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Setting the Scene:  The Jacksons are a dysfunctional blended family on the mend through the hard work of its ex-convict father, Drew, a once drug-addicted, now gone-straight mother, Michelle, and four sometimes-naughty, sometimes-nice children:  Alexis, Joey, Lizzie, and Maddie.  I borrow them for this series from the novelist Jujubees, with her permission.  Her novel Alexis is available through the electronic publishing company, Lulu.com.  Her second set of stories, The Jacksons, is available on her blog.

That second set of  stories takes place in rural Montana after Drew's harrowing escape from his troubled past.  My story, The Lost Weekend, occurs over one weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas (between chapters 17 & 18 of Jujubees' story). It involves Alex, who is Drew's natural daughter, and Joey, whom this troubled family rescued from a hardscrabble existence in the big city housing projects.  At first, Alex and Joey developed adolescent passion for each other, but that romantic relationship began to wane as they became more and more like brother and sister.  This story unfolds on the weekend before the whole gang is due in court to finalize a legal adoption that would afford statutory recognition to the tight familial bond that has already developed.  I hope you enjoy this segment and those that will follow.
 
Alex and Joey:  The Lost Weekend
Part 1--Friday afternoon

“Joey, get in here, now!” Drew admonished from his office, with an unmistakable tone of agitation.

 

“Yes, Sir!  I’m coming,” came the resigned voice from upstairs, purposely loud enough so Drew wouldn’t mistake his unquestioning obedience.

 

Damn, Joey mussed.  He was hoping for a reprieve until after dinner.  News in this one-horse town must travel like a jungle telegraph. Or maybe one of the girls told.

 

Things had been going so well in the week he got his driver’s license:  No more school bus, an unmistakable sense of freedom, and the admiration of his classmates at the slick black extended-cab pickup truck he drove to school with Alex riding shotgun and Lizzie and Maddie acting like chauffeured debutantes in the back.

 

This afternoon after school, those flashing blue lights sent a sudden rush of cold blood to his heart.  The five-foot-nine, 16-year-old felt two inches tall as looked in the side mirror and watched that Montana State Trooper, in his Smokey the Bear hat, walk slowly toward his pulled-over vehicle. 

 

“You’ve been stopped for speeding!  License and registration, please.”

 

Joey’s bare feet reluctantly brought him closer to Drew’s lair, step by step down the threadbare carpet that lined the stairwell.  As if it weren’t distressful enough, knowing he had a painful comeuppance in store, he glanced at Alex’s playful mimicry as he reached the bottom step.  Out of sight of her father, she wagged her index finger in his direction and silently mouthed: “Joey’s gettin’ a whippin’ -- Joey’s gettin’ a whippin’,” followed by a mocking smile.

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Alex and Joey: The Lost Weekend
Part 2--Late Friday night

Joey was trying to sleep on his tummy, an unnatural position for him. He usually slept on his back, but his ass really hurt from Drew's belt whipping.  He also compensated by dispensing with his briefs. He had gone to bed in the nude. He wondered if his upturned bottom was heating the room on the cold winter night.

 

Alex tiptoed across the upstairs hallway, not wanting to disturb her siblings-to-be in the adjacent rooms.  Drew and Michelle slept in the master bedroom beneath Alex, so she wasn’t worried about awaking them, but those old floorboards did creak.

 

A little oil can maintenance applied to the hinges of Joey’s door a few weeks ago had alleviated any problems with unwanted noise, as she effortlessly slipped in, closed the door, and knelt by his bed.

 

“I’m sorry I laughed at you,” she apologized sincerely.  As her eyes adjusted, she saw the silhouette of Joey’s naked ass, and she couldn’t help but reach out and rub it.

 

“You’re forgiven, you little brat,” Joey sighed.  “Damn that feels good,” he added, “but hey, we’re supposed to become brother and sister Monday, so don’t turn me on.  Those hanky-panky days are in the past.”

 

“I sure liked it, the few times we did it,” Alex mussed.

