“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

 

*********

‘Tween a Crock and a Hard Space”

Hey ho.  Liam here, still sticky’n still wedged low ‘neath the gray porch.

Did nobody never ponder themselves paintin’ the underneath side o’ these ol’ weathered boards?  Truth is, I been under here plunty, thousands or hund’erds o’ times, chasin’ cats, pullin’ out rapscallion twin brothers, buryin’ treasure.  But hidin’ down here for nigh on least a hour or a half, why, what’s a feller to do but contemplate him the conundrums what lay before, or above him.

An’ paintin’ these here boards would o’been a sight more pleasin’ to the eye o’all us who shimmy down this way.

I may mention this to Grandpap, once I find myself ready to confess to what end I was lyin’ down here in the dirt.

Leston and Daddy, they be up above, nursin’ they iced sweet tea an’ rockin’ to who laid a chunk in a couple o’Mama’s rockin’ chairs.  They shore ain’t sayin’ much, least not ’bout much but the weather an’ the price o’beef over to St. Joe.  But Leston, he been a reg’lar on the porch the last few days and I’m aimin’ to find out jest why.

I’m almost, I say almost, find my eyes a closin’ ‘gainst the heat an’ the bugs.  No, I ain’t a’nappin’.  No time fer nappin’, and anyhow, I don’t b’lieve it it, not whatsoever.  Think o’all I’d be a’missin’ was I to ‘llow myself unconsciousness to overtake me durin’ daylight hours.  Too much goin’ on in this ol’ world fer me to give any up.

I will ‘llow I might jest rest my eyes once r’ twice ever’ now an’ ag’in.

An’ I know I ain’t foolin’ nobody, least of all my ownself, but there it is.  A feller’s got to draw him a line, even if it’s with his own person.

No nappin’.  Not fer ol’ Liam.

But I digress.

Once I snuck and stuck myself down here in my hidey hole I was committed.  I was silent as a church mouse an’ so dry I was spittin’ cotton but I’d made me my bed and I’d see this mystery through.

Gol’ DANG, though, I wooshed them fellers’d hurry themselves up.  Time’s a’tickin’.

Time’s a tickin ‘.

Tick.

Tick.

“You aimin’ to sell, then, Duke?”

Great Horned Spoon, whaaat?!

Tickin’ done stopped when the talkin’ done started.  Not sure I’m a’breathin’!  I pressed my top ear to the bottom o’the slat crack.

“Well, sir,” begun my Daddy, rockin’ straight atop me dead stopped.  My guess he’s balanced up front on them rocker rails, a posture reg’lar fer him when he’s contemplatin’ somethin’ of portent.  

My head, though, it’s plum banging through my eardrums, Sell what?!  Sell what?!  I’m ’bout to pop!

“Well, sir,” Daddy drawled slow-like,”The Judge, he made hisself quite an offer, looks like he done similar to next to ever’ owner in Denton County, least this side o’ the river.”

Say it ain’t so.

He went on, never once sending them rails back to center,”We Goodwells, we been livin’ on this land fer generations on end.”

Oh, no.

This is where Leston slid in.  “Now, Duke, you ain’t been on this here property longer’n forty years.  Yer Daddy lost the hilltop land back before the last war.”

Ah oh.

I could feel the contempt in Daddy’s black brown eyes,  knew they was narrowin’ an’ borin’ holes in ol’ Leston’s own faded-y ones.

Heavy foggy silence held sway fer longer’n I cared for.  My insides was turnin’ cartwheels, my straw hair was clumped wet with sweat and under-the-porch filth, I durned near come to a’hollerin’ or kickin’ or even cussin’, if it wudn’t a sin.

Daddy spoke.  Quiet.  Hard as a Bois d’Arc heartwood.  Lethal.  Deadly as a nine-foot copperhead snake.  Dangerous.  Menacin’ as a Missouruh cougar crouched up a tree.

“Well, Leston, I reckon you an’ me, we et’ up the afternoon.  Let’s you an’ me give it a rest fer this day.”

