THE WEEK-END FROM HELL
I was born in West Virginia but grew up in Kentucky. I met my husband while in high school. We married during the Vietnam era and once his service to Uncle Sam had ended we moved to Michigan. We were both true -blue Kentuckians though and would travel south often to visit with friends and family we had left behind.
My husband was the youngest son from a large family. His mother was nearing 50 when he was born and her Little Donald was her pride and joy. There was no secret that he was her favorite child. When Don and I had our first baby, a baby boy, ’Mamaw’ was beside herself with joy. Her baby boy had a baby boy. Little Jeffrey quickly became her favorite grandchild and she doted on him.
I, on the other hand, was never quite good enough, in her opinion for her golden son. In her eyes I could do nothing right, never gave HER son enough attention and had no clue as to how HER grandson should be raised.
Always I had tried very hard to ’get along’. After all I loved my husband, and this was his mother. She brought him into the world, loved and cared for him long before I came along. Many times I walked away from her, clinching my teeth and swallowing my angry words. Many times, I was near tears at the hurtful things she would say to me, but I would concentrate on ’tuning her out’.
This changed, however, when it came to the new baby. That’s when I developed a real backbone and refused to allow her to dictate to me what I would and would not do with my own child. This particular week-end from hell was over the July 4th holiday, 1977. Little Jeffrey was 5 and knew exactly how to pit Mamaw and Mommy against each other.
We arrived in Kentucky late on Friday evening. Saturday morning we were all around Mamaw’s kitchen table for breakfast. Little Jeffrey asked for soda to drink with his bacon and eggs. Naturally Mommy’s answer was ’No, I’ll get you a glass of milk..”
Mamaw was out of her chair like a jack-in-the-box. “Of course the child can have a soda if he wants one.” And she proceeded to set a glass of Pepsi in front of him.
Smoke was probably coming out of my ears as I picked up the glass of soda, poured it down the sink, and replaced it with a glass of milk. This, of course, brought about a crying jag from Little Jeffrey. As I was telling him firmly that he may as well dry his tear and eat his breakfast because he was NOT having Pepsi for breakfast., his grandmother was across the table giving me the Evil Eye.
Jeffrey continued to cry. I continued to ignore him, getting more irritated by the second ………….. At Mamaw, not at our son. If she hadn’t sat that glass in front of him, we wouldn’t be having this miserable breakfast.
When the crying refused to stop, Mamaw took Little Jeff’s hand and led him into the other room. I began to clear the table and started washing the dishes. The crying stopped and the whispering began. The longer this went on, the more suspicious I became so I dried my hands and walked into the next room to find out what was going on and why there was so much whispering.
I was stopped dead in my tracks when I saw my son sitting on his grandmother’s lap with a class of Pepsi. I nearly exploded with rage. I immediately went in search of my husband, who had conveniently wandered off somewhere with his dad. By the time I found them discussing how badly rain was needed for the garden, I was angry beyond words. I could only croak “We’re leaving!”
Don knew from the look on my face that asking for an explanation was probably not advisable. So he just said, “Sure, where do you want to go.”
My answer, ‘ANYWHERE!.”
It only took seconds to grab up Jeffrey, rip the Pepsi from his little hands, load him into the car and back out of their driveway. It was all I could do not to fly into a tirade against his mother but I didn’t want to vent my rage with our son sitting quietly in the back seat.
Don suggested going to visit his brother, John, for the day. John and his wife Doris were camping by the Ohio river. The day was blazing hot and I agreed, hoping that there might be a cool breeze or at the very least a shade along the river bank.
By the time we arrived I was a bit calmer but not much. As I said, it was HOT and we were all miserable. Jeffrey was whiny and wound up (probably from the caffeine in the soda!) and basically on his way to a major punishment that these days would land me in jail.
Doris, seeing that Jeffrey was working himself into major trouble, suggested that he go into the air conditioned camper, lay down on the couch and watch TV. Now Jeffrey had a tendency to get into things that he shouldn’t so I didn’t know whether or not having him inside the camper ALONE was a good idea. But Doris assured me that there was not a thing that he could hurt and the poor child needed to cool off. Against my better judgment, I relented.