 

 

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Alex and Joey: The Lost Weekend

Part 3--Saturday morning before dawn


As the tender minutes passed and Alex came down from her orgasm, she became aware of Joey’s penis, erect as ever, pressing against her bottom as they lay on their sides, with Joey holding her from behind.  Not wanting to encourage coital sex for the moment, she said:  “Well, I guess it’s your turn.  Ready for a blowjob, sport?”

 

Joey almost came at the suggestion.  “Damn, straight, you little brat.  I’m going to explode inside that naughty mouth of yours.”

 

“Yeah, well I don’t think you’ll do that much damage, kid,” Alex retorted.  “After all, your little friend George isn’t that big.” They both chuckled mischievously and scored the verbal sparing session as a draw.

 

Positioning Joey on his back and tender, spanked butt, Alex spread his legs, then lay down on her stomach, wrapped one arm around each leg from the underside, and then took his penis into her mouth, her chin resting near his scrotum.


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Alex and Joey:  The Lost Weekend

Part 4--Saturday morning at daybreak

Alex wanted to come apart at the seams. 

She wanted to explode, to scream, to stomp, and to lash out.  Alternately, she wanted to cry and take pity on herself. 

God, I’m probably going to be pregnant, she thought.  What if they make me keep the goddamned kid?  College is probably down the fucking drain.  I’ll live a life of poverty as a Montana country bumpkin.  The only person who’ll ever want to marry me is some tattooed, tobacco-chewing cowboy who lost teeth in a barroom fight.  I’ve screwed up Joey’s chance to be adopted, to go to the university, and perhaps to continue living with us.  Jesus, what will Dad do to him? What have I done to the family?

Deep down inside of herself, Alex knew her lifelong propensity to push the limits had backfired, this time in the worst possible way.  She wanted to have a first-class panic attack.

Unfortunately, somebody had to be the adult.  Joey was out of control. His chest heaved.  Tears and snot covered his face. His whole body shook with fear.  He was a basket case.

Then he picked up his pocketknife.

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Alex and Joey:  The Lost Weekend

Part 5--Saturday, 7 a.m.

They had talked.  It was better to get it over with right away, given the upcoming Monday adoption hearing.  If they were declared legally brother and sister, and then Alex proved to be pregnant, there would be even more problems. 

They imagined all the phone calls that would have to be made this morning: to the doctor, the lawyer, the judge, and maybe even to that nice man Charlie, who represented CPS, an organization they didn’t trust.  They wondered if they’d still be living together under the same roof tonight.  The world-class paddling they imagined Drew would give them wasn’t the worst of their problems.  But it was on their minds.

Down the stairs Alex and Joey walked, hand in hand, barefooted, in their pajamas, their hearts racing.  They felt like crime partners walking together to the execution chamber.  There was no choice.  If only they could only relive the last few hours!

There ahead of them was their parents’ closed bedroom door.  Joey wondered if the condemned man walking his last mile paused before the door swung open and he saw the electric chair. 

Looking at each other with one last furtive glance, Joey raised his right hand and knocked three times.  The two of them were so self-absorbed that they didn’t hear the sounds of lovemaking that they interrupted.

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Alex and Joey:  The Lost Weekend

Part 6--Noon on Saturday

Watching from behind her workstation at the TransMountain Air gate podium, she pegged Alex as a smart ass before the cocky looking teenager opened her mouth.

Call it intuition or call it experience.  Twenty-two years as an airline customer service agent in Missoula—working for the succession of air carriers that had served and then abandoned the western Montana city—had made Mildred something of an expert on the flying public, not to mention general human nature.

Sure enough, Alex did not disappoint.

“That goddamn airplane has propellers on it!” the 16-year-old blurted out incredulously, pointing at the twin-engine turboprop parked outside.  Drew thought he could feel his blood pressure going up about ten points.

Mildred had heard every customer complaint, every lame request, and every dumb remark a passenger could utter. This wasn’t the first time she encountered that line about prop-driven airplanes.  Every resident of every one-horse town in America must think his sleepy little village airport deserves four-engine jet service.

For the polite, considerate customer, Mildred provided the most courteous and efficient of service.  For little shitheads like Alex, she specialized in sarcasm dripping with honey.

