~momma’s rain~ chapter four ~children/it’s elementary~ ~part three~ ~money & religion~

WordWulf By WordWulf, 18th Apr 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Domestic Violence & Abuse

~poor folks consider doing things others can’t imagine~Momma thought about selling Lily~so she might have a better future~a random chance at normality~whatever that is~my brothers & I met some colored folk~they believed they could talk to god & so did we~they encouraged me to sing~

~money & religion~

“Let’s tear one apart and see what their guts look like,” Jackie said. He was very good at avoiding the answering of questions by changing the subject. That tactic didn’t usually haul much freight with Momma and Daddy but, in this case, it worked with me. The idea of finding out what was inside the bouncy white balls captivated me immediately.

“How we gonna do it?” I asked him, “Those things are harder ‘n rocks.”

“I got that all figgered out,” Jackie replied, “I been thinkin’ about it a while. C’mon, follow me.”

Before I could lodge a protest and stop him, Jackie had made it to the alley and crawled through a hole in the fence. He was standing next to the neighbor’s garage. “We’re gonna get in trouble,’ I complained.

“Get yer ass over here,” Jackie hissed. “Ya gotta take some chances, Tommy. Ya wanna skin one o’ those balls or not?”

Jackie held the torn fence open and I crawled through. “How’d you know about this hole?” I asked.

“I made it so’s I have a shortcut in case somebody’s followin’ or chasin’ me,” Jackie replied.

I glanced at the neighbor’s house a few yards up the driveway from where we were standing by the garage. I nodded my head toward the house. “Aren’t you worried about them catching us.”

“Nah,” Jackie replied, “They’re rich ‘n white, ain’t gonna notice a couple o’ white boys in the driveway diggin’ in the trash.” He reached into a steel drum next to the garage and pulled out an old lawn mower blade. “I knew I shoulda took it before,” he said to me.

We climbed back through the fence. We set half a dozen of the white balls down in the dirt yard and took turns whacking at the hard shells with the mower blade. Soon our targets were decorated with gashes to go with their dimples. Jackie took a rusty screwdriver from his back pocket and began to pry at the scars.

I dug into the gashes with my fingers and peeled the tough skin off some of what we later learned were golf balls. We were amazed at what we found inside. There was a small black ball in the center of each of the white dimpled balls. The black ball was full of white goop. To reach the ball within the ball we had to unwrap about a hundred miles of rubber band separating them. We tore all of them apart to get at the tiny black ball and to see if any were different. When we slammed those little balls against the sidewalk they bounced so high the sky seemed to swallow them. It wasn’t long before we managed to lose all the tiny black balls. The white dimpled balls they came from weren’t good for anything we could figure out.

One bright spring day, just before Easter, Momma had time off from work.

“You haven’t had a break from baby-sitting for quite a while,” she said and gave me a big hug. “Why don’t you take your brothers and go to the park? Us girls will stay home and rustle up something to eat while we wait for our men to return.”

I gathered up Jackie and Phillip and off we went. I lifted Phillip up on my shoulders but Jackie still had to skip to keep up with me. “Slow down, Tommy,” he pled, “I can’t keep up. You sure wouldn’t be a very good pop bottle finder. You walk too fast and don’t watch where you’re goin’.”

I laughed and went from a fast walk to a slow trot. “C’mon Jackie,” I taunted. “I ain’t even breakin’ a sweat.” There was no reply and, when I looked back, Jackie was nowhere to be seen.

“Can you see him?” I asked Phillip, whose eyesight was much better than mine.

I bent forward so Phillip could slide off my shoulders to the ground.

“I don’t see ‘im nowheres. He’s just bein’ sneaky,” Phillip offered. “He dint really run away.”

I was worried, backtracked a bit, considered going to tell Momma but decided against it. Phillip was probably right. I loaded my younger brother back on my shoulders and continued toward Denver’s City Park. 26th Avenue was a busy street and, being the worry wart I was, I got so involved squinting my eyes and watching for cars, I didn’t see Jackie come up behind me. “Boo!” he yelled when I reached the other side of the street. He poked me in the ribs with a stiff finger and gave Phillip’s leg a tug.

Phillip and I tumbled forward onto the park grass. Jackie was rolling around and laughing so hard he didn’t notice me crawling toward him. Not that he could get away anyhow. He was just dumb slow. I rolled him over and straddled him, my knees pinning his scrawny arms to the ground. “Where did you go?” I demanded.

I raised a threatening fist and Jackie smiled. “If you hit me I ain’t gonna show you the secret o’ the little white balls.”

Have I mentioned yet that Jackie couldn’t pronounce his R's? When he said secret, it came out secwet and for some reason, at that moment, the R’s pronounced as W’s just cracked me up. I rolled over in the grass laughing so hard I thought I’d bust a gut.

