Return to Sulphur
From Lee Broom’s memoirs Referencing October 1976
(Oodles and Lovie are Lee’s Mother and Father in that order)
When Oodles died last year I was unable to be there until after the funeral. Lovie and I had our typical Lovie and Lee talk. We walked mostly. Every few minutes one of us would speak up. And then we were back at the house. We sat on the front porch of this old home in the sleepy little former resort town of Sulphur Oklahoma and the five-minute interludes became ten.
As we sat there a squirrel came down from the oak tree by the entrance to the driveway. Halfway down the trunk the squirrel froze. Ears atwitch and head darting left to right, the reason for the rodent’s wary demeanor became evident as a creeping yellow furred miniature lioness stalked her prey.
Lovie went into the house, returning quickly with a Smith and Wesson .38 revolver. The cat was still creeping. The squirrel was frozen in place. Not a twitch or flick of an eyelid to give it away. The kitty was not fooled; she had just begun to crouch when Father took aim and fired at exactly the same time that the ferocious feline made her leap. As she hit the tree, as her claws dug into the bark, the bullet missed its mark and as it buried itself in the tree a spray of tree bark morsels splattered into the face of the would be assailant. Miss Kitty yowled and leaped to the ground and on to the gravelled path to the garage. She leaped the fence into the back yard with me racing behind her and Lovie limping after me. The yellow speed demon ran headlong into the concrete wall at the back of the property (she must be bind, I thought), ricocheted off and back toward the garage, again running head on into the second building and fell dead.
But that was then and this was now. It was believed or so I was told, that Lovie had experienced an Alzheimer-like set of symptoms over a very short period of time, probably from twenty years of well-managed Parkinson ’s disease. I hurried back home.
Lovie was no longer Lovie to anyone but me. Oodles was gone, brother Bill was not a feelings kind of guy and his new wife was now in charge of the family home and apparently the family purse as Father’s persona withered.
A year or so earlier Lovie had asked me for permission to remarry and I said yes, of course. He immediately walked across the street and asked Clara the widow of four previous husbands for her hand in marriage. At the wedding one of her favorite topics of conversation was her nephew who had inherited or acquired the only remaining drive-in restaurant in Oklahoma City. It was still a popular place to have a hotdog and a malted with dinner being served by young women in short skirts and shapely bodies and who delivered the meals on a tray by scooting across the pavement on roller skates.
The other subject was those four men she had buried.
I picked up Clarabelle and we went to the nursing home to say hello or goodbye whichever the case where I was introduced to a father I barely recognized.
His only garment was a swaddling, thickly padded diaper and his personality seemed the exact age for such raiment. As we began to chat, the others left the room. As Lovie and I found ourselves alone I was at once inspired by a need which was triggered by an observation about my father’s seemingly scripted demeanor. If he was the two-year old child that he seemed to be, having lost all subsequent memories, how was it that he knew me? And I needed to talk.
I asked my father if he could come back to his normal self for a few minutes so we could talk. With the recent memory of my first father’s demise and his reaction to the letter I had sent him it occurred to me that this might be my last opportunity to make amends. I did not think he was putting on an act. But I did realize that there were probably random bits of surviving memories to tap into.
Sure, said Lovie; let’s talk. And we did. After listing some of my behaviors and attitudes that o regretted, I confessed that I had a drinking problem. I know, said Lovie.
He had my attention.
He described an event that I remembered very well, that occurred when I was about five or six years old. I had been sick with measles, laying in bed reading. Lovie had just come in from work and was inquiring about my status, How was I feeling? He felt my forehead. What had Oodles been doing for me? I described a horrible liquid concoction containing soda and lemon and water that most certainly came from the sewer because it smelled like rotten eggs. Lovie had said to me, Lee, what you need is a hot toddy.
What’s a hot toddy, Lovie?
A few minutes later my thoughtful papa handed me a drink in a short glass. It was sweet. There was something in it that seemed vaguely familiar. I knew right away that the familiar something was also in mother’s homemade grape jelly.
It didn’t last long. By the time I had emptied the glass Father was changing into some from his double-breasted suit into a pair of chinos and house shoes. When I yelled for more Lovie came back into my room as he loosened his tie and asked how I liked the medicine. Did I feel a little better? Yes I did. May I have another? The answer was No but as time drug on (probably no more than five minutes) my body demanded more and my voice insisted for seconds. When Father returned with another hot toddy, it looked the same; it was sweet like the first one but whatever it was that made Oodles’ jelly and Lovie’s earlier Hot Toddy so desirable, was missing. And I suffered.
Lovie went on to tell me that when I was eleven years old they had come home from work to discover me lying on my grandmother’s bed, smelling like whiskey. He told me that when he went to his hiding place that it took five years for me to discover, his quick inspection had determined that though the bottle of bourbon was at the same level as before and had the same coloring as usual, it tasted as though it had been watered down. He added that in the kitchen the package of food coloring had been tampered with.
We chuckled together over this story and Lovie suggested that I do something about my problem and to not waste time; that my natural mother was an alcoholic and that she was drinking while pregnant with me. As he finished his statement I could hear Lovie’s brother, my Uncle Turner, coming down the hall toward this room where we were talking. And before my eyes I witnessed another transformation as my father returned to the child I had met minutes before. He asked if I wanted to play with his toys; they were scattered about the room. I said No, gave him a hug, kissed his forehead and left. He died the following day.
I was never notified of a reading of the will nor did I make inquiries. Within a few years, the restaurant with the skating waitresses had developed into a national chain.