My name is Marvin Duncan. I'm eighty-three years old, and I'm gonna tell you about a time after WWII when my family had to pick up and move from the mountains of Kentucky to Oklahoma because the coal mine where my daddy worked got shut down. The story is mostly about how, during that move, I hooked up with the woman I wound up being married to for fifty-five years before she died. I'm getting pretty old myself now, and I thought I'd just write all this down while I still have a working brain, and in case anybody inside or outside the family has any interest in it.
I'm pretty sure it's gonna shock the hell out of some of my grandkids. Maybe not the story itself so much as the fact that an old fart like me could still entertain thoughts of a sexual nature. To them, I'll just say 'Live and learns, kids! Live and learn!"
Some of what I write is gonna be pretty graphic, sex-wise, so be warned. At my age, writing about sex is both cathartic and entertaining, so maybe you won't mind if I indulge myself a little bit. It's not like I can do much else nowadays other than remember it and write about it. If you do mind, maybe you shouldn't read this story. Or you can just go to hell, I don't much care one way or the other.
As far as dialect goes, I'll try to represent the Appalachian patois as best I can. And one other thing; I'm not a professional writer as you'll soon discover, and I never could figure exactly what the hell commas are supposed to do, so I just stuck one in wherever it looked like it might fit. If you're one of those grammar Nazis, well get a life, why don'tcha! Anyhow, here's the story the way I remember it:
One late spring evening back in 1949, Mama called us kids in to supper and she'd just set a pot of navy beans and ham hocks on the table and turned to take the cornbread out of the oven when we heard Daddy's heavy boots clomping up the back steps. He wasn't supposed be home because he'd only left for the mine a couple of hours earlier, but there he stood at the open screen door with an odd look on his face.
Mama turned the big cast-iron skillet of hot cornbread onto a plate and set it on the table, then she turned to Daddy and asked, "What is it, Jake? What happened?"
We all knew right away that something was bad wrong. His forehead was all wrinkled up and he had a look on his face like somebody just died. I guess I was a little bit scared, even though I was fifteen at the time and pretty much grown up.
Daddy set his dinner bucket on the chair by the door, then he shed his canvas jacket, nearly black with grease and coal dust, and hung it on the back. Before he answered Mama's question, he walked over to the sink, reached down underneath and took out his jug of moonshine whiskey. He gave Mama kind of a guilty look as he uncorked it and took a long pull. We knew then that something wasn't right because Daddy never took a drink before bedtime, and almost never in front of us kids. Mama didn't approve of drinking, but she tolerated Daddy taking an occasional sip as long as he didn't overdo it. And he never did, as far as I know.
Eyes watering from the sting of the whiskey, he shuddered, took a deep breath and said, "Federal marshals shut down the mine. They're sayin' Joe McCoy, the owner, was arrested an' the mine won't be openin' agin any time soon, so that means I'm outta work."
Well, Mama stood there looking at him for the longest time before she said anything. Finally, she shook her head and sighed, mostly to herself, "Reckon we'll be movin' then. Got any idea where to?"
Daddy took one more nip from the jug, then he corked it and set it back under the sink. "I was thinkin' about just that while I was comin' up the road. You remember a few months ago when my cousin Arthur sent a letter sayin' they was hirin' fer the oil fields in Oklahoma, an' was I interested? I was thinkin' maybe I ought t' go down to the company store in the mornin' an' try to reach him on the telephone. Last I heard, he was still livin' at Aunt Clair's house near Tulsa."
Mama kinda shrugged and said, "Ain't gonna hurt nothin' t' ask, is it?"
Daddy put his arm over her shoulder and went on, "Ya know, Bess, I know the timin' ain't good, but the truth is I'm kinda glad that hole's shuttin' down, 'cause I know fer a fact that the black lung is gonna kill me sooner or later. That ain't t' say I might not die roughneckin' in the oil fields, but at least I'd die breathin' God's clean air. Anyhow, I hear Tulsa's a nice town, lot's goin' on. You'd have better stores to shop in an' more money t' shop with. An' the kid's could go to better schools."
