Category Archives: Elm Springs

A Nostalgic Apology

I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me for writing stories in related batches. Like any storyteller with a labyrinth of brain cells, I find myself wandering between branches of the same story. At times, what seems interesting to others is evident to me. In others? I’m clueless.

As I attempted to finish this, I thought of the innumerable times I’ve wondered about how I acted and what I was trying to say with this story. I’m not sure. It’s an apology at heart, though inexpertly written. It’s a wildly imperfect recounting, too. And that’s good enough for me. The day is too long to slow the urge to share. One of these days, as I write, it will be the last time I do so, though I won’t know it. As with the millions of stories everyone holds close to their secret hearts, they will vanish and with no witnesses to bring life to them.

As my senior year in high school ended, I moved to Elm Springs. I’ve written a few stories about it, both the violent end of my parent’s marriage and others about the whimsical encounters of life I experienced there. Nostalgia paints it in a way that evades mundane description.

This one is an apology. Though it is likely that the person I needlessly harmed doesn’t recall, I do. I’ve done so many things that are much worse than this. Trying to explain why my brain zeroes in on this relatively small story and goes back to my choice to be cruel offers no explanation.

A friend I didn’t initially know very well named Don Braden occasionally came over in the summer. I can’t even remember how it started for him to visit. For anyone to come over to my house was an anomaly. Only a couple of people in my childhood knew the shorthand of dread that I experienced at the idea of others knowing the content of what passed as a homelife for me. Many of us experienced this, and it is a strange common ground upon which to stand with human beings. A couple of childhood friends knew: Troy Duncan, Mike Hignite, and others to a much lesser degree. It is no accident that, despite the intervening distance, the fondness I feel for them is distilled nostalgia. I can’t explain why there were some people I could just say, “My parents are violent and drink too much. It might not be safe at my house. Also, I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.” I have no gauge or measure to explain what allowed or compelled me to be forthcoming to some and guiltily silent with others.

Don would sometimes ride my terrible bicycle (or his, too maybe? – please pardon my lack of recall) as I ran several miles around the long circuit of the lake’s roads. He was an awkward guy – but certainly not to my level. I’m confident I misjudged how smart he turned out to be. He had a quick wit and smiled relentlessly. While I ran, having him talk to me was a welcome way to relax and melt the miles away.

One of the things Don didn’t know was how uncertain the storm of my Dad’s anger could be. I don’t recall Dad exploding in anger in front of Don, but I remember snarled mumbles and veiled complaints. Due to my limited ability to warn people, I didn’t know how to navigate the implications of just yelling out, “It might not be safe here.” Don gave no indication (that I remember) that he had any idea of what a terrible family life might be like. As I grow older, I am still astonished to discover that people precisely like me were hidden in plain sight. Some make my stories of vulgar violence seem meaningless. I think and hope that Don’s childhood is what shaped his effortless ability to laugh. And that he still possesses the superpower of humor.

If I did yell out a warning about my parents and didn’t remember doing it, I know that I wasn’t entirely honest. There were a couple of times before Dad ran off to Monroe County to start a new life that Don barely missed an outburst, both coming and going.

I liked running and riding with Don. But the fear of ‘something’ happening convinced me to be a lesser human being to him.

One early afternoon, Don drove over. He knocked. Instead of answering the door, I hid in the back. The console tv in the living room, visible from the front windows, blared. He waited. Finally, he retrieved a large watermelon from his vehicle. He broke it on the concrete porch in front of the house, creating a delicious mound of watermelon pieces and running juice. Instead of coming out and admitting I was at home, I went out the back door and waited. How long I waited, I don’t remember. Don ate handfuls of the watermelon. At some point, he decided that no one was at home or coming out. He cleaned his hands with the water spigot outside and left.

It was a dumb thing to do. In my defense, I was an idiot. I don’t know if it would have helped him to know that my stupidity and lack of understanding of how to deal with people was the problem – not him. I don’t understand how letting him stand outside with a broken watermelon could have saved him from any potential craziness had my Dad came home, much less violently. That seems to highlight precisely how muted my ability to be logical regarding my situation was.

I didn’t keep up with Don. I didn’t keep with most people. Don went to the Air Force, someone told me. And I was glad for him.

