42 comments

Coming of Age American Friendship

The mugginess of night receded. A thin veil of blushing daylight clung to dark ridge tops under weakening clouds. A swift storm had moved through a few hours before. In its wake, soft gray shrouds rose among the hollows to greet the gathering dawn like resurrected spirits from some ancient sepulcher, accentuated by the ghostly refrains of an L&N steam engine pulling through nearby London, Kentucky.

Lefty lay awake most of the night, mesmerized by the lightning but also lulled to drowsiness from time to time by the rain on the tin roof of the porch. During times of wakefulness he strained for any sign of The Old Man's return. 

He had taken an automatic liking to his grandfather, Jerry Buckhart. Although he had never met him until two months ago, they had whipped up a quick bond. The Old Man bragged about Lefty's hard work, something he never heard from Poppy. Also, the man's jovial attitude and dapper ways appealed to the twelve-year-old. The Old Man was somewhat rotund and clean-shaven with the exception of a gray walrus mustache stained yellow under his nostrils from many years of pipe smoke. He sipped, occasionally and privately, from a silver flask with his initials 'JB' finely etched on one side. Lefty, who caught him a few times taking sips from it, was somehow drawn most to the mystery of the flask out of all of his other finery. He knew the flask contained alcohol. He wanted to try it, but his Mam discouraged alcohol in their home, knowing Poppy had a fondness for "the drink" as well. Despite his age and nips from his flask, The Old Man's blue eyes remained clear and sharp. He kept his fading red hair, which had once been light and wispy, covered with a black bowler hat. His starched shirts were crisp, white, and buttoned all the way to the top. The white shirts cut a stark contrast to the rest of his ensemble: a black woolen frock coat with silk lapels, pin-striped pants, a black cane with a silver cap, and black wing-tipped shoes that he liked to keep shined with a high gloss.

In fact, The Old Man made sure Lefty kept the shoes shiny. He bought Lefty a shoe shine box and talked Mr. Delph into letting him shine shoes this summer at the barber shop down the street from Weaver's Pool Hall. The Old Man could be quite persuasive. Another business venture, an idea put forth by The Old Man, also helped Lefty make a little extra dough. Lefty provided water to the industrial league baseball teams that played in town on Sundays. He sold cold water that he got from the spring house at the quarry. And, because these were such great ideas, Lefty sometimes loaned The Old Man a dollar or two here and there.

With a couple of extra bucks in his pocket, Old Man Buckhart had strolled off toward town in the shimmering heat yesterday morning. His awkward whistling, made so by the gap between his front teeth, lilted among the dawn chorus of birds along the dirt road leading away from the quarry. No one had heard nor seen from the old, strange bird of a man since. 

Lefty and two of his brothers slept on the porch that night because it had been too hot to sleep in the house. They had closed the windows because of fierce winds and rain. He had marveled at the lightning as it played in the darkness, briefly turning midnight to midday and exposing trees in the flickering light as they swayed crazily, bending like dancers to the beat of rain on the leaves. If a little rain blew in on them on the porch, so be it, the natural fireworks display was worth it, and at least they would be cooler than in the house. 

Lefty also wanted to be aware if The Old Man returned in the middle of the night. His stomach soured at the thought that his grandfather could be dead. His imagination ran wild with thoughts of The Old Man falling into a deep ditch and hitting his head on a rock or getting struck by lightning. He just hoped The Old Man survived. Somewhere. 

With dawn glimmering on the horizon, anxiety drove Lefty to get to work milking the cows and bringing in wood for the cook stove. Another reason he needed to finish his chores early was to be able to make it to the railyard baseball games early this afternoon. An L&N team would be playing a team from a Clay County Coal Camp today. He took in a deep breath of the heavy humid air, which carried loamy scents of damp earth and the musky aromas of farm animals.

