- NORA AND HENRY -
Nora and Henry Wywias had dated only a short time when she told her children they were getting a new daddy. It was April, 1930, and Ellen had just celebrated her eleventh birthday in March.
"We'll have our own home," Nora was telling the children, with false gaiety in her voice. "And Jimmy will have someone other than a female to talk with."
"I don't want to talk to him and I like Grandma's house just fine!" Jimmy exclaimed.
"Mother," Ellen pleaded. "If we move, Grandma will be all alone and she'll get lonesome for us."
"Sister, Jimmy," Nora spoke softly. "I love Henry and he loves me. Your grandma is happy for me and I want you to be happy also. Besides your grandma has asked your Aunt Mona to live here and your Uncle Willie is next door. So, your grandma will have plenty of company.”
Ellen began thinking about her Aunt Mona who had been divorced and remarried. She had a daughter, Thelma, who was only a year older than Ellen was. She was thinking about them when her mother’s voice penetrated her thoughts.
“I promise you may visit real often. And Jimmy, I know that Henry likes you and if you'll let him he'll be your friend. You do like Henry don't you?"
"I guess so," Jimmy answered reluctantly, but he turned toward Ellen and made a face.
"Well I bet Carrie and Gennieve are happy to be getting a new daddy." Nora smiled at Gennieve and asked sweetly, "Will you be happy?"
"Oh, yes! I like him," Gennieve spoke cheerfully, and Carrie agreed with her.
Nora turned to Ellen and Jimmy. "Don't you think Gennieve and Carrie should have a daddy?"
"I guess if they really want one," Ellen glared at Gennieve. Then she asked, "do I have to call him daddy?"
"No," Nora hesitated. "I guess you may call him Henry. I'm sure he won't mind."
"Good!" Jimmy spoke up. "I don't want to call him daddy either.”
"Mother," Gennieve smiled charmingly. "I'll call him daddy if you want me to."
"Me too!" Carrie chimed in. Ellen wanted to choke them.
"That's my good girls." Nora hugged them. "Henry will be so pleased for you to call him daddy and so will I."
The above photo was taken in the early 1950s
Nora and Henry married in 1930.
Henry's parents were from Germany, and although he was born in America, he never learned to read or write English. When Henry was a teenager, his father died. His family sold homemade whiskey, for extra income, and Henry loved the taste of it.
When Henry met Nora he asked her for a date. But because of his bad drinking-habit, she turned him down. Henry told her he wouldn't drink again, and he didn't, until after the wedding.
Just after Nora and Henry were married they moved away from Grandma McGee's. They moved clear across town on the other side of Fort Worth. Their two-bedroom, upstairs apartment was one of several apartments in an old, two-story house.
Jimmy slept in the living room and the girls shared a bedroom. The Great Depression was in full swing by then, as over 1,300 American banks failed and unemployment exceeded four million.
Nora and Henry both felt lucky to have jobs. And it never crossed Jimmy’s mind that not having his own bedroom was anything to complain about.
The summer Nora and Henry were married was hot and dry and every day seemed to mirror the day before. Nora and Henry getting up for work, and always talking about the weather, usually awoke Ellen.
"It's so hot inside that building a man can hardly stand it," was Henry's most often used comment.
Nora’s job was only a few blocks away, but Henry had to drive past Grandma McGee’s to get to his job. On some mornings Ellen and Jimmy would ask Henry to take them to their Grandma McGee’s house.
The days Henry refused to take them, Nora would get him to honk at
her mothers as he drove by. Then Grandma McGee would send their Uncle Willie to pick them up.
All the kids loved riding in the rumble seat of Uncle Willie's new Model-A-Ford.
One morning, Ellen decided to ask her mother if she could spend the day at Grandma McGee's, without Carrie and Gennieve tagging along.
"Why don't you want the girls to go with you?" Nora asked.
"Because they're always following me around and for once I would like to have some peace and quiet.”
"Oh, Ellen, I guess I put an awful lot of responsibility on you. You've been so good to baby-sit.
I'll get Mrs. Sneed to watch the girls and you may go alone to Mama's."
"Thanks, Mother. But why can't Jimmy watch the girls?"
"Last night I promised Jimmy he could spend the day at Tony's."
"Well that's all right, Mother," Ellen offered lamely. "I'll go another time."
"No, no, Ellen. Really it'll be just fine for the girls to spend the day at Mrs. Sneed's."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, of course," Nora said with a smile.
"Thank you, Mother," Ellen hugged her.
"Henry?" Nora inquired. "If Ellen's ready to go when you are will you have time to drop her off at Mama's?"
"I don't know," he grumbled. "What about Carrie and Gennieve?"
"Our downstairs neighbor, Mrs. Sneed, asked me to send the girls over anytime I needed a babysitter. When they wake up Jimmy can take them down."
