Tag Archives: family drama

Burly Chapter Four


Burlap or future teddy bears?
(Previously in the book: Herman anticipated fifth birthday on the plains of Texas during the Depression. He was overjoyed to receive a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him.)
Late one night, early in December when the first blue norther was just about ready to sweep down on the East Texas prairie from the Panhandle, Burly Bear nudged little Herman who was fast sleep.
“Huh?” Herman mumbled.
“Not so loud,” Burly whispered, holding his burlap paw to his lips. “I want to tell you something, but if Callie or Tad wake up I won’t be able to.”
“All right,” Herman said as he yawned and rubbed his eyes. “What is it?”
“Well,” Burly began slowly, looking down. “I’ve really enjoyed living with you and your family this year.”
Herman gave Burly a big hug. “And I love having you, too.”
“You love your mother and father very much, don’t you?” Burly asked softly.
Herman smiled broadly. “Oh yes. Mama is wonderful and papa isn’t half as scary as I thought. You helped me see that.”
“I can tell they love you too.” Burly paused for a long moment, then sighed deeply. “I want a family to love and to love me.”
“Why, Burly Bear,” Herman exclaimed. “I’m your family.”
“Shush,” Burly went.
Tad shuffled in his nearby bed. “Herman, shut up,” he mumbled, then rolled over and went back to sleep.
“I’m sorry,” Herman whispered.
“What I mean is, I want a family, a mama and a papa bear to love me and take care of me,” Burly finally blurted out.
Herman wrinkled his little forehead. “I don’t know how we can do that. Usually parents come first, then the children.”
“But stuffed bears don’t usually talk. So usually doesn’t count here.”
“I guess,” Herman said in a dreamy sort of way, staring out of the window. He turned back to Burly. “Christmas is coming soon. I could ask for two more bears.”
Burly shook his head. “That really wouldn’t be fair, would it? I mean, you already have me, and Callie and Tad don’t have any bears at all.”
Herman’s eyes twinkled. “Oh yes. Callie would love a mama bear very much. She’s always telling me how cute you are.”
“And Tad?”
Herman frowned again. “Oh, Tad. I don’t think he would like a stuffed toy. He’s almost grown.”
“Twelve years old is not as grown up as you think,” Burly said, adding wisely, “or as grown up as Tad thinks.”
“But Tad doesn’t like anything. I still don’t think he even likes me very much.”
Burly smiled. “I think he likes you more than you know. And he might like you better if he thought you liked him.”
“Oh, I like Tad,” Herman replied.
“But does he know that?” Burly asked. “What have you done to let him know?”
“I’m just six years old. What could I do to show Tad I like him?”
“You can do more than you think,” Burly replied. “Always remember that.”
“Okay.” Herman sighed. “What do I have to do?”
Burly whispered in Herman’s ear for several minutes, and then they both went to sleep, because they had busy days ahead of them before Christmas. After breakfast the next morning when the others left, Herman tugged on his mother’s apron as she washed the dishes.
“Mama, can I—can we give Callie and Tad something special for Christmas?”
His mother looked down at him with a sad look on her face. “I’m afraid none of us are going to get anything special this Christmas. You remember why, don’t you? I explained it all to you.”
Herman nodded seriously. “Yes. You called it the depressions.”
His mother laughed lightly and patted him on the head. “No, the Depression. Only one. Thank goodness.”
“But couldn’t you make Callie and Tad bears out of burlap, like you did Burly Bear?” Herman said quickly before all his courage went away.
“Why, yes, I suppose so.” She looked at Herman and looked proud of him. “I hadn’t thought of that. Yes, that would be a good idea. You’re smart, Herman. And sweet.”
She leaned over to kiss Herman on the cheek. One part of him wanted to pull away and pretend he didn’t like it. But another part liked it and wanted to hug his mother. That part won out, and Herman wrapped his arms around his mother’s waist. For a fleeting moment he noticed how terribly thin she was.
“If you want me to, I’ll go ask papa for the burlap,” Herman offered happily.
“You don’t mind doing that?”
“Oh no, papa and me, we’ve become big pals,” Herman bragged.
“Very well. He’s out in the barn, I think.”

