Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Jann's Memories, 1949 - 1952

Chapter 17

When school started again, I felt well enough to start junior high. It was a big change, going from class to class throughout the day. Seventh grade was the only year I got into trouble in school. We weren’t assigned seats, and I liked to sit in the back of the room and talk to my friends. For this, at various times throughout the year, Mr. Horton, history, Mr.Stockton, math, and the speech teacher whose name escaped me along with his boring lectures on the International Phonetic Alphabet, all gave me “licks” with wooden paddles drilled with holes. To Mr. Horton and Mr. Stockton, this seemed to be a symbolic exercise to get my attention. Both were quite gentle with the paddle. I returned the favor and paid attention in their classes.

The speech teacher walloped me hard, three times. It seemed like my feet left the floor with each lick. I didn’t feel at all repentant as I walked back to my desk and sat down gingerly, then glared at him through tears.

He smiled then and said, “If looks could kill, I‘d be dead.”

It was the first time I heard that expression, the only thing I remember from seventh grade speech class. I stopped talking to my friends in class, regurgitated speech material on tests and got a B, but the look he commented on was the last one he ever got from me.

* * *

One of my friends, Julia Grove, approached me in the hallway one spring day.

“Want to spend the night with me Friday? You can bring what you’ll need to school that day and ride the bus home with me. My dad will bring you home on Saturday afternoon.”

I liked Julie but didn’t know her very well. I knew she lived in the country and I thought it would be fun. “I’ll ask my mom. I think it’ll be okay.”

We rode the school bus 40 miles to her home, a company house in the oil field where her dad worked. It was almost dark when we got there. Her parents didn’t talk much, but made me feel welcome. Julie was an only child, and they seemed like a very close-knit family. After a delicious supper, Julie and I read Nancy Drew mysteries by the light of a Coleman a lantern, then talked late into the night in her cozy bed.

The next morning, Julie’s parents gave her permission to take a .22 rifle and drive an old pickup out through the mesquite wilderness to hunt jackrabbits. As we bounced across the field I was impressed that she could drive. When a rabbit jumped up in front of us, she threw on the brakes. The cloud of dust following us became even bigger and overtook the pickup as Julie jumped out and grabbed the rifle from behind the seat. She leaned on the open door to draw a bead on the animal through the open window. I felt overawed when she shot the bounding animal. She was the most self-confident girl I’d ever met.

* * *

Odessa Junior High included seventh, eighth and ninth grades. My favorite teacher, Miss Wynn, taught history and social studies. She’d been Joe Mike’s favorite also. The two of them seemed to have a mutual admiration society, and I believe she favored me for his sake. It was through her encouragement that I kept my grades high enough in eighth and ninth grades to be in the National Junior Honor Society, which she sponsored.

One day in April, 1951, an announcement on the public address system said that we were not to go to lunch at the usual time. A speech to congress by General Douglas MacArthur was broadcast in our classrooms. This was MacArthur’s farewell address to the nation. Miss Wynn made it obvious to our eighth grade social studies class that she disapproved of President Truman because he relieved the heroic general of his duties as Supreme Commander of the U.N. Forces in Korea. I didn’t know anything about the war in Korea or much about MacArthur, but I was moved by his speech, which ended with a quote from an old army ballad that he remembered from his West Point days early in the century:

“Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” And now, like the old soldier
of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old
soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty."

I was glad when the speech ended and we could go to lunch. I was starving.

* * *

Joe Mike went out for football in his senior year, when I was in ninth grade. As a 140-pound center, he got to play only occasionally, since the first string center, “Tiny” Etheredge, outweighed him by 100 pounds and could plow through the opponents‘ defense line after hiking the ball. Odessa High School was the only one in town, and the people were crazy about football . The team did well that year, and played Lubbock at home in the semi-final match for the state championship. We were among the 22,000 people in the stands.

My parents were with Daddy’s friends, Roy and Helen Barnes. I felt embarrassed, and Mother seemed chagrined, that Daddy, Roy and Helen, like many people there, drank whiskey from bottles they carried in brown paper bags. At an earlier game, Helen drank to the point of yelling slurred obscenities at the referee. I vowed I’d never sit with them again and felt bad that Mother had to. I took Kyle to the students’ section to watch the game with me and my friends.

Odessa lost by one point in the last seconds of the game. Hoarse and dispirited, I made my way out of the stadium, my hand on Kyle’s shoulder in front of me. Suddenly, the crowd surged, pressing in on us. Kyle’s panicked voice came from in front of my belly, where he could hardly breathe.

“Help. I’m being squoze. Help me.”

With difficulty, I managed to elbow a space on either side and to resist the push from behind by digging in my heels. I picked him up and carried him to the parking lot where we met Mother and Daddy.

As we drove home, I worried about Daddy’s state of drunkenness, thankful that this was a home game. I blushed as I thought of his driving to the Midland game a few weeks before. Cars were lined up bumper to bumper for the entire 18 miles. In a fit of impatience, he pulled out to pass, then drove onto the left shoulder, dust boiling up behind us, where we stayed until a merciful driver let us back in line.

As my ninth grade year continued, forty cases of polio were reported in November, 1951, fifty more in December. Ten people in Odessa died from polio. The halls and classrooms at Bowie Junior High were almost empty as fearful parents kept their children home. I earned my license to drive sooner than I expected, because testing was expedited for the few students who attended driver’s education class during the epidemic.

Early in December, four boys from Joe Mike’s class drowned in a horrific storm while duck hunting on Lake Texoma. I lay awake all night, confronted with the possibility of dying young. One boy in the boat survived, managing to hang on through the freezing night as, one by one, the other boys sank under the dark waves. With morbid fascination I read the news reports that went on for months as the bodies were found and recovered from the huge lake. The survivor lost 20 pounds overnight, his thick layer of fat probably saving his life. Joe Mike told us a few weeks later that this boy’s hair was growing out white. I still marvel at his courage, to hang on through that awful night.

* * *

Of my numerous friendships, the one with Faye Gray was special. She was Joe Mike’s age, the oldest of my friends, but we were close friends for years. I now suspect that her parents encouraged her to take me under her wing for the sake of mentoring me in Christianity. John and Eva, her dad and mom, were one of the devoted couples whom Mother envied for their common faith.

I’d achieved my adult height of five-feet-nine-inches by this time, and enjoyed being in the midst of their tall family. John was six-and-a-half feet tall, Eva was about my height. Faye was five-ten and Charles, her little brother, hadn’t achieved his full height, but towered over Kyle, who was the same age. I thought John was an attractive man despite scars on his face and hands.

“What happened to your dad to make those scars?” It took courage for me to ask Faye, but she didn‘t seem to mind.

“When we lived in east Texas, he worked as a pumper on the night shift. His job was to go around to oil wells near Tyler and record the output of the pumps. One night as he opened the door of a pump house, there was an explosion. His face and hands were burned and his clothes caught fire. He climbed up to an open water tank, leaving flesh from his hands on the ladder rungs. He jumped in to extinguish the fire, then had to climb out and drive himself to the hospital. It was the middle of the night and no one else was around. He was in the hospital for a long time.”

I’d never admired a man more than John Gray. He sat next to Joe Mike in church and pointed out the bass notes during singing, teaching him to read music. On Sunday nights, the boys practiced leading singing. John and other song leaders stood behind the boys and held their hands to show them how to direct the beat of each song.

Joe Mike became a star bass in the high school a cappella choir and the boys’ quartet, which sang in programs for service club meetings on a number of occasions. I felt proud, sitting in the audience as he sang a solo at a St. Patrick’s Day concert. As he took a bow, his crew cut, dyed bright green that day, practically blinded the audience. He loved the laugh it got.

When Mr. Day, the choir director, went to teach at Odessa Junior College the following year, he offered Joe Mike a scholarship Because he could live at home and study in a supportive environment, a gentle start on my brother’s college education.

Joe Mike and I both loved going home with the Grays after church on Sunday. Eva prepared dinner ahead of time. Faye and I set the dining room table with fine china, sterling silver and crystal. We helped get the food on the table and washed dishes after the meal. The Grays lived in a modest house in a Sun Oil Company compound, but I learned much about gracious living from them.

Sunday afternoons, we drove around with Joe Mike, searching out interesting spots in which to take pictures of one another. We liked a small park in Midland with sculptures of cupid-like angels flanking the gate. In our church clothes, including hose, high heels, hats and gloves, we posed like movie stars. It felt good being us.

The Grays invited me to go on a weekend fishing trip, a new experience for me. I spent Friday night at their house. We arose while it was still dark and drove east toward Lake Sweetwater. Faye, Charles and I watched from the back seat as the sky lightened and the sun peeked over the horizon, level with us on the flat prairie. We stayed in a cabin owned by the Riggs family, members of our church.

I felt wonderful to be in the presence of a relaxed, patient man. John offered to teach me to fish, but I didn’t really like it. What I did like was rocking along in the boat with him and Faye and Charles, listening to John’s deep voice explaining to his seven-year-old son how to bait the hook and cast the line.

Faye would be going to Abilene Christian College in the fall. In April, John and Eva took us to Abilene for High School Weekend, an opportunity for prospective students to get acquainted with the school. We toured the campus, including Zellner Hall, which would be Faye’s dorm. Mary Titsworth, the dorm mother, shook hands with John and Eva, but paused to hold Faye’s hand between her own, smiling into the girl’s eyes.

“I look forward to having you here, Faye. Let me know if you have questions or if I can help you in any way.”

