He Can Run But He Can’t Hide

Narrated by Cono Dennis:

I listened to those summer bugs, the cicadas, the ones that sound like sandpaper being rubbed together. Aunt Nolie’s radio started to crackle. We knew we were getting close.

Finally, we heard the announcer, Clem McCarthy, saying that the fight was about to start right there in New York’s Yankee Stadium. I tried to picture Yankee Stadium, but I hadno reference for it. Instead, I pictured a crowd a whole lot bigger than the carnival tent in Ranger.

In the red corner, Max Schmelling weighing in at one hundred and ninety-three pounds. In the black corner, Joe, the Brown Bomber, Louis, weighing in at one hundred ninety-eight and three-quarter pounds.

The crowd on the radio roared. We sat real quiet, listening to every sound that came through Aunt Nolie’s brown box. Even Dad sat there with us, leaning forward with his hands folded under his chin like he was really there.

Joe had Max up against the ropes and then knocked him down three times. In two minutes and four seconds, Schmelling got in only two punches. The fight was over.

Joe Louis, the man that says, “He can run but he can’t hide” and “Everyone has a plan until they’ve been hit,” had marched right into that ring in front of thousands of people—heard by a million more—and showed us a thing or two about how to get things done.

Boxing’s not my career; it’s more like a survival skill that keeps me alive. I’ll use those skills when I need to, like when I arrive in Temple in a couple of hours, stare into my dad’s eyes and say, “Ding, ding, round one.”

Screenshot 2017-12-31 09.59.54

via Finally

excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper

Toothless in a Fur Coat

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Hardly Saddler’s rolled up his wagon, pitched a tent and started up his Medicine Show. He told us about his elixirs and about how, if we bought them, they could treat most of our ailments. If he had an elixir for meanness, I would have bought a bottle right then and there, mixed it into a Pearl beer and taken it straight home to Dad.

Hardley Saddler had all kinds of shows to see and games to play. One of them was a contest to see who could hammer their one big nail the fastest into the wooden board. This contest was only open to girls, since there were other contests open for boys.

“Hey, look who’s enterin’ the contest,” Dorothy says , spitting a watermelon seed at my face. I spit one back and see Aunt Nolie and Genevieve, Dorothy’s sister, step up to the boards.

Besides Aunt Nolie and Genevieve, there were five other ladies lined up at the board. The whistle blew and there they were, those gals pounding their nails in such a hurry you would have thought they were putting up a church roof to keep Jesus dry before a storm. We were all cheering and a hollering for our favorite girl and wouldn’t you know it? I was still picturing Freezer’s eyeballs twitching and Aunt Nolie hammering something else.

Aunt Nolie got real close to winning, her face just dripping with girl sweat. But Genevieve slammed that nail in quicker than a racehorse coming out the gate.

After Genevieve was declared the winner, I couldn’t believe what the first prize was. Genevieve had won herself a brand new, over-the-knee fur coat. Even the folks who had rooted for someone else to win were hooting and clapping that at least one person in Rotan owned a new fur coat.

The next morning  peeked out the window and saw Lottie, Genevieve’s mother, standing outside her cabin, a cigarette dangling from her bottom lip, her bare feet in the snow. She looked over and waved to me like she does every morning. But on this particular day, she waved like she was the Queen of England except she was wearing nothing but a toothless grin and a brand new over-the-knee fur coat.

Ain’t that a pisser?

 

A true story from No Hill for a Stepper.

 

photo credit

via Particular

More Than a Relic

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While on vacation in Crested Butte, Colorado, I saw this old washing machine sitting in a front yard of a beautiful old house. Why did I take a photo?

Not only was I mesmerized by its beauty, I pictured the gone-by years when it actually worked. (From what I can tell from a wee bit of research, this machine was probably created in the 1920’s.) I conjured up the image of a person who used this machine. I pictured flapper attire, boys knee-length trousers, looser corsets and fancy stockings being pushed through the wringer.

Although its function was temporary, my curiosity — and perhaps those of others who had strolled passed — remains.

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Weekly photo prompt – temporary

 

A True Run-in with Bonnie and Clyde

While in the midst of writing No Hill for a Stepper, my father recounted this event. Here is the excerpt:

Delma and me come home from school and can’t find Mother anywhere. She’s always home when we come home from school, so we start to get a little worried until we see her talking to our Tourist Court neighbor on her front porch.

