Part 25 A Bright Future

Click here to go to the beginning of The Lewis Story


V-E Day!  The radio announced it, the papers lauded it, all of the world celebrated.

Nadine’s quiet world wasn’t racked with the cheers and fireworks that resounded around Trafalgar Square or in Times Square, but the joy was no less real.  Surely now her boys would be coming home.  Of course, everyone was quick to remember that the battle still raged in the Pacific – surely, she thought none of her boys would be sent there after giving so much of themselves to the European campaign.  Would the Army send Harry to fight the Japanese since he had been in the US throughout the war? 

Nadine could not even consider that.  Today was a day of celebration around the globe and she would not allow her fears to darken that.

She carefully guarded the money that Lou and Harry sent from their paychecks, however today she sent Eddie to Clarkrange with their carefully guarded ration card for sugar – today, they would have a cake.  After all, she reasoned, she would soon be cooking for the returning heroes so she must be in good practice to make some special foods.  She smiled at her own ability to rationalize an indulgence.

Within days she had a letter from Harry, and shortly after that Vera came with word from Jerry.  His company would be boarding a troop ship within the week and sailing for home.  Vera and Nadine embraced and cried and laughed; it was a surreal moment for they’d begun to fear their prayers would never be answered.  Jerry was drafted first and he had been gone for three, long years.

Nadine waited for word from Lou.  He was serving as a medic and was still very much needed; it would be another month before it was his turn to sail for home.  Thankfully, there was no indication that he would be required to serve in the Pacific theatre.

As her boys returned home, rationing eased, and jobs were available, the family settled into a comfortable routine.  Roberta and Winnie were married to two brothers whose family owned a big store in Jamestown.  Roberta and her husband Lenny moved to Crossville where the Wallace family was opening a new store.  Nadine was thrilled to know her daughters were married to good men who would undoubtedly care for and love them.  Both of her sons-in-law had cars that enabled them to visit very often.  In fact Winnie’s husband, Emmett, was teaching Eddie to drive and they were encouraging him to come live with them and work in the stores.

She was thrilled to see each of her boys looking to their future.  She had hoped that the struggles and victories from the war years would change them, make them thankful to the God that protected them and cause them to focus on their blessings instead of the evil around them.  They were indeed changed but not altogether as she’d hoped.

Lou and Harry found every bar and tavern within driving distance, for Lou came home driving a nice automobile purchased with his mustering-out bonus.  They worked hard, and continued to give her money to support the household, but they spent every remaining penny in those drinking establishments.  Nadine walked the floor at night praying, begging God to draw them home, to draw them toward himself. 

It wasn’t long before Jimmy and Jerry began talking about moving their mother out of the rented house.  Even though there was still much for work available in the northern states, they feared the Millers would return home and want to move back into their house.  And, everyone felt it would be better to own the house rather than continue to rent. 

Roberta and Lenny had recently built a new home on a large piece of land in Crossville.  They offered Nadine a portion of that land.  Jerry had been hiring on with local carpenters and found that he truly had a gift for the work. It was decided; Jerry and Lou would do the building, Jimmy and Harry would help them buy the materials.  Eddie would be expected to help Jerry and Lou; he would stay with Roberta and Lenny while the work was being done and whenever he couldn’t work on the house, they would use him in the new store.

The children had fallen into the habit of making decisions on Nadine’s behalf without really even consulting her.  The smallest part of her wanted to argue, but they were taking such good care of her that she refused to complain.  It seems that after watching so many years of their mother’s total submission to their father, they felt she wasn’t capable of deciding things on her own.  Nadine’s only concern about this perception was her failure to make her children understand just why she followed their father without complaint or argument.  If only she could have succeeded in winning Bill Lewis to the Lord – maybe then the children would have seen the value in her sacrifices. 

He may change yet.  She’d told herself that a million times over the years.  Even now, when she had neither seen nor heard of Bill for more than a decade, she prayed for his salvation.  She longed to hear that he had come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ even if he still did not come home to her.  She wondered if the boys would accept him if he came humbly, confessing his sins.  She smiled as The Parable of The Prodigal son came to mind; how perfectly that could apply to Bill who went out to the world time and again and he must be wasting “his substance with riotous living” for he’d come home so many times without anything.

