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

He ain’t bein’ mistreated, I seen to that.

Cousin Marie-France, she ain’t got it in her, though once she’s a daydreamin’, she be plumb lost to this world and fully stepped in the that.   But now Luce, she is a whole ‘nother case in entirety.  That she got into this here sit-ia-tion, well, I got to keep my eyes peeled!  I made her swear (and Lord help me if Mama finds out! She’d like t’tan my hide!), she ain’t touched him nor bully-whipped him, nor even spit his di-rection.

Luce may be a load o’things, but she ain’t no liar, says I.

To date, that is.

Hey Lo.  Liam Goodwell here.  Third son of the Goodwells, the Denton County Goodwells.  You heard tell o’ me, I’m shore.

R’ at least, the Goodwells, I reckon.  (Lord, forgive me my prideful and elevated spirit, amen!)

As always, these here are true as true can be, the livin’s and dyin’s and shoutin’s and hollerin’s and eatin’s and singin’s and workin’s and playin’s of the Goodwells o’Denton County and furrer flung, my kin fer generations come and gone and them on ahead, as I live and breathe, so help me Lord Jesus. (An’ like I said, forgive me my shortcomin’s, like pride and arrogance.   Fer Lord,  I ain’t quite feelin’ the warmth of forgiveness jest yet.)

Well, here’s how this here story went….

Cousin Marie-France , she went and foun’ herself a soldier.  Now, being aged thirteen, and long-legged and lean and runs like a gazelle, I never doubted once she couldn’t ketch a feller, r’ hightail it from one, when the time come.  I jest never ‘spected the time was commencin’.

And yet, that there, it sums it up.  Marie-France, she went and caught herself a soldier.  It’s the furtherin’ of the tale is what confounds me, to this very writin’.

Out north o’town, other side from the Goodwell place, there lay an ol’ abandoned quarry, sheer cliffs and piles o’ gravel and chat.  Out on past, once upon a time a secret, is what’s been come to be called, a “Holdin’ Camp.”

What is a “Holdin’ Camp?” you ask? (That there, that’s a writin’ technique called personalization, made to engage the reader personal-like in what I happen to be sayin’.  Miss Meadow, down to the school, she encourages me to write more authentic and true, an’ while I shore do believe in my heart o’hearts that be what I BEEN doin’, Hellfire! I do want to please Miss Meadow, sure!)

(An’ Lord, forgive me fer my cursin’.  It slips ever’ now and then.)

I need a great deal of forgivin’, it ‘ppears.

But I digress.

This here “Holdin’ Camp,” why, it is a camp, and it shore is fer holdin’ somethin’.

Somethin’ like fellers!

Somethin’ like soldier fellers!

Somethin’ like GERMAN PRISONER O’WAR soldier fellers!

Ain’t many weenie roasts out there, I reckon!

Well, push come to shove, my wiry, head-in-the-clouds girl cousin Marie-France Mickelwait, out to pickin’ flowers over the bridge, she come across this big ol’ half man, half boy, half starved, and half lucid, hear her tell it.  Though truth be told, she only tol’ me and Luce, her ever’ready partners in adventure and crime.  Needed some help and comeraderie and someone to share her secret.  But by herself, ‘fore we even knew, she done subdued this feller, knocked him upside the head, tied him up rodeo-style and plucked him under a tree, ‘fore promisin’ to come back and look to his comfort and safety.

Marie-France, she ain’t got a bad bone in her.  But I ain’t found a day yet when I’m bound nor eager to cross her.

Suspicions arose, twixt Luce and me, though, when we caught sight of that girl a’sneakin’ slices o’ham’n cornbread into a bag at her feet durin’ dinner, the giant midday meal couple weeks back. Our families, bein’ family, we share all sort o’chores and plantin’s and harvestin’ and big ol’ giant repasts, they come along as a bonus!

An’ there we was, a ‘repastin’ to who laid a chunk, when Luce, she hauled off and kicked me somethin’ fierce under the wood plank table.  Lots of practice ‘llowed the upper half of me to remain stock-still and stone-like, while the bottom part of me writhed in pain.  Luce, she don’t hold no punches, nor kicks.  Law!

Well, whist I was fixin’ to stomp them girly feet with my hard-soled boots, she give me the look, slidin’ her eyes Marie-France’s way.  And sure as shootin’, that girl was a’stealin’ and a’stashin’ food!  Now there was plunty to go ’round.  We let it go till the watermelon spittin’ begun, then we grabbed that girl and her stolen loot, and wrested her behind the smoke house.

“You fin’ some new stray dog?”  Luce fairly hissed.  Marie-France was always savin’ some stray or injured animal.  An’ while that be a noble endeavor, says I, the loft  she shares with her sister and the Mickelwait twins (they got a set, too!) can smell like a pigpen, if she ain’t careful.

Marie-France scuffed the dirt some, “No, it ain’t like that.”

Luce hissed some more, “You tryin’ to put you on some pounds?”  Luce always did think Marie-France was on the frail side, though I ain’t never seen them go after it beyond a couple o’pushes and shoves and little kid dustups long past.  Don’t know just who I’d put my money on.  If I was to bet.

Which I don’t.

Hardly never.

(Lord Jesus, bless my soul, I am a sinnin’ fool!)

Them dark brown leather shoes with which Marie-France was shod, and what was once upon a time my sister Livvie’s,  was dirtied up so much now they was the color of Missouri red clay.  Her cheeks was gettin’ to be the same color.  She rubbed them real hard, took her a deep cleansin’ breath, then clinched her fists and pulled herself up to her full height.  Which was near as tall as me and Luce.  When’d she sprout up like that?

