[Re-posted from 2015-10-19]
When my son (Drew) was born, his mother and I were both only twenty years old…pretty much still kids ourselves. As you would guess, I had no clue how to be a father to him. With that in mind, I figured I’ll just take what I learned from my own dad…and do the exact opposite.
My dad (Jack) grew up in rural Grundy County, Tennessee. The stories I’ve heard about my grandfather(s) would indicate that my dad learned and then carried on a long family tradition of cruelty and abuse…towards just about everyone. His abuse was mostly expressed against my mom (Lois). I lived in a house where brutal beatings and flying iron skillets (as well as boots, ash trays, etc.) were common events.
When my brother (Ronald Brad) and would get into trouble (we were boys…it happened), Dad would use his leather belt to “whip” us. I wouldn’t say that there were times we deserved some type of punishment, but Dad didn’t know the limits. You would be held by one arm as he cracked the belt across your rear-end (or whatever body part it landed on). You wind up in a spinning action as you react to the pain and try to get away from him. Eventually he would stop.
It wasn’t until later on in life that I realized one of the major causes of that provoked the violent encounters between my mom and dad. Mom had been previously married (Melvin Heath) and had a daughter (Tina Marie) before she met my dad. Tina was around six years old when Mom and Dad married. As Tina would eventually confess, my dad had sexually abused her from pretty much the time they met until he got her pregnant in 1981 (sometime between her 18th and 19th birthdays). I believe Mom had “suspicions” about his behaviors and/or had “caught him in the act” several times during the years leading up to the final days…there would be spontaneous fights in the middle of the night. I was too young to understand what they were fighting about. I think I purposely “closed off” what I was hearing and seeing…hoping (praying) that it would just stop.
After the pregnancy and abuse was finally made “public”, my dad was arrested and jailed for rape and several other charges. Needless to say, Mom filed for a divorce and an Order of Protection (also known as a worthless piece of paper).
You now have a mother with four kids to feed, a house payment to make, utilities to pay, one of your daughters is pregnant by your husband, and you have no source of income (she’s been a stay-at-home-mom all her life). When you hear about women who continue to stay with abusive spouses…read that list and see if you can identify a couple of the reasons why. Don’t forget that she has zero self-esteem left at this point, she’s the talk of the neighborhood, and she’s been cut-off from most of her friends and family for years.
However, there was a sense of safety at least…he was behind bars. He couldn’t hurt anyone. But that sense of safety was short lived. Despite opposition by my dad’s brother (Joe Turner), he was bailed-out by his younger brother (Steve) and then taken by Steve to live with him in Palmer, TN (Grundy County).
Mom’s brother (Joe Noe) came to my mom’s rescue…to offer moral support and what “protection” he might be able to muster. Uncle Joe had to have been the most peaceful person I’d ever met…what protection he could offer was foreign to me. He moved in with us and became part of the vigil. Mom’s other brother (Andy Noe) supplied us with a shotgun…it sat in the corner behind the door leading into the kitchen. We lived in fear every day that Dad would leave Palmer and come back to LaVergne…and hurt someone. Locks were installed on the attic hatch and the crawl-space door (provided access to the underside of the house). The locks were checked when we left…and when we returned. The adults were afraid he might use these spaces to lay in wait while we were gone. It wouldn’t happen that way.
Sometime before the morning of March 4, 1982, my dad would steal Uncle Steve’s old pick-up truck and make his way to LaVergne. After my brother Brad, my little sister Amanda, and myself boarded the school bus that morning our lives would be forever changed. It’s my belief that Dad must have watched us get on that bus. Given the timing of the events to follow…he was already at the house…waiting. This situation is still a confusing issue for me to comprehend. Despite the violence that was about to occur…mercy (or possibly love) was being shown (or forced). Someday…God will let me know the truth.
When we would arrive at school, everyone sat on the bleachers in the gym until school actually started and then we would be dismissed in groups to our respective homerooms. This morning my friend Chuck Ransom immediately tracked me down and told me, “Something is wrong at your house, someone laying in your front yard.” After asking him to repeat himself I took off for the main office (Chuck could see my house from his…and I believe his school bus also drove pass my house). I don’t recall asking for permission…I just acted. Upon reaching the office I began trying to tell anyone that would listen that something had gone wrong at my house…”I need to call home and make sure everyone is ok!”
Eventually, the school counselor takes me seriously and allows me to use the phone. I called my house (I still remember my phone number) and it just rang…and rang…and rang. No one answered. This is 1982, we didn’t have an answering machine, voice mail, call waiting or any of that stuff back then. If someone was home…they answered the phone. I knew three people were at that house…and none of them were answering the phone.
The school counselor had me have a seat while she worked to gather what information she could. It wouldn’t be long before my brother and sister joined me in the main office. Shortly after that, the three of us received a police escort to the LaVergne Police Station (we were under their protection in the event others were involved). An hour or so later, the same police officer drove us to Andy Noe’s house.
There…standing in the driveway…another of my mom’s brothers (Pat Noe) would tell me what had happened.
My dad had shot and killed Uncle Joe (he was laying dead in the front yard), shot and killed my mom (she was found dead hiding under the kitchen table), shot and injured my half-sister Tina (she escaped out the bathroom window), and then shot and killed himself (in Tina’s bedroom).
I’m thirteen years old…and I’m an orphan. Brad is ten years old…and he’s an orphan. Amanda is six years old…and she is an orphan. Tina is badly injured but will live and recover. A baby boy is born that day and given up for adoption. He should be about 33 years old now.
Despite it all…we got on the bus. My life has been saved twice now…at least by my count.