She liked to be called Mrs. T. With white braids encircling her head, she seemed almost holy in her sweetness. Imagine my surprise a few years later, when I arrived at the dorm late for curfew. She met me at the door with a frown, as articulate and dramatic in her censure of my behavior as she had been in welcoming Fay as a prospective student.

Saturday night we went to a student presentation of the opera “Aida.” I was totally overtaken with the hope of someday being a student in this school. The next morning, we worshiped at the College Church of Christ, across the street from the campus. The cornerstone inscription read, “Founded in Jerusalem, A.D.33.” I’d never been in such a large church, and the singing captivated me. Going to Abilene Christian College. became my ambition and my vision for the future.

In 1950, Daddy’s old friends, Homer and Roy Johnson, offered to sell him a share in a new wholesale gasoline distributorship they were starting. He sold his Shell service station and started commuting to manage Midland 66 Oil Co. He and Mother decided to keep living in Odessa until after Joe Mike graduated from high school in 1952.

That summer, Fay and I went to church camp on the Pecos River near Iraan, Texas for three weeks. We had a great time, meeting kids from all over western Texas. Church and Bible study, swimming, hiking, volleyball and campfires kept us busy and happy. Food was spartan. Goat meat, donated by local ranchers was barbecued for lunch and dinner, with ranch beans, coleslaw and white bread. Breakfast was oatmeal and prunes. I was so happy being with other church kids in a scenic outdoor setting, I hardly noticed the food.

While I was at camp, Mother and Daddy sold our house, bought another in Midland and moved. It was a shock to return from camp to a different house, different church, different town. I thought I was prepared for the move, but I wasn‘t.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jann's Memories, Age 8 to 12

Chapter 16

I was eight when Daddy bought the abandoned house in the Penwell oil field and moved it onto a corner lot on West Third Street in Odessa. Daddy’s excitement and enthusiasm were infectious. He hired a carpenter who replaced the flooring, repaired the windows, installed a new dark shingle roof and light gray asbestos siding and painted the trim kelly green  I don’t recall a time when Daddy seemed as happy as when he came home to our little rental on the south side and reported daily progress on the house.

One day after work he took us with him to check on the front porch and sidewalk that were poured that day. The work was complete. We’d be moving in soon.

Going someplace with Daddy was a rare treat. When he was happy, all was right with my world.  The mood changed quickly when we got to the house. The work on the sidewalks was fine, but the names of neighborhood children were gouged in the wet cement.

“I’ll be damned.” Daddy’s face turned almost purple as he read the most prominent name, running the entire length of the sidewalk, from the steps to the street. “I’d like to get my hands on Billie Yvonne Derrick.” His voice dripped with sarcasm as he pronounced Billie Wy-vonne Derrick. “I’d wring her neck.” .
I shrank back from Daddy’s anger but had to grin behind the hand I clapped over my mouth when the image of my grandmother wringing a chicken’s neck came to mind. I wondered if Daddy could really wring a child’s neck and whether she’d run and jump around without her head like chickens did. He’d never spanked me, and I was pretty sure he wouldn‘t wring Billie Yvonne Derrick’s neck. I decided then and there that I would never write my name in wet cement and that I would never make friends with Billie Yvonne Derrick. I never did, though she was only two years older than I and lived across the street for six years.

I held Mother’s hand as we walked up  the steps and entered the living-dining room combination. The windows were covered with Venetian blinds. “I’ll make sheer curtains to go over the blinds.” Mother liked to share with me what she’d learned in home  economics.

The floor-covering was linoleum with large pinkish flowers and dull green leaves.  “This will look good with the dusty-rose couch and chair.” Mother turned to face Daddy. “I found a nice mahogany dining set at Wright’s today. It's only $15.” Her voice was excited. I’d been with her to the used furniture store and knew she longed for the table and chairs we saw there.

I breathed a sigh of relief when Daddy smiled and said, “Good. Sears called today. The furniture we ordered is in. They’ll deliver it next week.”

He went to a gas valve and turned it on. An awful smell hissed out. I held my nose. He turned it off quickly.

“Good.” Daddy looked satisfied. “They got the gas hooked up.” Our heater, a small one with a line of blue flames in front of clay panels, would go in that spot.

Mother and I went to the kitchen behind the dining area. Plain tan linoleum covered the floor and the counter that ran along one wall. Two windows and a door opened to the back yard. Mother put a finger on her chin, studying the small space. “Our kitchen table will go under the windows, but there won’t be room for all of us to sit around it.”

“That’s okay, Mother,” I piped up from the door. “We’ll have our new table in here.” I gestured toward the dining area.

We followed Daddy and the boys to the front bedroom, which was large enough for two double beds. Kyle and I would continue to sleep together in one. Daddy and Mother would share the other.

Mother looked in the small closet in the corner. “This is awfully small, Joe. We need to look for a wardrobe.”

Daddy sighed and took a step into a narrow hallway. Gesturing to a larger closet to his right, he said, “We have this one. It’ll be enough for now.” He entered the bathroom to his left. I followed him, pleased to see new fixtures and paint.

We heard Joe Mike yell from the small back bedroom. “Look, Jann and Kyle. My room has cowboys and bucking horses on the wall.”

Mother looked pleased. “Do you like it? Katherine Murphy helped me do it.” She had pulled off quite a coup, keeping her wallpapering project a secret.

“I knew about it cause I came with her,” Kyle laughed, “but Mama told me not to tell and I didn’t.” He looked at Mother for approval and she rewarded him with a hug.
* * *
After we moved in, Mother bought a cherry wood Philco radio-phonograph console and records from the Sears Roebuck catalogue with babysitting money. I remember music albums by Bing Crosby and Arthur Godfry, and a Bugs Bunny story.

Mother still did our laundry at the Helpy Selfy. Every week she ironed a large washtub full of clothes, mostly Daddy’s work uniforms. She set up the ironing board near the radio and listened to Art Linkletter or “The Life of Helen Trent,” a soap opera. Sometimes she sang as she worked, either hymns from memory or with records.

This humble house became the essence of the word “home” for me.

One of my first memories of living there was finding an extra edition of The Odessa American on the front walk when I arrived home after school. The paper usually came in the morning, and I felt apprehensive as I unrolled it that afternoon. A band of black bordered the page, and the huge headline announced that President Roosevelt was dead. All my life, and all of Joe Mike’s life, Roosevelt was president. As World War II wound down, I heard many people say as it ended, “What a shame that Roosevelt didn’t live to see the end of the war.”

I was in third grade and  Joe Mike was in sixth when we moved to our new house. We rode a bus to Northside Elementary School. How scary it would’ve been not to have a big brother with me. I followed him like an adoring puppy, trying to do everything he did.
* *
The following year, Joe Mike went into junior  high. He went out for track and field. In the front part of the vacant lot next door, he and some neighbor boys set up a broad jump and high jump course in the sandy soil to practice.

I watched the boys jump for awhile before volunteering to help them place the crossbar between nails that marked the height on each side post. I decided I could probably clear the bar, on the lower levels, so finally got up my courage to ask, “Can I try?”

“Okay, but you’ll have to wait until we finish this round. You can have a turn when we start over with the low bar.” Joe Mike was the boss, since the whole thing was his idea. He used his own money to buy the materials to build it.

After all the boys jumped as high as they could, knocking the crossbar off on their last try, they moved on to the broad jump pit. I stayed behind and put the crossbar on the first peg and jumped it easily. I was moving it up to when Joe Mike  called me to hold one end of the rope with which they marked the line for beginning the  broad jump
“I’ll hold it, but you have to give me a turn, too. You said I could try the high jump and then you left.”
Joe Mike rolled his eyes, but agreed.

I was better at broad jump than high jump. We also tried pole vaulting, but I didn’t vault much higher than I could jump, intimidated by the long pole and the drop into the sand on the far side of the high bar. Still, I had fun practicing, planting the pole and lifting my weight off the ground with the momentum of a running start.
* * *
I followed Joe Mike’s lead in teasing our little brother. One day after school, Kyle watched as I played jacks on the front porch. Joe Mike came out of the house eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“Kyle,” his voice was raised in alarm. “You have garments on your back.”

As Kyle squirmed, trying to see over his shoulder, feeling his back with his hands, Joe Mike grinned and winked at me.

“Where?” Kyle looked worried.

I didn’t see anything alarming on his back and didn’t know what garments were, but I decided to ally myself with power. When Joe Mike said, “They’re all over you,” I nodded.

Kyle jumped up and ran in the house, crying for Mother’s help. I followed.

Mother picked up the four-year-old and hugged him. “What’s the matter?”

“Joe Mike said I have garments on my back. Get them off.”

“Oh, Honey, garments are just clothes. We all have garments on our backs.”

I laughed, understanding Joe Mike’s joke, but not at all concerned about Kyle’s feelings.

Later, Joe Mike teased Kyle again about having garments on his back. Wanting to show my knowledge, I said, “So do you, Joe Mike.”

Kyle grinned and nodded. “Yeah, Joe Mike. So do you.”

“Yes, but you have ancestors, Kyle.” Grinning, laughing, pointing at the little boy.

“I do not,” Kyle’s voice trembled and his eyes welled with tears
Again not knowing the word but now understanding the game, I followed Joe Mike’s lead, teasing in a sing-song voice, “Kyle has ancestors. Kyle has ancestors.”