As Lefty went about his chores, the world awoke and began to unfold. Frogs sang in the waning darkness, enlivened by the storm, which had been a rare occurrence of late because of the intense heat. By noon, summer would regain its composure and assume dominance, wiping away any remnant of cloud or rain from the night before. A shadowy owl flew over on silent wings, seeking rest from its nightly foray. He was unsure about the portent of that omen, but he would ask The Old Man about it; then it hit him: if he saw him again. His heart sank.

Inside the house a different kind of tempest continued to brew from the night before. Carrying an armload of wood inside to set by the cast iron cook stove, he braced himself for the oncoming torrent. He knew Mam and Poppy had been into it; he had heard the arguing last night despite the storm. Lefty shuddered as he entered the house. Poppy's gaze. His father rarely spoke, but the hard, brown eyes expressed volumes.

The Old Man had not arrived for breakfast. In fact, he hadn't made it home at all last night. The room, dimly lit by two coal oil lamps, made his parents' moods seem even more severe. Poppy sat at the head of the kitchen table glaring through the screen, his eyes watching the road, waiting for The Old Man to darken the door. Palpable tension settled in Mam's shoulders and around her eyes as she made the kids file by the stove one at a time. They offered up their plates to receive a cat-head biscuit and a ladle of gravy.  Lefty took his place at the end of the line along with his siblings, a total of five boys and four girls. One by one they sat at the table and began to eat. No prayers, even though this was Sunday. Not that they were that religious anyway. No one dared to utter a word. They silently passed a jar of molasses around the table. The scraping of forks, an occasional cough, the popping and crackling of the wood in the cook stove were, at various times, the loudest sounds in the room. Minutes, like the molasses, poured out slowly.

Mam remained at the stove scowling at her husband who had yet to touch his food. She waited like a coiled copperhead ready to strike if he uttered one word about her father. Lefty pondered his Mam as he slowly ate his breakfast. The Old Man once told him that she had been his favorite. He said Lizzie would not shirk her duties like her brothers and sisters. The others had turned their backs on him. Almost a year had passed since the death of Mam's mother; Lefty never knew her. He had surmised that The Old Man's ways had taken its toll on her. His Mam had remarked once that The Old Man stuffed his sins and shortcomings in a poke wherever he went, but even Lefty noticed that Mam's hard heart softened when he arrived two months ago from Harlan County, hat in hand with nowhere else to go.

A peculiar jaunty sound, distant and haunting, emanated from the semi-darkness; the odd tune crescendoed as it approached the house from the woods along the rock quarry's boundary. Whistling mingled with off-key vocals and drunken humming the closer The Old Man came to the porch. It reminded Lefty of an old, broken pump organ that had been thrown out and abandoned in the yard too long: broken, forced, and wheezy. He vaguely recognized the ditty. "Hard-Hearted Barbry Allen." The Old Man loved that old folk melody, although he butchered it every time. Lefty exchanged furtive glances back and forth with his siblings. None wanted to draw ire from either parent, who remained locked in their stances: Poppy's steely eyes toward the door, and Mam's glower affixed on Poppy.

Finishing on a high note, the Old Man slung the door open and stumbled across the threshold wearing not a stitch of clothes. Every face in the room expressed differing degrees of shock, surprise, or revulsion, except for The Old Man and Lefty. Poppy's scowl deepened. Mam looked as if she would be sick. His sisters, Janie, Viney, and Sybil, hid their eyes; the youngest girl, Norma, slid under the table. Lefty's brothers, Junior, Willie and Arvil, stifled giggles and began elbowing each other; his other brother Ross held his breath, his reddened face looking as if it were about to burst. Lefty felt a sudden pang of sadness, but could not pinpoint the exact source. 

Old Man Buckhart had made an abrupt arrival, like some strange creature emerging from the gloaming. He seemed perplexed that anyone would even be awake much less having breakfast at this very moment. His expression was made more comical by the twitching of his gray, walrus mustache and the puzzled widening of his now dulled, blue eyes. He tried to maintain some bearing and composure, finally realizing that he stood completely naked in front of the entire family and now swayed slightly before them: a cock robin with his broad, hairy, red chest and fat paunch perched atop bird-like legs, which seemed to wear boots made of mud. His thin hair was plastered flat atop his head. Dark circles sagged under both eyes. He made no sudden moves to cover himself, but seemed to search the air in front of him for some type of answer.

