Southern Legitimacy Statement: I used to race against chickens in the backyard after my Papaw lopped their heads off. I also once inadvertently bought a goat at the sale barn.
Red Sky Morning
I didn’t sleep well. All night long, I thought about Daddy coming home. On my third birthday, the cops caught him outside the Jordan’s Quick Mart selling a bag of pills to Kendall Hardeman. He’d been gone now for seven years. Momma said the time away did him good. She’d been up to see him several times and told me he looked better and had found Jesus. Momma said a man who came and talked to him said he had a buddy who bricked houses, and Daddy could call on him for work when he got out. Mamma said she and Daddy were excited about that. Daddy hadn’t had a real job in years. She told me that his having a steady job would make things easier.
Me and Momma piled into her silver Cutlass. She turned the key, and it bitched and moaned before it finally turned over. As she drove me to school, I stared out the window. The sky glowed pink and orange. Papaw told me a red sky morning always meant a bad storm was coming. Not today, I thought. Nothing could mess up today, not even some old storm. Daddy would be there when I got home. Momma was going straight from dropping me off at school to Cummins to pick him up.
When we pulled up to school, she tousled my hair and pinched my cheek. She smiled at me. I don’t like it when Momma smiles. She don’t have pretty teeth. If Daddy makes good money with the bricking, maybe she can get them fixed. I bet that would make her happy.
All morning long, I couldn’t listen to Mrs. Dean or focus on my lessons. All I could think about was what I might do with Daddy when I got home. Papaw said Daddy was a good pitcher back when he played Little League. I found an old glove at the Goodwill, and Momma said I could have it. Maybe when I got home, we could go down there and get it, and me and Daddy can have a catch. Maybe Daddy could show me how to put my fingers on the seams and make a curve ball break. Tommy Dinkins can throw a ball that starts at your head and ends up plumb in the other batter’s box. I wonder if Daddy can throw that one. I bet he can.
I sat on a bench by the monkey bars at lunchtime and ate my peanut butter sandwich. I watched everybody laughing and playing, but I didn’t want to. I wanted the day to hurry up so I could get home and see Daddy. I wondered what he and Momma might be doing right now. They’d be on their way back. I bet they are talking about everything he missed and what they might do when they get home. They might even kiss a little.
The afternoon dragged on and on. I colored on my notepad and acted like I was listening to Mrs. Dean so I wouldn’t get in trouble. I wouldn’t want to get sent to the office and have to have Daddy and Momma come up here on the day Daddy comes home.
As soon as the last bell rang, I shoved my stuff in my backpack and hurried out to the bus. No sooner than I got on the bus, the rain started. My house was the last stop since we lived out past the bayou. They took all the kids who lived on the paved roads home first. That ride seemed like it took forever. When we got all the city kids dropped off and headed out of town, lightning started popping, and the thunder cracked hard enough it rattled the bus windows. Papaw was right. It made me wonder how something so pretty in the morning could turn so dark and scary by the afternoon.
The bus turned onto my road. I didn’t care about the weather anymore. I only wanted to get home and see Daddy. I knew he and Momma would be waiting on me, and he’d want me to tell him all about school. Maybe after it quit storming, we could get that glove at Goodwill, a hamburger, and a shake from the Bulldog Café. Momma likes their shakes since she can’t chew so well.
When the bus pulled up to the house, I jumped off the step and gave Mr. McCracken, the driver, a wave. He pulled off. I turned and ran up the hill. When I got to the porch, I noticed all the lights were off, but I could see the tv flickering inside. I grabbed the knob, but it was locked. I could see Momma’s car in the drive, so I knew they were home, so I hollered at the door and then went and looked in the window. The tv was blaring loud enough I could hear it outside, so I knocked and hollered again. They didn’t come. I figured they were asleep or couldn’t hear me over the tv.
I ran around the back of the house and onto the screen porch. I tossed my backpack on the picnic table and kicked off my shoes. I knew Momma kept the key to the back door under a plastic rabbit she had stuck in a potted plant. So I picked him up and grabbed the key. I unlocked the door, put the key back under the rabbit, and went inside.
I could hear a preacher hollering on TV. He wanted people to send him money so God’s kingdom could grow. I didn’t want to wake Momma and Daddy up, so I made a cheese sandwich in the kitchen and opened a Coke.
I couldn’t wait for Daddy to wake up. While he was gone, I took some awful ribbing from some kids at school when they found out he was in prison. They told me Daddy was dumb and that he was good for nothing. Now that he’s home and he’s got a line on a new job, they can’t say that no more. They’ll have to find somebody new to get at.
After I finished my sandwich, I put my plate in the sink and threw away the Coke can. The preacher was still hollering, and they hadn’t stirred. I couldn’t wait anymore. I wanted to see Daddy. I bet he won’t believe how big I am. He’ll probably pick me up and swing me around. Momma will say, “Put that boy down, Sam,” but she won’t mean it. She’ll be laughing when she says it.
I walked into the living room, and they were asleep. Momma had her head in Daddy’s lap, and Daddy had his head laid back. His mouth was open. They looked so peaceful I decided I wouldn’t wake them, and I’d walk next door to Papaw’s house and wait on him to get home from work.
I put my shoes back on and walked across the backyard to Papaw’s. I sat on his old porch swing and listened to the rain on his tin roof. The rhythm of it put me to sleep.
I woke up to find Papaw sitting beside me, whittling at a piece of wood. He smiled at me and elbowed me in the ribs.
“You get your nap out?” he said.
“Yessir. Momma and Daddy were sleeping when I come home, and I didn’t want to wake ‘em, so I come here to wait on you. I guess I fell asleep, too.”
Papaw flipped his knife shut and fingered at his piece of wood before tossing it off the porch.
“Well, why don’t we go inside and get you some supper?” he said.
“I think I might go home. I bet Momma and Daddy are up now. I’m going to ask if we can go to the Bulldog. I bet Daddy’d like a milkshake and a hamburger after being gone. Come with us, Papaw. We can all go. You can get a chocolate malt like you like.”
“You better come on inside. I’ll make us something to eat. I’ve been over there to see ‘em, and I think it’s best we eat here.”
“They gonna come to dinner, Papaw?”
“No, Mitch. I don’t think they’re hungry.”
I followed him inside and sat at the table while he pulled out some bologna and opened a can of baked beans. He poured himself a glass of buttermilk and me a Dr. Pepper. He slid over a couple of pieces of light bread and the bologna. I went to making a sandwich. Papaw scooped some beans on his plate but didn’t touch them. He just sat there and watched me eat.
When I finished my sandwich and Dr. Pepper, I saw Papaw still hadn’t touched his beans. Instead, he was just staring out the window toward my house. So I got up, put my plate in the sink, and sat back down.
“Papaw?” I said.
“There was a red sky this morning, and you know what you always say, if it’s a red sky morning, a feller better take warning. You were right. That old storm was awful. Ain’t you glad it passed?”
Papaw put his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling for a minute. Then he took a long swig of his buttermilk. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and then rubbed his hands up and down his face like someone trying to wake up.
“I ain’t real sure it has, Mitch,” he said, “I ain’t real sure it has.”