(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. The years have passed, and Herman is now seventeen years old.)
A few days later Herman brought a couple of his friends home after school. Burly watched them carefully. They didn’t seem as bad as Tad’s friends. Actually, Burly decided, they were quite nice. Gerald was a chubby boy a little shorter than Herman. Marvin was about Herman’s height and weight but was red-haired and covered with freckles.
“Does your father hate us or something?” Gerald asked, his brow knitted. “When I said hello all he did was grunt.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Herman replied. “That’s just the way he is.”
“We’re not keeping you from any chores, are we?” Marvin asked. “We can study algebra anytime.”
Herman waved his hand as he plopped on the floor by Tad’s bed. “I’ll do them later. He knows I’ll do them.”
“My father isn’t like that,” Gerald said, joining Herman on the floor. “If I have a chore he expects it done right after school.”
“Mine too,” Marvin added.
Herman turned a little red and opened his book. “Um, let’s get started on this.”
For the next half hour the three tried to figure out the mysteries of algebra, with Herman deciphering the numbers best.
Marvin finally closed his book. “That’s enough for me. I’m just getting confused.”
“I’m with you,” Gerald said with a laugh.
“Okay,” Herman replied.
The two friends looked at each other and then Marvin gently poked Herman in the arm. “Hey, buddy, what’s the matter? You’ve been quiet all day.”
“Aww nothing.” Herman shrugged.
“If this is nothing, I’d hate to see something,” Gerald said.
Herman looked at each of them and sighed. “It’s really nothing. It’s just that this morning I heard Leonard Smith died in a car wreck last night.”
“Oh, that old drunk,” Marvin said. “He was a bum. I couldn’t stand him.”
“Hey, it means something to Herman,” Gerald protested. “I didn’t know you knew him.”
“Who would want to know him,” Marvin asked, but it was more of a statement and didn’t need a reply.”
“Marvin,” Gerald protested.
“No, that’s okay,” Herman said. “He was a bum. I couldn’t stand him.”
“Then why the long face?” Marvin asked.
“Well, it’s a long story,” Herman began. “He was one of my brother’s friends. He faked his army physical to get out of going to war.”
“Sounds like him,” Marvin interjected.
Gerald punched him in the arm. “Shut up.”
“Anyway, he showed up at the memorial service for Tad. He was drunk. My sister Callie—she lives in Houston with my aunt and uncle—told him off good.”
“And he’s been drinking ever since,” Marvin completed the story. “But why should his finally killing himself in a car accident upset you so much?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because it brings back so many bad memories,” Herman answered.
“Well, let’s talk about something that will make those memories go away,” Marvin said. “Guess who I heard talking about you at lunch today?”
“I don’t know.” Herman wasn’t ready to start playing guessing games.
“May Beth Webster.”
Herman couldn’t help but smile. “Really?”
“Yeah, she thinks you’re the best thing in school,” Marvin replied.
Gerald poked Herman again. “What do you think about that?”
“Yeah, I think she’d say yes if you asked her to the school Thanksgiving party,” Marvin continued.
Herman shook his head but still smiled. “Aww, I can’t date. What would I do? Drive up in papa’s banged-up old pickup?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of a double date, dummy?” Marvin asked happily. “You could come with Betsy and me.”
Herman looked up and grinned at the idea. Burly was happy for Herman even though he didn’t know what a date was. But then Herman’s expression changed. Burly was puzzled because he had never seen it before. It was a combination of shame, fear and anxiety. Suddenly Burly knew what was bothering Herman and what he was looking at. Herman was looking at Burly.
Jumping up, Herman tried to look carefree as he plopped on his bed and slid Burly under the pillow. “Gosh, do you really think we could do it?” Herman asked, with a forced happiness in his voice.
Gerald squinted. “Of course, you goof. Boy you must really be crazy about this girl to start hopping around like that.”
“Have you had a date yet, Gerald?” Marvin asked.
Ducking his head, Gerald admitted, “Well no.”
“Then you don’t know how girls can affect guys, right Herman?”
Herman smiled nervously. “Yeah, right.”
Burly didn’t like what was happening at all. The boys talked quite a few more minutes before Herman suggested that they go outside.
While they were gone Burly was trying to decide what to say to Herman when he came to bed that night. Should he be angry? No. A stuffed bear can’t very well be angry. He has no way to fight back at young humans, as his father found out many years ago with Tad. His father, Burly moaned. Oh, what if he ended his existence the same way his father did? That would be terrible, he thought. Shaking his little burlap head, Burly tried to tell himself that Herman was not like Tad. He was much nicer. But he was a teen-ager now. He was growing up, and maybe there was something inside teen-agers that forced them to break all ties to their childhoods, like cuddling favorite blankets, depending on mothers and fathers and loving little stuffed bears.
Eventually, Herman climbed the ladder to the loft and took his clothes off to get ready to sleep.
“Did you have fun with your friends?” Burly asked, trying to be friendly and forget that Herman hid him.
“So you’re going to have a date,” Burly continued. “What’s a date?”
Herman sat on the edge of the bed and picked up Burly. “Burly, you know what happened this afternoon?”
At first Burly thought to lie, but he knew it was no use to lie around Herman. “Yes. You were ashamed I was on your bed.”
“Now I know how Tad felt that day.”
Burly didn’t want to ask this question. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m not going to let my friends tear you up,” Herman said with a strong nod of his head.
“They seem like nice boys,” Burly offered. “I don’t think they would be as mean as Tad’s friends.”
“Could be,” Herman conceded, “but that’s not the point. The point is,” and Herman took a deep breath, “I am too old to have a teddy bear.”
“Oh no. A person is never too old to have a friend. And that’s what I am. Your friend. Not just a teddy bear,” Burly said with desperation.
Herman shook his head and carried Burly to the old trunk at the end of the room. “No, Burly. It’s time I began to grow up. And part of growing up is giving up you.”
“No, Herman, please,” Burly pleaded.
“I guess I’ve known this moment would come ever since Tad tore up Burly Senior,” Herman continued, his voice strangely calm. “I didn’t want it to come, but I knew it had to come.”
“No, please,” Burly said, near to tears, if he had any tears. “I’ll never embarrass you again. I love you too much to hurt you.”
“I can’t take that chance.” Herman lifted the lid to the trunk.
“Please, don’t hurt me. I can still give you advice. I’ve always told you the right thing to do, haven’t I?”
“Good bye, Burly.”
And the trunk lid closed, leaving Burly in the dark and Herman alone for the first time in many, many years.
(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.)
Burly was frightened; Herman was seventeen, the same age Tad was when he destroyed Burly Senior. He knew he really had nothing to worry about. Herman was much kinder than Tad ever was and would never tear him to pieces. Still, Herman was no longer the sad-eyed little boy who cried on him and gave him life many years ago. Herman was tall, straight and strong. He worked harder and longer than Tad had when he was on the farm. Now in the middle of the afternoon Burly would notice papa coming in the door and going to his room to nap while Herman stayed out in the field or in the barn. Of an evening after supper dishes were washed, Herman pored over his school books, completing his homework and studying the next lesson beyond that. Burly was very proud when Herman showed him his report cards and there were all As.
“Very good, Herman,” Burly told him.
Herman shrugged his now broad shoulders. “I’m not that good. The teachers in Cumby are impressed, though.”
“But your father isn’t impressed,” Burly offered.
“I don’t know if he is or not.”
Burly shook his head. “Then who are you trying to impress?”
Herman smiled. “Me, I guess. The more I read the more I see how little I know.”
“Now you are getting smart,” Burly said, impressed with his young friend.
Herman put Burly aside. “I’ve got to study now.” Then he opened his book and didn’t speak to Burly the rest of the night.
That was what scared Burly. For years they had talked into the night until Herman slumbered away in mid-sentence. Now he fell asleep with his face in a book. In fact, there were days when Herman wouldn’t speak to Burly at all.
“Are you mad at me?” Burly asked one night after almost a week of being ignored.
“Hmm?” Herman muttered, his eyes still on his book.
“I said, are you mad at me?”
Herman put down the book and gave Burly a quizzical smile. “Why would you say that?”
Burly turned his little button eyes down. “Well, you haven’t talked to me in several days.”
