It’s all over but the shoutin’….
My name is Liam, Liam Goodwell, of the Denton County Goodwells.
I been tasked by Miss Meadow, down to the school, to put my all my ponderin’s and most my ad-ventures onto paper ever’ day or ever’ time I make the time.
Ain’t no chore, as such, but it does eat into my “amusin’ and musin’ time…”
(See what I done there? Miss Meadow, she’ll be right proud. She says my manner of speakin’ and expressin’ is like none she never seen. I get all puffed up jest a’thinkin’ ’bout that, and so I been puttin’ pen to paper reg’lar.)
‘Course, it ain’t all purty words and fluffy phrasin’. I been feelin’ this tug to docu-ment fer them comin’ later jest how things get done here in Denton County, Missouri in the year o’ our Lord, summer 1942. And I ain’t been doin’ nothin’ but, jest’ ruminatin’ and sharin’ the goin’s on ’round here, straight-arrow’d and true.
Right this here very minute, I ain’t got my left-over Big Chief, run off ‘n left it behind home so’s I just pilfered me some paper from the wastebasket inside the courthouse here in Pickle Creek. More precise, from the trash outside the jail cell where one o’my own sits a’moulderin’ behind paint-peeled ‘arn bars.
Anyhow, backs was clean, so here I am on the ce-ment steps, dark as t’ other side o’ the moon, I reckson, single yeller light above the big ol’ carved doors leadin’ inside. And down to the cellar. And on past the hardshut doors and shadowed brown walls, down on to the lock-up behind two horse-sized metal doors with more locks up and down I could shake a stick at.
I got me family there, but I couldn’t abide the tightness, so here I sit.
Grandpap says fresh air cures a multitude of ills, and while I AM a’breathin’ clearer, I ain’t quite sure gulpin’ clean air will solve our sit-iation.
Here’s how it come to be.
Like I done tol’ you, big brother Lawrence lit out to enlist in the U-nited States Army at age sixteen, forged him some papers and caught him a ride fer enough away, he figured to get away with it. Well, he done got spied and caught and returned as a durned fugitive to the A-dair County courthouse here in Pickle Creek.
And durned if he ain’t in a pickle his ownself.
But I digress.
Well, me’n Grandpap, we hightailed it the couple hour drive with Dep’ty Quentin over to the courthouse, on whose steps I’ve planted myself right now.
Took ‘couple hours added on jest to sign papers and answer questions and jest sit and twiddle our thumbs outside the cell whar ol’ Lawrence set crosslegged on the cold rock floor.
Fer my takin’, he shore could o’ looked more contrite, though, bein’ as he’d been drug in here in handcuffs and leg ‘arns. Least that’s whut one o’ them State Po-lice inside told me and Grandpap.
Now, they may have been singin’ a tune, but it shore did put the seriousness of Lawrence’s wrongdoin’s in a dimmer light.
Well, we wudn’t actually burnin’ daylight, bein’ it was now purt’ nearin’ midnight, but we sure as shootin’ wudn’t makin’ no headway neither, when the door to the end of the cellar flew itself back against the wall and the Sheriff hisself come a’swaggerin’ down the hallway, like to thought it was John Wayne in the flesh, cowboy boots, Stetson and the whole she-bang!
“Fellers! ” he bellered, and we, all o’us, Lawrence as well, we jumped to. “Fellers, Judge Jacobsmeyer, he’s deigned to leave the warmth and comfort o’ his home and family and come on down this evenin’ and hear your case!” Glarin’ in at Lawrence, he lowered his voice some, “And you, boy, you got yourself some explainin’ to do, yes, sir.”
I watched Grandpap mouth the judge’s name “Judge Jacobs’mar, Judge Jacobs’mar,” a searchin’ his memories fer some recollection or brain spark. Grandpap knew near ever’body, ‘fer’s I could surmise.