The irony of the analogy was that his sons intended to be nothing like him, but they too were wasting their lives and any substance they could earn on riotous living. 

Her mind turned to Eddie.  She cautioned him almost everyday not to fall into the habits of his brothers.  He not only reassured his mother, but he too took every opportunity to try to turn them around.

Nadine had taken all of her children to church throughout their lives.  As they reached their late teens, each of the boys disappeared from the church house, preferring to be outside during the services with other boys.  Eddie, however, remained at his mother’s side during preaching even as he reached adulthood.  Now, Eddie believed the Lord was leading him to preach and that thrilled his mother’s heart.  However, he felt the first conversions he must seek were within his own family.

Each of the boys often told both Nadine and Eddie how proud they were of their youngest brother.  Their sincerity was evident in the treatment Eddie received when he tried to witness to them.  Instead of belittling him, they listened patiently.  But they did not change.

Nadine and Eddie settled into their new little home.  She missed the flowers and trees she had nurtured over the past years, but she and Roberta began planting new things and anticipating the beauty they would bring in coming years.  And each of the children frequently came for a visit with something beautiful for the new house – a pretty, painted plate or an electric lamp; Jimmy even brought a radio. 

Electrical lines had been stretched down the Monterey Road before she moved, but she had not felt she could spend her sons’ army allotment on wiring the rented house.  But the new house had power run to it from the very beginning and she thrilled to see light pour from the little light bulb.  Although she would never mention it to her children, Nadine was secretly longing for an electric range like the one Roberta had.

Then the day finally arrived when Bill came home.  Nadine would always wonder how he knew where to find her.  She knew that he wouldn’t dare even ask one of his children and most of the folks in Clarkrange would only be able to tell him she’d moved to Crossville.  Nonetheless, it was Bill on her front porch, the long duster coat was the same he’d always travelled in, now showing much more wear.  She couldn’t help but wonder how many miles the tall shiny boots had made since last she’d seen him. 

Her breath caught in her throat as she reached a shaking hand out to push open the screen door.  He stepped in barely greeting her and sat down on the upholstered sofa as though he’d been home only that morning.  Nadine remained speechless.

Bill showed no intention to try to catch up on the lost years, he only asked if the coffee was hot.  Hardly knowing what to do, Nadine stepped into her cheery kitchen to get him a cup.  Before she could return to him, she heard Eddie bound in the door.  The ensuing silence quickened Nadine’s steps from the kitchen and she found Eddie frozen just inside the door. 

“Bill, this is your youngest son, Eddie.  I don’t expect you would recognize him.”

Bill only nodded at the young man.

Nadine could read the questions in Eddie’s eyes. Many times he had longed to know his father but his brothers and sisters repeatedly told him he was better off if he never knew the old man. Nadine secretly wondered if they were right, but of course she would never say so.  Still, she could see that Eddie did not carry the bitterness her other sons did.  And, while she couldn’t blame the drinking on Bill for he’d never shown them that example, she did wonder if they would be so prone to it if they’d had a father who gave them the support they needed.

The question burning in Nadine’s mind now was whether Eddie was alone.  He didn’t have a car of his own and she knew he’d been working with Jerry today on a construction job he had gotten.  As calmly as possible, she asked Eddie, “Did you ride with Jerry?”

Eddie answered without taking his eyes off his father, “Yeah, he stopped to speak to Lenny.”

Again the breath caught in Nadine’s throat; her hand unconsciously clasped her neck as though she could force herself to breath.

Bill noticed her discomfort.  “Ain’t goin’ t’be no trouble with that boy Nadine.”

How could she make him understand that Jerry was not just a boy, he was a grown man seasoned by Army life and toughened by war.  He’d worked in log woods that strengthened muscles and he chose to spend his time among ruffians and drunkards.  What must she do?  She was torn between a husband she vowed to love, honor and obey and her son who had supported and cared for her for years. 

