“I See That Hand!”

These here are the true and verified and value-fied daily chronicles of one Liam Goodwell, third son this generation of the Denton County Goodwells, God Love Us Ever’one!

 

 

Now, comes a time when a feller, he’s got to make hisself known.  Comes a time when that feller, has to speak up against when he knows for heck certain somethin’s plum in error. To say nothin’, that there’d be livin’ a lie and I’d be cast down to the Fiery Lake o’Blazes with not a drop o’water to moisten my parched tongue.  Ol’ Devil’d torment me clean through to Eternity and back.

Least that there’s what Ol’ Brother Zebulon Magruder Bean down to the church preaches.  An’ I believe him.  Purtin’ near.  Either way,  I ain’t aimin’ on takin’ no chance, that’s fer ding dong sure.

I ain’t known fer speakin’ my mind, leastways not loud ‘nough to cause some commotion, and I’ll true stand tall ‘gainst them dishin’ on the low and downtrodden, but when Miss Meadow, down to the school, when she speaks, well, I take it as plumb Gospel.

Fer Miss Meadow, down to the school, she’s a mighty fine teacher, young and fresh, only a few years from the Dees Moines Ioway Teacher’s College up to Dees Moines, Ioway.

She ain’t never done nothin’ to steer none o’us kids wrong, not never.

And she sings like a night’gale, ‘course we don’t have none o’them here in Northern Missouri.  She, hallelujah and praise to Jesus, shore don’t sing like no Great Tailed Grackle, an’ we got us a’plenty o’them!  Birds and otherwise.

Well this day, this here day, I near to gnashed my teeth for the wrongness of Miss Meadows teachin’s.  Didn’t want to say nothin’.  Didn’t have to neither.  Durned tootin’ problably shouldn’t have.

It all started jest like a normal history period, Miss Meadow, all dewy and dreamy, sashayin’ to and fro ‘cross the front, tiltin’ like she was hearin’ voices from the past, teachin’ all us kids, kinny-garden on up to eighth grade, and them what was held back, regalin’ us with mind pictures of France over to Europe, days gone by.  Her voice fluttered up and danced ’round the ol’ peelin’ paint walls when she described the giant castles ol’ Louie the sumpteenth lived in, them grand all-week parties, folks dancing and spinnin’ fine, and them splendid men and kings and such dressed up in short pants and stockin’s over they knees.  Miss Meadow, she fluffed her hands like she was a strokin’ all them roses in them maze gardens.  She lifted her pert little nose like she was a’sniffin’ they perfume.

Law, Miss Meadow, she could spin a tale, makin’ them olden days come plumb alive, she could.

Law, I could watch and listen to her near all the day long.

But then, well, she come up short, she did, and while I longed to wish her right, prayin’ she’d find the correction in her head and sort the truth, specially for the young’ins, she plugged on ahead, makin’ the same mistake over’n over ag’in.  Them big boys, them what was held back and them what was too big for they britches, they come to snortin’ and guffawin’, and bein’ right disrespectful.

Miss Meadow, she shot them a look ‘r two, but off she’d go, pushin’ out that one little wrong fact.  And while it was a little one, by gum, them fellers wouldn’t let it go.  I could feel the red start a’climbin’ up my neck and overtakin’ my ears, burnin’ and churnin’.  Clinchin’ my fists, I shore wanted to lay into ’em, but proclivity and proximity precluded that behavior.

Still, I needed, felt called, to save her, save Miss Meadow from her folly.

I raised my hand.

On a roll ’bout hun’erds o’some purty mirrors surrounded by flowers carved out pure gold and carved birds and extry large rugs hung up the walls ‘stead o’laid neat on the floors, she continued in her revery.

She didn’t pay me no mind whatsoever.

And them fellers what sit ‘long the back wall o’our little one room school, they snorted all the more.

I coughed, near to had a fake fit, and finally, finally, her eyes, they focussed my way, an’ I meekly raised my hand once more.

“Liam?”  her voice was like cotton candy from the county fair, “Liam, do you have somethin’ to add?”

I quick took a deep breath, stood to my feet, knuckles of my fists pressed hard on the top o’my desk,  proppin’ me up.  Had to do this now, save Miss Meadow from the derision of them fellers and po-tentially from all them youngin’s what would tell they folks how Miss Meadow, she done got somethin’ wrong.  That there’s just not acceptable.

“Well, Miss Meadow,”  She waited patiently, fer she respected all us kids, Miss Meadow did.  “Miss Meadow, you been talking ’bout France n’all….”