Though I found Don on social media. I didn’t reach out to him. He is smiling and apparently living a good life. I wouldn’t want him to remember that I was a jerk, nor to disturb his life. If Don miraculously ever reads this, I, of course, later figured out that Don could have been a great friend, especially if I could have been honest so he could see that I was just an idiot. It’s easier to be friends with an idiot than a bad person.

Not that my blip of hideous behavior could deflect someone from the trajectory of a great life, but it is increasingly evident that we have no idea whatsoever what the smallest thing can do to affect another person’s life. Given the terrible things I’ve said and done in this life, I haven’t been able to put this one aside. I can’t explain my reluctance to share other stories of pure craziness and yet find this one stuck in my throat.

Just Hank

The stretch of road near the dam often held a cloud of marijuana smoke as I went through, especially on those nights or pre-dawn early mornings when the air was dense from the nearby lake. There were a couple of houses that seemed to have a higher occupancy of partiers. That part of Northwest Arkansas was ideal for such families. Such areas dwindle with each subdivision. One late morning I ran too far and was run-walking the last couple of miles along E. Lake Road past the dam. A group of intoxicated people was crowded around the dubious porch and spilled into the yard. At least three grills were going. I don’t know if it was a mid-day party or just a typical day.

“Hey, you hungry?” shouted one of them. I waved and smiled, figuring the revelers were just shouting out to me from a combination of boredom and buzzed heads. (And that I could wave and keep walking.)

“Don’t be like that! We see you running by here all the time.” I had no choice except to go over and attempt to deal with what probably amounted to a drunkfest. One of the trucks had a decent pile of beer cans in the back already. It was impossible to discern whether the partial pile was permanent or recent. Of the twenty or so people in the yard, I’m sure all of them were smoking. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the few young children on the porch periphery were smoking, too.

At least 3 of them offered me a beer. There were coolers stacked on the ground and on the tailgates of several vehicles. “I have to run back home,” I said, to convince them I wouldn’t drink. It probably sounded funny to people who routinely drove with a beer between their legs. “Don’t run drunk” isn’t precisely bumper sticker material. If it were, you’d only hear in liberal California and not rural Washington County.

After considerable jostling back and forth about staying and eating something, I figured that I had to eat something, per the Grandma Rule. It’s a bit uncomfortable eating with people you don’t know. I think they were accustomed to doing it. Whatever I might say about them, I had no doubt that they exercised the ability to sit and eat or talk with anyone. That’s a gift that even someone like me can appreciate.

The grills smelled good. I wasn’t sure about what I might be eating. They had 5 or 6 kinds of chips and all the fixings to go on hamburgers or hot dogs. The steaks didn’t interest me. The tomatoes looked delicious and were sliced from thick, juicy tomatoes.

Grabbing a bun, I decided to go all-in with tomato slices. I didn’t even bother with a hamburger patty. I piled at least 10 tomatoes slices on the bun, along with mustard and ketchup. Immediately, one of the guys at the party shouted, “Look at that! That’s the most tomatoes I’ve ever seen on a burger!” Anyone sober enough to understand English turned or stood up to get a look at the weirdo with the over-piled bun of tomatoes.

I piled the side of my plate with ruffled chips and stood next to one of the pickups with its tailgate lowered. Picking up the hamburger, I mashed my mouth over it in one herculean push. When I bit down, tomato juice covered my chin. Several people laughed. While I ate the tomato burger, several people watched me, fascinated by my choice. It was delicious. I downed a coke after the burger.

No sooner than I sat on the edge of the pickup, one of the guys brought out several mason jars of clear liquid. I instinctively knew it was moonshine. Before I could devise an excuse to leave, several of them started saying, “Shine! Shine!”

“This is the best shine you’ve had in your life,” hollered someone. “And if you drink enough of it, you won’t remember you drank it.” Though it was a joke that probably echoed in that yard often, it brought laughs with it.

The man with the mason jars put them on a makeshift table made of plywood. Plastic cups appeared from nowhere, and he began to pour a decent amount into each. A younger woman standing nearby began handing them out. She didn’t ask me – she simply handed me one of the cups without asking. “Thanks, ma’am,” I told her. “Ma’am?” She said and laughed, punching me in the arm as she did.

