A Page From The Moonshiner

Blanche

The untimely death of Blanche’s mother sent the Karne family into a tailspin. Of course, no family is ever prepared for such an event, but Suzi had been the anchor, the kingpin that held everything and everyone together. Her husband, Ike, had a taste for whiskey, but she kept him in check. As for the six children, Blanche was the eldest and the most stable. She’d been Mama’s helper since day one. The same couldn’t be said for her two younger sisters, Helen and Margret, who were on the wild side. Suzi kept them in line as well. Then there was Clarence, six years younger than Blanche. Clarence was smart and observant. By the time he was eleven he was a skilled carpenter and on his way to becoming a cabinet-maker. However, an accident occurred.

While helping around the thrashing machine, his right arm was drawn into the large, flat drive-belt, which flapped when under load, and it was broken. Doc Rhodes, the only physician for miles around, set his arm. But when the cast came off the bones had evidently been mismatched. When he raised his arm above his waist it was little more than useless. Doc Rhodes and some of the local men succeeded in catching Clarence and breaking his arm a second time. But the results were the same. Doc Rhodes was determined to break yet again, but Suzi Was not about to let this happen again and defended her fourteen-year-old son.

Not over my dead body is anyone going to break my son’’s arm again,” she warned.

Moonshiner – 2

Tom

“I guess I should have warned you about the hired man,” Tom’s mother said when she was certain Sally couldn’t overhear their conversation.

“It’s okay. I was surprised to find a stranger in the barn trying to take a nap. I was even more surprised by what he said.”

“What did he say?”

“Well, he said he had been hired to help out with stuff around here. That sounded good to me, so I lined him out on feeding rabbits. But he told me he didn’t hire on to feed rabbits.”

“And what did you say?” she asked.

“I told him that feeding rabbits is the kind of STUFF we do around here. And then I ask him why is he sleeping in our barn.”

“And what did he say then?”

“He didn’t answer. He just stretched out and rolled over with his back to me. He’s rude.”

“Dad hired him for other stuff,” she said, her voice sounding apologetic, almost as though she didn’t believe her own words.”

“If there’s other stuff to do why isn’t he doing it?”

“I don’t know, Tom. Let’s get these rabbits fed.”

“That’s what I’m doing, Mom.” He heard the harshness in his own voice and said: “Sorry Mom.”

She didn’t respond, but he saw the frown on her face as she headed for the barn. In a short time she emerged and began feeding from the other end.

This hiring business troubled Tom. There wasn’t enough money for a phone, or electricity, or indoor plumbing, but yet his dad could afford to pay a man to lay around and nap in the barn. He mentally shook his head in disbelief. This was another of the many times since their arrival that he wondered why they stayed. He and his mother were comfortable in California. He liked it there and he thought she did.

How hard would it be to go back to California? He doubted it could be any harder than it was getting here.

It was the letter. The letter had created this entire problem. They’d gotten along for ten years – he and Mom – without him. Then the letter arrived.

He’d not been allowed to read it, but the part she read to him stated that he’d bought some rural property in Oregon and he was asking her to join him, and of course bring Tom along. Her reaction was crazy. After all these years of him forgetting to come home she’d dropped everything, packed what she could and sold what she couldn’t. Before the week was out she’d quit her job at Woolworth’s Dime Store and with two suitcases they were boarding a Greyhound. 

And now a year later they had this mess.

The Moonshiner – 1

“Hi Mom,” says Tom when he arrives home from school.

She smiles, but somehow she is different. Something is afoot. But there is always something going on, an undercurrent that is never discussed in his presence. He’s given up trying to figure it out. This evening, like most evenings, he goes directly to his room and changes out of his school clothes. Then he goes out the back door and heads for the barn to begin his daily chores – feeding rabbits.

He hates this life. It’s nothing but work. When the feeding and watering is finished there are nests to prepare for the birth of the young. Then there is manure to haul. Always manure. There is no end to it. He craves his former life, being a city kid in southern California. When school was finished he walked the eight blocks home. Being the first home, he washed the breakfast dishes, earning five cents each day. Then the rest of the day was his.

He is filling a feed bucket with rabbit pellets when a voice  interrupts those cherished memories.

“Hi, you must be Tommy,” the stranger says.

Surprised, he whirl about. “My name is Tom,” he says after recovering his voice. “Who are you?” he asks, surveying the middle-aged man reclining on a row of straw bales.

“Folks call me Sally. I’m your dad’s friend. He hired me to help out around here.”

Tom was speechless. No one told him about a hiring anybody, but then who tells an eleven-year-old anything, he thinks as he surveys this stranger in faded jeans and a plaid, flannel shirt. He not wearing socks, and his brown loafers are badly scuffed. His cloudy blue eyes reveal nothing. His hair is thin and gray. Beside him  is a pint of Old Crow still half full of whiskey.

“Well,” says Tom, recovering and wondering if this Sally guy picked up on his surprise. “There’s an extra feed bucket by that stack of burlap bags. Use the tomato paste can of pellets, one scoop in each cage. Water is in the hose. Make sure each dish is full. I’ll start on the other end.”

“Hold on here, kid. I’m hired to do other stuff. I don’t feed rabbits.”

What other stuff, he wants to ask, but he doesn’t. He’s insulted by this stranger calling him a kid. What can he know, especially if he’s been nursing on that pint very long? He’s doing adult work here, and he wishes someone would notice. But there’s little use in saying anything, especially to his dad’s friends who are so often full of hooch. Best to let it pass and start his chores, caring for some 900 rabbits.