Ashes to Ashes

It was Mother who told me about Gene dying. Dad had found out when he was in town but gave Mother the job of breaking the news to me.

“Cono,” she said, “I got some bad news fer ye.”

I thought that maybe we’d have to move away again, away from Ike. Or that Delma was sick again.

“Yer little friend Gene has died, gone to heaven.”

I remember staring at her for the longest time. I remember going to Uncle Joe’s funeral and hearing about Wort Reynolds going to heaven without a head. But this was different. This was MY friend. This was Gene Davis who was only a year older than me.

“He went to Roby to the hospital ‘cause he had a pain in his side.”

I saw Gene and me playing checkers, riding on his mare, making up stories.

“It was a bad appendix, burst before the doctors could git to it.”

I thought Dad was right about one thing. Doctors were good for nothing’s. Couldn’t fix Dad, couldn’t fix Gene.

“Mother?”

“Yeah?”

“When Uncle Joe died, why’d they say ‘ashes to ashes’?”

“I ain’t real sure, Cono. I think it has te do with the fact that we were born nothin’ and go right on back te bein’ nothin’.”

“So now Gene’s jes’t nothin?” I asked, getting upset that the world was going to pretend he never existed.

“Nah, he’s somethin’ alright. He’s jes’t back to being part of the Texas Soil ’sall.”

“That ain’t so bad, is it?”

“Nothin’ wrong with that.”

“But I don’t get te see him again?”

“Afraid not, Cono. I’m sorry,” she said.

And I still am.

I go into my room and pull out my box of specials. There’s the old lace from a boxing glove, the time when Gene put together that fight for me; my first fight with real gloves.

At school and in front of everybody Mr. Green says, “Cono found out that he’s lost a good friend. His name was Gene Davis and he lived in Rotan. Cono, I just want to tell you how sorry we are.”

I nod my head and look down at my desk.

I don’t quite understand it, doesn’t make no sense whatsoever that Gene is dead. I want to see him again. I want to laugh with him. I want him to pull me behind his mare in the red wagon. I want to beat him at checkers.

Mr. Green has told me I can do anything I want. He says I can. He says he knows I can. So I decide to write Gene a letter, send it up to God Jesus to give to him.

 

daily prompt: Soil

Ain’t no room for belly achin’

 

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Cono’s Ma and Pa

The windows are open and the summer breeze floats across my bed like a puff of air that puckers and ends up whistling out a happy tune. Anything bad that might have happened during the day has been blown on through. I hear the sound of the train chugging by ever so often. The kaPluck, kaplunk of the oil wells pump like they’re helping to push the blood through my veins. That’s when I start to get sleepy.

And when I hear that nicker that Polo makes?  I know I’m almost out like Lottie’s eye.    Tomorrow, I’ll ride him like a wild Indian.

The morning shows up and knocks on my window like a redbird pecking at his own reflection and I know that Pa has already put in a half of days of work. Pa’s a real good man and a real good farmer. Gallasses help to hold up his pants, since he got ruptured on a bucking horse early on. Pa said, “That horse swallered his head n’all. I must’a had the reins too tight.” Pa keeps going like nothing ever happened. He doesn’t believe in “bellyaching.” He says, “Thar ain’t no room fer it.” The sound of no bellyaching is music to my ears. That’s one thing I’m glad there ain’t no room for.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper

 

Pluck- daily word prompt

Who’s teaching who on this vacation?

Today, little one, we will teach you about the ocean.

About the dolphins jumping freely in front of you.

About the feel of sand between your tiny toes.

We will teach you how to dig in the sand without eating it

and how to wait for the cool water’s tide to  cover your feet.

But, no doubt, you will teach us more.

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Four of us watching our tiny explorer – the little one with the yellow balloon in the background.

Robbers in my kitchen

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Cono and his sister, Delma

Dad clenched his fist and his jaw at the same time. “Show me a woman with long nails and I’ll show ya a lazy woman.” Mother ignores his comment but finishes up, putting the lid back on.

“Damn that shit stinks,” he says, staring at the polish Bottle. “Ya’ll go on to bed now,” he tells Delma and me.

