“Come Hell ‘r High Water”

Dad gum it!

Dad GUM it, says I!

Durn blast it!

Razzin’ scummin’ durned sons o’ guns!

An’ I’m fixin’ to let loose a lot worse, I tell you what!  I plan on me a hay of a lot worse’n this, I plan a cussin’ up a storm!  

Well, in my head.

Got no cause to upset the apple cart.  Nor Mama.

 

Let me settle myself down here some.  If you ain’t already figur’d this out, this here’s Liam.  Liam Goodwell.  Of the Denton County Goodwells.  Them same Goodwells what ain’t takin’ me along frog giggin’ tonight.

Grandpap, he’s goin’.

Daddy, he’s goin’.

Linc and Lawrence, them good-fer-nothin’  full o’ swagger and biggery elder brothers o’ mine, them two’s goin’.

Uncle Emmet, who ain’t really anybody’s uncle from what I can tell, he’s goin’.

An’ a slew o’ others I don’t even want to know about. 

All them with their gigs fresh sharpened, all them tucked in their carpenter overhalls, the ones with the big ol’ front side to side pockets, readied to be plum filled with bullfrogs come mornin’ light.

All them gatherin’ out front the saggin’ gray barn this very evenin’, bedtime fer ever’body else in the house.  Laughin’ quiet-like and jawin’ and slappin’ shoulders.

Did I mention, perchance, I wudn’t asked, nor consulted, nor given no never no mind whatsoever regardin’ this here particu-lar outin’?  Not even when I been a’party to this here party a million, or a hun’erd times ‘fore this?

Did I mention, perchance, I casual-like asked near one an’ all, “Jest what’re you all doin’ this evenin’?”  Did I mention to a man, TO A MAN, they didn’t even have the wherewithall to look slunky and guilty?  That all them just give me a, “Nuthin’ much.”?

Did I mention, perchance, I’m near to the best gigger in Denton County, an’ maybe further?  That I got me eyes like a hawk, stealth like a cougar, an’ aim like nobody’s business?  That last time I got me more frogs than the next three behind me all put together?  (Never mind the limit….they’s plenty o’bullies to go ’round in these murky creeks.)

Did I mention, perchance, I ain’t used to bein’ ignored?

Did I mention, perchance, I got me a plan, once them fellers, my own kin (well, almost, most of ’em) pile elbow to knee in the bed o’ the ol’ International?  That I’ll be slidin’ up ol’ Pedergrast, best trackin’ horse we got, albeit a bit sleepy ever so often?  That I’ll be stalkin’ them through the woods down to them swamps an’ bullrushes an’ they’ll never be the wiser?

That I’ll be ever so clever, follerin’ them durned happy go lucky sons o’ guns?  I’ll catch ’em redhanded, too, says I, I will!

…..Did I mention, perchance, I ain’t got no plan beyond that there?….Scare ’em?  Shame ’em?  Catch me all them bullies ‘fore they get a one?  I  got me not a single clue.  My insides get all jumblin’ and churnin’ when I get to that part there an’ I can’t think straight fer the gut rumblin’.  

Ain’t no time to reconsider, howsomever.  Look here, I’ll swan if they ain’t readyin’ to go,  all gusto and giddyup, a’ climbin’ up an’ around the ol’ pickup truck, careful to keep them gigs aimed heavenward an’ their eyes aimed anywhere but at me.

Whatever I do, it’ll serve ’em right.  It’ll serve ’em right.  Ol’ Pendergrast is a’saddled an’ a’waitin’.

Best mount up and keep to the woods.  Time’ll tell.  Time’ll tell.

 

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“Come Hell ‘r High Water”

Hey, ho.  Liam here.  Liam Goodwell.  Third son o’ the first son o’ Langston Goodwell, long o’ Denton County, northern Missouri, these United States of America!

Now, here’s the deal. Linc and Lawrence, they bein’ the oldest o’ our youngin’ pack, they  get their fair share o’ adventures an’ such.  Me bein’ third, why, I have to fight fer near ever’thing and here I go ag’in.

