Family Owned – A Short Story by Gary Hays
Chapter One: Preacher Hank
For about as long as I can remember my daddy wasn’t right in the head. I’m told at one time he was but I was so young and it’s been so long, I have little recollection. I used to have a brother named Kyle who was fifteen years older than me. He died. All that’s left is a glossy photo of him in his Army uniform hanging over the fireplace. We don’t speak much of Kyle. Momma won’t allow it. Kyle looked a lot like my dad, but everyone says I favor Mom with my blondish/red hair and ridiculous freckled face. Kyle had more of a chiseled face with high cheekbones and a square chin, favoring Dads half Choctaw lineage. Mom guesses she’s Irish based on her fair skin and red hair, but as an orphan, her chain was broken, meaning that a huge portion of my chain is also broken. Since we’re all direct descendants of Adam and Eve, according to the good Preacher Hank, I suppose we’re all somehow related anyway. I used to make things up, like saying Davy Crockett was my Great, Great Uncle when in actuality, Mom was found in a cardboard box on the front steps of city hall one morning by the janitor Mr. Henry. Mr. Henry was a nice old guy who always kept suckers in his pockets. You had to be with one of your parents to get one, otherwise, city hall would have been on every kids’ daily route.
We lived in an unpainted wood farmhouse on ten acres. Daddy wasn’t much help when it came to things like feeding the chickens or collecting eggs, he mostly sat in his wooden rocker on our splintered front porch and whittled branches into toothpicks. He used to play the harmonica now and then, but he quit doing even that after a while. He rarely spoke or ever noticed I was around. I suppose the war claimed both Kyle and him, the only difference being Dad was still breathing. Either way, neither one survived. Had Kyle made it home okay, we probably would have moved out West. When Daddy still talked, he would tell me about the old copper mining towns in Arizona and of the deserts and mountains. He had a genuine spirit of adventure back then. I just know we would have gone.
Outside of my regular daily chores, I pretty much did whatever I wanted. Dad was damaged because of Kyle. Mom was damaged because of Dad, and Kyle, so the comings and goings of some country bumpkin kid, related or not, were of little significance to either. Money was a rare commodity. We were as poor as the dirt covering our acreage which at one time grew a lush array of highly prized vegetables. In the far distant past, Daddy had a vegetable stand and was widely acclaimed as having the greenest thumbs in the county. We were still poor, just not to the level of dirt. Daddy got real sick when Kyle got killed. The mountain of a man he had at one time been was replaced by a thin man with a stoop, white balding hair and a nervous twitch. Never making allowances for his reduction in size, his clothing hung as if on a rag doll. Because of his disability, he received a small monthly government check which mainly served to support his whiskey habit. He wasn’t a mean drunk or anything, he was just a hopeless one.
Sometimes Daddy would go to the “Bucket of Blood” Saloon. Momma, being a respectable Baptist lady and all, would never go with him. We lived so far out in the country all the roads were dirt so you were allowed to drive as drunk as you wanted. Daddy’s old Pontiac had lots of unaccounted for dents, and he slept in the front yard on more than one occasion, not quite making it to the house. Even if Momma saw him out there she would leave him be until morning. Mom wasn’t all that much better off than he was, she was just better at hiding things and didn’t feel the need of covering up her emotions with Satan’s venomous alcohol. “You do realize you are going straight to hell don’t you?” I heard her tell/ask Dad one time. With a blank stare, he quietly replied, “Yep.” I suppose she never inquired again.
Momma was a diehard lady of the Baptist cross, not to be confused with the pagan Lutherans or God forbid, those hoity-toity Methodists. She was a prayer warrior of the worst type: The ones who find redemption later in life and feel the need to make up for all the years they lost out on. She was way past fanatical. She was possessed by the Holy Spirit and was God’s willing and overly zealous vessel. She quoted scripture with pinpoint accurateness, although as far as I knew she might have been making it up as she went. I never bothered to validate her utterances. Momma used to write things furiously in her bible with a ball point pen. When she wasn’t feeding dad and me or cleaning up around the house, which she rarely did, she was deeply engrossed in the biblical world she resided in. She WAS NOT going to Hades. Even though she against my will would occasionally drag me to a service, Dad and I were pretty much on our own. She was busy saving her own self. Momma was a King James kind of gal.
