Here is an actual chapter from the book that is finally almost done. I hope you enjoy.
Long before Karl Childers became infamous as the lead character from Sling Blade, there was Bob Coltrane. They looked alike, they sounded alike, and except for their individual choices of weapons, they seemed to be twins separated at birth.
Bob was married to my aunt Pat. I think that Bob was originally from Texas, and that is where he and Pat met. Sometime later, they moved back to the Midwest, and by the time the seventies rolled around, they were the parents of four kids. There were three older sisters and a much younger brother, Bobby.
In Bobby, the apple had not fallen far from the tree. I most vividly remember Bobby pedaling his bike as fast as he could straight into a tree … over and over. All the while, Bob Sr. smiled toothlessly, rocking back and forth on the front porch. Bobby’s other idea of great fun was pulling ticks off of his dog and lighting them on fire. The future was very bright for this young man.
The older siblings were actually much more “normal,” comparatively speaking. They were born into a strictly religious home, so they were socially muted. Still, I always found them to be engaging and friendly.
In the early summer of 1973, Mom had gone on what could euphemistically be called a long weekend with one of her gentlemen friends. She left my younger sister and me behind to fend for ourselves but committed to returning in a couple of days. This was not an abnormal event, and although food in the house was scarce, I didn’t think too much of it.
Four days later, there was still no sign of my mother. At this point we were down to little food. Some pasta and spaghetti sauce was all we had left for real food. Being almost thirteen, I was pretty comfortable with cooking and decided to cook the pasta for my sister and me. The spaghetti was cooking with no problem, and I put the sauce into a Pyrex bowl and put it on the gas stove. If you know anything at all about cooking, you might have just said “uh-oh” to yourself.
I was facing away from the stove when the explosion happened. Spaghetti sauce and bits of Pyrex went flying everywhere. I wasn’t hurt, but I felt like I had just been shot in the heart. This was going to be our last real meal until my mother came home, and now it was gone. I just started crying because I felt so bad about what I had done and how disappointed my little sister would be.
My sister came running from the back of the trailer to see what had happened. She saw the mess and saw me crying. To her credit, she simply walked up to me and said, “Don’t worry about it. We can just put ketchup on the spaghetti and it will be fine.” Those reassuring words meant a great deal to me, and in those tough times, we would never, ever turn our backs on each other. When things were good, we fought like cats and dogs, but we never deserted each other when we were in the trenches.
The very next day, Aunt Pat showed up at our trailer to speak with Mom. I informed her that she was still gone but was supposed to be home soon. She told me to gather some clothes and that my sister and I would come stay with her until Mom returned. Normally, I would not be much inclined to take her up on the offer. As I mentioned, they were Bible thumpers and lived like throwbacks to the fifties. At the time, they did not even have running water. Still, we were out of food, and at least we would be fed.
We were at Pat’s for about four days when Mom called to say she was on the way to pick us up. Normally, Pat would have probably chastised her a bit but then told her to come get us. This time, however, she told my mom that she couldn’t have us back. She said she was going to file child neglect charges and have us taken away. That was it—no yelling or histrionics, just a factual statement.
Knowing her sister as well as she did, Pat explained to us what she was doing and why she felt compelled to do it. She was earnest, and whatever her faults were, what she was saying seemed to make sense. She told us that there was no doubt that our mom was on her way over to take us and that, when she pulled up, we should run and hide.
In retrospect, I can see that there had been a subtle indoctrination against our mother from the time we got there. So although it would seem odd to run and hide from your own mother, to my sister and me, it made perfect sense. I couldn’t tell you why I felt that way, but I did.
Sure enough, about three hours later Mom pulled up in a sedan with two men I had never seen before. All three got out of the car, but the two men stayed back a bit. (At this point, my sister and I were peeking out of the window to see what was going on.) Mom walked up to the bottom of the steps of Pat’s porch. It was a wide set of stairs with about ten steps. On the porch were Pat, her daughter Karen, and, of course, Bob sitting in the rocking chair.
Mom started off politely enough, saying that she was here to pick up her kids and didn’t want any trouble. However, she had brought help, and she would do whatever she needed to do to get us. Pat was unimpressed by the threat and simply said, “The children are staying with me.” Apparently, Mom did not appreciate this answer and proceeded to bound up the stairs like an Olympic athlete. With equal speed, Pat and Karen met her at the top step and promptly threw her to the ground. There was plenty of screeching, hair pulling, and swearing going on. After a few minutes, Mom stopped struggling with Pat sitting on her chest, arms pinned.
At this point, she screamed for help from her two henchmen. As they slowly walked up to the porch, Bob rose out of his chair and, seemingly from nowhere, pulled out a claw hammer. While the two guys at the foot of the stairs seemed awfully nervous, Bob had the demeanor of Clint Eastwood. He merely said in a low Southern drawl, “If you come up here, I will kill you.”
Of all of the people I have met in my life, I would put Bob among the top two individuals who would actually carry out such a threat. By the look of the two guys standing below, they seemed to believe it as well. For a brief time, there was a stalemate. Then Mom started screaming and struggling again when guy number one bolted for the stairs. Big mistake on his part.
True to his word, Bob raised his hammer and slammed the claw end into the stranger’s head. The claw skipped off of his skull but grabbed the skin. Bob pulled the hammer down, and the guy’s head went forward and down with it. At this time, guy number two came up the stairs and grabbed his buddy by the waist. Bob brought the hammer up to strike again, but by pulling as hard as he could, guy two sent guy one and himself flying backward off of the stairs.
Bob didn’t move. He stood in the same place, hammer in hand, and didn’t say or do anything. The first guy’s head was bleeding profusely, and even Mom realized that this particular battle could not be won. She told Pat that she gave up and would leave. Cautiously, Pat stood up and placed herself between Mom and the front door with Karen by her side. I thought for a brief moment that she was going to bolt for the door again, but she didn’t.
The two guys were now in the car calling for Mom to hurry up. She scurried down the stairs, filling the air with expletives and saying that she would be back and would bring whatever means necessary to get us. That day never came.
Instead, we stayed at Pat’s for a few more days and then went to meet a judge. Because my sister was too young, I spoke for both of us. I remember being worried that I was going to give the wrong answer and get in trouble, but I did the best I could. We sat in a room at the courthouse for most of the day, and we were able to see Mom. She said it would all be fine but it might take time.
Sometime toward the end of the day, a lady I had never seen before came in and introduced herself as Mrs. Green. She said that my sister and I would be staying with her until all of this got sorted out. I was not at all happy about this result, but what could I do?
We stayed at Mrs. Green’s for about three months before my dad sent for me to come live with him. Because my sister was not his child, she was forced to stay behind on her own. I still regret many things that I did and that happened during that period, but I regret nothing more than getting my sister stuck in such a hopeless situation. She was eventually returned to our mother, but I can only imagine how scary and lonely it must have been for her to have been left behind, alone. I realize that as children, none of the blame belonged to us. Still, it hurt then, and when I make myself think about it, it hurts now.