Looking back on it, I know what I did next was awfully dumb, but I did it without thinking, the way fifteen year-olds are wont to do. I stood up and said, "But Daddy, we cain't move to Tulsa! What about my friends? What about Sue Ellen? I cain't just be leavin' everthang behind!"
Well, Daddy had every right to haul off and slap me clean into next week for that little outburst, but he didn't even raise his hand. He just said, "Son, I'm sorry this don't fit into yer plans for courtin' Sue Ellen, but we ain't got no choice. Hell, I'd be happy t' leave ya behind. Yer fifteen an' old enough t' make yer own way I reckon, but movin's gonna take ever penny we got, an' 'till we get back on our feet, yer gonna have t' work right along side of me. The family's gonna need yer income, boy! Now, that's just the way of it, an' I don't wanna hear no more harpin' 'bout Sue Ellen 'r anythang else!"
I sat back down feeling like the ungrateful child and mumbled, "Sorry, Daddy."
Mama was always trying to put things into perspective. She smiled up at him and patted his belly, saying, "Well, like ya say, we ain't got a lotta choices, have we? We gotta go where the work is, so I reckon Tulsa's as good a town as any. Ya think that ol' truck's gonna make it that far?"
He gave her shoulder a squeeze and said, "She'll just hafta, won't she? But here's somethin' I just thought of, Bess: Soon as the company store opens up in the mornin', they gonna come after everbody to pay up their bill. God almighty, I ain't got but eighteen dollars t' my name! I sure as hell cain't pay what we owe at the store and still have enough for gas money to Tulsa. I know it ain't right t' run out on a debt, but I'm thinkin' we best load her up and head out tonight. I can try to call Arthur along the way somewheres."
Mama looked around at us kids and nodded her head up and down like she was making up her mind about something. Then she said, "Jake, you sit an' eat some supper. Marvin, Jodie, Earl Ray, I want you kids t' listen to me real hard now. What we're about to do might not be honest, but there ain't no other way. Truth is, that company store's been cheatin' us an' everbody else since that mine opened up, but it's still a debt we owe. We just cain't pay it right now. Maybe after we get to Oklahoma and make some money, we can send 'em what we owe, but if we pay 'em now, we ain't goin' nowhere. You understand?"
The three of us looked at each other and nodded.
Well, Mama just took over like she always did when things needed doing. She reached above the stove and took down an old coffee can, opened it up and took out some money. She handed it over to Daddy and said, "Here's forty-three dollars I been savin' up. That makes sixty-one dollars, an' that ought to get us there with plenty to spare."
Daddy's eyes got real big at the sight of all that cash. "My lord, Bess, how in God's name did you manage to save up all this money when we been livin' from hand t' mouth. You truly are a angle sent from above!"
She waved that off and said, "I ain't no such thang, Jake. I'm just a woman like any other lookin' after her family." Then she turned to us and says, "Okay, now you kids fill your bellies with beans and cornbread, then get ready to pack up and load the truck." She looked at Daddy and asked, "Jake, you gonna be okay to drive all night?"
Daddy swallowed a mouthful of the sandwich from his dinner bucket and nodded his head. "I'll be fine. Anyhow, Marvin can help out some with the drivin' if I git too sleepy. Reckon I better go out and check the air in them tars. We gonna have to stop in Pikeville t' gas up, an' we can get some air at the same time."
Mama kissed him on the forehead and said, "You eat first, honey. We got time."
So that's how it all started. The company house we were living in was only three small rooms, so it's not like we had to worry about hauling a lot of furniture. Two hours after we finished our supper, Daddy, Mama and little Earl Ray were in the front, and Jodie and I were sitting on the old beat-up sofa facing backwards on the bed of Daddy's '36 Chevy flatbed truck. Everything we owned was piled up behind us. There was a canvas tarp tied over it all to protect us from the wind and weather. I was just happy it was May instead of the middle of winter. We might hit some rain along the way, but at least we wouldn't be freezing our butts off.
Before we pulled out, Mama handed me and Jodie some left over cornbread wrapped up in a tea towel and a mason jar of water in case we got hungry during the night. Next thing I knew, we were rolling down out of the Appalachians and heading west across Kentucky on the way to Oklahoma.
Well, you might not believe what I'm gonna tell you about the next two days and nights on the road. It changed my whole life!
