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About RichEisbrouch

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  1. It was only one summer that there were just six of us kids. Soon Walter’s first daughter Cecil was born, and right after that, my oldest brother Sonny brought his family to Bodark Creek. This time, I knew they were coming, but I tried not to ask too many questions. I was beginning to learn that you could find out just as much by listening. “We got them a house almost next door to ours,” Dougie said. “It’s gonna be like old times.” “We’re moving, too,” Walter told me. “I convinced the mill that I should have a bigger house.” He and Myra weren’t living in a place as small as the one he’d shared with Stefanie. But Walter’s second house still only had three-and-a-half rooms. “And we just need more,” he said, “what with the baby.” When Walter, Dougie, and Sonny all got new houses, I asked Mama, “Don’t you want one, too?” “No,” she said. “For one thing, it would mean a longer walk to work.” “Only a few streets.” “Well, for another, I’d have to plant the garden all over again.” “I’d help,” I said, thinking how much fun it would be to live on the same street as my brothers. But Mama wasn’t interested. “And don’t go asking me,” Daddy said. “You know which rules your mama makes.” Rosalind and I had that figured out years before. Even Charley knew which things Mama or Daddy decided. And soon Sonny was working at the mill, along with Dougie and Sonny’s wives. Walter’s wife was taking care of their new baby and was also watching Sonny’s youngest daughter. The rest of us went to school, the older ones with Rosalind and me, the young ones to the mill kindergarten. Our school was getting bigger every year, and they hadn’t separated the upper grades from the lower ones yet, since most of the boys didn’t go past eighth grade. But that was changing, too, because some of the boys didn’t want to work on their familys’ farms. And the mill wouldn’t hire them till they were sixteen. “I might as well stay in school,” Dougie’s son Gordon said. “Who knows? I might learn something.” “You’re not stupid,” I told him. “I never thought that,” he said. “I just don’t care very much.” Still, Gordon was always with the rest of us. He was the leader of the boys, though that was only Charley and Sonny’s son Lyle. “He’s our mascot,” Gordon said, since Lyle was barely three. Sonny’s youngest daughter was also too young to play. She’d just had her first birthday. But that still left Rosalind with four girls to lead. Sonny’s wife was also a little different from Myra and Virginia. It’s not that Ruth was completely religious. She wasn’t always correcting us and making sure we knew right from wrong. But she didn’t only go to church on Sundays or for gatherings and dances. “Ruth is a really good woman,” Sonny told us. “I’ve never known anyone like her.” I’d never met anyone like her, either, and I loved her because she was Sonny’s wife. But I had to admit that she always seemed more interested in knowing God than in knowing about the rest of us. That didn’t bother Sonny. He wasn’t really any different about religion than Dougie or Walter. “I do what I have to and hope I’m not damned,” I heard him tell my brothers. “If you are, I’m sure Ruth’ll get you out of it,” Dougie joked. “Maybe that’s what I’m depending on.” “Oh, hell, you’re a much better man than I am,” Dougie went on. “You always were.” Sonny laughed. “I try to set an example.” Daddy laughed, too, but not for the same reason. “Well, you sure weren’t setting any examples when you lived with me. Not good ones, anyhow. I always told Ilene, ‘Whatever Sonny’s up to, you can bet Dougie and Walter aren’t far behind.’” “Did you really think that?” Sonny asked. “Ask Ilene. She knew you better than your own mama.” “And I always had the good sense to stay out of how you raised your boys,” Mama said. “You knew just what you wanted.” “I’ve got the belt marks to prove it,” Dougie joked. Daddy was quiet as everyone made fun of him. But finally he said, “Well, I guess you’re all turning out all right. But you’ve got to give me a few more boys. I’ve got seven grandchildren and only one blood grandson.” “We’ll just have to raise Lyle to be a ladies man,” Walter said. “Not while I’m around,” Ruth put in. “Then Charley’s my last hope,” Daddy decided. “Of course, by the time he gives me grandchildren, I’ll be long gone.” Sonny insisted that Daddy could live to ninety. “You’ll not only see Charley’s children. You’ll be at their weddings.” “Wouldn’t that be fine?” Daddy said. Hearing his name, Charley suddenly asked, “Am I getting married?” And everyone laughed. Of all my brothers, I think I liked Sonny best, maybe because he was the hardest to like. I’d liked Walter immediately, because everyone liked Walter then, and a lot of that held over even after he changed. And you couldn’t help but liking Dougie, because he was always making people happy. But you had to go to Sonny, and ask him serious questions to prove that you deserved serious answers. And even though he said he wasn’t religious, there was always something right about him. Still, I think the biggest reason I liked Sonny was he was the first person who never told me, “Oh, shush now, Addy.” Instead, he’d always say, “Well, come here, and let’s think about that.”