Picking the bear up and hugging him, Herman said, “I’m sorry. You know I still love you.”
Feeling a bit more secure, Burly asked, “What are you reading?”
“Do you like it?”
“What is government?”
Herman put the book down again. “I guess a burlap bear wouldn’t know anything about government, would he?”
“No, I don’t,” Burly replied, embarrassed.
“It’s the system by which all the people in the country operate,” Herman tried to explain. “It’s laws, rules we live by, so we don’t hurt each other and help us help each other better.”
“Can’t people just decide to love each other without making laws?” Burly asked.
Herman laughed. “But that doesn’t get any roads built. Or schools run. And it doesn’t defend our country either.”
“It’s really interesting. I think I like this subject more than anything else in school.”
“In fact,” Herman said, turning more to Burly, “I’ve decided to become a lawyer when I get out of school.”
“A lawyer?” Burly asked. “What’s that?”
“That’s a person who makes it his business to make sure the laws are carried out properly.”
“You mean like a sheriff?” Burly remembered the night the sheriff came to the house to help when Herman’s mother died.
“No, a lawyer’s paid by individual people to represent them in court and to make sure their businesses follow all the laws.”
Herman smiled and shook his head. “Let’s just say that’s what I want to do. It’s too complicated to explain.”
Burly felt sad. “I’m sorry I don’t understand. I’ve spent all my life in this loft so I really don’t know much.”
Hugging Burly again, Herman assured him, “You know the most about what counts, love.”
Feeling encouraged, Burly asked another question. “What kind of law would you do, the kind for businesses or—what did you called them?”
“Courts,” Herman supplied the missing word. “Courts.” He gathered Burly close as though he were sharing a secret. “Remember the Johnsons? The black people who helped us one year? And remember that show we went to, how all the black people had to sit in one place? Well, I want to help them, all the black people, so they won’t be treated differently anymore.”
“That’s very nice, Herman.”
He blushed. “Well, it’s something I think should be done.”
Burly thought a moment and then asked, “You won’t be able to do all that and stay here on the farm, will you?”
“No.” Herman looked nervous and picked up his book.
Burly didn’t ask any more questions that night. He was afraid of the answers he might receive.
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. But mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him.)
The next morning was Sunday, and all three of the Horn men—as Herman was considering himself quite a grown up little man by now—were out in the barn attending various chores. Since mama died they had not been able to make it to church. Papa always said he believed in God, but he didn’t believe in those holier-than-thou folks down at the church. At least that’s what he said to Tad in their evening discussions. Tad would reply by saying something silly like going to church was for sissies. That was when Herman would stop his eavesdropping and go to sleep.
As for Herman, he was very troubled. He wanted to believe there was a God, but he couldn’t believe in the same God the folks in the church down the road believed in. They believed in a God that hated anyone who wasn’t like them. Their God liked to hear hymns sung to him on Sunday but seemed to turn a deaf ear to pleas for help during the week.
“Horn! Horn!” their neighbor Mr. Cochran screamed as he drove up in his pickup. “Have you heard the news?”
Papa stopped what he was doing and stepped out of the barn door. Tad and Herman were right behind him. “What are you yelling about, Cochran?”
“It’s the Japs! They’ve bombed Hawaii! Someplace called Pearl Harbor!”
“I told you those Japs were going to pull something,” Tad said, spitting on the ground.
“Hush, Tad,” papa ordered, walking toward the pickup. “How bad is it?”
“Sunk several of our ships,” Cochran replied, more calm now, but very grim. “Lost a lot of our boys. The president’s on the radio right now. It’s war.”
The pit of Herman’s stomach turned hot and sour. He couldn’t believe anyone would stage a sneak attack like that. He hated to think that Tad, who never had a good word about anybody it seemed, was right about the Japanese. Most of all, it scared him about how this was going to change life again, which he thought had changed enough in the last few years.
“Herman, you finish up the chores,” papa said. “Tad and I are going into town with Cochran to get the latest on this thing.”
Once again Herman was left on the outside but he was used to it. He finished feeding the chickens and slopping the hogs. He moved the bales of hay around as much as he could, but he wasn’t as strong as papa whose job that usually was. He fixed lunch but ate by himself as papa and Tad didn’t return. Herman spent the afternoon talking to Burly about the Japanese and what would happen next. Finally he dozed off in the late afternoon and didn’t wake up until Tad and papa came through the door. Herman looked over the edge of the loft. Papa sat in his chair and Tad took his place across from him at the dining table.
“Son, are you sure you want to do this?”
Before he answered Tad looked up at the loft. “You might as well come down, Herman,” he said a little bit disdainfully. “This is going to concern you too. You might as well be in on it since you’re snooping around anyway.”
Herman felt embarrassed that Tad thought he was snooping but he didn’t say anything to deny it after he climbed down the ladder and stood rather shamefully between his father and brother.
“I’ve got to enlist, papa,” Tad announced. “First thing tomorrow morning.”
“I need you to help around the farm,” papa insisted.
“You got Herman.”
Papa looked at his younger son and then at Tad. “But I need a man.”
Herman tightened his lips and looked down. He tried to tell himself that papa didn’t mean that to hurt him. It was a fact that Tad was now more of a grown up than he was. But he still felt tears beginning to cloud his eyes.
“We can’t let those Japs get away with this,” Tad replied.
Papa sighed. “I guess there’s nothing I can say to make you change your mind.”
Tad didn’t even bother to answer but got up to walk to the kitchen. “Got anything for us to eat, Herman?”
Herman lurched toward the kitchen, bumping into the dining table. He was trying to talk without bursting into tears. “Um, I can warm up what I fixed for lunch.”
The meal went without talking, as most of their meals for the last few years had gone, but this silence was more frightening, more serious than any silence Herman had ever endured before. That night he didn’t even bother to talk to Burly but just let the pent-up tears flow. The attack on Pearl Harbor was all the children and the teachers were talking about the next day at school. The men teachers immediately left to join the army. Most of the boys said their older brothers were enlisting. In that, at least, Herman could speak with pride. His brother was the first in line that morning. In a few days papa and Herman took Tad down to the bus depot in their pickup and waited with him until It was time to go. Ages seem to pass between comments.
“Mr. Cochran said he would help around the farm as much as he could, to fill in what Herman can’t do,” Tad told papa.
“I can really do a lot,” Herman offered.
Papa ignored his younger son’s remark. “I don’t think he can spare that much time.” He paused. “But I appreciate the offer.”
Tad lightly touched Herman’s shoulder. “Be sure to write Callie that I’m going into the Army. And when I can get an address you can write me at, be sure to give it to Callie, okay?”
Herman frowned. “I didn’t think you liked Callie,” he blurted out without thinking. Immediately he winced because he knew Tad would light into him for being so stupid.
Instead, Tad looked off with a sad face. “I know it seemed that way to you lots of times, but I love her because she’s my sister.” He turned to Herman. “And Herman—“
“The bus is here,” papa announced.
Herman was glad Tad didn’t finish his sentence, because he knew he would have cried, and he didn’t want to do that in the bus station with all the young men going off to war watching them. Tad jumped up and grabbed his bag and lurched toward the bus. Papa and Herman followed close behind. Just as he was about to step up into the bus he turned and hugged papa.
“I love you,” he whispered.
Papa’s shoulders heaved with pain. “I love you too,” he choked out, then began crying.
Tad climbed aboard and sat by an open window. He leaned out and yelled, “I’m sorry, Herman, about—about everything.”
And then the engine started, and the bus was gone. Herman wondered if Tad was apologizing for tearing up Burly Senior, or for the way he had treated Herman all these years or for not actually saying he loved him. At this point, Herman decided, it didn’t make any difference. At least Tad said he was sorry. Herman was happy for that.
From then on there was even less talk at home. Papa kept his words down to instructions on the farm work and saying pass the salt. Slowly, sadly Herman came to care less whether they said anything at all to each other. One day in the spring Mr. Cochran helped with the planting. He hadn’t been needed much because Herman was trying extra hard to do his chores and Tad’s too.
“You’re a hard worker, Herman,” Mr. Cochran said. “We’ve been planting since dawn and you haven’t let up once.”
