[ Issue 4 / February 2013 ]
Mr. & Mrs. Brodhurst D. Bridgewater
416 Sunset Drive
August 5, 1959
Mrs. Archibald L. Kirby
4900 Magnolia Lane
My dear cousin Lillian,
I’m so sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but a terrible tragedy occurred last Friday night. Tommy Jack Timmons shot and killed Mona, and then he killed himself. That’s the worst thing that’s happened since Lucian Tuck chased the banker down Main Street and shot him right in front of McElroy’s Grocery. Remember? Mother was hosting bridge club that day, and we were playing in the yard when Papa came home with the news.
Wasn’t Mona three years younger than us? Or was it four? No one can say she wasn’t pretty. But it never did her any good. Her folks were as poor as Job’s turkey, and, oh, those awful feed-sack dresses she wore to school.
The tragedy has thrown our little town into frenzy. Some are saying Tommy Jack killed her in a jealous rage; others are blaming it on the shed. From what I heard, Mona got so tired of Tommy Jack’s drinking and carrying on that she locked him out of the house and made him sleep in that little shed behind their shotgun house. Their theory is that he kept getting all worked up and finally blew her away.
I don't know if either of those stories is true, but there is an old crumbling shed behind their house. But I always assumed it was for the chickens.
I don’t approve of raising chickens in town, but I always bought my eggs from Mona. They were great big, and very clean (she washed them by hand), and her price was reasonable; she only charged twenty-five cents a dozen. And she delivered them.
Mona also cleaned houses, including Bunny Twisdale’s, Josephine Langford’s, and mine. She really earned that fifteen dollars; you know how big our house is. Brody wanted me to give her more, but I paid her what she asked for and not a penny more.
Sometimes Brody is too generous for his own good. In money matters, that is. When he took the job at the bank, I was a little apprehensive, afraid he would feel so sorry for people that he would give everyone a loan who asked for it. But under Papa’s tutorship, he moved right on up.
Don’t get me wrong, dear Lillian. I’m thankful I have a kind, gentle husband. And I’m a happy woman, although I’ve always been sorry we didn’t have children. Brody would have made a wonderful father. I’m sure he would have spoiled them rotten, though, like Archie did your Patsy. (Ha ha!)
Neighbors are saying Tommy Jack ranted and raved all night long when he was drunk. And on that fateful night they heard him accuse Mona of having something to do with a big wig on the sly, and had been for years. They said she denied it and took off walking to the post office to cool off. That theory got started when diners at The Catfish Parlor saw Mona walk past on her way home from the post office. It was about 7:30, only minutes before the shooting commenced. They think Tommy Jack just kept drinking and getting all worked up, and when she got home, there he sat, waiting for her.
I don’t believe a word of that. No man of any standing would have something to do with Mona Timmons. Granted, she did not let herself go—she was still as slim as she was in high school and not a bad looking woman—but she never wore makeup, and her clothes were homemade.
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Tommy Jack. It’s no wonder he had a drinking problem. Even he knew Mona only married him because she was pregnant.
Their daughter was the only thing holding that marriage together. They thought the sun rose and set in Suzanne. She is a pretty girl, long blonde hair, very tall and slim. She has a beautiful singing voice, they say, and will graduate this year from the University of Alabama where she is majoring in music.
Where on earth do you suppose she got all that money for her tuition? At Ladies Auxiliary yesterday, Blanche Worthington insinuated that Suzanne has an unknown benefactor. Now, what do you make of that?
Remember that old Baptist church up on the hill in that trashy part of town? Mona was a member and very active, helping people, taking food to the sick, and such as that. She used to work at Stop & Shop but had to quit after her bout with breast cancer last year. After she finished her chemo, though, she went right back to cleaning houses and selling eggs.
Tommy Jack seemed like a nice little fellow. But I could never understand what he was saying; he mumbled when he talked. Not that I had reason to talk to him much. He did odd jobs around town, mowing yards and things like that, and every now and then one might see him drive by in his old, rattletrap pickup. I don’t know how he kept it running. Somebody said he was handy that way, always fixing his truck and sometimes fixing other people’s vehicles. But not ours. We always take our Cadillac to the dealership in Tuscaloosa. We rarely have car trouble. Like you and Archie, we purchase a new one every two years.
Mona was a very proud woman. I’m in a position to know. Last Christmas I was charged with the responsibility of calling on the less-fortunate and delivering food baskets. As you know, our
church always takes up an offering for the poor, and I think it’s a good thing. God has been good to us and helped us prosper, so we show our thanks to Him by helping those in need.
I was shocked beyond words when I attempted to present a basket to Mona. “Thank you, Mrs. Bridgewater," she said in her soft voice, chin at an angle, "We have everything we need."
