Possum Holler Morning by William Matthew McCarter

“You touch that dial, my country cousins, and I’ll never speak to you again. Right here, right now, on good ole’ KREB is where you’ll hear the best, the latest, and the greatest country music. Right here, in the Parkland… That’s right, here in the Lord’s own playground where the greatest American people call home. Now, you just relax and sit a spell and drink your morning coffee with ole Joe Bob and I’ll play your favorite country hits all the way to high noon.”

Each morning she woke up to the obnoxious voice of Joe Bob Bennett, the DJ on the local radio station. She preferred that good old gospel music of KTRI – Trinity Radio – the sister radio station to KREB – also owned by the Dobbins Broadcast Group, but her husband, Jerry always complained about her using KTRI as an alarm. He said all that “Jesus talk” gave him “night horses.”

The inner eye of Suzi Beth Davis came to life to the sound of Joe Bob’s voice each morning and then it quickly turned its attention to the image of a kind old man with a shock of long silver hair and a long silver beard – an image that looked somewhat like an unkempt Kenny Rogers or Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments. Surrounded by an ethereal fog of heavenly clouds, the image also resembled the scene in the Superman movie where Superman’s dad – was it Marlon Brando – I forget the actor’s name – stood bright and shining – like a matured Apollo – Zeus really – dressed in heavenly white with a booming voice that could shake the heavens and the earth. The inner eye of Suzi Beth Davis recognized this image as being the face of God.

It was this face – this Kenny Rogers, Charlton Heston, Superman’s dad, dressed in white surrounded by an ethereal mist – that looked down on her little postage stamp of the big blue marble called earth – a postage stamp called Possum Holler, Missouri.

What Suzi Beth Davis’ image of the Lord, our God, saw when he looked down over her little postage stamp was the rooftops of the homes that made up the Possum Holler Lake community. Possum Holler had once been a bustling resort for wealthy patrons from St. Louis and beyond. However, that Possum Holler had faded away – disappeared into the ash heap of history – and was now made up of permanent residents doing all that they could to hang on to their lake cabins and bungalows that dotted the landscape of Possum Holler. In spite of the fact that the community appeared to be forgotten – or at least nearly forgotten, Suzi Beth Davis believed that the Lord God had a tender spot in His heart for this sleepy little community in the Piankashaw Valley of Southeast Missouri.

As Suzi Beth opened her eyes in the milky dawn light of another Piankashaw morning, she sighed and then silently sent a prayer up to the Kenny Rogers, Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, Superman’s dad face of God – “Lord, please bless my home and my family. Bless this house and all of those who live here. Bless our little community here in Possum Holler. Bless all of us up here in the Piankashaw hills. Remember us, Lord,” she pleaded.

“God will not forget us,” Suzi Beth reasoned to herself, “God is all knowing and all seeing – omnivorous or something like that” – she didn’t remember what the preacher said – Suzi Beth recalled that Joe Bob Bennett liked to refer to her little postage stamp of Southeast Missouri – The Parkland – The Lord’s own playground and Suzi Beth could feel His presence in the hills and hollers of the Piankashaw Valley, especially near her home in Possum Holler.

Each morning that Suzi Beth got out of bed – at least lately – she felt herself getting older. Her joints were beginning to stiffen and , at times, especially after a really hard day at work and an even harder and longer day of taking care of her family, she felt as if she might break – as if she might break into a million little pieces – break into a million pieces that would blow away into the hills, into the lake, into the rocky clay of the mountains themselves – until those million little pieces – until she, Susan Elizabeth Davis – just disappeared like the dust in the wind. However, Suzi Beth offered her pain up to God, knowing that life is a part of nature – that its beginning is impossible to recall, and its ending is not to be contemplated for we know not when it comes. But God does and that is yet another reason why we must put our faith in the Lord.

Each morning, as Suzi Beth turned off Joe Bob Bennett on the KREB, she thought and felt all of these things before the soft light of dawn settled and shined in on her through the window. The sunrise was one of the little miracles that the Lord had brought to her each and every day. She took in the sunrise with a cup of coffee at her kitchen window. After she had had enough of this little miracle (and enough coffee), after she had felt that she had felt the hand of God reaching into her and revealing itself through that early morning sunshine, Suzi Beth gained the strength that it took to ignore those nagging pains that threatened to break her into a million littlie pieces – the pains that came with working too long for too little – and took in that little bit of peace that she prayed for each morning before she went down the hallway to wake up the rest of her family.

“Jerry, honey, get up,” she said. Suzi Beth looked in on her husband, Jerry, but he didn’t move. If she had not seen the quilted blanket that she had made years ago for a 4H project move with each breath that Jerry took, she might have thought that he was dead – that the Lord may have taken up to be with Him for all eternity. For a second, she wondered if he husband, Jerry, would make it up to heaven to see the Lord face to face. She wondered if he would ever stare into the majestic face of Kenny Rogers, Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, Superman’s dad, because Jerry was, as far as she could tell, pushing the limits of what the preacher, Brother Clarkson, called the Lord’s “infinite grace and forgiveness.” At times, she wondered, especially when it came to her husband, Jerry, if the Lord could possibly be that tolerant of a member of His flock.

