By Dewey Gillespie
From the corner of her eye she watched as Gus, who was seated next to the wood stove at the end of the kitchen table, struggled with the lead pencil and piece of paper. The pencil was making marks, but they didn’t mean anything. She watched as his tiny boney elbows went to rest on the edge of the table and then saw her young son cup the palms of his hands upward and lay his pale sad face onto them.
“Mum”, said Gus. “What dear”, she replied. There was a long pause and then he asked again, but this time his voice was choked and low. Mum……..does dad love me? Instantly her throat swelled and tears filled her eyes. She turned away so he wouldn’t see. She swallowed hard, and then just as sudden as she had turned away, she swung around to face him. When she turned he was standing directly in front of her looking up into her face. His lower lip was trembling and tears were running down his cheeks.
“What’s wrong Gus, she asked. “Ya know what’s wrong Mum. Ya know everything there is ta know about me. You are me, and I’m you, we’re the exact same, but there’s a feelin and unknowin I’m missin”, he cried. Instinctively she opened her arms and leaned forward. At the same time he leaned into her open arms where she held him tightly. She rocked him gently, her heart cracking as she listened to him cry.
All day long she’d noticed a difference in Gus. No doubt about it, he wasn’t himself. When she thought about it he hadn’t been himself over the last couple of days but she figured it must have had something to do with school. She knew he hated to go there and believed he only went because he wanted to please her. She knew he loved her, unconditionally, and would till a day after always.
When Gus was born, thirteen summers’s ago, he looked like a little elf. He had silvery hair and a little peeked face. You could have held him in one hand. His eyes were as blue as the Miramichi River in mid summer and his skin was as white and soft as new clouds after a fresh rain. When his Mum first laid eyes on him she laughed out loud. “God Almighty! Lookit ya! You’re some kind a tiny little lad. You’re beautiful!” She rocked him gently while she held him at her breast. She kissed and kissed his little cheek over and over and over. Finally, the doctor had to tell her, “If ya don’t stop kissin him so much you’ll give ‘em a rash.
The birth took place in the one-room shack she called home. The only privacy she had was a grey wool blanket hanging where a door should have been hinged. Not another sole was there to welcome Gusbur Glaspie into the world accept the Doc and his Mum.
She’d all but sealed the bond with her offspring when the Doc said, “Both ya’d probably be better off if ya took him ta the home on top a the hill.” Are you outta yer mind? I’ll die before I’d do a thing like that. Why would you say such a thing to us”, Gus’s Mum snapped. The bond had been made.
She wrapped her blanket of love around the little body and desperately tried not to think about what the Doc just said. Her mind began to race, but then drifted to the thought of her dad and an old Larry Sparks, Gospel Bluegrass tune he modified and sung to her as a little girl when he rocked her on his knee. In her tender low voice she began singing the song to her baby.
Momma gave me to Jesus when I was a boy,
But, I had some wild seeds to sew.
When almost everyone gave up on me,
My Momma just wouldn’t let go.
Thank God for my Momma who knew how to pray
That Jesus would keep me from harm.
I went on my own when I went astray,
But she prayed me back into God’s arms.
When young, and living at home, Loretta loved to turn the dial on the old radio to her favorite Gospel station. She’d crank the volume high and listen to the singers sing her favorite songs. Her grandmother, who they’d nick named “Mee Mee”, would tap her feet on the hemlock board floor and rock with the rhythm of the music in her old easy rocking chair. Though her grandmother’s voice was weak and all but tuneless she knew God heard and appreciated every word.
Loretta Glaspie loved to sing. It was the cheapest and best cure she could find to help her deal with her loneliness, depression and poverty. No one in her family offered a hand and she didn’t ask. Gus never knew, but had it not been for Lew next door life would have been a lot tougher. But, Lew’s help didn’t come without a price. Not once had he ever asked Loretta for anything in return. He told her so. Whenever he gave she would grab his hand tightly and squeeze it and hold on for the longest time. She would thank him over and over and over until he was able to sneak his hand way from her grip. Lew always made sure Gus was never around when he gave.
