Cousin Kat and the Axe-Murderer

It’s not what you think. They were good friends. The Axe-Murderer had played the piano at Little Pearson Methodist Church for years. She never missed a service, but let me start at the beginning, the part where Cousin Kat took us to visit her.

I’d heard of Cousin Kat, my mother’s first cousin all my life. Though even Mother had never met her namesake, we’d had letters from her all my life. She was the eldest daughter of Grandma’s brother, Ed. Grandma had written Ed’s wife, Aunt Winnie, ever since Grandma left Virginia as a bride. Ed died and left Winnie a widow, with seven children under twelve. Grandma kept up with them, writing at least weekly. As soon as Cousin Kat got old enough, she started writing. Though none of us met Cousin Kat till she came to see us in the 1960s, with so much correspondence having passed back and forth, we all felt like we knew each other.

She was an eccentric delight, always upbeat and chipper. On one of our first visits to Cousin Kat in Virginia, she took Mother and me to services at the Methodist Church Grandma had attended. It was lovely, simple and likely unchanged since Grandma was a girl. After the services and dinner on the grounds that followed, we met everyone in the tiny community, most of whom were our relatives. Cousin Kat made a special point to have us spend time with Miss Betsy, a shy little lady who didn’t have a lot to say. As we left, Cousin Kat offered Miss Betsy a ride home, like always.

Sweet, little Miss Betsy lived a couple of miles up the mountain in a lovely shady glade in a little white house looked like something off a postcard from heaven. We had coffee and teacakes, admired the old pictures of the precious little redheaded children over her mantle and she remarked, “That little ‘un was my baby Peggy and the boy was Tommy. We had a terrible tragedy when they were little, but I can’t remember much about it.” That definitely put a damper on the visit. Then she brightened as she pointed out a recent picture of a handsome young man with a wife and four children. “That’s my son Pete. He lives in D.C. with his family. They’ll be here next weekend.

We all admired Pete and his lovely family. As we headed home, naturally I wanted to know more about the terrible tragedy Miss Betsy alluded to. Cousin Kate, remarked, “Well, people around here are pretty hard on her about that, but I always believe in letting bygones, be bygones. Betsy was always a good girl, just kind of ‘high strung.’ She really got notiony after she had her babies. Dave had to put her in the State Hospital Mental for a few weeks after she had Tommy. She had some trouble for a good while after Peggy was born, too, stayed in the hospital awhile, then Dave brought her home, thinking she was okay. She was still feelin’ purty low, but able to take care of the kids and house. Pete was in school by then. He came home and saw blood in the kitchen an’ Tommy under the table. He run an’ got Dave from the field. Dave come runnin’ in an’ Betsy hacked his arm with the axe as he came in the door. They got the sheriff out there to take her back to the State Mental Hospital, but before they took’er, they let’er get out the kids’ burial clothes. She’d made Peggy the sweetest little yellow and white-checked dress and made Tommy and Pete matching blue suits. It just about broke my heart! She stayed in the hospital a long time. They gave her a bunch of shock treatments. After a few years she got out and came home to live with Pete and Dave. Dave died a few years back. Pete comes back to visit sometimes, but he’s careful and don’t spend the night or leave her with the kids. She don’t remember nothing now, just tiptoes around like a ghost. She never has anything to say, unless somebody talks to her first. Don’t nobody around here have much to do with Betsy. I thought it might help her to see somebody new. “

I have to admit that was an interesting experience, but hoped we hadn’t intruded on sweet, sad Miss Betsy, God Bless her and her family.

8 thoughts on “Cousin Kat and the Axe-Murderer

    • I hope so. I was so shocked when Cousin Kat told us the whole story after we left. The poor little lady was so alone, but her son still visited. She was on the fringes of community. I think she’d had so much shock treatment her long term memory was gone.


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