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CHAPTER 1

Judas Steer Front (1)

Well-meaning friends told her the worst part of being a widow was going to bed alone. They didn’t have two teenagers and a ranch to run. Just once she’d like a night where she didn’t drop into bed so tired she welcomed the dark silence—invited it, even. The worse part for her was the pink and yellow sunrise that started the painful process all over again.

Rebbie and Ty were great kids, but both required constant prompting to get up and dressed, to feed the cows, and still get to school before the bell rang. Psychiatrists who advised parents not to address a child’s negative behavior before sending them off to school were evidently single, childless, or owned nothing larger than a miniature poodle.

“Don’t make me come up there, boy,” she yelled again.

Bare feet pounded the floor overhead.

“About dang time.” Irritation coated her tone.

With Ty now vertical, she hurried through the living room where her daughter Rebbie primped for school in front of the television. A familiar Texas two-step blared from surround sound speakers. Aubrey stopped to listen to lyrics that always slowed her breathing. Mickey Gilley ran his fingers over the ivory of an upright piano while he leaned forward and moaned into the microphone. Here comes that hurt again. You’d think I’d learn. The more that I believe in love the more I get burned.

She remembered Mark spinning her around the hot, overcrowded dance floor at the Barbed Wire, his body pressed against hers, the comingling odors of peanuts, beer, and sweat—so strong she smelled them even now.

“Rebbie, you’ve seen that movie at least ten times,” she said, pulling herself back to the present. “You must have every move memorized. Turn that television off and get in there and eat your breakfast.”

Aubrey headed to the kitchen to finish making sandwiches then stuffed them into brown paper bags and folded the tops.

Rebbie ambled into the kitchen, whining. “I know, Mom, it’s just that I love watching the guy. He’s so handsome and he moves across the dance floor like nobody’s business. I wish Brett could dance half that good. He can’t seem to stop tripping over my feet when he tries to twirl me.” She took a bite of her eggs. “These are cold.”

Aubrey shrugged and gave a raised you think look.

Rebbie popped the plate in the microwave. “You and Daddy owned the floor of the Barbed Wire in your day. Don’t you miss the live music and all?”

“I miss everything about your daddy, like….” Aubrey’s words caught in her throat. “Like how he smelled fresh out of the shower.”

She patted Rebbie on the shoulder. “Now, you and your brother get those cows fed before you leave for school. I can’t do it this morning. It’s my volunteer day at the center.”

Rebbie yelled up the stairs. “Ty, get moving, you hear me? Get your butt down here. We got work to do before we leave.”

“Rebbie, not so loud—”

Their conversation ended with the slam of a car door out front. Aubrey pulled back the curtain. “Dang, it’s Sheriff Burleson, that mean-tempered old fool. He’s the last thing I wanted this morning, or any morning for that matter.”

“Maybe he has new information on Daddy’s case.” An impish grin appeared on Rebbie’s face. “Maybe he’s come courting.”

“Very funny, baby girl.”

Aubrey pushed open the screen door.

“Come on in Earl. What can we do for you this morning?”

Chest puffed out and one hand resting on his revolver, the sheriff took a step inside. He didn’t remove his hat, which sent a clear message—something teed him off.

“I came to ask for the key to the lock for your pasture gate on Highway 113—that and your permission to visit the crime scene again. I’ll bring the key back when we’re done.”

His paternal, official-sounding tone aggravated Aubrey.

“Seems the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations’ Forensics Services wants to look into Mark’s death starting with the area where his body was found, but you probably already know about that.” Earl hesitated like he expected her to respond. When she didn’t, his tirade continued.

“Did you have so little faith in my investigation that you felt the need to get the OSBI involved Aubrey? You know we’ve done everything we can to find Mark’s killer, and I hate that we haven’t. Just because them city boys have some big highfaluting title don’t mean they’ll find any more than a hick county sheriff did.”

Aubrey had enough of his bull. She shoved a chair out of her way, stomped over, and pulled the loop of keys off the peg and tossed them to him.

