In the sepia-tinted photos, they look like Bonnie and Clyde. He is short and he holds a pistol, and she is tall, for a woman. Neither of them smile. He is dark-haired. She is fair-haired. She holds a pistol, too.
Her name was Vera. She was the oldest of three siblings, and she was remarkably outspoken. If you don’t like how I keep house, she would say, then get the hell out.
His name was Arthur. She met him in the drugstore. He was blue-eyed, and his hair had a bit of a wave. It wasn’t clear exactly what Arthur did for a living. But he dressed well and he drove a car, and that meant a lot, for the time.
Vera was crazy about him. It was Arthur this and Arthur that. She asked him to Sunday dinner. Vera made it all herself. Pot roast and gravy. Green beans and butter rolls, sweet tea and chocolate pie.
Arthur wore a dark gray suit and white buckskin shoes. Vera’s mother didn’t like him. Never trust a man, she said, who wears white shoes.
Vera loved him. Vera wouldn’t hear it. Time passed and they eloped, or at least, ran off together. Vera learned soon enough how Arthur made his money.
He stole cars. He ran moonshine and guns. He even robbed a bank or two, with Vera by his side. Wherever Arthur and Vera went, they took their pistols with them.
A high-spirited couple, they were feared throughout the county. They had a lot most people didn’t in those days. They had cars and they had a house. They had a fine, big brass bed they got from god knows where.
But Arthur changed; he was a silver-tongued devil once, and now in mid-sentence, he would lose his train of thought. He grew sullen, and quiet. There were days he didn’t speak at all.
Eventually he was hospitalized. Schizophrenia, they said. Catatonic. Poor prognosis. Arthur never left the grounds. He was there until he died.
Fortunately, Vera had saved enough of the proceeds from their criminal enterprises to make investments, here and there. She had the house, and she had the cars. She had the fine, big brass bed. She was able to live quite well, in a small Southern town.
Vera was in her forties when she adopted two little girls. Margaret was only three and Penny was still an infant. They lived out in the country. Vera kept her pistol under the mattress for protection.
She was tough and she was feisty, she said what was on her mind. She regularly told unwanted visitors, get the hell off my porch or I’ll kick your ass ‘til your nose bleeds. Any protest on their part, and Vera would show them the pistol.
She was my grandmother. The gun was still in the mattress, still under the bed, the day that Vera died. The bed my cousin Jeff and I used like a trampoline.
We laughed and squealed. Penny, my mother, and my Aunt Margaret would come running into the room. We must’ve heard it a thousand times: Don’t jump on that bed!
Naturally, we jumped.
The big, brass bed had a lot of spring. We were young and so did we. And Arthur must’ve been quite a catch, with his white buckskin shoes.