"Yes, Hello," a shrill disembodied voice blasted through the ear piece. "Can I speak to Mr. Fuller?"
"Mr. Fuller, this is Keegler."
"Oh, Hello Ms. Keegler, what can I do for you?" Steve pulled the phone six inches away from his ear.
"I need you to come over and look at my air conditioner. I'm afraid it's going to start a fire."
"Is it smoking?"
"Ummm, well Ms. Keegler, what makes you think the Air Conditioner is going to start a fire? Do you smell something burning? Is it blowing out cold air?"
"No Sir. Its not doin nothin'. I ain't turned it on yet this year."
"Ms. Keegler, its over 90° outside this morning. It's been in the 100's all week!"
"Okay, Ms. Keegler. I've got to bring the family with me and they have a couple of friends over. We've got a few things to do so I can't stay long but I'll see you in a couple of hours."
Steve had a special relationship with many of the widows in the Houston area church where we attended but Ms. Keegler was in a special category. He'd been on several "work crews assisting her in an effort to realign the condition of her property within the parameters of the city code.
Steve mumbled as we packed up the kids and hopped in our old '73 Gold Duster and headed across town. Ms. Keegler was an elderly woman of somewhat questionable mental stability. She was a sweet lady but always seemed a bit on the odd side to me. Steve was always good to help a lady in dire need and he was worried about Ms. Keegler sweltering in the excessive heat when he thought he could easily fix the problem.
The twins were vaguely familiar with Ms. Keegler's oddities but Brandon and Jason, their friends, had little direct contact with her. We invited Ms. Keegler over several times for dinner but none of us except Steve had actually been to her house. "Why do we have to go to Keegler's house?" they whined.
"Well," I said, " You can't stay home alone. Besides she is looking forward to you coming over."
We had several errands to run before arriving at Ms. Keegler's house. After a sweltering trip in our un-air-conditioned Duster, we pulled up in front of a yellow and white house in dreadful disrepair. It wasn't so much the peeling paint on the house as it was the condition of the grounds surrounding the house. On the front lawn, there grew a variety of trailing vines. Squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, cantaloupe and watermelon plants sent uncultivated shoots in every direction, making mowing an impossible task as clumps of grass, some as tall as three feet, shot up at odd intervals. Right in the center of the front lawn sat a rotting turkey carcass. Several sheets of cardboard along with assorted piles of rotting leftovers decorated the bizarre landscape.
A colorful red and yellow plastic windmill merrily spun in the midst of the chaos.
We hesitantly exited the car and stared in bewilderment at the extraordinary sight. Ms. Keegler appeared in the doorway in obvious disarray. Prior to this meeting, I had only seen Ms. Keegler in Church attire with neatly coiffed hair and off the rack dresses. What we saw standing in the doorway bore not even the slightest resemblance to the reasonably appareled woman we saw each Sabbath.
This woman had no teeth in her mouth. Her hair had obviously not been combed since the previous Sabbath… but the most distinguishing factor of the extraordinary spectacle poised in the doorway was the garment in which she was attired. She had fashioned herself a dress made entirely out of dish towels and safety pins and peeking from underneath the makeshift garb was her well worn and partially exposed birthday suit.
I glanced over at the four children who stood stone still with their mouths agape. I reminded them they should say hello to Ms. Keegler. They all dutifully but reluctantly said hello as they marched past her into the open doorway of her outlandish abode. The environment did not improve inside.
The inside of her house was like an op art rendition of Alice in Wonderland on the cutting edge of insanity. In the center left corner of her living room sat her water heater with bare pipes running out of it directly through the middle of the wall to the kitchen. The room wa entirely absent of any sort of furniture. Her bare concrete floor was layered with several thicknesses of the same cardboard that littered her lawn. The air was sultry and pungent of mildew and rotting food. Danny was holding his nose.
"Ms. Keegler," I queried, "has your air-conditioning not been working? It's really a hot one today."
"Oh I don't run my air-conditioner. It's dangerous. A young man came out to fix it and said it was fine but I know better. I'm afraid it'll burn the house down if I turn it on." She looked down at the four kids who were still trying to ascertain some sense of their unusual surroundings. "You kids want some juice?"
