Monthly Archives: February 2015

Burly Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven
“No!” Burly shouted as the trunk lid came down on him, covering him in darkness, but it did no good. Herman didn’t open the lid and lift him out. “Please, Herman, please,” the little bear whispered through the night, but Herman didn’t answer him. Finally Burly sat back and began to think about it. Herman will get a good night’s sleep and feel better the next morning, Burly decided. Herman will take him into his arms and beg his forgiveness which, of course, he will give, Burly told himself. So there was nothing left to do but be patient and wait for morning. But when morning came, Herman got up, dressed and went to the kitchen to cook his father’s breakfast, ignoring Burly’s pleas to be let out of the trunk.
“Do you need me after school?” Herman asked his father as they ate the ham, eggs and toast.
Not looking up, his father mumbled, “Could use some help in the barn.”
Herman climbed into the loft to get his books. Burly saw this as his chance to talk him into letting him out.
“Please let me out. I don’t like it in here. It’s scary.”
But Herman acted as though he didn’t hear the little bear and left. Burly began to wonder if Herman could hear him anymore. Maybe his magical powers went away. Maybe none of his life ever happened. Somewhere in the old rags that filled his head there was a special something that allowed him to pretend he had talked to Herman. Burly was very confused. He tried not to think much about what was happening until that night when Herman came home.
It was very late when Herman finally came to bed; after all, he had to help his father, and then cook, then do is homework. Burly tried to be considerate and not say anything until Herman had slipped in between the covers.
“Herman,” he whispered, “Please let me out.”
There was no reply.
“Herman, I know I can still help you. I just know I can.”
Again no reply. Burly slowly began to believe Herman could no longer hear him until the little bear heard a muffled cry.
“Oh, shut up, Burly. Leave me alone.” And then Herman began to cry.
That made Burly very unhappy. His only reason to be able to talk and think was to be Herman’s friend and to make him happy. This was the first time Burly had made Herman cry. “I’ll never do that again. I’ll listen to what Herman is doing, and whisper advice in the middle of the night. But, I’ll never upset him by asking to be let out again.”
And so the days and months passed with Burly listening in on Herman’s conversations with his friends. And with himself, because for the first time in his life Herman talked to himself. Mostly he said terrible things to himself, like calling himself a dummy because he only made a B in a certain class instead of an A.
“Don’t call yourself names like that,” Burly whispered late at night. “You can’t be perfect in everything. Don’t think bad of yourself or soon you will really believe it and you won’t even make Bs in school.”
Herman didn’t say anything, but Burly noticed Herman stopped calling himself names. The next report card was better. He got all As.
“Hey, genius,” Marvin said one day while visiting Herman in the loft. “With grades like that you ought to go to college.”
“I plan to,” Herman replied with confidence. “I want to be a lawyer.”
“It takes money to be a lawyer,” Marvin said. “Where are you going to get money to go to law school?”
Herman shrugged. “They have scholarships. I’ll get me one of those.”
“Do you think you’re smart enough?” Marvin kidded.
“Yes,” Herman replied, completely serious.
“Yeah, I know you are,” Marvin said in a dark tone. “But that doesn’t mean you’ll get the money.”
”Then I’ll work my way through, even if it takes extra years I’ll get through.”
“And what about the draft?”
“Well, there’s always the G.I. Bill.”
Marvin snickered. “You’ve got all the answers.”
Herman looked at him with wide eyes. “Yes, I do.”
That night Burly whispered, “I don’t want you to call yourself a dummy but don’t go too far the other way. You don’t want to lose your friends.”
Marvin never visited Herman in the loft again. Burly never knew exactly what happened because Herman didn’t mention Marvin when he talked to himself, and Gerald never talked about Marvin when he visited.
“Gosh, Herman, I never thought one of my friends would be the senior class valedictorian,” Gerald laughed one afternoon.
“Well, it was real close,” Herman said. “You did well in the class standings, too.”
Burly smiled to himself. Evidently Herman was still paying attention to his late night advice.
“Have you decided whether or not to take your Uncle Calvin’s offer to stay with him and go to Rice Institute? That would be nice, being with your sister again.”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? She got married last winter.”
Burly wondered if Pearly Bear still had a shelf of honor in Callie’s home or if she had been relegated to an old trunk.
“Anyway, I still want to go to the University of Texas. If I don’t get drafted, that is.”
“What does May Beth say about all this?”
Herman shifted uneasily on the bed. “What does she have to say about it?”
“Well, I thought you two, you know,” Gerald replied, a little nervous.
“We’ve dated a lot, that’s all.”
“Is that how she looks at it?”
“It doesn’t make any difference how she looks at it,” Herman said.
Again Burly felt worried about some of Herman’s attitudes. That night as Herman tossed and turn in his bed, Burly whispered, “Don’t toss away May Beth’s friendship, or love, so easily. Remember love is as important as school.”
In a few weeks graduation had come and gone. Herman was called for his draft induction physical and passed. That meant he would be leaving the old farmhouse for good soon. Burly was scared again. Another incident scared Burly. One night Herman came home and had trouble climbing the ladder. He was drunk. Pulling a small bottle of some kind of liquor from his pocket Herman took a long swig.
“And here’s to the bride, May Beth Webster,” he slurred. “And here’s to the groom, Marvin Berry, the bum.”
So he had not taken Burly’s advice about May Beth, and she had married his former friend. Burly’s heart broke for Herman. For the first time in more than a year Burly wished he was out of the trunk and in Herman’s arms so Herman could squeeze the bear hard to make his pain go away.
Herman mumbled other things in a drunken stupor, things Burly couldn’t quite make out, and then he passed out on the bed.
Burly worried all night about Herman’s beginning to drink. He whispered, ”Please don’t start drinking, Herman. Remember what happened to Tad’s friend, Leonard.” But he didn’t know if Herman ever heard him.