"We can't afford no sitter," Henry spoke sharply.
"She won't charge anything. She's a widow and she gets lonesome. I like her and I know she'll be real good to the girls."
"Well I guess I can take her. But she had better be ready when I am."
Ellen didn't want Henry to take her to Grandma's. She just wanted him to honk as he usually did.
"Now what am I going to do?" Ellen wondered aloud, as she walked back to her bedroom.
Then she thought of Jimmy. Perhaps she could talk him into going with her instead of Tony's. She ran to his bedside and shook him awake.
"Jimmy," She whispered hopefully. "Will you go with me to Grandma's today?"
"No," he answered with a yawn as he turned and stretched out his legs. "Tony asked me to come to his house and help him finish our boat. If we get done in time we're going to try it out on the lake."
"Aw-w-w-w, come on, Jimmy. You can do that tomorrow."
"No," Jimmy said as he turned his face to the wall.
"Oh, well, who cares? Be that way." Ellen jumped up to leave.
"Now, Sister," Jimmy patronized. "I'll go with you next time. I promised Tony I would be there today. Now don't be angry."
"Okay, never mind. Go back to sleep."
Ellen left Jimmy's side and returned to her room. "I could say I've changed my mind," she whispered to herself.
"Hurry up, Sister," Nora urged her. Ellen decided to try something. She hid one of her shoes under the mattress of her bed.
"I only have one shoe on and the other one isn't anywhere in sight," Ellen called out to Nora.
"That's what Grandma would call a white lie," Gennieve said softly.
"Oh, hush, Gennieve," Ellen told her.
"Well we don't have time to help you look. Henry will just have to honk for Grandma to send your Uncle Willie after you."
"Oh! Thank you, Henry!" Ellen said as she leaned around the corner of her door and smiled at Henry.
Ellen's enthusiastic response was from the relief of not having to be alone with Henry. For some reason, Ellen couldn't quite figure out, she felt uneasy around him. Sometimes she would catch him looking at her strangely. So she tried to avoid him as much as possible.
Ellen always enjoyed spending the day at her Grandma McGee's. There were so many things to do, like looking at all her old magazines and pictures. And in Grandma's cool, dimly lit basement there was clothes and boxes of discarded items to rummage through. The odors of mildew and mold were strong but Ellen liked those smells.
Time flew by as Ellen rummaged through and rearranged old boxes. After several fruitless hours of trying to find an old treasure to ask her grandma about, Ellen gave up and decided to take a walk to the creek.
Coming out of the basement into the bright sunlight made Ellen squint her eyes. And the sudden blast of heat almost discouraged her from her walk. Heat waves were making the earth look like it was moving in little ripples. But in spite of the heat it was a beautiful afternoon. Her small world was drenched in sunshine with the blue sky kissing the golden earth.
Ellen meandered down her grandma's crooked lane to the creek and sat down under a cottonwood tree that seemed to be trying to touch the other side of the creek bank with its branches.
As she was spreading her skirt out over her shoes she noticed the Blood-lily flowers nearby. Grandma had planted them along the creek and they looked so white and pretty. Leaning against the smooth, white bark of the cottonwood tree, she closed her eyes, and filled her lungs with the heavy summer air. It was full of the sweet odors of flowers mixed with mossy creek smells.
She listened for a moment to the cracking sounds of an occasional grasshopper jumping
through the air and enjoyed the musical noises of the babbling brook.
Then, thinking to take a bouquet to Grandma, she began to pick the Blood-lily flowers.
As she broke the flowers off from their stalks they began to bleed red-like mucus that stained her hands.
When she noticed the stains a sharp memory of her daddy's blood, spilling on the ground,
forced its way into her mind.
Suddenly she was thrust into a nightmarish world where it was impossible to think sanely. She jumped up and ran as fast as she had run those many years ago. Stumbling and falling, scrambling up and screaming silently, she made her way to her grandma's house.
"Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!" Ellen cried his name aloud, as she fell outside the kitchen door. Her whole body shook with long, pent-up sobs. Grandma McGee heard her crying and rushed out to see about her. She helped Ellen up and held her close until Ellen's sobbing quieted. Grandma McGee questioned her gently and Ellen told her what had happened.
"Grandma," Ellen asked, "the shooting wasn't Daddy's fault was it?
"No, Sister, it wasn't. Your mother felt it best not to insist that it was Thornton's fault. Looking back I can see that it wouldn't have done any good to fight it. Your mother was the only witness for your daddy. Thornton, on the other hand, had two witnesses who claimed Oscar started shooting first."
"But he got clean away with murdering my daddy," Ellen sobbed.
"He didn't go Scot-free, Sister," Grandma McGee spoke softly. "Because not long after he killed your daddy his wife divorced him. Then his oldest son was killed in a threshing machine and the other one was killed in an automobile accident. He lost his farm and he's all alone now with plenty of time to remember how he took a good man's life."
