I’m Going to Kill Him and Tell God He Died

By Karen Brode

“I’m going to kill him and tell God he died!” Albert stormed through the house toward his son’s room.

His wife, Hazel, was just a few steps behind him.

“Albert, please!” she said, desperation in her voice. “Don’t talk to him now! You’re too angry.”

Albert stopped so suddenly Hazel nearly ran into him. He turned to face her, his eyes wide in disbelief.

“How in hell could I not be mad?” His chest rose and fell with the hot, angry breaths he took. His fists opened and closed in sync to his breathing. “Why aren’t you mad? You know he is just going to keep on doing these things. You sure aren’t going to stop him. It’s all up to me.”

He started to turn back toward his son’s bedroom but Hazel’s face made him stop. It was a soft, gentle face, so vulnerable. He thought back to his mother’s words before he married Hazel.

“She’s been too sheltered to weather the storm of a marriage to you, Albert.”

His mother had never pretended to like Albert. In return, he certainly had never cared about her the way a son should about his mother. He thought about a family picture his mother had shown Hazel before their marriage.

She would try anything to ruin my happiness, he thought.

In the photo, Albert stood off by himself. He remembered that day. His parents and sister and little brother all huddled together as if they were one big happy family. But he knew better. He knew they didn’t love him like they loved each other. The photo proved that. Was he supposed to smile and hide the disgust he had for all of them too, just because they wanted to be something they weren’t?

Standing in the hall with his little doe of a wife, he knew his mother had been right about Hazel being weak. He saw the pain in her face. He knew it worried her so much that he could fly off the handle so easily, especially when it came to their son John. In his defense, though, he was such a difficult kid.

Still, Hazel’s eyes plead for mercy on John’s behalf and all the fight went out of Albert. He was still angry, still bitter toward his son and all the trouble he caused them.

He threw up his hands and said, “Just let him do what he wants, then. He’ll end up in reform school or prison.” He looked past Hazel and sighed. “I’m so tired of trying to get through to him.”

He pushed passed his wife in the hall and went to the back door. If he couldn’t fix his son, he’d keep working on that darn boat he was building. Even that had pain in it, though.

He had started building it with hopes that his son would maybe want to help him with it. He wanted his son to be with him and he wanted them to have some good times. He thought if he could manage to get John to even come out and watch him as he went through the steps, maybe somehow he could reach that part of him that was like him. But he had yet to see any hint of that. His son wasn’t like his side of the family. He was a Morrison through and through.

Albert poured his frustration into sanding the board he was working on. He thought about how John had never been like him and how his wife was so taken with him, so protective. Sure, he was a good-looking kid, but Hazel went overboard. She made all of his shirts on her sewing machine in the bedroom. Even that made Albert mad, though, because when she stepped on the foot pedal of the sewing machine, the television turned to snow and static. If Albert was watching a baseball game or a wrestling match, he could just forget it. John’s shirts were way more important to his wife than anything Albert wanted.

He swore when he popped open the can of stain and spilled half of it on the ground. If he hadn’t been angry, he thought, that would never have happened.

His mind turned to Hazel’s family, her sister, Opal. This was really all her fault. If Opal hadn’t constantly told Hazel how ugly she was as a child, she might realize how beautiful she was and not have to live vicariously through their son. It didn’t matter how often Albert told Hazel how she looked like a million dollars when she did herself up, she never believed him. And so she took all her pride in her son’s looks. She thrilled at the sight of young girls walking up and down the street giggling and stealing glances at the house with hopes of seeing John.

Albert stood there staring at the half-finished boat. He felt hopeless thinking about his son. None of the things Hazel did made John any more devoted to being a good son. He knew if he even tried to talk to his son, he would look at him with that look of complete, bland disrespect. In those moments, Albert didn’t trust himself not to hurt John. He brought out the absolute worst in Albert!

He wiped his hands on an old rag and started cleaning up his tools.

Maybe it was better to just try not to be around his son. But that wasn’t the answer either. He would be shirking his duty as a father. And yet, at every turn he knew that Hazel would be there to stand between him and John no matter what.