“Well, it certainly wasn’t a request from his widow,” she said, “or they’d have been here three years ago. I’d think you’d want to pursue every county and state resource available to solve his murder. After all, Earl, Mark was your officer!”

“Well, I don’t know what you think they’re going to find.” He stepped out and slammed the door in her face.

Neither do I, you arrogant ass.

Ty rounded the corner with a tortilla-wrapped breakfast in one hand and his phone in the other. “Woo we temper, temper. Not becoming of an officer of the law. Bye, Mom.”

“Ty Fox, get off that phone. Everyone in the county doesn’t need a text that you just took a pee or that Sheriff Burleson is a hot-headed fool.”

He dropped the phone into his pocket.

“Your sister knows what needs to be done. Don’t give her any trouble. Please ride Smoke today. That horse is getting fat and lazy.”

“Yes, ma’am, consider it done.” Ty kissed her cheek on his way out the door, and quickly pulled out his phone.

Aubrey shook her head—some things just weren’t worth fighting over. She handed Rebbie two lunches. “Here, your brother might get hungry later. What’s that boy going to do when you leave for college?”

“Starve and miss me terribly. Nice friendly visit with Sheriff Burleson this morning. I guess he can’t count on you to lead his re-election campaign.”

“Yeah well, if he’s done his job then he has nothing to worry about. Let Ty drive the truck out in the pasture. Don’t tell him I said so, just move over and make him think you’re letting him.”

“Yes, ma’am. Love you.” Rebbie left with a wave.

Aubrey stood in the door and watched her children head for the barn. Rebbie backed the diesel dually truck out of the pole barn where Ty loaded two bags of Equine Adult in the back.

After the horses, they’d feed the cows in the south pasture and make sure they had enough water in the trough. Another dry spring in Oklahoma left the stock pond a shallow mud puddle. Everyone prayed for rain. She sure didn’t want to pay to have water hauled from Lake Eufaula again this year. Her cow-calf operation barely made money as it was. Even new tires for the truck would have to wait.

Aubrey went upstairs to shower and dress for the day. Her morning routine always helped her mentally prepare to meet the public.

She undressed and tied up her auburn hair. A quick test of the temperature and she stepped into the tepid stream of water.

So the OSBI was reopening Mark’s case. That sounded like a positive sign. Perhaps she’d get a straight answer to her one question. Why?

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A Christmas Memory

It’s funny what we think about during our morning shower. Singing is a must, whether frowned on by other matters little. This morning while the hot water embraced me with its warmth my mind wandered to my childhood.

We lived on Cape Cod and the weather outside was cold with light snow. It was Saturday morning, which meant we were baking cookies and a cake or pie. My dad traditionally sat and watched sports on television. If his coffee cup needing a refill he yelled, “honey” and Mom either got his cup or sent one of us girls to do it; two sugars and a little milk. Little did I know then that baking was some kind of adult mating ritual. Love was expressed in flour, sugar, eggs, and a touch of vanilla flavoring or apples in a light crust, and served warm, topped with a slice of cheese.

Anyway, my sister and I were teenagers and my little brother, Bobby, was four years old. We never lacked anything, but we were middle class. Why this is important is because at our age we knew that Christmas existed for children, like Bobby, not for mature girls of seventeen and eighteen. We understood. Money was tight and we both had gotten new Sperry Topsider sneakers for basketball just a couple of weeks ago. They’d cost $10.00 a pair. Quite a hit on the ole budget.

Dona and I finished our chores and headed for the Barnstable Junior High gym to watch girl’s intermural basketball. When we got home Mom and Bobby were gone. Dad was napping in his chair, but not for long. The door opened and Mom headed upstairs with some bags and Bobby came on the run chanting “I know what you’re getting for Christmas.” Dona and I ignored him. Mom yelled at him from upstairs, “Bobby, it’s a secret. You better not tell.” With that he leaned over to Dona and whispered, “I’m not going to tell you, but it tells time and plays music.”

On Christmas day Dona had to act surprised as she opened her clock radio.

Memories. Aren’t they fun.