Within a few days Herman was gone to join the Army and the loft became deathly still. For the first time Burly looked around him to see what he shared the trunk with. There were some of Herman’s mother’s clothes, including her wedding dress. There was the American flag from Tad’s memorial service. Down at the bottom Burly found old baby clothes that belonged to Callie.
One night Burly heard steps coming up the ladder. His little heart leapt, hoping it was Herman. Instead, it was Mr. Horn, who walked across the loft to the trunk. When he opened it, Burly could tell he too was drunk. Woody Horn gently picked up the dress his wife wore on her wedding day and touched it to his cheek. Then he caressed the American flag given in memory of his fallen son. Finally he picked up Burly Bear.
“Well, little bear, I wondered what became of you,” Woody said with a slur. “So he tossed you aside too, like he did me.”
Burly thought to try to speak to him, but decided against it.
Woody sniffled. “I guess I can’t blame him. I didn’t do much to keep him.” He began to put Burly back in the trunk and then stopped. “If I can’t keep my son, then I’ll keep my son’s teddy bear.” And with that he took Burly downstairs to his bedroom where he laid the little bear beside his pillow. After he took his shirt and trousers off and climbed into bed, Woody picked up Burly again. “I guess you won’t mind if I start talking to you.”
Mind? Burly thought; I’d be thrilled. If I had stayed alone in that trunk, in that great nothingness of time and space, I would have surely lost my magic and become just another forgotten toy, ripe for decay and to be gnawed upon by visiting rats.
Woody held Burly closely. “I guess a part of me died when Opal passed on. And I shouldn’t have let that happen.”
But you couldn’t help it, Burly thought.
“I kept telling myself that I couldn’t help it but that’s not true. I could have bucked up and done the right thing.”
There’s still time to do the right thing, Burly thought.
“Maybe there’s still time,” Woody’s eyes became heavy with sleep. “I’ll write Herman and Callie letters. I’ve never written a letter before, but I’m not too old to learn. And maybe they’ll forgive me.”
Of course they will, Burly thought, knowing Woody was somehow catching his advice, just like Herman did.
Meet your new friend, Burly Bear.

Burly Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten
Burly was frightened; Herman was seventeen, the same age Tad was when he destroyed Burly Senior. He knew he really had nothing to worry about. Herman was much kinder than Tad ever was and would never tear him to pieces. Still, Herman was no longer the sad-eyed little boy who cried on him and gave him life many years ago. Herman was tall, straight and strong. He worked harder and longer than Tad had when he was on the farm. Now in the middle of the afternoon Burly would notice papa coming in the door and going to his room to nap while Herman stayed out in the field or in the barn. Of an evening after supper dishes were washed, Herman pored over his school books, completing his homework and studying the next lesson beyond that. Burly was very proud when Herman showed him his report cards and there were all As.
“Very good, Herman,” Burly told him.
Herman shrugged his now broad shoulders. “I’m not that good. The teachers in Cumby are impressed, though.”
“But your father isn’t impressed,” Burly offered.
“I don’t know if he is or not.”
Burly shook his head. “Then who are you trying to impress?”
Herman smiled. “Me, I guess. The more I read the more I see how little I know.”
“Now you are getting smart,” Burly said, impressed with his young friend.
Herman put Burly aside. “I’ve got to study now.” Then he opened his book and didn’t speak to Burly the rest of the night.
That was what scared Burly. For years they had talked into the night until Herman slumbered away in mid-sentence. Now he fell asleep with his face in a book. In fact, there were days when Herman wouldn’t speak to Burly at all.
“Are you mad at me?” Burly asked one night after almost a week of being ignored.
“Hmm?” Herman muttered, his eyes still on his book.
“I said, are you mad at me?”
Herman put down the book and gave Burly a quizzical smile. “Why would you say that?”
Burly turned his little button eyes down. “Well, you haven’t talked to me in several days.”
Picking the bear up and hugging him, Herman said, “I’m sorry. You know I still love you.”
Feeling a bit more secure, Burly asked, “What are you reading?”
“Do you like it?”
“What is government?”
Herman put the book down again. “I guess a burlap bear wouldn’t know anything about government, would he?”
“No, I don’t,” Burly replied, embarrassed.
“It’s the system by which all the people in the country operate,” Herman tried to explain. “It’s laws, rules we live by, so we don’t hurt each other and help us help each other better.”
“Can’t people just decide to love each other without making laws?” Burly asked.
Herman laughed. “But that doesn’t get any roads built. Or schools run. And it doesn’t defend our country either.”
“It’s really interesting. I think I like this subject more than anything else in school.”
“That’s nice.”
“In fact,” Herman said, turning more to Burly, “I’ve decided to become a lawyer when I get out of school.”
“A lawyer?” Burly asked. “What’s that?”
“That’s a person who makes it his business to make sure the laws are carried out properly.”
“You mean like a sheriff?” Burly remembered the night the sheriff came to the house to help when Herman’s mother died.
“No, a lawyer’s paid by individual people to represent them in court and to make sure their businesses follow all the laws.”
Herman smiled and shook his head. “Let’s just say that’s what I want to do. It’s too complicated to explain.”
Burly felt sad. “I’m sorry I don’t understand. I’ve spent all my life in this loft so I really don’t know much.”
Hugging Burly again, Herman assured him, “You know the most about what counts, love.”
Feeling encouraged, Burly asked another question. “What kind of law would you do, the kind for businesses or—what did you called them?”
“Courts,” Herman supplied the missing word. “Courts.” He gathered Burly close as though he were sharing a secret. “Remember the Johnsons? The black people who helped us one year? And remember that show we went to, how all the black people had to sit in one place? Well, I want to help them, all the black people, so they won’t be treated differently anymore.”
“That’s very nice, Herman.”
He blushed. “Well, it’s something I think should be done.”
Burly thought a moment and then asked, “You won’t be able to do all that and stay here on the farm, will you?”
