At 103 Stellar Street there was never much peace, a little bit of love, not enough happiness, but it is, in fact, home for eighteen-year-old Frances "Frankie" McKay. With high school graduation two weeks to never again, her life is about to change. No more days enduring the callow drama, no more working for her stubborn Grandma Frances at the Bar & Grill, and no more playing cook and maid to her alcoholic father and older brothers, all of whom work hard at the mine by day and play hard at the bar by night.
Frankie grew up quick with only a few certainties in life. She is certain the reason her father is an alcoholic goes beyond the fact that their mother left them. She is certain that her feelings for her best friend, Paul, go beyond mere friendship. And she is certain that happiness cannot be found in Minersville, at least that's what she thought. Joy and sadness find Frankie as the past is revealed, questions are answered, life is lost and love is found.
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Sliding Past Ugly
By Karla Krulitz Hegbloom
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Karla Krulitz Hegbloom
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFor as long as I can remember, a ceramic plaque has hung by our kitchen door that reads, "Peace, Love, Happiness, Home." What a crock. That plaque belongs in our home like a menorah belongs in a Baptist church. At 103 Stellar Street, there isn't much peace, a little bit of love, not enough happiness, but it is, in fact, home.
My name is Frances Louise McKay, but I answer to only Frank or Frankie. In fact, the only person to ever call me Frances and get away with it is Grandma McKay. And since she's my namesake, I guess it's tolerable.
I live in North Idaho, more specifically Minersville, Idaho. Yep, Minersville has been home sweet home for the last eighteen years. Truth is, I've never been anywhere farther than a one-hundred-mile radius. Pop claims we went to Seattle once, but at two months old, I hardly think it qualifies as a memorable experience.
Now one doesn't have to be a road scholar to figure out the town is supported by mining dollars. Nope, "Minersville" is pretty much self-explanatory. For years, mining boomed in these parts, and businesses grew right along with the population. However, only two out of four mines remain operational these days-the Newport and the Lucky Strike. Without any other industry to support the community, families moved away, leaving empty homes and empty businesses.
On the plus side, the fishing and hunting outfitters sell the area as an "outdoorsmen's dream." We're surrounded by evergreen-forested mountains, with rivers and mountain lakes galore. Not to mention we're located directly off Interstate 90. At least this benefits the gas stations and local diners.
I find it comical that visitors refer to the town as "charming" or "quaint," with its "rustic" mining theme and old homes packed in like sardines along the hillside. The reality? Mining is a way of life, and yeah, there may be a certain charm, but basically "rustic" is just a touristy way of saying "old."
Winters can be brutal, but in recent years, we've apparently become a destination point for snowmobilers. In fact, driving a snowmobile or ATV around town is just as common as driving a car, and seeing someone pack a rifle in their truck or on their ATV isn't something to get alarmed about; it just means it's hunting season.
There are a couple of other smaller towns nearby, but Minersville serves as the central hub, so to speak, with just enough businesses to support the community. Fast-food chains and drive-through coffee stands are nonexistent, but to the relief of many locals, five bars remain open seven days a week. Minersville is an old-school blue-collar community that takes care of its own, thrives at a slow pace, and does not welcome change.
Much like my Grandma Frances-now there's one tough old bird. There is only one way with this woman, her way. She grew up poor with just her mother, Rose. Her father, Joseph Flannigan, died in a mining accident right after Gram's little sister, Louise, was born. Gram was around four at the time. Poor Louise died two years later from a weakened heart condition. Gram said the poor thing hung on death's door from birth. So with only the two of them remaining, Grandma Rose provided by working as a grocery store clerk and took in laundry on the side. Gram lost her mom at eighteen and then got pregnant and married the same year. And yes, apparently in that order-although I wouldn't dare ask Gram to confirm or deny.
Needless to say, Gram's a product of her upbringing, hardworking, no-nonsense, and brutally cynical. Her beliefs reflect this: "Waste not, want not." "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And all those other practical adages. Gram certainly doesn't have lofty notions regarding life. I remember winning a poster-drawing contest in fourth grade, naturally spurring my artistic side. Not for long. I made the mistake of sharing my newfound passion with Gram. She chuckled with amusement, took a long drag off her Marlboro Light, and set me straight. "I suggest you pull your head out of those cotton ball clouds and come to terms with life for people like us. Dreams are for bedtime, little girl." Grandma Frances cynicism at it's finest.
She owns and operates the Bar and Grill, which is exactly what the name implies, a bar and grill. She also runs two households-her own and mine next door. However, mine includes one alcoholic father named Mick and five older brothers, who just can't seem to fly the coop. Of course, Pop can't seem to push them out either.
Pop and my brothers work at the mines. Truth is they aren't exactly destined for much beyond physical labor. I wouldn't call them inherently stupid, more self-induced. They didn't care about school, and Pop never cared enough to hold them accountable.
My oldest brother's name is Orry Patrick; he's known as Orr. He's ten years older than me and works as a mechanic at the Newport. Orr's sharper than he lets on, just not well rounded. He squeaked through school with disinterest in every subject except mechanics and sports. That's Orr's niche, mechanics. He impressed us all by graduating top of his class in tech school. Confident yet compliant, always reliable and never one to buck the system-Orr's the classic oldest child.
