Saturday, September 24, 2011

Secrets From the Creek

Secrets From the Creek
By Liz Hoyt Eberle
Note: This story began as a very short flash fiction about six years ago. It has been edited, submitted, re-edited, re-submitted, and worked on… A LOT. In March 2011, I pulled it out again, brushed it off, and submitted “Secrets” to West Texas Writers in Midland, Texas. In July 2011, notice came that this story won FIRST PLACE…. plus $25.00.  - - I hope you enjoy reading this fictional adventure of Carol, a heroine I loved creating. J  

Carol slammed her hand on the sofa arm and the unread book slid to the floor. “They will not force me to sell this cabin!” Her angry words echoed in the empty room.
She wiped away hot tears.  After forty-five years, this place is part of me.
Not willing to sit and cry, Carol grabbed her jacket from the coat rack and went to the porch, letting the screen door slam behind her.
“I won’t sell…it’s shabby but I can fix it up.”
A walk down to the creek always soothed her and tonight the moon illuminated every nook and cranny around the yard; she didn’t even need her flashlight. Besides, she could walk the worn path blindfolded.
She and Joe bought the property before they married. The little cabin sat so close to the creek they could hear water rippling over the rocks from the bedroom.
Our honeymoon cottage. Carol smiled, remembering. Then Joe left for San Diego and the war in the Pacific.
Ten years later, they conceived Joe, Jr. on the creek’s sandy bank. What a surprise. Little Joey broke the “baby-less spell.” The twins were born 18 months later and Claire followed in two years.
They spent all holidays at the cabin and Carol insisted she and the kids stay for two months every summer although it meant hanging at least a million diapers on the clothesline. On weekends, Joe brought hugs and supplies from town and they hiked the trails, ate outdoors, and played in the creek.
“The sweet days,” Carol said to the trees with a sigh.
She cleared her throat. Joey was coming tomorrow. She wondered if he would ever understand why she and his father divorced.
Breathing the night air eased her tension. By the time she made the loop back to the cabin, she was sure sleep would come easily for a change.
It did. Along with the nightmare. She woke up screaming, her gown soaked in sweat. Shaking and groping for the bedside lamp, she managed to get untangled from the covers and to the bathroom before throwing up. The grip of fear subsided and she was grateful for the new shower that sprayed clean, warm water over her tired, aging body.
She made a cup of tea and settled in the rocking chair by the bed where she had rocked Claire hours on end. Joey and the twins didn’t like rocking, so this rocker belonged to her and Claire. It was old and fragile now, but the squeaks soothed her.
Sipping hot tea, Carol wondered, as she always did, why the dream came sporadically and only at the cabin; never at home. She had not ever been lost in her own woods in real life, but the terror in the dream was genuine as she ran, panted, screamed and long fingers of braches reached out to strangle her. The doctors said the horrible shrieks that still echoed in her head had not happened. She never understood how six months of life could vanish from her memory. The silence of that lost time ravaged her soul.
Tonight, the ache in her body reminded her that Joe would never again hold her after the nightmare and whisper, “It’s okay, darling, I love you. Shhhh.”
Although she missed Joe, the divorce had been final for three months and her new life was good. The boys, grown with lives of their own, were adjusting, and… well… life just changes.
Tonight she dozed, fitfully, until dawn in the rocking chair while thinking and trying to recall something, anything that could spark years of nightmares.
Always punctual, Joey arrived at ten. Carol had coffee, fruit, and muffins ready and wished her daughter-in-law had come, too.
“Hey, Mom,” Joey called from the front gate. “Come meet Mr. Sims.”
Carol peered through the window and watched Joey and the real estate agent wandering around the over-grown garden. “Damn,” she whispered.
She turned to go to the door then turned back to the window. She watched the two men as they inspected the house. With no warning, cold sweat ran down her face and she gripped the windowsill. Trembling, she smoothed down her short, white hair, pasted on a smile, and walked back to the kitchen. She had to stand on tiptoes these days to reach the top shelf but the gun was still there. The men were on the porch when Carol stepped through the door. Holding the small gun in both hands, she carefully and deliberately pointed her weapon at Mr. Sims’ heart.
The instant Carol pulled the trigger, Joey’s hand flew up and out, knocking the gun from his mother’s hands. It fired in mid-air and Carol began screaming. Sims stumbled down the steps and ran toward his car as Joey grabbed the gun and jerked the magazine out.
“Mom!” Joey gripped Carol’s shoulders. Her eyes were wild. She sobbed between screams and made unintelligible sounds as she shook her fist at the retreating salesman.