Herman smiled. “Thank you, sir.” He looked at his father to see if he noticed what Mr. Cochran had said.
“Yes sir, Horn,” Mr. Cochran continued. “We’re going to finish a lot sooner than I thought.”
Papa only grunted and continued planting.
“Have you heard anything from Tad?” the neighbor asked.
Papa stood erect and smiled. “You bet. He’s already made corporal. Always knew the boy was a born leader.”
“Does he know where he’s being dispatched?” he continued his questions.
“No sir, but if he had his choice he’d rather fight the Japs than the Krauts,” papa replied. “But wherever he goes, he’ll do his best. He always has.”
That night after Herman cleaned up the supper dishes he climbed into the loft without saying good night to his father. He had gotten tired of not hearing “good night” in return. Herman picked up Burly and looked him in his button eyes.
“Why does papa brag on Tad and not on me?”
Burly shrugged. Do you really want an answer? I think you already know why.”
Herman sighed. “I guess I do. Tad needs bragging on more right now than I do.”
“The bragging isn’t for Tad,” Burly corrected him. “It’s for your papa. He’s doing it to make himself feel better, and I’m afraid he’s going to need all the feeling better that he can get.”
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. But mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. She came home for a happy Christmas.)
The bittersweet Christmas soon faded in Herman’s mind as the months lengthened into years. Visits from Callie would become less frequent because Uncle Calvin had gotten a new job in Houston and about to move the family from Texarkana. When Uncle Calvin, Aunt Joyce and Callie came for their last visit before the move, Callie and Herman exchanged easy lies about how Houston wasn’t that far away and they would see each other often. The truth was too painful. At least Tad didn’t wait for Callie to hug him this time, which made Herman feel a little bit better. But Tad was almost seventeen and far too old to act silly and stubborn around a sister he might never see again. Even papa broke away from his long, sorrowful stares across the prairie to give Callie a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek. He even shook Uncle Calvin’s hand and gave Aunt Joyce a shy hug.
“I’m sorry to take your girl away like this,” Uncle Calvin explained in a sad sort of way. “But they’re building like crazy down there and construction’s the ground floor job, if you know what I mean.”
“Sure, Calvin,” papa said as friendly as his continuing grief would allow him.
“It’s a risk, I know,” Aunt Joyce added, “but if Calvin can hit it big that’ll mean a better education for Callie and the boys.”
“Yes,” Uncle Calvin emphasized. “We’re not just looking after the girl but all the children. If I can help them get on better, I want to.”
Papa stiffened. “The boys will do all right.”
“Sure, I know they will,” Uncle Calvin said as an apology.
Then they were gone. Tad grumbled about how Uncle Calvin was acting uppity and that they didn’t need any help.
“Calvin’s a good man,” papa rasped. “He means good by us all.”
“Yes, papa,” Tad whispered.
Herman was confused and excited by what Uncle Calvin said. Up until now he had not given much thought about what was going to happen when he grew up. But he was eleven years old and such thoughts were creeping into his mind and scaring him.
“What will happen to me?” Herman asked Burly late that night.
“You’re going to grow up,” Burly said.
“But what will I be when I grow up?” Herman persisted.
“A man,” Burly replied.
“Whatever you become,” Burly interrupted him, “you will always be Herman. And being Herman is a wonderful thing.”
Herman hugged him. “Thank you, Burly.” He paused and noticed his bear’s little burlap face was turned down. “Are you sad, Burly?”
“I’ll never see my mother again,” Burly said.
“And I’ll never see my wife again,” Burly Senior whispered from across the room.
“Oh,” Herman replied as though suddenly realizing something. “You have lost your mother today and that makes you very sad. I didn’t think of that. All I could think have was my own problems. I’m sorry.”
“That’s all right,” Burly assured him. “Most people are like that. They never stop to look at things from the way other people look at them.”
“But you’re better than most,” Burly Senior added. “In fact, you’re doing a pretty good job at seeing the world as your father and your brother see it.”
Herman sighed. “Sometimes I wonder if I do. I don’t really know how Tad feels most of the time.”
“Take it from me,” Burly Senior offered. “He’s very sad. A very lonely, scared little boy he is.”
“How can you tell?” Herman asked.
“By the way he is squeezing me right now.”
When spring came and the wildflowers were coloring the hills everywhere, Herman noticed Tad seemed happier and spent less time home after all his chores were done. He was beginning to have friends. Herman was happy for him, for he still didn’t have many children from his class who were his friends so he knew how Tad felt.
“Don’t worry,” Burly said one afternoon after Tad had run off to play with his new buddies. “Someday you will have boys your age to be your friends.”
“But why don’t they like me now?” Herman asked.
“I like you now,” Burly replied.
Herman smiled and hugged his little burlap friend. “I know you do, but what can I do to make the boys at school like me?”
“If you have to do anything to make them like you then they aren’t really going to be your friends anyway.”
Sighing, Herman gave Burly another hug. After school was out for the summer, Herman changed his mind about Tad’s friends because they began to spend more time at the farm and Herman saw what they were really like. One of them, a tall, stringy-looking boy with lots of freckles and straw-like hair, liked to tease Herman for being too short and not being able to run very fast or play baseball very well. He made Herman feel like he was dumb sometimes when he would pull a mean trick on him. His name was Leonard. The other boy, Stevie, was shorter than Tad but bigger and broader. He sulked about all the time and didn’t say much, except an occasional threatening grunt. Steve always looked at Herman as though he would like to beat him up. Of course, both boys would straighten and be polite when papa walked by. Papa may have been skinny but he was strong and he acted like he might explode into a violent temper tantrum at any moment.
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. But mama then one night mama died. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives.)
Christmas came that year without much fanfare in Herman’s house. In fact they didn’t talk about it at all, except one night when they had all gone to bed and Herman said something to Tad.
“Don’t you think it would be nice if you and I made something for papa?” Herman whispered from across the room.
“What? Are you stupid?” Tad scolded with a hiss. “That would just make papa feel worse. I think we should just pretend Christmas doesn’t exist.”
By not saying anything in reply, Herman agreed that Tad was right. And he tried to ignore Christmas but when December twenty-fifth arrived Herman felt as though he would burst if he didn’t do something for his papa. His problem was Tad. If he made anything real big Tad would see it and get mad. And Herman didn’t know if he could make anything that papa would use in the first place. So finally, on Christmas Eve, he decided to make papa a Christmas card. He pulled out some paper from school and drew a Christmas tree with his crayons. He folded the paper and on the inside he wrote, “Merry Christmas. I love you, papa.”
He looked down from the loft to see papa sitting at the kitchen table drinking his cup of coffee, the room lit only by a single kerosene lamp. The little scene was pretty, the solitary figure in the glow of the lamp, Herman thought. But it was sad too, so lonely.
Herman scampered down the ladder, ran over to his papa, tossed the card on the table and turned to run back to the loft. Papa grabbed his arm while he looked at the card. It was not an angry grab, like he had done in the past, but a gentle restraint. Herman was afraid to look at papa, but finally he managed to glance into the face awash in the kerosene lamp glow. At first he couldn’t tell if the expression papa’s face was changing or not. Then he spotted a small tear brimming on the eyelid.
Papa pulled Herman to him, hugged him and kissed him on the neck. “I’m sorry, son. I’m so relieved you still love me. And I love you. I wish I could show you more often, but I can’t. Just take my word for it. I do love you.”
Christmas morning was like any other morning. Papa, Tad and Herman ate a silent breakfast before heading for the barn to do their chores. Suddenly there was the sound of a car pulling up outside. Herman didn’t think anything about it until he heard the front door open.
“Merry Christmas, everybody!” Callie roared, her face beaming and her arms filled with presents. Aunt Joyce and Uncle Calvin were standing behind her.
Herman jumped to his feet and ran to his sister. She put the packages down so she could hug her brother.
“What are you doing here?” papa asked without showing any surprise or happiness or, for that matter, anger.
Aunt Joyce laughed a little and put her hands on her hips. “Why, Woody, what a thing to say to your little girl! It’s Christmas!”
Papa looked down. “Oh, I had forgotten.”
