Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chapter 9 - Firstborn Son

In March, a few days before Franklin Roosevelt became president, Joe came home waving a letter from Phillips Oil Company headquarters in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. “They want me to be their wholesale agent in Farwell, Texas. Finally, a real job, Honey!” Patting Bill’s abdomen, he added, “Now we can afford to have this little fellow.”
Blushing, Bill put her hand over his and patted along with him.

With a loan from Pop they moved to Farwell, on the New Mexico border. They rented an apartment in an older couple’s house and scraped together enough furniture for a start there.

Joe’s business consisted mostly of selling gasoline and oil to farmers. He made deliveries by pulling a trailer loaded with barrels behind his car.

On the Fourth of July weekend, Joe closed the business early. He and Bill drove into the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico for a brief delayed honeymoon. Near Taos, they found a tourist court consisting of eight small log cabins. Seven were for rent and the manager lived in the eighth, which doubled as his office. Theirs was at the back of the U-shaped layout, away from the highway. Behind them was wilderness.

“Oh, Joe, it’s beautiful.” Bill delighted in having Joe all to herself in an exotic place. The tall pines surrounding the cabin whispered constantly in the breeze. “The air smells delicious. This is the perfect time for a honeymoon, now that we’re used to each other and I’m not so nervous about pleasing you in bed.”

“What do you mean? You’ve always pleased me.” Joe held her close, caressing her smooth hair. “I’m just glad I have a job and don’t have to worry about supporting you and the baby.”

The couple had four lovely days to themselves. One afternoon they drove east ten miles and hiked to the edge of the Rio Grande gorge. After their picnic, they stood awestruck on the rim at sunset. Holding each other tightly in the pink light of the alpenglow, they giggled at their vertigo.

“I have to admit, Joe, I feel a little uneasy here with mountains surrounding us so closely. Being from the plains, I get the feeling the hills and trees are closing in on me.”

Joe laughed, peering into the deep canyon. “Not to mention the earth dropping out from under you. It’s great to visit, but I don’t think I could live here.”

* * *

Joe felt especially happy to get back to the friends with whom they partied the previous summer. Bill went with him to more parties, but with less enjoyment than before. As her pregnancy advanced, her energy waned.

One evening in August, Bill chatted with C.F. Brownlee. They sat at a table in the elegant Hotel Clovis ballroom. “You know, C.F., with your new moustache, you look like Clark Gable.”

C.F. laughed. “If I weren’t so darn short, maybe I could be a movie star.“

Looking out at the dance floor, where Joe danced with C.F.’s date, Margaret, Bill said, “Maybe it’s because Joe and I just saw the movie No Man of her Own, but Margaret reminds me of a brunette Carole Lombard. She’s beautiful.”

C.F. frowned. “Thank goodness she doesn’t have such a bawdy sense of humor. She’s a really sweet girl.”

When the last strains of “Mood Indigo” faded, Joe, Margaret and two other couples returned to the table. Joe kissed Bill’s cheek and sat beside her. “Can we go home, Joe? I’m tired and need to go to bed.” She had wanted to ask him for awhile and could wait no longer to make this appeal. “I don’t think I can hold my head up until midnight.”

“I’m not ready to go, Honey. Why don’t you take the car and go on home? I’ll ride with someone else.”

C.F. took his cue. “Sure. We’ll give Joe a ride, Bill.”

Relieved, Bill slipped her swollen feet into her shoes under the table, stood and gathered her purse as Joe handed her the keys to the coupe. She felt grateful their home was only five miles away.

Margaret’s eyes flashed but she kept her voice light. “Nice way to take care of your wife, Joe. The least you can do is walk her to the car.”

Bill was glad when Joe just laughed. It was good he didn’t have the short fuse she had observed in some other men had when they were drinking. She could walk to the car by herself. She said a quick goodbye to the table at large and made a relieved exit.

