The Woodpile…

I was nine years old and in the third grade of school. We lived in a house with no neighbors between a tomato field and a fig tree orchard. Peaches were the main crop but the ranch owner diversified his crops frequently. The ranch provided numerous houses for the employees and we moved, often, as the better houses opened up.

We lived far enough away from town; I rode a bus to and from school.

That afternoon, I got off the bus, sprinting for the backdoor. I knew, my Uncle Gary, was planning on picking me up from school the next afternoon, I had to accomplish twice the amount of chores.

I rapidly undressed out of my school clothes, eager to get started on my chores.

Mom asked, "How was your day, son?"

"It was great, Mom, I kicked a homerun in PE!" I replied.

In my school, we had three different third grade classes. The classes would compete against each other for PE, sometimes. That day we had played kickball. It was a game similar to baseball, the difference being a soccer ball, instead, of a baseball. The 'pitcher' would roll the ball along the ground and the 'hitter' would kick the ball, as hard, as they could, advancing from first base through home plate. It was a game I enjoyed playing.

"What did you learn today, son?" Continuing our ritualistic after school conversation.

I told her, "Don't have time to talk today, Mom. Uncle Gary's picking me up tomorrow, remember? I have to bring up enough wood so Dad'll let me go."

I had anxiously waited all week to spend time with my uncle. It was a brief reprieve from Dad's extreme mood swings and ridicule. I loved the afternoons and weekends, I was allowed to spend with my uncle.

"Ok, Go ahead, son."

Mom didn't want to have to fight with him, if I didn't get my chores done.

The back door banged loudly as I sprinted out of it, running for my wagon. It was avocado green and had saw cuts along the side of it.

On the rare occasions we didn't have time to properly cut the tree limbs, in the orchard, Dad and I, loaded the full limbs into our trailer, brought them home to be cut later. We used my wagon as a sawhorse. He would sometimes, accidentally, cut into the side of it. Sparks would fly out of the sawdust and it would scare the crap out of me. I would jump back and release the log, my Dad was cutting.

Every time it happened, Dad would make the same remark.

"What the hell ya little pussy? It ain't going to cut you!"

I used that wagon for everything. I would drag my sisters around in it for hours. We would pretend to be racecar drivers or anything else, my overactive imagination dreamed up. Living in the country with no neighbors, my sisters were my only playmates. Being five and seven years younger than me, they happily went along with whatever imaginary scenario I explained.

I drug the bouncing wagon behind me, as I darted for the woodpile. I had to stack enough outside the backdoor for the next two evenings. Nightly, after dinner, Dad would build a fire. He didn't want to have to search for logs in the dark. The woodpile was only twenty yards, from the backdoor, but there was no light to see.

I panicked when I discovered, there wasn't any logs small enough to fit in our fireplace. I tried picking up a couple of stumps but they were, too heavy too maneuver. I intensely searched through the woodpile. I jumped back, twice, when I came across black widows. The wood was saturated with them, but I was never bitten.

'What do I do? What do I do?' Echoed through my mind.

I finally gave up, after searching through the woodpile for thirty minutes. I was extremely distraught, worrying whether my father would punish me for not transporting the wood next to the backdoor. Dad seemed to sinisterly enjoy forbidding me to spend time with my uncle.

I had an irrational fear; he'd jump on the excuse that I didn't do my chores today.

I went straight to my mother.

"Mom! There's no wood small enough to fit in the fireplace."

I was visibly upset.

Mom was mopping the kitchen floor.

She asked, "Did you check the whole woodpile?"

"Yeeaa, Mom, I couldn't find nuthin'. They're all too big. There's only stumps, Mom."

My voice cracked as I panicked. I never knew how Dad would react. One day, he wouldn't care if I shoplifted at the local grocery store, the next day he might slap me across the room for sneezing too loudly.

