“Don’t Set Under the Apple Tree With Nobody Else but Me”

Ain’t seen hide or hair nor a whiff of a sniff of Liam all afternoon.  Blindsided by the horses loosin’ themselves from the pasture, he skedaddled right now, leaving these folded up sheets of Big Chiefs tucked under his plate when he jumped to it from the noonday meal.  Mama didn’t bat an eye when I slid them into my dungaree pocket whist I helped her clear.  She knows all about my tendency to “collect” odds and ends.  She also knows about the certainty I return them all once I’ve investigated and perused them.

So she didn’t give me no nevermind.

Now, all us kids know Miss Meadow, our young and glamorous and just a little too shiny teacher from the Raymore School, a white-washed, one-room, crowded little building snuggled in an elbow of  Mill Creek.  We all know she has high hopes for him, like bein’ a judge or a business man or a general, challenging him to write down his thoughts every single day.   We all know she’s partial to Liam, smart as whip, he is, clever, too, and quiet-like, and everybody’s friend.  We’re all, all us kids, partial to Liam.  Not a lick o’nonsense or cruelty or avarice or low-minded skunkiness in him whatsoever.  He speaks clear and true and is honest as the day is long.  Me and him and our cousin Marie-France Mickelwait, we always call ourselves the Three Musketeers and share and share alike, thusly.

All us kids, we go to the Raymore School.  Even Daddy, he went there.  I think Grandpap helped build it away back in the olden days.  Mama, she grew up on the other side of town.  They had their own school, but it burnt down some time back.

So all us Goodwells, we’re well acquainted with Raymore School, visitin’ on a daily basis.   Well, excepting Livvie and Lincoln and Lawrence.  They take the truck half an hour to Os-burn to the high school there.  They come home of an afternoon all decorated in orange and black and hollerin’ “Tigers!” most days.

I surely cannot wait until my turn comes.  I’ve been labeled, and rightly so, I suppose, as the mean-spirited desperado of the Goodwell family.  Smiles don’t come easily for me, nor do kind words.  Nor do friends or birthday parties or all-round happy days.  My jumping off place, my changing of the tide, comes in a year or so,  when I aim to pile in the ol’ truck with the big kids, singin’ and smilin’ and wearin’ pretty dresses and plantin’ Victory gardens with the spirit squad and shoutin’ “Go Tigers” to one and all.

My name’s Luce.  Luce Goodwell.  Lucille Madeline Mickelwait Goodwell.  I’m older by one year of dear brother Liam, on whose tablet paper I am documenting this.  I will swear him to secrecy, and vow to break his pitchin’ arm if he spills one word.

I have faith in Liam, and trust him to the ends of eternity.  But secrets, we all got ’em.  (We, us three, we got a big German one hid out the other side of the bridge and then some.)  And these secrets, well,  I’m trusting Liam, and you, with mine.

 

Best I haul on out and help with them horses.  Daylight’s a’wastin’.

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

 

 

She Be Comin’ ‘Roun’ the Mountain!

“Somethin’s got into Luce!”

“You see her out yonder?  You see what she’s doin’?”

Now what you need to understand is, my sister Luce, near on a full year older’n me, she ain’t jest faster’n me, an’ taller’n me, and sly-er’n me all day long, why, she’s meaner’n me, too!  She turned fourteen last week, and we had us her fav’rite dinner (chili and cornbread with them little vienna sausages all smothered underneath) and sang her “Happy Birthday!”  Were you to know Luce, she don’t take kindly to havin’ much attention throwed her way, but tell the truth, she come near to smilin’ once or twice.

She’s a mean one, but she’s got her a good heart.  Least that there’s what I tell all my chums.  We fellers, we sit together on the fence shootin’ the breeze ever so often, and these fellers, they all tense up real tight when Luce throws them a glance.  Reckon the fact she beat all them upside the head more’n once over time, well, I’d tense right up, too.  And, well, since I seen the back side o’ her hot head, I do.

Here today, though, we got us a di-lemma.  Twins Lawton and Lewis, never one far from t’other, they come runnin’ to where I was out to the paddock out front of the kittywompus gray barn, both huffin’ and puffin’ and wavin’ like they was swattin’ bees.

“Liam!  Liam!  Somethin’ got into Luce!  She’s gone plumb crazy!”  That there was Lewis.

Then, “LIam!  Liam!  Somethin’ got into Luce!  She’s gone plumb crazy!”  That there, that was Lawton.

Figurin’ these two was teasin’ me an’ playin’ a prank, as they are wont to do reg’lar,  I give ’em a fine view o’my back whilst I pitchforked hay into the trough.

“Got work to do, boys,” I said.

“Liam!”  One or t’other grabbed my sleeve.

“Liam!”  One or t’other grabbed my other sleeve.

“Come look!  Come look!”

So.  Given they ‘ppeared truthful and sincere, I let them grubby ornery seven-year-old hellion brothers o’mine pull me out the paddock and out to the edge where the paddock meets the pasture , and the meadow out yonder meets that.  

