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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Conversations With the Dead: 11/5/79 Houston, Texas


Dear Teresa,

Well honey, I guess you've been wondering why I haven't written. Your mother has been going through another crisis. Phil started drinking again, and of course I ended up doing it too. It's just not going to work for us. As nice a guy as he is, I just can't go it anymore.

He won't go to AA and it just seems like we've both changed or something, and even when there's no drinking, it's not like before. I guess I really don't have any business with anyone. I can make it alone, and with AA, but trying to have a relationship with anyone at this stage seems impossible. (I'm talking about men in general). I have to try to really get into AA again (like I was in church, in fact, I had even started going back to church) and try to grow up, and get to where I can like myself before I can get involved with anyone. You know me. Whole hog or nothing.

And I just flat cannot drink. I get worse, and meaner, every time, and part of it is because I dislike myself so much, and I take it out on other people. It has to stop. I can't be in AA like I need to, and do the things I need to do, and live with Phil. So if I want to change, and if I want to learn to live, I have to give him up. Sounds simple, but it's not easy. I hate to hurt him. It'd be much easier if he were a jackass, but he's not. But I have to put staying sober first, and he's not ready to do that, and I can't do it by staying with him.

But anyway, I've got a new address and I wanted to let you know what was going on. I'm staying at a halfway house with some other women right now, so unless I can get a job and a car awful fast (and an apartment!) it looks like you coming down here in December will have to be put off. But this is where I need to be right now. And I can live here, and work, and maybe get things worked out pretty soon, with my check. I pay rent here, but by working, and my check, I can make it in three months or so. I haven't even made up my mind to stay in Houston. In a way (because of you and Charlotte) I'd like to come back there. But we'll have to wait and see. First things first. Anyway, don't worry, because these are good people here, and I think this decision is going to be the turning point. We all have to grow up, and learn to stand on our own two feet, and I think it's about time I did that.

I love you honey, and I'm so very proud of you. Just keep it up, and write me here. I may be coming back soon, for good. Then we'll be able to see each other often. But I have to "get it together" first. But I love you, and "turd-head" Charlotte, too (you tell her for me, and tell her to send me a picture of the baby). Write me.

Love, Mother

P.S. A girlfriend of mine is keeping Charlie and he's doing fine. I'm sure he'd say HI, too.

About ten years ago I found a resale shop in Houston and went in. I got to talking to an employee and learned that the women who ran the shop lived in a halfway house next door. Some were running from abusers, some were running from addiction. I realized that this is where you wrote this letter from, the place on Dupont. I feel disappointment even as I type this because although this was a turning point for you, it was a brief pause in just another U-turn.

You are right about staying single, but you'll lose your resolve in six months.

Conversations With the Dead: 10/1/79 Houston, Texas


Dear Teresa,

Got your letter, and I also talked to Charlotte. I told her to be sure and have Mike or you call me when the baby comes. She may end up having it on Linda's birthday.

Call me and let me know when Charlene decides when you can come down. Phil and I will come get you. That's an awful long bus ride. If you can only stay a few days, it'd be something. At least we could have a little time together. I sure hope they agree, since it's hard for me to get up there to see you often. And not having a car yet, doesn't help. I'm still planning on getting one, as soon as I can. But around here, everything's within walking distance. It's real handy.

So you're vice president? How about that. And who may I ask is Dr. Jeff? I think you may have mentioned him before, but I've forgotten. Tell me about him.

I called David right after I talked to you, but he had left that morning. It's a durn shame that people are so self-righteous and self-centered. He'll probably never try "home" again. I wouldn't! I just wish he'd gotten my phone number before he left. I haven't seen or talked to him for over three years. (I think I'm mad, too).

Charlie's not doing very good, but he's taking some more medicine and I take him back to the vet Tuesday. I sure hope he makes it. He's so sweet. I'm going to get some film this weekend and take some pictures of him. I may wait and mail this and send you one.

Well, I guess that's all my news. I bought me a bookcase, and I took all the paint off it an d now I've got to repaint it. I hope you can come down. We'll have a Christmas tree and everything! So let me hear from you, and be sweet. Call me, when you can. I love you.

Love, Mother

PS Didn't get any film. Try to get some next week Bye.

