Measuring up

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Cono, my father, age 14

You don’t really know much when you’re born, but that’s where it starts, alright, whether you like it or not. When you’re just a little suckling pig on your mamma’s teat, all you really want to know is that the teat will keep filling up so you can start suckling all over again. Once you reckon the food’s always gonna be there, you move on to wondering whether you’re gonna be kept safe from harm and warm when it’s cold. As you get a little older, you find out that maybe there isn’t always going to be enough to eat after all, and you won’t always be warm either. This is especially true if you grew up during the Great Depression in Texas, in the western part, where any stranger is sized up from boot to hat, if, that is, they’re lucky enough to own both.

Texans trust themselves first and foremost, and then maybe one or two of their kinfolk, as long as they’ve found that trust to be right as rain, if the sun can set on their words. I grew up trying to figure out who was in which category, who I could trust and who to never turn my back on. There was a lot of line crossing. I learned what I know from watching those who crossed over and the others who stayed on their own side.

I did both.

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

Measure

Denying Religion

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Almost every time I get to one of those revivals, the grown-ups say, “Cono, don’t you want to be saved?”

“From what?” I say.

“Why the Devil hisself,” they say and then they add a bunch of amens to go along with it.

Unless they’re thinking about Dad being the Devil, I just say, “No thank you.”

“But what are you waitin for? We could baptize you right now and all your sins would be forgiven and you would have eternal life.”

As far as sinning goes, I guess I’ve done my fair share of it, Amen.

“What’s ‘eternal’ mean?” I ask.

“Well, it means you’ll live forever with Jesus right next to you.”

I picture Jesus standing right next to me, while I’m thunk, thunk, thunkin’ on a woodpile forever and ever into eternity, and it doesn’t appeal to me one iota. Last year when we lived with Aunt Nolie, I didn’t have much chopping to do. But now, I have to chop all the time, Chop, chop, chop to make sure Mother has enough wood for the cookstove at the Tourist Court. Chop, chop, chop so Dad won’t lay into me.

Anyway, I’ve heard stories about how some churches take a poor person’s last dime so they can put more gold up by the Jesus statue. Then, a pennyless old woman with only one shoe and five starving children crawls away with her head all covered up, as if she’s ashamed of being broke. It doesn’t make no sense to me whatsoever. It seems to me that Jesus would want you to keep most of your money so you don’t have to starve and die and can at least make it to church to pray. What gets me is watching them churchgoers and knowing that they talk all big about Jesus, but when they get home, they just keep doing their sinning anyway, like they’d forgotten every word they’d learned. Maybe all you have to do is say you believe in Jesus and then you’ll be saved no matter how you act. But what do I know? I ain’t been saved yet.

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

Denial

Crazy Olvie

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photo credit

The rock crashes through the front window and glass shatters over Gladys. Crazy Olvie reaches for the telephone that sits in its cubby space in the short hallway. “Hurry up, now. Read me the name of the Sheriff’s Department.”

I know she meant to ask me to read the number instead of the name. But I can’t help it. I look at her telephone list of numbers taped to her fridge and say in my best deadpan voice, “Sheriff’s Department.”

“That’s what I said.” Her voice is louder now. “Read it to me!”

She’s clueless.

Her cheeks flush and her eyes look like they belong to one of Dracula’s brides.

“Glendale-4123.”

Mom had laughed when she told me that every time Olvie has to phone her doctor, she freaks out and curses all the zeros. She hates sticking her fingers in the seven-through-zero slots because she doesn’t like waiting for the dial to spin back around to home base.  Lucky for her, these numbers won’t take any time.

Excerpt from my Work in Progress, Olvie and Chicken Coop (working title)