The phone rang in the house and Albert listened when Hazel picked up the line. From what he could tell, it was John’s teacher. He could only imagine what he had done this time.

He heard Hazel apologizing and then, “I’ll be sure an talk with him.”

That’ll be the day, thought Albert.

When Hazel got off the phone, she looked outside at Albert. They made eye contact, but she broke the gaze off quickly. He knew it was bad if Hazel didn’t want to tell him what the call was about. And he knew her excuse would be that she didn’t want to worry him with these things.

Albert felt his blood pressure rise until his ears were ringing. What he wanted to do was go give that son of his a good dose of whatfor. But he was tired of fighting and he knew Hazel would be there to block him, so he picked up a hammer and took out his anger on the boat.

_______________________________

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.

John’s Family Reunion

By Karen Brode

In the summer of 2005, my brother John, moved back to Grayson County in Texas where we had grown up. He was wrinkled and worn, and for the first time, I noticed that he seemed tired. I tried not to think about all the situations that had driven us apart for so long. The list was endless, and I didn’t have a lot of fight left in me.

The truth too was, no matter what had happened, I had missed him. I often wondered how it could be possible to detest and love someone at the same time. But I did. And I sensed that he wanted to try to be a family again, so I gave it my best shot.

He had been gone for ten years, living in Las Vegas. I wondered how he could live in the entertainment capital of the world one day, and then the next day live in Pottsboro, Texas, the epitome of a tiny Texas town with only one red light.

He had only been back for a week when my husband Gary and I met up with him and his new wife, Jan, at a Mexican restuarant for supper. I hoped and prayed that things would go well, that maybe we could salvage some kind of relationship from the ruins.

He looked old and so small compared to the larger than life man I had known just ten years before. There were no black hairs left on his head, just gray and white. Inside, though, he was still John. He regaled us with some of his favorite stories during supper. They were stories I had heard before, but I wanted to hear them again. I hung onto his words as he wove his stories and I watched the cigarette smoke rising from his mouth.

“I was working at an air conditioning and heating place in Fredericksburg,” he said. “We went out early in the mornings to install new units. That day, we had just climbed up into the attic of a house  when I heard a man’s voice down below asking us how things were going.”

“Well, what was I supposed to say? That it was as cool as an April morning? Hell no. I looked down toward the voice and simply told him the truth–it was hotter ‘n hell up there.”

“You actually said that?” I asked, laughing. I knew this story. I knew he had actually said it, but it had been so long since we had had times like these that I relished hearing it again.

John nodded. “Sure did. And wouldn’t you know, when I looked down through the ceiling air vent, but it was Lyndon B. Johnson opening his morning mail.”

I laughed again. “Did he say anything back? Get onto you or something?”

“Naw. He just stared down at his mail and smiled.”

Sometimes, I wondered how true any of these stories were, but I didn’t really care. It really made them more exciting and interesting.

John had always been more at home in the world than most people I knew. Even as his old age crept up behind him, he still had the confidence and demeanor of the handsome young man he had once been. He even flirted with the waitresses at the restaurant and it didn’t seem to surprise him a bit when the young girls flirted back.

From about the time his feet touched the green grass of Texas, John started talking about having a family reunion. I wasn’t against it exactly, but wasn’t exactly up to it either. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. And if I couldn’t explain it to myself, I certainly couldn’t explain it to my brother.

So, soon he was calling me several times a week to go over his list of invitees.

He kept saying “Have I forgotten somebody?”

With every name he added to the list, I felt a deeper sense of dread. So the plans marched on and one day he told me he wanted to have the reunion in July, the hottest month in Texas.

July. Sometimes the entire month went by without a cloud in the sky. The month always made me think of Momma and the song we had sung at her graveside service, “Uncloudy Day.”

Oh, they tell me of a home far beyond the skies
Oh, they tell me of a home far away
Oh, they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise
Oh, they tell me of an unclouded day

Oh, the land of cloudless day
Oh, the land of an unclouded day
Oh, they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise
Oh, they tell me of an unclouded day

Oh, they tell me of a home where my friends have gone
Oh, they tell me of that land far away
Where the tree of life in eternal bloom
Sheds its fragrance through the unclouded day.

