Charley’s Tale Part 36

Not surprisingly, the coroner committed Ellen to the state hospital after her attack on Cora and Charles.  Despite his pleas, Charles could to nothing to mitigate her sentence, though he tried to arrange for private care.  On admission, she  was a raging lunatic, sedated into submission and kept that way.  When Charles was allowed to visit, she never responded to him.  Her life was essentially over.  She never rallied and succumbed to tuberculosis in less than two years.  Though he was relieved the matter was taken out of his hands, Charles truly grieved the loss of the beautiful woman he’d married.

He was able to bring the girls back home with Josie’s and Cora’s help. They thrived in the loving environment.  Geneva was greatly saddened by Ellen’s death, but remained active in Ellen’s children’s lives, sharing the Mother’s love her daughter had never been able to give them. Ginny, of course, never knew her mother, but the boys and Charley had all suffered from Ellen’s treatment till they felt nothing but relief. Their lives settled down to a new, happy normal.

Charles never remarried, but over the years, settled into a comfortable arrangement with the widow of an old friend.  Neither wanted to unsettle their children or leave their family homes, so they embarked on a discreet friendship that lasted till his death thirty years later.  It was much more loving and rewarding than the time he spent with Ellen. His second love was kind, gentle, and unselfish, a true blessing after the stormy Ellen.

Charley was a sturdy, happy child,in her element when Geneva took her to visit the farm.  Ginny adored her, making every step she made.  For a long time after Ellen’s departure, Charley suffered from nightmares and startled easily.  Charles felt a special affection for her, since she’d suffered at her mother’s hand, indulging her love overalls and farm life, till she reached school age and had to conform.  Even then, she wore her overalls at home. Ginny was the image of her mother, though of Charles’s gentle temperament.  Soon the boys were off to college, leaving the little girls at home with their father.  It was a good life.




Charley’s Tale Part 35

When Charles stopped by to see the girls at Geneva’s that morning, Geneva had news for him.  “I got a letter from Richard Henderson, Cousin Jean’s lawyer, this morning.  I am named executor of the will.  If you haven’t gotten a letter, you will.  You need to intercept it before Ellen sees it.  She’s been telling everyone she will inherit from Cousin Jean but she gets nothing.  Cousin Jean left me full use of the farm and lake property with the farm going to Charley at age twenty-one, and the lake house to Ginny at twenty-one.  She left most of her money to me except twenty-thousand left to you to provide care for Ellen, should the need arise.  She left Robert and Bessie the house they live in, one-hundred eighty acres in the front section, the 1937 Case tractor, and two-thousand dollars with the offer to stay on in their positions, should they desire.  Robert and Bessie will get a five-hundred dollar yearly raise in January and every three years after that.  I am not surprised since we discussed this a few weeks ago.  She also talked to Robert and he and Bessie are happy to stay on, so we don’t have look for anyone to manage the farm. I know this will be a problem, since Ellen expected to inherit.  If you like, I will help you tell Ellen, but if she reacts badly, I’d like to take the girls and Josie back to the farm till she settles down.”

“I’d be grateful for any help.” Charles told her.  “We’re are in a mess with Ellen.  I promised not to put her back in the hospital, but she’s a danger at home.  I’ll have to come up with some solution, but right now, I’d better call Cora to intercept the mail.  Ellen never gets up this early.”  With that, he called home, but got no answer.  “Cora must be at the clothesline.  I know she had a wash to hang out.  I’ll just run back by the house.”

“I think I’ll leave the girls and go with you.  I don’t feel good about this.” Geneva said.

Charles and Geneva anxiously rode the few blocks home.  Charles called out, “Yoo hoo! Cora! As he opened the back door, he saw the opened letter lying on the kitchen floor, blood spattered.  Chairs and ironing board were overturned.  “Oh my God!” He exclaimed,  He flew in to find Cora lying on the floor bleeding from several wounds with a gash on her head.  Screaming like the madwoman she was, Ellen flew at him from behind the door, slashing with a butcher knife.  He was able to subdue her, though she cut him a few times in the struggle.  Geneva saw the whole scene, horrified.  “Find something for me to tie her up with!” He shouted.

