Tom’s wife, Edith, heard the commotion and walked outside.
Edith White had never been a pleasant woman. Her first husband, Charley Stone, had been killed in the 1927 tornado that devastated Poplar Bluff and much of Southeast Missouri. She and Tom had married in 1932, a year after Tom’s first wife had died. Theirs had always been a marriage of practicality and not of romance. After his first wife’s death, Tom had a young son who needed a mother, and Edith and her two children needed a breadwinner. Tom and Edith had met in a Sunday school class at Second Baptist Church. Tom had never been much for church, but he attended with his late wife and her mother. After Tom’s wife died, it seemed natural that he should court and marry the widow Edith Stone. They needed each other. And I am sure that they loved each other, in a way. But Edith was a difficult woman to love. She was a short, round woman who wore a constant and persistent scowl on her face. No one ever lived up to her standards, and nothing she or anyone else did could ever make her happy.
(At Edith’s funeral in 1987, her pastor told a story about a time he had tried to visit her when she was sick. She ran him out of her house, saying, “PREACHER! THERE’S PEOPLE OUT THERE THAT NEEDS YOUR VISIT MORE’N ME! NOW YOU GET OUT OF HERE!” As he told the story, the preacher managed a pretty good imitation of the scowl/snarl that Edith had when she spoke these words. Most of the folks at the funeral chuckled and thought that this was Edith through and through, but some of them recognized how tragic the story really was. The preacher was trying to tell a story that illustrated how Edith was thinking of other’s needs above her own. In fact, the story just illustrated and reinforced how mean Edith was to everyone.)
It took a few moments for Edith to comprehend what was going on. Her brain had not been sharp recently. She had been forgetting things and asking the same questions over and over. Her mind was already showing the signs of the dementia that would take over her personality within a few years. When she saw Tom bleeding on the street, she hesitated.
“Tom White, what are you doing out here?!” she shouted.
“Goddamn son-of-a-bitch shit-eating jackass,” Tom replied.
It was the garbage truck driver who took charge. “Ma’am,” he said, “I think we need to get him to the hospital.”
When the ambulance arrived, they found Tom stubborn and defiant. “I ain’t going to no hospital,” he insisted. “I can walk just fine.” And then Tom tried to stand up. His legs, torn, skinned, and gouged from the dragging he had endured, betrayed him. He collapsed into the arms of the garbage truck driver, who had stuck around out of a sense of concern and guilt.
Tom White with his wife, son, and grandson.