  2. The first time I heard about my brother Dougie coming to Bodark Creek was almost the day he got there. And he wasn’t just coming for a visit. He and his family were moving in. “We didn’t want to tell you,” Walter said, “because we knew you’d get too excited.” “And ask too many questions,” Rosalind put in. “Did you know about this?” I asked her. “No,” she insisted, and Walter backed her up. “We didn’t want to tell either of you,” he said, “till we knew for certain.” “When are they coming?” I asked. “And where are they going to live? And is Dougie going to work at the mill?” “Whoa! Whoa!” Walter said. “Give them a chance to settle in.” But work was exactly the reason Dougie was moving. The mill was getting bigger, and the owners were building two more streets with new houses, and Daddy said there weren’t enough decent weavers in a hundred miles to fill all the jobs. So Walter wrote to our brothers. Sonny said he’d think about it, but Dougie was all set to go. By that time, Sonny and Dougie each had three children. When Dougie married Virginia, she already had a son, Gordon, who was born the same year I was. Then they quickly had two daughters. Sonny and his wife also had two daughters and one son. “What this family needs is more boys,” Daddy would tell us. “If we’re not careful, the world’s gonna run out of Bronners.” “I’ll give you boys,” Walter promised, then turned around and had four daughters in a row. But that was all after Dougie and his family moved to Texas. Dougie was five years older than Walter and just a year behind Sonny. But he always seemed the youngest. He was thirty-two when I met him, but you’d never know it. Without having Walter’s light hair and his old smile, Dougie could make friends faster than anyone I ever knew. When he walked into a room, people started to have fun. He’d go straight to the middle and tell a joke, and soon everyone would be having a great time. It didn’t even have to be a good joke. People would laugh anyway. Dougie was rounder than Walter, even more than in the old pictures we’d seen. Walter’s hair was dark by then, too, so it matched Dougie’s. But even though we rarely saw Walter smile, and Dougie was always grinning, you could easily tell they were brothers. And Walter seemed happy to have Dougie with him again. He always knew lots of girls, but not as many men. He mostly depended on Daddy having friends. But with Dougie there, you’d see the two of them playing Cribbage or Gin. Or just sitting on the porch steps, talking. “They’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” Daddy would say. “What’s it been? Seven years.” “It doesn’t seem that long,” Mama would answer. “Though there’s been a whole world war in between.” “The funny thing about Walter,” Dougie soon told us, “is he never used to have trouble making friends, especially meeting girls. He’d just sneak into the corner of a room, and soon there’d be a crowd. It was like that from the time he was born. He always made it hard for the rest of us.” “I didn’t do it purposely,” Walter insisted. He almost seemed hurt by what Dougie had said. “You never did anything purposely,” Dougie joked. “But somehow, you always got the girls.” Dougie seemed surprised by the changes in Walter. “I don’t think I’ve changed all that much. I just keep on going. And I like how Walter’s more dependable now. But he’s not as much fun.” “Change him back,” Daddy suggested. “Nah,” Dougie told us, laughing. “It’s easier this way.” Walter almost smiled when he heard that. You could see it in his eyes. But he never really laughed. Maybe because of that, Dougie was always doing stupid things in front of him. “You’d tie wings on a dog,” Walter told him. “Just to make me think it’s funny.” “It would be funny,” Dougie joked. But Walter wouldn’t agree. It was almost like Walter had seen too much in the war and had promised to be serious for the rest of his life. “Has he told you anything about the fighting?” Daddy asked Dougie. “No. It’s like he owes it to someone to keep it all quiet.” “That’s about right.” So the rest of us accepted that. It wasn’t hard. We still liked Walter a lot. And when you needed something done, especially in a hurry, you always went to Walter first. With Dougie, it would be a week before he even got around to thinking about it. “We live in a slow moving town in a lazy part of Texas,” he’d say. “Why all the rush?” It was strange though, because as different as Walter and Dougie were, their wives almost could have been sisters. Myra and Virginia didn’t even know each other before Dougie moved to Texas. Myra was as quiet and thoughtful as Mama, though she liked to crochet. Mama didn’t. “I spend enough of my time working with yarns and threads and needles at the mill and making clothes for you all here. Why would I want to sit and make doilies?” “Because it’s fun,” I told her. “And Myra showed me how.” “Then you go right ahead, Addy. I’d rather work in the garden.” Dougie’s wife Virginia also crocheted, though she didn’t like it as much as Myra. “My aunt taught me when I was little,’ she said, “and it was always something I could do in the dark. And I’m still the last one to fall asleep.” Myra slowly won Virginia over, and the two of them could sit quietly on the porch, Sundays, crocheting, while the six of us kids ran around. Rosalind was almost eighteen, so was always in charge. Gordon and I were thirteen, so were her deputies. That left Charley, Doris, and Grace to follow. “I’m almost ten,” Charley would insist, and he’d especially tell this to Gordon. “Why do I have to be with your sisters?” “Because I need someone to order around,” Gordon would say. Charley could be pretty stubborn about a lot of things, but he always looked up to Gordon. Just as Walter now seemed to listen to anything Daddy or Dougie said.
  3. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 10

    I'm glad you're looking forward because it goes on for a very long time.