Dr. Jeff is a doctor at Arlington Community Hospital where I'm a candy striper. I had a crush on him, nothing serious. I remember his full name now - Jeff Horn. How funny, the things we remember. I think I was vice-president of some group in home economics class, which I completely sucked at. That should have told me something about my future domestic skills.

Your handwriting is getting shaky again. You're about to get sucked into another whirlpool.

Conversations With the Dead: 9/7/79 Houston, Texas


Dear Teresa,

Well, I've been busy this morning. It's just 8:30 am, and I've already cleaned my oven (ugh!) and got a washing done.

I guess Charlene told you I called. I would have waited until later, so I could talk to you, but I knew they were going to cut my phone off yesterday (can't pay the bill right now. I'll get it back later) and I didn't want you to be worrying about me or anything. Everything's okay now. In fact, I've started going to AA again (like Jimmie and I did) and also Sally and Dan Borkowski are still here. They have a friend here named Verna (I don't know if you ever met her or not) and she lives real close. In fact, while I was sick, she had her whole church pray for me, and of course Sally and Dan were too. And I'm sure that's why I came to myself enough to call AA for help. I had a bad resentment against AA when Jimmie got sick and died, and had said I'd never go back, but HE had other ideas. Anyway, it was a miracle in itself, that I called. So don't worry, because I know HE's helping me. Why I don't know, but I know HE is.

I wish we could have spent more time together, but next time I come up there, we will.

How is Charlotte doing? (She's mad at me, and so is Nanny). I know she's due to have the baby this month. Keep me informed, so I won't worry. And let me know how your school, etc. is going. I'm very proud of you, and I want you to keep it up.

Tell Charlene that I appreciate how nice she was when I called. You're better off there than with Patty or your Dad. And love your Daddy. He's had a hard time of it, and I do know he loves you.

Well, I guess this is all for now. Just always remember I love you, and let me hear form you. Tell everyone HI from me.


PS Phil's at work, but he said to tell you HI when I wrote.

Well, your phone didn't last long. I wondered, from here, if you could afford it when you paid that deposit.

You going back to AA and saying you were "sick" confirmed everyone's suspicions. That's why Charlotte and Nanny are angry. They aren't gentle forgiving spirits. They don't understand addiction, I guess, and neither did I as a child, but I could never imagine not loving or needing you then, in whatever form you were available.

Verna must be your sponsor.

I must have said something negative about Dad for you to defend him. You still love him. I probably resent him for leaving me with Charlene. Maybe it was the best place for me, but he's my father and too easily handed me over. He said to Charlotte just before I moved in with Pat and Charlene, "What do you expect me to do? Get an apartment with just Teresa and me?"

I'm glad you had so much trust in God, but maybe you relied a little too much on powers outside yourself. Today I felt a hot rage reading about how "HE" helped you, how "HE" got all the credit for your recovery, temporary as it was. Ridiculous. In fact I realize just today that it was you who killed God for me.

Conversations With the Dead: 7/16/79 Houston, Texas

Dear Teresa,

Sorry I've been so long about answering, but Charlotte's probably told you I've been in the hospital. The doctor put me in to run a bunch of tests on me, because I have been feeling so rotten for the last couple of months, and I still couldn't seem to get rid of that infection. I have to go back later, and have them put some kind of scope down my throat so they can check my thyroid (they found a spot on it in the x-rays) and look at my stomach. Seems I've got an ulcer. Also, I'm borderline diabetic, so I have to watch what I eat. He said there was a spot on my left lung, but it's not TB, and he says it's probably an old scar. Maybe from when I had pneumonia when I was little. Anyway, I'm feeling some better and will be glad to find out what the thyroid deal is.

I put down a deposit for a phone and they're supposed to put it in around the 23rd. I'm going to get an unlisted number, but will let you know what it is as soon as I get it. I should have my dental work done sometime after August 1st. And I'm going to find some way to see you this summer if it hairlips the governor! Just hang in there. And there will be no more long spaces in between anymore.

Well honey, I'm sorry I don't have a lot of good news this trip, but none of it is real bad either. Just be sweet, and don't ever forget that I love you, very much. Maybe in my next letter, I'll have some good news for you. Tell Charlotte I understand and will just work something else out. Let me hear, and I'll call you as soon as I get the phone.

