The Neighborhood – Chapter One

It was a quaint little neighborhood in a quaint little town.  It wasn’t featured in magazines or newspapers nor was it sought after as an area where you would make a statement of “finally having arrived.”  It was quiet and peaceful and despite being only one street away from the center of town, seemed to be strangely secluded.

There were well kept houses with finely groomed lawns and it wasn’t just the neighbors who never failed to throw up a hand when walking or driving by.  The garbage collectors would drive by and wave and then break out into a good old gospel tune.  It was exactly the kind of place that I had been looking for.

The day I moved in the workers were scurrying about, putting the last of the boxes and pieces of furniture where I pointed and I was ready for a breather. Suddenly a car pulled up and a woman jumped out, with an outstretched hand and barely took a breath when she said “welcome to the neighborhood.  My name is Jean.  We are so glad somebody finally moved into this house.  It’s such a great house.  We thought it was going to stand empty forever.  I know you’re going to love the house and I know you’re going to love the neighborhood!”

Wow.  What a mouthful.  She plopped down beside me and said “I made you a list of all the phone numbers for fire, Ems, police, water, gas and electricity.”

I thanked her for the utility numbers but I didn’t mention that I had known how to dial 911 for years.  She said “I can see that you have quite a job ahead of you but next week, I want you to take a break and come over for a cup of coffee around ‘one-ish’…say on Tuesday.  I won’t take no for an answer and that’s that.”  I started to tell her that I really wanted to get everything unpacked but she interrupted me and said “I insist.”

I agreed, thinking that I would just stay for one cup of coffee and then make a legitimate excuse to get back home.

Her idea was actually a good one.  After a week, I was almost worn out so I walked over to her house, which was slightly kitty-wampus across the street.  She greeted me like we had known each other for years.  I prefer friendly people to the opposite but she was going a just a little overboard, I thought.

She was a slender woman with short, thick silver hair.  She had an excited way of talking, like she was in a hurry to get it all out or something and she never said one single sentence.  Her way of talking was almost as if she was reciting a novella.  She closed her eyes when she was talking and I wondered if it was so that she could remember everything she wanted to say.

She told me how she came to live in the neighborhood.  She said she had taken care of a woman and when the woman died, she left everything to her, along with what I deduced was quite a bit of money and what Jean described as a flawless diamond ring, worth $38,000.00.

I thought that was a tad bit too much information to be telling somebody you had just met but that seemed to be Jean’s way.  She was definitely a flibbertigibbet and a little idiosyncratic but sort of “precious” at the same time.

After she brewed the coffee, we sat down and she served it in a dainty little set of china that you would expect to use if you were an antique porcelain doll.  It was beautiful china but it only held a few swallows of coffee.  It was more suitable for espresso, I thought.  Even so, it took me back to my childhood of tea parties with pots filled with air and cups that when spilled didn’t make a mess.

She began the conversation with “I’m guessing you want to know all about the neighbors.”  I hesitated and said “um, okay.”

She said “well….did you notice the man on the corner?  Oh, silly me.  Of course you did.  How could you not?”  I told her that I had seen him but I had been pretty busy with the movers and this was the first day I had actually been out of the house.  She said “I’m surprised you haven’t heard him.”

“Heard him?” I asked.  She said “that’s Judge Carson.  Every day come rain or shine, sleet or snow, he stands on the corner holding a tattered and faded sign warning that ‘the end is near’.”  I asked her if he was a real judge and she laughed.  “No,” she said.  “He just acts like one because he preaches hell fire and brimstone and calls for the repentance of all of us wicked and evil people.”

As she started to emulate him, she reminded me of one of those people who, when filled with the Holy spirit, suddenly start speaking in tongues. “Come to me my brethren and I will cleanse your wicked soul.”  She laughed and closed her eyes as she wielded her spoon and said “God will smite thee with His mighty sword of vengeance lest ye ask forgiveness for your sins.”

“Do you know his story?” I asked.  “Nope,” she quipped.  I said “are you not curious?”  Again, she quipped “nope.”

She might not be curious but I was.  For as long as I could remember, I had a fascination with people in general and found that everybody has a story if you’re willing to listen.

I thanked her for the coffee and the company and told her that I needed to get back home.  She said “we’ll do this again next Tuesday, same time and I’ll tell you more about the neighbors.”  I didn’t even have time to say I’d think about it before she said “I insist.”

 

To be continued________________

Finding Katy – Chapter Six

A little more than a week after Dawn and I visited the gallery, I got a call from Sally.  She excitedly asked “how quickly can you get up here?”

I was caught by surprise and it took me a few seconds to get my wits about me long enough to say “I can walk up there in about fifteen minutes.” Almost commandingly, Sally said “drive.”  I asked her if she had gotten robbed or if had there been a fire or my fondest wish, if had she found the artist.

