“Oh, Joe, can we go? It’s such a cold, windy winter. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to go to the beach and see the Gulf of Mexico?” Her voice took on a desperate edge.
“I’d like to go, Honey, but I just can’t get away. I haven’t collected enough money to pay for my supplies this month. Farmers around here want gasoline, but don’t have money to pay for what they’ve already charged. I have to drive out to visit all of them. I just hope they can pay something before the first of the month.”
Bill was very disappointed. When Joe suggested, “You and the baby can go. I don’t mind batching for a while,” she decided to take him up on it. She immediately wrote to tell Mama and Dad that she and Joe Mike would go with them.
It was a memorable trip. She and Joe Mike went by bus to Floydada. Ina Rae met them at the station. “I’m so happy that you’re going with us, Bill. It’ll be like old times, Bill and Shorty on an adventure.” Holding her hands out to the baby, she added, “And you, Joe Mike. A handsome little man to go with us.”
Ina Rae held Joe Mike while Bill loaded their suitcase into Dad’s four-door Plymouth sedan. “It’s nice to have a big car to go in. Are we really going to drive all the way in one day?”
“Yes. Dad’s planning to get us up at 4:00 in the morning to get started. It’s almost 700 miles, but won’t it be fun?” Ina Rae lapsed into baby talk as she tried to get a laugh from Joe Mike. She put her face into the soft folds of his neck and blew. It worked. He giggled, lowering his chin in defense.
Bill sat in the front passenger seat of the sedan and took Joe Mike onto her lap. She sighed deeply. “It will be fun. Being home with you and Mama and Dad is wonderful. I feel like I’m shirking my responsibility as a wife.” Sighing again, she felt her wifely duties fall away as she sank into the comfort of the big car. “Feels wonderful.” The sisters laughed.
* * *
The sun came up as the Plymouth headed south, then east across the huge vistas of west Texas. Willie Mae and Ina Rae took turns driving when their dad got tired. Joe Mike seemed to enjoy being passed among the doting adults and napping on the wide back seat. They stopped for a picnic of ham sandwiches at a park in Weatherford.
When they passed through Ft. Worth, Dad said, “This is where east Texas begins. Wish we had time for me to see all our kin folks around Greenville, but since it‘s out of the way, that’ll have to wait until another time, .”
They turned south at Dallas. As the terrain became hillier and more wooded, Bill got the uneasy, closed-in feeling she’d noticed in the mountains of New Mexico.
* * *
“Houston is huge.” Mama could hardly believe how long they drove in the city. They stopped at a roadside diner for supper. Dad bought a newspaper to peruse as they waited for their food.
“Listen to this.” Dad cleared his throat. “Amelia Earhart flew from Honolulu, Hawaii, to San Francisco, California. in 17 hours, 11 minutes.” He took out his pocket watch and studied it. “That’s about how long it’s taking us to drive to Galveston, but I’m happy to stay on the ground, thank you very much.”
They drove the last 50 miles in exhausted silence. Bill was glad her dad was driving as they crossed the long causeway to the island. It seemed narrow, and the lights glinting off the vast stretch of water below made her shiver. She was relieved and happy to arrive at her brother Clyde’s house.
Clyde, a slimmer, darker version of his father, ushered them in, kissing each one as they entered. “Come into the kitchen for some hot chocolate.”
Mary Belle set cups on the table. “Welcome. We’re glad you made it. Just leave your baggage in the hallway for now. Mama and Dad Cummings and Bill will sleep in the single beds in the girls’ room. Shorty can sleep on the sofa bed with Katherine. Denise and Clydelle have pallets on the floor. Shall Joe Mike sleep with them, Bill?”
“He can sleep with me. If it’s all right, I’ll go ahead and put him down. He was asleep in the car and is very tired and cranky since we woke him.”
Clyde showed her the way to the girls‘ room with its three single beds. She took the baby’s coat and shoes off, pushed the bed close to the wall and lay beside him, patting him gently until he went back to sleep. Wishing she could stay with him, she joined the conversation in the kitchen.
