Going into the kitchen, I found it cold and empty, with a note on the fridge door.
"Children, have some cereal for breakfast and be sure to wash up the dishes after you eat. The house needs dusting, and be sure to pick up your rooms before you go outside anywhere. There is bread and peanut butter in the pantry, also, there are some apples in the fruit bin of the fridge. Keep out of trouble, Zebulon! Rosie, you watch after your brothers and little sister, please. I'm counting on all of you. Ma."
Well, that was some way to start off a Saturday, I thought. Looking out the kitchen window, I could see it had begun to snow. It wouldn't be long until Christmas. What would it be like this year?
With a heavy heart, as I sat eating my bowl of cold cereal, reflecting on my question, I heard a knock at the back door. Running over to open it, I saw it was Sgt. Finley.
"Hello, Zeb, how are you this morning? Is Mrs. O'Hanlon at home?" he inquired.
"Hey," I replied. "Nah, she's at work already, and I jist got up. Come on in!"
Looking around the kitchen, he pulled out a chair and sat down at the kitchen table. I was still wondering what we were going to talk about.
are you and your family doing, now, since your dad is gone? I know you
are probably having it a bit rough since you were working for Rafferty,
running numbers. I don't think you would choose to do that for fun."
like I said, I thought maybe I could find out something about how my Da
was murdered, since that was the last place he was seen. Have you all
found out anything about how it happened? Do you know anything at all?
It has been a long time, you know. I still think I could find out more
about it. They were beginning to talk around me, forgetting I was even
there... I'm sure..."
sorry, lad, I really can't discuss our findings with you, except to say
that we don't know anything for sure, yet, but I'm continuing to work
on it. I was headed that way when I saw you down there the other day,
but had to detour to take you home. Now, please, won't you stay out of
it? For your own safety? Tell me, now, what about your family and how
you are all doing."
him square in the eyes, I began to be curious about his interest in my
family. We were just one of many families he came into contact with
daily. What was it about us that drew his interest? Why the special
to take the bull by the horns, I inquired point blank, "Sgt. Finley,
why the special interest in my family? Is there something you're not
you'll remember, you came to me with a problem, lad. You wanted some
help with the boys at school and I gave you that help, didn't I? I just
saw someone in trouble that needed help. Then I ran into you down near
Dooley's Bar. Isn't that right?"
thought about what he was telling me; but still, I wasn't satisfied
completely with that answer. "Why are you here, today, then? What is it
that you wanted to discuss with me? Did you know my Ma before you came
to our house to search for my Da?"
a sharp lad, Zeb O'Hanlon, you could be a detective some day, if you
get your schooling, and don't get side-tracked along the way."
"Thanks, Sgt. Finley!" He had inflated my ego with those words, almost so much so that I forgot my line of thought.
However, being the kind of man he was, he answered my question.
I had met her before, quite a few years ago, when she had been beaten
so badly that she was hardly recognizable. The neighbors called us out
to her home when they heard the ruckus coming from the house. Your
father had been beating her for several hours, drunk as a skunk, and
shouting obscenities at her. I was just a rookie cop at the time, and I
was so incensed at his brutality, that I told him I ever heard of him
laying a hand on her again, I'd kill him with my bare hands."
hearing his story, tears welled up in my eyes, both of shame for my
father and sympathy for my mother. I hung my head and cried bitterly.
Sgt. Rafferty patted me on the shoulder, unable to speak any more of
my chin then with his index finger, he looked at me. "You have nothing
to be ashamed of, Zeb. You are not responsible for anything your father
did and should not bear the blame. Just remember to always treat
womenfolk in a kind and gentle manner. You will get much more
satisfaction from that than from laying your hands on them in anger."
never told him about the beatings my Da had given most all of us kids,
or about the way he continued to beat my Ma when she was expecting a
baby. He wanted no more kids in the house. But he always beat her where
she wouldn't show the bruises.
"Did you ever come back to see my Ma?" I asked him.