Months went by and John kept making plans. I tried to distance myself from all of it for a while. Something told me that he wanted me to cook all the food, just like our mother would have done when she was alive. I really didn’t want that kind of responsibility, so I kept the reunion conversations at arm’s length. Still, I didn’t want to walk into some kind of John-created chaos on the day of the reunion, so I got up the courage to ask him about it.

“Oh, I’m going to rent a boat and ferry people across the lake to the islands,” he said.

He sounded like a little kid, to be honest, and like most kids, he never really thought all his plans fully through. I felt panic rising in my chest. I still couldn’t explain why, but it was there.

“Then what?” I asked, hoping that might prompt more in-depth thought to his plans.

But he heard my worry and got irritated. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “We’ll have fun no matter what we do.”

I sat there on the other end of the line wishing I could understand why I was so reluctant about all of this so I could explain it to him without him getting angry.

Maybe it was my age, I thought. Maybe I’m just getting too old for things like this. So I told him that.

He snorted. “You’re still just a kid,” he said. “You always will be.”

He had always felt like I had been shielded from life’s harsh realities.

I pictured Aunt Jane riding in a boat going across a large expanse of lake in 110 degree heat. Old people would be dropping like flies on that boat and John hadn’t thought about any way to keep them from overheating, keeping everybody hydrated. Did he expect me to come along and pick up the slack?

“You can’t worry about all that right now,” I heard him say into the phone. He had gone from irritated older brother to snaky salesman. “Just think of sitting under the shade of those big trees on the islands. How long’s it been since you played a good game of dominoes? Wouldn’t that be fun to sit outside with our family and play dominoes?”

The week before the family reunion, I felt as if something catastrophic was bearing down on me, and there was no getting out of the way. How could I have stopped it? I had rarely seen John this excited.

I comforted myself by thinking that maybe the world would end before it happened. Or maybe an asteroid would hit the earth and I wouldn’t have to worry about the family reunion. I tried to appear excited when John was around.

He had contacted every member of each side of our family that he could hunt down. He had asked me a thousand questions about people we hadn’t seen in decades.

“You think Clyde is still alive?” he’d ask.

I hadn’t thought about Clyde in a month of Sundays, so I just shrugged and said I didn’t know.

Each day leading up to the reunion was hotter and drier than the one before. No cloud graced the North Texas sky. I wouldn’t watch the weather forecast because it was always the same–sunny and hot! It was the same every summer–a high pressure ridge sat over us and any possible precipitation went around us.

A few days before the reunion, the phone rang. John’s voice was muted on the other end. He sounded tired and sad.

“I hate to tell you this, but I don’t think we are going to have that family reunion.”

“What?” I asked. I was glad I had been sitting down when he called because otherwise, you could have knocked me over with a feather. “What are you talking about?”

“It’s Tammy,” he said, talking about his oldest daughter. “She’s been taken to drug rehab in California.”

And that’s when I realized it. He had planned the whole thing for Tammy. She was the real reason he wanted to get the family together.

Never would I have wanted his daughter to have the problems she had and I certainly would never have wished for her problems to be the reason we couldn’t have a family reunion. But there was a part of me that was relieved.

Still, I couldn’t show my brother that. So, I commiserated with him and did my best to sound disappointed.

And then I said, “You know, John, we can have it another time.”

__________________________________

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.

Meals On Wheels

By Karen Brode

Gary and I were regulars at the Senior Center each Tuesday. We were there to retrieve thermal containers of hot food and cartons of cold milk for the people waiting on the east side of town. These were people down on their luck, out of luck, or people who had never had any luck to begin with. We’d load up the backseat of our car with the container of meals and head off with our list of recipients.

It was my job to get the meals coordinated before we hit our next destination. I sat in the backseat and called out to Gary the name and address of each person. Then I’d pull a meal from one container, a carton of milk from another, and finally, dessert. I’d have everything ready by the time we arrived to the next place.

Many of the Meals On Wheels recipients were old and lived in the Projects, a housing community where rent was subsidized and adjusted to the income of the person living there. I felt sorry for most of them, and I couldn’t help but think that this could happen to anyone. There were many roads to The Projects. No one was immune from ending up there.

