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Bodark Creek - 2. Chapter 2

The youngest of my older brothers was only fifteen when we moved to Texas. Rosalind said Daddy talked about bringing Walter with us, but he didn’t want to go. Partly because he’d just started working at the mill, but more because there was a girl he liked. Rosalind said Walter was very handsome, with light hair and a big smile, and he could get almost anything he wanted. So Daddy let him go on living with Dougie and Sonny, our older brothers, who were twenty and twenty-one. They all stayed in the house they’d grown up in.

“They’ll just have to learn to take care of themselves,” Daddy said. “And they better take care of that house.” It was owned by the Hattiesburg Cotton Mill, where almost all our family worked.

“What does Walter look like?” I asked Rosalind. There were pictures in the front room, but Walter was still a baby in them. “Does he look like Daddy?”

“No,” Rosalind said.

“Does he look like Mama?”

“Not our mama, no.”

“Why not?

“Because Walter had a different mama. I told you that.”

She’d told me, but sometimes I didn’t understand. I knew that Daddy had two wives. The first, Emilie, gave him nine children, Frances, Lorena, Noland, Billie, Sonny, Dougie, Walter, Mary, and Curtis. After she died, Daddy married my mama, Ilene.

Three of the other children died before I was born. Noland lived less than a year. Curtis lived two, but he was born sick and died soon after his mama. Lorena was almost eighteen when she died of the flu, and Daddy always said it was lucky they only lost her that time, because everyone had caught it. When Daddy and Mama moved us to Texas, Frances stayed in Hattiesburg, along with my brothers.

Frances was almost Mama’s age and had children of her own. Rosalind always told me I was an aunt even before I was born. In our pictures, Frances was still a girl, and Sonny and Dougie weren’t much older than Walter. “What do they really look like?” I asked Rosalind. When she couldn’t tell me, I asked Mama.

“Your brothers all kind of look alike,” she said, but I didn’t know what that meant. “They just do,” she went on. “They have the same round face and the same flopping hair.”

“Only Walter’s more handsome?”

That made her laugh. “Who told you that?” she asked.

“Rosalind.”

“Yes, Walter is more handsome.”

“More than Daddy?” I pushed.

Mama didn’t answer for a while. We were making dough, and she was doing something with the flour. Finally, she said, “Daddy is handsome.”

“More than Walter?”

“Addy...”

“ I just want to know...”

“Well, there are some things you might not need to.”

So I went back to Rosalind.

“Is Walter more handsome than Daddy?” I asked.

“Daddy’s old,” she said.

“I know that, but he’s still handsome. Even Mama says so.”

“Daddy’s hair is dark.”

“So?”

“Walter’s hair is more like Sonny’s and Dougie’s. Only theirs is getting dark. I think everyone’s does when they get old.”

I didn’t want my hair dark. Until I was ten, it was almost lighter than Rosalind’s. When I told her this, she said, “I don’t think we have a choice.”

“Was your hair light when you were a little girl?” I soon asked Mama.

“My hair was always dark.”

“Then why isn’t mine? Or Rosalind’s?”

“It just happens that way. You both take after your father.”

“Was Daddy’s hair light when he was little?”

“That’s what he’s says.”

“Well, what about Walter’s mama? What about her hair?”

Mama just looked at me. Then she smiled. “Look at the pictures, Addy. See for yourself.”

In the pictures, Walter’s mama’s hair was dark. But it might have been light when she was young.

“Do you remember Walter’s mama?” I asked Daddy after dinner.

“Yes.”

“Do you remember her hair?”

“Sometimes.”

“Do you remember what color it was when she was little?”

Daddy laughed at that. He usually laughed at things I said. “Why do you want to know?” he asked.

“I’m trying to find out if my hair’s going to get dark like yours and Mama’s. Or if it will stay light like Walter’s.”

That made Daddy laugh again, but he didn’t give me an answer.

“Well?” I had to ask.

“I told you about wells.”

“Daddy!”

“Emilie’s hair was light when we got married. It only got dark when she started having babies.”

That was something I didn’t know, that babies could make your hair dark. For a while, I couldn’t decide if I wanted babies more than I wanted light hair. “Which would you rather have?” I asked Daddy.

“He’s just happy his hair’s not grey,” Mama said.

Daddy’s moustache was grey. He sometimes looked funny, with his grey moustache and dark hair. He had brothers, too, so I asked what they looked like.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s been too long.”

“Since what?”

“Since I’ve seen them.”

“Why?” I asked. “I see Rosalind and Charley every day.”

“We just live in different places, that’s all. My sisters, too.”

Daddy had three sisters and three brothers, and they all lived far away. “Why?” I wanted to know.

“We just went different places to work. Or because we wanted to. Or because we didn’t have a choice. You don’t know how much the war changed everything.”

Then I had to ask what a “war” was. And after Daddy said, “A big fight between the states,” I had to ask about “states.”

“Texas and Mississippi are states. You’ve lived in both of them. And Virginia’s a state. That’s where my family comes from.”

“Were they fighting?”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

Daddy looked at Mama, who was ironing. “Isn’t it time you went to bed?” he asked me.

“Just tell me what Walter looks like,” I begged. “That’s all I really want to know. Is he more handsome than you are?”

Daddy laughed at that. Then he just grinned. “I was handsome once,” he said. “Even if Walter is my boy, I can say I was better looking. But that was a long time ago.”

So I went to the front room and looked at pictures. I tried to make the boys turn into Daddy, and Rosalind and me turn into Mama. People in church always told us, “You two look so much like your mama,” but I never thought so. Just as I couldn’t turn my brothers into Daddy, to see what they looked like grown up.

“Why do they live so far away?” I asked Rosalind when I finally went to bed. She didn’t know, and the only thing we could figure was it didn’t make a lot of sense.

2021 by Richard Eisbrouch
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Chapter Comments

Reminds me somewhat of my childhood:  we had no car, dad worked in a factory, we barely scraped by - had relatives who all lived far away and never saw them.  I heard stories of all the relatives and imagined what they looked like.  Your writing creates wonderful images!

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Thanks.  I had a lot of older relatives, too, who'd tell stories about their many brothers and sisters.  So some of that's fortunately in play.  But some also seems to be drawing from your own memories and imagination.  Hope that works for other people as well.

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