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 Thirteen

The next week on Thursday, May, 30th 1957 it would be Carl’s fourteenth birthday. Birthdays were recognized with a special meal and a fancy cake. Carl began baking a cake for his mother when he was just eight years old. Her birthday was March, 22. Sometimes he attempts to make a heart-shaped cake with red and white icing. Carl prefers chocolate icing. Either Francis or Carl make Cappy’s cake. Cappy likes coconut icing on lemon cake. They make it with shredded coconut and real lemon juice. Cappy’s birthday is on November, 19th. No one knew how old he was because he wouldn’t say. Carl guessed that he was born around 1900 because he was young then he joined the army and was sent to France at the start of the United States involvement in WW1. Whatever year it was, Carl could guess that was how old Cappy was - so now Cappy was probably about fifty-seven. Francis said she had a surprise for Carl on his birthday.

Carl told Francis that he and Ozzie had plans to do a long bike ride on Saturday. He asked if she would be ok without his help after breakfast was served. Weekends were usually light days for guests. Francis said she would be fine and Cappy would probably help if she needed assistance. She asked if he knew where they were going and Carl said he did not know but he was going to stop at a gas station get a map.

When Carl went to sleep on Friday night he wondered what his mother had as a birthday surprise for him and he was excited for the adventure that was planned for the next morning. He liked spending time with Ozzie. It was comfortable and relaxed. They just talked about what they were doing and they discussed ideas that they imagined in their minds. They both had ideas about travel and wanted to see places outside of Greenville, far away places.

Saturday morning Carl helped with breakfast. He poured the coffee and served a large bowl of fresh fruit. Francis served the eggs and sausage. There was a honeymoon couple heading for Florida and two men who were textile buyers from Philadelphia, they were leaving after breakfast. The honeymooners were excited to see Cypress Gardens and talked about their travel plans. One of the buyers laughed and said, he went across the Delaware River to Atlantic City, NJ for his honeymoon. As soon as breakfast was put away, Carl made some peanut butter sandwiches and picked up some apples. He put them in a shoulder bag that he sometimes used to carry a few groceries back from the store. He told Francis that he would be back before dark, saluted Cappy and headed out the back door. Ozzie was standing across the street next to his bike, waiting. Carl loved the way the bike looked. The red color was a great choice. He motioned for Ozzie to come over. Ozzie didn’t have a bag but told Carl that he brought two dollars. Carl said he had some money too and some food if they got hungry. Carl had more than two dollars but he didn’t want to say how much. He wasn’t sure how much he had but it was probably more than ten dollars.

Carl told Ozzie of his plan to pick up a map at a gas station and Ozzie agreed. They started out, Carl left Ozzie take the lead. They stopped at an Amoco Station and Carl bought a twenty-five cent map of South Carolina and two chocolate candy bars, one for Ozzie and one for himself. They unfolded the map and located their position. Deciding on Spartanburg they got back on their bikes and headed out. Again, Carl let Ozzie take the lead. There were not many cars on this Saturday morning and it seemed like the whole world was theirs to enjoy. The next week, Carl would be fourteen and today he felt a new freedom. He wondered if this was the way it felt to be an adult - to go out into the world without thinking of limitations. He quickly corrected his thinking when he remembered the people who came to the Miller House with jobs and responsibilities. He then emptied his mind and enjoyed the late May sun and the breeze as he and Ozzie rode out of Greenville.

They had ridden for almost an hour when a red fox ran across the road maybe twenty paces in front of them, Ozzie and Carl stopped. Carl had never seen a fox in the wild. It felt good to get off the bike and sit in the grass for a while. They were in a heavily wooded area and had not seen a house for miles. Ozzie asked Carl if he had ever been to Spartanburg and Carl admitted that he had not. He added that he really had not been anywhere outside of Greenville. Carl realized there were many things he had not experienced though he had learned a lot by reading and listening to guests who came to the Miller House with their stories. Carl said, “That fox was amazing. I can’t believe how close it was and did you see it’s tail?” Ozzie just said that he had seen lots of foxes. He said he had even seen a bear when he was with his dad in the mountain. Ozzie’s reference to his dad didn’t make Carl feel sad but it did add to his feeling that his life was very different from others his age who may have dads to do things with and who went to school with friends.

Carl asked Ozzie if he thought there were bears around where they were sitting. Ozzie just laughed so Carl laughed too. They sat in the tall grass by the side of the road and talked for a while. Ozzie commented that the bike chain had not come off and the back wheel adjustment had worked out. Carl realized the Cappy knew a lot about how to fix things. Then they got back on their bikes and started riding again. They would not stop again for another hour when it was time for lunch.