Geneva struggled to tear dish towels into strips while he held her.  Meanwhile, at the sounds of the struggle, the boys tore downstairs.  George held his mother while his father took off his belt and bound her wrists.  It was a terrible thing for all of them to witness Ellen’s undoing.

Realizing his own wounds weren’t life-threatening, Charles hurried to Cora.  Fortunately, despite the bleeding, her wounds were mostly superficial.  Ellen had caught her up beside the head with the iron during the struggle, knocking her out.  She quickly came around and was able to tell her story.  “I come in from the clothesline to find Miss Ellen reading that letter.  She was fit to be tied.  She grabbed a knife and come stabbing at me, saying we was all in it together.  I run around the ironing board and she took the iron and hit me in the head.  That was the last I remembered till now.  She was a wild woman.  I can’t take no more of this!”

“None of us can, Cora.”  He dialed the phone and spoke to Maisie, the operator.  “”Maisie, please ring the sheriff.”  After a brief conversation asking the sheriff to come over, He and the boys carried Ellen upstairs and left her bound in her room, screaming like a banshee.  Dejectedly, he trudged downstairs to tend Cora’s wounds.

Charley’s Tale Part 35

Cora put bacon and eggs in front of Charles at the kitchen table.  As she refilled his coffee, he said, “Sit with me a minute, Cora.”  She wiped her hands on her apron and poured herself a cup of coffee.  “Have you seen you seen Ellen’s hair?  She looks deranged.  I told her last night she has to get it back to normal before anyone sees it. She threw one of her fits and had  be sedated.  I just gave her another dose so she should be quiet today.   Can you keep an eye on her?”

“Dr. Charles, her hair was a mess at her tea yesterday. I was shocked when she come down the stairs makin’ a big entrance.  A couple of women giggled before that fool Sarah got everbody to clappin’ to cover up the laughing.  Miss Ellen was so proud of herself, she might not a took it all in.  Miss Geneva was right at her side and give out some looks that kinda shut them hateful women down.  I spect everbody in town knows ’bout that red hair.  I shore hate it.  I’d a tried to let you or Miss Geneva know if I’d a knowed ’bout her hair.”

Charles was stricken when he realized how far things had gone.  “No wonder she went wild when the boys and I burst out laughing at dinner last night.  It was such a shock!  She really has gone around the bend again, hasn’t she?  I don’t know what I’m going to do.  I can’t put her back in that hospital, but I certainly can’t have her around the girls.  The way she fought me and the boys, she could kill them.  She was fighting and even tried to bite while I was giving her an injection.  What am I going to do?  I can’t expect Miss Geneva to take care of my girls forever.  She’s past seventy and they have a right to live in their own home.  God help us all.”

“I just don’t know, Dr. Charles.  We gonna have to call on the Good Lord.  Don’t you have any doctor friends you can talk to?  I’ll keep an eye on Miss Ellen for you, but you might want to take her car keys, just in case she takes a notion to go somewhere.” Cora suggested.

“That I will.  Thanks for reminding me and for the talk.  I’ll figure something out.  That was a fine breakfast.  Better stop by and see the girls.”  He took Ellen’s keys off the hook as he left.

“Poor, poor man.” Cora said.  ” Money sho ain’t everthang.”


Charley’s Tale Part 34

Initially, Ellen was in high spirits about the success of her tea, but afterwards remnanants of conversations niggled at her.  Despite Sarah’s fauning, It occurred to Ellen some of her compliments were over the top.  The references to Titian and Rubens were starting to sting.  Was the simpering little bitch calling her a fat redhead?  Agitated, that laugh she’d heard when Cora announced her echoed louder and louder in her memory.  The longer she thought of it, the angrier she became.

Ellen strolled in to dinner after Charles and the boys were seated.  All three burst out laughing when they saw her hair.  “Dear God, Ellen!  You’d got to get that toned down!” Charles told her, as he wiped away tears with his handkerchief.  “You can’t go out in public like that.”  The boys struggled to get themselves under control.