“Oh, dear, you’re so right, young lady. That’s not supposed to happen. I’ll call a mechanic and have them taken right off!”  

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Anthony Bertolini with 4-year-old Drew, ten years before the savage whipping.
Drew at age four with the Bertolini family mafiosi. As the son of his father's
mistress, he was shortchanged on love but felt the harshest discipline.
 
Alex and Joey: The Lost Weekend
Part 7--Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Pacific time

Tim Keegan had seen hundreds of “girls in trouble” during the four decades since he graduated from the University of Washington’s school of pharmacy. 

Alex was making a habit of being pigeonholed and stereotyped on this trip.  Her age, worried facial expressions, and the frenzied impatience with which she searched the feminine hygiene section caused Tim to think instinctively:  I’ll bet she’s looking for Plan B.
 

Nearing retirement, the kindly, graying, bespectacled gentleman really had too much seniority to be working the Saturday afternoon shift at ValueDrug’s outlet near the Seattle airport. The sickness of a coworker proved to be a good omen for Alex.  A younger employee could have provided neither the understanding nor the practical help that the veteran druggist would offer.

Then Tim noticed the dark-haired gentleman with Italian features, whom he estimated to be in his late thirties.  Drew’s hair was slicked back, held in place by a pair of sunglasses propped up on his head.  Those were quite unnecessary beneath today’s gray Puget Sound overcast. To a Seattleite, sunglasses in the winter proclaimed:  “outsider.”   Drew’s serious scowl confirmed Tim’s suspicion.
 

Yep, the veteran pharmacist thought, that’s the girl’s father and they’ve come from out of town to shop for emergency contraception.
    

 

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Alex and Joey: The Lost Weekend

Part 8--Saturday, 3:30 p.m. Mountain time

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .

Michelle was enjoying her afternoon alone.  Well, almost.  Although the twins hadn’t started kicking yet, the pregnancy was sapping her energy. 

With Drew, Alex, and Joey off to Seattle in search of emergency contraception, and Lizzie and Maddie at the home of a friend for a weekend sleepover, Michelle settled down for a well-deserved afternoon nap.

Then the phone rang.

“Mrs. Jackson, this is Cecelia Livingston, Katie and Amber’s mom.”

“Oh, hello Cecelia.  Please call me Michelle.”

“Hi, Michelle.  I’m on my way to your house with Lizzie and Maddie.  We’re going to have to call an early halt to the sleepover.  There has been some damage to the house.”

“Oh, goodness,” Michelle exclaimed, “Was anyone hurt?

“No, thankfully,” Cecelia replied, “but part of the living room ceiling has fallen in.  There has been some extensive water damage and the plaster gave way.”

“Oh my gosh,” Michelle said.  “Did a pipe break?”

“No, and that’s why we’re breaking up the sleepover early.  It seems like the girls got in a water fight and the upstairs bedroom directly above the living room is soaked.”

Michelle didn’t know what to say.

“For some reason,” Cecelia continued, “Katie and Amber thought a rare 50-degree day in the winter time was a good excuse for a water balloon fight.”

“Inside?” Michelle asked incredulously.

“Well, not intentionally,” Cecelia replied. “But there’s something I need to ask you.  How did Lizzie and Maddie come into possession of condoms?"

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Alex and Joey: The Lost Weekend

Part 9--Saturday, 5 p.m. Pacific time

In Seattle's storied University District . . .

Mary Magdalene O’Shea never missed 6:30 a.m. mass every weekday at Our Lady of Perpetual Adoration Church.  Then, at seven o’clock each evening, she returned to church to pray the Stations of the Cross.

In between, Mary deceived, intimidated, guilt-tripped, and manipulated women whom she lured into the Puget Sound Coalition for Life’s “crisis pregnancy center,” located by design across the street from the White Eagle Clinic. 

“Save one of God’s precious babies at a time” was Mary’s motto.  She didn’t care how she achieved that goal, even it meant bending the Ninth Commandment’s admonition against bearing false witness.