Love you,

PS Phil and Charlie say Hi!

Your handwriting looks even worse. And Charlotte probably told you that you can't stay with her. She thinks you're drinking again. She knows you are, no matter how much you deny it.

Conversations With the Dead: 6/21/79 Houston, Texas

Dear Teresa,

Got your letter day before yesterday, but have been so lazy, just now answering. I don't know what's the matter with me. Just don't seem to have any energy. The doctor gave me some thyroid pills, but they haven't helped any.

Did you know your writing looks a lot like Charlotte's? (As well as I can remember it, that is!).

I've read all of Erma Bombeck's books, and I wish she'd write some more. She's so funny.

I sure wish I could see you. In fact, I've been thinking about putting my dental work off, and coming up for a week. I could stay at Charlotte's and help her out some maybe, and you could come stay with us. could you find a way to get out of babysitting for a week? Why don't you find out, and let me know if you can, and when. I can take a bus up there, and if Phil can't come get me, I can take a bus back (He's been having to work weekends lately). Why don't you ask Charlene about it, and let me know? I could come any time.

I'm sure you're tanned a lot more than I am. It rains so much here, it's hard to get too much sun. I try to pick a day when my hair is dirty so I can wash it the next day, and the sun doesn't try to work with me! But at least I'm not "sickly white".

I haven't heard from Charlotte, (no surprise), so I guess she's doing okay. It wouldn't hurt anything though if I could stay with her for a few days, and help out. You can call her too, and see what she thinks.

Well, I guess that's all for now. Not really much news. We've got to go to the VA hospital this afternoon and see Doc. He's been real sick. So let me hear from you, after you check with Charlene.

Love you,

You're really starting to repeat yourself, and your handwriting is getting shaky. You are going down, getting depressed, and Doc being "sick" means he's been drinking.

Conversations With the Dead: 6/14/79 Houston, Texas

Dear Teresa,

Got your letter yesterday and Phil and I cracked up over your drawing! You know, I bet you could really draw good, like your daddy, if you'd work at it. Does it interest you any? I've always wanted to try my hand at oil painting, although I'm sure I don't have any born talent for it. But if I could learn the basics I might pass.

I'm glad you can make some money this summer, but I'm also glad you're having fun. You're only young once, so enjoy it! I missed out on so much, by getting married so young. I guess that's why I act like a kid so much. Never got it out of my system!

I talked to Charlotte yesterday, and told her to cal me if she gets to feeling too bad, and I'd come stay with her and help out. I sure hope she can carry the baby full term. She promised she'd let me know, if she needed me. She said David had called Granny about three weeks ago from Arizona, and that he was coming back to Fort Worth. I'd sure like to see him. I can't imagine him being twenty-one years old. I'm just glad he's not in jail. I pray for him all the time, even though I didn't know where he was.

Erma Bombeck has several good books. One's "At Wits End" and "The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank" and "I Lost Everything In the Postnatal Depression". They're all so funny. You can probably get them at the library. Phil and I go to the library all the time. We both love to read, and I joined a book-of-the-month club too.

I went to the dentist today. I had three cavities I had to fill, and I have that broken tooth to get fixed (thanks to Buddy!). It's going to cost me $240 to get it fixed. But it's in the front so it has to be done. He filled two cavities today and I'll go back and get the other one filled, and then after the first of next month, I'll get the broken one fixed. I'll sure be glad to get it done. It made me so self-conscious because it looked so bad.

I'm letting my hair grow out again, but I think I'll get it frosted again. That gives it more body, and covers up the gray. I'll have to wait awhile though, because I want my teeth fixed first.

I talked to Nanny last week, and she sounds awful nervous. But you always are, after an operation like that.

I've beet getting a tan too. No, I never do burn real bad, and I never peel. I hope you can come down this summer so we can go down to Galveston.

Well honey, I guess that's all for now. Have fun and let me hear form you. Remember, I love you.

Love, Mother

Conversations With the Dead: 6/5/79 Houston, Texas

Dear Teresa,

Got your letter yesterday. I really had worried when I didn't hear from you, but I thought you might have gone out of town or something.

