A beat-up 1971 Ford Pinto was snaking its way through the Ozark Mountains on a two-lane curving asphalt road traversing a rural highway in northern Arkansas. The road was surrounded on both sides by rolling hills of densely wooded hardwood forests of hickory and oak. The immediate area was characterized by rugged ridges, river bottomlands, and steep hollows.
An occasional stutter erupting from the Pinto’s engine indicated that a tune-up was overdue. The name GILDA was stenciled on the rear of the car. It was a mild fall day, the car’s window was down, and the radio announcer could be heard blaring from the car’s interior.
“It’s 11 o’clock on a beautiful Saturday morning, 20th of September, and here’s an update on the latest national and local news, coming to you from the one, the only, JRV Lite FM in Little Rock . . .”
Frankie Scarmazino sat behind the wheel. Vital, intense, he exuded an inner quiet that compelled attention. He took several jelly beans out of a white candy bag on his lap, popped them in his mouth, winced when he tried to chew, then switched the radio dial to a country-music station in time to hear Tammy Wynette singing the final strains of Stand By Your Man.
On the seat beside him was a partially knitted sweater with knitting needles stuck through a ball of burgundy yarn. On the backseat were a half-dozen footballs.
Scarmazino checked out a road sign that read YOU ARE NOW ENTERING NEWTON COUNTY ARKANSAS. The hills had leveled off and indicated that the area was on an elevated plateau. The hardwood forest had thinned out, giving way to farms and houses.
As he rounded a curve, suddenly, an elk ran across the road and disappeared in the underbrush. Scarmazino, in swerving to avoid it, lost control of the car. The Pinto fishtailed sharply across the highway toward the opposite shoulder, where a limestone cliff rose vertically. He yanked the wheel hard right, causing the Pinto to whip back across the slippery blacktop toward the right shoulder where a steep slope of scrub brush and shale dropped abruptly over one hundred feet to the canyon floor.
Instinctively, he flipped the wheel hard left, jammed his foot on the brakes, and sent the car into a power glide, skidding straight for the cliff’s edge. At the last instant, the car straightened out, ramming into the guardrail with a loud crunch. The guardrail held.
Scarmazino sat for a moment, recovering from his near-death experience. He’d had no idea elk were inhabitants of Arkansas. The kicker let out a deep breath, got out of the car, and inspected the front grille.
After driving a short distance, he decided the damage was minimal; he could wait and have it fixed at the next check-up.
A sign ahead read 40-MPH. Scarmazino slowed, then glanced out the right window. The Jasper High School football team was scrimmaging, and he winced as he saw a ball runner take a devastating hit. The NFL kicker flashed on his own experience, turned his head back to face the front windshield, and stared ahead down the road with determination.
A few minutes later, Scarmazino’s vehicle moved down local Highway 43—past a sign that read, WELCOME TO JASPER, ARKANSAS, then immediately passed the Backwater Motel overlooking the Little Buffalo River.
The Pinto entered a lower-middle-class, rural residential neighborhood. Most of the wood and stone houses were pre-WWII, one-story cardboard cutout dwellings, colorless and drab.
The kicker cruised into town, obeying the new speed sign of 30, and looked casually at the houses, taking in the town’s lazy ambiance and aura of poverty. A sudden commotion pulled his attention to a trailer set back from the highway.
The trailer stood in a weed-covered lot with refuse piled in the front yard. A rusty junk heap that was once a Model T Ford sat on cement blocks beside the trailer, along with a well-used 1980 Datsun.
Suddenly, a young woman tore out of the front door, her face twisted in fear. Not more than thirty, Adele Haymer ran screaming toward the Datsun, her stringy black hair flying behind her, her terror-stricken eyes giving her a crazed look.
Before she could reach the car, a hefty unshaven man holding a baseball bat and wearing only a torn pair of shorts stumbled out of the trailer, cursing and yelling obscenities.
In his early thirties, the man was shoeless and had short, stubby legs with black socks. This guy’s only exercise was slumping to the refrigerator for a beer and chasing his wife with a bat.
He caught up with the petrified woman at the Datsun and grabbed her by the hair, smashing the bat violently on the car’s roof. Just under 6ft, Buddy Haymer was having trouble focusing his bloodshot eyes. Loose flesh hung from his squat frame and, from the size of his beer belly, he could have been pregnant.
Scarmazino sliced over to the shoulder and slammed on the brakes. Oblivious to his wounds, he jumped out of the car, hit the ground running, and tackled Haymer, who had the bat poised over his wife’s head. The two men slammed into the grass, struggling for control of the bat. Scarmazino tried not to gag from the smell of Haymer’s bad breath, body odor, and stale beer. Battling with Haymer was like wrestling with a stagnant water bed.
Two sheriff’s cars screeched to a stop, spilling two uniformed deputies into the yard: Deputy Brenda Fruitt and Deputy Zak. They ran to the two men rolling on the ground. In his mid-thirties, Zak was tall, at least 6’4”, lean, trim, and a presence that intimidated. Zak yanked Haymer to his feet. The abuser stood staring at the deputy like a dumb animal.
“You want to take batting practice, Buddy, why not use a baseball ’stead of your wife’s head?” Zak said.
Buddy answered with an inarticulate mumble. “I was only gonna scare her . . .”