But then, she laid in.

She tol’ us ’bout the whole shebang, how she found this feller, feared this feller, then trussed him and promised to return and save his life.  Or his soul.  One and the same, I reckon.

An’ she aimed to keep her promise.  She also vowed she would not be returnin’ him to the “Holdin’ Camp.”  This here’s where the story broke down, fer this feller, he was the enemy!  He’d jest as like to kill us as look at us!

“Marie-France!” She near always listened to straight talk comin’ from me.  I, truth be told, am known for straight shootin’. “It’s the law!  You’re bound to return this feller, and posthaste!  This is harborin’ a fugitive!  This feller, he’s a danger to you and yer family, and us and the whole of Denton County!”

“It ain’t like that,” she first mumbled, then louder and stronger, “It ain’t like that, Liam!”

“Well, you best tell me what it IS like, then, ’cause I find this German feller, and I’ll haul is enemy backside back to where he belongs, I tell you what!”

She grabbed my arm and pinched inside my elbow till I squealed.  “You’ll do no sech thing, Liam Elias Ephriam Goodwell!  I mean it!”

Now, Marie-France, she has her these flashin’ brown eyes.  Filmy and sweet like them of a newborn foal of a normal day, but pointy and poppin’ when it ain’t, an’ this day it ain’t.

And why in the name of the Heavenly Father Luce stood by and let Marie-France go, why, I’m still abashed.  Even more so when, “C’mon, then, let’s us go see,” said Luce, marchin’ with purpose ‘out back aimin’ for the bridge and beyond.

Well, the rest o’that day’s story’ll wait for another day, I ‘spect.  We found the bugger, left jest whar Marie-France said, under a crab apple tree t’other side o’ the bridge.  Trusses loosed but not discarded.  Been there all night, but jest like them stray dogs and broken birds Marie-France saves and nurses to health and devotion, this German feller, more boy than man, he’d waited fer her return.

Been a couple o’weeks, now, an’ twixt the three of us kin, we been stealin’ out to beyond the meadow other side o’the bridge, bringin’ odds and ends of comfort, and bigger’n bigger stealin’s from the dinner table.  We built a leanto fer the feller, sat in silence, a’watchin’ the Choctaw river amble by, stood calm as Mama’s cukes when the sheriff come by, queryin’.

An’ still he stayed, quiet and mute now, bump from Marie-France’s cold-cock near fully undiscernible.

An’ still he stayed.

We, us three, are in a spot.

What DOES a body do with a ex-caped German soldier prisoner o’war?  One we hid in the woods and fed and made comfortable for more’n two weeks?  One who was satisfied to stay put, as his lot is durned near next to re-fined?

We, us three, we are in a spot.

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

Cuttin’ It Fine….a digression

“Great Day in the Mornin’!”

Hey.  This here’s Liam.  Liam Goodwell.  Of the Denton County, Missouri Goodwells?  Like to certain you all may’ve heard tell o’us.  We got us kin nigh to ever’where!

 

And, law, we do have us a history these parts!  But truth be tol’, my story this day takes a whit and spit of a di-version.

Fer this day?  This here day?

Mama’s made her a Chocolate Cake!

Now lest I mislead the lot o’you, Mama’s known far an’ wide fer her Chocolate Cakes.  She done won county fair ribbons like to paper her bedroom wall.  That she’s papered her little closet hung with them dresses done with flour sacks and purty little flah-ers, well, at least she don’t hide them under a bushel, NO!

She’s whipped up Chocolate Cake with Sugar Roses.  She’s erected Chocolate Cakes with skinny little layers and slathers of deep rich chocolate icing what grew so tall it leaned a tad, like that I-talian buildin’ over to where our boys is fightin’ fer Democracy and against the Devil’s heathenry.  She’s built her Chocolate Cakes sprinkled all over with bitty coco-nut slivers like tiny rai’road ties.

I’ll admit I ain’t particular partial to coco-nut.  One of them few thing’s I’m like to turn my nose up to, can smell it a mile away, cain’t he’p myself.  Grandpap, but Daddy mostly, they’ll take umbrage and then take it right personal when one o’us kid’s shy away from not jest Mama’s cookin’, but anybody’s anytime.  Includin’ some of them unknown dishes brung to the monthly potluck down to the church.  (Some looks like pig slop, but if I was to utter them words, my skin’d be tanned, sure!)

“Eat what’s set before ye,” Daddy’ll say.  And ever now and then, he’ll only need level them black-pool eyes to-wards the o-ffender.  Don’t take us long to straighten up, I tell you what!

But this day, THIS day, Mama’s made her a Chocolate Cake with no bells nor whistles nor sugar flah’ers nor coco-nuts nor swooshes of purty designs.  Jest a plain, ol’, delicious, heaven-sent, mouth-waterin’ three layers of luscious deep cocoa delight.  Then, slathered in between and a’top and all-round comes next to ‘n inch of sweet billowin’ clouds of  succulent, melt-in-yer-mouth icin’, to who laid a chunk!

So good?  So ever-lovin’ good it makes you want t’reach right out and slap yer mama!

(That there?  Now, don’t get yer dander up nor nothin’.  That’s jest a sayin’ these parts, meanin’ whatever ’tis is so wholly and holy a-MAZ-in’, y’jest cain’t he’p but set up and take notice!  Ain’t nobody in they right mind would ever do such a thing as a’slappin’ none o’they kin, specially not they mama, an’ ‘specially not one who bakes Chocolate Cake like MY Mama!)

