pen rainbow

Monday, March 11, 2013

Monday: The Reading Corner—The Meadows

Continued from March 4, 2013...

Click HERE to start at the beginning

Introducing Walt and Johnny


Princeton Street

Chapter One

It was a quarter to six when Walt drove his banged-up baby blue Ford pickup into the dirt driveway and parked it in front of the house.  Betty was in the kitchen watching over a pot of stewed chicken and dumplings.  The delicious smell drifted through the house and found its way out into the front yard.  Troi and Brooke had been called in for supper and were lying on the couch in the living room playing bicycle.  When they heard their step-grandfather's truck pull up, they scrambled up from the couch and charged out of the front door into the yard to greet him.

"Papa!" they bellowed as they raced toward him.

Walt was standing next to the truck with one hand resting on top of the open driver's side door.  He leaned into the front seat to retrieve his big aluminum lunch box and his sunglasses.  He grabbed his red plaid Thermos with the other hand, and slammed the door of the truck with his dusty forearm.  The girls were now entwined around his pant legs.  He smiled and bent down on one knee to greet them.

"Hi!  How are Papa’s girls?" 

"We’re fine, Papa!" Troi shouted as she bounced up and down.  

He wrapped the crook of his strong arm around her small waist.  She threw her arms around his sweaty neck while Brooke hopped onto one of his leather work boots and swung herself around to the back of his shoulders.  Brooke tightened her arms around his neck and hiked her legs up piggyback-style.

"We made a river and some mud pies with bugs on them!" Troi happily jabbered.  

She could feel his five o’clock shadow scrape against the side of her neck as she squirmed against his broad chest and tried to wrap her fingers around the collar of his denim work shirt.  Her long, brown hair whipped across his face as he delivered an affectionate kiss to her cheek.  Brooke stretched around the back of his head and planted a kiss just below his ear.  He turned his head toward her and rubbed his scratchy face under her chin, sending her into a squeeling ticklish fit.  Walt stood up and carried the two little girls dangling from his neck across the yard and onto the front steps of the house.  As he bent forward, the girls gleefully held tighter to his muscular neck.

"Let go, now.  Papa's hungry for supper."
The little girls dropped onto the concrete porch and ran toward the screen door.  Walt reached for the handle with the hand that was holding the Thermos and opened it wide enough for the girls to shove their way past his legs and through the front door.

Harriet momentarily looked away from the CBS Evening News and barely acknowledged Walt as he thudded in from the porch and closed the front door with his elbow.  He ignored her and noisily placed his lunchbox and empty Thermos on the maple coffee table in front of the sofa.  

Troi and Brooke had been called to the bathroom by their mother who was running a Mr. Bubble bath for them in the pink bathtub.  Dee snatched two worn out bath towels and a washcloth from the built-in linen cupboard in the hallway and placed them on the closed white lid of the toilet seat.  Her neck and shoulders stiffened when she heard Walt's heavy work boots moving down the hallway toward the bathroom.  She took a step toward the bathroom door and pushed it closed with her foot.  She reached for the doorknob and quickly turned the latch to lock herself and the girls inside.

Betty looked up from the big pot of chicken and dumplings as Walt rounded the corner from the hallway.  

"Hello there," she said cheerfully.  She did a quick study of his face to assess his mood.  "How was work?"  

She had an old oven mitt on one hand and her favorite oversized metal cooking spoon in the other.  She turned back toward the stove and gently bobbed the plump dumplings in the simmering broth.  

"Same old, same old," Walt said wearily as he headed for the refrigerator.  

His dirty, loose Levis sagged below his protruding beer belly, and his powerful B.O. overwhelmed the delectable smell in the kitchen.  His thinning salt and pepper hair was tangled and greasy from working outside all day in the howling hot wind.  A crusty patch of hair stood upright on top of his head where he had run his fingers back and forth in an effort to shake out the sand.  He had the sunbaked, tawny tan of a construction worker, and his deeply creased skin looked like old leather. 

"There’s a six-pack of Coors in there," Betty said as she looked back down into the stew to check on the dumplings.  

It was Tuesday night, and she was looking forward to a comforting supper and an episode of Gunsmoke, their favorite TV program.

