Tag Archives: love

Burly Chapter Fifteen

(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.”

Burly Chapter Fourteen


(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.”

Happiness


Three days after grandma’s funeral, Jeff began the dreary duty of clearing out her house.
Each room was filled with items bought at yard sales. Jeff knew. Every Saturday for the last three years he had driven his grandmother throughout scattered neighborhoods looking for that one special item that would make her life happy. Usually she found at least two or three items at each sale, and they went to as many sales as they could before grandma had to return home for her afternoon nap.
Stacked on the dining room table were wicker baskets of all sizes and shapes, each one bought to store a specific item.
“This one will be perfect for all the mail that comes in each day,” she told him, “and this one over here will be good to put all the bills in before I mail them out.”
She picked up another basket, saying, “I can put my knitting supplies in this one.”
Another basket was shaped like a swan. “I don’t know what I could put in this, but it is so pretty I cannot pass it up.”
Now all the baskets were dusty as they lay one inside the other. A few had dirty dish towels draped over them, towels which his grandmother fussed about not being able to find. On the floor underneath the dining room table were extra dishtowels grandma had bought to replace the ones she thought she lost.
Jeff walked into the spare bedroom where he began to pack boxes of porcelain figurines, some of Greek goddesses and some of colonial ladies, all of them slightly faded and chipped. If he closed his eyes he could still hear the joy in her voice as she cooed over her discoveries. He even remembered the twinkle in her eyes and the way her bony fingers danced across the porcelain.
It was not that he begrudged the time he spent taking his grandmother from yard sale to yard sale. She had been kind to him when he was a child, and his parents seem to care more about their careers in retail sales. Both of them went from major store to major store– Sears, Ward’s, JCPenney and many others– working long hours for little appreciation and even less income. But grandma always make sure he had all the attention he wanted or needed.
As his grandmother grew older and needed help getting around, Jeff realized the job would be left up to him because his parents still thought one day they would be rewarded for all their loyal service to the big retail stores. So every afternoon after he had spent the day teaching middle school English, Jeff went to his grandmother’s house to see what she needed. Most times she had the local newspaper spread open to the section about yard sales and was planning her route for the weekend.
Jeff sat next to her, pen and pad in hand, to take careful notes. After three years he had every neighborhood in town memorized.
“What I really need,” she confided in a whisper, “is a new bathrobe.”
Jeff just smiled and nodded and wrote it down on his pad, even though he knew his mother had given his grandmother a new bathrobe for Christmas which she had bought on sale at Sears.
After he had packed all the porcelain figurines in bubble wrap and placed them in boxes, Jeff walked into his grandmother’s bedroom and began to take down from the closet all the dresses and coats she had picked up for only 50 cents or a dollar. He knew the exact prices because many of the clothes still had the price stickers on them.
“What did she think he was buying?” Jeff muttered to himself.
By the weekend, he had all of his grandmother’s possessions organized, priced and ready to go on sale in the front lawn. As usual, he had to do all the work by himself because Saturday was always a busy day for his parents at the store. Besides that, grandma was very specific in her will. All the treasures in her home were left to Jeff to do with as he wished. She knew, as stated in the will, he would benefit greatly financially when he sold them. All Jeff really wanted was to make enough money to pay for the classified ad he had placed in the newspaper.
On Saturday morning Jeff sat in a lawn chair, which still had the sticker on which was written 50 cents.
First to go were the wicker baskets.
“I don’t know what I’ll do with it,” an old woman said while holding up the swan to a young woman standing by her side, “but it’s so pretty I have to have it.”
Jeff sold it to her for 10 cents less than his grandmother had paid for it last year.
“You can never have too many rags,” an old man told a little boy standing by him as he grabbed a handful of the older dishtowels. “They’re good for cleaning up around the garage.”
The towels went for one penny each, and how the man’s eyes twinkle as he counted out carefully each coin.
“You see, Billy, this is how you save money.”
By noon Jeff had sold out of all of his grandmother’s treasures and realized what she had been buying all those years at yard sales. It was the same thing these people had just bought.
Happiness.

Burly Chapter Thirteen


(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.
“No.”
“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.”

