Tuesday, July 14, 2009
the sins of the father...
if you knew the family, the only real surprise is that it took into a new generation to finally come to this. it's not that crime wasn't a daily part of their lives, it's just that somehow they'd never gotten around to murder.
i spent maybe 3 summers w/them on bayou texar. lenny was only 12 when i first started spending time w/them, dickie was my age. there was mary ida, who was the oldest, 15, & regina who was a year or two younger than me. i was 10. frankie was the youngest, maybe 4 or 5. by the time three summers had elapsed, i'd seen things that would change my way of viewing the world forever. the boys hadn't gotten into the petty stupid crimes they'd fall into when they hit their mid-teens but they were certainly exploring a kind of depravity usually reserved for faulkner or erskine caldwell novels.
their parents were friends w/my parents. dick gonzalez had owned a machine shop that somehow was awarded a huge nas government contract. they went from lower middle class to noveau riche overnight. they moved from their modest house in the neighborhood near the wisteria bar into a newly built mansion in the new housing development in cordova park, birnam woods. never having had money, dick gonzalez was extravagant & wasteful. he bought & re-furbished old model t's. they had cadillacs & microwaves & color tvs in every room of the 15 room house. he bought the best boat on the market & built a beautiful pier & boathouse for it. he drank lots & so did his diminutive wife, connie & they were always good to me but not so much to their own kids. the kids, esp lennie, found ways to act out & were usually rewarded w/extreme physical punishment. lennie liked to share that experience w/his siblings in various ways.
they all loved the water though. that's where i connected w/them. they were obsessed w/the northrup family, just across the bayou from them. steve northrup had broken some kind of bare-foot skiing record & had made the papers. the gonzalez's felt they could match him but they didn't have the athletic abilities or the style of the northrups.
from what i remember mother telling me, the parents got sober later in life & had a few good years together before he passed away. like it says in the excerpt below, their mother, connie, lived until just last year. i hope what mother told me was true because they were always good to me but i know that much of what's happened over the last few days in p'cola started way back when in birnam woods. there's no telling which beating or what sexual molestation pushed them into the lives they ended up leading. i don't think it was just one moment. i think it was the relentless day in & day out craziness of their lives, where the possibility of a conscience forming & crystalizing was impossible. if you could do this or that w/your sister or your brother & only experience pleasure & not punishment, how could you regard someone outside your family as any less a target for exploitation?
i remember walker had taken a liking to regina. she'd developed into a rather voluptuous young lady when we were in high school. regina & i had "fooled around" in silly awkward(at least for me)early pubescent gropings years earlier. she had a "reputation" but i wasn't convinced it was a good idea for walker to pester her(i wasn't particularly convinced her "reputation" was even accurate). lenny had already slapped jimmy around one night for no good reason & had only stopped when i intervened, "o, hi danny," he said w/genuine friendliness in his voice, while still holding walker by the throat. he let jimmy go not because i was some kind of physical threat but because somewhere in that brain that was so calloused over w/beatings & abuse, he maybe remembered us out in his boat skiing or belly boarding.
walker & i were out in his boat & we saw regina out on the gonzalez dock in her bathing suit. "i gotta see that up close," walker said, veering the boat wrecklessly near their pier. "hey, wanna ride," walker croaked in his macho voice. it's not clear to me that she even heard his solicitation. she just ducked into the boathouse & walker spun the boat around once or twice & then drove away back towards the mirador apartments. a minute later, i looked back & saw the boat careening over the choppy water of the bayou. it was lenny in their boat & i knew walker's couldn't outrace him. "jimmy, lenny's coming after us," i told walker, while keeping my eye on the rapidly approaching boat. "we can outrun him," was jimmy's assessment. "no, no you can't," was mine. i was right. lenny caught us easily & once he did, he circled our boat several times at high speed, getting closer each time. finally, he slammed the boat into reverse & his huge wake nearly capsized us. "stay away from my sister, you fucker," he screamed, "do you understand me?" there wasn't the usual walker macho croak when he replied. "yeah sure," was jimmy's meek surrender.
"hi danny," lenny waved w/warm friendliness again in his voice. he jammed the boat into forward & off he flew. that was the last time i had anything to do w/leonard gonzalez. i was maybe 16 or 17yo. i don't think he'd gone to jail yet or even been arrested but that started up pretty soon afterwards. i read that he'd been arrested 37 times since 1980 on various felony charges. it was never good & it just kept getting worse.
regina stopped by the outrigger once in the later years. she was an attractive woman & warmly friendly as ever. i'm not sure what happened to dickie or frankie or mary ida. luckily, they've been out of most of the news regarding this sad episode. i always felt very very sorry for the gonzalez family but it seems like a few of them made it out of there alive. unfortunately, that can't be said for the billings.
"Regina McCartney, Gonzalez Sr.'s estranged sister, said in an interview Monday that she has no cause to associate with her brother.Their mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, died June 30, McCartney said. Since then, she said, her brother has hounded her for money."He was born like that — no good," she said. "Leonard is a low life and his son is a low life. The apple didn't fall far from the tree. They are alcoholics and drug addicts, and they will do anything for money."McCartney said she is glad her brother and nephew are in jail but saddened by the allegations that put them there.
"I feel very, very sorry for the Billings family," she said." from the pensacola news journal