He looked at me for a long minute, then replied.
first time I had been to your home since that time was when we came with
the search warrant. However, through the years, I kept a quiet watch on
your father's activities. You may not realize it, but he spent as much
on gambling as he did on drink. I often patrolled the neighborhood where
you all lived. I never spoke to your mother, though. Just watched over
her, as I had told your father I would. I doubt very much if she even
recognized me from so long ago."
listened, open-mouthed, as he related his story to me. I couldn't tell
him how my Da had continued to beat her through the years, without
making him feel as though his efforts had been in vain. Instead, I
thanked him for caring and protecting her.
there, listening to him talk, I began to fantasize about what it would
be to have someone like him for a Da, so I boldly asked him, "Sgt.
Finley, are you married? Do you have any children?"
Lifting his eyebrows in surprised response, he smiled at me.
Zeb. I've been married for several years and we have three children,
but that doesn't mean that I don't believe in helping other children and
their families. After all, that is why I went into police work. My
father before me was a cop who walked a beat for years, and it is what I
have known all my life. He taught me that men are to be protectors of
those who can't protect themselves. He was one of the finest people I've
ever known. He led me to believe in Jesus, too."
At that very moment, more than ever before, Sgt. Finley became my hero; I wanted to be just like him. The die was cast.
Zeb, for the reason I came to see you. Have you been reading the
Testament I gave you a few weeks ago? Are there any questions you have
"Well, yes, I have been reading it, and there is a lot
I don't understand. Who was Jesus, exactly, and why is reading the book
important? How long ago did he live, and why did he die? Did he
actually come back to life? Or is it all just a make-believe story?"
are great questions, Zeb, and they show you have been thinking about it
all. Yes, the whole book is true, and not just a story. Jesus lived
over two thousand years ago, and is still living today. He was put to
death in our place, to die for sins that everyone committed or will ever
commit. Then he arose again, and conquered death and the grave. I know
you don't understand it all, but you keep thinking about it and we will
talk some more, okay? Keep reading; even read the same things over
again. When you have finished John, then go to Luke and read how Jesus
was born. Now, I have to go; my family is waiting for me. Please,
remember, don't go back into that part of town again. You know where to
He ruffled my hair, tipped my shoulder with a closed fist in farewell, and left. I had a lot to think about.
down at the almost empty bowl of cereal, I saw it was soggy, but
finished it anyway. Then, rinsing the bowl, I put it into the sink, and
went to my bedroom to get dressed and think.
I made my bed, I started wondering what I was going to do with my day. I
still needed some money to get some gifts for my family. How was I
going to do so? I looked outside and saw the snow was beginning to pile
up on the sidewalks. I had already forgotten my Ma's written
snow gave me an idea, so I put on my coat, gloves and warm toboggan.
Going to the shed out back, I picked up the snow shovel and ran next
door, to old Mrs. Grogan's house. Knocking on the door, I waited for her
to answer it. I could hear her progress as she pushed her walker across
"Wait a minute," she shouted. "I can't move very fast with this thing. Don't go away!"
opened the door slightly and looked out, then she looked down and saw
me. "Yes? What do you want, Zebbie?" (She always called me that. I don't
"Could I shovel your walkway and sidewalks for you, Ms. Grogan, and maybe make a little money?"
Zebbie, honey, I can't pay you anything. I'm sorry. I just don't have
any money left over after paying the landlord and the doctors and
getting my groceries."
"That's okay, I'll shovel it for you anyway." I just felt obligated to shovel it now. She was always so kind to me.
Her face lit up with pleasure. "Please come in after you finish, okay?"
must have worked for at least forty five minutes, shoveling the snow
from Ms. Grogan's sidewalk and walkway. I could see her watching me from
the front window. Just as soon as I finished the last shovel full, she
opened the door just a crack, and called me in.
"Young man, please stomp the snow off your boots if you don't mind!"