“I’d say a toast, but y’all are too drunk,” said another one of the older men. “Let’s drink!”

Those who could understand spoken language raised their cups and took a gulp. I decided that I would be unable to avoid spitting and coughing and be a spectacle, so I did too. Shockingly, the moonshine was incredibly smooth. I did feel like my mouth and throat were coated with something highly flammable, but I didn’t cough. I drank the rest of it without making a face. “I’ll be damned!” said the man who brought out the moonshine. I laughed and said, “I come from a long line of drinkers.” My tongue was already numb. I would not dare light a cigarette after taking a drink of that concoction.

I stayed for several more minutes as more moonshine was consumed. To be clear, I didn’t drink more. That bit of shine in the cup was as much as I could ever drink.

“Hey, sir, what’s your name?” I asked the moonshine man.

“You can call me Hank,” he said and laughed.

I walked the rest of the way home that day, concerned because I had to go to work by mid-afternoon. My head had cleared in an intervening couple of hours.

In the days that followed, I did wave hello and shout, “Hey, Hank!” as I passed the house. One day, Hank’s girlfriend gave me a sack of ripe tomatoes on my way to work. Many times, they’d laugh when I shouted, “Hey Hank!” as I passed.

Weeks later, I ran by and waved and smiled at several people in the yard. “Hey, Hank!” I shouted.

A couple of the guys closer to the edge of the road looked at me.

“Who is Hank, dipsh#t,” one of them asked me.

“The guy in the yard, the one with the beard. That’s Hank,” I told him.

“That guy’s name is Pete.”

In my defense, he did tell me that I could call him Hank.

An Unexpected Jump

Recently, a friend posted about kayaking on Lake Elmdale. He also mentioned that many people seem to be unaware of its existence. (The lake, not kayaking – although I do wonder if such people who kayak really exist.) I tend to agree with him. Lake Elmdale is an artificial lake built in 1953. It derives its name from a mix of the names for Elm Springs and Springdale communities. I think they missed their chance by not naming it something extraordinary, like “Devil’s Tooth Lake,” or even “Drowning Hole.” Arkansas already boasts Nimrod Lake, named after Noah’s grandson. (Sorry, but the word “Nimrod” was forever redefined by Looney Tunes.) 

Since I have your attention, in 1950, Springdale had a bit over 5,000 people. Ten years later, the population doubled. Elm Springs started at 217 and, by 1960, added a whopping 21 additional people. 

I have dozens of stories from my youth involving this body of water. Many from my early childhood are fishing stories involving my Dad and Uncle Buck or a rotating series of misfits called friends. Other stories are from the time when I lived in Elm Springs in the mid-80s.

If you look at the picture, you can see one of the lake access roads on the right, about halfway up. Just a short drive beyond, and you can take a left on Lakeview and quickly reach Elm Springs road. Continuing on the circuitous route past the lake entrance, and you’ll emerge on Elm Springs Road further east and headed to what is now I-40. This story is really about the roadway’s right side, where the lake access ramp road intersects with E. Lake Road. 

(36°12’02.6″N 94°12’56.8″W 

36.200713, -94.215790 

(GPS coordinates if such things interest you.)

My Dad loved a good scare while driving. Whether it involved turning off the headlights at any random moment, cutting unexpectedly through a field (fence or not), jumping out of the vehicle if it were going slowly enough, leaving the wheel to whoever might be both inside and paying attention, shooting a pistol or shotgun from inside the cab, playing chicken with unsuspecting people dumb enough to be on the road at the same time, driving on railroad tracks (sometimes suspended) over creeks, marshes, and rivers, or hitting things for no discernible reason, my Dad often had no limits. 

I know that the last sentence is intolerably long. I wanted to pile it all out there to give you an idea of the level of crazy that might Dad exhibited. Sometimes, it was scary. Looming death tends to be that way. Other times, it was fun – but after the fact. Surviving such ‘fun’ colors the ability to laugh about it. 

My apologies for taking so long to get to the point. Before this picture was taken, the road was less maintained. Edges weren’t graded appropriately, and erosion and run-off worsened already bumpy or uneven roads. This specific spot was no exception. 