“No.” Herman looked nervous and picked up his book.
Burly didn’t ask any more questions that night. He was afraid of the answers he might receive.
A few days later Herman brought a couple of his friends home after school. Burly watched them carefully. They didn’t seem as bad as Tad’s friends. Actually, Burly decided, they were quite nice. Gerald was a chubby boy a little shorter than Herman. Marvin was about Herman’s height and weight but was red-haired and covered with freckles.
“Does your father hate us or something?” Gerald asked, hi brow knitted. “When I said hello all he did was grunt.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Herman replied. “That’s just the way he is.”
“We’re not keeping you from any chores, are we?” Marvin asked. “We can study algebra anytime.”
Herman waved his hand as he plopped on the floor by Tad’s bed. “I’ll do them later. He knows I’ll do them.”
“My father isn’t like that,” Gerald said, joining Herman on the floor. “If I have a chore he expects it done right after school.”
“Mine too,” Marvin added.
Herman turned a little red and opened his book. “Um, let’s get started on this.”
For the next half hour the three tried to figure out the mysteries of algebra, with Herman deciphering the numbers best.
Marvin finally closed his book. “That’s enough for me. I’m just getting confused.”
“I’m with you,” Gerald said with a laugh.
“Okay,” Herman replied.
The two friends looked at each other and then Marvin gently poked Herman in the arm. “Hey, buddy, what’s the matter? You’ve been quiet all day.”
“Aww nothing.” Herman shrugged.
“If this is nothing, I’d hate to see something,” Gerald said.
Herman looked at each of them and sighed. “It’s really nothing. It’s just that this morning I heard Leonard Smith died in a car wreck last night.”
“Oh, that old drunk,” Marvin said. “He was a bum. I couldn’t stand him.”
“Hey, it means something to Herman,” Gerald protested. “I didn’t know you knew him.”
“Who would want to know him,” Marvin asked.
“Marvin,” Gerald protested.
“No, that’s okay,” Herman said. “He was a bum. I couldn’t stand him.”
“Then why the long face?” Marvin asked.
“Well, it’s a long story,” Herman began. “He was one of my brother’s friends. He faked his army physical to get out of going to war.”
“Sounds like him,” Marvin interjected.
Gerald punched him in the arm. “Shut up.”
“Anyway, he showed up at the memorial service for Tad. He was drunk. My sister Callie—she lives in Houston with my aunt and uncle—told him off good.”
“And he’s been drinking ever since,” Marvin completed the story. “But why should his finally killing himself in a car accident upset you so much?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because it brings back so many bad memories,” Herman answered.
“Well, let’s talk about something that will make those memories go away,” Marvin said. “Guess who I heard talking about you at lunch today?”
“I don’t know.” Herman wasn’t ready to start playing guessing games.
“May Beth Webster.”
Herman couldn’t help but smile. “Really?”
“Yeah, she thinks you’re the best thing in school,” Marvin replied.
Gerald poked Herman again. “What do you think about that?”
“Yeah, I think she’d say yes if you asked her to the school Thanksgiving party,” Marvin continued.
Herman shook his head but still smiled. “Aww, I can’t date. What would I do? Drive up in papa’s banged-up old pickup?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of a double date, dummy?” Marvin asked happily. “You could come with Betsy and me.”
Herman looked up and grinned at the idea. Burly was happy for Herman even though he didn’t know what a date was. But then Herman’s expression changed. Burly was puzzled because he had never seen it before. It was a combination of shame, fear and anxiety. Suddenly Burly knew what was bothering Herman and what he was looking at. Herman was looking at Burly.
Jumping up, Herman tried to look carefree as he plopped on his bed and slid Burly under the pillow. “Gosh, do you really think we could do it?” Herman asked, with a forced happiness in his voice.
Gerald squinted. “Of course, you goof. Boy you must really be crazy about this girl to start hopping around like that.”
“Have you had a date yet, Gerald?” Marvin asked.
Ducking his head, Gerald admitted, “Well no.”
“Then you don’t know how girls can affect guys, right Herman?”
Herman smiled nervously. “Yeah, right.”
Burly didn’t like what was happening at all. The boys talked quite a few more minutes before Herman suggested that they go outside.
While they were gone Burly was trying to decide what to say to Herman when he came to bed that night. Should he be angry? No. A stuffed bear can’t very well be angry. He has no way to fight back at young humans, as his father found out many years ago with Tad. His father, Burly moaned. Oh, what if he ended his existence the same way his father did? That would be terrible, he thought. Shaking his little burlap head, Burly tried to tell himself that Herman was not like Tad. He was much nicer. But he was a teen-ager now. He was growing up, and maybe there was something inside teen-agers that forced them to break all ties to their childhoods, like cuddling favorite blankets, depending on mothers and fathers and loving little stuffed bears.
Eventually, Herman climbed the ladder to the loft and took his clothes off to get ready to sleep.
“Did you have fun with your friends?” Burly asked, trying to be friendly and forget that Herman hid him.
“So you’re going to have a date,” Burly continued. “What’s a date?”
Herman sat on the edge of the bed and picked up Burly. “Burly, you know what happened this afternoon?”
At first Burly thought to lie, but he knew it was no use to lie around Herman. “Yes. You were ashamed I was on your bed.”
“Now I know how Tad felt that day.”
Burly didn’t want to ask this question. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m not going to let my friends tear you up,” Herman said with a strong nod of his head.
“They seem like nice boys,” Burly offered. “I don’t think they would be as mean as Tad’s friends.”
“Could be,” Herman conceded, “but that’s not the point. The point is,” and Herman took a deep breath, “I am too old to have a teddy bear.”
“Oh no. A person is never too old to have a friend. And that’s what I am. Your friend. Not just a teddy bear,” Burly said with desperation.
Herman shook his head and carried Burly to the old trunk at the end of the room. “No, Burly. It’s time I began to grow up. And part of growing up is giving up you.”
