“I got to git out of here tonight,” Davy said to Gray as the old man ushered him into the house and away from Meyers who stood in the yard glaring at them.
“Stay the night,” Gray said. “Git a good night’s sleep. I’ll feed you a good breakfast. I know you want to go but don’t go off half cocked.”
Gray was a good gentleman, comforting as a grandfather should be. Davy knew the old man was right. The countryside at night could be dangerous, and he felt his stomach already feeling empty, but his obsession to escape overrode his rationality.
“Yes, sir. I’ll wait,” he lied.
Settling on the floor Davy pretended to fall asleep although he kept an eye on Gray’s taking off his trousers and shoes, slipping under the covers. Davy listened for his breath to soften. He looked out the window to see Meyers disappear into his wagon for the evening. Davy was proficient at determining how long different men took to fall asleep. Some men, like Meyers, took up to an hour before they stopped tossing and turning and settled into a low snore. Others, like Gray, went limp at once. When he decided enough time had passed, Davy gathered his few belongings together in a bundle. Without a sound he opened the door and tiptoed down the steps, across the clearing toward the narrow road to Gerardstown. The further he was from Gray’s farm the faster he walked until he trotted. Soon faint lights of town appeared on the horizon which caused him to break out in a full run. When a campfire by a covered wagon caught his eye, Davy slowed. Still breathing deeply, he walked toward it. His mind was already formulating a story to tell the men hunched over by the fire.
“Ain’t it late for a lad to be walkin’ down the road?” a voice boomed out.
“Yes, sir, it is,” Davy replied. “It ain’t my idea, I tell you for sure.”
A man stood, and his bulk, caused him to pause—in many ways he had the same ominous physical power of Stasney, but as Davy came closer into the campfire light he saw gentle innocence in the man’s powder blue eyes.
“Somebody beatin’ up on you, boy?”
Davy’s eyes blinked several times, and his lips crinkled in emotional distress. “Yes, sir.”
“What damned fool would take a hand to a pitiful li’l creature like you?”
“I guess I deserved it, sir.” His head ducked, and he burst into tears.
“Now, none of that, boy,” the large man said, putting his arm around Davy, guiding him to the campfire and seating him on a log. He took a kettle from a spit and poured tea into a wooden tankard. “Take a sip of this and tell me all about it.”
After drinking some tea, Davy stopped crying and composed himself. “Thank you, sir. You’re a kind man, sir.” He flashed his infectious smile. “My name is Crockett. I’m from Morristown, Tennessee.”
“I’m not kind at all. I jest don’t like to see children in pain.” He extended his hand. “Henry Meyers.”
Davy’s eyes widened, and his mouth flew open.
“What’s wrong, Master Crockett?”
“The man I’m runnin’ from,” he replied with apprehension, “his name is Meyers, Adam Meyers.”
“No relation.” Henry shook his head. “Least ways, no relation I never heard of.”
Sighing in relief, Davy began his story, telling how he had labored for long months walking many miles, loading and unloading heavy barrels of goods, everything from flour to molasses. Lost in the narrative were the times he spent working for Gray, being paid on a regular basis, receiving decent room and board and being nurtured by a gentle grandfather figure. Instead he emphasized Meyers’ tendency to whack him upside the head for no good reason. As Henry grunted and his face scrunched in anger, the whippings became harder and more frequent. Davy choked back more tears as he continued, leaving out Adam Meyers’ piety and his own misadventures on the docks of Baltimore. He concluded with his face, contorted in pain, hidden in his hands.
“Worst of all,” he blurted, “he didn’t give me back my seven dollars. I spent all that time workin’ for ‘im and I don’t have a dime!” He did not mention the fifty cents he had from Gray, not wanting to complicate the story with unnecessary bits of truth.
“Don’t you worry about it none,” Henry said. “I’ll git your money for you.”
Early the next morning after a hearty breakfast they rode his wagon back to Gray’s farm, and Davy hoped the old man would still be asleep. Henry banged on the side of Adam Meyers’ wagon.
“You git out here!” he bellowed.
Stumbling and falling from the back of the wagon, Adam Meyers, barefoot and his eyes wide with fear, fumbled with pulling up his trousers.
“How dare you steal this pitiful boy’s seven dollars!”
“He’s lying.” His pants at last buttoned, Adam Meyers stood as straight as he could and stuck out his chin. “He’s a bad boy.”
“No boy deserves the beatin’s he got!”
“Spare the rod and spoil the child.”
“I’ll take a rod to you!”
Adam Meyers stepped back for a moment, pursed his lips and then pointed at Davy. “He didn’t tell you he ran off in the middle of the night to Baltimore to join a ship crew, did he?”
Henry paused and looked back at Davy, narrowing his eyes and in due course shook his head. He turned to Adam Meyers. “It don’t make no difference. He probably ran off ‘cause you were beatin’ ‘im so much.” He thrust his beefy fist in the man’s face. “You took his money!”