Preacher Hank was a short stubby balding man with a giant red bulbous nose that looked like it had at one time been used for a pin cushion. His sparse comb-over was glued to his blotchy pink skinned head and would flap up and down when he started intensely jumping around waving his tattered oversized bible at the terrified congregation. He believed that to truly love God, one must wholeheartedly fear Him. He also taught it is easier to fit through the eye of a needle than it is to get into heaven, which never made much sense to me. If this was indeed the case, why bother? His mousy wife would sit in the seat expressly reserved for her on the front pew where as if on cue she would holler “amen” at the precise moment. When the preacher’s wife is moved by the spirit, so goes the congregation. Her role was an important one. They were a well-rehearsed team. The more Hank’s hair got to flapping, the louder she would yell, working the crowd into a frenzy of palm raising and mumbling weird languages known only to them. It was quite the sight. They sent more than one first time visitor running out the front doors never to return.
Now and again Preacher Hank would come around our place for a visit. He never gave advanced notice, he relished in the element of surprise. He poked around hoping to eye witness one of his flock engaged in some un-sanctimonious act so he could hold it over their heads. He would preach about that person the following Sunday just to make an example. “I’m a shocked by what was a going on at Sister Louise’s house,” he would whisper to a silenced room. Then, BOOM. With a mighty roar: “What say ye, Sister Louise!” I loved moments like that, it’s what made it all worthwhile. When he showed up at our house he would march right past Daddy, not daring tempt Satan to a match he knew he would lose. “Thelma, you in there?” “Why Preacher Hank, what a nice surprise indeed!” She, unlike most others, welcomed his visits like a secret agent anxiously awaiting her next assignment. She was a soldier of God and Hank was her earthly first sergeant. “Agent Thelma, I think, dear Sister Beatrice is hitting the sauce again. See what you can find out and report back to me at once.” I could always tell when he was running low on sermons and needed a few morsels of inspiration. Since Mamma was his inside contact and all, he came around fairly regularly. One time Daddy made a rare daytime appearance in the living room and spotted the two disciples snuggled up side by side on the sofa. They were reciting scripture from a Bible in the preacher man’s lap, but I’m sure Daddy took note their legs were touching.
Momma was not an unattractive woman, at least she didn’t have to be. She wore her uncut gray hair in a tall tight bun. It stuck up like a radar tower awaiting heavenly signals. Prior to my brother’s death, her blue eyes had sparkled. Her skin was fair and as pale as white china. She wore one piece long sleeved dresses which hung between her knees and ankles. It was unholy for a woman of God to show her knees or her armpits. Hank swore it was in the book somewhere, but always drew a blank if confronted with the topic. But then again, few people questioned the right hand of God almighty. One thing I did know for certain was that Momma was a Victoria Secret model compared to Hank’s wife, Violet. The woman weighed no more than eighty pounds and flitted everywhere in a hurried fashion, always staring at the ground as she rapidly transported herself from spot to spot. “Quick, step aside, here comes Violet.” She ran smack into the back of “Big Jimbo” Thigpen one Sunday morning. He didn’t budge, but Violet came to an abrupt halt like she had rammed head on into closed sliding glass door. After she caught her breath one of the Deacons helped the visibly shaken Miss Violet to her feet as she quickly darted off. I ran outside and busted a gut.
I had just finished washing chicken crap from the coop one Saturday afternoon and was making my way through the back screened door leading to the kitchen when I heard unusual sounds coming from the direction of the living room. Investigating, I was greeted by Hank’s full-moon hairy butt cheeks flapping in rhythmic fashion on top of Momma whose dress was yanked up around her neck. He was worshiping God on high. “Oh, God!” “Jesus!” Horrified, yet finding the entire episode comically enlightening, I let out with a “Howdy, Preacher Hank!” I had never seen a short stubby munchkin like man move with such lightning speed. It was one swift motion as he bounced off the flattened sofa cushions and lunged at me. I side stepped his airborne tactics as the wall welcomed the top of his head with a resounding thud. “What’s going on in there?” shouted Daddy. To which I cleverly responded, “Nothing Daddy, just saying hello to the preacher.” Momma never mentioned a word, and as the grand prize, I started sleeping in on Sunday morning, which I am certain was okay with Hank. I really didn’t care about what they had been doing, especially since Dad and Mamma rarely acknowledged the other one existed anyway, but I did relish in now having the upper hand and used it to my every advantage.
The remainder of the story can be read at “The Author’s Hand” – A diverse collection of short stories by Gary Hays. It’s free, BTW.