It’s a bit rough but here’s the start of Gran and Gramp’s story:
Elwood, Nebraska 1934
It wasn’t so much a quick awakening as it was a slow submersion into reality. The night was hot and humid, the air pressing down on him, threatening to suck all the air out of his lungs. Bobbie rolled over in his small bed, trying not to wake Frankie beside him. The little boy was in the deep sleep that only children can master. His dark brown hair clung to his forehead from sweat and his chubby three year old fingers gripped Bobbie’s hand as he tried to stretch his lean frame into a cooler section of sheet. But it was no use. The hot July night had penetrated all of the house and there wasn’t a cool spot to be found, even in the rumpled bedding.
Downstairs there was a scrape of wood on wood and Bobbie realized what it was that had woke him. Daddy must be home. He let out a slow breath and glanced at the small wind up clock next to his bed. It was three in the morning. Daddy hadn’t been home in two days and those forty-eight hours had been like a vacation for Bobbie, little Frank and their sister Maggie. Mamma had seemed more relaxed too, though her wiry frame always held an air of tension. As if she were waiting for bad news to walk through the door. In a way she was. Bad news just came in the form of Walter Banks and packed a punch everywhere he went. Literally and figuratively.
Bobbie absently rubbed his jaw where the bruise had been dark and menacing only a few days earlier. Now it was faded and the pain was less, just a dull ache when he fingered the place where daddy’s fist had found its mark. It wasn’t the first time Bobbie had looked in the mirror to a face that didn’t seem his, marred as it was by the blue-black of daddy’s anger. He wasn’t much happy when he’d been drinking, and he was sober even less. Over the years Bobbie had learned the telltale signs that his father had been tipping the bottle back in in turn learned how to become invisible, blending in with the rough wood walls of their little house. Most of the time it worked. But lately daddy had started picking on little Frankie, and that was just more than Bobbie could handle. This last time he’d stepped between daddy and the boy and found himself with a jaw that ached for days. But Frankie had come away unscathed. At least physically.
Bobbie heard the click of the kitchen light as it came to life, its light streaming in under the door to his bedroom. He willed himself not to breath. Not to make a sound in hopes that daddy wouldn’t remember he was there. Minutes passed, ticking along like molasses and finally he heard the stumble of his father’s feet, pushing back the chair and then grumbling as he lost his balance, landing hard against the counter and rattling dishes in the dish dryer. A few expletives were said under his breath as Walter shuffled his way across the kitchen floor and banged into his door frame before collapsing onto his bed. Bobbie sighed in relief to hear the rumble of snoring start instead of arguing. Mamma must have decided to let sleeping bears lie tonight and Bobbie was glad for it.
He let loose another breath and pushed Frankie back over to his side of the bed. Outside his window the purple light of dawn was spreading across the horizon. Another half hour and he’d have to be out to start the morning chores before the animals started to get cranky. Old Bessie, the milk cow, would be letting him know if he milked her late and Bobbie didn’t want to risk her ruckus waking daddy up. If they were lucky daddy would be sleeping off the last few days for the better part of today.
May as well get up now. Bobbie thought, easing out of the bed. He reached down under his bed, fingers searching for the hand-me-down boots he would slip on when he reached the back porch. Mamma didn’t like him wearing his boots inside. She said that he brought all the muck from outside in on them and daddy didn’t like a dirty floor. Mamma tried her best to keep things perfectly in line in their run down little house. They all pitched in to help, knowing how daddy would react if they didn’t.
Bobbie tip-toed out of the bedroom and through the kitchen, quietly pushing open the old screen door, careful not to let it slam behind him. He’d always loved the morning. The last few years he’d taken over most of the responsibilities of their small farm, since daddy seemed to be drinking more and working less. Bobbie shook his head in disgust. Their little piece of land and handful of animals may not be much, but they had been enough to barter with the neighbors and keep them all fed. Now daddy seemed to be taking more of the money that came in from their crops and livestock and let it trickle down his throat in cheap bourbon and whiskey. He was only thirteen, but Bobbie felt like the weight of the world was on him. Maggie, Mamma and little Frankie were depending on him to work the farm and help keep them afloat and letting them down didn’t seem to be an option.
Hands on his hips he looked up into the wide open Nebraska sky. Mamma used to sing old hymns to him when he was little, curled up on her lap in the old rocking chair that had been handed down by his grandma. She would spread her fingers through his light hair as she whispered the words of her faith in his ears. He hadn’t heard her sing in years now, not since the bottle took over daddy’s hands and carved lines of fear and despair around her eyes. She was only thirty two, but seemed so much older. She used to talk about God and Jesus and the here-after and the little boy had believed. But now, the young man wasn’t so sure.
Shaking his head he took off towards the barn. Bessie was waiting and the chickens still needed fed. After his morning chores he’d ride his bike into town and see if there was any work to be found helping at Old Joe’s store. If not he’d stop by Buddy Wilson’s house and see if he wanted to head down to the creek. It was going to be a hot day and fish for lunch sounded like a good idea. Maybe he’d even grab Frankie and try and teach him how to swim today. Even better, keep him out of the house while daddy slept off the angry.