“I didn’t want him to waste it when we went to Baltimore.” His eyes went down. “Then I spent it.” He paused. “Times are hard.”
“Hell,” Henry said with a cynical laugh, “times are always hard. That’s no sense for stealin’ a boy’s money.”
The cabin door creaked opened, and Gray came out on the porch, buttoning his trousers. Davy turned red when he realized the old man was looking at him.
“I don’t have it now. I was going to pay him when we got to Tennessee.”
“And when was that goin’ to be?” Henry demanded.
Davy could not help but look over at Gray, who was not angry but had a sad hurt expression on his face, and the sight of it made Davy feel small.
“I don’t know. Cargo just isn’t going south.”
“I’ll whip it out of you!”
Again Davy had this overwhelming urge to run away from farmer Gray’s look of disappointment. “Never mind,” he said, tugging on Henry’s sleeve. “It ain’t worth it. I jest want to git out of here.”
Sissy, dressed in black, came out of the cabin and stood in the dog trot. “Ma sent me to pour applesauce ‘cause you didn’t do your job, Matilda.”
“Hello, Sissy,” David said.
Her eyes stayed focused on Matilda. “You made me snap the beans ‘cause you had to do the spoon bread. You didn’t do that, so ma has to do it, and now I have to pour the applesauce.”
“Papa, if I stuck my hand in those beans and a worm crawled out, I’d scream.”
Sissy stepped down from the porch and went to the cauldron, picking up the ladle. “A worm won’t hurt you, Matilda, and neither would a li’l work. Now help me pour this applesauce.”
“You better do what your sister says,” Davy told her, patting her shoulder.
“Very well, start ladlin’.” Matilda walked to the table and fidgeted with the jars on the tray. “It’s goin’ to be dark ‘fore you know it.” She paused as Sissy poured applesauce into the first jar. “And you never said hello to papa. Honestly, Sissy, you can be so rude.”
“Pa knows I wasn’t ignorin’ ‘im. He knows I have to do my chores.” She glanced over at him. “You know that, don’t you, Pa?”
“People can always take time to say hello,” Matilda replied in a pout.
“I better see if I can help your ma out,” David said, feeling uncomfortable around Sissy. He did not understand why she was so angry at him.
“All right, Papa,” Matilda said, looking up and smiling. She nudged her sister. “Say somethin’, Sissy.”
“Pa knows I’m busy doin’ my chores,” she replied in an even tone. “Some things don’t have to be said when it’s jest family around.”
After entering, David paused to look intently at Elizabeth as she stooped over the pot on the iron arm swung away from the crackling hearth. He rummaged through his brain on how to breach the damage that had grown over years of absence and silence. Leaving for Texas without making atonement seemed too familiar, a pattern developed early and repeated often. A smile graced his ruddy face as he stepped forward.
“Supper smells good,” he said at the top of his voice, causing her to stand aright. “Of course, supper always smells good in your house.”
“Thank you, Mr. Crockett.” Swinging the pot back over the fire, Elizabeth smiled.
“You know, one of the main things that bothered me about losin’ the election was I wanted somethin’ better for you and the youngin’s.”
“And how was you goin’ to do that?”
“After one more term in Congress I was goin’ to run for president.”
“And I’m sure you would have won.”
“You really think so?”
“I don’t say things I don’t mean.” Elizabeth looked at him and cocked her head.
“Of course you don’t. I know that.” David stepped forward in excitement, turning her away from the fireplace. “The girls could have found themselves some rich, important husbands, and Robert could have got himself a good job.”
“Oh go on.” She waved her hand in a playful manner. “I’d hate to clean the president’s house, that drafty old barn.”
Encouraged by her lightheartedness he swept her up in his arms and twirled her around the rough wooden floor. “You’d have servants to clean and cook and things like that.”
“You think so? Why, of course. Them fancy ladies don’t scrub floors.
He tried to lift her off her feet but could not. Elizabeth was not fat by any estimation but solid and thick. David was grateful that she pretended not to notice that he could not raise her. Instead, he began a simple dance step, and she easily followed his lead.
“You’d have put all them fancy ladies to shame.” He hugged her and swung her around the table. “Why, they’d fergit Dolley Madison ever sashayed around that town.”
“Me? Make folks fergit Dolley?” Her eyes twinkled. “Now I know you’re pullin’ my leg.”
“You dance purty good. That’d come in handy when the king of France came to call.”
“Why there ain’t no king of France no more.” Elizabeth giggled. “Don’t you know that? How could you be president if you don’t know that?”
“That’s what I’d have all of them generals around for, to tell me who’s got a king and who’s got a president.”
“But you’re not goin’ to have those generals, ain’t you?” she said. “All this talk is foolishness.”
David stopped dancing and stepped away, stung by her comment. In a split second he knew he could decide to laugh it off but his pride incited a more churlish reaction.