  4. When the war came, the first person to enlist was Walter. But he didn’t do it because he hated the Germans. In fact, that was the most confusing thing about the war. Growing up, almost everyone I knew was German. It was good to be German, and some of the people in our church had even been born in that country. But now they were fighting relatives who they were still writing letters to, and no one could explain to me why. “It’s something we have to do,” Mama said. Walter enlisted because Daddy had been at least a little right about Stefanie. She was nice, and everyone liked her, but she couldn’t take care of Walter the way Mama took care of all of us. “I hate to keep groaning about it,” I heard Walter tell Daddy. “But it’s not any better now than it was two years ago.” “She’s not the worst cook...” Daddy said, which I thought was nice. “Well, that’s not everything...” But then they noticed I was there and stopped talking. When Walter went into the Navy, Stefanie went back to live with her family. She didn’t work for the mill, and Walter had to quit to enlist, so she couldn’t stay in their little house. “Couldn’t she get a job at the mill?” I asked Daddy. He laughed but wouldn’t explain why. “Daddy’s a little jealous,” Mama told us later. “Neither Walter’s mama or I was ever as pretty as Stefanie.” “You’re pretty, Mama,” Charley said, and Mama thanked him. But we all knew Mama wasn’t as pretty as Stefanie. Still, when Stefanie came to the house one night, crying, Daddy wasn’t mean. “He’s missing,” she told us. “No one knows where his ship is.” “When?” Daddy asked. Stefanie showed us the telegram. It didn’t say very much. Daddy looked at it, quietly, then went out. The rest of us waited, first in the kitchen, then in the front room. Mama was holding Stefanie. After a long time, when Daddy didn’t come back, Rosalind asked, “Should we go look for him?” Mama said, “No. I don’t think he wants to be found.” Daddy must have come home very late, because it was after Mama made us go to bed. Before that, Rosalind and I walked Stefanie home. But neither of us knew what to say after that, so it was easier going to sleep. In the morning, Daddy had gone to the mill before any of us saw him. “He’s never lost a grown son,” Mama told us. “It’s very hard.” “Walter isn’t dead,” Charley said. “Is Walter dead?” “We don’t know, Charley,” Mama told him. But Charley started to cry. I didn’t believe Walter was dead. The telegram only said he was missing, so that’s what I believed. But other people thought different. “I’m really sorry to hear about your brother,” Sally Hollenbeck told me, when she saw me in town. “I really miss him.” “He’s not dead!” I wanted to say, the same way seven-year-old Charley had. Instead, I said, “I miss him, too.” Frances and Sonny and Dougie were all still living in Hattiesburg, so Mama wrote them. Sonny and Dougie had little children by then, and Frances’s son was only eleven, so none of them had to think about the Army. Even Walter might not have been drafted, since he was married. After a terrible month, we all got letters from Walter. Everyone was excited, because that meant he was alive, until Daddy realized the letters had been written before the telegram was sent. Then we were miserable again. “Can’t anyone tell us?” Rosalind asked Daddy. “Isn’t there anyone you can write, who knows where Walter is?” Daddy shook his head. “The Navy is busy enough. We weren’t ready to get into this war, and they’re doing everything they can. They don’t have time to worry about us.” So we had to wait, and pray, and follow the news as best we could. But we didn’t even know the name of Walter’s ship, or where it had been going. So we really didn’t know where to look. It wasn’t a long war, at least not for the United States, and it wasn’t even long from the time Stefanie got the telegram till the end of the fighting. It took less than a year. But it was a horrible year. Daddy was sure Walter was dead and didn’t want to talk about it. And he wouldn’t let us talk about Walter, either. His birthday was the worst day. There was nothing we could do, and no way we could celebrate. I talked with Mama, and Rosalind, and even Charley. But no one could talk to Daddy. Daddy also didn’t like us seeing Stefanie. He said it reminded him. Walter probably would have joined the Navy anyhow, once the war began. But Daddy blamed it all on her. “If they only hadn’t rushed,” he said. “If she’d just been older...” Then Stefanie came running to the mill one afternoon, and when Daddy read the new telegram, Mama said he started to cry. Then he stopped himself. “We don’t know if this is true,” he told them. “We won’t know anything till we see him again.” When Walter got home, he was thin and sick. He didn’t only go into the Navy, he went down in submarines. When anyone says that, it sounds exciting, but Walter said it wasn’t. “We couldn’t breath, or sleep, or eat. And we were hot and filthy all the time.” And that was before his submarine was hit. He wouldn’t talk about what happened after that. He didn’t move back with Stefanie, either, though she was at our house all the time. Mama and Rosalind cooked for him, and Walter gained weight and started to look much better. But every night, he’d walk Stefanie back to her house, then come home and sleep on the daybed. After a month or two, he went back to his old job at the mill, and that seemed to make him happy. But he never really smiled the way he used to. “Aren’t you going back to your house?” I asked. “I’m sure the mill would give it to you again.” “I don’t need a house right now,” Walter said. “Stefanie and I aren’t going to be living together.” “Why not?” I asked. “Some things just don’t work out, Addy. At least not the way they’re supposed to.” So Walter stayed on the daybed, and we saw Stefanie in church and in town, and then Walter told me they had gotten “divorced.” “That means we’re not married anymore.” “I didn’t know you could do that,” I said. “People can do anything they want to these days.” I thought about that but wasn’t really sure what it meant. Later, Mama said it was a lot harder than Walter made it sound. But the judge and the other people in the courthouse were all people from town who knew Stefanie and Walter and our families, and they felt sorry for a man who just came back from the war. And then Walter surprised everyone and got married again. This time to a quiet woman he’d met at church.
  5. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 9

    Yep, I suspect there were lots of places like this at the time and stretching to somewhat later. I guess I first heard of them as a kid, with Tennessee Ernie Ford singing "16 Tons." "I owe my soul to the company store." Except in this case, the cotton mill seemed mainly supportive.
