(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. A black family moved into the barn to help them pick the cotton. Mama continued to have dizzy spells. And then one night, when a turtledove got into the rafters, mama died.)
The next few hours 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 papa’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.
“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.”
“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 throwing him off and down on the floor.
“Doc! Do something!” the neighbor yelled.
Quickly the doctor opened his bag and began to fix an injection of some kind while the neighbor helped hold down papa. 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 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.