Daddy worked for a heavy equipment company. He was a used parts salesman, and his job was to go wherever heavy equipment was being used and abused, determine what part or parts had failed and then locate replacements. When I was three or four years old (yes, I have some very vivid memories from a very young age) one of our neighbors was explaining to me how the shrubs in her front yard were being destroyed by caterpillars. I had no idea what she was talking about; the only caterpillars I’d heard about were the ones my dad worked on and those things would flatten her shrubs, possibly her house too, and I told her so.
Since Daddy’s job involved going to where construction was occurring, we moved a few times. We were living in southern West Virginia in 1970. His sales territory then included mining operations through eastern and central West Virginia, and the areas of the West Virginia Turnpike that were under construction then. Also Interstate 64, I think. His territory was changed in early 1970 from West Virginia to strictly mining operations in eastern Kentucky and far southwest Virginia. We had to move, but my mom was working as secretary to the dean of students for a small, private and very exclusive girl’s school and wanted to finish out the academic year before leaving her job. I was in third grade and had already changed schools twice in first grade and twice in second, so she and I stayed in WVa while Daddy moved and started lookiing for a place for us to put our mobile home when we moved in June. Yes, one and all, I lived in a trailer in West Virginia. And not a doublewide; it was probably before the days of the doublewide.
Daddy located a great spot for us to rent in CG’s hometown. It was a relatively level lot in the very hilly town limits, owned by the widow Mrs. West. I don’t know much about the West family, just that they had been a prominent family in town until Mr. West passed away. They may have owned a funeral home; for some reason that resonates with me. Anyway, she lived in the house about the lot, with her daughter Martha, another daughter Mary, and Mary’s son Bradley. Daddy lived in a hotel in another town until we moved the trailer in June of 1970. By the time my mom and I arrived on the scene, he had become quite friendly with the Wests, probably a little too friendly for my mom’s comfort level. Once we were settled in, Daddy gave the Wests a key to our place, and we had a key to theirs. There was another family next door below us, also a prominent family in town in that the father was a popular business teacher at the high school. They had three children, a son and two daughters. One of the daughters was a year older than me; the other a year younger. They didn’t socialize with the Wests AT ALL and the girls were often curious about my comfort with the Wests. The little boy Bradley West was, maybe five years old at that time, and was a holy terror to everyone except me. I don’t know why. The Wests also had two very large, intimidating dogs. One was a German shepherd named Rex. (That’s important.)
So, I started school in the fall of 1970, fourth grade. CG and I were in the same class.
I can’t exactly remember how long it was before things started getting weird. At some point my grandmother, three hours away, became ill and we started travelling on weekends to see her. Since Daddy had given a key to the Wests, he asked them to look after our place when we were gone.
Over time, I could see and feel tension building between my parents. Daddy would come home late, or would come home on time and my mom would leave. Sometimes one or the other would just go outside and sit in the car. Aha! A memory I can tie to a year…….I had a sleepover in 5th grade, so it was probably fall of 1971. The girls from next door, other side, came, as did another friend who lived just over the hill past the West’s house. We were playing something horrible like beauty queen. Daddy wasn’t there during the “pageant”, but came home later and the tension was palpable. I remember this event because I wore a skirt that I had made in our little pageant, and that skirt made another appearance at school for a band concert the next year. It was long, pink and white checks, with pink rick-rack in different widths sewn across the bottom. (Oh, another memory just popped to the surface: the music for the beauty pageant included the unforgetable “I’d like to teach the world to sing”…..and probably Kum By Yah as well.)
Lost and Found
One day my mom noticed that the lazy Susan spice rack in the kitchen cabinet was missing. She knew it was missing because it was habit for her to open the cabinet door and give the spice rack a twirl before actually looking for anything on it. On day she opened the door to twirl the rack, and there was nothing there to twirl. Pretty obvious to her. Not obvious to my dad. She told him it was missing; he didn’t quite believe her. Later on, more things disappeared: one of my mom’s scarves, a yellow sweater of hers that had been a gift from the WVa college girls, a brooch.
Another aha moment for me: only my mom’s things were taken. I don’t know why that never occurred to me before. Probably because I’ve never actually written this stuff down before and sometimes I have to see things in print before they make sense in my head.
So, my mom’s things are disappearing from our home. She’s telling my dad, and suspects that someone is breaking in when we aren’t there. He doesn’t believe her. I’m speculating here that mom had some idea of who was taking her things, but no hard evidence. She suspected Martha or Mary. Daddy didn’t want to believe that anyone in the West family would steal from us. (Well, maybe Bradley since he was a terror.) Thus, the tension between them.
I instinctively knew something was wrong, just not what it was. When my mom told me about this twenty years later, the minute she said the words “You knew Martha was stealing from us, didn’t you?” I realized that yes, I had known all the time.
One thing I did now right off was that Martha was, well, just not quite right. Maybe her check-digit was incorrect or something. Who knows? She very nice and sweet, just, well…weird. She was maybe 20, didn’t work, didn’t go to school. Just hung around the house or walked around town a lot. Eventually she was walking around town, sporting a diamond engagement ring and claiming, just like “Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you have on?” that her betrothed was coming to take her to his home. (OMG!!!! I should have written this stuff down before now. In the song, Miss Delta was going to “his mansion in the sky”, right?)
Guess who’s ring Martha was wearing around town, showing off to anyone who would listen?
So, Mary and Bradly and Mrs. West go out of town, Martha winds up shot dead in the living room of their recently cleaned house, and my mom’s things, all of them, are recovered.
(I’m sort of dizzy. Pieces clicked into place today that haven’t quite made sense up til now. I’ll have to think about this before I write the rest of the story; the part that only my parents and the West’s knew. The horrible part. And no, I didn’t forget about Rex.)