~momma's rain~ chapter three ~children by the way~ ~part one~ ~gypsy cave~

WordWulfStarred Page By WordWulf, 13th Apr 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Domestic Violence & Abuse

~we are gypsies on the road~we are unaware of that~when the truck breaks & the chicken runs out~what we gonna do~the bad man comes~daddy puts a hatchet in my hand~tells me not to worry~just go to sleep~the hatchet’s just in case~

~gypsy cave~

On the road
Spring, 1958

“Here comes Phillip Cottontail, hoppin’ down the bunny trail. Hippity, hoppity, Easter’s on its way!” Lily clapped her chubby little hands together as Jackie, Phillip, and I joined her in song. This was her first experience riding in back of the truck with us brothers. She had thrown quite a fit to acquire the privilege. Hands on her hips, bottom lip sticking out, she stomped her foot and insisted, “I’m free years old now. I’m a big girl and wanna ride in back wif my brothers.” The tarp over our heads thrummed its own tune, dancing to the wind and the air stream flowing around the cab of Daddy’s ‘40 Ford pickup.

We were a happy bunch in the little cave Daddy had made for us. There were boxes front and back and a pile of old blankets for us to snuggle in. We had Daddy’s canvas water bag and a package of vanilla sugar cookies all to themselves. Suddenly the truck stuttered and backfired. We held a collective breath as it slowed and bumped to the side of the road.

The passenger door opened with a loud oil-hungry screech. Momma came to check on us. She lifted the tarp from over our heads.

“Anyone need to go potty?”

Lily jumped eagerly into her arms and my brothers followed her into the cool windy day. I was torn between leaving the security of the pickup cave and the promise of the bright sun and chill wind of the morning. The need to pee decided the matter for me and I followed the others willingly enough.

The terrain surrounding us was flat and bare, marked by an occasional clump of weeds and barbed wire fences. Jackie, Phillip, and I separated ourselves from the females, Momma and Lily. We boys walked away from the road and the truck, as far as the first fence line. Jackie and I stood close together facing the road, shielding Phillip so he could pee in private.

“I gotta go number two,” he complained. “You guys gotta get me some paper.”

“You little brat!” Jackie rounded on Phillip. “Why didn’t you tell us at the truck. Momma said pee. Didn’t you hear her? Now I hafta run all the way back!”

Phillip folded his arms, kicked stubbornly at a clump of grass in the dirt. “I dint hafta go number two then.”

“Stop it, you guys!” I admonished. “I’ll go get the toilet paper.”

I turned away from my brothers and saw Momma further down the fence line, tending to Lily. When I reached the pickup, Daddy had the hood propped up with a piece of stout wood. He was bent over, peering into the engine compartment. I watched him for a moment, then, “Daddy...”

My voice startled Daddy. His body twisted around and he banged his head on the hood. The chunk of wood slipped and the hood banged down, just missing him when he fell back.

“Goddam it, Tommy! What the hell’s wrong with you, sneakin’ up on me like that?”

I squinted my eyes and took a step backward as Daddy raised a hand as if to strike me. “I didn’t mean to...,” I mumbled.

“What the fuck do you want?” Daddy demanded. There was a trickle of blood at his hairline where the hood had clipped him.

“Phillip needs toilet paper,” I explained. Boy, am I glad I didn’t send Jackie, I thought as I stared down at the tops of my shoes. Daddy was jumpy and on edge. When he was like that, one look at Jackie was likely to send him over the top.

Daddy knelt down next to me and put a hand on my shoulder. As much as I tried not to, I flinched and leaned away from him. He ruffled my hair with his hand. “You don’t have to be afraid of me, son. I’m sorry I yelled at you but why didn’t you ask your Momma if you needed help with Phillip? Can’t you see I’m busy trying to fix the truck?” His hand was shaking and his eyes looked watery.

I pointed toward Momma and Lily at the fence. “Momma took Lily and I took the boys.”

Daddy squeezed my arm with his trembling hand. “Look son, we don’t have any toilet paper. There’s some old newspapers on the floorboard of the truck, driver’s side. Tell Phillip he’ll have to make do. You help him.”