And thusly, Leston, he was dismissed.  Daddy, resumed his rockin’ jest once or twice. 

Then.  

“Liam.  You’n me, let’s us take a walk, Son.”

Law.  

Ain’t but two choices, scramble out or face the consequences o’ Daddy draggin’ me out.

‘Spose I’ll chose the first, though both’r bound for unpleasantness.

 

 

 *************

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Tween a Crock an’ a Hard Space…”

Hot as a Three-dollar Pistol!

 

These here are the continued collections o’ recollections o’ one Liam Goodwell, that’s be me, who’s been put up to these here chronicles by Miss Meadow, down to the school an’ who will never never, no never know I jest may be enjoyin’ myself jest a little.

Here ‘n there.

 

Now, it’s the sticky heat of new summer.  Steam comes up from the crick an’ the river further down, makin’ a little fog over the long grasses.  Horses an’ tractors alike slip and slide over the dew, and near ever’thing looks jest a whit whilted, plant and animal and mankind alike.

So what the hay’m I doin’ tucked in the skinny space ‘tween the worn gray boards o’ the front porch an’ the leanto attached to the side?  Believe you me, ain’t no stirrin’ o’ no breeze down here.  Ain’t no relivin’ the itch o’ the puffs of black powdered dirt ‘ttachin’ clusters here’n there on my person.  Ain’t no tellin’ how long I’ll be hidin’ out here, seein’ as I chose my ownself to wedge my thirteen year old gangly, rangy body down here to do myself some reconnaissance.

A feller’s got to what what a feller’s got to do.  An’, fed up as I am wont to be, I need to know what’s goin’ on.  Comin’s and goin’s o’ neighbor Lester Pike, dis-engagement o’ Grandpap in whatever matter’s bein’ discussed, the fac’ ain’t nobody shared none o’ this with nobody else, why, I vow I need to know!

So here I lay. A’waitin’.  A’sweatin’.  A’tangled up like some durned pretzel from the county fair.

Law, sneakin’ ’round shore ain’t glamorous like in the the-ater.  Them fellers, both sides o’ the law, manage to stay slick and suave.  Me, I’m just slick with sweat, and now some durned bugs ‘r findin’ my neck worthy of investigation.

I’m jest now thinkin’ it best I give up my investigatory sloothin’ for the day, when jest that minute, Leston’n Daddy saunter theyselves out onto the porch, footsteps punctuated by the slam o’ the screen door.

Mama’s no doubt cringin’ in the house somewheres.  Ain’t no slammin’ nothin’ in the Goodwell household.

I shimmy a little further in my hidey-hole, seein’ there shadows through the slats in the agin’ gray slats.  Leston chooses the rockin’ chair on the right, farthest away from me, and I note a sliver o’ discomfiture.  Ol’ Leston, he’s a slow and low talker an’ I may miss somethin’.

But then he posits, “Hot day, ain’t it, Duke?”

An’ fore my daddy takes his seat in the rocker di-rectly over top o’ me, I hear the twinkle crinkle o’ the ice floatin’ in his iced tea glass, I find myself hearin’ almost as good, was I settin’ smack in the midst o’ them two.

I decide to ignore the dirt and the sweat.  An’ the bugs.  But likely not the heat.  I’m figurin’ by now I got me dirt rings roun’ my nose holes from breathin’ in this dust.  An’ I’m thirsty now as all get out!

I’ll give it my best.

Clink clink clack rattle swirl gulp.  Don’t know which, but one o’ them’s takin’ his time with his iced sweet tea.  This is as near tortureous as a boy can imagine, leastwise a boy’s who’s hunkered in the twelve inch crevice below the porch.

Now, there’s much to be said ’bout Mama’s sweet tea.  I grown up guzzlin’ it for dinner and supper ever’ day o’ my life that I can recollect.  Ain’t nothin’ like a long slow snort when the heats got to you, as well.