While I don’t remember the first time Dad revved his truck to 50+ mph and fly across the edge of this entrance as he passed, I remember coming off the cab’s seat and floating for the briefest instant. Whether the vehicle had a solid axle or good suspension had a say in managing the landing. If you’re thinking of the Dukes of Hazzard reading this, you’re not far off the mark. Though you might think I am exaggerating, Dad once convinced me and my brother Mike that he would do it at 80 mph. He did, after telling us he was going to for a long approach. Our butts were clenched until the point we realized that Dad wasn’t bluffing. Afterward, I felt that Dad would have regretted doing it had he not been three sheets to the wind. When I tell the story, I usually say, “I could see Kansas from up there.” It’s a joke. It was decently dark when Dad took that last quarter of a mile stretch before hitting the bump at 80 mph. After keeping the truck in the road, he hit the brakes and skidded to a full stop. He took the Camel cigarette out of his mouth with a flourish, looked at Mike and me cowering against the other door panel, and said, “Which one of you wants to drive and do it again?” Dad took the same jump, albeit slower than 80 mph, while we were in the back of the truck in the bed, too. We failed to determine whether clutching the truck’s side was safer or to lay against the tailgate. 

At times, Dad doing this sort of thing would involve Mom being in the car or truck with him. Mom’s reaction to being scared like this can best be described as “murderous rage” or by one of her signature phrases, “Go# Da## It, Bobby Dean!” shouted at ear-piercing levels. If it lands me in hell for saying so, I’ll admit that hearing her squawk like that was amusing as long as we weren’t witnessing the oft-overlooked attempted murder aspect of many of our weekends. 

If you are wondering if Dad ever wrecked, broke an axle, or blew out a tire doing these things, the answer is “yes.” Likewise, if you wonder if any of us ever suddenly experienced bladder control issues, you’d be right for questioning. 

On one occasion, Dad drove with his boss back to his house in Elm Springs. The truck was a Cheyenne or Chevrolet truck of some sort, one of their favorites to restore. In those days, rednecks often stated with confidence, “I have to blow the cobwebs out.” Being young, I didn’t understand the cliché but did know that it roughly translated to mean, “I’m going to go incredibly fast and possibly die in this vehicle.” Dad wasn’t drinking. I was in the bed of the truck with Duke, Dad’s german shepherd. Charles sat upfront up with Dad. He had a cigar in his mouth as he often did. Charles was also married to one of Dad’s cousins. I didn’t figure that out until years later.

We drove down Highway 112 and turned on E. Lake Road leading to the lake. About halfway between Highway 112 and the lake, Dad slowed and shouted to me out the window, “White lightning!” I immediately realized that it was a “go” for Operation Scare the Boss Shi$less.” The phrase could refer to the hell-raising 1973 movie starring Burt Reynolds or to moonshine – and sometimes both.

About 100 yards from the side road to the lake, Dad pushed the gas hard and shifted gears. As we hit the bump and sailed off the ground, I laughed. I heard Charles scream in surprise and then scream at Dad, asking if he’d lost his ever-loving mind. By the time we reached Charles’ house, he was laughing and jokingly cursing at Dad. 

One more note. Thanks to Dad, I learned how to drive through barbed-wire fences, closed gates, front lawns, flooding creeks, and just about anything else. Here’s the secret: you have to not give a damn about what happens when you do it. Once you master that skill, sober or inebriated, you too can be an amateur stuntman. I wish that I had experienced that version of my Dad freed from alcohol. There’s no doubt he would have still managed to convince me I might die at a given moment. 

When my brother Mike came home from leave in the Army, I didn’t get to spend much time with him. Life’s demands and the constraints of his limited time conspired against us. We did drive the road leading to Lake Elmdale, though. I knew Mike was going to ask before we ever approached the jump zone. “Should we?” he asked me, laughing. We were in my car. He was driving. “How can we not?!” I shouted. We hit the bump going 50 mph. As soon as we started to lift, Mike regretted testing his courage. After the adrenaline subsided, we drove for another hour along what once were quieter roads. 33 or 34 years have passed. 

In the years since, in the spirit of full disclosure, I too have excessively sped toward that same bump without warning the occupants of the car. Though the ridge is considerably flatter than it once was while I am much fatter, it never fails to fill me with nostalgia for both the times that were and those which weren’t. 

