Welcome To The Miller House
Don Lehman, 2018


Cover Index
Chapter 01
Chapter 02
Chapter 03
Chapter 04
Chapter 05
Chapter 06
Chapter 07
Chapter 08
Chapter 09
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21

Part 1

Chapter One

Carl’s first years were spent on the ballroom floor of the Miller House surrounded by his toys - pots, a wooden ladle, simple puzzle pieces and a few odds and ends, like a small wheel someone found. The ballroom had a radio and often there was someone keeping Carl company, mostly it was Earl Kipler, who went by Cappy. The first words Carl spoke after, “Mum”, was “Cappy.” Cappy liked the music stations on the radio and entertained Carl by singing along. He had a cane fashioned from a stripped and polished tree branch. His government check dropped through the brass slot in the front door around the fifteenth of every month. That’s how Cappy paid his room and board. He paid by the month and much less than the guests who came and stayed a night or two and were gone. Cappy helped out in addition to looking after Carl when Francis was busy. He did minor repairs and yard work, like trimming bushes and mowing the patches of grass between the house and the sidewalk and at the back between the house and the garage. The grass seldom needed mowing because of the shade from the old oak trees.

Cappy didn’t pick Carl up often and he didn’t get down on the floor with him but he talked and sang - not baby talk or baby songs - He talked about whether FDR would be re-elected, he talked about the weather. The ballroom was bright and cheerful with three large rugs, Baby Carl entertained himself on the center rug and Cappy sat in a Morris chair with thick cushions of dark leather. When Cappy would sing “Minnie the Moocher,” It was a signal to Carl that it was time for his nap. He would lay over on the rug and fall asleep. Occasionally, Francis would pop in, take a look around and disappear again without a word. If the front door bell sounded, Francis would appear again, answering the door. If it was a guest, she would usher them into the little room off the foyer and handle the paperwork. None of this activity bothered Carl when he was sleeping. If Carl did cry, it was an indication that he was hungry or needed tending, Francis would appear quickly, scoop him up and disappear into the kitchen or her bedroom

The guest house belonged to Miss Francis Miller, Carl’s young mother. A tall, friendly, but serious woman who looked too young to be the owner of any kind of business. Her appearance was striking and took strangers by surprise. During the day Francis kept her blond hair knotted in a bun at the top of her head. She was quiet and all business. The house required her to work from early morning breakfast until late evening. On rare occasions, it was only she, Carl and Cappy but on most days there were three or four quests. She ran the house herself and Carl was well looked after though Francis did not have time to spend with him until everything was put away after supper and sometimes in mid-afternoon. When there were guests in the ballroom in the evening, everyone stopped and looked up when Francis had removed her apron and walked in. On those occasions, her hair was unpinned and flowing. It was like a movie and she was the star making her entrance. She dropped some of the seriousness and lit up the room. She transitioned from house manager to mother of Carl and hostess to the guests. She knew she was beautiful and she enjoyed the effect it had on the men, but she also knew what little it was truly worth and the danger of using it as currency. She would put Carl’s simple toys aside and chat with familiar guests or get better acquainted with strangers. Eventually she would leave the room, taking Carl to his bath. When he was ready for bed she read aloud for a while and softly sang bedtime songs. Before she turned out the overhead, she would light a candle. Later when Carl was sleeping she would return, tuck the sheet and snuff the candle. On most nights, before turning in, Francis had an hour or two for herself. That’s when she went to her own room. She washed off her makeup, bathed, applied lotion and brushed her hair. She took her time and watched herself in a full length mirror. She knew her appearance was good for business. Most of the boarders were men traveling for work and they liked flirting with Francis but they also heard the rumors of what she had done to her husband and that kept all the guys in line. She felt safe with Cappy around. Even though guests would sometimes argue as men do, he would certainly not tolerate horseplay. She had her favorite guests but she was careful. Francis did not want a reputation. She had to keep the house going. On weekends she sometimes returned to the ballroom later in the evening after putting Carl to bed, but on most days she retired to her room by nine or nine-thirty.

The ballroom, where Carl played and napped, had five, floor to ceiling windows, facing south and two at the back facing west. Light streamed through the side windows. Mostly, except in winter, the windows were raised with screens and the heavy drapes moved with the breeze. The ballroom also had three ceiling fans that turned lazily. A door at the back, next to the two large windows, lead to the bright sun porch sweeping across the back of the house furnished with dark green wicker chairs and side tables. Off the sun porch were steps to the lawn, with large forsythia bushes, trimmed and maintained by Cappy. At the front, guests came up five steps onto the spacious front porch to the heavy door set with leaded cut glass. Francis was always a pleasant surprise when she opened the door and introduced herself. Most guest she recognized and greeted by name. If it was a stranger, she would say, “Hi, I’m Francis Miller, welcome to the Miller House.”