Me Irish Secret


If truth be told, I’ve lived in Ireland all me life and have kept a most peculiar secret. Since I’m away from home among strange and foreign peoples, I’ll share it with ye.
Me best friend in all the world is a leprechaun.
Now laugh if ye must, but it’s the God’s honest truth. It began when I was a wee lad in—oh, I can’t tell ye the name of me village, because ye be likely to go there and look for me best friend’s gold, and I can’t have that. Let me just say I live in a tiny town in a lovely meadow surrounded by tall trees and awesome hills. Ha! The whole of Ireland looks like that, so what good does that do ye! As I was sayin’, I was a wee lad without any friends and no prospects for any kind of prosperous life. Me da had long since died, and me ma had to take in laundry to feed and clothe us children.
Me ma had sent me out into the woods searchin’ for berries when I first came upon the little man. No more than three feet he was, and not much shorter than meself. Bein’ a lad who had no such knowledge of leprechauns, I mistook him for another child.
“Hello there,” says I. “Do you want to play?”
“Off with ye, ye little devil!” the leprechaun says in a mean and nasty voice.
I’ll be not ashamed to tell ye, I sat right down on the ground and began to cry like a baby.
“Why don’t nobody want to play with me?” I says in a bawl. “Am I such a terrible mortal being that I must be shunned me entire life?”
Now the little man took a step back and then twisted up his face. “Bah! It’s all just a trick to get me pot of gold.”
“I don’t want a pot of gold. I just want a friend.”
I must have sounded like the most pitiful creature he had ever heard in his life because he took a few steps towards me.
“Don’t ye know who I am, child?”
When I lifted me little tear-stained face, I saw that what was standin’ in front of me wasn’t no child at all, but a shriveled up old man. If I had had any sense about me at all, I’d jumped to me feet and run home.
He put his hands out between us. “Don’t look into me eyes!”
“No, sir, I won’t,” I says in reply. “To tell ye the truth, I’m a mighty shy lad and don’t like lookin’ into no body’s face at all.”
The little man slowly lowered his hands. “That’s good, because if ye did stare into me eyes I’d beholden to take you to me gold.”
I wiped the tears from me eyes and rubbed me nose on me sleeve. “Why do ye keep talkin’ about a pot of gold? I don’t think nobody in Ireland has a pot of gold, and that’s the God’s honest truth!”
His wee mouth fell open. “The saints preserve us, I do believe ye don’t know who I am.”
“Ye are a mean wrinkled up old man, and I want nothin’ to do with ye!”
“Ain’t ye never heard of leprechauns, lad?”
“No.” I was about to get to me feet and run away.
“What kind of a da would ye have that would not tell ye of leprechauns?”
“Me da is dead! And me ma must wash clothes all day and all night to put food on the table! Now, go leave me alone!”
“Oh, child, I didn’t know.” He pulled a leather pouch from his pocket and took out a gold coin. “Now why don’t ye take me gold coin? It should make it all better.”
Now I was really mad. I stood and kicked dirt at the little man. “And how do I know it’s a real gold coin? And if it is real, then one of the O’Leary boys will steal it from me before I get home.”
He put the coin piece away and put his arm around me waist and said, “What brings ye to the woods, lad?”
“Me ma craves some berries for supper. She sent me to look for some.”
“Well, ain’t ye the luckiest boy in all of Ireland. I happen to know where the best berries grow.”
And he showed me where they were. And the next evenin’ he showed me where the prettiest heather grew so I could take a bundle to me ma. Then he said he liked to use heather to make some poteen. I bet ye don’t know what poteen is. It’s what you call in this country moonshine. I told him quite honestly that I didn’t think me ma would care much for poteen.
He laughed and I laughed and we had a grand old time. Over the next few years he told me exactly what a leprechaun was and why he was so jealous of his pot of gold. I kept tellin’ him that I didn’t care a thing for gold, but he just puffed on his pipe and said, “One day, lad, one day ye shall grow up and ye will care about gold then, and then we must part our ways.”
I swore to him that it wasn’t true, but he just smiled and puffed his pipe. Oh, what things he taught. I learned how to make a fine pair of shoes. I could make money for me family now. He taught me how to sing and dance. And what young lady could resist an Irish lad who could sing and dance? When I turned the ripe old age of twenty-one, the leprechaun said, “Ye are a fine strappin’ man now. Ye have a fine business and a beautiful wife. We can never see each other again.”
“Ye are just as mean and nasty as ye have ever been,” I says to him with a snort. “But ye won’t run me off as easy as that.”
The next thing I knew I felt a crackin’ pain on me head and I was out like a light. When I came to, there was one of those O’Leary boys—Fergus, the meanest one of them all—staring into the eyes of the leprechaun, and sure as could be he was forcing me wee little friend to take him to his pot of gold. Like a sure footed deer I followed them to a cave. And when that devil Fergus O’Leary came out holdin’ me friend’s pot of gold, I jumped on his back and rassled him to the ground. We was tradin’ blow for blow until I found meself on my back with Fergus O’Leary standin’ over me with a giant log, about to bash me to death. Then, poof, a cloud of smoke and all that was left of Fergus O’Leary was a teeny green frog.
I saw the leprechaun standin’ there, with his arms still outstretched, pointing at the frog that once was Fergus. I stood, picked up the pot of gold and handed it back to me friend. He took it and stared a long time at me.
“But ye could have kept the gold, and there was not thing I could have done to stop ye.”
Smiling, I says, “Are ye daft, man? What good is a pot of gold if you don’t have a friend?”