She’d anticipated a triumphant entry.  This reception undid her pride.  Humiliated, she flew into a rage.  “How dare you laugh in my face!  You’re not fit to wipe the mud from my shoe, none of you and you’re sitting there laughing at me like a bunch of hyenas!” She picked up a vase off the sideboard and slung it at Charles’s head as she whirled to leave the room.  “You disgusting bastards! I hate you!  All of you!”

He ducked and told the boys, “Go on with your dinner.  I’ll go up later.”  Having witnessed so many outbursts from their mother, once the fit was over, they settled down to dinner, occasionally stifling a snicker.

Charles went up to Ellen after dinner.  When she didn’t answer his knock, he tried her door and entered.  “Ellen, I regret laughing, but your hair was a shock.  I’m sure your hairdresser can tone it down before anybody else sees it.  You don’t want people laughing at you.  I don’t want you to be embarrassed.”

“Get out!  Get out!  I don’t want to see your ignorant face!”  She flew at him, pummeling him with her fists and screaming.  The boys flew up the stairs when they heard the fracas,  Charles got her pushed to the bed and held her arms at her sides. “I hate you!  I hate you!” She screamed and struggled to get free.  Wresting herself from his grip, she smashed a crystal vase on her bedside and slashed at him.

“Hold her while I get something to calm her.”  The boys kept her on the bed as she screamed.  She spat the medicine back in Charles’s face and fought even harder.  Finally, he gave up and injected her into calm and left her snoring.  He was desolate at the mess his life had become.  Ellen was getting no better.

Charley’s Tale Part 33

Needless to say, Charles was apprehensive about Ellen’s entertaining, but was reassured to know Geneva would be there to help out.  Cora would be serving with Birdie’s assistance.  Cora assured him everything was perfect on his way out to visit the girls at Geneva’s house as he did every morning.  Geneva promised she’d be there way early in case Ellen needed anything.  Ellen had hosted dozens of teas over the years, so Charles felt this would go well.  He had no idea she’d invited twelve instead of just her syncophant friend, Sarah.  Sarah had loyally endured Ellen’s barbs and snide behavior for the dubious benefit of her company for years.

Cora had laid a lovely tea with Ellen’s wedding service.  Dainty cucumber sandwiches and chicken salad sandwich fingers rested on a bed of lettuce on the bottom tier of a serving dish, scones on the middle, and luscious petit fours on the top tier.  More waited in the kitchen.

The parlor and dining room was full of ladies in their finest.  Anticipation was high as no one had seen Ellen for months or really knew the nature of her illness.  At two ten, conversation was buzzing when Cora rang a little silver bell and announced, “The new Mrs. Charles Evans.”  Ellen swept confidently down the stairs into the room. Her short flaming red hair clashed with the bright yellow of the silk dress, her brows and lips heavily made up.  She easily weighed twenty pounds more than when they’d last seen her.  A titter was heard, then nervous laughter.  Sarah quickly glanced around, and sensing disaster, starting clapping as if in congratulation.

Geneva joined in gratefully, then took her daughter’s arm.  Sarah rushed to embrace Ellen, “Oh, Ellen!  You look stunning!  I hardly knew you.”  Truer words were never spoken.  Ellen’s garish red hair and clashing yellow dress were a shocking combination.  Conversation resumed, and Ellen was gratified to be the center of attention.  To hear her tell it, she’d barely been snatched from the jaws of death, and was just now making a brave recovery.  The group was fascinated to hear the tale of little Ginny’s unexpected arrival, and to learn of Ellen’s recent bereavement and the vast inheritance she was soon to receive.

Ellen had little idea of the impression she’d made and felt her return to society was a great success.  Geneva felt sick, knowing her daughter had set tongues to wagging.