He ran to Mother again in distress. She comforted him and scolded Joe Mike and me as we laughed. Thus I improved my vocabulary but not my compassion.

One day Mother made lye soap. After boiling lye and lard together, she poured it into a flat enamel pan, which she  put on a chair outside to cool. She cautioned us not to touch it. Joe Mike and I decided it looked like the caramel candy Mother made at Christmas time. Joe Mike took the wooden spoon Mother had left resting on top of the soap and pretended to take a bite, saying, “Yum. That is delicious.”

I followed suit.

Kyle actually put some of the soap in his mouth. Fortunately, the burning started immediately, and he spit it out without swallowing any.

Hearing his wails, Mother grabbed him and gave him a sip of vinegar.

“Rinse like this.” She swished some in her mouth. “Spit that out. I want you to take a little more and swallow it.” She followed the vinegar with an egg white. Kyle lost a layer of skin off his tongue. Horrified when I understood that our sweet little brother could have died, I lay awake for a long time that night. Our teasing stopped after that.
* *
The summer after I finished fourth grade, Joe Mike, Kyle and I all had our tonsils removed on the same day. Dr. Wood, the one who delivered me, recommended the surgery because we had frequent sore throats. The three of us checked into the same room in the hospital. When Mother went with Kyle to the operating room, Joe Mike and I jumped on our beds, laughing. They brought Kyle back, pale and asleep. I was next. Mother walked beside my gurney to the operating room. An ether mask was put over my face and the next thing I knew, I woke up, back in our room. Mother was sitting on the bed with Kyle, patting him and singing.

I tried to say something and couldn’t because of a terrible pain under my tongue. I expected to have a sore throat, but I hardly noticed that because I couldn’t move my tongue without hurting myself.

“Mothuh, theh’s a knot unduh my tongue.”

She came quickly to my bedside. “I know, Honey. The doctor couldn’t get your tongue out of your mouth, so he clipped it. When you were a baby, he said you were tongue tied , but it never was a problem.”

“Bud I could talk bettah befoah.” I cried.

“It’ll get well , Honey. Don’t worry.”

She was right. After the doctor took the stitches out, my speech was back to normal.

When Joe Mike woke up, he looked at Mother accusingly. “You went with Kyle and Jann to the operating room, but I had to go by myself.”

At that moment, I think Mother wished she’d scheduled the operations on different days.
* * *
I began to be more interested in school. Our principal, Mr. Turner, came to our fifth grade class one day and asked if anyone would like to work in the cafeteria every day to earn their lunch. I eagerly raised my hand and he chose me. The job required that I get a blood test. It was the first time I remember going to a doctor’s office. The ladies who cooked our food on site every day were very nice to the kids who worked there. I felt quite important, serving plates to all the other fifth graders as they came through the line.
* * *
On Mothers’ Day that year, 1948, nervous and elated, I walked up the aisle of the Southside Church of Christ as the congregation sang, “Just As I Am.”

“Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!”

I whispered to Eddie Myers, the minister, that I wanted to be baptized and took a seat on the front pew. When the song was over, he motioned for me to stand, and asked, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the only begotten son of God?”

Shivering with nervousness and excitement, I answered, “Yes.”

The small church had a baptistery behind  the pulpit. There were curtains that were usually open to show a painting of the River Jordan. A small dressing room was on each side of the baptistery. Eddy Myers motioned for Joe Mike to follow him to the room on the left.  Mother came from the congregation and led me to the room on the right.

Mother and I were both nervous as I took off my yellow Easter dress and put on a white chenille bathrobe that had weights sewn around the hem. Mother held my hand as I climbed the steps. Joe Mike stood on the other side of the baptistery, grinning and holding the cord to the curtains, now closed. Brother Myers was already down in the baptistery. He guided me down the steps to stand in front of him facing Joe Mike as Brother Myers faced the congregation.

  He placed a white handkerchief in my hand as Joe Mike opened the curtains. Brother Myers raised his right hand, saying, “Upon your confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

He took my hand with the handkerchief, put it over my nose and mouth, put his other hand behind my head, and lowered me under the water. Mother and Joe Mike watched from above, she behind me and he in front. When I came up, Joe Mike closed the curtains. I could hear the congregation singing the last verse of “Just As I Am.”
“Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O, Lamb of God, I come! I come!”

  The dripping chenille was very heavy as Brother Myers helped me climb to where Mother waited. Wearing waders with his dress shirt, tie and jacket, he turned and took Joe Mike’s hand as he went out the opposite way.

I shed the robe and Mother wrapped me in a towel. As she helped me get dressed, I felt ecstatic. Sixty-four years later, I read in Mother’s journal her memory of that day: “Jann said, ‘Oh, Mother, Jesus is so sweet.’”

This marked my entry into the young people’s group at the church. We attended Bible classes twice on Sunday, usually had outings between those services and parties on Saturday night. Church activities comprised a large part of my education. That summer I went to church camp near Iraan, on the Pecos River, about 100 miles south of Odessa. I made friends from all over the state, including counselors who were students at Abilene Christian College. Going to college there became my ambition.

Devoted and idealistic, I took Mother as my role model and more or less rejected Daddy as such. My parents’ values offered my brothers and me a stark contrast. I had complete faith in Church of Christ doctrine, growing up with a very black-and-white way of thinking.
* * *
When I started the sixth grade that fall, there was a teacher shortage in Odessa. Our principal, Mr. Turner, taught our class for the first few weeks. It was as if someone turned a light on in my head. For the first time, I understood why I was in school, and I loved it. Having a man teacher as I approached puberty probably contributed to the change. He was kind but serious about learning. I felt inspired.

When our new teacher, Mr. Weinert, arrived, no one in the class could understand a word he said for the first several days. He was from Wisconsin, and we just couldn’t get his name. In west Texas, we didn’t say a word like Weinert with a long I sound. We’d say Wa-a-a-nert. After a time, our ears and his speech adjusted.

I was aware of presidential politics for the first time. The day after the 1948 election is clearly etched in my memory. A rare snow covered the school playground when Mr. Weinert came out to get the class at the end of recess. He’d been listening to the news on the radio. His face and voice registered shock, punctuated by vapor clouds made by his breath in the cold air, as he announced that Harry S. Truman won the election.
He wasn’t the only one who was surprised. Arriving home that afternoon, I looked for the Odessa American. The front page featured a photograph of the grinning president holding up the New York Times with the headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Mother and Daddy talked about it at supper. “I don’t particularly like Truman, but at least he’s not as much a damn yankee as Dewey.” Daddy laughed.
I didn’t know “yankee” was a word by itself.
* * *
In sixth grade, all my friends and I had boyfriends. Mine was Gary Hinds. He had a shy smile that I liked. He and I were both quite tall for our age. His nickname was Biggy because of his huge hands. He could grasp and pick up a basketball in each hand. Sometimes on Saturday, we would meet in front of the movie theater and sit together, too shy to touch, even in the dark theater. I liked his shyness. He made me feel small and he liked me.
* *
In April, I walked home from school in a wind storm, sometimes turning around and walking backwards to protect my face from the stinging, blinding sand. Arriving home, I collapsed onto my bed, out of breath and exhausted. Mother called from the kitchen, asking me to set the table for supper. I dragged into the kitchen and she looked up, registering alarm.

“What’s the matter, Hon? You look like you don’t feel well.” She put her hand on my forehead.

“My ankles hurt. Feel my neck, Mom.”

Mother’s worried look intensified as she probed two large lumps, a couple of inches behind each ear, near the hairline.

“Ouch. That hurts.” My voice faltered as I opened the silverware drawer.

“I’ll set the table, Honey. You go back and rest. Tomorrow I’m taking you to the doctor.”

The diagnosis was rheumatic fever. The treatment was six weeks of complete bed rest. I was shocked. Six weeks seemed like an eternity to me, and I wondered what missing so much school would mean. Mother visited the school to talk to Mr. Weinert, who assured her I could finish sixth grade by doing the weekly assignments he would bring to the house.

I didn’t feel ill and those weeks were among the most pleasant of my childhood. Mother, who’d wanted to be a nurse, indulged me with impeccable care. She communicated love in the ways she tended my needs: daily baths, fresh line-dried sheets, meals brought to my bed on a tray. I appreciated her friendliness to the classmates who visited regularly.

Lying beside the open window, sheer curtains moving with the mild May breeze, I read notes from my classmates that Mr. Weinert delivered with my weekly assignments in math, history and language arts. I knew my friends’ notes were writing assignments, but most seemed sincere and some were even entertaining. Sometimes he assigned crayon drawings for my encouragement. Every day the mailman brought a bright get-well card from Aunt Jewell.

I enjoyed the time so much, it’s a wonder I didn’t become a hypochondriac. At the end of six weeks, I was happy to leave the bed behind and return to my favorite summer activity, roller skating in the neighborhood.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fun-Loving Young Mother

Chapter 15

“Can I keep the car today? I need to go to the grocery store.”

Bill felt a twinge of guilt as she said this. It was true they needed a few groceries, but her real reason for wanting the car was to go to Ladies Bible Class.

Joe picked up the last bite of bacon from his plate, popped it into his mouth, drained his coffee cup and stood. “Okay, but I need to get to work.”

Bill stood as well. She went into the bedroom where three-year-old Kyle slept. She sat on the side of his bed as she changed from slippers into brown oxfords. “Kyle, wake up, Honey. We’re going to take Daddy to work.”

Kyle turned over, eyes squinting in his round face. “Where’s Joe Mike and Jann?”