There were several layers of newspaper criss-crossed on the floorboard to keep wind and moisture from getting into the cab through holes where the metal had rusted through. I gathered half a dozen pages and headed back to Jackie and Phillip. Phillip was crouched bare-assed over his business. His arms rested on his knees. He held his head in his hands and was crying. He began to rise when he saw me coming. Jackie pushed him back down.

“Tommy, Jackie’s bein’ mean at me!” Phillip wailed as Jackie threatened him with a raised fist.

“Stop it!” I ordered. “What’s the matter with you, Jackie? Why don’t you just leave him alone. Couldn’t you see I was busy bringing the paper back? It’s okay if he stands up.”

“He’s stupid,” Jackie stated flatly. “You told me t’ watch him but he couldn’t wait. He made a big mess ‘n now we’re all gonna get in trouble. Now he’s sittin’ there cryin’ like a baby. If he gets shit all over him, it ain’t my fault.”

I cuffed Jackie upside the head with an open hand. “Quit cussin’ or I’ll tell Daddy! Here, Phillip,” I said, handing him a wadded up piece of newspaper.

Phillip stared at me, perplexed. “I’m ony four years old, Tommy. I ain’t learnt to read yet.”

I grinned. “Wipe your butt with it. It’s the only paper we got.”

Phillip shook his head. “Oh no, this paper is too slickery. I ain’t puttin’ it on my butt, no way.”

“Phillip,” I threatened, “Daddy said to do it. It’s the only paper we got.”

Phillip pushed the paper toward me. “You do it, Tommy. An’ hurry up, my knees is gettin’ sored.”

I heaved a long-suffering sigh and bent to the task. Phillip squealed when I attempted to slide the wad of paper down his butt crack, so I used a single flat sheet. My finger tore through the paper. I closed my eyes in exasperation and wiped Phillip’s doo-doo on my pants. I heard a familiar giggle and waved a threatening fist in Jackie’s direction.

Phillip and I stood for Jackie and Jackie and Phillip stood for me. We provided a two boy wall for each other so folks driving by wouldn’t witness the business of us doing our business. Newspaper is not designed to wipe asses. It hurts, tears, and leaves a mess. As a man, I go camping and am thoroughly convinced, all these years later that weeds are best for the purpose of wiping asses. They have soft leaves and hold together quite well when bunched up, except for Poison Ivy but that’s another story.

When we returned to the truck, there was an Indian man talking to Daddy. I wondered where he came from. There was no one around a few minutes before when I had come to the truck seeking toilet paper. The man was thick and squat of body. He appeared much stronger than daddy. He carried a pack on his back made from the skin of an animal. It had claws and bits of fur hanging from it. There was a real tomahawk sticking out of the top of it, feathers attached to the blade, dancing on the wind. He turned to look at me and my brothers. “Your sons are too skinny.”

Daddy shook his head and grimaced. I could tell he was annoyed at the comment. “They’re still growing but never mind that. You said you knew something about engines?”

The Indian’s long greasy hair fluttered in the wind as he continued to stare at me and my brothers. His eyes were flat and black, almost obsidian in appearance. I squinted into them and they sparkled deeply, as if they might steal a piece of me. “This one with the big bones,” he gestured to me. “He don’t see so good, so maybe he is one who looks inside.” He reached out and tapped me on the head with a stiff finger. His eyes, unblinking, bored into mine. “Like what you see in there, boy? My death is on the wind. That’s what I see.”

I wonder to this day where the man’s bones are buried.

“The truck,” Daddy interrupted impatiently, “Can you help me fix my truck? I don’t think it’s getting any fire.”

“You have food?” the Indian asked, ignoring Daddy’s question, “I’m hungry, haven’t eaten anything today.”

“Some,” Daddy replied warily, “It has to last us into Billings, I figure five or six hundred miles, maybe two days if I get the truck running.”

