Monthly Archives: January 2015

Burly Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven
The bittersweet Christmas soon faded in Herman’s mind as the months lengthened into years. Visits from Callie became less frequent because Uncle Calvin got a new job in Houston, and they moved from Texarkana. Of course, Callie and Herman exchanged easy lies about how Houston wasn’t that far away and they would see each other often. The truth was too painful. At least Tad didn’t wait for Callie to hug him this time, which made Herman feel a little bit better. But Tad was almost seventeen and far too old to act silly and stubborn around a sister he might never see again. Even papa broke away from his long, sorrowful stares across the prairie to give Callie a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek. He even shook Uncle Calvin’s hand and gave Aunt Joyce a shy hug.
“I’m sorry to take your girl away like this,” Uncle Calvin explained in a sad sort of way. “But they’re building like crazy down there and construction’s the ground floor job, if you know what I mean.”
“Sure, Calvin,” papa said as friendly as his continuing grief would allow him.
“It’s a risk, I know,” Aunt Joyce added, “but if Calvin can hit it big that’ll mean a better education for Callie and the boys.”
“Yes,” Uncle Calvin emphasized. “We’re not just looking after the girl but all the children. If I can help them get on better, I want to.”
Papa stiffened. “The boys will do all right.”
“Sure, I know they will,” Uncle Calvin said as an apology.
Then they were gone. Tad grumbled about how Uncle Calvin was acting uppity and that they didn’t need any help.
“Calvin’s a good man,” papa rasped. “He means good by us all.”
“Yes, papa,” Tad whispered.
Herman was confused and excited by what Uncle Calvin said. Up until now he had not given much thought about what was going to happen when he grew up. But he was eleven years old and such thoughts were creeping into his mind and scaring him.
“What will happen to me?” Herman asked Burly late that night.
“You’re going to grow up,” Burly said.
“But what will I be when I grow up?” Herman persisted.
“A man,” Burly replied.
“Whatever you become,” Burly interrupted him, “you will always be Herman. And being Herman is a wonderful thing.”
Herman hugged him. “Thank you, Burly.” He paused and noticed his bear’s little burlap face was turned down. “Are you sad, Burly?”
“I’ll never see my mother again,” Burly said.
“And I’ll never see my wife again,” Burly Senior whispered from across the room.
“Oh,” Herman replied as though suddenly realizing something. “You have lost your mother today and that makes you very sad. I didn’t think of that. All I could think of was my own problems. I’m sorry.”
“That’s all right,” Burly assured him. “Most people are like that. They never stop to look at things from the way other people look at them.”
“But you’re better than most,” Burly Senior added. “In fact, you’re doing a pretty good job at seeing the world as your father and your brother see it.”
Herman sighed. “Sometimes I wonder if I do. I don’t really know how Tad feels most of the time.”
“Take it from me,” Burly Senior offered. “He’s very sad. A very lonely, scared little boy he is.”
“How can you tell?” Herman asked.
“By the way he is squeezing me right now.”
When spring came and the wildflowers were coloring the hills everywhere, Herman noticed Tad seemed happier and spent less time home after all his chores were done. He was beginning to have friends. Herman was happy for him, for he still didn’t have many children from his class who were his friends so he knew how Tad felt.
“Don’t worry,” Burly said one afternoon after Tad had run off to play with his new buddies. “Someday you will have boys your age to be your friends.”
“But why don’t they like me now?” Herman asked.
“I like you now,” Burly replied.
Herman smiled and hugged his little burlap friend. “I know you do, but what can I do to make the boys at school like me?”
“If you have to do anything to make them like you then they aren’t really going to be your friends anyway.”
Sighing, Herman gave Burly another hug. After school was out for the summer, Herman changed his mind about Tad’s friends because they began to spend more time at the farm and Herman saw what they were really like. One of them, a tall, stringy-looking boy with lots of freckles and straw-like hair, liked to tease Herman for being too short and not being able to run very fast or play baseball very well. He made Herman feel like he was dumb sometimes when he would pull a mean trick on him. His name was Leonard. The other boy, Stevie, was shorter than Tad but bigger and broader. He sulked about all the time and didn’t say much, except an occasional threatening grunt. Steve always looked at Herman as though he would like to beat him up. Of course, both boys would straighten and be polite when papa walked by. Papa may have been skinny but he was strong and he acted like he might explode into a violent temper tantrum at any moment.
Late one afternoon in the loft Herman was having a nice long talk with the two bears when he heard the front door open. “Uh oh. Tad’s brought Leonard and Stevie home with him again.”
“Don’t get upset before they even say anything,” Burly Senior told him.
“Who knows?” Burly added. “They might even be nice to you today.”
By that time the three teen-aged boys were climbing the ladder, giggling poking at each other. They stopped short when they saw Herman.
“You here?” Stevie growled.
Leonard walked over and poked Herman in the shoulder. “Don’t you know? He’s always here because he’s too weird for the other kids to play with.”
Stevie glared at Herman, his hands stuck in his pockets. “Doesn’t he have chores?”
“I did my chores,” Herman replied, looking out the window.
“Then go find papa and ask him to give you something to do,” Tad ordered. “Get out of here. We want to talk.”
Leonard picked up Burly’s red wooden car and examined it. “What’s this?”
Tad glanced at Herman. “Just one of Herman’s toys.”
Laughing, Leonard ran its wheels on the floor. “Hey look! A smash up!” Then he ran the car into the side of the wall, causing it to splinter into small pieces.
Herman twitched but said nothing.
“Leonard, you’re such a jerk,” Tad spat.
His friend shrugged. “Big deal.”
Herman jumped off the bed and headed toward the ladder with Burly under his arm.
“Boy, you don’t go nowhere without that bear stuck under your arm, do you?” Leonard sneered.
“How old is he?” Stevie asked Tad.
Tad shifted uneasily on his bed. “Heck, I don’t know.”
Leonard leaned down into Herman’s face and smiled a stupid grin. “Just how old is the eety-bitty boy?”
Herman felt his neck turn red hot. “Eleven.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little old for you to be carrying around a doll?” Stevie asked.
“Burly’s not a doll,” Herman corrected him. “He’s a bear.”
“Ooh, that’s a big difference,” Leonard said with a snort. “No wonder no decent kid will play with you. You’re still a baby with his dollie.”
“Stop it, Leonard,” Tad ordered.
Leonard looked around at Tad who was glaring at him. After a while Leonard walked over to the bed and picked up Burly Senior. “You might as will take your other dollie, too.”
Without thinking, Herman blurted out, “Oh no, that’s Tad’s.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth Herman knew he had made a mistake. He looked quickly at Tad who instantly turned a bright shade of red.
Leonard smiled broadly. “You mean little Taddie Waddie sleeps with a dollie?”
Stevie grinned but didn’t say anything, only snorted. Before anyone could say more Herman scurried down the ladder and out the front door. Herman ran to the barn and hid in the farthest, most dimly lit corner. “Oh, why was I so stupid?” he berated himself.
“You weren’t being stupid,” Burly corrected. “You were being honest. That’s what you are.”
“But I shouldn’t have said that in front of Tad’s friends,” Herman continued. “Did you see how red he was? Those boys are really going to make fun of him. And then he’s going to let me have it.”
“Yes, Tad did look embarrassed,” Burly agreed. “And his friends will probably tease him. And there’s a good chance he will fuss at you. But you know what? After it’s all over, you’ll still be Herman and Tad will be Tad. You’ll go on letting the truth tumble out of your mouth. And Tad will get mad too easily. But you will keep on living.”
Herman looked down at the dirt. “I guess so.”
In a few minutes Herman heard the three boys leave the house and run down the road. Then her remembered it was his turn to cook supper that night. Herman ran into the house, put Burly up in the loft and rushed around the kitchen getting the food ready. At supper Herman watched Tad out of the corner of his eye. He half-way expected Tad to get even by complaining about the food, but he didn’t.
“Good vittles, son,” papa mumbled.
“Yeah, not bad,” Tad added.
Again Herman tried to tell by Tad’s voice if he were angry. He didn’t sound angry, but his voice didn’t sound normal either. Herman couldn’t figure it out. After they ate, Tad helped wash and dry the dishes. He was strangely polite but seemed to be somewhere else, somewhere very sad. “Thank you for helping with the dishes,” Herman said.
Tad walked away without looking at him. “Think nothing of it, kid.”
That night, when all was quiet, Herman roused Burly. “I don’t understand what’s the matter with Tad. I thought he was going to be mad at me.”
Burly stifled a yawn. “That surprised me too. Maybe papa can help us figure it out. I think he knows more about Tad than either of us.” He waited a moment, then whispered, “Papa?”
There was no reply.
“Papa?” Burly repeated.
Only silence answered him.
“That’s strange,” Burly said. “Papa always joins in on talks.”
“Let me see if he’s over there.” Herman slipped from the bed and tiptoed over to Tad’s bed. As well as he could see in the dark, Herman couldn’t find Burly Senior. Usually he was tight within Tad’s arms close to his chest, but not tonight. Herman got back into his bed. “He’s not there.”
“That’s odd.”
The two of them decided to look for him the next day after helping papa in the fields. In the morning Herman left Burly in the loft as he always did and went to the cotton field with papa and Tad. The hours went by slowly as he hoed the weeds away. Later that afternoon papa walked by.
“That’s all for today,” he said and kept on walking.
Herman scampered back to the house and got Burly. First they looked under Tad’s bed, thinking Burly Senior might have slipped under there. Then they looked in the big old trunk at the end of the room where mama and papa kept special things, like stacks of old letters tied with pink string, the dress mama was married in and yellowed photographs of stern, erect people Herman didn’t know. Burly Senior wasn’t there either. “There’s only one thing left to do,” Herman said with a sigh. “That’s to ask Tad.”
“You’re very brave to do that,” Burly replied. “Will you ask him after supper tonight?”
“No,” Herman answered as he carried Burly down the ladder. “I’m going to ask him now.”
They went down the dirt road toward the field but stopped abruptly when Burly gasped, “Oh no!”
Down on the ground, in a trench was a mass of torn burlap. Down feathers, wadded up for stuffing was strewn everywhere. And a burlap ball, with buttons sewn on it, was smashed flat.
“Papa,” Burly whispered.
Herman kneeled down by the remains of Burly Senior. He picked up the different pieces, a torn patch that was his chest, little puffs that were his arms and legs, and the flattened ball that was his head. He whispered to them, cried over them, but they were just pieces of burlap now. The life was out of them, stomped out.
“Did Tad do this to my papa?” Burly asked.
“Yes. Or he stood by and watched Leonard and Stevie do it,” Herman said, trying to hold back the tears. He looked down the road at the field. “I’m going to let him have it for this.”
“No,” Burly ordered. “You can’t say anything.”
“Why not?”
“Because papa belonged to Tad,” Burly explained with difficulty. “Even though he was my papa and he was your friend, he belonged to Tad. And Tad could do anything he wanted to with him.”
Herman glared down the road a moment and sighed. “I suppose you’re right.” Then they silently walked home. Supper went silently too. Herman could tell Tad was avoiding looking at him. Now he knew why Tad was strangely polite and quietly sad. Tad knew what he had done and he couldn’t face Herman. That night Herman couldn’t sleep. He kept seeing Burly Senior smashed on the side of the road, never to speak to him again or give him wonderful advice.
“Oh Burly,” Herman asked wistfully. “Why did Tad do it?”
“Tad’s growing up. Maybe he thought papa was holding him back in childhood, that really grown up boys don’t hug a bear at night.”
“That’s stupid,” Herman said, spitting the words out.
“No,” Burly corrected him. “That’s human.” He paused and snuggled close to Herman. “When it comes time for you to grow up, you won’t do that to me, will you?”
Herman sat up. “No sir, Burly. You’ll always be with me. If doing without you means growing up, then I won’t grow up!”
“Oh no, you’ve got to grow up,” Burly said. “I want you to grow up. It’s just that I’m scared about what’s going to happen to me.”
Herman hugged Burly tightly. “Don’t worry. You’ll always be with me.”
But Burly wondered, as Herman fell into a deep sleep, if his friend would be able to keep his promise.