“They left for school already, Lazy Bones. Come on, I’ll wrap your blanket around you for now and get you dressed when we get back.”

Joe waited in the brown Mercury sedan with the engine idling and the heater on against the dry, cold February air. Bill carried Kyle out and put him in the back seat, where he lay down, pulled the blanket close around him and went back to sleep. She sat in the front passenger seat, shivering.

As Joe parked in front of the lift bay at the Shell Service station which he now owned, Bill thought back to the changes of the previous year. As soon as the war in Europe was over Joe quit his oil field job. There was a huge wheat crop to be harvested on the plains. Joe thought he could make money helping to harvest it for the hungry people in the countries devastated by war. He bought an old school bus that had been converted into a camper, with a cook stove in the front and bunks in the back. He asked his sister, Nit Darden, her husband, Lon, and their son, Doyce, to work for him. Joe Mike went, too, although he was only 13. With a tractor, a truck and a combine, they went on the road. Starting in the south plains, near Floydada, they followed the harvest all the way to Kansas. Bill stayed home, tending a garden and worrying about everything that could go wrong with such an arrangement.

Joe’s gamble and hard work paid off. With the profits of the summer, he was able to buy the Shell station. He seemed much happier as a business owner than an employee.

* * *

Joe got out of the car and Bill scooted across the seat to the driver’s side. “What time should I come get you?”

“I’ll call you. It’ll probably be late. There are already two cars waiting to be serviced.”

“Why don’t I come and get you for dinner at noon, then you can bring the car back and come home whenever you‘re through.”

“Okay, but don’t come until 1:00. It’ll take me that long to get caught up here.” Joe leaned through the open window and gave Bill a peck on the lips, then walked away, whistling.

“Bye, Honey.” The arrangement was perfect. Bill would stop at the grocery store now, hurry home to put her purchases away and get Kyle dressed, then pick up Katherine Murphy for Ladies’ Bible Class at 10:00. Since Joe wanted dinner later than usual, she’d have time to make meat loaf and mashed potatoes before picking him up.

* * *

They no longer lived in the house on South Crane Highway, where they’d lived when Kyle was born and where Pop died. It felt like home, but the owner decided he wanted to live there.

For a year, they rented a house with a barn and garden space on the east side of town in a rough neighborhood. Joe bought two horses, a light bay, Penny, for himself and a smaller paint named Tony for Mike. Joe taught Mike and Jann how to ride and gave Mike the responsibility of feeding and grooming both horses. On Sunday afternoons, they rode to a neighborhood arena, where men and boys got together and practiced roping calves.

Bill smiled when she remembered how much Jann loved to ride Tony. It reminded her of when she’d raced her horse, Dunny, to school. One summer day, Joe’s nephews, Bill and James Darden, stopped to see Joe as they were driving through Odessa. Joe invited them home for dinner, and decided to show them how well his seven-year-old daughter could ride. He saddled the gentle paint pony. Jann climbed on and loped out into the mesquite-covered field. For some reason, Tony made a sudden stop, and the barefoot girl went flying over his head, turned a flip and landed on her feet in front of the horse. Joe and his nephews laughed and clapped. With a toss of her head, Jann got back on the horse and continued riding as if she’d planned the whole thing.

At the dinner table, the men teased her about being a trick rider. Jann said, “The only thing I was thinking about was how many thorns those mesquite bushes had on ‘em. That and rattlesnakes.”

One day when Jann went with Joe and Mike to the roping, she came home with her face and hair filthy, looking sulky. Joe Mike had talked her into riding a calf at the arena, and she’d landed on her face in the dirt. Bill was relieved that Jann stopped going to the roping.

During that year, Joe Mike and Jann walked downtown and go to the movie theater on Saturday, always a western. Their favorite hero was Gene Autry. They thought he looked like their daddy. Sometimes they saw Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger or Red Ryder. Every week a serial drama ended in seeming tragedy. The following week, the tragedy was averted by heroic effort for another 20 minutes.

One Saturday the two children arrived home and greeted their mother with large, frightened eyes. “Jann almost got hit by a train.” Joe Mike’s voice trembled as he recalled his fright. “We were walking home on the railroad track and didn’t see the train coming until it whistled, pretty close to us. I shouted for Jann to run, then I went this way.” Joe motioned to his right. He turned to his sister with a voice charged with anger. “Why didn’t you follow me, Jann?”

His little sister, seven, looked down. “I was so afraid, I couldn’t move. I didn’t know which way to go. Finally I went that way.” She held out her left hand. She put her face against her mother’s apron. “The train was so close I could feel the wind it made.”

Joe Mike stared intently into Bill’s eyes. “I didn’t know until the train went all the way by whether she was all right or not.” Tears spilled out of his eyes. Jann also started crying.

Bill sat on a kitchen chair, hugging one child in each arm and gave each a kiss. “Thank goodness you’re both all right. You take such good care of your sister, Joe Mike. Please don’t walk on the railroad track anymore.”

Joe used part of his wheat harvest earnings to buy their own home. He heard about an abandoned house out in the Penwell oil field that was for sale for $500, including the cost of moving it and setting it on a foundation. Built for a pumper, the man who monitored the flow of pumping wells, it was no longer needed in that location. One Sunday afternoon, the family drove through desolate fields to see it.

As they bounced along gravel roads, past abandoned oil derricks, hundreds of moving pumps and burning gas flares, Joe Mike and Jann chattered in the back seat, each claiming the things they could see from their side of the car. Kyle, stuck in the middle, was left out.

Everyone thought Jann would be the winner when she saw three antelope on her side. Joe Mike had seen a single coyote. When he spotted a herd of eight buffalo, it was clearly the grand prize of the day.

When they finally arrived at the abandoned house, Bill’s heart sank. It was buried in sand past the foundation. All the windows were broken, the doors sagged and constantly blowing sand had scoured away the paint. They went in, carefully watching for rattlesnakes.

Joe stomped on the floor, tried to shake the door frames and declared it basically sound. “After it’s moved, we’ll get a carpenter to fix the windows and doors. With fresh paint and new linoleum, it’ll be nice.”

Bill hoped he was right.

They bought two lots in a new neighborhood on the west edge of Odessa, for $250 each and built a foundation on the corner lot for the house. The extra lot was for a garden, with room at the back for a barn, chicken house and a pen for raising beef calves.

Now, a year later, Bill was satisfied with their home. Five Chinese Elms were growing well. When spring came, they would put in a lawn and garden. New houses were going up on their street. So far, the neighbors seemed like good folks. Joe Mike and Jann rode the school bus, but a new elementary school was planned for the neighborhood. In a couple of years, Jann would be able to walk to school.

Bill belonged to the Parent-Teachers Association and was a room mother for both children. That was rewarding, but her real place in the world was her church, the Southside Church of Christ. She went twice on Sunday and twice again on Wednesday.

She and Katherine Murphy were close friends. Both were devoted Christians with non-believing husbands, and each took great comfort in the friendship.

“Having you as a friend keeps me from envying the couples who sit together and share their faith,” Bill told Katherine one day as they were drinking coffee at Bill’s kitchen table.

“I know, Hale. It must be nice to worship with your husband.” Most people at church called Bill “Sister Hale.” Katherine, whose husband and son were named Bill, called her friend Hale.

“Do you ever feel guilty when you read the scripture in II Corinthians, ’Do not be yoked together with unbelievers?’ If I hadn’t departed from the way I was raised for a time, maybe I would’ve found a Christian husband.”

“No. I don’t feel guilty.” Katherine’s eyes flashed. “My husband is a good man. I believe Christ accepts us just as we are, in the situation we’re in.”

Bill laughed. “That’s why I like having you as my friend. You don’t let me get by with self pity. Joe’s a good man, too, and I’m lucky to have him. I adore him. I just wish he’d go to church with me.”

Joe Mike and Jann had a large group of young people at church with whom they learned social skills. The minister, Eddie Myers and his wife Chris, took a genuine interest in them. The entire congregation helped the kids navigate the difficult waters of being “in the world but not of the world,” as well as providing a foundational knowledge of the Bible. Fun-loving Bill enjoyed chaperoning their parties, often held on the same night as school dances, forbidden territory.

Jann especially enjoyed their outings to the sand hills near Monahans. There were miles and miles of beautifully-sculpted white wavy dunes that changed by the hour with the constant wind. She thought it was hilarious to be on the tail-end of pop-the-whip games. One time the momentum sent her flying over the edge of a sand cliff. She and the other kids near her landed 40 feet below, rolling and laughing in the snow-like grit.

The kids stayed out until late dusk. Hurrying back to the hayride truck where they’d roast wieners and marshmallows, Jann was in a little valley between two sand hills that each hid a fence post. She ran into a strand of barbed wire, dazing her. Later, as Bill put a bandage her skinned nose, Jann told her about the game of pop-the-whip. “Oh, Mother, it was so much fun. It felt like I was flying.”

Joe Mike and Jann asked their mother if they could have a party for the church youth at their house. Bill enthusiastically agreed and suggested a taffy pulling party.

“We used to have so much fun making taffy. The candy has to be at just the right stage and temperature when you take it out of the pot. Everyone butters their hands and rolls the candy into balls. Partners share the warm portions. Each one pulls, then rolls the strand back into a ball and pulls again until the strand cools and turns white and hard.” Bill’s hands illustrated the pulling and folding. “Then you break it into little pieces, eat it and play games.”

