April 27, 2021

MISS NORA’S BRICK HOUSE

This precious photo shows my handsome brother-in-law Joe Rowden with his two older sons, Jerry and Joe.  It was probably his final visit home.  He was killed late in the war when his ship, the USS Indianapolis was destroyed by a Japanese submarine. As compelling as that story is, it’s actually the brick house behind them that came to my mind today.

I just finished listening to an Agatha Christie audiobook, The Pale Horse, in which a series of murders were committed using a compound (common rat poison) containing thallium.  When the dangers were fully realized, thallium became an illegal ingredient for these compounds.

Not so back in the 1940s.  When we moved back to the log house while Arley’s home was being renovated for us, Harriett often talked about Miss Nora, who owned the charming brick bungalow just across the Decatur Pike from us. Years earlier, she was out driving when she struck and killed a young teenaged boy on his bicycle.  No charges were filed, but rumor had it that she might have been intoxicated.

She had moved out of state to Arkansas after the accident, where she married a wealthy retired judge.  After a year or so, he suddenly became ill and died.  Reportedly Miss Nora inherited a small fortune, much to his adult children’s chagrin.  She soon found another elderly widower and married again.  Almost predictably, he too died and she inherited more money.  All the speculation and rumors seemed to indicate she had poisoned both husbands—by putting rat poison in a meat loaf she made!  I think they exhumed the body of one of her husbands, but there was no conclusive proof.

As she was waiting for the dust to settle in Arkansas, she moved back into her brick house briefly.  She would wave to me when she was out in her front yard, and several times Harriett and I walked over to talk with her. Once she actually offered to bring us one of her meat loafs!  Harriett thanked her but said she had her own favorite recipe and that’s all we liked!

When she headed out of state again (probably to find her next victim!), her house was available for rent.  Joe and Tootsie rented it and he brought Tootsie and their three little boys (Bill was just 8 or 9 months old) to live there close to us while he was overseas.  We spent many hours playing inside and outside at Miss Nora’s house—but I’m pretty sure we never ate a meat loaf there! 

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