The next in line is Mickey Edward, whom my father immediately nicknamed Muck. Muck's only eighteen months younger than Orr. He works along side Pop at the Lucky Strike. Pop's a gypo miner with seniority, meaning he gets first pick of the good stopes. Gypo's can turn over a decent chunk of change, so naturally, Muck mining with Pop is a sweet position to be in. But who knows what Muck does with all that cash. My guess is the Indian Casino.
For as long as I can remember, Muck's lived in a perpetual state of anger and hostility. Why? I have no idea. Apparently, he got along fine in grade school but suddenly fell, or better yet, jumped into juvenile delinquency. Ditching school, shoplifting, vandalism-Muck established a record at a young age. Gram refers to Muck as a restless soul, and at this point, a lost cause. She claims he'll never find peace until he accepts life for what it is and his place in it.
Two years after Muck came along, Pop and Connie (my mother) welcomed my twin brothers, Daniel Henry (a.k.a. Dyno) and Sean Michael (a.k.a. Shaft). These two are huge. I mean, all five are pretty good sized, but these two stand six feet five at 275 pounds. Yes, God blessed my parents with two big healthy babies, but only one brain. They repeated kindergarten, and then moved straight into special ed. Eventually, they quit. Shaft's a Hoistman at the Newport and Dyno works with Pop and Muck as a Miner's helper, better known as a Nipper. Nonetheless, what the twins lack in smarts, they make up for in kindness. Unless provoked, they're both a couple of teddy bears.
The McKay blood runs thick through these four-there's no mistaking they're related, with their fair complexions, thick auburn hair, and bluish gray eyes, identical to Pop's and Gram's. Orr is a bit shorter and thinner than the twins, but just as strong and muscular. Not defined like a body builder, more a thick "working man's" physique. Muck resembles Pop's six-feet-two wiry frame; even his face shares Pop's gaunt-like features with his unkempt hair buried under a baseball cap. Muck's a good-looking guy really, and so was Pop, back in the day. However, Muck's "sweet" disposition overshadows his looks. Most women who know him (or of him) are wary and keep their distance. Of course, he's had a few steadies who believed they could change him. Yeah, the phrase "beating a dead horse" comes to mind.
After the twins came along, Connie and Pop took a much-needed break. Four and a half years later, the fifth McKay came down the pike. Pop claims Connie swore up and down that this baby was her girl. Not quite. "Victoria Louise" wound up being Jack Samuel (a.k.a. Jackhammer, or Vicki if we really want to piss him off), and Connie disappointedly declared, "No more!" So apparently, I'm an "accident," but Connie got her girl nevertheless.
Now I don't know what cockamamy ideas floated through my father's head when he bestowed these nicknames upon my brothers. Those who speculate say he must really love his job, or he's just an ornery son of a bitch. I'm opting for the latter. But nonetheless, the nicknames stuck, as nicknames do. All I can say is I'm glad Pop had absolutely no desire to torment me. It appears he left this task to Connie. Who decided to name me Frances. I've often wondered why-I mean, I'd rather be Victoria than Frances-but my only conclusion: it was either an attempt to get in good with the mother-in-law, or maybe she actually liked her.
Either way, she liked her enough to leave me with her when I was six months old. She bundled me up in the middle of the night, left Pop and the boys sound asleep, and laid me inside the back porch next door at my grandparent's house. Gram said she left a note, which simply read,
This so-called life has been hell, raise Frankie.
We haven't heard from her since. Pop cleaned house and wiped out all things Connie. The only remaining proof of Constance Franetti McKay's existence? Jack and I. Supposedly we look exactly like her-brown hair, brown eyes, and skin that tans. A strange thing to look like someone you don't know-even worse, someone you despise. But like Gram says, "You suck it up and play the hand you're dealt." So with a little help from a couple of Grandma's closest friends, she's done exactly that. Raised six grandkids, took care of a sick husband for a number of years, and continued to raise my father.
Don't get me wrong, Pop's a hard worker, never misses a shift, and gladly turns over his paychecks to Gram (minus enough to drink on for the week), but he's not the least bit fatherly toward any of us. The majority of his time he spends apathetically going through the motions of day-to-day life. Sure, he partakes in the usual household banter, talking sports with my brothers, watching my basketball games, always polite and appreciative when I cook dinner or clean house. But basically, he's a distant figure-leaving Gram, and often Orr, to pick up the parental slack.
The only time I routinely speak to him is in the morning, when I make him breakfast and his work lunch. Another one of the many household chores dumped upon the token female.
I've tried to ask Gram why Pop's like this, but Gram isn't one to hash over the past or think philosophically. Only once did she respond, blaming Connie for Pop's defeated state, which might be true, but just doesn't seem to fit. Orr recalls that Pop used to drink heavy long before Connie left. Heck, that's probably why she left-there's another unanswered question.