Burly Chapter Six

The next day after Callie left, papa got up extra early, roused the boys and took them fishing. Herman couldn’t believe it. Papa hadn’t taken them fishing just for fun and not so they wouldn’t go hungry that night, for a long time. Maybe he was going to make up for the way he’d been acting since mama died, Herman hoped. He and Tad fixed a picnic lunch and jumped into the cab of the pick-up.
Tad eyed Herman closely. “You didn’t bring that stupid bear, did you?”
Herman pushed Burly behind him. “No,” he lied but not very well.
Tad smirked and reached around and pulled out Burly. “Oh yes you did. Don’t try to lie to me, Herman. I know you too well.”
Herman looked down. “I don’t know what it’d hurt, for Burly to come along.”
“Nothing, I guess.” Tad sighed. “Just don’t let papa see it.”
“Don’t let papa see what?” their father bellowed out, glancing over at the two boys.
“Uh oh,” Tad murmured.
“It’s just Burly,” Herman replied bravely, holding up his teddy bear.
“Oh that,” he said with a snort. “I thought it was something you shouldn’t have.”
Herman felt like smirking at Tad but didn’t want to start a fight. No, he felt too happy—no, that wasn’t the word for it, Herman corrected himself. No one could be happy having just lost their mama and sister in the same week, but Herman did feel peaceful, perhaps hopeful that this new life thrust upon him would not be as bad as he feared.
Papa sat on the bank of the Sulphur River under a tree for hours staring at the water flowing by, not caring if any fish pulled on his line or not. Tad tried very hard to be the good fisherman and catch something for their dinner that night, but he couldn’t keep the bait on the hook long enough. Herman just ran up and down the bank with Burly playing make-believe battles and other wonderful adventures.
It was a happy—no, peaceful and hopeful—day for Herman, but one, as he thought back on it, that was not entirely real because no one spoke the entire day. Papa didn’t look at the boys. Tad mumbled to himself about his fishing bad luck, and Herman whispered excitedly to Burly. When they returned home, Herman volunteered to cook supper, which ended up being burnt bacon and eggs, but papa didn’t complain. For once Tad didn’t pick on him. He offered to help him learn how to watch the food on the stove. Finally papa got up from the table with a sigh and went to his room. Herman jumped up, ran over and wrapped his arms about his father’s waist.
“Oh, papa, I love you.” Herman surprised himself because he almost cried before he got the sentence out.
When papa didn’t return the hug but just stood there looking off in the distance, the tears and the reason for them seemed to leave him as the dew disappears from the grass on a hot summer morning. Herman turned to climb the ladder to the loft. As he was about to undress for bed he heard papa call Tad into his room. Leaning over the edge of the loft Herman could barely make out what papa was saying.
“I’m going to have to rely on you, son,” papa whispered. “You’re beginning to grow up, and all this means you’re going to have to grow up even faster. I’m sorry about that.”
Once again Herman felt a tinge of jealousy because papa loved Tad more than him. His father spoke some more and Tad spoke, but they were so soft Herman couldn’t understand. A sad pain shot through his body when he saw papa give Tad a long, tight hug. Flinging himself on his bed Herman tried to hold back the tears, but he couldn’t. He held Burly close to him.
“Why doesn’t papa love me anymore?” he asked between the sobs.
“He loves you very much,” Burly replied.
“You keep saying that, but I heard him say that he loved Tad the most. And—and now he won’t even look at me.”
“Do you know why?” Burly asked.
Herman stuck his bottom lip out. “Because he doesn’t love me anymore.”
Burly waited for Herman to blow his nose. “Do you remember why your father said he loved Tad the most?”
Herman thought back. “Because he said Tad looked like him.”
“Have you ever stopped to look at yourself in the mirror real hard?”
“Why no.” Herman wrinkled his brow. He didn’t know what Burly was aiming at.
“Then you don’t know. You’ve never seen it,” Burly said, smiling a little. “You look just like your mother. So does Callie.”
Herman’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“That’s why he sent Callie away. That’s why he’s not looking at you now,” Burly explained. “You and your sister remind him too much of your mother. And he loved her very much.”
“Never think too little of a man’s love for his wife,” Burly Senior said from across the room. “Your father’s love for your mother almost killed him in the last few days. I’d say he’s having a tough time talking himself into living.”
“Gosh, I didn’t know he felt that way,” Herman confessed.
“I feel the same about Pearly,” Burly Senior continued. The only thing that keeps me from being as sad as your father is the fact that I will get to see Pearly again someday. We might even get to live together again.”
“So don’t be jealous,” Burly said. “Times are going to be hard enough as it is without you causing trouble with Tad because you’re jealous.”
So for the next few weeks and months Herman held his tongue and tried to look the other way when papa spoke to Tad and gave him an extra pat on the back. One reward for Herman’s behavior was that Tad seemed nicer. Maybe he knew he was getting special treatment from papa.
“You’re becoming a pretty good cook for a nine-year-old,” Tad said at supper one night near Christmas.
Herman smiled. “Thanks.”
He quickly glanced at papa who was concentrating on his food. Herman could have sworn papa had been looking at him. Sometimes as they worked in the field or as he helped in the barn Herman had the odd sensation papa was staring at him. When he told Burly about it, his little bear smiled.
“He’s coming out of his sadness a little,” Burly said. “Give him more time.”
Christmas came that year without much fanfare in Herman’s house. In fact they didn’t talk about it at all, except at night when they had all gone to bed and Herman said something about it to Tad.
“Don’t you think it would be nice if you and I made something for papa?” Herman whispered from across the room.
“What? Are you stupid?” Tad scolded with a hiss. “That would just make papa feel worse. I think we should just pretend Christmas doesn’t exist.”
By not saying anything in reply, Herman agreed with what Tad had said. And he meant to try to pretend Christmas was not all around them but as the days went by and December twenty-fifth was upon them, Herman felt as though he would burst if he didn’t do something for his papa. His problem was Tad. If he made anything real big Tad would see it and get mad. And Herman didn’t know if he could make anything that papa would use in the first place. So finally, on Christmas Eve, he decided to make papa a Christmas card. He pulled out some paper from school and drew a Christmas tree with his crayons. He folded the paper and on the inside he wrote, “Merry Christmas. I love you, papa.”
He looked down from the loft to see papa sitting at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee, the room lit only by a single kerosene lamp. The little scene was pretty, the lone figure in the glow of the lamp, Herman thought. But it was sad, too, so lonely.
Herman scampered down the ladder, ran over to his papa, tossed the card on the table and turned to run back to the loft. Papa grabbed his arm while he looked at the card. It was not an angry grab, like he had done in the past, but a gentle restraint. Herman was afraid to look at papa, but finally he managed to glance into the face awash in the kerosene lamp glow. At first he couldn’t tell if the expression papa’s face was changing or not. Then he spotted a small tear brimming on the eyelid.
Papa pulled Herman to him, hugged him and kissed him on the neck. “I’m sorry, son. I’m so relieved you still love me. And I love you. I wish I could show you more often, but I can’t. Just take my word for it. I do love you.”
Christmas morning was like any other morning. Papa, Tad and Herman ate a silent breakfast before heading for the barn to do their chores. Suddenly there was the sound of a car pulling up outside. Herman didn’t think anything about it until he heard the front door open.
“Merry Christmas, everybody!” Callie roared, her face beaming and her arms filled with presents. Aunt Joyce and Uncle Calvin were standing behind her.
Herman jumped to his feet and ran to his sister. She put the packages down so she could hug her brother.
“What are you doing here?” papa asked without showing any surprise or happiness or, for that matter, anger.
Aunt Joyce laughed a little and put her hands on her hips. “Why, Woody, what a thing to say to your little girl! It’s Christmas!”
Papa looked down. “Oh, I had forgotten.”
Herman knew that wasn’t so, but he forgave his father for his lie.
“We were going to work in the barn today,” Tad said, trying to sound as though the visitors were intruding, but Herman noticed Tad couldn’t keep his eyes off the packages on the floor.
“There’s time enough for that tomorrow,” Uncle Calvin replied. “Today’s Christmas.”
Callie walked across the room and put her arms around Tad. “I know you won’t hug me, so I’ll hug you.”
Then she looked at her father, her head down. “Hello, papa.”
Herman could have sworn the next moment lasted all day. Callie stood there, with her head down, her shoulders beginning to shake a little like she was about to cry because papa wouldn’t hug her. Tad pretended he was interested in eating the pancakes on his plate, but Herman knew that wasn’t true because they were cold already. Uncle Calvin shuffled his feet and acted like he’d really rather be somewhere else. Aunt Joyce kept her hands on her hips and stared at papa. And papa continued to stare into space, his eyes so blank he might as well be as dead as mama was. Finally papa’s face changed, slowly, but Herman could see the eyes take on a sorrow of the whole house. His cheeks scrunched up and his lips pursed as his eyes closed tight, as though they were trying to keep the tears from getting out. He thrust his arms out to Callie who ran into them. Then that longest moment disappeared. Papa cried softly and kissed Callie on her cheeks and mumbled words like “I love you” and I’m so glad you’re home.” Even Tad got up from his chair, forgetting his cold pancakes, and patted Callie on the back. Uncle Calvin stopped shuffling, and Aunt Joyce smiled.
“Now that’s better,” she announced. “I didn’t think you menfolk were going to make a fuss over Christmas so we brought Christmas dinner and all the trimmings to you.”
“I’ll go out to the car and get it,” Uncle Calvin said and disappeared out the door.
Herman could tell his uncle was glad he had something to do other than stand around and shuffle his feet. While Aunt Joyce cleared the breakfast dishes and cleaned around the kitchen, fussing to herself that it takes a woman to keep a house really clean, Callie presented each of her Christmas gifts. Herman’s was the biggest, and he stole glances at Tad to see if he were jealous.
“Oh boy, Herman! Hurry and open it!” Tad said, sounding happier than he had in a long time.
Relieved that his brother wasn’t jealous, Herman ripped the paper off to see a brightly painted wooden car, just right for Burly to ride on. Herman hugged it, but not too tightly because he didn’t want to break it. “Callie, this is beautiful! Thank you!”
“Uncle Calvin actually made it,” Callie said, looking at her uncle with an appreciative grin.
He turned around from his unpacking of food to smile shyly. “Aww, it wasn’t hard to do. Callie did the hard part. She painted it.”
Herman’s hand glided across the smooth, red surface. “Burly’s going to love it.”
Tad poked at him. “Burly’s going to love it? Why, he’s nothing but burlap and stuffing. How can he love anything?”
Callie looked at him straight, like she was annoyed. “Herman can use his imagination, can’t he? That’s more than you ever do.” She paused and then poked at Tad. “Go ahead and open your present.”
“I’m getting too old for toys,” Tad tried to say gruffly but his voice sounded too excited to be all grown up.
“Who said it was a toy?” Callie replied.
By that time Tad had the wrapping torn away and was awed by a hunting knife. “Gosh,” was all he could say.
Aunt Joyce looked over her shoulder as she scrubbed the kitchen sink. “Now you take good care of that knife, Tad. It was my papa’s.”
Tad smiled. “Oh, I’ll take real good care of it.”
“Thank you,” Joyce,” papa said with difficulty. “That’s mighty kind of you.”
“Aunt Joyce reached over to pat papa on the shoulder. “Think nothing of it, Woody.”
Callie handed papa a small, flat square package. “Merry Christmas, papa,” she whispered.
Papa first leaned over to kiss her again on the cheek and then carefully removed the paper. His eyes began to fill with tears as he looked at a small framed picture of his daughter.
“It’s so you won’t forget what I look like.”
Papa hugged her. “I’d never do that, baby. Never.”
Callie pulled away, her eyes now filled with a bit of hope. “Well, then do you think—“
Papa gently put his fingertips to her mouth. “Don’t ask, please. Just believe it’s all for the best, all right?”
Callie nodded and stood. “I guess I better help Aunt Joyce with the dinner.”
Herman had the biggest urge to jump up and run over to papa and Callie and pull them back together and yell, “No! It’s not for the best! Please, papa, let Callie come home!” But he remembered what Burly said. Callie looked too much like mama for papa to let her stay. That wasn’t for the best, but there was nothing Herman could do to change papa’s mind. He remained silent.
Callie looked around at Herman and smiled. “Herman, guess who I have out in the car?”
Herman’s eyes brightened. “Pearly Bear!”
“Yes!” Callie replied. “Why don’t you go out and get her and play bear family while we’re getting dinner ready?”
“Play bear family?” Tad said with a sneer, then stopped to clear his throat. “That sounds like fun.”
Papa reached over and patted Tad on the back. Herman went out to Uncle Calvin’s car to get Pearly and took her and the toy car up the ladder to the loft.
He gathered Burly and Burly Senior on his bed.
“Pearly!” Burly Senior exclaimed. “I knew we would be together again!”
The bear parents exchanged a burlap embrace. “I’m so happy to see you again,” Pearly said. She looked at Burly Junior in his new car. “How do you like the car, Burly?”
Burly made car engine sounds. “It’s great.”
Herman sighed. “I wish papa would let Callie come home.”
Burly stopped his pretend driving and looked at his friend. “I know you do. You love your sister very much. And you can see how happy she makes your father if he will let her.” Burly paused to pat Herman’s arm. “But you know, down deep, that he will never let her make him happy.”
Herman nodded and was about to cry.
“Now this is silly,” Pearly Bear announced. “You should be happy and laughing because this is a wonderful day.”
“Yes,” Burly Senior added. “Don’t make it sad by wishing for things you know can’t be.”
Herman hugged all three and looked over the edge of the loft. Papa and Tad were sitting close together looking at his brother’s new knife. Uncle Calvin hugged Callie.
“They really seem to like Callie,” Herman said.
“Of course they do,” Burly replied.
“It would be hard not to like Callie,” Pearly added.
Herman hugged all three bears again. “Merry Christmas, bear family.”