“Just get up here,” she said.  I grabbed my car keys and headed up the street.  I was so nervous, excited, worried and a little hopeful that when I got to the gallery, I didn’t even remember how I got there.

I walked in and Sally grabbed my arm.  “Come here,” she said.  We walked to the area where Katy’s paintings were.  A gentleman was standing there and she introduced us.  “What’s going on?” I asked.

She said “this gentleman was looking at The Journey Of Life and when I was lowering the shades, he yelled ‘hold it…hold it…hold it’.”

She leaned over and whispered “I thought maybe he was having a stroke or something so I ran over to see about him.”

He said “look.  You can see just the faintest difference in the colors here and I think I can see a word.  I noticed it when the sun hit it in a certain way.”

Sally said “he asked me if I had a black light, which of course I did, so we lowered all the shades, turned off the lights and shined the black light on the paintings.”

She smiled and said “and there it was…on all of them.  A word.  She said “it was in a foreign language and I didn’t know what it meant, but he did.”

The gentleman scratched his head and said it was a strange word to be on paintings and it really didn’t make any sense to him.

When he told me what the word meant, I understood why it was there and I immediately knew that my suspicions had been right all along.  There was no doubt that all of those pieces had been painted by Katy.

I believed that Miss Mabel somehow had a hand in this particular gentleman showing up on this particular day, at this particular time, looking at this particular painting.  Again, I wrestled with the idea of telling Sally that I knew who the artist was but I think Katy’s intent was to have a certain je ne sais quoi attached to her paintings and I would not take that away from her.

I would like to say that once again, paintings mysteriously began to arrive at the gallery.  I would like to say that I was eventually able to purchase one of her masterpieces.  I would like to say that I found her and discovered that she had finally found peace and happiness.  I would like to say all of those things but I can’t.

I have no idea what happened to Katy.  She just might be on that island as I hoped, or she might be resting in the cemetery near Miss Mabel, having been reduced to nothing more than a forgotten, nameless number.

I did know one thing.  I had been witness to extraordinary work, the likes of which I was sure I would never see again.  Katy had touched me in a way that no other had or ever would.  As long as I lived, she would not be forgotten.

Some of the notes she left had almost ripped my heart out but the paintings she left made it sing with joy.

I think we all want to leave a mark and whether or not she realized it, she had done just that.  She left a mark on many lives…Miss Mabel’s, mine, Samwell’s, Dawn’s, Sally’s and every person who gazed in awe at her exquisite work.

I think about the word she hid in all of her paintings.  The brutality of her father’s words had never stopped ringing in her ears and the wounds left by those words had never healed.

I kept repeating the word and I will never forget the gentleman at the gallery cavalierly saying.  “The word is WORTLOS.  It’s German.”

“Translated, it means…worthless.”

 

Das Ende.

 

Finding Katy – Chapter Four

Two years had passed.  Katy was still haunting me and often visited my dreams.  I would see her standing in front of the house or kneeling beside Miss Mabel’s grave.  Every time I called to her, she disappeared just as I awakened.

I was getting along with my life but I wasn’t really living.  I was sleep walking.  I went through all the motions of daily chores and at the end of the day, I still talked to Katy’s bear.  I hadn’t kept my promise to myself or to Miss Mabel and I finally admitted that I was a miserable failure.

I started walking uptown just to get out of the house.  All of the major department stores that used to grace the landscape had given way to craft shops and specialty stores.  Vendors were selling everything from Voodoo dolls to herb gardens.

For some reason, I happened to walk down a side street paved with bricks. “How charming is this?” I thought.  I could imagine horse-drawn carriages traveling from one end to the other, delivering ladies of yore to the local dressmaker for a new frock.

A one time shoe repair shop had been replaced by an art gallery.  I admit that I didn’t know the difference between Manet, Monet or Tippy-Tippy-Day-Day.  I also admit that I had never appreciated the kind of avant-garde abstract art being displayed in the store front window, but for some reason I went inside.

There were partitions, posed to resemble walls of rooms.  There were paintings by local artists as well as reproductions of famous works.  Portraits of someone with both eyes on the same side of their face had always disturbed me and were, I thought, perfect means of evoking nightmares.  I gravitated toward the realistic ones.  The ones like Katy painted.

One in particular caught my eye.  The painting was of a female’s age progression.  I asked the curator, who had introduced herself as Sally, who the artist was and she said that she didn’t know because they didn’t get any paperwork nor could they find a signature.  “There’s only the year,” she said.  “2016.  We titled this one: The Journey Of Life.”

It was at that very instant, I started to believe that Miss Mabel had guided me to that gallery.  I also believed that not only was I was looking at Katy’s work…I believed I was looking at Katy.  The curator said that she believed all the works in this particular “room” were painted by the same person.