At the time we moved, Daddy was thirty-six years old, and he got the job at the coal mine after he came back from the war in '45. He got shot a couple of times fighting over some island in the Pacific, but not bad enough to keep him out of the fighting. They just patched him up, gave him two weeks to rest up, and sent him back into the middle of it. Until the day he died, he walked with a limp from the piece of grenade he took in his butt. He earned two commendations for valor during the war, for all the good they did him.
Mama was twenty-nine, and she and Daddy had to get married because of me. He knocked her up when she was fourteen and did the honest thing; not that he didn't want to anyway. He did, and they never let on that they weren't happy about it. Hell, they'd been married for sixty-two years when Daddy died, so you can't say it wasn't successful, can you? Anyhow, I came along in September of 1934, five months after their wedding day.
So I was born first, then little Earl Ray came along nine months after Daddy got home from the war. He was four at the time of the move, and he was spoiled rotten by the whole family, being the baby and all.
If you're wondering where Jodie came into the picture, it was when she was five years old. See, Jodie wasn't my real sister, although that's the way she was brought up. She was really my cousin, Mama's sister's little girl. What happened was that Jodie's daddy, my Uncle Jethro, got killed in a mine cave-in back before the war. Well, her mama was of a fragile nature, and she just wasn't up to dealing with his death. When she got the news, she went plum nuts, ranting and screaming and everything. She never got over it, and the sheriff finally had to come and haul her off to the crazy house, and that's when the county folks gave Jodie to Mama and Daddy to raise. She was the same age as me - actually a couple of months older - and she was brought up to be my sister from then on.
Jodie was always a lot smarter than the rest of us. I don't know how that happened, but it did. She was so smart she got moved up a grade twice, and that means she was just about to graduate high school when we moved to Tulsa. She always made straight A's, and she was always good about helping me with my own schoolwork.
You'd think that since she was just about to graduate, she'd have the most to complain about when we snuck out of town that night, but she didn't hardly say anything at all. She just did what Mama told her to do and kept her mouth shut. She was always like that, kinda quiet and obedient. She probably had her mama's fragile nature.
It turned out alright about school, though, because when Mama wrote back to her old school a couple of months later and explained about us moving, they just went ahead and sent Jodie's high school diploma. It's just too bad she had to miss the graduation ceremony because she was so looking forward to wearing that cap and gown.
Like I said, Jodie was always a shy, quiet girl. It was kind of odd sometimes; some of us might be sitting around arguing about some stupid thing, and everybody knew Jodie knew a lot more than the rest of us, but she wouldn't say anything, even when she knew what we were saying was wrong or stupid, which it often was. I think it's because she hated it so when folks got mad and fussed with each other. She hated fighting and arguing like sin, and if it got too loud or ugly, she'd just run off and hide somewhere. I never knew for sure what caused her to be like that, but I always wondered if it was because her mama and daddy used to fight with each other so much. Mama said that when they got after it, you could hear 'em screaming at each other three houses away!
Anyhow, from the time we were little kids, Jodie and I were always real close, and we kinda took care of each other. Of course, Mama and Daddy loved her like she was their own, but I'm the only one she ever really took a shine to. Don't know why that is. Hell, we did everything together; we played together, we slept in the same bed, we even took our bath together until we started showing signs of growing up. That's when Mama put a stop to the baths and Daddy bought Jodie a separate bed. But for a long time, sometimes in the middle of the night, she'd sneak over to where little Earl Ray and I were sleeping and squeeze in with us.
Over that last year before we moved, Jodie was growing into a real good-looking young lady. She had beautiful brown hair that Mama kept in a long braid, and her eyes were as blue as the evening sky. The family never had much money to spend on new clothes and such, so when she started filling out like a woman, Mama made over some her some of her old dresses. Jodie made 'em look better than Mama ever did, I can swear to that!
So anyhow, that was the family that loaded up that old Chevy truck and headed out for Tulsa on a warm night in May of 1949.
We made it to Pikeville in about an hour. Daddy found a gas station still open and filled up the tank and a five-gallon jerry can while I added some water to the radiator and put air in the tires. I remember he fussed about paying eighteen cents a gallon for the gasoline.