Buddies for Life

The handsome young man–freshly manicured, shaved and coiffed, probably a recent customer at an expensive spray tan establishment—smiled into the television camera.
“Hi, I used to be a drug addict but now I’m not. I tried that old twelve-step program, but who wants to sit around a bunch of unattractive street people? I know I don’t. My arrest record wasn’t looking good–drug possession, lewd and lascivious behavior and driving under the influence. Daddy bought—I mean, hired—a former heavyweight boxer to follow me everywhere I go. He even sleeps in the same bed with me. And, man, is he a light sleeper! Say hello to everyone, Butch.”
A large, bald man with a mustache and dressed in a black suit to cover his massive muscles leaned into the camera.
“If I even look like I want to pop a pill, stick a needle in my arm or puff on a weed, Butch reminds me–in his own special way–that I really don’t want to do that. Show ‘em what you do, Butch.”
Butch stepped behind the handsome young man and placed his claw-like hands on his shoulders.
“Gee, I’d like to smoke some pot,” the handsome young man said.
Butch closed his thick fingers slowly, tightly, until the young man screamed in agony and collapsed to his knees.
“On the other hand,” he said through the tears, “I don’t want any pot at all.”
Butch released his grip, stepped back and folded his arms across his chest. Pretty boy stood and moved his shoulders back and forth to relieve the pain.
“Thanks, Butch, I needed that. Would you believe I haven’t had a relapse since Butch came into my life? So if you want to get the monkey off your back, replace it with a gorilla.”
Butch grunted, growled and scrunched up his face.
“I mean, replace it with your new best friend for life. Daddy was so pleased he started a new company and put me in charge. We call it Buddies for Life. Just give us a call at Buddies for Life to set up an appointment so you can get your own Butch. And I know what you’re thinking. Gosh, isn’t that awful expensive? It’s cheaper than you think, especially when you consider the alternatives, like death by overdose at age twenty-five. And if you have a really good sob story, Daddy might cut the price for you, or even give you a freebie. He’s always on the look-out for some good tax write-offs.”
The young man smiled and waved into the camera as a disembodied voice spoke rapidly, “Services might entail serious injuries over an extended period of time. Check with your doctor and/or psychiatrist before starting this regimen. Side effects can include loss of girlfriend, social invitations, sense of well-being, extreme aversion to pain and taking showers.”
“So call Buddies for Life today. It can be the beginning of a new life for you! Be like me. Get high on life, not—no! no! Butch! You didn’t let me finish! I said get high on life and not drugs! Stop it, Butch! Stop it!”

