Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Crime and Punishment (not about the book) (07/21/11)
TITLE: THE MADNESS OF INA
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No one understood child abuse and mental illness in those days – especially in rural northeastern Kentucky. But in the hollers, where poverty and moonshine abounded, people tended to mind their own business. Most folks, if they didn’t run the shine, worked either in the coal mines or for Ashland Oil. A woman with a kid to feed had to eek out a living anyway she could.
So it was with Ina in the 1960’s and 70’s. She married several times, hoping to snag a wage earner, but each of her husbands either ran off or was deadbeat. If they couldn’t help improve her lot, they were out the door. And, Lord knows, she couldn’t bother with the formalities of divorce. She’d simply bat her eyes at any old codger in town, and soon he’d be another spouse.
This kept the family on the run from holler to holler, living in shacks and shanties without the simple necessities of running water or electricity.
No one took notice of the bruises, her 12 year old son, Ben bore. Perhaps the dirt on his body covered them up, but more likely it was because people were reticent to point the finger at Ina. Everyone feared her. She was well-known for her wild eyes, determined walk and hot temper. Gary, the butcher knew. He once tried to short-change her when Ben brought in the rabbit meat from their farm. Ina sat outside in her car determined to teach Ben how to negotiate. When he came out of the store, she counted the money, pursed her lips and put the car in gear. A cold chill went through Ben and he felt sorry for Gary, but he knew his own fate would be worse. No one made a fool out of Ina. She pulled her car around to the alley and waited for Gary to come out for a smoke. As he emerged, she fired her double-barreled shot gun into the air and then pointed it at him, promising to kill him if he ever cheated her again. He got the point alright and promptly paid her right from his pocket, adding an additional five dollars for his ‘mistake’. Ben later paid the price for his error too. Ina screamed threats at him all the way home, and then went after him with the old hickory walking stick by the front door. He could only sleep on one side for a week.
Ina hated the yearly sojourn from her sister Ellen. But at least she didn’t come empty handed. She’d bring second-hand clothes that her own son had worn, and Ben was thrilled to have them. But Ina not only felt judged by Ellen that she couldn’t provide for Ben, but scrutinized too. Ina was no homemaker, and it angered her to have to straighten up the place and be on her best behavior.
Ellen would pay special attention to Ben during these visits, asking him about homework, marveling at his growth and complimenting his hand-carved toys. She wanted to get close to him, to inspect him for signs of abuse. But of course, Ina was very careful not to thrash Ben for several days before her sister’s arrival. Ellen was no fool either. She was intimately aware of what her sister was capable of and she had the scars to prove it.
In Ben’s fourteenth year he decided to make a run for it. Ina’s outbursts were getting worse and he feared that he might not make it to fifteen. One night, while the house was still, he left. An astute police officer recognized the signs of child abuse and put Ben in the care of his closest relative, Aunt Ellen. Even during the court hearing to determine where Ben would be placed permanently, no one mentioned that Ina might be mad. Aunt Ellen called Ina bad tempered and prone to angry outbursts. The judge agreed and ruled that Ben would be placed permanently with her.
Ina lived alone for years, becoming a crazy, angry hoarder in a rusted out, single wide mobile home – her punishment for the crime of mental illness.
As a prominent and educated adult, Ben returned Kentucky to take his mother to a mental hospital, where she received the medication she needed. He no longer held her responsible for all of his pain, and he no longer asked God what punishment he had committed for the crime of being Ina’s son.
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