Burly Chapter Twelve


(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.)
The next few hours floated by Herman as though he were dreaming, but he knew it was not a dream. His mother was dead. From the moment Callie sat in that chair and cried Herman felt as though he had been captured in a giant bubble, a bubble that somehow made him invisible to the people rushing around him; a bubble, however, that was crystal clear and allowed him to see exactly what was being done and what was being said; and, finally, and dreadfully, a bubble that had somehow numbed him so that he didn’t feel his sister’s sorrow, his brother’s anger and papa’s total despair.
“Mama’s dead,” Callie whispered again and again, each time getting softer and softer.
Tad walked to the bedroom and peeked in.
“Get out of here!” papa roared. “Haven’t I told you not to disturb your mother while she’s resting?”
Tad backed away in fear, then, turning and taking stock of what was happening, bolted for the door. Herman watched him leave but didn’t ask where he was going. He couldn’t ask. He couldn’t make his voice work at all.
A few minutes later Tad was back with a neighbor, a tall, heavy man with grayish white hair. Hovering at the door were the Johnsons murmuring and whispering. The neighbor went into the bedroom.
“Mr. Horn?” he asked.
“Go away!”
“The boy here says Mrs. Horn’s passed on.”
“She’s fine! Go away!”
“No, no. She’s dead,” Callie whimpered. “Her eyes, they’re just staring. And—and she’s not breathing at all.”
“Mr. Horn, the children—“
“Go away or I’ll blast your head off with my shotgun!”
The neighbor turned to Tad and shook his head. “Your papa’s gone loco, boy. I got to get some help. You stay here with your brother and sister.”
The tall man was almost out of the door when Tad said, almost to himself, “Papa’s not loco. Don’t you call my papa loco.”
And the turtledove kept on cooing. Somewhere in the recesses of Herman’s mind the thought occurred to climb the ladder to the loft to try to catch the turtledove and take it outside so nobody else would die that night. His body wouldn’t move.
Several minutes later the neighbor returned with the county sheriff—Herman recognized him because he always patted him on the head and gave him a penny for candy. Right behind them was the doctor—he knew him from the time papa broke his arm falling from the barn loft and the doctor came to set it.
“He’s in there,” the neighbor whispered.
Tad stiffened as though guarding the door. “He’s not loco,” he mumbled.
The sheriff, not as tall as the neighbor but bigger around the middle and wearing a gun and holster, strode across the rough wooden floor.
“Woody?” he bellowed out in a shaky but friendly voice. “It’s Pete. I got the doc here to look at your Mrs.”
“Go away!”
“Now, Woody, Mr. Cochran here says Opal’s passed away, and the doc’s got to see her.”
“He’s not loco,” Tad mumbled, blocking the sheriff’s way into the room.
The sheriff gently moved Tad to one side. “I know, son. Now get out of the way so we can help.”
“You tell Cochran to mind his own business!” their father yelled.
The sheriff looked in the door then glanced back out at the doctor. “Yeah, doc. She’s gone.”
“I said to get out of here!” Papa screamed as he flew from the bedside to pounce on the sheriff who had a hard time throwing him off and down on the floor.
“Doc! Do something!” the neighbor yelled.
Quickly the doctor opened his bag and began to fix an injection of some kind while the neighbor helped hold down papa. When Tad saw what the doctor was doing he ran over and tried to stop him.
“Don’t you hurt my father!”
The neighbor wrapped his arms around Tad as the doctor gave papa the injection. “Don’t worry, boy. The doc’s just giving him something to help him sleep.”
“No! No!” Tad screamed.
Soon papa fell limp from the injection, and Tad stopped fighting the neighbor who let him go. Tad crept into the corner nearest the bedroom door and huddled there, like a shivering, scared puppy dog. The neighbor and the sheriff carried papa into the bedroom and carried mama out.
The sheriff glanced at Mrs. Johnson. “Get the children to bed.”
Mrs. Johnson looked at Tad crouched in the corner and then whispered to her husband, “Leave him alone. He can take care of himself.”
She walked over to Callie who was sniffing and wiping away the last of her tears. “Will you be all right, honey?” she asked.
Callie nodded and looked up to smile bravely. Mrs. Johnson was about to move on to Herman when she heard the cooing of the turtledove in the rafters. She motioned to her husband.
“Get that thing out of here.”
Then she walked over to hug Herman who couldn’t help but hug back and break into tears.
“That’s all right, baby. You just go right on ahead and cry your eyes out. That’s what the Lord gives us tears for, when that cross becomes just too much to bear.” After a moment she moved him to the ladder leading to the loft. “Now you get up there and try to get some sleep. There’s going to be some long hard days ahead for you, child, and you’ll need all the rest you can get.”
Herman found himself all alone in the loft, until he felt a scratchy rub at his elbow. It was Burly.
“I’m sorry your mama died,” he whispered. “If stuffed bears had tears, I’d cry for you.”
“Oh, Burly I didn’t mean to kill mama!”
Burly wrinkled his nose. “You didn’t kill your mother.”
Herman shook his head. “Oh no. I did. Tad and I caught that turtledove and somehow it got into the house.
Burly tried to hug Herman with his little burlap arms. “No, no, no. You did not kill your mother. That story about the turtledoves was a superstition.”
Herman frowned. “What’s a superstition?”
“A story that isn’t true but people believe in it anyway. Sometimes people know it isn’t true but they repeat it because they think it’s funny.”
“Are you sure?”
“As sure as I am of the fact you loved your mother.”
Herman hugged Burly tightly and began to cry all over again. He didn’t realize he had so many tears inside him. Finally the tears went away, and Herman drifted into a very deep sleep.