* * *

Bill sewed new Phillips 66 shields on the uniforms Joe still had from working for Tiny Magness. Once a week he dropped her off with their dirty clothes and linens at the Helpy Selfy Laundry. It was a shed-like building with a long row of washing machines with wringers. Each washer had laundry tubs on three sides for rinse water. Hot and cold water pipes with faucets fitted with black hoses filled them. A drain trough, covered with wood between the wash stations, ran the length of the building under the washers. After Bill finished their wash, Joe picked her up on his way home for the noon meal. He loaded baskets of wet laundry in the car, unloaded them at home and placed them in the back yard for Bill to hang on the clothesline after lunch. On wash days, she usually served leftovers. Today lunch consisted of  pinto beans with cornbread and greens.

On July, 1, 1933, Joe presented Bill with a new Singer treadle sewing machine for her twenty-first birthday. She enjoyed making baby clothes and reading magazine articles on infant care. She could hardly believe she was going to be a mother.

Dr. V. Scott Johnson lived just three blocks from Bill and Joe. His wife was also his nurse. Thinking how convenient that would be when the baby came, Bill became his patient. “You’re quite healthy, young lady, but you’re gaining too much weight.”

She knew it was true, but her appetite was huge. She despaired of controlling her food intake.

Their first son was born at home on September 17, 1933, weighing more than ten pounds. “Isn’t he beautiful, Joe? Look at his precious little toes.” She rubbed his downy blond hair, overwhelmed with love.

Joe, too, was awestruck. “Isn’t he fine? I can’t believe I’m a dad.” Focusing on his wife, he kissed her forehead. “How are you, Bill? Are you all right?”

“I’m very tired and a little sore. Dr. and Mrs. Johnson said I did very well for a first-time mother with a large baby. Guess I’m like Mama. She says she just shelled her babies out like peas from a pod.”

They agreed on the name Joe Michael and called their son Joe Mike. He was a happy and healthy baby.

One day, Joe arrived for their noon meal as Bill set a platter of fried chicken and bowl of mashed potatoes on the table. He patted her bottom as he went by on his way to wash his hands. Joe Mike was lying on a folded quilt on the living room floor, playing with his feet. Joe picked up the baby, held him overhead, their foreheads together. Joe Mike rewarded him with a laugh. “Don’t laugh at me, Hossfly.” Joe smiled and rubbed his nose against the little tummy he held between his large hands. “You smell so good, like a clean baby should.”

Joe Mike laughed harder, hitting at his daddy’s face awkwardly.

Joe carried him to the table and sat at an angle, holding the baby on his left leg as he dished food onto his plate.

Bill placed glasses of water beside their plates and sat across from Joe. His voice held excitement. “Honey, I saw a house with a for sale sign on it this morning. I talked to the real estate agent and he gave me the key. Want to go look at it after we eat?”

Thrilled at the thought of owning a home, Bill clapped her hands. “Of course. Do you know how much it will cost?” Bill had no experience handling money.

“The agent said the owner is asking $2500, but might take less.”

As soon as the meal was finished and the food put away, Bill put a sweater on, wrapped Joe Mike in a blanket and climbed into the passenger seat with the baby in her arms. Joe drove west and after a few blocks, crossed railroad tracks that marked the line between Farwell, Texas and Texico, New Mexico.

The small, neat, light brown stucco house had a small porch with pillars in front trimmed in white.

Stepping inside, Bill remarked, “Oh, I like the hardwood floors.”

They entered the combined living and dining room. A door at the back of the dining section on the left led to the kitchen. Another in the middle of the back wall led to a hallway.

“ Good.” Joe went into the kitchen and examined the G.E. refrigerator. It had an electric motor on top. “The realtor said the refrigerator and stove go with the place. They seem to be fairly new. How do you like the kitchen, Honey?”

