Amen-er’s drinkin’ whiskey

Delma didn’t die. Every day my little sister got stronger and stronger and more and more like her old self again. Dad stayed about the same, hardly ever getting up outta bed. After the quarantine sign was pulled off our door and our prison sentence was over, Aunt Nolie moved from Ranger to Rotan and rescued us once again.   This time she wasn’t alone. She’d gotten herself a new husband by the name of Red Griffice. Back then I thought he was called “Red” since the name matched the color of his face after a few beers.

Bootlegging was their main business. I’m not sure who learned from who, but our neighbors, the Rushing’s and the Gallagher’s were bootleggers too. Mr. Gallagher owned a gas station off the side of the road, but I remember him only having gas in those pumps one or two times. It was a problem for the out of town customers, who pulled up for petrol and there was none. The bigger problem was when Sheriff P.V. Hail. He’d pull up to the “gas station” and Mr. Gallagher had to say, again, “ Ah hell, PV. Ya know how things are. Can ya believe that I’m still waitin’ on that delivery? I got plenty of RC Cola. Can I get one for ye? It’s on the house as always.”

When PV finally left, Mr. Gallagher would wipe his forehead and recheck his supply of beer and whiskey. Nobody, nobody in Rotan knew where he hid it.

When Aunt Nolie and Red would drive up to Sweetwater to stock up on their booze, it was only P.V. they had to watch out for as they crossed that county line from wet to dry. I even heard that on Sundays, somebody from town went to church and sold “eggs” to the Amen-ers. The “eggs” came either in tall bottles or short ones.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, by C. Dennis-Willingham

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Cono’s (my father) Aunt Nolie rests in Ranger, Texas

 

Delivery – daily word prompt

Ike’s Spicy Tongue

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(pictures of my great-grandfather, Ike “Isaac Newton” Dennis)

Ike mounts his beans on top of his cornbread, takes a bite, then chomps off the end of his jalapeno. Sweat is just pouring off his forehead and tears have started to roll down his cheeks.

         “Damn, that’s good,” he says, “A good go for short dough.”

         We all laugh, even Ike, about how something that hurts so bad can also be so good at the same time.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper by C.Dennis-Willingham (my father’s story)

 

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daily word prompt: Spicy

Love in the Dustbowl

Lyrics from one of my favorite songs.

Baby I know that we’ve got trouble in the fields
When the bankers swarm like locust out there turning away our yield
The trains roll by our silos, silver in the rain
They leave our pockets full of nothing
But our dreams and the golden grain
Have you seen the folks in line downtown at the station
They’re all buying their ticket out and talking the great depression
Our parents had their hard times fifty years ago
When they stood out in these empty fields in dust as deep as snow

[Chorus:]
And all this trouble in our fields
If this rain can fall, these wounds can heal
They’ll never take our native soil
But if we sell that new John Deere
And then we’ll work these crops with sweat and tears
You’ll be the mule I’ll be the plow
Come harvest time we’ll work it out
There’s still a lot of love, here in these troubled fields

There’s a book up on the shelf about the dust bowl days
And there’s a little bit of you and a little bit of me
In the photos on every page
Now our children live in the city and they rest upon our shoulders
They never want the rain to fall or the weather to get colder
[Chorus]

You’ll be the mule I’ll be the plow
Come harvest time we’ll work it out
There’s still a lot of love, here in these troubled fields

 

From Nanci Griffith’s CD: Dustbowl Symphony

       Nanci Griffith – Trouble In The Fields     

The Devil’s Horns

1931: Busted Toothbrushes and Beaten Backsides

I stack up these Devil’s Horns, so I can see how high they’ll go up before they all fall back down again. Here at Ma and Pa’s farm just outside of Ranger where we’re living now, Devil’s Horns are everywhere. They started out as pink wild flowers, but always end up looking like a dry piece of horned wood. I like to match them up to see if any of them are exactly the same. I try to find the small ones, the middle-sized ones, and then the biggest, the King of all Devil’s Claws. So far, they all seem about the same, so I just keep stacking them up. Sometimes, if you ain’t paying any attention, one will snag you around your ankle and make you think you’ve been bitten by a ratt’ler. I like to collect Devil’s Horns, but I can’t bring them in the house ‘cause Dad says, “Their ain’t no room in the house for more weeds.”

“Cono? Cono? Where the hell are ya?” Like Ma says, speak of the Devil.

“Over here,” I say, getting up and dusting off my britches.

“I got ya somethin’ today.”

Dad never brings me nothing. Ever. Not even a stick of chewing gum. But now he’s standing in front of me, dressed as always in his khakis and clean short-sleeved button down shirt. His big hand reaches into the sack from Adams Grocers and pulls out a brand new toothbrush. I’ve seen Mother and Dad use one before, so I guess that I must be big enough now to use one too, since I’m a big brother and all. I want to show Dad how grown up I am.

I look at that shiny white Toothbrush like it’s a precious jewel, like I should be saving it for a Sunday.

“Well now, go ahead on. Give it a shot.” I stick it in my mouth and chomp on it like it’s one of Ma’s old biscuits. I hear a crack. The handle comes out, but the brush part stays in.

