Search This Blog

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: March 17, 1978 Address Unknown

Dear Teresa,

Hello baby. Happy St. Patrick's Day! I thought you might think I haven't been thinking about you because I haven't called, but I have. But I was in the hospital for a week (nothing serious) and then I was out of town for about two weeks. Maybe it's better if I write for a while anyway. I was kind of afraid that calling might upset Patty and your daddy, and I really don't want to do that. I just want you to know that I love you and I miss you an awful lot. And I think about you a lot too.

Also, I wanted to tell you that Buddy and I aren't together anymore. In fact, I really wish I'd never met him, to tell you the truth. It took me a while to realize it (I'm kind of stupid) but I finally did. I'm getting my checks from the VA now (because I'm Jimmie's widow) but I'll probably go to work pretty soon, so I can keep busy. But I felt like you'd like to know that I wasn't with Buddy anymore. I'm sure you were worried about it. And by the way, I am not drinking anymore either. So everything's fine. I just kind of fell apart when Jimmie got sick, because I knew he'd never come out of it. I just couldn't handle it every [sic] well. But I think I can now. I hope you can forgive me for being so weak once again. Seems like your mother has a habit of that, but I don't mean to.

Well honey, I guess this is all. Be as sweet as you always are and remember I love you very much.


*This letter had no return address so I assume you're still in the hospital and Mom, alcohol-related delirium tremens are serious. Your handwriting is shaky. The paper is thin, almost transparent. Your life must feel like tissue paper, too. Yes I was worried about Buddy because he scared me. He threatened to kill Dad. He encouraged you to drink. He'd stare into my eyes and say, "What's wrong? I can see you're uncomfortable. What's troubling you?" I didn't dare tell him he made me uncomfortable. I'm sorry Jimmie died of a stroke but I don't think it was his death that was so difficult for you to handle. You married him on the rebound from Phil, or maybe you just married him out of a desperate fear of being alone. But what you had difficulty handling was what you and Buddy did to poor Jimmie after his last stroke. I'm sure the police wondered for a long while not only how Jimmie made it to the park bench in the shape he was in, but how he ended up completely naked. And in even more alarming news, I know you're not done with Buddy yet.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: Greenville, Texas, 1975


Dear Teresa,

Well, how have you been doing? I know you've been busy since you started back to school. Do you like it pretty good?

I haven't heard from David since he went back to Cleburne. I called him the weekend that he came over to your house and told him he could come back with me, but he said he wanted to stay in Cleburne. I really don't understand why he didn't want to stay here but as long as he's happy there, I guess it's alright.

Well, I got me a little black dog. Her name is "Spooky" because she's so afraid of everything. I spent the night with Betty & James when I was in Fort Worth and they gave her to me. She's so cute. Her tail curls over her back (she's part Chow and part Scotty) and her hair is wavy and she has hair over her eyes and a goatee. She's really something. She's about five months old. I've really enjoyed her. She just has a fit every day when I get in from work after being here by herself all day. When I drive, the traffic scares her, and she lays up in my lap or under the car seat. She's the spookiest dog I've ever seen. But she's a good watch dog. Someone was outside my front door one night and she barked up a storm.

I'll be glad when you can come up again and see my apartment. I think it's real cute. Maybe you can come up for a few days on the Thanksgiving Day holidays. Find out what days you'll be out of school over Thanksgiving and let me know so I can come get you. (Ask your daddy if it's okay). You wouldn't want to spend all the time you're out of school here because you need to spend part of it there with Patty and Jay, but you can spend part of the time with me. Of course it's nearly two months until Thanksgiving and I'll see you before then, but we can go ahead and make plans for Thanksgiving.

I never have gotten that ring fixed but I saw something the other day that I want to get for your birthday. It'll be real cute in your new room (Curious? Ha).

Well honey, guess that's all my news. I just work, come home and eat and go to bed, except for going to church. Phil came up to see me last weekend. He's a plumber and he fixed Betty and Jame's bathroom plumbing last week. He still wants us to get married as soon as I get my divorse [sic] from Sonny. I know one thing, I'd never find anybody that would be any better to me. He really is the nicest person I've ever known, and I've known him now for over a year. That's one mistake I made with Sonny. I really didn't know him long enough before we married. If I had waited and gotten to know him better, I never would have married him. So, I don't know. I really haven't made up my mind about Phil yet. So, let me hear, if you get a chance. Be sweet and don't forget that I love you.

