It was the age of bell bottoms, huge, lacquered, bouffant hairdos, mini skirts that turned a man's fancy towards carnal desires, and women to burn their bras in protest from years of 'male bondage', and the Vietnam war was still first on our news, along with President Nixon and Watergate being uncovered by two rogue Washington Post reporters named Woodward and Bernstein. In the sleepy little Texas town where I grew up, these things seemed non existent, far away from the unrest of the 70's that was occurring.
The small village of Grove Hill sat about 30 miles just south of Amarillo close to the Mexican border. For all of it's shortcomings (no large supermarkets, shopping centers), but a busy city center with a corner market, one main hair salon, one barber shop, a full service gas station/mechanic, and one watering hole called 'Cowboy Joe's, it was a little piece of heaven.
My parents were both prominent members of the community, belonging to the local Baptist church, the PTA, Kiwanis, even the city council. Mom was a grade school teacher, teaching third, always looking like she belonged on a cover of a magazine. Her long blonde hair was pinned up in a bouffant, her face perfectly made up, lipstick even, eyelashes curled, her large, beautiful blue eyes highlighted by a bit of eyeliner. She had an hourglass figure usually clad in a form fitting mini dress that showed off her stunning legs, and ample bosom. While some townswomen looked upon her with disdain for her standard of dress, her perfect manners and polite way of speaking overcame most of their objections.
My father owned Cowboy Joe's, a tall, imposing figure standing 6'5 without his scuffed cowboy boots, almost 6'8 with 'em on, a rugged, handsome face clad with a neatly trimmed beard and medium length brown hair combed neatly at the side. He wore tight fitting Wranglers and checkered print shirts that showed off his muscular, tanned physique. He spoke with a soft, yet discernible Texas twang, and was quick to smile. He smoked Marlboro reds, drank Jack Daniels from the bottle, and kept his temper in line while working. But when he had to break up a fight, he made his presence known, and many a time, the recipient of his beatings came out looking like a pulpy mess. But he had tons of friends in town, from the local druggist, right down to the mailman. He never knew an stranger, and always seemed to make new acquaintances all the time.
We lived in a simple three bedroom ranch house with the obligatory wood paneled wagon for Mom, a pickup truck for Dad, and a gleaming silver Harley in the garage, in which my dad took great care of, kept covered with a tarp, and could be seen riding it for hours on hot, sunny days on the outskirts of town. We were a traditional family for the most part, thanked God for our food, watched TV in the family room, Dad smoking his cigarettes, Mom doing her crochet, me reading in front of the fireplace. It seemed like something out of a Southern Norman Rockwell painting. Almost too good to be true. And during that summer of 1975, it appeared that it was.
I had just turned 16, basically a loner at school, a few friends but not a member of the popular crowd. The football players and cheerleaders always seemed to flock around my parents, admiring their style and grace, laughing at their wit and charm. It seemed as if I should never have been born into this family, that I was adopted and was placed here on a trial basis.
'Hey, Keith, you sure you're ma and pa ain't your real kinfolk?'
'He's adopted, man. Ain't nothing like John and Donna. Must be a bastard'.
'Fucking freak, dude. Weirdo.' I took the insults with a grain of salt. I tried not to let my feelings out, keeping everything private. My parents seemed to care about me, Mom making sure I looked good before class ('Tuck in your shirt, Keith. I don't want you looking haggard at school. People might start to think I haven't raised you right.') and Dad was quick to see how my day went ('Son, how was class? Teach an old man anything?). But most nights I stayed in my room, just me and the transistor radio, listening to Helen Reddy, Bread, songs on the local AM top 40 station. I felt like I was an outsider to these people who called me son. I always wondered when it would change for the better-or worse.
It was a particularly hot and steamy July night, and Dad was working late at the bar. I was in my room reading when I heard the hi fi in the family room kick on. The strains of Tammy Wynette came flooding through the house, first 'Another Lonely Song', and then 'Crying Steel Guitar'. For the next two hours those songs kept repeating themselves over and over, as in a proverbial broken record.
