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

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

I made a threat

I was six and didn’t want to be left out of anything that looked like “fun.” One day, my sister, Pat, five and a half years older than me, had friends over. I kept trying to get into her room to be part of the group. I was being a Pest.

My sister finally yelled out, “Daddy, come and get Carolyn or I’m gonna spank her.”

I looked at Dad and said, “Close the door, Daddy. Let’s see how this comes out.”

I wore bold and stubborn like badges on my sleeve.

AND, I had a purple and pink cow.

My sister and I in the 1960’s

Pest – 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

Up against the ropes

Cono Dennis, my father

This train has its rhythm going now. The Passengers have settled in, most are trying to sleep, just to make the time pass. I lay my head up against the hard window and watch as San Antone starts to slowly slip by. I close my eyes to see if I can nod off like everybody else, but it’s only an idea. Sleep is knocked out by that presence in the seat next to me. More memories keep nudging me, crowding me up against the ropes, where none of my boxing defense skills seem to work. No, these are stronger opponents. They jab my chin, then power punch me in the gut. It’s more painful than a broken nose. They make me remember.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper

Daily Word Prompt: Passenger

Death of an Uncle

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The man lying in the bed doesn’t look anything like my Uncle Joe. His head is all swelled up, and a long, bloody cut runs from his forehead, over his eye, and down to his chin. There’s another cut over his nose, a deep gash across his forehead, and a couple more roost on his chin. Mother comes up behind me with a fresh washcloth and scares the tar outta me.

“What happened to him?”

“Punk Squares and Hammit Bashem beat ’em with knucks and a tar tool,” she says.

“What fer?”

“Don’t rightly know fer sure.”

“When’s he gonna get better?” I whisper.

“Ain’t sure he is, Cono.” I don’t really want to know why Punk and Hammit beat up my Uncle Joe. I’m afraid to.

Three days later, after plenty of moaning, my Uncle Joe dies. Earlier that morning, when he took his last breath, Aunt Nolie covered him with a Blanket and cried, “He didn’t deserve this.” She wipes her nose and eyes with the back of her hand. Except for his cuts and bruises, Uncle Joe was whiter than a bed sheet.

Now some men in a big black car come to take away my stiff-as-a-board uncle.

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

Drunk and crazy cowboys

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Ike, my great grandfather, at age 23


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Ike, “Is’ral”, in later years




According to Grady, Logchain and “Is’ral” got real liquored up, the two of them drunker than Cooter Brown. They hopped on top of Nellie, Ike’s old Gray mare, and rode straight into the lobby of the Gholson Hotel. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Nellie wore a bell around her neck that swayed back and forth like it was ringing an announcement that the two Cooter Browns were itching for havoc. Fire Chief Murphy chased after them, hollering for them to stop their nonsense. Instead of stopping, they roped ol’ Fire Chief Murphy and pulled him around a little bit. They didn’t hurt him none, but the madder the chief got, the more they laughed their fool heads off.

When Fire Chief Murphy finally freed himself from the rope, he just brushed off and mumbled, “Damn fools.” Then he walked off shaking his head like he still had dirt in his ears from really being dragged in the road.

That wasn’t the end of it. Ike told Pa he needed to go to the barbershop for a shave.

Pa says, “Aye, God, Is’ral, ain’t no need te pay Grady for a shave. I’ll do’er fer free.”

“Well,” says Ike, pondering the idea and probably clicking his cheek. “Alrighty then.”

They stumbled into the barbershop, and Ike walked over to Grady’s barber chair where he plopped down his dusty butt. Pa threw the shaving towel over him and lathered him up real good with the shaving brush. Grady said he just stepped aside and leaned up against the wall with his arms folded. He told me it was better than watching a picture show.

After the first nick, Pa slapped a little piece of paper over the cut and kept on shaving. After the second cut and the second little piece of paper Ike says, “Don’t ye be drainin’ m—” but Pa slapped a piece of paper over his mouth, so he’d shut the hell up saying, “Quit yer bellyachin’, Is’ral.”

By the time they walked out of the barbershop, Ike’s face was covered with those tiny pieces of paper. From cheek to cheek and nose to chin he looked like he’d walked out of a mummy’s tomb.

Grady said he was laughing so hard he barely heard it when Ike mumbled, “Logchain, it’s a miracle you didn’t cut my head plumb off.”

Then, those two crazy cowboys got back on that old grey mare, her bell just a ringing and rode off to who knows where to do who knows what else.

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