In a Family Way

Life is never picture-perfect -- especially when a father shoots two of his sons.

Randolph Kelly's house is full of family photos. They're stacked on the television and on tables; they cover the walls. On the north side of the living room hang two large and faded photos, their sepia tones encased in oval frames. One of the pictures is of Kelly's dead wife's mother. The other is of Kelly's oldest sister, Elree. Elree is wearing a jaunty beret and still looks young and serious, even though the photograph was taken at least forty years ago.

Family is important to Kelly. He enjoys showing off these pictures and talking about his relatives, his joy stemming in part, perhaps, from the fact that he lost both his parents before he was ten.

"This one, Jami," Kelly says, lifting a dusty photo of a granddaughter from a side table, "she's been all the way to France."

"I got six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren," continues the seventy-year-old Kelly. "Maybe more. LeeLee," he says of his middle son, "he was hittin' and quittin', so I don't know how many I have.

"My family is strong," he says proudly. "They're really close," chimes in Cathy, Kelly's common-law wife. "He has a beautiful family. He really does."

Cathy points to a photo hanging above the love seat. In it, the whole Kelly clan--Kelly, his late wife, Aggie, and their five children--sit formally in their Sunday best. They are all smiling.

But that photo was taken a long time ago, and Kelly's life has been far from picture-perfect since then.

In 1988, Kelly shot and killed his middle son, Emmitt Lee, whom everyone called LeeLee. Police ruled it an accident.

Five years later, Aggie died of cancer.
And just three weeks ago, Kelly shot another son, Adolph Darnell, five times, after Darnell allegedly tried to attack him with a hammer. The fight started, Kelly says, with an argument: Darnell was incensed about Kelly's relationship with Cathy, a woman less than half his age.

"After their mother died," Kelly says, his slurred consonants betraying his Louisiana roots, "they didn't want nobody to be here with me. Chirrun will be chirrun, I guess."

Kelly is sitting on the threadbare sofa, watching Cathy play with his dog, Midnight, a black animal about the size of a large cat. "She's a sweet thing," Kelly says fondly, and it's unclear at first whether he's talking about the dog or Cathy.

Kelly and Cathy have been together about two years. "I was staying with a girlfriend of mine," Cathy recalls, "and we met, and he was attracted to me and I was attracted to him. That was 1994. And I been here ever since. And I'm planning to stay. Unless," she says, giving Kelly a sidelong glance and punctuating her words with a throaty laugh, "you want to take me away."

At 34, Cathy is years younger than Kelly's youngest child. And the difference between her age and Kelly's is glaringly apparent, in both appearance and attitude. Cathy's demeanor is funny and loose, while Kelly is oddly formal. "When I meet someone," he says, "I say, 'I'm Mr. Kelly. Everyone calls me that except for my wife [Aggie]. She called me Randolph."

Even Cathy calls him "Kelly" or "Mr. Kelly."
Cathy's nose is pierced. She is dressed casually in shorts and a shirt, the latter splotched with flour. "Cake fight," Cathy says, pulling at a gooey batch of batter sticking to her hair.

"The girls," she adds. "They put stuff on my face and everything." Cathy's daughters, ages nine and twelve, live with her here at Kelly's house. They keep things lively.

Kelly, too, is dressed casually, but in an old-fashioned, retiree kind of way. His tan pants are held up by suspenders, which is probably why he hasn't bothered to buckle his belt. He's in his stocking feet.

Kelly's eyes are striking, the irises rimmed with blue. His hands are calloused, the result of working 42 years in construction. His hair is a shock of white, but that is nothing new. Kelly's hair has been this color since childhood; it's a family trait.

A thin blaze of white streaks up from Kelly's forehead and disappears into his hair. "I had it when I was born," he says. "My hair had a white stripe down it. Two of my boys got it, too.

"They say in the Bible that God's children will be born with a star on their forehead."

But when Kelly was growing up, that streak seemed more of an embarrassment than a blessing. "I always wore a hat when I was growing up because they called me 'Spotted Head' and 'Silver Streak.'"

"And 'Skunk,'" Cathy pipes up, although Kelly won't admit to that.
The distinctive mark, Kelly says, "come from my mother, although you can't see it too good in pictures."

He disappears down the hall and returns minutes later carrying a framed picture, its mat yellowed with age. "That's my mother and father," he says. Two figures stare out from the photo. They are posed on the porch of an old frame house. Kelly's father is wearing a hat, a tie and a proud look in his eyes. His wife, however, looks pensive, uneasy.

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