Burly Chapter Two


(Previously in the book: Herman anticipated fifth birthday on the plains of Texas during the Depression.)
One night after supper, mother cleared away the dishes and brought out a small chocolate cake—Herman’s favorite—with six flickering candles on it. She and Callie sang happy birthday while his father and Tad sat there and pretended to mumble the song. Herman had actually forgotten his birthday. But when he blew out the candles and tasted the sweet chocolate cake he remembered—only for a second—what his mother had said about a teddy bear. After everyone had finished the cake, his mother with a beaming smile on her face pulled out a bundle wrapped in butcher’s paper.
“I colored pictures on the wrapping paper,” Callie announced proudly.
For a nine-year-old girl with too many freckles she was very nice, Herman thought.
“What! He gets a present!” Tad exploded.
“Be quiet, son,” his father said softly but firmly.
“But he don’t do half the work around here that I do, and he don’t have to go to school!”
“Oh, shut up, Tad,” Called chided her brother.
“You shut up,” he retorted.
Tad was a big twelve-year-old but he looked like a pouting baby when he was angry, which was too often, Herman believed.
“Now both of you settle down before I take you out behind the barn,” their father warned.
“But it isn’t fair,” Tad whined.
“Shush,” his mother added, handing the gift to Herman.
“Not fair,” Tad said under his breath.
Herman was sad his brother was mad, but he put that out of his mind as he tore into the paper and what he found made him grin from ear to ear.
It was a bear made of burlap with buttons sewed on his arms and legs so that they could move. He had a sweet little smile sewn on his face. Two more buttons made the eyes.
“Ooh, how pretty!” Callie cooed, hugging Herman. “Isn’t it wonderful, Herman?”
Herman was speechless.
“Mama made it,” Callie told him.
“It was your father’s idea to use the burlap bag,” their mother said, smiling sweetly and nodding to her husband.
Herman jumped up, without thinking about the worms on his father’s arms, and ran over to hug him and kiss his rough, weather-beaten cheek. For the first time he could ever remember, he felt those long, strong arms fold gently around him and pat him softly. He stood quickly.
“Um, I’ve got to go see how the livestock’s doing,” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes with his hands and walking with long strides out the door.
Mother rubbed her eyes with a towel. “Time to clean up,” she announced crisply. “Callie, clear away the dishes.”
“Mama, can I play with my bear?” Herman asked timidly.
“Of course, dear.”
“What are you going to name him, Herman?” Callie said excitedly, leaning down to look at the bear.
“I don’t know,” he replied simply.
“Why don’t you name it after yourself,” Tad said with a nasty sound in his voice. “Baby.”
“Oh, shut up,” Callie spat, then turned back to Herman. “Since he’s made out of burlap, why don’t you call him Burly?”
Herman smiled. “Yeah. Burly Bear.”
“Mama,” Tad began to complain, “It ain’t fair Herman gets fancy toys and I—“
“It isn’t a fancy toy,” his mother interrupted. She sighed deeply, then pinched her pinched together. “And whether it’s fair or not—well, I’m just too tired to worry about it. Times are might hard, children. Things aren’t fair for just about everyone. Maybe Mr. Roosevelt can do something about it but for now, let’s just try to get along and survive.”
Herman turned for the loft ladder when Tad jumped in front of him, pointed his finger and made a silly face. “Baby, baby, baby,” he said in a cruel sing-song voice.
Callie ran over and kicked Tad in the shins and screamed, “You’re so dumb and awful! I hate you!”
Tad yanked Callie’s long, stringy hair. “Oh stay out of this!”
Tad and Callie began to fight and scream but stopped very fast when their father came through the door and bellowed, “Hey! What’s goin’ on here?”
Both of them tried to tell their side of the story but since they were talking at the same time their father couldn’t understand either one. “All right,” he announced, “I’ve had enough of this. You’re both going out behind the barn.”
With muffled protests Callie and Tad went out the door with their father. Herman was glad he kept his mouth shut because he knew what awaited them behind the barn, a paddling.
“Why does Tad always call me a baby?” Herman asked his mother.
She smiled and hugged him. “Why, you are the baby of the family. And you’ll always be my baby, even when you’re grown and as big as papa.”
“Gosh, will I be that big?”
“Yes. Now get ready for bed. Take Burly with you.”

Toby Epilogue

The storyteller in me wanted to end the novella with Harley and Billie smooching on stage to the applause of all their old friends. The historian in me wants me to tell everyone what really happened. After the Sadlers lost their home they moved to Abilene. Harley had a heart attack while hosting a Boy Scout benefit in Avoca. Within six months Billie developed cancer in the mouth and underwent disfiguring surgery. Her brother Burnie moved in with her but eventually the grief and pain were too much and Billie killed herself. Harley, Billie and their daughter Gloria are buried in the cemetery at Cameron, Texas, where Billie grew up. Over the years their fans died and the memories of the old traveling melodrama shows died too. But the love they had for each other and the joy they spread in West Texas during the Depression will never die.

Toby Chapter Thirty

Old Harley Sadler
Harley Sadler in his later years

Previously in the novel: Harley and Billie Sadler spent their lives bringing entertainment to farms on the high plains of Texas in the first half of the Twentieth Century. They endured economic hardship, lost their daughter Gloria, helped each other with personal demons and hung on to each other into old age.