Unlockin’ the cell with one of a fistfull of jangling keys, he then turned on his cowboy heel and swaggered on back to the door. ‘Twas clear as mud to me, but I reckon he wanted us to fall in line.
Which we done. Lawrence, he near to run out that cold cell. Freedom spoke loud to that boy, he’d had his fill of in-carceration.
Follerin’ the sheriff, we wended our way up and out that dank underground, up two, no, three flights o’stairs, made slick and shiny from the steps generations of the judged and condemned. I wanted to reach down and run my hands ‘long the deep brown lines of the wood, feel the fear and resignation of the damned (fergive me Lord!). But, we was hauling and a’movin’, so I put it off till another time, ‘r not ‘tall.
Never seen me a courtroom before. Been down to the courthouse in our very own county seat of Halesburg, been up and down the hallways, been with Daddy and Grandpap when they payed they tax or got them a license fer somethin’ r’other. But never once in the courtroom itself. Lord Lord, it was grand! Near as could be to a church with long wooden pews, fresh waxed, swirly flowered carpets down the middle aisle and ‘cross the front. ‘Stead of altars, though, they be a fence front a grand pulpit, reckon to keep them criminals away from the judge. ‘Stead of a cross up front, they was a round metal plate with a lady holdin’ a book and some scales, size of a wagon wheel.
But the most disconcertin’ thing of all was behind that outsized pulpit sit the meanest lookin’ son of a bulldog I never laid my eyeballs upon. Massess o’mussed white hair, longer’n Mama’s, and shore not as purty, on top the biggest roundest noggin’ I never seen! Bushy white brows helter skelter over black devil eyes and half his upper lip lifted in a snarl. Clothed in black robes, he glared down to all o’us, breathin’ through his mouth like gusts of heavy winds.
And was that a actual snarl I heard? I reckon it might o’ been!
Sheriff herded us three, Grandpap, me, and Lawrence to the front pew and hand on ‘Pap’s shoulder, pushed him down to set.
So we all set.
Right then and there, I got me a shiver.
Sheriff, satisfied hisself we’d follered his silent orders, sidled then up past the fence to where the judge sat, leanin’ up to whisper and confer and point and nod our di-rection. Lawrence, he was sweatin’ all over his handsome face, even licked a drip from his upper lip ever’ so often. Me, I sat on my hands but they still shook somethin’ awful under my legs. Only Grandpap set cool and icy. And from him, I garnered some strength. Grandpap’d set them straight.
Took plumb ferever, but the sheriff nodded to Lawrence who lept to his feet and stood dead center of a massive rose on the carpet, his good looks and easy manner gone to the wind like a dande’line’s fluff.
“Young man, state yer name.” Judge Jacobs’mar’s voice matched his looks, brusk and loud and unhappy and mean.
Lawrence chose to cough instead. We all froze. Then he come to his wits.
“Lawrence, sir, Lawrence Goodwell, from Den….”
“Boy! I never once asked you from where you hailed, did I? I did not! You answer my questions forthwith and posthaste and don’t add yourself any postscript!”
Lawrence nodded solemn. ‘Course I could tell he had no clue what a postscript might be, but he durned tootin’ wouldn’t be addin’ hisself one, that’s for shore!
“Boy! You look at me!” And Lawrence’s yeller head snapped right up, stiff and straight.
“Boy! You know you brung me through the dead o’night to this hallowed hall of justice, awakenin’ me and my household from a sound sleep? You done that because you broke the law, boy, and in this court, we throw the book at those who break the law of this land and the State of Missouri.”
That’s when them black eyes got even blacker, ink-like. His long white locks dusted his eyes when he stood, leanin’ heavy on his pulpit, bent to the waist so to put the fear o’ God Almighty into my big brother.
He was successful, I’d say.
“Boy. This day will be known going’ forward as, sir, your judgement day.”
Second person to faint dead away this day was Lawrence. Not half as graceful as Mama, he jest plunked heavy to the carpet, his hand to his chest.
