Gene is teaching me how to play checkers. He lets me be red and I learn about jumping and kinging. I think about Grady’s checkerboard and think that next time I might just ask him for a game. We could sit outside at his checker table and watch the rich people go in and come out the Ghoston Hotel.
“Cono, there’s a new kid in town. He’s got two pairs’a boxing gloves.”
“Who is he?”
“We call him Oklahoma ‘cause that’s where he’s moved from.”
“Can I box with him?”
“He’s a little bigger’n you are.”
“Don’t matter. Everybody’s bigger than me, ‘cept you.” Being small doesn’t seem to bother Gene one iota. He knows how to stand real tall in his shoes.
Gene gets us together at the open lot. Of course, I put on Oklahoma’s old pair, the ones with the black cracked leather and torn laces. It doesn’t matter. They feel good on my hands, strong and powerful, like I could reach down and pick up the whole town.
“Ready to box?” he asks.
“Ready,” I say. I try to remember the punches Aunt Nolie has taught me, the ones my Dad used to clobber the Tombstone.
Oklahoma and me start out in the center of the lot, without any ring this time, but with boxing gloves on our third grade hands. He comes at me full force. I swing my arms like windmills trying to get a hold of something. He circles around me, trying to get my attention. He’s already done it. He’d gotten my attention alright, right on my mouth. A piece of my tooth is missing. The fight lasts a whole minute. He beat the tar outta me.
“Ya okay, Cono?” asks Oklahoma.
“Sure,” I say even though I got dog tired after one minute. “Jes’t lost a piece’a my tooth’s all,” I bend down to try to find it.
Gene looks in my mouth to see my broken tooth and says, “Cono, ye ain’t gonna find that tiny piece of tooth, not in this dirt’n weeds. Why’re’ ye lookin’ fer it anyhow?”
“Ya gonna try to glue it back on or somethin’?” laughs Oklahoma. I just shrug my shoulders and stop looking. I don’t want to tell them that I wanted to save it for my box of specials.
When Oklahoma has his back turned, I tear off a piece of the worn lace from my borrowed glove and stick it in my pocket. That’ll have to do.
I’m not a good boxer yet, that’s for sure. But at least now I can say that I’ve worn real boxing gloves, felt the goodness in them and have a broken tooth to prove it. Getting a beating in checkers in one thing, but getting a real beating is different.
I get home and show Mother my tooth.
“Don’t worry none ‘bout it, Cono. When ye grow, yer tooth’ll grow right along with ye and that little chip won’t even show.”
That’s what I’m afraid of.
Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, by C. Dennis-Willingham
The “real” Cono (in the two pictures below) grew up to be a boxer in the Army. And later, he became the man I would lovingly call, “Daddy.”
by C. Dennis-Willingham
and sorry my photo doesn’t give your work the justice it deserves.
Great insight from a great writer. I hope the 35% get ABC’s message loud and clear – most of us will NOT tolerate this kind of racist bullying – or any kind for that matter.
(fun with poetry and photoshop)
Maybe it was a low point for Dad but for me, it was anything but.
We were living at the Dennis ranch, when Dad came home drunk and decided it was time to act like a real rodeo star. I was standing outside the corral, where we kept one of our two-year-old bulls. Dad saunters over to me and slurs, “ Cono, grab that bull o’r yonder. Hold’em still ‘til I get on. I’m gonna ride this son of a bitch”
“Sure I will, Dad.”
It was better than watching a picture show. While I was putting the rope around the bull’s neck Dad went over and fixed Ike’s spurs to his shoes! Not to his boots because he didn’t even own a pair of boots, but to his shoes! Then he slapped on Ike’s chaps. I helped him get on top of the bull and stood there holding his rope.
“Whenever you’re ready,” I said.
“I’z ready,” he slurred.
I let go.
Dad put one hand up in the air and said, “High, ho, silv……”
That bull didn’t even buck. He just turned around real slow, like he was trying to see what kind of idiot wanted to sit on his back. That slow turn-around was all it took. My Dad fell right off that lazy bull and straight into the dirt, Ike’s spurs dangling from Dad’s shoes.
I turned around and looked in the other direction, so Dad wouldn’t see the laugh in my face. If he was paying attention, he would have seen my shoulders quivering with the same laughter.
He got up and staggered back to the house, mumbling something about killing steak for dinner. Some things sure were funny back then, but other times? You couldn’t find “funny” anywhere you looked.
Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper by C. Dennis-Willingham
A little note from this all-over-the-map Rooster writer:
Yes, my blog post themes hip hops from poetry to politics, from novel excerpts to photography.
For this post, my former profession has returned. I have once again dipped my toes into that magical pond of childhood.
The following is one of many finger plays/songs in my repertoire.
When you share this with a young one, don’t forget the gestures and enthusiasm!
Now, the chances are pretty good you might see more future blogs for parents and teachers – or anyone who loves interacting with young children.
Note 2: author of this poem is unknown
Ike, my grandfather, ain’t mean like his son. Unless he’s breaking a horse or doing something else with purpose, he’s got a smile perched on his leathered face.
He stays cool as a cucumber even when times are hard. I hardly ever see that worry bubble dancing over his head like a cloud of Texas dust that most of us stand under.
He got rid of his worry a long time ago at the age of two when Great Grandpa Jim put him on top of a horse. If T-R-O-U-B-L-E comes knocking on his door, he just wrestles it off until all that’s left is the T.
Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper by C. Dennis-Willingham
Not everyone does, you know. Some adults think that those little human “beans” should sprout somewhere else, anywhere but in their close proximity.
Yes, children are loud and can irritate and inflame every nerve to the point where anti-inflamatories don’t work.
Children are curious to a fault – “How come?” “Why do I haf-ta?” “What’s that?” Those questions sometimes makes us grown-ups feel stupid because we don’t always have the internet at hand for research.
But I know that children are magic.
They help us remember what our long-ago years were like.
They remind us of that feeling of satisfaction when the “ah-ha!” moments pop out of nowhere land.
They refill our imagination bucket with all kinds of sweet nuggets of creativity.
Three years ago and four grandchildren later, ribbons of creativity, once hidden in my DNA, have sprouted again. Thanks to those growing “beans,” the product of their influence is now available here.