Order after order of nuns—first the Carmelites, then the Maryknolls, and finally the Holy Cross sisters—had rejected Mary’s application for the Catholic sisterhood.  If her disingenuous nature didn’t trigger an alarm with the screening panel, the required psychiatric exam hoisted storm warnings:

“Indications of obsessive-compulsive disorder mingled with intense narcissism” usually read the reports of those expert evaluators. 

Despite the worldwide priesthood pedophilia scandal that had rocked the Catholic Church in recent years, there had never been the hint of wrongdoing regarding the church's female religious orders.  The sisters intended to keep it that way.  Modern Catholic orders recruited cool-as-a-cucumber, spiritually mature young women to serve as their teachers, nurses, and aid workers, not loose cannons like Mary.  

Even Monsignor Flannigan, Mary’s pastor, had warned the Coalition for Life, a lay organization, about their ticking time bomb. But the anti-choice firebrands that ran the Coalition had no regard for moderation.  As long as Mary dissuaded women from seeking abortion or contraception at the White Eagle Clinic, they didn’t care about her methodology.   

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Alex and Joey:  The Lost Weekend

Part 10--Saturday, 6 p.m., Mountain time

In an upstairs bedroom, back in rural Montana . . .

If adolescent girls could purr like cats, the room would be vibrating.  Lizzie and Maddie, their bottoms still aflame with pain but their hearts warmed and emotions mellowed, lay on their stomachs, naked from the waist down, legs bent at the knees with their feet up in the air.  Meanwhile, the stepmother who had only recently come into their lives but had become as devoted to them as a mother cat to her kittens, applied cooling lotion to their scorched derrieres. 

Their spankings had been over for fifteen minutes but the girls were only able to stop crying five minutes ago.  It was now bonding time in the Jackson household.

“Daddy never does this after he whips us,” Lizzie teased as Michelle massaged her hot bottom with the viscous liquid.

“Yeah, well your daddy doesn’t have ‘nurturing’ in his job description,” Michelle responded.  “But don’t get used to it!  You won’t get this treatment after every spanking, understand?”

“Yes ma’am!” two girls responded in unison, with a firm tone of fearful conviction. 

Michelle thought she could become accustomed to having pesky teenagers refer to her as “ma’am.”  She had taken a surprisingly perverse degree of pleasure in scalding their naughty little behinds, especially since the girls had so willingly admitted their culpability and suggested their punishment.

“We don’t want to get used to what comes before the butt rub,” Lizzie quipped with a smile.  Michelle couldn’t help but smile herself, considering the older daughter’s distressed mental state just a few minutes prior. 

“Hey, Mom, can I ask a personal question?” Maddie ventured.

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Alex and Joey: The Lost Weekend

Part 11--Saturday, 6 p.m. Pacific time

The White Eagle Clinic, Seattle . . .

Eighteen years as a practicing gynecologist taught Dr. Kimberly Madison that the best way to conduct a pelvic examination was to steer the conversation as far as possible from the pelvis. 

That was a bit more difficult with a nervous 16-year-old who had her feet in the stirrups for the first time. 

The usual small talk about husbands, kids, careers, and recipes—meant as a distraction while Dr. Madison gently intruded into an adult woman’s most private region—didn’t quite fit with someone Alex’s age.  Neither did banter about boyfriends that Kim reserved for younger patients, considering that Joey, the young sperm donor, was sitting out in the waiting room. 

So, the veteran woman’s doctor played it straight with an emphasis on sympathy mixed with humor.

“Rumor has it you had a little run-in with Typhoid Mary,” the doctor joked as her gloved hands gently examined Alex’s vulva for irritation, warts, discharge or other symptoms of infection.

“God, what a bitch!” Alex responded. “Frauds like her ought to be arrested.”

 

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Alex and Joey:  The Lost Weekend

Part 12--Sunday, 8 a.m.., Pacific time

The Red Lion Hotel, Downtown Seattle . . .

Drew’s groggy voice answered the bedside telephone on its fifth ring.  He had slept through
incessant ringing of his cell phone, which by now had recorded seven unsuccessful call attempts from Montana’s 406 area code.

It was Harve and he was mad as hell.