Finally the Indian ceased staring at me. He made a display of shrugging his shoulders and stood proudly erect. His movements were smooth and fluid. They seemed almost slow, yet he appeared to be bending one moment, standing the next, nothing in between. I had never been around anyone like him. He set the pack with his belongings on the running board of the pickup, then addressed Daddy. “Montana is the land of my People. I’ll help you make your automobile run, you give me some food and take me from this land of death and into Billings with you.”

Daddy thought for a moment, then said, “Listen Chief, you get this truck running and I’ll give you a ride to anywhere in the Billings area.”

The Indian strode to where Daddy was standing, stabbed him in the chest with a stubby finger. “You don’t call me Chief, white man.” He glared up into Daddy’s blue eyes, long and hard. “I am called The Bird. No white man calls me Chief and lives to tell of it. Do you understand?”

Daddy stood toe to toe with the Indian, his eyes shifting from him to me and my brothers, then back again.

“Tom, is everything all right?” Momma stood with Lily on her hip, staring at the men, deep concern written on her face. I’ve asked myself many times what would have happened between Daddy and the Indian at that moment if Momma hadn’t interceded. The hairs on the nape of my neck were standing on end and I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Bird laid a long glance on Momma. His was the countenance of the hypnotist. Time seemed to stop in a collage of freeze-frame moments while he looked Momma up and down. Finally, his eyes came to rest on her face. She flipped her head and the wind caught at her hair. “Your woman is beautiful.” He spoke to Daddy, his eyes riveted to Momma's face.

“You go to your brothers now.” Momma set Lily down and gave her a nervous pat on the butt. She looked from Bird to Daddy then proceeded with a barrage of questions.

“Have you fixed the truck? Will we be here for long? Should I fix some lunch?”

Daddy touched Bird’s shoulder. “Sorry about the Chief thing. If you don’t mind, let’s get back to the truck.”

Bird took his eyes from Momma, stared for a moment at the place on his shirt where Daddy had touched him, then turned toward the truck.

“Yeah,” Daddy called to Momma with evident relief, “Lunch sounds good. I’ll bet the kids are hungry. Mister Bird would like something to eat too.”

Daddy and Bird worked on the truck all afternoon. The Indian man was friendly enough but his eyes kept finding Momma. “Your woman has the blood of The People in her,” he commented to Daddy.

“Yeah,” Daddy grunted as he wrenched on a bolt, “Her father’s mother was a Cherokee squaw. The other side of her family was English, French, and Irish, quite a mix.” Daddy stood and stretched. “My parents were both German, not that I think the origin of our parents has much to do with what we are. What tribe are you from?”

Bird watched Momma as she broke out the fried chicken for supper and spread a blanket for the children to sit on. “The cheekbones and eyes,” he said absently, “the tone of her skin.” He stared into the open hood of the truck, grabbed a wrench and screw driver and made a couple of adjustments. “She is small but strong, is aware of economy of movement, carries herself well even though she is with child.”

Daddy stood up ramrod straight. “Mister Bird, I don’t think I appreciate you watching and talking about my wife. Let’s see to the business of fixing the truck.”

Bird turned his attention to Daddy, took a deep breath. “Yes, let’s repair the truck. We’ll have plenty of time to talk on our journey to Montana.” He pulled a thick wire from the engine compartment. He sucked on both ends, then blew on them and replaced the wire. He held Daddy with a steady gaze in the gathering dusk. “Start ‘er up,” he said flatly.

Daddy got in and the truck started immediately. He left it idling and hopped out. “By God, Mister Bird, you did it! She’s runnin’, by God. What do you think it was?”

“Your coil wire is shot,” Bird replied. “It is old and brittle and won’t last for long. It will break and you’ll lose fire the first time you hit a bump in the road. Got any whiskey?”

At the word whiskey, Momma's head came up and she stared intently at the men from where she was sitting with Lily on the blanket. Daddy shook his head, offered Bird a sad and tired smile. “I’m on the wagon, Mister Bird. Though it sounds good, I don’t have a drop of whiskey and wouldn’t drink it if I did.”

Bird nodded his head and answered with a small smile of his own. “Whiskey can be contagion to pure bloods. My family is sick with the poison of it.” He looked into the engine compartment and the truck died. He reached in and pulled the coil wire out and shook it with disdain. “I will go to my brother, see if he has a suitable replacement. He has some old cars around, not too far from here.”