Joey managed to get Carol into the house and dialed the doctor’s number.
“Thank God you answered,” Joey shouted into the phone. “I need you at the cabin. Quick!”
Joey guided his mother to the old, worn couch and rocked her back and forth in his arms while they waited for Michael Freeman, their long time family friend and doctor. Joey knew that Doc would quickly navigate the familiar mountain road to the Mitchell cabin.
Carol's screams gradually became moans. Joey searched her face for—something, anything. His mother was, well, his mother. Tender and gentle, yet quick with firm discipline. Mom fixed everything, he thought, nuzzling her head under his chin. She made his friends laugh. She almost never cried. He always thought of her as a strong woman…except for the nightmares.
Dr. Freemen gently maneuvered Carol to the bedroom and Joey paced the floor.
Shortly, Doc came out. “I think your mom needs coffee. Has she had another nightmare?”
“I don’t know. She’s been up here a few days but she seemed fine when we talked on the phone yesterday.”
Doc took the cup from Joey. “She stopped the medications from that shrink years ago.  I never did know why that fancy city doctor couldn’t help her.”
“That’s why I called you. You’ve known her longer than anybody.”
Doc patted Joey’s shoulder and gently shut the bedroom door.
Joey poured himself a cup of his mother’s coffee and continued pacing.
Hours later, the coffee pot drained, he took a thermos of water to the shade tree in the front yard, his thoughts jumbled. Joey looked at his watch again. Three o’clock. Just as he plopped on the ground, Doc Freeman walked out to the porch, his face grim.
“Joey, I think we’ve hit pay dirt. A major break-through. Call Joe.”
“But, Doc, Dad doesn’t come up here anymore. And…he’s getting married this weekend. He wants the cabin sold.”
Doc’s anger spilled out. “I don’t give a damn. You get him up here. NOW! And without that.. that.. Shirley woman!” Dr. Freeman turned on his heel and stomped into the house. “Move it!” he yelled over his shoulder, then softly closed the bedroom door to resume vigil at Carol’s bedside.
Leaning on the old front fence, Joey waited for his dad. The twins were on the way, too. Ben and Dan would drive like maniacs to the cabin. Suddenly, Joey remembered the realtor. He put his head in his hands and groaned.
“What a mess. Now we’ll get sued.”
Joey had met Jake Sims two weeks ago at a Rotary meeting over in Milltown. Jake was the speaker guest that day. An older guy but well-versed in real estate. He said he didn’t know the Mitchell place but understood the area market. He had assured Joey, “There’s gold in them hills, kid! When your old ma hears the price tag, she’ll sign.”
Joe climbed out of his car just as the twins roared up, tires squealing.
Joey shared the little he knew and said, “Guess you better go in, Dad. We’ll be at the creek if you need us.”
Joe’s head reeled with angry questions but he set his jaw and headed inside.
Doc greeted his old friend. “The missing pieces came out today. You better sit.”
As Doc talked, the late afternoon sun flickered through the lace curtains.
Joe listened without moving.
The men sat quietly, unaware dusk had fallen. Finally, Joe put his head in his hands and cried like a little boy.
“Why didn’t she tell me? I could have fixed it.”
“Hell, man, it was 1958. That stuff didn’t happen to nice housewives. Besides, it was only a few months after you buried little Claire. Carol felt, well, dirty. She believed you would despise her. Erasing the memory is how she survived all these years.”
Joe sat on the side of Carol’s—their—bed. She was as beautiful as the day they met. “I didn’t know what to do, Carol.” He took a deep breath—remembering. “That long year when Claire was sick…” his voice trailed off. He wiped his face. “I guess all those hours you spent sitting at our little girl’s grave by the creek was somehow.. well, it helped you. I just kept working. I didn’t want Claire buried up here, but you loved the creek…. I swear, Carol, I never once thought you were in danger. I’m so sorry.” Tears rolled down his cheeks.
Carol turned away, facing the window. “No. I’m sorry, Joe. I was afraid. … and ashamed. It was horrible.” She began to shake again. “I didn’t know what to do. I.. I just wiped it out. You tried to hold us together, but, I… with no memory, I….I….” Sobs shook her body. “Until I saw him today … and all it’s … ugliness just … exploded in my brain.”
Doc dialed the Sheriff’s home. “Tom, swear out an arrest warrant for Jake Sims over in Milltown.” He explained all he could then listened a minute, making faces at the phone. “Yeah, yeah, we’ve only got bits and pieces…”
He beat his hand against the wall. “Hell, I know a 30-year-old rape case won’t get to court, but we’ll make him wish for jail! Oh, and you had better keep an eye on that redheaded floozy. I think Miz Shirley’s gonna be left at the altar.”
The three brothers sat in the moonlight around their baby sister’s grave on the sandy bank of the creek and looked blankly from one to the other as Doc’s laughter rolled through the trees.