Nobody in the theater seemed to care that an overweight man in his sixties was playing Toby, who, by definition, was the picture of young, innocence and energy that came from a heart filled with goodness. They saw what they wanted to see. It was about halfway through Act Three, and Toby was ready for Susie Belle to talk him into helping the Goodheart family fight off the evil Mr. Hurtmore.
But the young lady playing Susie Belle was late on her entrance. Harley was a bit surprised because the actress had been extremely efficient with her cues during the rehearsals. He was not irritated in the least. Harley actually enjoyed being left on a stage to his own devices.
“If that Susie Belle don’t git out here soon, I’m gonna have to tell the story how Clark Gable worked in one of my shows many a summer ago. Now he really was as handsome as he looked in the movies, but he delivered his lines something awful. He was like a bump on a log, so I had to let him go. Who knew I fired a million dollars!”
Everyone in the audience laughed which pleased Harley. Suddenly the laughter turned to hooting, clapping and stomping. He turned to see Billie decked out in her Susie Belle outfit and makeup.
“Next you’ll tell them how you put up a big sign saying Jennifer Jones was appearing that night, but she didn’t show up!” Billie had not been that perky in years.
For the first time in his career, Harley lost his composure on stage. His mouth opened, but nothing came out. “Hey!” he finally said, “this ain’t the Susie Belle I started out with!”
“Of course it is!” she shot back. “I’m the Susie Belle you’ve always had.” She looked out at the audience. “Now, let’s git on with this play!”
The audience roared with pleasure that Billie was back at Harley’s side where they remembered seeing her all those years ago. A little girl with golden curls ran out and knelt before Harley and Billie.
“Oh Toby! Susie Belle! You’ve got to help Mama and Papa save the farm!”
Billie froze a moment. Harley looked in her eyes and saw what she saw. There kneeling on the stage was Gloria, their little girl. He did not realized before this moment but he recommended casting this particular child because she looked like Gloria. Harley felt terrible. He knew how Billie would react. He did not want to inflict any more pain on his wife than she already bore. He felt Billie’s hand slip into his and squeeze.
“Don’t you worry none, Molly,” she said with determination. “Toby and Susie Belle will help your folks. And Toby and Susie Belle will always be there to help you. Even after you grow up and go away, Toby and Susie Belle will always love you.”
A burden lifted from Harley’s shoulders. He no longer felt compelled to save Billie or make life easier for her. Life would always be what it had always been. Sometimes wonderful, sometimes dreadful. And that would be all right.
“Sounds like Susie Belle’s makin’ up a whole new play.”
“And I’m gonna make up something else too.” Billie took Harley’s face and planted a big kiss on his lips. Again the audience erupted in applause As they separated, Harley smiled.
“Ooh la la.”

Toby Chapter Twenty-Nine

Harley as Toby
Harley Sadler in the early days as Toby

Previously in the novel: Harley and Billie Sadler spent their lives bringing entertainment to farms on the high plains of Texas in the first half of the Twentieth Century. They endured economic hardship, lost their daughter Gloria, helped each other with personal demons and hung on to each other into old age.