“No, Herman, please,” Burly pleaded.
“I guess I’ve known this moment would come ever since Tad tore up Burly Senior,” Herman continued, his voice strangely calm. “I didn’t want it to come, but I knew it had to come.”
“No, please,” Burly said, near to tears, if he had any tears. “I’ll never embarrass you again. I love you too much to hurt you.”
“I can’t take that chance.” Herman lifted the lid to the trunk.
“Please, don’t hurt me. I can still give you advice. I’ve always told you the right thing to do, haven’t I?”
“Good bye, Burly.”
And the trunk lid closed, leaving Burly in the dark and Herman alone for the first time in many, many years.

Burly Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine
Herman did as Tad asked him; he wrote to Callie and gave her Tad’s address when he received it. The exchanging of letters between the three seemed to draw them closer together than they ever had been living in the same house. Callie and Herman exchanged bits of information that Tad would put in one letter but not in the letter to the other. And Herman would pass on news to Tad that Callie forgot to write him.
Every now and again Herman would offer to let papa read one of Tad’s letters, and, to his surprise, papa said yes. Herman watched his father read the letter and noticed how his brow would knit in concern. Another thing he saw, something he had never noticed before, was that his father moved his lips as he read and he read painfully slow. It seemed odd to Herman who read very fast.
“Your father doesn’t read very much,” Burly explained when Herman mentioned this trait to him, “and if you don’t do something very often you don’t do it well.”
Reading was something that Herman did very well. Ever since Callie left, Herman retreated to the loft and to conversations with Burly and reading every book in the school library. He would tell Burly about the stories in the books in his own words and Burly bounced up and down in excitement, for he didn’t know much of the world beyond the loft. Herman’s interest in reading grew as he wrote Callie about the books he was reading, and she suggested other books for him to read. Callie, it turned out, loved to read too, and their letters would be filled with debates over which books were better and which writers could bring people springing from the pages to live in their minds.
His letters to Tad were different, however. Herman wrote mostly about what was happening on the farm, how papa was and how his friends in town were. Prices were good for the crops and the last year they could afford to hire a young Mexican-American man named Manuel to be a farm hand. Papa was the same, hardworking and silent. Leonard was still in town, telling anyone who would listen that he wasn’t dumb to volunteer. Stevie joined the Marines, but no one knew where he was stationed.
Herman smiled a bit when he got Tad’s letter in return. Tad warned about trusting the farm hand. You know how “those” people were, he wrote. And he sounded a bit hurt that papa hadn’t written directly to him, but he was glad Herman was keeping him informed about the “old man.” Tad wasn’t surprised Leonard was still hanging around town. I wouldn’t be surprised if he found a way out of the draft, Tad joked. And he hoped Stevie didn’t get sent anywhere too dangerous. The Marines were the first to go into dangerous places, he told Herman.
“I hope nothing happens to Tad,” Herman said to Burly one night after reading one of his brother’s letters. “He’s changed a lot since he’s been in the army. He looked down at his little burlap friend and smiled. “Or am I the one who has changed?”
“You both have changed,” Burly replied. “You both are growing up.”
Yes, Herman told himself, the last couple of years had gone very fast. He was now a big fourteen-year-old and could work almost as long and as hard as his father. Papa no longer walked by and told him he had worked enough for the day while the sun was still high in the sky. When he told Herman to stop he was walking back to the house himself.
Mr. Cochran didn’t help out anymore, since they had hired Manuel. But every time Mr. Cochran saw them in town he would smile and wave. “You’ve got a good boy there, Horn,” he always said, winking at Herman.
And papa always said nothing.
“It doesn’t seem to bother you very much anymore that your father doesn’t brag about you, does it?” Burly asked.
Looking out the loft window, Herman replied, “What there to say?”
The next day Herman received two letters, one from Tad and one from Callie. Tad was all excited because his unit was ready to move out of England. He couldn’t say where they were going or exactly when but that it could mean the end of the war. By this time Tad had made sergeant, a fact which made papa very proud and caused him to call the news to Mr. Cochran when he saw him in town. Callie’s letter was filled with anticipation of her senior year in high school. She just knew it would be the happiest year of her life. Herman could see from the pictures she had sent him Callie had become a beautiful fair-haired young woman, triggering Herman’s fading memories of his mother. She said Tad had written her that he might be home soon, that “we were going to win the war soon.”
“I hope he’s right,” Herman said with a sigh.
“I hope so too,” Burly agreed.
Herman continued to rad Callie’s letter. She said she had a special shelf in her room for Pearly Bear and had made her a pretty new dress. All of her girlfriends who spent the night with her thought Pearly was very cute, Herman read.
Burly shuffled a bit. If he weren’t made of burlap he would cry. He missed his mother very much, but he was happy she was being treated very well. Not like poor papa bear.
Callie asked in her letter if Herman had read in the newspaper about the big invasion of France in June. They called it D-Day and expected it to be the beginning of the end of the war. “At least I hope so. By the way, have you heard from Tad lately? I last got a letter from him sometime in May.”
Herman looked at the postmark on his letter from his brother. It was postmarked in early May. Oh well, he thought, mail always ran slow from the servicemen.
The next day a telegram from the government arrived. From talk at school Herman knew what it was, and he froze.
“Well, open it, son” papa said.
Herman slowly opened the telegram and began to read the words, “We regret to inform you—“
Papa grabbed the telegram from Herman’s hands and stared at the words on the paper. His ips quivered as they moved along with his eyes. Finally he wadded it up and walked into the house without saying anything.
His son was dead.
Herman’s first impulse was to go to his father and put his arms around him and cry with him, but something inside told him to leave his father alone. Perhaps it was his memory of when his mother died and the men had to fight papa away from his wife’s side. At any rate, Herman let his father grieve alone.
Burly didn’t have to be told. “Tad’s dead, isn’t he?”