"Oh, I didn't know all that." Ellen felt vindicated and suddenly the burden of having to keep the murder scene viable was lifted.
Ellen smiled with a feeling of relief she couldn't fully comprehend. Then another fear surfaced in her mind.
"Grandma," she hesitantly asked, "where is Daddy now?"
"Why, child, what a question!" Grandma McGee chastened tenderly. "Your daddy's in heaven. He was a good man and good people go to heaven."
They went inside the house and Grandma McGee helped Ellen clean up. Ellen thought she would get a scolding, because of the stains, but Grandma McGee never said a word.
On the way home Grandma McGee told Ellen not to say anything to Nora about what had happened. Ellen promised not to worry her mother but she couldn't help wondering if her mother knew what all had happened to Mr. Thornton. Later that night she lay awake thinking about what Grandma McGee had said.
"If all good people go to heaven then how good do you have to be?" Ellen pondered. "And if bad people go to hell how bad do they have to be to be sent there?"
She was uneasy about Grandma McGee's answer, that her daddy was in heaven simply because he was good. But she couldn't understand why Grandma McGee's reasoning made her anxious. She fell asleep thinking that someday she would understand.
Nora and Henry had been married only a few weeks when he started drinking. Ellen often awoke to the sounds of Henry coming home drunk and promising Nora he wouldn't do it again.
Henry was very affectionate with small children, and because Carrie was the baby, he doted on her. He became the daddy Carrie never had and she loved him in spite of his alcoholic temper fits.
During his intoxicated episodes he often threatened to beat them. Jimmy and Ellen would hide with Gennieve and Carrie until their mother came home from work. Then Nora would try to calm Henry down and get him to bed. Ordinarily, though, he would keep drinking until he passed out.
One day Jimmy saw Henry coming home from work and it was obvious to him that Henry was what his grandma called, "boozed up".
Sister!" Jimmy burst into the apartment yelling. "Hurry, get Gennieve and Carrie into your bedroom. Henry's coming up the stairs and he's all tanked up."
Ellen ran into the kitchen and grabbed Carrie while Jimmy looked for Gennieve. Just as they stepped inside the bedroom Henry opened the apartment door.
"Jimmy!" Henry called out. "Where are you?"
"Let's go out by the window," Ellen whispered.
"All right," Jimmy agreed as they heard Henry calling again.
"How are we going to get Carrie down?" Gennieve inquired when she saw how far it was to the ground.
"Just crawl out onto the roof," Ellen answered softly. "We'll worry about it later, Goose!
Gennieve wriggled out first, then Jimmy followed. Ellen helped Carrie through the window and Jimmy held her while Ellen sneaked out.
"Close the window, Sister," Jimmy ordered, as he took Carrie's hand and started toward the edge of the roof.
I hope Mother comes home early today," Carrie sobbed.
"Hush up, Carrie," Ellen commanded.
As Ellen closed the window she saw Henry open the bedroom door.
"Hurry, Jimmy!" Ellen yelled. "Henry just came in the bedroom."
Jimmy jumped off the roof and hollered at Ellen to hand Carrie down to him.
Because of the height Ellen knew she would have to lower Carrie into Jimmy's outstretched arms.
Just as Ellen was making the decision to drop Carrie, Henry opened her bedroom
window and yelled a command for them to get back inside. She quickly let go of
Carrie then jumped with Gennieve to the ground.
"Hurry!" Ellen shrieked, as they scrambled up.
They started running toward the back of the apartment building. Ellen was hoping their neighbor, Mrs. Sneed, would be home. Henry had stopped yelling and Ellen was afraid he would come after them. They ran to the back door and knocked. It was a relief to see Mrs. Sneed answer. Jimmy asked if she would like company for awhile.
"Why, sure Jimmy," She answered sweetly. "Just come on in and I'll get you some milk and cookies."
Ellen was sure Mrs. Sneed knew why they were there, but she didn't question them and they never told her. Jimmy and Ellen would have had their feelings hurt if Mrs. Sneed had pried or made a remark about Henry's drinking.
“My niece will be here in the morning to spend the summer,” Mrs. Sneed said to Ellen as she set the cookies and milk in front of them. “Perhaps you will come over and meet her.”
“Sure, I’ll be glad to,” Ellen replied sweetly. However, she really felt like she wouldn’t want to be visiting with anyone in the morning.
“Good,” Mrs. Sneed smiled at Ellen, then sat down and picked up her needlework.
The girls had a great time at Mrs. Sneed's but Jimmy stayed by her living-room window looking for their mother to come home. When Jimmy saw Nora walking up the sidewalk to their back door, he gathered up the girls and they hurried to join Nora. They followed her upstairs to their apartment.