When he arrived back in Sweetwater, Harley came into an empty apartment. Billie was still working the counter at Woolworth’s. Dinner. That was what he would do. It would not be the first time he had cooked for his wife so it would not be a surprise but rather an affirmation. Their last angry confrontation still reverberated through his weakened body. It needed the rejuvenation Harley only found in making someone smile.
The front door opened. Billie walked in, saw the meal on the table and smiled. Harley was healed. Returning to the rehearsals, Harley strengthened as the cast laughed at his jokes, applauded his vigor on stage and sought his advice on theater.
On opening night Harley packed his makeup bag and headed for the door. Billie pecked his cheek.
“Break a leg, honey.”
He hugged her. “The folks would really be glad to see you there tonight.”
“Oh no.” Billie shook her head. “I don’t feel like it. Maybe some other time. Not this play.”
“I understand.” He kissed her lightly on the lips. “Love you.”
***
A light tapping at the door a few minutes after Harley left drew Billie from the kitchen. When she opened the door she saw an old man in his bib overalls, bald and paunchy. Humbly he held his straw hat in his gnarled hands and took a step back when he saw her. Billie instinctively knew this man. He was one of the dirt farmers who struggled to make a living off the high plains. She and Harley saw them every performance under the tent. They laughed even though their faces where etched with pain and defeat. She smiled.
“May I help you?”
“Miz Sadler?”
“Yes.”
“I hate to be trouble, but is Harley home?”
She pointed toward downtown. “He’s at the little theater tonight doing one of our old shows.”
“Oh.” He sounded disappointed.
“May I take a message?”
“If you don’t mind, ma’am.”
Billie stepped aside, motioning to him to enter. “Would you like to come in?”
“Oh no.” He shook his old head. “I’m jest an ol’ farmer. I’m afraid I’d mess up some of your nice things.”
“I’m sure you wouldn’t mess up a thing.” She smiled, her own troubles fading further away.
“Oh no,” he repeated, “I’ve taken up too much of your time as it is. All I’d like for you to do is tell Harley somethin’ for me.”
“Yes?”
He took a deep breath. “Well, me and my wife Florrie has been goin’ to his shows ever since we was youngin’s.”
“How nice.”
“Why, we was there the night you brought your li’l girl the first time.”
Billie’s smile faded. “Oh.”
“She had on a li’l cowgirl outfit.” His eyes twinkled. “Cutest thing we’d ever seen.”
“Thank you,” Billie whispered.
“But what I really wanted to say was that Florrie got the cancer last spring and died.”
“I’m sorry.” She wanted to reach out to squeeze his hand, but Billie realized the old farmer had established boundaries. He would be uncomfortable if she touched him.
“That cancer is so painful. She could hardly stand it. Well, that last night, I was holdin’ her hand, and we started talkin’ about Harley and all the funny things he did and said. Anyway, we both got to laughin’ and, well, because of Harley, my Florrie died with a smile on her face.”
Against her instincts, Billie stepped forward. “Please let me take you down to the theater. I want Harley to hear your story.”
“Oh no. I couldn’t be a bother.”
“It wouldn’t be a bother,” she insisted.
“Jest tell Harley this.” He paused to compose his thoughts. “Tell him that, well, he’s my best friend.”
“Please wait here for him to come home.”
The old farmer turned to leave. “Oh no. I got to go.”
Billie leaned against the door and watched him disappear down the street. Wiping tears from her eyes, she realized what all those years traveling town to town, feeling lonely under the spotlight meant. They had touched the hearts of people who had nothing but heart. Billie and Harley had given a great gift and she never realized it.

Toby Chapter Twenty-Eight

Previously in the novel: West Texas tent showman Harley spent his life making people on the High Plains laugh and helping them out when they were in trouble. He lost his money in the Depression and after failed attempts at wildcat oil drilling. His daughter died which sent his wife into alcoholism. In their old age they clung to each with a love that withstood it all.
Harley and Billie fell asleep that night in each other’s arms. He stayed awake long enough to watch her face relax, each muscle calm, free of tension and anxiety. Not numbed by alcohol but purged through their mutual emotional explosion. He did not know how many more assaults on his nervous system he could endure, but for now he felt strangely free.
The next morning Harley left for another round of appearances: the PTA meeting in Spur, an oilmen’s association meeting and returning by the weekend for auditions at the Sweetwater Community Theater. How would he find Billie upon his return? Would another distressing encounter set her off into a new downward spiral? Harley told himself in the final analysis he would accept whatever condition in which he found his lovely Billie. He would deal with it.
When he put his key in the apartment door on Friday evening, Harley felt the door open from the inside. Billie was there, to greet him warmly.
“I’m so happy to be home,” he murmured hugging her tightly.
“And you hold auditions in two hours,” she added, a laugh in her voice.
“You could come with me.” His eyes twinkled. “I’m sure I could get you cast as Susie Belle.”
“Which show?”
“Over the Hills to the Poorhouse.”
A shadow crossed her face. “Oh.” She paused. “I can’t. You know I can’t.”
Harley shrugged. “I had to ask.”
When he arrived at the little theater, the auditorium was filled with enthusiastic amateur actors. They stood to applaud as he walked down the aisle, almost skipping. The director, a balding man with glasses, beamed.
“We are so pleased Harley Sadler could take time from his busy schedule to play Toby for us.”
He ducked his head and waved away the attention. “Aww, I ain’t been that busy.”
“Perhaps we’ll see Billie at one of the performances,” the director added.
“Yes!” someone called out.
“That would be wonderful!” another yelled.
“Billie hasn’t felt well recently,” he replied with a sad smile. He could not say anything more on that subject so he put on his best Toby grin and announced, “So let’s get these auditions under away! Let’s troupe!”
The theater erupted in applause and cheers. Harley waved his arms over his head and tried to keep the tears from his eyes. He did not exactly understand why emotion rose through his throat but he beat it down anyway.
Harley guided the director in selection of the cast and led the actors through the opening rehearsals before leaving for the final two weeks of the legislature.
As the final bills of the session were debated, Harley had a hard time focusing on the issues. They all seemed as though he had heard them before. He had such confidence when he was first elected many years ago. He intended to help the people just scraping a living from the land. Now he was an old man, and families lost their battles to keep their farms. They moved to nearby small cities. Men took jobs driving trunks or stacking grocery shelves and lied to themselves that they did not mind leaving the soil behind. They did not mind someone else planting the seeds and watching the plants grow.
Harley did not choose that life for himself but he respected the folks who did choose to tend the land. Now as he sat there listening to the same old arguments about how the state government was unable to do anything to help the family farms, he felt like such a failure.
Of course, everyone visiting Austin wanted their picture taken with State Senator Harley Sadler. He shook hands and smiled better than any other politician in the capitol, but he could not save a single family farm.
When time came for his vote, Harley hardly knew how he voted nor did he care. This was his last term in public office. He had no more stomach for it. And, as Billie often pointed out to him, the legislature did not pay enough to pay the bills. Harley was tired. He wanted to go home to his wife.

