Saturday, October 18, 2014

Gates of Heaven

 
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Headlines from the Irontonian on November 10, 1921
BULLET CAUSED INSTANT DEATH EARLY THIS A.M.
Domestic Troubles Assigned as Cause
Police holding Two Guns as Evidence
Husband Says Wife Shot Herself
Coroner to Hold an Inquest over the Body

            On November 10, 1921, at 8:30 in the morning my grandmother, Vina McGlone Estep Reed, was sitting in a rocking chair in her bedroom in Ironton, Ohio. Her second husband, Hayes Reed, was still in bed. Hayes and Vina had been married for about a year. Vina was 24 years old when she married Hayes. He was 44. Vina’s first husband, Albert Estep, my grandfather, had died in 1918 of typhoid fever leaving her with one living child, Maizie, my mother. Vina and Abert’s first child, Clyde, had died of meningitis before his first birthday. In November of 1921, Maizie was not quite five years old.
            Vina and Hayes had been fighting. One source of their domestic troubles was Hayes’ sons from a previous marriage who lived with the couple.
            That morning while sitting in her rocking chair, Vina was shot through the heart and died instantly. She was killed by Hayes’ gun, a 32 caliber Savage automatic. The bullet entered her chest, pierced her heart and passed out the right side of her body. Hayes was the only one who saw what happened. He told everyone Vina had shot herself with his gun. Vina had a gun of her own, a 32 caliber Bulldog pistol. It had not been fired. The police took possession of both guns. Six months earlier, Hayes had killed a man with the same gun that took Vina’s life. For a while he had been with the Ironton Police Department. He had been sent to a home to make an arrest and shot to death a man named Henry Farmer. Henry Farmer’s family claimed that Hayes was intoxicated when he came to the house. Hayes was tried for first-degree murder charges, but he was cleared.

            Two undertakers came to the house for Vina’s body. Hayes had called one, but Sina McGlone, Vina’s mother, had called a different one, O’Keefe and Company, and they took possession of the body. Mrs. McGlone lived only a couple of blocks from the house where her daughter died. She came over that morning with another son-in-law, Jim Stevens. Jim was the husband of her younger daughter, Callie McGlone Stevens. In the confrontation, Jim drew a revolver and threatened to kill Hayes on the spot.
            Mrs. McGlone told the police that what happened was no suicide. Just recently, she told them, her daughter had said that she “had too much sense to take her own life.”
            There was an inquest by the coroner. The county prosecutor was present. The coroner ruled that there was no evidence to contradict the testimony of Hayes Reed, the only eyewitness, that his wife had shot herself.

            Vina was buried in Woodland Cemetery only a few blocks from the fourth ward neighborhood where she died, only a few blocks from where Albert had died two years earlier. At Woodland, a hundred yards or so separates Vina and Albert’s plots. Hayes is buried there too, but in a newer part of the cemetery. He lived until 1952. He never remarried. Woodland Cemetery is a beautiful place. Walkers and joggers use it to get their daily exercise. There is usually the sound of mowers as the maintenance crew cuts the grass.


            In the cemetery register my grandmother is listed as Mary V. Reed - section H, Lot 66. At that site, Vina has a nice headstone carved with an image of the gates of heaven swinging open. Her headstone reads “Mary E. Eystep, 1896-1921”. They got the dates right. Given the family’s poverty, they must have cared deeply for her to go to the expense of a stone marker for her grave. They must have wanted her to be remembered.

