(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. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives.)
The next day after Callie left, papa got up extra early, roused the boys and took them fishing. Herman couldn’t believe it. Papa mostly took them fishing so they wouldn’t go hungry that night. Maybe Papa was going to make up for the way he’d been acting since mama died, Herman hoped. He and his brother 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 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. 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 disappeared 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 their words 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.”