“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.

“Come Hell r’ High Water”

“Don’t turn ’round, boy, mind yer own business,” the low voice went on, barely above a whisper.

How I could hear him so clear still befuddles me.  The auction corral was echoin’ to the sky with shouts ‘n hollers, and the silence of the stompled veternarian splayed bend and bleedin’ upon the dusty ground.

This ain’t no place fer heroes.  That’s what he said, be it to me or Daddy.  Heaviness weighed down my insides, it tasted somethin’ awful,  and I feared if I was to slip a look Daddy’s way, I’d see somethin’ I wudn’t wantin’ to see.

So I set.  And I did not turn left nor right nor ’round.  Daddy managed to touch my fingers, what was grippin’ tight upon the top fence rail where we was set, froze.  I swallered hard, hopin’ he’d see my Adam’s Apple a bobbin’ in response.  He an’ me, we was in this together.

The mayhem and confusion and wailin’ and flailin’ was rampin’ up.  Men and boys and cattle was runnin’, tangled in their indecision.  Still don’t know how long we was still, could’ve been seconds, felt like hours.  But Daddy, I could feel him decide before he leapt off the rail and hauled it to where the vet, he lay still.

Still.

I hauled my ownself, on his tail, lookin’ over his shoulder as he knelt beside the damaged man, that notebook clutched tight even still in his hand.  Folks made a wide circle behind us, givin’ room and settlin’ the panic.  Only a bit.  Some flash, some sound would send this little world into chaos again in a New York minute, but for now, there was breathin’ room.

Ain’t no place fer heroes, the low voice said.

But then, said I, there’s Daddy.

There’s Daddy

 

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“Come Hell ‘r High Water”

Hey.

Ho.

Liam here.  Missed you all somethin’ fierce.  Now, we ain’t been fightin’ no fars, nor we ain’t done floated down the river in the flood.  We done been right busy, though, we Goodwells.

I mention my folks and me, we’re the Goodwells?  The Goodwells of Denton County?  Yep, I got no doubt in my mind you heard somethin’ o’ us.  Grandpap, he practically owned him most o’ Denton County back in his day.

Now, his day done came and done went, but he made his mark, I kid you not.  An’ he’s still a’ huffin’ an’ a’puffin’ an’ a’makin’ hisself known all ’round!

But I digress.

Me’n my family, we near had to up and move, clean away from our home fer generations upon end here in Denton County, and the story ain’t quite seen its end.  I’m needin’ to set it to paper, thanks to Miss Meadow down to the school,  her remindin’ me some stories need to be tol’ before the endin’s been writ.

So here goes.

Me’n Daddy, me’n Daddy and Linc and Lawrence, and sometimes me’n Daddy and Linc and Lawrence and Grandpap ‘n Uncle Sedgwick, we all up an’ visit the livestock auction down to Polo ever’ month ‘r two ‘r six ‘r so.  This time, howsomever, it was me ‘n Daddy goin’ solo an’ we was havin’ us a fine’ ol’ time.

Got up ‘fore dawn, which ain’t unusual for us farmin’ folk.  Got us in the ol’ International pickup, cold breakfast at our feet and hot coffee steamin’ in our mugs.  We took precious care, I tell you what, in not lettin’ it slop over them fat white mugs.  Daddy makes his coffee hotter’n the far it takes to perc it!

My face, I’ll have you know, was grinnin’ from ear lobe to ear lobe.  Me’n Daddy, we don’t get time jest the two of us much often, bein’ we’re eight Goodwell children in our family alone, not countin’ cousins, second and third cousins, and kissin’ cousins what woosh they was real Goodwell cousins!

An’ Daddy, he was a grinnin’ his ownself, both at me an’ the world in gen’ral.  It was stretchin’ out to be a grand day for us Goodwell men.  An’ off we went.

Polo, little spot in the road next county over in DeKalb County (an’ don’t you go an’ get catched pronouncin’ that “l” in DeKalb!  Local’s like to hogtie you an’ tar’n feather you jest fer bein’ foreign!).  They ain’t much there to speak of.  Blink yer eyes and you’re like to miss it.  ‘Cept come auction day.  Some ol’ bird years ago name o’ Pike Pearson, he built him a barn with offshoots and corrals and even an’ indoor arena o’ some size, with benches built up like a three ring circus.  Even built hisself a snack shack outside with giant sized hamburgers and such.  His boys run the place now.  Law, I love me a cattle auction.

Daddy always buys us burgers.  Twice.  Law.

Drivin’ next to an’ hour, we made it ‘most unscathed, only one miniscule burn on my left shank when Daddy took a corner tight to miss Judge Huger’s big ol’ shiny black Cadillac takin’ its half plumb outta the middle.  Burned somethin’ fierce, but only fer a minute or ten.  I spit in my hand and rubbed it a time’r two fer good measure, sure.

We done ourselves some wanderin’, even some wonderin’, but Daddy’d done pronounced we wasn’t there to do no buyin’, nor no sellin’.  We was just notin the lay o’ the land fer the big Spring sale.  Fine by me, said I, munchin’ on burger number one. I jest relished the sights o’ the fresh brushed livestock, the smell o’ new hay, and the shoutin’ and wheelin’ and dealin’ o’ the farmers and stock traders.

We been there ’bout a hour, maybe a couple, my shiny boots dusty and my belly full.  Me ‘n Daddy, we was a perched upon a corral rail watchin’ a couple veternarians sashayin’ about, examinin’, then writin’ on their tablet.  Now, I know me somethin’ ’bout diseased livestock.  These here, they looked purty good to me.

Daddy’n me, we jest watched.

Why, time done slowed so much an’ we was so lost in the watchin’, no tellin’ how long we’d stayed perched when law!  Jest to my left hand, a writhin’ black steed, a’snortin’ with Hell’s own fury (Forgive me, Lord, but that there was a moment!  An’ Lord, please don’t tell Mama!), rid by some cowboy black hat low over his eyes, sailed over the fence upon which me’n Daddy was a’sittin’, so close I could feel the sweat a’flyin’ and the hair on the flank brush my cheek!  I near toppled and tangled in them flailin’ legs an’ but fer Daddy a’grabbin’ my shirt back, there’d like to be a mangled mess o’ me in that corral!

As it was, one o’ them vets, he had not a chance, couldn’t even blink an eye ‘fore that beast landed feet first on his shoulders, forcin’ him to the cowpied dust, then for punctuation, landed on his lower regions with his back two feet an’ kept on a’goin’, racin’ through the doe-eyed cattle and dumbfounded farmhands, leapin’ out the other side and headin’ lickity split toward the horizon!

I do not remember breathin’.  I do remember heavin’.  I recall jest the infinitesimal movement from my Daddy next to me,  I knew he was a’fixin’ to dive in an’ do what he could, I reckon.  The only other recollection was a low voice behind and betwist us two sayin’,

“This here is no place for a hero.”

…..an’ there be more to this story….