pen rainbow

Monday, March 18, 2013

Monday: The Reading Corner—The Meadows

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas design by Betty Willis erected in May 1959

The Meadows

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Click HERE to start at the beginning

Chapter 2 - Arkansas

Fletcher Absolem Walters was born in Lonoke, Arkansas, in 1910, the son of a Methodist preacher and a tenant farmer’s daughter.  He was raised by his mother's relatives in Prairie County after his father abandoned the young family a month after his youngest brother was born.  His mother brought her three young sons back to the family farm, an arrangement that suited her father since her mother had succumbed to influenza the year before.  Fletcher and his two brothers grew up in rural poverty like all of the other tenant families, but they learned to work the land, raise livestock, and make the most out of what they had.  

He was thirteen when his Uncle Roy gave him the daily chore of milking Daisy, their Jersey cow.  While his mother fried thick-cut bacon and fresh eggs in a large cast-iron skillet in the kitchen, he sat alone in the barn on a low, yellow milk stool with his forehead propped against Daisy’s slow, heaving side.  She munched contentedly on mouthfuls of dried corn while he squeezed rich, warm milk into a large metal pail.  He sang tunes to the little black and white barnyard cats who sat on their haunches waiting for streams of fresh milk to come their way.  Despite the predawn hours and the frosty walks to the barn on winter mornings, he valued the solitude.  It was also a convenient way to avoid his grandfather.   

Walt, as he came to be called by his extended family, matured into a lean and powerful young man.  At 6 foot 4 inches tall, he had no trouble pitching hay into the high rafters of the barn.  His physical strength made him valuable as a farm hand, and he enjoyed tinkering with the tractor when he wasn’t busy with his other chores.  His imposing stature made him intimidating, which he recognized as not only an advantage around other men, but also a benefit when it came to young women.  

His confidence, easy-going temperament, and practical ways made him popular with his peers.  Female acquaintances at school were drawn to his rugged good looks and his sense of humor.  His woodworking and construction skills improved, and by the time he quit high school, he had developed a solid reputation throughout the county as a reliable craftsman.  

His attitude toward women was shaped by his grandfather.  As far as the old man was concerned, it was his responsibility as the patriarch of the family to educate and prepare the children to become husbands and wives.  Walt’s mother was always the first to minimize her father’s conduct.  As the only girl in the family, she had been her father’s favorite, up until her fifteenth birthday when she met the preacher from Iowa and married him six weeks later.  

When she moved back to the farm, Ester warned her boys to stay away from their grandfather and to avoid spending time with him alone.   Their older cousins tried to protect them when they first arrived.  George, Harry, and Wesley showed them all of the safe places around the farm where they could hide.  But, like all pedophiles, their grandfather was crafty and managed to find opportunities to trap them, sometimes right under the noses of their parents.  His wandering hands were always chalked up to the loving embraces of an affectionate grandfather.   

During his teen years, Walt began to seek out jobs that kept him away from the farm.  After the stock market crash in ’29 followed by two more years of crippling drought, he hitched a ride into Oklahoma and found work as a machinist and wildcatter in the booming oil fields around Tulsa.  Two years later, he married a naive sixteen-year old named Agnes Goodnight, and within a year, the first of their three daughters was born.  

Twenty-five years later, no one was surprised when their eldest daughter, Ethel Mae, swallowed a handful of sleeping pills two weeks before Christmas.  She had been depressed for most of her life.  Six months later, their youngest daughter, Syble, a raven-haired beauty like her mother and a well known party girl, was killed instantly when she lost control of the pickup she was driving and rolled it on the newly paved highway leading out of town. 

A month after Syble’s accident, Agnes Goodnight Walters finally took a stand.  Her older brother, Jim, was a rodeo man, but not just any rodeo man.  He was a champion bronc buster, and his two strapping sons, Raymond and Cliff, were champion bull riders.  After Agnes appeared on his doorstep one Thanksgiving with a loose tooth, a black eye, and bruises around her neck, Jim’s wife, Jennie, had to physically restrain him from rounding up the boys and beating the living daylights out of his brother-in-law.  They tried to convince Agnes many times to leave Walt, but the prospect of being on her own with three young daughters was more terrifying to her than dealing with a drunk and abusive husband.  Now, with two of her three daughters gone, Agnes wanted to end the nightmare.   She called her brother and asked for his help.

As he drove down the dark, empty highway toward the farmhouse, Walt wondered how Agnes’s brother would choose to handle the situation.  Agnes and their 23-year old daughter, Dorthie Sue, had been gone for two days, and Walt was well aware of her family’s reputation for protecting their own.  

Jim and the boys were waiting on the dimly lit porch when he drove up the dirt path and parked his light blue Ford under the big bur oak in the front yard.  He turned off the headlights, opened the door of the truck, and stepped out into the yard.  Cliff and Raymond were seated on the low bench next to the screen door holding their Winchester rifles.  Jim was leaning against the post next to the steps with his arms crossed.  Walt could see that Jim was wearing his vintage Colt with the carved ivory handle.  Walt slammed the door of the truck and strolled confidently across the moonlit grassy lawn.  When he got to the edge of the porch, he put his right boot on the first step.  He tightened his jaw and glanced at Jim’s hulking sons who were now standing up with their rifles pointing toward the ceiling of the porch.  Jim moved his right hand onto his holster and slid his left thumb over the top of the gun belt on his hip.

