Soft Place to Fall

Bill and Dana lived across from us for years, their kids Betsy and Greg in and out of the house all the time.  We visited in the yard but never socialized beyond that.  We were very fond of the children. Betsy was my daughter’s age, Greg about three years younger.  Greg tagged along with Betsey , or hung around with Bud and me on own his own for meals and whatever else that was going on.

We both had a soft spot for the children since their parents were uninvolved at best and unkind at the worst.  I know now I should have reported them. Though both parents drank heavily, Dana was a card-carrying, mean alcoholic and Bill, a defeated alcoholic.  Dana, who worked as a psyche nurse, didn’t seem to like any of her family.  Bill seemed fond of the children but couldn’t protect them.  One afternoon, Greg came bursting in our back door.  “Help.  Dad’s gonna whip me!”  He hid in a bathroom.

His dad pounded on the back door and tried to push in past Bud with a belt doubled up in his fist, none too steady on his feet.  Had he thought ahead, he’d have realized that was a bad idea.  Bud had four inches of reach and forty pounds on him, but Bud stayed calm.

“I’m coming in for Greg.  Dana said I gotta whip him.  Him and the Bailey kid got in the beer.  His mama told him what was gonna happen if he got in the beer.”  Bill looked shamefaced, his heart not in his errand.

“Now hold on.  I can’t let you go in my house and beat a kid.  There are better ways to handle this.” Bud told him.  “Go back home and sober up.  Looks like y’all have both had plenty of beer.”

“Alright, I won’t come bustin’ in over you, but I’m gonna beat his ass when he gets home.” Bill offered.

“I’d think real hard about that.”  Bud told him.  “If you do that, you’ll have to deal with me.  Go on home.  Your boy can stay here till you’re sober and we’ll talk about it.”  Bill left, seeming somewhat relieved at not having to deal with anything he’d stirred up.

Bud called Greg out.  “Boy, you know you’re not old enough to drink.  I wouldn’t let you drink either.  You can stay here till I talk to your Dad and it’s safe to go home.”

The next day Bill came over and talked to the three of of, Greg, Bud, and me.  “Dana said  he can come home, but he’s going to Pine Hill.  (Adolescent Psychiatric Facility)  Get your stuff, boy.”

Bud asked Greg.  “Is that what you want to do?”

“No sir.  Can I stay here a few more days?” Greg asked.

“That’s between you and your dad.  What do you think, Bill?”

“I gotta talk to Dana.  She’s still pretty worked up.”  Bill answered.

Greg stayed, not causing a minute of trouble.  We weren’t foolish enough to think the problem was solved.  We just wanted him safe.  Four days later, Dana came to see Greg.  “Do you want to come home.  We miss you. You’ve been punished enough.”

“Am I still in trouble?  Dad ain’t gonna whip me is he?  I don’t  want to go to the hospital.” Greg looked worried.

“No. I promise.  Dad ain’t going to whip you and we aren’t to put you in the hospital.  Just stay out of the beer.” She told him.

He went home to an apparently peaceful house, for the moment.

Over the next couple of years the family dynamics changed, not by choice.  Dana got cancer and didn’t live long.   She was heavily medicated and continued to drink, so her involvement was less each day.  When she got too sick to work, they had to find a cheaper place to live. The children grew up and we lost touch, except for a time or two.  The last I heard, Greg was doing well enough to move out on his own.  Betsey was in and out of a couple of relationships, but eventually settled down, married,  and had a couple of kids.  The last I heard, she was going to nursing school.

I hope for the best for this family.