One particular woman was a frail old lady who was so thin she seemed to only eat that one meal a week. She asked Gary if she could have two of the small cartons of milk instead of the standard one carton per person. Gary came back to the car to see if we could give her an extra carton, but all we had was the one. By the time he got back into the car, we both agreed it would be best if we stopped by a convenience store and bought a gallon of milk for the lady. Then, at least for a little while, she’d have all the milk she wanted.

You know that feeling you get when you do something nice for somebody? It kind of lifts your heart a little, makes you feel like the world isn’t so bad after all? That feeling for us only lasted long enough for us to step off that old lady’s porch.

The woman a few doors down was waiting for us when we got to her apartment. She was next on our list and, since we had just dropped off the extra milk to her neighbor, we decided we’d stop by her house together.

“You’ve done killed that woman, you know,” she said. She was a stocky black woman bent from years of walking the earth. She leaned heavily on her walker.

Only moments before, Gary and I had been smiling, happy to have done something nice for someone, but this stopped us in our tracks.

“That woman over there, she lactose intolerant,” the woman said, pointing an arthritic hand toward the porch several doors behind us. We just stared at her, taking in what she just said, and not really sure how to respond. “She can’t have milk! I done put a sign up on her door, but she take it down!”

I looked back at the closed door and imagined the little old lady laughing maniacally as she gulped down the whole gallon we had given her. A little shiver went down my spine to think we might have done something horribly wrong.

“What happens when she drinks milk?” I asked.

“Oh Lordy, honey, you don’t wanna know that! If she drink all that milk by sundown, she be dead!”

I looked at Gary, but he kept his eyes on the hot meal in his hands. The color had drained from his face, so I knew he was feeling as bad as I was.

“I’m gonna make another sign,” the woman continued, “but I have to look up how to spell it. I should just say ‘Don’t give her any milk!’ That would be simpler and folks could understand it better. People don’t know what lactose intolerant means. They probably think it’s some sort of attack dog that might come out to bite them.”

Finally, Gary looked up and offered to help the woman into the house with her meal. When he came back out, I noticed his forehead was sweating a little.

“What should we do?” I asked.

“We can’t just go take the milk from that woman,” he said.

“She’ll be okay. Right?”

Gary cleared his throat. “Sure.”

It only occurred to me later how fast we had walked back to the car and how quickly Gary had thrown the car in gear. We rode to the next house in silence. I think we were both worried that we had just killed an old lady with a gallon of milk. Before long, the police would come looking for us. I wondered out loud if they would believe us when we told them we were only trying to help.

When we were several blocks away from the scene of the milk crime, I finally remembered we were supposed to be handing out meals. I glanced down the list of the people next on our list and my eye stopped when it came to a name that rang from my distant past: Arthur Cordell.

I looked out the window at the barren yards scorched by too many summers and not enough water. I tried to imagine what Arthur must look like after all these years. He had to have been in his mid-sixties. Had prison changed him at all?

My mind was flooded with memories of my mother begging my brother John not to go places with Arthur.

“Being at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person could end up badly for you,” she’d say. But that was my brother. If it hadn’t been Arthur, it would have been somebody else just like him.

There were many nights my mother sat on the front steps of our house waiting for John to get home. She stared off into the night, her jaw clenched tight, her hands opening and closing in nervous fists.

When I wandered out beside her, I could hear her talking to herself.

“Please not jail. He can’t handle that. Oh, but what if it’s an accident? What would I do?”

She worried so much for my brother. He always promised he’d be home by midnight and she always sat out on the front porch waiting for him past midnight into the wee hours of the morning.

When he finally did come home, it was usually around three in the morning. She could hear him coming from blocks away. He was always riding in the passenger seat of Arthur’s beat-up Chevy that rumbled with loud music and a busted muffler.

Before they got too close, she snuck inside the door and watched him stagger out of Arthur’s car. He was always drunk when he got home and it made her sick to watch him stumble across the front yard and then lean against a tree to throw up. Before he got in the house, she went to her room and fell across the bed. She heard him tiptoe past her door and she wanted to scream at him, to ask where he had been all this time, but she didn’t. She decided it was better if she didn’t know.