Phil and I thought we might have found you a pet you could keep, but it didn't work out. He found it out on the job. It was a turtle (or terapin, I don't know which) and it was about six inches long. He was kind of pretty, because he had orange spots all over his head and legs, and orange eyeballs! But he wouldn't eat! We asked at a pet shop what they ate, and they said vegetables and fruit, but he wouldn't eat. I don't know if he was too scared, or what. Anyway, we let him go because I was afraid he'd die. And you should have seen Charlie! It was so funny. He watched him, and followed him around all the time. And when I'd put him in the bathtub in a little water, his shell made all kinds of noise, and Charlie would sit in there with him. (And he usually won't go near a bathroom, because he's so afraid he'll get a bath!).

I wrote mother a while back and I sent her a get well card, but I haven't heard from her. Charlotte didn't say what was wrong with her. Why don't you ask her and let me know? Charlotte still hasn't written.

Phil and I went to see the Battleship Texas weekend before last, and went through it. It was real interesting. He said when you come down, we'll go to Astroworld. I think it's kind of like Six Flags. And we both got us a bathing suit so we can go down to Galveston. There are a lot of things to see down there.

Do you have any pictures yet you could send me? I wish I had my camera, but it's packed in all my stuff.

Well honey, I guess this is all. Hope your sunburn is okay by now. Be sweet and let me hear from you. I love you, very much.

Love, Mother

Conversations With the Dead: 5/22/79 Houston, Texas

Dear Teresa,

Got your letter yesterday, and it was real sweet with all the "Happy Mother's Day". I also got a telegram Charlotte sent me about Nanny being in the hospital for surgery. She said it wasn't serious, but I wonder. Mother's not one for having surgery or anything to do with hospitals, unless it's pretty drastic! Charlotte sent it the 15th and I don't know why I didn't get it until yesterday, unless it was because we were out of town this weekend. But seems like I should have gotten it by Friday the 18th, before we left. Phil and his boss and his girlfriend and I went to a resort place that his boss has an interest in, to do some work. It was really nice. I'd like to take you when you come down. It'd be a lot of fun. You can go canoe riding down a river (it takes about 4-6 hours) and they have a huge slide that goes down a big hill into some water. And it's so pretty. The water is so clean, etc. And we could take Charlie. He'd have a ball. Phil has a camper, too, you know, but if it's real nice, we could camp out. It'd be fun. We could barbecue, etc.

I'm glad you liked the bookends. I was afraid they'd be too "childish" but they were so cute and unusual, I just couldn't resist them. I like unusual things like that. Do you get a chance to read very much? If you go to the library, look up all the books by Erma Bombeck. She is so funny! She reminds me of me, as a mother! Some of her books are At Wits End, I Lost Everything In the Post-Natal Depression, The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank and Just Wait Till You Have Children Of Your Own. You'll laugh yourself silly! She's a lot like Phyllis Diller, only better. Phil and I go to the library every week, nearly, and get about eight books a piece. We read all the time. And I'm studying for my GED too, so I can get my high school diploma, since when your Daddy and I got married I quit school. (That's one of the dumbest things I ever did. Of course I have a few more on my list too, ha).

As far as pets go, all I can think of is something you could keep outside, like rabbits, etc., or maybe goldfish, etc. There ought to be something you could get.

Phil and I have picked up a new hobby. Have you ever seen that string picture art? He's nuts for ships and he's made two real pretty pictures for the living room and I made a small one of a snail with a butterfly on its back for the bathroom. They're fun to make. I may make you one, and send it to you. Phil always did like to do things like that. He does real pretty leather work too, and he's building one of those model ships. (We've got ships all over the house. Even have a lamp with a ship as a base!).

Well, it won't be long until school will be out. What day do you get out? It's in June isn't it?

I was sick last week and had to go to the doctor and get a shot and some antibiotics. But I'm getting over it now. I hate to feel bad. Guess I'm getting old, ha.

Tell Charlotte I didn't get her telegram until Monday. I'll get mother a get well card today, if it'll stop raining long enough to go to the store. They spotted a tornado this morning. It was really bad.

How is Granny doing these days? Didn't she break her hip or something?

Well honey, I guess this is all my news. And don't be self-conscious about being pretty. The good Lord made you that way 'cause He wanted to. But I know what you mean about not knowing what to say. Just say Thank You, I guess. Be sweet and let me hear, and save your money so we can have a lot of fun shopping! Phil says "hi" back.