Thank you, West Texas Writers, for this honor.
(P.S. Another writer from Fredericksburg, Sally Clarkwon 3rd place in this contest and neither of us knew the other had entered. )
 Liz Hoyt Eberle

The Newsletter of West Texas Writers, Inc.                       

Monday, February 21, 2011

Freedom! vs the Pink Handkerchief

© Liz Hoyt Eberle
Not only did Barbara storm out of the house right in the middle of their argument, she slammed the door and then kicked over the tricycle as she flew down the front walk.
She had never thrown a temper tantrum before, but David had never been so dictatorial before, either. She didn’t know where she was going. Just away, out, anywhere. The angry words of their argument still rang in her ears and a deep rage burned within her.
How dare he! Men! So sanctimonious. King David, he thought he was. Well, …well… Well what, Barbara?
          In spite of her intense fury she suddenly felt a little foolish, stomping down the street with no destination, but she wasn’t ready to go back. Not yet, if ever. Unsure what to do with herself, she began to jog. The cool autumn breeze felt good to her hot cheeks. She turned into the little neighborhood park and was relieved to see it was deserted. All the children must be at home, eating meals dutiful mothers had prepared. Duty. Well, into every life there comes a time when some things are more important than duty and this was one of those times for Barbara. She had to know where she stood in this marriage.
She sank down onto a park bench, put her face in her hands and cried. Hot tears of anger and emotion poured out. She clinched her fist and pounded her knee.
Barbara nearly jumped out of her skin when the old lady tapped her gently on the shoulder and whispered, “You seem so unhappy, my dear. How about a peppermint? The perfect cure for tears.”
“Why, uh, yes. Thank you,” Barbara sniffed, trying to compose herself. “These are my favorite.” The old lady was right: one really could not cry and suck on a peppermint at the same time!
Barbara rolled the candy around in her mouth, feeling even more foolish now that she had an audience. She scolded herself for accepting the gift; never in her life had she taken candy from a stranger.
Before Barbara could collect her thoughts to make a graceful exit, she shocked herself further by asking the old lady, “Do you live near here? I don’t remember seeing you around before.”
The old lady laughed softly and said, “That depends on how you look at it. Distance is relative. But, you must live close by. Just look at you, no jacket on such a cool afternoon.”
“Well, yes… uh, I needed a walk. I live a couple of blocks over. In one of those neat, little cottages, mortgaged to the hilt!” She intentionally said ‘cottage’ with a sneer.
“I see. Is that the reason for tears streaking such a lovely young face? Money? It often is, it seems.”
“No. Not money exactly,” Barbara said, and began to pour out her frustrations and mixed-up, pent-up emotions. She couldn’t have explained why it came out to a stranger, but out it poured.
The old lady listened quietly while Barbara reeled off all of David’s shortcomings. He was unreasonable, demanding, didn’t understand that she had needs, ambitions and goals.
She began to cry again and the old lady patted her arm, handed her a handkerchief and murmured, “There, there.”
Barbara wiped her eyes with the lady’s handkerchief and smiled, “I have one just like this. My little girls gave it to me for Mother’s Day last year. Pink is their favorite color. Funny, I haven’t seen it lately. I wonder where it is.”
The old lady smiled and Barbara went on, “Anyway, David is absolutely determined that I must not go to work. He wants me to stay at home, to be a slave! He cannot see how terribly depressing it is to do nothing but cook, clean, sew, and work in the garden. Look. I’ve even got blisters from making those dumb macramĂ© hangers for the pot plants like my mother used to make. And, here. I burned my hand last night making a cherry pie he loves so much. My jeans are worn out from being on my knees in that old garden and I’ve got permanent stains on my hands from refinishing my grandmother’s chest. I don’t even have any fingernails anymore. David just doesn’t care that I have ability and talents and a need to contribute to the family. As a matter of fact,” she sat up straighter, “I can have my old job back any time I want it. I don’t really need him. I could manage quite well on my own!”
The old lady said, “Oh, my, yes. I know exactly what you mean. A woman certainly has the right to demand to be something more than a mere wash woman.”