“Jesus H. Christ!” the lawyer scolded, “I send you to Seattle to get a dose of emergency contraception for your recalcitrant young daughter, and all of a sudden, you, Alex and Joey are media stars!”

“What are you talking about?” Drew stammered, still trying to wake up.

Harve admonished in a softer but still-agitated voice:  “I’ve had a hard enough time working around your criminal record and your desire to adopt two randy young adolescents.  Now this!  Just turn on CNN and get up to speed.  Then call me back and we’ll figure out what to tell the judge.”

Click.  The line went dead.

In the darkness of his drape-drawn hotel suite, Drew flirted with denial.  The king-size bed, so warm and comforting after one of the most stressful days in his recent life, beckoned him to close his eyes and pretend that call hadn’t come.

His survival instincts, waned on the streets during a hardscrabble upbringing, nixed that idea. 
Eyes still blurred from lack of sleep, Drew groped for the remote control.  The 55-inch LED screen threw a sudden blast of light that illuminated the room.  Its stark images, and the announcer’s professional but serious commentary instantaneously rendered the struggling father wide awake. 

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Alex and Joey:  The Lost Weekend

Part 13--Sunday, 9 a.m. Pacific time

San Francisco, California and Great Falls, Montana . . .

Harvey Pendergast, Esq., hated working on Sunday, especially when he hadn’t caught enough fish on Saturday.  But he had not become the most feared divorce and custody lawyer in Montana by spending weekends sitting on his ass.  Regardless of the scolding he gave Drew on the telephone earlier in the morning, Harve enjoyed a challenging case. The bizarre turn the Jackson adoption had taken guaranteed not only that Harve would have to employ all of his talented legal skills, but also that he’d be billing a couple dozen more hours against Drew’s generous retainer.  Harve didn’t work cheaply.

Harve’s ace in the hole was Judge Jackson W. Maynard III, himself an institution in the state’s legal community.  Judge Maynard was a sixth-generation Montanan, the descendant of the little-known southern diaspora that saw defeated Confederate veterans of the Civil War head northwest for a fresh start in big sky country during the second half of the nineteenth century.  Judge Maynard’s progenitors had become wealthy in the cattle industry, but when Jackson drew the unfortunate lot of being a younger son of a rancher who refused to divide his bodacious spread between his two sons, young Jack headed off to law school at prestigious UC-Hastings in San Francisco.

His choice of law schools had been influenced by more than Hastings’ sterling reputation for turning out high-powered barristers, and the fact that Jack’s older brother would inherit the ranch.  Young Jack’s unconventional sexual impulses made him yearn for California’s freewheeling lifestyle. 

During the weekdays, Judge Jackson Maynard played it straight.  He presided over Superior Court in Great Falls, where he developed a reputation as a tough-on-crime jurist and a fair arbiter of civil disputes.  Likewise, on alternate weekends, the widower either hunted elk in the mountains or dabbled in conservative Montana Republican Party politics, where he was a state party boss and rumored future candidate for Congress--that is, if the next GOP president didn’t appoint him to the federal bench instead.

On the other two weekends of the month, however, under the guise of attending out-of-state legal conferences or political meetings, Jackson Maynard III flew to the San Francisco Bay Area, often by a circuitous route to avoid detection, where he was a mainstay in the gay leather community.   

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8th-Apr-2010 12:52 pm - West Texas



West Texas
(Part 1)

(Author's note:  This is an incomplete story.  I'll eventually get around to finishing it.  I seem to have developed a writer's block on this project, so I went on to others.  I'll return.)

My troubles started when I left the beaten path in Texas.  Better stated, that’s when the beatings began.  John Denver sang praises of country roads in West Virginia.  From now on, I’ll stick to Interstate highways when traversing the Lone Star State. 
 

I was 22 years old, a shave-tail second lieutenant fresh out of The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia.  A Marine Corps officer for only seven months, I strapped my sea bag on the luggage carrier of my 500cc Honda and set out for Camp Pendleton, California, where the Commandant and the taxpayers of the Untied States would entrust me with command of an infantry platoon.

