- Ellen and James Ė
James and Ellen decided to take up Nora and Henryís offer to move a trailer house onto their property at Springtown, Texas. They looked at several mobile homes before choosing a one bedroom with plenty of living space. James parked it close to Nora and Henryís house and Henry helped them hook everything up. Ellen was pleased with the mobile home and thought it was just right for her and James. She was also glad to be living on the farm that she had come to love.
Nora and Henryís farmland was made up of rolling hills with the better part of it cultivated. Each spring Henry planted corn, cotton, and peanuts for a fall cash crop. With their few head of cattle, their hogs and chickens, and Noraís bountiful garden that she canned from each year, they carefully etched out a living on their modest farm.
Ellen was also thankful to be living close to her mother because she felt that Nora needed her. Some weeks earlier, Uncle Willie had died from a heart attack and Nora was deeply grieved. Just after Ellen's daddy was murdered, his brother, Willie, had moved with Nora and her children to live at Grandma McGeeís house. When Grandma McGee had died, Willie moved in with Nora and Henry and thatís where he was when he died.
Nora had told Ellen that Willieís death had brought back the dreadful recollection of Oscarís murder. She had to fight to keep the grievous memories at bay, and her motto for not lingering on the past was: "Yearning to change yesterday will make today too dreary and tomorrow unbearable. You canít relive the past, so itís best not to think about it".
Nevertheless, Ellen often found herself drawn to the old barn-house that James and Henry had remodeled into a home those many years ago. It had long since been torn down and the space it had occupied was now, like her life, overgrown with weeds and useless saplings. Ellenís heart wouldnít let her free herself from the memories.
"What had happened to
our hopes and dreams?" She wondered. "Oh, to be able to go back and relive it all!"
The things she would change were too numerous to even think about, but she thought of them anyway. Before long, the pain of it all would swell in her throat until she could hardly breath. Then she would remember Noraís motto about trying not to relive the past. Ellen knew her mother was right, and she reasoned that it was the only way one could retain a certain amount of sanity.
After weeks of futile wanderings into the past, and struggling with the yearning to change it, Ellen decided James and her needed to have an earnest talk. It was time to cultivate new hopes and plant fresh dreams for their future. If they didnít, she reasoned, the fate of their marriage would be weakened, not only from Jamesí jealously, but also overshadowed by her own remorse.
One morning, over their second cup of coffee, Ellen approached the subject of Jamesí jealousy. "James," Ellen was cautious about the words she choose, "We canít continue fussing and fighting as we have in the past. Iím sick and tired of it and I know you are too. If you want me to quit working and stay home, I will. I just want us to be happy and have dreams like when we were young. Donít you feel the same way?"
James was quiet for a moment. Then he looked at her and smiled, "Of course I feel the same way, Ellen," he assured her. "I donít like for you to work, but right now we need to extra income. I promise Iíll try to keep my temper and not be jealous. But you need to be careful about the men you linger to talk with at the cafť. I just canít stand to see you laughing and flirting with another man."
"I donít laugh and flirt with other men, James. But if you will promise to control your anger, then I promise not to linger and talk with male customers."
After their talk, Ellen could see a difference in Jamesí attitude. She could tell that he was trying to control his jealousy and she tried to help him by not visiting with male customers. After a while, Ellen began to believe they had a chance to make their marriage work. She started looking to the future with hope.
Their children began having families of their own, and James was a doting grandpa. One summer, James and Ellen stayed for awhile with Doran and Dorothy at their home in California. They had given Ellen and James three boys, Ray Allen, Elzie Samuel, Malcolm Dwain, and a baby girl, Lisa Ann. The oldest son, Ray Allen, was Jamesí favorite. Ray was hyper and kept Dorothy busy trying to keep up with him. James was a big help with Ray, because he took Ray on lots of outings and played many games with him.