Barbara sighed and drew pictures in the sand around the bench with the toe of her shoe. She wondered why she felt miserable if she were so self-sufficient.
The old lady continued, “I think the young women of today are smart. They do have rights. Just look at me. I demanded mine,” she said triumphantly.
For the first time, Barbara looked at the woman sitting beside her on the park bench. From her own just-30 perspective, Barbara decided that the old lady was probably 80, at least. She was well preserved, though, and her suit was the latest fashion and expensive! She wore, on her right hand Barbara noted, a diamond the size of one of Barbara’s prize strawberries. The old lady’s hair and nails were professionally done and her makeup was modern and in good taste. Barbara felt rather dowdy and homemade in comparison. But, there was something about the eyes. Was it emptiness? Sadness? Maybe bitterness? Well, Barbara had neither the energy nor desire to take on another person’s problems. She had enough of her own.
The old woman tapped Barbara’s knee firmly, to emphasize her words, “Men don’t want their women to be courageous. Men want to be the strong oak tree and they want their women to be the puny sapling...” 
Oak tree? That touched something within Barbara. Oh yes. Their wedding vows. She and David had recited a poem to each other, something about two oak trees standing side by side.. well, it didn’t matter now.
“.. and men expect women to do all the dirty work…”
She’s got a point there, Barbara thought. Like the garden she had put in. Well, actually, they had put it in together. It is, she had to admit, a joint project. Come to think of it, David always sanded the boards for the art projects Barbara used for the Sunday school classes she taught. And, David was proud of her paintings. He hung them in his office, gave them to his mother, and told everyone that God had given his beautiful bride a special talent. Well, that was fine and good, but earning a paycheck would certainly be more rewarding than David’s stuffy praise.
“… and of course,” the old lady droned on, “we have to produce the babies! Men just think they know what hard work is!”
Babies. Barbara looked down at the delicate pink handkerchief she was absently folding and smoothing. Babies. She walked to the fence across from the bench and looked down at the perfectly kept flower bed. Fenced off from the children. The faces of her two little girls seemed to smile up at her from every flower. She thought about the old lady’s diamond being on her right hand. She thought about being fenced off from David, about being fenced off from her little girls. There was a knot in her stomach and she rubbed her cheek with the soft handkerchief.
The old lady was talking about compromise again and Barbara said, over her shoulder, “Maybe I have confused compromise and commitment and goals. Maybe.. just maybe..”
“Hey, Honey!  I’ve been looking everywhere for you. I was so worried.” Barbara spun around to see David running toward her. In an instant she was in his arms. As they held each other David said, “Are you O.K.? Who were you talking to?”
Barbara drew back, a little embarrassed and said, “Why, that old lady.. well. There was a lady…  I guess she left while I was thinking. You probably passed her on the way in.”
“I didn’t see anybody. There’s not another soul in the park. But, that doesn’t matter. Just so you are O.K. Honey, I didn’t mean to be so unreasonable. The house was empty when you left.”
She was in his arms again. “No, David. I was unreasonable. I was selfish and childish.” Her words tumbled over each other as she rushed on, “I felt so tired and unimportant and useless. Maybe –well, I—uh. Oh David, life is just so daily. I..I forgot that I really am important. That you are important. That our daughters are important—to both of us. I guess I…”
“Sweetheart,” he interrupted,  “you are absolutely the most important thing in the world to me and the girls!  We desperately need you. But, we need you to be happy.”
“David. Dear, sweet David. Let’s go home.”
As they walked home, arm in arm, talking, listening, and both feeling a deep sense of unity and purpose, Barbara let the thoughts of the old lady find a safe place in her heart and she gently and tenderly stroked the pink handkerchief, still clutched in her hand!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Granny Spring and Lamb Cakes

Granny Spring and Lamb Cakes
© by Liz Hoyt Eberle

I wrote this original fiction in 2005 and it was published on page two of the Faithwriters on-line magazine that spring. I've recently edited the story, given it a new ending, and now share it here with my love. I appreciate your time to read it. May you find a blessing in the story.

