Welcome to The Miller House
Don Lehman, 2018

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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 Seven

The next morning after breakfast was put away, Francis called Carl back to the table and told him to have a seat. Then she called Cappy who was slow to get up and onto his feet. He made his way over to where Carl was sitting but remained standing, leaning heavily on his cane. Then Francis surprised them both by a proposal. While looking directly at Carl she said, “Cappy, Carl and I will go for a walk. We will walk the three blocks to the grocery store but not to buy groceries. We will walk those three blocks and we will turn and walk back home. We will do it because we live in this town. You, Cappy, will be in charge of the house while we are gone. In the future months, I will deduct one dollar from your room and board for every time we walk. Carl, get your cap.” She did not wait for Cappy to respond. It was an order. With the exception of the night she went to the movies with Big Frank, she had not left the house since the days she spent in the courthouse after the trials and for her trip to Baltimore when Carl was born. During those six weeks she spent in her mother’s house, she was in her room, nursing Carl. That was over twelve years ago.

Carl knew it was odd that his mother was walking with him to the store on Washington Street but he did not know that she was filled with dread. She was not afraid for her safety the way Carl was afraid, but the Miller House had become her sanctuary. She believed that even after all the years had passed she would still be looked at as the “killer bride.” The way she had been named in the headlines with her picture on the front pages of The Daily News. The way the newspaper men followed her home and shouted at her from her front yard. These were things she was not ready to tell Carl about so she took his hand and boldly walked out the front door. When they got to the sidewalk, she released Carl’s hand and they kept a steady pace without speaking. It was still early and there were few people out. When they past another person, Carl heard Francis say, “Good Morning.” Most answered with a, “good morning to you,” or a “good morning Ma’am.” They did not slow their pace. When they reached the store, around the corner on Washington street, Francis said, “Well, let’s go home now.” They turned and retraced their steps. When they arrived home, they went back to their regular chores of making beds, washing linens, sweeping floors and fixing meals.

In addition to all the chores, Carl was a reader. There were always books in the house, thanks largely to the book seller, named Mr. Barkley, who was a regular guest. He came at least two or three times a year and always left books for Francis and Carl. It was always fun when Mr. Barkley came with a wheel cart that he took from the trunk of his car and unfolded. He would then load a box onto the cart and carefully pull it up the front steps onto the porch then in the front door. Once inside he would open the box and choose books that he thought Francis and Carl would like. He knew Francis liked romance and detective novels and Carl liked mysteries and travel stories. Mr. Barkley lay the books out on the dining table carefully like they were precious and he would praise the books. Carl asked it he read them all and he laughed and said, “Are you kidding me, I don’t have time to do much reading! I just read the descriptions on the dust jackets of the hardcovers and the backs of the softcovers. I’ve got a lot of territory to cover and book shops to stock and orders to write up.” Carl loved listening to Mr. Barkley talk about the books. Francis would alway buy a book or two for herself and Carl but Mr. Barkley would mostly give books to Carl for free! He said it was ok because they were samples and sometimes there was an ink smudge or a bent cover. Carl had learned to read early. Mr. Barkley would ask which books were his favorites. For a while he read western adventures, then he read and reread the books about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He liked travel and adventure stories. He had a collection of Jack London adventures and had already read Call of the Wild several times.

Carl thought a lot about the Bible stories he learned at the Pentecostal Church. He also thought about the arguments he witnessed between Reverend George, the Bible salesman and other guests, sometimes guest would seem to agree with the Reverend but they would still argue over the meaning of a verse or story. Reverend George just liked to talk religion. He called himself an Independent Baptist and Carl guessed that meant he had his own way of thinking. At the Pentecostal Church the Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Walters, was talking a lot about baptism and Carl wasn’t ready to be baptized. He was beginning to feel like he was being pushed toward religion and it didn’t fit with some of the arguments he heard from guests when Reverend George started his talking. He had never really fit in at the Sunday school and had not found friends there. The other children his age went to school together and played together in the neighborhoods. Carl looked and dressed different as well. His straight, dark hair that was long enough to hang past his shoulders was the first thing that was noticed because it was so unusual in a young boy unless you were from one of the Indian tribes. Some people assumed that he was a Cherokee. He did not fit in with the Pentecostal Sunday School. He wanted to stop going but didn’t want to tell Mr. and Mrs. Fowler who had picked him up at nine-thirty every Sunday morning for the last several years. They were kind to him and he didn’t want to disappoint them. At dinner one evening, when the guests had excused themselves and Francis had not yet started clearing the table, he told his mother that he didn’t want to go to Sunday school any more. He said, “I have heard the stories now and I have my own Bible that the Reverend George gave me and I can read it myself. I don’t think I want to be a religious person” Francis just smiled and said “You don’t have to go, just tell Mrs. Fowler.” Cappy didn’t say anything. Then Carl told them that he liked Mrs. Fowler and didn’t want to disappoint her. Cappy said, “Well, you can’t control how people decide to feel. If she tells you that she feels bad, you can say that you were afraid that she would and then thank for all the times that she took you with her and Mr. Fowler.” Carl thought that sounded like good advice but it would still be difficult to say to her.