Bill followed him into the room, then twirled with delight. “I love it. The stove is really nice.” She opened the oven of the ivory-colored gas range, trimmed in green. It was on slim legs, with four burners to the left, the oven beside the burners on the right. “There’s plenty of cabinet space. I was hoping there’d be room for a breakfast table, but it’s not really a problem to eat in the dining room. I’m glad there‘s a window over the sink with a tree outside.” She realized she was a little giddy at the prospect of owning a house.

She followed Joe into the hallway. Doors opened into bedrooms on each side. The one behind the living room was larger. Behind it was the bathroom, also opening onto the hall. The bedroom behind the kitchen, was small. Standing there, Bill’s voice trembled with excitement. “This will be perfect for Joe Mike’s room. I love it, Honey. Can we really afford to buy a house?”

“I think the bank will loan us money since I’m making almost $30 a week.”

At the end of the hallway, a door led to a small back porch . Stairs beside the porch led to a full basement. Bill and Joe explored it all, visualizing what it would be like to live there.

Upon learning that the bank owned the house, they both felt slightly deflated and apprehensive Another young couple had loved the house but couldn’t keep up the mortgage payments when the man lost his job. Yet within weeks, the house was theirs and their enthusiasm returned as they settled in.

One day when Joe came home to eat dinner, he held a letter from his brother Dee.
He read it to Bill. “My boy Jack has finished high school and is looking for work. There’s none to be had here in Levelland. Do you think he might find something around Farwell?”

As he folded the single page and put it back in the envelope, Joe looked thoughtful. “I think my business is doing well enough to use an extra hand. What do you think, Honey? Jack could live in our basement. We could count room and board as part of his pay.”

Bill thought of the extra cooking, cleaning and laundry this would involve, but smiled. “It’s such a hard time to find a job. How can we say no if you can use him?”

Joe hugged her. “Tiny and Eula Mae helped me out in the same way. It will feel good to help my nephew.”

The following week, a man and boy were with Joe when he came home for dinner. “Bill, this is my brother Dee and his son, Jack.”

Bill smiled and held out her hand. “Dee, I’m so glad to finally meet Joe’s brother. You look a lot like Pop.”

Dee indeed had Pop’s square face, frown lines between his hazel eyes and even a similar, though darker, moustache. He took her hand briefly, dropped his eyes and nodded an acknowledgement. “I wish I’d got Pop’s height. It’s hard being shorter than my 17-year-old son.”

They all laughed.

Turning to Jack, Bill again extended her hand, “You look like a younger, slimmer version of your Uncle Joe.”

He looked pleased, his grin splitting his face in half. Joe put his hand on Jack’s shoulder. “After we eat, you can go back to work with me and get started on your new job. If you want the job.”

The boy’s smile got even wider as he nodded enthusiastically. “Thanks, Uncle Joe. I do want the job.”

Jack took a duffle bag filled with his possessions down to the basement. Joe followed with a stack of quilts. “You can start off sleeping on a pallet on the floor. We’ll find you a bed directly.”

When Joe and Jack left for work, Dee hugged his son, shook Joe’s hand, tipped his hat to Bill and climbed in his black Ford to drive the fifty miles to Levelland.

Jack had a pleasant disposition. He liked playing with the baby and Joe Mike’s face lit up when Joe and Jack arrived home from work. Squealing, he held up his little hands, signaling his desire to be lifted high in strong, playful arms.

These were happy days for Bill. She worked hard preparing, serving and cleaning up after, meals, caring for the baby, cleaning house and doing laundry. All this and more her mother did for a much larger family, so that’s what Bill expected of life.

When Joe Mike was six months old, Bill took him on the bus to Floydada to visit Mama and Dad. Ina Rae was back home, engaged to a J.D. Cates, whose family farm was near the Cummings’ place.

“I knew J.D. when we were in high school. He went to Lockney High School and I wasn’t at all interested. But wait until you see how he blossomed, Bill.” Ina Rae glowed with happiness.

“Have you set a date for the wedding?” Bill was thrilled to see her sister so happy.