PS Just write me at Nanny's. I don't really know this address yet. So for now, write me in care of Nanny.


Well Mom, it's interesting that you don't know your address yet though it's written on the outside of the envelope. I suppose your apartment was actually Phil's. Your divorce from Sonny will become final just about the time you decide you don't want to marry Phil. Your decision will come during an argument with Phil; he'll call you a "convenience" and you won't like it. Nice guy, huh? He'll leave to go to the store and when he returns, you'll be gone. Almost instantly you'll get married to someone else and announce this by showing me his and hers wedding rings during a weekend visit. Husband #3's name is Jimmy Spinks. I'll get one postcard from you during this marriage, a photograph of Pensacola Beach Pier. You and Jimmy will see a few states during this trip and you'll write that you wish I could see all the pretty country. I kinda doubt that now but, oh well. You signed the postcard as you always did when there was a man in your life, his name beside "Mother". I never got that, not even back then. It'll be 1978 before you write again.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: September, 1975, Greenville, Texas


Dear Teresa,

Guess you're getting ready for school. It won't be long now before it starts.

Sorry I didn't get to talk to you the other day when I called your daddy about David. I talked to David yesterday & he sounds fine. I was going to find out what kind of medicine he was supposed to be taking & get it for him but he said he already had it. He says he'll stay there until I get an apartment. He sounded real good & he's tickled to death that I've started back to church. I'll be glad when I get settled & he can come down.

How is Mac these days? I still don't have the pictures of us yet. As soon as I get them I'll send you one.

I've found a real nice little church that I've been going to. They've been comming [sic] to pick me up until I get a car.

I got a call from Phil the other day. He's moved back to Fort Worth & he's still wanting me to marry him. But I just feel like I need to put the Lord & David first. He's really a good & sweet person but I guess I'm just kind of scared of marriage after Sonny. But I told him we could still be friends & see each other some. I believe he's the nicest person I've ever known.

Well honey, guess this is all. Take time to write me & let me know how you are before school starts & you get to [sic] busy.

I love you,

*I'll be attending another Baptist private school this year, entering 5th grade. Boulevard Baptist School in Burleson, Texas. Joy Baptist closed last year after the minister's wife got into it with the kindergarten teacher. Mrs. Wolfenbarger started a fight in the middle of a service. Next thing we knew, school wouldn't be resuming the following year. I guess no one is perfect.

Mac the Guinea pig is fine but he'll freeze to death this winter. Poor little guy. Ben the hamster had some sort of heat stroke over the summer. I don't seem to have much luck with animals.

I look forward to seeing the pictures of us at Nanny's. I'm glad you found a church and are making plans to be with David. He needs you like I do.

Phil? He's another dead-end, but you'll take any road that keeps you from being alone. I'm learning your pattern with men now, that love for you means longing and need. It's the wrong way to love. It's not love at all.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: July, 1975, Greenville, Texas


Dear Teresa,

Hi honey. I'm sorry I didn't get to call you today but I'm kind of low on money, so I'll just write.

I left Houston & I'm spending some time at Nanny's (in Greenville). I haven't decided yet weather [sic] I'll stay here & try to get a job or move to Fort Worth. Without a car it might be best to stay here a while. Mother said they're hiring at some factories here and that you can always find a ride to work. So maybe I could save enough before long to get me a car. Then I could move back to Fort Worth (you just about have to have a car to live in Fort worth). Anyway, I'm closer to you now & I can get up to see you more often. Of course I don't have a job yet. I'll just have to wait & see if I can find something. If I do get a job I guess I'll stay. If not, I'll do something else. Anyway, at least I'm closer to you. And if I can, I want to get a job at a factory because you have weekends free, where if you work as a waitress you always have to work weekends, & after you start back to school that's the only chance I'll have to see you. And I want to spend some time with Mother Wise. I hadn't seen her in so long & she's not getting any younger. You know when I was a little girl, I lived with her for a couple of years, & she's always been like a second mother to me. After Daddy died, I felt so bad because I hadn't spent more time with him. I don't want to make the same mistake with Mother Wise.

