“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”

“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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‘Tween a Crock an’ a Hard Space”

Now, look here, let’s jest us make a assumption right up front, for the sake o’ assumin’.

Mama’s Apple Pie is hot!

I mean straight from the oven hot, ooey gooey apple sauces oozin’ an’ bubblin’ from the slits Mama sliced on the top, shades of golden flakin’ crust pinched and shiny with Mama’s sugar butter glaze catchin’ the afternoon light, steam still a dancin’ and twistin’, hoverin’ jest above them toasty tasty mountains o’ de-light.

There ain’t no way under God’s good Heaven we Goodwells aim to wait clear till supper to have us a slice!  We come ninety to nothin’ from all over the farm, the ‘roma bein’ that intoxicatin’!  And here we set.  

Mama knew we’d come.  ‘Course she did.  I’d lay odds she fanned the steam risin’ from them pies with her apron straight out through the screen door to the back porch jest to catch our ‘ttention!

She loves fresh baked Apple Pie jest like the rest o’ us!  An’ like the rest o’ us Goodwells, she don’t aim to wait!

Now, to my left elbow round the big round kitchen table, there sets sweet little sister Loreen, quietest o’ all us.

She’s Apple Pie.  Plain an’ simple an’ so hot it’ll turn yer insides to charcoal.  She dives in right now, no lookin’ left nor right nor heavenward.  That slip o’a girl can eat!

Next roun’d be Lincoln, oldest o’ all us Goodwell young ‘uns. 

He’s Apple Pie swimmin’ in fast meltin’ homemade ice cream he’n Lawrence, next oldest, been churning since noon.  Takin’ turns addin’ salt an’ crankin’ an’  soppin’ water melts eekin’ from the churn they set up out to the barn.

Next to Linc., there’d be Lawrence, for one don’t go without the other’n.

Lawrence, big an’ handsome, he comes next ‘roun’ the circle.  

Mama’s give him a bigger slice that most, he’s a growin’ boy still, says she.  He takes it as his due, big ol’ slice looks to be still shiny with heat.  He eats his pie with a spoon, takin’ a giant bite, then divin’ into the tub o’ vaniller ice cream what sets in the middle for community eatin’, never even botherin’ to serve hisself, dippin’ his used utensil in, bite by bite, even standin’ to get him some leverage.  Mama stands aside, proud.  

Grandpap, he sets jest next, an’ he don’t abide bad manners no how, so pops Lawrence upside the head, grabbin’ the boy’s spoon an’ dippin’ a heap into Lawrence’s bowl.  Lawrence looks woeful but don’t say nothin’.  That’s be disprespectful.  He knows, an’how, Mama’ll let him lick the paddle later.  

Grandpap, he knows, too.  No matter.  He made his point.  He takes his Apple Pie a little cool, waitin’ fer the rest o’ us to gobble up our share.  Then, slow-like, he finds the slice o’ Velveeta cheese Mama set on one o’ her purty plates, the ones she saves fer when the ladies come over fer chats and such.  With the patience o’ Job an’ the determination o’ David, he wrassles that thick yeller slice to the top o’ his cooled pie, then comtemplates  what he hath wrought, jest fer a heartbeat.  Then with that same slow deliveration, he takes him his first bite, sliced with his fork jest so.

Ain’t nothin’, ain’t NOTHIN’ like watchin’ Grandpap rapturous, eyes slit to near naught, chewin’ like he been give elixir from God’s sweet angels.

Law.

Now Daddy, he’s at Grandpap’s elbow.  

He takes his pie how-some-ever Mama gives it to him.  He never fails to grab her hand an’ tell her how ‘ppreciative he his, how he don’t know how he got so lucky.  An’ Mama, lightin’ up like she ain’t never been treated so good, she agrees he IS lucky, an’ smacks his shoulder then giggles like the light o’ my life down to the school, Emily Sage Hawthorne.

Mama, she fair floats ‘roun’ the table, never once settin’, dippin’ more vaniller, slicin’ more pie, wipin’ the mouths of the twins who set next, who fuss and squirm an’ would durn druther wipe they mouths (an’ they noses) on their sleeves.  She herself always waits till we’re most done, then I catch her catchin’ me catchin’ her divin’ into the bits at the bottoms of the near empty pie plates.  We always share a smile, me and Mama.  We understand each other.

Them twins, Louis and Lawton, they eat jest slivers o’ Mama’s Apple Pie which only serve as the base of mountains of vaniller, more int’rusted in grabbin’ spoons backhanded and stirrin’ and beatin’ they ice cream into a Apple Pie spotted soup.

An’ they git more on themselves than in.  Ain’t seven too old fer that tomfoolery?

Comin’ roun’ the table, there’d be Luce, near a twin to me, but a tad older.  An odd duck, she eats her Apple Pie real slow.  She peels the shiny crusty top off the sliced gooey cinnamoned apples underneath, settin’ it to the side.  Then one by one, she spears them apple slices, lookin’ at em’ close, them poppin’ them whole into her mouth.  She finishes up with the sauce-laden crust, tiltin’ her head way back, slidin’ pieces in.  Ain’t certain I ever seen her chew.

Who knows why Luce does what she does?  Ain’t none o’ us wish to attract her wrath, so we let it slide.