‘Ppears Grandpap, Daddy, Lincoln and Lawrence, they been chattin’ and a’plannin’, an’ they got them a plan to go frog giggin’ this weekend upcomin’.

They ain’t been a’hidin’ it, no sir.  Been talkin’ plum as loud an’ as often as they see fit.  What they ain’t been seemin’ eager to do is bring along yours truly. Say ag’in?  You heard me right, they ain’t said once, “Hey, Liam, get yer tack together, we’re goin’ giggin’ this here weekend upcomin’!”  Nor ain’t one, an’ them bein’ my own flesh an’ blood an’ kin, siddled up, popped me on the shoulder, “C’mon Liam, we’re  lookin’ to gig us from bull frogs come Friday night into mornin’.  You comin’?”

Them ornery cusses I call my brothers, that’d be Lincoln and Lawrence, they just been goin’ ’bout their business, preenin’ and yawin’ and chore’in’ and what all, all the while knowin’ I’m itchin’ and wrigglin’ to go ‘long!

It ain’t like I ain’t never been.  Been giggin’ near my whole last half o’ my thirteen years.

It ain’t like I ain’t skilled.  I got me reflexes them frogs don’t see comin’.

I ain’t like I ain’t never gone on my own and brung back a mess o’ bullies all my ownself.

An’ it ain’t like I’m a’gonna ask them, all undignified and desperate like some key-holed nambypamby mollycoddled milsop (You think I was leanin’ in on “Mama’s boy?”  You met my mama?  That don’t fly in OUR house!  We do her biddin’ ’cause she’s as tough as a leather strop an’ a keg o’ penny nails….and can sure bake us up some apple pies brings tears to our eyes!)!

So, uncharacteristic o’ any o’ us Goodwells, I’m a’waitin’.  Jest a’waitin’.  Waitin’ fer them fellers to ask me along.  Waitin’ to come up with me a plan.

So far on both them counts?  I’m a’comin’ up empty….

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“Come Hell ‘r High Water”

(musin’s and confusin’s of my Daddy’s Midwest childhood)

 

Seems we Goodwells, when we got us someplace to go we get ourselves there lickity split.  An’ so it was here an’ now.

Daddy an’ me, we fair sailed from the auction barn, Daddy behind the wheel o’ the International an’ me holdin’ on fer dear life!  I’ll swan we pitched ourselves into ever’ pothole an’ tore ourselves up ever’ unseen projectile upendin’ itself underneath our tires.  Sand an’ soil an’ cowpies, petrified and otherwise, spat clean up to where our windows would have been had they been rolled up.

Which they wudn’t.

The engine underneath the hood came close to singin’, it was so happy to be up an’ at ’em and gettin’ some deserved facilitatin’ and acceleratin’!  Hummin’ and gunnin’, it was hittin’ on all cylinders an’ happy to be doin’ it.

I always did love that pickup truck.

Fore an’ aft an’ ever’where inbetweenwise.

Glancin’ over to Daddy, his face was all angles and determination, eyes like bullets, jaw set like ce-ment.  He wudn’t goin’ to let stand what that black horse and rider did to that veternarian.  He wudn’t goin’ to let stand whatever part Judge Huger had in stealin’ him away from them that was givin’ aid.

I always did love my Daddy when he got intent and resolute.

Outwardwise an’ inwardwise an’ ever’where inbetweenwise.

Folks was hollerin’ and wavin’ their hats our way, wudn’t sure jest why at the time, an’ it didn’t seem right to grin so I didn’t.  Vet feller may not make it after all.  But deep in my heart, I was proud as punch my Daddy had in him some gumption to do somethin’.

Somethin’.

He’d know what to do.  This was my Daddy we was talkin’ about.

Whateverwise that somethin’ was….

But, Law!  We wasn’t headin’ back home to sort out us a plan or to think through the next thing we should be a’doin’!

Law!  We was barrelin’ clean the other di-rection, swingin’ way wide left ‘stead o’ right back to the farm!  Our unswervin’ singleminded International pickup was haulin’ our backsides quick as a lic k, doubletimin’ the tracks o’ Judge Huger’s shiny black Cadillac!  An’ Daddy, he was leanin’ hisself forward, feet workin’ that clutch and that transmission whinin’ and wailin’ fer all it was worth!