“Jerry, it’s time to get up. Now, wake up.” She yelled this time, partly because he was still asleep and partly because she got to wondering about that “infinite grace and forgiveness” thing. She loved Jerry with all of her heart – for better or for worse – and she didn’t even want to think about being without him in the afterlife. Even though, through most of his waking moments, he often made her wonder. She tried to remind herself that her God was a just God and that being without Jerry in the afterlife would be pure hell for her. Surely a just God wouldn’t put her through hell like that.

“God damn it, I’m awake,” Jerry yelled, growling from under the covers like a hibernating bear.

Suzi Beth closed her eyes as if doing so would make Jerry’s words just disappear – as if they were really out there – as if they had spilled out of his mouth like alphabet soup out of a bowl and all she had to do was not look at them. Quickly, Suzi Beth yelled, “Don’t you take the Lord’s name in vain in this house again, Jerry Jeff Davis, and I mean it.” Once again, Suzi Beth thought about that “infinite grace and forgiveness” and hoped – no prayed – that the omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient God was just too busy to be listening to Jerry Jeff Davis, knowing full well that an omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient God would somehow know anyway, even if He was too busy to be worried about what came out of Jerry Jeff Davis’ mouth at 6:34 in the morning.

Jerry blinked a few times before wiping the sleep out of his eyes, trying to orient himself to the here and now of where and when he was on this big blue marble called earth. Jerry hated it that he had made Suzi Beth mad even before he had gotten out of bed. He really loved that woman and hated to see her angry or disappointed in him. Trouble was that he had been having a dream and just didn’t want to wake up.

Now some people dreamed of performing heroic deeds and travelling to faraway places. Some folks had them dirty movie dreams of lust, some dreamed of love and some dreamed of loved ones lost long ago. Some dream of grandeur or glory or fame, but Jerry Jeff Davis was a simple and practical man that dreamed of simple and practical things. Jerry Jeff Davis dreamed of a world where all of his bills were paid, his wife and his two children were well taken care of, and the neighbors in his community at Possum Holler Lake were all doing equally well. In his mind’s eye, Jerry Jeff Davis had been at a community block party on the 4th of July with all of his friends and neighbors. Everyone was happy and all of their needs were met. Jerry Jeff got the feeling that no one was struggling in his dream and that was the very moment that Suzi Beth’s yelling had pulled him away from this Possum Holler utopia.

As he took a deep breath, ran his fingers through his dark brown hair and prepared to face the morning, reality had set in. Hell, it wadn’t even summertime. It was fall in Piankashaw County and the leaves were beginning to change colors in Possum Holler. He even heard that god damn Reagan campaign commercial coming from the radio in the kitchen. It was morning in America and for Jerry Jeff Davis that meant that the realization was setting in that there may not be enough money to get through til payday.

“Too much month and not enough money,” Jerry thought to himself. He decided right then that if there was any overtime to be had down at the factory, he was going to work it. But first, he had to fight off the urge to go back to sleep. He wanted to go back to the dream. There was some reality to that fantasy in his dream. Jerry Jeff did have a lot of friends and neighbors and they often did get together in the summer time. However, Jerry couldn’t remember when there was that kind of material prosperity in his lifetime – at least since he had been old enough to earn a paycheck. That was why he had such anxiety… he had bills to pay. He was living for a future when he would be out of debt. That anxiety was the price he paid for living in the future.

Jerry Jeff Davis was nearly forty years old and had no idea that it would take this long and be this hard to not be that close to getting even. Jerry was a factory worker in what the folks on the radio and on the news called “the heartland” – which meant all the places that made up the little dots on the weather maps between the big cities. Like most of the folks out here in the heartland, Jerry Jeff Davis was the native son of a working America that had been going downhill for at least the last ten years. That damned commercial said it was morning in America but all Jerry Jeff Davis and his fellow workers down at the shoe factory woke up to was the anxiety that came from holding down a decent but endangered routine production job as a soldier in the dwindling American industrial army.

Each morning Suzi Beth Davis worked her way down the hallway of their little bungalow on the shores of Possum Holler Lake. First, she woke up her husband Jerry and then she made her way to her daughter’s room. Suzi Beth opened the door to Bobbie Sue’s room and flipped on the light. The decorative light switch cover was the Care Bears. That was the first thing that Suzi Beth saw each morning when she turned on the light in her daughter’s room. It made her smile. She recalled the day that Bobbie Sue had installed it her own self. “Lefty loosey, righty tighty,” she had said as she twisted the screwdriver, just like her daddy had taught her.

“Bobbie Sue,” Suzi Beth said, “It’s time to get up.” Suzi Beth watched her daughter unroll herself from the body pillow that she had been hugging in her sleep and look up at her with her sleepy blue eyes.

