It all started the summer Deac and Donna partied almost every weekend with three other couples on the grass along the west side of Jim and Janey’s house one of those big ‘mission style’ houses with three dormer windows looking down onto the front sidewalk, a wide front porch six or seven steps up from the sidewalk, a slender Roman column at porch level supporting the front left corner of the second floor probably built during the 1930s it filled an entire corner lot front to back and played a major role in the tragedy from beginning to end.
During their get togethers I roamed around on my bicycle playing with kids who lived in that neighborhood. I always brought my glove and usually found someone to play catch with in the street or throw the football around with or maybe even have a game of “two against two” football on the grass as long as we were careful not to throw any forward passes into their booze bucket.
We spent the rest of the time laughing at the adults and their antics.
Their parties followed a routine that never varied. The men played poker gathered around or hunched over a card table at the back half of the lot next to the house, red white and blue poker chips scattered about the middle of the table, piles of chips stacked according to their value in front of each player while drinking Strohs, Blatz of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer from metal cans, two holes punched at the top of each can with a ‘church key’ hung from the handle of a galvanized tub full of beer and ice beneath a card table holding every type of booze and mix you could think of.
The women gathered in the kitchen or sat on aluminum chairs in a circle on the grass smoking, drinking and laughing not far from the men who guffawed, teased each other or were serious depending on how much money was in the pot.
Janey drank ‘seven and sevens’; Seagram’s 7 Crown whiskey with 7-Up while Donna drank Manhattans, whiskey with sweet vermouth with a maraschino cherry, Straight booze like a martini only ebony in color.
Donna wasn’t a sloppy drunk. You’d hardly know she’d been drinking until her temper flared then things could get pretty ugly.
When she wasn’t drinking you could say she was sweet or even funny. But I never knew which of her ‘selves’ I’d be sitting next to at the dinner table each night.
She was an alcoholic but I didn’t know that drinking was a the heart of her crazy flares of temper. Like the time I came home while she was breaking the dinner dishes on the kitchen floor.
Her temper flared one Saturday afternoon.
She Raided the Stash
I heard a verbal commotion, looked over at the adults, watched Donna suddenly rise, speak forcefully to Deac then turn and make a bee line toward the car across the street from where I was playing catch on the sidewalk.
When Donna got angry she growled and hissed and swore under her breath. Passing by me on the sidewalk she growled, “Get in the car,” pissed off because Deac told her to go home and get more money so he could recoup his poker losses.
I still don’t know why she made me ride along. Maybe in her drunken state she thought she’d stay home to embarrass him. Maybe she thought if both of us deserted him it would cause him further embarrassment.
She growled and swore all the way home as if I wasn’t even there. I stared straight ahead afraid too open mymouth.
They must have had a pretty good sized stash. When she got back in the car she carried a wad of dough big enough to choke a baker. She had an ugly look on her face. I got the feeling she grabbed a lot more money than needed just to spite Deac.
Jim and Janey
Janey was petite like Donna, less than five feet tall with dark auburn hair, the perfectly proportioned body of a budding school girl, soft round and hips that conformed perfectly with her small frame, the same age as Donna which would have put them both in their mid twenties, not beautiful, maybe not even pretty but, ‘cute as a button’ with a constant smile on her face and an engaging laugh.
She knew how to make people laugh. She brought her highly focused energy into the empty spaces surrounding people’s lives. She wasn’t a giggler. She had infectious laughter that came from some place deep in her throat.
She was engaging. A good listener. She asked questions while we talked. She showed an interest in my thoughts and made comments. She teased me good naturedly. She shared her warm laughter with mine.
She taught me how to laugh at myself.
Janey’s husband Jim, six foot two, broad shoulders, a good looking guy on the order of Rock Hudson or even George Clooney with an extra layer of muscle looking like he could kick the shit out of anyone who gave him a hard time.
But he didn’t impose his size on people. For example, it wasn’t until after you spoke with Jim while seated in the shadow of the sun at his back, that you realized after he walked away that it seemed like you had been sitting in the shadow of a small tree.
Jim was the perfect foil for Janey. Opposite in most ways. Soft and gentle he tempered her sometimes over the top behavior with quiet acceptance content to watch the group’s antics, constantly smiling, chuckling, amused at the sight of everyone’s drunken revelry.
It tickled Jim that Janey always seemed to be in the middle of things when the action became either kinetic and fun or frenetic and crazy.
Jim had a great sense of humor too! Different than the bellicose antics of the others, his low key sarcastic or understated comments took a moment to sink in but once they did, everyone howled with laughter practically rolling on the ground.
At the height of the group’s craziness Janey often turned to Jim for solace. With her arm around his waist she’d tilt her head back for the kiss of acceptance he always gave her when things got out of control.
When Janey was on the scene, Jim’s eyes never left her. The low key smile never left Jim’s face. Janey’s laughter was all that mattered to Jim.
To anyone who knew them it was obvious that Jim was madly in love with Janey.