"Ok, I'll tell your father about it. You'll have to help him split the stumps this weekend, though, so don't make plans with your uncle until you get that done. Go on and get your other chores done."

She spoke, as she wrung the mop out, in the kitchen sink. Relief washed over me after my mother reassured me.

I ran to my room and began cleaning it. I made my bed and picked up the scattered Star Wars figures on my floor, making sure to locate all the laser pistol accessories.

I ran to the garage with our bowl for ice cubes in my hand, opened our deep freezer and filled it up and returned to the ice to the smaller refrigerator freezer.

Dad drank all his beverages with ice. He was the type to preach about how sodas tasted different with ice. He also lectured anyone who would listen that sodas tasted different between bottles and cans. He didn't like the taste of aluminum-canned sodas. I personally never understood the difference and thought he was just too overcritical.

I rapidly raked the leaves in the yard and piled them into my wagon. Carefully, I pulled the wagon around to the garbage cans and disposed of the dry crackling fallen leaves, relieved I was finished with the outside chores in record time. I drug my wagon to the backdoor and quickly entered the house with a bang of the screen door.

I went into my room and grabbed my schoolbooks lying on my bed.

I had to write a book report, due on Friday and I finished reading the book the night before. I read a biography of Davy Crockett. I was saddened to learn the heroic figure tragically died at the Alamo along with Jim Bowie. I had also read about Jim Bowie because my father had a foot long replica of his famous knife. I loved that knife. It was old and rusted along the blade but looked so dangerous and sharp in my imaginary swashbuckling adventures.

Mom faithfully attended church on Wednesday night and had dinner ready on the table, when Dad walked in from work.

As he stepped into the kitchen from the porch, he possessed a huge smile on his face and his hand hidden behind his back. As I sat at the table with my sisters, our plates already in front of us, he appeared to me like he was a three year old just caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

I thought, 'That's funny, he never smiles when he comes home.'

With obvious trepidation, Mom asked, "What do you have behind your back Robert?"

He pulled out this huge chrome wrench. He often brought home new tools.

Our family survived on hamburger and vegetables we gathered from the ranch.

I had holes in my shoes and the knees of my pants. My teacher actually complained to my mother about the clothes I woear, at the last parent teacher conference. Dad was only paid four dollars and eighty cents an hour, but he religiously bought the most expensive tools money could buy. My mother and father battled constantly over the money he spent on his tools.

"Another tool, Robert?" She asked.

Mom was angry and it filtered into her voice.

"I need this for work, Judith Elaine…" He said.

Dad's expression transformed from a smile to a grimace as he spoke.

"…and I don't wanna hear we don't have the money!" He exclaimed.

"But Robert we don't have the money. Robby needs shoes."

Mom's voice cracked.

"I'm tired of hearing my Mom complain about the clothes the kids wear."

Granny often scolded Mom about the clothes we wore.

If the clothes were new, they were cheap and wore out quickly.

I once had this pair of cheap Trax shoes, my mother purchased at K-Mart. When I played at school in the morning, I would get my shoes wet from the morning dew on the grass. The fluid would soak through to my socks. The shoes were a bright blue and the dye used to color them, bled into my socks, turning them blue in odd patches.

One Friday afternoon, I was over at Granny's house to spend the night with her. I took off my shoes the minute I got there and walked into the kitchen to give her a kiss hello.

She saw my socks immediately and expressed her contempt.

She exclaimed, "What the hell is that?!"

She sounded obviously disgusted.

"Ah, Granny, my shoes turn my socks blue. It always happens."

I informed her, absentmindedly, as I went to watch TV in the living room. I didn't think, it was that big a deal and they sure didn't have holes in them.

"Well don't sit down! Get your damn shoes back on. We're going to Sears."

She said it as if the department store would fix all the world's problems. Granny rarely took me to town and I was excited to go with her.

We traveled nine miles to the city where Sears was located and went into the store.