“It‘s not really set, but I hope it’ll be in June. J.D. is working in Lubbock at the A & P Grocery Store. He thinks he can save enough by then to rent an apartment.”

When J.D. came to visit, Bill saw that her sister was right. He was handsome and charming, with a deep, resonant laugh.

Bill enjoyed being at Mama and Dad’s, having time to visit old friends and show off her beautiful Joe Mike. One sunny day, she helped her mother prepare a garden plot for planting when danger of frost passed. She planned to stay a week, but on the fifth day, Mama said, “Now Willie Mae, you need to get home and take care of your husband.”

Bill arrived in Farwell late Saturday afternoon. She tried calling Joe from a pay phone at the bus station, but no one answered. She called Norma, a girl friend who lived nearby.

“Hi, Bill. I can pick you up. Joe is at the Hotel Clovis with my husband Herbert. They rode over with C. F. The gang is throwing a party tonight. I’m going in a little while. You can go with me.”

Bill looked at what she was wearing and her tired baby. “Thanks, Norma, but Joe Mike is tired and I don’t have anything to wear. I’d better just go home.”

Norma wouldn’t have that. “You can wear one of my dresses. The girl next door is coming to watch my kids. Joe Mike can stay here. My Buddy is old enough to sleep on a regular bed, so Joe Mike can use his crib until we get home.”

Bill wore Norma’s dress of silk crepe printed in watery shades of blue and green. Gazing at her reflection, she thought she looked pretty good. She was getting used to the weight she‘d gained. Now I’m glad Mama made me come home early, she thought. I can hardly wait to see Joe.

When Bill and Norma entered the party, Joe looked startled to see his wife. She laughed at the expression on his face, but felt hurt that he didn’t look happy to see her at first. She even wondered if he was disappointed. She quickly put the thought out of her mind as he smiled and whirled her into a dance to “I Got Plenty o’ Nuthin’.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Chapter 8

Home with Mama and Dad, Willie Mae kept busy preparing for her marriage while waiting for Joe. She hemstitched and embroidered white flour sacks for dish towels, and made aprons from printed feed sacks. She helped Mama and the ladies at church finish a quilt that Mama had pieced for her. She enjoyed sitting with the ladies at the end of the quilt frame, taking tiny stitches in her portion of the blue, yellow and white Dutch Girl squares.

Willie Mae’s parents again lived on a farm, near the tiny community of Sand Hill, Texas, seven miles from Floydada. Mama took Willie Mae shopping in Plainview for some new lingerie and a dress to be married in. She chose a black tailored silk faille dress with white braid trim and white mother-of-pearl buttons down the front. Her brother A.D. and his wife Rose visited that evening. When Willie Mae showed them her dress, A.D. said, “You’re going to have a dark life with only a little brightness, getting married in that dress.”

Willie Mae laughed. “I love this dress. It’s practical, and since we’re not having a formal wedding, I can wear what I like.”

Joe came to claim his bride on Tuesday, December 20, 1932. Mama fixed a dinner of roast pork, potatoes, onions and green beans from last summer’s garden. A.D. and Rose joined them. Joe was less talkative than usual, but still quite sociable and charming. Willie Mae’s heart swelled with joy as she sat at the table with her family and the handsome man who’d won her heart.

The next morning, Joe loaded Willie Mae’s suitcase into his black Ford Coupe. She hugged her parents happily. “We’ll stop back by day-after-tomorrow.”

Mama smiled through teary eyes. “Be happy, Willie Mae.”

“Bye, Daughter. Be a good wife.” Dad’s voice was gruff as he hugged her.

She cuddled close to Joe as the 150 flat miles to Clovis flew by. He’d chosen to go there to marry because New Mexico didn’t require a blood test and waiting period to get a marriage license. He needed to get back to Sagerton for work. She liked the romance of going back to the place they went on their first date.

They were married in the home of the Justice of the Peace with his wife as witness. The wife kindly served coffee and cake after the brief exchange of vows.