  6. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 9

    For Rosalind and me, the best thing about Walter getting married was it gave us another place to go. As Walter said, it wasn’t very big. There was a kitchen, and there was a room with Walter and Stefanie’s bed. But that room didn’t even have a door, and it wasn’t as big as the one Rosalind and I shared with Charley. Their kitchen was smaller than ours, too, with only a stove, a couple of shelves, and a wooden table with four chairs. “It’s bigger than my day bed, anyhow,” Walter kept joking. The house had been a bunkhouse for a farm when the whole area we lived in was a farm. But that was before the mill was built. “At least, they don’t charge me much,” Walter said. “Which is good, seeing they don’t pay me much.” “Be happy you have a job,” Daddy told him. “And one that’s not going away.” Daddy said that when he was Walter’s age, he was always looking for work. “They were just beginning to build factories, so all the jobs were on farms. And you never knew who’d hire you from year to year. Stefanie didn’t work in the mill. Her mama didn’t have a job, either. She mainly looked after Stefanie’s sisters and brothers. “How come you work?” I asked Mama. “Because I always have,” she said. “And we need the money.” “Did your mama work?” I asked Walter. “She was too busy having babies. Then they were always dying.” Before she got married, Stefanie was in school with me, but she’d just finished. Her daddy was a foreman at the mill which was maybe why her mama didn’t have to work. Still, their house wasn’t much bigger than ours, and Stefanie shared a room with her two sisters. There was another room for her two brothers, and her mama and daddy had a room. But after that, there was only their front room and kitchen. In Hattiesburg, Walter said he’d always slept with Sonny and Dougie, sharing a bed with Dougie. When Mama and Daddy moved us to Texas, Sonny took their old room. They didn’t have to move the furniture, because it all belonged to the Mill. “No point in buying your own furniture,” Walter said, “when people are ready to give it to you.” That didn’t mean we couldn’t buy other things for the house. Or build them, like Daddy and Uncle Georg did. But when you moved, everything you made had to stay. “It only makes sense,” Mama explained. The first thing Walter did for his house was plant a garden. Before that, only an old man lived there, and he didn’t care for gardens. But Stefanie liked canning and thought it would save a little money. So Walter dug up a piece of the yard, and Rosalind and I helped plant vegetables. “Just don’t plant anything I won’t eat,” Walter warned, which Stefanie thought was really funny. Of course, she thought everything he said was funny. “I’m just so lucky I got to marry him,” she told me one afternoon. Walter was happy, too, though he had to admit that Mama cooked better. “Some days, even I cook better than Stefanie, and Sonny says I can’t burn potatoes.” “Why would you want to burn potatoes?” I asked. “That’s the joke,” he said. Stefanie’s sisters and brothers were all younger, so she’d learned to cook and bake to help her mama. But she’d learned very differently from Rosalind and me, so when we tried to help, we mainly got in her way. “You can watch,” she’d tell us, “but please don’t do anything.” “I can cut things up for you,” I said. “I’m good at that.” “All right. Only don’t make everything so small.” So I learned Mama’s way, and I learned Stefanie’s. And I suppose it didn’t hurt knowing more than one way. But I liked Mama’s best. “She fries that in a pan?” Mama would ask when I told her something Stefanie did. “Right on top of the stove.” “What a waste of good meat.” “My mama used to do the same thing,” Daddy would say. “You’re mama cooked over an open fire,” Mama said, and Daddy had to admit that was true. “Outside?” I asked. “In a fireplace.” “Like in the front room? I’ll bet she was a worse cook than Stefanie.” Daddy laughed, but said his mama was a very good cook. “Things were just different then.” “When did people start using stoves?” I asked. But he couldn’t remember. The other great thing about Walter and Stefanie’s house was that it was so close by. I just had to cross two streets, and I was there. It was faster than going to church or school, and Mama always let me go. “I’m going to Walter and Stefanie’s,” I’d say, and I could go after school, or after dinner, and sometimes I could even stay overnight. “Are you sure Stefanie doesn’t mind?” Mama would ask. But Stefanie would say, “I like having Addy with me. She reminds me of my sisters.” Stefanie’s family lived on the other side of the church, so there were too many streets for her sisters to cross alone. And her younger sister was hardly more than Charley’s age. Still, when she stayed overnight, she got to sleep with Stefanie and Walter, where I always slept on a chair in the corner of their room. The back of the chair folded down, and it was soft, so it was almost like a bed. Of course, if Rosalind and I slept over together, she got the chair, and I had to sleep on the floor. “It’s only fair,” Rosalind said. “I’m older.” It wasn’t worth fighting with Rosalind. “Where are they going to put a baby?” Mama asked one day. “Are they going to have a baby?” I asked. That was exciting. “That’s all they need,” Daddy said. “What’s wrong with babies?” I wanted to know. “Nothing. But you can’t have one till you’re not one yourself.” I knew he wasn’t talking about Walter, so that’s when I knew Daddy still didn’t like Stefanie. “She’s fine,” Walter would tell him. But he never tried convincing Daddy. When Walter got married, two other things happened. At Thanksgiving, we got a letter from Dougie, saying he was getting married. Then at Christmas, we got one from Sonny. “My sons always do things backwards,” Daddy said. “The oldest getting married last.” “Is that important?” I asked. “Only to your daddy,” Mama said. Walter told me later that, “Dougie only got married ‘cause I did. Then Sonny felt he had to, ‘cause of Dougie. “Who did they marry?” I asked. “Just girls,” he said. “Girls?” I told Mama. “Is that all we are?” “Hush, Addy,” she said. “Don’t cause trouble.”
  7. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 8

    Yep, small towns -- and the focus of this one, which is only an even smaller section of a small town, maybe several hundred people -- are their own worlds with their own rules, perhaps especially one that's centered around a church and a factory, where all the people go to that church and live in factory housing. In any case, Walter pretty well escaped harm and learned something about taking and accepting responsibility, and that's all that's important. Really sorry to hear about your friend though. That's really hard.