There was a pay telephone inside the gas station, so Daddy got some change from the owner and called Aunt Clair's house in Oklahoma. It turned out that his cousin Arthur was at home, and he told Daddy they were still hiring war veterans for the oil fields and to come on down. Then Daddy talked to Aunt Clair, and she said she'd make room for us in the basement of her house in Broken Arrow, a town not too far from Tulsa. We could stay there until we found a place of our own. You can bet Mama felt some relief at that news.
When we headed out from Pikeville, Jodie and I climbed back up on the bed of the truck and got settled on that old sofa. We found a couple of blankets in case it got too cool during the night. Daddy drove, of course, and little Earl Ray sat on Mama's lap. He was most likely asleep before we got a mile down the road.
There weren't any interstate highways back then, and the roads were rough as a cob in some places, so the best we could do was maybe thirty-five, forty miles an hour. Forty was pushing it, so it was gonna take us every bit of two days to make the trip, counting stops for meals and taking care of personal business, if you know what I mean.
Maybe an hour after we were back on the road, Jodie curled up on one end of the sofa and I curled up on the other end to try and get a little sleep. I say I curled up, but it was more like scrunched up because, even though I was only fifteen, I was already six foot one. Anyhow, we managed to sleep in fits and starts for about two hours before Daddy stopped and said he needed me to drive for a while. Mama didn't know how to drive and she never learned. He took my place on the sofa while I got in the front and drove for another three hours. Mama fell asleep leaning on a pillow jammed up against the door with little Earl Ray on her lap.
Daddy took over driving again about four in the morning, and I went back to try to get some more sleep on the sofa. Well, that's when things started to get interesting.
Being as lanky as I was, and being as how the sofa was too dang short, I couldn't find a position that was comfortable enough to sleep in. Daddy could sleep sitting up, but I couldn't. I think he learned that in the war. Anyhow, all my shuffling around kept waking Jodie up and she finally said, "Marvin, if we don't find some way to fit us both on this sofa, neither one of us is gonna get a minute's rest. Look here, skinny as you are, why don't you stretch out with your back against the cushions and your head on the arm. If you push back far enough, I can lay down in front of you and we can both sleep."
Well, that was the only solution, so we did just what she suggested. I lay on my side with my head on the arm of the sofa, and she was on her side spooned up against me. I couldn't figure out what to do with my arm without getting real personal, so I just laid it over her hip and let my hand dangle over the front of the couch. We covered up with one of the blankets, and before long we were both snoozing up a storm.
For a while.
It must have been about two hours later, just about daybreak when I woke up feeling kind of uncomfortable. It took me a minute to figure it out, but it finally dawned on me that I'd shot a load in my drawers. I'd had a wet dream, and it didn't take a second for me to figure out why. With the truck bumping along the pockmarked highway and Jodie's butt rubbing against the front of my trousers, she'd caused me to grow a big hard-on. Well, it generally doesn't take much more than a passing thought to make a fifteen year-old boy get stiff anyhow, and her moving against me was all it took to cause me to unload. So there I lay, feeling the wet in my drawers and hoping it wasn't soaking through and into her dress.
It was barely getting light, so I couldn't really see much, but I lifted the blanket to take a look and saw that Jodie's dress had ridden up enough that I could see her bare leg almost all the way up to her underwear. That did nothing to help my cause, so I just lay there hoping she wouldn't feel anything.
But even with the discomfort of the wetness in my drawers, the sight of that bare leg and the feel of her butt pushing on my pecker brought it right back to life again. I know I should have woke her up and asked her to switch places with me or something, but what I was feeling was too good. I couldn't give it up.
The old truck kept on bumping down the highway, and Jodie's butt kept on jiggling against the front of my trousers and stirring me up 'til I grew another hard-on. I kinda maneuvered myself around until my pecker was wedged into the crack of her butt, then I just lay there taking it all in.
As I got more and more excited, and knowing full well that I was pushing my luck to the limit, I eased my hand up her side until it was resting lightly on her left titty. I didn't dare squeeze it, but I couldn't help feeling her nipple poking into the palm of my hand. Back then among the poor folk, brassieres were a luxury item, so she wasn't wearing one. Of course, being only fifteen, she didn't hardly need one because she wasn't really all that big, not like Mama anyway. That's not to say she was flat-chested, though. Her titty pretty much fill up my hand.