Burly Chapter Five

The next few days floated by Herman as though he were dreaming, but he knew it was not a dream. His mother was dead. From the moment Callie sat in that chair and cried Herman felt as though he had been captured in a giant bubble, a bubble that somehow made him invisible to the people rushing around him; a bubble, however, that was crystal clear and allowed him to see exactly what was being done and what was being said; and, finally, and dreadfully, a bubble that had somehow numbed him so that he didn’t feel his sister’s sorrow, his brother’s anger and his father’s total despair.
“Mama’s dead,” Callie whispered again and again, each time getting softer and softer.
Tad walked to the bedroom and peeked in.
“Get out of here!” papa roared. “Haven’t I told you not to disturb your mother while she’s resting?”
Tad backed away in fear, then, turning and taking stock of what was happening, bolted for the door. Herman watched him leave but didn’t ask where he was going. He couldn’t ask. He couldn’t make his voice work at all.
A few minutes later Tad was back with a neighbor, a tall, heavy man with grayish white hair. Hovering at the door were the Johnsons murmuring and whispering. The neighbor went into the bedroom.
“Mr. Horn?” he asked.
“Go away!”
“The boy here says Mrs. Horn’s passed on.”
“She’s fine! Go away!”
“No, no. She’s dead,” Callie whimpered. “Her eyes, they’re just staring. And—and she’s not breathing at all.”
“Mr. Horn, the children—“
“Go away or I’ll blast your head off with my shotgun!”
The neighbor turned to Tad and shook his head. “Your papa’s gone loco, boy. I got to get some help. You stay here with your brother and sister.”
The tall man was almost out of the door when Tad said, almost to himself, “Papa’s not loco. Don’t you call my papa loco.”
And the turtledove kept on cooing. Somewhere in the recesses of Herman’s mind the thought occurred to climb the ladder to the loft to try to catch the turtledove and take it outside so nobody else would die that night. His body wouldn’t move.
Several minutes later the neighbor returned with the county sheriff—Herman recognized him because he always patted him on the head and gave him a penny for candy. Right behind them was the doctor—he knew him from the time papa broke his arm falling from the barn loft and the doctor came to set it.
“He’s in there,” the neighbor whispered.
Tad stiffened as though guarding the door. “He’s not loco,” he mumbled.
The sheriff, not as tall as the neighbor but bigger around the middle and wearing a gun and holster, strode across the rough wooden floor.
“Woody?” he bellowed out in a shaky but friendly voice. “It’s Pete. I got the doc here to look at your Mrs.”
“Go away!”
“Now, Woody, Mr. Cochran here says Opal’s passed away, and the doc’s got to see her.”
“He’s not loco,” Tad mumbled, blocking the sheriff’s way into the room.
The sheriff gently moved Tad to one side. “I know, son. Now get out of the way so we can help.”
“You tell Cochran to mind his own business!” their father yelled.
The sheriff looked in the door then glanced back out at the doctor. “Yeah, doc. She’s gone.”
“I said to get out of here!” Papa screamed as he flew from the bedside to pounce on the sheriff who had a hard time of it throwing him off and down on the floor.
“Doc! Do something!” the neighbor yelled.
Quickly the doctor opened his bagand began to fix an injection of some kind while the neighbor helped hold down the father. When Tad saw what the doctor was doing he ran over and tried to stop him.
“Don’t you hurt my father!”
The neighbor wrapped his arms around Tad as the doctor gave papa the injection. “Don’t worry, boy. The doc’s just giving him something to help him sleep.”
“No! No!” Tad screamed.
Soon papa fell limp from the injection, and Tad stopped fighting the neighbor who let him go. Tad crept into the corner nearest the bedroom door and huddled there, like a shivering, scared puppy dog. The neighbor and the sheriff carried papa into the bedroom and carried mama out.
The sheriff glanced at Mrs. Johnson. “Get the children to bed.”
Mrs. Johnson looked at Tad crouched in the corner and then whispered to her husband, “Leave him alone. He can take care of himself.”
She walked over to Callie who was sniffing and wiping away the last of her tears. “Will you be all right, honey?” she asked.
Callie nodded and looked up to smile bravely. Mrs. Johnson was about to move on to Herman when she heard the cooing of the turtledove in the rafters. She motioned to her husband.
“Get that thing out of here.”
“Then she walked over to hug Herman who couldn’t help but hug back and break into tears.
“That’s all right, baby. You just go right on ahead and cry your eyes out. That’s what the Lord gives us tears for, when that cross becomes just too much to bear.” After a moment she moved him to the ladder leading to the loft. “Now you get up there and try to get some sleep. There’s going to be some long hard days ahead for you, child, and you’ll need all the rest you can get.”
Herman found himself all alone in the loft, until he felt a scratchy rub at his elbow. It was Burly.
“I’m sorry your mama died,” he whispered. “If stuffed bears had tears, I’d cry for you.”
“Oh, Burly I didn’t mean to kill mama!”
Burly wrinkled his nose. “You didn’t kill your mother.”
Herman shook his head. “Oh no. I did. Tad and I caught that turtledove and somehow it got into the house.
Burly tried to hug Herman with his little burlap arms. “No, no, no. You did not kill your mother. That story about the turtledoves was a superstition.”
Herman frowned. “What’s a superstition?”
“A story that isn’t true but people believe in it anyway. Sometimes people know it isn’t true but they repeat it anyway because they think it’s funny.”
“Are you sure?”
“As sure as I am of the fact you loved your mother.”
Herman hugged Burly tightly and began to cry all over again. He didn’t realize he had so many tears inside him. Finally the tears went away, and Herman drifted into a very deep sleep.
When he awoke the next morning he heard a woman’s voice in the kitchen. It sounded like his mother’s voice. Herman looked across the loft to see Tad in his bead, and he heard a soft moan from behind the sheet where Callie had her bed. Did he dream his mother died last night? Was it all just a terrible nightmare? Herman hoped it was and crawled to the edge of the loft to peek over. His heart sunk when he saw his Aunt Joyce—his mother’s sister—in the kitchen and her husband, Uncle Calvin, sitting at the kitchen table sipping coffee.
Aunt Joyce looked up and saw Herman. She smiled and said, “Hello, Herman. Come on down, and I’ll fix you some breakfast.”
Aunt Joyce looked very much like mama except she was heavier and had rosier cheeks. Her hair was streaked with gray and there were deep lines by her eyes and mouth.
“Have a good night’s sleep?” she asked softly, putting a bowl of oatmeal in front of him.
Herman took a couple of bites then looked up. “It’s real, isn’t it?”
Aunt Joyce looked at her husband and then directly into Herman’s eyes. “Yes, Herman. Your mama is dead. Your papa is still asleep in there. The doc gave him quite a shot last night to put him out, I understand. Your Uncle Calvin and I drove in from Texarkana when the sheriff called last night. We’ll stay to help out until after the funeral.”
Uncle Calvin cleared his throat. “And, of course, I’ll help the colored and you kids with brining in the cotton. I don’t think your papa will be able to work the field, according to what the sheriff said. The last think he needs now is to lose the cotton crop.”
So it was work as usual for Herman, Tad and Callie that day, with Uncle Calvin and the Johnsons out in the field picking cotton. At lunch Mrs. Johnson told no stories or sang any songs. Even Tad kept quiet. Every now and then Callie would come over and give Herman a hug. When they came in for supper, papa’s bedroom door was still shut. The children had just finished eating when papa came out of the bedroom wearing his Sunday black suit. Herman would have ordinarily smiled and told his papa how handsome he looked, but tonight he said nothing. Papa’s eyes told him to say nothing.
“Do you want to eat anything, Woody?” Aunt Joyce asked softly.
“Are you sure? It’s been since yesterday you put anything on your stomach.”
“Maybe later.” Then he left the house.
“Your papa’s going into town to the funeral parlor to pick out a coffin,” she announced as she cleared away the dishes.
The children were in the loft in bed when papa returned that night. He dropped into a chair by the kitchen table while Aunt Joyce fixed him a bowl of soup. Herman looked down at him and felt so sorry for his papa he was about to cry again.
“Go down and tell him how much you love him,” Burly whispered.
And Herman did. He went down the ladder and without a word tried to crawl into his father’s lap and hug him. “I love you, papa,” he said in a tiny, tear-chocked voice. He waited a moment, hoping for those long, stringy, strong arms to enfold around him, but they didn’t.
“Joyce, get him to bed,” papa ordered, not looking at Herman.
Aunt Joyce rushed around the chair and guided Herman back to the ladder. “I think it would best to leave your papa alone for the next few days,” she whispered.
She hugged him and kissed him, and while it felt nice, Herman decided it wasn’t the same as one of papa’s strong embraces.
The long day in the field, the hot sun and the aching back from leaning over the cotton plants were almost a relief for Herman, because the work took his mind off how his world was changing. The funeral—Aunt Joyce told him—would be the next day. Herman wished it was already over.
In the small church all their friends and neighbors gathered. The family approached the coffin to view mama for the last time. Papa completely collapsed, screaming and crying. Herman wished he hadn’t taken on so. Callie wept as she gripped Herman in her arms. Tad simply stood there, without a tear or showing any emotion. Herman thought that was strange until he realized he was doing the same thing. He wondered if Tad were thinking the same thing about him. Finally the day was over, and the next was life as usual, picking cotton with the hired hands. Except instead of papa, Uncle Calvin was the boss.
Uncle Calvin was a nice man who seemed to take life easier than papa. When Callie was whispering more than she was picking, Uncle Calvin simply said, “Let’s pick that cotton before it rots.” Papa would have barked an order while glaring at her. Instead Uncle Calvin just smiled and winked.
By the end of the week the crop was picked, and the Johnsons were in their wagon, which was pulled by a pair of gray mules. Before they left, Mrs. Johnson gave Herman one last hug.
“Believe in the Lord,” she whispered. “He will make all things right.” She paused to add, “Now don’t you trouble your little head about that turtledove. That little thing did not kill your mama.”
Herman decided life was returning to normal when Tad walked up and scolded, “Didn’t I tell you not to let that woman touch you?”
“Now, Tad,” Uncle Calvin said, patting him on the shoulder, “she didn’t do any harm.”
Tad knocked his hand away. “You’re not my papa.”
Uncle Calvin backed off and looked down. “No, I guess I’m not.” Then he walked to the barn.
Callie looked Tad in the face. “You didn’t have to be mean to him. He’s been good to us. Aunt Joyce too.”
Tad glared at his sister as though he was going to say something nasty, but instead he ran as hard as he could through the field and into the woods. Callie smiled at Herman and hugged him.
“Don’t worry about Tad. He’s taking it hard now, but he’ll get over it. No, don’t you worry. We’ll make it just fine. We’ll make it because we’re a family and we love each other. Down deep we really do.”
Herman smiled a moment and then frowned when he remembered why Tad had yelled at him in the first place. “Is it wrong to let Mrs. Johnson touch me?”
Callie shook her head. “Of course not.”
Herman was confused. “Then why does she want to touch me?”
Callie hugged him again. “Why do I want to touch you?”
“Because you love me.” Herman paused. “Does Mrs. Johnson love me?”
Callie looked down the road at the wagon as it disappeared on the horizon. “I think she has enough love in her for every child she meets.”
Feelings of motherly love began to flow from Callie to Herman. Yes, Herman told himself, Callie was growing up right before his eyes and was going to help take the place of mama. His hopes didn’t last long. When he and Callie walked into the house he saw papa and Aunt Joyce sitting at the kitchen table in deep conversation. She was telling him something, and he was shaking his head. When they saw the children, they stopped. Aunt Joyce smiled, but papa just stared off into space.
“You better tell her now,” papa said.
Aunt Joyce extended her arm. “Come here, Callie dear.” She hugged Callie, pulled her away to stare into her eyes. “Your papa’s decided it would be best for you to come live with your Uncle Calvin and me.”
“For how long?” Callie asked cautiously.
Aunt Joyce glanced at papa and then back at Callie. “Well, until you grow up. You see, your papa doesn’t think he can do a good job of raising a girl as she’s becoming, well, a young woman, so he wants me to do it.”
Callie took a step toward her father. “Papa?”
He looked away. Finally Callie turned to go to the loft. She looked back. “When do we leave?”
Aunt Joyce smiled. “Today. As soon as you pack.”
Callie slowly climbed the ladder, followed by Herman. Once at the top Herman grabbed her around the waist and whispered, “I don’t want you to go.”
She hugged him back. “I don’t want to go, but once papa makes up his mind there’s no arguing with him.”
Tears began to fill Herman’s eyes. “It was bad enough to lose mama, but to lose you too….” His little voice just went away.
“It’s not like we’ll never see each other again,” Callie said, trying to be cheerful. She piled her clothes and belongings in the middle of her sheet and tied the four corners. Callie headed for the ladder, but Herman stopped her.
“You forgot Pearly,” Herman said, holding the bear out to her.
Callie smiled. “You can keep her if you want.”
Herman almost agreed but thought better of it. “Don’t you want her?”
“Of course, I want Pearly,” Callie replied. “I love Pearly.”
He stuck the burlap bear in her hands. “Then you take her. I’ve still got Burly.”
Callie hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. “I love you, Herman.”
Herman couldn’t stand to go downstairs to see his sister off. He was afraid he would really cry then. Instead he went to the window by his bed and looked out. He saw Uncle Calvin put their bags into his black Ford sedan. Aunt Joyce tried to hug Tad but he stiffened and pulled away. Callie was not going to be put off, and she grabbed her brother and kissed him on the cheek as he squirmed. Herman saw Callie look up at the window and waved. He couldn’t help it; he cried anyway.
In a few minutes Tad came up the ladder and stormed toward Herman who was drying his tears in the pillow. “You stupid little dummy! Don’t you have any more sense than not to come down stairs to say goodbye to your own sister?” he demanded.
Herman looked up from his pillow, his cheeks still wet from the tears and his eyes puffy and red.
Tad stopped short in his tirade. Sighing, he patted Herman on the shoulder and headed back to the ladder. “You and I will have to take turns cooking now,” he said. “I’ll start tonight.”
Herman returned his head to the pillow to finish drying his tears. He felt a scratchy paw on his arm.
“Herman,” Burly said, “Now I know how you felt to lose your mother because now I’ve lost mine.”
Hugging his bear, Herman cried,”Oh Burly, what are we going to do?”
“Keep on loving each other,” Burly replied.
“And keep on loving your father and Tad,” Burly Senior said from across the room. “They’re going to need your love more than ever. And they’re going to fight it more than ever too, which is going to make it even harder on you.”
Burly snuggled close to Herman. “But Herman can do it. I know he can.”