“ I love it that we’re spending our wedding night at the hotel where we danced the night we first met.” Willie Mae sighed over dinner in the elegant hotel dining room, decorated in a Southwestern Indian theme.

Joe leaned close and whispered in her ear. “I like the idea that it’s the shortest day and the lo-o-ongest night of the year.”

She blushed, shivering in anticipation. They hadn’t had much privacy during their courtship and didn’t linger over dinner. Their room was on the top floor. Neither one of them had ridden an elevator so high before and felt a little nervous as it ascended nine stories.

The elevator operator noticed. “The Hotel Clovis is the tallest building between Albuquerque and Dallas,” he bragged. “Don’t worry. The elevator is safe. The hotel is less than a year old and sound as a dollar. Architect Robert Merrill designed it, you know.”

Willie Mae and Joe giggled. They’d never heard of Robert Merrill and hardly knew what an architect was. Willie Mae breathed a sigh of relief as she stepped into the corridor, glad the floor felt solid under her feet. She followed Joe as he found their room, unlocked the door and stepped back to allow her to enter ahead of him. She stopped inside the door, looking at the mission-style oak furniture and the turquoise, brown and sand-colored Navajo designs in the carpet and bedspread. “Oh, what a nice room, Joe.”

He put their bags down, closed the door and stepped close behind her, leaning to kiss and nuzzle the side of her neck. His large hands lingered on her breasts, then encircled her waist and turned her to face him, kissing her lips tenderly. Holding her close and gazing into her upturned face, he walked her backward until she fell across the bed. He sat beside her and unbuttoned her dress. “Is it a nice room? I hadn’t noticed. Can’t take my eyes off of you.”

She let him finish with the buttons that went from the collar to the hem of her dress, then laughed and rolled to the foot of the bed, escaping his grasp. She grabbed her suitcase and gave him a light kiss as she fled to the bathroom. “Wait till you see my beautiful new nightgown.”

Joe groaned. He rose, removed his suit and hung his clothes in the closet. He waited near the bathroom door in his underwear - blue cotton shorts and a sleeveless knit undershirt.

Willie Mae came out wearing the peach-colored lace-trimmed silk satin gown her mother had given her as a wedding present. As Joe reached for her, she twirled away. “Isn’t it pretty?” She giggled as he grabbed her.

After a long, tender kiss, Joe answered. “It’s very pretty. How do you like what I’m wearing?” As he said it, he stepped back and unsnapped his shorts, dropping them to the floor.

“Oh, my.” Willie Mae laughed and blushed as he picked her up and carried her to the bed. Her romantic dreams of finding a husband who would be a tender lover were fulfilled. She sighed happily as she went to sleep, spooned in his embrace.

They left Clovis early the next morning and stopped by Eula Mae’s house in Friona. Eula Mae called Tiny, who joined them for coffee. The Magnesses presented them with a small set of aluminum cookware. “Pop and Joe don’t have a very well-appointed kitchen.” She smiled.

“Oh, thank you. The ladies at Mama’s church gave me a shower, and I got kitchen utensils, but no cookware. I‘ll enjoy using these.”

Joe spoke up. “Yes, thanks. I hope we won’t be staying with Pop for long. As soon as I can find a steady job, we’ll move into our own place.” He seemed embarrassed to be taking his bride to his father’s, not their own home.

They stopped by to see Ennis and Jewell, who insisted they join them for dinner, as the noon meal was called.

The children were on vacation for Christmas. Dorothy Sue climbed in Willie Mae’s lap and put her small hand on her cheek. “Did you get married, Aunt Bill?”

Inclining her head toward the girl’s small hand, she held out her left hand, smiling. “Yes. See my ring?”

Dorothy Sue admired the white gold band carved with chevrons. “Oh, it’s pretty. When I grow up, I want to marry someone just like Joe.”

