Tag Archives: family

The Beach

“I can’t believe I spent fifteen years on the subway looking at a picture of that damn palm tree thinking it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in the world.”
“George, did you bring the sunblock? You know I get splotchy if I don’t have my sunblock.”
“Freezing my ass on that subway going home every night, staring at that damn palm tree. Spring Hill, Florida, the poster said. Go retire to Spring Hill, Florida, and be happy, the poster said.”
“If you didn’t bring the sun block I’m going back to the car. I’m not going to get all splotchy just because you forgot the sunblock.”
“Fifteen years of thinking if I survive another New York winter and save my money, I can go live under that damn palm tree.”
“Oh. Never mind. It was at the bottom of my bag.”
“They didn’t tell me the houses were halfway across the county from the damn palm tree.”
“Do you want a Coke? I got diet and regular in the thingy here.”
“You drive an hour and when you get here, and it ain’t all that big, either.”
“Your belly’s getting too big. I’m giving you a diet.”
“Look at that beach. It’s nothing. Atlantic City has a bigger beach than that.”
“If we were in Atlantic City right now you’d be freezing your ass off. Now drink your Coke, for crying out loud.”
“Somebody ought to sue those bastards for false advertising. Making Spring Hill look like some damn South Beach or something.”
“We couldn’t afford an outhouse in South Beach. Drink your Coke.”
“I have to walk out a mile before I get my ass wet, the beach is so shallow.”
“If you want your ass wet, I’ll pour the Coke down your pants.”
“I mean, fifteen years of saving our money to move to Spring Hill, and the damn palm tree isn’t even pretty.”
“George, where the hell else do you want to go?”
“Aww, Louise, don’t start in on me.”
“You want to go back to New York, George? It’s snowing in New York, George. Do you want to spend another winter shoveling snow? You want to shovel snow until you drop dead of a heart attack?”
“Give me the damn Coke, Louise.”
“You want to live in South Beach, George? Why? You want to stare at all the young girls in bikinis? They wouldn’t give you a second look. You know why? Because you’re an old man, George.”
“Now you’re just getting nasty, Louise.”
“I know I’m just a wrinkled up old broad from New York, George, but you know what? I think you’re the best looking thing on this beach.”
“I know I’m the best looking thing on this beach. I’m the only thing on this beach except for that damn palm tree.”
“Look, George. The sun is setting. Not a cloud in the sky.”
“Well, maybe not the best looking thing on the beach. For a wrinkled up old broad from New York, you’re okay, Louise.”
“Drink your Coke, George.”

Susie’s Story

I always looked forward to hurricanes that were headed our way.
Usually my best girlfriend Louise would come over to spend the night. Her parents thought our house was better built than theirs, and they wanted their little girl to be in the safest place possible. On the other hand, they always stayed at their house because if a hurricane did hit they wanted to be there to protect their personal property.
We spent the whole night in front of the television set watching the weather updates. I sat on Daddy’s lap as the weatherman told us that the storm had made landfall south of Miami and was turning northwest, right toward our town.
A few times I got scared, but Daddy just put his arms around me and told me everything was going to be all right. “And if it does hit our house, all that means is that we’ll have to move to another house, and we’ve done that many times. You’re used to that. And if we do get killed in the hurricane, well, we won’t have to be worried about them anymore, will we?”
By the time the hurricane reached out town it was a tropical storm, and just rained a lot, which made Louise and me very sleepy and we went on to bed. When we thought Daddy and Mommy were good and asleep we’d sneak out of my bedroom and get the ice cream out of the freezer, grab two spoons and go back to bed, eating ice cream. In the morning Louise’s mom picked her up. We could tell she had been crying all night, worrying that she would never see her little girl again. She was certain they would lose everything they owned and they’d never have anything ever again for the rest of their lives.
For a moment, I thought I should tell Louise’s mom what Daddy told me, but decided she didn’t really want any advice from an eleven-year-old girl. I never told my parents how I felt about hurricanes, but I suspected they knew, the same way they knew we had raided the freezer and ate ice cream.
One day when I was planning the next adventure for Louise and me, Daddy said in a casual way, “You know, I had a best friend when I was your age. He was about two years older than me, just like Louise is two years older than you. So he became a teen-ager before I did and things changed. It’s not like we weren’t friends any more, but we were becoming different people.”
Sure enough, in a couple of years Louise became a teen-ager and our friendship was never the same as it was when she would come over and watch the hurricane news on television.
We’re both grown-up now, and I miss the late night weather watches. Not so much about Louise but—I miss sitting on Daddy’s lap, having his arms around me, hearing him whispering in my ear, “Don’t worry. Everything will be all right.”

