The Sheriff shouted, "We know that you own a gun, so just throw it down and give yourself up. You are going to jail." He continued, "We also know about your moonshine still down in the woods behind the sugar cane field and that you beat your wife and children. This is not the first time we have been out here." Ernie yelled back at the officer, "I ain't coming down, I ain't never coming down." when a loud crack echoed from the breaking limb above him. Ernie fell hitting the ground with a thud and was taken into custody. Now, all seven children were safely in the kitchen inside the house when the old yellow school bus arrived. Margo gathered the children. They boarded the bus and headed down the dirt road to the next stop.
The Sheriff's car was followed by a state trooper and the two officers stood together in the yard looking upward into the top of the large pecan tree shouting, "Ernie, come down. We know you are up there because we can see you." The Sheriff, angry and red faced, yelled again, "Ernie, you are under arrest." Margo ran from the porch and the other children followed huddling around Mommie. The Sheriff asked her about her swollen eyes and bruised arms. All of the children ran inside of the house with the screen door slamming behind them. The wind whistled as the chickens scattered in the yard. Ernie yelled from the treetop, "I've got a gun. You are not going to take me alive." The Sheriff shouted back, "If you don't come down now, you are going to get hurt. We are prepared to shoot...you really don't want that do you?" Mommie and the children quivered with fear. "What's going on?' Margo asked. Mommie responded in near hysterics pointing up toward the top of the big pecan tree, "I am scared to death." "Of what?" Margo asked. "Of him and all of the abuse. I called the Sheriff. I am taking you and the rest of the children to a place where we can be safe. I'm not going to be afraid anymore. I'm leaving him. I'm leaving your father. I can't take it anymore. You and your brothers and sisters can go live with your granddaddy, in the meantime, I will get a job and another place for us to stay." Mommie said with a trembling voice.
Mommie served a big tray of steaming hot jack cakes. She put it down in the middle of the table and said, "Margo, go get some milk." Margo went down to the mountain stream behind the house where the milk was kept cold in Mason jars in the water under the rocks. They ate the jack cakes topped with butter from the churn that Mommie had made. She poured a glass for each of them all the way to the rim. It was delicious. After a while when they had their fill, they cleared the table and washed the dishes. Margo dressed for school in her flannel shirt and overalls. She pulled on her cozy warm woolen socks and laced up her black hightop boots. She sat on the steps in front of the house as the rosey light of morning filtered through the dawn. As the children played in the yard, a shadowy figure made its way down the dirt road toward them. It was Ernie. He approached the giant pecan tree and began climbing it as the children watched with curiosity. Ernie kept a tight grip on the limb above as he climbed higher toward the top of the tree in the front yard. The leaves rustled around him as the windblown grey clouds passed swiftly overhead. The thunder rumbled in the distance. It had been a cold Autumn and the wind blew in gusts. Soon, a black and white car pulled up to the house and the Sheriff got out. He walked over toward the house. The rooster on the weather vane on the roof spun around back and forth.
Ernie was never home much, but when he was home, you could smell him a mile away. He always had a peculiar stench about him. He was never seen taking a drink of moonshine but everyone knew that he had a still back in the hills. The children had seen it one day when they chased a pig through the woods. Times were tough and finding work that paid a living wage was hard to come by. Ernie sold the illegal whiskey to bootleggers for extra cash. When he wasn't selling moonshine, he would beat the hell out of the children and their Mommie for no good reason and they never knew when to expect it. One time he slapped Margo so hard it threw her jaw out of joint. Mommie had to apply pressure on it to snap it back in place. Margo gathered her brothers and sisters together around the watermelon colored kitchen table with a formica top. It was a chrome trimmed expandable table with matching chrome chairs.
Margo Copperhill walked into the kitchen, saw Mommie open the firebox on the cast iron wood burning stove, stoke the fire and throw in a couple of pieces of cord wood. Mommie stood next to the sink, leaning her elbow on the counter top. Margo asked her, "Where is Ernie?" Mommie looked up with a mixed expression of sadness and frustration. Quickly jerking her head, she stared at Margo, pausing for a moment, then said, "I have not seen your Daddy for two days." Ernie was known to disappear for days at a time. When he did come home, he always ate alone because he ate first before the children did. He would listen to the radio and make the children dance for him. They didn't even know how to dance and were always afraid that he would whip them if they didn't dance. When he had a bad day, he would take it out on them. The children did chores like feeding the chickens and caring for the mule and horse. Mommie would milk the cow. Mommie put her head down on Margo's shoulder and sobbed desperately as she said, "Your Daddy didn't come home again last night." Margo could see, as she brushed the hair from Mommie's face, her swollen eyes and the bruises on her arms where Ernie had grabbed her. "We had another fight the night before last and he told me that they had cut his hours back at the mill. We are running out of food." Margo hugged her tight. "Now get your brothers and sisters ready for school," Mommie said.
Twice Born Vagabond
D. DeWitt Thomas
I don't like writing but I will do my best under the circumstances. There is no choice in the matter because this story must be told. There are difficulties in writing the story because words just get in the way of the truth. The truth comes from sources beyond words. The truth is revealed in moments of time in contemplations and conversations. This story I am about to tell in a conversant way will reveal the truth and it all began this way.