“Why yes, Liam, it’s a magical place and one day I shore hope all you can see pictures.  I’ll get a book down to Kansas City and bring one in…”

I interrupted, butt right in.   I was taught better, but I needed to remedy this ‘fore I lost my fortitude.

“Miss Meadow, you been talkin’ ’bout that golden palace place, Ver—“

“Versailles?”  Lord.

Then the guffawin’, it growed right up to outright laughter, the mean shoutin’ donkey-brayin’ kind.  She looked ‘roun’ the room, perplexed but in charge.  She rapped her own knuckles on her own desk.

“I’ll have none of that!  Let Liam speak.”

Ain’t that nice….

But I digress.

“Well, Miss Meadow,”  I couldn’t meet her eyes, per-ferin’ to examine my boots as I was a’speakin’, “Well, Miss Meadow,  we know plumb all ’bout that there golden castle, ’twas named fer a town down south o’here some hun’erd mile then some.”

Glancin’ up, her eyes was on me, still perplexed.  That she harkened from over to Hannibal on the other side o’Missouri, may how that there was the reason.

“It’s jest, that, ma’am, the name o’ the place ain’t “Ver-SIGH.”  I could hear giggles cuttin’ under my words, “Ma’am,  we’re right proud they’s a fine palace o’gold named fer a right fine community jest down the road some, but, Miss Meadow,  it’s done always been “Ver-SALES.”  Long as we an’ our daddys and mamas and grands and great grands been ‘roun’ these parts.  An’ maybe them French kings, they got some confused, but I feel it’s right impord-ant you know how it is, bein’ we was first an’ all.”

There, I done it.  I corrected my very own teacher, and I felt like a worm, but then ag’in, some like one o’them knights she talked ’bout ‘while back, too.  I stood tall, lookin’ straight forward now. What was done, well, it was done.

Well, if tears didn’t well up in her soft brown eyes!   Look at her!   She was sorry and repentant as could be. A’cryin’ fer embarrassment, she was.    I’d saved her from mispronouncin’ a name we knowed since we was born, all us had kin livin’ there.  We KNEW!  And now, so’d she.  I stood a little taller then.  I felt some like I’d helped her restore her respect ‘mongst the youngin’s she was commissioned to educate.

Well, right then an’ there, if she didn’t wipe them tears what was now coursin’ down them rosebud pink cheeks and cover her mouth. She let forth with a couple o’little sobs, an’ wavin’ her other hand, if she didn’t send us all out, whisperin’ between them little cracklin’cries  that school, it was dismissed fer the day.

If that don’t beat all…..!

 

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

 

 

Come Hell ‘r High Water

(Slow down, now, nothin’s so pressing as the need to calm your insides.)

“Miz Meadow?  Miz Meadow, ma’am?”  Figured next I’d be a’shoutin’ if she didn’t come back to the land of the livin’ right quick.

We was only halfway through the math-a-matics problem on the blackboard up front when sure if she didn’t jest start glazin’ over sideways, eyeballs trained on somethin ‘r other out the window.  Nothin’ out there I could see but the soggy gray winter day.  Now if they was dancin’ flowers ‘r a whipporwill was a’whippin’ or willin’, it’d be a differ’nt story.   Lately, though, her thinkin’ was takin’ over her doin’.

I’ll admit it worries me some.

Now Miss Meadow, she’s been our solo teacher down to the schoolhouse for comin’ up three, no, four years all told.  She come in fresh from Teacher’s College up Des Moines way, wide-eyed scared like a beaded on deer.  She growed up other side of the state, says she, near the Mississippi. Always said she’d accepted this here post as she’d always wanted to see the world. ‘N then she’d giggle like some little pigtailed girl.  Rest of us give a snort, too, seein’ we’d a hard time believin’ Denton Country, Missouri qualified.

Give us all a good laugh ever’ time.

Now she might o’ looked near young enough to be one o’ us kids, but she shore took hold of the reins and settled us all down proper. Miss Meadow, she come up to speed right quick, winnin’ us over right now, earnin’ respect from all us kids, takin’ no guff from the bigger boys what was always trouble, and teachin’ us somethin’ along the way, to boot.  That she was a looker, always with some shiny lipstick and brighter than normal cheekbones give folks down to the church some pause, but she didn’t never once come across as better’n anybody, nor smarter, nor worth more neither.  And she wudn’t no floozy. No, sir.  She never once danced with nobody’s husband at the county mixers, nor none of the cowboys what come to town for the rodeo.   Some o’ us students would razz her ever so often to sing a ditty here n’ there, as she’d never hesitated to sing and play the piana down to the school.  But no, Miss Meadow seemed satisfied enough to choose the vinyls for Councilman McComb’s record player, studyin’ them careful before makin’ a selection. She was also real good at fillin’ empty cups with punch.

