Previously in the novel: Farmboy Harley Sadler became a hit with his traveling melodrama tent show during the 1920s and 30s on the Texas plains. The Great Depression slowed the parade down for Harley and his wife Billie. It became a dirge when their daughter Gloria died.
The ensuing days passed in a blur. Harley was aware of standing there at the funeral home selecting the casket and flowers. He did not know how much anything cost. Everything looked very nice. Billie had good taste. Local neighbors filled the Sweetwater Baptist Church. He remembered smiling and nodding as hundreds of people offered their condolences. In the back of his mind Harley felt a vague guilt because he could not remember how John reacted or how he dressed or what he said during the funeral service. The only thing he remembered for certain was that Billie was devastated. He remembered her tears. He remembered he could not think of any words of comfort for her.
Once the flowers had faded away, and all the mourners had gone back to their normal lives, John announced he had to return to his job at the base. Harley helped him pack and drove him to the train station. As John mounted the steps, he turned to smile.
“Thank you for coming to the station.”
“Billie would have come but she still can’t seem to make it out of bed. She really is very fond of you….” His voice trailed off.
“You’re my son,” Harley said urgently. “Don’t ever forget that.”
Then the train pulled out of the station, and Harley realized his life would never be the same. Not only not just the same, but he grimly accepted the reality that he would never be s happy again. Hope, that cornerstone giving the spark of reason to exist, began to erode.
Harley threw himself into his old activities trying to ignore the truth. He thought the adrenaline rush of wildcat oil drilling would be the answer. It might have helped if he had actually hit a gusher, but he still only struck water. He ran for re-election and won yet another term in the Texas Legislature. Pushing through legislation over the objections of the North Texas crowd gave him satisfaction but it did not last.
Harley Sadler’s Own Show began another season bringing entertainment across the plains to farmers. In the years following World War II the farm population declined because more families gave up the struggle against the hostile environment to move to the city where jobs were now plentiful. Still Harley and Billie continued the shows because they knew their most loyal fans needed them.
Gloria’s grave drew her parents for regular visits. Billie insisted on keeping the flowers fresh. She watered them faithfully with her tears.
“Billie, honey,” Harley whispered, trying to pull her away from the tombstone. “It’s time to go.”
“Oh, Harley. She was so young.”
“I know.” His voice pleaded with her. “We’ve got to go. We’ve got a show tonight in Spur.”
“I can’t—I just can’t put on that makeup and act like nothing’s happened–like Gloria never lived.”
“Because we continue to live doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten her.”
Billie looked up to shake her head. “I can’t. I just can’t.”
“I guess my heart isn’t in it, either.” Harley hugged her.
He agreed that as soon as their current schedule had ended, they would not commit to any other shows for now. Maybe never, but that decision was left to sometime in the future. Harley could sense the relief flowing through Billie’s weary body. Even he did not mind the prospect of a quiet time of reflection, to reconsider his lifetime belief that if you do good things to other people, good things will happen to you.
Holding hands tightly, Harley and Billie stared into the glaring spotlight, not seeing anything but nevertheless smiling as they bowed to thunderous applause. The banner over the proscenium said it all:
“Harley Sadler’s Last Performance.”