The Nature of Tears

Two years have passed, and I yet have shed a tear over the death of my wife Janet. The other night I watched the Oscars and looked over to her side of the sofa and said aloud what I know what she would have commented on each and every dress. I wrote a play as a benefit for the local free clinic because as a probation officer Janet told her people to go there for help. I still wear my wedding ring. But not a single tear.
Thinking back over my life I realize that I have cried very few times out of grief. In fact, the only time I remember was after the funeral of my mother when I was fourteen years old. My crazy brother (no, he really was—in and out of mental hospitals all his adult life) had been very kind and comforting that day, no hysterical fits, no outlandish behavior intended to embarrass me in front of people). I said to him, “I love you,” and broke into tears. Maybe that wasn’t in grief as much as relief that he had stayed sane for an entire day.
Most of the times I cried were out of frustration and anger. People watching this thought I cried because I had my feelings hurt. That wasn’t it. I was mad and wanted to attack the bastard but I knew he was bigger than me. All he had to do is push me down and laugh at me because I wasn’t able to fight back. I could have hit him from behind but then people would think I was as crazy as my brother.
Certain movies had a way of making me tear up, mostly those with happy endings. The worst time was when my teen-aged son and I went to “Field of Dreams.” When the lead character’s father walked through the corn and they started playing catch, I broke down. I never played catch with my father. Of course I embarrassed my son. We had to sit there until the audience cleared out and I had composed myself.
I hated my job at a certain newspaper in the 1970s so much that I cried in the boss’s office. Once again I think it was frustration. Another time I cried when a prominent city’s community theater said it was seriously considering one of my plays. So that was out of happiness. I didn’t cry when they eventually returned it. I was used to rejection by that point.
Most of the time I have been able to choke back the tears. The trick is to keep my damn mouth shut. The less I talk the less likely I am to cry. As the years go by I have been more successful in controlling it, but mostly I’ve convinced myself I’ve experienced everything so emotions have become somewhat of a bore.
One time I choked up still confuses me. It was at the end of my college senior year. I went to the movies alone and ran into one of my former roommates. He was a loud flag-waving bigot. He was very specific about how every other race was inferior to white people, especially to white people of the United States. By the time I met up with him that last week in the movie theater, he seemed to have mellowed out on his political views or at least learned to keep them to himself. When we stood outside the theater after the movie we shook hands.
I was about to say, “Well, see you later,” when it struck me there wasn’t going to be a later. I hadn’t even given a second thought to all the people I had said good-bye to for the last time, but this choked me up. What the hell. I didn’t even like him.
I almost cried over this jerk, but I can’t even work up some tears for my wife of forty-four years. Maybe it’s because I know she’s still inside me and will never leave, so why cry over that?