Mama, she has a kettle on the black stove near all day, steepin’ Lipton tea bags, hangin’ the strings outside and tyin’ ’em in a little one bow knot to keep ’em from fallin’ in an’ havin’ to fish ’em out.  She keeps her a bottle o’ simple syrup (now a slug o’ that’ll grow hair on yer back!) made from boilin’ hot water and cups and cups o’ sugar in the icebox for sweetner.

We Goodwell children, all us kids, we count our blessin’ reg’lar Mama likes her sweet tea sweet!  I mean, SWEET!  It’s purtin’ near dessert in a glass, I kid you not!

Even Luce don’t complain, and that girl, she complains ’bout most ever’thing!

Clink clink clack rattle swirl gulp.

Long skinny glasses filled to the brim with ice, Mama then mixes her steeped tea with the simple syrup and pours it hot over the ice.  It’s grand fun to watch the ice melt itself into the dark brown liquid, lightin’ it to amber, and let me tell you, that first few slugs, not quite cold, not too hot to chug, that there may be the most satisfyin’ part o’ my whole meal!

“Well, Leston Pike, I’d say for shore, it’s durned hot.  Durned hot.”

Jawin’s beginnin’.  Time fer me to focus in an’ pay me some attention.

 

Durned bugs.

 

 

‘Tween a Crock an’ a Hard Space…

Come ag’in?

 

Well, hey!  Been a long time!

This here’s Liam!  Liam Goodwell, scion ‘n third son  o’  us Denton County Goodwells!

You shore been missed!

Well, mostly….when I had me half a minute to think.  This here started a long hot bacon-sizzlin’ summer, I tell you what.  Been plantin’ an’ mowin’ and haulin’ an’ stuff like that there till I been fallin’ dead to rights on my bed come bedtime with my boots still hangin’ from my feet!  Now, my big brothers, they pummice me with pillers ’till I wake enough to kick ’em off…often in their di-rection.  Last ev’nin’, bam! Nailed ol’ Linc upside the head!  Boom!  Smacked ol’ Lawrence in the left elbow.

Then Lawrence, he catched that boot ‘fore it hit the floor and usin’ his pitchin’ prowess, sent a fast and hard strike to my midsection.  Oooof.  Daddy hollered from the other room, “Hey, you fellers, put yerselves a stop to what’s goin’ on in there ‘r I’m a’comin’ in!”

Game over.  Lawrence smirked, victorious once ag’in.  His timin’, I’ll admit, rests on the edge of perfection.

Oooof.

But that ain’t here nor there.  You been missed and I ‘spect I best claim responsibility, as I ain’t writ fer weeks an’ days.  Seems plumb f’ever, somehow.

‘Ppears we Goodwells, however, we have us a sit-iation.  Over the course o’ the last seven days, or six, we been gittin’ these visits ‘most daily from our neighbor to the northeast, Leston Pike.  Scrawny son of a gun, long and lanky with stooped shoulders an’ long monkey arms what sway back ‘n forth near to his knees.  Ol’ Leston, he’s tanned to leather, with a skinny hooked nose an’ a straw yeller hairs stickin’ out his ears.  Good feller, but keeps to hisself, hence the mystery o’ his visits.  No family to speak of, lest you count his hound dog, Drum.  An’ his sister Wandette what lives over to St. Joe an’ who drives over most ever’ Sunday to cook him a proper dinner an’ who fixes hair fer a livin’.

‘Cept Leston’s.  That ol’ hair in his ears near always looks the same before she come to visit an’ after she takes off back home in her shiny green Buick.  Business must be brisk at her hair fixin’ place.

Well, as I was sayin’, Leston’s been hikin’ over jest past noontime dinner right reg’lar.  Him an’ Daddy, they set out on the front porch, sippin’ Mama’s sweet tea.  Grandpap, he ain’t a part o’ these here conversations, which I find odd and some disconcertin’.  He makes hisself scarce, busyin’ hisself in the barn out out to the garden.

He hums a little bit, too, jest like Mama when she’s a’hoppin’ mad an’ dancin’ with the point o’ no return.  This here gives me pause.