She confessed to me later how she had felt nothing but revulsion watching him then. He had robbed her of her peace of mind, her sleep, and she knew he would do it all again.

But as much as she worried about him, she never had to face what Arthur Cordell’s family did.

“They don’t deserve any of it,” mother would say. “They’re church people, godly people.” But Arthur hadn’t gone to church since he was in grade school. And like John, Arthur didn’t make it much past seventh grade in his school career either.

Arthur’s father always looked as if he couldn’t stand one more thing to happen to their family, but because of Arthur, it always did. With each blow, Mr. Cordell grew thinner and paler, as if his life force was being drained from him with each new arrest or accusation.

Mrs. Cordell got to where she rarely went out of the house. She only went to church sporadically as her son got older and became more trouble. When Arthur went to prison, she never went back to church. It seemed she couldn’t face the sympathies and the pretend concern from the other church members. Even I knew at my young age that most of the sympathies people offered were really just curiosity and attempts to find out more about what Arthur had done. I knew this because I was just as curious as everybody else.

The list of his crimes was endless. He had burned a boat that belonged to a man who made him mad. He had raped several girls and the girls refused to go to the police to report the rapes out of fear. One girl had Arthur’s child and she refused to see the baby before it was placed for adoption. Mrs. Cordell told my mother she didn’t want to see Arthur’s baby either. Not under those circumstances. She was already in her forties when it happened and she knew she couldn’t raise another child like Arthur.

My mother had been one of the few who would go check on Mrs. Cordell. They seemed to bond over horror stories of their sons. I remember being taken to Mrs. Cordell’s house. I had a window seat into everything Arthur did.

There was a plaque that hung above the kitchen table, which read, “The family that prays together stays together.”

My mom held Mrs. Cordell’s hand the day she explained to us in tears that she didn’t know where he had gotten the gun.

“We don’t have guns. We’re not gun people,” she said into a damp handkerchief.

This home should not have had an Arthur in it either, but it did.

“He screamed at me, Hazel,” she said. “He told me if he hadn’t shot that policeman, he was going to be shot. And then he asked me…” she looked away and seemed to be holding her breath. “He asked me which would I have preferred?”

She said it looked like the entire police department arrived just a few minutes later. She watched them take her son away in handcuffs and shackles. She knew that as soon as they were out of her sight, Arthur would not be treated well. Then she sat down on the floor of her living room and wasn’t really sure if she would ever have the energy to get up again.

My mother invited Mrs. Cordell to join her at church on Sundays, but she shook her head.

“I can’t do it,” she said. “I can’t ask those people to pray for my son. They want to pray for the sick folks and the hard-luck people, but they won’t really pray for my son. He’s in prison. I can barely lift my own head in prayer for him. I can’t ask those people to pray for him.”

There was a time when Arthur was a good boy, she told us. He was a sweet boy who picked bouquets of daisies and wildflowers and brought them to her.

“Those folks at church don’t know that child. He’s just a bad seed to them. They’ve written him off. He’s getting what he deserved. But he wasn’t always a bad seed. He had a sweet face as a child and slept with a teddy bear.” She dabbed at her eyes. “I don’t know what happened to change that.”

Gary and I drove into my old neighborhood and these memories of life back then nearly overwhelmed me. My old grade school was now a church building. I thought of how we used to line up on the sidewalk when recess was over and walk into the brick building in an orderly fashion.

I looked fondly at the small swing set right outside the back cafeteria door. I remembered trying to swing so high to make the swing wrap around the frame of the swing set. I could picture it happening so vividly. But that was before I had taken physics. That was before I knew that I would never have had the momentum to swing completely around the top bar.

Gary stopped the car and I rushed to get the hot meal out of the thermal bag along with a carton of milk. People were mostly grateful when Gary brought them their meal. They often introduced him to their pets. Gary told me about the woman in a blue house who had a little Chihuahua. She could hold it in one hand. She was so proud of that little dog that when Gary asked if he could hold it, she was happy to let him.