As he shuffled toward the old Norge, Walt lifted one boot and wagged it at Cindy who was eyeing him from underneath the kitchen table.  She raised her eyebrows, but ignored his threat.  Betty focused on her dumplings.  She heard the familiar clunk of the refrigerator door as it unlatched.  

Walt bent over and stuck his face into the ice box to feel the cool air.  His eyes closed for a second as he revived himself, then he reached in and slid a can of Coors off of the top rack of the fridge.  He  closed the refrigerator door and yanked open a wooden drawer underneath the counter to locate the church key.  He punched two holes in the top of the can, tossed the can opener onto the counter, and took three long, deep gulps of beer.  He stared out of the small window above the kitchen sink and inspected the back yard to make sure that no one had disturbed his precious pile of junk.  

Walt’s backyard stash was composed of, among other things, tractor parts; the blue and white upholstered front seat of a Pontiac; a jumble of used plywood with four inch, bent rusty nails sticking through the wood; a white porcelain toilet without a seat; several rods of rebar hopelessly tangled up in ball of chicken wire; a half-dozen wooden window frames with broken panes; an aluminum screen door with a large tear in the top section; three partially used rolls of attic insulation; four half-empty, five-gallon buckets of sticky tar; six bags of horse manure; a gasoline-soaked rag in a Hills Brothers coffee can; a rusted-out water heater; and a partially sanded fiberglass boat on blocks.  As the son of an Arkansas sharecropper, he had been taught to forage, make repairs, and never throw anything away. 

"Willful waste makes woeful want," as his mother used to say.

Dee waited until she heard Walt in the kitchen before she told the girls to get undressed and climb into the tub.  Troi lifted one leg over the side of the tub and tested the temperature of the water with her left foot.  Brooke waited until her mother’s back was turned, then reached out and pushed her older sister out of the way.  Both girls wanted to be in the deep end of the bathtub where the bubbles were the highest. Troi hopped twice to the right to regain her balance, grabbed the edge of the bathtub, and plunged her left foot into the hot suds.  Shifting her weight, she lifted her right foot over the edge of the tub and slid into the warm water.  

She glared at her little sister and warned sharply, "Don't!"

Brooke stood next to the bathtub, thought for a moment, and then bellowed, "Mommy!  Troi won't let me get into the bathtub!"

Dee was distracted by the lock on the bathroom door.  She had been there for only a week when Walt “accidentally” barged in on her while she was putting on her makeup.  It happened two more times when she was bathing the girls, and Walt chalked it up to a defective bathroom lock.  Deanna knew that the son-of-a-bitch could not be trusted, but as long as her husband was in LA, she had to put up with him.  

She’d run out of options when she made the decision to move back in with her mother.  When she married Johnny two months before her eighteenth birthday, she thought that she was finished cleaning up after her mother and two younger siblings.  But, she had no choice when Johnny decided to take advantage of the educational stipend that was available to Korean War veterans.    

Los Angeles was less than four hours from Las Vegas, and they figured that he'd be close enough to visit Dee and the kids on the weekends.  Few people knew him by his birth name, Reynold.  His co- workers called him, Ray, and his family and close friends called him, "Johnny," a 1950‘s spinoff from his last name, Jones.  At the age of 28, he was the father of four children and had been married for seven years.

Domestic life had been difficult for him after his discharge from the service.  He went in as a 17-year old at the request of the local sheriff who gave him, and other juvenile delinquents like him, a choice between time served in the military or time served in jail.  The Air Force provided the daily structure that he needed to stay focused, as well as opportunities for job training and travel to exotic places.  He had been stationed in Korea and Japan during his four-year stint and had visited Morocco, Munich, Paris, and London while on military leaves.  

Las Vegas had little to offer after four years in the military, and his intellectual curiosity required more than what Vegas could provide.  Deanna was a high school senior when they met, and after he'd served his time in the Air Force, his parents made it clear that they expected him to get married and settle down.  

He was her ticket out of the house on Princeton Street, and she was an acceptable home town choice for a wife, as far as his parents were concerned.  Seven years later, she was back.  Having her grandmother there was more work, but Harriet was an excellent babysitter.  Walt was definitely the problem.

To Be Continued...HERE