Chapter 1 – Going Back

LJH-Lulu epub pictureGoing back to my home town of Tekamah, Nebraska filled me with trepidation. It had been almost twenty years since I last saw my brother and sisters, but it seemed like an eternity. Would I ever find them? Would anyone remember me, or them? Not sure why I let myself be talked into going back; it was a crazy, miserable, strange time of my life. Much I wanted to forget. But I had to go back one more time. Had to see if anyone knew anything about my family.

I drove through the town as slow as the limit allowed; maybe I would spot someone I knew. The old town hadn’t changed much. The one room schoolhouse which also served as a church was now a museum. The doc’s office became a small clinic. From town, I headed west along Old Tree Lane where tall cottonwoods guarded either side of the road. Brisk fall winds persuaded the trees to powder the ground with fluffy white puffs of cotton. Past Mill Pond, the stately Johnson homestead still guarded its place on the corner. I recalled with sadness the death of my two brothers while in the Johnsons’ care. Turning the car north, I passed the Wheeler farm where I grew from a boy to a man. It looked empty. Made me think with fondness of old Mac and wondered if he or his missus were still alive.

Almost at the old homestead, I slowed with the thought of turning around. Why did I come back? The memories were way too painful, but I had to know. I took a deep breath and drove up the road toward home. When I spotted the old rickety wooden fence surrounding the abandoned shack, the memories washed back with a flood of debris.

There we were – seven of us – perched atop that wooden splintery fence waiting for Pa to come back. Darkness started to settle in and with it a slight drizzle. The wind picked up steam, howling loudly as it screeched around the barn. I shivered and wrapped my arms inside my coat to keep warm. I looked down the row on my brothers and sisters; saw Gracie whimpering again. She looked so pitiful and scared. None of us dared move off the fence. Pa had said to sit here until he came back and he meant it. He was a mean man to deal with when he got drunk. I shivered again as I remembered him locking the shack, staggering towards the truck and driving away without a look back. We were all afraid of what Pa would do if he came back and caught us away from our fence post.

“Where is he?” whispered Mikey.

“Ah’s gittin’ cold,” sobbed Josie.

I was worried too. When Pa left, he was already half-drunk. Sadly, Pa loved his drink. He took to drinking more since Mama left. As long as I’d known, he was always a drinker. One time, he came home so drunk, he acted crazy and out of his mind like a wild man. He started to beat Mama. He slapped her face so hard, she stumbled and fell to the floor.

“Where’s my dinna’?” he hollered. The table was set; Mama made us all wait for him to come home, but he wasn’t satisfied. He grabbed the tablecloth and yanked the whole thing to the floor with one swoop, breaking every dish. Mama stood there wide-eyed and scared. Her body shook as she dodged another drunken swing from his hand. He staggered towards Dolly with a raised fist, and that was more than Mama could handle. I saw her eyes flare with anger. She grabbed the baby and put herself between Dolly and the madman she called her husband. “Get outside quick!” she ordered. She pushed us out the door, and slammed it behind her. All we could do is leave – fast. Mama and four children marched down the dark country road walking and waiting until Pa passed out on the bed in a drunken stupor. When we thought it was safe, we would tiptoe into the house.

On that freezing cold night so long ago, all he said was, “Git yore stuff on! Ah’m goin’ ta town. Ya’ll git on that fence and wait there ‘til I gits back; an’ don’ ya dare move an inch!”

His breath reeked of liquor. Gracie was too small to balance atop of the wooden fence post, so Pa just “hung” her there by her coat so she wouldn’t fall off. I wasn’t sure what to think or do. All I knew was that it was getting colder by the minute. So, we waited; thought he was probably in town drinking some more and would be even meaner when he came back. I shivered again when I remembered he locked the door. We couldn’t even get back in the shack. What was he thinking?

Read Chapter 2

 

The Budding of a Writer

child writingThey said it couldn’t be done. “You never get your first piece published. Be prepared for rejection and try, try, again.” When I submitted my first written piece to a publisher, I didn’t know that axiom. I sent it off and hoped for the best. Not receiving an immediate reply, I shrugged my shoulders and forgot about it.

A few months later, I received a check for $7.50 in the mail. The publisher had bought my poem – my first submission of creativity on paper. I was so overjoyed I promptly treated the whole family to a round of sodas at the local ice cream shop. I was only 17. Almost ten years passed before I submitted anything again. The non-fiction how-to article was immediately accepted. Lucky or blessed, either way, it encouraged my love of writing.

I have always enjoyed making up stories dating as far back as grade school. By fourth grade, my writing skills developed enough to win a reading contest. That’s right – reading, not writing. The challenge was to read the most books within a month, writing a summary on each one. The teacher made a tiny mock book cover for each book read and pinned it to the bulletin board under the reader’s name. The whole class could view the progress of each reader in the contest.

There were two more days left in the contest, and to win I only had to read one more book. I was a fast reader, but not that fast. There was no time to read a whole book in two days. I decided to make up a story.

“Susie’s Summer,” my final book report, summarized all Susie’s fun experiences, which were many of my own experiences. I picked a name from the air for the author and turned it in, shocked at my own deviousness and urge to win. The next day, I saw the mock cover pinned up on the board putting me in first place. I had won the Reading Contest. I shivered with nervous excitement. I was delighted to win, but yet I was also afraid. I had lied. I had deceived the teacher into thinking I had really read the most books. Should I tell her? The quandary began to boil in my young soul. My conscience finally won out within a week, and meekly I crept to her desk.

“I didn’t read that book, Miss Palmer,” I whispered, not wanting the other kids to hear.

“What book?” she asked absentmindedly, still grading the papers on her desk.

“You know.” I gritted my teeth. I hated to admit my guile. I felt so ashamed. “You know – the last book report I turned in?”

“Oh, yes.” Miss Palmer fumbled with the stack of papers on her desk to find my report. She perused the summary again. “Susie’s Summer” – a very good book report. How could you write a summary if you didn’t read the book?” she wondered aloud.

“I made it up,” I confessed softly, looking down as tears mounted in my eyes.

“You wrote that story?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

She sat quietly at her desk looking at my report, thinking hard for what seemed like an eternity. I shifted my feet. I studied an imaginary spot in the carpet and tried desperately to shake off the flood of tears threatening to spill out. Would I get an F? Was she going to turn me in to the office? Would she tell my mom?

Finally she spoke. She patted my quivering hand. “Though what you did was not acceptable, or even fair to the rest of the class, I still think you deserve to be the winner! You showed great creativity. Good job!

“Class? Listen up. I want to read you a story….”

________________________

This story won 2nd place in the Springfield Writer’s Guild Annual Literary Contest in 2011.

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