Loretta wasn’t all that smart, but she wasn’t dumb either. When she’d go to the local Mercantile she could see the people glancing at her. They never spoke to her, but often spoke about her. She’d sometimes hear the whispers. Many a mind was filled with dirty thoughts about her and Lew. Their opinions were forged from the jealousy and hatred in their hearts. Their conclusion was she was servicing him outright for rewards. It infuriated her, but she wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of stepping into that arena for she knew there was nothing that needed defending.
Her worse times were when she thought about Gus’s father and what should have been. What really was, was a rejected, abandoned young woman the minute she told him she was going to have his baby. What really was, was a little boy growing up without a father to help, guide, teach, and love him. He up and run, until 18 months after she gave birth. Figuring the dust had settled he staggered back into her life with promises of picking up the pieces and putting everything back together just like new. Loretta knew what was broken couldn’t be fixed even though she was willing to try, for the sake of Gus.
Alfred Aloysius Astle, or better know in the community as “Horny Alf“ returned all right, but not for the sake of love, Gus nor Loretta. He needed a place to hide, a roof over his head and lust.
The songs and music was the greatest antidote she could conjure up. It helped ease the pain during her hardest times. When depression or anger tried to get the better of her, especially whenever she thought about Alf and what he was doing to them, she’d pretend she was a singer performing on stage with Alf as her imaginary audience. She’d pick the song that best suited her hurting occasion then direct every word at Alf. By the time she ended her performance she would have the most wonderful feeling of satisfaction for having been able to tell him how she really felt. It was the only way she had to communicate with her “always gone away Alf.” A confrontation with him by other means was guaranteed to end in disaster and a high probability of Loretta suffering an injury. Alf had a vicious and violent streak.
One of Loretta’s favorite “get even songs” was an old time country favorite, “Some Day You’ll Call My Name.”
Someday you’ll call my name and I won’t answer.
Someday you’ll reach for me, I won’t be there
For you’ve grown tired of all the love I gave you
But someday you’ll wish that I still cared
All these years how I’ve loved you
Still I know I claim you for my own
Someday you’ll call my name and I won’t answer.
For someday you’ll find yourself alone.
Loretta knew that somehow, some way she was going to have to deal with her son’s hurting. There was no getting around it. For years she had hoped and prayed that Alf would come to his senses and be a responsible father in their young son’s life. She knew Gus would ask the question again and as much a she wanted to avoid it she knew he deserved an answer. It was at this minute in her life that she honestly hated Alf.
Thirteen summers ago she vowed she would do everything in her power to protect Gus. Like most mothers she promised to give her boy the world and make him the happiest little lad on the planet. Thirteen years later here they were again, alone in their one room ram shackled house they called home. It seemed as though nothing had changed. “Why?” she asked herself. “Why does he reject us so? Why doesn’t he come home and be good to us? Why doesn’t he write, or send word that he misses us? What have we ever done to him? Why can’t he tell us he loves us?” Loretta’s heart pounded, her eyes filled with more tears and there had grown a lump in her throat that all but stopped her from breathing. She felt cowardly weak, but she knew the moment had come.
“Gus,” she said. “You probably won’t believe what I’m gonna say, but I’m sure, down deep in me heart, your Dad loves ya. He just don’t know how ta say, or show it. I can’t explain why. Maybe it’s because he ain’t ever had anyone, other than me say it to ‘em. Maybe he don’t know how ta say it. I know it ain’t right. I can’t cover for ‘em. What I’m tryin ta say is that he don’t got a reason not ta love ya, so therefore he has ta love ya. Oh Gus, please believe me,” Loretta softly pleaded.
Loretta expected Gus’s reply, but it never came. She waited and waited, but all she heard was silence over the pounding of her heart. She loosened her hold on Gus and looked down at his tiny frame. Gus had cried himself to sleep in her arms. “Dare I wake him”, she thought. “If he wakes up I don’t know if I can repeat myself. I’m apt ta crack. What will I do? she asked herself Lorretta began to panic. Now she was really alone. She laid her face against Gus’s silvery blonde hair and silently cried.
The silence of early morning was cracked by the crow of Lew’s multicolored bantam Rooster who had flown onto the railing running up Loretta’s outdoor steps. When Loretta awoke she found herself alone and slumped over in the chair at the end of the table. She quickly scanned the small kitchen, but Gus was nowhere in sight. She hurried into the bedroom, but he wasn’t there either.
To be continued…….