Charley’s Tale Part 32

With the question of the funeral settled, Ellen gave her full attention to her Thursday Tea.  On Wednesday, Rosalee came by to tint her hair red.  It looked far too pale to Ellen, so she made Rosalee redo it a deep auburn shade, quite a starling change.  Naturally, her lipstick and eyebrow pencil no longer matched, so Ellen sent her out for new shades.  Rosalee was worried about the vibrant hair, lips, and brows, but Ellen was thrilled at the change.  “I hope Dr. Evans is ready for a big surprise!”

” I want to really dazzle my friends at my tea, tomorrow.  This is my first time to see them since I was sick and I want to look young and full of life.”  Ellen stated.

“That new color looks mighty lively!  Are you sure you don’t want me to tone it down?  I don’t want to put Dr. Evans’s nose out of joint.”  Rosalee was worried.

“It’s perfect.  Don’t you worry about the doctor.  He’ll be charmed!” Ellen was delighted with her new look and wanted to make sure Charles didn’t get in her business.  She planned to claim a headache and avoid him that evening.  It would be after eight before he got home since he would be going by Geneva’s to have dinner with the girls on the way home

Ellen strolled into the kitchen the next morning, startling Cora with her brilliant hair and brows. “Sweet Jesus!  I thought somebody done broke in!”  Cora exclaimed, fanning herself.

Ellen took her shocked reaction as a compliment.  “Yes, I am a new woman.  I wanted a new look for my tea.  What do you think?” She asked.

“I sho think you got you a new look!  Yes ma’am!  It ’bout took my breath.” Cora replied, truthfully.

Ellen was delighted.  ” Now here’s what I want you to do.  When my friends get here, I’m going to make a late entry.  Wait at the bottom of the stairs.  When I am on the top step ready to come down, announce, ‘the new Mrs. Charles Evans.”  Then I’ll make my entry.  They will be stunned!”  Ellen giggled like a girl.

“They sho will.”  Cora concurred glumly.

Charley’s Tale Part 31

Ellen chose not to attend the funeral once she learned it would be a simple service at the village church fifty miles away, a great relief to her husband and mother. In the 1940’s a trip of that length on winding, rutted roads was no small endeavor.  Naturally, in the absence of air conditioning, most trips in the sunny south might invest over a steamy ride with the windows down, dust fogging in the windows.  It would not do for a pampered lady like Ellen to arrive sweaty and dishelved with wnd-blown hair. Ellen reasoned she didn’t know Cousin Jean’s friends and could grieve in the comfort of her own home.  Charles and his boys escorted Geneva while the girls were left at home with Birdie and Josie.  Josie was devastated to miss the trip, since she’d hoped to see her sweetheart, Bobby.

A group of true friends gathered to honor Cousin Jean’s life.  Due to her oddness and departure from the accepted role for women, she never been plagued with foolish friendships.  She’d farmed, hunted, fished and shared her life with those she loved in the face of scorn, criticism, and family estrangement.  She gave generously of herself, especially in her love for her orphaned niece, Geneva.  It was a life well-lived.

Returning to to farmhouse, they received friends.  The table, counters, and refrigerator groaned under the weight of casseroles, fried, chicken, potato salad, cakes, pies.  Robert, Bessie, Bobby, and their young son Freddy attended the service and joined them at the meal.  Robert had grown up on the farm and brought Bessie there as a bride.  Cousin Jean had attended the birth of both children, along with a midwife.  They had spent more hours with Jean than anyone else these past years and deeply grieved her passing.  They assumed Geneva would have inherit, but should she sell, they could be out of a home and job.

Geneva assured them they’d continue as before, but would get back to them as soon as the will was read, which did provide them some ease.




Charley’s Tale Part 30

Cousin Jean had never had a large social circle.  She was friendly with the nearby farmers and a few villagers and tradespeople, so Geneva decided to hold a simple service at the tiny village service.  She was to be buried in her favorite clothes, the ones she puttered about the farm in.

This did not suit Ellen at all since it was not proper, so in a snit, she decided not to attend, just what Geneva and Charles hoped.  Nonetheless, as promised, Viola dropped by Monday afternoon with the black dress. With Viola’s work, it fit perfectly, but Ellen wanted a few changes.