Truth is, once the new wore off, Miss Meadow settled into being just a real fine teacher, a reg’lar ripsnorter when she was educatin’ and instructin’. She fairly lives fer doin’ plays and quotin’ Shakespeare, wavin’ her arms and durned near cryin’ real tears when it’s called for.  Normal days, she’s a firecracker, a’Skippin’ to the Loo with the youngsters, guidin’ us bigger ones around and through sonnets and gee-ometry, fendin’ off the wisecracks of Butch and them what sit along the back wall, and plumb ignorin’ the odd belch or tippy tap of a pencil.

And then, come the end o’ teachin’ duties or school board meetin’s or spellin’ tournaments,  she becomes an ever’day simple citizen ever’ other hour o’ ever’ other day.  She says please and thank you polite-like to ever’one.  I’m a witness.  She even tries a chat with crotchety ol’ Mr. Conaughay who don’t do nothin’ but sniff and nod, but Miss Meadow, she don’t quit.  She carries a purty little basket down to the store where she buys odds and ends and supplies for the hotplate she keeps in her attic room, the one she rents from ol’ Miss Oglethorpe, the county librarian and part time she-devil.

I’ll deny to the death I ever said that. My library card is durned near one o’ my most heavenly treasures.

Facts is facts, though, and we, all o’us,  run scared of Miss Oglethorpe, let me tell you.  Pointy nose, bristles for hair, icy blue eyes could bore a hole clean through your head.  But not Miss Meadow. She never showed no fear whatsoever. Or at least she never let on. Not one iota. Truth be told, she warmed that ol’ biddy right up, makin’ her cookies and surprising the ol’ battle-ax by arrangin’ all them stacks of books in her parlor alphabetically by author and subject.

That’s nearin’ sainthood.

‘Course, the ol’ thing ain’t never let on to anybody else she has a heart.  Me, I just leave her be, mindin’ my own beeswax.

So these last couple weeks, ugly ones even for Northern Missouri and Denton County winters, when Miss Meadow’s sunny disposition faded and she began exhibitin’ unnormal behavior, most figured it was the “gray haze.”  ‘Round here come dead o’ winter, sky’s gray, dirt roads is gray, what snow we got’s gray, houses and barns and outhouses is all gray.  It ain’t no surprise our thinkin’ turns gray ever’ once in a while.  Why, even Miss Meadow’s.

Trouble is now, Miss Meadow, she’s even lookin’ gray her ownself,  right peak-ed, little green around the gills.  She don’t hum, nor let her eyes light up like they used to do.  She allows a sad little smile now and again, aimed ‘specially to the younger ones in the desks up front,  though even her shiny lipstick don’t make the smile any more genu-ine nor pleasin’.

What troubles me most is the way she’s been a’starin’ off out the window, like somehow she hears the whisper of a hope, a trace of anticipation crosses her brow.  But then, it dies away just as quick-like, her brow troubled and eyes fogged, like when a dream what gets interrupted just before the happy endin’.

An unhealthy state of affairs, if you was to ask me.

Ain’t nobody else down to the school really noticed, from what I can tell, ‘cept for me and big sister Luce and cousin Marie-France.  Three of us ’bout as close as close can be, age-wise and otherwise.  Back when we was kids, we even swore to be forever blood kin, then swore we’d never tell Mama nor Aunt Ellis we swore.  We been givin’ each other the skinny eyeball off’n on ever’ time we catch Miss Meadow fade.

Fact is, sister Luce laid claim to bein’ the first to mention the situation out loud.

“Liam?  Liam!”  Come lunchtime few days past, Luce hissed down at me from her hide-y hole up in the ol’ empty bell tower, the one toppin’ the schoolhouse vestibule. (Bell’s long gone, though. Hit the metal scrap pile for the war effort ‘couple years back.)

Scared the bejeebers outta me, like always, but I wouldn’t dare let on.  Gives her too much joy.  I peered up through the dust, saw her wispy braids a hanging down ‘fore I saw her dusty mug.

“Liam?  What’s got into Miss Meadow?  Her brain’s done ate up!  Maybe it’s brain maggots!”