Danny immediately answered through his pinched nostrils. "Sure would!"
"Okay then," she replied enthusiastically. "I'll just be a moment."
She disappeared into the next room and I walked over and pulled Danny's hand from off his nose. "IT STINKS IN HERE!"
"SHHH!" I hissed.
Jenny nodded to affirm the validity of his protest and Brandon and Jason exchanged looks of dismay.
"I don't care. It's no reason for you to be rude. Not another word out of you or else."
"Kiddies," Ms. Keegler called from the kitchen, do you like strawberries? They all bounded into the kitchen hoping to be rewarded with a bowl of red ripe berries but instead she held out a pitcher of thick liquid of indescribable color. Her appearance, with her lack of teeth, her unkempt hair and bizarre attire, was reminiscent of a character from Beetlejuice. They all stopped frozen in their tracks as she poured the chilling elixir into four paper cups. "I made it myself just for you." She flashed them a toothless grin and shoved the repulsive refreshments into their little hands. "It's strawberry, green onion and carrot juice. I added the pulp back in so it's a little stringy. You just have to keep swallowing to get all the fiber down."
Little Jason looked up at me with tears in his eyes and sweat running down his bright red face. Brandon gagged. Seeing Danny was about to take this opportunity to make some sort of proclamation, I reached down and grabbed him by the mouth and pointed outside toward Steve.
"Wonder if Steve needs to ask you any questions Ms. Keegler?"
"Oh yes," she replied, I bet he'd love some of this fresh juice."
"He would indeed." I smiled. "Take him a big glass." I let go of Danny to help her with the door and while she made her way outside with Steve's refreshment, I began gathering the Wasdin boys paper cups and poured them quickly down the sink. Danny was about to brave a taste. "NO! Give me that and let's go outside."
As we all headed out the back door we were met with much the same scenery as we had seen in the front. Ms. Keegler was pointing out the various plants growing up right out of the yard without plan or order. Suddenly she spied a weed. Brandon and I stood behind her and as she bent over, her makeshift dress was drawn apart in the back exposing her unclad bottom to both Brandon and me.
As we both stared at the undraped display in astonishment, Danny and Jenny started to giggle. And without standing back up, she glanced back over her shoulder, pulled the butcher knife she was using to dig weeds out of the ground, and put it to her throat. Brandon's eyes bulged and he swallowed hard as she scraped the blade of the knife up toward her chin and flung the sweaty condensation out into the untidy backyard.
"STEVE!" I said much too loudly.
Completely unaware of the spectacle we had just witnessed but relieved for the distraction, he poured the contents of his juice glass behind the air-conditioner as Ms. Keegler looked over in my direction. "What is it?"
"The Wasdin's are expecting their sons and we need to be leaving."
"Oh just a minute," Ms. Keegler said as she hurried into the house. Quick as a flash she was back outside with little gifts for the kiddies. She handed Jenny, Brandon and Jason all naked dolls and gave Danny a car with three wheels. Danny made a face.
"Tell Ms. Keegler Thank you." I warned. Jason raised his head from the unclad doll in dismayed astonishment but before he could articulate the evident intent of his expression, his older brother Brandon spoke.
"Thank you, Ms. Keegler." Brandon sounded sincere. "I really had a fun day."
Danny snapped his head around at the comment and opened his mouth but Jenny sensing the objective of his impending remark quickly blurted, "Thanks for the juice and the presents."
Ms. Keegler smiled adoringly at the children. "Oh I always wanted children of my own. You're all so welcome. Please come again soon."
I ushered the four kids into the car before any further comments could be made but before we could back out of the driveway, Danny blurted out, "Did you guys see her butt?"
"Ewwwwww. Nasty. Dad, we saw her butt." Jenny stated aghast.
Brandon nodded. "Yeah! My mom will never believe this. Hey thanks for getting rid of that juice. I thought I was going to have to drink that stuff."
Jason didn't comment. He just sat there staring at his naked doll. I wondered if the visit to Ms. Keegler's house hadn't warped his young impressionable mind.
The following Sabbath in Church, as Ms. Keegler bent over to pick up some fallen object, Jenny, Danny, Brandon and Jason all had a little chuckle. She had certainly made a lasting impression..