I got a letter from David yesterday. He said he'd get out of the hospital in about a month. He sounds like he's doing o.k. I need to send him some cigarettes. I sure hope I get a job.

Well honey, I guess this is all. Write me here at Nanny's. Have you heard anything from Charlotte? I wish I could see all of them. Well, I'll close now. Write me & be sweet. I love you very much.


*It's good you'll be spending time with Mother Wise. She's in the early stages of Alzheimer's you'll soon learn. She doesn't have long so your instincts were right. I'll spend a month of summer with you at Nanny's. You'll find a job at a nearby factory. During the afternoons while you're at work, I'll watch soap operas with Nanny, help her garden, run errands with her in her Cadillac while Ronnie Milsap sings, "I'm having daydreams, about night things, in the middle of the afternoon...". You'll be tired each night when you get home from work, so I'll sit on the floor at your feet and rub them. They're so calloused but I find them beautiful. My memories of this summer will be full of Nanny's okra gumbo, rhubarb pie, picking tomatoes, petting her cats -- Sam and Bitty-Bit -- and feeling at home with you so close. I've missed you so much and this visit feeds a terrible hunger. We'll walk over to Mother Wise's trailer next door and play the organ and sing. After this visit she'll begin to deteriorate. I'll never see her again. This is also the last time you'll see Nanny until 1983 when she decides to call a truce on your off and on war, and you'll go to her hospital bedside to tell her good-bye.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Eating Her Addiction

I tiptoe behind her -- I'm 9 -- toward an immense room with gunmetal walls, no light, just endless grays and floor to ceiling portraits of ghosts. She feeds me frozen nails and I eat them while she cradles me in bones and paints my tongue the ash color of her words.

I can't separate the mother from the monster, the two from myself.

There's no choice in that room for days, weeks, sometimes years without light. I swallow down nails, coins, a pound of gray flesh as she watches me with staple gun eyes, her hair muddy tinsel, her voice gravel and rocks washed from gutters. It rains day and night, sheets of tin crashing while our tomb's gray-blue gloom rises high enough to know there is no ceiling, no floor, no hope.

When her chains stop rattling I spit out the metal and ash, bury the cold bloodless memories.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: Austin, TX - April, 1975


Dear Teresa,

I got your letter & I sure was glad to hear from you. I know you're real excited about the baby comming [sic]. Little babies are so sweet & cuddley [sic]! I'm real happy for all of you.

I may just be here in Austin a couple of weeks more. I'm not sure yet, but I may move to Houston in a couple of weeks. But I'll let you know as soon as I know & I'll give you my address if I move.

I went to mass Easter & to confession. That's the first time I'd gone to confession in two years. It made me feel real good. Have you all heard from David? I just wonder how he's making it at Charlotte's? Poor kid. He doesn't feel like he belongs anywhere. But I pray for him (& you & Charlotte) every night & I know God will help him somehow. But maybe when I get back to work I can help. Right now it's just impossible.

Well honey, I guess this is all for right now. Be sweet & I'll let you know my address if I move. In the meantime, just remember that I love you very much.




Dear Sweet Teresa,

I just loved the drawing you sent me, & your sweet letter. I love you very much too. In fact, you're my pride & joy. You're a very sweet & good girl. And I'm sure He answers your prayers. (And He'll take care of you too, because I ask Him to every night).

Honey, I wish we could be closer too. I miss you very much. But I'm going to move to Houston this comming [sic] Saturday & go back to work so maybe I can get enough money together to come to Fort Worth some weekend soon. I sure hope so because I sure want to see you. I'd like to spend a whole weekend with you, but I'll have to get the money first. O.K.?

I'm really glad your daddy is building you a room. You'll enjoy it & your daddy is good at building things. Remember Davids room he built?

As soon as I get settled in Houston I'll write & give you my address. Don't write me at this address because I won't get it. Just wait until you get my next letter & I'll tell you my new address. O.K.? And after I go back to work I can call you sometimes too.

Well honey, I guess this is all for now. And I'm going to get a picture frame & frame your picture you drew for me & hand it up in my apartment!

I love you very, very much.


*David is living in a state hospital in Wichita Falls now where other male patients give him cigarettes in exchange for putting their privates in his mouth. David will announce this when we pick him up for a visit in the near future, as if it's normal, funny even. You'll tell him not to talk about these things in front of me. He'll still be smiling, his brain separating more from itself every day. And Mom, you won't be going to Houston just yet. You'll reconcile with your own mother first in Greenville, Texas. I'll see you there.