  8. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 8

    The pond almost killed Walter, but he didn’t get sucked into the pipes. Though he did lose his clothes. It was after the Fourth of July, because we’d all seen the fireworks. And it was hot, because Rosalind and I were sleeping on the back porch. Charley had stayed in our room, but only because he got to sleep in the big bed. Mama and Daddy were sleeping, too. Walter had gone out, then came home very late. Rosalind and I were telling stories when we heard a noise and snuck around to the front porch to check. Walter was coming out of the forest, but he wasn’t wearing anything. We’d never seen him like that before. We’d seen him without a shirt, when he was swimming. But the only boy we’d ever seen without his clothes was Charley. It was dark, and Walter was holding his hands in front of him. He might not have seen us at all, but Rosalind started to giggle. “Who’s there?” Walter asked. I giggled, too. “Shush,” Walter said when he saw us. “And go back to bed.” Then he ran into the house. Rosalind and I followed. When we got to the front room, Walter was already in his pants. “Now don’t you go saying anything,” he whispered. “If you don’t, I’ll give you anything you want.” “Ice cream?” Rosalind asked. “All you can eat. Just go to bed.” There was no way we’d do that. This was too much fun. After he put on his shirt, Walter started going through his bureau. “Are you leaving?” Rosalind went on. “No.” “Then why are you taking your clothes?” Walter had gotten out another shirt and a pair of pants. He didn’t have a lot clothes and only owned two pair of shoes. And he’d already put on his Sunday ones. “What are you doing?” Rosalind asked. “Go to sleep,” Walter said. He quickly bundled the shirt and pants, then left. By the time Rosalind and I got to the street, he’d disappeared. “We should follow him,” Rosalind said. “Into the forest? We’d get lost. Besides, if Mama and Daddy wake up, we’d get in trouble.” Rosalind thought about that. So instead of going after Walter, we waited on the porch. I don’t know how long it took him to come back, because I fell asleep a little. But I saw him before Rosalind did, and he still had the extra clothes. “No ice cream,” he whispered. “I told you to go to bed.” “We wanted to make sure you were all right,” I said, kind of stretching the truth. “Of course, I’m all right. Why wouldn’t I be?” “Because you don’t look very happy.” Walter fake smiled for us. But it only lasted a second. “Where did you go?” Rosalind pushed on. “Go to sleep,” Walter repeated. Then he went to bed. Maybe because we were up so late, Rosalind and I slept till after Walter went to the mill. But it didn’t matter because we soon found out what had happened. The first thing was that someone found Walter’s clothes. They were nailed to the front of the church. And there was a girl’s dress nailed with them. “What the hell is that all about?” I heard Daddy yell at Walter that evening. I’d never heard Daddy say “hell,” and I’d never heard that word outside of church. “I’m really sorry,” Walter told Daddy. “I ought to whip you.” Walter said nothing. “I’ve never been so embarrassed,” Daddy went on. “You’ve hurt our whole family.” “I’m sorry, sir.” I’d never heard Walter call Daddy “sir.” “I ought to whip your friends, too.” “They’re not my friends. Not anymore.” “I should hope not.” “What happened?” I asked Rosalind. “Something bad,” she said. “Is Daddy going to spank Walter?” That made Rosalind giggle. “No, but he might kill him.” Daddy didn’t, of course, but he might as well have. Walter had to get up and apologize to everyone in church. His face was all red, and his hair was combed back, and he didn’t look handsome at all. And all that week, when he wasn’t at the mill, he stayed by himself in the front room. Not that it kept anyone from talking. Everyone had a different story. And everyone thought they knew who the girl was. The only good thing was that it wasn’t Stefanie, or Margaret, or Sally. They were all home that night. “What really happened?” I asked Mama. Then I was surprised when she told me. “I’m only telling you this because I don’t want you and Rosalind repeating what everyone else is. What they’re saying is far worse than what happened.” “What happened?” I asked again, and Mama waited a little before explaining. “Walter went swimming,” she said. “He went swimming because it was hot. And as a little joke, some of his friends took his clothes.” “We know that,” Rosalind told her. “Everyone knows that. We even know who took his clothes. But who was the girl? And why is everyone so angry?” “They’re angry because the church was involved,” Mama said. “And because Walter and the girl were swimming with nothing on. You know what I’ve always said about that.” She’d told us any number of times that girls never let boys see them undressed. “But who was the girl?” Rosalind asked again. “It doesn’t matter,” Mama said. “I really don’t want to know.” She was probably the only one in town. Everyone else had been asking all week. Walter wouldn’t say. He wouldn’t tell anyone. He apologized in church then just stopped explaining. Even the friends who took his clothes didn’t see the girl. “I’m glad he won’t tell,” I heard Daddy tell Mama. “It means I’ve taught him something.” “You’ve taught him lots of things, and you know it. And this will end, soon enough.” “ I suppose. And I suppose it’s one of those girls from town. Or from a farm.” “What would it matter if we knew?” “It wouldn’t,” Daddy said. “Unless there’s more trouble.” “There won’t be. He promised they were only swimming.” Daddy said nothing to that. Walter also asked Daddy if he should go back to Hattiesburg, and Daddy spent a night thinking about that. Then he said, “No, you stay right here.” “Thank you, sir.” “Don’t thank me. It’s gonna be harder for you to stay. People will always be telling this story. They tell stories about things that happened forty years ago, and we all laugh.” “I don’t think it’s funny,” Walter said. “I never said it was. It might’ve been. But the church got involved.” We never did find out who the girl was. When Walter got his clothes back, Daddy took the girl’s dress and burned it, so no one could see it up close. A lot of our dresses looked alike anyway. Not more than a month after that, Walter surprised everyone by saying he was marrying Stefanie Mueller. Before that, Daddy might have said she was still too young. But afterwards, almost no girl in town would even be seen with Walter. “You don’t have to do this,” Daddy told him. “You can still wait.” “I don’t want to,” Walter said. “I’m happy she’ll have me.” Rosalind didn’t feel that way. “If nothing had happened,” she said, “Walter never would’ve picked Stefanie.” She was still holding out for Sally. But Walter told Daddy, “I’ve got to have Stefanie. I was always afraid that if I waited too long someone else would ask her.” Daddy tried talking Walter out of it, right up to the last night. But at the end of the summer, Walter and Stefanie got married. The one good thing was it made everyone forgive Walter. “He’s a good boy,” people said. “He’ll be a good husband. And you know she wasn’t in that pond.” By that time, Walter was also being trained to be a weaver. So he had a little money. And since he was married, the mill gave him a tiny house, on the next street from us. “It only has two rooms,” Walter said. “But it’s all we need.” Rosalind and I had been to weddings before. At church, people were always getting married. But this was more exciting. We got to put on our best clothes and go to the parties. Stefanie’s family had the first one, then everyone came to our house. Our party filled up the whole end of our street and lasted until after Rosalind and I fell asleep. The next morning, Walter and Stefanie went to Dallas, but only for a few days. Walter had to be back at the mill. “It’s not going to last,” Daddy said, once they were gone. “He’ll be sleeping on the daybed again before winter.” Stefanie may have been too young, and Walter may have hurried into things. But this time, Daddy was wrong.