Burly Chapter Twenty-Six

(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. Tad died during World War II. The years have passed, and Herman was now seventeen years old, and Burly is in the trunk. After Herman left for college, papa took Burly from the trunk.)
The old farmhouse outside of Cumby lapsed into disrepair as the years stretched into decades. An interstate highway drew traffic away from the narrow blacktop road that passed nearby until the only people to see it were neighboring farmers slowly going by on their tractors and their children walking home from school. Tales began to be spun about the mysterious old man who lived in the run-down house and who carried a burlap teddy bear with him everywhere he went. Children believed him to be some sort of evil ghoul who lured unsuspecting strangers into his barn where they met terrible deaths. Other children whispered the old man was simply out of his mind, someone to be teased for the awful crime of living too long.
Of course, their parents stopped them before they did anything harmful to old Mr. Horn. Feel sorry for him, the parents said. Once he had a fine farm but over the years he had to sell off bits and pieces until all he had left was the house, barn and five acres out back.
“But isn’t he mean or crazy or dumb?” two little boys asked their father as they rode past on their tractor.
“No,” Gerald Morgan replied. “I remember when he wasn’t considered a strange old man at all.”
“Really?” the younger boy asked in awe.
“Yes. When I was about your age I remember how he was quite normal. He had a nice looking wife and three children.”
“You mean he smiled and laughed like anybody else?” the other boy asked, not quite believing this yarn their father was spinning.
Gerald Morgan chuckled. “Oh yes. I remember one time seeing him at a Toby show with his children. He had his youngest son on his shoulders, and he was smiling, laughing and eating popcorn.”
“What’s a Toby show, Dad?” the younger boy asked.
He reached over to tousle his son’s hair. “That’s another story.” He paused and became very serious. “In fact, I think that night was the last time I ever saw Mr. Horn smile.”
“What happened to his family?” the older boy continued his questions.
“His wife died soon after that, and the daughter—she was older than me—went off to live with relatives in Houston. The oldest boy died in the war.”
“And the younger boy, what happened to him?”
Gerald Morgan had a faraway look in his eyes. “Herman Horn was one of my best friends in high school.”
“Did he die?”
Shaking his head Gerald just drove on and left the boy’s question unanswered. As the tractor putted on down the road away from the old farmhouse, the brothers looked back at it. They wondered what made it look so fearsome and so lonely. The boys didn’t know it but at that moment inside the old farmhouse, scary, mysterious, sad old Mr. Horn was clutching at his chest with one hand and with the other reaching for Burly Bear on the bed. He crumbled on the floor and lay there for the next three days.
Burly heard Woody collapse and the postman’s knock at the door three days later, but couldn’t do anything about it. He heard muffled whispers of neighbors who peeked in the door as the ambulance attendants carried the body out. He felt shattering numbness which befalls a house when no one will live in it again. A few days later the little bear heard the steps of a weary man enter the house. Burly was aware of a man’s lifting his little body.
“Oh Burly, I’m sorry I did this to you,” a grown Herman whispered. Fingering the worn burlap he confessed, “I should have never put you in that trunk. Forgive me.”
Burly heard Herman’s plea, but he didn’t know this tall, broad-shouldered man who was shaking and crying. At least he didn’t know him until the tears from Herman’s eyes landed on his head and magic happened again. Burly Bear blinked his button eyes at this man holding him and realized who it was.
“Excuse me, but are you Herman?” Burly asked politely.
Herman looked shocked, then smiled. “Yes, I’m Herman, your friend.”
Burly was confused. “But Herman is a little boy. Or he was a little boy. The last time I saw him he was a big teen-ager.”
Sniffing and wiping his eyes, Herman nodded. “That’s right. A very foolish teen-aged boy. But that was many years ago.”
“I remember. Don’t worry,” Burly said soothingly. He looked deep into Herman’s red eyes. “Yes, I can tell now. You are Herman.”
“Well, I’m not exactly the same little boy that you knew.”
