God, it was jungle green and hot on that late August day in 1967 when Ray and I took our fated trips toward our Morgantown meeting.
We were coming from opposite directions, Ray from southern West Virginia, Tera Alta, Taylor County, to be exact, me from a little west of Morgantown, Star City.
Nor were either of us driving. I was chauffeured by my girlfriend at the time, Crystal Truax, in a very low-cut blouse, and he by his later famous wife, Magda Jean Feveraux. I was headed into town about a week before classes started to hunt for an apartment for the second year of my Master’s Degree in Rhetoric. Two months before, Ray had finished his last stint working underground at the Munseem Mining operation. Since then, he had been at home in bed with a recurring stomach problem. Magda Jean, a stay-at-home wife who nursed him during this illness, was later quoted in the Morgantown Star, saying that he was getting “way more better care at home than he would in any pop bottle hospital.”
I should probably do a little glossary here to explain some of that language and time: like pop bottle hospital was West Virginia University’s Hospital, which although well respected, had picked up its tacky nickname because the hospital was funded by a tax on soda, still referred to in West Virginia as pop. And my sexy girlfriend, Crystal: In those Appalachian mid-sixties days, sexy meant a good body, even with a so-so face. And it certainly did not imply anyone was having any sex, although some of us were trying mightily.
Crystal and I were really appreciating the lush green trees and vegetation around Morgantown. Unfortunately, we were appreciating them so much that Crystal t-boned the Feverauxes’ Chevy. Thank God none of us turned out to be hurt—although Ray was in enough pain from his stomach that it was hard to tell if he didn’t have a cracked rib or something. Anyway, that’s how we all met.
I jumped out of the car to try and do a little good for the Feverauxes and maybe for me too. Some audience analysis was in order (although I sure didn’t know any rhetorical category for angry West Virginia car crash victims). Also in order was maybe spending a little money—to avoid any insurance troubles, of which I had a few at that time. I could see that Ray Feveraux was lying in the backseat, where I assumed he had been for some time, the crash being way too mild to have displaced him from the front seat (I hoped). Even in that pose and sort of doubled up, he was one hell of a big man, and with a set of those coal-fire eyes that seemed to burn right out of his head and into whatever he was looking at, which happened, at the time, to be me. I thought I ought to be really nice.
“Oh my God,” I said, “I am so sorry. We just didn’t see you,” which was what the poorly named Crystal had told me right after the crash.
“I should sure as hell hope not,” the long reddish-brown hair in the front seat said, as those tresses swished and swayed and then turned around to become a pretty, but mature, face.
“Otherwise, we’d think you were trying to kill us. Right, Ray?” His loud grunt of assent turned Magda Jean’s rural humor into an ominous warning, even in his weakened condition.
The Feverauxes’ green, maybe ’58 or 59 Chevy, was crumpled in at the side passenger door indicating that the driver, Ms. Feveraux, was not really hurt. And Ray in the backseat seemed to be away from the damage. I was already doing a financial inventory and considering the best approach to mitigate the situation. I barely noticed a small khaki-colored envelope dropping out of that driver side of the car when the brown haired woman got out and introduced herself,
“I’m Magda Jean Feveraux and unless you got real good insurance you are Mr. Mudd.” She said that as calmly as ordering the turkey and stuffing special at the Have-a-Lunch Diner. A bad sign, I thought.
“I just wanted to make sure that everybody was ok.” And, as a nice touch, I handed her the khaki envelope which I had picked up as she was checking Ray in the back seat. “I think this dropped out of the car.” There was some of what I thought was white gravel dust on the outside of the envelope.
“I’m sure…” she started with that matter-of-fact-shut-up tone until she saw the envelope, which she quickly snatched out of my hands. The end sentence came out sweetly, this time without the irony, “…glad you found this” as she put it in and snapped her clutch purse shut and her face, too, into a pleasant, grateful look.
While we exchanged insurance information, I said that I would be willing to make a quick cash settlement (as I said, I was already on thin ice with my insurance company for two previous accidents, one while trying to get inside Crystal’s bra when I was driving and she was resisting.)
“And if you need any medication,” I said, “aspirin or something, my cousin is in the pharmacy program at the University and works in a big drug store in town.” I immediately regretted dragging my loud-mouth cousin into this and also mentioning possible extra pain. Ray didn’t look so hot.
“Let me think about it,” she said. “And give me your number.”
By the end, it all went smoothly; two days later my fearful obsession had cooled, and I even stopped yelling at Crystal at the drop of a hat.
In the week that followed, I got Crystal’s sexy butt (“You are really going to miss me, you bastard”) on a bus back to Pittsburgh.
And stood up another pain-in-the–ass date (after she said “You must understand it’s a 4-1 male-to-female ratio here,”) and even got to my first class: Beowulf, not too bad, although I sell stocks now.