There were times I wished my parents had named me Vernal-Equinox. The name “Spring” carried too many demands. Truth be told, Mama and Daddy probably were not trying to be “cute,” but I had the misfortune to make my appearance into the world on the first day of spring and on my maternal grandmother’s birthday. Back in those almost-war years, Texas families had little time for imagination so names were passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter just like clothes were passed down to younger siblings and I was stuck with the name Spring.
During my first five years, my life was enchanted complete with an adoring audience at my feet. I was my daddy’s shadow and my grandmother’s pride and joy. Sharing names was only part of her delight in me. The name Spring fit Granny well and she lived up to it with ease and wit. She loved sunrises and new days and she could celebrate at the drop of a hat or create a feast from a few potatoes from the cellar. She never saw the bad in anything and her life radiated joy. She especially loved springtime, so by the middle of February, look out! Her favorite thing in the world—besides me—was to dig in the dirt. She planted zinnias and geraniums and petunias while keeping her vegetable garden thriving. She and Granddad had as much fun getting the garden ready as two little kids in a candy store.
Granny Spring thought that with another “Spring” in the family, she could have springtime all year round. And on our birthdays, she pulled out all the stops. She made matching dresses for us and two birthday cakes in the shape of lambs. It seemed to me that she lifted that heavy, iron lamb mold out of her oven as if it were a feather. Then she heaped huge globs of white, fluffy icing on the lambs and covered them with a thick layer of white coconut. For the final touch, she set the lambs on a bed of green coconut and the festivities began. Our birthdays usually lasted a whole week.
My life was about as perfect as it could be. Granny Spring would stand on her head if I asked her to and at home, Daddy was my life. I rode on the tractor with him and we milked the cow together. He showed me how to bait a hook and when I caught my first fish, he carried me home on his shoulders and told Mama every detail with laughs and hugs. He taught me to swim in the stock tank almost before I could walk and every year he and I went to the woods over by the west pasture to pick out our special Christmas tree.
I don’t remember much about when my little sister, Susie, was born because life didn’t change.  Not even when she started toddling along after me.
However, I remember far too clearly when the grownups started talking about Pearl Harbor. Something heavy hung in the air and even Granddad forgot to lift me high over his head when I went to visit. Christmas almost didn’t happen.
By Spring, I thought all was better when Granny Spring baked our lamb cakes. But the next day, Mama said that daddy was going to war. Her voice sounded angry when she said, “Charlie, you’re too old; the war is almost over.”
Daddy said, “Being a Marine is the right thing to do, Maggie!”
Mama slammed the back door.
But, for a few days they hugged a lot and even my daddy cried when he put me to bed at night. Then he was gone.
Daddy died somewhere in the Pacific the next year just after my sixth birthday. Mama said, “Charlie always thought he had to do the right thing.” She slammed the door a lot.
I was the big sister and expected to be strong and set an example. Well, I got strong, all right, and in the process, my childhood joy evaporated. Granny Spring’s eternal optimism began to annoy me and seemed phony. I could not understand why Daddy had to die or why Mama nearly killed herself to get a silly college degree. I suppose Granny Spring kept up our birthday tradition, but I don’t remember many celebrations of any kind after daddy died.
Then, when I was eleven, Mama changed our lives again. She got married. I thought Daddy would always be my daddy and I didn’t know how she could marry Paul. She even acted like she loved his boys, Paul Jr. and Michael, as if they belonged to her like Susie and me. My world had turned upside down again and sometimes I thought I would scream from the pain that squeezed my heart. I learned quickly the benefits of smiling on the outside and “acting nice.”
In junior high, I guess I was numb but I did notice when the kids teased me, “Well lookie here; Spring arrived in December this year.” Paul Jr. noticed, too and it made him mad. One time, even though he was a year behind me, he had a fight with a ninth grader for making fun of me. My step-brother was grounded for a week, but the teasing stopped. I sneaked new comic books to him while he was grounded and we talked in whispers for hours at a time.
No matter how sad I acted, Granny made time for me. She let me cry when I needed to and we had lots of special talks. She told me stories about my daddy and mama when they were young and when I was a baby. Those times with her were good… until she got to the Jesus part. I would pat Granny’s arm and say, “Yeah, but Granny, there’s lots of time for that.” Then I would smile, nod and pretend to look at the old Bible she always had by her chair. I would promise to think about it but I never did.
Mama and Paul made me go to church, but I sat in Mrs. Bains’ Sunday School and thought about planting flowers with Granny Spring and nobody knew I wasn’t listening. I wanted nothing to do with the God who killed my daddy so I tuned out all of them, even Granny Spring.
When Paul Jr. and I got our drivers’ licenses, sometimes Mama would let us use the car and take Michael and Susie to town for ice cream. One year, Paul took Mama all the way to Austin for a whole weekend to celebrate her birthday and left Paul Jr. and me in charge. The four of us decided to paint the kitchen for Mama’s birthday present. She cried when we yelled “Surprise.” I don’t remember when we figured out how much she hated yellow.
When I was a junior in high school, Michael was the one who convinced me to go the Spring Formal. He fixed up a date for me with an older guy he knew would treat me nice. I was scared out of my mind when the doorbell rang. Mama and Susie had to make me go down stairs. My escort grinned at my step-dad, Paul. “Spring is early this year!” Everyone had a laugh, even Granny Spring. I decided there would be no more dances. I think Granny approved, what with her being a Baptist and all.
Granny even agreed with Mama and Paul that I should attend the state university. Austin was a long way from home, but it was good to finally get away from all the things that reminded me of my daddy. I tried really hard for a while but I didn’t really like school and was somewhat of a loaner. English was boring and the boys were jerks so when I failed Biology, that was it. I was fed up setting an example and left the university at the end of the fall semester.