Toby Chapter Twenty-Eight

Previously in the novel: Harley Sadler traveled West Texas with his melodrama tent show with his wife Billie and daughter Gloria. He made a million dollars but gave a lot of it away to needy farmers and lost the rest in the Depression. After his daughter died, his wife sank into depression, leaving Harley pondering why bad things happen to good people. After an angry confrontation with Billie, he decided all they could do was keep on loving and keep on keeping on.
Harley and Billie fell asleep that night in each other’s arms. He stayed awake long enough to watch her face relax, each muscle calm, free of tension and anxiety. Not numbed by alcohol but purged through their mutual emotional explosion. He did not know how many more assaults on his nervous system he could endure but for now he felt strangely free.
The next morning Harley left for another round of appearances: the PTA meeting in Spur, a Boy Scout benefit in Avoca and returning by the weekend for auditions at the Sweetwater Community Theater. How would he find Billie upon his return? Would another distressing encounter set her off into a new downward spiral? Harley told himself in the final analysis he would accept whatever condition in which he find his lovely Billie. He would deal with it.
When he put his key in the apartment door on Friday evening, Harley felt the door open from the inside. Billie was there, to greet him warmly.
“I’m so happy to be home,” he murmured hugging her tightly.
“And you hold auditions in two hours,” she added, a laugh in her voice.
“You could come with me.” His eyes twinkled. “I’m sure I could get you cast as Susie Belle.”
“Which show?”
“Over the Hills to the Poorhouse.”
A shadow crossed her face. “Oh.” She paused. “I can’t. You know I can’t.”
Harley shrugged. “I had to ask.”
When he arrived at the little theater, the auditorium was filled with enthusiastic amateur actors. They stood to applaud as he walked down the aisle, almost skipping. The director, a balding man with glasses, beamed.
“We are so pleased Harley Sadler could take time from his busy schedule to play Toby for us.”
He ducked his head and waved away the attention. “Aww, I ain’t been that busy.”
“Perhaps we’ll see Billie at one of the performances,” the director added.
“Yes!” someone called out.
“That would be wonderful!” another yelled.
“Billie hasn’t felt well recently,” he replied with a sad smile. He could not say anything more on that subject so he put on his best Toby grin and announced, “So let’s get these auditions under away! Let’s troupe!”
The theater erupted in applause and cheers. Harley waved his arms over his head and tried to keep the tears from his eyes. He did not exactly understand why emotion rose through his throat but he beat it down anyway.
Harley guided the director in selection of the cast and led the actors through the opening rehearsals before leaving for the final two weeks of the legislature.
As the final bills of the session were debated, Harley had a hard time focusing on the issues. They all seemed as though he had heard them before. He had such confidence when he was first elected many years ago that his good intentions would help the people just scraping a living from the land. Now he was an old man and families lost their battles to keep their farms. They moved to nearby small cities. Men took jobs driving trunks or stacking grocery shelves and lied to themselves that they did not mind leaving the soil behind. They did not mind someone else planting the seeds and watching the plants grow.
Harley did not choose that life for himself but he respected the folks who did choose to tend the land. Now as he sat there listening to the same old arguments about how the state government was unable to do anything to help the family farms, he felt like such a failure.
Of course, everyone visiting Austin wanted their picture taken with State Senator Harley Sadler. He shook hands and smiled better than any other politician in the capitol, but he could not save a single family farm.
When time came for his vote, Harley hardly knew how he voted nor did he care. This was his last term in public office. He had no more stomach for it. And, as Billie often pointed out to him, the legislature did not pay enough to pay the bills. Harley was tired. He wanted to go home to his wife.