He looked down at the white wooden planks on the porch and said calmly, “Walt, I think you know why we’re here.”

Walt glared at him defiantly, his gray eyes flashing angrily in the moonlight.

“This is none of your goddamn business, Jim.  It’s between me and my wife.  Now, git on home and take care of your own problems.”

Jim ran his fingers through his wavy black hair with his left hand.  He adjusted the toothpick he’d been gnawing on since dinner, looked up at Walt, and casually wrapped the fingers of his right hand around the ivory grip.  Raymond and Cliff were as attentive and focused as pack wolves.  

Then, in a firm and steady voice, he said,  “We can settle this now, Walt, and you can leave peacefully.  Or, me and the boys...Well, we’re gonna take you out one way or the other.  I’m givin’ you an hour to pack your things and go.  It’s your choice.”

An hour later, the three Goodnight men were escorting Walt back to his truck and away from the house for the last time.  Walt pushed an open case of Jack Daniels into the bed of his pickup and slammed the tailgate closed.  Jim and the boys watched as Walt slid in behind the steering wheel, turned the ignition, and gunned the engine.  With his foot on the clutch, he yanked the gear shift into reverse, turned toward them, and spat out of the open driver’s side window.  

“This isn’t over.  I’m coming back to get what’s mine.” he growled.  

Jim lunged toward the cab of the truck and thrust his hand into the open window.  He pressed the steel barrel of his gun against Walt’s graying temple and said in a menacingly cold tone,

“If you ever, and I mean as long as you’re alive, come back here to bother my family again, we will hunt you down, chop off your nuts, and leave your worthless carcass so far up in the canyon that only the buzzards and coyotes will find you.  Is that clear?”  

Walt listened and clenched his jaw.  He stared ahead, nodded once, and waited for Jim to lower his revolver.  He had hidden his Smith & Wesson underneath his seat, but he knew that he was no match for all three of them. 

Jim released his grip on the door, slipped his Colt back into its holster, and stepped back into the sparse grass.  Walt slowly pressed his foot on the accelerator and turned the steering wheel to the right.  As the truck began to angle backwards, Walt could see the raised barrels of two Winchesters aimed directly at him.  Jim, flanked by his two sons, watched the red tail lights of Walt’s pickup disappear into the darkness.  Agnes’s 25-year marriage was finally over, and Betty’s ordeal was about to begin.  

Chapter 3 — Hacienda

Walt had always dreamed of moving out West.  He was tired of drilling for oil, and he had heard about the construction boom in Las Vegas.   He would be turning fifty soon, and he was confident that he could find a new wife within the year, preferably one with daughters.  So, he followed Route 66 out of Oklahoma, across theTexas panhandle and into the beautiful high desert of northern New Mexico.  He drove on through the majestic Painted Desert in Arizona and past the Grand Canyon.  

Walt loved the vastness of the open playas, the spruce-topped red bluffs, and the layers of purple mountain ranges stacked up against the horizons.  He turned north at Kingman and drove across the Hoover Dam into Boulder City.  On July 2, 1959, a newly erected neon sign flashed, Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, as Walt’s light blue Ford pickup cruised down The Strip for the first time.

The next morning, he was sitting in a booth at the Hacienda Hotel waiting to order a $2 steak and eggs breakfast plate from the buffet.  An attractive dark-haired waitress approached his table.

“What can I get for you today, cowboy?”  the waitress asked cheerfully as she pulled an order pad and a hotel pen from the skirt pocket of her gold uniform.  She cracked her gum, clicked the end of the ballpoint, and waited for him to begin.    

Walt smiled and looked at her over the top of his menu.  She looked younger than Agnes, and she probably had kids.  He checked her left hand for a ring and was happy to see that she was not wearing one.  Her white employee badge read, “Betty.”

“Well, beautiful,” he crooned in his most seductive Southern drawl, “I’ll have the steak and eggs and a side of hash browns.  A cup of black coffee to start with and a glass of tomato juice later on.”

Without looking up, Betty chirped, “Would you like a short stack of pancakes with that?”

She waited while he closed his menu.

“Sure, doll...whatever you say.”
Betty stuffed the pad and pen back into her pocket and hastily reached for the menu.  Walt tightened his grip when she tried to retrieve it.  He looked up at her, cracked a sly half-smile, and winked.

“Well, aren’t you an old fart!” she laughed as she yanked the menu away.

He admired her small waist and shapely behind as she turned and hurried away from his booth.  He reached into his white shirt pocket and pulled out a half-empty pack of Camels.  He extracted a cigarette with his teeth and reached for the book of matches sitting in the hotel ashtray next to the salt and pepper shakers.  As he blew his first lung full of smoke into the air, he smiled at his luck, and waited for Betty to return.