I felt myself working up to another shoot, and without even giving it any thought, I started sliding my hard pecker up and down the crack of her butt a little bit, hoping I wouldn't wake her up, but too far gone to stop what I was doing.
That was just wishful thinking on my part though, because she was awake all along! About the time I was getting close to shooting another load into my drawers and my breath was coming in little gasps, Jodie asks, "You gonna be done any time soon? I'd like to try for a little more sleep if you don't mind."
Well naturally, everything came to a screeching halt! I jerked my hand off of her titty, my humping her butt stopped cold, and I just lay there trying to think of something to say by way of an excuse for my sinful behavior. I'd been caught in the act and there was no way around it.
All I could come up with was, "Uh, I'm sorry, Jodie. I didn't know you was awake."
She twisted her face around so she could see mine and said, "You think me bein' asleep would've made it alright? You think you can use my butt and my breast for your own pleasure as long as I'm sleepin' and don't know about it?"
I was all out of words, nothing to say except, "Jodie, I'm real sorry! It just felt so good, an' you got such a nice, grown-up body. I woke up feelin' like this and I guess I couldn't help myself. You ain't gonna tell Mama, are you?"
To my total confusion, then relief, Jodie started laughing. "Why on earth would I tell Mama? She'd just roll her eyes at us and tell us to behave."
Well, I got a picture in my mind of Mama doing that and started laughing too. I guess laughing makes people laugh, because pretty soon, we were both howling at how funny the situation was. In fact we were laughing so hard, Mama leaned out of her window and hollered back, "Would you two quiet down back there? All that brayin' like a couple o' jackasses woke up Earl Ray!"
Well, we finally managed to get ourselves under control. I discovered that while we were laughing, my hard-on went away and I was kinda sorry that happened. Anyhow, I explained to Jodie why I did what I did; that I woke up from a wet dream, and that her butt jiggling against my pecker felt so good I thought I'd try for another one. She said she didn't mind and that she kind of enjoyed it herself a little bit. But then she said that the next time we slept together on the sofa, she was gonna be the one in back. Well, I could live with that. I figured her titties against my back was gonna feel good too, but probably not as good as my pecker against her butt.
It wasn't long after that that Daddy found a place along the side of the road in western Kentucky to pull over so we could take a rest and build a fire for Mama to cook breakfast. When I got down off the back of the truck, I saw that there was a big wet spot on the front of my trousers where I'd shot my load, so I found an excuse to grab a pair of overalls out of the basket of clean clothes and sneak into the woods to change. When Mama saw that, she asked why. I lied and told her that a few miles back, Daddy drove over a deep pothole, and it jolted me so hard that it made me pee because my bladder was so full. I'm not sure she believed me, but she didn't say any more about it. While I was telling Mama that fib, I saw Jodie unloading the box of kitchen stuff, and she was having a hard time keeping a straight face.
After we filled up the gas tank at the next town, Mama and Daddy took over the sofa to get some sleep while me, Jodie and Earl Ray were up front. We stopped once for Earl Ray to pee on the side of the road, but neither Mama or Daddy woke up. I guess they were really worn out.
I drove on until we crossed the Mississippi at Cairo. That's where Daddy took over again, and a little way into Missouri, we stopped to have lunch at a little roadside cafe. I know Mama thought spending almost three dollars was an extravagant expense, and maybe it was, but Daddy insisted because he said he couldn't remember the last time he took Mama out to eat. We all had hamburgers, French fries and Cokes. Lordy, didn't that taste good!
We hoped to make Springfield by nightfall, and Daddy thought we might find a place near there to stop for a few hours and make a little camp where Mama could make us a good supper. Maybe we could all get four or five hours of good, solid sleep before we made the final drive through the rest of the night to Broken Arrow.
As we headed across southern Missouri, Jodie and I had again taken up our place on the old sofa. For a while, we just sat back there and watched the scenery go by. Missouri's a real pretty state, at least what we saw of it. We crossed over several creeks and rivers that had to be alive with fish. I was tempted to ask Daddy if we could stop somewhere and do a little fishing, maybe catch enough for our supper.