Jackie got up from the ground and prodded me with his foot. “Tommy, sometimes you jus’ weird.” Which came out ‘weiud’. I began to laugh even harder at that. Jackie and Phillip had no idea what I found so hilarious all of a sudden. Laughing is contagious and my younger brothers joined me, took advantage of my vulnerability and pounced on me. The three of us wrestled around for a few minutes until the grass got us itchy.

I threw a hammerlock on Jackie and put on my best menacing big brother face. “Show me the magic white balls,” I growled into his ear.

“We’ue thewe,” Jackie replied, “We’re there.”

Two ‘R’ words in a row out of Jackie’s mouth came very near sending me into another fit of laughter. I noogied Jackie’s head a bit then turned him loose. “Stop talking and show me and Phillip the magic balls.”

Phillip and I watched as Jackie strolled leisurely out into the wide expanse of the open park. He raised his hands in the air and began to spin in slow wide circles. I had never seen my knuckle head brother appear so graceful, so at peace and at one with himself as he was on that day, in that place. And then, wouldn’t you know it, first one, and then another and another, golf balls fell from the air, plopped to the ground around him and went rolling past.

Jackie stopped spinning and began to fill his pockets with golf balls. Phillip and I rushed forward and followed suit. Jackie yelled something but I didn’t understand what he said. Then he yelled again. I trotted over to where he was standing. “What did you say?”

Jackie was tossing a golf ball from hand to hand. He tossed it to me and, when I caught it, Jackie pointed at something behind me and yelled, “Wun!!”

There were a bunch of angry men waving iron clubs and hollering in the our general direction. I grabbed Phillip, tossed him on my shoulders, and took off running. I slowed down so Jackie could catch up then followed him to his hideout, a hole in the fence where the miniature zoo train was kept. I have lived in and around Denver most of my life. Every time I drive by 26th Avenue and York Street, golfers lined up on the driving range put a big ol’ smile on my face. I think about us poor boys who never heard of golf but surely did love the sport of gathering those hard little white balls and escaping angry white men.

The small house on Garfield Street is the place of some of my fondest memories. Daddy was on the wagon and sober for nearly a year while we lived there. Momma was happy and healthy, as she always seemed to be when Daddy was sober. She had Linda, who seemed to hold a special place in her and Daddy’s hearts. And, of course, there was the new baby, Cheryl.

Linda was special to Jackie and me in a very different way. We were assigned the tiresome job of bouncing her to sleep on the bed or rocking her in our less-than-willing arms. If she cried out or refused to go to sleep, we stood a good chance of getting smacked on top of the head or worse. From the very first, Linda always got her way. She understood she had the power to have others punished and the armor of not being held responsible for anything she did. This worked out in our favor once in a while. If we wanted candy once she was old enough to ask for it, all we had to do is plant the idea in Linda’s mind. Chances are we’d be summoned to go to the store to buy some licorice or suckers, whatever Linda wanted. On a good day we got some for ourselves while we were at it.

The people next door were a well-to-do couple in their forties who had never been able to produce children. They adored Lily, who was now five years old. Momma had coffee with them now and again and came to know them fairly well (or so she thought). They owned the duplex in which they lived and didn’t have to work like most folks I had ever seen.

One night, after all the other kids were asleep, Momma and I sat up talking. She told me the lady next door (I don’t remember her name) had offered her five thousand dollars if she would agree to put Lily up for adoption to her and her husband. I had no concept of that kind of money and had certainly never heard of anything like this but became fearful when Momma seemed to be giving the proposal serious consideration. This was evinced by the tears in her eyes.

“She could have all the things I’ll never be able to provide for any of you,” Momma whispered through her tears. “Good clothes, a college education, a chance for a normal life.”

“No,” I answered flatly. Momma had touched on the fear that haunted me most of all, that my siblings and I would be split up and never see each other again. I touched her wet cheek and gulped past the knot in my throat. “Please don’t.”

“It’s just something to think about,” Momma replied. “Don’t you worry yourself, Tommy. I would never go through with something like this without talking to you about it.” She kissed my cheek. “You go to bed now. Tomorrow’s Easter and I have to get things ready for the Bunny. Oh and don’t say anything to Daddy about this. It’s just between you and me.”

Of all the Easters, this is the one I remember as best. The afternoon before, Momma boiled eggs. I mixed six cups full of dye and we all colored and decorated eggs. Easter morning, each of us got a real basket with fake grass, marshmallow peeps, and jelly beans. Linda and Lily wore new dresses which they paraded up and down the sidewalk in front of the house.