James and Ray loved to rise early and enjoy a cup of coffee together. The warm drink he made for Ray was more milk than coffee, but it made Ray happy. When the rest of the family awoke, James and Ray could be found sipping their coffee at the kitchen table. Dorothy told Ellen she thought it sad that her dad couldnít love her like he loved his grandchildren.
"I donít know all the reasons, Dorothy, but someone once told me that there are people who have a hard time relating to adults. I think your dad is like that. When he was a child he felt betrayed by those he trusted most, and now he seems to have no trust left," Ellen tried to explain.
"Yeah, well... that's a poor reason for mistreating your own," Dorothy told Ellen. "However, it's not good enough for an excuse!"
All through James and Ellen's visit, Dorothy watched James like a hawk. She soon began to think he really had changed. She saw the love and devotion he showed his grandchildren and that won her mother's heart.
When it was time for Ellen and James to leave, Dorothy pulled Ellen aside. "Mother, I hope youíre correct about dad trying to do whatís right. Iím still skeptical about his ability to keep his jealousy in check, but I do believe heís trying."
Ellen thought that if her cynical daughter believed James was trying, then she could dare to place hope in her heart for her marriage. Dorothyís words were just the medicine she needed to cure her own doubts.
They returned home with Ellen feeling optimistic about her and Jamesí marriage for the first time in years. She had several months of reprieve from her melancholy moods and from Jamesí jealous rages.
Then Henry died. It happened during the second winter that Ellen and James were at the farm. He had a stroke, and then a heart attack. Nora was devastated. Nothing Ellen could say or do helped bring Nora out of her deep chasm of pain.
"Iím just tired of living," Nora told Ellen.
"But, Mother," Ellen tried to reason, "Öyou must think of us and how much we love you. Please donít talk that way."
"Sister," Nora had not used Ellenís pet name since Jimmy had died, "Öyou know I love you, but Iíve had to bury so many loved ones. Iím just tired of the pain life brings."
"Oh, MotherÖ," Ellenís voice was barely audible.
"I want to go home," Noraís soft voice broke, "Öto see Jimmy."
"Mother, donít cry," Ellen wrapped her arms around Nora. She had rarely seen her mother cry. She remembered hearing Nora cry long into the night after Oscar was killed. Then, there was the one time after Jimmy died. Now, to see her mother so shattered and despairing, scared Ellen.
Three months later, on Jimmyís birthday, Nora died of a broken heart. Ellenís world came tumbling down and once again she found herself pondering about what happens to a person when they die. Nora had become a Christian and had often tried to talk with Ellen about God. But Ellen felt embarrassed that her mother would talk so Ďspiritualí. She thought it was a weakness in a person to be caught up in religion.
Once again, Ellen convinced herself that if there were a heaven, someone like her mother would be there. In the days immediately following Noraís death, Ellen was scarcely aware of others. She walked around in a daze, doing what had to be done, but not responding to life. Whispered conferences went on around Ellen but she was unwilling to participate. She had felt this same way after Jimmyís death, and reliving those same feelings made her fear for her sanity.
The morning of Noraís funeral Ellen left home early. She wanted to be alone and James agreed to come later with one of the girls. First, Ellen went to Jimmyís grave in Fort Worth. It was a serene looking cemetery with everything neat and clean. Nora would not be buried here next to Jimmy, Ellen thought. She would lie next to Henry at Springtown. Ellen knelt down and straightened the last flowers Nora had placed on Jimmyís grave. Trying to remember Jimmyís voice, She bowed her head and closed her eyes. It had been so long. She couldnít even remember how he laughed, and pain stabbed her heart.
"Well, Jimmy, our mother will soon join you wherever you are. Sometimes, I wish I could too. I donít remember how you sounded when you talked. Iím sorry Iíve forgotten such a precious memory," Ellen turned her eyes toward heaven and in a moment of rashness she screamed at God. "Why? Why? If youíre really true, why?"