Conversations With The Dead: Austin, TX - March, 1975


Dear Teresa,

Sorry I haven't been able to call you honey, but I just haven't even had the money. I'm in Austin, Texas & I really don't think I have to worry about Sonny anymore. Since I haven't been able to call you and want you to at least be able to write me (so I'll know how you are) at the end of the letter I'll give you my address. Please write, o.k.?

Well, today is David's birthday. I wonder how he's getting along with Charlotte. Why did he decide to go with them, I wonder? I hope he's doing alright.

How have you been (and your cat, ha)? It won't be long now until you'll have a new sister or brother! Now you'll know how Charlotte was when you were born (she was about 8 years old when you were born). It'll be a little different, but not much.

Well honey, I guess this is all. I just got back from an AA meeting, and it's getting kind of late, so guess I'd better get to bed. Be sweet, and please remember I love you, very much.

Love Mother

*Since you're writing from Austin, you must be in Austin State Hospital again. Your handwriting is a bit shaky. Your sentences are awkward. I guess your waitress girlfriend was a bit too much fun and that first drink became many. Yes, Patty is pregnant and Jennifer will soon be born. She's a half-sister, which must be what you mean by "different". I'll last see her in 1989 when she gives me a pink and gold bird pen for Christmas -- two doves fused together -- and then we'll drift apart because she'll always be more Patty than Dad and that marriage is getting rocky now. Patty dreams bad things about Dad, that he chases and hits her. She dreams something terrible almost every night then tells him about the dreams. And David? He's being examined by psychiatrists. Charlotte and Necho took him to the hospital when he started talking to pictures and taking his pants off in public. He went to live with them because Patty wouldn't let him live with us. She thinks he's how I got my lice and says she's afraid of him. I dreamed the other night that he fell off the back of a truck and cracked open his head. Doctors were trying to save him by stuffing the large hole in his skull with dry straw. He's 18 and broken. I think I'm afraid of him, too.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: October, 1974


Dear Teresa,

I'm taking a chance and sending this to your old address just hoping you'll get it. I tried to call you Sunday so I could tell you I was leaving town & couldn't get anyone. Everything happened so fast & I was riding with this girlfriend of mine and had to leave when she wanted to...

I've been having more trouble with Sonny. His son lives in Fort Worth and happened to come in where I was working & I knew it'd only be a matter of time before he showed up because he's been calling Mother & Mother Wise, trying to make them tell him where I was. He just won't believe I'm not comming [sic] back & he's still drinking & seems to think he can make me, from what Mother said. So, this girl that was working where I was, was going to move here, (she had an uncle here that just opened a place, & he needed waitresses & wanted her to work for him) & she said if I wanted to get away before he showed up I could come too, because her uncle needed about 5 waitresses. So, at the last minute I decided I would, for everyones sake. This time, I won't tell anyone where I am, not even Mother, so maybe he'll give up & stop bothering everyone. If he thinks I'm in Fort Worth & seeing you, he might even start calling your daddy, & Patty, & I sure don't want that. I'm the one that married him & it's my problem, no one elses. And if I can keep working (without having to run from him all the time) I'll have enough money to get a divorse [sic]. Her uncle pays real good, & we share an apartment & ride to work together, so I won't be out much money. And we are close enough that I can come up to see you, every few weeks. I hate having to do it this way because I won't get to see you like I want to, but I don't know what else to do right now. I just hope you understand. Sonny's a sick man & he can't help it, but I know he'll try to hurt me & I can't take the chance of him maybe bothering other people just to get at me. He's just not responsible for his actions. But I can call you, & as soon as I make enough money, I'll come up on a Saturday. (I'll let you know when, ahead of time). And your birthday present will be a little late because I'll have to mail it, but I want to call you first, so I'll be sure you'll get it. (I didn't even have enough money to call you last Tuesday night, that's how broke I was, & I won't get paid until Friday, but I'll wait until Monday to call, to give you enough time to get this. I want to be sure you'll get it before I mail it). I hope you like it. I just wish I could have seen you, before I left. I know it'll be 2 or 3 weeks before I can get back, at least, & it seems like it's been forever since I saw you last. But, like I said, I'll call you & we'll make a big day of it, when I do come. O.K.? I promise honey, I'll try to make it all up to you somehow. Things will settle down some day. And I already feel more relaxed, just knowing that there's no way Sonny can possibly know where I am. I was nervous all the time in Fort Worth, wondering when he'd pop up again. And maybe after I get the divorse [sic] he'll have to accept the fact that I really mean it.