"Whelp, The Old Man's back!" Ross's words exploded like a gunshot through the room, which seemed to shrink by the second. He was the only kid smart-ass enough to remark on the situation. Lefty nudged him sharply with an elbow. Ross kicked back under the table. 

"Charlie, Lizzie, I—" The Old Man stammered to find the right words.

Like a spring, Mam uncoiled and closed the space between her and her father, brandishing the ladle like a mace on her approach. Gravy flew in all directions, most of it splattering The Old Man as she jabbed the utensil at him. Drops of gravy ran down his chest, which heaved from the sudden onslaught; he staggered back a couple steps. She advanced.

"You ain't ever goin' to be satisfied. You'll never be content!" She hissed, their faces now so close that their noses almost touched. "Do you know what you've—"

Ross sniggered. She reeled around to face everyone at the table.

"Eat your shittin' breakfast!" Mam's voice filled the room.

The children immediately returned to their food, even Ross, who still wore a devilish grin. Poppy's face, by contrast, seemed set in stone. The visage never changed.

The Old Man, seeing an opportunity for escape, began tottering to the room where the boys slept. "I suppose I'll just go ahead and retire to bed." 

Silence.

Seemingly disgusted with the whole situation, Poppy stood, grabbed his ladder back chair, and carried it out the front door without a word. He sat under the old poplar tree at the furthest corner of the yard with his back to the house. His lanky form silhouetted in the growing morning light, he pulled a hawk-bill knife from a pocket in his overalls and began whittling on a branch he picked up at his feet. Lefty wondered if Poppy's thoughts shifted to knife trades and political gossip he would swap at the courthouse this week. After all, he had been on the receiving-end of Mam's wrath more than he had ever wanted. And because of that, maybe Poppy resolved that it was wiser that he had not been the first to cast a stone at Old Man Buckhart. Maybe he was glad that her anger was directed at someone else for a change.

Mam moved back to the kitchen, grabbing a large, black pot from the side table. It contained the day's soup beans which soaked in the cast iron dutch oven overnight. She slammed it on the remaining open burner, water and beans spilling onto the surface. She grabbed two pieces of wood and shoved them into the stove, then began preparations for cornbread.

The room emptied. The boys filtered outside in directions away from the chaos of the homeplace. Willie and Arvil scattered to the woods to find a good fishing hole, while Junior and Ross headed toward town looking for mischief. Lefty lingered, following his sisters. They would most likely find solace in God. The girls gathered in their room where Janie had ushered them.

"Yuns get ready for mornin’ service. I'll walk us." Janie asserted. She busied around the room getting church clothes ready.

She received lackluster response. Viney, shaken by the adults’ behaviors, lay on the bed they all shared, her face to the wall. Sybil sat on one corner of the bed, a scowl on her face as she tugged a brush through Norma's tangled hair. Norma sat on the floor in front of her. "Ow, Sybil! That hurts!"

Denvil lingered at the door, hoping to find some comfort from the girls.

"Get out, Denvil! We don't want you in here.” Norma exclaimed as Sybil kept fighting with her hair.

Sybil’s voice carried venom. “Go on, Devil!"

Lefty drifted away from the girl's room. He hated the way his sisters and brothers twisted his name. The baseball players and The Old Man called him Lefty, along with a few kids at school. He couldn’t wait to get to the baseball fields today. The team needed its water boy. He stopped to listen to the hard snoring of The Old Man coming from the boys' bedroom. He felt sorry for him; after all, the odd fellow had nowhere else to go.

Lefty sneaked through the kitchen to the door and slipped outside. He paused behind a tree before making his way to the spring house. Through the window he watched his Mam work in the kitchen. She opened the window. No breeze entered. Sweat mingled with her tears. She didn’t hear Lefty nor see him, at least he thought so; she never acknowledged him. He noticed that she allowed a few tears to make their way along the creases in her face. She peered at the sun crowning the ridge of the quarry, her face bathed in a deep, remarkable golden light. She spoke to herself. Maybe it was a prayer or a confession. He felt it deep.