Law!  If I didn’t sweep off my own sweat-stained straw hat an’ wave it myself!

Law!  We was goin’ to have us a “Come to Jesus meetin'” with the ol’ Judge!

Law!  The world was ’bout to change!

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“Come Hell ‘r High Water”

(musin’s and confusin’s of my Daddy’s childhood)

 

“C’mon, Pardner,” (that’d be me, all us Goodwell boys, we be “Pardner” to our Daddy one time ‘r ‘nother).

“C’mon, Pardner,  I reckon yer Mama’ll wonder what become of us.”

He said all this without takin’ his gaze off the horizon, and without movin’ any muscle whatsoever, ‘ceptin’ his face fer talkin’.

“Shore, Daddy,”  I answered, ready.  But ready fer what?  Was I s’posed to get the truck?  Was I s’posed to fall in behind him when he did decide to get a’movin’?

So, I just stood my ground, like my Daddy.

“Shore, Daddy.”

And, sure as shootin’,  he right quick let him out a long deep breath, shook his head down in front o’ his chest like they was somethin’ in his head needin’ cleared, then stretched up tall, chin up front and eyes blazin’ hot.

He strode with purpose out the corral, long smooth strides, almost like sailin’, ‘fore he hollered back, “C’mon, Pardner, we got us some work to do.”

Why, I tell you what I got on my horse then and fell in line double time behind my Daddy.  They wudn’t no fear now, I forget they was any a’tall!  My Daddy, he’d have things in hand in no time, an’ this time, THIS time, I was the pardner what was going to be at his right hand!

 

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“Come Hell ‘r High Water”

(Musin’s and confusin’s of my Daddy’s upbringin’)

 

Now, my Daddy, he’s a crooner.  He hits the highs and the lows and ever’thin’ inbetween, sweet as honey an’ bold as a black bear.

He’s a fiddler, an’ none o’ that slow stuff, now.  His fingers fair make ol’ church ladies kick up their heels.  An’ I ain’t a’whistlin’ Dixie!

My Daddy, he’s got words like velvet, calmin’ angry dogs and children, even talked ol’ Brother Zechariah traveling evangelist down to the church outta playin’ with snakes.  None the wiser they been smoothed, neither, an’ let’d leave it at that.

My Daddy loves my Mama like they ain’t no tomorro’.  They been sweethearts since he was a’bustin’ broncs out to the rodeo days gone by.  Big ol’ belt buckles he’d win, jest like big brother Linc now.  I still catch ’em sneakin’ little winks an’ love pats.  I think it’s real nice.  I seen folks don’t even look t’other’s di-rection.  That hurts my heart somehow.

An’ my Daddy, he don’t take no static.  He’ll stand tall when the situation calls fer it, defendin’ his family at all costs, an’ right over wrong no matter what.  Even to the point of a knock down drag out.  I seen him do it.  More’n once.  (Don’t tell Mama.)

My Daddy, he don’t have no enemies till somebody done him wrong.  Even then, he’ll take the high road and offer another go’round.  He does draw the line , however, when a friend does him dirty.  He values loyalty up there with lovin’ yer neighbor an’ service to God.

But I ain’t never, no, never never ever, seen my Daddy afraid of nothin’.  Not nothin’.

Never.

So what I seen, what I thought I seen, my head nor my heart jest won’t let me believe I seen.  What I thought I seen my Daddy feelin’ was not agitation.  Seen that before.

What I thought I seen my Daddy feelin’ was not trepidation nor dread.  Seen them, too.

Nor was it consternation nor worry no perturbation.

What I thought I seen, what I shore hoped I did not see, was somethin’ akin to alarm or panic, with no place to turn and nobody to turn to.

I seen my Daddy by hisself.  But I ain’t never seen him feel alone.

 

An’ me, that feelin’ overwhelmed me, too, as I stood in the dust stared.