Dad can catch a housefly in one hand without blinking, so it shouldn’t have surprised me none that his open palm slams fast across my face.

As I put my hand to my face he says, “Oh fer cryin’ out loud, Cono! I’ll swannin’, ye bit it in two! Can’t ye do…”

I don’t hear the rest of what he’s saying, since he’s walking away from me shaking his head back and forth. Half of my face stinging like it’s been resting on a yeller-jacket’s nest. The other half just feels sorry. How can you build up something so high, just to watch it fall down so hard? With the brush part still inside my mouth and its handle still in my hand, I think maybe I’m not so big after all. I guess I’ve found the baby Devil’s Claw after all. It’s me. I’m the baby.

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

 

Toothbrush– daily word prompt

Tellin’ it like it was

I’ve never been to jail nor do I plan to ever go. Growing up sometimes, I felt like I was in jail just from living under the same roof as Dad. I can’t imagine being all boxed in like that. I’d think the roof was coming down to cover me up.

When I found out about what Sheriff P.V. Hail had done, it made me outright mad. Not because of my Dad, but because of Ike. It wasn’t until Dad’s jail time that I found out about something else that happened to Ike long before.

P.V. had caught Ike staggering around Rotan like a drunk man, which he was. Ike wasn’t hurting anybody. He was just bleeding his lizard on Main Street. Instead of arresting Ike and putting him in the jailhouse to sleep it off, he beat the shit out of him first. I hated hearing that. I hated hearing that anyone could treat my grandfather with such little respect. I think it’s because P.V. suffered from small man’s disease. He was so short, he could have made a good butt doctor.

Dad had been drinking coffee in Rotan’s cafe, trying to sober up a bit before he came home. After the waitress brought him his sugar she said, “I’ll be right back with a spoon.”

“Don’t need no spoon,” Dad said. Then he reached into the back of his britches, brought out his pistol and started stirring his coffee with it.

Needless to say, that waitress called the sheriff. When Dad walked outta that café, P.V. was pointing his own gun straight up at Dad’s forehead.

Dad was smart enough not to put up a fight. Instead he put up his hands and told him where the gun was. P.V. took the gun then took his time, patting him down. Then P.V. got real low like he was checking Dad’s ankles, but he was really getting down out of the line of fire. That’s when Dad noticed one of P.V.’s deputy’s standing behind a truck about a hundred feet away and cross hairing a rifle straight at him. If Dad wanted to, he could have plucked up his gun and killed them both before they’d had time to blink. Instead, Dad just nodded at the deputy and smiled as if to say, “If ya planned on ambushin’ me, ya should’a Hidden yourself a little better.”

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

 

Daily Word Prompt: Hidden

Can’t beat it with an ugly stick

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Cono and his sister, Delma 

At least we are together, Delma and me. It’s just another place that I plan to watch over her. I want to keep her close by, so nobody can snatch her away again. As long as I can do that, it doesn’t make no difference where we are.

The car keeps humming slowly down the highway. I try to sleep but I can’t. Instead, I think about Mr. Ed Rotan and decide right then and there that “Cono, Texas” has a real good ring to it. Cono, Texas won’t just have snow gypsum under the ground and a railroad on top of it. It’ll have oil underground and derricks on the top, pumping night and day. I call them jacks “grasshoppers” because that’s just what they look like when they’re pumping up and down. They’re grasshoppers trying to hop away, but they’re stuck and have to settle for hopping up and down in the same place.

My town will have at least two good cafés that serve T-bone steaks and tea iced in clean tin jars, free to me since it’s my town. I don’t know much about T-bone steaks since one’s never been in my mouth, but I do know about cold iced Tea. A while back, Pa and I went from farmhouse to farmhouse following the thrasher and it was the first time I ever got a swaller of iced tea out of a fruit jar. A couple of them farm ladies knew how to make it real good. But the best was when one of them lady’s had cleaned up an oil can good and shiny. She poured the tea in the can with a bunch of ice and sugar and when I tasted it, it was the coldest and best drink I ever had. Ice is few and far between, sometimes as scarce as food. So when Pa took a sip he said, “Aye God, ye can’t beat that with an ugly stick.”

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper

Daily word prompt: Tea

Shootin’ Sunshine

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Cono Dennis, my father

Here I go again, on the way back to Sweetwater. Not to get a donkey but to shoot Sunshine, My Only Sunshine.

Driving down the highway, Aunt Nolie doesn’t talk much, at least not with her mouth. She clutches that steering wheel like she’s about to squeeze all the Texas sand and Grit out of it and that’s a whole conversation in itself.

We finally get to Sweetwater and park in front of the Lucky Star Bar.

“Cono, ye wait right here.”

“OK,” I say, since I’ve already met the woman, who’s about to be shot anyway.

I sit in the car, again. I watch the people come and go, again, except this time, the ones that had been going were coming and the ones that had been coming were now going. I wait for the sound of a gunshot, the sound I’ve become familiar with when I hunt with my dad. I wait alright ‘cause there’s nothing else for me to do.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper

 

daily word prompt: Grit