Joe Mike and Jann were sold on trying it. Another generation had fun pulling taffy, thanks to Bill Hale.

She played board or card games with them and their friends on Sunday afternoon between church services. A favorite was “Spoons.” She was very good at sneaking the first spoon away from the center of the table after matching all the cards in her hand. Jann was often the last to see the spoons being taken, thus not getting one and losing the round. It was a hilarious game that all the kids liked.

* * *

Joe Mike joined the 4-H Club when he was in sixth grade. He raised a Hereford steer to enter in the fat stock show. The following year, he used the money he made on that calf to buy two more. The tall and rangy one, he named Mutt. The other, short and stocky, was Jeff.

When it was time to show them, he spent more and more time with the steers, teaching them to follow on a lead rope, grooming them, finishing their feeding with rich grains. “Mr. Lee thinks Jeff has a chance to win first prize,” Joe Mike told his mother.

Bill smiled. “That would be wonderful, Honey. You’ve worked so hard, you deserve a ribbon yourself.”

Joe Mike laughed, blushing.

It wasn’t a first but a second place ribbon that Jeff won at the show. Joe Mike was disappointed, but Mr. Lee, the county agent, congratulated him. “That means only two other steers, the grand champion and first place, were better than yours, Mike. You should be very proud.”

The next day, Bill watched from the stands as Joe Mike led Jeff into the auction arena. Mutt was sold earlier that morning. This was the last time Mike would be with the pretty little calf that was his favorite. Bill saw that he looked upset and nervous in front of the crowd of parents and businessmen who bought stock for the sake of the good publicity they’d get. Joe Mike burst into tears as the auctioneer began. The tears seemed to inspire the bidding. The more Joe Mike cried, the more bids came in. Finally, Jeff brought twice as much per pound as Mutt, giving Joe Mike a nice profit for his work.

At supper, Dad was jubilant. “George Walters, the banker that bought Jeff is a customer of mine. The next time I see him, I’ll thank him for his support. I’m proud of you, Son.”

Joe Mike, his eyes still red, looked down. “I don’t want to raise any more calves.”

A few weeks later, the family was around the supper table when there was a knock on the door.

“I can’t imagine who that could be.” Bill opened the door. “Oh, hello, Mr Walters. Come in.”

George Walters entered with a box of packages wrapped in white butcher paper. “I thought maybe you folks could use some beef. I bought more than my family can eat.”

Bill’s hand covered her mouth in surprise. “Oh, my. Thank you so much.”

Joe hurried forward to take the box, then handed it to Joe Mike, who was right behind him. “Here, Son, put this in the kitchen.”

Turning to Mr. Walters, Joe shook his hand vigorously. “We’re much obliged to you, George. Can you sit down and have supper with us?”

Mr. Walters took a step backwards. “No, thank you, Joe. I have more deliveries to make.” Seeing Joe Mike coming back in the room, he added, “Don’t worry, Mike, none of that meat is from Jeff. It’s from another calf I bought that day. Jeff made such good steaks, I kept them all for myself.” He laughed.

Embarrassed, the family laughed with him. Bill closed the door behind him. “Isn’t that nice. He paid so much for that meat and then he gave it away.”

Dad explained, “It’s all about advertising. That’s the way business works. Oh, boy, I can’t wait to try those steaks.”

* * *

Jann was in fourth grade when she joined 4-H. The county home demonstration agent, Mrs. Carter, gave her a ride to the meetings in Penwell on Saturday mornings. For projects, Jann helped Bill in the garden and canned some of the tomatoes they raised. She sewed an apron and a hot pad on Bill’s treadle sewing machine, and embroidered some pillow cases to enter in the county fair, along with canned tomatoes and fresh green beans from the garden.

Bill took her to the fair after school to see all the exhibits. “Look, Jann. You got a blue ribbon on your hot pad. That’s first place!”

Jann, who was the youngest member of the club, couldn’t believe it. “Mrs. Carter liked my straight seams. Oh, I got a white ribbon, too, third place on my tomatoes. And the green beans got a second. Red, white and blue.” She laughed, fingering the silky ribbons. “These should be yours, Mother. You did most of the work in the garden.”

When summer vacation came, Jann went to 4-H camp. Bill helped her pack a small suitcase and a bed roll made of two quilts and a folded sheet with a little pillow inside. “Take your bath in the afternoon before the evening meal. Put on clean clothes then. You have enough clothes for five days. Keep track of your things.”

There was a lump in Bill’s throat when she put her little girl on the school bus to go to Alpine, Texas, in the Davis Mountains. The other girls on the bus from her club were teenagers and ignored the shy younger girl. Even when they arrived at the school gymnasium where they stayed with 4-H members from all over west Texas, she was still the youngest and was left alone.

She felt slightly sick going up a mountain road for the first time, to the McDonald Observatory, where they saw the big telescope and had an astronomy lesson. She liked the key ring she wove for Daddy from thin strips of blue and white plastic, but her favorite day was when they had a riflery lesson. She learned to shoot a .22 caliber rifle and gun safety. The girl next to her, only a little older, was friendly. When Jann shot and hit her small paper target, the other girl said, “Good shot.”

When Jann got off the bus back in Odessa, Bill hugged her fiercely. “I’m so glad you’re home safe and sound, Darlin’.”

“I am, too, Mother.” Jann said seriously. Years later, Jann told her mother how lonely she was during that first separation from her family. “I hardly talked to anyone the whole time. I was a little too young for that experience.”

Two years later, in sixth grade, Jann was thrilled to be asked to join an eight-member Girl Scout troop that included her best friend, Patsy Robbins. Bill went with them and their leader, Mrs. Ivy, to Carlsbad, New Mexico. The girls earned a hiking merit badge for their walk down into the immense caverns.

On the trip to Carlsbad, Bill listened with pleasure to Jann chattering with the other girls as she followed Mrs. Ivy’s car, one girl beside her and three more in the back seat.

“This is the first time I’ve been outside Texas.” Jann’s voice was elated as they crossed the state line.

“Me, too.” Patsy and Frieda Lankford piped in unison.

“I’ve been to Oklahoma lots of times. In fact, I used to live there.” Quita Ivy, the scout leader’s daughter, bragged. Later, Bill was surprised when Mrs. Ivy revealed she was a Republican. Bill didn’t think she’d ever met one before.

The chatter was incessant as they checked into the La Caverna Hotel in the little town of Carlsbad. It was the first time that several of the girls, including Jann, had stayed in a hotel.

The chatter stopped the following morning after walking for awhile in the immense grandeur of the cavern. “I keep forgetting the top of the cave is not the sky.” Bill heard her daughter tell Patsy in a lowered voice.

“I know,” whispered Patsy. “Wasn’t it scary when they turned off the lights?”

They ate in the underground lunchroom. From there, they took an elevator ride that took more than three minutes to reach the surface. “Now I’ve ridden two elevators. One at the La Caverna Hotel and this one,” Jann proudly told her mother.

* * *

With chickens and a milk cow, Bill earned a little extra money from selling eggs, butter and buttermilk. From this, she paid Jann for churning the butter. With their roots in farm families, Joe and Bill always had stock and raised food, but Bill was tired of milking the cow when Joe was delayed at work.

One day, after Bill had spent half the day cleaning out a chicken coop and came in the house hot, tired and filthy, she decided it was time to approach her husband with a question. “Do you think the work and expense of having animals is worth it, Joe? We don’t save much on food, and we make very little money on selling the produce.”

“I know, Honey. Maybe we won’t buy any more after these die off. I just finished building the barn a few months ago.”

Not long after that, as the wind howled louder than usual at dusk, rattling the doors, Jann squinted out the kitchen window, watching the willow branches whip in all directions. Looking beyond the willow tree, she said, “Mother, where is Daddy? Is he milking?”

Bill looked up. Her daughter’s voice had a strange hint of panic. “No. He called to say he’d be late.”

“Mom, I can’t see the barn.”

Coming to stand beside her, Bill also peered out the western window. Sure enough, she could see neighbors’ lights that were usually blocked by the barn. “Oh, my word. Everything out there has blown away.” She ran to call Joe.

After the wind died down and they could go out safely, they found that the sheet metal siding from their out buildings was scattered all over the west end of Odessa. Joe scoured the area for days, picking up the pieces. The night of the storm, with the help of neighbors, they gathered, slaughtered and dressed the injured hens by flash light, since the electricity was out by then. The poor cow stood patiently in the lee of the water tank.

Joe laughed. “I guess you were right about getting rid of the livestock, Bill. I’ll take the cow to auction next week.”

* * *

As Jann approached adolescence, her mother longed to buy her some nice ready-made clothes. She decided to answer an ad looking for a baby sitter. Betty Jones, who placed the ad, worked in an insurance office. Bill couldn’t understand how her husband could’ve deserted her and their toddler son, Alan. He was a beautiful and pleasant child, and Bill’s whole family grew to love him in the years she took care of him. Betty was reserved almost to the point of coldness. Bill felt sorry they didn’t become friends, so she could stay in touch with Alan after he started school.

Bill delighted in taking Jann to the department stores downtown to shop. If her baby sitting money didn’t cover what they chose, she’d put the items on layaway and pay them off in a few weeks. She still made most of her own clothes, teaching her daughter to sew as well. The two grew close in sharing a love of soft fabrics, earth-tone colors and well-cut clothing.