Herman knew that wasn’t so, but he forgave his father for lying.
“We were going to work in the barn today,” Tad said, trying to sound as though the visitors were intruding, but Herman noticed Tad couldn’t keep his eyes off the packages on the floor.
“There’s time enough for that tomorrow,” Uncle Calvin replied. “Today’s Christmas.”
Callie walked across the room and put her arms around Tad. “I know you won’t hug me, so I’ll hug you.”
Then she looked at her father, her head down. “Hello, papa.”
Herman could have sworn the next moment lasted all day. Callie stood there, with her head down, her shoulders beginning to shake a little like she was about to cry because papa wouldn’t hug her. Tad pretended he was interested in eating the pancakes on his plate, but Herman knew that wasn’t true because they were cold already. Uncle Calvin shuffled his feet and acted like he’d really rather be somewhere else. Aunt Joyce kept her hands on her hips and stared at papa. And papa continued to stare into space, his eyes so blank he might as well be as dead as mama was. Finally papa’s face changed, but Herman could see the eyes take on a sorrow of the whole house. His cheeks scrunched up and his lips pursed as his eyes closed tight, as though they were trying to keep the tears from getting out. He thrust his arms out to Callie who ran into them. Papa cried softly and kissed Callie on her cheeks and mumbled words like “I love you” and I’m so glad you’re home.” Even Tad got up from his chair, forgetting his cold pancakes, and patted Callie on the back. Uncle Calvin stopped shuffling, and Aunt Joyce smiled.
“Now that’s better,” she announced. “I didn’t think you menfolk were going to make a fuss over Christmas so we brought Christmas dinner and all the trimmings to you.”
“I’ll go to the car and get it,” Uncle Calvin said and disappeared out the door.
Herman could tell his uncle was glad he had something to do other than stand around and shuffle his feet. Aunt Joyce cleared the breakfast dishes and cleaned around the kitchen, fussing to herself that it takes a woman to keep a house really clean. Callie presented each of her Christmas gifts. Herman’s was the biggest, and he stole glances at Tad to see if he were jealous.
“Oh boy, Herman! Hurry and open it!” Tad said, sounding happier than he had in a long time.
Relieved that his brother wasn’t jealous, Herman ripped the paper off to see a brightly painted wooden car, just right for Burly to ride on. Herman hugged it, but not too tightly because he didn’t want to break it. “Callie, this is beautiful! Thank you!”
“Uncle Calvin actually made it,” Callie said, looking at her uncle with an appreciative grin.
He turned around from his unpacking of food to smile shyly. “Aww, it wasn’t hard to do. Callie did the hard part. She painted it.”
Herman’s hand glided across the smooth, red surface. “Burly’s going to love it.”
Tad poked at him. “Burly’s going to love it? Why, he’s nothing but burlap and stuffing. How can he love anything?”
Callie looked at him straight, like she was annoyed. “Herman can use his imagination, can’t he? That’s more than you ever do.” She paused and then poked at Tad. “Go ahead and open your present.”
“I’m getting too old for toys,” Tad said gruffly but his voice sounded too excited to be all grown up.
“Who said it was a toy?” Callie replied.
By that time Tad had the wrapping torn away and was awed by a hunting knife. “Gosh,” was all he could say.
Aunt Joyce looked over her shoulder as she scrubbed the kitchen sink. “Now you take good care of that knife, Tad. It was my papa’s.”
Tad smiled. “Oh, I’ll take real good care of it.”
“Thank you,” Joyce,” papa said with difficulty. “That’s mighty kind of you.”
Aunt Joyce reached over to pat papa on the shoulder. “Think nothing of it, Woody.”
Callie handed papa a small, flat square package. “Merry Christmas, papa,” she whispered.
Papa kissed her on the cheek and then carefully removed the paper. His eyes began to fill with tears as he looked at a small framed picture of his daughter.
“It’s so you won’t forget what I look like.”
Papa hugged her. “I’d never do that, baby. Never.”
Callie pulled away, her eyes now filled with a bit of hope. “Well, then do you think—“
Papa gently put his fingertips to her mouth. “Don’t ask, please. Just believe it’s all for the best, all right?”
Callie nodded and stood. “I guess I better help Aunt Joyce with the dinner.”
Herman had the biggest urge to jump up and run over to papa and Callie and pull them back together and yell, “No! It’s not for the best! Please, papa, let Callie come home!” But he remembered what Burly said. Callie looked too much like mama for papa to let her stay. That wasn’t for the best, but there was nothing Herman could do to change papa’s mind. He remained silent.
Callie looked around at Herman and smiled. “Herman, guess who I have out in the car?”
Herman’s eyes brightened. “Pearly Bear!”
“Yes!” Callie replied. “Why don’t you go out and get her and play bear family while we’re cooking dinner?”
“Play bear family?” Tad said with a sneer, then stopped to clear his throat. “That sounds like fun.”
Papa reached over and patted Tad on the back. Herman went out to Uncle Calvin’s car for Pearly and took her and the toy car up the ladder to the loft.
He gathered Burly and Burly Senior on his bed.
“Pearly!” Burly Senior exclaimed. “I knew we would be together again!”
The bear parents exchanged a burlap embrace. “I’m so happy to see you again,” Pearly said. She looked at Burly Junior in his new car. “How do you like it, Burly?”
Burly made car engine sounds. “It’s great.”
Herman sighed. “I wish papa would let Callie come home.”
Burly stopped his pretend driving and looked at his friend. “I know you do. You love your sister very much. And you can see how happy she makes your father if he will let her.” Burly paused to pat Herman’s arm. “But you know, down deep, that he will never let her make him happy.”
Herman nodded and was about to cry.
“Now this is silly,” Pearly Bear announced. “You should be happy and laughing because this is a wonderful day.”
“Yes,” Burly Senior added. “Don’t make it sad by wishing for things you know can’t be.”
Herman hugged all three and looked over the edge of the loft. Papa and Tad were sitting close together looking at his brother’s new knife. Uncle Calvin hugged Callie.
“They really seem to like Callie,” Herman said.
“Of course they do,” Burly replied.
“It would be hard not to like Callie,” Pearly added.
Herman hugged all three bears again. “Merry Christmas, bear family.”
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. A black family moved into the barn to help them pick the cotton. Mama continued to have dizzy spells. And then one night, when a turtledove got into the rafters, mama died. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives.)
The next day after Callie left, papa got up extra early, roused the boys and took them fishing. Herman couldn’t believe it. Papa mostly took them fishing so they wouldn’t go hungry that night. Maybe Papa was going to make up for the way he’d been acting since mama died, Herman hoped. He and his brother fixed a picnic lunch and jumped into the cab of the pick-up.
Tad eyed Herman closely. “You didn’t bring that stupid bear, did you?”
Herman pushed Burly behind him. “No,” he lied but not very well.
Tad smirked and reached around and pulled out Burly. “Oh yes you did. Don’t try to lie to me, Herman. I know you too well.”
Herman looked down. “I don’t know what it’d hurt, for Burly to come along.”
“Nothing, I guess.” Tad sighed. “Just don’t let papa see it.”
“Don’t let papa see what?” their father bellowed out, glancing over at the two boys.
“Uh oh,” Tad murmured.
“It’s just Burly,” Herman replied bravely, holding up his teddy bear.
“Oh that,” he said with a snort. “I thought it was something you shouldn’t have.”
Herman felt happy—no, that wasn’t the word for it, Herman corrected himself. No one could be happy having just lost their mama and sister in the same week, but Herman did feel peaceful, perhaps hopeful that this new life thrust upon him would not be as bad as he feared.
Papa sat on the bank of the Sulphur River under a tree for hours staring at the water flowing by, not caring if any fish pulled on his line or not. Tad tried very hard to be the good fisherman and catch something for their dinner that night, but he couldn’t keep the bait on the hook long enough. Herman just ran up and down the bank with Burly playing make-believe battles and other wonderful adventures.
