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

Chapter Five

Carl and his mother were constant companions. Since Francis was content to stay in the house during those years, never going out even onto the front porch and into the the yard, Carl was always with her or in the ball room with Cappy. Carl liked playing with crayons and pencils. He drew pictures of people and objects before he could form letters. In fact, Cappy helped him with writing the alphabet and later to form words, labeling his pictures. He liked to draw his toys, especially, his Boppy. One day he drew an almost perfect circle and with a red crayon, scribbled onside the circle. Cappy asked him what it was and he said, “sketti.” Cappy helped him write, “spaghetti” at the bottom. Cappy often documented Carls pictures with a date and placed them in a binder.

By the age of six Carl had his daily chores. He swept floors, emptied ashtrays and watched carefully as his mother signed in guests. Francis talked to Carl while they made the beds and peeled potatoes - Carl just listened. She talked about growing up in Baltimore and how they sometimes went to the docks on weekends and looked at the big ships unloading cargo. She told him about the Bromo-Seltzer Clock Tower and how it was the tallest structure in Baltimore when she was a girl. She tried to draw a picture of the way she remembered it.

Carl did not say much but was fascinated by her stories. When he did try to speak or ask a question his head jerked and he sputtered. He had a horrible stammer. It was hard to ignore. Most of the guests did not comment on his speech impediment but on occasion one of the men would say, Hey C-C-C-C-Carl. Francis would shoot them a look that would put a stop to it! Carl knew he was safe as long as his mother was around.

Carl was tall for his age. He was thin, but strong from the work he did carrying laundry up and down the stairs and trash out to the street for pickup. He had never been to a regular barber and Francis just trimmed the ends of his hair. She taught him to tie it back when he was working but mostly it fell to his shoulders. He had his mother’s blue eyes and quick smile.

One day when Francis was doing laundry and Carl was carefully feeding clothes through the wringers, they heard a knock at the front door. Frances told Carl to go see who was knocking. Carl was expecting a boarder but it was a lady who smiled and introduced herself as Mrs. Fowler. She said, “Good morning little boy, my name is Mrs. Fowler, What’s your name?” When Carl didn’t answer, she said, Is your mother home?” Carl closed the door, went back to the kitchen and stuttered out, “It-it’s for you.” When Francis went to the door she talked with the lady for a while. Carl heard the lady invite them to come to the Pentecostal Church. His mother was telling the lady that she could not go on account of keeping the house for the boarders but maybe the lady could take Carl to Sunday school.

That’s when Carl got his first real introduction to religion. When Mr. and Mrs. Fowler come for him on that first Sunday morning, his mother had dressed him in his best. Mrs. Fowler commented on how handsome he was. At the big church, there were other boys and girls but Carl kept to himself. When the teacher asked him to introduce himself he wrote his name on a piece of drawing paper with a black crayon the way Cappy had taught him to write.The teacher asked if he could talk and he nodded his head. The teacher took the paper with his name and pinned it to the wall. Everyone turned and looked at Carl. He liked the songs they sang and he started singing along. He wondered why he didn’t stammer when he was singing. After a while, the teacher told a story about a man who got swallowed up by a big fish and spit back out while he was still alive. When it was over, Mr. and Mrs. Fowler took him back home in their car and dropped his off at his house. Carl’s mother already knew about the man and the big fish. Cappy knew it too. He scoffed and called it a bunch of hooey! After that, Carl put on a clean shirt and pants every Sunday and waited on the porch for the Fowlers.

Carl got a little more religion from Reverend George the door to door, Bible salesman, who stayed two nights every couple of months. He found out that Carl was going to the Pentecostal Church and ask Carl when he was going to get baptized. Carl didn’t know anything about baptism so he just shrugged it off. Later he looked it up and tried to rad about it in the encyclopedia. He was learning to read words but mostly he was just looking at pictures. He didn’t understand but he knew that he would learn about it in Sunday School. Reverend George gave Carl a bible and Carl wrote his name on the first page where there was a line with the words, “This Bible belongs to _____.” The next morning after breakfast, Reverend George left to sell more bibles down into Georgia. Carl was changing the sheets on the bed that the Reverend slept in and felt something under the mattress. It was a magazine with pictures of naked women. Carl was pretty sure it was left there by Reverend George and wondered if he would come back, looking for it. Carl was glad his mother was not there. He took the magazine up to the third floor and hid it under some old boxes in the storage closet.