Before she could think of what must be done, Jerry was on the porch.  He had to push Eddie aside to get into the door.  As he opened his mouth to tease his brother, Bill caught his eye.  Tension rose in the room like flooding river.  Eddie sensed it too and knew he must act. 

In an instance Eddie put a strong yet gentle hand on Jerry’s arm, gripping the triceps chiseled to stone by his carpentry and logging work.  Eddie spoke his first words to his father, “We’re surprised to see you, Sir.  Were you planning to stay long?”

Bill was shocked by the forthright question; no one ever asked about his plans.  “Awhile I guess,” was his only answer.

Jerry pulled against his brother’s grasp; Eddie continued calmly, “I guess it’s really Jerry’s and Lou’s house since they built it.  We’ll need to talk with them.”

Bill cursed and grumbled; he complained that he hadn’t even gotten the coffee he’d asked for and he wondered why Nadine would let these upstarts decide what happened in her house.  Then he began to play to Nadine’s sense of responsibility.

“This rheumatism has been on me solid for a month now.  My legs ache somethin’ fierce.  I guess I’ve just got too old to flop around like I once did.  Need to settle in and let my woman take care of me.  Now, you don’t mind that do you Nadine?”  Bill flashed a smile at Nadine that further bewildered her.  She’d scarcely seen the man smile since the day she married him.

She could only muster a slight shake of her head to assure him she would not mine caring for her husband.

Eddie’s tight hold had served to calm Jerry somewhat.  One look at his mother told him she truly did feel a sense of responsibility to Bill.  In an instant he made the decision to bear this unpleasant burden himself rather than subjecting his mother any further.  Moreover, he reasoned he was protecting Eddie, the family’s pride and joy.  Jerry could not subject him to the overbearing rule that he’d grown up under; could not ask Eddie to have everything he worked for ripped from his grasp on a his father’s whim.

“Get up.  You’ll come with me.  You are my father and I’ll find a place for you.”

Something in his tone told Bill not to argue with him.  He remembered a similar tone in Lou’s voice years ago, the last time he’d seen Lou.

Jerry took Bill with him and he would never again set foot in Nadine’s home.  Some agreement was reached without her knowledge and the next she heard of her estranged husband, he was living in a back room at the little general store Jerry had recently opened in Campground.  Over the next years, he moved among his children’s houses where he was given room and board, never finding a home and seeming content to accept their care without returning either money or love.  For the rest of Nadine’s life, she would see her husband only when she happened to be visiting with the particular child who was keeping him at the moment.

Nadine’s home overflowed with her children and grandchildren.  The little house fairly bulged with the joy that filled it.  She often expressed to Roberta that she felt she was a burden to them since they continued to pay her daily expenses.  But the family relied on their mother for everything from babysitting to mending, from homemade preserves to a strong shoulder and godly advice whenever they needed it.




Part 24: Mercy's Philosophy

Mercy didn’t even try to catch the banging door as she came in from the garden, arms loaded with baskets of produce.  Bill napped on the new chair and ottoman he’d brought home a few weeks ago.  Mercy looked at the new furniture, feeling slightly disgusted.  She certainly enjoyed the comfort of the tightly stuffed cushions when she allowed herself to relax on them for a few minutes at day’s end.  But whenever Bill was home, he seemed to always be found there.  And he was home a lot these days.

The change had caught Mercy off-guard.  He showed up one day, as he had so many times over the years.  He stayed a while and left without explanation.  But this time he was back in just a few weeks.  And he’d begun staying longer and longer.  He still seemed to have money when he came home and he’d brought things into the home that she certainly appreciated, like the furniture and an ice box and until rationing began to affect everyone, he’d even brought home fruit and candy a few times.  Now, of course, they were thankful to have the vegetables she could raise and the game her nephews now provided. 

The house so quiet without Tsula that Mercy thought she ought to be happy to have Bill home. But somehow she couldn’t muster that emotion with him.  And he certainly wasn’t happy with her.  He complained about the house – that’s when he brought in the furniture.  He complained about the water, said it tasted stale all the time – that’s when he brought home the ice box.  He complained about her cooking but always managed to devour anything she put on the table. 