Looking at his worn little body, Burly said, “I guess I’m not the bear I once was either.”
“Who cares if you’re a little frayed around the edges,” Herman said, tapping Burly’s arm. “I still love you.”
Burly felt warm inside. “I’m so glad you came back for me.”
“Actually I came back for my father’s funeral,” Herman told him. “I haven’t given you much thought the last few years until I walked in the door and then you were all I could think about.”
“At least we’re together again,” Burly offered.
“I wish I had had you with me all that time,” Herman said. “Without your advice I made a lot of mistakes.”
“Oh, but I’m sure you’ve done a lot of good things too. You were always so smart.”
Herman shrugged. “I did go to college and get a law degree.”
“Just as you said you would.” Burly leaned forward with anticipation. “Did you help the black people like you wanted?”
Herman looked away in shame. “I’m afraid not. Sometimes I forgot about important things like honesty and love along the way. You’re not disappointed in me, are you?”
“I could never be disappointed in you, Herman. You’re my friend.”
“Not a very good one, sticking you in that trunk like that. And I wasn’t a very good friend to Gerald Morgan.”
“He was one of the nicer boys who visited you,” Burly said, trying to remember.
“Yes. We said we would always be friends, even if we didn’t live in the same town. We would visit and write. But I never did. I always meant to but I didn’t.”
“Stop being so hard on yourself,” Burly told him. “Everyone makes mistakes. And mistakes can sometimes be undone.”
Herman smiled. “Yes. Gerald came to papa’s funeral and I apologized. I told him I would keep in touch and I really meant it this time.”
Burly looked down. “You know your father was very sad you never came to visit him.”
“I didn’t think he wanted to see me.”
“You know that wasn’t so,” Burly replied. “I told you many times how much he loved you.”
Herman hung his head. “I guess so.”
“In fact he loved you much more than I realized,” Burly continued.
Herman looked up. “Did he talk to you much? Gerald told me at the funeral papa had gotten into the habit of carrying a teddy bear with him.”
“He talked to me all the time. He didn’t understand why you didn’t answer his letters.”
“Did—did you talk to him?”
Burly shook his burlap head. “No. I didn’t think he’d understand how a teddy bear could talk.”
Herman wiped another tear from his eyes. “So he did love me.”
“And Tad and Callie too,” Burly added. “Look at the table by his bed—Tad’s hunting knife and Callie’s picture. You know, Callie wrote him all the time. She even invited him to visit her in Houston. Of course, he didn’t take me along.”
“Herman! Hurry up!” a woman’s voice called out from the kitchen.
“Who’s that?” Burly asked.
“Why, that’s Callie.”
“Really?” Burly replied. “She doesn’t happen to still have my mother?”
Herman winked. “You’d be surprised.” Herman stood and carried Burly toward the door. “And I have a surprise for you.”
“What?”
“Well, you remember May Beth?”
“Oh, the girl Marvin married,” Burly replied.
“She left Marvin a couple of years after they were married. We met in Austin,” Herman told him.
“That’s where you were going to school.” Burly was so pleased more of his memory was returning.
“Yes, and we started dating again. This time I wasn’t dumb enough to let her slip away.”
“So May Beth is here?”
“Yes,” Herman replied. “And someone else whom I think will become as good a friend to you as I was. Better.”
Herman opened the bedroom door and brought out Burly who looked around the old farmhouse kitchen. He recognized Callie right off because she looked just like her mother. And beside her was a blonde-headed little girl holding Pearly Bear. Then he looked over to see a pretty dark-haired woman he assumed was May Beth since he had never met her. And next to her was a little boy. Burly caught his breath. The child looked just like Herman, maybe his hair was a bit darker. And there wasn’t that terrible sad look in his eyes that Herman had that first night his tears dropped on the burlap bear.
“You’re doing something right,” Burly whispered to Herman. “You’re a good father. I can tell by the happiness on your son’s face.
“Thank you,” Herman whispered back. He walked across the room and held out Burly to his son. “Bobby, I want you to meet an old friend of mine, Burly Bear.”
Bobby grabbed Burly and hugged him. “Thank you, daddy. He’s wonderful.”
Burly shivered with warmth, excitement and love.
Welcome back, Burly Bear.