One day when Jann got home from school, her mother was cutting leaf shapes from several old felt hats. “What are you doing, Mom?”
“I’m making a belt for my new green gabardine dress. I collected these hats from the church rummage sale.”

Jann helped her cut felt leaves of gold, brown, orange and tan to sew on a grosgrain ribbon. Bill put on her new dress and tied the ribbon around her waist. She strode back into the room swiveling like a model on a runway.

“Beautiful, Mom. What a good idea, perfect for fall.”

The years in Odessa were happy ones for Bill as she watched her three children grow and thrive. In 1950, Joe sold the Shell service station in order to buy into a partnership with his old friends, Homer and Roy Johnson. He’d be manager of Midland 66, the wholesale distributor for Phillips petroleum products in Midland, 18 miles east of Odessa. For two years, he commuted to Midland, until Joe Mike graduated from Odessa High School in 1952. That summer, Jann went to church camp for two weeks. When she returned, everything had changed for her family.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Jann's First Memories

Most people who follow my blog know that my Mother, Willie Mae Cummings Hale, died on March 6. Since telling the story of my own birth in her story, I've had a hard time finding my way forward. This chapter of my first memories is discontinuous and I hope to get back to her story soon. 

The first Christmas I remember, Joe Mike was eight and I was four. Mama and Daddy picked out toys for us from the Sears & Roebuck catalogue. On Christmas Eve, a man dressed in red, his face covered with a bandana, ran through the living room and left presents, running out before we got a good look. Mama handed me a box. The baby doll inside had blue eyes that closed when I lay her down, much to my delight. I wrapped her in the flannel blanket Mama made, sat on the floor, rocking the doll in my arms and sang “Rock-a-bye-Baby.”

Joe Mike jumped up and down, laughing when he opened his present. “Oh, boy, a Red Ryder BB gun.” He dug further into the package and found a little round box of bb’s. Daddy showed him how to load the gun and talked to him about taking care of it. Mama, Daddy and Pop went to the kitchen to mix eggnog. Looking around for a target, Joe Mike decided my tin Humpty Dumpty bank would be good. He put it on back of the couch and fired away. By the time Mama discovered he was shooting in the house and stopped him, my Humpty had several dents in his brightly painted egg face and body.

* * *

Daddy managed a service station downtown and worked long hours every day of the year except Christmas and the Fourth of July. We rarely went anywhere together, but once when I was almost five, Daddy came home early on a Saturday and told us we were going to visit the family of his friend, “Red” Redmond. I was so excited, I couldn’t keep still. Daddy smiled and picked me up.

“They have a girl about your age and a boy a little older than Mike.” He tickled me and I laughed with delight.

Joe Mike and I bounced on the back seat of our Chevrolet as we drove to the Redmonds’. I stretched my legs out into the space in front of me, trying to touch the front seat with my high-topped patent leather shoes. Daddy seemed happy. Mama sat straight, twisting a handkerchief. I wondered why she looked worried.

The Redmonds lived on the east side of Odessa in a modest house with artificial brick siding. Daddy introduced each of us to Mr. and Mrs. Redmond. They welcomed us.

Mrs. Redmond called out, “Jim Bob and Lulu, come and meet your new friends.” The children came in from a back room. It turned out that Joe Mike and Jim Bob already knew each other from school. Jim Bob put an arm around my brother’s shoulder. “Come on, Joe Mike. Let’s play outside.”

I smiled at Lulu, anxious to be her friend, but she scowled. She didn’t seem to want me for a friend.

I stood by Mama and watched as Mr. Redmond set up a card table. Mrs. Redmond put four chairs around it and brought out a set of dominoes. Mr. Redmond brought beer and glasses for all of the grown-ups. Mama’s face turned red and she told him she didn’t drink beer. Maybe that’s why she looked worried. Daddy laughed. “Don’t worry. I’ll drink hers.”

I liked the sound the dominoes made as they were shuffled on the cardboard table. Eventually I tired of watching the grownups’ game and went outside to see what the other kids were doing.

Lulu watched the boys play Mumblety Peg, seeing how close to their feet they could make a knife stick in the ground. She wore thick glasses, which was something special to me. I thought I’d like to wear glasses. I got the courage to ask, “Lulu, can I try on your glasses?”

“No. You might break them and then I couldn’t see good.” She seemed angry. I took a step back.

Joe Mike threw his pocket knife at his foot, but it failed to stick. “I win again,” Joe Bob crowed, folding his knife and putting it in his pocket. “Let’s play keep-away. I’ll get a pillow. Want to play, girls?”

Glad to be included in the game, I made a few tentative tries to get the pillow from the boys, then gave up and watched from the side. When Lulu went in the house without inviting me, I didn’t mind. She wasn’t any fun. The dangerous roughhousing of the big boys excited me. I could smell their sweaty bodies and feel the breeze they made as they ran past.

A June bug buzzed around me, making me forget the game as I tried to catch it. If I caught it, I’d ask Joe Mike to tie a thread to its leg, as I’d seen him do before. I imagined holding the end of the thread, watching the emerald insect fly around me in circles. I stopped to look at the Milky Way, so brilliant from the high prairie of West Texas, and realized too late that I’d wandered into Jim Bob’s path. Running with the pillow clutched in his arms, he looked over his shoulder at Joe Mike chasing him, laughing and yelling. I couldn’t move as the big boy suddenly loomed over me. Then everything went black.

When I came to, Daddy knelt beside me. I saw Mama’s worried face behind him. All the others were looking at me, very quiet. As soon as I opened my eyes, everyone seemed to breathe out at once. Then the parents all scolded Jim Bob and Joe Mike.

“It wasn’t our fault.” Jim Bob glared at me so did Joe Mike.

Daddy picked me up with a jerk, convincing me that I’d done something wrong. He said we’d better go. Our visit with his friends was suddenly over.

The car was full of disappointment in an evening that had begun with high hopes. Joe Mike didn’t stop glaring at me all the way home. As he stomped into the house ahead of me, I felt the disaster was my fault.

* * *

The country had been at war for more than a year, which often figured into the games Joe Mike and I played. We chased and shot each other with imaginary weapons, calling one another “Nazi“ or “Jap,” and chanting “Mussolini, big fat weenie.” The family was caught up in contributing to the war effort. Mama strained bacon grease into coffee cans. Joe Mike made balls of rubber bands and gum wrapper foil. He tied newspapers into bundles. Daddy took these things to a collection center. He registered for the draft, though at age 36, he wasn’t worried about being called up.

Two weeks and a day after my fifth birthday, on June 26, 1942, my little brother Kyle was born. Mama was in the hospital for ten long days. I stayed with a woman from church during the day. Daddy took Joe Mike to work with him, then picked me up at night. Finally, on the tenth day, I stayed home with my grandfather, Pop.

“Your mother and new baby brother will come home from the hospital today.” Pop told me. “You can play outside this morning.”

Glad to be home, I ran out to play with Scrappy, our dog. After a while, an ambulance pulled up in front of the house. The driver and his assistant took Mama in on a high bed with wheels. As I watched, fascinated, the driver spoke to me. “Well, Sister, you’ll have a new doll to play with.”

I ran in, excitedly looking for the doll. Mama sat on the side of her bed, holding a tiny baby with a round red face.

I stood beside her, disappointed that I wasn’t really getting a new doll. “Can I hold him?“

“Not yet. He’s too little.”

When Mama saw my face, lower lip protruding and tears in my eyes, she said, “Oh, don’t be disappointed, Honey. When Baby Kyle is bigger, you can play with him. Come, give me a hug.” I climbed on the bed beside my mother. She pulled me close with one arm as she held the baby with the other. “Isn’t he beautiful? Give him a kiss.”

I patted the baby’s tummy and kissed his fat cheek.

Daddy came home from work early that day. The family gathered around a meal of sausage gravy with biscuits and fresh green beans that Pop cooked I felt happy that Mama was home. I wasn’t so sure about the baby.

* * *

Because tires and gasoline were strictly rationed, Mama took us on the bus to Floydada to visit Grandmother and Granddaddy. Every seat was taken. Padded boards on hinges folded down into the aisle so more people could sit down. Joe Mike and I sat on two of those while Mama held Kyle on her lap. The trip took longer and was more tiring than when we went in our car, but it was worth it to Mama to see her parents.

Aunt Shorty came from Lubbock to see us, especially Kyle, who was the Cummings’ 19th grandchild. Aunt Shorty and Uncle J.D. had celebrated their ninth anniversary, still childless. After dinner, I followed Mama and Aunt Shorty into the bedroom. They sat side by side on the bed, leaning against the tall headboard, while Mama nursed Kyle. I sat on the floor between the bed and the wall, stacking dominoes and listening to their conversation.

“Please, Bill. Did you get my letter? Won’t you and Joe consider letting J.D. and me take this baby to raise? You already have Joe Mike and Jann. You know we’d be good parents.”

“Oh, Shorty, I’m sorry, but no. Joe and I talked about it, but we lost one baby. We just can’t part with this one.” She hugged her sister. “Don’t give up hope. You’ll get pregnant yet.”

Aunt Shorty blew her nose and wiped her eyes. “There’s something else I want to tell you, though I don’t know if I should. J.D. and I were going into the Ace of Diamonds night club in Lubbock last spring. We saw Joe coming out with a beautiful girl on his arm. He pretended he didn’t see us. I think he was trying to be invisible. I found out the next day that he was at a Phillips convention.”

Mama hummed softly to the baby. She said, “It’s okay, Shorty. Joe is a good man. He loves the children too much to ever leave us.”