My orders allowed me nine days of travel by POV.  That’s privately owned vehicle in military lingo.  I also had four days of “proceed,” which is Marine parlance for days allotted to find housing and settle personal business. 

Sorry about the military talk.  Suffice it to say I had 13 days to get to my new duty station, a month’s advance pay in my wallet, a motorcycle on which I hadn’t yet made the first payment, and the wanderlust of a horny young jarhead temporarily loosed of the bonds of military supervision.

It was a recipe for disaster.  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be telling this story if I hadn’t impulsively taken that turn off of Interstate 10 west of San Antonio.

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8th-Jul-2009 05:53 am - Chuck Wagon Steak


Chuck Wagon Steak

Lunchtime promised no treat at Salvation Baptist School.  Each day we ate the same variety of cheap processed beef, purchased in bulk and stored for months in the cafeteria's huge walk-in freezer.  Monday's menu advertised Chuck Wagon Steak, Tuesday's Pepper Steak, Wednesday's Western Fried Steak, Thursday's Salisbury Steak, and Friday's Chicken Fried Steak.  The next week the names changed but the same slab of greasy mystery meat appeared on our molded plastic lunch trays.  Nutritional balance manifested itself as canned peaches one day, canned pears the next, canned potatoes the next--served from the same kind of ten-gallon containers that provisioned prisons and army mess halls.
 
If you worked in the kitchen, you appreciated the size of those aluminum cans.  In the frugal Protestant tradition, our cafeteria staff allowed no food wastage, to the extent of serving from a partially opened can of pears that had stood uncovered and unmolested in the refrigerator room for the entire Christmas break.   A single slice of unbuttered white Sunbeam bread completed the meal, along with that half-pint of white milk that the teachers required us to drink to the last drop.  If you didn't, they wrote down your name and denied you the week's lone treat, a carton of chocolate milk served only on Fridays. 

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11th-Feb-2008 09:58 pm - The Long Invitational


The Long Invitational

Here I sit, ten years old, squirming on the hardest of hardwood pews, my Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes in shambles. My collar button ripped off during a tussle in Sunday school, where three weeks ago my only clip-on tie vanished under similar circumstances. My shirttail has been out since just before they passed the collection plate, and I've wiped my runny nose on my sleeve so often that it's drenched and sticky. Momma quit trying to make me behave an hour ago. She now acts like I'm some orphaned waif who snuck into the services. When we get home, she'll probably set my bottom on fire, but for now she pretends she doesn't know me.

I fidget restlessly as the choir begins its forty-third repetition of Just As I Am. Most are still singing, but some of their throats dried up during the thirty-ninth verse. Brother Paul begins the second half hour of his invitational, a new record for white bible-believing churches in Louisiana. For those of who don't know, we Southern Baptists focus intently on salvation. That means going to heaven, but we really stress avoiding hell.

The Sunday morning appeal comes in two stages. First, Brother Paul preaches a hellfire-and-damnation sermon, designed to scare the wits out of the unsaved. Then comes the invitational, during which those frightened into repentance receive the opportunity to walk up the aisle and whisper their profession of faith to the preacher, to which Brother Paul responds with a resounding: "Praise the Lord!" At some churches, Just As I Am lasts for only three or four verses. Our minister thinks differently, believing that sinners should receive every opportunity to wrestle with the devil. So his appeal to lost souls goes on forever, at least in the mind of a ten year old.


Louisiana Shotgun House, circa 1950

Shotgun Houses, Stolen Childhood
Part 1

I grew up in a blue-collar suburb of New Orleans, farmland that had been subdivided in my grandparents’ youth and subsequently dotted with nondescript, shotgun-style houses. These narrow, single-story homes without halls took shape as Depression-era residents added one room at a time, as they could afford to build them without the luxury of a bank loan. As the name implies, if somebody discharged a shotgun at one end, the pellets would take out everybody in the house.