“Good Lord, what have I done? Is this a mistake? I will not let this happen again. Not the cards, not those old, dirty dice, not the billiards, and certainly not the bootleggin. That’s the last thing I need in this house.”

In a soft, slow voice, she sang to herself: “I shall not be, I shall not be moved. I shall not be, I shall not be moved. Like a tree planted by the waters, I shall not be moved.”

She released a long sigh.

“Lord, you know I worked on Charlie. You know I kept him from drinking and womanizing since he got back, at least for now. And for Charlie Jackson to come back here and beg for forgiveness is as close to a miracle as I’m liable to see. Lord, I swear to you, I will bring that old man to heel too, if it’s the last thing I do.”

Some cogs clicked into place for Lefty. Five years ago Mam said Poppy hopped a train for Idaho, remarking that he was just some old hobo out west. Poppy maintained that he worked on a sheep ranch for two years. Now that Lefty thought about it, Poppy seemed a changed man after coming back home, at least changed enough for Poppy. He tried to avoid his father as often as possible.

When Mam moved away from the window, Lefty went to the spring house hoping she had not noticed him. He started thinking about today’s baseball games and changed focus. He prepared two buckets of cold, clear water from the spring to take to the railyard baseball players. This mid-June day was going to be a scorcher. Struggling with the buckets along the road from the quarry, Lefty tried his hardest not to spill any of the precious water. He would probably make good money. Making his way along the railroad tracks toward the ball fields near the tobacco warehouses and stockyards, he could almost hear that change jingle in his pockets. In the trees, jarflies chanted in the morning sun, continuing their daily summer ritual on this longest of summer days.

November 16, 2023 21:23

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

42 comments

Kristi Gott
06:06 Jan 07, 2024

This beautifully written story weaves together many threads of setting, character, dialogue, the past and continuing events into a total world. I love this slice of life. The imagery and sensory details made me feel like I was right there too and I could see it playing in my mind like a movie. I am so glad I got to read this! I feel writing like this helps me to learn and progress with my own writing. Looking forward to more of your stories!

Reply

David Sweet
16:40 Jan 07, 2024

Thank you very much! This is based on a family story about my father and his grandfather. I am working on a series of stories with these characters. Some of my other Reedsy stories connect. "Southbound" is about Denvil as an older teenager (and a story based on my mom), "Cicero '59" features Denvil and Doralea's children (my oldest brother and sister).

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Glenda Toews
02:59 Nov 17, 2023

Loved .' Minutes, like the molasses, poured out slowly! And 'coiled like a copperhead. I can feel the era and your family😀 I'm so glad you submitted!

Reply

David Sweet
13:51 Nov 17, 2023

Thanks so much. You are a great inspiration and encouragement to me by sometimes giving me a swift kick in the writer's pants and for giving me honest feedback. Many of your suggestions went to making this story better.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mariana Aguirre
05:43 Apr 10, 2024

Love it

Reply

David Sweet
13:55 Apr 10, 2024

Thanks for commenting on my story! It is based on a family story told to me by my dad. I was noticing your work and see that you are interested in Stranger Things and script writing. Cool. I retired from teaching HS. I thought you might be interested in this if you ever decide to submit a script somewhere. This will help you get the formatting down. Good luck with all of your writing. You are starting off right. Don't give up. KEEP WRITING. https://www.backstage.com/magazine/article/screenplay-format-75569/#section0

Reply

Mariana Aguirre
22:05 Apr 10, 2024

np wow cool thanks

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Isabel Jewell
17:04 Apr 08, 2024

Wow, interesting read! I love the pacing and the setting! You’re a very talented writer!

Reply

David Sweet
17:35 Apr 08, 2024

Thank you very much. I am working on a collection of these stories based on stories told by my family. "Southbound" is my mom's story. Cicero '59 is a story about my oldest brother and sister.