  9. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 7

    Still, once Walter really started seeing girls, Daddy didn’t like the ones he picked. “Why are you even thinking about getting married?” Daddy asked. Walter grinned. “Guess for the same reason you did.” “Go to Fort Worth,” Daddy said, laughing. “I’ll give you the money.” “For what?” I asked. But they ignored me. “Done that already,” Walter told Daddy. “Well, it didn’t do any good.” Walter shrugged. “I got married too young,” Daddy went on. “So did your sister Frances. These days, anyone with sense waits till they’re thirty.” “Can’t do that,” Walter said. “Why not?” I asked, but only got ignored again. So I asked Daddy, “Why did you get married?” He just laughed. “It was the right time.” “Well, maybe it’s the right time for Walter.” Walter smiled, but Daddy said, “Not with the girls he’s been seeing lately. They’re no more than your age.” “They are not,” Walter insisted. “No?” “I haven’t been with anyone younger than eighteen since I moved here.” “What about Stefanie Mauer?” Daddy asked. “She can’t be eighteen.” “She was. Last month.” “Well, your mama was almost my age. So when you start seeing girls who’re almost twenty-one, then maybe I’ll like it.” “Mama isn’t your age,” I told Daddy. “You’re much, much older.” Daddy didn’t like that at all. And Walter quickly told me, “You shouldn’t have said that, Addy.” So I apologized. Daddy accepted it, but that didn’t change his mind. Still, Walter didn’t worry about seeing Stefanie because she wasn’t the girl he spent the most time with. That was Margaret Theiss, at least when I saw them at church. At the mill, Mama said Walter was always with Sally Hollenbeck. Sally was nice, and I liked her better than Margaret, but I knew Stefanie best. “What do you think?” I asked Rosalind. “I think Walter likes Sally.” “Why?” “Because Mama says she works so hard at the mill. And she’s older than Margaret and Stefanie, so Daddy would like her. And she lives with Jeannie Grober’s family.” Jeannie was Rosalind’s closest friend, so that’s how we knew so much about Sally. “She makes her own clothes,” Jeannie told us. “And she bakes really well. And she writes to her family every week.” “Where do they live?” I asked. “Outside Sherman.” That wasn’t far. “I’d like to get a letter,” I told them. “Who could I write?” “You could write me,” Rosalind said. But she was teasing. “Or write me,” Jeannie added. They were ganging up. I could write Frances,” I said. “Or Sonny and Dougie.” “They wouldn’t write back,” Walter told me. “We all stopped writing right after we left school.” “Because you’re so busy?” “Because we don’t like to.” But Walter was busy, too. Besides working at the mill and helping out at church, he was learning to weave. “So they’ll hire me full out.” “Then would you get married?” I asked. “At least, I could afford to.” “Would Sally really marry Walter?” I asked Jeannie one afternoon. “I can’t think of one reason she’d say ‘no.’” “I can think of two,” Rosalind told us. “And their initials are MT and SM.” “Those two don’t mean anything,” Jeannie said. “Walter tells Sally that all the time.” Rosalind disagreed. “Well, I’ve heard Walter tell Margaret that Sally doesn’t matter. And I’ll bet he tells Stefanie not to think about anybody else.” “That’s not nice,” I said. “It wouldn’t be if he was serious,” Jeannie told us. “But you know Walter. Everything he does is in fun.” That sounded like Walter, but it also didn’t seem fair. So I asked him. “I’ve heard that Margaret doesn’t mean as much to you as Sally. And I’ve heard that Sally doesn’t mean as much to you as Stefanie. And I’ve heard that...” “Wait. Wait. Wait,” Walter said. “Who’s been telling you this?” I thought for a moment. “I can’t say.” “Why not?” “Because then I’d get in trouble.” “But you still want to know what I think?” “Yes.” “And you think that’s fair?” “It’s got nothing to do with fair. It’s only a question we’ve been...” “A question you’ve been asking,” Rosalind suddenly said. “Keep me out of this.” “You wanted to know,” I said. “That may be true. But it doesn’t mean I’d be rude enough to ask.” That wasn’t like Rosalind at all. She was always braver than I was. “You’re holding something back,” I said. “What do you know that you’re not telling?” “There are lots of things I don’t tell you.” “There are lots of things I don’t care about.” “You’d care about this.” “What?” “It’s not about Walter.” “Then why would I care?” “‘Cause it’s about someone he cares about. And you care about that.” She smiled at me, which made me feel stupid. So I turned to Walter. “She’s just teasing you,” he said. “She doesn’t know any more that you do. And that’s because I don’t know anything. I have no idea what’s honestly gonna happen.” “You must know something,” I said. He smiled. “I don’t. Really, Addy.” So sometimes, we’d see Walter with Margaret. And sometimes we’d see him with Sally. And sometimes he’d be with Stefanie. It confused everyone, and maybe Daddy was the only one who was happy. “Keep it up, boy,” he’d say. “Ten years to go.” “I can’t wait ten minutes,” I heard Walter tell Charley one night. “Maybe five.”
