After graduating from high school, I looked forward to being a lawyer or a teacher for a few years before settling down with a doting husband, maybe a doctor or judge, in a nice little house in town with a flower-filled yard, and a couple of curly-haired children who stayed clean and out of sight until I needed to show them off. I’d spend my days taking the children to the library, dance lessons, and parks, my evenings at restaurants and concerts with my handsome husband. Till I started college, I’d keep my job as a waitress. Lo and behold, Bill came along and swept me off my feet with his charming repartee, “Hey, Shorty, how about a cup of coffee?”
The first time he came in, he stood around talking to me so long his buddy said, “Bill, you better marry that little gal. You’re fixin’ to get her fired.” I had no intention of going out with him when I first met him. He’d shown up in Clarksville with a construction crew during the time of the “Phantom Killer” when no girl wanted to go out with a new man. Gene had asked me if I’d like to go to the movies with him if he got back off his supply run early enough. He’d give me a call at the hotel desk if he did. I wasn’t worried about Gene, having known him for years and dated him off and on through high school. Best of all, he’d gotten back from service after the “Phantom Killer” started his murders. Gene was safe. I was dressed and waiting at seven, impatient for Gene to call, though I had no reason to be. He’d warned me he might not get back in time. A tap on the door alerted me, “Miss Kathleen, you have a call at the desk.”
I flew down the stairs, two at a time, answering without even saying hello, “Well, thank goodness, you finally called. I’d just about given up on you! I’m dressed and ready to go! Just give me five minutes to grab my sweater.”
“Hold your horses, girl! If I’d known you wanted to go out with me that bad, I’d have called sooner!” I was mortified to hear Bill’s voice on the other end of the line, laughing furiously. I could barely get my explanation in.
“I was expecting someone else. I was waiting for a date.”
“Well, since you got stood up, you might as well go out with me, you poor thing!” This just got worse and worse.
“No, my date will be calling any minute. ” He managed to keep me on the phone till he had me hooked. Against my better judgment, I finally agreed to go to the movie with him, mostly because I was embarrassed and he was pushy, both bad reasons.
For the first and only times in our lives together, Bill rushed right over in a nice little coupe he and his brother owned. I later found out, he only owned it for that night. We went to the late movie in Paris. I felt comfortable in the movie but once we stepped out onto the deserted side street to walk to the car, the hairs on the back of my neck tingled. Bill opened my door, helped me in, and then slid in under the wheel, sitting there just a minute before turning to me. “What would you say if I told you I was the Phantom Killer?” My blood ran cold. I thought I would faint. I stared at him for a minute, reached for my purse, hoping he’d think I had a gun and said in my bravest squeak, “Uhhhh……You’re not. You’re just saying that.”
He stared me straight in the eye, laughed, and said, “You’re right. I’m not. Now I better get you home.” The rest of the way home I worried, thinking he might pull over any time and slaughter me, but obviously he didn’t. Over the years, I’ve thought many times how crazy it was for me to go out with him again, but I was eighteen and foolish. Indeed, he was handsome, charming, and shared my vision of a better life. Not only that, his job moved him from town to town every few months. We would be carefree gypsies, seeing the world, and living the good life. We’d get a lovely little cottage in town whenever we got ready to settle down eventually welcome a precious little boy and girl. I was hooked, putting my career plans on hold. I could always go to college when Bill and I got through traveling.
We eloped and got married in Paris…..Paris, Texas. Bill was an hour and a half late picking me up for the wedding. Sure he had been tragically killed; I fidgeted with a razor blade trimming my cuticles. Nicking my ring finger, I bled all down the front of my new gabardine suit. As I was sponging it off, Bill showed up in a wonderful mood to sweep me off to the courthouse. Elated at his return from the dead, I didn’t even remember to ask why he was late.
After an evening in Oklahoma, the honeymoon capital of the world, I was installed as a bride in the hotel where Bill lived with the guys he worked with. He went back to his routine of working from daylight to dark, only coming back to the room long enough to clean up and take off for a night with his buddy, BoBo. It didn’t take me long to get sick of BoBo Edwards. I spent my days strolling around town, window shopping, and taking my meals at the restaurant where I’d worked before marriage while I waited for her handsome husband to announce what exotic location we’d be moving next. It was a bit of a let-down, but I could be patient.