Mama’s Hands

Mama’s Hands was honored with a first place in Women’s Essay at the Daughter of the American Revolution Convention this year in Washington D.C. When President General Young attended the Oklahoma Workshop in Tulsa, it was my pleasure to read it during our banquet. After the banquet I was amazed how many members approached me to tell me how my story, shared during the introduction, mirrored their own.

Abt. 1947Introduction:

My parents were of that generation that didn’t express their emotions. My father died at age 64 yrs. without ever telling me he loved me. My mother told me that having a roof over my head and food on the table should have been enough. For years I told my mother I loved her at the end of our phone calls. That was followed by a long silent pause. I could feel her discomfort through the phone. Then she’d finish with “Okay, talk to you soon. Finally, when I was 62 yrs. old she told me she loved me. I wrote Mama’s Hands for her.

Mama’s Hands

My mother has told me for years, “You look like me, except you have the finer features of your dad.” My sister and I love to tease her about how grateful we are she didn’t pass on her “Roman” nose to us. Yes, I look like her. I wore the dark green semi-formal party dress she wore out on her 16th anniversary to my 8th grade prom. I even wore the matching shoes. Yes, I’m physically a mini-mama.

I think of her and smile as I glance down at my hands. They are no longer soft and taut. Deep wrinkles and brown age spots give away my years. My adoring husband says they give me character. What makes me smile is how much they still resemble my mama’s hands.

Mama grew up in harder times than I would ever know. She and her peers, the World War II generation, promised their children would never struggle as they had.

Life was hard in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Granddad, a wild catter oil man, died of pneumonia leaving his twenty-four year old wife a penniless young widow with three children under the age of eight. Too proud to ask for assistance, Grandma toiled as a housekeeper to keep her children fed. Mama learned, as soon as she was tall enough, to stand in laundry room and wash and iron clothes. Times were hard and there wasn’t time to play or be a little girl.

When the Depression ended, the Dust Bowl era blew in. Old timers remember how the silt whooshed in from every nook and cranny, coating the furniture and people alike. Just breathing was a chore. Grandma tied water soaked handkerchiefs over her children’s noses and mouths to filter out the dirt. Grandma swabbed their little throats with kerosene to prevent dust pneumonia. As portrayed in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, the catastrophic conditions forced many to forsake Oklahoma. While many of their neighbors left for California to find a new life, our family stayed and continued to farm the parcel of land Granddad Phipps claimed in the Cherokee Land Rush of 1893.

With Grandma working, my mama minded her little brother, Joe, and kept the inquisitive youngster out of trouble. She loved him more than anyone else in the entire world. It broke her heart when Joe died in 1943. He was hit by a speeding taxi cab while attending Army flight school in Wichita Falls, Texas. The letter President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent to my grandmother hangs in my room. It reads, “He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live, and through it, he lives – in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.”

During World War II Mama joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) and became a radio operator. Throughout her life she remained immensely proud of being in uniform and serving her country during the Axis Powers’ threat to the free world. Even in her later years her agile fingers could still tap out words in Morse Code.

My parents met on a blind date to a USO dance in Kansas City. Soon Dad put a ring on Mama’s left hand. In two years she had two girls of her own to raise. Mama sewed our dresses, which always matched, leaving the impression we were twins. She permed, rolled, and combed our pageboy length hair. In fact in my Brownie picture, I have more ringlets than Shirley Temple. This was courtesy of Mama and Toni Home Permanents. Yes, I was the one with the Toni. Years later another baby joined the family. Then before she knew it we all graduated, left home, and started families of our own.

Mama went into the antique business when she was in her fifties; five foot two inches of determination and Okie spunk. Paint stripper and antiquing stains kept her hands spotted and cracked; her nails stained brown and broken. It didn’t matter. Her work brought her joy. She could pack a van to the roof with the best of any man at an auction.

Well into her sixties, Mama still grew a large garden, froze vegetables and homemade cookies and pies. Age spots started appearing on her hands and face. Never narcissistic about her looks, she was too busy to care, so she just ignored them.