Herman nodded as he crawled into his bed. “How did you know?” he asked softly.
“I heard your father slam his bedroom door and cry.” Burly nestled into Herman’s side. “I’m sorry, Herman.”
And then Herman cried.
There could be no funeral because Tad’s body was buried in France somewhere, but the Army was going to present a flag to papa at a memorial service. Herman went to Mr. Cochran’s house to call Callie in Houston.
“Hello?” Aunt Joyce answered.
“This is Herman,” he said soberly. “May I speak to Callie?”
“It’s Woody, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Oh no,” she gasped.
Herman heard muffled sounds as Aunt Joyce put her hand over the receiver to call Callie to the phone.
“Herman, Tad’s dead, isn’t he?” Callie asked.
“Yes.” Herman couldn’t say anymore because he was afraid he would cry again.
“I could tell by the way Aunt Joyce was acting. Are you all right?”
“I guess.”
“I’ll be home tomorrow.”
And Callie, accompanied by Uncle Calvin and Aunt Joyce, was back on the farm near Cumby the next day. She tried to hug her father but he pulled away. This time she didn’t look hurt, just sad.
There was no bear family reunion; Callie left Pearly Bear in Houston. Burly was disappointed, but he didn’t say anything to Herman. He could tell his young master had other things on his mind.
The ceremony was held the next day at the local cemetery. A veterans group had bought a plot and placed a large tombstone with the names of the war dead from Cumby whose bodies would never return to Texas. A military color guard went through its paces, marching the flag to the monument. The flag was folded and presented to papa who received it without emotion. Callie held Herman’s hand tightly.
Then Leonard walked up, bumping into people and tripping over his own feet. He was drunk. Grabbing papa’s hand, Leonard pumped for several moments. “I’m sorry, Mr. Horn. I’m very sorry,” he mumbled.
Papa pulled his hand away. “Don’t you know any better than to show up here like that?”
Leonard shuffled his feet. “I know. I know I shouldn’t have. But you see—“
Papa turned and walked away. “I see that you’re drunk.”
Lunging toward papa, Leonard tried to stop him but papa quickened his steps. Then Leonard turned to Callie and Herman. “We just got word today. Stevie was killed some place called New Guinea out in the Pacific.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Herman said, not changing his expression. “We’ve got to go now.”
“No, wait,” Leonard pleaded with them. “I’ve got to apologize.”
“What for?” Callie looked at him with a blank face.
Leonard wiped his nose. “Because they’re dead, and I’m still here.” He paused to look down. “You see, I cheated on the physical. There’s nothing wrong with me. I just knew some tricks to make it look like there was something wrong with me.”
Herman felt sorry for him. Leonard’s puffy eyes and pitiful expression nearly erased the memory of the cocky, wise-cracking youngster who teased him to the point of tears. Herman couldn’t quite forget Leonard probably was the one who made Tad destroy Burly Senior.
Callie, however, was not sympathetic. “You’re wrong, Leonard. There is something wrong with you. It’s something that would never show up on any doctor’s test. You have absolutely nothing worthwhile inside you.” Grabbing her brother’s arm, Callie walked away, leaving Leonard standing there crying, trying to explain to others in the crowd who also turned their backs to him.
Herman rode back to the farm in Uncle Calvin’s car with Callie. Papa had refused to ride with them but instead took his pickup.
“I guess Wood will never change,” Uncle Calvin said.
Aunt Joyce eyed Herman and Callie. “No, I guess not.”
No one spoke in the car on the ride home. Uncle Calvin was about to pull onto the dirt road leading to papa’s farm when Callie put her arm around Herman. “Come live with us in Houston,” she whispered.
Herman looked at his sister and frowned. “But pap needs me.”
“Has he said so?” she asked.
His eyes went out the window to watch the approaching farm house. “You know he would never say so. But I know he needs me.”
“You think he’s going to love you for doing this for him?” Callie continued, becoming a little angry. “You could bury yourself on this farm all your life and he will never love you.”
“Callie,” Aunt Joyce said with sadness, “it’s not nice to say things like that about your father.”
“Well, they’re true,” Callie replied.
“No,” Herman interrupted. “It’s just that he can’t show it.”
“Woody Horn was never one to show how he felt, even in the old days,” Uncle Calvin offered.
Herman looked Callie in the eyes. “And I’m not going to bury myself on this farm. I’ll stay here as long as I’m in school. But then I’m leaving. I’m going to college and I’m going to have a life of my own.”
“There’s a lot of good colleges in Houston,” Aunt Joyce said.
Callie hugged Herman tightly. “I love you,” she whispered in his ear.
“I love you too,” he whispered back.
Herman got out of the car, and they left. He watched the car pull back on the blacktop and fade down the road before he went inside. Papa was in his bedroom with the door shut. Herman politely rapped and said, “They’ve left.”
After he climbed the ladder to the loft and took off his Sunday clothes and put on his work clothes, Herman came back down to fix supper. He ate his meal, knocked on the door and said, “The food’s on the stove.” He then went back to the loft and watched his father slowly come out of the door and eat a few bites of food.
“He doesn’t walk as tall as he used to,” Herman said to Burly. “And he doesn’t have worms on his arms anymore.”
Burly nodded. “That means he’s getting older.”
“Do you think he’ll live a long time?”
“I don’t know,” Burly replied. “Why?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Are you afraid you’ll lose another member of your family?”
“Herman shook his head. “No.”
“You don’t want him to die, do you?”
Herman paused a long while and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know.”
After papa ate and went back into his room, Herman came down to clean the dishes and straighten the kitchen. When he finished he turned to go to the loft but stopped by his father’s door to say, “I’m going to bed now.” Of course, there wasn’t a reply, but Herman told him anyway.
“You still love your father, don’t you?” Burly asked, a little worried.