As soon as the words were out of her mouth she felt foolish. She looked around and was thankful no one was near. She quickly left the graveyard, and drove to the church where Noraís funeral service would be. Ellen was the last one to enter the church, and she saw James looking for her. She nodded to him, then sat down beside Peggy. She didnít hear the words spoken, or the music. When it was over, she arose from her seat and made her way to the casket for a final look at her mother. Dead now, this precious life that had so tenderly cared for her as a child and treasured her as an adult. No one else on the face of the earth could ever love her as her mother did.
Being emotionally drained, Ellen trudged by Noraís body in a daze. James walked with her outside and said something to her about a phone call, but she didnít seem to grasp what he said.
The short ride to the graveyard didnít register with Ellen. It was only when she stood at Noraís burial-site that Ellen started looking around at who was there. She caught a glimpse of Thelma with her four daughters, Doris, Delma, Bernice and Theda. "Where has she been?" Ellen wondered to herself. Suddenly, Ellen became aware of her own children. Ronald Lee was with his wife, Alene, who was standing beside Genneive. Their three children, Mike, Terri, and Bruce, werenít with them.
Morris and his wife, Mary, had brought their three children, Jimmy, Johnny, and Mary Jean.
Peggy and Fred were near Carrie and her daughter, Carolyn. Ellen wondered where Peggyís children were. Then she remembered Fred telling her they had left Sidney, Drue Ellen, and Elizabeth with his mother in California.
Skip, his head downcast, had planted himself right next to Peggy, and Pat stood next to her husband, G.W.
Dorothy and Doran couldnít be there. Dorothy had traveled from California for Henryís funeral, and they couldnít afford another trip.
Peggy and Pat were watching Ellen as if they were afraid she was going to faint. Ellen straightened up and smiled at them. Both girls returned their motherís sad smile, relieved to see life in their motherís face again.
When it was over and Ellen turned to leave, she bumped into Kelly. They embraced for a long time before Ellen could trust herself to speak. It had been ten long years since they had last seen each other. "Kelly, itís so good to see you," Ellen finally spoke.
"Itís been too long, Ellen," Kellyís soft voice was full of unspoken grief. "Iím so sorry about Nora."
"Where have you been?" Ellen tried to ignore the sympathetic gesture, because she knew that acknowledging it would bring on tears.
"I moved to Dallas last week. Iíve been intending to call, but I put it off because of all the unpacking and getting resettled. When I finally did call, James answered the phone and told me about your mother. He said you had left early. Iím sorry I missed you, but itís so good to be here beside you now."
"Do you have time to come by the house?" Ellen asked. "Weíve got a lot of catching up to do."
"Of course," Kelly eagerly responded. "Iíll follow you there."
As they sat down with a cup of coffee, Ellen started trying to catch Kelly up on family news. "I know itís been four years since my last note to you, Kelly. I donít know why I didnít answer your last two letters. I guess it was a combination of things. Skip joined the service, and we moved again. Uncle Willie died, and then Motherís health started failing. When Henry died I knew Mother wouldnít last long," Ellen paused a moment. "But, what about yourself? Whereís Martin, and Walter?"
"Walter died, heart attack," Kelly faltered,
"Kelly!" Ellen cried. "Why didnít you let me know?"
"I couldnít. I just couldn't think straight. Martin was killed in Vietnam the year before Walter died"
"Oh, Kelly, how tragic," Ellen squeezed Kelly's hand. Suddenly, Ellen felt her own sorrows were small.
"When Walter read Martin's last letter we both cried. Martin sounded so lonely. He said that Vietnam was a no-win war and he often wished he had never gone. But, he said he was thankful for the good thing that had come out of it. He said that if it hadn't been for all the bad things that had happened to him he wouldn't have realized how much he needed God. It didn't make sense to us, Ellen."
"Martin was probably suffering from battle fatigue," Ellen told her.