Everyone laughed. Joe blushed. “Now you can call me Uncle Joe.”

They left soon after the meal and drove back to the Cummings farm near Floydada, where they loaded the belongings Willie Mae brought with her to her new life.

“You might as well stay for supper and spend the night with us. The days are so short now. It’ll be dark soon,” Mama fretted as she carried the Dutch Girl quilt, folded and tied with a wide blue ribbon, to the car.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Cummings, but I have a job tomorrow cutting and delivering firewood with my brother-in-law. I’m much obliged for the invitation and for all the nice presents you’ve provided.” He held a wooden box of silver-plated tableware Mama had acquired over several years with coupons from flour and sugar packages. She had waited to tell Willie Mae about it until now, presenting it as a Christmas gift.

“Don’t worry, Mama. I packed some leftover biscuits and some ham from the ice box. We won’t starve. We’ll really enjoy the Christmas apples and oranges, too.” Willie Mae happily hugged and kissed her parents, wishing them a merry Christmas, then cuddled beside Joe for the ride to her new home.

Feeling nervous at the prospect of meeting her father-in-law, Willie Mae questioned Joe. “Tell me about your dad. What’s he like?”

“As a young man, Pop worked as a cowboy and always liked horses. He’s a charter member of the Texas Cowboys Reunion Association. They have a rodeo in Stamford every Fourth of July. Pop used to compete every year but can’t do that now that he’s 69. I’ll take you to the rodeo next summer. Maybe we can borrow horses and ride with Pop in the grand entry.

“That’ll be fun, Joe. I’ve never been to a rodeo. How do you think Pop feels about you bringing me to live in his house?”

“He’s excited. I told him you were a good cook and not afraid to help with farm chores.”

“Does he have livestock, other than horses?” Willie Mae wondered what kind of chores she’d be expected to do, other than cooking and cleaning house.

“He’s down to just his own saddle horse. With the drought, he can’t feed more, and he had to sell the rest off cheap. We don’t use enough milk to need a cow. We buy it from a neighbor. There’s a hog that we’ll be butchering in January and a few laying hens. Don’t worry. You won’t have any outdoor chores this time of year. I think you and Pop will enjoy each other’s company.”

Wiley Hale, tall and slender, had white hair, a white moustache and two deep wrinkles between his blue eyes that gave him a fierce but very distinguished look. He reminded Willie Mae of an eagle.

He took her cold hands between his warm ones when she and Joe arrived at his house. “Welcome. Joe has told me all about you. Do you want me to call you Bill?”

Blushing, Willie Mae answered. “It’s what my friends call me. So yes, call me Bill.”

As Joe showed her around Pop’s nice little house she realized that only her parents still called her Willie Mae. From now on, I’m just Bill. … Bill Hale. I like it - short and simple.

The house had two bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen and bath. Its neatness impressed Bill. The bed in their room had freshly ironed sheets and a note on top of the chenille bedspread. “Welcome, Joe and Bill. Please come to our house for supper tomorrow night. Pop, too.” It was signed “Nit.”

Bill felt confused. “Sorry, but I can’t remember who Nit is.”

Joe smiled and nuzzled her neck. “You have a lot of people to meet. Nit is my sister. Her name is Juanita, but everyone calls her Nit. Her husband, Lon, and their three little boys: Billy, James and Homer Joe will be there. Mmm, you smell sweet. Let‘s try out this bed.”

The next morning, the newlyweds awoke to the delicious aroma of bacon and coffee. Bill put a pink cotton housecoat over her nightgown, ran a comb through her hair and splashed water on her face. She hurried into the kitchen.

Pop bent to put a pan of biscuits into the oven of the wood-burning stove. He turned rather stiffly as she entered the kitchen. “How do you like your eggs, Bill?”

“Sunny side up. Sorry we slept this late. I meant to cook breakfast for you and Joe. How can I help? Shall I set the table?”

