by Lorraine Schmall
Lolly was beautiful, 16 years old, with long legs and dark, wavy hair. All the other women in the Loerschel family were dishwater blondes, and few of the girls could even fashion eyebrows out of the beige fuzz that grew on their faces, but Lolly had movie-star eyebrows, for sure. Heavy and curved and black as mascara. She was half-Greek, born Lorraine Dalliapoulis. Her mad-as-hell mother changed her daugter’s name to Lolly Dallas after the old man took a powder when Lolly and her pretty, dark-eyed sister were still in playpens. Lolly had that wide smile, big, dark eyes and a slim figure.
Her only imperfection was a slight gawk when she was confused—which was often. She wasn’t slow, but she was naïve. She did things without even thinking. The other husbands liked to tease her. She’d fall for a story about a man and a dog or pay too much for the Brooklyn Bridge. She wasn’t so dumb she didn’t play on her beauty. She’d stretch out her long legs from the folding chair, put her hands in her lap, and laugh. “Stop it, you guys. Gol.“ Lolly always said “Gol.” Not “golly” or “gol-darn” and certainly never “Damn.” She wore cotton dresses that showed off her tiny waist. At every family party, somebody—a nephew, a father-in-law, a son, picks Lolly up and dumps her in a wading pool or runs through a sprinkler. She always got twisted up and fell over laughing when the kids played Twister. She never made a pair in “Go Fish.” She was a lot of fun. Lolly had a childlike innocence, an awkwardness that endeared her to women who might otherwise be jealous, made young girls worshipful, as if they were in the presence of a fairy princess, and made men wish she were theirs.
Lolly was only a kid the first time Will brought her home to meet his mother, Agnes. Lol insisted on hiding on the floor of his car while he broke the news to his family that they were in love. She stayed there, scrunched up like a garden hose and hot against the rubber mats, until Willard came out to the curb. He had ten years on Lolly, but didn’t look it. “It’s fine Lol,” he said, grabbing her by the elbow and pulling her out of the car. “She won’t disown me, and she won’t yell at you, neither.” Lolly scrambled off the floor, straightened her skirt, and said not word one to her future mother-in-law about her unorthodox method of arrival.
Agnes could see that Lolly was moon-eyed over Willard. A Navy ensign who re-upped after the war, Will was sharp in his dress blues. “She’s just a kid. She doesn’t know what she’s getting into,” thought Agnes sucking on her teeth when Will told her he was going to marry the girl. Willard was her favorite son, who returned from the war in the Pacific more full of the devil than when he left. Agnes saw that Will had changed in the war, and not for the better. He thought he was God’s gift to women. He couldn’t stay with one. The girls he met just off the base in Maryland; the Waves who flocked to the mess hall when Willard and the other Frogmen took off their rubber suits and doffed their scuba tanks; the teenagers who danced with him on far-away islands in exchange for a few US dollars—Willard loved them all. His brothers laughed about the trail of broken hearts Will left behind. Agnes didn’t want this sweet young girl to become one of them—especially if Willard left Lolly in Agnes’ basement flat with a few extra mouths for Agnes to feed.
Willard married her soon after and they lived above a drycleaners in a flat Lol got free for handling the customers. It was a sweet deal. Lolly got pregnant twice in the first two years: first a boy, then a girl. Willard left the service and got a job as a travelling salesman. Lolly got lonely. Her only sister married an Indian GI and moved to Montana. Her mom died young. Sometimes Lol confided in her mother-in-law; she worried Willard didn’t love her anymore. Agnes patted her hand affectionately, but told her: “You made your bed, Lolly, now lie in it.”
Things got better. When John F. Kennedy ran for president, Willard remarked to everybody that Lolly looked just like Jackie Kennedy, except prettier. Everybody in Will’s family agreed, and Lolly enjoyed the limelight. Will would pop his head into the kitchen where the ladies were having apricot stone sours: “Lol? Jackie? Where’s Jackie?” Lolly would smile and Willard would say, ”I’m a lucky son-of-a-gun to have such a gorgeous wife.”
By the time Jack Kennedy was in the White House, Lolly was pregnant again. So was Jackie. The whole family mourned for Jackie when the President’s daughter was born dead. Three months later, Lolly’s son suffocated in his crib.
SIDS, they called it. Nobody called for an inquest. The doctors said it could happen to any baby.
The day the baby died, Lolly’d propped the bottle up on a folded diaper, like she’d seen her sisters-in-law do. She’d filled it almost full so he’d get tired of sucking before the bottle was empty and gave him gas. Then she’d laid out in her new two-piece bathing suit on a blanket in their little back yard. The sun made her sleepy. When she woke up later, she remembered the baby, but he was already dead. Nobody blamed Lolly but herself. Just like Jackie, the family thought.
Will only came home on Saturdays after that. By Monday morning he was gone . Lolly hoped he still loved her. She spent a lot of time sleeping on the floor next to the baby’s empty crib while her older kids were at school.
Lolly hadn’t seen her sister Evvie for 23 years when her brother-in-law Roy called from Montana. “Your sister hung herself. Right in our damn bedroom. Nothing ever made her happy.” Roy was a full-blooded Blackfoot, but his family were citizen-band, who took 5000 acres in exchange for leaving the Tribe and becoming US citizens. Roy was rich, for these parts. He raised a lot of cattle. Evelyn and Roy never lived on the reservation, but once Lolly got a letter from her sister where she said she wished they did. “Too lonely out here. Just me and Roy.”
