By: Ed Nichols
I still remember the last words my mother said to me. “Horace, get out of the rain! Get your butt up on this porch and…” she grabbed her throat, let out a low groan, and just dropped over dead. I ran up the steps to her. Her eyes were turned up, and all I could see was white. My daddy run out when he heard her hit the porch floor. “Lord, God,” he said. “She’s gone for sure.” She was a great mother. Not like my daddy. He was a drunk, and mean. I’ve tried to be more like her, than him. Sometimes I’m successful. Sometimes I’m not. I wonder if his mean streak was in my brain, too. I sure hope not.
It’s not easy growing up with a moonshine-drinking daddy. When he was young, he made whiskey up on Blue Mountain. The last time his still got busted, he said, “That’s it. From now on I’ll just buy it from others.” He drank it nearly every day. Told me, when I was 18, I could drink some, if I wanted to. He said something like, “You got to drink a little to be a real man.” I had no desire to try it. He quit beating on me, and her, two years back, when mother told him if he ever did it again we were leaving. Since she died, he’s been drinking more than ever. I ain’t scared of him trying to beat on me now. I’m bigger than him, in height and weight. I have thought several times, maybe I just ought to beat him up, or even kill him. But mother always said, reading from her Bible about the Ten Commandments, that God will punish you if you ever break one of them. I like to walk around the yard, thinking about her and all the flowers she had planted. Every year she’d add to the patches. Some flowers would come back each year, and their patch would get bigger. There were others she’d plant all over again, after digging up the dead ones. I liked to smell all of them. The best smell of all was the wisteria vine. She planted it before I was born, twisting up and around the big arbor thing daddy made for her, right after they was married. I love that smell. Sometimes, when I’d get home from school, if daddy was still at the sawmill, I’d take a book and go sit on the ground, and lean back against the barn, and take in that smell for a while. Lately, sitting there, I’ve been thinking on the Ten Commandments.
He has not made me go to the sawmill since mother died. She was always on to him about me having to work there. Told him many times that she wanted me reading, so I could get a good job someday, and amount to something. Sometimes, they had bad arguments about me. I agreed with her way of thinking—but, the sawmill was not a bad way to make a living. It could be dangerous, so you had to be extra careful. Mr. Robert Grant offered me a job soon after mother died. He said he’d teach me to drive one of his bulldozers. I liked that idea. Daddy didn’t think much about it—but I could tell he was interested in the fact that I’d be bringing home good money. After two weeks, I was getting the hang of operating Mr. Grant’s small dozer. I was working for him five days a week, when it didn’t rain.
I told daddy I didn’t want to work at the sawmill now, since I had a job. He got mad, and wouldn’t speak to me for a couple of days. I’ve thought on this a lot lately. Did I want to be like my daddy, or be like somebody else? What happens in your brain when you realize that you hate your daddy? It don’t seem right to hate. I really hate him when I recall the last time he got drunk, and knocked me and mother down on the floor, and then tore up her mother’s chair. It had been passed down from my grandmother Rice. Mother loved that chair. I believe after that episode she seriously thought about leaving him, for good. But she didn’t want to leave me. We didn’t have anywhere else to go.
Once I checked out a book on the War Between the States, and read all about General Robert Lee. I believe that he never hated anyone. He fought hard against General Grant and the entire Union army, but I don’t think he hated them. I think he respected them. So my mind says there’s a difference between hating somebody and just not liking them. ‘Specially not caring for how they do things. My daddy had always seemed to hate other people. He complained about the mail carrier, the bank, the drug store. Just about everyone. Except, of course, my mother. He loved her, I truly believe. And he was always so nice to her, after he’d been drunk and hit her or me.
He drinks every day now—even when he’s going to work at the sawmill. Still after me to go help him, but I’ve been refusing. He says he needs my help. That he’s having a hard time off loading the sawed lumber and the slabs by himself. Last Friday, Mr. Grant told me he wouldn’t need me the coming week. So I decided to help at the sawmill. On Monday, he put me to off loading the sawed lumber and slabs. Stacking them in neat piles. On Tuesday, he started drinking in the pickup on the way to the sawmill. And he didn’t stop—he drank all morning. And he started cussing me, like he used to when I was younger. Said I was working too slow. I told him twice, he didn’t have to cuss. I was doing the best I could.
That’s when I hollered, “Mama didn’t like you cussing so much. And I don’t neither!” That’s what set him off. His eyes narrowed, and he stumbled off the rail toward me, leaving the circular blade running. He pointed his finger, and said, “Don’t you say nothing “bout her.” He picked up a short piece of lumber and grabbed my arm, trying to pull me closer. I resisted, pulling away from him. His grip on my arm was stronger than I thought possible at his age. He kept
pulling, and I kept holding back. Then he stumbled backwards, letting go of my arm. I watched him fall toward the big blade. As if in slow motion, I watched him. Unable, or unwilling, to stop his fall. His head struck the blade and was decapitated. I guess I’ll always wonder, for the rest of my life, how and when, God is going to punish me.
Ed Nichols lives on Lake Oconee, Georgia. He is a journalism graduate from the University of Georgia, and is an award-winning writer from Southeastern Writer’s Association. He has had many short stories published, online and in print. He is currently working on a collection of stories.