Cecele Allen Kraus
When the Casebolts were expected, I played the piano to speed their arrival, changing Shrimp boats are a’comin’, their sails are in sight, to Casebolts are a’comin’, there’s dancin’ tonight.
No dancing was allowed in my house, but the Casebolt kids meant fun. Rose Fawn, green eyes glittering, towheaded Pete, always with his guitar, Darlene, my age, and like me, a bit solemn and brown-eyed. We gathered at the piano, improvising Heart and Soul, or 1950s hit tunes. Rose Fawn and Pete played by ear. My piano teacher demanded I play exactly as the composer intended. Their exuberant swoops and harmonies brought excitement.
While our parents discussed miracles and God’s mystifying ways, Rose Fawn introduced risk-taking. We slipped out to explore off-limit streets, empty lots, and ransacked downtown dumpsters.
One day, restless to spot the Casebolts crossing the bridge to Richland, I rode my bicycle along the highway. Mary, their mother, spotted me. Luckily, my parents just warned not to ride that road again.
Lee Casebolt was a Pentecostal preacher, but since preaching would not support a family, he worked as a patrolman with Daddy at the Manhattan Project’s Hanford Site, where uranium processed to plutonium fueled the atomic bomb that exploded over Japan in 1945. They rode the same company bus, wore heavy gun belts, and carried lunch pails packed with sandwiches and pocket-sized New Testaments. Noting each other’s Bibles, they introduced themselves.
Daddy and Lee had come west for jobs awaiting them on Hanford’s arid terrain. On the bus, they confided troubles and prayed together. I imagine Daddy told Lee about Anna, my brain damaged younger sister, his first child’s death in Alabama, and Mother’s poor health. Maybe Lee told Daddy what he left behind in Missouri, and the struggle to find housing in towns exploded by workers arriving daily at the Pasco train station.
Lee invited Daddy to his church. For two years we attended Richland’s staid Protestant Church on Sunday mornings and Lee’s free-form Pentecostal Church on Sunday evenings. Mary greeted us with blues played on a battered upright—the soundtrack of her Missouri childhood undergirding gospel songs.
Lee’s razor strap hung in plain view on the bathroom door. Rose Fawn, thirteen, started wearing tight sweaters and dark makeup. Darlene grew moody. Pete spent spare time playing the guitar. Perhaps religious strictures became more onerous as teen years approached.
With Rose Fawn as director, we acted out radio dramas and movie plots. One wind-whipped afternoon just before school resumed, Rose Fawn staged an accident using ketchup as blood. Pete refused to take part and went off by himself. I played the victim, lying on the road’s edge, ketchup on my chest, faking injury. Rose Fawn stood guard against curious dogs. Darlene ran home to shock our parents. Irate, they marched us home. I recall how the sunset lent beauty to the whirling dust.
Even I, nine years old, sensed trouble. Lee’s razor strap hung in plain view on the bathroom door. Rose Fawn, thirteen, started wearing tight sweaters and dark makeup. Darlene grew moody. Pete spent spare time playing the guitar. Perhaps religious strictures became more onerous as teen years approached.
Rose Fawn slipped out again . . . she was gone all night.
Overhearing Mary and Mother, Daddy intervened. Why don’t we offer Rose Fawn up to God in prayer?
At the kitchen table, our parents prayed for her safety. Dear Jesus, protect Rose Fawn, and bring her home to us.
Darlene and I slipped out to a strangely quiet street. I took her hand and we circled the block.
Daddy’s mother had a vision of him standing at the altar, arms outstretched, calling sinners to Jesus. Her ten-year-old son would be a preacher. She never gave up hope. Visions were as real as the cows she milked, the chickens she fed. In Lee’s church, my grandmother’s vision became a prophecy fulfilled. Making his way to the altar, Daddy testified that he would preach, led forward by joyous shouts. Thank you, Jesus! Hallelujah!
My parents whispered: We should move back to Alabama . . . been gone too long . . . I miss my sisters . . . don’t know how long Papa will live. Finally, they told me, we’re moving home. Maybe home to my parents, but Richland was the home I knew—my geography, my friends. In bed at night, I recited aunts and uncles’ names and as many cousins as I could conjure up, improvising a family tree.
Though excited to see relatives, grief took me as parting approached. At the Casebolts’ house we said one last goodbye. Lee gave my father a soap carving, a bar of Ivory in which he had chiseled a gun, a belt, and a Bible—tiny items commemorating their time together. I cried for miles.
Never again would we have such unguarded intimacy with another family. Our parents heard the soul’s cry as they prayed for solace from sorrow, healing for wounds, and God’s anointing. Spoke their truth. The heart’s secrets issued forth at the kitchen table, riding the bus, kneeling, or shouting in triumph over sin.
I’ve wondered how the Pentecostal constraints and the strictures of a government community shaped us. Though we learned to keep secrets from our parents, that world of bare exchanges left a hunger for unguarded self-revelation. In time, those testimonies of suffering and transformation led me to psychoanalytic training and practice.
While I made my way in a Southern culture far from Hanford, Rose Fawn, Pete, and Darlene sang in Pentecostal revivals up and down the West Coast. By the time they visited in Tuscaloosa, I had rebelled by marrying at sixteen. Seven years of distance slipped away. Darlene was still solemn, Pete, a serious music student, and Rose Fawn, flamboyant in beaded leather boots. At our upright piano, Rose Fawn switched from gospel to blues, the music she’d adopted. Her alto voice carried my true feelings: In the evenin’ when the lights are low, I’m so lonesome I could cry.
Rose Fawn didn’t escape the blues. Mental illness overtook her. Lee and Mary saw her troubles as spiritual, but neither her father’s strap nor the casting out of demons saved her. Letters in Mary’s flowery script sought Mother’s advice. Rose Fawn took up with strange men, drank, and ran away. A pregnancy led to Lee and Mary adopting her baby boy. She got pregnant again, but miscarried. Upon opening a closet, Mary found the fetus in a jar. Rose Fawn fled again, hitchhiking.
Mary called my mother. Police found Rose Fawn dead on the highway—raped and murdered.
Over the years, Mother had told me of Mary’s letters, but I kept a distance. The pain of leaving Richland had been wrenching, class-bound Alabama, alien, and Rose Fawn’s murder, unfathomable. I did tell friends about the Casebolts, but not what happened to Rose Fawn.
Now the Casebolts’ world breaks into my days like a car nosing into traffic. And with me, always—Rose Fawn, thumbing her way across Idaho with a small overnight case. Green eyes heavily lined, hair dyed black, white thighs shining in the truck’s headlights. In a frequency not audible on AM or FM, I hear her voice—that feeling’ goes stealin’ down to my shoes, while I sit and sigh, go ‘long blues.
Cecele Allen Kraus has published two poetry chapbooks: Tuscaloosa Bypass (Finishing Line Press 2012), and Harmonica (Liquid Light Press 2014). Her poems have appeared in Naugatuck River Review, Passager, Windfall, and Chronogram. Eastern Iowa Review published her essay, “Shagbark Farm,” in 2015.