Twice Born A Vagabond
A Novel [Copr. 2008]
By D. DeWitt Thomas
Ernie kept a tight grip on the limb above him high up in the top of the old pecan tree in the front yard of our house. The leaves rustled around him as the wind blew beneath the grey clouds that were passing quickly overhead. The thunder rumbled in the distance as dusk approached. It had been a hot summer and the air was sticky. The wind blew in gusts as a black car from the welfare office pulled into the dirt driveway followed by the Sheriff. The cock on the weather vane spun on the roof, all the way one way and then all the way in the other direction. Our school bus had just stopped to drop us off at home after school. I said goodby to Rawley and gathered my books and things. There were several state patrol cars parked in the front of the house. A trooper was on the front porch and a couple of them were standing in the yard looking up at the pecan tree yelling for Earny to come down from there. The Sheriff yelled red-faced from underneath his olive color wide-brimmed hat, "Earny, you are under arrest." I ran to the front porch for cover because it had started to rain. My brothers and sisters were following me when we saw Mom standing on the porch. She had a black eye and her lips were swollen. The rusty old yellow school bus began to pull away and my brothers and sisters ran inside of the house. The front door slammed and the wind wistled through the screen as the chickens in the yard scattered.
"I've got a gun and I'm not going to be taken alive," Earny shouted back. The Sheriff responded, "If you don't come down now, somebody is going to get hurt. We are prepared to shoot...you really don't want that, do you?"
"What's the matter, Mom?" I asked. "I am scared to death." she answered. "Of what?" I retorted. "Of him !" she exclaimed sobbing as she pointed up toward the top of the old pecan tree where Earny was hiding, "and all of this shit. I'm taking you children to your granddaddy's house. I'm leaving him. I'm afraid for your safety. I'm leaving your father. I can't take this anymore. You and your brothers and sisters can go stay with granddaddy until I get a job and another place to live."
The Sheriff shouted at Earny again, "We know you have a whisky still down in the woods next to the creek behind the sugar cane field. We also know that you are a wife beater and that this isn't the first time. We're taking you to jail." Earny yelled back, "I ain't coming down and I ain't never coming down," slurring his words when a loud crack echoed from the breaking limb above him. Earny hit the ground with a thud and was taken into custody.
By this time, all seven of us children were safely inside the clapboard house and gathered together in the kitchen next to the wood stove. The case worker from the Social Service Agency was there. She was very polite. She had on a black A-line skirt and a white blouse with ruffles around the collar. A tortoise shell comb hid the tightly wrapped bun on the back of her head. She explained to us that Mom had asked her to represent her in finding us a place at the Baptist Childrens Home. She said that we could stay at granddaddy's until the application was approved. Maw Maw told us to get dressed in our best Sunday clothes and to pack a bundle in a pillow case of things we wanted to take with us. I chose my pretty pink blouse with the floral eyelets. I was excited about leaving for what I did not know at the time was going to be for many years to come. The prim and proper lady from the welfare office led us through the back door of the house and into the waiting black Plymouth. As we drove away, I looked through the rear window. I could see the flashing lights of the highway patrol cars from our front yard fade and disappear in the distance as we drove toward granddaddy's house. That was the last time I ever saw my home.
Things didn't go so well at granddaddy's house. He and his new wife tried to act nice but you could tell that they really didn't want us there. Luckily, after only a few weeks the case worker came by to pick us up and take us to the Baptist Children's Home. When I arrived, I saw the high wrought iron gate with the words "Baptist Home for Children" arching between towering brick pillars on either side at the entrance way to the grounds of the home. Inside we were taken to the Head Houseparent and given our assignments. My younger sisters went to separate cottages from us and my brothers were taken to the boys' section on the other side of the grounds. We were introduced to our housemates. They were all very well mannered and dressed in clean pressed and starched white blouses. The case worker in the A-line skirt clapped her hands loudly and said "Supper in one hour. Be prompt" I walked out to the front porch of the cottage and found myself alone. I sat on the steps with my chin in my cupped hands and my elbows resting on my knees. I sighed, "Home."
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