Don’t Mess With Linda

Linda protected her older sister Anne because Anne, Linda felt, let people run over her. She came to this conclusion after seventy years of watching Anne cave into other people’s demands just to get along.
The Florida sun beaded down as the sisters walked up the steps to the bank to make a deposit. Linda knew the clerk would short-change her sister if she did not watch her every move. Anne lost her footing and fell back down the steps.
“You okay, Sis?” Linda bent over to lightly touch Anne’s arms and legs. “Does this hurt?”
Before Linda knew it a bank clerk hovered over them with a large umbrella.
“Oh you poor thing,” the clerk cooed. “How dreadful. Let me protect you from that awful sun.” In the next breath she stuck a piece of paper and pen under Anne’s nose. “Here, sign this.”
“Okay.” Anne took the paper and pen and signed.
“No!” Linda screamed, but it was too late.
The clerk smiled at Linda in triumph. “There, there, everything will be all right.”
Linda pinched her lips because she knew the paper was a release form, clearing the bank from any responsibility for the accident. Why did Anne always do this to her?
“Yes, everything will be all right as soon as the ambulance gets here. You did call 911, didn’t you?”
The clerk paused. “No, I was concerned about your sister getting heatstroke so I came straight out with the umbrella.”
“My goodness,” Linda said in feigned concern. “We must go immediately inside and call 911, mustn’t we?”
“I’ll do it,” the clerk replied. “You stay here with your sister.”
“No, she’ll be okay. She’s got the umbrella.”
Linda stood and put her arm around the clerk’s waist as they walked into the bank. “Oh, my dear, I don’t know what we’d done without your quick thinking.” She raised her voice. “Someone call 911! My sister needs an ambulance!”
“I’ll do that.” The clerk tried to pull away with the signed paper.
“Oh my sister! Oh my sister! What am I going to do!” Linda wrapped her arms around the clerk. “She’s all I got in life! Help me! Help me!”
“My dear lady! Control yourself.”
“No! No!” Linda sobbed and pawed the clerk. “I need the comfort of your arms. You are so sweet to me!”
A siren cut through the air. Linda pulled away and headed for the door. “Oh good. The ambulance is here. Thank you, my dear.”
Outside she knelt by her sister under the umbrella.
“What was on that piece of paper I signed?” Anne sounded mystified.
“Don’t worry about it, Sis.” Linda extended her hand to show the wadded-up paper. “I robbed the bank.”

July Fourth

July Fourth brings back a time I worked for the Dallas Morning News on its editing desk. After five p.m., calls to the information center downstairs were rerouted to the editing desk. Why, I don’t know. We didn’t have the authority to reply to requests. We were on an assembly line of correcting typos and writing headlines fast so our readers would have their newspapers to skim as they ate breakfast.
One July Fourth night I got stuck with a call from a woman in tears.
“Why don’t children respect holidays anymore?”
“I don’t know, ma’am.” I kept reading for mistakes in an Associated Press story from Indonesia or some such distant location which had undergone a catastrophe.
“We always tried to make holidays special for them, but they didn’t appreciate it.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Nothing means anything to them anymore, except their silly fishing boats and always drinking that beer.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
My mind went back to a July Fourth long ago when I asked my mother if we could do something special for the holiday. My father was a Royal Crown Cola salesman and those grocery stores needed fresh supplies of soda pop whether it was a holiday or not. That meant the rest of us just sat home and ate hot dogs and watermelon. For entertainment my brothers lit firecrackers and threw them at me. I was only seven or eight so I screamed and ran. That’s why I was hoping this July Fourth we could do something different. If dad could take off a little early maybe we could go out to the local lake for a picnic and splashing in the water.
“We’ll have to ask your father,” she said.
“Yeah, sure, if I get done,” he said.
On July Fourth morning I was up early. I knew we couldn’t leave until dad came home, but I wanted to be ready when he did roll his truck in the yard and load us into the car for the lake. But he didn’t show up. Mom fixed the hot dogs for lunch, and we ate watermelon. In the afternoon, my brothers threw firecrackers at me and laughed when I screamed and ran.
Not only did dad not take off early, he worked extra late so he even missed supper. I didn’t say anything to mom because I didn’t want another lecture about how selfish a little boy I was for expecting dad to do anything except work hard. Here he slaved away to pay the bills and buy groceries and all I could think of was having fun.
“The children never show up for holidays,” the woman on the phone said through her tears.
“I wish I could do something to make you feel better.” I was only in my twenties. I didn’t know the right thing to say.
She sniffed. “Oh, that’s all right. Thank you for listening.”
After she hung up, I realized I was working on July Fourth, and my wife and baby boy were home alone. Some things never changed. No, I told myself. The difference was I wanted to be at home with them, and I promised myself to be there with them every holiday I could.
Then it was time to write another headline. After all, the newspaper had to come out on time.

