and his next oldest brother, Jim, was police chief. Mousie was a part time constable and his other brother, Ray, ran Hall Bros., which was an appliance store, auto repair shop, and Sinclair gas station. The family was connected. Who knows what sorts of shenanigans went on during the divorce and custody battle, but, apparently, the judge in the case had had enough and remanded Rusty to the custody of a foster home. We were devastated.
One weekend, Rusty had come to stay with Lucinda, Mommy and me in the back alley apartment at my Great Grandpa Jackson’s in Jeffersonville where we were living about 12 miles from Charlestown. We had barely gotten used to having our baby brother back home with us when Sunday night rolled around and it was time to take him back to the foster family. Rusty was scared and screaming and throwing a fit. Lucinda and I were threatening to kill the judge and the foster family and the police and the president and anyone else in authority who had failed to recognize the brutality of separating us. We all began to groan and wail as Mommy wiped the tears from her eyes and drove us along the road in hopeless resignation. When we arrived at the home of the foster family, Mommy stopped the car at the head of the driveway and rested her sad head on the steering wheel. We were hysterical. Rusty would not budge. Lucinda thrashed and squealed. I could not make her pain stop. I could not console Mommy. I could not reassure Rusty. I could not keep our family from being wrenched apart. It was monstrous. The foster couple came out on their porch to see what was all the commotion, but they kept their distance. I wanted to kill someone. I needed someone to die. I was dying inside. I thought my heart would fail me. No, no, no! I could not accept the reality of the situation. The frenzy got so out of hand that I nearly blacked out. The stress, the despair, I was out of options.
Mommy composed herself, got out of the car, opened the back door, and picked Rusty up and carried him toward the house where the foster couple and their now gawking children were waiting. I grabbed Lucinda’s hand and we held on together, shaking as we watched. Mommy’s shoulders heaved and Rusty squirmed in her arms as she walked, and then struggled to hand him over to the foster family. I have never seen such a display of strength in any human being. It was the only thing I could hang onto. That day, she was my hero.