The following Sunday, on the way home from Church, just when they pulled up in front of the Miller House and just before he got out of the car, he said, “Mrs. Fowler, I will not be going to Sunday School every Sunday. Will you still pick me up and take me whenever I want to go?” Mrs. Fowler just said, “Of course we will take you whenever you want to go. Some people don’t go to church every Sunday. Just call us on Saturday when you want us to pick you up.” Then she reached back and patted Carl on the shoulder! Carl gave Mrs. Fowler a big smile. He was so relieved when he got out of the car and walked into the house. He knew that all religious people were not like Reverend George. He liked both Mrs. Fowler and Reverend George but Mrs. Fowler was a kind person. Maybe she was more like Jesus.

Francis made sure that Christmas was a special time at the Miller House. She had Cappy put a string of colored lights around the front door. She called the same farm every year for a tree and the man knew she required a special, 9 foot Douglas fir. The farmer who sold trees would come himself and set up the tree in the ballroom. After Francis paid him and he would leave, Cappy would laugh and say that old guy waits all year long to come in a get a good look at Miss Miller! Francis just said, “Well, God bless him then!” Every year Carl would get a special gift. In 1954, the big gift was a television. Francis said it was for everyone but it would be Carl’s big gift. In 1956, the year Carl turned thirteen, Francis had a new Schwinn Phantom delivered to the house. She had it all arranged to be delivered and quietly placed on the front porch after dark on Christmas eve. Carl’s old bike was just something Cappy found broken down. He had fixed it up and taught Carl to ride on the sidewalk in front and around the south side of the house but he was never permitted to ride on the street. That old bike was not much to look at when when Cappy got it working. It still worked, but Carl seldom rode it because the chain often slipped off the sprockets.

On that Christmas morning there were no guests. When Carl woke early, that beautiful Green Phantom was sitting by the tree! Francis and Cappy were at the table having coffee. Carl could not believe his eyes! He almost cried and he tried to thank his mom but the words would not come out. He could just say, ”thu-thu-thu!” Francis stood up and hugged Carl for a long time. Carl could not remember ever being so happy. Cappy just sat at the table and smiled. Carl’s mom said, This is a grown-up bike. You can not be restricted to the sidewalk. You are thirteen and must learn to be safe and ride on the street. Carl could not believe what he was hearing. Francis had another surprise for Carl. She started paying him for helping with the house and yard work. For the first time, Carl had transportation and money in his pocket. That day was cold and Carl liked looking at the beautiful bike next to the Christmas tree with the lights and silver tinsel. Cappy had a fire going in the fireplace and Carl did not take the bike outside. The day was so perfect that Carl wanted it to last as long as possible. Carl promised his mother that he would be safe when riding his bike on the streets.

The next day he did take the bike out and pedaled around the block. He stopped and looked both ways at the crossings. Then he put it in the garage and looked at it for a while. He wanted to spend some time alone and just think. When Carl did his thinking he sometimes went to the second floor of the garage. Cappy never went up there because of his bad leg and of course his mother did not go outside unless she and Carl were going for one of their walks. The second floor of the garage was also where Carl preferred to read. Light filtered in through the big front window where he had placed an old raggedy chair. It was the most comfortable chair ever! The only other thing up there was some empty boxes an old steamer chest that seemed to be locked. At least Carl had not been able to open it yet. When Francis needed him she would just call from the back door of the house. It was Carl’s own place to sit and think and read. His imagination was strong when he was up there reading and thinking. When he read about Huck Finn, he imagined himself floating down the Mississippi on a makeshift raft with Huck and Jim, the runaway slave, getting into dangerous situations. He imagined how wide the river was and how muddy. He imagined setting up camp on the bank of the river, building a fire and drinking coffee. Maybe late at night, one of the big, steam, paddleboats would come up the river. Carl could imagine hearing the music and seeing the people on their way from New Orleans to Memphis or St. Louis.

