Grace Like a River Flows has now been re-edited & republished
Thursday, May 17, 1992. It isn’t the part of town you would call rural, but it’s near the outskirts of Glencoe where the houses are far apart and people mind their own business. People in the Oaks care little about how their property looks. They only have two concerns… their privacy and their welfare check. You can be sure that behind each door is a pit bull and a semi-automatic rifle. If you are brave enough to go on their property without permission, you are likely to meet one or the other. Behind one of these doors is a man named Billy Maddox. How to describe Billy....What was the song, “meaner than a junkyard dog"?
When you walk along these streets, you never know what you might hear or see. Kids yelling and screaming, dogs barking, rusted out cars with loud mufflers or no mufflers racing through the neighborhood, and husbands and wives yelling at each other. They don’t care what they say, and they don’t care if you hear...there’s a code here. Everyone knows you never saw or heard anything.
“Martha, bring me another beer, now!”
“In a minute.”
“Not in a minute. I said now! And when I say now woman, it means now and not a minute from now. Move your butt, now!”
“You stupid broad, how can you burn spaghetti? Dang. You’re so dumb you could even burn the water. How can you burn spaghetti? Don’t tell me. I don’t even want to know.”
“Helen, if you don’t shut up that miserable mutt, I’m gonna shoot it. I swear, I will. I work all day and when I get home, I want peace and quiet!”
“Charlie, you’re not the only one that works.”
“You gonna try to tell me standing behind the counter at the Seven Eleven for four hours a day, three days a week is work? Woman, you need to get a real job, and then you can complain.”
So it goes, in house after house. Story after story. Each one is different, but they are all the same. Poor choices, in almost every case, led them to the Oaks or has kept them here. Lots of people have never married the person they live with. It’s strictly a “marriage of convenience.” Others got married because they "had" to get married. For most of the rest, somewhere along the line, the wedding vows of “to love and to cherish, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health until death do us part,” vanished, and it became everyone for themselves.
They have neglected the sidewalks in this part of Glencoe for years. In fact, there's a lot that's been neglected on this side of town. It’s not the part of town that moves to the top of the priority list for the town council. So, you best keep your head down and watch where you step.
The town was prosperous at one time. Both oil and coal were in abundance and by the 1920s Glencoe was prosperous. In the 1950s the oil dried up and by the 70s, most of the mines had closed. By the 1990s the town was about half the size it had been during the boom years. Young people now go off to college and never come back. But for those who live in the Oaks, life probably wouldn’t be any different anywhere else.
There are two obvious sections of Glencoe and they’ve always been like night and day. The old Victorian homes line the main street, and almost all of them are well maintained. The oil barons and mine owners formerly owned them. On the side streets are the lesser but still stately homes owned by the oil and coal executives, lawyers, doctors, bankers, and business owners of that glorious time in Glencoe’s history.
Down near the long-abandoned railroad tracks that once hauled mile-long trains filled with coal and oil out of Glencoe, is where the Oaks begins. At one time it was a working-class neighborhood, but now there are few here who bother to work at all. Many of the homes were row homes, where only the home on each end has three outside walls. Often there were ten two-story homes in the row. The mine owners built these as company housing and rented them out to the workers.
Some other buildings had been fairly nice single-family homes. Years ago someone converted them into slumlord apartments with the more prominent people in town being the slumlords.
Shotgun style bungalows make up most of the Oaks, along with single-wide trailers. The trailers have had multiple additions built on with no permits and they go in every direction and angle.
Shotgun style house means that the door was on the left or right side. There was a hallway from front to back and you could open the front door and the back door, fire a shotgun, and the buckshot wouldn’t hit anything on the way through. Most of the Oaks is pretty run down and the occasional homeowner who still takes pride is the exception. Grandma used to say "maybe you can’t do anything about being poor, but there’s no excuse for being dirty... soap and whitewash are cheap."
* * *
Brad was out walking his dog. He rarely walked in this part of Glencoe, but tonight he let Beasley decide where to walk. Brad wanted to walk uptown, but Beasley insisted tonight they needed to go to the Oaks. Beasley usually got his way. He was pretty spoiled.