I like my job & everyone is real nice. Kathy (the girlfriend) is a lot of fun & really nice.

Well honey, I guess I'll close so I can hurry & get this in the mail & I'll call you Monday (your birthday!) & see if you got this. If you did, then I'll mail your present the same way. I love you very much, & miss you terribly. Be sweet & pray for me.


*I guess I got my birthday wrong. I'm only nine. I'll be ten in a few days. And I do pray for you, Mom. My prayers go up in the shape of a pyramid. You're at the top. I ask God to protect you, keep you safe. Then I pray for my hamster, Ben, and continue on down the list of important people and it takes me forever to finish. I pray that the communists won't invade our country because the films they're showing us at my new Baptist church are about communists shoving bamboo shoots through the ears of people who believe in Jesus. I don't know if I'd admit I believe in Jesus or not. I'm scared either way. And confused.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Conversations With The Dead: Bay, AR May, 1974


Dear Teresa,

Honey, I was so happy when I got your letter, & thank you for the very sweet mother's day card. It really was sweet. And thank you for your pictures. You're so pretty in them. You get prettier every day. And you look so sweet with your hair long. Sonny just had a fit over your picture, & a bigger fit when he found out you cut your hair (ha). He loves long hair. But I've gotten mine cut too. I still had all that hair that they messed up at the beauty shop, on the ends, & I just had to cut it off. I cut it off pretty short, to get all those dead ends off, but will probably let it grow long again now that that's off.

I'm real proud of your grades at school. You've always done real good so keep up the good work. You'll be glad you did when you get to high school. It'll pay off.

I've been awful sick this past week. Didn't even feel like going to church mother's day. I've had the flu, & one of those bad sinus headaches. It's beginning to ease up a little now, but I sure have felt bad. I've been in bed since Saturday.

Well honey, I guess this is all for now. Thanks so much for the card & pictures. I love you very very much. Stay as sweet as you are.

Mother & Sonny

*I remember that picture I sent you, taken at Holy Name Catholic School, blue and gray plaid uniform. I liked my hair long, too. My stepmother cut my hair -- Patty. I got lice from somewhere and after treating my head with whatever noxious solution, she cut and permed my hair. After we took the rollers out the phone rang, so I brushed my newly curled hair while Patty talked on the phone. When I set the brush down, a flurry of little brown bugs scurried away from the bristles. My stepmother began to cry when I told her, pulled me to the kitchen sink and sprayed my head with Raid. She spritzed between sobs. I felt sorry I disappointed her.

And Mom? Sonny likes long hair because he'll need something to pull you around by later on...

Letters From The Dead: Bay, AR May, 1974

Dear Teresa,

Well, I guess you're tickled because school will be out pretty soon. What are you going to do this summer? Do you ever see Charlotte & Necho?

Sonny & I are turning into real farmers (ha). His uncle wanted us to stay here a while & help him to get his cotton planted & I'm learning all about farm life. I've been helping his aunt around the house while he's helping his uncle. His aunt & I planted a big garden & picked strawberries & all of us killed a hog & cut it up & put it in the frezzer [sic] & I've even learned to drive a tractor! You ought to see me. Really tho [sic], I've been enjoying it. Besides doing all that, we cook 3 meals a day (we get up at 4:30) & carry them water out to the field when they're working. We stay busy all the time. It's a good healthy life tho [sic]. Wouldn't mind doing it all the time if we could find us a place.

Guess what? I got my ears pierced. That'll surprise Charlotte. I got me some real pretty earrings. I want to get me some with a little gold cross if I can find some.

Well, I guess this is all the news for right now. Write me & let me know how you are. I love you very much.

Mother & Sonny

*Charlotte is my older sister who married her high school boyfriend at the age of 16. At the time of this writing, she was 18 with two children and soon to be divorced. And FYI, my mother hated getting up that early, sweating, cooking and dirt.