Herman hugged him as he settled into bed. “Of course I do. It’s just that—“ he paused to collect his thoughts and continued, “I’ve gotten to the age to know he’s never going to love me the way I want him to, that’s all.”
Burly leaned into him. “Poor Herman.”
Herman chuckled sadly. “Yes, poor Herman.”
He tried to go to sleep, because he knew he would have a full day of work on the farm tomorrow since they had missed so much for the memorial service, but for some reason he couldn’t.
Then he was aware of someone coming up the ladder. For an instant he thought it was Tad, that the years had rolled back and everything was like it was before mama died. But that thought didn’t last long. He soon saw that it was papa coming up with the American flag under his arm. For another instant Herman considered saying something but he figured papa had waited this long to come up so he would be asleep. Therefore, he pretended to be asleep because he knew that’s what papa wanted. Through half slit eyes he watched his father open the lid to the old trunk at the end of the room. Papa gently lifted mama’s wedding dress, smelled it and kissed it tenderly. Then with a sad pat, papa put the flag in the trunk and closed the lid. Herman thought he would go back down the ladder but instead papa walked over to Herman’s bed. It made Herman nervous, but he continued to pretend to be asleep.
Papa picked up Burly. “Well, little bear, he talks a lot to you, doesn’t he?”
Herman tried not to stir.
“I wonder what all he says to you?” After a pause he added in a cracked voice. “I know he wants to talk to me, tell me all the things he tells you, but I can’t let him. I don’t know why I can’t, but I just can’t.”
And then papa cried softly. Herman wanted to jump up and hug him and tell him everything was going to be all right, but Herman knew everything was not going to be all right. He also knew if he let papa know he was listening it would embarrass him. So he just lay there until papa put Burly down and went down the ladder to his room.
“You see,” Burly said softly. “Your papa does love you.”
But Herman didn’t answer. He was sobbing into his pillow.

Valentine’s Day

He sat across from his wife of 40 years in their den and wondered what to get her for Valentine’s Day.
Way back in the old days, he bought the biggest heart-shaped box of chocolates he would find, with all the fancy ribbons and bows on top. And if he could find one, he would get it in orange, not red. Orange was her favorite color. Often she kept the boxes, saying they were too pretty to throw out and she just knew she could find some use for them. She never did, and when the colors faded and the closet filled with old heart-shaped boxes, she threw them out.
Candy was always an easy choice. She loved chocolate. He loved chocolate. She let him eat her chocolates. What wasn’t there to love? After 40 years, though, they couldn’t eat as much chocolate as they used to. They still had candy left over from Christmas.
For a while he bought her roses. She liked those, especially when he could find orange ones, but now her allergies were worse and fresh cut flowers made her sneeze.
“Do you want to go out for dinner on Valentines?” he asked her.
“I don’t know. What day of the week is that?”
“Tuesday,” he replied.
“We eat breakfast out with our friends on Tuesday,” she said. “That would be eating out two meals in one day.”
“Would that be so bad?”
“Sometimes I eat so much for breakfast I don’t want anything else the rest of the day, except maybe a chunk of cheese.” She had her nose stuck in the newspaper.
“Well, I can’t give you chocolate. We got way too much chocolate left over from Christmas.”
“Yeah, I don’t know why, but I haven’t been in the mood to eat chocolate lately.”
“Would you like to go to a movie?”
“On a Tuesday night? Aren’t the theaters crowded on Tuesday night?”
“Why would the theater be crowded on Tuesday night?”
“I don’t know.”
He felt his blood pressure rising. “Well, maybe I shouldn’t get you anything for Valentine’s this year.”
“Well, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”
“Of course, I want to give you something for Valentine’s Day. Why do you think I asked you if you wanted to go out for dinner?”
“I don’t know.”
“You do this to me all the time, and it drives me nuts.”
“I’ve already bought you something.”
He decided to go ahead and buy her fresh cut roses for Valentine’s Day. He didn’t care if she sneezed her head off.
“I was in Wal Mart today. They had the nicest selection of roses I’ve seen in years. They had them in all colors. I also picked up a new allergy prescription.”
Okay, he would get the orange ones.

Burly Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight
In the ensuing, hard depression years, Herman and Tad never talked about what happened to Burly Senior. And, curiously enough, neither did Herman and Burly. From time to time one or the other would wonder what Callie and Pearly Bear were doing, but they never mention Papa Bear.
Herman found he liked school very much; in fact, he was very good,, always making the best grades in his class. He was very proud of this and bragged to Burly all the time, but he never mentioned it around Tad, for his grades, while not bad, were not the best. Papa never commented on any of his sons’ grades, just writing his name on the cards and sending them back to the school.
“Sometimes I wish papa would brag about me some,” Herman said with a sigh one day after he had taken his report card home. “It would make me feel good.”
“But that isn’t your father’s way, is it?” Burly asked. “So why wish for something that your head tells you will never happen?”
“I suppose you’re right,” Herman replied. “It’s just that the grades make me feel so good. I know I’d feel even better if papa was proud of them.”
Burly was strangely quiet. Finally Herman noticed the silence and looked down at Burly. “Is anything wrong?”
“I think you’re putting too much importance on that report card.”
“What do you mean? Isn’t doing well in school important?”
“Of course,” Burly said. “But have you noticed you only seem to like yourself a lot after you get your report card?”
Herman frowned. “I like myself all the time.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, maybe I like myself better after report card time,” Herman admitted. “After all, there it is, in black and white. Herman Horn is smart and he behaves well in school.”
“But one of these days you won’t have it in writing every six weeks how good you are,” Burly debated. “And it will be up to you to like yourself without any help.”
Herman thought a moment and then laughed. “Burly, you’re funny.” Then he forgot about the whole thing.
But Burly didn’t forget it. He knew that Herman was in for some hard time, and he didn’t know how to help him see it. Burly didn’t know how he knew it; after all, he was only a stuffed burlap bear, but he knew it as surely as he knew his papa had disappeared and he might never see his mama again.