Burly Chapter Twenty-Five

(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. Tad died during World War II. The years have passed, and Herman is now seventeen years old, and Burly is in the trunk.)
Marvin never visited Herman in the loft again. Burly never knew exactly what happened because Herman didn’t mention Marvin when he talked to himself, and Gerald never talked about Marvin when he visited.
“Gosh, Herman, I never thought one of my friends would be the senior class valedictorian,” Gerald laughed one afternoon.
“Well, it was real close,” Herman said. “You did well in the class standings, too.”
Burly smiled to himself. Evidently Herman was still paying attention to his late night advice.
“Have you decided whether or not to take your Uncle Calvin’s offer to stay with him and go to Rice Institute? That would be nice, being with your sister again.”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? She got married last winter.”
Burly wondered if Pearly Bear still had a shelf of honor in Callie’s home or if she had been relegated to an old trunk.
“Anyway, I still want to go to the University of Texas. If I don’t get drafted, that is.”
“What does May Beth say about all this?”
Herman shifted uneasily on the bed. “What does she have to say about it?”
“Well, I thought you two, you know,” Gerald replied, a little nervous.
“We’ve dated a lot, that’s all.”
“Is that how she looks at it?”
“It doesn’t make any difference how she looks at it,” Herman said.
Again Burly felt worried about some of Herman’s attitudes. That night as Herman tossed and turn in his bed, Burly whispered, “Don’t toss away May Beth’s friendship, or love, so easily. Remember love is as important as school.”
In a few weeks graduation had come and gone. Herman was called for his draft induction physical and passed. That meant he would be leaving the old farmhouse for good soon. Burly was scared again. Another incident scared Burly. One night Herman came home and had trouble climbing the ladder. He was drunk. Pulling a small bottle of some kind of liquor from his pocket Herman took a long swig.
“And here’s to the bride, May Beth Webster,” he slurred. “And here’s to the groom, Marvin Berry, the bum.”
So he had not taken Burly’s advice about May Beth, and she had married his former friend. Burly’s heart broke for Herman. For the first time in more than a year Burly wished he was out of the trunk and in Herman’s arms so Herman could squeeze the bear hard to make his pain go away.
Herman mumbled other things in a drunken stupor, things Burly couldn’t quite make out, and then he passed out on the bed.
Burly worried all night about Herman’s beginning to drink. He whispered, ”Please don’t start drinking, Herman. Remember what happened to Tad’s friend, Leonard.” But he didn’t know if Herman ever heard him.
Within a few days Herman was gone to join the Army and the loft became deathly still. For the first time Burly looked around him to see what he shared the trunk with. There were some of Herman’s mother’s clothes, including her wedding dress. There was the American flag from Tad’s memorial service. Down at the bottom Burly found old baby clothes that belonged to Callie.
One night Burly heard steps coming up the ladder. His little heart leapt, hoping it was Herman. Instead, it was Mr. Horn, who walked across the loft to the trunk. When he opened it, Burly could tell he too was drunk. Woody Horn gently picked up the dress his wife wore on her wedding day and touched it to his cheek. Then he caressed the American flag given in memory of his fallen son. Finally he picked up Burly Bear.
“Well, little bear, I wondered what became of you,” Woody said with a slur. “So he tossed you aside too, like he did me.”
Burly considered trying to speak to him, but decided against it.
Woody sniffled. “I guess I can’t blame him. I didn’t do much to keep him.” He began to put Burly back in the trunk and then stopped. “If I can’t keep my son, then I’ll keep my son’s teddy bear.” And with that he took Burly downstairs to his bedroom where he laid the little bear beside his pillow. After he took his shirt and trousers off and climbed into bed, Woody picked up Burly again. “I guess you won’t mind if I start talking to you.”
Mind? Burly thought; I’d be thrilled. If I had stayed alone in that trunk, in that great nothingness of time and space, I would have surely lost my magic and become just another forgotten toy, ripe for decay and to be gnawed upon by visiting rats.
Woody held Burly closely. “I guess a part of me died when Opal passed on. And I shouldn’t have let that happen.”
But you couldn’t help it, Burly thought.
“I kept telling myself that I couldn’t help it but that’s not true. I could have bucked up and done the right thing.”
There’s still time to do the right thing, Burly thought.
“Maybe there’s still time,” Woody’s eyes became heavy with sleep. “I’ll write Herman and Callie letters. I’ve never written a letter before, but I’m not too old to learn. And maybe they’ll forgive me.”
Of course they will, Burly thought, knowing Woody was somehow catching his advice, just like Herman did.
Meet your new friend, Burly Bear.