They had entered a small town called Duncan. There was a hotel and a few small stores. They parked their bikes and sat on a bench in front of a grocery store. Ozzie said he wanted a pop so they walk into the store. Carl walked to the back just looking. There was a fresh meat case with two men behind the counter cutting away at a large carcass, probably a side of beef. Ozzie was following. They came to a case with a Pepsi-Cola logo on the front. Carl lifted the top back and pulled a Tru-Aid out of the cold water, he stepped aside still holding the lid while Ozzie made a choice. He pulled out a Dad’s Root Beer. They went to the front counter to pay. The clerk at the register was a young man who had a pencil behind his ear. He was perched on a stool. He got up when Carl and Ozzie approached and looked them over good. He said, “How can I help you boys?” Ozzie said that they just wanted the pop. The man behind the counter said, “I don’t think I’ve seen you boys around here. What are you up to?“ Ozzie told him they were on a bike ride from over in Greenville. Then the man looked a Carl and said, “Who’s your friend? Is he a Cherokee?” Ozzie said, “No, that’s my friend, Carl.” It sounded good to be introduced as a friend but he could see that the man seemed suspicious. Then the young clerk said, “We been havin’ some shop liftin', mind if I take a look in that shoulder bag? Ozzie said, “That’s our lunch.” Carl pulled the bag off and laid it on the counter. The clerk pulled the peanut butter sandwiches and the apples out of the bag. He picked up the apples and looked at them carefully. Then he looked back toward the produce shelves at the apples. Carl realized what was happening and he looked back toward the apples as well. He was relieved to see that the store’s apples were yellow and the apples he had brought were red. The clerk put the sandwiches and the apples back in the bag and took the money for the pop. Carl was glad Ozzie did all the talking because he knew he would have stammered his words and the clerk might have thought he didn’t even speak English! He wondered what would have happened if he had packed yellow apples.

When they were back outside Ozzie just looked at Carl and shook his head. There was a pop opener on the wall on the outside next to the door and they both opened their bottles. Carl suggested that they find another place to eat their sandwiches so they pushed their bikes a little further down the street. It was awkward pushing a bike while holding an open bottle of pop but they soon stopped and sat on a low wall in front of a church. While they ate their lunch a few folks walked by and said hello. Carl started feeling better about the town of Duncan.

Carl asked Ozzie to name the places he had been to. Ozzie started naming places where he had visited relatives, like Atlanta, Georgia, Tallahassee, Florida and Blacksburg, Virginia. It seemed like Ozzie had family all over. Carl asked him if he knew that Tallahassee was the capital of Florida and Atlanta was the capital of Georgia. He did not know it. Carl then told Ozzie that he knew all the states and their capitals and that he could draw a map of the United States and draw in all the shapes of the states. He could also draw South America with all the countries and Canada with all the providences. Ozzie asked him how he learned things without going to school. Carl thought bit, then said, “mostly Cappy, and reading.” He told Ozzie about some of the interesting people who came to the Miller House, like Mr. Barkley, the book seller who always gave him books, even when he was just learning to read and the encyclopedia books that his mother bought. Ozzie asked if Carl liked living in the guest house with his mother and Cappy. Carl thought it was an odd question because to him, it had always seemed perfectly natural. He knew it was different to have a business in his house and that he did not go to school, but for the first time, he realized that his life was quite different than most kids his age and that it might seem strange.

What Carl didn’t know was that his mother was a bit of a legend and mystery in the town. Since very few people had actually seen her in almost fifteen years, there was talk about her beauty based on the photos that were published in the papers almost fifteen years ago. A few locals had seen her over the past few years when she and Carl would take their occasional walks but most only pictured her from photos clipped from newspaper articles they kept as historical documents. Of course she was still beautiful but some of the less scrupulous guests had talked about her when they visited the bars in town and some had exaggerated their familiarity with her, creating rumors. Some people even made up stories and spread lies about the Miller House and her relationship with the guests. Cappy probably heard some of those lies and set them straight!

Carl and Ozzie sat on the wall for a long time. Carl thought about asking Ozzie what he knew about the man who came to the Miller House claiming to be a detective, but he didn’t feel like bringing the subject up. No one said anything for a little while.

There were enormous trees in front of the church and the shade was the perfect temperature. Carl told Ozzie that his birthday was the next Thursday on May thirtieth when he would be fourteen. Ozzie said he would be thirteen on September fifth. Carl had been thinking about his birthday because Francis had told him she had a surprise. They decided to start riding back toward home instead of going on to Spartanburg. Carl was pretty sure they would be doing more bike trips.

  Chapter 14