Christmases didn’t come to Herman’s house anymore after Callie left for Houston. He didn’t bother to make a card for papa and he didn’t even mention the holidays to Tad. He did talk about it to Burly late at night, and on Christmas Eve he and Burly sang carols softly to themselves. Herman laid back and imagined how Christmas would be one day when he was the papa and he had children of his own.
“No matter what happens,” he whispered to Burly, “I’ll always make Christmas special for my children.”
“I know you will,” Burly replied, cuddling close to him, fantasizing how nice Christmas would be with Herman and his new family, naturally fantasizing that he would be a part of it.
Another numbing year passed, and Christmas was coming upon Herman and Burly again. The now twelve-year-old boy had come upon some red material on the side of the road and was figuring out how to make a hat or coat out of it for Burly. Maybe a muffler, he thought. He was playing with the piece of cloth one Saturday night in the loft as papa and Tad sat downstairs looking at the newspaper. In the last couple of years they had grown closer together as Herman and Burly had grown closer. As Herman looked over the edge of the loft at them discussing the world he felt no twinges of jealousy or sadness. He just accepted the fact that papa had found comfort in his nineteen-year-old son.
“The Japs are in Washington talking to the government,” Tad said.
Papa grunted.
“I don’t trust them,” Tad added.
Papa grunted.
“I’d like to kill all of them.”
Herman put the cloth aside, deciding it would best make a muffler and plopped into his bed, gazing out of the window at the cold black sky and the twinkling stars.
“You always eavesdrop on their conversation until one of them says something bad about someone or something else you don’t like,” Burly observed.
“Is that what I’m doing?” Herman frowned. “Eavesdropping? I just thought I was watching my family.”
“Think real hard about it.”
“I guess I am,” Herman confessed with a sigh. “But what’s so bad about that?”
“Nothing, as long as you know that’s what you’re doing.”
The next morning all three of the Horn men—as Herman was considering himself quite a grown up little man by now—were out in the barn attending various chores. Since mama died they had not been able to make it to church. Papa always said he believed in God, but he didn’t believe in those holier-than-thou folks down at the church. At least that’s what he said to Tad in their evening discussions. Tad would reply by saying something silly like going to church was for sissies. That was when Herman would stop his eavesdropping and go to sleep.
As for Herman, he was very troubled. He wanted to believe there was a God, but he couldn’t believe in the same God the folks in the church down the road believed in. They believed in a God that hated anyone who wasn’t like them. Their God liked to hear hymns sung to him on Sunday but seemed to turn a deaf ear to pleas for help during the week.
“Horn! Horn!” their neighbor Mr. Cochran screamed as he drove up in his pickup. “Have you heard the news?”
Papa stopped what he was doing and stepped out of the barn door. Tad and Herman were right behind him. “What are you yelling about, Cochran?”
“It’s the Japs! They’ve bombed Hawaii! Someplace called Pearl Harbor!”
“I told you those Japs were going to pull something,” Tad said, spitting on the ground.
“Hush, Tad,” papa ordered, walking toward the pickup. “How bad is it?”
“Sunk several of our ships,” Cochran replied, more calm now, but very grim. “Lost a lot of our boys. The president’s on the radio right now. It’s war.”
The pit of Herman’s stomach turned hot and sour. He couldn’t believe anyone would stage a sneak attack like that. He hated to think that Tad, who never had a good word about anybody, it seemed, was right about the Japanese. Most of all, it scared him about how this was going to change life again, which he thought had changed enough in the last few years.
“Herman, you finish up the chores,” papa said. “Tad and I are going into town with Cochran to get the latest on this thing.”
Once again Herman was left on the outside but he was used to it. He finished feeding the chickens and slopping the hogs. He moved the bales of hay around as much as he could, but he wasn’t as strong as papa whose job that usually was. He fixed lunch but ate by himself as papa and Tad didn’t return. Herman spent the afternoon talking to Burly about the Japanese and what would happen next. Finally he dozed off in the late afternoon and didn’t wake up until Tad and papa came through the door. Herman looked over the edge of the loft. Papa sat in his chair and Tad took his place across from him in a dining chair.
“Son, are you sure you want to do this?”
Before he answered Tad looked up at the loft. “You might as well come down, Herman,” he said a little bit disdainfully. “This is going to concern you too. You might as well be in on it since you’re snooping around anyway.”
Herman felt embarrassed that Tad thought he was snooping but he didn’t say anything to deny it after he climbed down the ladder and stood rather shamefully between his father and brother.
“I’ve got to enlist, papa,” Tad announced. “First thing tomorrow morning.”
“I need you to help around the farm,” papa insisted.
“You got Herman.”
Papa looked at his younger son and then at Tad. “But I need a man.”
Herman tightened his lips and looked down. He tried to tell himself that papa didn’t mean that to hurt him. It was a fact that Tad was now more of a grown up than he was. But he still felt tears beginning to cloud his eyes.
“We can’t let those Japs get away with this,” Tad replied.
Papa sighed. “I guess there’s nothing I can say to make you change your mind.”
Tad didn’t even bother to answer but got up to walk to the kitchen. “Got anything for us to eat, Herman?”
Herman lurched toward the kitchen, bumping into the dining table. He was trying to talk without bursting into tears. “Um, I can warm up what I fixed for lunch.”
The meal went without talking, as most of their meals for the last few years had gone, but this silence was more frightening, more serious than any silence Herman had ever endured before. That night he didn’t even bother to talk to Burly but just let the pent-up tears flow. The next day at school the attack on Pearl Harbor was all the children and the teachers were talking about. The men teachers immediately left to join the arm. Most of the boys said their older brothers were enlisting. In that, at least, Herman could speak with pride. His brother was the first in line that morning. In a few days papa and Herman took Tad down to the bus depot in their pickup and waited with him until It was time to go. Ages seem to pass between comments.
