Of Winners and Losers and a Lost Love.
December 26, 2014
ON THE THIRD DAY OF THE SECOND MONTH, two years after her mother’s death, in a cabin built of logs from the high mountains, in a sanctuary gated apart from other young successful professionals in a north Dallas suburb, Charlise Jackson decided she would find a man unknown to her, her father.
She let down the folding ladder into the attic, climbed up the wooden steps and walked to a far corner where her mother’s trunk, padlocked, rested in its spot. She used the heavy cutters she purchased at Lowe’s to strip the lock off the footlocker.
In the bottom of the chest, beneath the high school annuals, she found a brown manila envelope with a brass fastener. Inside the folder, she located her birth certificate and moved next to the window to read it.
Someone had taken a black Sharpie and crossed out her father’s name. But, she had enough to work with, a hospital, a date.
Through the miracle of the Internet over the next couple of weekends she narrowed the possibilities until she downloaded the GPS coordinates into her Garmin.
The next Sunday morning, she rose two hours before sunrise, packed a duffle bag with a day’s provisions and headed east. By eight o’clock that morning, she sat in her car in Kilgore, Texas, next to a curb in a quiet neighborhood where a small frame house, in bad need of a paint job, beckoned to her.
When she rang the bell, she heard feet shuffling. She could tell someone had come to the door and was watching her through a crude peephole four and half feet from the floor.
In a minute, a gray-haired woman in her seventies opened the front door and stared at her through the latched screen.
“I’m Charlise Jackson.”
“A blind person could tell that,” the old woman said.
“Can I come in?”
“I want to talk to you about my father, Charles Hamilton.”
“If he’s your father, why isn’t your last name Hamilton?”
“My mother and he never married.”
“Is that what she told you?”
“Come in, then.”
The woman led Charlise to the kitchen and motioned at a chair next to the table. It had a red plastic seat cover frayed around the edges.
“You want some coffee?”
“No, ma’am. I don’t want to take any more of your time than I have to. I tried to call ahead, but I couldn’t reach you by phone.”
The old lady looked at a land line phone with a circle dial that sat on a stand in the hallway.
“I never answer it. In my experience it’s always bad news. I got enough of that already.” She leaned against the checkered tile kitchen counter and waited for Charlise to continue.
“Does Charles Hamilton live here?”
“No, honey. He don’t. I can take you to his place, if you’d like.”
“I’d like that a lot, Ms…”
“Mrs. Eudora Hamilton,” she said. “I’m your grandmother.”
Eudora took Charlise by the hand and helped her out of the chair. She never released her grip as she led her out the back door and walked her to an old truck.
“You can ride shotgun, Charlise,” she said.
Mrs. Hamilton rolled her window down, rested her left arm on the window ledge as she backed out the driveway and puttered down the quiet street. Four blocks from her house, she turned off the road through an entrance flanked on both sides by large iron gates that never closed. She followed the meanderings of the street until she stopped near a small plot, a headstone, a vase of plastic flowers.
“This is it,” she said.
Charlise got out of the truck and walked to the headstone.
“What did you know about him?” Eudora asked her.
“Nothing. Momma said he ran off with another woman before I was born.”
“Sounds like your momma may have had a little trouble with the truth, baby,” the old woman said. She knelt down and arranged the plastic flowers in the pot. She looked up at Charlise. “Your daddy was a good man. He missed you every day of his life. But his three rules got in the way.”
“He loved three things: horses, your momma and whiskey. He had a rule for each one. Bet on the horse, marry the woman, drink the whiskey. He was at the track in Shreveport the day he met your mother.”
“But he didn’t marry her,” Charlise said.
“Oh, yes, he did, darling. Your momma woke up the next morning, made a beeline to her rich daddy. He had an annulment filed before dark the next day. He made it clear to Charles that he was a dead man if he ever came around his little girl again.”
“So then what?” Charlise asked her grandmother.
“Rule three for the next thirty years,” Eudora said.
Charlise ran her hand across the granite grave stone until her fingers felt an etching in the smooth rock surface. She leaned close to it and realized it was the outline of a horse. She had a question in her eyes when she looked at Eudora.
Mrs. Hamilton put her arm around her granddaughter’s shoulder as she spoke. “He told me a few days before he died that only a fool would place a bet until he knew all he could about the horse.”