That ‘ppeared to give her joy, as well.  Now, whether it was true or not, I don’t take kindly to nobody sayin’ nothin’ bad ’bout Miss Meadow, even if there is a shadow o’truth to it.

“Don’t say that, Luce.  That just ain’t nice.”

“Don’t you go tellin’ me what I cain’t and cain’t not say!”  And with that, she grabbed both sides of the wooden edging around the hole in the ceiling, swinging her whole self through her arms, and landed just like that, right in front of me, puttin’ her nose near to touchin’  mine.

“I think we got us a puzzle, hey, Liam?  What d’you say?  Ain’t you even curious ’bout what’s goin’ on there?”

She squinted hard, scrunchin’ and wrinklin’ her grumbly face, ” Don’t you tell me you ain’t seen it.  Starin’ off into the neverland, payin’ no attention to them wiseacres mouthin’ off back of the room, forgettin’ to erase the board before them pop quizes she favors so.  You and me both can fair smell it when somethin’s up.  Mary-France, too, I’ll reckon.”

I had to admit, deep down in the lowest, sludgiest parts o’ my gizzard, she was speakin’ true.  Miss Meadow, she’d got herself rattled by something.

And in that same deep down sludge of my inside, I reckoned we owed it to her somehow, to help her see it through.

That, and Luce and me and Mary-France, we loves us a good obscurity, and the solution what followed.

I took the bait.

Just like Luce knew I would do.

 

Low Boy

‘Twas barely dawn, sunup still hazy behind them gray wispy mists laced ‘cross the river bottoms.  Still, we was at least two awake at this hour, me rubbin’ sleep from my eyes and out to the kitchen, somebody fixin’ to make the family breakfast.  Like as not, Mama.  Doubtful it’d be Livie or Luce, them two big sisters o’ mine.  Wakin’ them before they was ready was like wakin’ the dead.  Besides, they needed all the beauty sleep they could get.  I give you my word on that.

My senses was wakin’ up, though, hearin’ butter jumpin’ and buzzin’ in the cast ‘arn skillet, my mouth a’waterin’,  the aroma smellin’ tangy and sharp.  Mmmmmm mmmmm!  Mornin’ meal begun with nearly anything fried up golden in that black ol’ skillet was so delectable it made you want to reach up and slap your mama!

That there?  That’d be a colloquialism, according to Miss Meadow, my teacher down to the community school for the last, what, six er’ seven years.  Practically growed up together, her and us county kids, she bein’ nearly a child her ownself when she come to teach us.  I’m just turned twelve now, but I have a clear recollection her being only just bigger’n me when she come, and nearly as fearful.  She’s gotten over that, I tell you what!  Not only can she handle them big boys what used to smart off in the back of the class (all eight grades of us landed in the same room, marched height-wise and grade-wise, smallest to largest, front of the classroom to the back.  We saved the smelly, moldy basement for exercise on rainy days.  Seldom did we pray for rain.),  she was teachin’ us new things purtin’ near ever’ day.

“Colloquialism” was in our lessons just last week.   Liked the roll of that word on my tongue.  Colloquialism.  Colloquialism.  Then real fast….colloquialism!

Then on top of that, knowin’ to what it referred made it all the more fun to use.  Reckoned, as I stretched long like a cat under my pile o’ covers, I’d just casual like lay it on ’em at the breakfast table and wake up them sleepyheaded brothers and sisters o’ mine.  I’d show them who was payin’ attention durin’ them long sleepy afternoons when we’d all druther be outside, fishin’ and the like.  Colloquialism!  I allowed myself the most giantest grin I could, near to the point of hurt, right there in the dark where nobody could see and nobody was scared off.

Wudn’t till Miss Meadow that I knew them sayin’s had a name, much less one so tongue-tyin’ and hard to spell.  Miss Meadow, she said it was more the feelin’ behind the sayin’ what held the truth, as opposed to the actual words of the sayin’.   I’d been mullin’ that one over a bit, makin’ a mental list of all them proverbs (that’d be what Grandpap sometimes called ’em, least the nicer ones) I’d spouted and taken for gospel from my younger youth.  They was all colloquialisms, filled with meanin’ and feelin’, but perhaps not action.  I nodded into my pillow.  Miss Meadow was on the right side of this one.

