Readin’ the Bible before I die

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The next morning the doctor handed me two little yellow pills and said, “Here’s your breakfast.” Then he left me in a chair that leaned back. I waited there until my head started to feel fuzzy, like I was sitting at the bottom of a well looking up towards the light of the sky.

“Cono, are you ready?” I stared up through the well and saw the long-nosed face of the man talking to me, the man in the white coat who made a little Loop out of some kind of wire and pulled one, then two tonsils from the back of my throat. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, he decided that my adenoids weren’t doing me any good, so he yanked them out too. Fuzzy or not, I felt every damn bit of it.

He laid a pack of ice on my neck for a while and told me to go home and get some rest. I did. I rested for a whole week because I got sicker than a dog and not because I forgot to cover up my hiney. I got a bad fever and thought for sure I was gonna die. That’s when I picked up that Bible. I remembered Ma saying, “Cono, thar ain’t nothin’ wrong with readin’ the Bible.” Plus, I thought that if I was about to die, I might as well find out who was going to open up the Pearly Gates to let me in.

Once I got through all that “beggetting” stuff, it wasn’t a bad read. I didn’t understand much of it since there were so many people to keep up with. I got the gist of most of it though. But I was still trying to figure out why it said “an eye for an eye” one minute and “turn the other cheek” the next.

During that week, Delma came in once with a pot on her head and stared at me sober as a judge.

“Delma, ye need te get yerself a better lookin’ hat.” She laughed and left the room probably thinking she made me feel better. I guess in a way she did.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper

Daily prompt: Loop

Not Meddlin’ with Bonnie Parker

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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.

“I wadn’t Meddlein’ or nothing, but 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.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper

Daily word prompt: Meddle

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

Time to separate the sheep from the goats

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Met by only the dark, I’m finally off the train. I walk the fifteen minutes to the house, all the while grateful for the time to stretch my legs. I’m eager to see Mother, Sis and Pooch, but my hands sweat when I think about seeing Dad again. It’s not because he can beat me anymore, I know he can’t. It’s because I’ve promised myself to show him a thing or two from a man’s perspective, this man’s perspective. I want him to know he’s done us wrong over the years and I want him to be accountable for it. It’s time to separate the sheep from the goats.

The house looks the same. I stare at the window, the one I’d escaped from. I see the light shining in the kitchen window. I smooth out the wrinkles in my Uniform as best I can. I take a deep breath and walk into the house.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper

Daily Word Prompt: Uniform

That rare gift of laughter

One Thanksgiving when we lived in the Tourist Court, we had enough food for Mother to make a real meal, but it was Pooch who landed on Plymouth Rock. We didn’t have money to buy a turkey, but somehow Mother got hold of an old hen to cook. She baked it for most of the morning, even making cornbread dressing to go with it, which, for her, was like pulling a cart full of lead. She set the food on the kitchen table to let it cool while we went to the drug store to get Dad his medicine. Seeing as how it was Thanksgiving, the drug store was closed and Dad had to rely on his refrigerated liquid medicine to make it through the day.

When we got back home, Dad opened the door and what we saw made my mother want to spit cactus needles. There on our kitchen table laid scattered bones where our chicken used to be and only half of what used to be a whole pan of dressing.

We looked around the corner into the bedroom. Lying on Mother and Dad’s bed, head on a pillow and wearing a smile that stretched from Rotan to Sweetwater, was Pooch. We were the three bears coming home to find out that our porridge had been eaten, but this time, not by a little blonde-haired girl but a Curbstone Setter with an eyepatch.

Pooch’s smile disappeared when he caught sight of Mother spitting fire from her eyeballs, and coming at him with a big broom in her hand. Once those straw bristles touched his butt, he was out the door lickety split.

We ate the leftover dressing and the pinto beans, which had been safe from the theiveing on top of the stove. Mother’s teeth were so clenched with madness, I’m still not sure how she got anything into her mouth. Dad, on the other hand, was trying not to laugh, and he looked like he was enjoying every bite of the scant Portions.

“Ain’t it surprisin’ how full we can get without eatin’ meat?” Dad says stuffing more beans into his mouth, his eyes pushed into a squint by his smiling cheeks.

“It ain’t funny, Wayne,” Mother says.

We all stayed quiet for a bit so Dad could concentrate on keeping his food in and his laugh from coming out. Then he mumbled out loud, “Guess we’re not saving any leftovers for Pooch.”

I couldn’t help it. I had to stick my head under the table and hold my breath to try to keep my own laugh from spewing across the table.

Dad leaned back in his chair, pushed his plate away, patted his belly, and said, “I ate so much I think I got a little pooch.” That’s all it took. My sides started to split right along with Dad’s. Delma giggled, and Mother, although she tried to hide it, was starting a grin all her own.

Pooch didn’t show up until later that night, when everything was calm again and the chicken and dressing had settled nicely in his belly.

Even though we had beans, cornbread, and dressing for Thanksgiving, it was Pooch who really celebrated the feast of the pilgrims. And, I think because of that, Pooch had given us a rare gift around the supper table: laughter.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper (for those who have enjoyed these excerpts, remember you can order the novel on Amazon. 

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Daily word prompt:Portion

Ya gotta get to know a fella ‘fore you say you don’t like him

Pa always tells me, “Cono, if ye don’t like somebody, it’s jes’t ’cause you hadn’t got to know him well enough’s all.” That sounds like something H. would say.

“Hey, Gene. Ye want to meet a real colored man?” I ask.

“Sure, I do. Who is he?”

So I tell him what I know. I tell him about the man with dark skin and kind eyes. I tell him how he looked at me like I was a real person and not just a stupid little kid.

The next day after school, I take Gene to the barbershop.

“Hi, Mr. H.,” I say.

“Hey there Little Dennis, what you know good?”

“This here’s my friend, Gene.”

“Well, it’s a real pleasure to know ya, Gene,” and he sticks out his hand for Gene to shake. Gene waits a second, stares at H.’s big brown hand, then pumps it up and down like the handle on a water well.

“Well, now that’s a mighty fine handshake ye got there young fella. Ya play any football?”

“No sir, not really. I jes’t throw the ball around a bit’s all.”

“Gene’s real good at throwing the football, H.”

“I can tell that, I shorly can. Besides my wife, Teresa, that’s one thing I love. I love that game ’a football.”

“Why don’t ye play then?” I ask.

“Well, I s’pose that window has closed down on me already, but I been going over to the Yellowhammers’ to watch them practice. They’ve started to let me be their water boy. I sure like it, too.”

“Maybe we kin watch a game with ye sometime,” says Gene.

“Anytime, boys. I’d like that. Uh-huh, shorly would.”

“Ya like shinin’ shoes?” asks Gene.

“Shor I do. I get to talk ta all the folks. Real nice folks here in Rotan.”

The barber’s door jingles as a man walks in. He’s got enough fat on him he could be two people instead of one. After he takes off his cowboy hat and hangs it on a hook, he props up his booted feet on the footrest of the barber’s chair, and says, “Shoe shine, boy.”

“Yes, sir, it’d be my pleasure. Ya better look out now, yer shoes ’re gonna be shinin’ to the next county in jus’ a few minutes.”

The fat man doesn’t say anything. He just opens his newspaper and starts to read while H. starts to Buff his shoes.

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

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The real H. Govan

Click the H. Govan link to read more about this amazing man.