How Dare You

Gloria became distracted slicing the roast beef when Dave put his arms around her waist.
“Gee, Honey, that smells great,” he murmured, nuzzling her neck.
She concentrated on the knife going through the meat as Dave kissed her on the cheek.
“You’re going to make me cut myself,” she said, trying not to be curt.
“In that case I’ll sit down and be a good boy,” David replied as he plopped in the kitchen chair closest to her.
Gloria brushed strands of gray hair from of her brown eyes as she finished carving the roast. Looking around the table she saw the vegetables were in place. They glistened in the candlelight. Candles lit by her husband of thirty-five years. She studied them carefully before turning her attention to Dave. His dark hair was still closely cropped. His cheeks were full as always, and his wrinkled face was as fair as it ever was, almost pink. But something was not the same.
“Please sit down, dear,” Dave said. “I can’t enjoy this delicious meal until you join me.” As he smiled, the dimples in his cheeks deepened.
She took a chair across the table from him and began to fill her plate.
“There were a lot of people at your brother’s funeral today,” Gloria said slowly.
“Yes, Ben had a lot of friends.”
“I noticed you didn’t cry.”
Dave kept his head down. “You know me. I don’t show my emotions much.”
“Unlike Ben. I never knew anyone who wore his feelings on his sleeve like he did. No wonder he committed suicide.”
“Yeah, kind of a pansy, wasn’t he?”
“So different, the two of you, to be identical twins.” Her voice was aloof and soft.
“But I got the good-looking wife, and he didn’t.” Dave laughed. “Gosh, this roast beef is great.”
“Thanks.” Gloria folded her hands in her lap. “Poor Ben. He never married.”
“Like I said, he was a pansy.”
“No, that wasn’t it. I don’t think I ever told you this, but Ben proposed to me the same night as you did. I told him no. I said I loved you instead. He told me I’d regret marrying you. He said you were a cold-hearted son of a bitch who would make my life miserable.”
“Who cares what that pansy thought?”
She stood, picked up the carving knife, walked around the table and quickly put the knife to Dave’s throat. “How did you do it?”
He dropped his fork and gasped. “Do what?”
“Kill Dave.”
“But I’m Dave.”
“No, you’re not. You’re Ben.”
“That’s—that’s foolishness,” he mumbled. “You’ve always been a foolish woman,” he added, finding his voice. “I don’t know how I’ve put up with you all these years.”
“Dave said that a lot.”
“Of course, I did—and I still say you’re a foolish woman.”
“Every time Dave said that I noticed you always clinched your jaw and turned a little red. You hated your brother.”
“He was my brother, I didn’t hate him. I didn’t hate Ben. How could anyone hate Ben?”
“That’s right. Nobody hated Ben.” Gloria pushed the blade into his soft, wrinkled skin. “Now tell me the truth, or I’ll slice your throat.”
“All right. All right. I killed the son of a bitch. I hated him for the way he treated you. I wrote my own suicide note and killed him. No need for an autopsy when you got a suicide note written in the hand of the man they think is dead.”
“And you thought you could fool me?”
“No, I thought you’d like having a good husband after all those years with that son of a bitch.”
“Well, he may have been a son of a bitch,” Gloria said as she plunged the knife straight down between his shoulder and collar bone, “but he was my son of a bitch.”