I caught a bus to Los Angeles three weeks before Mama knew I had gone. I quickly found a job at a café, got a cheap apartment nearby, and set out to live! My roommate, Mary Bell, seemed okay but she sounded a lot like my granny. Always happy, Mary Bell pointed out positive things in life and read her Bible a lot.
We made good tips, paid our rent, and I created a happy life! I learned to smoke, drink, dance, flirt, and to ignore Mary Bell’s lessons on eternal life just like I ignored Granny Spring’s lectures. I didn’t bother to write home but every year I sent Granny Spring a birthday card. One year I got a birthday card from her. I didn’t know anyone knew where I was.
In April of 1962, the world hit me in the stomach again. A letter came telling me that Paul Jr had been killed in Viet Nam. Paul Jr! Impossible. The funny, intelligent, one. The one who took my side when things went wrong. I loved Paul Jr. but I didn’t go home; not even when Michael came all the way from Texas to get me. Michael, though younger, could usually talk to me when nobody else could. But this time I got mad and told him to leave me alone! Forever! Granny Spring and Mary Bell claimed they had a loving God and their God took my daddy away. Then He took away the brother I had come to love. Their God did nothing while the world and my life fell apart. My sweet little brother—6’4” in bare feet—was gone forever, never to return, never to laugh again, never to pick up our mom and twirl her around the living room making Granny Spring laugh until her gray braids fell to her shoulders. Paul Jr. was dead.  My life was hopeless. I fell into a pit and found alcohol at the bottom.
In January, I lost my job and Mary Bell got married, but I started making good money selling flowers on street corners. Being seven months pregnant, people felt sorry for me and I flaunted it!
Luckily, I found a great corner to sell my flowers. The Salvation Army operated a homeless shelter a few doors from my “corner.” They let me come in to rest and I got a good meal pretty often. Surviving wasn’t easy, but I did it. I didn’t drink or smoke while I was pregnant. That took lots of courage, but the Salvation Army wouldn’t let me sleep inside if I smoked. Besides, I was determined to do what had to be done for the baby I carried.
One of the Army ladies who wore those silly bonnets always looked out for me. One day she said, “Spring, it’s getting close to your time. Do you know who the father of your baby is?”
When I got pregnant, it had been dark in my tunnel of a life, but I knew the father of my child and had absolutely no use for him. I made sure he did not know. I looked at the floor and lied, “No, of course not.”
“Have you decided what you are going to do about your baby.”
I laughed.  “I thought I made a good decision when I didn’t kill it.” The lady in the bonnet didn’t laugh. I looked away and said, “People told me to get rid of it and I had the money then, but, well, I guess something inside just wouldn’t let me. That’s about as far as I’ve thought.” Deep down, I suspected Granny’s prayers had made it from Texas to California and infiltrated my heart.
The bonnet-lady talked to me a long time, sort of like Granny used to. She found a clinic where I could give birth, and helped find a family to adopt my baby.  On the first day of spring, my baby girl was born. I held my daughter a long time that day. I checked her fingers and toes and I tickled her cheek. I whispered to that tiny, new life of mine, “You’ll never know this, but I love you. Honest, I really love you. Your real name is Spring.”
Then a nurse took her. I gave away my child, my baby, my life. My heart screamed in pain. For the first time, I wanted to go home.
My body snapped back pretty quick, I got a job at a nice restaurant, and found a decent apartment where I felt safe. Pretty soon, I finally realized that the hole in my heart would never go away and that giving birth to new life had changed something inside me. That fall, with the last ounce of nerve I had, I packed my few belongings in a battered suitcase, and caught a bus for Texas. There was no fatted calf, no beautiful ring, and no party when I arrived home but Granny cried and hugged me till I couldn’t breathe.
I managed to carve out a pretty good life back in my hometown and of course never told anyone about my own baby, Spring. My little sister, Susie, still lived in town and we learned to talk again. We had some good times together even though she took on the role of “the wise sister,” since she was a mother. Mostly, I listened quietly and nodded.  Her three kids were sweet and I especially loved her youngest. She had named him Paul.
Michael came home from medical school at Christmas and I went to church with all the family. I even listened some. Michael and I had long talks, almost like back in high school days. He seemed to demand less of me than anyone and he looked at me with sad eyes. I didn’t know if the sadness came from his own loss of Paul Jr. or if he sensed the private pain I carried. Or both.
In March, I helped Granny prepare her own flowerbeds because Granddad had gone to the nursing home while I was away. I helped her with the yard and even enjoyed the old stories she told while we worked.  Her eternal optimism didn’t grind on my nerves, either. I listened when she talked about Jesus and I found myself smiling some of the time.
Sure enough, she pulled out the stops for the first day of spring and our birthdays. Everyone gathered at Granny’s. Mamma and Paul loved having the grandkids around and Michael even brought a girl home. He hadn’t had a serious girl friend before but she fit in pretty well, even though she intended to be a woman doctor.
The day of the party, Little Paul saw me coming up the walk and ran to jump in my arms. I wondered if I would always call him ‘Little Paul.’ He laughed at my tickles as I carried him into the house. When we walked into the dining room, Little Paul had his arms around my neck, whispering tall tales in my ear. Granny Spring flashed me a big smile and asked me to light the birthday candles. I guess if I hadn’t been holding my sister’s baby, I might have fainted. But I just looked at Granny’s sweet face. Mamma came in the room about then and said, “My goodness, Mother, why on earth are there three lamb cakes this year?”
Granny wiped her hands on her apron, leaned over to smell the arrangement of spring flowers Michael brought, and smiled. “Just seems fitting, I guess.”
Granny kept making three lamb cakes every spring until she died five years later. She left the lamb-cake molds to me. She’s been gone twenty years now and while it hurts, I keep up the tradition of making three lamb cakes every spring.
Yesterday, the letter came. It was signed “Amber.”  My husband held me close all night while I cried. She will be thirty-three years old on March 20 and wants to spend her birthday with me. I wonder how she’ll feel about the lamb cakes.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Cowboy and His Hat