In the early days Mercy had worried that he stayed away because he was so dissatisfied with her and everything she did.  However, as the years rolled by, she began to realize this man couldn’t be made happy with anything.   Therefore, she had long since decided not to worry about his happiness.  She, on the other hand, found happiness in so many aspects of her life.

She smiled at the thought of Tsula in her starched, white nurse’s uniform.  Mercy feared the sixteen year old was too young to be away from home, but reminded herself that she was married when she was Tsula’s age.  And she was sure Tsula would marry soon too.  She still corresponded with and always talked about the young soldier she’d brought home for Mercy to meet.  The soldier stood proud in his neatly pressed uniform, garrison cap cocked slightly to the right side of his head.  He had stopped trying to pronounce Tsula’s name and shortened it to Sue.  The girl didn’t mind it and many of her friends adopted the nickname.

Tsula made the trip back to Strawberry Plains quite often, walking from the depot to their little house outside town.  She realized how much more time her father was spending there now and she didn’t like it.  The older Tsula grew, the more outspoken she became to her mother about this man.  She didn’t like him and she didn’t mind saying it. 

Mercy urged her precious daughter not to speak ill of her father.  She tried to teach her that even a poor father still deserved the honor demanded of the fifth commandment.  This would always quiet Tsula, but the issue kept returning. 

When Tsula met her Harvey she couldn’t help thinking of her own father and tried to keep herself from falling in love with the young man.  Only when she confessed this struggle to her mother did Mercy finally tell her the whole story of how she married Bill Lewis.

Mercy thought this would help her daughter better understand why she had humbly accepted Bill’s treatment through these years.  However, Tsula responded, “Oh Aluli, you don’t have to stay with him now.  Your father, my Adudi is long gone and he would not be dishonored if you divorced Bill Lewis.”

Mercy closed her eyes in a moment’s quick prayer for divine guidance.  “Tsula, it’s not just my Doda that I long to honor.  Don’t you see that by honoring the marriage vows I honor God, even if your father has not honored his family?”

Tsula left that evening without really understanding her mother’s heart.  However, the talk had opened her heart to Harvey and their love had grown over the years, despite the long distance between Knoxville, Tennessee and Harvey’s unknown location in the Pacific.  Tsula wrote every week, writing a little each day and posting the letter only when it was almost too thick for the envelope.  Harvey’s letters arrive sporadically and Tsula seemed to live for them.  By this method they were planning and wedding and their life together.

Mercy took heart that Tsula was not so wounded by her father’s absence that she would not have a family of her own.  She had tried very hard to show her daughter what a good and happy family life would be like by keeping her close to the Hawks.  Her nieces and nephews were mostly grown now too and many of them had moved to other places to find work just as Tsula had.  Still, Mercy was hopeful that after being so close while growing up the cousins would stay in touch with each other.

While she reminisced, Mercy had sorted the vegetables, putting the nicest ones in a basket to take to sell and cleaning those she would cook for supper.  She stirred the fire and set a skillet to heat, noting that Bill was moving in his sleep and would certainly wake in time to eat. 

She marveled that the house seemed just as empty and lonely when he was in it as it did when he was gone.  Maybe she would walk over to see her sister-in-law after supper.  It was a nice evening and the ladies often visited after supper.  Until Tsula and Harvey would give her grandchildren, this would be her life and she was resolved to be content in it.


Part 23: Ten Years Later

Eddie handed his mother the letters he’d picked up at Peter’s Store.  Nadine stepped onto the little porch surrounded by bright flowers and took her seat on a woven rag rug that served to cover the rough chair.  She smiled, appreciating the tranquil sanctuary she’d been able to create here.  After ten years in the little rented house, the plantings had established themselves and flourished.  Never since leaving her father’s house had she had that much time to make a home in one place.   

Her mind flashed back to the day they moved here. 