Toby Chapter Twenty-Seven

Previously in the novel: West Texan Harley Sadler has lost his daughter, his tent show and his fortune but he remains oblivious to offers to bribe him in the Legislature.
The lights were off in the Sadlers’ apartment in Sweetwater. Billie slept on the living room couch, a bottle slowly slipping from one hand. Harley came in the front door with his suitcase. The water conservation meeting took longer than he thought. He turned on the light.
“Billie? Why are the lights off?”
When he saw her asleep on the couch, the air went out of him. “Oh.”
She sat up, startled. “Harley, I thought you weren’t coming home until—“
“You know I was coming in today,” he cut her off brusquely. “You were expecting me earlier not later.”
“Why, I thought it was tomorrow. Honest.” Billie tried to slip the bottle behind a pillow.
“There’s no need to hide the bottle,” he announced coldly. “I already saw it.”
“It’s the toothache I have.” Her hand went to her cheek. “The whiskey relieves the pain.”
Harley grabbed the bottle. “So that’s your new excuse. Toothache.”
“But it’s true,” she whined. “My mouth is killing me!”
“And your drinking is killing me.” Harley threw the bottle into the wastebasket.
“Be quiet,” she chided. “The neighbors will hear!
“You don’t think the neighbors already know that you drink?” His voice weakened almost to tears.
“You told them,” she accused him, wagging her finger.
“I told them? Harley laughed with exasperation. “I can’t take it anymore.”
Billie stood and grabbed his arm. “You can’t take it?” Her eyes narrowed, and her tone was ice cold. “What about me? I—I can’t go on supporting us!”
“I work!” Harley pulled away in indignation.
“The Legislature pays nothing!” Spittle sprayed from her mouth. “You lost all our money on oil! You give your talent away to any two-bit benefit that comes along!”
He looked down. “I thought we weren’t going to talk about wildcatting anymore,” he muttered.
“Well, if you can talk about my drinking I can talk about your oil.” She pulled back, retreating from her anger.
Harley sighed as though the last of his energy drained from his body. “I’m too tired for this.”
“I don’t care how tired you are.” Tears clouded her eyes. “You always tear me down for drinking but you never ask why.”
“I know why you drink.” His mind went to that day in the hospital when Gloria died.
Wrinkling her brow, Billie proceeded as though in confession. “I was doing real good, two whole weeks without a drink. Guess who came into the store? Louise Bright. That little girl who thought I was the queen of the theatre. Well now, she’s all grown up and feels sorry for this old—old washed up woman and tells me to keep the change. Can you imagine that? She told me to keep the change.”
“It isn’t Louise or any of the other excuses you’ve used over the years. The real reason is—“
“No!” she interrupted.
“Gloria.” His voice was incisive and final.
“No!” She paused to gather her courage. “It isn’t Gloria. “Taking a deep breath. Billie whispered, “It’s you.”
Harley shook his head. “You can’t blame me.”
“You—you never belonged to me,” she continued quickly before she lost her nerve. “It was the Legislature. It was the oil. It was the show. But it was never me.”
Harley’s back straightened. He turned to the book shelf to get his well-worn copy of the King James version of the Bible. “My Bible. Where’s my Bible?” He grabbed it from the shelf and thumbed through it. “There’s got to be something….” His voice trailed off.
“You always turn to the Bible. That book isn’t going to make your pain go away any more than bottle—“ Billie almost choked on her revelation—“will make my pain go away.”
Harley fidgeted with the Bible but then slammed it shut and threw it near Billie who fell in terror.
“Don’t hit me!” She dissolved into tears.
Harley knelt by her and gently put his arms around her quivering shoulders. “I wouldn’t hit you. I love you.”
“I’m sorry for what I said,” she admitted with remorse.
“No, you’re right. I haven’t helped you much. Your drinking scared me. I didn’t know what to do. You needed a stronger man.”
She melded into his arms. “Oh no, Harley. I couldn’t have lived, wouldn’t have lived without you. Just—just help me. I can’t fight it by myself.”
“I’ll help.” He held her tight.
“I never should have said the Bible was the same as the bottle. I hope God can forgive me for that.”
He smiled. “I’m sure He will.”
“Harley.” Billie paused to sniff. “What are we going to do?”
“The same thing Job did, honey. Just keep on loving and keep on living.”