Roy was a mean old cowboy. Evvie got knocked up after that first night of drinking at Great Lakes, and their son Allen was born just after Roy got discharged and took Evvie out west. When he was only 13, Allen moved into the broke-down home his half-cracked Indian grandmother owned on the Res. Allen was tall and strong for his age and cold-cocked his dad that time he saw him slapping Evvie. His mother told Allen he’d best leave before his dad woke up, and he’d only seen his folks a few times since then, at the post office or at the feed store. None of them went to church or to Pow-Wows. Lolly wasn’t sure what she’d find up there.
Lol’s sisters-in-law told her they’d watch her teenagers, because Will was on the road. Lol flew to Billings. She knew how to drive, but hoped she wouldn’t have to rent a car and somehow find the ranch where her sister tied a rope around her own neck, hitched it to a high oak beam, and kicked away a stool she’d dragged over and stood on. Lolly brought her mother’s pressed silver icon, with Mary and Jesus and St. John Chrysostum. She’d had it out at the wake for her baby. Lol and Will weren’t really religious, but somebody had to help Lolly’s poor unbaptized baby and her luckless sister Evvie get to heaven.
Lol saw the handsome young man waiting at the gate. There were so few people waiting, he was easy to see. “Are you my mom’s sister?” The tall and lanky young man didn’t resemble either of his parents. His skin was dark; his hair was long and straight. He huggd Lol for a long time, and said: “Can I take you to see mom? I ‘m not cool with dad alone.” “Oh, honey. Sure.” Lolly hopped in the front seat of his pickup truck, while he put her small bag in the back of the cab. They didn’t say much. Allen kept looking over at her. “”You’re sure pretty.” Lolly blushed. He put on some rockabilly music and Lolly hummed along with Elvis Presley. He had his hand on the console and Lolly put her hand over his. She wanted to comfort him. She could use a little support herself. She hadn’t even talked to Willard. She decided to tell Allen about her baby. “My little boy died when he was only 3 months old. I think my husband thinks I let him die.” As she told her story, Allen shed a few tears. They got to the ranch. Roy’d left a note: “I’ll be home in the morning. May she rot in hell.”
It was too much for Allen. And for Lol. One thing led to another. They comforted each other the way men and women do. She saw Roy at the funeral and he called her a floozy. Lolly stayed in Montana for seven months. Her divorce got done quick because Will wanted to marry somebody else, anyway. He told his family and his Navy buddies: “You know I loved Lolly. But, her nephew? For Chrissake. She was always a loose girl. She doesn’t think.”
Lolly did think. She thought that if she married Allen, the family would forgive her. But they already had. Everybody wondered why she bothered to marry the boy. Things happen. “We’re none of us saints,” they all thought. A few months later, she wrote to Agnes: “We’re divorced. I’m alone, like I shoulda’ been right away. I’m sorry I was such a lousy daughter-in-law.” Agnes wrote back: “I tried to warn you, dolly. Splash some cold water on your face and start again. You’re a good-looking woman. Things will work out.”
They did, eventually.
First she moved to Anaheim. Willard lived there. Her older kids were kinda mad at her, so ex or no-ex, he was all the family she had. Everybody talked about how he still loved her. But he had Mary, now, and a two-bedroom ranch. So they put her up overnight and in the morning Willard drove her to San Diego. They’d go to the naval base and see their son and his new wife, a sensibly plump nineteen-year-old who planned to have two children and very little to do with her husband’s mother. Maybe they scared her straight, or maybe Lolly just wisened up when she had to make all her own decisions and earn all her own money.
Lolly left California and went to Vegas, where her daughter lived. They weren’t real close, but at least they were speaking, and Lolly’s daughter helped her find a garden apartment and study for the civil service test. Back then, a lotta people around there didn’t know how to read, so even without a high school diploma, Lolly landed a job in the typing pool at the County. Her perplexity and her dark eyebrows and her open-mouthed smile made up for her paltry words-per-minute. There was no one who didn’t like Lolly—especially Jim, the handsome supervisor whose wife Angela passed away a year ago after they opened her up and found cancer everywhere.
Before too long, Jim asked Lolly out and then bought her a ring and they walked right across the parking lot to the courthouse, where they said “I do” in front of an old Justice of the Peace and his ancient sister. Lolly always told Jim everything and so he laughed hard but he wasn’t surprised when she insisted on hiding on the floor of his car while he broke the news to his grown daughter that they were in love. When Jim called for her to come in and meet his grandkids, Lolly scrambled off the floor, straightened her skirt, and said not word one to anyone about her unorthodox method of arrival. They laughed when they met her and everybody gave her a hug.. Things finally worked out.
Lorraine Schmall taught, practiced, and wrote a great deal about law in her earlier life, authoring such masterpieces as Employee Benefits: Cases and Materials; and Addicted Pregnancy as a Sex Crime. Now she can undertake to write fiction without being in contempt of court. She’s hard at work gathering (and slightly embellishing) her family’s stories for the book she’s hoping to finish: Tales from Avondale. She’s also planning another collection called Women We Knew. Lorraine reviews other people’s books for The Dearborn Express.