Oh Woe! It’s Men!

People filled the meeting hall with expectations of a pleasant evening of food, drink, music and watching attractive men dressed up like women. It was for charity. What could go wrong? No one heard the door lock as dinner was being served.
The food was average for a catered affair, and the wine was mediocre at best but it was plentiful. By the time the main event arrived hopeful tittering lights went down. The taped music soared. The master of ceremonies, dressed in a tuxedo, stepped from behind the curtain. He leaned into the microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we proudly present the WoMan Fashion Show!”
As the audience applauded, the curtain parted. The first model stepped into the spotlight. Complete silence.
“Oh my God!”
The man was at least seventy years old and weighed three hundred pounds. He only wore a g-string. He swayed his hips, bounced on his heels. His body jiggled. The audience moaned.
“For the sake of humanity, put some clothes on!”
As the model turned and shook his dimpled butt. The emcee held up a pair of shorts.
“And what am I bid to have this man put on these shorts?
“Ten dollars!” a woman yelled out.
“Hughie,” the emcee said, “I think it’s time to get up close and personal with the audience.”
“A hundred dollars!” the woman screamed. “Cash!”
Hughie skipped down the steps and went to the first table. A man sitting there jumped up and ran to the back, twisting the door knob to no avail.
“Let me out! Let me out!” He pounded the door. “Mommy! Make him stop!”
“A hundred and fifty dollars!”
“We take credit cards,” the emcee intoned.
“A thousand dollars!” another woman called out as Hughie wriggled towards her.
The emcee accepted her bid. He threw the shorts to Hughie who bent over in front of the woman to put them on.
“A shirt!” she screamed. “A thousand for a shirt!”
Hughie shoved his chest into the face of a man.
“Two thousand dollars!” the man hollered.
“Very well.” After the emcee received the credit card payments he threw a T-shirt to Hughie who pulled it over his head.
“It’s too small!”
“This is even worse!”
“I have this nice big flannel shirt.” The emcee held it up.
“Three thousand dollars!”
After a massive sigh of relief from the audience, Hughie exited, only to be replaced by another model, even larger, and hairier.
Two hours and five models later, everyone was crawling to the stage, extending their credit cards in quivering hands. Their faces were soaked in tears and sweat.
“Thank you for your support, ladies and gentlemen,” the emcee said with silky innocence. “We have raised enough money to keep our charity going for another year.”
The audience heard a key in the door. They stood and whimpered in anticipation.
“Next year, please encourage your nearest and dearest enemies to attend the WoMan Fashion Show. After all, it’s for a good cause.”