"Yes, Ma'am," I replied, dutifully obeying her.
opened the door wider, to allow my entry, and told me to take off my
coat and leave it on the coat tree near the front door.
come into the kitchen, Zebbie, and take a seat at the table. I have
some hot chocolate for you, to warm you up on the inside. I'll bet you
haven't had anything hot for breakfast, have you?"
"No, ma'am, I haven't. How did you know that?," I asked with the curiosity and lack of inhibition that the young possess.
we old folks just happen to know how the world goes. Your Ma is working
now, isn't she? How are you all getting along now that your daddy is no
longer with you?"
"We're doing all right," I replied, feeling as though my family was being criticized somehow.
"Hmmm, yes, yes, of course you are. How is your chocolate; is it good?" She fixed her bird-like eyes upon mine, smiling.
"Yes, Ma'am, it is just fine. Uh, I think I need to get back out and help some more people now."
I put my coat on, Ms. Grogan pressed a dime into my hand, and said,
"Here, Zebbie, I found this dime for you, after all. Please take it,
looked at the dime with longing, but replied, "No, ma'am, the hot
chocolate was enough. I enjoyed talking to you, too. But, thank you,
come back and visit with me, anytime, Zebbie. You bring joy to this old
heart of mine." Then she leaned down over her walker and kissed me on
the top of the head.
face must have turned every shade of pink and red, but I thanked her,
and promised to come back when I could. She did make really good cookies
"Goodbye, Mz. Grogan. Thank you again for the hot chocolate."
I left her house, I thought about how clean she kept her house. I
didn't see a speck of dust in it, even with her using a walker to get
around. I remembered then that Ma had asked us in the note to dust the
house and pick up our rooms. Well, the dusting was girls' work, and Les
could pick up our room, I reckoned. I went on down the street, knocking
at the next neighbor's house to see if I could shovel their walkways.
Why did my mom want the house so clean, anyway? Our Da wasn't around to complain anymore, so what was the big deal?
next day, I found out what the big deal was, much to my dismay. When I
got up on Sunday morning, my Ma was running the vacuum cleaner over the
house, and giving directions to everybody that was up. You would have
thought President Eisenhower was coming to see us.
had Rosie polishing the furniture in the living room, and that stuff
stank to high heaven, I thought. It smelled a little like coal oil or
something. I held my nose and went into the kitchen, where I smelled
something that was much better. A lot of heat was coming from the
cookstove, so I went over and opened the oven door, sneaking a peek.
"Ma, what are you cooking a roast for? We haven't had a roast in a long time! What is going on, anyway?"
man, you just sit down and eat your breakfast, and quit with the
questions! I have too much to do to bother with all the chatter. Then
you get in there and get dressed! Did you take a bath last night?"
"Yes, Ma, you know we always have one on Saturday night!"
"Don't you smart mouth me, Zebulon Seamus O'Hanlon!"
Ma was really feeling uptight, so I knew I better be careful and tread
lightly. But what was all the fuss about, and who was coming to dinner,
soon, Ma was setting the table with our good china, and an extra place
was set where Da had used to sit. No one had sat there since he was
gone. I tried sitting there once, and my Ma said to get back to where I
was supposed to sit. This was all beginning to make me nervous. Who was
got my answer when the doorbell rang at about noon. Ma whipped off her
apron, and fussed at her hair for a couple of seconds, and giving us a
"Don't you say a word" look, she smiled and opened the door.
"Come in, Mr. Hopkins! We were just getting ready to put dinner on the table," she simpered.
just stood back, open-mouthed, watching as he came in proprietorially,
and handed his hat to me to put on the hall coat rack.
"Well, well! Ellen, you have a lovely home here, and hmmm-hmm, is that roast I smell for dinner?"
that moment, anger filled my heart and mind. How dare she invite him to
dinner? But that wasn't the only surprise for the day. Oh, no!
we were all seated at the table, with Mr. Hopkins seated in my Da's
place, and he was tucking his napkin into his shirt collar. I was
absolutely fuming at his audacity of sitting in my Da's chair, but
knowing I could do nothing to stop him.