The next day, they all went to the beach. Bill ventured into the surf with Joe Mike in her arms. When a wave hit her, she retreated, shaken. “I just wanted to wade,” she laughed, drying off her crying toddler. I don’t like moving water. I think I’ll just stay with Mama and Dad under the umbrella.”
“Watch the baby carefully.” Clyde wrinkled his nose. “There’s lots of disgusting garbage on the beach.”
Clyde’s three girls doted on Joe Mike, competed to carry him and helped him make sand castles. They loved playing in the shallow surf, and took the baby with them, under their Aunt Shorty’s watchful eye. He came to love the water, chasing the retreating waves, running from the advancing ones. Bill loved watching his happy play.
The next day after church they drove to the Houston zoo, all six adults and four children crowded into the big car. When they passed a black family walking down the sidewalk, Joe Mike pointed and babbled. He’d never seen people with black skin.
Dad was scandalized. “That shouldn’t be allowed,” he raved, his face turning red. His voice shook with outrage. “N_____s should walk on the street, not on the sidewalk with white people.”
No one dared to argue with him. Bill was glad Clyde was driving as Dad gestured wildly, chopping the air with both hands. She felt shocked and couldn’t see why it was a problem. People walking on the busy street would be a bigger problem.
Clyde spoke up. “It’s a different world here, Dad. In the homes on our block, six languages are spoken.”
Dad kept grumbling. Mama finally said quietly, “That’s enough, Sid. The girls don’t need to hear their granddad having a fit.”
Dad took a deep breath and said no more.
Bill felt as if she’d traveled to a foreign land. The people in Galveston didn’t talk like Texans. They sounded like the New Yorkers she heard on the radio. She was very glad she’d come, but was ready when the day came to leave for home.
* * *
Joe was at the bus station to meet them when Bill and Joe Mike arrived in Farwell. He smiled broadly, hugged and kissed Bill, then lifted Joe Mike high over his head. “I missed you, Hossfly.” Joe Mike laughed and reached down to touch his daddy’s nose. When Joe lowered him to face level, the baby gave him a wet kiss.
“It’s good to be home, Honey. The best part of the trip.” Bill hugged her husband’s arm as they walked to the car.
In the spring of 1935, Bill realized that she was again pregnant. When she consulted Dr. Johnson, he said, “You really need to control your food intake. With the weight you’ve gained since Joe Mike was born, you shouldn’t gain any with this pregnancy.”
“I’ll try to cut down, Doctor. We have a lot of company and I love to cook.” She blushed. “And eat. Still, I’ll try.”
Six months later, on November 3, 1935, Bill rearranged the furniture in the bedroom to make space for the baby crib. As she finished, a fierce pain caused her to crumple on the bed. After it eased, she called Dr. Johnson. He and his wife arrived within a few minutes.
He examined Bill, then turned to his wife who was struggling to open his bag. “Oh, my. This is going quickly. Hurry, Margaret. Bring me my bag. Hurry!”
Within minutes and with just a few contractions, a nine pound boy was born. Mrs. Johnson cleaned him and brought him to Bill. “Isn’t he fine. Tall, and look at those broad shoulders. You did very well, my dear.”
Joe came in from the front room, carrying Joe Mike. “Look, Son. This is your little brother. His name is Patrick. Can you say Pat?”
Joe Mike, 25-months-old, looked at the baby with wide eyes. ”Paa?”
“That’s right. Pat.” Joe knelt by the bed and kissed Bill’s forehead. “How are you doing, Mom?”
“Tired. Happy.” She tilted her face to return his kiss. “Two boys. Mike and Pat. Everyone’s going to tell Irish jokes, you know.”
“That’s all right.” Joe kissed the red-faced infant, sleeping peacefully on his mother’s breast. “These boys will be fine with Irish jokes.”