I crept down the hallway to see what was going on.
Mom was seated in front of the large cherrywood hi fi Dad had bought for her last Christmas, her face puffy and swollen, mascara running down her face, lipstick smeared, hair disheveled.
'Mom, are you OK'? Suddenly she stood up and turned towards me, smoothing out her green polka dot dress and trying to hide her tear stained face.
'Sweetheart, what are you doing up so late?'
'I heard music on the hi fi. Wondered who it was'. I was an accomplished liar for the most part. I had taken acting classes in my junior year, and learned how to emote, and was pretty good at it, winning a role in last years' production of 'Death of a Salesman'.
'Just bought Tammy's new album. Pretty good isn't it? You know how she can get to me.' With that being said she walked over, turned off the stereo and walked past me to her room. I stood there for a moment, wondering just what had happened. I knew there was something else going on, but at this point, it wasn't for me to find out.
I headed back to bed, falling asleep by the light of the full moon. About 3 in the morning I stirred in my sleep, and suddenly felt a strange presence in the room. Turning towards the door, I saw my father illuminated in the moonlight, just staring at me.
'Dad? You ok?' He kept staring at me, not saying anything. He walked over to my bedside and sat down next to me. I could smell bourbon on his breath, and his clothes, especially his shirt was torn open. I reached over to turn on the light but he stopped me with a burly hand.
'Son, do ya mind if I stay in here with you tonight?'
'No, of course not. Are you sure you're ok?'
'Hell, yeah. Everything's fine. I just need some company is all'. I moved over in the bed and he crawled in, boots and all. He pulled me to him and wrapped his arms around me.
'Dad, are you sure you're ok?'
'Everything's fine, boy. Just go to sleep, ok?' He pulled me closer and I could feel his whiskers against the back of my neck. I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep, but wanted to know what exactly was happening. Mother in the family room with the album, Dad dead drunk, clothes disheveled. I wasn't sure i'd find out tomorrow, but i'd hope it was soon.
I awoke early the next morning, sunlight streaming through the windows. Dad was still curled up next to me, his arms tightly gripping my body. I entangled myself from him and began to pull myself up, when suddenly he pulled me back towards him. I turned towards him and looked into a pair of bloodshot eyes, a face that had numerous bruises and cuts, his bottom lip swollen and bloody.
'Christ, what happened last night?' He kept looking at me, holding onto me like a security blanket.
'Keith, tell me you love your pa'.
'Just tell me you love me.'
'Well, of course, Dad. You know I do'. He leaned over to me and kissed me on my forehead. Running his fingers through my hair, he gently stroked my face and put his palm against my cheek. 'I love you too, Keith. I'd do anything for you, ya know that, right?'
'Dad, what is going on between you and Mom?' His eyes widened with what resembled fear, and he grabbed my arms and shook me.
'What the fuck you talking about?' I'd rarely seen his anger, but his face turned a mottled shade of purple and he dug his hands deeper into my arms.
'Dad, you're hurting me. Stop it!' He kept staring at me with this glassy eyed, furious look and I almost gagged from the sour smell of vomit coming from his lips.
'What did that bitch tell you? Huh, what did she say to you??'
'Nothing! Nothing at all! What the hell is going on?? Please talk to me!' He stood up, his pants undone, a thick, uncut cock protruding from his jeans. He pushed it back inside and stormed out of the room. I stood there for a minute, trying to fathom what happened from last night to this morning. I got up and grabbed a bathrobe.
Heading towards the kitchen, Mom was sitting at the Formica topped bar, a cup of coffee in her hand. Dad was seated across from her, smoking one Marlboro after another. I pulled a cup from the cabinet and poured myself a cup of coffee from the percolator. After a little cream and sugar, I turned around and leaned against the sink, staring at my parents. Mom was still dressed in her outfit from last night, her appearance unchanged. Dad never uttered a word, practically eating the entire package of Marlboros.