I knew from their faces that the old ladies we delivered food to looked forward to my husband coming up their sidewalks and onto their porches. He was kind and he loved their animals. Sometimes he would give them a small amount of money if they seemed desperate. Gary was always good. There were no bad streaks in him. He had not worried his mother and father like John and Arthur had worried their parents.

Arthur Cordell’s house was next. Surely he wouldn’t remember me. I didn’t look too much like the seven year old I had been last time I saw him. I pulled the visor mirror down, and stared at my face. Maybe I looked a little like I used to.  But he would never expect me to show up on his front porch with his meal.

At first, I wanted to deliver the meal myself, but there was enough fear left in me about what he’d done back in his youth that made me want to steer clear of him. He wouldn’t know Gary at all. So it was Gary who took the meal to the porch and rang the bell. I watched as Arthur came out to meet him. He was thin and old looking. He looked at Gary as he took the meal from my husband’s hands, but Gary was not someone he recognized.

Arthur still looked enough like he used to look that I would’ve known him, I think. He didn’t look like a mean person. He didn’t look like somebody who could have done all that damage all those years ago. He just looked tired and old.

I watched Arthur stay out on the porch even after Gary had come back to the car. He looked up at the sky and watched the trees blowing in the fall breeze. It occurred to me then that these were sights he hadn’t seen in more than 40 years.

_________________________________

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.

Snakebite, The Aftermath

By Karen Brode

I slid the peas one by one under the mound of mashed potatoes on my plate. I figured if they were hidden, I might not have to eat them. Ever since a nurse friend of my mother’s had told her I didn’t look well, she worried about what and how much I ate.

“She’s got dark circles under her eyes and she’s far too thin for a child her age,” the woman had said.

I wish she had minded her own business. I had been thin my whole life, but it was only after that woman’s comment that my mother worried about it.

I guess she felt she was failing me if I didn’t look like the picture of health. But I was 8-years-old and never got sick. I didn’t understand why I suddenly had to eat things I didn’t like. I mean, I could ride my bicycle around the block four times without having to rest. Surely that counted for something.

Mother sat across from me at the table and sipped her iced tea. We were having a “family supper” so we could talk. It felt more like torture. It’s not that I didn’t like talking with my mom, but I could hear the other children riding their bikes and yelling in the summer evening. They had put playing cards onto their bicycles so that when the card brushed past the spoke of the bicycle wheel, it sounded motorized. It was making me crazy to not be outside playing with the other kids. I didn’t think I could sit there much longer!

“I’m not really hungry,” I moaned.

“Oh no, no, no,” my mother said, looking up from her paper. “You’re going to sit there and eat what is on your plate.”

I looked down at my plate. Most of the peas were hidden under the mashed potatoes. I took another bite of bread. It seemed to take forever to chew. I didn’t think I would ever get to go outside again. If I had to be caged in and eat peas when I was well, I wondered what it was like for my Aunt Cleo, who had been bitten by a rattlesnake when she was a girl.

“Did Cleo get to go play after she got bit by that snake?” I asked.

Mother looked up from her paper and out past me. She seemed to be seeing clearly that summer when her sister come so close to death.

She shook her head. “No. She didn’t play much that summer. She was one sick little girl. Her foot turned completely black. We were afraid it was going to fall off.”

“What would have happened then?” I asked, horrified.

“I don’t know. But I can tell you this, Momma fretted about it night and day. She had that doctor out almost everyday. She never did believe he knew what he was doing.”

“Why not? Wasn’t he a good doctor?”

“I guess so. It wasn’t like today. This was a country doctor and I don’t know what kind of education he had. He’d come in, take his black hat off, sit by Cleo for a few minutes, ask her if she could feel her toes, and then he was off again.  Momma tried asking him all kinds of questions, but he never could give her a good answer. It drove her crazy.”

“But wasn’t he supposed to know something about what was happening to Aunt Cleo?” I couldn’t imagine a doctor not knowing everything.

“That’s what Momma used to say. She’d go on and on at the supper table about that doctor. Poppa just let her talk. And after awhile, it seemed as if Momma wasn’t really directing her questions to anyone in particular. She was just trying to process what had happened.”

