The ranch house up the street was rather wore down. It needed paint, new windows and some grass in the yard. I didn't know too much about the people who lived there except from the stories I had heard around the neighborhood. At one time it was a whole family who lived there. There was a father and mother and numerous children all close in age to each other.
It did not seem to be a happy family. More than once the wife was found sitting out on the curb next to the street crying and not knowing what to do. She took a lot of beatings from her husband but always would refuse a ride to the hospital. On occasion a neighbor would call the police but as far as I know she never pressed charges against her husband. She continued to go back when he would let her into the house and the scene would be replayed in the next month or so.
Meanwhile the children were growing up and getting to the age of getting into trouble. The kids starting getting into a little trouble by doing little things. They would sit on their bikes in the middle of the street and not move for traffic trying to get by. They became loud and boisterous cursing at each other and getting into fights among themselves. When the fights started to progress to others outside the family you would see a police officer take one of them off in a car once in a while.
Soon the kids began cursing and making gestures at random to their neighbors for insisting that they not ride the bikes through front yards. This progressed to breaking into a car every now and then and stealing something out of it whether it was worth anything or not. Although no one knew for sure it was the kids doing the stealing we all took it for granted that it was them. During this whole time the mother continued to be beaten upon and found sitting outside the house even on cold or rainy nights and still refusing offers from the police or rides to the hospital.
One day something changed. No one had seen the mother for quite a while. Personally I wondered if she was still alive or not. The rumor eventually came to be that she had finally left her family. She had been beaten severely one night and the police had taken her to the hospital where she decided she would not return to the ranch house up the street.
The kids were still there though and now they had grown to the point of being of age to drive cars. They drove the cars fast up and down the street. The cars were loud too. Not loud like today with the thumping beat of bass music coming from them but noisy in the sense that there didn't see to be a muffler on any of the cars. We had young kids living on the block about this time and it was a danger to let them out in the front yards while cars were racing up and down the street.
The stealing of things from cars became more prevalent and soon the police were hauling the kids away for more serious crimes than in the past. When the kids would come back from where ever they had been taken to they would receive a loud curse filled lecture from their father often followed by a beating. It did not take long for the kids to slowly disappear from the neighborhood one by one. After a while it was just the man living in his house all alone.
I am not sure if he had a job or not. I don't recall ever seeing him leave for work on a consistent basis. You would often see him come home from the store with a huge case of beer. It seemed like he was sitting up in that house all alone probably watching television and drinking himself to death. As the kids left their father and moved on to different parts of the city things quieted down on the block. The racing cars were gone. All the late night cursing was gone and the beaten woman with no self esteem did not sit out in the rain anymore. He had finally run everyone in his life away from him and it seemed his only friend was the beer.
The house caught on fire in the middle of the night during a cold snap in the fall. No one really knew the house was burning until the fire trucks woke us up from our sleep. All of the neighbors gathered in the street to watch as the fire grew out of control. It began to take the shape of a homecoming bonfire on a college campus before long. The firefighters began to change their strategy to protect the houses next to the inferno to keep the damage to a minimum. The house burned for a couple of hours before the firefighters contained it and snuffed it out.
Word began leaking out through the neighborhood rumor lines that the husband had been in the house at the time of the fire and had died. There were several different scenarios in which it was said he died. One was that he was running a space heater because the electricity had been turned off and it had caught fire while he was sleeping in his chair. Another tale included the space heater and a sleeping man in his chair asleep but added a cigarette that had fallen out of his hands while he slept and starting the fire. Still another told the story about how he was sitting in his chair smoking a cigarette when he had a heart attack and died the dropping cigarette again being the culprit in starting the fire.
Any three of those explanations could be true. The one thing that all three have in common though is that a man died while sitting in a cold house without electricity while smoking a cigarette. The one factor that makes it a tragedy is that he died in that house alone after having destroyed his family by pushing them away through his violent temperament.
The house was razed and rebuilt. On the lot stands a nice looking house now with a family living in it that seems to be everything the previous owners were not. They are nice, friendly and are well liked in the neighborhood. It would seem that the building of a new house with a new family would erase the past but it can not.
While it is easy to sit and say that the father brought it upon himself doesn't make it any more right. It just makes the story of a sad family that much sadder. I am not sure how long it took to find his kids to let them know their father was dead. I know we didn't see any of them for at least three days after the fire.
Yes the father did bring it all on himself. That fact being known doesn't change the fact that no one should have to die alone abandoned by everyone he knew. Not the best of us nor the worst of us should face an ending such as the one this man faced.