Pop's more than just a man who let alcohol get the best of him. The alcohol? It's a crutch for something. At times he seems lost in his head-painfully so. It's like there's some awful story or image repeating itself, but I'll be damned if I can figure out what it is, and too scared to ask. Maybe that's why I take it easy on him, why I never moved back in with Grandma when Grandpa died. I knew Pop needed me. Even though I loathe playing cook and maid to my brothers, helping Pop doesn't feel like a chore. It feels like ... a feeble connection; and when that's all you've got, you take it.
Jack always blamed Grandpa Dermot-now there's a prick if I ever met one. Talk about your hostile dispositions. Even Grandma seemed edgy around him. He used to gruffly refer to me as "little girl," and my brothers were the "imbeciles."
His presence alone scared me to my core. Fortunately for us, he was crippled up with rheumatoid arthritis and couldn't get around well. This gave my brothers an advantage when they needed to make a break for it-not that we hung around Grandpa much. Pop had no use for the man-in fact, I believe those are his exact words.
Grandpa pretty much spent his days alone lounging in a recliner in their living room, which is probably why Grandma stayed in the kitchen or down at the Bar and Grill. Oddly, he used to have occasional seizures. I asked Gram about them once. With little concern, she replied, "It's a brain glitch, no big deal." Grandma doesn't speak much of her life with Grandpa. She fondly refers to him as "that bastard."
I learned early on that her relationship with him was private and probably not pleasant. But he must have been decent at some point in his life, although no one can vouch for that. My fondest memory of Grandpa occurred when I was nine. I guess one really wouldn't regard it as a fond memory. More like the only time he ever took notice of me.
I was taking him a sandwich, and when I set it down on the TV tray, he hastily grabbed my arm. I about jumped out of my skin; he had never touched me before. With observant, eyes he looked over my face and gruffly mumbled, "Well, looks like you finally slid past ugly there, little girl." Yeah, it's not much of a compliment, but I guess it proved he noticed me.
He died of a heart attack when I was ten. I recall Grandma seemed relieved. In fact, she had the wake at the Bar and Grill-one heck of a party really. She immediately made my brothers take Grandpa's chair and their bed to the dump. Both, she claimed, were just as old and crusty as Grandpa. Hmm, no love lost there.
Through the years, a few of the old locals at the bar have reminisced about Grandpa. Truth is, I've never heard a kind word spoken in his regard. Sounds like he wasn't much of a father. I guess it's no wonder Pop turned out the way he did. The fact of the matter is, Pop's the only one who can answer my questions. So I guess they'll go unanswered. At least that's what I thought.
Chapter TwoFor some reason, I awoke without the annoying chirp of my alarm clock. I rolled over and checked the time-five thirty. Yes, another half hour. I clicked the alarm off and stretched my arms and legs, snuggling in to enjoy the warmth under the covers of my old rod iron bed. Even though it's late spring, Idaho mornings are cold, and Pop never ran the electric; he only burned wood. I assumed by the chill in the air that the fire must be out. Absentmindedly, I stared at my wall. The sun shone brightly on the faded wallpaper, causing the tiny yellow and blue flowers to pop out with some distinction.
Pop's house was built in the 1940s, and not much has changed since. The house sits worn, rickety, and drafty. When I was little, I imagined the house had a language of its own with all the creaks, cracks, and single-paned windows that howled when the wind picked up. At least a few of the windows have been replaced. In a house with five boys, broken windows are a given.
Even Pop's furnishings are old, and they too creak and crack. Pop replaces things only if they are flat out busted and can't be jerry-rigged or duct-taped. And believe me, this man loves his duct tape. But regardless of how old and outdated the house is, I love my room, faded wallpaper and all. It's the only sign of femininity in the entire house. My bedroom has been my sanctuary, my escape from the 24-7 man cave down below.
There are three bedrooms upstairs and one bathroom; Orr and Jack have the other two bedrooms. Pop's room is on the main floor, and Muck and the twins turned the unfinished basement into their space, or pit as I call it.
Pop rarely set foot upstairs, and never in my room. Originally, the room was his and Connie's-too many memories, I suppose. It became mine when Grandpa sent me packing at the age of five. My grandma never said it, but I knew she would have preferred that I stayed with her. I recall feeling happy, or, better yet, relieved to move. Pop might ignore us, but as I said before, Grandpa was mean.
Yawning, I rolled over, instantly startled by the sound of someone at my window. I jerked my head up, recognizing my brother Jack, giving a concentrated effort to yank it up. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I watched Jack struggle to slip under the half-opened window, swearing under his breath the entire time.
"Jack, it's jammed. What the hell are you doing?" I questioned humorously.
I heard a tearing noise, and then Jack jerked his left shoulder forward swearing again. "Shit, now I'm gonna have to buy him another shirt," he mumbled with irritation. He finally made it through and landed with a thud on the floor. A chuckle escaped me as I waited for Jack to pull himself up. A chuckle escaped me as I waited for Jack to pull himself up. As he did so, he craned his neck over his shoulder to check out the damage, and, as if on cue, he swore again.
Excerpted from Sliding Past Ugly by Karla Krulitz Hegbloom Copyright © 2009 by Karla Krulitz Hegbloom. Excerpted by permission.
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