Bobbie Sue wrapped an old fashioned chenille bedspread the color of buttered popcorn around her body as she sat up in the bed. Suzi Beth looked at her sleepy blue eyes and the long flowing hair that was tied back into a ponytail and thought to herself, “Lord, my baby sure is pretty. Thank you, Jesus for giving me such a beautiful baby.” It was hard for Suzi Beth to believe that Bobbie Sue was sixteen years old and that her oldest, JJ, was nearly eighteen and would be graduating from Piankashaw High later on that year. Her babies were growing up right before her eyes.

“Try not to be mad at your daddy when you come to breakfast, Bobbie Sue. You know he means well,” she said as she turned to walk out of the room.

The night before, Bobbie Sue had been complaining that Jerry had been treating her different than her older brother, JJ. Jerry’s response to her criticism was abrupt and immediate: “When you got a boy, you only gotta worry about one prick. With girls, you gotta worry about all of em.” Suzi Beth hated it that Jerry could take something so precious as the well being of her children and reduce it to its least common denominator – something so dirty. He had a knack for doing that very thing and Suzi Beth was concerned that this might be one of those “infinite grace and forgiveness things” that she had been concerned about. She had always hoped that she could be a beacon of light for the rest of the world to see – a model of Christian living – and as a result, those who lived around her and with her, for that matter, would see what a blessing it was to be washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. But when Jerry acted like – well, when he acted like Jerry – she wondered what good it really did her.

As Suzi Beth turned around to go back down the hallway, she noticed a book laying on the nightstand. It was a notebook lying open filled with her daughter’s handwriting. “It makes me proud that you’re so smart,” Suzi Beth thought to herself as she took one last look at her baby girl, “It makes me feel like I did something right.” Bobbie Sue was such a sweet girl and she studied every night. Suzi Beth wondered where she got her intellect from. Jerry had just barely made it through school and Suzi Beth, well, it was all that she could do to get through the nurse’s aid program at Piankashaw’s Vo Tech School. Suzi Beth looked up in air toward the old man who looked like Charlton Heston and said a little prayer of thanks, knowing that Bobbie Sue’s talents must have been gifts from God.

Suzi Beth had one final stop before she could go back into the kitchen and have another cup of coffee before she got breakfast ready for her family. She dreaded this final stop each day because her oldest son, JJ, was even more difficult to wake up than his daddy, Jerry. Her first child has always slept like a rock. He had slept through the night almost since day one after arriving home at the hospital. When he was a baby and Suzi Beth was a new mamma, it was a real blessing that JJ could sleep through a hurricane or an earthquake. However, ever since kindergarten, Suzi Beth has been paying for the little gift from God each morning that she got JJ off to school. She pushed open the door of JJ’s room and flipped on the lightswitch. He, too, had a custom switch over his light that he, too, had installed himself when he was a little. JJ’s was a Confederate flag and he liked to think of himself as a “good ole boy” cut from the same cloth as Bo and Luke Duke. He also thought of himself as something of a headbanger and filled his room with black light posters of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. JJ’s room was lit up with black lights and the posters, the fixtures, and all of the clutter began to glow in the early morning darkness. Suzi Beth looked down and saw JJ’s clothes laying on the floor beside his bed as she walked over to the window and opened the curtains to let in the early morning light. It was a heavenly light and it made Suzi Beth sad to see this lovely light – God’s own light from the early morning sun – falling all over the junk and the dirty clothes that cluttered up JJ’s room.

Suzi Beth looked down at JJ. He was in the first stages of manhood, his upper lip displaying a proto mustache, mouth drooling on his pillow. Suzi Beth called to him at first and then picked up a dirty bath towel and smacked him with it: “JJ, what have I told you about sleepin buck nekkid,” she screamed. JJ opened one of his eyes, looked up at his mother and then slowly began to move.

“Now what if the house caught fire and we had to leave right quick… why you’d be standing smack dab in the middle of Possum Holler Lake right next to the state highway with your tallywacker waving in the wind hanging out for all the world to see. Now, what would the neighbors think about that?”

“Mamma just hush…. I’m up, OK.”

“Don’t you, “Mamma hush” me, young man. Now I want you up and ready for school and I want this room cleaned up as soon as you get home tonight.”

“Come on mamma, just go, I’m up,” JJ replied, wiping the sleep from his eyes.

“Don’t you sass me, boy. Now get ready for school,” Suzi Beth said as she turned and walked out of JJ’s room, down the hall and into the kitchen. A hot cup of coffee was waiting for her there. Each morning she would stand at the kitchen sink with that cup of steaming hot coffee and stare out the window at the new day. As the radio played a commercial proclaiming it was “Morning in America,” Suzi Beth Davis enjoyed a few fleeting moments of peace and quiet as she meditated on the wonders of God’s little miracles on Possum Holler Lake.