Now. I mentioned that “Sisterhood of the Travelling 45” is a fiction piece with a nonfiction companion.
Here’s that companion.
Just as Dodo and Wilma are based on a couple of kids that I know, so too is Clara Jean based on a real person. Only this person isn’t a kid. “Clara Jean” is really my dearly departed great-great aunt Charlo. Aunt Charlo had schizophrenia. Pure and simple. She was one of nine siblings, all of whom had some kind of physical or mental struggle. But only she and Charlie Boy were completely debilitated. (Charlie Boy was the survivor of a set of twins who would have been 9th and 10th instead of just 9th. He never walked; he never really talked; and he loved everyone he met unconditionally.) My great-great-grandfather Klaren owned a bakery in Lexington, KY, and his primary inheritors were Charlo and Charlie Boy, his gentle way of ensuring that they would be always cared for by the family.
Aunt Charlo used to terrify my second and third cousins, I’m told, but I loved her to death. My primary memories of her are of walking down the street and across Tates Creek Road to a little drugstore, where we always bought a coloring book and some crayons. Also, we sometimes played communists. Yes, it involved tinfoil hats. I loved it. I kind of think it’s what freaked out the other kids.
Anyway, after her parents died, Charlo either lived in supervised apartments or with family members.
Some of Charlo’s adventures:
When she was 18, she put on a red dress and ran away to Natural Bridge, utterly convinced that Jim Nabors was going to come marry her.
When she was living with one of her sisters, she went prowling around the house with a butcher knife. The family daughter, who adored Aunt Charlo, asked “Why?” Charlo explained that some African Explorer needed her help, and the rest of the rescue squad was coming to get her. The niece armed herself to come along, and they sat outside together until the niece could ‘borrow’ Aunt Charlo’s knife for awhile.
In spite of the fact that she was never a threat to others, Charlo once held a standoff with the FBI because she made a strange phone call to some federal number and her statements were misinterpreted as very specific threats. She also insisted she had an arsenal in her apartment, and of course, she had no such thing.
After nearly all of her other siblings had died, and the one living sister simply couldn’t care for her any longer, she moved (quite willingly, I might add) to a nursing home, where she would visit all the other residents and bring them cheer and weirdness. I have a picture of her somewhere holding onto a cat some volunteers brought in, just beaming.
Anyway, when her meds got off, she was very suspicious of authority figures. I mean, I’m suspicious of authority figures. But my conspiracy theories are nothing compared to Charlo’s. In her room at the nursing home, she had a record player, some old 45s, and a 45 converter to make them play right on the machine, which had a much smaller central spinner. When things were going downhill for her, Charlo would break the records into pieces and give them to her visitors, imploring them to help her smuggle the whole secret code out one fragment at a time.
So. That’s where I was at midnight when I finished writing. With a funny little story where Aunt Charlo made a visit in the role of Clara Jean. I had trouble getting to sleep. Yesterday was rough. And I tossed and turned until probably one or so.
And then the doorbell rang at five AM.
To be continued.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.