“When Johnny Comes a’Marching…”
This here’s Liam Goodwell of the Denton County Goodwells.
They comes a time when the sins of the fathers and the sins of the sons and the sins of the clergymen down to the Holy Pentecostal Church of the Saints don’t mean more’n a fleabite on a big hound. This here’s one.
Day started like they all do. Beauticious orange and pink stipe-ed sunrise. Me and Lincoln (seventeen and the oldest) and Lawrence (sixteen and the toughest, ‘cept sister Luce), we’s out to the barn a doin’ the milkin’ and the tendin’ of the horses. Right now we got five in stable, three in the pasture, and one foal ready for birthin’ near any day now. Us and the girls and even Grandpap’re keepin’ an eye on sweet Sally, this bein’ her first baby and all, and her not bein’ very big. Grandpap’s been a stewin’, says to ‘spect compl’cations. The twins, Lawton and Lewis, they even volunteered to sleep out there in a bed of straw th’s evenin’. Them bein’ seven, I ain’t got much conf’dence in their wakenin’ abilities, but shore was pleased to hear them volunteerin’ ‘stead o’hidin’ or prankin’, like they be wont to do.
Well, chores done lickity split, me and Linc and Lawrence, us big boys, we headed off to the pump by the smokehouse. Youngest of the three at thirteen, I worked the handle whilst Linc and Lawrence got after sluicing the dirt and straw from forearms and foreheads, even dousin’ their heads clear under once or twice. Out here to the country, bathin’ comes on Saturday but we take our visible cleanliness serious. Mama’s skin us if’n we didn’t.
My turn come and went, and we hustled ourselves to the breakfast table. MmmmMMMM, breakfast at the Goodwell table is the best meal o’ the day. I reckon don’t nothin’ come near Mama’s fluffy biscuits and fried ham and huckleberry jam jarred jest last fall. And two bowls of steamin’ scrambled egges, have mercy!
I jest passed on the oatmeal, how-some-ever. Mushy gray plaster don’t do nothin’ fer me, and once I hit my teenage year, didn’t nobody anymore press me to take none.
I am forever grateful.
Daddy normal takes the morning prayer, and he’s right quick at pronouncin’ his thanks and amens.
For this we ALL are grateful.
And we dive in….polite-like, so as to remember the manners Mama done tried to instill in ourselves. “Take a little and pass to the left,” and “Don’t pick up yer fork till ever’body been served,” and Daddy’s favorite, “No eatin’ till Mama takes the first bite.” On this one, we sit with forks loaded and biscuits jammed, poised to the front our faces, watchin’ close fer that first dainty bite.
Mama don’t tease us much. She’s hungry her ownself after gettin’ up before daybreak to get this meal on the table.
Nothin’ out of order. Nothin’ to give nobody pause. Day begun like ever’ other summer day, or spring or winter, fer that matter. ‘R come fall, neither.
After breakfast, we all was given our marchin’ orders fer that day. Summertime’s less about plowin’ and plantin’ and more about weedin’ and bringin’ in the first harvests and plumpin’ up the cattle and hogs fer market and pickin’ berries fer Mama, and tendin’ to rebuildin’ fences and mowin’ the alfalfa, then balin’ and haulin’ it in and stackin’ it proper.
We got a heap to do and like ever’ other day, we all get after it. It’s what we Goodwells do. It’s what plumb ever’body has to do.
We prob’ly ain’t special, but we like to think we are.
Well, come dinnertime (which is the noon meal here on the farm. Biggest spread o’th’day lay end to end on the table, usually fried chickens, smashed taters, assorted greens and carrots and Mama’s homemade cottage cheese all blacked on top with pepper. My second fav’rite meal!), we all troop in from the pasture and the barn and the henhouse and the garden and from fields further afield and gather ’round the table once again.
And right now, come middle of the afternoon, there it all still sets. Not a one o’ us hungry, not none of us kids, and more certainly not Mama nor Daddy nor Grandpap.
Ain’t been a much when it come to conversation since we come in, not much when it come to nothin’ ‘cept Mama and Livvie a’sniffin’ here and there.
‘Cause here we all set, too, but us, we’re all in the front room. Daddy’s still a’holdin’ the piece of Big Chief paper in his big ol’ weathered and calloused paw.
I feel complicit somehow, since Lawrence, he writ his note, slid under his plate at the dinner table, on a sheet tore from one o’my Big Chief tablets, give to me by Miss Meadow, down to the school.
Daddy, he’s jest a’givin’ his full attention down to the floorboards. Grandpap, he’s a creakin’ back and forth in his rockin’ chair, ninety to nothin’, criiiiick crock, criiiiiick crock. I give up countin’.
Linc, the oldest, he’s took to polishin’ one o’his belt buckles won at the county rodeo over to Halesburg, keepin’ hisself busy. Livvie, she’s a wipin’ her eyes with the hem o’her skirt, and Luce, she’s pokin’ holes in a old stack of newspapers with a sharpened pencil.
I chose to set apart from her.
Then comes me. And I reckon I’m jest full and heavy with the weight of emptiness and scaredification. Big hole inside, just black and fuzzy.
The littler kids, they ain’t quite old enough to be behavin’ in any other way but like children. Loreen, aged ten, and twins Lawton and Lewis, well, all they can come up with is a’squirming and fighin’ and bein’ shushed by Daddy and Grandpap.
‘Course, then they’s Mama. Ain’t nobody purtier in they melancholy and heartache than Mama. Eyes rimmed in red and nose pinked from cryin’, her eyes keep flittin’ off to the winder or the front door, hopin’ but a’knowin’ he won’t be a’comin’ back through fer some time.
See, brother Lawrence, the toughest son of a gun (forgive my French) in the family, built like a bull elephant and stronger than a horse, and often took for eighteen or twenty, he done took off.
He done gone over to A-dair County, gettin’ hisself a ride with a itinerate picker a’passin’ through to his next job.
Brother Lawrence done lied about his age and enlisted hisself in the Army, aimin’ and claimin’ to fight hisself the Germans and them Japanese, and even them I-talians.
Brother Lawrence done gone off to war.
Ain’t we supposed to be a’cheerin’ and a whoopin’ at him a doin’ his patriotic duty? Well, maybe we will, one day. But right now, we’re just a’hopin’ and a’prayin’ ol’ Brother Lawrence comes marchin’ home again…