"That's what Walter said," Kelly took a deep breath before continuing. "When Walter died, I wanted to crawl into the grave with him. But, we must go on living. I have no choice, I'm afraid of death. Walter read Martin's Bible every night. He tried reading to me but I didn't want to hear about God. Now, I wish I had listened, if only to please him."
"You can't change the past," Ellen said softly. "Besides, Walter knew how much you loved him."
"I know you're right." Kelly smiled at Ellen. "Do you remember when we lived in Arkansas? And when Granny died?"
"Yes, I remember," Ellen thought back through the years and remembered how she had felt about Granny's death.
"Do you remember, when you questioned me about heaven and hell?"
"Yes, I remember."
"Well, I had never loved anyone enough to truly care about heaven, or hell. Not even my mom. But now, I do wonder about what happens to a person when they die. Maybe there is a heaven and a hell. I've always believed in God, but I never believed in hell. Someday I'm going to read Martin's Bible. Someday, Öwhen I can open it without feeling guilty," Kelly started crying again.
Ellen tried to comfort her. Soon, she gained control and gave Ellen a sad smile. "Ellen, it's awful of me to bring my troubles to you at a time like this. I didn't mean to break down. I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize. You've actually helped me. I feel so much better just having you here with me. And, knowing about Walter and Martin helps put my sorrow in the right perspective. If you can make it so can I."
"Thanks for being kind, Ellen. You know you can rely on me if you need someone to talk with."
"I'm sure glad you've moved back here. We'll get to see each other often and you're an encouragement for me." They talked about Nora, and Jimmy and how much fun Jimmy had been. Then they talked of Ellen's baby, Donald Paul, and they cried over their losses.
After Kelly left, Ellen began to think about God. She wondered about Walter and Martin becoming Christians. "What does it all mean? If there really is a God, why does he allow such tragedies to happen? Why must the innocent suffer?" These questions haunted Ellen for weeks as she slowly slipped into a deep depression. She was tired and didn't want to do anything. She forced herself to go back to work. She went through her days in robot movements, smiling when she should and talking when she should, but having no feeling.
Kelly called often but was so busy getting her life in order that she didn't realize what was happening to Ellen.
James became impatient with Ellen and told her that no one could be grieving that much. He hinted that maybe she had a lover
on the side.
"James, my mother's still fresh in her grave," Ellen started crying. "Just please leave me alone."
But James wouldn't shut up, and one word led to another until Ellen lost control. She started saying things to hurt him.
"I hate you," she lashed out. "You're sick! Sick! Do you hear me? You're a mad man! Get away from me and leave me alone."
Ellen's anger only added fuel to the fire of jealousy burning inside James. When he lost control and hit her, the blow to her face sent her reeling backward onto a chair. They looked at each other in stunned silence. Ellen slowly pulled herself up and stumbled into the bedrooms where she lay down. She heard James leave and she hoped he wouldn't come back.
She lay for hours, trying to sort through her feelings. There were times when she felt sorry for James, and sometimes she even liked him. There were other times, like tonight when she hated him, but it had been a long time since she felt any kind of love.
"How sad," she said before sleep overtook her mind, "to lose the sweetness of love." She never knew when James came home. The next morning, he tried to make up with her. He fixed breakfast and poured her a cup of coffee.
"I didn't mean to hit you like that. Will you forgive me?" He pleaded. Ellen left for work without answering. She was glad for the busy day because it helped to pass the time. She tried not to think about what had happened. The next few days were spent with James pleading for her forgiveness, and her answering numbly for him to leave her alone. It wasn't long before he took another tone.
"I know what's wrong with you," he spat out at her. You've found another man. Just tell me and I'll let you go. Tell me the truth, I can take it."
"James, there's not another man. I just want to be let alone. I'm sick of you and I'm sick of life. I want to get away from you. I'm leaving, Ötoday."
