Nadine happened to be looking out her kitchen window as Bill stepped from the barn. She didn’t know that he had come home and her heart swelled at the sight of him. However, his deep scowl immediately warned her he was displeased with something and fear chased away her moment of joy. She pondered, Oh my, what have we done wrong now?
Bill looked from side to side, seeing nothing. The rage boiled within him as he mentally calculated how much money Lou had stolen from him. Surely it was theft. He left a sound and growing herd of hogs and came home to a depleted herd. For the briefest moment his mind reasoned perhaps some disease had stricken them, killing off the missing animals. Bill immediately dismissed that thought. He was sure Lou had stolen from him and he would immediately confront him. He would not have a thief under his roof.
Bill looked across the field and watched as Lou and Harry diligently worked the single horse up and down the field, rich black soil turning up behind the plow. He decided to let them finish the day’s plowing – might as well get the day’s work out of Lou before he set him on the road. Bill turned toward the house hoping Nadine would have the coffeepot hot and waiting for him.
He took his seat at the head of the table and that is where Lou and Harry found him when hunger and thirst finally drove them from their plowing.
Lou was teaching Harry as they walked through the open doorway. “The horse needs to rest even more than we do. Remember, she’s pulling that plow through unbroken sod. So even if you feel like you could work a little longer, you have to take care of your stock.”
Nadine took the moment to make a spiritual application. All winter she’d jumped at every opportunity to speak the name of Jesus in her home and to her children. “That’s good teaching Lou. It’s biblical you know, Proverbs tells us that a righteous man cares for his animals.”
As Lou respectfully listened to his mother, he realized Bill was at the table. Despite his esteem for his mother, he couldn’t bite back the snide comment as he looked directly at his father, “Does it say the same about people?”
Nadine dropped her head momentarily, realizing she had opened the door for her son’s bitterness to spill out.
Bill ignored Lou’s comment, he had his own agenda. “Did you’ns finish plowin’ that field?”
Harry answered, eager to share the lesson Lou had just been teaching him. “No Sir, Jewel was a’needin’ a rest. See, she’s been pullin’ that heavy plow. And the good book tells us to take care of our animals.”
Again, Bill ignored his younger son. “Lou I seen the hogs, counted ‘em you know. I know you’ve been sellin’ ‘em off through the winter. I’ll expect you to be handin’ that profit over to me now.”
Lou’s eyes popped open wide, “Profit? Don’t you guess we ate that profit?” He fairly spit the word ‘profit’ every time he spoke it.
Bill responded with a mouthful of curses, causing Nadine to bury her head in her hands.
Lou glanced at his mother, at once heartbroken to see her crying and infuriated at the man who would cause it without flinching. He lit into his father as none of his brothers had ever dared before. “I guess somebody’s got to keep this family from plumb starving to death. Don’t you realize that Jimmy’s been doin’ just that for years? He tramped through the woods trying to kill whatever game he could find. And do you suppose that every chicken he found caught in the fence got there on its own? No, he knew we had nothing to eat and he brought something home. Even with everything he could do, we’ve had little enough. Barefoot in the dead of winter, Mother washin’ every night ‘cause we had but one pair of overalls. And you dare speak of profit? I just wish you could tell me why it is that you can walk away from your family for months at a time and leave them with no money and no means of feeding and clothing themselves? How can you do that to Mother?”
Lou took a deep breath, realizing he’d barely breathed during the whole tirade.
Bill waited out his sons fit of words, nearly enjoying the spunk this one showed. He had always been disappointed with his boys, do-less bunch that they were. Never had the gumption to say ‘boo’ to a goose. And the lot of them living under his roof and letting him take care of them until they were way past grown. Why, Bill left home when he was barely fourteen years old and Jimmy hadn’t bothered to go until he was past twenty. Now this one had found some nerve. Maybe he would leave home on his own, for Bill was certainly planning to put him out for the crime of stealing his hogs.
He could see that Lou’s fountain of wrath had run dry and he ceased the moment, “If you are quite finished… I don’t see how the four of you could have eaten four hogs. There is money here and I mean to find it.”
As Bill stood as though he would search the house, Lou moved toe-to-toe with his father. Bill Lewis stood only five foot six, but his girth tended to make one think he was bigger. And the bully and bluster personality kept most men from troubling him. Today Lou was undeterred.
He did not yell as his father was inclined to do. He spoke in such a low, controlled voice that he fairly mesmerized every ear in the room. “There is but little money in this house and yes, whatever is here came from the sale of those hogs. But you will not touch it. Mother has a bit of coffee and a few pounds of flour and meal, some sugar and salt. That’s what’s left of your profit. There’s a side of meat left that will put meat on the table for two or three meals. After that, your children will either do without meat or I’ll find something in the woods to kill. Even if you were sharing the table with us, I have rarely known you to hunt for the food you would eat. But you won’t be sharing that table. We don’t need you and we do not want you here.”
Nadine gasped. She had said nothing, in fact she had not moved since the exchange began. Now, she must step in, must find a way to smooth this over. She could not have Lou speaking so disrespectfully to his father. Oh Lord, if I’ve failed to teach him the ten commandments, how can he ever learn the bigger, deeper lessons you have for him?
Bill had been a gambler for years now. And, he’d taken many a hefty pot from men both weak and strong. If he’d learned anything he’d learned when to walk away and right now he judged he must walk away from Lou.
Without another word, he picked up the hat and duster he’d thrown over a chair. Placing the hat on his head he looked for a moment at his wife and then stepped out the open doorway into the noonday sun. The family stood motionless; in a moment, Bill’s tuneless whistle could be heard slowly fading away.