Burly Chapter Four

Chapter Four
Burly Senior’s questions—were bears and people much different why black people were not treated honestly–bothered Herman all that summer as he worked in the cotton field alongside his father, Tad and Callie. He didn’t dare mention black people to papa for fear he would look like he smelled rotten eggs again. One day, as they hoed weeds around from the leafy green plants, Herman gathered his courage and asked Tad.
“What do you mean, why do black people have to sit in the back behind a rope?” Tad snapped. “You won’t want to sit next to some big fat old colored woman, would you? She might touch you.”
Herman’s eyes widened. “Does it rub off?
Tad spat and hoed faster. “Don’t be stupid.”
Callie, who was in the next row, glared at Tad. “Don’t call Herman stupid.”
“I’ll call him anything I want!” Tad yelled.
“You’re the stupid one!” Callie retorted.
Papa walked up with his hoe, and the argument stopped. A few minutes went by and then Callie looked round and whispered to Herman.
“What was all that about anyway?”
“Aww, I asked if the black rubs off on you if a colored person touched you.”
Callie stifled a giggle. “Of course not. That is stupid.” She paused and added quickly. “But it was wrong for Tad to call you stupid.”
They hoed side by side for about an hour before Herman had the courage to ask her the main question. “Callie, just why do black people have to sit in the back behind a rope?”
“We sat as far back as they did,” she replied without looking at her brother.”
“But we came late and we didn’t have to sit behind a rope, like we were different.” When she didn’t say anything, Herman added in a whisper, “Are they different?”
Again Calllie studiously kept her eyes to the ground. “Papa says they are?”
“Is—is papa right?”
First giving a quick glance to her father, Callie answered, “I don’t think so. But don’t say that to papa. He might get mad.”
Herman was confused. “Why? Doesn’t he want us to be honest? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we were honest?”
“Yes.” She hoed hard and fast. “But papa doesn’t think so. Maybe someday things will change.”
“But if papa thinks they’re different, maybe they are,” Herman thought aloud.
“Less talk! More work!” papa barked.
Herman didn’t ask any more questions, but he was terribly confused. He didn’t understand why Callie would believe different than papa or Tad. Maybe it was mama who believed differently, and Callie got it from her. That evening, after the hoeing was done, and Tad had gone swimming in the creek and Callie went to play dolls with her friends, Herman went into the house and walked up to his mother who was chopping vegetables for a stew.
His mother sighed but answered sweetly, “Yes, dear?”
“Are black people different?”
She stopped and looked down at him, her slender hands going to the nape of her neck to massage it. “What makes you ask a thing like that?”
Herman looked down. “I was just wondering.”
“Yes. Don’t worry about it,” she answered and went back to her chopping.
“But—why?” He was about to say Callie thought differently but stopped because he didn’t want to get her in trouble.
Mama laughed. “You think more than any one child I’ve ever seen.”
Interrupting him firmly she said, “Go to the loft and play.”
Herman did as he was told, climbed the ladder and crawled into the bed to snuggle with Burly.
“Of course Callie is right,” Pearly Bear announced.
“People are people, no matter what color they are,” Burly Senior added. “Just like bears are bears, whether they’re made of burlap or some fancy material from Sears and Roebuck.”
“I even think bears and people are alike,” Burly offered.
“That’s right, son,” his bear father said.
“But how could Callie know this and not papa, mama or Tad?” The more they talked, the more confused Herman became.
“Why do you know it?” Burly asked.
“I don’t know if I know it or not.” Herman hung his head.
“Of course you do,” Burly Senior told him.
Herman pulled them all into his arms. “I guess I know because of all you.”
“No,” Burly said. “You knew before you even talked to us. You knew because it bothered you to see the black people roped off.”
“But you helped,” Herman offered.
“Of course,” Burly quipped with a smile. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Herman sighed. The whole situation was too much for him to understand. “I’m glad you talk to me.” He looked at Burly Senior. “Don’t you talk to Tad?”
“I would if he wanted me to,” the papa bear replied.
“And Callie?” Herman asked Pearly Bear.
The mama bear straightened her burly shoulders. “That’s between us girls.”
The summer continued, and Herman kept his thoughts about honesty to himself. Even though it was hard work, keeping the cotton rows clear of weeds and nice and soft for the plants to grow big and strong, he rather enjoyed it. This was the first year papa decided he was old enough to help, and Herman could feel himself grow taller every time Papa walked by, patted him on the back and said, “Good work.”
Eventually the hot, clear skies gave way to the clouds of fall, and school came back. This time Herman was not as scared. For one thing, the session had hardly begun when all the farm children were allowed to leave so they could pick cotton before bolls rotted on the branches. To pick them quickly was so important that papa actually paid a family to help pick the cotton.
The Johnsons were black, and Herman was happy papa had given them work for they looked very poor. Mr. Johnson was gray and stoop-shouldered. Mrs. Johnston was short and very stout, but also very talkative and friendly. They had three children, all boys and all older than Herman. They were distant and brooding. Herman liked to sit next to Mrs. Johnson when they stopped for lunch. She sang songs and told stories. Sometimes she would take his fingers and sing a little tune while wriggling each one.
“Don’t let her do that,” Tad scolded him as they went back to work in the rows of cotton.
“Do what?” Herman was puzzled.
“Touch you like that,” Tad replied in a hissing, whispery voice, glancing over his shoulder at the black family.
Herman laughed a little. “All she did was wiggle my fingers.”
“All she wants is to be able to touch a white person.
“Why should she want to do that?”
Tad looked at Herman with scorn. “Stupid. Don’t you know that’s what all blacks want to do?”
“Touch white people?” Herman couldn’t believe what Tad was saying.
“You just watch it.” Tad skulked away.
That night mother asked Herman to find his father quickly. She was sitting in one of the straight-backed wooden chairs with her head between her knees. That scared Herman, so he ran out to the barn, where he usually found his father. Instead he found the Johnsons bedding down in an empty stall.
“Well, hello, little fellow! Mrs. Johnson said cheerfully.
“Have you seen my papa?” Herman’s voice was all tight from fear.
Mrs. Johnson frowned with concern. “What’s the matter, baby?”
Herman,” papa said from the barn door. “Come here.”
Herman ran to his father to tell him that mama wanted him, but before he could say anything, his father pulled him away.
“I thought I told you to stay out of the barn while we have them sleeping in there,” he lectured harshly. He emphasized the word “them” with a nastiness that made Herman uncomfortable.
“But mama, she’s not feeling good,” Herman whined. “She wanted me to find you.”
Papa straightened and stared at the house.
He walked quickly to the door. Inside mama was already back at the kitchen peeling potatoes.
“Opal, are you all right?” Papa asked so sweetly than Herman didn’t feel uncomfortable anymore.
“Oh, I was just a little dizzy, that’s all.” She laughed, but it soon turned into a cough.” She turned to smile at Herman. “Thank you for getting your father so fast, Herman.”
Papa put his long, wormy arms around her. “Are you sure?”
She leaned against him. “No, I was just being silly.”
“I think I ought to take you to the doctor,” he said softly.
Mama turned to her work at the sink. “What would we pay him with?”
“We’ll have money when the cotton is sold,” papa replied.
“We need that money for more important things.” Mama was always practical.
“Mrs. Johnson says she knows all kinds of medicine to make you feel better,” Herman offered.
Mama laughed. “I’m sure she does.”
“Don’t call her Mrs. Johnson,” papa instructed.
“Why? What do I call her?”
“Call her Josie. That’s her name,” his mama replied. Her attention now was on the potatoes.
“Or the Johnson woman,” papa instructed.
“Why? Isn’t she Mrs. Johnson?” Herman pushed.
Papa raised his eyebrows. “We don’t know if they’re married or not.”
“But they have children.”
“Oh, that doesn’t mean anything.” Mama laughed again.
Papa interrupted sternly. “Now that’s enough of that. Stay out of the barn. Don’t call her Mrs. Johnson. Don’t ask why. Just do it.”
Mama shook her head. “Herman’s always full of questions.”
Herman stared at the floor. “Yes, papa.” Then he went up to the loft so he could be alone with his bear family.
“I don’t think mama and papa are very nice about the Johnsons,” he confided to Burly and his parents.
“But your mama and papa are very nice to you,” Burly reminded him. “Don’t ever forget that.”
“Burly’s right,” Pearly Bear added. “Their love for all three of you children fills this house and makes it warm.”
“But that doesn’t mean you should pretend they’re nice to the Johnsons,” Burly Senior interjected. “Sometimes even parents can be wrong.”
“Even you?” Burly asked.
Burly Senior shuffled his burlap body a bit and cleared his throat. “Well, I haven’t been around long enough to make any mistakes. But I imagine I will, some day.”
Pearly giggled at her husband, and soon all four of them were having a good laugh.
The next day out in the field Herman sat next to Mrs. Johnson during lunch even though Tad gave him an angry look. Herman ignored his brother and looked at a nearby tree.
“Those birds sure are singing pretty,” he said, munching on a sandwich.
Mrs. Johnson quickly swallowed a mouthful of food and waved her hand at the tree. “Oh, those are turtledoves. They’ve got a beautiful song to sing all right, but you better not let one get in your house.”
“Why not?” Herman asked.
“Lord sakes alive, baby,” Mrs. Johnson exclaimed. “You let a turtledove in your house, and it starts to cooing and such, and sure enough somebody in your family will wind up dead.”
Tad snorted in disbelief. Herman couldn’t help but notice the three Johnson boys glowering at Tad. He also noticed they put their hands up to their face as they whispered to each other. One of them laughed but the other two hit him on his shoulder.
“Now, Josie,” her husband said in a reproving tone, “you know you shouldn’t be telling your stories to those boys.”
Before she could reply, Herman’s father walked up and announced, “Time to get back to work.”
Herman and Tad picked cotton side by side.
“You don’t believe that malarkey about turtledoves, do you?” Tad asked.
“N-no, I guess not,” Herman stammered. He really didn’t know what to believe but he thought it would be safer to say no to Tad.
“That’s why you shouldn’t talk to coloreds.” Tad used his I-told-you-so voice.
“You kids! Get to work!” papa shouted, and that was the end of that.
When they were finished for the day and had emptied their sacks into a big wagon with tall chicken wire walls, Tad pulled Herman over to the side.
“Come on with me,” he whispered. “We’re going to have some fun.”
Herman smiled and ran along with him. It wasn’t often that Tad included him in his fun. Tad grabbed a burlap bag from the side of the barn and towed Herman down the road to the tree where the turtledoves were singing at noon. They carefully climbed the branches until they came to a nest. Tad threw his bag over the nest, capturing a turtledove.
“What are you going to do with it?” Herman asked.
Tad winked. “You’ll see.”
When they climbed down the tree there stood their father with his arms folded across his chest.
“And what do you boys think you’re up to?” Herman recognized that voice. That was the voice papa used before the spanking began.
“I don’t know; just having fun,” Herman whispered.
“How about you, Tad?”
Tad tried to hide the sack behind him. “Aww, papa, it was just a little joke. We were going to put the turtledove in the barn to scare the Johnsons.”
“Drop it! Right now! Herman, you go into the house. Tad! You follow me!”
Tad and his father marched around to the far side of the barn. When Herman got in the house he looked out the window to see what was going on. He could hear the whacks all the way to the house. Just then, the youngest of the Johnson boys ran out of the barn and into the woods. He turned to his mother and Callie who were cutting up vegetables for a stew.
“Papa’s beating Tad again.”
“What on earth for?” She dried her wet hands on her apron.
Herman explained how Mrs. Johnson told them about the turtledove curse and about how Tad was going to catch a turtledove and put it in the barn to scare the Johnsons. They had one in a sack when papa came up and stopped the whole thing.
“Woody’s going to kill that boy before he makes it to manhood. Well, I could use that turtledove in the stew. Where is it?”
“In the woods,” Herman replied.
“Come take me to it.”
“Oh, I want to go with you too!” Callie pleaded. “This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time!”
When they arrive at the tree where the turtledove nest was, they found the burlap bag but it was empty.
“It must have worked its way out. Oh well, we tried.” Mama took a step but stopped to bend over. “There’s that dizziness again.” She lifted her head to smile at Herman. “Did anything else happen today?”
“After papa took Tad out behind the barn, one of the Johnson boys ran into the woods,” Herman replied.
“Maybe he went to get the turtledove,” Callie offered.
“Why on earth would he do that? And how did he know there was a turtledove in a bag out there?”
“Maybe he overheard papa and Tad talking out behind the barn.” Callie wringed her hands, looking down.
“No, they wouldn’t do that,” mama said, shaking her head.
“Why not?” Herman asked.
“You ask too many questions, Herman. Stop it,” she ordered. “Let’s get back to the house. Woody and Tad must be there by now.”
When they entered the house, Tad and his father were looking up in the rafters. A turtle dove was cooing.
“What on earth is that noise?” Callie asked.
“Oh, somehow a turtledove got in the house,” their father said. “Don’t worry. I’ll get it. Maybe your mama can put it in the stew.”
“Tad!” His mother glared at him. “Did you bring that bird into my house?”
“No!” Tad looked frustrated. “I didn’t. Honest.”
The bird continued cooing, flitting away every time their father got near.
“The cooing is pretty, but it’s getting on my nerves,” Callie said.
“You’re not the only one,” her mother murmured.
Herman watched mama closely. It looked to him like she must be getting dizzy again. “Mama, are you all right?”
“Of course, I am, baby. It’s just that….” Their mother’s voice trailed off as she fell to the floor.
“Papa! Mama’s fainted!” Herman yelled.
His father jumped down from the rafters, swooped his wife up into his arms and rushed her into their bedroom. Callie ran in after them and closed the door. Herman and Tad stared at each other for what seemed like hours. In a few minutes Callie came out crying. She slumped into one of the dining table chairs and sobbed uncontrollably. Her brothers approached her slowly, as though they were treading on holy ground.
“What’s wrong?” Tad whispered.
Callie looked up, tears streaming down her cheeks and her eyes puffy and red. She could hardly get the words out.
“Mama’s dead.”
Herman and Tad were stunned. They couldn’t move. They couldn’t speak. They couldn’t think. Slowly Herman’s eyes focused on the shadows of the rafters. The turtledove was gently cooing.