A Cowboy And His Hat

by Liz Hoyt Eberle

This original story was written by

Liz Hoyt

Especially for and dedicated to

her little brother

Jerry Mack Hoyt

On his 62nd birthday

July 8, 2003

With devotion and tender love

A Cowboy & His Hat

                         by  The Cowboy’s Big Sister

       J.M. always wore his cowboy hat. It was red and he loved that hat with all his might. J.M. wore his red cowboy hat everywhere.
       Alll the time.
‘Cause he was a REAL cowboy.

J.M. wore his red cowboy hat when he saddled up his trusty tricycle horse, Big Boy, for a ride over to the corral at Grandpa’s house just to check things out.

J.M. wore his cowboy hat when he rounded up the stray kittens and when he went down to the mailbox with Paw.

He wore his cowboy hat when it was time to stop off at the chuck wagon for chow.

He wore his cowboy hat when Maw said, “Climb in the big van wagon, J.M. Let’s ride into town for groceries!”

When J.M. was invited to Aunt Elizabeth’s house for milk and cookies, he scrubbed his face and hands, put on a clean neckerchief, shoved that red cowboy hat on his head and galloped off down the street.

J.M. wore his cowboy hat when he said his prayers.

And he always wore his cowboy hat when he climbed into his bunk at the end of a long, hot day on the trails.