Cake By The Lake

Back in the 80s, a popular photographer roamed the hills and valleys of NWA. One of his spots was a spot off E. Lake Road in Elm Springs, not too far from the post office and cemetery entrance. Because I know better than to trust my memory, I can’t be sure his tradename is as I remember it, but it was close. He was popular for senior pictures. One of the spots he used wasn’t too far from the road, in part because of the dense trees, foliage, and sloping once you stepped off the side of the road. It used to have a short section of lateral fencing there. Many seniors, especially girls, found themselves at this spot posing. The people I’m going to mention had nothing to do with this photographer, at least as far as I know. I mention him only because of what happened. The photographer I crossed paths with did use one of the senior photographer’s go-to spots, though.

I lived next to the Willis Shaw lot, near what is now the Police Department on Jayroe Avenue, on the other side of Highway 112. Many days, you could find me running, sometimes biking, and often walking the miles of roads in the area. It was a beautiful place to be able to do so. Those familiar with the area need no convincing.

One summer evening, I walked several miles and was coming back home on E. Lake Road after walking to Springdale. It was about 8. I can’t be sure because we didn’t have cellphones and I certainly had no watch. The sunlight was fading, and the valley there was dense and beautiful in a backroads way. Even though I was wearing a cheap radio, the batteries went dead a few miles into the walk. I’m sure I listened to KCIZ FM-105 for most of my walk. The insects were deafening. Over them, I could hear voices shouting and laughing. Their voices carried surprisingly well. I walked at least a couple of more minutes without being able to see them. I realized that their voices had shifted and that I had probably passed them. Even though I was exhausted, I turned around and walked a few feet down a horribly-maintained side driveway. The laughter that I heard was raucous and fun. I didn’t see a vehicle. As for my curiosity, youth usually overrides caution.

I stopped in my tracks. About twenty feet from me stood a naked man holding what appeared to be a large, expensive camera. In front of him and to the right was a naked woman. To get this out of the way, the woman was beautiful. She had black hair down to her shoulders. Although no one remembers her now, I’d say she looked like Phyllis Davis. She was teasing the photographer about taking too long with the shot. She stopped talking momentarily when she saw me. And then waved and smiled, as if I were expected at any moment. The photographer turned and laughed. “Hey bud!” he said, smiling.

It seemed like I just stood stupefied for a few seconds. “Hello,” I said, much too loudly.

Then, I turned and sprinted away from the driveway and up the road, all the way to the highway. I could hear the two of them laughing with strange merriment as I bolted away from them.

I ran past that spot at least five hundred more times. While I didn’t run past to see the woman, I did look to see if she was there. She never reappeared, though I did see a lot of unexpected people and things on those backroads. Walking quietly at any hour of the night often yielded people in places where they were expecting privacy. The cemetery there in Elm Springs certainly gave me a list of stories I could share.

Thirty-five plus years later, I sometimes wonder what the story was with Phyllis Davis’ doppelganger. She had the looks to be a model, and she didn’t seem surprised by seeing me magically appear from the roadside.

P.S. She is the only reason I remember Phyllis Davis or her name.

Don’t Come Knocking, Cowboy Boots Man



On May 11th, 1985, my family moved from Cottonwood Street in Springdale to a house next to the Willis Shaw long-haul employee parking lot in Elm Springs. To be exact, it was 111 Jayroe Avenue. As for the date, I only remember because of the circumstances and that I wrote an erratic journal entry that day. Graduation from high school loomed close for me. I loathed moving away from town again. Although I can’t remember why we moved from Springdale, it seems like Dad wanted to be close to Mr. Dunivan’s house and car shop near there. (Mr. Dunivan was married to a paternal cousin. I grew up thinking he was the cousin, rather than his wife.) I was surprised that Mom and Dad were moving together; their feuds were becoming bloodier and louder. Barring a duel to the death in the street, I assumed that my graduation would be the apex of their shared hatred for one another, at least married hatred.

My brother left ASU and came home long enough to realize his best option was to be somewhere else. He joined the Army while we still lived on Cottonwood. My sister was long gone, on her circuitous road to disaster.

