We spent the last three nights watching the Hatfields and McCoys on TV, did you? The tone was so very dark and heavy, but there was also a powerful message. I think what bothered me most was that the two men responsible for starting the feud both lived to be old, while their children and grandchildren died senselessly while still so young.
There were two scenes in last night's episode in which fire was consuming the McCoy house, and in the end, the man who fostered such evil. Watching the flames conjured up this old memory that I originally wrote about for Sunday Scribblings in February of 2011...
It had been years since she'd returned to the town where it all began... her introduction to the madman who was to become her husband.
Travelling alone across the state on a journey to visit her parents, she had stopped at the cemetery along a stretch of rural highway north of town. Something inside her demanded that she go there to see his grave with her own eyes, to make certain he was really gone. The small military headstone bearing his name and vital statistics gave no clue to the nature of the man interned there, but she remembered.
Before leaving, she took a photograph to share with her daughter when the time came that she would want to know, that she too would want to be certain. Road weary from the journey of nearly a thousand miles, she decided to spend the night in a motel, giving her time to drive around and see what places and images still remained familiar from the those years of her life.
She drove past the nursing home where she'd worked as an aide. It hadn't been a good place then and she was glad to see it boarded up now, the souls of those she'd cared for long since ascended into heaven.
She drove past the small college where they'd both studied, and past the house with the tiny upstairs apartment where they'd lived when they first brought their daughter home from the hospital. She drove past the old hospital too, remembering so clearly that day more than 20 years ago when she first held her daughter in her arms.
She drove past the park where she used to take her daughter to play in the grass, where she would squeal with delight as squirrels scampered close by.
Finally, late in the afternoon, she summoned up her courage and turned on a familiar street not too far from downtown. Driving slowly, she spied the fenced playground of the old parochial school across the street from "the big house".... but where was the house? In the place where it should be there was nothing but an empty lot. Suddenly she found herself confused. Was this the right place or had the years played tricks on her memory?
But yes, there was the yellow house on the corner next door, the one with the teenage daughter that used to undress in her room upstairs with the window shade up, much to the delight of the young men in the big house. She stared again at the large, grass covered lot beside it, still not quite believing what she was seeing, or in fact wasn't seeing.
It was the right address, the right location, but the big house had vanished as if into thin air. The empty lot, with its neatly manicured lawn, held no trace of the large three-story white house with the sweeping front porch on which she's sat so many nights breathing in the evening air and praying to whatever gods there might be for deliverance and redemption.
It seemed like forever ago that they had lived there - she and her husband and their young daughter - serving as house parents for the dozen or so young men renting rooms while attending the local vocational college. She remembered each of them. For the most part they had been like brothers to her - caring and supportive, and enchanted by the little girl who delighted in their attention.
But there were two among them that she later learned were in alliance with her husband, and in allegiance to the power of darkness that he served. It was not long before that darkness began to seep into their lives and permeate the rooms they occupied. A shiver went up her spine as she remembered all the evil that had transpired there.
She was young then, and not nearly as sure of herself as she was now. She had cowered in fear, and remained obedient to the bonds that held her there, though she often considered leaving and at one time went so far as to investigate a nearby apartment as an option if things got worse. And they did, but still she stayed. She didn't understand back then that there are always other options.
When he graduated from college they moved to Denver so he could attend graduate school. Not long after, he decided instead to join the military and a year later found them living in Germany, the place where it finally came to an end as the marriage unravelled and she went her own way.
That relationship had come and gone at great emotional cost to her and her daughter. As she sat there in the car staring at that vacant lot, she couldn't help but wonder how differently life might have been if she had left him in the beginning instead of at the end.
Later on she did a little research and learned that a raging fire had consumed the big house one night, after standing a few years vacant. It was thought to be a case of arson but no one was ever caught or punished for the crime. Perhaps they didn't know, but deep inside she knew. She knew well his love of fire and his penchant for destruction.
So many lives had been damaged and destroyed by his actions. He had returned to this town to live at some point after their divorce and his release from the military, and he had died there at the age of 35 - from heart failure the death certificate had said. But no autopsy had been done, and she knew there was more to that story too.
Heading back to her motel room she breathed deeply in the night air. It was finished... he was gone; the house was gone too. The ground had already purified itself and reclaimed the sanctity it once held. It was going to take a lot longer for her and for her child.