He became furious, and started hitting her. When Ellen fell to the floor he started kicking her; calling her horrible, filthy names. She thought he was going to kill her. When she didn't respond he stopped kicking and stomped out of the trailer, slamming the door as he left. Ellen ached all over and she wondered how a person could hurt this much and still be able to stand up. Every move she made sent shivers of pain through her back and chest.
"If I live through this," she muttered through swollen, bloody lips, "ÖI'll never come back." Using the back of a chair, Ellen pulled herself up to the table. The pain was so intense she couldnít move. She stood like a stone statue for several minutes. Then she bowed her head in sorrow; the breaking of her heart was complete. When she was finally able to move, she telephoned Kelly and asked her to come at once.
"Dear God, Ellen! You look awful!" Kelly exclaimed as she looked over Ellen's wounds. "Let me take you to the hospital.
"No, Kelly. Just help me gather my clothes, and take me to your house. James doesn't know where you live, so he won't be able to find me."
Every minute spent at the trailer gave them less chance of getting away undiscovered. Kelly threw Ellenís clothes into a bag as fast as she could, then anxiously helped Ellen outside. Getting into the car was sheer pain for Ellen. She gritted her teeth and tried not to cry, but the tears came anyway. As she started her car, Kelly looked at Ellen and saw tears rolling down her cheeks.
"Oh, Ellen," she said and began to cry also, "Öwhy didn't you leave before now?"
"Because my kids would never have forgiven me," Ellen said this more to herself than to Kelly. She wondered if they could ever fully understand.
"I bet you know every bump and turn between here and your house," Kelly stated as she eased the car into her driveway.
"It wasn't so bad. Just getting away from James has made me feel better." Kelly helped Ellen into the house, assisted her as she undressed, and eased her into bed. Ellen was exhausted, and as soon as the pain capsule Kelly gave her took effect, she fell into a troubled sleep. Slowly, Ellen began to heal and was soon able to get up and around on her own. Fearful that her children would be angry, she hesitated to call any of them. Kelly finally telephoned Doran and Dorothy in California. The next day, Doran and Dorothy were at Kelly's. They talked Ellen into moving to their home. And even though Dorothy offered, Ellen drove her own car all the way to California.
Dorothy, the one who gave Ellen the most trouble as a teenager, became her best ally. Often, Dorothy could sense Ellen's unhappiness and would try to cheer her up. Ellen told her how concerned she was about James causing trouble. But Dorothy didn't worry about it, until the day James came by. Doran was working nights, the evening James rang the doorbell, and he had already left for work. Dorothy heard the front ringer, and when she opened the door, there stood James. She stepped back in surprise.
"Why, Daddy!" she exclaimed. "I didn't know you were coming out here."
"I want to see your mother," he said and walked past her into the living room.
"Mother!" Dorothy called out, "Daddy's here."
Ellen walked into the room and spoke to James. He turned to Dorothy and asked her to leave the room. "I want to talk with your mother in private," he explained to her.
"Daddy," Dorothy was trembling, "what ever you have to say to Mother, you'll have to say in front of me."
"You're as sorry as everyone says you are" James gave Dorothy a look of pure hatred.
"You thought that about me when I was just a child," Dorothy spewed out the words. "So, don't try to send me on a guilt trip over my past."
"Ellen," James ignored Dorothy's outburst. "I need to talk with you. Will you tell Dorothy to leave." Ellen didn't say anything. She turned and walked into the kitchen and sat down at the breakfast table. James and Dorothy followed her.
"Are you going to come back to me?" James asked but she didn't answer. "Ellen," James raised his voice. "Answer me!"
"Daddy," Dorothy took command, "you've got grandchildren here that shouldn't be hearing you talk like this."
"Ellen Are you going to talk to me, or not?" James lowered his voice.
"I don't have anything to say to you," Ellen spoke cautiously, as if she were afraid.
"Look, Daddy," Dorothy offered, "I've got to get my kids to bed. Mother's going to help me, and then we'll sit down and talk. Okay?"