Reply

Isabel Jewell
17:55 Apr 08, 2024

Super cool!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Daryl Kulak
15:33 Apr 06, 2024

This is quite the scene. I really like the old man and his fashion sense! You've done a great job, David!

Reply

David Sweet
15:42 Apr 06, 2024

Thank you very much. I appreciate the read. It's based on a family story.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
S. E. Foley
23:24 Apr 02, 2024

That was a beautiful excerpt. I'm going to have to read the other stories connected to this.

Reply

David Sweet
23:26 Apr 02, 2024

Thank you! I appreciate that you read it and will consider reading the others.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Kathryn Kahn
00:24 Apr 01, 2024

You have created such a specific world. Your imagery is so rich, it both draws me in and makes me catch my breath when I see an amazing turn of phrase. I can feel the humidity while I read it. These people are very vivid. Wonderfully drawn story.

Reply

David Sweet
01:04 Apr 01, 2024

Thank you very much! This is based on a family story that my dad told me about his maternal grandfather. I'm working on a series of stories that focus on Lefty and The Old Man. Two other Reedsy stories (Southbound and Cicero '59) are connected in this series. Thank you very much for reading my story and giving me your feedback. I always appreciate any constructive feedback.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
21:08 Mar 05, 2024

I really liked ur story, so much details. It's beautifully written. God job :)

Reply

David Sweet
21:22 Mar 05, 2024

Thanks. It's based on a family story as is my other story, "Southbound." I am working on a collection of them among other stories. I appreciate the read and the positive comments.

Reply

21:25 Mar 05, 2024

That makes it even better to me and it explains all the beautiful details and emotions. To write so good about real things that for me is impressive and not so easily done when I have tried it. It has a habit of sidetracking into fiction.

Reply

David Sweet
22:13 Mar 05, 2024

The framework of the story is there. The details are fiction. All I know was that my great grandfather came home drunk from a poker game without a stitch of clothing. I knew he was a snappy dresser. My grandmother had a temper and my grandfather was a quiet man. Dad gave me the basics. I just made up the rest. I have a series of stories about Lefty (my dad) and his grandfather. BTW a poker game killed The Old Man. Details when I finish that story!

Reply

22:47 Mar 05, 2024

Even so I love it. Poker game, seems a gritty way to die. Will be interesting to see how that story will be.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
20:19 Feb 16, 2024

What a beautifully written tale, David! Amazing imagery and character development.

Reply

David Sweet
22:57 Feb 16, 2024

Thank you for your wonderful compliments. It is part of a series of stories about my family. It is based on a story my dad told me about his grandfather. Lefty is my dad in the story. It connects with a couple of my Reedsy stories. "Southbound" is about my mom, but Lefty makes an appearance as an older teenager. "Cicero '59" is about my oldest brother and sister. I appreciate you taking the time to read my story.

Reply

23:06 Feb 16, 2024

Thank you David, I'll be sure to check those out!

Reply

David Sweet
03:30 Feb 17, 2024

Thanks! I'll look forward to reading your stuff as well.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Stella Aurelius
09:15 Feb 14, 2024

Oooh, beautifully-woven, David. The imagery you used was just stunning. I felt like I was watching everything unfold before me. Great job!

Reply

David Sweet
13:43 Feb 14, 2024

Thank you very much! This is based on a family story my dad told me about his grandfather. I am working on a group of stories about Lefty and his grandfather. Some of these characters connect to a couple of other stories on Reedsy: "Southbound" and "Cicero '59." I appreciate you taking the time to follow me and to read my stories. I will also read some of yours.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Hope Linter
03:22 Feb 05, 2024

I'm in awe of your writing talent. Such vivid imagery and depictions of complex characters.

