By Karen Brode
Things have never been the same for me as for Winnie and Travis. I started off on the wrong foot when I was born. A lot of it was because I reminded my mother of poor old John Gamble, her black sheep of a Father. I had his jet black hair and his coloring and, as I grew up, maybe I acted like him a little. Well, he wasn’t all that bad! He was my granddaddy, and I loved him.
Sometimes I think he was the only one in the world who truly loved me. He took me with him when he went to the pool hall. The men would clap me on the back and tell him how much I looked like him. He would turn and look at me, and I saw nothing but love in his eyes.
Maybe he hadn’t been a good father, but as far as I was concerned, he was my favorite. I would stop by the pool hall on my way home from school because I preferred his company to being with my family. I would sit at an empty table and spread my books out to do my homework. Before long, he would call me over to help him play his hand. I would sit next to him and watch him skunk the other men. He played for money, and when he won a game, he would stand up and cheer and jump around and say to me, “Now, that’s the way you do it, Sonny boy.”
In the family pictures, I have noticed that the rest of them are all alike. Four peas in a pod. I’m what is different in those pictures. I stand off by myself away from the rest of them as if I was never really part of that family. They wouldn’t want my pity, but I feel sorry for every one of them. They are all saps. If it wasn’t for me, they would’ve probably all died of boredom a long time ago.
Most of all I feel sorry for my older sister, Winnie. She didn’t have the gumption to stand up to Momma. There were plenty of times I stood up for her, and I got in trouble for it, but someone needed to stand up for that girl. I wanted her to have a life away from Momma and Daddy. They didn’t need to clutch onto her and use her up. Well, Dad didn’t cling onto Winnie the way Momma did.
Ever since my little brother Travis was born Momma expected Winnie to take care of the housework, cook, and do the laundry. I saw her being chipped away little by little, and I tried to save her.
She wouldn’t let me save her, of course. She was far too good to let somebody like me save her. But she would still come to me at times and ask my advice. By golly, if she didn’t want my help she shouldn’t have come to talk to me.
I think Granddaddy Gamble took to me so much because his only son, Uncle Jess, was a milquetoast guy who looked and acted like his mother, Alice. Jess must’ve been a bitter disappointment to John Gamble. How John’s soul must’ve ached for a son who was like him, a son with some spirit. The closest he came to getting a child like him was Aunt Emma. She had spirit when she was young, and she made people laugh. I always liked Emma. She was my pick of the litter.
Winnie went off to Commerce to get her teaching degree the year I entered high school. She was 18 and I was 14. I don’t know why she didn’t get married like all the other girls her age. She could still teach if she wanted to. But a man to take care of her and a family of her own would be so much better for her in my opinion.
Momma and I grew farther apart after Winnie left home. By that time, Momma mostly focused on Travis who was seven. She worried constantly about that boy. I know she didn’t worry like that about Winnie or me. If Travis was five minutes late getting home from school, she pulled the curtain back and peered out the window to see if he was coming. One day, she sent me out to look for him, and I found him still at school talking to his teacher. He had volunteered to clean the erasers for Mr. Harwick. Travis and Mr. Harwick were standing out on the side of the school hitting the erasers against the side of the building. When I had walked up, I heard Travis saying, “I think I might want to be a teacher when I grow up.” Mr. Harwick had smiled benevolently on the earnest young man helping him.
I wasn’t surprised that Travis wanted to be a teacher. Winnie was going to be a teacher. Winnie held such complete sway over him. On the way home, I asked Travis if he had ever thought of being a sheriff or a lawman?
Travis looked at me and said, “Heck no, Momma wouldn’t let me carry a gun!”
I needed to do something about the way Travis was growing up. Why didn’t our father do something about Mother? Travis had never been squirrel hunting or fishing and playing at the river with other boys. Momma and Winnie kept him shut up in the house all the time.
Effie saw her two sons coming down the road toward home, and she was so relieved. When she couldn’t find Travis, it seemed almost as if her life stopped. She felt intense panic. She and Travis were joined in a way that she and her other children were not. She didn’t understand it, but it was what it was. She was never at ease when he was out of her sight.
She went out on the front porch to greet him.
“Travis, did you have a good day at school?” The little boy began chattering away about reading and doing math problems and helping Mr. Harwick with the erasers. Albert stood a ways off, but Effie didn’t notice him as she took Travis by the shoulders and led him into the house. “I think I have some cake for such a good boy.”
I stood in the yard alone.
“I think I have some cake for such a good boy!” I whispered under my breath in a falsetto tone. Sometimes I hated her. I couldn’t wait to get out of that house and get away from her and be my own person.
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.