Walking with Beasley was always an adventure. Beasley was an adorable little Cocker Spaniel, the runt of the litter and he weighed fifteen pounds full grown. Brad adopted Beasley from the Humane Society when he was about seven years old and made his new forever home the best years the little guy ever had.
A walk with Beasley was always slow. He sniffed every blade of grass, every tree, and every fire hydrant. He’d lift his leg and cover the old scent with his own. After about fifteen leg lifts nothing came out, but that didn’t stop him from stopping, lifting and trying.
As they rounded the corner onto Maple Lane, Brad heard yelling and screaming like someone was being killed. Not unusual here. Likely, if you asked their next-door neighbor about it the answer you’d get is, “What screaming? I didn’t hear nothin’.” Even Beasley, who was almost deaf, looked around for the noise. They walked further down the street and it got louder. Brad noticed that the sounds were emanating from a house that had once been a yellow clapboard-sided bungalow, but now there were only a few faint spots of yellow. The front porch was missing its column on one end and the porch roof was hanging six inches lower than the other end of the porch. It looked like it rotted years ago. An old coon dog lay on the porch, oblivious to the racket coming from inside. Brad approached and two young children ran out the door with the screen door slamming behind them. They scrambled up an old apple tree in the front yard. The tree looked like it hadn’t produced apples in twenty years. They climbed up the tree as high as they could go until they were nearly out of sight.
From inside the house, there was the crashing of dishes and a string of vulgarity like you have never heard.
“Billy, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. Billy, please it won’t happen again. I’ll be a good wife. Please Billy, no more.” Yup, that’s Billy Maddox.
“Heather, I ask so little from you. I took you and those rotten brats off the street. All I ask is that you clean the house in return. Cook decent meals. Take care of your brats and keep them away from me. And get me my beer! Is that too much to ask? Just get me a lousy twelve pack every other day. That’s it.” With that, he slapped her backhanded. Out by the street you could hear her teeth crack as she fell against an end table. “Heather, why do you make me hit you? I’m so good to you and look at how you treat me.”
“Billy, I forgot, that’s all. Sadie got sick, and I took her to the free clinic. By the time they finished, I knew you’d be home. I know how important it is to you that I’m here when you get home.”
As she got back to her feet, he hit her again, ‘whack!’ “Don’t you move until I tell you to.”
“Billy, please don’t hit me. I’m sorry. I really am. I’ll go get your beer right now.”
“I said, you don’t move until I say you do.”
Brad and Beasley stopped at the end of the path leading to the house and listened. He was about fifty feet away from the tree Sadie and Jake were hiding in. He couldn’t see them, but he could hear them. When they ran out of the house, he thought Sadie looked to be about seven and Jake was maybe five. Up in the tree, they were holding on to each other; Jake was crying, and Sadie kept trying to quiet him down.
“Jake, you got to stop. If’n you don’t, Billy’s gonna hear ya, and then we will get whooped just like mama. You don’t want that, do ya?”
Jake sniffed and whispered, “I want him to stop hurtin’ mama. If I was big enough, I’d kill him myself.”
Brad heard little Jake, and it pained him. It brought back thoughts of his own childhood. He could see Beasley looking at the door and he growled, which he never did. It was really kind of funny to see the little dog so brave. Here was this little runt of a Spaniel growling, bravely ready to take on the likes of Billy Maddox, a foe he hadn’t even seen and, to top it off, the poor little dog didn’t have a tooth in his mouth.
Brad knelt down and pulled Beasley’s leash in close. He spoke softly to the little dog, but not loud enough for the children to hear, “Don’t worry little fellow. God’s in control. God’s always in control. Doesn’t always seem that way, but I’m sure God will find someone to help. Come on Beasie, we need to be going home before we’re missed.”
Inside the house, they could hear Billy yelling, “Heather, I’m the boss around here, and don’t you ever forget it! You ever try to cross me and I’ll not only beat the tar out of you, but I’ll also hurt those rug rats of yours so bad you won’t recognize them. Do you understand me?”
As Brad walked away, he heard Heather whimpering. “Billy, please, please don’t hurt Sadie or Jake. I’ll do anything, anything you want. Anything. Just don’t hurt them. I’m sorry Billy. I know I’m blessed you took us in. Please, I’ll be better.”
Brad was sad… very, very sad. He knew what he had to do. Beasley stopped and peed on another dandelion.