Deputy Zak looked at Haymer like a worker in an abattoir looked at a dead carcass of twitching meat. “Yeah, like last time. What was it, fifty stitches?”
Still holding Buddy, Deputy Zak helped Scarmazino to his feet. Scarmazino winced when he stood, favoring his kicking leg.
Haymer came suddenly alive when he saw Scarmazino. “I’m gonna sue you for assault, asshole!” He lunged at him; Deputy Zak jerked him back.
“Shut up, Haymer. Your home away from home’s waitin’ for ya,” he said with casual disgust. “The cell still has your smell.”
He pushed Buddy toward the police car as Fruitt, a stocky, round-faced auxiliary female sheriff’s deputy with frizzy hair, comforted Haymer’s wife.
“Where’d he hurt you, Adele?” Deputy Fruitt said with concern.
“He hit me in the stomach . . . he always hits me in the stomach. That’s why I had my last miscarriage.”
Fruitt stroked Adele’s cheek. “I know, honey, I know.”
Deputy Fruitt was in her early thirties. She had a law degree and was hoping to start her own law firm one day. She was smart and realistic but was compassionate with the women she dealt with. She had a crush on her boss, Newton County Sheriff Bill Burrows, but never let him know.
Scarmazino limped over to the abused woman who was cowering beside Fruitt.
“I guess. Thanks for what you did . . .”
“Hey, Bren?” Deputy Zak called. “You better take Adele inside and get Buddy some clothes.”
“Right,” Fruitt answered.
“That’s okay, Brenda,” Adele said. “I’ll be okay. I gotta make a phone call anyway.”
Deputy Fruitt nodded as Adele started toward the trailer. At the squad car, Buddy looked up at Deputy Zak.
“I didn’t do nothin’ wrong, Zak, she deserved it . . .” Haymer yelled over his shoulder at Adele as she entered the trailer. “YOU DUMB BITCH! CAN’T YOU STAY OFFA THE FRIGGIN’ PHONE?” Haymer looked back at Deputy Zak. “You oughta see my phone bill, Zak; it’s over SIXTY BUCKS!”
Zak pushed Buddy into the sheriff’s car as Scarmazino dropped to the grass and began massaging his right thigh.
Deputy Zak looked back at Scar.
“You need help? Want me to call an ambulance?”
“It’s okay; muscles are tight. I need a hot shower.”
“I’ll see you at the station. Need to make a report first.”
“I’ll follow you.”
Adele Haymer had graduated from Jasper High School in 1980. Plump at one hundred eighty pounds, she had no particular ambition. She loved one thing in life: cooking. Her mother had had an interest in exotic foods, and Adele had adopted her mom’s proclivity.
One of the reasons for Adele’s excess weight, possibly the prime reason, was this absorption in palatable pleasures. Her mother, Aimee Sue, had been involved with several men in her early life; Adele was the product of one of these superficial flings.
Her mother was never sure just who Adele’s father was, a problem that gave Adele a sense of uneasiness, a sense of not belonging to anyone or anything, although she loved her mother.
Aimee Sue had worked as a waitress in different restaurants—that’s where she’d gained her passion for exotic foods, one she’d passed on to Adele.
Adele’s cooking was the key to her character. She had numerous cookbooks depicting many different food nationalities, including one in the Tagalog language, one of the official languages of the Philippines.
Adele had also learned that Tagalog was an Austronesian language spoken as a first language by the ethnic Tagalog people. And she’d also discovered a very important fact: her cooking had opened up a vast horizon of learning she never knew existed!
Each cookbook from a different country inspired the plump little nobody from Jasper High to become a somebody: a somebody who knew, through a wide variety of ethnic foods, more than most people ever learned about the cultures, languages, customs, and mores of Australians, New Zealanders, Hawaiians, Irish, and Europeans of different countries, not to mention the Asian element, her favorite food!
Her fecund mind had exploded into the realm of limitless ideas; she wanted to travel, explore new customs, learn not only of the food of different nations, but also their clothes, music, political leanings, and more. She hoped someday to travel, visit many of these countries, try their foods first-hand, talk to their chefs, trade ideas . . . the possibilities were limitless!
Unfortunately, her spouse, Buddy, did not share her burgeoning awareness. When she tried to share some of the things she was learning with him, he didn’t want to hear of it; he laughed, was scornful, and made fun of her.
Adele had dealt with this antagonism by forming a group of women with whom she could share her experiences. They all began buying books of recipes with new delights from different nations. They’d become known as Haymer’s Haranguers, small-town ladies who could astonish with their informed minds, their joy of learning, their thrill for life.
However, they all had one overwhelming problem: the men they had married had hit the hold button on their mental, emotional, and spiritual development. They were clods.
It’s true, the men were involved in earning a living, trying to support a family, and being mesmerized by football, booze, and drugs, but their stasis had led them into a vapid morbidity; they refused to grow or learn anything new. They felt unfulfilled, frustrated by their empty lives. And unfortunately, the women were the inheritors of their discontent, which had descended into physical abuse.
Adele had been cooking an Asian dish, Japanese pork katsu made with soy sauce, mirin, and Worcestershire sauce, when Buddy had come home drunk, found out he wasn’t going to have his favorite meatloaf with gravy and mashed potatoes and had flown into a fury.
This was the scene Scarmazino had encountered, and this was the man he’d tackled.
Are you enjoying my ongoing story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Cy YoungWrite a Review