Chad and I met in the fall of 1994. We married the following March in Key West, Florida. I met his family there— his brother, sister, and the patriarch, Mont Chumbley, or simply, as he insisted, “Chum.” Plainly, his father was a well- mannered gentleman, and I liked him at once. Chad’s father seemed so unpretentious, that being around him was easy, with conversation naturally flowing.
When my new husband led me downstairs to his father’s bedroom, the walls were festooned with scores of old-time black and white publicity photos. They all featured the same beautiful girl. It was Chad’s mother, posed in professional glossies. I was immediately taken by her siren-esque good looks. Helen, by any standard was lovely. Her flaxen curls were evenly waved, 1930’s style; her eyes smoky lidded, her lashes accented with mascara. She held a cigarette stylishly between her fingers, as a wisp of smoke, frozen by time swirled upward— a classic Hollywood beauty. The unknown stories behind these photos—stories she could no longer tell, captured my imagination. Movie glossies, ice-skating poses, and the black and whites autographed by fellow entertainers, left me sincerely curious.
Another visible change I noted on this visit was the hostility that my husband began to exhibit toward his father. Gone were all the glowing descriptions of aviation he had shared during our courtship, replaced now by caustic and resentful criticism. How odd, I thought. What did that sweet old man do to alienate his son so severely? More perplexing was the time the two of them spent working on household projects together— all completed in strained silence. If Chad turned off the water to a toilet to begin repairs, his father appeared quietly behind him. They worked without speaking.
The house, perched on the side of a sloping hill, led down to a seawall and a man-made lake called Mirror Lake. Chum had been one of the first to start construction around the water in 1953. Since then, the rest of that square block in Miami Shores had filled in with lake-front homes. A Catholic rectory sat diagonally to the right of the backyard, and rang the Doxology from the bell tower each afternoon, sending a lovely resonance of notes tumbling over the small waves.
Father and son seemed immune to that neighborhood music as they sweated and grunted over the washing machine, the dryer, leaky sinks, or other pending jobs that had waited for Chad’s arrival. All I could hear sitting in the living room was metallic clinks and exhaled profanities.
Later, when my new husband caught up with me by the lake, the first words out of his mouth were, “. . . he’s such an asshole.” Asking for an explanation, Chad only quipped, “He just is.” It left me again wondering what that harmless old man could have possibly done to earn such contempt.
This family presented real mysteries. There existed a clear disconnect between the adventurous stories of flight, and the sparks of resentment. What lay behind the glamorous cheesecake shots of Helen on the basement walls? My mind was was spinning.
Especially crazy was that no one would or in some cases, could answer my questions. I had some sleuthing ahead of me.