It was a happy—no, peaceful and hopeful—day for Herman, but one, as he thought back on it, that was not entirely real because no one spoke. Papa didn’t look at the boys. Tad mumbled to himself about his fishing bad luck, and Herman whispered excitedly to Burly. When they returned home, Herman volunteered to cook supper, which ended up being burnt bacon and eggs, but papa didn’t complain. For once Tad didn’t pick on him. He offered to help him learn how to watch the food on the stove. Finally papa got up from the table with a sigh and went to his room. Herman jumped up, ran over and wrapped his arms about his father’s waist.
“Oh, papa, I love you.” Herman surprised himself because he almost cried before he got the sentence out.
When papa didn’t return the hug but just stood there looking off in the distance, the tears and the reason for them seemed to leave him as the dew disappeared from the grass on a hot summer morning. Herman turned to climb the ladder to the loft. As he was about to undress for bed he heard papa call Tad into his room. Leaning over the edge of the loft Herman could barely make out what papa was saying.
“I’m going to have to rely on you, son,” papa whispered. “You’re beginning to grow up, and all this means you’re going to have to grow up even faster. I’m sorry about that.”
Once again Herman felt a tinge of jealousy because papa loved Tad more than him. His father spoke some more and Tad spoke, but their words were so soft Herman couldn’t understand. A sad pain shot through his body when he saw papa give Tad a long, tight hug. Flinging himself on his bed Herman tried to hold back the tears, but he couldn’t. He held Burly close to him.
“Why doesn’t papa love me anymore?” he asked between the sobs.
“He loves you very much,” Burly replied.
“You keep saying that, but I heard him say that he loved Tad the most. And—and now he won’t even look at me.”
“Do you know why?” Burly asked.
Herman stuck his bottom lip out. “Because he doesn’t love me anymore.”
Burly waited for Herman to blow his nose. “Do you remember why your father said he loved Tad the most?”
Herman thought back. “Because he said Tad looked like him.”
“Have you ever stopped to look at yourself in the mirror real hard?”
“Why no.” Herman wrinkled his brow. He didn’t know what Burly was aiming at.
“Then you don’t know. You’ve never seen it,” Burly said, smiling a little. “You look just like your mother. So does Callie.”
Herman’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“That’s why he sent Callie away. That’s why he’s not looking at you now,” Burly explained. “You and your sister remind him too much of your mother. And he loved her very much.”
“Never think too little of a man’s love for his wife,” Burly Senior said from across the room. “Your father’s love for your mother almost killed him in the last few days. I’d say he’s having a tough time talking himself into living.”
“Gosh, I didn’t know he felt that way,” Herman confessed.
“I feel the same about Pearly,” Burly Senior continued. The only thing that keeps me from being as sad as your father is the fact that I will get to see Pearly again someday. We might even get to live together again.”
“So don’t be jealous,” Burly said. “Times are going to be hard enough as it is without you causing trouble with Tad because you’re jealous.”
So for the next few weeks and months Herman held his tongue and tried to look the other way when papa spoke to Tad and gave him an extra pat on the back. One reward for Herman’s behavior was that Tad seemed nicer. Maybe he knew he was getting special treatment from papa.
“You’re becoming a pretty good cook for a nine-year-old,” Tad said at supper one night near Christmas.
Herman smiled. “Thanks.”
He quickly glanced at papa who was concentrating on his food. Herman could have sworn papa had been looking at him. Sometimes as they worked in the field or as he helped in the barn Herman had the odd sensation papa was staring at him. When he told Burly about it, his little bear smiled.
“He’s coming out of his sadness a little,” Burly said. “Give him more time.”
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. A black family moved into the barn to help them pick the cotton. Mama continued to have dizzy spells. And then one night, when a turtledove got into the rafters, mama died.)
When he awoke the next morning he heard a woman’s voice in the kitchen. It sounded like his mother’s voice. Herman looked across the loft to see Tad in his bed, and he heard a soft moan from behind the sheet where Callie slept. Did he dream his mother died last night? Was it all just a terrible nightmare? Herman hoped it was and crawled to the edge of the loft to peek over. His heart sunk when he saw his Aunt Joyce—his mother’s sister—in the kitchen and her husband, Uncle Calvin, sitting at the kitchen table sipping coffee.
Aunt Joyce looked up and saw Herman. She smiled and said, “Hello, little boy. Come on down, and I’ll fix you some breakfast.”
Aunt Joyce looked very much like mama except she was heavier and had rosier cheeks. Her hair was streaked with gray and there were deep lines by her eyes and mouth.
“Have a good night’s sleep?” she asked softly, putting a bowl of oatmeal in front of him.
Herman took a couple of bites then looked up. “It’s real, isn’t it?”
Aunt Joyce looked at her husband and then directly into Herman’s eyes. “Yes, little boy. Your mama’s dead. Your papa’s still asleep in there. The doc gave him quite a shot last night to put him out, I understand. Your Uncle Calvin and I drove in from Texarkana when the sheriff called last night. We’ll stay to help out until after the funeral.”
Uncle Calvin cleared his throat. “And, of course, I’ll help the coloreds and you kids with bringing in the cotton. I don’t think your papa will be able to work the field, according to what the sheriff said. The last think he needs now is to lose the cotton crop.”
So it was work as usual for Herman, Tad and Callie that day, with Uncle Calvin and the Johnsons out in the field picking cotton. At lunch Mrs. Johnson told no stories and sang no songs. Even Tad kept quiet. Every now and then Callie would come over and give Herman a hug. When they came in for supper, papa’s bedroom door was still shut. The children had just finished eating when papa came out wearing his Sunday suit. Herman would have ordinarily smiled and told his papa how handsome he looked, but tonight he said nothing. Papa’s eyes told him to say nothing.
“Do you want to eat anything, Woody?” Aunt Joyce asked softly.
“Are you sure? It’s been since yesterday you put anything on your stomach.”
“Maybe later.” Then he left the house.
“Your papa’s going into town to the funeral parlor to pick out a coffin,” she announced as she cleared away the dishes.
The children were in bed when papa returned that night. He dropped into a chair by the kitchen table while Aunt Joyce fixed him a bowl of soup. Herman looked down at him and felt sorry for his papa. He was about to cry again.
“Go down and tell him how much you love him,” Burly whispered.
And Herman did. Without a word he crawled into his father’s lap and hugged him. “I love you, papa,” he said in a tiny, tear-choked voice. He waited a moment, hoping for those long, stringy, strong arms to enfold around him, but they didn’t.
“Joyce, get him to bed,” papa ordered, not looking at Herman.
Aunt Joyce rushed around the chair and guided Herman back to the ladder. “I think it would best to leave your papa alone for the next few days,” she whispered.
She hugged him and kissed him. While it felt nice, Herman decided it wasn’t the same as one of papa’s strong embraces.
The long day in the field, the hot sun and the aching back from leaning over the cotton plants were almost a relief for Herman, because the work took his mind off how his world was changing. The funeral—Aunt Joyce told him—would be the next day. Herman wished it was already over.
In the small church all their friends and neighbors gathered. The family approached the coffin to view mama for the last time. Papa completely collapsed, screaming and crying. Herman wished he hadn’t taken on so. Callie wept as she gripped Herman in her arms. Tad simply stood there, without a tear or showing any emotion. Herman thought that was strange until he realized he was doing the same thing. He wondered if Tad were thinking the same about him. Finally the day was over, and the next was life as usual, picking cotton with the hired hands. Except instead of papa, Uncle Calvin was the boss.
Uncle Calvin was a nice man who seemed to take life easier than papa. When Callie was whispering more than she was picking, Uncle Calvin simply said, “Let’s pick that cotton before it rots.” Papa would have barked an order while glaring at her. Instead Uncle Calvin just smiled and winked.
By the end of the week the crop was picked, and the Johnsons were in their wagon, which was pulled by a pair of gray mules. Before they left, Mrs. Johnson gave Herman one last hug.
“Believe in the Lord,” she whispered. “He will make all things right.” She paused to add, “Now don’t you trouble your little head about that turtledove. That little thing didn’t kill your mama.”
Herman decided life was returning to normal when Tad walked up and scolded, “Didn’t I tell you not to let that woman touch you?”
“Now, Tad,” Uncle Calvin said, patting him on the shoulder, “she didn’t do any harm.”
Tad knocked his hand away. “You’re not my papa.”