Miss Essie stoops over her cane and is a least a hundred years old if she’s a day.   “C’mon ov’r here, kids, I wanna tell ye what I jes’t tol’ yer mother,” she says, using her cane like a big hand to wave us over. We sit on her step and look up at the old lady sitting in her wobbly porch chair.

“Well, my nephew took me into Sweetwater t’day, ya know, ta do a little shoppin’?”

Oh sweet Jesus, I have to hear a shopping story.

“Well, I was at the Five and Dime and I got in line to pay for the odds and ends I’d picked up, ye know like a new hair bonnet, a few necessary toiletries. What else did I get now?” She looks up at the sky like she’s waiting for Jesus to remind her. Delma and me look up too but we don’t hear any loud voice coming from heaven. That doesn’t surprise me none.

“Oh, some of that sweet smelling toilet water they sell up by the front counter. What’s it called again, Elnora?” This time she doesn’t look up. Mother shakes her head back and forth to say she doesn’t know, while I take my mind to anywhere but shopping in Sweetwater with Miss Essie.

She grunts as she stands up from her chair. So I think she’s forgotten and is going inside and I can get on with my day, but she keeps going.

“Then I see this gal in front’a me with a stack’a clothes piled up on the counter, ‘nuff fer three families, mind ye, three families. Well, the clerk starts ringin’ up them clothes, but the gal says, now listen to this children, the gal says, ‘I ain’t payin’. Jes’t put ‘em in a bag. I’m Bonnie Parker.’ Kin ye imagine, I was standing right next to Bonnie Parker herself. I could’a been kilt right then and there, right then and there.” Then she fans the heat and fear off herself and sits down in her rickety porch chair like she’s about to faint.

“Bonnie Parker?” I say. “Like Bonnie and Clyde Parker?”

“One’n the same.”

“Who’s Bonnie and Clyde Parker?” Delma asks.

“Barrow,” Mother says. “Clyde Barrow.”

“Who’s Bonnie and Clyde Barrow?” she asks again.

“Never ye mind Delma,” says Mother.

“I’ll tell ye later,” I whisper to Sis.

But Miss Essie says, “Killers, that’s what they are. Natural born killers.” She keeps fanning like she’s trying to air herself away from being dead.

I sat there thinking on what it would be like to meet Bonnie and Clyde. All the kids talk about them and sometimes, when our parents don’t know, we pretend we’re holding up banks just like they do.

The sun is starting to set as the wind starts to pick up, making whirlwinds in the dust. Mother walks out into the street and stares up to the sky. I follow her and see strange looking clouds that start on the ground and go up instead of the other way around like they’re supposed to.

“Miss Essie, yer nephew gonna be home soon?” I hear Mother ask.

“Should be home any time now. Why?”

“Cause I think we’re about to have ourselves a sand storm.”

“Oh, Lordy, what a day! First a brush with death and now a sand storm!”

Unknown

 

photo credit

Daily word prompt: faint

If it crawls up your drawers

“So’s what she found a scarf? Who wouldn’t pick it up if it weren’t attached to a person?” Reba’s hands might have been in the kitchen when Meta came home, but her ears were everywhere in the house. She knew what had happened.

“It belongs to that missing Temperance girl, Rebie.”

“And ‘member that red hat I’s left at Market Square? Belongs to somebody else now. That Sadie might have a stubborn streak miles long, but she wouldn’t hurt a Bumble bee ‘less it crawled up her drawers.”

Had it? Had the Temperance women hovered over her, gotten too close? Invaded her safety? Sadie had become a barbed-wire fence that kept others out or, perhaps herself in.

What was Sadie keeping from me?

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

daily word prompt: Bumble

The Brute at the Butcher Shop

Savage. An appropriate name for a butcher.

The door ajar, the stench of raw meat penetrated my nose, but the familiar voice inside stopped me from running past. “Hold on, Sadie.”

“What?” Sadie bent down, retying her bootlaces.