We rented a house next to the landlords in Elm Springs, one of whom was the postmaster at Elm Springs. I’m 75% certain of the last part.  Our house was literally next to the parking lot where the trucks idled. The constant hum and rumble of diesel trucks never ceased. I’m not using hyperbole; they literally never turned off. It required an adjustment, but once in the background, everything sounded crazily quiet by comparison.

Elm Springs was a great little town. We had our own version of Joe the Tiger King, a strange man who owned escape-prone large cats. He lived right off Highway 112, which cut through Elm Springs. The roads were ideal for running, biking, and walking. I lived in Elm Springs the first and only time I was a victim of a deliberate hit-and-run while I was running. I guess it would be a hit-and-run-and-running in that case. That’s a story for another day. The house was near the community building, on the opposite side of the employee’s parking lot across from the diesel lot.

It was from that house that my dad finally fled Northwest Arkansas to return to Monroe County. He never returned to live in NWA. He died a few years later. I could not understand why my parents had inflicted so many years on us by staying together. Individually they were treacherous. Together, toxic and flammable. It seems like they needed both victims and witnesses to their lunacy. It’s a great foundation from which to draw stories. Oddly, this is the house my Mom lived at when she went to rehab for the first time and before she lost her great job at SW Bell aka AT&T. For the golden era shortly after her return from rehab, I couldn’t believe she was the same person. The golden era of sobriety didn’t last long. She kept finding higher cliffs to jump proverbially from after her sobriety.

If you would have told me that my Mom and Dad would have voluntarily remarried one another after intervening marriages to other people, I would have laughed. They originally married on Feb. 12th, 1964. They remarried on Feb. 12th, 1993. Dad died 7 months later.

While we were in the Willis Shaw house, it was an erratic series of brutal nights. Rent-A-Center didn’t exist then. If it had, we would have bought 30 roomfuls of furniture. For reasons still unclear to me, one of my parents would buy or bring home a wide variety of glass furniture, or furniture that was easily lifted. I often amused myself by considering the purchase of a box of used plates from the Tontitown Flea Market on Elm Springs Road. (It used to be called the ‘original.’ Everyone misses it.) I could then stack them on the counter or table in huge piles, ready to be grabbed by beer or whiskey-scented fingers in anger. After each round of furniture melees, Dad would load the pieces into his truck and dump them at Mr. Dunivan’s, or burn them there.

I have a lot of stories from this place. This one, though, amuses me.

There were a few houses marked by greater-than-average savagery: my cousin Leta’s house in Tontitown, the tiny tin can trailer where Don Tyson now meets Butterfield Coach, the trailers on Piazza Road, and the Willis Shaw house, as I remember it in my memories.

Somewhere out there in this world, there’s a man who tells a terrifying story, one that began with his intention to check on the welfare of people in a house in Elm Springs next to the Willis Shaw lot. I call him Cowboy Boots Man. How long he had been out on the road in his 18-wheeler is something I’m not aware of. But I do know that he pulled in and walked across the street to enter the vehicle parking area where his truck sat, after at least 3 weeks of not being driven. Though my memory is a little dim, I think it was about 8 p.m. He must have been worn out from driving for weeks.

He probably heard a thunderous crash and perhaps a series of screams and shouts. I’ll remind you at this point that due to the trucks always running, the volume required to pierce the atmospheric blanket of noise must have been chillingly loud.

The back of the house where my room was had a bad door directly from it. This was invaluable on many nights. My bedroom was cavernously huge, as an add-on sat at the back. I had a couch. I also had an incredibly bizarre old organ that someone gave me. Because of my mismatched skill with electronics, I had modified it to allow me to input/output and to record with it. I wrote some truly strange music in those days. I could also record the rantings and violence of my parents. I didn’t keep those recordings, which is a shame, given the historical clarity they would have provided me later in life.

That evening, I’d left and taken a very long walk, after running earlier in the day. I assumed that upon my return that my mom and dad would have lost all interest in their violent fight. I was wrong. I looked into the living area, and the carnage was almost comical. My parents were screaming insults back and forth. Mom was sitting near the t.v. and dad was on the edge of the upended couch. He held a sawed-off 20-gauge shotgun in his lap. In one hand, he had a bottle of whiskey. The gun didn’t alarm me. I’d seen it pulled in a fight repeatedly. No one could guess the alchemy which determined at what point my Dad might lose his temper permanently.