Hayes
            Vina said, “Wait.” Then she got out of bed. I thought she was going to the privy, but she just went and sat in her rocking chair. Then she started in on me about the boys. It’d all been said about a hundred times. She’d say, “Them boys don’t show me no respect. I can’t bear that kind of behavior no more.” Then I’d say, “They just boys. You gotta teach them. You wallop them a time or two and they’ll learn.” “No,” she’d say. “I ain’t gonna live that way.” On and on.
            That morning I said, “The problem in this house ain’t the boys. The problem is there ain’t no lovin’.” Vina, she hung her head and said, “Lord. Lord. Lord.” I said, “A mans got needs.” Vina said, “Hayes, I never lied to you. You said you was gonna marry me and take care of me and Maizie. I told you I weren’t ready to love nobody.” Then I said, “And I have taken care of you. Now, Vina, a marriage is like a contract and I’ve lived up to my end of it, but love me or not, you got duties you ain’t livin’ up to.” I think she started crying and I heard her saying, “Lord. Lord. Lord.”  We’d had this conversation a hundred times, too. I was feeling like I had a fever. My neck and my ears were burning up. My head was starting to ache.
            I said, “You ain’t a natural woman and you ain’t no use to me.” She said, “I’m a natural woman. I know that from Albert.” My head was full of fire and pressure when she said that. I knew what was going to happen next. My gun was right by my bed and I pointed it at her. I thought she was going to change her tune and beg me not to shoot, but all she did was say, “Hayes, you get my mother to take care of Maizie. Do it right away.” So I shot her. I never even got out of the bed.
            Maizie was at the door calling for her mommy. I said, “Go on over to your granny’s house. Tell her to come right away.” She called out, “Mommy?” again and I said, “Do like I told you.” I heard her go down the stairs and out the door.
             I thought, Now I killed two people. That’s it. I’m done with killing. Then I got out of bed and laid my pistol in Vina’s lap.

Vina
            Vina woke up feeling like a glass that was filled right to the brim. Except that instead of being filled with water she was filled with sadness. She knew the least little thing and she’d spill over and instead of being inside her, her sadness would be everywhere and she wouldn’t be able to help thinking about baby Clyde and Albert, both of them laying dead in Woodland Cemetery. Then Hayes tried to get on top of her and she said, “Wait” and went and sat in her rocking chair. She thought about the day and knew she’d have to deal with Hayes’ boys who would run wild and not listen to a thing she said. “Hayes, them boys don’t show me no respect. I can’t bear that kind of behavior no more.” He blamed her like he always did. He said, “They just boys. You gotta teach them. You wallop them a time or two and they’ll learn.” She thought, No I can’t do it. They’re too big and rough. One of these days they’ll hurt Maizie.
            Then Hayes started in about the sex like he always did. He said, “Now, Vina, a marriage is like a contract and I’ve lived up to my end of it, but love me or not, you got duties you ain’t livin’ up to.” When he said that her sadness spilled and tears began to run down her cheeks. Then Hayes said, “You ain’t a natural woman and you ain’t no use to me.” She remembered being with Albert and she knew she was a natural woman, but she knew too she could never be that way with Hayes. Out loud she said, “I ain’t even no use to myself. I ain’t even no use to Maizie.”
            She knew what was going to happen next. Hayes had hung his holster and his pistol on the back of the rocking chair like he always did even though she asked him to put it away. She took the gun and held it backwards, pointed at her chest, with her thumbs on the trigger and her fingers around the handle. She had thought that maybe Hayes would try to stop her, but he just sat there in the bed. She Said, “Hayes, you get my mother to take care of Maizie. Do it right away.” Then she pushed the trigger away with her thumbs and thought…

Maizie
            I thought about that morning every day of my life.
            I already had my dress on, but I was still sitting in my bed. I had a little rag doll and a stuffed rabit, too. I was waiting for my ma to call me. There was a big bang, like somebody had slammed a door real hard. I went down the hall to their door and said, “Mommy?” Hayes said, “Go on over to your granny’s house. Tell her to come right away.” I said, “Mommy?” again. Hayes said, “Do like I told you.” Hayes’ boys was out in the hall too, but they didn’t say nothing. I ran out the house and ran barefooted to Granny’s house. It weren’t real cold, but I could see my breath. I started crying cause I knew I was an orphan now. I knew that bang weren’t no door slamming. I couldn’t say nothing when I got to my granny’s house, but she looked at me and she started crying, too, cause she knew good as I did that I was an orphan now. My Aunt Callie and Uncle Jim was there. Aunt Callie took me on her lap. She wrapped me in a quilt. It had boxes on it that looked real. They looked like you could touch them. My teeth were chattering, but I wasn’t cold. Granny said, “Jim, I gotta go over there. You’ll come with me, won’t you? Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord.” I never saw my ma again. I can’t remember my dad, but I remember my ma real good. Nothing was like it was no more. Nothing was like I wished it was. Everything was different.

John 
            My mother, Maizie, had a traumatic childhood and a hard life. She survived. She was an exceptional woman. Additionally, she created a bridge that, in one generation, allowed me to cross over from illiteracy, poverty, and violence to a very different kind of life. I’m educated, solidly middle-class, and no one has ever pulled a gun on me. I am grateful to her. In my gratitude I feel an obligation, an obligation to tell this story. 

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