I have odd memories of my maternal grandmother, Faye; she seemed a difficult woman, very prim and proper, very concerned about appearances and what people thought.
I remember one time, when my sister was chatting with a friend on the phone, my Grandmother—she was Grandmother, never Grandma—heard my sister say that she was P.O.ed [pissed off] about something, and my Grandmother took the phone away from her, hung it up, and said we did not speak like that.
Another time when she was visiting, I was walking past her and placed my hand on her shoulder to let her know I was there and she shrieked about her shoulder surgery and how she was still in pain. I was mortified thinking I’d hurt her, but then my mother told me that Grandmother had had surgery about ten years before I was born.
I remember riding in a car with my Grandmother and Granddaddy, and I remarked about what a nice car it was; she said, “It should be nice, it cost more than your parent’s first house.”
That’s my Grandmother. Granddaddy was Ben, my grandmother’s second husband. I’d always assumed my mother’s father had died before I was born, until the day I returned home from school and found my maternal grandfather, Roy, sitting in the kitchen with my mother. He visited for a few hours and then he was off; I never saw him again.
But I did hear a remarkable story from my mother about why I’d never seen him ... it was because he murdered a man in Texas in the 1940s.
He’d murdered my Grandmother’s lover.
My grandparents, Roy and Faye, lived across the alley from the Cunningham’s. The Cunningham’s didn’t have a phone of their own and would occasionally come across the alley to use my grandparent’s phone. Then, Mr. Cunningham would come by at other times, alone, when my grandfather was at work, to “use the phone” himself.
My grandmother, at the trial, told of her first date with Mr. Cunningham, a bus driver, and how they’d gone to the movies and he’d “warmed up” to her. He then began coming by the house, to “use the phone” and would often enter through the back door and stay nearly an hour. My grandmother, at the trail, said it was those times that Cunningham had attempted to “make love” to her; he often came over after that, usually when my grandfather had left the house, and he’d have dinner with my grandmother; he always called on my grandmother when his own wife was away from home.
Apparently, on their third “date” my grandmother told Cunningham not to come back. But he did; he came in through the back door, without knocking, and my grandmother went to the front door and locked it but left the back door ajar; my mother and her sister were asleep down the hall.
My grandmother, at the trial:
“Clyde [Cunningham], came in, picked up a pillow off the bed, and tossed the pillow on the divan. ... Clyde sat down on the divan. I was standing on the floor near it. He pulled me down beside him. As he had the other times, Clyde wanted to make love to me—he hugged and kissed, and fondled me. Then he pushed me over the pillow.
“At that moment my husband appeared on the front porch. He pulled at the screen [door] it was locked. I opened it for him and he came in. Clyde was standing up. He said to Roy, ‘Well, you caught me courting your wife, didn’t you? '
“Roy made some short reply and went into the kitchen. Clyde said he would “’try to bluff Roy’.’ My husband then came back into the living and went into the bedroom. He came back from the bedroom with a gun in his hand. He raised it to shoot Clyde. I knocked Roy’s hand down, the bullet went into the floor. Clyde ran out the back door and across the yard to his own home. Roy ran to the back door and shot at him. Then he came back and I told him what happened—and all along—ever since I met Clyde.”
My grandmother then left the house and took a bus to Midland, Texas.
My grandfather’s story is like this: he returned from work to see his two daughters—my mother and my aunt—who were both recovering from whooping cough. As he approached the front door he saw Cunningham and my grandmother “prone upon the divan.” He came inside and got his gun to “run Cunningham out.”
After Cunningham left he asked my grandmother how long this had been going on; she told him about three months; he says that she said nothing else and he told her to “get out.”
My grandfather spent the rest of the day wandering around Vernon; in the early evening he entered the bus station—where Cunningham worked—and found my grandmother waiting for a bus. My grandfather then returned home, got his gun, and began driving around town; always returning to the bus station. At 5:30 the next morning, with his gun, “to protect myself in case Cunningham jumped on me.” He sat down and waited, until he saw Cunningham enter the building and head to the ticket counter:
“I walked up to his left side, up close, and said, ‘Clyde.’ He turned around and struck at me with a ticker puncher or some metal instrument. He continued to try and hit me and I thought he was trying to kill me. He kept pushing me back and I got the gun out by my left hand some way and began shooting."
He shot Clyde Cunningham five times and then he drove to the police station and turned himself in.
The police questioned all parties, and one officer believed my grandmother’s tale about how she didn’t want Cunningham to make love to her, not once, over the course of that three months, and he told my grandfather to take her back. My grandfather refused; there was a trial, and he was found guilty but was never sent to prison.
He and my grandmother divorced and he enlisted in the military as the war was starting; he returned home after the war with a Japanese bride and they were still married when I met him. He died in 1985, at the age of seventy-three.
He outlived my grandmother by ten years.
Sidenote: as much as my grandmother was a dichotomy—prim and proper, and caring deeply about what people thought of her, to some, an adulterer to others—she married a second time, to Ben; they were married for over thrifty years until she passed away.
A year to the day later, my Granddaddy got into their car and died; no medical cause, no heart attack; he just died. Even the doctor said it looked like he’d died of a broken heart since my grandmother was gone.
On the seat next to him, in the car, was my grandmother’s favorite purse; he took it with him whenever he drove because it felt like she was there.
That’s the story of my grandmother and my grandfather.
Family, ain’t it something?