At that, Grandpap, he’d had enough! I felt that surge when a boxer’s ’bout to win his bout! They was gonna be far’works and Grandpap, he’d be takin’ the reins.
(See what I done there? Mixed me some megafers! Miss Meadow, down to the school, she’d like that!)
My Grandpap, he sprung from his pew, own blue, blue eyes a-blazin’ and arms a flailin’, finger crooked at the judge who his ownself was ‘glowerin’ and spittin’ puffballs at Lawrence fer havin’ the gall to fall unconscious at his proclamation.
“Sir, you are out of line!” Grandpap shouted, then kneeled alongside where my big brother was fightin’ to come to.
Seein’ myself as the Tonto to Grandpap’s Lone Ranger, I dashed to where Lawrence was a’tryin’ now to sit hisself up, quiverin’ and uneasy, so’s Grandpap could make hay of this ol’ evil geezer.
Give it to ’em, ‘Pap, I hollered in my head!
“Sir,” he roared, not scared or cowed, not one bit. Lord, I was proud. Lawrence, he was still dazed. “Sir, my grandson here made hisself a mistake, jest all het up ’bout servin’ his country, why back home, he’d be labeled a hero to some!”
“You show some respect, Sir! This boy broke the law, plain and simple! He misrepresented hisself, lied to government officials, forged official documents and got me out of bed in the middle of the night because of his criminal actions! I’ll have you know I plan to throw the book of the law at this boy and teach him a lesson he’s likely to never forget!” The judge roared right back, also not scared or cowed, not one bit, neither.
This might jest go another round.
“Judge, I’ll not have you abusin’ a boy who had a lapse but who now surely knows the error of his ways!”
“I do not give a donkey’s backside what you think, you understand me?”
(I didn’t laugh then, no-sir-ee-bob! I was born at night but it wudn’t last night! But it is funny, ain’t it?)
Then black eyes was shootin’ black daggers down to Grandpap, who was shootin’ blue one o’his own.
“Take this boy back down to the cell!” Sheriff unfolded hisself from where he’d leaned in a corner, watchin’ these proceedin’s.
‘Pap bellered, “You will do no such thing!” and he jumped ‘tween the lawman and us boys down to the carpet.
They was lots more hollerin’ and lots more finger shakin’ and I even heard the Lord’s name bein’ takin’ in vain, not by Grandpap!
Well, what ensued wudn’t purty, but it ended up with me ‘n Lawrence hunkered under a table off to the side, and Grandpap and the judge havin’ it out behind the fence, and the sheriff a’trying to break it up.
I heard my granddaddy holler, “Do you know who I am? I’m Langston Goodwell of the Denton County Goodwells!”
And I heard the judge holler back, “I don’t care who you are or from whence you came! This is the way we do things in A-dair County! You will not disrespect this court or the laws of this land! Get your mangy paws off me! I am an officer of the court!”
Well, I reckon you can figure how this all ended up, once the dustup settled.
Lawrence begged forgiveness and was give it, after a’promisin’ never to sneak off and misrepresent hisself to the U-nited States government again, and jest to wait his turn to do his patriotic duty till he was of age.
He was set free.
Grandpap never once begged fer forgiveness, doubted he’s begged for nothin’ all his days, nor did he make any promises when told never to show hisself in A-dair County the rest o’his days.
Which is Lawrence is lazin’ over on a bench nursin’ a Soda Boy give him by one o’ them State Po-lice he charmed, and why I’m a-sittin’ scratchin’ words to paper on the steps o’ the courthouse in Pickle Creek and it’s comin’ up daylight.
We’re a’waitin’ fer Daddy to make the long black drive to retrieve us. I kid you not and I do not lie and I’d swar on a sack o’Bibles, if that warn’t a sin that is this all true and acc’rate.
‘Fer it’s Grandpap a’locked up sound in the cellar cell down below.
They say “It’s all over but the shoutin”…..
…………but I say ain’t less truer words spoke.