Father’s Day

I think I’ve got this Father’s Day deal figured out.
This last weekend I got a dinner and a movie from my son who has to work next weekend, the actual Father’s Day. He’s a corrections officer at a state facility with a schedule so wacky only a politician could have come up with it. Twelve hour days. Two days on, three days off, three days on, two days off. Basically, if I see him he has the day off. If I don’t he’s working.
He took me to see the movie about how Han Solo met Chewbaca and won the Millennium Falcon in a card game. I know it’s supposed to be a stand-alone, but I think it needs at least one sequel to tie up all the loose ends. Basically I liked it. At least it didn’t end with half the people in the universe disintegrating with a snap of the fingers.
That was on Saturday night. On Sunday night he took me out to dinner at nice family-type restaurant that served roast beef, corn and potatoes wrapped up in tin foil. A little messy but it tasted good. Sometimes my son zones out or says something inappropriate; but hey, like father like son.
Now this is where it gets interesting. My daughter, who lives a thousand miles away with her family, called to say her present might be a little late coming in the mail. Better late than never. She always picks out something delicious to send me. On top of that I might even get a phone from my lovely little granddaughter.
Someone might point out I’m not getting anything more than any other father with two grown children might get, but I see it as making the fun stretch out as long as possible. Being greedy is not a good thing. Being grateful feels much better. Feeling grateful for an extended period of time is wonderful.
I don’t know if there’s a moral in any of this. I’m too busy looking for the mail to arrive. Ever since I was a little boy I’ve always loved looking for the mail to arrive.

Burly Chapter Twenty-One


(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.