I love you, very much!

Love, Mother

Yes, Nanny had surgery to have her teeth removed, I think for dentures. The surgery will go fine but she'll get a nasty infection.

The bookends were of old school house desks made of wood and iron and I used them forever, probably kept them for another fifteen years until they fell apart.

I did eventually read Erma Bombeck, more than a year after you died, from your own collection. I gathered them from the house on Bellgrove, from a wall of shelves behind the recliner where they found you.

I am glad you are getting your GED. You are forty-one years old and smoothing out regrets.

I never did get a pet. I think Pat and Charlene were relieved when the hamster I moved in with died shortly after I arrived.

The string art. I distinctly remember my one and only visit to your Wirt Road address. I was sitting on the sofa in the depressing apartment you shared with Phil, holding one of his completed ship projects. It looked cheesy to me, even back then. Too hollow, too thin and fragile in a cheap way. It was something you would find dusty on a card table at a garage sale. It might go for fifty cents or a dollar. No soul.

I don't know why the apartment was depressing but it didn't help that we never once left it. Maybe it was all the ships, lost in the sea of Phil's morose energy. It reminded me of the apartment you shared with Jimmy and how all that ended, him on a park bench naked. All the "fun" you promise in your letters is hollow, thin strings, tiny nails on black velvet collecting unreachable dust. Like the cheap art Buddy had of Spanish dancers and bull fighters, props for a sitcom. You became the men you chose. Ships and string art? Where were you?

I felt old today at 46. You felt old at 41. I guess things begin to creak in that fourth decade. You won't make it to the fifth.

Granny didn't break a hip. It's funny how you often said when she complained all the time about her health, "She will outlive us all." How precient. She will outlive you by a decade, unable to recognize any of us, completely gone.

I paused as I typed your closing, when you said you love me. I let the cursor blink on the words "...very much!" while I tried to feel you, to reach back through thirty-two Mother's Days, to remember your voice.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Conversations With the Dead: 5/5/79, Houston, Texas

Dear Teresa,

Got your letter yesterday and had been watching for it. Today is Saturday and Phil had to work but I have a lot to do around here. Need to wash my hair (I'm letting it grow out again. Phil wants me to. He just doesn't like my hair short!) and mop and wax the kitchen, etc. If it'll ever stop raining, and the sun comes out, I'm going to get out on the back porch and get me a suntan. I bought me some halters yesterday and I can wear my short shorts. My bathing suit is in Weatherford (as is everything, except my clothes) so I'm going to get another one. I'll get my stuff, but I'm not going to worry about it right now. It'll still be a while before we can make a trip up there.

I'm glad you all get to go see Nanny. I know how she and Windy enjoy it and you kids haven't gotten to be around her like you should. She's nearly sixty, you know (don't tell her I said that!) and her blood pressure is so high I worry about her, even though she and I are having a little trouble now. I wrote her and told her I was sorry for everything that's happened so maybe it'll be alright in time. I hope so.

Yes, I hope Charlene understands and lets you come. I have the legal right, but I don't want to go into that again, unless I have to. I think Charlene is smart enough to be sensible about it though. And I'm pretty sure your daddy is. By the way, how is he doing anyway? Is he with Granny or what? By the way, we have a radio that has an 8 track tape player in it, so since you're so rich (ha) get one you like and you can play it when you come down. Who all do you babysit with?

Since you don't have a pet, you'll really enjoy Charlie. He loves attention. And he's so sweet natured. Of course I'm spoiling him rotten! So you can help me, when you come. And any kind of store you want is near here, so we can go shopping while Phil's working. I'm going to get me a car one day, but there's no rush. I've got some other things to pay off first.

Well honey, I guess this is all for now. Be sweet, and always remember I love you. Tell Charlene and Pat Hi for me. Phil says Hi.

Love, Mother

P.S. Would you believe this (mauve) is the exact color of our bathtub, etc.? Wild, huh?

Yes, Nanny is disappointed in you and tired of trusting only to be disappointed again and again. You break her heart, only she doesn't express it that way. You can read it in her face, behind her gruff exterior, in the way she looks out the front door of the trailer when she grows uncomfortable talking about you. There are only three years left, three years to make your peace with her. When the time comes, almost too late, she will call for you. You will stand over her bed in a hospital room and her eyes will open for just a moment and you'll hope it isn't just delirium when she smiles.