“But it ain’t…”

“I said git to bed!”

“It’s early Wayne…”

“I’m havin’ company, Elnora. You need to go on too. I’m havin’ a business meetin’.”

Delma and I go to our room and she has no trouble falling asleep. For me it’s just too early and my body and head want more things to do.

After a little while, I hear men’s voices come in through our door. I hear Dad tell them to sit down at the table. I hear the sound of coffee brewing on the stove.

“I don’t want any part of it, Earl,” says Dad.

“But Marshal Dry will be in on it and he’ll make sure we get in and out of there without a hitch, ain’t that right J.D.?”

Then I knew who was sitting at my dinner table, the very table I’d sat under just the night before. It was Mr. J.D. Eckles himself, the outlaw from Ranger and Joe and Earl Adams, the outlaws from Rotan. I peek out of the little hole in my door and get to see pieces of their faces.

J.D. says, “Williams Drug Store is across from the bank. When we’re done with that, I can back up my truck and load up the narcotics.”

Now I know what they’re planning to do. They’re planning to rob our town’s bank, the bank where H. works. I picture H. just doing his job, cleaning and sweeping, when men come in with guns ready to shoot. I don’t like it. Not one iota.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, my father’s story

Daily word prompt: Bottle

Great Grandpa Jim tells a story

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Double Mountain Ranch in background

Jim Dennis, my great-grandfather, bought the ranch in 1904. When he decided to retire to a simpler life other than cowboying, he told Ike he could run the place. Great Grandpa Dennis took Granny Dennis and moved to town.

Jim’s recountings of his younger days were filled with pioneering stories and Indian raids. “After the Civil War, the country was full of unbranded cattle and it was customary for cowmen to brand everythin’ in sight. We sorta Tapered off, though, when the cattle brandin’ law went into force. In the free branding days there was grass enough for all, and plenty of cattle but the cattle had small market value. In 1881, fencing became general, and free pasture was a thing of the past,” he told us great grandkids. “I remember the days when Fort Griffin was a boomtown,” he’d said, “The center of buffalo hide and bone business. Hunters outfitted their parties at Fort Griffin and brought their hides and bones there to be sold. When the buffalo were all killed and the Indians had been put on the reservations, Fort Griffin’s businessmen moved to Albany and the old fort was soon a ghost town.”

Great Grandpa Jim also told us that doctors were few and far between, but not many people got sick. “Couldn’t afford to get down with doctors twenty-five miles away. There weren’t any dentists and teeth seemed to last nearly as long as the folks did. Maybe the pioneer diet of beans, syrup, bread, meat, and coffee wadn’t so bad after all.”

When Jim and Granny Dennis first got married, they moved to Nolan County and spent twenty years on Bitter Creek. Their first ranch home was a dugout, twelve feet square. I didn’t know it back then, but me, Delma, Mother, and Dad would be living in a dugout before too long.

God almighty, they had a total of twelve kids. I can only imagine Granny Dennis raising those kids, taking a break every so often to sit on the front porch to chew her tobacco and spit it back out into her brass spittoon. “Ping!;” like she probably did, when Dad took Delma that time. “Now Wayne, ping, she belongs with her mother, ping. Ye take her back right now, ping.”

Their son, Henry, died in 1898. And Boxley died in 1918 while serving with the American Expeditionary Force in France. That left James, Sid, Maggie, Ike, Bertie, Lawrence, Thurmond, Florine and the twins, Raymond and Rubie. Uncle Sid is ranching in New Mexico, Uncle Thurman is the foreman of the Martin ranch, Uncle Raymond ranches too. While the other kids were off doing other things, thirty-two hundred acres of pure Texas sat in the capable hands of Ike.

The ranch sits at the base of Double Mountain about fifteen miles outside of Rotan just past the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. Mesquite trees, scrub brush, and red dirt were pure and raw Texas. In 1941, the land that spoke to itself and made the people who lived there a little stronger, would be out of our hands and in the hands of the famous football player, Mr. Sammy Baugh. But I didn’t know that then. All I knew was that I’d get to be with Ike and not with Mrs. Berry and, at the time, that was all that mattered.

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Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper

Daily word prompt: Taper