I shut my bedroom door and just as I sat down on the cheap couch in my room, I heard a bang on the front door. Bang! Bang! Bang! Someone was at the door. That raised the hairs on the back of my neck. Interlopers made it very dangerous for everyone present. I opened the bedroom door. Dad stumbled across the mess of broken household items and flung open the front door.

“I heard someone screaming…” the man began to say. Just as he started to speak, Dad raised the shotgun at him. “What the f$%^,” the man half-shouted. I don’t remember what Dad said. It was both threatening and a little humorous. The man must have not registered that laws were inapplicable to my Dad in this state.

He asked if everyone was okay and took a step forward as if he was going to stick his head inside the door. Dad was initially surprised and almost fell backward. In the interim, Mom was rambling incoherently and angrily in the background. Dad took a swig of whiskey and then took steps toward the man. He hastily back-pedaled away, retreating to the edge of the concrete porch. He grabbed one of the wrought-iron decorative posts to steady himself. Dad flicked the light switch with the hand holding the whiskey bottle. The light came on, illuminating the face of the man who was only trying to help.

Dad raised the shotgun, and for a second, I knew he would cross one of the few remaining lines and shoot. He did. The gun blasted and Dad’s arm flew up with the shot. It sounded like a bomb went off inside the house. Even Mom stopped angrily ranting momentarily. The man stood frozen in place. Though it’s not quite right, Dad then asked, “Anything else, c#cks#cker?” and took another drink from the bottle and howled as he sometimes did.

It was a frozen moment. Without a word, the man turned and ran toward the street, even though he was wearing cowboy boots. Mom jumped up, or tried to, and fell face-first across the upended couch. She flipped over like a child’s toy knocked off a high shelf.

Dad turned off the porch light and slammed the front door. “Goodbye, c#cks#cker,” he said to himself. “C#cks#cker,” as I’ve probably mentioned, was almost a prayer word for him. He sat the whiskey on the shelf nearby and sat the shotgun next to it. “Imma going to bed,” he said. I know he saw me there, but thankfully he said nothing to me. He walked to my right and down the hallway to the bedroom on the righthand side of the hallway on the end. I went into my bedroom and went outside through the backdoor. I walked around the side toward the employee parking lot and waited.

I saw no sign of the man who just saw his life pass in front of his eyes.

No one else came by that night. No police. Though it will cause some strife to hear it, even if the police had come, it was easy to ‘persuade’ them to lose interest. Dad or Mom could have held up the decapitated head of the other, and I’m certain the police would have asked them to please keep the noise level down.

The next day, I peeked out into the living room early. Mom was still lying on the floor near where she fell. She’s moved a couple of feet during the night. Passed out, I presumed. I took a long run, wondering what the day would look like. Early morning fights were the ugliest. Fewer words, more bile. Unlike the other parts of the day, it was the one time when holding a cup of scalding hot liquid seemed to present the insurmountable urge to fling it at one’s spouse in anger. “The best part of waking up, is 3rd-degree burns on your face,” was my family’s version of the Folger’s commercial.

Hours later, when I came out of my bedroom from reading and before I had to go to work, Dad was outside, running his hand along the front panel of his truck. There were pellet dents all along its surface. The shotgun had been moved, so I assumed Dad put it away, either under a piece of furniture or under his truck seat. I could hear Dad cursing under his breath.

“Did Kack do this?” he asked. (A nickname for my Mom.)

I didn’t want to answer either way.

I chose the middle option: I lied. I figured he didn’t remember most of it.

“I wasn’t here.”

I wondered about the Cowboy Boots Man long after. Why didn’t he call the police? Did it cure him of his desire to help people? Did landlords ever check references when my parents expressed an interest in their properties?




P.S. The picture is one from my parent’s second wedding at the Lutheran Church in Rich, Monroe County. I was the flower girl. In a twist, my dad, who loathed formal wear, wore a suit minus tie. I wore my beloved “get shot in Chicago” jacket with a glowing “X” on the left side, which is a story unto itself.