Well, here’s how it happened.  Grandpap and Daddy, they headed off early to market, ‘fore sunrise.  Had a few head finished ration, made sale weight, and off they went to the sale down to Kansas City.  Cattle prices was a premium down there, but the trip’s like to take all day and late into the blackened darkness of night.

So they ain’t near.

Linc,  the oldest of we Goodwell children, he lit out after breakfast (an’ he ain’t likely to never miss hisself a meal!) down to the county fairgrounds.  Hear tell, Judge McClintock, who ain’t a real judge but did study law over to Columbia and has his own office down to the Denton County Courthouse, well, he got him some wild ponies what may be showin’ up at the next rodeo.  Brother Lincoln, he’d be there the whole day through, gaugin’ his ride and a’countin’ his prizes at the next doin’s.

So he ain’t near.

Big brother Lawrence, the biggest of we Goodwell children, him and his buddies, ‘long with Livvie who jest likes to sashay ’round Lawrence’s buddies, they had them a picnic planned down to the river.  Lawrence, handsome and devil-may-care, he’s always bein’ invited to some shindig ‘r other.  And Luce, she follered ‘long behind, seein’ she’s jest nosy.

So they ain’t near.

Little sister Loreen, she’s rode the Goodwell hand-me-down bicycle down to the library in town, a’helpin’ mean ol’ librarian Miss Crow sort child’erns books and such.  She’s took a shine to Loreen.  Reckon it’s since Loreen, she’ll wrap up some flah’ers in a wet rag and tell Miss Crow how she admires her collection.

So she ain’t near.

As fer Lawton and Louis, why, at aged seven, they jest don’t add up to a hillock o’beans.  They’ll liable not to show up fer hours, pokin’ a stick in some hole down to the crick hour upon hour.

So they ain’t near, least I can tell.

So whilst I was a’doin’ my chores out to the barn, I all of a sudden smelt me the aroma o’ that Chocolate Cake a’burblin’ and a’bakin’ , waftin’ out the winders and driftin’ all the way to where I was pitchin’ hay.  Well, and I kid you not, I hightailed it to the back porch right now!

Out o’ courtesy, I worshed my hands quick as a lick out to the pump, even stuck my head under the icy flow fer good measure, then took them back steps in a solitary leap and burst full on through the screen door.

And there she sat, purty as a picture, fresh from the oven and hardly cooled at all, three foot-wide rounds of purely heaven on earth.  Mama stood off to the corner, a’stirrin’ a big ol’ bowl o’ that prize-winnin’ chocolate icin’, she’s known fer, little smile on her face.

I kin’ hardly breathe.  The aroma’s doin’ somersaults in my head, and my mouth and my stomach, they’s screamin’ fer a piece!

Mama, she’s always said we was kinder-ed spirits, and she knows from the beginnin’ o’ my beginnin’ my preference is warm cake ‘fore the frostin’ commences.

That don’t always set well with the rest o’ the Goodwells when a piece goes missin’ ‘fore the frostin’ been slicked on, so it don’t happen too often.

But this day, THIS day!  I’m all there is!

Could it be Mama’s done this here jest fer me?

Now.  It ain’t my birthday.  (That comes jest follerin’ Christmas.  Ain’t never no big doin’s that day, seein’ it’s Jesus’ birthday time, too and he counts a heck o’lot more’n me, pardon my French.).

An’ I ain’t been particular good.  Nor bad neither.

But when Mama widens her smile, bobs her head to-ward the fork a’restin’ solo on a paper napkin on the table, I reckon it’s jest because….

And that there?  That’d be good enough f’me!

And reckon the rest o’ the Goodwells will be enjoyin’ themselves a two-layer cake ‘stead o’three!

 

*********

 

 

 

“Cuttin’ It Fine”

Hallelujah, By and By…

 

This here’s Grandpap’s story, like we heard from time on top o’time.  And lawsy, it don’t never get old!

 

Well, come the Pro-hibition, also come them folks what fell to both sides o’that fence.  Them what believed strong in bein’ Pro-hibited, and them what believed strong in bein’ fully hibited.

We Goodwells, Grandpap leadin’ that march, fell firm on the hibitation side.  Could o’been the successful commercial endeavor and the benefits therein and thereof.  Could o’been the fame what fell even heavier upon the Goodwell family and to which most our kin ‘cross Denton County and further yonder was right grateful.  Could o’been the joy of servin’ the community in a way ’twas uplifitin’ and intoxicatin’ both at the same time.

Could o’ jest been Grandpap, he didn’t like nobody tellin’ him jest what he could nor could not do.  Nor did he reckon as a red-bloodied American he’d never be forced to give up any freedom whatsoever.

And let’s call his pade a pade, Grandpap then and now is as durned stubborn as a Missouri mule.

And proud of it.

Well, the Goodwells (did I mention this is, law, twenty years prior to this here tellin’?  That’s plumb a decade ‘r more!), they continued in their happy ways, makin’ kith and kin healthy, if not wealthy and wise.  Grandpap, and Daddy and his brothers too, they guarded that recipe with thur lives.  They ain’t, none of them, never revealed the secrets of the ingredients nor the secrets of the brewin’ to this day.  Big Brother Linc, bein’ he’s the oldest of all my brothers and sisters, he’ll be the next to be  let in on it, if we was producin’….., but me, I’m further on down the line.  I reckon I’ll wait my turn.