We went straight to the shoes department. She bought me two pairs of the most expensive brand Sears sold. She then walked me over to the clothes department. We both searched through the racks of clothes. She bought me two pairs of pants and two T-shirts. One t-shirt had a picture of Obi Wan Kenobi from Star Wars on the front and 'May The Force Be With You' written on the back. That was my favorite shirt until I sadly grew out of it.

I walked out of the department store proudly wearing my new clothes and shoes.

Bouncing on the most comfortable shoes I'd had in a while, I beamed with admiration and happily swinging my arms back and forth.

I told my grandmother, "Thanks, Granny! These clothes are so cool!"

She looked at me and grabbed my hand as we walked to her parked car.

She said, "Anything for my grandson."

I heard her whisper under her breath before we got into the car.

"No way in hell my grandson's going to wear shoes like that to school."

God! I loved my grandmother and miss her severely today.

If it wasn't for Paw-Paw and Granny, Mom and Dad would have been destitute.

"How much did it cost?" Mom asked.

She spoke to him in a defeated tone of voice.

"A hundred fifty dollars, but I got it on credit."

Dad talked as if buying it credit excused what he did.

He said, "This is for work and I don't want to hear another word!"

"But Robert…" She said.

Mom tried to plead with him but he immediately interrupted her.

"Not Another Word, Judith Elaine!" He said.

He growled threateningly when he was pissed off. He stalked off into the living room leaving us at the dinner table. Mom shook her head submissively.

It was another silent dinner. My sister's and I kept quiet as we ate. Dad mood darkened as the night when on.

I retreated to the safety of my room to finish my book report.

While I wrote the assignment on my bed, Mom showered and dressed for church. She then got my sisters ready to go with her.

"Give me a kiss, son, I'm going to church." She said.

As she stood at my bedroom doorway in her flowing homemade gown; a semi-transparent flower patterned shall draped over her like a poncho. Her hair was styled in an old fashioned football, ratted and sculpted on top of her head. My sisters were beautiful in their matching blue lace adorned dresses, their hair in pigtails and ribbons.

I got up and traveled across my room, I kissed her and hugged her, then returned to my homework on the bed.

Dad had sold the Roadrunner when my youngest sister Natalie was born.

I heard her start the white Dodge van parked in our driveway.

The van was originally supposed to be a delivery van and didn't have seats. My siblings and I had to sit on the white metal floor of the van. I remember the grooves were extremely uncomfortable on my butt as we traveled anywhere.

In the living room, I heard Dad pounding the floor, splintering kindling for a fire.

When he built a fire, he chopped up pieces of two-by-four lumber, in front of the fireplace. My sisters and I were constantly getting splinters in our feet.

After a few minutes, I heard the back door slam. I was still involved with my book report but got up to find a piece of paper in my chest of drawers.

I stood digging in the top drawer.

Suddenly a foot brutally slammed into my back.

It shoved me into the chest of drawers and I went down, with shocking pain in my lower back.

The chest of drawers rocked back and forth then toppled.

I instinctively covered my head as the chest of drawers crashed down on top of me. The drawers fell out and a corner cracked me on the back of my head through the feeble protection of my arms.

A hand reached under it and grabbed the hair on the back of my head. I looked up to see the feral countenance as my father drug me out from under the toppled chest of drawers.

Dad viciously lifted me off the floor by my hair.

He screamed, "You Didn't Bring Any Wood Up! I Told You What Would Happen If You Didn't Do Your Chores After School! You're Not Going With Your Uncle Tomorrow Either!"

Still hanging me by the hair, he flung me forcefully at my bedroom doorway. I tried to gain my balance as my feet skirted the floor but I tripped and tumbled, into the edge of the solid wooden door.

I began to sob.

Deep, heaving breaths, as I picked myself up, off the floor. I couldn't catch my breath, as I started to weep hysterically.

Feeling the excruciating pain in my lower back I rose from the floor and ran for the back door. His fury still possessing him, Dad shouted at me as I ran.