Nadine occupied her familiar spot peering out the little kitchen window which afforded her an easterly view of The Monterey Road.  She watched the passersby, whenever there were any.  On a couple of occasions she’d even seen an automobile chugging along.  As she watched today, her hands always busy, the road was clear but out of the corner of her eye she saw movement on the path leading to the house.  She leaned close to the window and nearly gasped when she realized Bill was striding rather quickly toward the house.  He walked with purpose as he rarely did when walking toward his family.  She quickly tried to count how many days he’d been gone –they were so few that she hadn’t yet begun to keep track.

In a moment the kitchen door crashed open; Nadine jumped despite expecting him.  She tried to look deep into his eyes to read whether he was angry, but saw no emotion at all within them. 

“Where’s that boy?” he demanded. 

She was sure it was Lou he wanted after all, the last words Bill heard in this room were those Lou hurled toward him.

“Lou and Harry are out in the barn, I think.”

“Mary!” he yelled.  “Mary get down to the barn and bring them boys up here.”

Mary had been in Nadine’s front bedroom with little Eddie.  She scurried through the kitchen without even looking at her father.  She took no time to ask why or to greet the man. 

Nadine quietly excused herself to go ensure Eddie had been left in a safe position.  She was sorely tempted to just stay in her bedroom for she did not look forward to the encounter between her husband and their son.  But she realized she must be there, if only to take advantage of any opportunity to keep the peace among her family.

Mary completed her errand quickly and by the time Nadine left a dry and napping Eddie carefully placed in the center of her bed, Lou, Mary and Harry were entering the kitchen.

Lou walked a pace ahead of his siblings, his face set with fierce determination.  His mouth opened to speak, or shout, the moment he crossed the threshold.  However, Bill did not give him a chance.

“Are them horses shod?” he asked anyone who could answer.  “Get one of ‘em saddled.  I ain’t a’walkin’ when I leave here this time.”

Harry nodded his head.  This was a chore he could easily do.

Bill continued, expecting his family to eagerly hear and attend to his every demand.  “Got some fella from down in the Sequatchie Valley gonna’ buy this place.  We’re a’goin’ to the court house tomorrow mornin’ so yu’ns will have to get cleared out right quick.”

Crimson red crept up Lou’s neck and his eyes held a wild look.  He clenched his fists so tightly they turned white.  Nadine stepped forward to prevent Lou and Bill exchanging blows.  She wasn’t sure who would win such a match and she had no intention of finding out.

Bill too saw the anger rising but seemed unconcerned.  He turned to continue speaking to Mary and Harry.

Lou cut him off short, “How dare you march in here after we’ve worked the whole summer to get this place ready for winter.”

“By-jingo, I dare ‘cause it’s my own place.”

“You own it.”  Lou’s words hissed through teeth clamped too tightly for language.  “Well, you don’t OWN me or anybody else in this room.  We’ll never again be dependent on anything you OWN.”

Turning to the rest of the family and taking charge as he never had before Lou directed them, “Get packin’.  I’ll go find us a place to live that he can’t touch.  This is the last time I work day and night to make a place fit to live in only to have it sold or traded right out from under me.”

With that, Lou was gone.  Nadine feared she would never see her son again, however, she did as he’d asked and began packing.  Quietly, she asked Harry to bring the wagon up to the house. 

Harry asked, “How we gonna’ pull it if Father’s takin’ one of the horses?”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.  Well, wait till Lou gets back, he’ll know what to do.”

When Lou returned it was nearly dark.  Nadine saw him riding on a very slow-moving mule which he put into the barn.  He walked into the house and surveyed the kitchen from the doorway. 

“He left right after you.”

Lou went to the little wash stand by his sister’s bed and bathed his face and arms as he talked to his mother.  “I’ve rented the little house of Frank Miller’s just down the road.  He’s goin’ up north to look for work; said he was leavin’ by the end of the week but he’ll let you and the baby sleep in the front room till they get packed up.  Borrowed his old mule too.  Wish I could buy it but there’s just no way.  We’ll return it to his pa when we get our house plunder moved.”

“How did you manage?  What will we use to pay rent?”