Uncle Calvin backed off and looked down. “No, I guess I’m not.” Then he walked to the barn.
Callie looked Tad in the face. “You didn’t have to be mean to him. He’s been good to us. Aunt Joyce too.”
Tad glared at his sister as though he was going to say something nasty, but instead he ran as hard as he could through the field and into the woods. Callie smiled at Herman and hugged him.
“Don’t worry about Tad. He’s taking it hard now, but he’ll get over it. No, don’t you worry. We’ll make it just fine. We’ll make it because we’re a family and we love each other. Down deep we really do.”
Herman smiled a moment and then frowned when he remembered why Tad had yelled at him in the first place. “Is it wrong to let Mrs. Johnson touch me?”
Callie shook her head. “Of course not.”
Herman was confused. “Then why does she want to touch me?”
Callie hugged him again. “Why do I want to touch you?”
“Because you love me.” Herman paused. “Does Mrs. Johnson love me?”
Callie looked down the road at the wagon as it disappeared on the horizon. “I think she has enough love in her for every child she meets.”
Feelings of motherly love began to flow from Callie to Herman. Yes, Herman told himself, Callie was growing up right before his eyes and was going to help take the place of mama. His hopes didn’t last long. When he and Callie walked into the house he saw papa and Aunt Joyce sitting at the kitchen table in deep conversation. She was telling him something, and he was shaking his head. When they saw the children, they stopped. Aunt Joyce smiled, but papa just stared off into space.
“You better tell her now,” papa said.
Aunt Joyce extended her arm. “Come here, Callie dear.” She hugged Callie, pulled her away to stare into her eyes. “Your papa’s decided it would be best for you to come live with your Uncle Calvin and me.”
“For how long?” Callie asked cautiously.
Aunt Joyce glanced at papa and then back at Callie. “Well, until you grow up. You see, your papa doesn’t think he can do a good job of raising a girl as she’s becoming, well, a young woman, so he wants me to do it.”
Callie took a step toward her father. “Papa?”
He looked away. Finally Callie turned to go to the loft. She looked back. “When do we leave?”
Aunt Joyce smiled. “Today. As soon as you pack.”
Callie slowly climbed the ladder, followed by Herman. Once at the top Herman grabbed her around the waist and whispered, “I don’t want you to go.”
She hugged him back. “I don’t want to go, but once papa makes up his mind there’s no arguing with him.”
Tears began to fill Herman’s eyes. “It was bad enough to lose mama, but to lose you too….” His little voice just went away.
“It’s not like we’ll never see each other again,” Callie said, trying to be cheerful. She piled her clothes and belongings in the middle of her sheet and tied the four corners. Callie headed for the ladder, but Herman stopped her.
“You forgot Pearly,” Herman said, holding the bear out to her.
Callie smiled. “You can keep her if you want.”
Herman almost agreed but thought better of it. “Don’t you want her?”
“Of course, I want Pearly,” Callie replied. “I love Pearly.”
He stuck the burlap bear in her hands. “Then you take her. I’ve still got Burly.”
Callie hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. “I love you, Herman.”
Herman couldn’t stand to go downstairs to see his sister off. He was afraid he would really cry then. Instead he went to the window by his bed and looked out. He saw Uncle Calvin put their bags into his black Ford sedan. Aunt Joyce tried to hug Tad but he stiffened and pulled away. Callie was not going to be put off, and she grabbed her brother and kissed him on the cheek as he squirmed. Herman saw Callie look up at the window and waved. He couldn’t help it; he cried anyway.
In a few minutes Tad came up the ladder and stormed toward Herman who was drying his tears in the pillow. “You stupid little dummy! Don’t you have any more sense than not to come down stairs to say goodbye to your own sister?” he demanded.
Herman looked up from his pillow, his cheeks still wet from the tears and his eyes puffy and red.
Tad stopped short in his tirade. Sighing, he patted Herman on the shoulder and headed back to the ladder. “You and I will have to take turns cooking now,” he said. “I’ll start tonight.”
Herman rubbed his head in the pillow to finish drying his tears. He felt a scratchy paw on his arm.
“Herman,” Burly said, “now I know how you felt to lose your mother because now I’ve lost mine.”
Hugging his bear, Herman cried, ”Oh Burly, what are we going to do?”
“Keep on loving each other,” Burly replied.
“And keep on loving your father and Tad,” Burly Senior said from across the room. “They’re going to need your love more than ever. And they’ll fight it more than ever too, which is going to make it even harder on you.”
Burly snuggled close to Herman. “But Herman can do it. I know he can.”
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. A black family moved into the barn to help them pick the cotton. Mama continued to have dizzy spells.)
“Mrs. Johnson says she knows all kinds of medicine to make you feel better,” Herman offered. He became nervous when his parents talked about how they couldn’t afford to go to the doctor when they felt sick.
Mama laughed. “I’m sure she does.”
“Don’t call her Mrs. Johnson,” Papa instructed.
“Why? What do I call her?”
“Call her Josie. That’s her name,” Mama replied. Her attention now was on the potatoes.
“Or the Johnson woman,” Papa instructed.
“Why? Isn’t she Mrs. Johnson?” Herman pushed.
Papa raised his eyebrows. “We don’t know if they’re married or not.”
“But they have children.”
“Oh, that doesn’t mean anything.” Mama laughed again.
Papa interrupted sternly. “Now that’s enough of that. Stay out of the barn. Don’t call her Mrs. Johnson. Don’t ask why. Just do it.”
Mama shook her head. “Herman’s always full of questions.”
Herman stared at the floor. “Yes, Papa.” Then he went up to the loft so he could be alone with his bear family.
“I don’t think Mama and Papa are very nice about the Johnsons,” he confided to Burly and his parents.
“But your mama and papa are very nice to you,” Burly reminded him. “Don’t ever forget that.”
“Burly’s right,” Pearly Bear added. “Their love for all three of you children fills this house and makes it warm.”
“But that doesn’t mean you should pretend they’re nice to the Johnsons,” Burly Senior interjected. “Sometimes even parents can be wrong.”
“Even you?” Burly asked.
Burly Senior shuffled his burlap body a bit and cleared his throat. “Well, I haven’t been around long enough to make any mistakes. But I imagine I will, some day.”
Pearly giggled at her husband, and soon all four of them were having a good laugh.
The next day out in the field Herman sat next to Mrs. Johnson during lunch even though Tad gave him an angry look. Herman ignored his brother and looked at a nearby tree.
“Those birds sure are singing pretty,” he said, munching on a sandwich.
Mrs. Johnson quickly swallowed a mouthful of food and waved her hand at the tree. “Oh, those are turtledoves. They’ve got a beautiful song to sing all right, but you better not let one get in your house.”
“Why not?” Herman asked.
“Lord sakes alive, baby,” Mrs. Johnson exclaimed. “You let a turtledove in your house, and it starts to cooing and such, and sure enough somebody in your family will wind up dead.”
Tad snorted in disbelief. Herman couldn’t help but notice the three Johnson boys glowering at Tad. He also noticed they put their hands up to their face as they whispered to each other. One of them laughed but the other two hit him on his shoulder.
“Now, Josie,” her husband said in a reproving tone, “you know you shouldn’t be telling your stories to those boys.”
Before she could reply, Herman’s father walked up and announced, “Time to get back to work.”
Herman and Tad picked cotton side by side.
“You don’t believe that malarkey about turtledoves, do you?” Tad asked.
“N-no, I guess not,” Herman stammered. He really didn’t know what to believe but he thought it would be safer to say no to Tad.
“That’s why you shouldn’t talk to coloreds.” Tad used his I-told-you-so voice.
“You kids! Get to work!” Papa shouted, and that was the end of that.
When they were finished for the day and had emptied their sacks into a big wagon with tall chicken wire walls, Tad pulled Herman over to the side.
“Come on with me,” he whispered. “We’re going to have some fun.”
Herman smiled and ran along with him. It wasn’t often that Tad included him in his fun. Tad grabbed a burlap bag from the side of the barn and towed Herman down the road to the tree where the turtledoves were singing at noon. They carefully climbed the branches until they came to a nest. Tad threw his bag over the nest, capturing a turtledove.
“What are you going to do with it?” Herman asked.