Burly Chapter Ten


(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.
“Mama?”
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.”
“But—“
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.
“Oh.”
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.

Burly Chapter Nine

(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.
“Burly!”
“Shush,” Tad whispered. “I said keep it on the QT.”
“Thank you.”
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.
“What?”
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?”

Burly Chapter Eight


(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.)
That night as Herman lay in bed he held Burly close. “Isn’t it exciting, Burly?” He didn’t hold his bear too close because it was hot in the loft. Three small windows were open by each of the beds. Herman slept in his undershorts, but there wasn’t enough breeze to keep him from sweating.
“Yes, it is exciting,” Burly said. “Nice things like that help keep your mind off how uncomfortable the heat is.”
“Tad said this man Harley is real funny. I don’t know what he does exactly, but I can’t wait for us to see it.”
“I’m glad you want Callie and Tad to have a good time too.”
Herman tickled Burly’s tummy. “No, I mean you. I can’t wait for you to see Harley.”
“No, Herman, I can’t go. They won’t want stuffed bears coming to their show.”
Frowning, Herman asked, “Why not?”
“I don’t know for sure. I just know if you asked your father he’d say no.”
Herman slumped down on his pillow. “I don’t know if I want to go if I can’t take you. It won’t be any fun without you.”
“Of course it will.” Burly paused to think. “Imagine how much fun you’ll have telling me all about it later.”
A smile crept across Herman’s face as his eyes fell heavily and a breeze finally blew across the bed.
Wednesday, the day of the tent show came to town, took on the same magical anticipation as Christmas. Each school day wound down slowly, and each chore at home took forever. Instead of twenty spelling words on the final test of the year, Herman could have sworn the teacher called out a thousand. And on the last day of school Herman was sure the teacher moved as though she were plowing through mud up to her waist. He didn’t even care about the grades on his report card, although they were very good.
“Hmph,” Tad said with disdain as he looked at Herman’s card, “grades don’t mean a thing.”
Herman would have been upset if he hadn’t seen Callie smile and wink at him.
Tuesday night was the longest night in Herman’s life, for there was nothing so exciting as the complete unknown. And that’s what the tent show was to him. What did Harley Sadler look like? Was he like a movie star? Big and good looking? Did he have a funny voice? What exactly did make Harley Sadler funny? Herman couldn’t wait to find out.
Tad, Callie and Herman got up early, ate quickly and ran out the door to go to town before the tent went up. As he flew out the door Herman heard his mother cough loudly and deeply. He paused to go back when Tad yelled at him to hurry up.
The hurly burly on the empty field next to the high school was enough to scare Herman, but Callie held his hand so everything was all right. Finally the tent was up and a short, fair man with sandy blond hair sauntered up to the large group of boys and girls eagerly awaiting the word. He had a funny, lopsided kind of grin and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
“I don’t suppose I could find anybody here willing to put up a few chairs for me for a ticket to the show tonight?”
‘You bet, Toby!” Tad yelled out with all the other children.
So this was Harley Sadler. He certainly didn’t sound funny. He had a pretty deep voice. And he didn’t really look all that funny. Mostly he looked like a rich businessman. On the other hand, his smile, and the look in his eyes, they were funny, Herman decided. More than that, they were exciting because they hinted at funnier things to come.
“Well, Herman, come on.” Tad tugged at his sleeve. “Let’s go!”
Herman was embarrassed he had been caught gawking at the famous actor, but Harley didn’t seem to mind. He just laughed and patted Herman on the head. There were so many children scrambling for chairs that Herman only got to set up three chairs before they were finished. At first he was afraid he hadn’t done enough work to earn the ticket, but he forgot that quickly as he was the first child Harley gave a ticket to.
