Final Straw

It was decided Daddy would buy a business with some of Tom’s insurance money. Finally, their ship was coming in. With no retail experience at all, they bought a grocery store in Denver City, Texas. Adjacent to the store was an apartment, perhaps I should say rooms. Across the front there was a living room and my parent’s bedroom with a small kitchen behind it. A minuscule, breakfast nook was converted into a bedroom for Ron, and beyond that was an itty-bitty bedroom for me.

Denver City is a small town in the Texas panhandle.  It is west of Lubbock and 35 miles from Hobbs, New Mexico. It was born during the oil boom, and when we arrived; it was on the wane. Flat, bleak, dusty and gritty, Denver City reeked twenty-four hours a day from the gas well, burn-off odors. The town was in a two square mile radius, and the population was about 3,000 people. Demographics never occurred to my folks.

In Denver City, I met Ady Miller, who was to become my best friend. Long before Paris and Nicole became the poster children for BFF, Ady and I forged our bond. I have a small, tattered photo of us. The photo shows us leaning against a jewelry counter waiting to pick up a watch her mother had left for repair. The slightly off-color in the photo gives us a reddish cast to our hair. At least it is not in black and white. At 15-years-old, we were both desperately trying to be blonds, so I know for sure the color is distorted. I have on a red and white striped shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and Ady is, as always, prim in a short-sleeve shirt. Not even the thought of a wrinkle is on our faces. The memory of everyone thinking we were sisters is there as I look at both of us in identical, black, cat-eyed rim glasses. Sitting together in the car at the Dairy Queen, no one could tell us apart. Standing, I was three inches taller than she was, but sitting we were a matched pair.

On April 3, 2008, while visiting for her birthday, we discussed what we should do on the 50th anniversary of our friendship. Perhaps a trip together, but where and for how long was to be decided later. For our 50th birthdays which are two weeks apart, we went to New Orleans for three days. As we say in Texas – we had a high-heeled time. Having an entire year to plan our next adventure, we anticipated it would be as wonderful as our trip to New Orleans.

Ten days later in a flurry of 15 minutes, Ady had a massive stroke and died before her husband could get an emergency service to the house. In honor of our 50th anniversary, I planted a tree. As I watch it grow, I can remember our 49 years together. A best friend is like a second self and is a special, rare gift.

Billy went into show business. She returned to Arkansas and talked a school chum, named Ruby, into creating an act with her. Billy dressed in a fringed, Western costume, a la Betty Hutton in Annie Get Your Gun. Ruby wore an Indian maiden costume. Billy had enough cash to fund her long anticipated daydream. She purchased the costumes, a small organ on which she learned to chord and use the rhythm function, a banjo and a 1959 pink Thunderbird. For some unexplainable reason, she cut one-third of the steering wheel off the T-Bird. It looked like the steering wheel in an airplane cockpit. The girls formed a duo and began to practice. They had some gigs in the area because they wandered in and out of Denver City regularly. Learning Billy was a lesbian put a crimp in the partnership, and Ruby disappeared.

During one of Billy’s sojourns home and being her normal ill-disposed self, she pushed me out of her way. I was sweeping the kitchen floor. I turned to push her back, and she cocked her arm. Out weighing me by 40 pounds, she fully intended to slam her doubled fist into my face. Without thinking, I instinctively pushed her against the wall. Jamming the broom handle across her throat, I pressed hard. I told her if she ever touched me again I would kill her, and at that particular moment I could ruin her voice forever. Seeing the intent and resolve in my eyes, she never physically abused me again.

Daddy bought a red Cadillac sedan. Later that year, he bought me a 1955,  fire-engine red Mercury coupe with a 1957 Mercury engine. I was an extremely happy teenager. Mother was into being a store owner. She hosted a Christmas cocktail party and dinners for the employees. She may have used the treasure trove she bought at Saks Firth Avenue.

The primary traffic that came into the store, besides the oil field roughnecks, were a few locals. Occasionally, there would be a truck load of migrant field hands who couldn’t speak English. While the group crowded the store, some of them stole from us. Late in the month when money was low, the town drunks came in the store to buy vanilla extract. It was a poor substitute for liquor.

Daddy’s spiral began to affect everything. My parents asked Lee and Kay to move to Denver City to help run the store. Once Lee came, the Ol’ Man emotionally walked away and actively participated in his own descent. Lee’s second son, David, was born in Denver City. Although he was an adorable and cute toddler as a new-born,he was red and exceedingly ugly. Unsightly seemed mandatory in bedraggled Denver City.

Daddy was drinking heavily for the first time in my short life. He and Mother had declared an all out, open range war. He joined a Lonely Hearts mailing list probably looking for a rich widow to resolve his problems. He tried explaining this to me in a round-about way.

Leaving Denver City one afternoon, Daddy and I drove to La Mesa, Texas. We went to a movie and this was highly out of character for Daddy. Seated for a short time, he whispered he had some business to take care of and for me to wait for him. Like I had a choice. I sat through The Rat Race with Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds twice, until he returned. I learned that when you’re in a rat race, you win a rat. Leaving the movie, he was so wasted, I drove back to Denver City. I was never sure if he had been out hustling some poor, unsuspecting widow or to the bootlegger. Normally, he didn’t have any qualms about going to the bootlegger with me in the car. After being left alone in a movie for several hours, I was absolutely positive it was detrimental.

His next escapade was beyond belief. Late one evening, I answered a telephone call telling me that Daddy was in a car accident and was at the hospital. Having no idea where Mother was, I called Lee. We both got to the hospital about the same time. Daddy claimed he had been cut off by another driver, who had shot at him. In a drunken stupor, he pulled off the road and unloaded his own Colt 38 revolver into his own car.

They lost all creditability in this small-minded town. I am sure they were heavily in debt. We cut-and-ran again. Lee and Kay lost everything along with us. Packing our meager possessions in two trailers, he pulled one trailer. I drove the second trailer as pulling a loaded trailer was something Mother was completely incapable of doing. We made our way down to Houston where Margaret and Van lived. It never occurred to Mother or Daddy to not let me drive. I was a teenager pulling an open farm trailer with no idea how to back it up and probably no insurance on it. I was locked up with Mother’s rage for 600 miles. Ron lucked out and got to ride with the Ol’ Man. Nearing Houston on IH 10, the freeway system stunned me. I had never seen freeways, and the heavy, city traffic blew my trailer-laden mind.

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