So I was sitting there, almost dozing in the warm sunlight when out of the blue, Jodie asked, "Um, Marvin, what were you thinking this morning when you were ... well, you know?"
Well, I can be awfully dense sometimes. It took me a minute to figure out what she was talking about. When it finally soaked in, I felt myself turning red from the neck up. I didn't know how to answer her, so I kinda hemmed and hawed, trying to think something up.
Finally, I came up with, "What do you mean, what was I thinkin'? I guess I wasn't thinkin' 'bout nothin' in particular. It just felt so good, I just wanted to keep on doin' it."
Jodie looked kind of frustrated and smacked me on the knee. "Well you had to be thinking something! Were you havin' any feelings for me, or did you just want to satisfy yourself by pushin' your thing against my butt?"
I don't know if it was my instinct for self-preservation or what, but I figured I better come up with something good, because she was being serious.
I reached over and took her hand. "Of course I had feelin's for ya, Jodie. Hell I've always had feelin's for ya, but yer my sister ... well not exactly, but yer like my sister, so I don't reckon it's right fer me to have feelin's like that. Do you?"
"Do I what?"
"Well, do you have feelin's fer me?"
She looked away and kinda whispered, "I do. I always wanted you to like me as much as you like Sue Ellen."
Whoa, Nellie! Now I was really stuck for something to say. Was she saying that she wanted me to like her the same way I liked Sue Ellen? Hell fire, I'd been trying to get into Sue Ellen's underwear for the whole school year. The closest I got was my hand on her titty, and she slapped me a good one when I did that. Was Jodie saying that she wanted me to think of her like a girlfriend, to act like I was courting her?
I tried to be cagey and said, "Jodie, you know I like you as much as I like Sue Ellen. Truth is, I like you more, just different."
She didn't buy that for one minute. She locked onto my eyeballs and gave me a hard stare. "Marvin, you're either dodging the point on purpose, or you're as thick as winter molasses! I'm asking if you want to do things with me the same way you want to do things with Sue Ellen, and I'm not talking about just holding hands! Now you give me a straight answer right this minute or you can just forget about ever gettin' that close to me again!"
Well, I gotta tell you that I felt like I was up a tree with a pissed-off dog waiting for me to come down. I'll admit that I'd looked at Jodie with what our preacher called 'sinful lust' more than once. I mean, who wouldn't? She was a pretty girl, prettier than Sue Ellen. A guy couldn't look at her body without wishing he could get real close. And on top of that, she was real sweet and she was smart, probably the sweetest and the smartest person I ever met.
Finally, I just bit the bullet and owned up. "If Mama or Daddy ever heard what I'm about to tell you, they'd send me packin' in a minute!" I was still holding her hand, so I squeezed it and went on, "Jodie, to tell ya the honest-to-God truth, I never liked Sue Ellen as much as I like you. I been wantin' to do stuff with you fer the longest time, but I cain't even guess what Mama an' Daddy'd say if they knew that."
She kinda giggled and said, "Well, Daddy'd probably ask what your intentions were, and Mama would just give you one of those looks and wait to see what happened next. Could you really think of me like a girlfriend?"
"Well sure I could, Jodie! I just couldn't say so out loud, could I? At least not to anybody but you."
Well, that seemed to settle thing down for the time being. Jodie nodded her head and scooted over on the couch to sit real close, taking my arm and draping it over her shoulder. It felt real strange, sitting with her like that, but I liked it. I kinda hugged her to me and kissed her forehead. I didn't know if this was all gonna lead somewhere, but I sat there and got another big hard-on thinking about that possibility. I'm pretty sure Jodie saw it, but she didn't say anything.
All the way across southern Missouri, I was thinking about how I could be what Jodie wanted me to be without Mama and Daddy finding out. I'd learned a long time ago that Mama especially didn't get fooled by much. You might think you were putting one over on her, but she was nearly always one step ahead of you.
Jodie and I didn't really do anything risky as we rode along on the back of the truck, just held hands and sat close. When we stopped for a pee break, I took over driving for about another four hours. Daddy dozed off and on sitting on the couch, and Mama did the same with her head in his lap. Of course, Earl Ray was up front with me and Jodie.