I was sure they had all been painted by the same person.  I was sure they had all been painted by Katy but I didn’t say anything.

I asked her if I could buy one.  She said “we get a lot of offers for this particular artist’s work but they aren’t for sale because we don’t know who they belong to.”  Looking at “The Journey Of Life,” she said “one person offered us a sizable sum for this one but we had to refuse.”

I understood why they made an offer and so did she.  She looked at it and said, “have you ever seen such detail?  Look at the progression of the hair color.  It looks like this artist painted every individual hair on every individual head and it gives you the sense that if a cool breeze blew by…the hair would start flowing.  Look at the faces.  The faces show every line and wrinkle that tell the story of this woman’s life.  I’ve never seen work like this before and I have studied art for almost twenty years.”

She stepped back and said “you can see how time touched this person…but look at the eyes.  They eyes never change.  There’s such a deep sadness in the eyes.”

I asked her how she came to have them.  She said “every so often, we would get a painting delivered.  There was never a return address and as I said, they were never signed.  Then, two years ago we stopped getting them.”

I asked her if she knew why and she said “maybe they died, or moved away but we’ve been here for over ten years and we had been getting them since we first opened.  It’s a shame, really.  Such a fine artist and I don’t think anybody will ever know who they were.”

 

To be continued____________________

Finding Katy – Chapter Three

I woke up and my heart was pounding.  I ran to the door and opened it, hoping to see Katy standing in front of my house.  My shoulders slumped when I realized that it was only a dream…but it was so realistic.

I remembered exactly what she looked like.  I remembered her eyes.  They weren’t happy by any means but they weren’t sad or full of fear.  They just looked sort of hollow and lifeless.  I will admit…that dream shook me up.

I went back inside and picked up her bear.  I didn’t even know what she had called it.  I didn’t ask Miss Mabel and for all I knew, she had never named it. For some reason it felt wrong for me to give it a name, other than “Katy’s bear.”  I found myself talking to it as if it was a surrogate for her.  I looked at it and said “Katy, are you trying to tell me something?”

I decided to tell Miss Mabel about my dream.  I went to visit her grave every month and talked to her and told her what I was doing and how my life was going.  Even though I didn’t believe in the supernatural in any capacity, I asked Miss Mabel to give me a sign if she could hear me talking to her.  I asked her to give me a sign if, God forbid, Katy was with her.

I don’t know if people like me, who ask for answers from a source they don’t believe in, ever get them.  I guess I just hoped for something that would make me become a believer.

Just as I expected, the sky didn’t darken.  The ground didn’t quake.  There was no thunder or lightning.  I didn’t see any ghostly apparitions nor I didn’t hear any disembodied voices.

I said goodbye to Miss Mabel and told her that I would see her again soon.  I asked for her forgiveness because I had broken the promise I made when I told her I would find Katy.

I felt like that promise had given me a purpose.  To say that I had failed miserably would be generous.

I think when you have a purpose, you don’t feel so alone.

 

To be continued______________

 

Finding Katy – Chapter Two

I hired Mr. Brent Hargess.  His fee was rather steep but it was worth it if he could help me find Katy.  I figured I could afford a week of his time and I told him that I wanted to know as much about her as he could possibly find out.  I told him what I knew about Katy, which was little more than her date of birth and what Miss Mabel had told me.

“That’s not a lot of information to work with,” he said.  I agreed but told him that I knew he had access to records like car registrations and driver’s license numbers, so I asked him to check locally and nationally, if possible.

He leaned forward and said “you know it’s entirely possible that she is dead and that’s why you can’t find any trace of her.”  That was something that I didn’t want to hear but I asked him to do his best.

A week later we met and he had absolutely nothing for me.  He couldn’t find any car registered to her nor could he find that a driver’s license had ever been issued.  “You know,” he said.  “She could have gotten married and changed her name or she could have just changed it herself.  People have been known to do that when they want to disappear.”

I asked him if he had by any chance found her Social Security number.  He said that although he would be able to search, he had to have a valid reason for the search and just wanting to find somebody was not a valid reason. Then he said “she may not even have a Social Security number.”

I questioned him about that.  “It is my understanding that everybody is required to have a Social Security number,” I said.  He answered “yes, now they are but back in those days you got one mostly because you needed one to get a job.  If you didn’t work or had no intention of ever working due to being supported by a husband, there was no need.  There’s also the possibility as we discussed, that she got one under an assumed name, which I think is most likely.”

It pained me to write a check to him, when basically I had received no information, but he had put some effort into finding Katy and he deserved to be paid.

I had never been one to give up and admit defeat but I felt as if I had run into an impenetrable brick wall.

I decided to more or less “canvas” the neighborhood.  Maybe there was some old-timer around who would remember Katy and her family.

My first thought was to visit Samwell.  Maybe he knew the names of the people who had lived there.  Maybe he knew the names of the children whose portraits had been painted on his basement wall.