Got no choice in the matter, says I.

If we was producin’…..

But I digress.

Grandpap, ‘cordin’ to him and Daddy and the uncles still hereabouts, he’d do all the orderin’ of the corn seed, he’d oversee the haulin’ of the goods up down the hill trail past that ol’ holler out to the back forty.  Him and one or two or t’other of his boys would spend ‘couple afternoons ever’ week “out to the shed.”  That there?  That’d be code fer “we’s all out to the still a’doin’ the brewin’.  Steer clear.”

Grandmama, her job was to worsh all them Mason jars what needed fillin’ and re’fillin’.  Doubt she much minded.  She did enjoy her Kansas City outtin’s so.

Daddy’ll usually inject a word at this point in Grandpap’s story, ‘splainin’ how Grandpap’d hardly never let them fellers work the ‘shine alone.  Wudn’t a issue o’trust, mind you, he’d say, noddin’ and smilin’ Grandpap’s way, ’twas a matter of quality control.

And Grandpap, he was self- commisioned controller of said quality, takin’ it right serious.  Jest a spoonful here ‘n there, Daddy’d say.  And here Grandpap’d do the noddin’.

Clear heads on the manufacturin’ side was paramount.  “Cain’t be caught a’drinkin’ the profits!” was Grandpap’s contribution to this aside.

Well, time come they began to hear tell o’raids and revenuers and spies and sneaks spreadin’ like greasy fingers from the North and East, even fer as Chicago!  Over to Jeff City, big outfit operatin’ within’ spittin’ distance from the Capitol Buildin’ of the Grand State of Missouri, well, once they heard the law was a’comin’, ‘stead o’hightailin’ it out the county in them grand stretch cars I seen out to the big road, why, they jest sent the whole pro-duction and inventory up in blazes.  Left them revenuers a’holdin’ they hats and a’scratchin’ they heads.  Couldn’t find hide nor hair of contraband nowhere.  Burned to smithereens, it all was.  Grandpap heard tell it was a far lit with God’s own hand.  Now, I cain’t imagine God didn’t get Him some help by layin’ this mission on somebody’s heart.  Didn’t matter one iota, anyhow.  Wudn’t a thing them lawmen could do but move on.

Missouri is, after all, known belovedly  as “The Show Me State,” and the way I see it, ‘lessin’ they could find them some stills to smash or barrels to ax, they was up a crick with not one paddle.

‘Course, them revenuers, they was a breed.  Law and order was what they eat fer dinner.  They wudn’t like to give up, nosireeBOB!

And ‘course, neither would Grandpap.

The story always jumps ’round this here part.  Tales o’other manufacturers and they brushes with the law.  The sadness in Grandpap’s voice when he spoke, even now, of thur losses and losses of livelihoods, like to broke the listener’s heart.

We, all us newer Goodwells, we’d shake our heads sorrowfully and look to the floor.  ‘Twas expected, y’see.

Then!  Have Mercy and Hallelujah!

With a roar like a freight train heavy loaded runnin’ hot, Grandpap, he’d let out a warhoop!

“Not this man!  Not this day!”

And we, all us newer Goodwells, we’d tumble from our chairs or prostrate ourselves on the floor in laughter and joy!   ‘Twas also expected, y’see.

Story goes, Grandpap was jest a whittlin’ some little do-hickey on the front veranda of the big ol’ white house to the top of the purty hill.  Jest a’shootin’ the breeze with his boys, dog Buford lyin’ like he was dead, always at his feet.

Near my whole life, we’ve had us a Buford o’some mix or t’other.  Always a good huntin’ dog who’d love Grandpap better’n life.

We do find us some smart hounddogs.

Well, this day in question, was a lazy, hazy afternoon.  Soft breeze waftin’ the long green grasses of the vast front yard.  Birds was too lazy to even sing, ‘cept ever now and a’gin.  Sun was that thick yeller color, shootin’ sleepy shadows longways out from all them oaks.  Bugs was a’buzzin’, Grandmama was a hummin’ from somewhere deep in the big ol’ house, a late afternoon God-given fer contemplation and gratitude fer his gifts.

Like most summertime afternoons to this here very day.

Well in a snap, that ol’ revery was plumb broke!  Spinnin’ dust and ol’ Model T engine a whinin’ and a strainin’, come speedin’ up the lane from the bottoms down below.  Heard him ‘fore seein’ him, Grandpap and the boys, and even Buford rose to attention with wonderment!  Didn’t nobody never hurry nowhere this time o’day!

Even now, Grandpap reckons his first thinkin’ must be Judgement Day, fer certain, ‘cept he don’t recall hearin’ any trumpets soundin’.

E-ventually, that ol’ car rumbled and bounced its to the top of the purty hill, all dirt and swirls and hollers and bodies leapin’ from the front and back and ever’ whichever!  Grandpap said didn’t nothin’ settle, not even fer a minute, but in all the hullabaloo, he recon-ized Dep’ty Junior Macinaw, known ferever as “Bubba.”

Bubba jest jumped ’round hollerin’ to high heaven, a’wavin’ his beefy hands and flailin’ a’bout like he’d got him the rabies,  but them few words what Grandpap could decipher was them ones he’d dreaded for some time,

“Revenuers is comin’!  Revenuers is comin’!  Hide the ‘shine!  Hide the ‘shine!”

The way Grandpap relays the story, why, jest about this moment, I’m so durned het up I kin hardly suck in a breath, much less push it out!