On this special Sunday the Baptist Church sent a bus to give us boys a ride to church. Momma stood in the yard holding Cheryl, with a tiny girl on each side of her and the newest in her arms. They waved at me, Jackie and Phillip as the bus pulled away. Lots of different churches sent buses for my brothers and me over the years. We got saved and baptized so many times, I figured that was mostly what churches did. It also bothered me that I mustn’t really be saved because I felt pretty much the same after everyone was through saving me. I didn’t like the feeling of having to tell them the lie about being saved to satisfy their obsession to save me. The churches all had pretty good, well-meaning, folks in them but one thing they shared in common is that they wouldn’t leave me alone until I swore I felt the spirit and had been saved.

As I mentioned before, the neighborhood around the Garfield house was peopled mostly by blacks, or ‘colored people’ as they were called back then. Most churches would send us to Sunday School then take us home before worship. This one was different. We got to skip Sunday School and sit in the big main room with the adults. The man up front began reading and quoting from the bible, which is about what I expected having been to other churches. Then someone said, “Amen,” and that single word echoed across the room. The word itself seemed to be infectious and soon everyone was saying it until it bounced off the walls and the ceiling.

My brothers and I sat wide-eyed while these people proceeded to talk to God. At first I was scared by their raucous behavior. They were standing up and swaying back and forth. Many of the ladies were weeping openly. They were wonderful in their joy. Then I felt as if I had been swallowed whole. I actually felt a presence. Jackie sat next to me, his face a freckled beacon, all lit up and eyes closed tight. Phillip climbed into my lap. I rocked him back and forth and sang my Lonesome Train song for the first time right there in front of everyone. The church ladies blessed me with amen after amen. “Sing, white boy, sing,” they said, voices and hearts full of spiritual encouragement.

Momma never could understand why Jackie and I were so willing to get on that bus come a Sunday. We didn’t know why either, just that it felt awful good to be in that room with all those friendly adults. I never told Momma about the wildness I felt when I was with these people, the freedom to be just whatever it was that I was. I wasn’t sure she’d let me go if I told her what went on there. I will always feel like those free black folks showed my brothers and me how to talk to God. For the first time in our lives we didn’t feel lesser. I sang in public for the first time there, ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘The Old Rugged Cross’. Nobody ever said anything about the color of my skin or the holes in my jeans. These people paid for the ride and invited Jackie and me to climb on equal. We had never been treated like that before by anyone.

A couple of nights before my tenth birthday, first part of May, 1960, Momma got me up out of bed. It was around midnight and Daddy wasn’t home. I knew what that meant and was afraid she wanted to talk about it. I didn’t even want to think about why Daddy wouldn’t be home at midnight but that very thought pushed every other thought from my mind. Momma was giggling like a little girl, which didn’t make any sense to my sleepy brain. She led me to the kitchen and pointed out the window.

“Look at that!” her laughing lips said.

These many years later, I have learned enough about human behavior to know there is no such reality as having seen it all. At nine (and almost ten), I looked out that window and beheld something the likes of which I had never seen or imagined. The man next door, the sophisticated white man, gray-at-the-sideburns, Terrance, stood there in front of his floor-to-ceiling glass patio door. He was wearing a bath robe which was open at the front to expose his nude body while yanking furiously on his private parts with both hands.

I squinted my eyes to better see and Terrance moved away from the window. Momma, still laughing uproariously, hugged me and gestured to a kitchen chair. I took a seat and she plopped down across from me. I felt disoriented, wasn’t quite sure what to make of the situation. The hairs standing up on the back of my neck made me aware that Momma was no longer laughing. She held her face in her hands and her body was wracked with sobs.

“Momma ... what?” I implored.

She drew a deep breath to compose herself then lit a cigarette. Her words came out in little puffs of smoke.

“God forgive me. I almost gave that monster my little girl.” She went on to explain what Terrance was doing, choking his chicken she called it. She knew I couldn’t see well enough to get a good eyeful of the man’s behavior. She brought me into the situation because Terrance’s chicken choking exhibition had occurred on other evenings when Daddy wasn’t home. She was of the opinion that Terrance might stop if someone other than she knew about his behavior. This turned out to be true. Suddenly I wasn’t so eager to be ten. I felt like I knew too much already.

Inquiries: wordwulf@gmail.com
©2014 graphic artwork music & words
conceived by & property of
tom (WordWulf) sterner 2014©
~also available at Amazon ~

~chapter one~
~chapter two~
~chapter three~
~of lips, mother & wine~ 103


1958, 1959, Alcoholism, Art, Colorado, Denver, Family, Free, Memoirs, Missouri, Mommas Rain, Mothers, Novelist, Parenting, Philosophy, Photography, Poetry, Poverty, Saint Louis, Sons, Survival, Tom Wordwulf Sterner, Violence, Wikinut, Writer

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author avatar WordWulf
I write novels, poetry, songs,nonsense & lies. Sometimes truth sneaks in when I ain't lookin'.

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