I peeked inside the butcher shop. Miss Reba stared up at the burly man towering over her. “No sir, you must’a misunderstood I’s just—”

“Don’t tell me I misunderstood.” He drew his arm across his chest then slapped Miss Reba across the face with the back of his hand. She tumbled sideways, her head smacking the edge of a table before she hit the floor.

“Colored’s always have to wait,” he added.

My blood curdled as I rushed to her side. “Miss Reba!”

“What have you done?” Sadie yelled behind me.

I knelt beside Miss Reba. “Ach Gott. Are you all right?”

She moaned and lifted a limp hand to the side of her head where blood dripped onto the floor.

“She needs to wait her turn, ain’t that right butcher?” the brute said.

Mr. Savage stood there, his mouth open. The patrons gasped and whispered. No one came forth. What was wrong with these people?

Sadie glared at the man and reached inside her small black purse. She unfolded a man’s shaving knife, stood and approached him. “If I pricked you with this, you’d squeal like a stuck pig.”

My mind blurred. What does it take to kill someone? To sacrifice one’s self for a cause?

The bearded man pointed a finger at Sadie. “Whoa, now girlie …”

“And then, our butcher will take you for a hog,” she said. “After hanging you on a meat hook, he’ll slit you from neck to belly until you bleed out. Isn’t that right, Mr. Savage?”

Mr. Savage blinked a few times and cleared his throat. “Sadie, you best look after Miss Reba there.”

The abuser’s nostrils flared. He pointed a finger inches from Sadie’s face. “You need to shut that vulgar trap ‘a yours, Missy. Surely you got a sheriff in town who can lock you up for pulling a weapon on me.”

“ Unmensch! Her weapon?” My words hurled forth, surprising me. “Your hand was a weapon! You hurt Miss Reba.”

Sadie glanced side to side. “We have the best county sheriff in the state. Looks like he’s not here right now. So, the next time any of us return to purchase pork, including this fine lady on the floor bleeding the same color red as everyone else, you might be the pig we get to eat.”

The man clenched both hands into fists. “Why you …”

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

Savage

Missing the country-side

Electric streetcar rails made circular patterns on the paved intersections of busy streets while the trolley’s bells deafened my rural ears. Businesses of every kind lined up one after another, many sharing common walls. Women wore feathers and stuffed birds attached to their hats and paraded them down the street like migrating nests. Barouche carriages transported men and women in their finery. At least the clamor and Jangle of wagons pulled by tried horses reminded me of home.

I set my luggage down and rubbed my tired arms.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello, 1901

daily word prompt: Jangle

School’s out, but …

“Class dismissed.”

After Miss Primrose’s words, the students Dash outside to breathe in the real world.

“Scoot? Want to go to the swimming hole to look for Frank? If he’s there, we can’t stay long. Your Mama will have a hissy fit if we’re late coming home.”

His eyes light up. “Grab your muskets, boys!” he shouts. Then, for the first time today, he pulls out his blues harp. As he plays, his cheeks puff out and suck in, puff out, and suck in like what I picture a blowfish doing.

As we walk to the swimming hole, I think about my birthday even though I don’t want to. Without Mama, it wouldn’t even be a birthday. It would be a few friends, a cake and presents without promise. Now I have to talk to The Secret Keepers, Miss Helen or Miss Delores. If they know where Mama is, maybe they can send word that I refuse to turn twelve without her.

Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket

 

daily word prompt: Dash

Missing Letters

Saturday is family day, if only two people count as a whole family. We’re not a complete three-legged dog family anymore. Without Mama, Daddy and me have turned into a kangaroo that hops on two feet with sorrow poking out of its pouch.

Daddy and me climb into Ol’ Bess. His knuckles are white on the steering Wheel as he drives us into town, and I don’t want to ruin family day by asking questions about Mama.

Every Saturday, Rosie’s Café has roast beef and mashed potatoes. We always split a slice of apple pie three ways. This time, I’ll get more than my fair share, but the thought makes my stomach hurt.

Five minutes of quiet later, we pull up in front to the café on Holly Gap’s main street.

“What in tarnation?” Daddy points. “Wonder what happened.”

One of the workers is sweeping up glass on the sidewalk. Just above his head, there’s a big hole in the front window. Now, instead of saying “Best café in Texas,” it says, “Bes… exas.”

Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket

Daily photo prompt: Wheel