J.M. wore his red cowboy hat everywhere.
            All the time.
       ‘Cause he was a real cowboy.

One day, his maw said, “J.M., Paw and I have been seeing how you are growing up so it is time to talk about your red cowboy hat.”

“What about my hat, Maw?”  J.M.’s eyes got big and he felt scared.

“Well, Son, you can’t wear your hat everywhere…. Or … all the time anymore.”

“Why not, Maw? I’m a real cowboy.”

“Yes, I know,” said his very wise mother. “But, since you ARE a real cowboy, it is time for you to learn about being a really good, grown up cowboy.”

“What does that mean, Maw?”

“A good cowboy ALWAYS takes his hat off-and holds it in his hands­- when he talks to a lady.”

“You mean wimmin, Maw? Like who?”

“Oh, like me. Like Grandma, and Aunt Elizabeth. And…. even other ladies……like your friend, Janice.”

“Shucks, Maw! Janice ain’t no lady, she’s just an ole girl! And she wears her cowboy hat, too.”

“Yes, J.M., you must even take your hat off when you talk to Janice,” Maw said quietly.

“Oh yukkkkkk, Maw!”

“And, I’m afraid that’s not all,” Maw said.

“Ohhhhhh Maaaaaw,” J.M. wailed  “What else?????”

“J.M., a really good, grown up cowboy ALWAYS takes his hat off when he prays and when he goes into the House of the Lord.”

J.M. was very quiet for a while.


Then, with a big sigh he said, “Well, yeah, Maw, I know that God is mighty important and He’s kinda in charge of everything. I guess I can do that. So…
…is that all?”

“No, that’s not all, J.M.  There is more. Did you see that new rack that Paw hung up on the wall by the front door?”

J.M. nodded his head, “Yes Ma’am, I did. What’s it for?”

“When a cowboy comes into the house, if he’s a real, honest, true- and grown up- cowboy, he ALWAYS takes his hat off and hangs it on the rack.”
“But, Maw…” J.M. practically screamed!

“Hold on Son, there is more.”


“J.M., this is the very most important one of all. And you must never, never forget this one.  OK?”

“Well….. I’ll try, Maw. What is it?”

“J.M., when a cowboy sits down at the table to eat his chow, he must always- ALWAYS take off his hat.”
“Yeah,” J.M. laughed, “but Maw, what if there ain’t no rack to hang it on?” He KNEW he had his Maw on that one!

“That’s not a problem, J.M.,” Maw smiled. “A really, really good, really gown up cowboy  just sets his hat under his chair!”

That was too much for J.M.

He sat down on the floor and still wearing his red cowboy hat, he put his head in his hands and moaned.
And groaned.
      And moaned some more.
            What was he to do?
 He wanted to mind what his maw and paw said and he wanted to be a really, really, really good grown up cowboy. But, take his hat off?
So much?
All the time?
Oh, that was just too much for such a little cowboy.
J.M. shuffled out to saddle up his trusty tricycle horse, Big Boy, and rode up and down the sidewalk for a long time, thinking about his red cowboy hat and what his maw said and about being a grown up REAL cowboy.

When his maw called him in to supper, he had to wipe his face fast so she wouldn’t see he had been crying. He sniffed hard and went inside, washed his face and hands and went to the table.

 J.M. took a deep breath and very slowly….. took off his cowboy hat. He set it under his chair- very gently.

J.M. ate his chow real fast, and said, “Can--, I mean, may I be ’cused?”

He grabbed his hat and ran outside…… to check out the fences before dark.

When it was bedtime, J.M.’s maw was waiting at the door.  He stood on the porch  for a while.  And……. Finally, J.M. took off his cowboy hat.

Then he stepped inside and …very slowly …hung his hat on the new hat rack.
His maw smiled and said, “J.M. Your paw and I are proud of you. You are a brave cowboy who is growing up fast. And, you know what? Paw says he thinks it will be just fine for you to take a bath in your cowboy hat---- and, maybe, if you really want to, after you say your prayers, you may sleep in your red cowboy hat.”    

J.M.’s face lit up in a grin. He grabbed his hat off the rack!

He even let his maw give him a big hug.

But--- he was really careful to hold his cowboy hat behind him
                so it wouldn’t get squshed!
NOT the end…..

The rest of the story is that
JM grew up to be a
real cowboy
 in the whole world
who is loved VERY MUCH !
now, THAT's all  !!