"Well, Ellen, why don't you introduce me to your children?"
simpered and replied, "The oldest girl is Rose, and the youngest one is
Marie. The oldest boy is Zebulon, and the youngest is Lester. Say hello
to Mr. Hopkins, children."
simply stuck her two front fingers in her mouth, sucking on them, and
Lester nodded. Rosie and I glowered at him and mumbled a greeting.
apologized for us, saying we were just bashful, but that we'd warm up
to him when we got to know him. Then she got up and brought the roast
into the dining room and set it on the table in front of him, so he
could carve it. The vegetables had already been placed on the table.
We were halfway through a miserable meal, when the doorbell rang again. Now what? Ma had half-risen from the table.
to get away from the table, I jumped up and ran to the door. Imagine
the surprise on my face when I saw the woman standing there, with her
hand raised to knock on the door. She had a suitcase at her side on the
porch floor, where the taxi driver had apparently just deposited it.
"Grandma O'Hanlon!" I shouted. "Hey, you guys, it's Grandma O'Hanlon! She's come to visit us! Come in, Grandma!"
The taxi driver was driving away as she came in.
The look on Ma's face was one of dismay, consternation, and it looked like fear, as well. Was Ma afraid of Grandma?
other kids all looked at Mr. Hopkins, who was slowly pulling his napkin
out of his shirt collar, and rising from his seat. .
"Now what?" I wondered, as Grandma slowly advanced into the room, taking in the tableau, putting two and two together.
had heard the expression somewhere about throwing the cat among the
pigeons, but until this happened, I had no idea what it meant. Now I was
seeing for myself. Grandma was the proverbial cat, and it seems we were
Ellen," she demanded. "I know who all of you are, but who is this man
who was sitting in my Seamus's place, eating where my boy should have
been? Is this how you honor his memory? Him not even cold in the ground
yet, and another man taking his place? Oh, I forgot. You didn't even
have the decency to bury my boy, but had him cremated!"
Grandma was blazing with both guns, taking no prisoners; my Ma was just
standing there in the dining room doorway, turning all colors, looking like she wanted to have the
ground swallow her up.
O'Hanlon, this is Mr. Hopkins. He has been so kind to me, I invited him
for dinner today. He is my employer at the grocery store."
yeah? Kind to you, is he? What kind of favors are you doing for him? I
always told my Seamus he was too good for you; that you were no good!
Now, it seems I've been proved right."
My brother and sisters ran to Ma's side, in a protective manner. How could Grandma speak to our Ma that way? The nerve of her!
went over to Grandma, and said, "You have no right to speak to her that
way, Grandma! Maybe you had just better leave right now!" I was feeling
very much the man of the house.
She rewarded me with a slap on my face.
Reeling from the unexpected slap on my face, I put my hand up to it, and stepped back, feeling insulted.
"Grandma! You've always been so kind before! What has happened to make you slap me?"
You've never been so disrespectful to me before. It seems your mother
has let your discipline go out the window with her morals, not that she
ever had many before. At least my Seamus kept her in line! Now, with him
gone, it seems as though she has nothing to keep her in check!"
this time my Ma had come over to put her arms around me, she said, "Oh
yes, Mother O'Hanlon, he certainly did all he could to beat me down! If
he wasn't speaking to me worse than he would a dog, he was beating me or
my children with his fists. Your son was not a good man when he was
drinking! Then he would apologize the next morning and say he was sorry,
and please to forgive him. I loved him when I married him, and because
of my children, I stayed with him. But don't you tell me he had a right
to beat me or them! Now, if you can't be civil, you can just turn right
around and leave my house, right now."
I looked up at my Ma with reverence, and then at my Grandma to see what her reaction was going to be.
Folding his napkin, our guest for dinner arose from the table, and came over to the group standing in the doorway to the dining room.