When I walked up to his house, he once again offered me a glass of lemonade and this time, I accepted.  I asked him about the name of the previous owners and he said “you know, I bought the house from the firm who was representing the state.  I believe their name was somewhere on the paperwork but I’m not sure.”

I told him that I was trying to find Katy and my efforts had been fruitless so far.  He told me to enjoy my lemonade while he looked for the paperwork.  I smiled when I noticed that I had subconsciously crossed my fingers.  After a few minutes, Samwell came out with a folder.  He looked through it and said “it looks like their name was McGrath.  Earl and Mildred McGrath.”  I asked if there was any mention of the children’s names.  He shook his head and said “no.”

I knew that two of the children in the painting were boys and even though I didn’t know their Christian name, they would carry the McGrath surname. The question was, were they still in the area?  Phone books were a thing of the past and although, as I said, everybody’s life and personal information is available online, it would require yet another expense.  I wasn’t sure it would be worth it so I more or less “put it on the back burner.”

I wasn’t quite ready to admit failure but I was close.  That afternoon, I sat down in my favorite chair with a cup of freshly brewed tea and just stared out the window.  It took a few minutes for me to realize that I was staring at a woman standing in front of my house.  Somehow instinctively, I knew the woman was Katy.

I jumped up and ran to the door.  I turned the knob but the door was stuck. I was pulling, kicking, cursing, crying and screaming for it to open but it wouldn’t budge.  I started yelling to Katy, begging her not to leave…begging her to wait for me.  Suddenly, the knob turned and the door finally opened.

 

 

To be continued_______________

 

 

Finding Katy – Chapter One

She was a little girl who had in her early life, lived in my house.  She was an extraordinary artist and a believer in God.  She loved her granny and she loved her neighbor.

She didn’t live in my time when a person’s entire life could be found on a computer.  She lived in a time when you simply walked into the Social Security Office with no identification and were issued a card.  A time when, if you got married, you were expected to take your husband’s name without protest and subsequently, completely lost your identity.

She lived in a time when children could be beaten, berated and belittled by their parents and everybody kept their mouths shut.  She was a lost, lonely little girl who had finally been able to escape a life of torturous abuse from a drunken father, who wanted his progeny to be a male and told her that her name was worthless.

That was all I knew about Katy Engel.

I had made a promise to myself and an unspoken promise to Miss Mabel that I would find this little girl who would now most likely be an old woman.  The first step was going to the Office Of Vital Statistics.  On page 38, was the registration of a live birth.

Katherine NMN Engel, born to Alice Strathmore Engel, age 23 and Clyde Munson Engel, age 27, on 17th day of August in the year of our Lord, 1950.

I now knew when she was born and how old she was when she wrote each note and drew or painted each picture.  The first note I found was dated 1956, which meant that she was just six years old.  The last picture, the disturbing one, looked to have been dated 1968.  I never found anything dated after then, so it was my belief that she was 18 years old when she left.

I searched marriage and divorce records, looking for any evidence that Katy had started a new life with a new name.  I found nothing but those records were confined to the area.  The internet would prove to be helpful, or so I thought.

It is possible, although highly unlikely that a person can completely disappear in this day and age.  Everything is connected to your Social Security number and records are open to the public in most cases.  After spending hours upon hours in front of the computer, I suddenly got a chill when it occurred to me that I hadn’t checked death records.

I didn’t want to know that Katy had died before she ever had the chance to really live.  I wanted her to have found happiness.  I wanted her to have found peace and understanding.  Above all, I wanted her to have healed and known the warmth of the touch from a loving, caring person.

I breathed a sigh of relief after another trip to the Office Of Vital Statistics rendered nothing as far as a death certificate.  I checked newspaper records for her name and found no mention of Katy.

What I did find was a 1997 article about the death of a local man, named Clyde Engel.  According to the report, he suffered a broken neck due to a fall down the stairs.  There was no mention of his condition as far as being intoxicated and it was considered to be nothing more than a tragic accident.

I knew it was impossible but I admit that I was almost secretly wishing Katy had gotten revenge for the years of his horrific, cowardly abuse and decided to push him.  I could see her standing at the top of the stairs, looking at his lifeless body, asking “who’s worthless now?”

After weeks and weeks of scouring records online, I couldn’t find one shred of evidence that Katy had ever even existed.  I did however, discover that Engel was a German name.  Translated, it means “angel.”  If ever there had been an angel on Earth, I believe it must have been Katy.  After years of praying, and even after the ultimate surrender of her faith when she wrote that she hated Him, she still prayed.

Maybe she had changed her name.  Maybe she had left the state.  Maybe she had left the country.  There were a lot of unanswered maybes and although I wasn’t wealthy by any means, I decided to enlist the services of a private investigator.

 

To be continued_______________