Dad died in 1984 after two years of aggressive cancer. Work kept her too busy to sit and feel sorry for herself. Would dying from loneliness have served any purpose? Her vocation kept her busy and young. It took decades to slow her down, Okie spunk and all. But that time in life comes for all of us. Content in her memories; her wrinkles were a tribute to the decades of a long rich life. Mama left us last year to be with Dad. She was ninety-three.

To think of her I only have to look down at my own hands.

I love you, Mama.

For my fellow writers I would like to share a very informative article about POV by Kristen Lamb. Kristen makes it so easy to understand. Enjoy. The link is below.

warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/deep-p-o-v-part-one-what-is-it-how-do-we-do-i

To my writing friends, Kristen Lamb is an extremely talented writer and teacher. I’m re-blogging her current message, because it is so informative.

https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/deep-p-o-v-part-one-what-is-it-how-do-we-do-it/

Leo and Margaret

Leo and Margaret

I’m the family genealogist. In my closets you can find boxes of what some people might refer to as junk. However, whenever they want a picture or fact from the past who do they call?

Some of the items mean little to anyone but me. When my mom gave me her grandmother’s Bible, tucked into a chapter sat a postcard just waiting for me to read. My Great-uncle Leo was in France during World War I. While there he sent a postcard to the woman he left behind. Although a beautiful scene adorned the front, it amused me to think he professed his love to her on a piece of cardboard that would travel from the streets of Paris, France, to rural Bremen, Oklahoma . A love note that would be read by dozens of people before it reached her door. This was a period in time when couples refrained from demonstrating their affection in public.But the rules have to be bent when you don’t know if today is your last day on this earth. “I love you,” he said for all to see. I loved her too, my Great-aunt Margaret.

It’s very comforting to know Aunt Margaret was loved by her husband. That there were good times shared as they farmed the Oklahoma land ravaged by drought and blowing dust. Great-granddad Phipps made the Cherokee Run and lived in a cave on the land until he could build his family a house. This parcel of red dirt stayed in the family until Uncle Leo’s only child, Mary A., died childless.

Aunt Margaret was more like a grandmother to me. I loved her like one. In my boxes of memories there are very few pictures of her and Leo. The ones I have are treasured. You may find it hard to find Bremen, Oklahoma on the map. We drove there for Memorial Day several years ago and put flowers on the Phipps family graves. They all rest together in a rural cemetery where barbed wire keeps out the cows. How fitting for Okie pioneers.

I’m thinking of you today with love.

Welcome Home

One of the reasons I joined the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) was to be of service to my community. How I could do that was not defined. When the opportunity arose to salute veterans of the war in Vietnam it pulled at my heart.

The Vietnam War changed my life. Within a year I was no longer the young teenage girl only interested in fashion, dating and having fun. Young men my age were being drafted and sent to war in a nation most of us weren’t aware existed. Our generation never asked why. The government made that decision and you served. It wasn’t until later that the anti-war movement organized and men went to Canada rather than serve.

The face of war became that of Lt Cdr. Richard A. Stratton, an A4E pilot and the maintenance officer of Attack Squadron 192 onboard the aircraft carrier USS TICONDEROGA. On January 4, 1967, he launched in his A4E “Skyhawk” attack Aircraft for his 27th mission over North Vietnam. He remained a POW at the Hanoi Hilton until 1973.

It was his likeness that was on the bumper stickers and pamphlets that I distributed as a volunteer for the National League of Families. The sale of the POW-MIA bracelets paid for the League to keep their stories alive in the press and to be able to lobby North Vietnam officials in France.

Every night with our evening meal the national networks fed us films of helicopters unloading body bags of our young men. Body counts of the enemy dead became important news to offset our losses. How could it be that so many young warriors were dead and yet we weren’t gaining any ground? The army that beat the French was about to send us home defeated in mind and spirit.

There were no parades. No one cared if a soldier had developed a drug problem to ease the pain he carried inside. Take off that uniform and blend in. Don’t talk about the war. Move on.

The U. S. Department of Defense has declared 2015 as the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. After 50 years the grateful hand is being extended.
The DAR is honored to salute our veterans. Thanks for your service. Welcome home.