This story is based on a collection of true events. I honestly can’t remember if they were all as connected as I’ve portrayed, but I suspect they, or events very similar to the events described, took place as I’ve written.
The Innocent Sunday Drive
A Horror Story
In her book, the way the crow flies, Ann-Marie MacDonald writes on the opening page that “It is possible, in 1962, for a drive to be the highlight of the family week. King of the road, behind the wheel, the sky’s the limit. Let’s just drive, we’ll find out where we’re going when we get there.” That was so very true in my family. Our Sunday rides would generally happen after church. We’d all get back from church and change into our regular clothes; then report to our family brunch for scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, and Tang. Man we loved Tang. The dishes would then be cleared away and everyone would begin thinking about how to spend the day. Usually about once a month, my father would put on his plaid shorts and golf shirt, then armed with a pack of cigarettes, he’d usher all of the kids into the family station wagon for a ride. My first memory of this tradition was riding in a beautiful two-toned blue 1957 Chevy Station Wagon. This car had no air conditioning and nothing but loose-fitting lap belts, not that we actually wore them. When my parents traded the ’57 in for a ’66 black Chevy Impala Station Wagon in 1965, our tradition continued.
Our rides were usually relatively short. We would drive over to the Cave Spring area of
Each Sunday excursion consisted of the same cast of characters. By 1968, this cast included my cigarette smoking father, my puffing mother (rarely inhaled), my older “cool” teen-aged Beatle sister, my gruff older brother, my goofy middle brother, and my three year old little sister. I was a doomed eight year old, struggling to be noticed, yet usually banished to sit in a middle seat between my brothers.
On this particular Sunday, I remember coming back from church and feeling a bit angry at the world. Church back then frequently had that effect on me. The church had just switched away from a Latin Mass with Vatican II in 1967, but the service was still as much Greek to me then as it had been in Latin before.
I remember sulking up the stairs and taking my time getting out of my church clothes. All of my brothers and sisters lapped me that day and were already downstairs when I exited the room I shared with my two brothers. I remember looking across the hall and a pang of jealousy came over me as I glanced through my older sister’s bedroom door. She had a huge room all to herself, and I didn’t think that was fair. Seconds after that, I crossed the line.
My sister basically had a “Do Not Enter” rule if you were one of her siblings. Painful retribution would be had if we were ever caught snooping in her room. That early Sunday afternoon, just before brunch, I decided to cross that threshold and enter her sanctum. Her room was beautiful. I remember the colorful curtains, the cool bedspread on her double bed (The boys had single beds), the books, neat trinkets on her dresser, and the record player with Beatle 45’s stored neatly below on a vertical rack, a set of brilliant red American Tourister luggage stacked neatly on the floor. I didn’t have a record player. My suitcase was a pathetic 1930’s box with dry-rotted straps.
Then there was the cat, Mama Winnie. This cat was one of the most fertile creatures God ever put on Earth. She had litter after litter of kittens over her lifetime. She was a beautiful calico cat with lots of orange and black artistically mixed in with white splotches. Mama Winnie didn’t really love me. Oh she tolerated me, but she never really gave me her attention like Taffy, one of her kittens. On this Sunday, she was relaxing in a window sunny spot enjoying a break from being pregnant and raising a batch of kittens. She looked so peaceful there. The luggage looked so welcoming over there.
I believe that there are times in a person’s life, certainly mine, when evil bubbles to the surface and coats you like a sticky glue. It blackens your soul and darkens your judgment. That’s what happened to me that sulky afternoon.
Mama Winnie looked so pretty. I petted her. She looked so nice with her glowing coat glistening in the sunshine. She didn’t mind when I picked her up carefully. She didn’t seem to care that I walked across the room to the brilliant, red American Tourister suitcase. She seemed only mildly put out when I opened the suitcase and put her inside. I didn’t wait around to hear her protests as I closed the suitcase with her still inside because at that moment, I was called down for brunch. As I turned out of the room and headed downstairs, the darkness lifted from me, and I convinced myself that I’d head back up to the bedroom just as soon as I could get away from the table.