Toby Chapter 26

Previously in the novel: West Texan Harley Sadler traveled the High Plains with his melodrama tent show, making some money and sharing it with down-on-their-luck farmers. He lost his fortune in the Depression, his daughter died and his wife Billie sank into alcoholism, but Harley tried to keep busy with performing in benefits and serving in the Legislature.
David Bodie was out of show business by nineteen fifty-four, and his trim actor’s build had filled out because of his success as a marketing director for a large Houston bank. He had a way of talking people into deals that were not really good for them. This particular week he was in Austin. The Legislature was in session and palms had be to be greased to insure bank-friendly bills were enacted. He hunched over a lobby phone at a hotel known to be the residence of many West Texas representatives. David tried to keep an eye on the elevator door as he conspired with his boss in Houston.
“Yeah, yeah. Well, I tell you I can get him to take the money. I worked in his last show. The Ledge doesn’t pay anything and his wife is a Woolworth clerk now. I’ll have him in our pocket by this afternoon.” He saw the elevator doors open and Harley walk out. “Here he comes now.”
David adjusted his tie and walked over to the old man. “Why, if it isn’t Harley Sadler! What a surprise bumping into you!”
Harley smiled broadly and extended his hand. “David Bodie! It’s been years! You look like you’re doing well.” He observed David’s clothes. “Nice suit you have on there.”
“Vice-president with Houston International Bank.” He shrugged. “What can I say? Got out of show business—“
“Me, too.”
“You, Harley?” David feigned surprise. “Why, you are show business! Anyway, the bank sends me all over the state representing its interests. One of its clients is a manufacturing giant from up north that’s considering moving to Texas; that is, if government eases up on some of its laws.”
“That’s wonderful,” Harley replied as though he had not heard a word David said. “You’ll have to tell me all about it over lunch. Right now, I’m heading to the governor’s Bible class at the Executive Mansion. Why don’t you join me?”
“It’s Sunday?” He could not disguise the surprise in his voice.
“Aww, David, you were always a kidder. Come on. I think you’ll get something out of it. I always do.”
David had not been to Sunday school since he ran away from home. His business sense told him if he refused Harley’s offer he could kiss the deal good-bye. It was not so bad. David had never been inside the governor’s home before. Nice digs. Several men gathered in an ornate parlor. The staff served coffee and home-made cookies. He wondered if he could pick up some new contacts.
When the preacher stood and started reading the Bible and expounding on its meanings, David had a hard time staying awake. After nodding off briefly he looked over to see if Harley noticed. He had not. David could not believe the serene look on the old man’s face. Glancing at his watch, he decided he would explode if that damned preacher did not shut up.
Finally they made their way back to the hotel and the small dining room that served brunch. Only a few other customers sat near them. All the better to press the deal. He could tell Harley savored his omelet.
“Yes sir,” he said between bites, “I always get a blessing out of that class.”
“I can see why.” David hoped he sounded sincere.
“So you’re doing well in your new business. I’m glad to hear it.” He pushed his plate away. “I’m sorry I had you fired.”
“Oh no, sir. You did me a favor.” He was pleased with his magnanimous gesture. “I wasn’t cut out for show business anyway.”
“I hope you got that drinking under control.”
“Sure.” He shifted uneasily in his chair because he had a fresh quart of bourbon in his room. “Never touch the stuff anymore.”
“That’s good.” Harley sipped his coffee. “It can ruin your life. Drive away the people you love best.” Harley looked across the room with an empty gaze. “Even if they don’t want to go away.”
David did not like the solemn turn of the conversation. “So. How are you doing?”
“How? Spiritually, fine. Financially—well, we’re getting by. Physically—not good at all.” Harley laughed.
“Really?” David raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You look spry as ever.”
“Doctor says it’s my heart.” He rubbed his chest. “I don’t know. If I could just burp real good….”
David did not know how to respond and was appalled to allow a moment of awkward silence. “Sometimes you just have to slow down,” he whispered.
“After I finish up here tomorrow with a water conservation meeting I got a PTA dinner in Spur, a Boy Scout benefit in Avoca and then I’m doing a Toby show in Sweetwater. Auditions over the weekend. And then back for two more weeks in the Ledge before we adjourn.”
“Sometimes you have to say no.” David remembered why he was there. He did not want to encourage Harley to say no to him. “On the other hand, you have to say yes sometimes too.”
He shrugged. “It’s the ham in me. Just vanity, I guess, wanting to do everything people ask me to do.” Harley paused to gaze off nowhere in particular again. “All is vanity.”
David still felt like he was losing control of the situation. The waitress walked to their table. He smiled and reached for his wallet. “Let me pick this up.”
“That’s all right,” she replied. “Mr. Sadler’s already taken care of that.” She sounded weary. “He has a long time tab with us.”
“And I hope you put a little something on the tab for yourself, dear.” Harley smiled at David. “Would you care for anything else?”
David finally realized he never had control of the situation. Even though he barely had enough money to pay his bills, Harley still wanted to pay for everything. How could you ever bribe a man like that? David smiled pitifully.
“No, thanks, I’m done.”