Tad winked. “You’ll see.”
When they climbed down the tree there stood their father with his arms folded across his chest.
“And what do you boys think you’re up to?” Herman recognized that voice. That was the voice Papa used before the spanking began.
“I don’t know; just having fun,” Herman whispered.
“How about you, Tad?”
Tad tried to hide the sack behind him. “Aww, Papa, it was just a little joke. We were going to put the turtledove in the barn to scare the Johnsons.”
“Drop it! Right now! Herman, you go into the house. Tad! You follow me!”
Tad and his father marched around to the far side of the barn. When Herman got in the house he looked out the window to see what was going on. He could hear the whacks all the way to the house. Just then, the youngest of the Johnson boys ran out of the barn and into the woods. He turned to his mother and Callie who were cutting up vegetables for a stew.
“Papa’s beating Tad again.”
“What on earth for?” She dried her wet hands on her apron.
Herman explained how Mrs. Johnson told them about the turtledove curse and about how Tad was going to catch a turtledove and put it in the barn to scare the Johnsons. They had one in a sack when Papa came up and stopped the whole thing.
“Woody’s going to kill that boy before he makes it to manhood. Well, I could use that turtledove in the stew. Where is it?”
“In the woods,” Herman replied.
“Come take me to it.”
“Oh, I want to go with you too!” Callie pleaded. “This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time!”
When they arrive at the tree where the turtledove nest was, they found the burlap bag but it was empty.
“It must have worked its way out. Oh well, we tried.” Mama took a step but stopped to bend over. “There’s that dizziness again.” She lifted her head to smile at Herman. “Did anything else happen today?”
“After Papa took Tad out behind the barn, one of the Johnson boys ran into the woods,” Herman replied.
“Maybe he went to get the turtledove,” Callie offered.
“Why on earth would he do that? And how did he know there was a turtledove in a bag out there?”
“Maybe he overheard Papa and Tad talking out behind the barn.” Callie wringed her hands, looking down.
“No, they wouldn’t do that,” Mama said, shaking her head.
“Why not?” Herman asked.
“You ask too many questions, Herman. Stop it,” she ordered. “Let’s get back to the house. Woody and Tad must be there by now.”
When they entered the house, Tad and his father were looking up in the rafters. A turtle dove was cooing.
“What on earth is that noise?” Callie asked.
“Oh, somehow a turtledove got in the house,” their father said. “Don’t worry. I’ll get it. Maybe your mama can put it in the stew.”
“Tad!” His mother glared at him. “Did you bring that bird into my house?”
“No!” Tad looked frustrated. “I didn’t. Honest.”
The bird continued cooing, flitting away every time their father got near.
“The cooing is pretty, but it’s getting on my nerves,” Callie said.
“You’re not the only one,” her mother murmured.
Herman watched mama closely. It looked to him like she must be getting dizzy again. “Mama, are you all right?”
“Of course, I am, baby. It’s just that….” Their mother’s voice trailed off as she fell to the floor.
“Papa! Mama’s fainted!” Herman yelled.
His father jumped down from the rafters, swooped his wife up into his arms and rushed her into their bedroom. Callie ran in after them and closed the door. Herman and Tad stared at each other for what seemed like hours. In a few minutes Callie came out crying. She slumped into one of the kitchen table chairs and sobbed uncontrollably. Her brothers approached her slowly, as though they were treading on holy ground.
“What’s wrong?” Tad whispered.
Callie looked up, tears streaming down her cheeks and her eyes puffy and red. She could hardly get the words out.
Herman and Tad were stunned. They couldn’t move. They couldn’t speak. They couldn’t think. Slowly Herman’s eyes focused on the shadows of the rafters. The turtledove was gently cooing.
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. Herman asked his parents to make burlap bears for his brother and sister for Christmas. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school, Tad was nicer and the tent show was coming to town. Herman liked it, but didn’t know why black people had to sit behind a rope.)
Burly Senior’s questions—were bears and people much different why black people were not treated honestly–bothered Herman all that summer as he worked in the cotton field alongside his father, Tad and Callie. He didn’t dare mention black people to papa for fear he would look like he smelled rotten eggs again. One day, as they hoed weeds around from the leafy green plants, Herman gathered his courage and asked Tad.
“What do you mean, why do black people have to sit in the back behind a rope?” Tad snapped. “You don’t want to sit next to some big fat old colored woman, would you? She might touch you.”
Herman’s eyes widened. “Does it rub off?
Tad spat and hoed faster. “Don’t be stupid.”
Callie, who was in the next row, glared at Tad. “Don’t call Herman stupid.”
“I’ll call him anything I want!” Tad yelled.
“You’re the stupid one!” Callie retorted.
Papa walked up with his hoe, and the argument stopped. A few minutes went by and then Callie looked round and whispered to Herman.
“What was all that about anyway?”
“Aww, I asked if the black rubs off on you if a colored person touched you.”
Callie stifled a giggle. “Of course not. That is stupid.” She paused and added quickly. “But it was wrong for Tad to call you stupid.”
They hoed side by side for about an hour before Herman had the courage to ask her the main question. “Callie, just why do black people have to sit in the back behind a rope?”
“We sat as far back as they did,” she replied without looking at her brother.
“But we came late and we didn’t have to sit behind a rope, like we were different.” When she didn’t say anything, Herman added in a whisper, “Are they different?”
Again Callie studiously kept her eyes to the ground. “Papa says they are.”
“Is—is papa right?”
First giving a quick glance to her father, Callie answered, “I don’t think so. But don’t say that to papa. He might get mad.”
Herman was confused. “Why? Doesn’t he want us to be honest? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we were honest?”
“Yes.” She hoed hard and fast. “But papa doesn’t think so. Maybe someday things will change.”
“But if papa thinks they’re different, maybe they are,” Herman thought aloud.
“Less talk! More work!” papa barked.
Herman didn’t ask any more questions, but he was terribly confused. He didn’t understand why Callie would believe different than papa or Tad. Maybe it was mama who believed differently, and Callie got it from her. That evening, after the hoeing was done, and Tad had gone swimming in the creek and Callie took Pearly Bear to play dolls with her friends, Herman went into the house and walked up to his mother who was chopping vegetables for a stew.
His mother sighed but answered sweetly, “Yes, dear?”
“Are black people different?”
She stopped and looked down at him, her slender hands going to the nape of her neck to massage it. “What makes you ask a thing like that?”
Herman looked down. “I was just wondering.”
“Yes. Don’t worry about it,” she answered and went back to her chopping.
“But—why?” He was about to say Callie thought differently but stopped because he didn’t want to get her in trouble.
Mama laughed. “You think more than any one child I’ve ever seen.”
Interrupting him firmly she said, “Go to the loft and play.”
Herman did as he was told, climbed the ladder and crawled into the bed to snuggle with Burly.
“Of course Callie is right,” Bear Senior announced. “People are people, no matter what color they are. Just like bears are bears, whether they’re made of burlap or some fancy material from Sears and Roebuck.”
“I even think bears and people are alike,” Burly offered.
“That’s right, son,” his Burly Senior agreed.
“But how could Callie know this and not papa, mama or Tad?” The more they talked, the more confused Herman became.
“Why do you know it?” Burly asked.
“I don’t know if I know it or not.” Herman hung his head.
“Of course you do,” Burly Senior told him.
Herman pulled them into his arms. “I guess I know because of all you.”
“No,” Burly said. “You knew before you even talked to us. You knew because it bothered you to see the black people roped off.”
“But you helped,” Herman offered.
“Of course,” Burly quipped with a smile. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Herman sighed. The whole situation was too much for him to understand. “I’m glad you talk to me.” He looked at Burly Senior. “Don’t you talk to Tad?”
“I would if he wanted me to,” the papa bear replied.
The summer continued, and Herman kept his thoughts about honesty to himself. Even though it was hard work, keeping the cotton rows clear of weeds and nice and soft for the plants to grow big and strong, he rather enjoyed it. This was the first year papa decided he was old enough to help, and Herman could feel himself grow taller every time Papa walked by, patted him on the back and said, “Good work.”