Carl also thought about all the different people who came to their house as guests and boarders. He imagined what their life was like out on the road, doing their jobs. Sometimes he made up stories about them. He had that magazine with the pictures of naked women that Reverend George, left under the mattress. He had it up there in the garage now. Carl had brought it down from where he had hidden it at the house, in the third floor storage closet. He could examine it here without worry of being discovered. All the women were smiling and mostly had big tits. He wondered about the women, where they lived and if posing for pictures was their job. He was glad that Reverend George left that magazine because he was curious about women and wanted to know what they looked like under their clothes. Carl thought his mother was prettier than any of the women in the magazine, at least her face was prettier. He didn’t know about rest of her body, maybe that was prettier too.

Carl and Francis were still taking walks. They were casual and uneventful. Some times on Saturdays they would walk all the way to the Reedy River and would sit for awhile at the falls. One Saturday that spring, when they were sitting at the falls, Carl asked his mother how his daddy died. No one had ever told him the complete story. Years ago he had asked Cappy the same question. Cappy was quiet for a while and Carl just waited. Finally he said, “Well, he just died. That’s all I can say.” Carl thought it wasn’t much of an answer, but he let it go. He had never come right out and asked his mother. Now he would be fourteen on his next birthday and he wanted to know more! In spite of his stammering, he was getting bolder and when it was just him and his mother, he would sputter out anything he wanted to say. Francis looked at him for a long time - maybe a minute. She wasn’t looking into his face or eyes but she was looking at him. Carl knew she was thinking about what she was going to say, so he just waited. He watched the water tumbling over the falls.

When Francis did start to talk, she told Carl how much she loved him and how good he was at helping with the guest house. He had helped make the Miller House a success! She told him that she thought he was really smart and could learn things quickly. Then she said, “I think you should know exactly what happened to your daddy, but first I will tell you about my own daddy, mother and brother.” She took long pauses when she was talking. Carl just waited and listened because he knew it was his mother’s story and it was his story too. She told him that the last time she saw her daddy, Carl’s grandaddy, was when he brought her a present at Christmas when she was nine years old. That was twenty-three years ago and he would be fifty seven years old. She didn’t know if he was dead or alive and that when he was her daddy, he was mean to her mother. She told Carl that her mother, his grandmother, lived in Baltimore and her older brother, his Uncle Wilson, lived near Baltimore in a small town called Ellicott City. She told him that she knew his grandmother was still living because she sometimes got letters from his Uncle Wilson and some times she wrote letters to him. His grandmother still worked in a restaurant in Baltimore. Carl also learned that he had three cousins, a boy named Art, twelve years old, and two girls named Sarah, eight and Jill, five. Francis told Carl she had not talked or written to her mother since he was born. She did not really know why, but she and her mother were not on friendly terms and had nothing to talk about. She said even her letters to Wilson were short and she did not know much about what their lives were like back in Maryland. Carl realized that he had a lot to think about and he wonder why his mother had kept all this from him.

Carl push on and said, “b-b-but what abo-abo-about my da-da-dad?” There was another long pause and the Francis started talking about Aaron. She started by saying, “Your daddy’s name was Aaron Palone.” Then she told him about how they met back in Baltimore and how they got married so fast and how she was so young and inexperienced. Your daddy was ten years older than me. Then she surprised Carl by coming right out and saying, “I shot your daddy. I think it was an accident. We were in a tavern. It was very late at night. He was drunk. He was chocking me and someone put a gun in my hand. I had never had a gun in my hand before. The gun went off and shot a bullet through your daddy’s neck. He died almost immediately. The ambulance came and they could not save him.” The police came and took me to the jail. I was terrified. There was a trial and I was found innocent and it was considered, self defense.” Carl didn’t know what to say. It sounded like a story from a book, not something that really happened to his mother and daddy. Carl asked, “Who gave you the gun?” Francis just told him she didn’t know any of the people and she didn’t know who put the gun in her hand. “no one would admit it and every one said they didn’t know. It was clear that I did not have a gun myself, I had no pockets and my small purse was still on the table.” She had only told Carl the facts of the case and she knew there would be more questions after Carl had some time to think it over.

 

  Chapter 08

don@holdingbook.com