Confounded Life

We were poor.  Not because my daddy didn’t have a good job. He did. We were poor because he wasted his money on whisky.  I never could figure out why he needed to buy it when the sheriff habitually confiscated it from others and brought it to my dad.  I couldn’t understand that either since the sheriff later had to bring Daddy home falling-down drunk when he caught him weaving up and down Mare Creek in his old beat-up Chevy truck.

Daddy had bought his truck from B&D Motors for $200.  It never did run right, so Daddy often told everyone on the creek, “Don’t buy nothing from B&D Motors. You know what their name stands for, don’t you? Bad and dirty.”

Mommy tried to feed us and keep us clothed the best she could, but often we missed supper.  Daddy came home drunk and either made us all so nervous we couldn’t eat or, in a drunken rage, turned over the old metal kitchen table and dumped the food all over the floor.  To make sure we ate, we usually tried to hustle and get our food onto our plates and sneak out of the house to eat on the porch–or into the bedroom in the winter–before Daddy made it home from work.

Daddy was drunk on my eighth birthday.  I knew I wouldn’t get any presents. I never did. But I so hoped I’d have a white cake with white icing and maybe some homemade vanilla ice cream.  I loved homemade ice cream.  I loved watching Mommy make it. She’d stick her finger into it to check it and let my younger sister and me lick it off.  How I loved that ice cream.

She was making some when Daddy drove up into the yard.  When I heard the truck, I jerked my head around and looked toward the kitchen door.  “Reckon he’s drunk?” I asked, looking up at Mommy.

Mommy’s smile turned into a deep frown and her forehead wrinkled.  “Likely so,” she muttered.

My sister and I ran into the living room. We had just climbed onto the couch and were on our knees looking out the window when the house shook.

“Mercy, young’uns, what was that?” Mommy asked as she hurried into the living room.

The house shook again.  “He’s driving the truck into the house, Mommy,” I said.

I wasn’t surprised that he would do this.  The month before, he had driven the truck into the swelling waters of Mare Creek when the ’57 flood wreaked havoc all over the Big Sandy Valley.  A neighbor had waded out into the creek, water up to his waist, and carried my younger sister and me to safety.  Mommy, Daddy, and my older sisters somehow managed to make their way to the bank.  Just the week before my birthday, he had come home drunk and shot up all the porch furniture.

“Get on in the bedroom, girls,” Mommy told us. “I’ll see what’s the matter with him.”

She went out onto the porch.  My sister and I stayed on the couch and watched through the window.  Daddy kept backing up and ramming the house.  As I watched and listened, I thought about my ice cream, melting I was sure.  He might even pour it out, or demand the whole batch for himself.

“Bennie, what in the world are you doing?” Mommy called to him.  If he heard her, he didn’t acknowledge it.

Finally, after maybe twenty times of hitting the house and backing up, Daddy backed up one last time, turned off the truck, and got out.  Mommy didn’t say anything. She just looked at him.

“What are you looking at?” he demanded, his hands on his hips.

“Nothing,” Mommy responded.

“You spoke the truth for sure that time, woman,” Daddy said.  “You ain’t looking at nothing.”  He staggered from around the truck and tried to amble up the three weak steps that led to the back porch.  But on the second step he stuck his right foot too far back and it fell through the crack in the back.  His leg got caught and the rest of his body spread itself out in different directions.  “Confounded steps.  Confounded truck.  Confounded stupid life,” he almost whined.

I wasn’t sure, but I thought I saw a tear on my daddy’s cheek.  At that moment, for the first time in my life, I saw Daddy as a person. Not the big loud being that lived in our house and kept me scared out of my wits most of the time, but a real, live, breathing, hurting person. A person who had needs and wants the same as I did.  A person who didn’t have what he wanted, didn’t know how to get what he wanted, and hated himself and the world because of it.  And, no, I didn’t put it in those words. Not at eight years old. But I knew.  Somehow I knew.  Just as I was not in control of my own destiny, neither was my daddy.

Mommy looked up and saw my sister and me in the window.  “Go get your sisters!” she yelled.

I jumped off the couch and found my two oldest sisters, and they went out and helped Mommy carry Daddy inside.  Mommy bandaged the cut on his leg and he quickly fell asleep on the couch. Listening to him snore, I ate my vanilla ice cream, only a little melted, and white cake with white icing.  I felt sorry that Daddy was missing the wonderful flavors. But I guess he was happier snoring on the couch. No confounded truck to think about. No confounded steps.  No confounded stupid life.


from Appalachian Heritage magazine, fall 2000, p. 49


Miss Pharisee

Your hair is too short, and your blouse is too low.
You shouldn’t wear pants to this service, you know.

I think that I noticed as we bowed to pray–
Your head was not lowered in quite the right way.

And, hey, did you sing the last verse of that song?
I thought that you didn’t (but I could be wrong).

I think that the preacher was talking to you.
He mentioned some sins that I know that you do.

And, oh, did you notice that Sue is not here?
She claims to be sick; but she’s lying, I fear.

Did you hear the latest on Allison Nunn?
She went to the beach and lay out in the sun!

Would you look at that–how she’s staring at Gene!
His wife should take notice, you know what I mean?

Oh, no, I can’t visit Old Sister Marie.
The smell in her house is too pungent for me.

You’d think she would clean it–with guests coming by.
I can’t understand it. (God knows that I try.)

I tolerate others, and try to forgive;
But it is disgraceful how some Christians live!

Well, dear, I must go now and open the bar.
You know how impatient my customers are.

I don’t understand what they see in the drink.
Some day God will punish them sorely, I think.

I’ve just enough time to play lottery’s Star,
And get my new tattoo right next to the bar.

Now pin up the hem on this skirt–that’s just right.
I’ll let it down easy for service tonight.

If only more Christians would do what is right,
They’d join me in heaven and share in my light.

But Jesus said only the good will get through.
I’m glad that I’m going. Too bad about you.