Reverend George, was a not tall but had a large belly. He wore a black suit and vest with small bow tie. He had thick glasses that gave him a frightening look. He often carried a Bible with him. He liked to argue, mostly about religion but the truth was, that man would argue about most anything. The night before, right after supper, the Reverend had started an argument about why people go to church. He said everybody should go to church - he knew Francis and Cappy didn’t go but Francis was in the kitchen. Cappy didn’t say anything but another guest, some guy, Carl didn’t recognize, said “Well, you can stick that bullshit right up your ass! People go to church so they can think they are better than the next person. I’ve seen some of the most greedy, two face, cheaters turn into fancy church goers come Sunday morning - smug bastards.” Reverend George said, “Well, if that’s how you feel about people, I feel sorry for you because, we’re all sinners and the only hope we have is in the mercy of God and if you don’t go to church and get down on your knees and beg forgiveness, God have mercy on your soul.” Then the other guy said that he knew plenty of poor folks who went to church regular and it didn’t seem to do them much good and he knew some real fine non-believers.” Then Reverend George did what he often did to try and win an argument, he pointed to his Bible and quoted scripture. He said, “Second Chronicles, seven, fourteen, If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin.” The stranger just looked out the window then he said quietly, sort of under his breath, “I know your type,” and he went on upstairs to his room. The Reverend kept right on going with his preaching but nobody took the bait. Later Cappy told me that the stranger was a union organizer and probably knew plenty of two-faced bastards. Reverend George was always pretty nice to Carl and he hoped Cappy wasn’t calling the Reverend a two-faced bastard. Carl knew it was a bad name!

When Carl was seven, a man with a satchel came to the door and said it was time for him to start first grade. Francis explained to the man that Carl had a speech disability and would not be going to school. Carl didn’t understand but he was glad he didn’t need to go. He was already learning his numbers and letters from Cappy and other boarders. Sometimes it seemed like Carl was the center of attention and everyone wanted to tell him something. He especially liked it when Mr. Koon came. That man would always roll up his shirt sleeve and say, “Hey Carl, you want to feel some real coonskin?” Carl would rub his big hairy arm and smile. Mr. Koon traveled a route through the south stopping at general merchandise stores, writing up orders for toys and novelties. Some toys he hauled right in the big trunk of his shiny Hudson coupe. It was almost Christmas when Mr. Koon gave Carl a puzzle with all the states and their capital cities. Carl learned them almost right away. Carl remembered them and practiced copying them down on paper. Later when he was ten, he surprised Mr. Koon when he wrote them all down without looking at the puzzle. He also kept drawing. He alway had a pad and pencil handy in the ballroom and bedroom. He liked drawing portraits and maps. The portraits at this point there were not recognizable but showed promise. Cappy would save whatever he could get his hands on. He would just date them and place them in a box that he kept. If there was one that he especially liked, he would show it to guests and ask what they thought of it. Everyone agreed that Carl had talent.

Carl did not know what school was like and Francis was giving him as much help as she could. There were other kids who were not in school but they were mostly out in the remote areas, in the deep Carolina Blue Ridge mountains. Francis was determined to keep Carl at home and, with Cappy’s help, teach him what she felt that he needed to know. Even though Francis was in the heart of town, she had not assimilated. She thought of herself as a northerner, though Baltimore was considered by many to be a southern city, albeit at the northern tip of the south. The truth is, she had no desire to assimilate and she preferred to keep Carl to herself and the world of itinerates she considered family. Maybe it was partly because she had to look after the boarders who were mostly from the north and did not know much, if anything, about her history and partly because after the years were passing, she had become quite accustom to staying in the house. No one mentioned all the old publicity around the shooting and the “killer bride” newspaper stories. Almost ten years had past and things were going well. Cappy and the guests who heard rumors knew she did not want Carl exposed to those old stories of the young bride from the north who killed her husband.

Every morning, Carl woke up at six o’clock. And checked the breakfast sign-up sheet. Boarders would sign their name to a list placed on the table before going off to bed. A check mark after their name indicated that they would be having breakfast. Breakfast was always included in the price of an overnight stay. This morning there were five including Cappy. Adding himself and his mother there would be seven. Carl set the table and started the coffee.

Everyone paid five dollars and fifty cents a night except Cappy who had a special monthly rate of one hundred dollars a month. Supper was also served by reservation and cost an additional two dollars and fifty cents. Cappy had supper included every night because he helped out in lots of ways doing repairs, some of the shopping and lawn work. Inside the house he answered the phone and the door bell when Francis was busy with Carl and he stayed up late at night and signed in late arrivals after Francis went to bed.

Francis purchased a complete set of World Book Encyclopedias for Carl. She bought the books from a guest named Mr. Barkley, a book seller. She paid cash for most of the cost and gave him free lodging until the nineteen books were paid in full. Mr. Barkley liked Carl and always gave him books to read. Carl remembers the day the encyclopedias arrived. The set came in three boxes. There were eighteen volumes and smelled like fresh ink. The books had hard, red covers and Cappy showed Carl how to open them without breaking the spine. They lined them all up on the bottom shelf of the bookcase opposite the dining table. Carl was always careful with the books and kept them arranged in the correct order. Sometimes Carl would just leaf through the encyclopedias looking for something interesting, usually ending up looking at maps or reading about far away places. . Cappy also insisted that Carl read aloud every afternoon for an hour. He would listen and help with any difficult words. Cappy also helped Carl with multiplication and division problems from text books that he got from the schools. Carl, however was a quick and curious learner and he did most of his learning on his own, reading from the encyclopedia books. When he was finished his reading, he would draw copies of pictures and maps from the encyclopedia.

  Chapter 06