Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Aunt Stella and Sir Charles

Chapter 1: Aunt Stella

Town folks liked us well enough until my Aunt Stella came to live with us in late spring. She had forgotten about normal a long time ago and pretty much dressed as she wished. Sometimes she would adorned herself in scarves of silver and gold and other times hide in dark shawls and rags but whatever her clothing she always had her companion, her beloved pet, Sir Charles

Now Sir Charles, as far as I could tell, was an imaginary creature, perhaps a bird perched on her shoulder, most of the time, but occasionally he flew around to spy for Aunt Stella or to bring her small sparkling gifts. Of course when people heard their secrets coming out of Aunt Stella mouth or found their jewels and watches in her possession they became angry. They thought she used Sir Charles as a ruse to eavesdrop and take what she wanted but then appear too crazy to know better.

They threatened to call the police if we didn’t control her and keep her out of their business and possessions. I was assigned the duty of keeping an eye on my middle-aged aunt. At thirteen, I was curious enough not to mind, and so I, Sherry Marie Benson, spent the summer before my freshman year, in the company of this unusual woman.

“Aunt Stella, what shall we do today?” I asked as I brought her morning cup of tea and a slice of buttered toast.

“Sir Charles, would like to go out to the park before the sun gets too hot,” she replied. “We can go to the one by St. Andrews.”

“Would you like to stop at the church while we are out?” I suggested,  thinking the cool quite of the St. Andrews would be a nice break after the park.

“No, today I think the sunshine and your company is all we need,” she said arranging her skirt and shawls for our walk outdoors.

We had been taking these walks since early June and I had heard many of the tales from her childhood. Each story told about a normal home, with normal parents and normal events and maybe it was a coincidence but the problems with the neighbors subsided with my constant watch.

“You never mention Sir Charles in your stories Aunt Stella,” I asked one day. “When did you meet him?”  I felt we knew each other well enough by now and that it was time I learned the whole story.

She pulled her shawl over her face. “I met him when I was your age,” she said.

“Can you tell me what happened?” I asked as we crossed the street to the park.

She chose a spot on a shady park bench overlooking the duck pond. It was far enough away from the street and the kid’s playground to offer some privacy. “I had just turned thirteen,” she said. “My girl friends and I rode our bikes all afternoon. My bike got a flat tire so I left it at my friend’s house for her dad to fix. I lived further away and walked home by myself along the dirt road.”

“Was it dark already?” I asked.

“The sun was starting to set. Most objects were silhouettes in that light,” she said “A blue van was parked at the side of the road. When I walked passed it a man reached out through the open door and grabbed me. He pulled me into the van. I screamed but he covered my mouth and bound my hands and feet. In no time we were on the main highway. He had me blindfolded face down on the floor.”

“Did he hurt you?” I prodded.

“The musty smell of the carpet choked me and I struggled for air. I started crying but couldn’t breathe and started to pass out. That’s when I saw Sir Charles,” she smiled, “his feathers were glowing a bright red with slivers of green and yellow. He said, ‘Don’t be afraid, you’ll be safe with me’.”

“Whoa, what happened?” I asked.

“That’s all I remember. He’s been with me ever since,” she said getting up from the bench.

“Aunt Stella, you can’t leave me like this. There has got to be more to the story. What happened next?” I insisted.

Without acknowledging me she cooed to her pet, “Sir Charles do you want to go home now? I think it is time for our nap.”  She didn’t say another word all the way home.

Chapter 2: The Discovery

Aunt Stella climbed the stairs to her room then she looked back at me, “Sir Charles and I will take our nap. We don’t want to be disturbed.”

She doesn’t want to be disturbed but she leaves me with a bee in my brain. I had so many questions. I looked for my mom to get more information. I found her downstairs in the kitchen. “What happened to Aunt Stella when she was a thirteen?”  I asked.

“Sherry, why do you want to know those things?” she asked as she turned away. “No one in your Dad’s family ever talks about it and I never ask questions,” she said getting up and going into the laundry room to sort the clothes. She looked up at me and asked, “Don’t you have some summer reading to do?” 

Frustrated I went into the living room and looked through Dad’s family album. There were lots of photos of grandma and grandpa with their six kids. Dad was the second oldest. Stella was much younger than the other five… an after thought, a redhead in a family of brunettes. There was Aunt Lila the oldest. Uncle Rick, who came after dad. Little Joey, who died from whopping cough at three, Uncle Jake the youngest for eight years and then baby Stella.

I figured I wasn’t born for another thirty-five years. I saw pictures of her looking happy and normal up through her thirteenth birthday and then she had that zombie look, that unexpressive stare with dark circles under her eyes, until she assembled herself at twenty-two into what she looks like today.

“What happened to you?” I asked out loud. I went to my room and searched the Internet to see if I could get some idea of any events in 1967 of any significance:

Rock and Roll, The Summer of Love, Vietnam War, and Space Travel seem to be the big events but nothing here to give me an idea about Aunt Stella. I sighed. I think I’ll have to go to the library to get the information I need.

I looked in on my Aunt and she was sleeping soundly. I packed up a notebook, some pencils and my library card and walked out to the city library. Here I checked through some references to account for that fateful day.

The on-line database provided a crime record reference, but no detail. Thankfully, a Reference Librarian explained the process and I continued searching. I worked the rest of the afternoon looking for some record of my relative's kidnapping and finally it appeared on the screen. The reason Dad’s family wouldn't discuss the crime was starting to become clear.

With the crime date and conviction date, I searched for other records. Lucky for me the new technology allowed me to find the important dates from the time of the kidnapping, then the assault, and through the search for the attackers. I found an online data source called the Detective and he listed crimes and important dates for all the violent crimes in the Okalahoma area from the late sixties to the present.

It was almost dinnertime and I had to get home. I felt flush with the new information. I left the library determined to come back tomorrow. I had all these questions but lived in a family where no one wanted to talk about it and the only one that could tell me wasn’t lucid enough to discuss it. I went to bed early but kept waking up every few hours.

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