Well, there’s more to this story, it only picks up from there!

It’s a whopper!

“Hallelujah, by and by!”

 

*********

 

 

 

 

“Don’t That Beat All!” (musin’s, confusin’s, refusin’s and elocusions of a country boy)

“This Little Light o’Mine”

 

This here’s Liam.  I reckon you all know by now I’m Liam Goodwell.  Of the Denton County Missouri, USA Goodwells.

And I s’pose by now I’m liable to be a’callin’ you all friends.  I reckon, too, you all know plenty ’bout me and mine and I shore hope I ain’t skeert none o’you away.  But seein’ as the good Lord give we Goodwells been a fine and high-mindedly good road in this world, with ad-ventures poppin’ up here and yonder, well, I figured somewhere on down the line, folks might jest find them an amusin’ and inter-estin’ dinner table talk-em’up.

And truth be told, I jest don’t want these here ol’ stories and memories and thoughts and colors and flashes and tweeks and what all to float away like them dandeline puffballs with tick tock time a’passin’.

Shore sounds pre-suptious o’ me, don’t it.

Why, I ain’t nothin’ if I ain’t humble.  B

But I digress.

Now, to anybody deignin’ to pay attention to my rattlin’s on, I don’t claim to have me no special powers, ‘ceptin’ maybe my mean fastball.  Miss Meadow, down to the school, she’ll tell me a’gin and a’gin how my thinkin’ paths and my word sortin’ is a sight to behold, ‘cept o’course, unless she got her special sight, she’d be a listenary, not a visionary.

Still, ’twas her give me these notebooks this summer, encouragin’ me to write what ever dusted itself ‘cross my thoughts.  I hope to heaven she’ll like what I writ here.

If I see fit to let her take a look.

Well, they’s lots of stories left untold, ‘enough to fill the holler out to the back forty, I reckon.  Tales still needin’ tyin’ up in a bow, as well.

Looks clear to my mind, I reckon Miss Meadow, she had herself one o’them ul-terior motives.  ‘Stead o’ a chore, this here tale tellin’, why, I feelin’ right shore down to my dirty toes in my hand-me-down holey boots this here exercise, it jest might itself be a callin’.

So them yarns needin’ spun?  Them endin’s needin’ writ?  Well, let’s jest say I ain’t plannin’ on puttin’ down this pencil any time soon.

And I got me ex-trees, besides.

 

So Miss Meadow, if you’re a readin’ this, if I get up enough gumption to ‘llow you to pee-reuse these pages, I hope I’m a doin’ you proud.

 

“This Little Light o’Mine?  I’m goin’ t’let it shine.  Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”

 

Amen and amen and durned tootin’.

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

 

 

 

 

“Don’t That Beat All!” (Musin’s and refusin’s of a country boy)

“Feet o’Clay”

Hey, do, this here’s Liam Goodwell, once a’gin and over ‘n over.

 

So there exists this sayin’, how when some feller r’other gets his comeuppin’s, bein’ a titch too high and mighty and too big fer his britches, well, when he gets hisself brought down to earth, it’s said that feller has him “feet o’clay.”   They’s actually a story I learnt in Sunday School down to the church ’bout King Nebbudneezer buildin’ a statue of hisself, makin’ it strong and sure from gold and silver and bronze and ‘arn, but then durned if he didn’t make them feet from mixin’ in ‘arm shavin’s with some clay.

Now, it don’t take much daylight in the attic to re-con-ize them feet ain’t built to hold up nothin’ fer very long, seein’ a good hard rain or a bad pitched rock’d bring it down, no time.

So when it come to the most hallowed, in his own mind, Reverend Lyle P.T. Wendzel, I seen it clear.  Here’d be a man what built hisself up to be revered and beloved and pitched up on a pedestal by the good saints of ever’ God-lovin’ community he seen fit to deposit hisself into.  And I’m even reckonin’ ain’t much left regardin’ the connivin’, as he’d plumb convinced hisself as well as the saints.  Figurin’ he deserved all them accolades and offerin’s tossed his way.

Well, this here boy, that’d be me Liam Goodwell, thought diff-ernt.  An idear smeared with sparks and rainbows landed right smack in my head on the long sleepy drive back home to Denton County and the Goodwell land outside Halesburg.

Knowin’ what I knowed, I determined it was my God-given duty as a God-lovin’ believer my ownself to show this underhanded feller fer what he really is.  A wrong-doin’ mis-creant with a heart black as tar and words as slick as the muck slimed over the pond on the back forty.

Plumb lookin’ forward to it, too.

Well, feignin’ sleep the two r’ three hours we was crammed jammed in the pickup headin’ home, I managed to avoid that Brother Weasel (forgive me, Lord, it’s jest too durned easy) near the whole way.  ‘Cept fer once.  I slipped me a clandes-stine look from under my lashes and sure ‘nough, his inky eyes was aimed right at me.

Shiverin’, I went back to a’playin’ ‘possum.  Served me well fer the trip’s duration.  May have slept some, too, but I cain’t say fer sure, seein’ as I cain’t remember.

Once we turned up the dirt lane to the top of the little rise where the Goodwells lay they heads, the sun was clean up and blazin’ hot, even fer a summertime mornin’.  The winder’s in the International was down, and like a hound, Lawrence was leanin’ his head out, gulpin’ in the homebred air and swirlin’ dust, besides.

