Trouble had its own plan and always lurked in the shadows waiting to jump me. The simplest thing could go wrong. There was just no way to anticipate what was down the road. Billy and Troy were out of pocket when Uncle Parnell was ready to leave. Daddy sent me and Sue to look for them. Jamey and Froggy told us they had seen them close to the railroad track. Daddy had told us many times not to let him catch us on the railroad track. We played close to it all the time, but out of consideration to him, were very careful not to let him catch us. Jamey and Froggy went along to help us. Near the railroad, we found Billy’s sling shot. I knew he would never have abandoned it. This was serious!!!! Froggy slipped under the fence and scrambled up into one of the railcars, pulling Jamey up after him. We heard them exclaiming, “Golleeeee…would you look at this!
Realizing they had probably found the boys’ bodies, we forgot about our warning and went flying after them. They pulled us up. There weren’t any bodies, but we stared in disbelief at the walls of the boxcar covered in drawings. Some were pencil, but many were in colored chalk. There were monsters, nude women, angels, devils, animals, faces, pictures of Jesus; it was unbelievable. There were many poems on the walls, too.
Some were funny but useless since I’d never get to repeat them. There were lots of Bible verses under scary pictures of explosions, devils, and angels. They were fascinating but creepy. I didn’t look at those too long. We forgot about Billy and Troy. I was pretty sure they would turn up, but this was going to be my only chance to look in a rail-car.
We looked in a couple more cars before we heard a low rumble and felt the wheels start to jerk just a little. Holy Cow!!! The train was starting. We jumped out the door and raced for the house. It was nearly dark!!! We had been so fascinated by the drawings we had completely lost track of time. How long had we been gone? We sped for the house, knowing this was the worst thing we’d ever done. We were almost out of breath, when we met Billy and Troy. “Boy are y’all in trouble. Everybody’s out looking for you.”
I felt sick. We dragged in slow and sad, the walk of doom. Sure enough, the story had beaten us home. Froggy and Jamey had told them they left us looking at pictures in the boxcars. Daddy was outraged!!! “We had done exactly what we’d always told us not to do. We had them scared to death. Mother thought we had either fallen under the train or the hobos had gotten us!” Furiously, Daddy sent me to my room to ponder the evil I had done while Uncle Parnell grabbed Sue and Troy up and took off. I didn’t dare open my door. No one mentioned supper, especially not me. Wild animals couldn’t have dragged me out of that room. I rethought the whole incident over and over, re-scripting it in my mind, the way it should have been. It wasn’t my fault. I was only looking for Billy and Troy. They could have been bleeding to death in the boxcar. In my mind, I saved them countless times, risking my life as I jumped from the moving railroad car at the last second. I imagined lots of different versions, none of them including me doing what I had been forbidden to do. No matter how hard I worked at it, I just couldn’t make it come out right. I never knew when I went to sleep, but my trouble was the first thing I remembered when I woke up.
I was surprised when Mother called me to get ready for school and eat breakfast, just like she did every other morning. How could the day start out normally when I was in so much trouble? I hated oatmeal, but ate it without complaint hoping to get on Mother’s good side. She never said a word about my trouble and I certainly didn’t bring it up. I went to school with a sense of dread. It was business as usual, except I made sure to behave and avoid a note from the teacher. I didn’t know if things could get any worse, but I certainly didn’t want to find out.
I hated to see the school day end. I didn’t want to go home. Daddy never forgot to take care of business when we’d gotten in trouble. He wasn’t home when I got off the bus, a brief reprieve. I did my homework, ate dinner, and was watching TV with the other kids when I heard Daddy’s truck. I went to my room and sat in the gloom, waiting for the worst. He and Mother laughed and talked just like they always did. Finally, my door opened. I shut my eyes and pretended to be asleep, but Daddy wasn’t fooled. He starting his lecture the way he always did.
“We need to have a talk,” even though I wasn’t going to be doing much of the talking. “You scared us all. You did just what I told you not to do. Something terrible could have happened. Your mother thought either hobos got you or you were stuck on the train.” He droned on and on like he always did, while I waited for my punishment. I got in trouble all the time and knew the routine. I zoned out pretty soon, hearing just “rumble, rumble, rumble” like he was turning a crank. I was careful to listen for the pause, when he always asked me why I did whatever it was I had done. I had learned to stick with, “I don’t know” until he tired of asking because, I wasn’t about to tell the truth: “I didn’t think I’d get caught” (“Smart aleck”- deeper trouble), or “I thought such and such” (“That’s what you get for thinking”) or “I didn’t think so and so” (“If you’re not going to think you might as well be alike on both ends.”) Daddy’s lectures always went on forever until he got down to business, something involving a switch or belt. I never did decide which I preferred, despite extensive research. Unbelievably, this time ended differently. Because my cousin Sue was involved, Daddy had gone by to talk to Uncle Parnell on the way home.
Uncle Parnell’s children didn’t enjoy the consistent discipline our family did. Sue was a gifted liar, and got off the hook with an incredible tale which Uncle Parnell pretended to believe. Daddy was disgusted, and for some illogical reason, for which I was truly grateful, Daddy reasoned that even though I had disobeyed, at least I hadn’t lied the way Sue had. I got credit for being the better person and was spared. Good old Sue!!!