  10. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 6

    When Uncle Georg came for Aunt Evie’s funeral, he brought my brother Walter with him. Walter was almost twenty, and he’d known Aunt Evie since he was six. But that wasn’t the reason he came. He wanted to move to Bodark Creek. He didn’t tell Daddy at first. He waited until after the funeral, when Uncle Georg was ready to leave. Then he asked. “You don’t give me a lot of time,” Daddy said. Walter grinned. “I hoped you wouldn’t need a lot.” Daddy just looked at him. Mama and Uncle Georg and Rosalind and I were all sitting at the kitchen table. “Well, you’re old enough to be on your own,” Daddy finally said. “And there isn’t much room in this house. But if you find yourself a job, you can sleep in the front room for as long as you need.” “Thank you,” Walter started. “Find a job before you thank me,” Daddy said. Walter found work almost the next day, sweeping up at the mill. Rosalind and I got our bed back, but not exactly our room. Because now Charley was sharing it. That squashed things a little, but it was all right. Because having Charley with us meant Rosalind and I got to scare him with our stories. “You’re being mean,” Mama said, when she found out. “Oh, Mama,” Rosalind said, “We’re not telling Charley anything Daddy didn’t tell us.” “Is that true?” Mama asked. “Yes!” we said. “Well, last night Charley crawled into our bed, he was so scared. And I don’t want that happening again.” I blamed Rosalind, and she blamed me, but to be honest, it was both our faults. Still, having Charley with us was worth the trade of living with Walter. Rosalind was right. He was handsome. More than that, he was fun. The first thing he did was show us pictures of our brothers Dougie and Sonny and our sister Frances and her family. “I would have shown you them before,” he said, “but I was keeping them for Daddy. Just in case he didn’t let me stay. That way, I figured he wouldn’t be mad.” “Daddy doesn’t get mad at people,” Rosalind said. “At least, he doesn’t yell. The worst he does is not talk to you.” “I remember that,” Walter said, laughing. Then he told us stories about Daddy and Sonny and Dougie. Our brothers were always doing things that got Daddy angry. “They just don’t think the way he does,” Walter said. “Daddy’s sometimes been mad at me, too. But it’s more fun telling stories about Sonny and Dougie.” In the stories, Sonny was always the leader, and Dougie followed. But the things Dougie did were always funnier. In the pictures, our brothers looked a lot like Walter, though you could tell them all apart. Sonny was taller, with a moustache, but one more droopy than Daddy’s. Dougie’s face was round, and Walter was somewhere in between. But he had the best smile. “It just happened,” he said. Then he smiled, which made us laugh. He could get anything with his smile. Rosalind would do things for him that she wouldn’t even do for Mama. And when Walter smiled at me, I just wanted to make him smile again. When he wasn’t working at the mill, he took Rosalind and me places we’d never been before. That’s how we finally saw the cemetery. We picked flowers for Aunt Evie and put them on her grave, but I didn’t think the cemetery was sad. Maybe because I didn’t know anyone else who was buried there. We also went to the courthouse downtown, which we’d only gone past. It was the biggest building I’d ever been in, and it was so quiet inside. Even in church, you could always hear the birds. But not in the middle of the courthouse. “That’s because the walls are so thick,” Walter said. And he led us through the hallways, and down the stairs. “How far underground are we?” I asked, because it was just like being in another room. “Maybe ten or twelve feet.” I didn’t like it, didn’t like it at all. In the storm cellar, I could at least always see the light But in the courthouse basement, there weren’t even windows. I ran upstairs and all the way out. “I didn’t mean to scare you,” Walter said, when he caught up. Then he took Rosalind and me to the candy store. But we might have gone there anyway, because there was a girl he liked. Walter liked a lot of girls, but there was never one he’d let us call his girlfriend. Still, it gave Rosalind and me a lot to talk about. “Which one do you like most?” she’d ask. “Which one’s the prettiest?” I’d say. “Which one will you marry?” we’d both yell. “I’m not ready to get married yet,” Walter would tell us. “You know what I’d need to get married?” “What?” we’d ask, though we already knew. Because we’d already asked him before. “I’d need a little money, for a start. And I’d need a place of my own. Because I can’t bring a wife back to sleep in the front room.” “You can have our room,” I’d say, and I could see Rosalind thinking. “But you’d have to keep Charley,” she’d quickly add. That would make Walter laugh, and hearing that was as good as seeing him smile. When he was happy, it made Rosalind and me happy, and we weren’t the only ones. There were all those girls. We’d meet them in town. And we’d see them in church. Or we’d hear about them when Walter came home from the mill. In the summer, the girls would come to watch the boys swim in the pond, and they’d always be around Walter. It wasn’t really a pond. It was part of the water system for the mill. It was in the woods, and there were tall, cement walls we had to climb. Walter told us the water was pumped into the mill, and then it was pumped out. “What does it do?” I asked. “Everything,” he said. “It’s used for cooling. And we use it for washing. And it’s used for... Well, we just need it, that’s all.” I’d never been inside the mill. Even when I went to kindergarten there, it was in a house across the street. “You’re not missing anything,” Walter said. “It’s big, and it’s noisy. But they sure treat people well.” In the pond, there were only some places you could swim. Otherwise, you’d get sucked into the pipes. “Can that really happen?” I asked Walter. We’d all heard that someone had drowned. But that happened before we moved to Bodark Creek. “I don’t know,” Walter said. “But I know the water’s strong enough to pull off your pants.” That made Rosalind and me giggle. Mostly, the boys got to swim while the girls had to splash themselves. Rosalind asked to swim. She really wanted to learn, and Walter said he’d teach her. But Mama said Rosalind was too young. And she wouldn’t even talk about me. “How are we going to learn?” I asked. “If you never let us try?” “Why do you need to learn?” Mama would say. Rosalind and I tried a hundred different reasons, but nothing we said was ever good. The truth was that Mama didn’t know how to swim herself, so she couldn’t save us if we started to drown. And she was afraid that we’d swim when she wasn’t there. “Make me promise you won’t,” she said. So Rosalind and I did. Mama didn’t ask Walter to promise, and he didn’t really have to do anything she or Daddy said. But as long as he stayed with us, he gave Daddy money each week, and he followed our rules. Still, Mama and Daddy didn’t tell Walter much, because they didn’t have to. I don’t think he ever would have done anything to hurt them.