That them two on the porch, they never do really look to-wards one another, but talk out to the yard out front, that they talk in whispers, near, gives me yet another pause.

Never did like whisperin’, be it ‘tween goofy gigglin’ girls or fellers down to town on a corner, sizin’ up passersby.  Whisperin’ tells me one thing.  If what they have to say ain’t fer public consumption, it ain’t worth sayin’.  Hairs stand to attention at the back o’ my neck, if I’ve had me a recent haircut.  Mama calls it a sixth sense, says she’s got it too, and Law, I do believe her!  I could tell you stories.

An’ I believe she and me, we’re kindred spirits that way some, but when it come to soft talk an’ eyes what holler “hush hush” when me or anybody gets too close, well, I don’t speculate so much as jest get mad.

Luce, my next oldest sister, she says I’m jest feelin’ self-important, that I ain’t s’posed to know ever’thing ’bout ever’body.  An’ maybe she’s right.

An’ then, maybe she ain’t.

Either way, whisperin’ an’ a’talkin’ an’ sneakin’ ’round ain’t any part o’ what I claim is right.

(‘Cept when it comes, I reckon, to birthdays and Christmastime…but I digress.)

So this day, the burblin’ in my tummy set me in motion and I found me a quiet nook in the gap ‘twixt the porch an’ the leanto me an’ my big brothers call our room.  Cool soft dirt what puffs jest a bit when I git myself settled.  I give myself some deny-ability (That’s what Luce called it when she found me and tossed me a gunnysack to lay my head) were anybody to find me down in my hide-y hole.  Jest restin’ my eyes a bit ‘fore I head back out fer chores, I’d imply.

Now, while I’d imply,  I’d never lie.  Not out loud.  That there, that’d be a sin, and duplicitous in the eyes of the good Lord Almighty!  No sir-eee!  No sinnin’ fer me!

Jest eavesdroppin’.  Ain’t no commandment ’bout that I heard tell of.

 

 

I settle myself in an’ wait fer Leston and Daddy to saunter out with their iced sweet tea an’ tell that front yard a thing ‘r two.

 

************

 

 

 

 

 

That there? That’s a Thing o’Beauty!

My Daddy, he’s always been a teller of tales. 

And me?  Why, I always been a listener o’ them tales, could listen all day long.

Well, them memories, them tales, true and bigger than life and embellished upon ever’ single tellin’, why, they need to be old, one time and fer all time.

That there?  That’s why I been writin’.  

An that, my friends, is a pure and true thing o’ beauty!

“Oh the Places You’ll Go!”

I am, I am a journeyman.

I’ve happily lain my head many places.   And hope to rest myself at many more.

I even claim the homes of those gone before.  Stories passed on down and on down become real, like my own memories.  That’s alright by me.  Those places remain alive and well as long as we don’t forget.

What’s the point, if not the journey?

And then the landing.

And then the telling.

 

 

Daddy’s home was whatever ramshackle homestead HIS own daddy could negotiate for.  Rent was a struggle, as Daddy’s daddy had many skills but never a real job.  Rent payment was nearly always at risk, and always in arrears.  More than once, Daddy and his daddy and mama and all the kids and cousins and hangers-on (and there were always hangers-on) would pack up and move on in the middle of the night.  It was a troubled life.  Daddy learned early wherever he found himself come night,  that was home.  Mama’d hang the same curtains, put out the same faded stiff black and white photos, make the same biscuits from the same cast iron skillet.  So whether it was tumbledown shack, an abandoned hen-house, or the back of someone’s barn, it was home.

Daddy vowed he’d never live that way again.