“Now hang on to that,” Harley said, winking at Herman.
When all the tickets were distributed Harley said loudly, “Be sure to tell your folks that tonight is ladies night. All women get in free when brought by a man buying a ticket!”
“Oh boy!” Tad exclaimed as they hurried home. “Do you know what that means? It means papa will have to buy only one ticket! Mama’ll get in free!”
“This is going to be so much fun!” Callie giggled as she skipped beside Herman.
Life couldn’t be happier, Herman decided as he looked at his sister’s face and then his brother’s.
“And Burly will get in free too!” Herman chirped, forgetting what his little bear had warned him about the bear’s prediction he wouldn’t be allowed to go.
“Aww, Herman, you’re not going to drag along that toy bear, are you?” Tad moaned.
“If papa says it’s all right, why should you care?” Callie shot back, putting her arm around Herman.
When they came through the front door, they saw their father entering from his bedroom.
“Guess what!” Herman said loudly, “Mama can get in free!”
“Shush,” Papa hushed him with a finger to his lips as he motioned the children to the table to sit down. “Your mama’s not feeling good. She fainted this afternoon.”
“Oh no!” Callie gasped.
“Did you get the doctor?” Herman asked.
“Don’t be dumb,” Tad chided him. “We can’t afford the doctor.”
“That’s right, son,” his father said. “But—but I don’t think she’s too bad. I don’t think though we should go to the show tonight.”
All three children knew better than to protest, but Herman couldn’t help but let out a little groan.
“I know it’s a big letdown—“
“Woody!” mama called out weakly from the bedroom.
Papa stood and went into the bedroom. A few minutes later he came out. Herman tried to figure out what he was going to say from the look on papa’s face, but Herman couldn’t guess what the faraway look on his eyes meant.
“Hmm, your mama says she’s not that bad, that she wants us to go on to the show. She’ll be fine by herself.”
“I could let Burly stay with her,” Herman offered weakly.
Papa looked at him in a blur. “Who? Oh no, that’s all right.” He looked around the room as though he were helpless. “Hmm, Callie help me with supper. Tad, tend the animals in the barn.”
Tad left while Callie and papa turned to the kitchen. Herman quietly went to the loft and got Burly to take to his mother. He slowly opened the door so it wouldn’t creak and stepped in. He approached the bed where mama was sleeping restlessly. The dark spots under her eyes and the paleness of her skin became very real to him for the first time and it scared him.
“Mama?” he whispered.
Her eyes opened and she smiled. “Hi, baby.”
“Would you like Burly to keep you company tonight?”
She laughed and touched his cheek. “No, thank you, honey. It’s so sweet of you to offer.”
The door swung open and Herman heard his father’s voice.
“Herman, I thought I told you not to bother your mother.”
“That’s all right, Woody,” she said softly. “I wanted to see my baby.”
“Get out,” papa ordered. He paused to chuckle a bit. “Don’t you have chores to do?”
“Yes sir,” Herman replied meekly.
He hurriedly returned Burly to the loft and went outside. Supper went by very quietly, almost sadly, considering where they were going that evening. Papa took a tray of food into the bedroom and shut the door, staying with mama the entire meal. After he came out, Callie cast a quick glance at Herman and ventured a question.
“Could Herman take his bear to the show?
Papa turned to look at Callie and then at Herman. “Now why would you want to do that?”
“I don’t,” Herman protested.
“This afternoon he said he wanted to,” Callie replied.
Herman noticed Tad remained quiet during the exchange. He expected his brother to say something mean, but Tad almost never did what Herman expected.
Finally papa announced, “It’s time to go.” He actually was smiling. “Each of you may go in to see your mother, but don’t stay too long.”
“I want to go first!” Tad replied, heading for the bedroom.
“Don’t run and be quiet!” papa reminded him, causing Tad to slow down.
Callie went for a kiss. Then it was Herman’s turn. Mama gathered her baby into her arms and kissed him.
“Have a good time and obey your papa,” she whispered, her breath smelling of some foul medicine.
As Herman came out of his parents’ bedroom he noticed Tad had just come down the ladder from the loft.
“Come on, boys, or we’re going without you!” papa called from outside.