There are documents in the black doctor's bag I still have of yours where you kept what you considered important - pictures I drew, letters, photos, receipts, several letters from attorneys and custody orders. One order in particular caught my eye, "In The Interest of Teresa Lynn Williams, A Child", and these two sentences, one that said Dad "waived issuance and service of citation by waiver duly filed and did not otherwise appear", and the one that followed saying you "appeared in person and by attorney and announced ready for trial." This document decreed that Pat and Charlene "are hereby appointed Managing Conservators of the child, Teresa Lynn Williams. An earlier order stated: "...the retention of the present custodian would be injurious to the welfare of the child..." They were referring to Dad as "present custodian".

When I first read these documents I was hurt because you gave me away to an aunt and uncle I hardly knew. Now I realize this was a wise choice as Dad's confused state and shock created an unstable environment. Charlene and Pat were well educated, stable, successful. I learned from them, as foreign and lonely as their world felt sometimes, and that knowledge has made all the difference.

At the time of this letter, Dad is drifting between Granny's house, which is our old Crenshaw address, and someone he refers to as "Hog Woman". Her name is Vivian and she lives on a hog farm. Her second and third toes are fused together. She is simple, something you weren't. They will date for about a year and then she will become my stepmother, a marriage that will last eighteen years until one day she up and runs away with a Dominos Pizza delivery boy.

Wild, huh?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Conversations With the Dead: 4/24/79, Houston, TX

Dear Teresa,

Well, guess what we did this weekend? We moved to a much prettier apartment! It sure is nice, and has two swimming pools! The front door is two big sliding glass doors, and off the kitchen it has another sliding glass door that goes out onto the little patio (we're upstairs). It's so much nicer than the other one, but the main reason we moved is nothing but a bunch of thugs and thiefs [sic] were moving in over there. In fact, they stole Phil's plumbing tools out of the pickup, stole our friend Doc's car, etc. And it's going to take a lot of money to replace his tools. And being a plumber, he has to have them. And this apartment doesn't cost any more than that other one did. And the landlady here is a dog lover, so we had no trouble about having Charlie! I can't wait until this summer, so maybe you can come down for a few days. We'll have a ball.

I guess you heard that Charlotte is pregnant? I talked to her a week or so ago and ask [sic] her if I could borrow some money and she deceided [sic] I was drinking and said no. But I was using Doc's phone (the daddy of the "nut" that hurt Phil and died) and I couldn't really sit there in front of him and talk about all that to explain why we were short on money, so I told her you'd explain. But my checks are still not comming [sic], and of course Phil had to be off work so long, and all I wanted was a loan. But I guess any time I ask for money, people think I'm drinking. But it's okay, because I know I'm not. But there just wasn't any way I could really explain with Doc there listening. Anyway, we made it, and we're really happy at our new place. I want to give you the new address and also ask a favor of you. The landlady thinks Phil and I are married, so when you write, address it to Rogene Hust. That way I'll be sure and get it, because Hust is what's on the mailbox.

I'm so glad you enjoy working at the hospital and I understand, because I loved it when I was at the nurseing [sic] home. In fact, I even envy you a little. You're getting to experience a whole lot more than I did. But I'm glad for you, and proud of you that you like it. It takes a certain kind of talent to enjoy that kind of work. Not everyone has it.

Boy it sure was a job moving! (We lived upstairs over there, and this is upstairs too). We had to carry all that heavy furniture, etc. But we had to get it all done over the weekend because Phil had to go back to work Monday. But we're having a lot of fun fixing it up and all. And Charlie loves it.

Well honey, I guess this is all for now. I've still got a lot to do around here. And I hate to ask you to write to me as Hust, but I think you understand. There's really no way to call me here, but as soon as we possibly can, we're going to get a phone. And call the "fart" for me and give her my new address and tell her how to use Hust. (Not that she'll write, but you can tell her anyway!). And you can explain to her why I couldn't talk that day too. So I'll close for now and write me soon. We both love you.

Love Mother

Northwinds Apartments
1714 Wirt Road, Apt. 18
Houston, Texas 77055

All I have to say to this is: You're drinking again.