I felt jealous that Daddy had a beautiful girl on his arm. He said I was the prettiest girl in the world. I wondered who the girl in Lubbock was and if she was bigger or littler than me.

The next day, Grandmother told me that she wished Daddy could’ve come on the visit.

I said, “I do, too. My daddy’s funny. Especially when he’s drunk.”

Suddenly the room was very quiet, except for sharp intakes of adult breath.

I was shocked when Mama grabbed my arms and shook me, her face a mask of anger. “Why would you say such a thing?” Red-faced, she turned and hurried into the bedroom.

I collapsed into a puddle of tears on the floor. Grandmother picked me up and sat in the rocking chair. “Don’t cry, Jann. It’s all right. You didn’t know you weren’t supposed to say that.”

A spring thunderstorm struck that afternoon. Cooped up indoors, Joe Mike and I started a game of tag, running and yelling through the house. Grandmother said, “If you kids don’t get quiet, lightning’s going to strike this house.”

Unafraid, we kept chasing each other until a flash of fire shot down through the ceiling light in the dining room with a huge crash. All of us screamed. There was a strange smell in the air and wisps of smoke came from the attic, curling around the light fixtures. Mama and Grandmother ran through the house to make sure nothing was burning. Then they grabbed umbrellas and ran outside to look around.

When everyone calmed down, Grandmother looked at Joe Mike and me. “I told you to get quiet.” We sat quietly on straight chairs, hands folded in our laps. Convinced that she might have special powers, we didn’t say another word for the rest of the afternoon, as we listened to the rain on the roof and the thunder rumbling around the high plains.

* * *

In late-March, 1943, I awoke to a sound I’d never heard before. It was still dark as the sound split the night. Loud and high-pitched, it got lower, stopped while a breath was taken, then began again, repeating over and over. Frightened, I sat up, wide-eyed, listening intently, wondering what could make that sound. I felt for Joe Mike, who slept with me. He wasn’t there. Kyle, nine months old, awoke and started crying. Mama came in and picked the baby up from his crib. Seeing that I was awake, she came and sat on the bed beside me. Holding the baby to nurse with one arm, she pulled me close and cuddled me with the other.

“What’s that noise, Mama? Where’s Joe Mike?” I moved closer, feeling afraid.

Joe Mike walked in and heard me. “Pop died. Daddy’s crying.”

Mama started to say something but stopped, giving Joe Mike a worried look.

“Pop died?” I sat up straighter. “Daddy’s crying?” Suddenly curious, I hopped out of bed and went to stand near Joe Mike. He took my hand and led me to Pop’s bedside. The white-haired old man lay with his mouth wide open. We stood there in awe, watching our grandfather not breathe. Joe Mike told me that Mama had found Pop like that.

We heard a knock on the front door. Two men from the funeral home were there to take Pop away. Finally Daddy stopped wailing so he could talk to them, but his voice still broke and he wiped tears from his eyes and blew his nose often. The men had a hard time getting Pop’s tall body through the door of his bedroom. One of them had to lift his end of the gurney above his head to make the turn.

A few days later, the Lutheran church in Sagerton overflowed with people who came to pay their respects to Wiley Hale. He died just eleven days before his 80th birthday and was buried in the family cemetery beside his wife Susan, who’d rested there for 19 years. A long line of people filed past the casket to see Pop for the last time. Daddy wailed all through the service. The sound that was so strange a few days earlier was now familiar to me. I remember one song that was sung:

Shall we gather at the river,

Where bright angel feet have trod,

With its crystal tide forever,

Flowing by the throne of God

We spent the night with Aunt Nit in Stamford after the funeral. The next day, She opened a trunk of Pop’s things and gave each of us a badge inscribed with Pop’s name, from the Texas Cowboys Reunion. These small mementoes, along with the memory of his quiet dignity, were our legacy from our grandfather Hale.

On the fourth of July, our family returned to Aunt Nit’s to attend the yearly rodeo sponsored by the Texas Cowboys Reunion. Pop had been a founding member of the association. The rodeo was open only to cowboys who worked on cattle ranches. This became an annual event for us. The only time I remember Daddy singing was on our way to the rodeo.

That was not the only wonder of our yearly rodeo trip. I’d never been in such a big crowd. As the audience filed into the stands, a blind man stood in the middle of the lane, playing an accordion and singing country and gospel songs, a tin cup at his feet. It filled with money as the crowd parted and flowed around him like a river around a large rock.

Farther along, we’ll know all about it.

Farther along, we’ll understand why.

Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine.

We’ll understand it all, by and by.

At noon, we ate barbecue beef and beans at a chuck wagon brought in from a local cattle ranch. I especially admired the many older girls that rode fine horses in the parade and competed for the title of Rodeo Queen. They wore beautifully-tailored western suits with matching hats and custom-made boots. Some had silver-studded hand-tooled saddles.

My favorite part of the rodeo was the Grand Entry. It was led by riders bearing the U.S. stars and stripes, the lone star flag of Texas, and many banners emblazoned with ranch brands. They ran their horses at break-neck speed around the arena in opposite directions, then stationed themselves as posts for the hundreds of horse-men and women who followed, weaving their way back and forth around them until the entire space was filled with color: horses, riders and flags. The high school band played patriotic marches to accompany this spectacle. To me, the bronco and bull riding, calf roping and bulldogging events were anti-climactic. I was more interested in the people around me in the grandstand, though I did enjoy the ladies’ barrel racing, dreaming of being the girl on the horse, flying around the barrels without knocking one over. I loved riding Daddy’s shoulders out through the crowd at the end of the rodeo.


Childhood remembrances sometimes hurt if you hid in your big brother’s shadow and teased your little brother cruelly.

If you study dysfunctional family patterns, the writers of the books don’t know how funny Daddy was, drunk, or how important you felt playing hide-and-seek outside after dark with your brother’s friends.

Somehow it never gets across how good it felt, growing up tough and hard and having your mother buy you beautiful clothes with her baby-sitting money.

Even though you remember it well, your “normie” friends never understand the thrill of going to the Stamford rodeo, the family all together, happy, with Daddy drunk and driving a hundred miles an hour.

Since I’ve been working on healing childhood hurts all these years, I really hope I can remember the joy that bubbled up in the midst of our family circle, and feel grateful.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mother's Story, Chapter 13

Bill and Joe struggled with emotional chaos after losing baby Patrick. The recent move to Odessa, far from their community of friends and family in the Texas panhandle, made this a lonely endeavor.

One night after Bill put Joe Mike to bed, she slipped into bed next to Joe. He lay on his side, his back to her. As she turned in the other direction, a wave of grief overcame her. She cried softly. When Joe turned over and put his arms around her, she realized he hadn’t been asleep. A whimper escaped his throat, and she knew he also wept.

She turned and clung to him as to a life preserver in the middle of the ocean, burrowing her face into the cozy spot at the base of his neck. Profoundly grateful for the comfort of his warm embrace, she let her tears flow freely. “Do you hate it here, Joe? I feel homesick and I miss the baby.”

“I know, honey. I do, too.” Joe rubbed his eyes with the knuckles of one hand and sniffled. “I’m grateful for the job here, but I feel like I’m buried in the Phillips’ debt. When I get that paid off, we’ll find a bigger house. We’ll be able to have parties again and make more friends.”

She didn’t say it, but that was the last thing she wanted to do. Remembering the parties of the previous four years made her feel nauseous. As her sobs quieted, she wondered how to tell him she didn’t plan to party anymore. “I’m going to take Joe Mike to church Sunday.”

“Sure, Honey, if that’s what you want.”

He kissed her tenderly, then more urgently. She responded to his arousal with a sudden aching desire, for him and for life.

“Can we have another baby, Joe? I want a baby.”

“That’s what I want, too, Honey. Another sweet baby.”

* * *

The following Sunday, Bill chose her clothes carefully and got ready for church. She dressed Joe Mike in a white sailor suit with short pants and oversized buttons on the jacket. She parted and combed his blond hair carefully. He looked adorable.

His blue eyes wide, he asked, “Where are we going?”

“To church.”

“Church? What’s church?”

“You’ll see, my darling.” Bill felt ashamed that she’d never taken her son to worship.

Joe worked as many hours as possible to pay off their debts. He left early that warm Sunday morning in July to deliver gasoline to an oil drilling rig in Notrees, 24 miles west of Odessa. Bill took him to work so she could keep their car.

The Church of Christ was only six blocks from their house, but it would be too hot to walk home by the time the service was over, so she drove. Bill went early to go to the Bible class before worship, knowing her parents wouldn’t approve of a church practice not mentioned in the New Testament.

As Bill and Joe Mike entered the church and sat near the back, an older couple sitting in front of them turned around.

“Good morning.” The husband and wife said in unison, then laughed.

“Welcome,” continued the man. “I’m Wesley Smith, and this is my wife Agnes.”

Bill shook their hands. “I’m Willie Mae Hale. Everyone calls me Bill. This is my son, Joe Mike.”

When Wesley held out his hand for the toddler, he responded with his own hand, smiling. More people came to meet and welcome them. Joe Mike smiled and shook each hand, delighted with the attention.

Bill hoped there’d be a class for her son, but the youngest level was for five-year-olds. After the children left for their classes, an older boy came back to give Joe Mike a card with a picture of Jesus, standing at a rose-covered garden gate.

Bill whispered, “This is Jesus. He loves you, Mike.”