I must assume you are Ellen's _former_ mother-in-law? As such, you
have no right to speak to her in such a manner! I suggest you either
keep a civil tongue in your head, or I'm sure the authorities can be
called to remove you. The choice is, I believe, yours. Ellen has always
been a lady, and has never behaved in the way you accuse her! "
couldn't believe what I was hearing. I guess I had misjudged the man.
Looking at Grandma, I wondered what she was going to do now? Back down
It seemed I didn't have to wonder for long.
that as it may, these are my grandchildren, and I insist that I am
going to stay awhile to make sure they receive the proper upbringing."
no! I could only imagine what our life would be like for the next
amount of time she was with us. I wondered how long that would be...
I decided right then and there that I was going to make myself as scarce as possible for as long as Grandma was there.
it turned out that while we were in bed later that night, I heard loud
voices coming from the kitchen, so I crawled out of my bed to
investigate. Peeking around the kitchen door, I saw an unbelievable
scene. My Ma was cornered with my Grandma in her face, with her hand
balled into a fist, bullying my Ma. Taking in the situation, I ran to
the phone, rang up the operator, and asked for the police. When they
came on the line, I asked for Sgt. Finley.
"Sorry, young man. He's not on duty tonight. What's yer problem?"
my grandma, who's visiting us. She's got my Ma cornered and about to
beat her up. She's a mean old woman. Please come and make her leave,
"Who is this? Is this one of them crank calls? You better watch it, if it is!"
No. This is Zebulon O'Hanlon, at 1594 Oakwood Street, and it's my Da's
mother who is working over my Ma. She's already hit her a couple of
times, it looks like. Please send someone, hurry."
"Say, kid, we get calls from people all the time about family members
gettin' into arguments and throwin' a few punches. They do that, kid.
It's just a part of life. Get used to it. We ain't got the time to run
out every time that happens. Seein' it's just a couple of women, pullin'
hair 'n' all. "
I looked into the kitchen once again
and saw my Ma was on her knees in the floor, covering her head with her
arms, pleading with my Grandma, to please stop.
shouted into the phone, "She's killing my Ma! You've got to come. Sgt.
Finley would have come! Wait til I tell him about you all!"
must have been the magic words, because all at once I sensed a change
of attitude, and he said, "Okay, kid. Five minutes. We'll have someone
there. Just hang on and do what you can to help your Ma."
hung up and quietly entering the kitchen, I looked for a way to help my
Ma. I saw a big kettle on the stove. It had a long handle on it. Maybe I
could hit my Grandma on her head. She was close to six feet tall and I
felt like a shrimp compared to her. How could I do it? Did I even have
quietly across the kitchen floor, I climbed upon a kitchen chair and
lifting the kettle high over my head, I brought it down as hard as I
could. My Grandma hit the floor like a big soft bag of flour, and I
helped my Ma get up off the floor.
a piece of rope from the laundry room, I tied my Grandma's hands behind
her back and left her in the floor, unconscious. I wasn't going to take
a chance on her attacking Ma again.
At about that time, the doorbell rang. It was the police, so I ran to let them in, bringing them into our kitchen.
"Okay, what do we have here? What's going on?"
I replied, "just look at my Ma, here! See all those bruises on her
face? See the cuts where my Grandma's rings sliced her face open? We
need you to make her leave our house and not come back! Arrest her or
something! She's my Da's mother, and he is dead, so she has no right to
even be here!"
"What happened to her? Why is she out cold in the floor" he wanted to know.
"Because I got on the chair behind her when she was beating on my Ma and I hit her with that big pot."
All at once my Grandma began moaning.
officer went over and helped my Grandma to her feet, and seated her in a
chair. He then proceeded to untie her hands, then turning to me, he
inquired, "What were you thinking, boy, to hit a poor old woman with a
pot, anyway? And her your grandmother, to boot?"
just look at my Ma, officer! Look at her! See the cuts on her face from
my Grandma's rings? See the blood running down her face? What would you
have done in my place?"