“I know. It was jest a dream, but don’t call a man’s dreams foolishness.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened for a moment and then narrowed as she turned back to the hearth. Her shoulders stiffened as she pulled the pot away from the fire so she could stir the contents.
“Some folks never git to have dreams.”
Dave and Lonnie rode in silence in the back seat of the funeral home limousine out a country road to the farm community of Era where the family had its plot in a hillside cemetery. When the car pulled through a rusty iron gate, he saw a green canopy over the open grave. Several white-haired women daubed tears from their eyes. Allan always had a way with his lady teachers who sympathized with his stories of abuse at their father’s hands, which Dave knew never happened. They also sensed a glint of creativity and intelligence which was dissipated by Allan’s manic depression. Dave and Lonnie sat on the covered folding chairs as Pastor Red Osborn began the service.
Dave did not know Red well, but appreciated what he had done for his family. Red tried to save Allan’s life by guiding him to a halfway house but to no avail—Allan continued to run away until he killed himself all alone on a cold concrete warehouse floor. To save Lonnie the trauma of identifying his son, Red went to the Dallas morgue to view the burned remains.
“Lord,” Red, a large man with piercing blue eyes, began, “we cannot begin to understand the mysteries of Your ways. We do not know why this man had to endure the troubled life he had.”
Instead of listening to the minister’s eulogy Dave wrestled with his memories of Allan.
“We know You do not want your children to suffer,” Red continued. “But this man suffered. He was like Job in his tribulations but in Your wisdom you did not reveal Your plan to him as You did to Job.”
In a haze Dave heard words from the book of Job, but he was too busy wondering which emotion was stronger, his love for his brother or his fear of him.
“All we know is that it was Your divine will. Allan now knows what Your plan was.” Red’s voice swelled with passion. “And some day when we all are called before the throne of glory we will know. And we will know His plan for us. Let us bow our heads in prayer.”
Before Dave knew it, the minister had prayed, said amen and begun shaking hands. He nodded, smiled and then felt the urge to run back to the limousine and leave. First he had to face the old ladies coming toward him.
Mrs. Dody was just about five feet tall but had the steely eyes of an Amazon warrior. She hugged Dave. He never objected to his father dating her because he found her to be sweet and amusing but admitted she could be devastatingly blunt in her opinions.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered into his ear.
“I know. Thank you.”
“I’m so mad at the mental hospital I could spit nails. They killed him by lettin’ him out jest like they had put a bullet in his head.” She looked over at his father and stiffened. “Hello, Lonnie.”
“Martha.” He kept his eyes forward.
“Where’s Vince?” she asked.
“He’s ill and couldn’t make it,” Dave replied.
“Humph.” Her eyebrows raised. “Drunk again.” Mrs. Dody turned away.
“It’s a shame Vince couldn’t be here,” Mrs. Burch said. “I know your father always relies on him in times of hardship.”
Dave nodded and shook her hand.
“This is just devastating,” another old woman said.
He was taken aback when he recognized his junior college English instructor. Dave remembered her reaction to a satirical essay he wrote about his magnetic romantic personality. “Of course, what makes this funny,” he recalled her saying in front of the class, “is knowing you. It’s not that your appearance hurts the eye but, how shall I put it, you’re not exactly Doug McClure.” McClure was her idea of a Greek god. But now he was a balding overweight out-of-work actor. The aging junior college instructor appraised him a moment. “You look good, Dave,” she said, backing away.
“The world has lost a brilliant mind,” Miss Bonnett, an eightyish stout woman, intoned in a nicotine-licked voice. “If only the fates had favored him, Allan would have been an excellent teacher.”
“Thank you,” Dave said with a smile. “He always said you were his favorite teacher in high school.” God, when would this end, Dave prayed as he gritted his teeth behind his tight smile.
“Mr. Crockett, I’m sorry for your grief,” another woman said, gripping Lonnie’s hand.
“Hmm.” He looked over her head.
“I know it must have been comforting to have a son like Allan forgo his own career in education to stay home and take care of you.” She glanced at Dave. “Especially after your youngest child ran away from home.”
“I didn’t run away,” he said. “I went to college.”
After she walked to her car, Dave leaned into his father and whispered, “Who the hell was that?”
“I don’t know.” Lonnie shrugged. “I don’t keep up with all of Allan’s dumb ass old lady friends.”
A woman in her late forties with a huge grin hugged Dave. “I can tell you’re a Crockett. You look like all the pictures of Davy.” She then grabbed Lonnie about the shoulders. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Papa died last year, and I just know how you must feel.”
Lonnie turned to Dave and explained as she left that she was his cousin’s half-sister from a second marriage. She lived in McKinney, he thought, and with devotion attended all family funerals, even if she had not known the deceased personally.
Finally the last car pulled away, leaving only Dave, Lonnie and the funeral home staff.
“Let’s go, son.”
“Give me a minute, please,” Dave said, looking back at the casket with a single spray of white carnations draped across it. Now that he was alone, he still was unsure whether he felt sorrow or relief.