I must admit, dear Lillian, I was miffed. And I was still miffed when I got home. “Mona had her nerve,” I said, “Saying they have everything they need.”
“Well,” Brodie said, “Maybe they do.”
Even after twenty-five years of marriage, sometimes I feel I hardly know my husband.
Strange thing is, Tommy Jack walked into the kitchen that day, carrying his shotgun. He mumbled hello and hurried on out the door. I thought nothing of it at the time, but it makes me cringe now, seeing as to how I was right there where it later happened. Right in that very kitchen, with that very gun.
Would you believe Zilpha Jennings was there right before the tragedy? She stopped by to buy eggs on that fateful night. When she arrived, Zilpha said Mona was washing dishes, and she couldn’t help noticing that they had already partaken of their supper (boiled potatoes, fried green tomatoes and cornbread). After Mona got the eggs, Zilpha said she offered her a cup of coffee and some of her fresh blackberry cobbler. But she declined. And I don’t blame her one bit. She said Mona’s old, one-eyed poodle was running around in the kitchen. Zilpha doesn’t approve of dogs in the house, and neither do I. Not that she would have eaten any cobbler there anyway.
I heard all of the above on good authority, because Ophelia Bishop heard the whole thing from Zilpha herself. “I’ll never forgive myself,” Ophelia told me Zilpha told her, “I could have saved Mona’s life if I’d stayed a little bit longer.”
Ophelia also told me Zilpha told her that she saw Tommy Jack with his gun but thought nothing of it. And I can see why. People like them can often be found cleaning their guns in their living rooms, dogs running here and there, chickens scratching up their yards, and such as that. Something must have come up right quick, though, because it all happened right not long after Zilpha left.
Since Mona’s church was way too small, the double funeral was held at our beautiful Brookwood Methodist Church. As you know, everybody of any standing in the community goes there. (We all still miss you and Archie!) Brody is still singing in the choir, of course. One can always hear his deep baritone voice above all the others and see his head above everyone else’s.
There was the largest crowd I have ever seen at any funeral in my life. The tragedy brought the whole community together. We Methodists were mingling with the Baptists, hugging everyone, telling them how sorry we were. And flowers! There were flowers of all shapes and sizes. They
just kept carrying them in, even after the service began. (I sent a lovely bouquet of white lilies and baby’s breath.)
I don't know how she got the money together, but Suzanne put them away real nice. It was strange seeing Tommy Jack in a suit. I'd seen Mona dressed up at funerals in the past, but I'd never seen Tommy Jack in anything other than baggy coveralls and an old cap pulled down so tight on his head that his little ears were bent forward. He looked right nice in his grey suit and blue tie.
Suzanne was rather stand-offish. And I don’t know why. We were all very nice to her, telling her what darling people her parents were, how we all thought the world of them. She just shook our hands, thanked us, and that was that.
Later, when I mentioned her behavior to Brody, he bristled. "For the love of God, Britanna," he said, "Her parents are dead."
Hopefully, Suzanne will sell the house and property to Knotts Ellington. (Remember what a crush he had on you junior year?) He wants to build one of his farm supply stores there. And that would be a good thing. That old shotgun house and all that mess would be gone, and it would improve the looks of that part of town.
This whole thing has upset me terribly. I never thought anything like this could ever happen in our little town. Everything has always been so peaceful and quiet, other than a little trouble every now and then in that area where Mona and Tommy Jack lived; you know, wife beatings, rough kids drinking and carrying on and things like that. But I guess that’s to be expected of people like them.
I must close, and see about Brody. I’m worried about him; he has not been himself for the past few days. Although he says he’s fine, he has been very quiet and melancholy. Could it be because he is getting older; that his thick blond hair is thinning and turning grey? Surely not. He has never been a vain man. Would you please talk to Archie and see if he knows what is bothering him? Or could it be you already know? If so, you would tell me, wouldn’t you? We have always been as close as sisters. And sisters tell each other everything, even things they might not want to hear. You would never keep a secret from me, would you, dear Lillian?
Give Archie our love, and please answer as quickly as possible. If you all could manage to come for a visit, that would be even better. Brody and Archie would probably spend most of their time at the club, so we could sit on the porch sipping Mimosas late into the night, talking a mile a minute and catching up on all the news like we did before you all moved to Mobile.
Your loving cousin,
PS I hope this makes sense. My nerves are bothering me again, so I took another Miltown.
Brenda Wilson Wooley's work has appeared in more than forty publications, including The Birmingham Arts Journal, Kentucky Monthly Magazine, Barely South Review and Looking Back Magazine. She makes her home in Paducah, Kentucky where she is working on a novel. Her blog can be found at: http://www.onekentuckywriter.blogspot.com.