Just as I was starting to relax and unwind a bit, Jeffrey came out of the camper with his big smile and said, “Look what I found.” Before it registered what he had in his hand, he had raised a GUN and it FIRED. This of course, scared him, and he immediately dropped the gun onto the ground where it fired again. For a few seconds all the adults were frozen. It was as if time stopped. Then chaos! Jeffrey was screaming. Everyone was moving at once. I was sure that Jeffrey had shot himself, his screams were so piercing but once I got to him, he appeared to be fine. No blood spurting or even oozing from anywhere.
I got him up onto my lap and when things were calmer, John said he felt the first bullet whiz by his ear. We never knew where the second one went. I could feel a splitting headache starting to form. Men being men, however, decided that a beer was needed. Each grabbed a can and left to walk around the camp grounds as they finished their beer.
Barely 15 minutes later, a police car drove through the camp ground making some sort of announcement. At first they were too far away to understand what was being said but as they drew nearer, I realized the message was, “The families of Don Chandler and John Chandler need to come to the Greenup County Jail to post bond!”
Again I was frozen. What in the world had I just heard? The men had only been gone a few minutes. How could they be in jail? And for what? I turned to my sister-in-law and said, “Do you know how to get to the Greenup County Jail?” She too seemed to be frozen and just nodded her head.
We piled into the hot car . (Remember it was 1977, the a/c in our car was turned on by rolling the windows down.) After a few wrong turns, we finally found a building that said Greenup County Jail. I parked and when we got out of the car I realized that Doris was still barefoot and I remember vaguely thinking that the sidewalk must be hot on her feet.
When we tried to open the front doors, we found that they were locked. It was a holiday after all. We found a button on the wall near the door and just as we were about to push it, two police officers opened the door and walked out. Doris seemed to not be frozen any more because before I could say, “Excuse me,” and ask for help, she was saying to the officers, “Are you the two sons of bitches that arrested the Chandler Boys?” (keep in mind we’re in KENTUCKY)
I got a firm hold on my son’s hand and slowly began to back away. I just knew that instead of two Chandlers, I would soon be bailing out three. If there was going to be a confrontation here on the steaming sidewalk I wanted no part of it and continued to inch backward, all the while keeping my eye on my sister-in-law and the officers.
One officer calmly answered, “Yes, we are.”
Doris then piped, “Well, how the hell are we supposed to bail them out if you’ve got the damned place all locked up.”
Again the calm officer said, “I’ll let you in and show you where to go.”
By the time this exchange took place, I was almost back to the car, ready to make a mad dash if I needed to.
Doris turned in my direction and I immediately thought, ‘Oh no, don’t let them know that I’m with you. I don’t want to go to jail. Please!” But she just said, “I’ll be right back. Wait in the car.” This sounded like an excellent idea to me.
A long 30 minutes later, the three relatives walk out the door. The men had been charged with ‘Drinking Beer on a Public Roadway’. The public roadway being the dirt path that wound around through the campgrounds. The fine of $30.00 each was paid and they were immediately released.
Naturally the men are furious and convinced that this was a money making venture for Greenup County. When there was a break in the conversation, I quietly said to my husband, “I want to go home. I want to go home RIGHT NOW.”
Again the look on my face told him all he needed to know. We said our good-byes and started back to Mamaw’s house. Don said, “We’ll leave early in the morning. Ok?”
Near tears, I pleaded, “No, it’s not ok. I want to go home NOW. And I don’t know if I EVER want to come back again. Please take us home.”
We arrived at Mamaw’s, gathered our belongings, loaded the car and left immediately. I don’t know what sort of reason my husband game his mother for our quick departure. At the time I didn’t care.
Of course we went back again and again and again. The visits always were a strain and usually my feelings got hurt somewhere along the line. But at least there was never another Week-end from Hell like the one in July of 1977.
© copyright Donna Hale Chandler
DONNA HALE CHANDLER
LIFE HAPPENS (My Story)
THE HINTS BOOKS