Hosing Down Lootie Seton


James Sclater   


© Copyright 2015 by  James Sclater

Winner--2016 General Nonfiction
Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

When I was growing up in Modelle, we lived on St. Ann Street, right across from the Seton family, one street north of Hattie Street. Old Mr. Seton was owner of a drug store and his wife managed the big house across the street from us; they had converted it into a rooming house and had several boarders. The Setons , Mr. Seton’s mother and their two children occupied the largest part of the bottom floor. The boarders were upstairs and in a back apartment. Lootie (Luther) Seton lived out back in a little apartment of his own. When I was about ten years old, Old Mr. Seton bought another large house two doors down from us and converted it into a rooming house too. He was a good landlord, but, in truth, the house he lived in with his family was always in better shape than the one on our side of the street. Mrs. Seton saw to it that the yards were kept nicely and the houses and apartments themselves were never in poor repair. All being said, it was a pleasant neighborhood to grow up in. Pleasant, that is, when Lootie wasn’t on one of his tears.

Lootie Seton was a very large, very strong man with a lot of large demons rattling around in his head. He would go into a rage more often than not, and when he did, he regularly whipped up on his daddy, his mama, his sister Ellen and even his grandmother. I’m not talking small potatoes beatings, I’m talking end up in the hospital beatings. Lootie was just plain crazy as hell and everyone was healthier by staying on his good side, if at all possible.

Living across the street from a rooming house had its good points too.  Most of all, I was able to make friends with a lot of folks my age who lived there from time to time. One in particular was Henry Claxon; his father was a minor league baseball player for the Modelle Gators, first base, I believe. Henry and I were real good buddies. We’d play war games, mostly. Back then WW II hadn’t been over but just a few years and fighting the Japanese was still on everyone’s mind. We played a little baseball, too; sometimes Henry’s dad would play pitch and catch with us. It seemed like Henry ‘s mama was either a very unimaginative cook or a very limited one, because Henry ate the same thing for breakfast every single morning he lived at that house. We’d be outside playing, and she’d call out the window, “Henry! Henry come gitcha egg! Come gitcha fried egg.” I sure hope Henry liked fried eggs, ‘cause it seemed like that’s what he had every morning. Probably the chickens around the Modelle area were thrilled when Henry’s dad got called up to the major leagues; they didn’t have to work so hard anymore.

Two doors down in the Seton’s other rooming house lived a girl named Bobbie Dubois. It was just Bobbie and her mama; I don’t remember her ever talking much about her daddy. Boy, did I had a thing for Bobbie. Henry and I’d be playing out in the Cosgroves’ front yard between my house and Bobbie’s. Sometimes I’d see Bobbie looking out her upstairs window at us playing and I'd try to do some fool thing to impress her. I don’t really think she was much impressed but she was always nice to me. We went all through high school together; she just got prettier and prettier and was a real popular girl.

Old Mr. Seton had a plan, I think. When he bought the house on our side of St. Ann Street, the one that Bobbie and her mama lived in, he built a tiny house out in the back yard for Lootie to live in. He sort of made Lootie the resident manager there, I suppose. It helped to put a little distance between Lootie and the rest of the Seton clan and resulted in fewer trips to the hospital. Or at least that seemed to be the idea. (There isn’t a record of what the residents of that house thought of this plan.) Lootie was often in some kind of trouble with the Modelle police. Nowadays people would probably say that they had his number on speed dial. A good part of his behavior was probably due to his drinking, but there was something else, too. It was just bred into his nature to be a real bad ass; something about that missing chromosome or some such. He was born to be a problem. Had that look in his eye that told you to be on your guard. When Lootie looked at a beautiful sunset, all he saw was clouds. He didn’t seem to be much into the aesthetic pleasures of this world, unless you include in that list beating the bejeezus out of someone.

A typical altercation would begin with the shouting that we could hear all over the neighborhood. Somebody would get beat up and Lootie would jump in his old green Hudson coupe and make himself scarce by the time the police arrived. He’d get all the anger out of his system for a while, and in a month or so, it would all happen again. Who knows why the Setons didn’t press charges; seems like they weren’t into the concept of tough love. Funny thing was he never even spoke unkindly to the neighbors. It was his family that just seemed to flip the switch on his natural meanness.

When my dad died, Lootie called and asked if he could come over and pay his respects to the family. My sisters were all pretty much against letting him set foot in the house, but mama said he’d be welcome; she could be a bad ass too when the need arose. He came over and sat around the kitchen table with us and was real civil; he had left his bad ass self at home that day. He sat there and spoke softly about my dad with the family and enjoyed the funeral food that everyone had brought over. Actually I recall that Lootie was the only one of the Setons that came over that day.

One day I was out in the neighbor’s yard playing and Lootie called to me and asked me to come over and help him move something into his little house in the back. Lord knows why he needed my help; he was a weight lifter built like a Mack truck, and I was a scrawny kid. I obliged him, though, and went over - first and only time I ever went in his place. When I walked in, I was just dumbfounded by what I saw. The place was just basically one big room with a bathroom and kitchen area, and two of the large walls were literally covered with shelves which held nothing but canned peaches - hundreds of cans of peaches. It looked like this was the only food he had in the house, although I didn’t really go checking into his refrigerator. Years later it struck me that some scientist with time on his hands might do a study to determine if eating canned peaches made one a bad ass or if something in canned peaches interacted with a rogue part of one’s genetic makeup to trigger the urge to beat the crap out of family members. Surely the government would give you a grant to study that.; it would be better than funding a bridge to a place which has no roads.

I suspect the reason that Lootie was so polite to my mama at my dad’s wake had to do with an incident that happened a few years before. Lootie was in and out of his parents place that day. You could hear the beginnings of a major brouhaha developing across the street. Audry Grier and her husband Matt, neighbors of the Setons, rounded up their four kids and got them into the house just in case the fireworks spilled into the yard. The yelling increased, but my mama, who was watering the front yard, just continued her chores out there. I was out there with her and when it became clear that Lootie was breathing fire, she told me to go in the house.

Just about this time, Ellen Seton bolted across the St. Ann Street, ran up onto our porch, locked the screen door behind her, and ran into the house, locking the big wooden door, too. Not a minute behind her was Lootie. He ran into our yard, went up the steps, and started trying to pull the screen door off the hinges, shouting something all the while. He had just about succeeded dismantling the door when Mama did about the only thing she knew to do at that point. She just drenched that sucker with her water hose. Lootie just kind of backed up, looked very surprised and received the baptismal wash with a certain degree of contrition. His countenance resembled that of a big wet dog. I think if Mama could have held his head beneath some deep holy water for about three or four minutes, she’d have thought that was OK, too. Later after Lootie had gone back home, Mama calmed Ellen as best as she could and took her to the doctor so she could get her head sewed up where he had punched her.

I’ll never understand why Lootie didn’t turn on Mama that day. Why didn’t he blacken her eye and put her in the hospital? Why didn’t he tear the door from its frame or knock a hole in the screen to get in after his sister; it wouldn’t have even been a challenge for him, as big and strong as he was. Maybe the angels were watching out for us all that day. Maybe it’s because a woman finally stood up to him, something he had probably never experienced before. Maybe Mama’s cooling baptismal waters had a soothing effect on the peach juice that had excited and exacerbated the damaged neurons in Lootie’s nervous system. Looking back, though, it’s clear that Mama took a big chance, whether or not she realized it at the time. Lootie never pulled a stunt like that again, though, and when he came to my dad’s wake he was as much a gentleman as he could be, though I can’t remember if he brought funeral food or not. If he did, it would probably have been peach cobbler.

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