'Would someone tell me what happened last night? I think I have a right to know'. Both parents looked at me, as if I was suddenly the parent. Mom's lips began to quiver and she sobbed quietly. Dad turned to her and glanced, then looked over at me.
'Son, we're getting a divorce'. I wasn't sure how to take the statement at first, how this perfect couple, the June and Ward Cleaver of Grove Hill were breaking up.
'Can you tell me why?' I was trying to remain calm and unsettled. Both of them looked at me with the same vacant stare.
'What? It can't be that bad, whatever it is.' Silence filled the yellow and olive green kitchen as Mom leaned over and removed a cigarette from Dad's pack. Taking his lighter, she lit it and inhaled deeply. I'd never seen her smoke in the 16 years I'd been on this earth.
'You're father has met someone else. Another man'. I don't know if it was the sight of my mother smoking, or the way she spoke those eight words with a calm, yet shaky voice.
'Dad?' My voice sounded meek, almost childlike.
'It's true, son. I met him at the bar.' He turned to my mother and reached for her hand. With a quick reflex, she reached out and slapped him across his face. She stubbed out her cigarette and ran to the bedroom, slamming the door closed behind her. I kept staring at my father, wanting him to say something, like, 'Just joking', or 'We're just fooling around'.
'A couple of the guys at the bar attacked me last night. Beat the living tar outta me when they found me with him in back. Your mama found out last night. One of the guys called her and told her what he'd seen. The police came and they broke up the fight, but didn't have any arrests. I told 'em to go away, and closed the bar, then came home. Please don't hate me, son. I love ya'
He had tears welling up in his eyes, and his body began to tremble. I walked over to him and put my arms around him, holding him as he shook with emotion. Suddenly, the solemn strains of Tammy Wynette's 'Crying Steel Guitar' came wafting out of the bedroom through the corridors of the house on a lonely Sunday morning.
By mid afternoon the entire town knew what happened. Dad moved his things out and took up residence in the back of the bar where he had set up a small apartment for a former bartender who lived onsite. Mom remained inside all day, playing the same songs over and over again. I was at a loss for words for both of them, feeling her pain of a woman betrayed by her husband, and at the same time feeling his loss at hurting the woman he loved, for another. Even if it was a man, something had gone terribly wrong and there was no way to fix it.
Late that afternoon I asked Mom if I could borrow her car to go to a movie. She gave me her keys and told me to be back by dinner.
I headed towards the bar to check on my father.
When I pulled up his truck was parked out back next to a dusty motorcycle. I opened the back door and walked into the storage area. The place was quiet, a simple hum from a refrigeration unit the only sound echoing through the bar. As I drew closer to the front, I heard a loud grunting noise. It seemed to be coming from the small apartment. I crept over and noticed the door was cracked open. I peeked inside.
On the couch was my father, stark naked, his toned, muscular body bent over a well built man, covered in hair, his face adorned with a handlebar mustache, their bodies locked in a passionate embrace. Their lips were entangled in passion and their hands groped each others naked bodies. The gentleman's legs were thrown over my fathers' shoulders, and with one quick thrust, my father plunged his massive tool into the mans awaiting ass. He cried out in a passionate plea, as my father seemed to plow his hole as if he were tilling a field. I observed this ritual with a mixture of confusion, and curiosity. They seemed to fuck for hours, as the man turned my father over and nailed him repeatedly against the sofa.
They leaned back against the naugahyde and stroked each others cocks, their powerful members taut and veined. They both came in tandem, swallowing each other's semen greedily. When they had finished, my father took this man into his arms, and kissed him.
'It's over, Bud. Everything's out in the open'.
'What did your boy say?'
'Not much, really. Not even sure if he understood. But he's my son and I love him. Like I love you. We'll get through this. I promise'.