Because, truth be told, and not just in MY house, you slap your mama, under ANY circumstances, you best pack your gear and hightail it down the road right now.   Folks with pitchforks and shotguns’d be takin’ after you ninety to nothin’, lookin’ to put your head on a platter!   Disrespectin’ family was a shameful sin, ever’body knew that, but disrespectin’ your mama was a one way ticket to the Lake of Fire.  Wudn’t no recoverin’ from everlastin’ and eternal damnation.  I personally didn’t know of anybody, not even town roughnecks  Clive Saxon or Butch Ebersol, could conjure up that much evil in their souls.

Now “damnation?”  That’d be a word only allowed by Pastor Mills down to the Unified Gospel Assembly of Christ and Disciples down to town.  I feared even thinkin’ it in its complete and dreadful and ever so desirable form would count against me in Heaven.

Still, damnation….damnation….damnation!

But I digress.

A loud grumble in my tummy was starvin’ for attention.  I hunkered down for just one more cozy snuggle, rubbin’ my nose and face deep into the fluffy pile.  Like as not, we was havin’ scrambled eggs and cheese, a rasher of thick bacon, homemade huckleberry jam and biscuits, same as nearly ever’ other mornin’.  Fine by me.  Anything sizzlin’ in that heavy worn skillet harkened to fried up somethin’ er’ other, crunchy and golden delicious,  and not a big ol’ pot of gray lumpy oatmeal eat with a spoon.

Fine by me.

Now, it wudn’t the spoon so much, although I struggled to think of anything worth eatin’ with a spoon.  No, there just wudn’t nothin’ I’d laid ‘hold of yet could improve the taste of oatmeal.  To look at it, there was nothin’ appetizin’ about it neither, no color, no temptin’ tidbits pokin’ up here and there, no nothin’.    Just a sticky, pasty gelatinous mess.

Gelatinous.  Gelatinous.  Gelatinous!

Why, that pile o’ glop even tasted gray.  Nasty stuff useful for plinkin’ logs together maybe, but certainly not for sustainin’ me until the midday meal, called Dinner on Sundays.  Tried me cinnamon and sugar, tried me more’n my share of butter, tried me Aunt Eululia’s darkest sorghum, still tasted of paste.  Gray paste.

As a younger youngster, I’d pondered it just might be the color what stiffened my back,  or the lack thereof, rather than the paste taste.  Feelin’ experimental one day,  I sneaked me out some of Mama’s Easter Egg colorin’, green, and poured in a teaspoonful,  stirred it up right good, too. Didn’t look half bad.  Nor half good neither.

When it was all said and done, all that got me was green teeth for a month o’ Sundays.  Still tasted of gray, no two ways about it.

No gray today, I reckoned, countin’ my blessin’s.    The wifts and wafts ticklin’ my nose and fillin’ up the room me and my brothers’ shared for sleepin’ boded well for me.  It shore did give me the gumption to at last slide outta my warm bed, out the side to save straightenin’ the covers,  and face the day set before me.

That was when the happy fog lifted and the course of my day laid itself out before me.  I let loose with a loud sigh.  Louder than I expected, as it ‘peared to rouse both Lincoln and Lawrence.

Breakfast waitin’ on the table, oozin’ butter on freshmade biscuits and melty cheese on my eggs, not to mention my six pieces of extra crisped up bacon (seven if I was quick and underhanded) might bode well for me, but the day waitin’ out there like a heavy tornado cloud swirlin’ with evil intent,  it did not bode so well.

Today was the last day of the term.  Speech and Debate Day.  Purty banners and streamers and flowers made of paper.  County kids dressed up to who laid a chunk, hair greased and slicked or curled and twirled.   Never too much an issue before this, before I turned twelve.  Sayin’ little memorized pieces whilst Miss Meadow or even Mr. Darnmuller the principal smiled and nodded encouragin’ly  from the front row (whilst they sat in them baby chairs, knees nearly to their chins.  No that didn’t never get old!), them days was a piece o’ cake compared to this day.

For this day, THIS day, I was twelve and promoted.  Promoted to the Debate part of the equation!  Promoted to debatin’ the likes of Millicent Maidenfern, the fourteen year old wonder kid who could do no wrong, who had a voice of an angel, the creamy countenance of a beauty queen,  and the brains of a professor or a state senator even,  and whose whole life was dedicated to goin’ to Teacher’s College up to Omaha.  Imagine.  College.

And to whom I was wholeheartedly and ever so painfully devoted.

To the point of loosin’ my dinner ever’ time she looked my way.

This may indeed be my last meal.  Glad it’s not oatmeal.