“Mr. Cochran said he would help around the farm as much as he could, to fill in what Herman can’t do,” Tad told papa.”
“I can really do a lot,” Herman offered.
Papa ignored his younger son’s remark. “I don’t think he can spare that much time.” He paused. “But I appreciate the offer.”
Tad lightly touched Herman’s shoulder. “Be sure to write Callie that I’m going into the Army. And when I can get an address you can write me at, be sure to give it to Callie, okay?”
Herman frowned. “I didn’t think you liked Callie,” he blurted out without thinking. Immediately he winced because he knew Tad would light into him for being so stupid.
Instead, Tad looked off with a sad face. “I know it seemed that way to you lots of times, but I love her because she’s my sister.” He turned to Herman. “And Herman—“
“The bus is here,” papa announced.
Herman was glad Tad didn’t finish his sentence, because he knew he would have cried, and he didn’t want to do that in the bus station with all the young men going off to war watching them. Tad jumped up and grabbed his bag and lurched toward the bus. Papa and Herman followed close behind. Just as he was about to step up into the bus he turned and hugged papa.
“I love you,” he whispered.
Papa’s shoulders heaved with pain. “I love you too,” he choked out.
He stood there crying, not caring if the others in the crowd noticed. Herman now felt guilty his tears never flowed.
Tad was in the bus and seated by an open window. He leaned out and yelled, “I’m sorry, Herman, about—about everything.”
And then the engine started, and the bus was gone. Herman wondered if Tad was apologizing for tearing up Burly Senior, or for the way he had treated Herman all these years or for not actually saying he loved him. At this point, Herman decided, it didn’t make any difference. At least Tad said he was sorry. Herman was happy for that.
From then on there was even less talking in Herman’s home. Papa kept his words down to instructions on the farm work and saying pass the salt. Slowly, sadly Herman came to care less whether they said anything at all to each other. One day the next spring Mr. Cochran was over helping with the planting. He hadn’t been needed much because Herman was trying extra hard to do his chores and Tad’s too.
“You’re a hard worker, Herman,” Mr. Cochran said. “We’ve been planting since dawn and you haven’t let up once.
Herman smiled. “Thank you, sir.” He looked at his father to see if he noticed what Mr. Cochran had said.
“Yes sir, Horn,” Mr. Cochran continued. “We’re going to finish a lot sooner than I thought.”
Papa only grunted and continued his work.
“Have you heard anything from Tad?” the neighbor asked.
Papa stood erect and smiled. “You bet. He’s already made corporal. Always knew the boy was a born leader.”
“Does he know where he’s being dispatched,” he continued his questions.
“No sir, but if he had his choice he’d rather fight the Japs than the Krauts,” papa replied. “But wherever he goes, he’ll do his best. He always has.”
That night after Herman cleaned up the supper dishes he climbed into the loft without saying good night to his father. He had gotten tired of not hearing “good night” in return. Herman picked up Burly and looked him in his button eyes.
“Why does papa brag on Tad and not on me?”
Burly shrugged. Do you really want an answer? I think you already know why.”
Herman sighed. “I guess I do. Tad needs bragging on more right now than I do.”
“The bragging isn’t for Tad,” Burly corrected him. “It’s for your papa. He’s doing it to make himself feel better, and I’m afraid he’s going to need all the feeling better that he can get.”


Green is my favorite color. It goes back to the fifties and the Davy Crockett craze—movies, songs, television shows, coonskin caps, the whole bit.
I’m the great-great-great grandson of Crockett so all that attention was like it was for me. There was a skip in my step every time I heard, “Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free.”
I may have been born in Texas, which was the biggest state at that time, but my heart was in the greenest state. Any time I had a choice in clothing, food, you name it, I picked green, spinach, lettuce, lime sherbet, and a lot of green shirts. After I graduated from college and I could live anywhere I wanted I bought a green Ford Torino and drove to Tennessee and fell in love with the trees, the mountains and my wife. She was actually from Virginia but her last name was Hawkins, the same as the county in Tennessee where Crockett’s grandparents are buried.
My bedroom has always been painted green. It’s really a restful color to look at as I close my eyes in sleep. Green represents good things too—serenity, ecology, renewal, hope, guacamole, pistachios, Jolly Green Giant, Kermit the Frog, Green Eggs and Ham, freshly mowed grass which smells like watermelon, also green, and the best traffic light, green which means let’s go.
Nothing reduces my blood pressure better than a drive down a road with tall trees whose branches hover over the pavement with green leaves in all shades from chartreuse to forest, and everything in between, olive, celery, sage, parsley and Kelly. The green trees are filled with life, squirrels, birds, insects and tiny microbes.
Christmas trees are green, and what can be better than Christmas trees? They have presents underneath them. Children gather around them to giggle and play. And when the children go to bed, parents can sit by the Christmas tree to kiss and cuddle.
Green goes well with other colors too. Who doesn’t like to see a blue sky peeking through the trees? And at night, when the sky is black and speckled with tiny white lights, green tones down its shade to blend in. Green with orange in the fall says it’s time for harvest, and green with red means it’s time for Santa Claus. Green with yellow is the time of spring. Green with purple means it’s time to have the color adjusted on the television.
And, of course, green is the color of money. Who doesn’t like money? Getting a check is nice. Checking the bank account and seeing new deposits is great. But nothing beats seeing green bills being handed over, lots of them with pictures of Jackson, Grant and Franklin. It would be fun to jump into a pool filled with green bills, especially if I knew all those bills were mine.
The nicest thing about green is that it doesn’t have to be money to make you happy. Green leaves work just as well, which is good because it’s easier to be surrounded by leaves than dollar bills. Green food, like guacamole and lime sherbet tastes better than dollar bills too. I haven’t tried it but common sense tells me money tastes terrible and has little nutritional value.
As they say, the best things in life are free. And many of those things are green.