"Henry's drunk," Jimmy told Nora as they walked up the steps.
"All right," Nora's voice quivered as she gave instructions. "Jimmy, you and Sister take Gennieve and Carrie to their bedroom and stay there until I call you."
"All right, Mother," Jimmy answered.
It was quiet when they entered the apartment and Nora went into her bedroom to look for Henry.
"He's asleep," Nora said as she opened the girl’s bedroom door to call her children out.
"Now play quietly until I get supper. Sister, you set the table."
Jimmy had borrowed a magazine from Mrs. Sneed, and when supper was over, he read a story for the girls. After Nora and Ellen cleaned up the kitchen everyone went to bed. Ellen's bed was beside the window, and as she lay awake looking at the stars, she started wishing her mother had never married Henry. Then she remembered the time her daddy had teased her about making a wish on the first star.
"If wishes come true, they come with a high price," Ellen told herself as once again she cried herself to sleep.
The next morning Henry and Nora were leaving for work when Ellen awoke. As usual, she was expected to watch Carrie and Gennieve. She got up and fixed a pan of oatmeal then called the girls and Jimmy to breakfast. They were sitting at the table when Mrs. Sneed knocked at the door.
"Ellen," Mrs. Sneed ventured hopefully when Ellen opened the door. "Remember last night my telling you about my niece visiting me for the summer. I thought it would be nice if you two met. Would you like to come over? You're welcome to bring Carrie and Gennieve."
"Why sure I guess so. Sure."
Ellen was flustered because of her shyness in meeting someone new.
"Good," Mrs. Sneed smiled sweetly. "We'll see you after breakfast then."
"All right," Ellen agreed as she closed the door.
They finished eating and Ellen helped the girls with their clothes. They were excited about meeting someone new. Jimmy, however, decided he would rather go to Tony's for the day. Tony's parents were from Italy and they loved to have Jimmy over because he helped them learn English.
Ellen knocked on Mrs. Sneed's door and when it opened there stood Kelly Sanders. Both girls stared at each other in shock.
"Ellen!" Kelly screamed as she embraced her. "I can't believe it's you."
"Oh, Kelly," Ellen hugged her back. "I never thought I would see you again."
"Hi, Kelly," Carrie grinned and ducked her head in shyness.
"Why, Carrie, look at you. Haven't you grown!" Kelly turned to Gennieve, "Hello, Gin, how are you?"
"Oh, no, now everyone will start calling me Gin," Gennieve let out a good-natured groan.
"Well," Mrs. Sneed interrupted. "So you girls knew each other when Kelly used to live here?"
"Yes, Aunt Margaret," Kelly answered, still excited. "We were best friends in school. It’s been two years since we've seen each other."
"Then I guess you two have a lot to catch up on. Mrs. Sneed smiled. "I'll tell you what, Kelly; you and Ellen may go to your room and visit while I see to Carrie and Gennieve."
Thanks, Aunt Margaret. Come on, Ellen."
Once inside the bedroom the girls fell across Kelly's bed and started talking.
"Kelly, why did you stop writing?"
"Oh, Ellen." Kelly looked as if she were going to cry. "Just after Daddy died, Mom remarried. I hate my step-dad. I know he hates me too, because he's so mean to me. I'm afraid of him so I asked to visit Aunt Margaret for the summer. I'm going to come every summer."
"My mother has remarried also and I'm afraid of my step-dad.” Ellen volunteered with a heavy heart. “He drinks and yells at us. I think he would beat us if we didn't hide from him."
"Oh, Ellen, how awful!" Kelly's eyes were full of sweet compassion. "And just think, when you needed to hear from a friend, I stopped writing. I'm truly sorry. I just got so discouraged I even thought of running away from home."
"That's really sad, Kelly. Gosh we're kind of in the same boat aren't we? Let's never stop writing each other again."
"Ellen," Kelly's voice was solemn. "Let's pledge our allegiance to one another."
"Oh, Kelly," Ellen spoke softly, feeling the gravity of Kelly's proposal. "I gladly give you my word of honor to always be your friend."
"And I swear upon my life," Kelly's eyes were shinning resolutely. "That regardless of what happens I'll be your Forever Friend."
The girls didn't understand the significance of their vow but they were determined to stick to their commitment. For now, it was a comfort to have each other to trust with their innermost secrets.
At night, during the next two months Kelly would stand below Ellen's bedroom
window and call for her to come out and talk. Ellen would crawl out on the edge of the roof, hang her head over the side, and talk with Kelly. Mrs. Sneed knew about their nighttime meetings, but Nora and Henry didn't. Ellen knew that the minute Henry found out about her crawling out on the roof he would make her stop.
After Kelly went back to her mother's Ellen contented herself with pouring out her feelings on paper. They wrote each other faithfully with Kelly always signing her letters as Ellen's Forever Friend.