More Than Toilet Paper

Billy enjoyed his daily walks with his grandpa. Most children didn’t have an old man in the family whose sole purpose was to entertain and protect little ones.
Mothers were too busy having babies, cleaning house and cooking to spend time with their daughters and sons. Fathers were rarely home. Mothers explained that the men had to go out hunting, gathering nuts and berries and protecting the family honor by killing anyone who looked like he was going to hurt the women and children. Fathers also killed anyone who owned some special object which the fathers decided rightfully belonged to them.
For the longest time Billy and his grandpa would take long hikes upon cracked concrete paths that led to fascinating places. In particular Billy enjoyed the tall mountains that his grandfather told him people from long ago built. Sometimes they went exploring inside the man-made mountains. Some were like hanging gardens with all the pretty vines which covered everything. A few times the light would go away too soon so Billy and his grandpa had to sleep inside the marvelous mountains. Lately, however, his grandpa walked slower, rested more and remembered less about what his grandfather told him about the world they lived in.
“Now what is that big bright thing in the sky?” Billy asked.
“Let me see.” Grandpa paused to think. “The sun.”
Billy wrinkled his little brow. “But I thought I was the son.”
“Well, the same word can mean a lot of different things.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Why didn’t they go ahead and come up with a different word for each thing?”
Grandpa smiled. “My grandfather told me they were just too lazy.” He shrugged. “I just think they were stupid.” He put his hand on Billy’s shoulder and headed him in another direction. “We got to get some toilet paper before the sun goes away again.”
Now Billy knew what toilet paper was. That was one of the most important things in the whole world. Soon they walked up the steps to a stone two-story building and entered. Stacked all around them were toilet paper sheets bound together and covered with two sheets that were thicker and stiffer than the rest of the toilet paper. He picked one up and leafed through it. Billy found them fascinating. Some of the pages had pretty pictures and others were covered with markings with crosses, dots, and squiggly lines.
“Why did they bother to make them look pretty if it was only toilet paper?”
“Like I said, they were stupid,” his grandpa replied. “Well, bring that one with us. We don’t want to get caught in the dark.”
As they walked back home along the broken concrete path, Billy pointed at the rusted little houses with four circles in each corner. “And what were those things?”
“I told you once before they were called cars,” his grandpa said rather impatiently.
“I’m sorry. Sometimes I don’t remember things too good.”
His grandpa patted his shoulder. “Neither can I. I wish I could remember everything my grandfather told me. He said people were powerful a long time ago. Then great flames leapt from the sun and all the…the machines—that’s what he called them—didn’t work no more. Eventually they forgot everything they knew. Grandfather called it history.”
“History? What is this thing called history?”
“History is a grandfather’s stories. His story. Get it?”
“I guess so.” They walked a while before Billy thought of another question. He liked to ask them over and over again to make his grandpa feel better when he could answer them. “What was the toilet paper building called?”
His grandpa shook his head. “I know my grandfather told me, but for the life of me I can’t come up with it.” He then snapped his fingers. “I remember now. It was called a library.”

