(Previously in the book: For his birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life. As Herman grew up, life was happy–but mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Brother Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him. Tad died during World War II. The family came together for the memorial service.)
Then Leonard walked up at Tad’s memorial service, 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 Woody will never change,” Uncle Calvin said.
Aunt Joyce eyed Herman and Callie. “No, I suspect 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 Papa 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 love.”
“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, 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.
“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?” 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.