By Karen Brode
Continued from Snakebite, Part I
Mother had been a Baptist as a child. Her daddy was a deacon in the Baptist church. No one in the family ever missed even one service. Now, though, she often talked of her regret that she had spent so much time in a church that didn’t count.
She stared into the distance. Her thoughts took her far away.
“Momma didn’t want to let us girls out in the world,” she said. “She kept a tight leash on us. But the boys…” she paused. “Poppa always said ‘boys will be boys.’ I guess she had to let them go and hope they’d eventually come back to their Baptist roots.”
Grandma Morrison was never convinced, though. She wanted to believe the boys would come back. There were times when I found her looking at Poppa’s college degree hanging on the living room wall. He was an accountant for the cotton gin in the town over. She’d always turn to me with a sad smile and say, “That’s a good job he’s got, even in the worst of times, people need accountants.”
Grandma Morrison, or Lela, as her friends and the other old people knew her, had never been really happy about anything when she was a kid. I could tell that just by being around her. Mother told me that the only time Lela thought she could almost be happy was when Poppa Morrison, or Walter, came courting.
“She always thought maybe there was another life she could live besides the one she’d always lived,” said Mother.
Then she met Poppa’s family. There were so many brothers she couldn’t remember their names, and his sister, a grown woman, allowed people to call her “Pet.” They were rich and spoiled beyond anything Lela could imagine. She never thought that she would ever fit in with uppity people like that.
Walter’s older brother, Charles, was the richest of all of them. He thought his money could buy him anything he wanted. He had no respect for anyone, not even his dying mother. Once, when she was visiting Walter’s family at his childhood home she was horror struck when she saw Charles grab a visiting nurse who was simply walking through the parlor after checking on his mother. He planted a kiss right on her lips. Of course, the nurse was highly offended. She pulled away immediately and swished her cape as she exited their home.
Lela was in shock. Then Charles looked at her. His eyes flashed hungrily, as if to say, “You want to be next?”
She turned away immediately and walked out of the room. She had never encountered such vulgarity and disdain for propriety. She had decided that Charles and his whole family were godless, sinful people! They didn’t even say morning or evening prayers, nor did they say grace before their meals. She decided that she could never live and raise her children around those people!
She was just about ready to tell Walter she couldn’t marry him when he asked for Lela to visit his ailing mother with him. She agreed. No one knew what was wrong with Walter’s mother, but she was withering away and the time for her passing was near.
Walter led Lela into the bedroom where his mother lay. Lela held the older woman’s hand for a moment and the woman started speaking in a weak voice. Lela had to lean in close to hear what she said.
“Take care of my son, make a family with him, and love the Lord all the days of your life.”
Lela’s heart almost burst at this and tears moistened her eyes. She nodded and squeezed the old woman’s hand to let her know everything was going to be okay. She would take care of Walter for her.
From then on, Lela mounted a mission to get Walter to stay close to her family and to try not to be part of his family. She didn’t want them to influence her children so that they would become like Charles and satisfy only their base needs. She had to think about their physical health, as well as their spiritual lives. She knew that in the years to come, Walter would assume more power in their relationship, but at the time, she used what she could.
When she announced her engagement to Walter Morrison, her family was very happy. He was a good catch and his family was wealthy.
Walter wanted to move out west to be closer to his family. He reminded her that their lives would be a lot better there, but she wouldn’t go. She insisted they stay close to her family and, secretly, she thought his family was all heathens. “Money isn’t everything,” she’d say.
Of course, there was some point in their lives when she came to believe they probably should have moved. In the lean years, she wondered what her life would’ve been like in the oil-rich part of West Texas where Walter’s family lived. By then, though, they had established their lives and they were on a set course. And, amazingly, Walter never insisted on anything being his way. He deferred to his wife in all matters. Yet, every time Lela got pregnant, she got so mad at Walter.
“If you had to go through what I’ve gone through,” she’d say, “we wouldn’t have any children!” Lela usually spent the first few months of her pregnancies not speaking to Walter.
But now they had all those children, she loved all of them, though everyone knew that Opal and Walter John, Jr. were her favorites. Still, with little Cleo in such pain before her, none of that mattered. She wanted Cleo to live. She wanted to the life they had, just as they had it before the rattler bit her baby.
Cleo’s eyes rolled up and her body stiffened. Lela had never been so scared in her life.
All she could think of was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” over and over.
Come back tomorrow for the conclusion of Snakebite.
Karen Brode is a senior contributor for Jet Planes and Coffee. She 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.