He looked then at my Ma.
"Ma'am, do you wish to press charges?"
could see the expression on my Ma's face, and I could hear the wheels
turning. The fear rose in my throat, almost choking me, feeling that she
would forgive Grandma O'Hanlon. Then she did something that really
earned my admiration.
O'Hanlon," she said, "I forgive you, but the officer is going to escort
you to the train station with your belongings and see you on to the
train. You may not see your grandchildren until I have in my hands a
written apology from you. Even then, any visits will be supervised. No
more surprise visits. That is my final word!"
My Grandma was seething, and gritting her teeth. It made me wonder what she was going to do.
Grandma drew herself up to her six feet, tall and formidable.
Ellen, you and your heathen children have outdone yourselves this time!
I have never been treated in such a cavalier fashion, and I certainly
will not stay where I am so obviously not wanted! Don't look for me to
come back anytime soon, either! You are raising a bunch of brats,
violent and uncontrolled...mark my words...they will make you sorry you
ever bore them!"
She said that
last bit with her eyes fastened on me, firing daggers in my direction.
Then she went upstairs and picked up her still unpacked suitcase and
came back down.
The officer took
her by the elbow and escorted her out of the front door. We all looked
at one another; I wondered what my Ma was going to say to me now.
over to me, she simply sat down in the kitchen chair, pulled me onto
her lap and hugged me like I was a lifeline. I was never so surprised in
my life, well, almost never. 'Now what?' I thought. She had my arms
pinned to my side in that bear hug. Then she let me go. I could hardly
wait to hear what she might have to say to me.
me, my Ma looked into my eyes, as I waited anxiously to hear what she
was going to say to me. Was she going to bless me or bless me out? I
couldn't tell from the expression on her face. I gulped loudly, waiting.
thank you for saving me from your Grandma's fists. I don't know what I
would have done, had you not banged her on the head with a pot. But I do
need to tell you that violence is not always the answer to violence.
You don't realize that yet, but hopefully, you will eventually learn. I
noticed you have been reading the testament beside your bed. Now that
your father is gone, I can begin taking you children to Sunday School
and church. He was so violently opposed to it, it was near impossible
before. I had just been wondering how to begin it."
could see more change coming into our lives in the days ahead, but I
was still worried about Mr. Hopkins... did he go to church, too? What
kind of person was he, really? Was he after my Ma? I opened my mouth to
ask her, but when I looked into her scratched and battered face, I
reconsidered. Instead I asked another question.
would we be going to church, Ma? What kind of church would it be? Some
of my friends go to the big church downtown. Would we be going there?"
found a small church that is very friendly, and sometimes I stop by for
a few minutes to pray. The minister there is very nice and has invited
us to come. It is on my way to work."
I had a lot more questions for my Ma, but I could see she was really
tired and needed to sleep. Tomorrow was a work day and it was late. I
wanted to know more about Mr. Hopkins.
I knew however, that I was getting no more answers on that night, so back to bed I went.
I lay there thinking, I remembered how Mr. Hopkins had not finished his
meal, but had simply told us goodbye, and that he would see Ellen the
next day at the grocery store. It was totally embarrassing for all of us
and I knew my Grandma had the upper hand. The rest of the day was awful
for all of us. All of us kids had gone quietly about our own business,
giving both Ma and Grandma a wide berth.
course, it had all come to an all-out war later that night when Grandma
had physically attacked our Ma. I thought that the other kids had slept
through it all, even the ringing of the doorbell, until I went into my
bedroom that I shared with Les. He was sitting up in bed, rubbing his
"What's going on, Zeb? What was all that commotion out there, anyway?"
much, Les. We'll talk about it tomorrow on the way to school, okay? We
need to get some sleep or we'll never get up in the morning. I think
I've got a test tomorrow. Now, go back to sleep."
would probably have enough problems for us all to get through, anyway.
The other kids didn't even know yet about Grandma leaving. Was she
(To be continued)