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 Six

By 1953 when Carl had just turned ten, his chores had increased and now he was becoming a big part of the daily operation. He often signed in guests and took payment. Carl liked when guests talk to him like he was a grownup. The men, when leaving, used to look around for Francis, then say, “tell you mom, thanks and I’ll be back in a few months.” Now they sometimes said, Well Carl, Thanks for the hospitality, I’ll see you in a few months,” and Carl would say, “ S-S-Safe travels, w-w-we’ll be here for you”, same as his mom would say. Of course that only happened when Francis was somewhere in the house making beds or something. Mostly she was there, seeing the guests off herself.

Carl’s long dark hair and thin body gave him a handsome, exotic look. He was quiet and seldom revealed his stammer. Mostly he observed the guests and listened to their stories. Like most people they enjoyed talking about themselves. Carl was interested and that made him an ideal listener. His light eyes focused on their faces as they talked about their travels, families, girl friends and jobs. Mostly salesmen, they loved to talk about their latest, “big sale.” Sometimes, like the book or shoe salesmen, they would show Carl and Francis their products. Carl especially like the book salesmen and the toy and novelty distributor!

At six o’clock in the morning, Francis would knock on Carl’s bedroom door. He would roll out of bed, wash his face, brush his teeth and dress in his uniform which consisted of thin dark blue cotton pants, white t-shirt and a light weight jacket made of the same material as the pants. The jacket had a small “MH” monogram on the left breast pocket, for the Miller House. He often remained barefoot. After breakfast he changed into casual clothes for working. If he was going outside to work with Cappy in the yard or walking downtown for lunch or to shop for supplies, he wore sneakers or leather boots depending on the weather. He had begun tying his long hair back with a leather string that had real turquoise beads at the ends, given to him by a jewelry and notions salesman. He and Cappy were well know in the neighborhood. They walked slowly, Cappy with his cane and Carl looking at everything along the way. People liked to chat with Cappy but they could never get a word out of Carl. He would turn and look away. If someone spoke to him, he would nod and look at Cappy who would speak for him.

Francis was happy for all the work Carl was able to do at the house. Finally her life was becoming a little easier. One night she went to the movies with big Frank, one of the regular boarders. It was the first time Carl could remember her leaving the house and in fact it was the first time since she got off the bus from Baltimore with her six week old baby. Frank Dawson came every month and stayed for two nights. He was a safety inspector at the textile companies. Everyone including Carl called him “Big Frank.” Big Frank alway gave Francis a hug and a peck on the cheek. Carl could tell that his mother liked Big Frank. He liked to tell jokes. He’d say, “Hey Carl, did you hear the one about the farmer’s daughter?” Francis would slap his arm and say, “don’t you tell him your dirty jokes!” Carl had already overheard plenty of the jokes the guests told one another. Most of the guests were traveling salesmen and they were famous for their jokes and stories! Francis didn’t allow jokes and swear words at the table but if the men weren’t too rowdy, she would ignore their language in private conversation and that’s what Carl often overheard. Since he seldom spoke, they hardly noticed that he was there. Now that he was ten and had a lot of responsibilities, he was pretty grown up.

The night Big Frank took Francis to the movies was a strange night for Carl. They had just finished putting away dishes and cleaning up after supper. Francis called Carl to the kitchen and simply said, “Big Frank is taking me to the movies tonight. You may stay up until we get home after the show. Then she told Cappy that he and Carl would be in charge of the house while she was gone. That was all she said and Carl and Cappy just said Ok. Then Carl said he’d like to go to the movies sometime. His mom told him that she would have Cappy take him to see something soon. Carl thought it would be more fun to go with Big Frank but he didn’t say anything. That evening, Francis was wearing a dress Carl had never seen and her blond hair was shining and flowing over her shoulders. She was wearing dark red lipstick. Big Frank said she looked prettier than Marilyn Monroe. They were going to see, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. That was the first time Carl realized how pretty his mother really was. The men always teased and flirted with her but Carl knew that’s just what men do. Before she left, she gave Carl a kiss on the cheek and then rubbed the spot to wipe off the lipstick. She always kissed him at bedtime but she had never kissed him in front of Cappy and the guests. Carl was embarrassed and everyone laughed! After Francis and Frank left, Carl didn’t know what to do so you went into the kitchen for a while. No one checked in late and he went back to the ballroom. The radio was on and Cappy was playing poker for nickels with someone Carl did not know. Cappy invited Carl over to the table and introduced him to the stranger. He said his name was Walter. Cappy gave Carl three nickels and invited him to join in on the game, He picked it up pretty quickly but was out of money after a few games. Cappy said, “Now don’t tell your mom that you were playing poker, she might just throw me out!” Then he laughed, Carl
went over to the sofa, stretched out and started reading “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”