“You need to lower the neck and back.  I want to show off my neck and my grandmother’s ruby pendant.  This black is too severe and needs some kind of trim at the neck.  I wouldn’t wear it like this to a dogfight!” Ellen snapped.

Viola snapped right back.  “You had me fix this for a funeral.  Ain’t no way you could wear it to a funeral like that, and I ain’t got time to get it done and back by tomorrow, no how!”

“Viola, you need to learn your place!  I’ve decided to use it for evening, not a funeral, if it’s any of your business, so take it back and get it right or you won’t get any more of my business.  Don’t you think my girls will be needing wedding dresses in a few years?” Ellen had miscalculated this time.  Viola worked for herself, not Jessie, as Ellen assumed.

“I can get by just fine without your kind of business. Besides, Old Cora ain’t planning on too many more years.  I have more work than I can keep up with now.  If you still want it, I can probably get to this in ’bout a month, But I ain’t promisin’ nothing.  It will run you ’bout twenty dollars for altering.”  Viola folded the dress back into the box.

“Viola, wait!  I want to order some custom dresses for my girls.”  Ellen told her.

“Miss Ellen.  I have orders for wedding and debutante dress lined up for eighteen months.  They ain’t no way I can take on no regular sewing.  Besides, I b’lieve you too hard to work for.  I’m gonna have a cup of coffee with Cora and be on my way.”  She took the dress and called down the stairs ahead of her.  “Yoo hoo! Cora!  You got any coffee left?

Ellen slammed the door behind her.  “That uppity bitch!” But she wanted that black dress.




Charley’s Tale Part 29

“Cora, I don’t want to talk to my mother.  Call her and tell her to send that gal over with my girls.  I want to see how these outfits look. Tell her I don’t have all day.”

“Yes, ma’am.”  Cora ambled on downstairs.  They ain’t no way she’s gittin’ her claws in them babies.  She dialed directly into Charles’s office.  “Miss Ellen told me to have Josie bring the babies over right away.”

“Thanks for calling, Cora.  I’ll take care of it” Charles answered.

In about ten minutes Charles called Ellen. “Ellen Dear, Miss Geneva called me to check on the baby this morning.  I just ran by.  Ginny has a fever and may have chicken pox.  They can’t go out, but I can pick you up to visit them if you want.”

“No!  I don’t want to get exposed to chicken pox.  My face might scar, besides, I’m not speaking to Mother.  Do you think the baby’s face will scar?”

“Young children don’t usually scar.  It’s adults who have to worry.  Your mother didn’t know if you’d had chicken pox.  Do you remember?”  He had certainly struck the right chord with her.

“No, and I don’t want it.  The dresses will have to wait a few days,”  she told him.

“Whatever you think, Dear.  I’ll be home around six.”  Charles had scared her off for now.

After the call from Charles, Cora overheard Ellen calling her friend Sarah Marshall.  Of course, Cora couldn’t hear Sarah’s replies, but it was clear Ellen made opportunities to point out all the ways she felt superior to Sarah.

“Sarah, I’ve decided to invite a few more friends to tea. There’s no point in going to all that trouble for just you.  I’m feeling great. I have a new hairdo I’m dying to show off.  I never realized how smart I’d look with short hair.  If you didn’t have such a round face, you might want to try it.  Of course, my hair curls naturally.  You’d have to get a permanent wave, and those just fry hair.  That certainly wouldn’t make you look any better.  I guess I’m just one of those lucky women who doesn’t show her age.  Charles still thinks I am a bride.  If we didn’t sleep in separate rooms, I’d never get any rest.

You know my Cousin Jean died.  I was always her favorite.  I’ll be inheriting her farm and her family home in Jasper.  She was from a prominent and very wealthy.  She rarely used her lake home in Jasper, but kept it in lovely condition.  I’ll be sure to invite you when we have a country weekend.  Got to go.  I have a lot more calls to make.”

Ellen had never spoken directly to Cora about the tea, but clearly expected her to be ready.   I am so glad I ain’t got no friend like her.  Woo, Lordy, that’d be rough!