Prissy Livvie, the oldest o’ the Goodwell girls, she eats itty bitty bits, hardly barely openin’ her mouth, then wipin’ the corners like they’d be an’thin’ there.  Ain’t no ice cream for her.  Says it makes her fat.  But I tell you what, she still don’t miss Mama’s Apple Pie!  And she does clean her plate!

Then there’s me.  Liam Goodwell, third son o’ the Goodwells o’ Denton County.  

An’ I’ll take Mama’s Apple Pie hot or cold or buried under vaniller, an’how, an’ any time.

‘Cept don’t give me no Velvetta.  Don’t look natural, somehow.

 

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‘Tween a Crock an’ a Hard Space”

Ain’t nothin’ like Mama’s Apple Pie.

Ain’t NOTHIN’ like Mama’s Apple Pie.

An’ ain’t never a time she don’t make more’n one.  Law, us Goodwells, all us kids and aints and uncles and neighbors what jest happen along or outlaws in need o’ a hand o’ kindness or Grandpap or hey, even the huntin’ dogs and barn cats, we all us come a’runnin’ once we get us a whiff o’ that golden crisp brown sugar aroma what whafts and dances an’ sneaks  up ‘pon us delicate-like.  

Then Wham oh BAM, it slugs us upside the head till we cain’t see straight!  Our tongues get thick, our eyes fair to water with tears o’ joy, and our insides rumble like the ol’ potato truck over to the German POW camp we ain’t s’posed to know nothin’ ’bout, out to the used up quarry!

So Mama, she makes a slew.

Now these here pies, they ain’t perfec’ to look upon.  But I reckon purty’s in the eyes o’ the beholdin’.  An’ one you tried yerself a slice, you ain’t never ever goin’ back to them dry faded ol’ triangles under that glass down to the soda fountain in the drug store down to town.

If you ain’t been privy to the makin’, it’s well worth a watch.  But this tellin’, this here’s ’bout the anticipatin’.

Pinched round the edges quick as a lick, Mama’s fingers sound like a snip then a snap, hunerd or fifty times ‘roun’ the outside.  Like a ‘ssembly line, she snip snaps three, four, five pies.  Unless she’s borried  more pie pans from the church ladies.  We only got us five.

But I digress.

Then with the utmost care, she picks up her apron, decorated with faded-y apples and pears, and removes the black cast iron pot from the top o’ the stove, where it’s been bubblin’ slow and smellin’ like Heaven it’s ownself, some concoction o’ churned butter’n browned sugar an’ white, too, if we got it.

Well, with a feathered brush, with an artist’s clear eye, she’ll dab and dot and slide that sucker ‘roun in the butter/sugar then if she don’t paint ever crevice and bump on the top o’ that quarter inch crust atop that pie.  With a flourish, she’ll step back, admire her work, then lay on one last layer.

She’ll do that till the butter/sugar’s plumb gone.  We Goodwells, we don’t waste us an’thing.

Then this here?  This here’s where the anticipation starts.  She’ll, one by one, carry them glass rounds, mounded to overflowin’ with perforated white dough, now sogged with sweet buttery heaven and smellin’ o’ the heaps o’ sugared apple slices tucked underneath,  an’ slide ’em ever so careful into the oven.  Now, if you stoop real low, you can see the red hot coals to the bottom an’ the back an’ feel the whoosh o’ heat fair to melt yer face.

‘Ain’t no matter, I do my fair share o’ peekin’ in, once them pies all find their spots, like a puzzle, somehow.  Reckon I couldn’t get them suckers to fit, but then, my job ain’t the fixin’, it’d be the eatin’!

Now, here’s where I slide philosophical.  I reckon this ol’ world offers ever’thing Even Steven.  Ever’body, through hard work or bein’ in the right place at the right time, they got themselves ever’ opportunity ever’body else has.  Ain’t nothin to do with how many years they got under they belt, nor how few.  Ain’t got nothin’ to do with whether they was born big nor tall nor short nor fat nor girl baby nor boy baby nor under a rock nor if they be yeller nor green or soft or sassy.

Law, you should see Mama shoe a horse or’ toss hay on a near full wagon.  An’ you should hear my Daddy sing like a angel come Communion Service down to the church.  He hits notes I ain’t never touched!

My point is, how-some-ever, is that we ain’t all got to do it all.  Mama?  She ain’t inclined so much to muck no stalls, but I’ll bet she’d do it in record time an’ cleaner’n all the rest o’ us.  Daddy?  He wudn’t inclined to go past high school, the ranchin’ and farmin’ called his name, but ask him near an’thin’ ’bout an’thin’ an’ you’ll learn a load, I tell you what!

An’ me?  Liam Goodwell, third son o’ the Denton County Goodwells?  I ain’t so inclined to be bakin’ me no pies, though I ‘llow I’d do ’em up fine.  ‘Cept that snip snappin’, maybe.

But while I ain’t inclined to be there at the makin’, I ain’t never passed up a chance to do the imbibin’.

No.  Not never ever.

Now, if you all’ll ‘scuse me, I’ll be meanderin’ up to the house di-rectly.  There’s good times at the Goodwells this day!

 

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