The following year when Carl was eleven, Cappy took him to see, The Wild Ones. Cappy said he like Marlon Brando movies and wanted Carl to see it with him. Francis said it sounded like a movie for grown-ups but Cappy told her he thought it would be ok. He said, “Carl was grown-up enough.” Francis gave her permission. It was the first time Carl could remember riding in a taxi. It was a lot like riding to the Pentecostal church with Mr. and Mrs. Fowler. Carl was unprepared for what he saw, starting with the theatre itself. It would be the following Christmas before Francis would get a television for the Miller House and Carl only knew what he had seen in movie magazines. The marquee was lit with what appeared to be hundreds of light bulbs.

After that, Carl spent his free time drawing pictures of Marlon Brando and motorcycles. He got a pretty good likeness of Brando. Cappy taped one of them on the mantel at the fireplace and it remained there for weeks.

Carl was now twelve, if he were in school he would be starting the sixth grade. He knew all about reading, writing and arithmetic, Francis and Cappy saw to that! The only thing missing was friendships with kids his own age. Carl didn’t know much about what school was like but he was smart enough to know that he should have friends. He knew some of the kids at the Pentecostal Sunday School but they were not what he could call friends because he still never talked on account of his stammering. Francis had suggested once that he might start school in ninth grade. Carl didn’t think he would want to go.

On his way to the store in the summer months when school was out, he would pass kids on the sidewalk. They often made comments but one day it was different. There was a group of boys watching him approach. He knew they were watching though he avoided eye contact. Just when he was next to them one stepped right in front of him and and said, “Hey kid, what’s your name?” Carl tried to step around him but the kid kept blocking him. Then one of the other boy grabbed his arm. The first boy repeated, “what’s your name, kid?” Carl tried to answer then but could only get a C-C-C out. He just could not say his name. That’s when the first boy shoved him and the one who had grabbed his arm, left go and tripped him up. Carl landed hard on his back and banged his head on the sidewalk concrete. He just laid there until he regained his senses. When he sat up everything was blurry but he could make out that the boys were walking away. He heard one of the boys yell, “Get a haircut, you look like a girl!” Carl knew then that the world outside his mothers guest house could be an unfriendly place.

It took a lot of time for Carl to explain to Francis why he threw up and did not eat his supper. After stammering out the story of how he got bullied while taking the shopping list to the grocery store and why he had a large lump on the back of his head she gave him an aspirin with a little water and some crackers. The next morning the lump had mostly gone down and he ate his breakfast without puking. He told his mother that he was never going to the store again. Francis, of course, did not go to the store and clearly understood why Carl would want to stay home as well. She also knew she could not permit him to isolate himself and the best way to help him was to get out of the house herself. There could be difficult days ahead if they did not make an effort to get out of the house. Cappy offered to go with Carl on the next trip to the store but Carl said, No, I’m not leaving the house.”

Carl was familiar with praying from the Sunday School classes at the Pentecostal Church but he had only tried it once when he woke up in the night and heard a big argument in the ballroom. One boarder, a new guy from Raleigh on his way to Atlanta was accused of cheating in a poker came. A regular from up in Asheville was threatening to kill him. They were yelling and swearing. Carl had his eyes squeezed shut and praying no one would be killed and that he and his mother would be safe when he felt a hand on his chest! His heart nearly stopped but when he popped his eyes open it was his mother who sat by his bed until the rumpus calmed down. Francis did not allow drinking in the house but boarders often brought liquor with them and drank late at night. So, now after a day of recovery from getting knocked, Carl was praying again. He wanted other kids to leave him alone. He didn’t want to stammer and he wanted to be brave. These were the things he asked God for. Then he went to sleep and dreamed that he was going somewhere in a car with his mother and Big Frank. He was sitting in the back and Francis was up front, Big Frank was driving. His mother was laughing at something Big Frank had said.

  Chapter 07