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. Some neighbor boys 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. The kids went along to help. Near the railroad, we found Billy’s sling shot. I knew he would never have abandoned it. This was serious!!!! One kid slipped under the fence and scrambled up into one of the railcars, pulling the other 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 flew after them into the car. There weren’t any bodies, but we stared in disbelief at graffiti-covered plywood walls. Most were in pencil, but many were brilliantly colored. Monsters, naked women, effervescent angels, lurid devils, chimeric animals, faces of both beauty and evil, and, beatific pictures of Jesus looked back at us. Creativity in the form of poems also adorned the walls.
Since I had only a smattering of suspicion of the meaning of sex, I found the artwork and poetry edifying, though I suspected its use would land me in the doghouse at home. Caught up in this rare cultural bonanza, we forgot about Billy and Troy. Anyway, I was pretty sure they would turn up, but this was going to be my only chance at an educational opportunity of this magnitude. Apparently, there are a lot of creative people riding the rails. I certainly never saw anything like this at Sunday School.
As we continued our inspection, we heard a low rumble and felt the car jolt. Holy Cow!!! We jumped out and raced for the house as the train squealed and jerked into movement. It was nearly dark! Caught up in all we’d seen, we’d completely lost track of time. We sped for the house, knowing this was the most heinous crime we’d ever committed. 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 went in slow and sad, the walk of doom. Sure enough, everyone was furious. The truth had beaten us home. Froggy and Jamey had told them they left us in the boxcars. Daddy was furious!!!! We’d done exactly what he had always warned us against and terrified them all. 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 that I’d been forbidden to do. No matter how hard I worked at it, I just couldn’t make it come out right. I never realized it 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, justlike 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, where 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 started 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 talented 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!!!