“She loves me?” Joe Mike had never seen a man with long hair.

He loves you, darling. See, he has whiskers like Daddy. I’ll read you the words when we get home. Now we have to be still and quiet during church.”

When Joe Mike got restless, Bill sat him on her lap, took an embroidered cotton handkerchief from her purse and folded it to make a tiny soldier’s hat, put it on her fist, then unfolded it and made a different pattern. Joe Mike took the handkerchief and experimented with it, trying to make designs of his own.

When the sermon ended, the congregation sang an “invitation song” to encourage anyone to come forward who wanted to be baptized, to make a confession of sin or to place membership with the congregation.

“Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou biddest me come to Thee,
Oh, Lamb of God, I come. I come.”

Bill picked up Joe Mike and walked to the front. The preacher shook her hand, gave her a card and motioned for her to sit on the front pew and fill it out. She marked the lines indicating her needs: to confess that she had sinned and that she wanted to be a member of this church.

An elder of the church offered an humble and earnest prayer on her behalf, asking that she and everyone assembled would be forgiven the sins they’d committed. Tears flowed from Bill’s eyes.

Joe Mike, still holding the handkerchief, wiped her face tenderly. “No cry, Mama.”

Bill smiled through her tears and kissed her son. The prayer lifted an enormous burden from her heart. She took communion, grateful to be with people of simple faith, who welcomed her, no questions asked. She put a quarter in the offering, wishing she had more to give.

After the service, people crowded around to welcome her. One woman, Katherine Murphy, was also there with an infant boy and without her husband. On impulse, Bill invited her to have lunch with her. “It won’t be fancy, but there’s plenty if you don’t mind warmed leftover salmon patties. I’ll make some cornbread and cook some fresh green beans my neighbor gave me from her garden.”

Delighted, and a little surprised, when she said yes, Bill suggested Katherine follow her home. Bill had forgotten that the wreath of flowers she’d hung on the front door to denote a death in the family was still there, more than a week after the funeral.

“Have you had a bereavement, Bill?“ Katherine’s sympathetic manner gave Bill an opening to tell about Patrick.

“He would’ve been eight months old a week ago, on the third.”

Katherine held her baby boy closer. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Bill. I can’t imagine losing Tommy.” She hugged her baby and shivered in the July heat.

* * *

By December, Bill knew she was pregnant. She consulted Dr. Wood, who had a small hospital in Odessa.

After taking her health history, Dr. Wood asked more questions about Patrick’s birth.

Remembering how quickly it happened, Bill told him, “Dr. Johnson thought the rapid birth might have resulted in the baby’s epilepsy.”

“You seem very healthy, Mrs. Hale. You’ll be here in the hospital this time, and I assure you, this baby will not be born too fast.”

Although her elation at being pregnant was evident, Dr. Wood also seemed to sense the apprehension she felt that the baby might not be well. He gave her a pamphlet from the Illinois Health Department on prenatal care, a term she’d never heard.

She left the appointment feeling reassured, anxious to tell Joe about it. He was also excited at the prospect of a new baby.

On June 10, 1937, Joe arrived home from work to find Bill waiting for him to take her to the hospital. He hastily ate the supper she’d prepared, told Joe Mike to mind Pop, who was staying with them at the time. He held Bill’s arm as she walked awkwardly to the car. At 15 minutes past midnight, their baby girl was born.

I was that baby. My mother has told me many times of when she first saw me. She loves to tell it. “You were just beautiful, with olive skin, dark auburn hair and dark eyelashes and eyebrows. Your big blue eyes looked at me as if you were the wisest person who ever lived. You seemed to know everything. You studied my face, and I imagined you thinking, “Are you my mother?”
The nurse came in the following morning to fill out the form for the birth certificate. “What will the baby’s name be?”

“Jann,” Bill answered.

“Janet or Janis?” the nurse stopped writing with her pen poised above the clipboard.

“Just Jann, with two n’s.” Bill said, a little defensively.

“Oh, that’s cute. I’ve never seen that name before.”

Joe Mike went to work with Joe that day. All day, the little boy bounced on the truck seat beside his daddy as they delivered gasoline. After work, they went to the hospital to see the new baby.

“Look, Mike. That one in the pink blanket is your baby sister.” Joe held him up to the window of the nursery.

Joe Mike studied the tiny face for a minute before turning away to hide his face in Joe’s shoulder. “Where’s Mama?”

“Okay, Hoss. You’ve had a hard day. Let’s go see Mama and then I bet Pop has a nice supper fixed for us.”

* * *

Bill continued going to church every Sunday. After church one morning, Joe Mike was climbing on the porch rail to slide down the short banister. When Jann, who was now three years old, tried it, she fell, hit her head and lost consciousness. A crowd surrounded her, clucking with concern. When she opened her eyes and looked around, the large man who held her returned her to her embarrassed mother’s arms. Shaking his finger in Jann’s face, he said, “Never do that again.” She never did.

In 1940, Homer Johnson established the Phillips 66 wholesale dealership in Levelland, Texas. He asked Joe to move to Levelland for a few months, to set up the accounting system for the company and teach Homer how to keep books. Though Joe had only a ninth grade education, he’d learned bookkeeping from Tiny and Eula Mae Magness. By this time, he’d paid off his debt to Phillips and had a good reputation with the company.

Joe rented an old farm house on the edge of Levelland for very little because it didn’t have electricity. Bill’s heart sank when she saw it. “The leak in the roof in Odessa already ruined my nice cedar chest, Joe. Do I have to give up my electric refrigerator?”

“Don’t worry, Honey,” Joe reassured her. “The house has a kerosene stove and we’ll get a Servel refrigerator. It can be converted to gas when we move back to Odessa.”

The house had a long driveway with enough of a slope for Joe Mike, who was six, to roll down in a barrel . “You want to try it, Jann?” He helped her climb in and gave the barrel a shove. Bill came looking for them just as the barrel rolled down the hill with more momentum than usual.

“What are you doing, Joe Mike? She could get hurt.” Bill ran to catch the barrel and get the three-year-old out. Jann looked pale and shaken when she emerged, but was unhurt.

The barn’s loft was a great place for the children to play, with a hay stack to jump into. One day Joe Mike couldn’t resist putting on his mother’s class ring from Floydada High School. As he jumped from the loft into the haystack, the ring came off. He confessed to Bill what had happened.

Angry and upset, she spanked Joe Mike. “I told you and told you not to play with my ring. You can’t seem to mind. Get out to the barn and find my ring. You can’t come in the house until you find it.”

Jann went with Joe Mike to the barn to look for the ring, but it was never found.

Joe Mike started to school in Levelland, a farm town in the Texas panhandle. There was no kindergarten, and children had to be six years old by September 1 to start first grade. Since Joe Mike’s birthday was September 17, he was almost seven when he started school. He did well and was popular with his peers and teacher, showing early signs of charisma and leadership. Like all the boys, he wore striped overalls to school.

When the family moved back to Odessa from Levelland, Joe became bookkeeper for the Phillips 66 Wholesale Agency. The move came in the middle of that school year. Joe Mike came home looking sad at the end of his first day in his new school. “Mama, something’s wrong with my clothes. The kids laughed at me and called me a farm boy.” His voice trembled.

When Joe heard this, he gave Bill money to buy two pairs of khaki pants and a belt, which she did the next day. After that, Joe Mike seemed to fit in just fine with the oil field kids of Southside Elementary School in Odessa.

The family rented a house on the Crane Highway on the outskirts of town. Joe’s father, Pop Hale, lived with them much of the time. When he arrived in Odessa from visiting Aunt Nit in Stamford, he walked from the bus station with his thick leather valise in one hand and a gallon can of sorghum molasses in the other.

“Oh, boy,” Bill’s smile spread wide when she saw him. “I’ll make biscuits so we can have sorghum on them for supper.” She’d enjoyed Pop’s company since her early married days when she and Joe lived with him in Sagerton for a few months.

Acreage behind the house allowed for chickens and pigs. For the most part, Pop took care of the animals. On the first cold morning in the fall, Joe and Pop butchered a hog. Pop prepared the hams and gave Bill a recipe for making sausage. Cutting the meat, mixing and grinding the sausage was a hard day’s work. Bill made long tubes of cotton muslin for stuffing the sausage.

Can I do that?” Jann asked. Stuffing the fat, spicy sausage into the bags must have looked like fun to a four-year-old.

“Let’s wash your hands.” Bill took Jann to the sink, lifted her up to get her grubby hands wet under the faucet. Holding out a bar of Ivory soap, she ordered, “Scratch the soap.” Taking an ice pick from a nearby drawer, she carefully cleaned Jann’s fingernails, scrubbed and rinsed her hands, examining as she dried them.

Jann hardly began to stuff the sausage when Pop took the sack away from her. It was the last one, and he was impatient to be done with the task. “You’re not stuffing it tight enough.” That was her dismissal. He was from the “children should be seen and not heard” generation.

On days when there was no school, Joe Mike and Jann sometimes walked to the playground at his school. She sat on the thick wooden seat of a swing. He stood above her, his feet on either side of her legs, and pumped the swing to get it started.

When they were going high enough for Jann to see over the top of the pipe from which the swing hung, Joe would yell, “We’re going to go over the top. Hang on tight.”

She giggled, excited and terrified. At the apogee of their arc, the thick steel chain would slacken, then jerk back tight as they started down. The feeling of weightlessness was thrilling. They were never able to go over the top, though.