Lou slumped into a straight-back chair, “Went to see Jimmy first.  He’ll help us when we need it.  I know Jerry will too, ‘cept I didn’t get to see him ‘cause he’s gone with a load of logs.  Can you b’lieve he’s drivin’ a truck that’s big enough to pull them logs up out of the Baldwin Gulf?”

Nadine shook her head, stopping for a moment to wonder at her son’s accomplishments after such a short time working in the log-woods.  Then she let out a breath she felt she’d been holding all afternoon.  She realized that while Bill had constantly moved the family from one place to another, she’d never been without a home of some sort.  This had been a scary afternoon for her.

Nadine inhaled deeply of the honeysuckle that wrapped itself around one end of her porch and drew her mind back to the present.  No need to dwell on what’s happened ten years ago.

She looked at the letters in her hand and seeing the postmarks, she took a moment to pray.  Two letters from her boys.  Harry, stationed stateside in Maine and Lou who was somewhere overseas – the Army as so secretive about those things.  There was a moment’s joy everytime she saw the AP/FPO address identifying one of them.  Three boys overseas, it seemed like such a sacrifice.  At least they’d left the youngest of the three within the relative safety of American borders.  Still she stopped to praise God every time because that meant that at least a few weeks ago her boy was well enough to write.  The feel of the third envelope told her it was the government check paying her the allotment Lou and Harry had each setup to send home.  Jerry was also serving overseas but felt his money should be sent to his wife, Vera and Nadine certainly agreed.

Lou’s letter opened with questions about her and Eddie’s welfare.  Lou always wanted to ensure that the allotment had been received and that it was sufficient for them.  All three of the boys seemed to take comfort knowing that their service was not only helping to keep America free, but it also helped to feed and house their mother. 

Eddie skipped the steps and hopped onto the porch, dragging a ladder back chair close to his mother.

Nadine smiled at her baby.  She was so proud of him, and she knew his brothers and sisters were too.  “You are just in time.  I’ve barely started reading these.  Will you read them to me?  I just love to hear you read aloud.”

Handing off the letters, Nadine again closed her eyes.  She allowed Eddie’s strong, young voice to penetrate her mind.  She imagined she could see Europe as Lou described it.  Somehow she had always thought it would be drabber, less exciting than Lou found it.  Yet he described beautiful flowers, green fields and homes finer than any she’d ever imagined.  Eddie read on, “I’m hoping we’ll be home before long.  We’re always thinking it can’t last much longer.”  Any explanation of Lou’s thoughts was caught by the censor’s blade.


Part 22 Bill’s Thoughts

Bill ambled slowly out the front path that led to the roadway.  He stood for a moment looking first to the East then Westward.  Usually when he began one of his trips he’d sat and mulled over the direction he wanted to take, people he might want to see but above all he left knowing his purpose for the journey.  Today, however, he’d planned to rest, allowing Nadine to care for him as her nurturing nature caused her to care for everyone in her house.  Lou had abruptly changed the plan.

Bill was an expert at maintaining a bluff and he never dreamed one of his sons would ever call that bluff.  When Lou stood up to him and accused him of neglecting his family, something in the boy’s eyes told Bill it was time to walk away from this particular game. 

As he walked, he thought.  In fact, his head was spinning as it rarely did. 

When the urge to move on called him away from his home or his work, no one ever asked him to stay.  Well, no one except Nadine, and she never begged.  In fact as he thought over the past twenty years of his life, he wondered if he was ever really wanted anywhere.  He couldn’t help but think of Ann, she had always wanted him with her.

Ann, you took everything when you died.

Bill shook his head – he couldn’t start talking to himself much less his dead wife.  Yet somehow he couldn’t stop his mind as it rolled through memories and imagined what might have been had Ann survived the birth of their first son.  Oh he couldn’t blame Jimmy, he never had blamed him.  Ann was sick with the consumption before she had him, probably even before she conceived him.  Looking back on it, Bill could see that she didn’t have as much energy as before.  She seemed to barely get over one cold before she took another one, and they always seemed to settle in her chest leaving her coughing for weeks.  Ann dismissed it, saying that her family all had weak lungs and colds just ran that way with them.  Bill was young and so in love with his wife that he would have believed a green sky was perfectly normal if she said it and gave him that tender, sweet smile.