 

Mama’s family, they were big business, at least in their neck of the woods.  Why, they owned nearly one hundred fifty acres of the finest, blackest, most fertile farmland east of Kansas City, Missouri side.  They raised livestock, even named a few, although Mama says she learned early on not to become too friendly, seeing as saying goodbye when they were hauled off to market was a tearful affair.  Every year,  a box of live baby chicks arrived via the U.S. Postal service.  They had dogs, hunting dogs and lap dogs, and cats lived in the barn.  Mama climbed trees and had Kool Aid stands to tempt the odd farmer passing along the dirt road out front.  They got a new tractor every two or three years, but always longed for one with automatic transmission or a cab to keep out the rain.  Settling for a sunfaded umbrella wasn’t, however, half bad.  They had a big white barn with cartoon characters on horses painted on the rough-hewn insides by where the cows, always named Bessie, were milked.  They had a smoke house and four chicken coops and a machine shed and circular grain bins of all heights.  She played in the hot and dusty barn loft. She skated on frozen crystal ponds in winter, and swam in the same come the summer thaw.  She and her sister walked the half mile to a one-room schoolhouse for their first eight years of schooling, and visiting the empty sagging building years later, she salvaged the blackboard where she had carved her name into the black slate.

Mama was a rapscallion.

 

Memories of my first home begin with a fire.  A flu fire.  It was dark, must have been nighttime. I remember the smell and some orange flames poking out from the black pipe snaking up the wall from the round black stove.  Mama reminds me I was two years old when the place caught, so the visions burned across my mind (pardon the pun….came way too easy!) must be  powerful ones.  Our little community was out in the country, some distance from town.  I recall being pulled quick from the bath by my mama, then wrapped tight like a sausage in a white towel with two big brown stripes.  I remember the jogging, jostling run over my mama’s shoulder to the neighbors’, then being dried off on a chenille bedspread sprinkled with green and yellow fabric flowers by old Mrs Price.  I remember peering through her side window when the firemen came and pumped the back of an old fire engine, then sprayed the blackening rooftop.  I remember my daddy had a hose, too, and mama was running in and out of the back door, boxes and clothes, and funny, a cowboy hat sideways on her head.

Last I remember was Mama tucking me back in my own bed with the high wooded slatted sides.  I still had the white towel with the big brown stripes around me.

Where that old towel got to, I don’t know, but I’d give my eye teeth to find it.

(Here’s where I’d gleefully add some comment about keeping “the home fires burning,” if only I’d the courage…)

 

And the voyage continues!  Some like being planted, some revel in the trek.

 

Either way, what’s the point, if not the journey?

And then the landing.

And then the telling.

 

*************

 

 

 

“Dang Me! Ought t’Take a Rope n’Hang Me!

If it smell like a pig, and it look like a pig, and why, it even act ‘n snort like a pig, that make it a pig, don’t it?

You’d think so, now, wudn’t you?

This here’s Punk Bole a’gin, and I got me a whole lot o’thinkin’ to do on my own behalf.

Daddy, he kidnap me, took me from the home what was my comfort and refuge, he snitch me up in the middle o’ the night and haul me off some’eres out to the woods, some ol’ dark, dank heap o’ tumbledown sticks, even worse’n what Mama and the kids live in down to town.

Daddy, he tell me he ain’t so much as kidnapped me, but say what?  He save me!  He save me?

He save me from what, ez-a’tly?

 

Daddy, he hog tie me, bound me wrist to ankle, stuffed my mouth so I couldn’t not make a soun’.

Daddy, he say he keepin’ me quiet so’s not disturb nobody, get ’em all het up and such.

He silence me for what?

 

Daddy, he throw me, alone and hungry, out to this ol’ broken down henhouse, leave me near a day, day and a half, no food, no water, till he jest show up with a bag o’fried chitlins, cold ham,  a half eat loaf o’bread, and sadness writ all over his face.

Daddy, he claim he got him a plan, he need me, we goin’ to Texas, drill fer o’ll, get us some cash, live us high on the hog.

He need me why?

 

Know how I tol’ y’all I has my way numbers and parsin’?  How they float ‘roun’ in my head and line up jest so, I can purt’near figure most an’thin’ you throw my way?

Well let me tell you, this jest don’ add up, it do not.

 

When 2 plus 2 don’t add up to 4, why, som’thin’, som’thin is wrong!

 

***********