I ate in a hurry that day, because I was anxious by now to hustle back up to release my prisoner. However, the conversation soon turned interesting I suppose, then as soon as the breakfast was over, my parents hurriedly washed the dishes with all of us helping. Then we were ushered into the Impala for our Sunday drive. Thoughts of my trapped American Tourister were withheld from me by my darkness.
That was the day my father decided to try to find
After twenty minutes on the road, we were just turning onto route 116 near the Viscose plant in
Through my bladder pain and conscience suffering, I devised a plan. When we got home (if we got home), I’d leap from the car…not unusual for me… and dart into the house under the pretense of having to go to the bathroom badly! Of course, this part of the plan would not be hard to fake. I’d blitz upstairs, rush into my sister’s room and free the cat from the suitcase…then rush to the bathroom. I figured I could be in that bathroom before anyone walked in through the front door.
The problem was that my father was still determined to find that “Burned” Chimney, and then when he gave up, he was determined to take the longest possible route home. As hour after hour ticked by, I grew more and more uncomfortable, practically bursting with pee and guilt. That’s when reality, terror, and horror overcame me more vividly than anything I’ve ever experienced. The clarity of this thought was intense. Mama Winnie must be dead. How could she breathe in that suitcase? Trapped and locked inside she was doomed to die a horrific death, all because of the evil thing I did. I couldn’t hold back any longer, tears began streaming down my cheeks, perhaps enough fell to reduce some of the fluid levels in my painful and contorted private area. Everyone saw me crying, but I was too numbed with pee pain to tell anyone what was wrong.
I suppose my father kicked the Sunday drive into gear and hustled home, I honestly don’t remember anything of the rest of the trip. All I know is that before that wagon came to a complete stop in our driveway, I had leaped out and run into the house through the unlocked 1968 front door. Sobbing more freely now, I reached the top of the stairs and turned the corner into the bedroom and this corner of my life.
My eye immediately caught a glimpse of something that shouldn’t be there. Lying in the sun licking herself was Mama Winnie. But…how could she get out from the locked suitcase? How was this possible? I quickly turned my head and my jaw dropped in amazement. My sister’s beautiful, brilliant red American Tourister suitcase was still sealed shut, except now it sported a huge designer hole, about the size of a cat right in the middle of it’s soft side. That’s when I knew that I was doomed. I immediately rushed into the bathroom, relieved myself, and began worrying about my fate when my parents discovered my sister’s ruined suitcase.
How Mama Winnie clawed her way of that case is still a mystery to me. Apparently when I left her there in that case, she wasn’t happy, and immediately began scratching at anything she could get her claws on inside the beautifully plush interior. Soon, I imagined, she managed to claw a small hole in the soft interior all the way through the exterior. Then she meticulously yet fervently widened the hole with successive scratches and bites until finally she could squeeze herself out. With her work complete and after only sacrificing one of her nine lives, she took a bath in the sun.
My life was over. All I had to do was wait a few seconds in that bathroom. The end came mercifully and quickly for me. My sister immediately bopped upstairs, discovered her ruined suitcase, and screamed for my parents. The whole family scrambled up the stairs as I listened from the relative insecurity of the bathroom next door. Everyone was puzzled and amazed by the suitcase. But it took only a few minutes before I could hear them putting all the clues together…obviously involved the cat based on the claw marks on the suitcase…cat must have been inside…how did the cat get inside?…someone must have put her there…why would somebody do that?...who could have done that?…who had the opportunity?...Tommy was crying…where’s Tommy? TOMMY!! COME HERE!
My punishment was just and just as painful as I imagined it would be. Banished to my room with belt bruises on my buttocks, I had ample time to consider my crimes on that horrific day. Certainly my crime was the highlight of our family week. “Burned” Chimney was just an illusion; that suitcase is my hell.
Act of Contrition
O my God, I am heartily sorry for
having offended you, and I detest
all my sins, because of Your just
punishments, but most of all because
they offend You, my God, who are
all-good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of
Your grace, to sin no more and to
avoid the near occasion of sin.