Mother looked at her supper plate and sighed. I could tell she was missing her mom. I tried to think of my own memory of Granny Morrison, but most of the things I knew about were things I had heard from my mother.

“You know, I don’t think Momma was ever the same after Cleo was bitten by the rattlesnake,” Mother continued. “Up ‘til then, she had felt protected, like we were sealed off some way from all the hurt and pain in the world. Before the snakebite, she always talked about how nothing bad could happen to her family. She figured she had borne seven children and they had all lived. Not many women could say that back in those days.”

“She didn’t ever worry about anything?” I asked.

“Sure, she worried, but after Cleo got bit, her worry turned up to high volume. Momma was like a lot of people back then. She believed if she did all the right things, lived a good Christian life, and took her children to church every Sunday she would be protected from anything really bad happening.”

“But there’s nothing in the Bible that makes that promise, is there?” I remembered people saying this when my dad had died. He had been a good Christian man, but he had still died when I was six. And since then, I had seen the best of people brought to their knees in grief and worry.

Mother looked at me like she was trying to remember Bible verses. “No,” she said. “There wasn’t a promise that if you did everything right, nothing bad would ever happen to you.”

She thought for a few minutes more and then continued. “After all that happened, Momma tried to protect us in her own way. She didn’t want us away from the house. She wanted all of us to be where she could find us and know that we were okay. Every night after we all went to bed, she walked through the house to make sure all the doors were locked. She went to each room and counted us children so she knew we were all there, safe and sound. It didn’t matter if Poppa had locked the doors. She had to check for herself every single night. That snakebite did more than just hurt Cleo. It broke something in Momma. She didn’t ever trust life again. She knew something bad could happen at any moment. And she almost expected it.”

_________________________________

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.

Nobody Likes the Spanish Armada…Twice

It was September 3, 1971, the first day of my senior year at Denison High School. I wasn’t really sure how to feel about it. I knew I’d make it through the year and come out on the other side a high school graduate, but I was more or less ambivalent. The only feeling I might have had was a feeling of being different. I was so different from my brothers in so many ways, one of which was graduating high school.

My father had been so disappointed in both his sons. Neither turned out to be anything like him. He must have held each of them as babies and read bedtime stories to them just as he had read stories to me. But neither of them liked to read. For that matter, they never showed any interest in anything my father enjoyed.

I, on the other hand, did my level best to be the child my father had been waiting for. I was the child who reflected everything that he was. I was born very late in my parent’s marriage, when they were both almost 40. He taught me to read when I was three and I was his constant shadow. Even when he tried to get away from me, I would grab onto his leg and sit on his shoe and he would have to drag me along wherever he went. Unfortunately, my attempts to hold onto him had not kept him from dying when I was seven years old.

And now, so many years later, I was a senior in high school. So many of the memories had faded over the last ten years. I couldn’t  remember a lot about him, nothing concrete, anyway. I knew he loved me a lot and I knew he was proud of me. Sometimes I wondered what he would think of me as a teenager. He’d be proud I was still in school, about to reach the finish line.

There was only one thing, though. I got Miss Bledsoe for Civics Class.

I stared in horror at the card listing off my scheduled classes for the year. There, in handwritten print, was Room 217. That room represented nothing but torture for me. The year before, I had suffered through American History at the hands of Miss Bledsoe and her beloved Spanish Armada. She had written her thesis on the topic and apparently thought it a great idea to spend an entire semester having her students learn every detail about it as well. Forget about the Civil War or the American Revolution. The class should have been called “Spanish Armada History.” And now I was destined to spend another semester hearing how it related to civics, apparently.

I couldn’t believe it.

The first chance I got, I flagged down my friend Melanie in the halls. It took a while to get her attention. The halls were crowded and Melanie’s eyesight wasn’t so good. She had worn glasses since we were little girls and had tried a couple of times to wear contacts, but that hadn’t turned out so well. I waved at her through the crowds and, squinting, she finally saw me.

Once I caught up, I showed her my schedule card.

“I’m quitting school,” I said with a whimper. I knew I wouldn’t really do it, but the idea of getting away from Miss Bledsoe and her armed Spaniards made me consider the possibilities of being a car-hop at the local drive-in. “I’ll just…go be a car-hop.”