The door opened into a foyer with a wide staircase, straight ahead. To the left of the foyer was a small room Francis used as an office. Just beyond the office to the left was an archway to the large ballroom that extended all the way to the back. To the right of the foyer was the kitchen, laundry and a common bathroom. A hallway at the right of the stairway lead to three small bedrooms. The first bedroom belonged to Francis and her room included a small bath. Next was Carl’s room. Carl’s little bedroom was taller than wide but like all the other first floor rooms, it had a floor to ceiling window. There was just room for a single bed, a small dresser, chair and a bedside table. Cappy’s room was at the back corner. His bedroom was the largest. He was on first floor on account of his gimpy leg and the fact that he was a long term boarder. The front of the social room is where meals were served at a long oak table. The second floor had six rooms and one shared bath, mostly three or four of the rooms were filled every night. There were two more guest rooms and a bath on the third floor, only occupied when the second floor rooms were filled. The basement was a dark, spooky area, under the ballroom and had some storage shelves, the coal bin and boiler.

Throughout the day, arriving boarders would turn the bell knob at the front door and pay for the night. On rare occasions a guest would show up after supper or late at night and if there was a room available, they were welcomed. Those that checked in during the morning would usually be gone for the day and return in time for a little relaxation in the ballroom before supper was served and leave after breakfast the next morning. Most were regulars who came through Greenville. Some just stayed the night and some stayed for three or four days at a time. The only women, were with their husbands, or men who claimed to be their husbands, and were traveling. They would only stay for the night. The women would make over Carl and say he was just, “the most darling little boy!”

As soon as Francis could afford to make a few purchases, she bought a heavy safe and had it moved into the small office off the front foyer. The next purchase was a game table and a Victrola for the ballroom. Francis often heard the men playing cards late into the night. The dining table, opposite the kitchen, seated ten and extended with four extra boards. The game table was all the way to the back at the opposite end where there was a overhead lamp hanging from a long chain. With the twelve foot ceiling, the ballroom had an elegant appearance with wide moldings and carpets. In the center on the inside wall was a large fireplace that added a festive feeling at Christmas and in the chilly winter months.

Behind the house, there was a garage large enough for two cars and a small shop. Since Francis did not have a car the garage was mostly empty. Gradually it became a place for garden tools, lawn mowers and wheel barrows. At the back wall under a stairway there was a work bench. The stairs lead to the second floor. That upstairs space had a large window at the front with twelve panes, four high and three across. It was mostly empty except for a few old wooden crates and a locked steamer chest. Cappy would go to the garage and puttered with light yardwork. He never went up the steps on account of his disability. He was, however, able to do light yard work and Francis left the outside work to Cappy.

When Carl started walking, he would sometimes go to the garage with Cappy. He didn’t dare go up the steps to the second floor until he was much older, then it became one of his favorite places to go, to be alone.
After lunch on most days, Cappy would take a short walk. By the age of three, in pleasant weather, Carl would walk along. They were often seen limping and waddling, sometimes stopping to look at something on the ground. Carl might pick it up then put it back down. Or maybe they would be looking at something in the trees. Cappy would talk about his memories of the war when he was in Frances. Carl did not understand a word of it but was entertained by the sound of Cappy’s voice. Carl carried his “boppy,” a child sized blanket. Someone had placed a baseball in the blanket and tied it with a cord making a sort of faceless head with a flowing dress. How Carl came to name it Boppy, no one seemed to know but he carrying it everywhere and slept with it at night. In those days it was Cappy, Carl and Boppy, all the time!

Francis never left the house. A guest house is a seven day a week, morning to night business, and Francis had no desire to go out. She had seen enough of the local people during her trial in the weeks after she moved here. Her picture had been featured on the front page of “The Greenville News,” several times during the trial. That’s why she was happy to stay inside the Miller House. Groceries were delivered twice a week when four or five large bags were carried in and set in the cafe table in the corner or if Francis wasn’t cooking, they would be left on the counter. She paid cash, and tipped the delivery boy. Francis noticed him sneaking glances at her and wondered what stories he heard. She didn’t spend much time worrying about what locals were thinking and as the time passed, thought even less of it. Her days were full with cooking, cleaning and laundry. When Carl was five he began taking on little chores, when he wasn’t helping, he played in the yard with toy trucks given to him by a toy salesman named, Mr. Harvey, who boarded a few times a year. Once when he was playing in the yard near the street, he looked up and saw two boys staring at him. Those boys were older maybe twelve or thirteen. Something about the way they looked at him was frightening. Then one of them said, “Hey little boy, Where’s you daddy?” He said it with a grin on his face, then both boys laughed and walked on. Carl knew he didn’t have a daddy when that happened. It confused and frightened him but he didn’t tell anyone. He did wonder where his daddy was but he had Cappy and, of course, his mother, Francis.

  Chapter 02