We kept our eyes open for any place that looked like a good camping spot, and about twenty miles before we got to Springfield (according to the sign on the road) we found something like a little campground by a big lake. I pulled in and stopped, and Mama and Daddy agreed it was a good place to give ourselves a good rest.
While Mama and Jodie were setting up the camp and building a fire to cook a nice hot supper, Daddy, Earl Ray and I grabbed two fishing poles and headed for the lake to do some fishing. Well, I guess we picked a good spot because an hour or so later, we came back to camp with a string of ten nice-size bass and perch plus a good-size catfish. It was going to be a good supper. I cleaned them while Mama laid a couple of chunks of fatback in the skillet to make enough grease to cook them in. While we were fishing, Jodie brought some potatoes down to the lakeshore and packed mud around them before laying them around the edge of the fire to bake.
After we handed the cleaned fish over to Mama, Daddy and I took a bar of soap and went back to the lake to wash off two days worth of stink. The water was clean and we shucked off our clothes and waded out to where it was up to our chest. Being as how it was only May, the water was still pretty cold, so we didn't tarry too long. A quick wash, and we waded back up to the shore and toweled off before putting the same clothes back on. I didn't often see Daddy naked, and I took note that he was still a powerfully built man, hardly any fat on him at all. I was hoping I would look that good when I was his age. Seems kind of funny to me now that back then I thought of thirty-six as being an "age".
I remember it was a beautiful evening, and as we walked back to the camp, I told Daddy that I thought it would be fine with me if we could just stay right there where we were. He looked around and nodded his head. "It is kinda nice here, ain't it, Marvin? If I had some way to earn a livin', I'd surely be tempted. But no, we'll rest up fer a few hours, then we gotta move on down to Aunt Clair's, 'cause my cousin Arthur's pretty sure I'll get hired on as a roughneck. He says with me bein' a war veteran an' all, it's almost a guaranteed job, so I gotta take it."
For some reason, right at that moment, I felt an overwhelming sadness for the man, for the hard life he'd had with the war and working in the coal mine. I laid my hand on his big, hammy shoulder and said, "I wish you didn't always have to work so hard, Daddy. Seems like you don't ever get a minute's rest before yer up doin' stuff so's we can git by. It don't seem fair, sometimes."
I gotta tell you, sometimes I still get a tear in my eye over what he did next. He looked me in the eye real hard, then he grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me into a bear hug, saying, "Marvin, life ain't s'posed to be fair. It just is what it is, an' a man's job is to earn his livin' by the sweat of his brow and t' do fer his family an' kin. Yer about to learn that right soon, son, an' all I can hope is that yer mama an' me brought ya up to take on that job. Won't be long before ya have a family of yer own, an' when ya do, well I reckon yer gonna see thangs the same way I do."
Well, I couldn't remember the last time Daddy hugged me like that, and it was all I could do to keep from bawling. I turned away so he wouldn't see my watery eyes and think I was some kind of a crybaby. When we got back to camp, Mama and Jodie took little Earl Ray and headed to the lake to take their bath. If I could have done it without getting caught, I might have snuck into the trees to get a look at Jodie's naked body, because I'd grown a powerful interest in it since we left home.
It was a real good supper, and Mama cooked those fish up just right, a nice light brown. She baked some biscuits in the Dutch oven, and a little salt and fatback grease on the baked potatoes set it off to a tee. As the sun set, we all sat around the fire and speculated about how different it was going to be living in the plains of Oklahoma rather than the mountains of Appalachia. I don't know how the others felt, but as for me, I was dreading it and looking forward to it at the same time.
In spite of what I'd said to Jodie, I was already missing Sue Ellen something awful, and knowing I wasn't ever going to get into her underwear just made it that much more heartbreaking. And even after what Jodie and I had shared in the back of the truck, I wasn't at all sure it was going to go where I hoped it would, but at the same time, I was afraid it might! And if it did, I knew Mama and Daddy would probably just blow sky high, once they found out, in spite of what Jodie said. I guess my mind and my feelings were just all topsy-turvy. Thinking about all the possibilities and all the possible consequences was making my brain hurt.