James agreed and stayed at the table as Dorothy and Ellen put the children to bed. Ellen said she would sleep with the children that night and James could have her bedroom. But Dorothy wouldn't let her. "No way, Mother. He could come in here and drag you outside and beat you up again. You'll sleep with me."
"What about Doran?"
"He can sleep on the couch."
"I hate to do that to him," Ellen frowned.
"Under the circumstances, you don't have a choice. So don't argue about it. Now, you get ready for bed and I'll tell Daddy that you don't want to talk with him tonight." Dorothy walked into the kitchen where James was waiting. She noticed him staring out the window as if in a trance.
"Daddy," she spoke softly, "Mother's already gone to bed. She'll feel more like talking tomorrow. Mother's sleeping with me tonight, and you can sleep in her room. Don't you think it's better for us to talk in the morning?"
"I guess so," he sounded tired. Dorothy led him to his room and then she went to her bedroom and closed the door.
"Thank God! that was easier than I thought it would be," She told Ellen.
Suddenly, the door opened and there stood James. He asked if he could come in. He walked to the bed and stared at Ellen. Hoping to dissuade him, Ellen turned her back to him. Dorothy thought she heard one of her children up and left the room to check. When she returned she saw James holding a small pistol and pointing it at Ellen's back.
"You don't think I'll do it, do you?" His voice was raspy and he was breathing hard. When he became aware that Dorothy had entered the room he quickly put the gun in his pocket. Dorothy scurried to the bed and sat down putting herself between James and Ellen.
"Daddy" Dorothy tried to get his attention but he was staring past her at Ellen's back.
"Daddy," she said it louder but he paid no mind.
"Daddy!" she cried and this time he jerked his eyes at her as if she had shook him out of a daze.
"What?" he spewed the word out in anger.
"Do you love me?"
"What?" he looked at her incredulously.
"I asked if you love me," Dorothy persisted.
"What has that to do with this?" he asked impatiently.
"Just answer me. Do you love me?"
"Well, yes," his voice softened.
"Then, if you love me. And, if you love your grandchildren in that next room, you'll stop threatening their grandmother like this. You'll stop talking like this in front of me, that is, if you really love me."
"I..., I just want your mother to come back to me. I can't live without her," he broke down.
"Daddy, you're tired. Please go to bed and let's talk in the morning. Doran will be here in a little while and he wouldn't want to see us so upset. Please go to bed."
"Okay, but promise me you'll make your mother talk to me in the morning," he turned without waiting for an answer and left the room.
Dorothy closed the door and locked it. She told Ellen to go to sleep, but she stayed awake until Doran came home from work. She was never so glad to see her husband as she was that night. Dorothy told Doran about what had happened and he lay down on the bed beside her. He didn't undress because he was worried about James starting trouble again. Dorothy and Ellen finally went to sleep.
The next day Doran bought James a bus ticket and convinced him to visit Sunny. Relieved to see James leave, Dorothy and Ellen hugged each other. For the first time Dorothy realized how dangerous James could be. It scared her more than she could say. Ellen had never seen the gun, but she was sure he was threatening her with a weapon. Dorothy made up her mind to call the police if her daddy ever came around again.
Ellen lived with Doran and Dorothy for over a year. They tried to make her comfortable but it just wasn't her home. She missed her friends and when she told Dorothy she wanted to go home, Dorothy cried and begged her to stay. Ellen told Dorothy that although she loved living with her, she just wasn't happy. Thatís when Dorothy gave in without more objections. Ellen called her old job and the owner rehired her and offered her the apartment in back of the cafť.
Three days later Ellen was home again. She was relieved to be back in Fort Worth, to have her old job back, and her own apartment. She wrote Dorothy that she was happy to be home and glad to no longer feel as if she were running from James like an escapee from prison.
Ellen didn't realize it, but she could have had the peace and freedom she longed for. All she had to do was turn her heart over to God, and trust Him for her future. But, Ellen wanted protection from injustice, not the security of her soul.