Burly Chapter Twenty


(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. When World War II began, Tad enlisted.)
Herman did as Tad asked him; he wrote to Callie and gave her Tad’s address when he received it. The exchanging of letters between the three seemed to draw them closer together than they ever had been living in the same house. Callie and Herman exchanged bits of information that Tad would put in one letter but not in the other. And Herman would pass on news to Tad that Callie forgot to write him.
Every now and again Herman would offer to let papa read one of Tad’s letters, and, to his surprise, papa said yes. Herman watched his father read the letter and noticed how his brow would knit in concern. Another thing he saw, something he had never noticed before, was that his father moved his lips as he read and he read painfully slow. It seemed odd to Herman who read very fast.
“Your father doesn’t read very much,” Burly explained when Herman mentioned this trait to him, “and if you don’t do something very often you don’t do it well.”
Reading was something that Herman did very well. Ever since Callie left, Herman retreated to the loft and to conversations with Burly and reading every book in the school library. He would tell Burly about the stories in the books in his own words and Burly bounced up and down in excitement, for he didn’t know much of the world beyond the loft. Herman’s interest in reading grew as he wrote Callie about the books he was reading, and she suggested other books to him. Callie, it turned out, loved to read too, and their letters would be filled with debates over which books were better and which writers could bring people springing from the pages to live in their minds.
His letters to Tad were different, however. Herman wrote mostly about what was happening on the farm, how papa was and how his friends in town were. Prices were good for the crops and the last year they could afford to hire a young Mexican-American man named Manuel to be a farm hand. Papa was the same–hardworking and silent. Leonard was still in town, telling anyone who would listen that he wasn’t dumb enough to volunteer. Stevie joined the Marines, but no one knew where he was stationed.
Herman smiled a bit when he got Tad’s letter in return. Tad warned about trusting the farm hand. You know how “those” people were, he wrote. And he sounded a bit hurt that papa hadn’t written directly to him, but he was glad Herman was keeping him informed about the “old man.” Tad wasn’t surprised Leonard was still hanging around town. I wouldn’t be surprised if he found a way out of the draft, Tad joked. And he hoped Stevie didn’t get sent anywhere too dangerous. The Marines were the first to go into unsafe places, he told Herman.
“I hope nothing happens to Tad,” Herman said to Burly one night after reading one of his brother’s letters. “He’s changed a lot since he’s been in the army. He looked down at his little burlap friend and smiled. “Or am I the one who has changed?”
“You both have changed,” Burly replied. “You both are growing up.”
Yes, Herman told himself, the last couple of years had gone very fast. He was now a big fourteen-year-old and could work almost as long and as hard as his father. Papa no longer walked by and told him he had worked enough for the day while the sun was still high in the sky. When he told Herman to stop he was walking back to the house himself.
Mr. Cochran didn’t help out anymore, since they had hired Manuel. But every time Mr. Cochran saw them in town he would smile and wave. “You’ve got a good boy there, Horn,” he always said, winking at Herman.
And papa always said nothing.
“It doesn’t seem to bother you very much anymore that your father doesn’t brag about you, does it?” Burly asked.
Looking out the loft window, Herman replied, “What’s there to say?”
The next day Herman received two letters, one from Tad and one from Callie. Tad was all excited because his unit was ready to move out of England. He couldn’t say where they were going or exactly when but that it could mean the end of the war. By this time Tad had made sergeant, a fact which made papa very proud and caused him to call out the news to Mr. Cochran when he saw him in town. Callie’s letter was filled with anticipation of her senior year in high school. She just knew it would be the happiest year of her life. Herman could see from the pictures she had sent him Callie had become a beautiful fair-haired young woman, triggering Herman’s fading memories of his mother. She said Tad had written her that he might be home soon, that “we were going to win the war any time now.”
“I hope he’s right,” Herman said with a sigh.
“I hope so too,” Burly agreed.
Herman continued to read Callie’s letter. She said she had a special shelf in her room for Pearly Bear and had made her a pretty new dress. All of her girlfriends who spent the night with her thought Pearly was very cute.
Burly shuffled a bit. If he weren’t made of burlap he would cry. He missed his mother very much, but he was happy she was being treated well. Not like poor papa bear.
Callie asked in her letter if Herman had read in the newspaper about the big invasion of France in June. They called it D-Day and expected it to be the beginning of the end of the war. “At least I hope so. By the way, have you heard from Tad lately? I last got a letter from him sometime in May.”
Herman looked at the postmark on his letter from his brother. It was postmarked in early May. Oh well, he thought, mail always ran slow from servicemen.
The next day a telegram from the government arrived. From talk at school Herman knew what it was, and he froze.
“Well, open it, son” papa said.
Herman slowly opened the telegram and began to read the words, “We regret to inform you—“
Papa grabbed the telegram from Herman’s hands and stared at the words on the paper. His lips quivered as they moved along with his eyes. Finally he wadded it up and walked into the house without saying anything.
His son was dead.
Herman’s first impulse was to go to his father and put his arms around him and cry with him, but something inside told him to leave his father alone. Perhaps it was his memory of when his mother died and the men had to fight papa away from his wife’s side. At any rate, Herman let his father grieve by himself.
Burly didn’t have to be told. “Tad’s dead, isn’t he?”
Herman nodded as he crawled into his bed. “How did you know?” he asked softly.
“I heard your father slam his bedroom door and cry.” Burly nestled into Herman’s side. “I’m sorry, Herman.”
And then Herman cried.
There could be no funeral because Tad’s body was buried in France somewhere, but the Army was going to present a flag to papa at a memorial service. Herman went to Mr. Cochran’s house to call Callie in Houston.
“Hello?” Aunt Joyce answered.
“This is Herman,” he said soberly. “May I speak to Callie?”
“It’s Woody, isn’t it?” she asked.
“No.”
“Oh no,” she gasped.
Herman heard muffled sounds as Aunt Joyce put her hand over the receiver to call Callie to the phone.
“Herman, Tad’s dead, isn’t he?” Callie asked.
“Yes.” Herman couldn’t say anymore because he was afraid he would cry again.
“I could tell by the way Aunt Joyce was acting. Are you all right?”
“I guess.”
“I’ll be home tomorrow.”
And Callie, accompanied by Uncle Calvin and Aunt Joyce, was back on the farm near Cumby the next day. She tried to hug her father but he pulled away. This time she didn’t look hurt, just sad.
There was no bear family reunion; Callie left Pearly in Houston. Burly was disappointed, but he didn’t say anything to Herman. He could tell his young master had other things on his mind.
The ceremony was held the next day at the local cemetery. A veterans group had bought a plot and placed a large tombstone with the names of the war dead from Cumby whose bodies would never return to Texas. A military color guard went through its paces, marching the flag to the monument. The flag was folded and presented to papa who received it without emotion. Callie held Herman’s hand tightly.