Daddy glanced nervously at Bird holding the dangling coil wire, then to Momma and us kids sitting on the blanket. Bird stepped to the side of the truck and retrieved the animal skin holding his belongings from the running board where he had left it earlier. He pushed it into Daddy’s hands. “You hold my life.” He stepped over to the blanket. “I’ll take a piece of chicken, a breast please,” he said to Momma.

Uncomfortable under his gaze, she fished a chicken breast out of a bag and handed it to him, her eyes never leaving his face. “Thank-you,” he said softly, almost a whisper, then he walked away, stooping to easily pass through the barbed wire fence. No one said a thing until he passed from sight.

“Let’s go!” Momma said with urgency, “That man is nothing but trouble. Did you see the way he was looking at me? He gives me the creeps.”

Daddy set the pack on the front fender of the truck. “We can’t leave, the truck isn’t fixed yet.”

“You had it running,” Momma argued.

“The coil wire is bad,” Daddy explained. “Bird said his brother lives somewhere around here. He’s gonna bring back a replacement. He had to take the one from the truck with him to match it up.”

Momma shook her head in bewilderment. A single tear rolled down her cheek. “I heard you talking about Billings. You can’t take that man with us. I don’t want him in back with the kids and there’s no room in the front. What if he doesn’t bring the truck part back?”

“I told him I’d give him a ride if he helped me fix the truck,” Daddy reasoned, “That’s all there is to it. Without his help, we’re stuck. We’ll figure it all out once the truck is up ‘n runnin’. Don’t worry so much, I can handle him. I’m sure he’ll bring the coil wire back. He seems to want to get out of here as much as we do.”

Momma stared absently in the direction Bird had gone. “I wonder why,” she said more to herself than in reply.

Darkness descended quickly on the flat Wyoming landscape. Daddy and Momma tucked us into the pickup box cave and everything seemed okay. I heard them arguing, though. I knew they were worried about the Indian man. Phillip and Lily drifted off to sleep and Momma and Daddy climbed into the cab of the truck.

“They’re gonna do it. That Indian guy got ‘em all worked up.” Jackie’s voice spoke into the night. As if on cue, the truck began a rhythmic bouncing and squeaking. Jackie laughed and squeezed my cheeks in the dark. “How ‘bout a Hershey bar, Tommy?”

I wondered where they came from, these goodies Jackie provided at the most inopportune times but wasn’t sure I really wanted to know. The chocolate was good, the unexpectedness of it even better. It cemented a relationship, a bond already stronger than life itself, that a couple of losers like ourselves might enjoy a treat like any rich kid, like sugar bread.

The steady bouncing rhythm didn’t last long this time. There was heavier movement in the cab then the front door of the truck squeaked open. Jackie and I shoved our Hershey wrappers underneath us just before the tarp lifted from over our heads. Eyes blinking, we were caught in a flashlight beam.

“Good, you’re awake,” Daddy said, “I thought you might be asleep by now.” His face was strong, fair and good behind the beam of light. This was the Daddy I loved. “Here, take this, Tommy.” He handed me a roofing axe with a leather strap hanging from the bottom. “If anything out of the ordinary happens tonight, you protect your brothers and sister.” He clinked another axe he was carrying head to head with the one I was holding, gave me a conspiratorial wink then replaced the tarp over our heads. Jackie and I listened to his roofing shoes crunching in the gravel, the driver’s door of the truck opening and closing.

“The Indian wants Momma,” Jackie whispered in the dark. You watch, that makes Daddy want her too. Bet you a Hershey bar they’re gonna do it again.”

“They already...” I began to argue with him but the truck began its familiar squeak and bounce and I bit off the words of my retort. Jackie giggled and I pushed him away. I snuggled up with the roofing axe and tried to think about good Indians like Pocahontas and stuff.

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


1958, 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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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
13th Apr 2014 (#)

well this is most interesting a read...

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author avatar WordWulf
13th Apr 2014 (#)


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