Vega—County Seat of Oldham County, Seat of Many Memories, and real places for scenes in novels
Arlen, Sherry and I swapped stories for at least two hours before I left for either Hereford or Vega (I had not decided which).
I decided to stop in Vega first. Downtown by the Oldham County Courthouse, just off old Route 66, I stood next to a huge stone tablet of the Ten Commandments. I remember it from my youth and wish I had paid more attention to it at the time.
I was consumed by memories as I looked around the square. I realized I had written at least six novel scenes in at least two books that take place within two blocks of the square. I visited one of my teenage haunts, the Burger Hut. The windows were boarded up, but the building was freshly painted with blue trim and a new blue metal roof.
Legend has it that Elvis and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, stopped there once and ordered burgers and cokes. They ate in the car (reportedly a long limo) with the windows rolled down. Hut patrons turned on their stools away from their own food and watched Elvis eat his burger. The story has some merit because the Hut sat on Route 66 when it was the main route from Chicago to Los Angeles. Elvis and Parker might have passed that way. The Hut was central to many scenes in Rivers Ebb.
Six counter stools and two small tables at each end allowed the joint to seat only fourteen when it was full. Gabe nursed a cup of coffee on one of the stools as Jake entered. A blonde with cat-eye glasses appeared in front of Jake. “What’s for you? He ordered a root beer.
Gabe held up an empty sugar dispenser as she turned to fill Jake’s order. She smiled. “Sorry, we ran out of sugar. My boss is due back with a new sack any minute. Coffee not sweet enough?”
Gabe’s smile was awkward. “I usually take a teaspoon of sugar with my night coffee. Take it black in the morning, though.”
The girl put an index finger in his coffee, stirred it, put the finger in her mouth and sucked off the coffee. “Sweet enough now?”
The blonde’s name was Charlotte in the book.The Burger Hut parking lot was also the scene of a violent confrontation between Jake, his friend Nocona, and a local Indian people alternately called Chief or Yellow Eyes. Weeks later, Jake sees his nemesis again.
The stools were all screwed to the same wide board and Jake felt it move, heard it creak, as someone took the stool next to him. He cut his eyes just enough to see braided hair drooped over the man’s right shoulder and a pockmarked cheek. Charlotte’s expression when she came to take his order told him he was sitting next to Yellow Eyes.
I do remember that night.
I walked two blocks over to the house where Charlotte lived with her dad. It is pivotal in at least two scenes from Rivers Ebb and Go Down Looking.
Jake parked the Ford and waited for her to emerge from the house. She never asked him to come inside, not even into the yard. Jimmy Charles sing “A Million to One” on the Ford’s radio and he knew those were the odds for him and Charlotte. She lived alone with her truck-driver father in a small house of native red stone. Doors and windows showed neglect. The picket fence that enclosed a dirt yard needed paint.
I was surprised that the house is still there. The red stone, (did I make that up?), is covered with stucco. The picket fence is now chain link. Or maybe I just remembered those details wrong.
In Go Down Looking, Jake returns to downtown Vega with his brother Gray Boy after being away for many years. He's on the Vega Square.
Jake felt a strong pull to walk over, to relive that night years ago when he had been chased and threatened, the night that Drager had taken a tire tool to the Rivers’s Ford, the night that Gray Boy had purposely crashed the family Ford into Drager’s Chevy.
He pulled his baseball cap down close to his eyes, walked with his head down. Memories flooded as he walked up to the little picket fence with peeling paint in front of the tiny, red rock house. Red sand had drifted against the fence deep enough to reach his boot tops. . . . She appeared on the screened-in porch just as Jake was about to give up. She put her hand above her eyes to shield them from the sun and looked at Jake as if he were an apparition. The cat glasses had been exchanged for bigger, rounder ones. The hollow spots below her cheekbones Jake had always admired were gone. He stared at her belly, guessed she was six months along. Wondered whose it was.
I walked down to the church where my brother got married, then visited a museum that was being remodeled. The curators knew my brother’s children and some of the boys I knew from Vega when I was here long ago. I wondered if the rivalry between Vega and Adrian boys was as intense as it was back in my day, but didn’t ask.