Reply

David Sweet
13:24 Feb 05, 2024

Thank you very much! Many are stories that are family stories that I have embellished.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
07:29 Dec 20, 2023

This is great stuff David a real tapestry full of larger than life characters with very strong unique voices. Very powerful writing highlighting one particular moment of a family life. Loved it

Reply

David Sweet
14:12 Dec 20, 2023

Thank you very much. There is a subtle connection to this story in "Southbound" as well. This story is based on a story my dad told me about my great-grandfather. I am working on a series of stories involving these characters. Cicero '59 is also connected. Thanks for taking time to read this story. It means a lot to me.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Amanda Lieser
00:34 Nov 27, 2023

Hi David! What an exceptional take on the prompt. I loved the way you wrote this background and gave us a sense of doom when it came to these family relationships. You kept the layers of the onion in good control-peeling them back slowly with each scene. I especially loved the depiction of Mam as a snake-her words hissing to seal the deal. I was also impressed with the POV because it gave us a sense of confusion as we slowly unfolded the family tree. This was a great story. Nice work!!

Reply

David Sweet
01:52 Nov 27, 2023

Thank you very much. I appreciate your kind words and insights. This is based on a true family story as told to me by my dad (Lefty). It is one in a series of stories that feature these characters that I am continuing to work on. Two of my other Reedsy stories (Southbound & Cicero '59) are connected by characters to this story, if you are interested. Thank you for taking the time to read my story.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
21:12 Nov 24, 2023

I love this story! Your fantastic imagery really brought out it all as if I was watching a movie. Well done, David.

Reply

David Sweet
22:40 Nov 24, 2023

Thank you. This story is one of a series of stories I am working on about my family. This is a story about my dad and his grandfather based on a family story he told me. My other Reedsy story "Southbound" has Denvil Jackson as a character about seven years later.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
23:30 Nov 16, 2023

Wonderful telling of simpler hard times. So rich from a poor boy's perspective.

Reply

David Sweet
01:54 Nov 17, 2023

Thank you for your support. It is based on a true story my dad told me about his grandfather. It is one in a series stories that I am working on about my dad (Lefty).

Reply

Mary Bendickson
02:19 Nov 17, 2023

Great story. I really enjoy ones based on truth. Thanks for following. I have written several of mine from personal experience.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Joseph Citta
18:28 Mar 28, 2024

Hi David I loved the story. We get a strong picture of the Kentucky setting. For example, “dawning light clinging to dark ridge tops”. The story explores themes of family conflict, forgiveness, and resilience. Think about maybe focus more on the rising tension leading to the Old Man’s return. Tell us more about Lefty’s internal thoughts and feelings. Overall it is very well written. If you focus more on the central conflict and tighten the pacing, it’ll be an even more impactful read.

Reply

David Sweet
19:01 Mar 28, 2024

Thanks for the feedback! Southbound and this story are stories I'm working on for a collection I want to print. There are at least five Lefty stories, with this one being the first. Lefty is an older teenager in Southbound. Lefty was my dad. This is a story he told me about the old man. Southbound is my mother’s story.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Lucas Mark
11:01 Nov 29, 2023

BEST BITCOIN RECOVERY EXPERT / WIZARD LARRY Getting Missing Money Back From Internet scammers /Bitcoin Mining / Bitcoin Recovery / Boost Your Credit Score and Get Approved for Remote Mobile Spy Control Authorization. Bad record extraction from both private and public database systems. Reach out to WIZARD LARRY by Email : Wizardlarry@mail.com Email: Support(@)wizardlarryrecovery.com Visit website: https://larrywizard43.wixsite.com/wizardlarry Mark Lucas recommended you.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Lucas Mark
11:01 Nov 29, 2023

BEST BITCOIN RECOVERY EXPERT / WIZARD LARRY Getting Missing Money Back From Internet scammers /Bitcoin Mining / Bitcoin Recovery / Boost Your Credit Score and Get Approved for Remote Mobile Spy Control Authorization. Bad record extraction from both private and public database systems. Reach out to WIZARD LARRY by Email : Wizardlarry@mail.com Email: Support(@)wizardlarryrecovery.com Visit website: https://larrywizard43.wixsite.com/wizardlarry Mark Lucas recommended you.

Reply

Show 0 replies
RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.