Now, you’d think he was comin’ home a conquerin’ hee-ro!  Mama and Lincoln and Luce and Livvie and Loreen and the twins, Lawton and Lincoln, and a passel o’cousins from over to the river bottoms, they was lined up on the front porch wavin’ and shoutin’ fer joy!

Lawrence beamed.

Wudn’t these here unpleasant doin’s more of a excapade than a ad-venture?  And wudn’t big brother Lawrence the cause of pain and torture and hours of black night drivin’ and hours set in a jail cell, both him and Grandpap?  And didn’t we suffer the vile and blackhearted bile of that scoundrel ol’ Judge Jacobs’mar all due to the illegalities and trangressions of said big brother?

Didn’t make him no nevermind.  This is how it went with Lawrence.  He was a golden boy, inside and out.  All the love passed his way, why, he soaked it up, sure, then sent it right back.  That cain’t be all bad.

And there’s days I wooshed it worked fer me.   But it don’t.  So I move on.

Well, we fair tumbled back out the truck, Lawrence beset with kisses and hugs and Mama’s tears.  I secretly hoped he’d be gettin’ hisself SOME sort o’talkin’ to, seein’ as he did break the law, tryin’ to enlist and not even a growed man.  But the joy of the moment spread all the way to me, as I got a fair share of my own hugs and “attaboys.”  We was home our kin was circlin’ the wagons, like we Goodwells do.  I reckon that ought t’be enough.

Brother Wendzel did one decent thing, at least at the outset.  Stayin’ out of the lovin’ fray, he leaned back against the International, long legs crossed at the ankles, found hisself a toothpick and picked away, bearin’ witness to the whoopin’ and hollerin’ and back slappin’.  The dark part of my soul figured he was dicin’ and splicin’ some sermon ’bout the Prodigal Son, with Lawrence bein’ front and center of that story.  So be it.  We Goodwells was back intac’ and wudn’t much could take nothin’ ‘way from that fac’.

“I saved you boys some breakfast!”  Mama beamed.  Preparin’ a meal was the biggest and best gift she could give, and a whiff of what lay inside on the table testified to that.  Was that bacon AND sausage crossin’ my nose?  I reckoned she didn’t save us nothin’ but rather prepared and cooked and baked fer jest this moment!  We all, Daddy, Grandpap, Lawrence, and me, we all headed up the crickedy wood stairs to the porch, aimin’ our bows to-ward the kitchen.

“You, too, Brother Wendzel,”  Durn it all to Hades (don’t tell Mama).  Whiffs and wafts of breakfast done clouded my brain.  “You come on in, too!  You been such a comfort and help to all us through this time of tribulation.”  Mama touched her apron to her eyes.  “After this day and night jest passed, you’re near t’family.”

Oh, no he ain’t!

“You’ll be welcome in this house till the Lord comes!”

Oh, no he won’t!

“There’ll always be a seat at the Goodwell table for you, Brother Wendzel!”

Oh, no there will NOT!

He detached his slimy self from the truck, smiled real grateful at Mama, who wiped away yet another tear, and ambled to-ward the porch.  Meanness in his eyes changed that smile to an ugly leer when he come to me.

“Why, after you, Liam, after you.  I aim to set right beside ‘ye.  We’ll have us lots to talk about, you and me, I reckon.”

My quest weren’t goin’ t’be smooth.   Clear he knowed I knowed the evil residin’ within him.  Clear, too, the devil in him was devisin’ they own plan to checkmate me.

 

 

I deflated like a balloon.  My get up and go done got up and left.

This here feller’d feet o’clay and his heart was filled with cesspool sludge.

 

Biscuits and sausage gravy, though, they might help some.

 

**********

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Don’t That Beat All!” (musin’s and protusin’s of a country boy)

“Bite the Bullet”

 

This here’s Liam, Liam Goodwell, proud member of the Denton County Goodwells.

And I’m near plumb through with this here doc-u-mention.  I got me too many thoughts and feelin’s a’whirlin and a’swirlin’ ’round my cranium to set them all to paper.  Who the heck’s (don’t tell Mama!) got the time nor the wherewithall?

‘Course, Miss Meadow, down the school, she did put me up to it, and she did say she was a’countin’ on my par-ti-cipation in the exercise.

And Holy Heavenly Days, Lord knows I ain’t keen on disappointin’ Miss Meadow….

So here I am and reckon I ought t’ put the finishin’ touches on our midnight visit to A-dair County to retrieve big brother Lawrence from the bowels of the ju-dicial system lyin’ therein.

He talked his way out, like he’s wont to do.  And Grandpap, well, he talked his way in.  But then, if it don’t beat all, Lawrence, he talked Grandpap’s way out again, halleluhjah and praise be to Jesus!  Ol’ Lawrence, he’s good fer somethin’ after all!

Sun was jest slippin’ up over the shadowed hills yonder past the town square where we was waitin’ on the front steps of the courthouse.  Sleepy town wudn’t even stirrin’, even the judge and the sheriff and the state po-lice done said they goodbyes.  We was only us still left.  But we was all free, and glad of it.

I will admit to my stomach doin’ some odd complainin’ at its inattention.

That back home Daddy’d been summoned by yet another member of them what’s swore to perserve and pro-tect us, to haul hisself the three hours over to A-dair County in the middle of the night to save his kith and kin from whatever befell us,  well, let’s jest say that there’s what family does.  At least it’s shore what all us Goodwells does.

But time shore was a’marchin’ on by.

First time was spent  a’churnin’ over Lawrence’s runnin’ off to join the army.  At age sixteen.  We give that a good long span of spittin’ and hollerin’ and stompin’.