Toby Chapter Twenty-Five

Previously in the book: West Texas farm boy Harley Sadler brought entertainment to farmers on the High Plains during the 1920s and 30s, sharing his good fortune with those who needed a helping hand. He lost his show during the Depression, and his daughter Gloria died in the 1940s. He and his wife Billie settled into a frugal existence in their retirement years.
The years passed swiftly now for Harley and Billie. Their theatrical engagements became fewer and fewer apart. Being away from the spotlight did not bother Billie much. If she could not look her best at all times she did not want to be seen at all. Harley, on the other hand, drew energy from the laughter and the applause. His body required it as much as he needed food and water.
No one wanted to pay Harley to perform but he gladly put on a free show to benefit a hospital, school or orphanage. Most of the time he brought his Toby costumes and make up kit. A crick in his hip hampered a smooth exit from his car, and he limped up the stairs. When the lights came up, however he skipped lightly around the stage, sang a silly ditty in full voice, every lyric distinctly delivered. Harley bowed graciously to strong applause. He accepted a large cardboard check for one hundred dollars, in his name to whatever charity the show supported. Then he limped back to his car and went home.
Needless to say, his friends and neighbors continued to elect him to the Legislature which only convened for six months every two years. The salary barely paid for his living expenses when he was in Austin. He relished every time he took the floor to promote his newest cause. Walking down the pink granite steps of the Capitol would take an hour because tourists always wanted to have their photos taken with him.
Back home in Sweetwater, he enjoyed strolling the downtown streets on a busy Saturday afternoon with Billie, wearing her finest attire, on his arm. Of course, if a derelict in a nearby alley caught his eyes, Harley walked to him, pulling out his wallet. Billie skillfully guided him back to a waiting fan. They no longer had the money to be as generous as they used to be.
Their lovely home had been a refuge from the realities of living in a world that was slowly forgetting them. Then the Sweetwater city council passed a zoning variance which allowed a funeral home to be built down the street from the Sadlers. Rumor had it that the mayor’s brother-in-law was behind the deal, and he made a bunch of money from it. No matter. It was law now, and before Harley and Billie realized it, funeral processions were a regular occurrence. They stared out the front picture window and shook their heads.
“It’s as if God is mocking me,” Billie said through tears.
“It’s not God’s fault, dear.” He patted her shoulder.
She pulled away and wiped her nose. “I know.” Billie smiled ruefully. “I have to blame somebody.”
“I tried to stop it but I guess legislators don’t have much pull in matters like this.”
“I know you tried.” She sighed looking out at the cortege. “It’s the third one this week.”
Perhaps it was just as well they could not afford the maintenance on a big house. At least they did not have to see the hearses every day. Billie consoled Harley when they moved into their one-bedroom apartment. She did not have to spend so much time cleaning. Eventually, by 1954, finances degenerated to the point she had to take a job as a clerk at Woolworth’s. She used to buy knickknacks there all the time between big shopping sprees to Dallas.
As she stood behind the counter she considered herself in the large mirror on the wall. Older, yes, a little worn around the edges but she could see the remnants of her glory days as a theater beauty. And her posture was still good, a positive indication of internal dignity.
“Mrs. Sadler?”
The mature woman’s voice shook Billie from her self-revelry. When she turned back to the counter, she froze. Before her stood a grown-up Louise Bright. This was the child who looked up to her and wanted to be like her. Now Billie was just another old woman working as a clerk to pay the rent on a one-bedroom apartment. She forced a smile on her face.
“Why, Louise Bright, how nice to see you.”
“I’m married now.” She smiled. “Mrs. George Sorenson. I have—two children.”
“How wonderful for you.” Billie knew that she also could have been a grandmother of two if Gloria had only lived. She told herself not to think such thoughts. They always made her sad and made it easier to for her to drink again. Her eyes went down to the counter. “Will this be all?”
Louise handed her a tin of headache powders. “Yes. My husband and I are traveling and he came down with a headache so we just stopped by.”
“This is a good product,” she interrupted, rushing through the conversation, afraid she would break down in tears. “I’ve had the worst toothache lately and haven’t been had the time to go to a dentist so I’ve been using these powders.”
“Mom and Dad retired to Florida,” Louise said. “How is Mr. Sadler?”
“He’s a state senator.” Billie took the opportunity to brag some. “He’s active in the oil association even though he’s really not in the oil business anymore. Not since we—lost—quite a bit back in forty-eight.”
“Does he do any shows?” Louise asked.
“He does benefits all the time.”
She smiled. “How wonderful. He always loved to put on a show.”
“That will be fifty-nine centers.” Billie wanted the encounter to end.
Louise handed her a dollar and said as she always did to all clerks without thinking to whom she said it, “Keep the change.” She suddenly looked stricken, realizing what she had done.
Billie stiffened, quickly made change and handed it to Louise. “No. Please.” Her tone was soft, desperate.
Fumbling with the coins, Louise took a moment to put them in her purse and snap it shut. She grabbed the bag with the headache powder tin, keeping her eyes down. “Well, I hope to see you again. Sometime. Take care.”
“Yes.” Billie wore a tight smile. “Good seeing you again.”
Louise left quickly. Billie watched her disappear out the door and down the street. Turning back to look in the mirror, she saw pain etched across her face. Her posture slumped as she felt the last of her dignity seeping away.