Well, sir, that’s when it dawned on me what them two was pesterin’ me ’bout, it rung true!

Somethin’ shore had plumb got into Luce!  

A’way out yonder, out where them clovers and Velvetleaf and Cream Wild Indigo and Yarrow grow wild, why, smack in the middle o’all that purtiness sproutin’ from God’s green earth, was none other than mean ol’, sly ol’, hard hittin’, gristly Luce.

A doin’ what?

Well, a’smilin’, fer one thing.  Law! 

“See, we tol’ you!”  Lawton or Lewis nodded knowin’ly.

For what ‘fore my  my wonderin’ eyes did appear?  Why, not only Luce a’smilin’ fer all she was worth, but  Luce a’pickin’ flowers!  A’pickin’ flowers!  Luce!  And what’s more’n that, she be singin’ to the top o’ her lungs, and if I didn’t know better, it was some…., some…., some itchy smoochy love ballad we hear ever’ so often on the Opry’ come Saturday nights.

Made my skin crawl!

An’ beyond that?  Law, if she didn’t so a little jig and dance and spin herself in a circle!  

That she turned jest that moment and seen us starin’, all googly-eyed from up in the yard, well,  that there was a moment what went on for e-ternity, till she throwed them flowers to the wind and lit out our way ninety to nothin’,  dragon blood in her eyes, I jest knew it!  And with oil black terror in our hearts, we lit out our ownselves!  

Now, we got us long memories, we Goodwells. And we loves tacklin’ ourselves a problem.  And tackle it we would.  

Right now, though, our problem at hand was a demon-possessed son of a gun big sister what could take us all with one hand tied ’round her back!

Safety first!

***********

Loaded fer Bear? Like White on Rice!

So, ’bout them visions.  Mama’d claim she been havin’ them all her wakin’ life.  Started out, she could sniff out a storm a’comin’.  Nothing special there, lots o’folks do that, I reckon.  Dogs, too, if you a’watchin’ close.  Then, she could sniff out a lie.  No big deal there, neither.  Shiftin’ eyes and itchin’ foreheads ‘r a sure giveaway.

But then, ‘ccordin’ to the story Mama tells, and her sister Aint Cloreen, once Mama hit her teenage years, why, she’d find herself faint, sit herself down a half a minute, then leap up with some picture she done seen in her head.  Aunt Cloreen, she seen it more’n once, more likely more’n a hunert times.

Aint Cloreen, though, she says she never did count.  It was just Mama’s way, after all.  And they was all, the whole family, used to it, and come to find out, they all got kind of important, predictin’ the future based on Mama’s spells.

“Lila Elizabeth!”  Aint Cloreen said she’d said when she’d see a spell comin’ on, “Lila Elizabeth?  What’re you a’conjurin’ up, now?”

And just like that, Mama’d wipe her purty brow, tuck a little curl back behind a little ear, gather herself and say, “Well, Cloreen, let me tell you!  Best you not drive down to the picture show with that boy Martin Boxer!  I just got me a feelin’!”

And if it don’t beat all, that boy’d find hisself on the wrong side of his own daddy, and on the wrong side of the road, car in a ditch.

Now, the story is true as true can be.  Martin Boxer came out unscathed, till he confessed to his daddy, that is.    Still lives down the road a’ways, big horse rancher, thirty head r’ so.  But Aint Cloreen, she counts her blessin’s to this very day, as she reckons had she’d o’been in the ve-hicle, she’d likely been crushed in the mishap.

And Mama, she’s sure of it.

But that there is history, and this here, this is the here and now.

And I got me a pre-dicament.

See, long as I been a’walkin’ God’s green earth, stuck smack dab near middle of eight Goodwell heirs abhorent, my Mama tol’ me I was somethin’ special.

No, not like them sweet somethin’s ever’ mama says, all lovin’ and cooin’ after, say, a particular star-bedecked school report.  No, this pertains to my Mama havin’ them visions ’bout yours truly, startin’ with the everlovin’ day o’my birth.

Here her tell, and trust me here, we, all us Goodwells, heard our fill of this singulatory tale, she seen stars and planets and all manner o’ heavenly orbs, a’circulatin’ my curly-headed little noggin.  Here her tell, them things orbitin’ my freshly born self indicated all sorts o’noteworthy events apt to decorate my forward-goin’ days.

Now, who knows fer sure if, in my case, it’s possible true, but I’ll not lie when I’ll admit to some odd turns in my thirteen years.

First off, I always had me an easy way with thinkin’.  Learnin’, it comes easy.  Like I already know what’s bein’ taught, but maybe just forgot for a time.  Miss Meadow, down to the school, she’s always a’raisin’ both her hands in amazement when I grasp a particular difficult set o’ problems, or quote some bit of poetry she spouted a while back.

Don’t mean much to me, jest the way things is.  But others, and Mama, seem to be in-pressed.