Melanie snorted. “You’d never make it as a car-hop. They wear skates to carry food.” She looked down at my feet. “We both know how that would turn out.”

So much for trying to have a dream.

“You should come to class with me,” she continued. “Mr. Donowho is a whole lot more interesting.”

I nodded. “That’s who I was hoping to get, but whoever makes these schedules thought I needed another year of persecution.”

We were pushed along by the crowd in the hallway and I stayed by Melanie’s side expecting her to do something.

“I can’t go through another semester with Miss Bledsoe! I’m sorry, but I just can’t!” I screamed to be heard above the bustling crowd of students.

“I’m serious,” she said. “Come on!” She gestured for me to follow her into Room 214, Mr. Donowho’s class.

“I can’t go in there!” I said. “I’m not in his class!” But my will was stronger than my words and I followed her into Room 214.

We sat down. I looked around the room and gulped. I just knew someone was going to find me out. I always obeyed the rules and never questioned authority, even if it was on a three-by-five index card.

“Let me see your schedule again,” Melanie said.

I handed her my card, thinking she just wanted to have evidence when they convicted me of being in the wrong class. The thought of it made me second guess my decision. I started to get up from the desk, but Mr. Donowho walked in right at that moment and sat down at his own desk.

“Here, give me my card back,” I told Melanie. “I’ll just go now and no one will get in trouble.” I could feel my heart beating in my throat. If I didn’t get out soon, I was going to cry.

Melanie handed the card back to me. “Stay put. Now you are in this class.” She pointed to the class assignments. She had changed the room number from 217 to 214. I nearly screamed.

“Oh no!  This will never work, Melanie. Now you’ve done it! How am I ever going to explain this?”

In what felt like record time, Mr. Donowho went through the roster of names. “Is there anyone else I haven’t called?”

I sat still. My first instinct was to be like a rabbit–just blend in and stay quiet, no one would know I was there.

“I don’t think you called Karen’s name,” said Melanie. I detected a little bit of know-it-all in her tone.

“Where is Karen?” asked the teacher, searching through the faces of students.

Melanie turned around and looked at me. I was pretty sure there was a gloating look on her face when she said,  “There she is.”

Mr. Donowho motioned for me to approach his desk with my schedule. It was the longest walk I’d ever taken. I was pretty sure I was going to pass out before I got up there. I just didn’t do things like this. I was good and honest and no one would ever believe that I had had anything to do with this.

I tried not to hyperventilate while I stood at the teacher’s desk. Instead, I poured all my energy into glaring at Melanie who got me into this. She spent the time trying to appear very interested in her new civics textbook, but her twitching lips gave her away. She would really think it was funny if I was sent packing to the civics class across the hall in Miss Bledsoe’s room.

In my head, I worked through the semantics of the situation. It wouldn’t exactly be lying if Mr. Donowho asked me if I had changed that room number and I said no. I peered down at the card sitting on his desk. You would have to look really close to tell that the room number had been changed, but to me, it practically screamed “KAREN IS IN THE WRONG ROOM.”

Finally, Mr. Donowho turned his head to look at me. This was it. I knew it was coming. I held my breath and tried to prepare myself. I’d heard all about Mr. Donowho and I knew he could ruin my entire senior year if he wanted to.

Mr. Donowho ran his finger down the list of students registered in this class, and he said, “I don’t see your name here.”

All I could muster in response was a shrug of my shoulders. Speech was no longer an option for me. There was no explanation.

The thought flashed through my mind just then, Maybe I’m more like my brothers than I thought. Maybe I won’t finish high school! Maybe my dad would be just as disappointed in me as he was in them!

But then Mr. Donowho did the unthinkable. He wrote my name in the class register. He made me an official student of his class!

“They probably made a mistake at the office,” he said. “It wouldn’t be the first time!” And he chuckled. He literally made a soft, forgiving little laugh that reassured me and sent me back to my seat with relief.

This was a new feeling. It was an awakening of possibilities outside the box I had lived in all my life. My heart began to beat faster and stronger. I no longer felt as if I might faint. Instead, every nerve in my body trilled at the thought that this might actually work.