  11. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 5

    And this was a hundred years ago, the early 1920s, so both cancer treatment and the way children were sheltered rather than included was very different from what we hope happens now.
  12. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 5

    Aunt Evie didn’t have hookworm or the flu or anything Mama would have worried about us catching. She had cancer, which even Dr. Waechler couldn’t cure. Aunt Evie saw him when she first moved in with us, and towards the end, he was at our house every day. “What’s cancer?” I asked Rosalind, because Mama and Daddy wouldn’t talk about it. They didn’t even want it whispered. “Where did you hear that word?” Mama asked, the first time I used it. “I heard Daddy tell Mrs. Seiler.” “Well, he shouldn’t have. And I don’t want you saying it around here.” I promised, but I didn’t know why. “What’s so bad?” I asked Rosalind. “I don’t know.” “Can you find out?” “I don’t think so. It would make Mama angry.” But I asked my teacher anyway. She was new, and I figured she might not get me in trouble. All she said was, “It’s not something you want to get.” “I know that,” I told her. “But what is it?” “I can’t tell you, Addy.” “Why?” “Because I don’t know.” “Well, then who could tell me? Who would know?” “A doctor could tell you. A doctor would have to know.” But the only doctor we knew was Dr. Waechler. And the only time we saw him was in front of Mama and Daddy. “Where does Dr. Waechler live?” I asked Rosalind. “In the good part of town.” That was on the other side of “downtown,” which was past our school. I’d only been there a couple of times, with Mama or Daddy, and there was no way I could go alone. I didn’t even know why it was different. “What makes ‘the good part of town’ good?” I asked Rosalind. “The houses are bigger.” That didn’t seem so important. Our house was big, and it was hard enough to keep clean. When Rosalind and I had our own room, we had to sweep it all the time. Just as we had to sweep the front room. “Is Charley going to help us when he gets older?” I asked Rosalind. “Why should he?” “Well, he’ll be sharing with us.” “Maybe.” “I bet that happens after ‘you know.’” “You know” meant “after Aunt Evie died.” By then, Rosalind and I knew it was going to happen. We found it out when we heard Dr. Waechler talking to Mama and Daddy. “I don’t think she’ll make it to Christmas,” he’d said. “The best we can do is keep her comfortable.” “We’ll do that,” Daddy had promised. “Does it hurt to die?” I asked Rosalind. “Is that why Aunt Evie has to be comfortable?” “It depends,” Rosalind said. “If you get really hurt, like when that train hit that horse, it hurts a lot. But if you just go to sleep...” Aunt Evie slept a lot, even when Mama stayed home to take care of her. “You can’t keep doing this,” Daddy told her. “I have to.” “Mrs. Seiler can watch Evie during the day.” “I won’t lose my job.” “I wish we were sure,” Daddy said. Near the end, Aunt Evie was crying almost all the time. And at night, she’d make so much noise Rosalind and I would stay awake. “Can’t Dr. Waechler do anything?” Mama would ask Daddy. But he’d only shake his head. And it wasn’t like Mama was talking about making Aunt Evie better. Still, some mornings, she was fine. We’d help her out to the porch, and she’d sit on a chair while we played. She was very thin then, and her face was very white. But she always tried to look pretty. “Can I brush your hair?” I’d ask. “That would be nice, Addy. I can’t reach to fasten it anymore.” The last week, Rosalind and I went to Mrs. Seiler’s. We’d go to school from there, and Mama and Daddy would see us every night when they came for Charley. “Why does he get to stay with you?” I asked. “Because Charley can sleep through anything,” Daddy said. The day Aunt Evie died, we got to see her one last time. Rosalind said she smiled at us, but I thought she was always sleeping. After her funeral, the older people went to the cemetery. That was even further than the good part of town, and it was somewhere else Rosalind and I had never been. And we weren’t allowed to go. “What does it look like?” I asked Mama. “It’s very pretty,” she said. “Pretty like flowers?” “Pretty like the woods. Only there aren’t as many trees.” “Are there birds?” I asked. “Yes.” “And animals?” “Yes. But you can only see them at night.” “Then why can’t Rosalind and I go? It sounds nice.” Mama held me for a minute, then said, “It’s very sad there, Addy. Whenever I go, I think about all the people I’ll never see again. And that always makes me cry.” “But won’t you see them in Heaven?” I asked. “Yes. But it’s not the same.” I didn’t understand, but I couldn’t change her mind. Mama cried a lot after Aunt Evie died, and so did Rosalind and I. Daddy kept telling Mama, “It’s better this way. She’s not hurting anymore. She’s at rest.” But it didn’t seem to help.
  13. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 77

    Yep, some of them are clearly typos. But that somehow doesn't make them less funny -- especially cumulatively. As I've written somewhere before, I keep thinking, "I'm not gonna laugh this time. I'm not gonna laugh." But they gang up on you.
  14. Mindglaning of different species can cause disorder. Most of the time it is, except when it isn't. Eliminating the trots from the perks. A bugger pest problem. A higher archy Ishagh Newton. Rife with logical fallacise. It is uncomprehend. Take a furt. Humblity. It is still spritine. The possible dimish. This argument is blostered. Sometimes the information is spart. They are the hope of the whore country. It doesn't sidusss the consequences. This behavior is very horror and is not abovetable. This could lead us somewhere else in sometime. Most historical documents have been reconstructed to be video games. Do people from the south have the same flavor as people from the north do? There’s an old saying, “History is a little girl dressed by the winner.” This involves much more than just putting someone into a pedestal. We now have means of communicating with people at the end of poles.
  15. RichEisbrouch

    Chapter 4

    Thanks. It's sometimes tricky to do that and still remember there's an adult telling this story who once was that child.
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