Eventually the hot, clear skies gave way to the clouds of fall, and school came back. This time Herman was not as scared. For one thing, the session had hardly begun when all the farm children were allowed to leave so they could pick cotton before bolls rotted on the branches. To pick them quickly was so important that papa actually paid a family to help pick the cotton.
The Johnsons were black, and Herman was happy papa had given them work for they looked very poor. Mr. Johnson was gray and stoop-shouldered. Mrs. Johnston was short and very stout, but also very talkative and friendly. They had three children, all boys and all older than Herman. They were distant and brooding. Herman liked to sit next to Mrs. Johnson when they stopped for lunch. She sang songs and told stories. Sometimes she would take his fingers and sing a little tune while wriggling each one.
“Don’t let her do that,” Tad scolded him as they went back to work in the rows of cotton.
“Do what?” Herman was puzzled.
“Touch you like that,” Tad replied in a hissing, whispery voice, glancing over his shoulder at the black family.
Herman laughed a little. “All she did was wiggle my fingers.”
“All she wants is to be able to touch a white person.
“Why should she want to do that?”
Tad looked at Herman with scorn. “Stupid. Don’t you know that’s what all blacks want to do?”
“Touch white people?” Herman couldn’t believe what Tad was saying.
“You just watch it.” Tad skulked away.
That night mother asked Herman to find his father quickly. She was sitting in one of the straight-backed wooden chairs with her head between her knees. That scared Herman, so he ran out to the barn, where he usually found his father. Instead he found the Johnsons bedding down in an empty stall.
“Well, hello, little fellow!” Mrs. Johnson said cheerfully.
“Have you seen my papa?” Herman’s voice was all tight from fear.
Mrs. Johnson frowned with concern. “What’s the matter, baby?”
Herman,” papa said from the barn door. “Come here.”
Herman ran to his father to tell him that mama wanted him, but before he could say anything, his father pulled him away.
“I thought I told you to stay out of the barn while we have them sleeping in there,” he lectured harshly. He emphasized the word “them” with a nastiness that made Herman uncomfortable.
“But mama, she’s not feeling good,” Herman whined. “She wanted me to find you.”
Papa straightened and stared at the house.
He walked quickly to the door. Inside mama was already back at the kitchen peeling potatoes.
“Opal, are you all right?” Papa asked so sweetly than Herman didn’t feel uncomfortable anymore.
“Oh, I was just a little dizzy, that’s all.” She laughed, but it soon turned into a cough.” She turned to smile at Herman. “Thank you for getting your father so fast, Herman.”
Papa put his long, wormy arms around her. “Are you sure?”
She leaned against him. “No, I was just being silly.”
“I think I ought to take you to the doctor,” he said softly.
Mama turned to her work at the sink. “What would we pay him with?”
“We’ll have money when the cotton is sold,” papa replied.
“We need that money for more important things.” Mama was always practical.
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. Herman asked his parents to make burlap bears for his brother and sister for Christmas. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school, Tad was nicer and the tent show was coming to town.)
Herman and Tad ran out the front door and scrambled into the back of the pickup. Callie rode in the cab next to her father. They were well on their way down the road when Tad leaned over to Herman. “Can you keep a secret?”
Herman became scared because whenever Tad said something like that he was in trouble and going to get Herman in trouble too. “I guess.”
Tad smiled as he pulled from under his shirt Burly.
“Shush,” Tad whispered. “I said keep it on the QT.”
Tad shrugged. “I thought it wouldn’t hurt anything, and, heck, you’ve been a pretty good kid, making good grades and, well, you pull your weight around the farm.”
“I love you, Tad.”
His brother stiffened. “Aww, don’t get sloppy on me.”
The rest of the ride went in silence, but it was the happiest silence Herman ever shared with Tad. When they arrived at the tent they had to take seats towards the back since it was almost filled. Herman had never seen so many people together in one place, which also made it very hot. The sides of the tent were rolled up so air could move through, and people with the show were giving out hand fans.
“Hi, Herman!” a boy called out.
Herman looked up and smiled. It was one of the nicer boys from school, Gerald Morgan.
“Who’s that?” papa asked.
“Oh, a boy from school.” Herman stopped smiling long enough to make sure Burly wasn’t showing from underneath his shirt and then gave Gerald one last wave.
They hadn’t been there long when a band marched out and sat right in front of the stage. Music began, and the curtain opened. Herman cautiously pulled Burly from under his shirt so he could watch too. Glancing over at his father, he saw a happy grin on his face. The actors came out and began talking. To be honest Herman didn’t really understand much of what they were talking about or who was who. One fellow was definitely a bad guy, who talked nasty to people and threatened all the pretty girls on stage. Another actor was the good guy. Everybody seemed to like him. Finally there was Toby. Harley Sadler didn’t look a thing like he did that afternoon. He had on a silly red wig and had freckles painted on his face, and he wore funny looking wooly chaps. When he came on stage everyone else sort of disappeared because the entire audience laughed at Toby.
Partway through the show papa leaned over to Herman, who jumped and quickly put Burly under his shirt. “Can you see all right, son?” he whispered.
“Kind of,” Herman replied.
Papa looked behind him to make sure there wasn’t anyone he would be blocking and then lifted Herman to his shoulders.
At first Herman had a few butterflies in his stomach because he was so high but he could see better. It felt good being so close to his father so the butterflies soon went away. After a while Herman asked his father if he was hurting his back.
“Not to mention, as long as you’re having a good time,” Papa replied.
The hero beat up the bad guy with the help of Toby. One of the pretty girls turned Toby down when he asked her to marry him, which didn’t seem right. But another pretty girl did marry the hero, which made the audience cheer. The curtain came down, the band played some happy-sounding music, and the audience applauded.
On the way out Herman smiled with the satisfaction of knowing exactly what a tent show was now and of feeling love flowing from his family. Then he saw something that broke the warm feeling. Off to the back left was a section roped off for black people. He hadn’t noticed it when they came in. Indeed, it was the first time Herman had ever noticed that black people were treated differently and it bothered him. As his father lifted him off his shoulders and onto the ground, Herman’s first reaction was to ask his father about it, but he decided not to say anything.
He had almost forgotten the separation of the black people when they got home. Herman was about to walk into the house when his father called him over to the shed where he was putting the pickup away for the night.
“How did Burly like the show?” Papa asked.
Papa smiled knowingly. “You better take him out from under your shirt now. He’s going to rub your skin raw.”
Herman pulled Burly out. “How did you know? Did Tad tell?”
“Why? Did Tad know?”
“Um, no.” Herman didn’t want to get his brother into trouble.
Papa patted Herman’s back. “Don’t worry about it. Get on to bed.”
Herman was leaving when he decided to ask about the black people. His father’s serene expression changed as Herman spoke.
“Oh, the coloreds.” The last word floated up through Papa’s nostrils as though it were the stench of rotten eggs. He turned away from Herman, his way of saying a conversation was over. “Don’t worry about them.”
Now Herman wished he hadn’t brought the subject up. It put a sour ending to a wonderful evening. When he climbed the ladder to the loft he found Callie and Tad already asleep. He took his clothes off, opened his window and climbed into bed.
“How did you like the show?” he asked Burly.
“What I saw I liked. Of course, I couldn’t see much from under your shirt.”
“I’m sorry,” Herman whispered.
“Oh no. I was glad I got to go, no matter what.”
Herman smiled as he nestled into his pillow. “Wasn’t it nice of Tad to bring you?”
“Of course. I keep telling you he loves you.”
Herman sighed. “Yes. But often it comes as a surprise.”
From across the room came two other bear voices.
“How did you like the show?” Pearly Bear asked.
“Was it fun?” Burly Senior added.
“Oh yes, mama, papa,” Burley replied. “Even though I did have to sit under a shirt.”
“Sit under a shirt?” Burly Senior said with a hint of indignation. “Herman, why did you do that to Burly?”
“I—I was afraid of what Papa would say,” Herman stammered.
“But your father knew all along,” Pearly said. “You would have been better off being honest, and then Burly would have had a better view.”
Herman frowned and thought about the black people again. “Are people being dishonest about black people?
“I don’t know,” Pearly replied. “I just know about bears.”
And then Burly Senior asked, “But are bears and people much different?”