“Can’t have you cooking on your first morning. Yes, you can set the table. The plates are on the shelf to the right of the sink, silverware in the drawer below that. Hand me the plates. I’ll load them when the eggs are done. How many can you eat?” Pop broke three eggs into the hot bacon grease in the skillet and waited for her response.

“Two, please.” Bill placed forks, knives and spoons, cups and saucers on the enamel-topped table against the wall opposite the stove. Salt and pepper shakers, a butter dish and a jar of sorghum molasses were already on the table. “ I didn’t realize I was so hungry. Everything smells delicious.”

Joe came in from the bathroom freshly shaven and dressed for work in the green uniform he’d worn when he worked in Friona. Bill noticed he’d removed the Phillips 66 shield that had been over the left breast pocket. The fabric was a little darker in that spot. His hazel eyes looked pure green in that uniform. His good looks took her breath away.

After breakfast, Joe kissed her. “I’ll be back about dark, and we’ll go to Nit’s for supper.” Turning to go, he added, “Thanks, Pop. Take care of my girl. Don’t work her too hard today.”

“Don’t worry about us. We’ll be just fine.” Pop looked serious, but gave her a wink. She already liked him very much.

Bill insisted on washing the dishes. Pop dried. Afterwards, she bathed and put on a green and navy blue plaid housedress with a new blue apron. Pop gave her a smile when she came out to the living room. He put his newspaper aside. “Put on a coat and I’ll show you around outside.”

The Brazos River ran only thirty yards from the house. “Does it ever flood?” she asked. The river barely trickled after three years of drought.

Pop chuckled at how far from flooding the trickle was. “It gets higher in the summer, but never has overflowed the bank here. I’d sure be happy to see it flowing full. This drought is killing us.”

Bill walked down the bank a few steps to get a better view of a bridge she glimpsed downstream around a bend in the river bed.

“Don’t go any farther down. There’s quicksand.” Pop turned back toward the house. Bill followed.

Pop fed the chickens a little grain, put the bucket of table scraps he’d brought from the kitchen into the pig’s trough and gave the horse a small block of hay. Bill gathered a few eggs, folding her apron around them.

“If we have all the ingredients, I could make a cake to take to Nit’s.” Bill didn’t know what else to do to fill her time till Joe came home from work.

Pop nodded. “That sounds like a fine idea. I used most of the flour for the biscuits this morning. We‘ll drive into Sagerton in my old truck. I need a few more provisions anyway.”

The town, three miles east of the Hale farm, consisted of a main street lined with red brick buildings, surrounded by a grid of streets with neat white houses. Native post oaks and cedars had been left in the yards where garden space allowed.

Pop drove Bill around town pointing out the school and post office and a small, beautiful white stucco Lutheran church with a tall steeple. “Sagerton was settled by Germans, like most of this part of Texas. Did you know that Old Glory, the next town over, changed its name from Frankfurt during the war to prove their loyalty? The Germans are very good and hard-working people.”

Pop and Bill entered a small store which had groceries as well as dry goods. Pop introduced her. “Ada, this is Bill, my new daughter-in-law.”

The friendly-looking blonde behind the counter looked stereotypically German. Her canvas apron covered an ample chest. “So you’re the girl who snagged Joe Hale. Congratulations, and glad to meet you. Who’d think Joe would marry someone named Bill.” She laughed heartily at her joke.

Bill laughed with her, acknowledged the introduction and searched out the ingredients she needed for the cake. She was used to others’ surprise at her name. She still liked it, maybe for that very reason.

* * *

When Bill heard Joe’s car turn off the road, she ran out to meet him. Tired and dirty, he sat on the porch and unlaced his high work boots. Bill knelt behind him and rubbed his shoulders. “You were right, Honey”

“About what?” He picked up his boots, stood and turned toward the door. “Can’t wait to get cleaned up.”

“About Pop and me. We do enjoy each other’s company.”

“I knew it.” He smiled and bent to kiss her lightly on the lips as he went in.