In the late 1950s and early 60s, the era of my childhood and adolescence, air conditioning was just appearing in the American South. Every once in a while, somebody would install a window unit. But the builders of these houses knew nothing about insulation, making those noisy, inefficient, electricity-sucking cooling machines an expensive and wasteful luxury. For the most part, we relied on high ceilings, big wood-frame windows, and powerful whole-house fans to keep us as comfortable as possible during the muggy, suffocating, ten-month southern summers.

Wide open windows and doors, and pier-and-beam foundations that raised these houses several feet off of the ground in order to escape frequent flooding, made every family’s life an open book. When a husband and wife got into an argument, everybody in the neighborhood heard the details. If a young couple’s marital passion floated on the magnolia-scented late evening breezes, the gossipy neighbor women speculated about the stork’s scheduled arrival in nine months. Likewise, when a dad’s belt landed on our juvenile posteriors, its smacks and our cries could be heard at the other end of the block. The evening’s spankings became our first item of discussion as we kids gathered at the school bus stop the next morning. 

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Modern Electroshock Therapy uses sedatives and low voltage.  In the 1950s, it was brutal.

Shotgun Houses, Stolen Childhood
Part 2

Although I lived in a typical southern working class neighborhood, I wasn’t a typical neighborhood kid. Several incidents in my early childhood marked me as distinct from my peers.

The Italians, Germans, and Irish who settled our city hundreds of years ago differed in their customs, but they endured a common economic and religious environment. The hardscrabble existence that preceded Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society mandated survival before comfort. The welfare state was much less providential in those days, and if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. These were no-nonsense, hardworking people. They had no alternative.

Also, the Roman Catholic Church still cast its vast influence over simple, poorly educated American parishioners. People still genuinely feared going to hell. Remarriage after divorce was a mortal sin in Catholic theology, forever prohibiting you from receiving the Eucharist. Unlike today, the Church didn’t hand out annulments like candy.

A modestly educated woman had no way to support herself if she left an abusive spouse, and she faced societal condemnation if she remarried. Thus, many tortured couples simply endured bad marriages. My mom wasn’t afforded even that scant degree of protection, and that’s what set me apart from my playmates and branded me with a big question mark.

 
Oleanders are poisonous, but in this story they offer David a line of demarcation between
the public shame he underwent in his shotgun house neighborhood and the liberating
restoration of his childhood that Wanda provided.

Shotgun Houses, Stolen Childhood
Part 3

Wanda’s back yard also provided a bit of respite from the constant surveillance by the neighborhood busy bodies. A thicket of tall oleander bushes ran along the service alley that separated the back of the shotgun houses from the Laningham enclave. From time to time, we could see Wanda peeking out from behind the curtains, but as long as I checked in with her and we followed her ground rules, she stayed out of her way. I had never before enjoyed so much freedom from prying eyes in Old Metairie.

Then one sultry September afternoon after school, Joey Krebs tackled Bill Callahan too hard, and Bill came up swinging. Wanda just happened to crack open the door, to let her two daughters out to play, when Bill landed a roundhouse punch on Joey’s mouth, bloodying his nose and knocking a tooth loose.

“Boys, you stop that right now!” Wanda stormed out, wooden spoon in hand. I thought Bill would receive a crack with the spoon, but Wanda just told them to go home for the afternoon. 

Then, she called me over.

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Do redheaded, freckled moms spank harder?

Shotgun Houses, Stolen Childhood
Part 4

I don’t know if Mom kept her job or got fired and had to find another one. Somehow she paid the ticket, continued to work, and life went on. But there was always considerable tension at home, always worry about what the future held, and preoccupation with what the neighbors might say. Often at night I lay awake listening to my mother cry herself to sleep. It broke my heart.

Ordinary, common folk like us didn’t know much about clinical depression in those days, and modern drugs like Prozac and Lithium wouldn’t be marketed for a couple of decades. You were supposed to put your trust in the Lord, but the priest mom visited on Saturday evenings for the sacrament of confession could only counsel her to pray the Rosary. I was beginning to think religion may be useful in getting you to heaven, but it’s not worth a damn here on earth.

One day Mom came home with a young lawyer from work, and my grandparents were cordial if not a bit cool for the hour or so they spent chatting in the living room. Then, when he departed, the crap hit the fan.

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