Even though he was a thorn in my side, I couldn’t help liking BoBo. He was gangly, red-headed and hilarious, great fun, but we never had an evening without him. Bill borrowed a one seat Chevy Coupe for a night out. Sure enough, it had to be a double-date with BoBo and his girl Miss Wanda, a good-natured girl built like a gorilla. Since there was only room for three, Miss Wanda took her place in BoBo’s lap, seemingly unaware of her heft. Concerned for his well-being, I offered trade places with her and sit in his lap, “No! No!” he spouted, “That would be a hundred and twenty pounds more!” Though BoBo couldn’t pronounce the letter L, he was not self-conscious. That evening, their waitress wore a lovely blue dress. Complimenting her, BoBo remarked, “That shore is a purty boo dress. Miss Wanda got one just like it ‘cept it’s pink.”
My patience paid off. A few days later, Bill paid the tab at the restaurant where we took all our meals and decided it was too expensive us to eat out all the time. We’d be moving
Finally!! He’d found a boarding house where we’d have a bedroom and take our meals with the other boarders. That didn’t sound too bad. At least we’d get away from his buddies and get a little time alone. Life at the boarding house was nice in our breezy little room on the second floor. The bad news was, it was ten miles out of town, far down a dirt road. The really bad news was, his buddies moved there, too. I was marooned in the country with the whole crew. I could’ve caught the bus to town, but didn’t want to ask for money for the fare, assuming Bill would think to offer me some money when he got paid. Never happened. After a couple of weeks, Bill started feeling the financial pinch again, and suggested I help the landlady a little to cut the rent. I was furious!! I hadn’t gotten married just to cook and clean for a bunch of baboons!!!!
Fortunately, it all worked out. Bill came in with big news. He had quit his job and we were moving. I was concerned to hear he’d quit his job, but thrilled to be moving. I’d had enough of his and Bobo’s carousing till all hours. Finally, we’d get started on the life I’d planned. He’d easily find a new job with all the new construction going on after the war. It turns out, BoBo had quit, too. We all stuffed our bags in a 1942 Packard and headed out, unconcerned about our future. The guys were having a rollicking good time, headed nowhere in particular, when Bill and BoBo decided to stop off and spend a few days at home before looking for a new job.
I was frustrated at the delay, but knew it was only fair to let Bill enjoy a few days at home with his family. He’d gone straight to work after the service and needed a little time to rest. After all, we’d been near my family since we’d gotten married, even though I’d only seen them a time or two.
We drove for miles after the lights of the last town faded. The farther we went, the more worried I got. Bill had never mentioned that his family lived so far back. We finally pulled into an overgrown track. I was very nervous at meeting my new mother-in-law for the first time. I had urged Bill several times to write his widowed mother about their marriage, but he told me to “take care of it.” I don’t have time.” I didn’t feel like it was my place to write her, but since Bill wouldn’t do it, I did. There hadn’t been an answer to that letter, so I was worried about our reception when we pulled up to Mettie’s house long after midnight. Bill hammered on the door, waking his mother and sisters.
Mettie was an Amazon, nearly six feet tall, and near three hundred pounds. Understandably, she was rattled as she squinted at us in the headlights of BoBo’s car. Her silvery hair stood on end from having just left her bed. She and her three daughters poured out the doorway when they recognized their son and brother. Pulling him inside, they hugged him and welcomed him joyously. The favorite son, he’d only been home once briefly since getting out of service and they were clearly thrilled to have him home again. He’d sent Mama an allotment check the whole time he was in service, and continued to pay their grocery bill since getting out of service. They’d have gone hungry without his help and were clearly overjoyed to see their hero and breadwinner home.
After all the hugging, Bill pulled me, the new bride into the front room. Mama and the three girls didn’t look like they’d gotten the letter announcing the marriage. I think they’d have preferred a crocodile. The celebration fizzled a bit. Mattie snapped at Esther to get them some cornbread and cold buttermilk and Bessie to slice up some tomatoes. As I looked around, my heart fell. Bill hadn’t talked much about his family or home, but he made such a good impression, I’d inferred he came from a better situation. Thinking I had married up, I felt sick knowing I’d never had a front row seat to poverty on this level. What in the world had I gotten myself into? The front room was furnished with a bed, a small table with a coal oil lamp, and a couple of ladder back wooden chairs with split oak bottoms, and a worn couch that could fold into a bed. Décor was limited to a calendar over the table, a fly swat tacked to the door frame, and a fringed satin pillow embroidered with “Mother” resting on the rumpled bed Mettie had just left. The rafters were exposed and the walls had never seen paint. There were no screens in the open windows, just wire tacked over the openings to keep animals out. The bedroom was furnished with a double bed with metal headboard and a cot. There were no dressers, chests, or closets. Clothes hung on wires stretched across two corners of the room. A few clothes were folded neatly on rough shelves. An enamel chamber pot was neatly pushed under the double bed. Bill looked completely at home, glad to be back with his family.