I returned home and had a very quiet dinner with my mother who had changed out of her clothes into a bathrobe. Her face was free of makeup and her hair hung limply against her shoulders. I cleaned up the kitchen and went to bed, unsure of what tomorrow would bring.
I awoke to the sounds of sirens coming from the front of the house, police radios blaring. I ran to the living room and found my mother on the sofa, handcuffed, ready to be taken to an awaiting cruiser.
'Where are you taking her?' The deputy turned to me, unsure of what to say.
'Your mother is being charged in the murder of your father.'
My mother had taken my fathers shotgun, went to the bar and blown him away. The coroners report stated that the blast from the rifle had practically taken off half of his face.
During the rest of the summer, I remained in the house, taken care of by my Aunt Fern, a tiny woman with a pinched face who burned the toast and made coffee that would strip paint off walls. She took me to see Mom, who was staying at her girlfriend Faith's house. The town had rallied and paid her bail, calling her a hero. She had decided not to return to the house for it harbored memories of a painful marriage, in her eyes. When I went to spend time with her, she appeared cold and distant, sometimes staring at me with an icy, accusing look. It was as if I was the incarnate of my father, and somehow he still existed in me.
The trial went rather smoothly, the prosecution trying to build a case against her, stating he was a victim of neglect for years, starved for attention, unable to come to terms with his true identity, he stayed with her until it was physically impossible to . The defense encountered with stories of infidelity with other men for years, and as a dutiful wife she ignored it for the sake of her family, but in the end it became too much for her and she killed him because of the unfaithfulness.
During the trial I would see Bud outside, in the distance, watching the crowd with a mixture of disdain and sadness. He'd see me and walk away. One day I walked over to him, as he stood across the lawn, smoking a cigarette.
'I'm sorry about your pa'.
'I appreciate that. I know you loved him'.
'I did. Your father was a good man. And I miss him. You must hate me'.
'No, I don't hate you. Dad had feelings he couldn't control. And he had to explore them. For that I can't fault him one bit.'
The trial ended with Mom being acquitted by reason of insanity. The jury recommended she be given unsupervised probation, and be allowed to return to her job in the fall.
Things were never the same between Mom and I. I ended up moving out after graduation, heading off to college at Texas A&M, paid for by my father who set money aside in trust for me for school. The bar mysteriously burnt down weeks after the trial, and the official reason was given as 'faulty wiring'.
I kept in touch with Bud all through school. We tried to keep his memory alive by having dinner, going out to movies, and even attempted an intimate relationship. In the end Bud disappeared and was said to have died in a car accident two years later.
I graduated with degrees in psychology, attained a masters in psych, and moved to Dallas to start a clinic. Mom and I talked on occasion, birthdays, Thanksgiving, even Christmas, but I was never able to reconcile with her completely. She had built a wall up against me, and in her eyes, I was my fathers' son.
She eventually sold the house, and moved in with Aunt Fern. She met a man, a mechanic, and settled down with him in Corpus Christi, refusing to marry him. They lived together until his death in 2002 from cancer. She eventually began to suffer the effects of Alzheimer's, and was placed in an assisted care facility. I went to see her many times, and during those visits, she appeared to remember me, bits and pieces of a happier time. Then other times she became violent and threw glasses or whatever was handy at the time towards me.
Mother died in late 2007, and her wishes were that she was to be cremated, her ashes scattered in the sea. But I decided that I was going to do something else with them.
One summer afternoon, I drove to the cemetery where my father was buried. His grave had been overgrown with weeds, and I tended to the plot since it seemed to have been neglected by some people who'd not forgotten the past. I opened the urn and spread her ashes all around my father's grave.
'Mother, you and father were once in love. I hope that somehow, somewhere you will be again, not as a couple, but as friends. And Dad, I hope you can find Bud again. He loved you so'.
I got into my car, pulled open the glove box and pulled out a CD. Pushing it into the slot, the soft, sad tones of 'Crying Steel Guitar' wafted out of my radio as I headed out the cemetery gates towards home.