Ann, you always wanted me at home with you.  I remember driving hogs to Kentucky and you practically begging me to stay.  I wonder now if you knew you were dying and you didn’t want to be alone.  But you weren’t alone my dear – in the end I sat and held your hand until you drew your last breath.  It seems like that was my last breath of life too ‘cause there’s been no joy in anything since then.

As though Ann, or some spirit, spoke in his ear Bill questioned, Why couldn’t you find any happiness with Nadine?   She took you and your two children when she was young and beautiful.  She surely had many beaus to choose from.

Bill stopped and looked back toward the long, dilapidated house where he’d left his wife and four of their children.  He was too far away to see the house; he could just make out the tops of the trees that surrounded it.  He stood there watching, as though he might see Nadine, as though she would still be that beautiful young woman. 

Then his mind turned to Mercy.  She was so different from Nadine.  Mercy was so small, when her father handed her to Bill, he’d thought she was only a child. 

Well, she was practically a child.  Just sixteen I think.

Bill had never really regretted accepting Mercy from her father.  After all, he’d made the bet fair and square.  And Mercy had worked hard to serve Bill as her husband, but somehow Bill always knew that it was to honor her father and not him.  Still there had never been any real joy in their marriage, nothing like he’d shared with Ann.

Again, the voice in his head challenged him, How could that marriage have anything that your marriage to Ann had – Mercy didn’t even know you when she married you, much less did she love you.  Does she love you now?

Bill pondered that question for a moment and remembered the look in her eyes as he said goodbye to her just a few weeks ago.  Then he realized, far from loving him, she didn’t even respect him.  Why is that? He pondered. 

He reasoned with himself that he made good money.  In fact, every venture he’d undertaken in the past few years had been profitable with some being extremely profitably.  He tapped his pocket, reassured by the roll of bills he felt there.  His fingers registered the fine weave of his pants and as he looked down at them he noted the gleam of soft leather boots that had been polished just yesterday by a boy at the general store. 

Simultaneously, his mind flashed visions of both Nadine in her faded cotton dress and Mercy in a shift made of worn homespun cloth.  He shrugged his shoulders, wondering what these women had to do with how well he was dressed.  Surely they realized how much he had paid for the clothes.  Well of course they know, haven’t you cautioned them time and again to use care when they are washing them?  You’ve told them these clothes can’t be treated like the other rags they scrub out.

Bill walked and walked, his thoughts driving him onward heedless of the direction.  The sun slipped toward the western horizon but he did not notice.  The day faded to dusk, his eye adjusted and he kept walking. 

Bill talked himself out of worrying about Lou’s unspoken threats.  In fact, he began to ask himself why he hadn’t ridden one of the horses.  He dismissed the questions of whether his families missed him or wanted him around.  In fact, he began to wonder if this would be a good time to sell the farm. 

Even before he saw the decimated herd of swine, he’d realized that this farm was not bringing the joy he thought he’d find.  It was nothing like the farms he tended in his youth when he’d been overfilled with joy.  No, it would be best to try to sell it and turn a profit.  The boys had the fields looking good and with the addition of the barn Jerry had built he could command a much better price that what he paid.

When he finally came to his decision, the hour had grown quite late and the road very dark.  He stopped to figure out where he was but he was surrounded by dense woodland.  He couldn’t remember when he’d last past a farm and looking behind he could see no sign of a lamp in a window.  Trying to think back on what he’d seen earlier in the day, he realized that he was headed toward Monterey and this must be the big woods.  How long had he been in this woodland?  He wouldn’t come out of it before he reached the edge of town.  Now he must decide whether to keep tripping along the road or make himself as comfortable as possible at base of a tree for the night. 

He looked around, the evening was warm, muggy even.  He’d certainly spent nights out in worse conditions.  No, he had a plan now and he would continue on his way into Monterey.  He would make it there before the drinking house closed and he might even be able to do some business before the morning. 

Part 21 Someone’s Got to do It

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.