When we run out o’gas on that topic, we started in on Judge Jacobs’mar, how wudn’t he somethin’, and how he took the Lord’s name in vain and him claimin’ Christianity in his soul.  And how he threw hisself some kind of fit and throwed Grandpap down in the hoosegow his ownself.

This here spot’s where we opted to chose a new subject.  Still right raw in Grandpap’s view, we knowed better’n to get him all het up all over a’gin.

Well, then we summoned up stories how Grandpap knew so and so and did sech and sech, and he ain’t never seen the like, and so on and so forthwith.

That was all some time ago.  We run out of words.  We run out of gumption.  We was plumb runnin’ on empty.  All we desired, all us Goodwells, was jest to get on back home, however long it look.

These stone steps a’leadin’ into them hallowed governmental chambers, well, they left something to be desired theyselves.  Switched this a’way and that, leaned back on scraped elbows and Lawrence, he even laid clear down, flat o’his back.  Wudn’t nothin’ comf-terble longer’n a minute ‘r two.

So when Grandpap hollered “Hey!”  and pointed a crooked ol’ finger off down the road, we fair jumped out our britches!  Them two lights fer off down the line,  gettin’ brighter, why that was fer sure our Daddy come to save us and take us back to the land of milk and honey and Mama’s biscuits!

And fer sure, it was!  Daddy pulled right up purty as you please to the steps , brakin’ that International pickup him and Grandpap traded fer some time back real hard, leapin’ from the inside ‘fore the ve-hicle near come to a complete stop!

They was huggin’ and back slappin’ to who laid a chunk, ’cause that’s what we Goodwells do when we got us somethin’ to celebrate.  And right this here minute, we had us bushels to celebrate!  Big brother Lawrence been saved from military prison fer enlistin’ as an under-ager, Grandpap been saved from prison his ownself fer mouthin’ off to a cranky and ornery judge, and me, I was celebratin’ this night o’horrors was past and we’d be on the road straight away.

It did take us some time to simmer down.  We is Goodwells, after all.  Well, finally, it ‘ppeared time to turn that pickup’s nose back home.  Lawrence offered to drive us all, feelin’ contrite, as well he should.  But given his recklessness is what got us in this per-dicament, and given he ain’t got no license to drive, well, we took us a quick vote and Grandpap, he was chose to take the wheel.

My heart was full, and I was singin’ quiet praises to our Good Lord on High, so when I swung the side door of the truck open, I near to fell down dead.

Ol’ Brother Wendzel, weasly evangelist been fer weeks bringin’ down glory in Revival down to the church, why there he sit, ugly mug a leerin’ from ear to weasly ear.

“Well, hey, there, Liam,” his low voice slid slippery and slick, “Been a whall since we seen you at church, boy.  Where you been hidin’, Son?”

That this here is the feller who’d be stealin’ from the offerin’ basket, (I eavesdropped down to the Feed and Seed, so I am fer certain), that this here is the feller who’d be per-tendin’ to be holy and wise, that this here feller ‘ppeared to in-sin-uate hisself into the private and personal business of the Goodwells and show up with Daddy on this night of all nights, well, that there was the last straw what broke the back of the camel.

Time’d come.  Time’d come.

I reckon the Good Lord done plopped this vexation in my lap and here I must draw the line and speak my piece to this feller per-tendin’ to be God’s man.  Fixin’ to say my bit, I opened my mouth wide, vicious words of lamblast-ation linin’ up to be spoke, fists clenched and ears burnin’ like far.

Then what? big brother Lawrence, he give me a hard back shove,  “Get on in, Liam, let’s get on down the line!” and I tumbled headlong into the truck, squooshed right up along side this here affrontation to my spiritual bein’.  Four us fellers packed in tight, like baby chicks what come in the mail.

Well, I figured the Lord was a’speakin’ to my heart once again.  I’d bide my time.

 

Time’d come.  It would.  Time’d come.

But it wudn’t now.

And that bullet what we’s s’posed to bite when we’s holdin’ back?  Well, consider that bullet bit.

 

And it shore don’t taste like nothin’ but blue black metal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Don’t That Beat All?” (musin’s and confusin’s of a country boy)

When Johnny Comes Marchin’ Home Again…

 

Hey, do.

This here’s Liam Goodwell.  Born to the Denton County Goodwells.

 

Feelin’ like I been rode hard and put away wet.  It’s been a day and a half, I tell you what.  I’m plumb tuckered and ain’t no end in sight o’ the trouble we, all us Goodwells, done been gifted.

See here’s the deal. When big brother Lawrence figured he’d up and enlist in the army, the U-nited STATES Army, that’d be, why he never considered once the consequences of his be-havior.

That he was underaged, first of all.  Dimwitted brother of mine, did he never think nobody’d discover his de-ception?

Second up, that boy done used his own name, forged Grandpap’s and Daddy’s signature on a letter o’waiver, and never once thought nobody’d find that suspicious?

Third of all, and we come to learn all this after he’d shipped off on the train out A-dair county, he decked some swellheaded smart Alec of a Yankee officer what give him some guff ’bout his dollbaby face and mis-matched socks.

Them things and a dozen ‘r so more put me and Grandpap smack in the back o’Dep’ty Fuller Quentin’s po-lice vehicle.