A week later Magda Jean called and accepted my offer of a cash settlement as long as it was enough cash. Her figure seemed high to me, but I’d been pretty good about not spending my mother’s terrific allowance on anything but winning poker hands (not to say I hadn’t had bad years with cards, real bad), and I was relieved not to be losing my license or even facing that insurance agent, who was living up to his name, Jesse James, no kidding, Jesse James.
She wouldn’t take a check, so I suggested a face-to-face at my favorite bar, Sleepy’s. She agreed although it was a bit of a drive in from her motel and the hospital.
The 3.2 beer in West Virginia worked ok on me and Magda Jean seemed to be enjoying it by her second, which was fine with me, even though I was buying, since more good will would keep me insured and away from any of Agents James’ calls.
We talked about life and world affairs. That was the night Sleepy explained that if they gave him a gun and brought those sons-of-bitches Viet Cong over here, he would shoot them, but he was god-damned if he was going over there. Magda Jean agreed. “People ought to mind their own business, take care of their own problems.”
Crazy Bob, the Chicken Killer, so named for his work at one of those factory farms, also showed up that night; he said what he usually said, very little.
I talked about what a bitch my long-time girlfriend (before Crystal) was being about Crystal and other issues. Feminism hadn’t been invented. And frankly, me and West Virginia were slow even after it was. Even so, I thought it best to change gears and asked how Ray was. Magda Jean said he was fine and she was going in every day to the hospital to make sure they were taking proper care of him. But that he had had long-time trouble with his stomach and it was slow going. Her voice had a sweet but saucy quality.
Just before closing when we were all feeling pretty good, Sleepy said that it was bottle crushing time. He then pulled out a box that was the detritus of the evening and threw several brown bags over them and started whacking away with a hammer. Sleepy, who was also a little high, asked if I wanted a turn. I got in there behind the bar and let fly for a little. Smashing felt great at that point of the evening and maybe of my life.
Then Magda Jean asked if she could try. I swear she went at it with a ferocity that more than matched mine and Sleepy’s.
Crazy Bob even piped up. “Wow. We could use her on the chicken farm.”
I remembered later that during our conversation, Magda Jean seemed impressed less by my studies than by my pharmacist cousin. She left with his name and number.
I also arranged to go out and see Ray at the pop bottle hospital. He tried a few pleasantries, but sure didn’t look too good and shortly was complaining. The nurses kept asking him about his pain but seemed mystified and unable to help. That was the day Magda Jean and I went too Havalunch for their specialty turkey and stuffing. Magda Jean seemed somewhat upset but ate the good volume that Havalunch served in those days.
I tried to see Magda Jean again to make sure she was happy enough both with me and the cash, not to mention I hadn’t had a date in a while. I thought she was pretty, but she seemed busy with Ray. I later found out she had enough free time to see my cousin. But that’s all he would tell me.
I was sitting in Sleepy’s having a beer one afternoon about a month later after the story broke; by now, you probably heard about the big Feveraux case, yourself.
Crazy Bob came in humming along with the old jukebox, a Beach Boys song that was pretty popular at the time, “Help Me Rhonda”. “So, Bob, do you think we were safe drinking with her?”
“Did you drive her home?” Bob hummed.
“No. But I tried. Thought she was cute. She could have put some of that poison right in our drinks. She was bold enough to take it to the hospital and put it in her husband’s dinner. Right there with all those nurses around. To say nothing of feeding it to Ray every night for months back in Terra Alta. Arsenic is apparently hard to detect. But she didn’t hurt us.”
“She must ‘of liked us,” Bob chuckled.
“I can’t get over it, I said. I probably saw some of that stuff fall out of her car when we had that accident.”
“’Help me Rhonda’”, Bob sang and then switched to “Help me Magda.” Pleased with himself, he added “Help me Magda, help me get it out of my soup.”
“OK, Bob, funny, but I’m still weirded out.”
“Maybe not so strange. You should get a woman’s perspective.” He started softly singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, which I was surprised they even heard out on the chicken farm. “’I want to make your dinner…” I didn’t want to hear the rest of that and walked down to the other end of the bar.
Vonda, Sleepy’s full-figured daughter-in-law, was on duty that afternoon. I was having trouble getting her attention since, rather than ordering, I was usually just hitting on her.
When she did finally come over, I asked her what she thought about the Magda Jean Feveraux case.
“Those men down in Taylor County are real tough on their wives, all men really. He probably deserved it.”
Bitches covering for each other, I thought then and told Bob to put into one of his songs. I’m not so sure now that my second wife left me.
A seventh generation Pittsburgher, Jay Carson holds a Doctor of Arts degree from Carnegie Mellon University and taught at Robert Morris University for many years where he was a faculty advisor to the student literary journal, Rune. Jay is the author of a chapbook, Irish Coffee, (Coal Hill Review), and a longer book of poetry, The Cinnamon of Desire, (Main Street Rag). He has published more than 100 poems and 4 short stories in journals, magazines, and collections.
If you enjoyed The Magda Jean Feveraux Songbook, leave a comment and let Jay know.
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