Burly Chapter Three

Life was happier for Herman now. He had Burly who had his parents, Pearly and Burly Senior. Tad seemed friendlier although he still was mean sometimes. However, the little burlap bear explained why Tad was upset so the hurt didn’t last long. Papa almost always was nice to him now, though Herman could tell this depressions thing continued to bother him. Callie was growing up to be as pretty as she was sweet. Mama was the same, except she seemed thinner and coughed a lot.
Even Herman was changing. At seven years old he began school. He wished he could have taken Burly with him, but his little bear assured him that it was all right.
“You better get used to it,” Burly warned him. “From now on, you’ll be going many places that I can’t. That doesn’t mean you don’t love me or I don’t love you. That will be just the way things will be.”
As always, Herman found that Burly was right. There were days at school, when the teacher asked him questions he didn’t know the answer to or when a bully named Marvin Berry picked on him that he wished he had Burly there to hug right away. Instead he just waited until he got home.
“I guess that’s part of growing up,” Herman said with a sigh one afternoon.
“That’s right,” Burly agreed.
Herman frowned. “It scares me.”
“What? Growing up?” Burly asked.
“Yes. There are so many things that I haven’t done that I’ll have to do. So many experiences. So many people.”
“Isn’t it exciting?” Burly said, trying to cheer Herman.
Herman moaned. “I guess.”
Just then Tad and Callie burst through the door and scrambled up the ladder to the loft.
“Guess what!” Tad squealed. “Toby’s coming to town!”
Herman wrinkled his brow. “Toby? Who’s Toby?”
“You dummy! Don’t you know who Harley Sadler is?” Tad said with a playful laugh in his voice.
Callie hit at him. “Don’t be nasty, Tad. Herman’s too young to remember the last time the show came through town.”
“A show?” Herman asked in awe.
“Yeah! A real funny show!” Tad exclaimed.
“Harley only brings his show this way every few years,” Callie explained, quite grown up. After all, she was ten years old now. “He mostly does his shows in West Texas.”
“I wish we lived in West Texas! Then we could see Toby every year,” Tad said with a sigh.
Herman was still confused. Scratching his head he asked, “But you call him Harley and Tad calls him Toby.”
“Dummy,” Tad muttered.
“Tad,” she reproved him. “Harley plays a character called Toby.”
“A funny cowboy who always outsmarts the bad guy,” Tad added.
“You were only three when he came to town last. Mama stayed home with you and papa took Tad and me.”
“I hope papa will take us this time,” Herman said, beginning to jump up and down.
“Oh sure,” Tad replied confidently. “Papa likes Toby too.”
That night around the dinner table Tad broke the news to his father who smiled broadly.
“So old Harley’s back in town,” he said. “Well, we’ll have to scrape up enough money to see him.” He reached over to squeeze his wife’s hand. “Do you remember when we were just courting, Opal? I took you to see Harley. Remember how between acts he came out and sang in a quartet and couldn’t remember the words?”
Herman tingled with happiness to hear his father laugh and giggle. He could swear papa’s eyes twinkled. His mother smiled, threw back her fragile head and laughed.
“Yes, and I remember how you almost got trampled trying to by a box of salt water taffy.”
Papa ducked his head. “Well, I was hoping to find the one with the diamond ring in it.” He touched the simple band on her left hand. “It would’ve been the only way I could get you one.”
She patted his cheek. “I like the ring I have just fine.”
“You mean they give away prizes?” Herman asked.
Tad elbowed him. “Of course they do. Don’t you know—“ He didn’t finish the sentence because his father cleared his throat ominously. “Yeah sure. You buy a box of candy and there’s tickets for all sorts of things.” Tad finished more politely than he had begun.
Papa returned to the business of eating. “Aw, I guess we can’t go this time, with three kids and all,” he muttered.
“I remember the last time some of the kids in town talking how they got free tickets for helping set up the chairs in the tent for Toby.”
“Harley,” Callie said.
“Don’t correct your brother,” mama said softly. She put her thin, pale hand to her mouth to cover a cough.
Papa looked at her and wrinkled his brow. “Are you sure you’re feeling all right, Opal?”
She shook off her cough, which emanated from her chest, and laughed. “Heavens, I’m as strong as a horse.”
“Papa? Did you hear? Free tickets. Callie and me and the kid there could set up chairs and get in free.”
“Huh? Oh. I guess. We’ll see. When will the show be in town?”
“Next Wednesday,” Tad replied. “The day after school lets out for the year, so we’ll be able to watch the tent go up in the morning, help with the chairs and get free tickets.”
That night as Herman lay in bed he held Burly close. “Isn’t it exciting, Burly?” He didn’t hold his bear too close because it was hot in the loft. Three small windows were open by each of the beds. Herman slept in his undershorts, but there wasn’t enough breeze to keep him from sweating.
“Yes, it is exciting,” Burly said. “Nice things like that help keep your mind off how uncomfortable the heat is.”
“Tad said this man Harley is real funny. I don’t know what he does exactly, but I can’t wait for us to see it.”
“I’m glad you want Callie and Tad to have a good time too.”
Herman tickled Burly’s tummy. “No, I mean you. I can’t wait for you to see Harley.”
“No, Herman, I can’t go. They won’t want stuffed bears coming to their show.”
Frowning, Herman asked, “Why not?”
“I don’t know for sure. I just know if you asked your father he’d say no.”
Herman slumped down on his pillow. “I don’t know if I want to go if I can’t take you. It won’t be any fun without you.”
“Of course it will.” Burly paused to think. “Imagine how much fun you’ll have telling me all about it later.”
A smile crept across Herman’s face as his eyes fell heavily and a breeze finally blew across the bed.
Wednesday, the day of the tent show came to town, took on the same magical anticipation as Christmas. Each school day wound down slowly, and each chore at home took forever. Instead of twenty spelling words on the final test of the year, Herman could have sworn the teacher called out a thousand. And on the last day of school Herman was sure the teacher moved as though she were plowing through mud up to her waist. He didn’t even care about the grades on his report card, although they were very good.
“Hmph,” Tad said with disdain as he looked at Herman’s card, “grades don’t mean a thing.”
Herman would have been upset if he hadn’t seen Callie smile and wink at him.
Tuesday night was the longest night in Herman’s life, for there was nothing so exciting as the complete unknown. And that’s what the tent show was to him. What did Harley Sadler look like? Was he like a movie star? Big and good looking? Did he have a funny voice? What exactly did make Harley Sadler funny? Herman couldn’t wait to find out.
Tad, Callie and Herman got up early, ate quickly and ran out the door to go to town before the tent went up. As he flew out the door Herman heard his mother cough loudly and deeply. He paused to go back when Tad yelled at him to hurry up.
The hurly burly on the empty field next to the high school was enough to scare Herman, but Callie held his hand so everything was all right. Finally the tent was up and a short, fair man with sandy blond hair sauntered up to the large group of boys and girls eagerly awaiting the word. He had a funny, lopsided kind of grin and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
“I don’t suppose I could find anybody here willing to put up a few chairs for me for a ticket to the show tonight?”
‘You bet, Toby!” Tad yelled out with all the other children.
So this was Harley Sadler. He certainly didn’t sound funny. He had a pretty, deep voice. And he didn’t really look all that funny. Mostly he looked like a rich businessman. On the other hand, his smile, and the look in his eyes, they were funny, Herman decided. More than that, they were exciting because they hinted at funnier things to come.
“Well, Herman, come on.” Tad tugged at his sleeve. “Let’s go!”
Herman was embarrassed he had been caught gawking at the famous actor, but Harley didn’t seem to mind. He just laughed and patted Herman on the head. There were so many children scrambling for chairs that Herman only got to set up three chairs before they were finished. At first he was afraid he hadn’t done enough work to earn the ticket, but he forgot that quickly as he was the first child Harley gave a ticket to.
“Now hang on to that,” Harley said, winking at Herman.
When all the tickets were distributed Harley said loudly, “Be sure to tell your folks that tonight is ladies night. All women get in free when brought by a man buying a ticket!”
“Oh boy!” Tad exclaimed as they hurried home. “Do you know what that means? It means papa will have to buy only one ticket! Mama’ll get in free!”
“This is going to be so much fun!” Callie giggled as she skipped beside Herman.
Life couldn’t be happier, Herman decided as he looked at his sister’s face and then his brother’s.
“And Burly will get in free too!” Herman chirped, forgetting what his little bear had warned him about the bear’s prediction he wouldn’t be allowed to go.
“Aww, Herman, you’re not going to drag along that toy bear, are you?” Tad moaned.
“If papa says it’s all right, why should you care?” Callie shot back, putting her arm around Herman.
When they came through the front door, they saw their father entering from his bedroom.
“Guess what!” Herman said loudly, “Mama can get in free!”
“Shush,” Papa hushed him with a finger to his lips as he motioned the children to the table to sit down. “Your mama’s not feeling good. She fainted this afternoon.”
“Oh no!” Callie gasped.
“Did you get the doctor?” Herman asked.
“Don’t be dumb,” Tad chided him. “We can’t afford the doctor.”
“That’s right, son,” his father said. “But—but I don’t think she’s too bad. I don’t think though we should go to the show tonight.”
All three children knew better than to protest, but Herman couldn’t help but let out a little groan.
“I know it’s a big letdown—“
“Woody!” mama called out weakly from the bedroom.
Papa stood and went into the bedroom. A few minutes later he came out. Herman tried to figure out what he was going to say from the look on papa’s face, but Herman couldn’t guess what the faraway look on his eyes meant.
“Hmm, your mama says she’s not that bad, that she wants us to go on to the show. She’ll be fine by herself.”
“I could let Burly stay with her,” Herman offered weakly.
Papa looked at him in a blur. “Who? Oh no, that’s all right.” He looked around the room as though he were helpless. “Hmm, Callie help me with supper. Tad, tend the animals in the barn.”
Tad left while Callie and papa turned to the kitchen. Herman quietly went to the loft and got Burly to taken to his mother. He slowly opened the door so it wouldn’t creak and stepped in. He approached the bed where mama was sleeping restlessly. The dark spots under her eyes and the paleness of her skin became very real to him for the first time and it scared him.
“Mama?” he whispered.
Her eyes opened and she smiled. “Hi, baby.”
“Would you like Burly to keep you company tonight?”
She laughed and touched his cheek. “No, thank you, honey. It’s so sweet of you to offer.”
The door swung open and Herman heard his father’s voice.
“Herman, I thought I told you not to bother your mother.”
“That’s all right, Woody,” she said softly. “I wanted to see my baby.”
“Get out,” papa ordered. He paused to chuckle a bit. “Don’t you have chores to do?”
“Yes sir,” Herman replied meekly.
He hurriedly returned Burly to the loft and went outside. Supper went by very quietly, almost sadly, considering where they were going that evening. Papa took a tray of food into the bedroom and shut the door, staying with mama the entire meal. After he came out, Callie cast a quick glance at Herman and ventured a question.
“Could Herman take his bear to the show?
Papa turned to look at Callie and then at Herman. “Now why would you want to do that?”
“I don’t,” Herman protested.
“This afternoon he said he wanted to,” Callie replied.
Herman noticed Tad remained quiet during the exchange. He expected his brother to say something mean, but Tad almost never did what Herman expected.
Finally papa announced, “It’s time to go.” He actually was smiling. “Each of you may go in to see your mother, but don’t stay too long.”
“I want to go first!” Tad replied, heading for the bedroom.
“Don’t run and be quiet!” papa reminded him, causing Tad to slow down.
Callie went for a kiss. Then it was Herman’s turn. Mama gathered her baby into her arms and kissed him.
“Have a good time and obey your papa,” she whispered, her breath smelling of some foul medicine.
As Herman came out of his parents’ bedroom he noticed Tad had just come down the ladder from the loft.”
“Come on, boys, or we’re going without you!” papa called from outside.
The brothers ran out the front door and scrambled into the back of the pickup. Callie rode in the cab next to her father. They were well on their way down the road when Tad leaned over to Herman. “Can you keep a secret?”
Herman became scared because whenever Tad said something like that he was in trouble and going to get Herman in trouble too. “I guess.”
Tad smiled as he pulled from under his shirt Burly.
“Shush,” Tad whispered. “I said keep it on the QT.”
“Thank you.”
Tad shrugged. “I thought it wouldn’t hurt anything, and, heck, you’ve been a pretty good kid, making good grades and, well, you pull your weight around the farm.”
“I love you, Tad.”
His brother stiffened. “Aww, don’t get sloppy on me.”
The rest of the ride went in silence, but it was the happiest silence Herman ever shared with Tad. When they arrived at the tent they had to take seats towards the back since it was almost filled. Herman had never seen so many people together in one place, which also made it very hot. The sides of the tent were rolled up so air could move through, and people with the show were giving out hand fans.
“Hi, Herman!” a boy called out.
Herman looked up and smiled. It was one of the nicer boys from school, Gerald Morgan.
“Who’s that?” papa asked.
“Oh, a boy from school.” Herman stopped smiling long enough to make sure Burly wasn’t showing from underneath his shirt and then gave Gerald one last wave.
They hadn’t been there long when a band marched out and sat right in front of the stage. Music began, and the curtain opened. Herman cautiously pulled Burly from under his shirt so he could watch too. Glancing over at his father, he saw a happy grin on his face. The actors came out and began talking. To be honest Herman didn’t really understand much of what they were talking about or who was who. One fellow was definitely a bad guy, who talked nasty to people and threatened all the pretty girls on stage. Another actor was the good guy. Everybody seemed to like him. Finally there was Toby. Harley Sadler didn’t look a thing like he did that afternoon. He had on a silly red wig and had freckles painted on his face, and he wore funny looking wooly chaps. When he came on stage everyone else sort of disappeared because the entire audience laughed at Toby.
Partway through the show papa leaned over to Herman, who jumped and quickly put Burly under his shirt. “Can you see all right, son?” he whispered.
“Kind of,” Herman replied.
Papa looked behind him to make sure there wasn’t anyone he would be blocking and then lifted Herman to his shoulders.
At first Herman had a few butterflies in his stomach because he was so high but he could see better. It felt good being so close to his father so the butterflies soon went away. After a while Herman asked his father if he was hurting his back.
“Not to mention, as long as you’re having a good time,” Papa replied.
The hero beat up the bad guy with the help of Toby. One of the pretty girls turned Toby down when he asked her to marry him, which didn’t seem right. But another pretty girl did marry the hero, which made the audience cheer. The curtain came down, the band played some happy-sounding music, and the audience applauded.
On the way out Herman smiled with the satisfaction of knowing exactly what a tent show was now and of feeling love flowing from his family. Then he saw something that broke the warm feeling. Off to the back left was a section roped off for black people. He hadn’t noticed it when they came in. Indeed, it was the first time Herman had ever noticed that black people were treated differently and it bothered him. As his father lifted him off his shoulders and onto the ground, Herman’s first reaction was to ask his father about it, but he decided not to say anything.
He had almost forgotten the separation of the black people when they got home. Herman was about to walk into the house when his father called him over to the shed where he was putting the pickup away for the night.
“How did Burly like the show?” papa asked.
Papa smiled knowingly. “You better take him out from under your shirt now. He’s going to rub your skin raw.”
Herman pulled Burly out. “How did you know? Did Tad tell?”
“Why? Did Tad know?”
“Um, no.” Herman didn’t want to get his brother into trouble.
Papa patted Herman’s back. “Don’t worry about it. Get on to bed.”
Herman was leaving when he decided to ask about the black people. His father’s serene expression changed as Herman spoke.
“Oh, the coloreds.” The last word floated up through papa’s nostrils as though it were the stench of rotten eggs. He turned away from Herman, his way of saying a conversation was over. “Don’t worry about them.”
Now Herman wished he hadn’t brought the subject up. It put a sour ending to a wonderful evening. When he climbed the ladder to the loft he found Callie and Tad already asleep. He took his clothes off, opened his window and climbed into bed.
“How did you like the show?” he asked Burly.
“What I saw I liked. Of course, I couldn’t see much from under your shirt.”
“I’m sorry,” Herman whispered.
“Oh no. I was glad I got to go, no matter what.”
Herman smiled as he nestled into his pillow. “Wasn’t it nice of Tad to bring you?”
“Of course. I keep telling you he loves you.”
Herman sighed. “Yes. But often it comes as a surprise.”
From across the room came two other bear voices.
“How did you like the show?” Pearly Bear asked.
“Was it fun?” Burly Senior added.
“Oh yes, mama, papa,” Burley replied. “Even though I did have to sit under a shirt.”
“Sit under a shirt?” Burly Senior said with a hint of indignation. “Herman, why did you do that to Burly?”
“I—I was afraid of what papa would say,” Herman stammered.
“But your father knew all along,” Pearly said. “You would have been better off being honest, and then Burly would have had a better view.”
Herman frowned and thought about the black people again. “Are people being dishonest about black people?
“I don’t know,” Pearly replied. “I just know about bears.”
And then Burly Senior asked, “But are bears and people much different?”