No, we wudn’t arrested nor nothin’ as newsworthy as that’d be.  Dep’ty was jest the fastest ride over to the courthouse in Pickle Creek, an hour or two or three away.  We’d be gettin’ there long past nightfall, to where Lawrence’d sit behind bars, a’waitin’ fer our arrival and his home-takin’.  How I come to be part o’ his retrival committee went like this.  Mama in her sorry state needed Daddy, couldn’t find hide nor hair o’big brother Lincoln,  Livvie was just plain useless, and Luce, well, like ever’body else we was just all scared o’ Luce.  Then there was the youngin’s, and dogged if they wudn’t off to playin’ and rough housin’ once we got us certainty Lawrence was safe and sound and not a’headin’ off to Germany or Japan, or Italy,  jest yet.

Yessiree, he’d been found out not so long after he lit out.  Didn’t take no Einstein egghead to work that one out, neither.

But now.  But now I was a’workin’ on a mystery of sorts.

How the hay (pardon my French) did dimwitted, muscle-headed, muddle-brained Lawrence git as fer as he did?  Took some connivin’ and plannin’, and we all know, plannin’ nor thinkin’ of near any kind what-some-ever ain’t in big brother Lawrence’s wheelhouse.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love my brother.  He’s a Goodwell, after all.  He’s far too handsome and slick fer his own good, all the girls giggle silly when he’s ’round.  If it don’t beat all, he’ll flex them big ol’ arm muscles if they hum a tune, sendin’ them off to Giddytown,  and then’ll shine that big ol’ white smile like they’s all the cat’s jammers.  And it ain’t jest the girls, he can sway and charm a room full of grandmas down to the church social ‘r have the fellers hangin’ outside the Feed and Seed a laughin’ till they weep.  Lawrence, he’s got hisself a way.  Folks say one day, he could be president.  A head full of white blond hair, cut short shootin’ sparks in the sunshine  makes him almost as good lookin’ as one o’them movie stars on the poster boards down to the the-ater over to the county seat.

I wouldn’t woosh that on my worst enemy, says I.

But I’ll swan, he ain’t nothin’ but jest Lawrence, sixteen, big and mean, and the one from whom I’m most likely to get me my hand-me-downs.  And I’ll defend him, after tacklin’ him best I can and gettin’ in a couple o’licks fer the trouble he brung to this family and Mama, to the bitter endin’.

But let’s us harken back to what’s ‘twixt his ears.  Picture yerself a foggy night, windy wisps a swirlin’ and a’whirlin’ and vacant far-away rustles and mumbles  whisp’rin’ to and hither and over yonder.

That’s be on a good day.

So, ain’t no way under Good God’s Heaven Lawrence thunk all this up his ownself and executed even to the miserable un-successful end he done did.

Big brother Lawrence had him some help.  Laws’ if I ain’t goin’ to determinate jest who and how.

“Hey, there, you, boy?”

Um, what was that?

Grandpap brung me back to today with a sharp “Pay the man some attention” elbow poke to my skinny ribs.

“Yes, sir, Dep’ty, yes, sir?”

Follerin’ a deep sigh, denotin’ clear he’d hollered at me fer some time, “I axed you if you knew what sort of trouble yer brother’d been in iffin’ he’d made it all the way to Fort Leonard Wood.  Iffin’ he’d actually snuck hisself into the U-nited States Armed Forces.”

I hid a sigh my ownself.  Time fer a lesson.

If I could count the times I got the “what for” resultin’ from the wrongdoin’s of misbehavin’ kin, well, I’d be usin’ my fingers and toes and them of all my brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins and all they neighbors and kin.

Bein’ a Goodwell, however, meant we jest sat up tall and took what we was give.  Like I was a’doin’ now.

‘Sides, Grandpap was a’givin’ me the eye.

“Boy, yer brother’d be hauled up ‘fore a mess o’generals and majors and judges and given him a court martial, like to spend rest o’his youth and some o’his a-dult years in some military prison some’war.  You understand me?”

Yes, sir, I nodded, them spoke up after another rib-ticklin’, “Yes, Sir, Dep’ty!”

Havin’ my attention, and Grandpaps, he revved up for the long haul, “Yessirree, since that Hawai’yer de-bacle, boys yer brother’s age and younger, ” here he turned his long face to look me full on, “boys patriotic and wide-eyed, they been sneakin’ in to the recruitin’ offices, changin’ dates on they birth papers, lookin’ to enlist and ride off to save the world and shoot theyselves an enemy and eat cold dinner from a can.”

Turnin’ back to the road, and for this I was grateful as he had this ol’ beast floored, he give a self-satisfied smirk and chuckle.

“We been a’watchin’.  Don’t you worry none ’bout that there.  Them little peepsqueaks ain’t no idear what they be up against.  We lawmen, we’re postin’ ourselves near ever’war, like them spies, a’watchin’ and a’waitin’.”

Cain’t have upright patriotic young fellers wantin’ to do they duty, no, sir….

“Cain’t have young fellers itchin’ fer adventure,” Dep’ty Quentin was havin’ hisself a time, “… a’playin’ at a’fightin’ a war what seasoned fellers with ex-purience and brave hearts been steppin’ up to do.”

I’ll admit I was startin’ to woosh ol’ Lawrence would o’got hisself away clean and clear.  I’d stack his skills, though not his brains,  next to quite a few I seen wavin’ to they tear-stained sweethearts down to the depot.

Now, how-some-ever, I was not only bound n’ determined to figure how Lawrence pulled this off as good and got as fer as he did, I found myself ready to give him aid the next time he lit out.

 

 

Hurrah.

Hurrah.

********

I swear to the Good Lord this is all true as I live and breathe.