Friday, May 24, 2013

Zebulon - Days 48 - 71- HIstorical Fiction

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.

"How 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."

"Well, 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..." 

"I'm 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."

Looking 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 treatment?

Deciding 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 telling me?"

"If 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?" 

I 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?"

"You're 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.

"Yes, 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." 

At 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 that time.

Lifting 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." 

I 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. 

"The 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." 

I 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.

Sitting 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. 

"Yes, 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.

"Now, 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 for me?"

"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?"

"Those 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 find me." 

He ruffled my hair, tipped my shoulder with a closed fist in farewell, and left. I had a lot to think about.

Looking 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. 

As 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 instructions.

The 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 the floor. 

"Wait a minute," she shouted. "I can't move very fast with this thing. Don't go away!" 

She 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 know why.)

"Could I shovel your walkway and sidewalks for you, Ms. Grogan, and maybe make a little money?" 

"Oh, 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?"

"Yes, Ma'am." 

I 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. 

She 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. 

"Now, 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. 

"Oh, 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." 

As 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, won't you?"

I 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, anyway."

"Please, 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. 

My 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 sometimes.

"Goodbye, Mz. Grogan. Thank you again for the hot chocolate."

As 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?

The 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. 

Ma 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?"

"Young 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!"

Uh-oh! 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, and why?

Pretty 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 coming, anyway?

I 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.

We 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?"

At 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!

Soon 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?"

Ma 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."

Marie 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.

Ma 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.

Anxious 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?

The 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.

I 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 the pigeons.

"Well, 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!"

My 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. 

"Mother 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."

"Oh, 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! 

I 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?"

"Zebulon! 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!"

By 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.

"Madam, 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! "

I 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 or leave? 

It seemed I didn't have to wonder for long.

"Be 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."

Oh, 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. 

Well, 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?"

"It's 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, won't you?"

"Who is this? Is this one of them crank calls? You better watch it, if it is!"

"No. 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.

I 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!"

Those 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."

I 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 the nerve?

Creeping 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. 

Getting 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?"

"Officer," 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.

The 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?"

"Well, 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?"

I 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.

"Mother 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. 

"Well, 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. 

Walking 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.

Releasing 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.

"Son, 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."

I 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.

"Where 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?"

"I've 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."

Man! 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.

As 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.

Of 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 eyes.

"What's going on, Zeb? What was all that commotion out there, anyway?"

"Nothing 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." 

Tomorrow 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 really gone?
























 (To be continued)

2 comments:

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Aha!! NOW do we get into the double agent stuff?

Grammy said...

Maybe.