That night Nit and Lon Darden welcomed Bill to their modest home in Stamford. The three boys ran to Joe, clamoring for his attention. He managed to pick up all three of them and introduce them to their new Aunt Bill. Sitting around an oak table, they enjoyed Nit’s chicken and dumplings with green beans and carrots she said she’d canned from her garden the previous summer. Joe seemed proud of Bill’s contribution to the meal, a yellow layer cake with chocolate frosting.

The Dardens competed with one another in telling funny stories. The continual bursts of laughter around the table impressed Bill. She could see where Joe honed his storytelling skills and the ability to see humor in difficult situations. This family seemed more light-hearted than the Cummings, she reflected, even though they were not as well-off financially.

“I’m glad you brought a cake, Bill. I was going to make a cedar berry pie in your honor, but just didn’t have time.” Nit passed around slices of Bill’s cake.

Bill laughed. “Sorry, Nit. You’re not playing that joke on me. Joe told me about your cedar berry pies.” She patted Joe’s leg under the table, grateful that she wouldn’t be laughed at for taking a bite of delicious-looking but very bitter pie. It was a practical joke that Nit loved to pull on unsuspecting newcomers.

Nit laughed. “Oh, shoot. Well, that’ll save me the work of making the pie.”

The next evening, Saturday, they were invited to Oscar and Annie Gibson’s for a party. Oscar was Eula Mae’s father. The party turned out to be a wedding shower in Joe and Bill’s honor. Bill could hardly believe how many people came. The gifts were modest but useful. Everyone she met had good things to say about Joe and his family.

During the three months they lived with Pop in Sagerton, Joe and Bill went to a party every week. Everyone in Joe’s circle of friends loved to dance and they all had records and wind-up record players to provide the music. One Saturday night a month, the Sagerton Lutheran Church held a dance for the community.

Ina Rae came for a visit between semesters at Canyon and went to one of the church dances. When they returned home that night, Bill helped Ina Rae make a bed on the sofa in the living room. “What a fun group of friends, Bill. I can’t believe they have dances at church.”

“That’s what I told Joe and Pop. We couldn’t even go to dances and stay in the good graces of our church, right?”

Joe, leaning on the door jamb watching them, joined the conversation. “Yeah. I’m not a religious person, but if I were going to join a church, I’d choose the Lutherans. They know how to have fun. They‘re very good people.”

Ina Rae sat on the made-up sofa, eased off her shoes and rubbed her feet. “The fruit punch was good, but boys kept offering to take me out to their cars for a drink of liquor. Some of them were pretty tight by the end of the dance.”

Bill noticed an unusual brightness in her sister’s eyes and gave a little snort. “Last week everyone came to our house to dance without even asking me if it was okay. Luckily I had some cookies and made cocoa to drink. Someone nearly always brings some liquor. You wouldn’t know prohibition was still the law.”

“I don’t think it will be for long. My history teacher says it was a mistake.”

“He’s got that right. Making something unlawful just makes people want it more.” Joe’s speech was slightly slurred.

Ina Rae changed the subject. “Anyway, Joe and Bill, thanks for having me for this visit. I‘ve had a really good time.”

“It was our pleasure, Shorty. Hope you’ll come again soon. Now I’m ready to take my wife away.” Joe put his arm around Bill’s shoulders and pulled her toward the door, but she shook him off to give Ina Rae a hug and a Cummings kiss.

“Good night, Shorty. Thanks for coming. I’ve loved having you here. Now that we know there’s a good train connection to Amarillo, you’ll have to come often.” She hurried to catch Joe at their bedroom door.

* * *

Joe scoured the area for work. He unloaded freight cars, helped farmers shoe horses and did odd jobs when he could find them. When he found nothing else, he searched his dad and Oscar’s farms for dead cedars and scrub oaks, which he cut to sell for firewood. It was a frugal but happy beginning to Bill and Joe’s married life.