Then, I’m right good with animals.  Catchin’ a wild dog, spottin’ a deer camouflaged to the human eye, ‘cept o’course mine, tamin’ one o’ them durned headstrong steeds Grandpap and Daddy trade fer ever now and then, all them things jest come natural.

‘Course, none o’that pertains to bees.  I do hate bees.  And they do hate me back.

I play a mean second base, but the team, they always got me pitchin’ ’cause I can thread a needle with my fastball.   I got me a mess o’friends, faithful and true.  I can shimmy faster up a tall tree than most anybody I know, not countin’ Luce.  Folks seldom fuss with me, they just most always do my biddin’.  Most always.  Big o’ Junior Strugg gives me some lip from time to time.

But I digress.

Another thing.  And this here is the kernel at the heart of my mare’s nest.

I got me a singin’ voice, like none other.  I kid you not.

As a youngster, I reckon my voice was high and sweet.  Truth is, I can just hear a note or tone and hit it dead on.  Mama once spilled she worried my singin’ days was numbered once my voice began to deepen.  That growin’ up would suck out all the sweetness.  But all it did was deepen the depth of the notes I could hit.   I can croon with the best o’them crooners on Grandpap’s big ol’ radio.  And them country singers on the Grand Ol’ Opry, why, I got ’em all beat.  Them smooth cats, pardon my French, like Frank Sinatra and Bingo Crosley, why, they ain’t got a thing on me.  I ain’t bein’ boastful, I promise I ain’t.  That’d be a sin, and Lord knows they ain’t no singin’ in the Lake of Far!

But I know what I know.  And it don’t hurt none Mama and Daddy and even Grandpap tap they toes and smile off into space when I let’r rip and sing along with them radio personalities.

I’m happy to oblige.  Like I done said, it jest is natural.  No pretext nor pretense.

But then, like always, when you least expectorate it,  lightnin’ did strike,  this afternoon,  just.

Mama had her one of them visions.

“Liam, Son,” She come out back where I was gettin’ after my after school chores, stomping nearest thing to  a march.  She grabbed me hard by the shoulders, a sure sign she was serious as could be.  I searched my headlights right quick, had I done somethin’ I’d regret.  Nothin’ flashed.

May not have searched hard enough.

“Liam, Son, I done seen me a sight.”

Here we go.

“Son, you know I love you.”

“I know it, Mama.”

“No, Son, you know I’d love you, even if you wudn’t special.”

“I know it, Mama. Truly.”

“You believe me, don’t you Son?”

“I believe you, Mama.”

“Well, Liam, you need to know this.  I seen it loud and proud.”  She sucked in her cheeks, then blowed out hard.  “Pride, Son, pride cometh before a fall.”

Lord.  She knows.

“Now, Son, you hear me?”

“Yes, Mama, I hear you.”

“Liam, look at me, you hear me?”

I looked, eyeball to eyeball.  I felt me a quiver a’sproutin’ jest below my heart.

“Yes, Mama.  I do hear you.”

“You won’t be prideful, now, will you, Son?”

“No, Ma’am, Mama.”

“Speak up, Liam, you won’t be prideful, now, will you?”

“No, Ma’am, Mama, I won’t.  I surely don’t want to fall, neither.”

Lord.

Usin’ them piercin’ blue eyes give her by her straight-from-Germany grandpa, she bore a hole straight through the same blue eyes she give me.  Time, it purti’near froze.  Me, likewise.

But then, jest like that, I reckon she was satisfied.  She loosed her grip and popped me a little peck on the top o’ my head, sayin’ over her shoulder as she sashayed back up the stairs to the back porch, “Fried chicken for dinner, Liam.  Best worsh up soon.”

Doggone it all to HECK and back!  

Ain’t no way under God’s HEAVEN Mama’d know ’bout my enterin’ that singin’ competition.  Miss Meadow down to the school, she talked me into enterin’ on a whim.  She’s a awful good teacher, and I s’pose I said fine since she caught me toodlin’ some ditty whist cleanin’ the chalkboard.   Never once thought it would amount to anything. Never once, well maybe once, did I feel compelled to mention it to Mama or Daddy or Lincoln or anybody else.  Just tickled pink I’d a pint o’ secret joy tucked away in my heart o’ hearts.  

That Mama or Daddy or Grandpap or Lincoln, or anybody else might think me a little too big for my britches did cross my mind.  So’s, to that end, I kept my mouth shut tight.

But this very day, Miss Meadow, she called me to her desk, showin’ me a letter of my acceptance.  And a receipt for the $5.00 enterin’ fee Miss Meadow musta paid on my behalf!   Now how was I goin’ to fulfill my obligation, and not lose the $5.00 enterin’ fee Miss Meadow fronted me?  Much less get all the way to Osborne, half a day distant if I was to walk.

How was I a’gonna tell Mama and them?

“Pride goeth before a fall.”   

I’m down for the count ‘fore I even start.