Well, it was getting dark, and even though we'd planned to lay out the mattresses on the tarp and get some good solid sleep before setting out on the final leg, nobody but little Earl Ray was all that sleepy once we'd cleaned up and had a good meal. So we talked about it and decided to pack up and head on out, thinking we'd arrive at Aunt Clair's house in the early morning, just in time for breakfast. An hour later, we were back on the road again.
It was Daddy's turn to drive, so Jodie and I took up residence on the sofa again. Like I said, it was dark and it was starting to get chilly like there might be a storm coming or something, so we wrapped ourselves in two blankets and huddled close.
In a few miles, the hum of the tires on the road and the motion of the truck started to make us feel kind of drowsy, so we stretched out on the sofa like Jodie insisted we would earlier that morning, her in back and me spooning my backside up against her. While the heat of her body and her arm around my chest felt nice, I couldn't actually make out the feel of her titties against my back, so it wasn't quite the thrill I thought it was gonna be.
Since I wasn't feeling any real sexual stimulation, only wishing for it, I finally began drifting off after I heard her snoring softly behind me. That made it plain that she wasn't all that excited about anything. Just as my eyelids drooped, I saw the sky light up off in the distance and thought we might run into a thunderstorm or two.
I couldn't have been sleeping for more than an hour when my eyes popped open and I was wide awake. A bright flash had lit up the inside of my eyelids, followed immediately by a deafening crack of thunder. A bolt of lightning must have struck within fifty feet of the truck! The wind was howling around us, making the truck rock from side to side, and rain was blowing in under the canvas tarp.
I couldn't tell what was going on up front, but I felt the truck turn off the road. After a couple of minutes of bouncing across an open field, I knew Daddy must have parked under something because the rain stopped blowing in on us. Jodie had a death-grip around my chest, she was so scared. I lifted up the edge of the tarp and tried to figure out where we were, but I couldn't see a dang thing until another lightning flash. Then I saw that we must be inside a barn or a shed. The rain was just pouring down outside, and the shed or barn or whatever we were in was groaning and creaking from the wind blasting away at it. I was actually afraid it was gonna blow away and us with it.
I got off the back of the truck and walked around to talk to Daddy. I couldn't see him, but I heard him and Mama talking to little Earl Ray, trying to calm him down. I guess the storm must have scared him.
I tapped on the side window and Daddy rolled it down. "Dang, Marvin, you and Jodie doin' alright back there?"
"Yeah, we're okay. Well, we got a little bit wet, is all. You know where we are?"
"I reckon we're about thirty-five, forty miles past Springfield. I been watchin' that storm comin' our way fer the last half hour, figurin' I'd have plenty of time to find us some shelter, but it come up on me so fast. The rain was so heavy that I couldn't hardly see the road no more, so slowed way down to look for a place to pull off. When the lightning flashed, I seen this old barn and made for it."
"Okay," I said, "Well as long as everbody's alright, I'll go back an' sit with Jodie. The storm scared her some, I think." I didn't think it was necessary to say that it was scaring the pee out of me, too.
"Yes," Mama said, "You do that. As long as this storm's ragin' outside, we ought t' just sit here in this barn and ride it out."
Just then, another lightning flash lit up the inside of the barn. Mama said, "Look over there in the corner, Jake! I seen a pile of hay. Why don't we git the mattresses out of the back and make us a bed for the rest of the night? Who knows how long this storm's gonna last?"
Daddy agreed with her. "You might be right, Bess. Come on, Marvin, help me untie the tarp and git two o' them mattresses off the truck. We'll smooth out some o' that hay and make us a couple o' beds. Me an' yer Mama an' little Earl Ray can take one, you an' Jodie can take the other. Guess we shoulda stayed put when we was back at that camp."
So Daddy dug the oil lamp out and lit it. We untied the tarp and pulled two mattresses off the truck and found some dry spots in the hay to lay them down. It was actually a big pile of hay, so one mattress was on one side and the other on the opposite side, separated by about an eight foot haystack. The hay under the mattresses was thick enough that we'd stay dry, even if water ran onto the barn floor. Mama and Jodie found some pillows and spread blankets for us.