 

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“Come Hell ‘r High Water”

(Recollections from my daddy….)

 

Took a bit, who knows, but the red spinnin’ dust from our Missouri clay frothed up from Judge Huger’s shiny black Caddy’s wheels stopped headin’ skyward, u-turnin’ back to the ground in twistin’ spirals.  Almost purty, if you was to think about.

If you was to care to.

Which I did not.

All the hollerin’d quit.  Couldn’t say things was quiet exactly, what with the mooin’ and bellerin’ and stompin’ and rustlin’ of the cattle in the pens.  Their cozy, comfy day of bein’ groomed and spit and polished come to a abrupt end when that horse and rider (was there a rider? I’d have to stop and ponder that!) burst through the corral and out the other side.

But all us farm folk, we had no words, no whistles, not even a cough.

The feller who got trampled never made a sound, neither.  We were quiet outta some respect for him bein’ the one hurt and not one o’ us, I reckon.

We stared down the road for some time.  How many of us were there, I wonder?  Fifty?  Twenty?  A bunch, all told.  Somebody somewhere stirred a little, kickin’ his boot a bit ag’inst a cowpie.  Somebody else stretched his neck right and left, just to hear it pop.

I heard it, it popped.

Urged me to to the same.  Mine popped, too.

Daddy moved not a muscle, I checked, but law, if his face didn’t look a little tenser than last I looked.  Didn’t look right on my Daddy.

It couldn’t be he was afraid, not my Daddy.

It could not be.  He didn’t know how.

…..law……

 

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“Come Hell ‘R High Water”

(Recollections of my daddy)

 

Now, it took, maybe, half a second ‘r two fer my Daddy to take charge.  Folks was all jest lookin’ on till he took the wheel.

“Lester, get a wagon over here!  Tucker, give him a hand!  All you fellers over there, get on yer horse!  Get me some burlap to cover this man, somethin’ to use to carry him!  C’mon!  C’mon!”

Well, it took less time for spit to hit the bucket ‘fore Daddy had ever’body running and totin’ and fetchin’.  Lester and Tuck, them fellers had us a horse hitched to a bantam wagon quick as a lick an’ was leadin’ the big ol’ bay gentle and steady toward my Daddy who knelt in the dust, whisperin’ somethin’ into the still man’s ear.

I shore would like to say the man, right then an’ there, he stood up and shouted “Glory!” but he lay still, still.  Not a movement, not a tic.  Never was certain if Daddy, he had faith, or if he had him a premonition.  But he kept a’whisperin’ whilst the horse and wagon was brought ’round.  The other veternarian, he knelt down beside o’Daddy, too, but he wudn’t doin’ nothin’ but prayin’.

Guess cattle docs draw the line at bein’ people docs.

Slow but sure, some hands I didn’t know wrapped some ol’ bags round some skinny posts, makin’ a makeshift gurney.  Daddy swept most ever’body out the way, ‘ceptin’ the other vet.  He give that man a hard black look, the kind we Goodwells youngins don’t relish seeing, and lo and behold, that cow doc unbent his haunches and gentle as can be reached his hands under that twisted and contorted mess o’man and him and Daddy slid his person onto that gurney then onto the wagon.

Ploddin’ and purposeful, several o’ them hardened hands walked that horse and wagon out the corral, then out to where some ve-hicles, mostly manured encrusted pickups and such, was lined up in fine orderly rows.

Then Holy Moses, what?!  That big ol’ shiny black Caddy what was driven by Judge Huger, it peeled into the lot sideways, sendin’ dirt and grime and grass a’flyin’. It shuddered to a sudden stop, quiverin’ still when the Judge his ownself hurled his size 44 extra large out the driver’s side.

“Get that man in the back!  Go on!”  And scurry them farmhands did, still with care, but not as careful as was Daddy and the doc.  Door slammed and the Judge, he popped that Caddy in gear and fair flew out the lot, tires screechin’ and screamin’ as he turned on the NN highway to-ward the hospital down to St. Joe.

Dust settlin’, we all, we just stood there.

Daddy, he just stood there.

 

Ain’t no place fer heroes.