"Now Go Get Some Wood Like You Were Supposed To This Afternoon!"

At full speed, I hit the screen door and bounded down the steps. I grabbed the handle of the wagon, and raced for the woodpile.

In the dark, hoping to be bitten by the black widows, I searched for the smallest pieces of wood. I tried to calm down and catch my breath, as I heaved the large stumps into the wagon. Adrenalin pumping from the violent outburst, I lifted the same logs I couldn't lift before in the afternoon.

As I traveled numerous times between the area we stacked the wood and the woodpile, I slowly gained composure. Whimpering slightly, I didn't want to re-enter the house until the tears were extinguished. I was terrified Dad would begin to ridicule my weeping.

He frequently expressed his doubts about the seriousness when I cried. He often threatened when I couldn't control my emotions.

He would say, "Shut Up or I'll really Give You Something To Cry About!"

My entire childhood, I recall him accusing me of being a wimp, pussy, or sissy.

He never showed any compassion when I was hurt.

With shocked astonishment, I wiped the mucous and tears from my face, with the bottom of my T-shirt.

I unloaded my third wagon of logs beside the backdoor. I wasn't so upset about the physical violence; I often received that and had grown wearily accustomed to it. What continued to burrow into my mind, I wasn't going to be allowed to spend the next afternoon with my uncle.

His declaration broke my heart.

He knew that I had anxiously waited all week to spend time with Uncle Gary. Uncle Gary was an escape, from my demonic father. I traveled, seven times, from to the stack of wood beside the back door, despair deepening as I walked. I finished the last load of stumps and entered the house through the backdoor.

I hated having to walk by him.

As I cautiously passed him, he sat in front of the fireplace, watching the fire blaze.

He growled at me before I was able to leave the living room.

"Did you bring up enough wood for tonight." He said.

I muttered a resentful, "Yes," as I quickly stepped out of his reach.

I was afraid of a last parting slap.

I walked into my room, hoping to forget the harrowing night in my slumber. I laid on my bed, buried my face into my pillow. I heard the asshole open and slam the screen door leading out to the backyard. I was reeling from the agonizing blow to my lower back. I was disturbed and tortured that I wasn't going to be allowed to go with my uncle the following day. I began punching my pillow with righteous fury.

Once again, Dad had taken the one thing I cared about and turned it against me as a weapon of destruction and punishment.

I heard the screen door open and slam again as he returned from outside. I listened as he stomped through the house toward my room.

From the doorway, he screamed at me again.

"All Those Logs Are to Big, They Won't Fit In The Fireplace!"

With a ten-year-old ferocity, I turned on my bed and shouted back at him.

"I Know! I Couldn't Find Any When I Got Home From School!"

Comprehension transformed the anger on his face to an expression of enlightenment. He paused, quietly thinking about the events of the evening.

His voice subdued, he asked, "Why didn't you say something?"

"I Did! I Told Mom About It! She Said Not To Make Plans With Uncle Gary On The Weekend So I Could Help You Split Some!"

My voice was a visceral shout. I knew I was unjustly beaten. I hated my father as I screamed at him from my bed.

"Why Didn't You Tell Me?!" He asked.

The anger filtering back into his voice. His expression creeping back to the rage he expressed earlier.

"You Didn't Give Me A… Cha…Chance!" I said.

I turned back into my pillow, ashamed of my tears. I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of witnessing me cry.

Dad lowered his voice to a menacing tone, and warned me.

"You stop crying like that now or I'm going to give you something to cry about."

I drove my face into my pillow, to stifle the sobs.

Without another word, he left my bedroom doorway.

I drifted off to sleep whimpering over the injustice I felt and my throbbing lower back.

I suffered the wrath of my father's frustration, raising his family on a wage, too small. He couldn't afford to buy the tools to impress his co-workers. Every excuse he had, he took it out on me.

So many times his wrath descended on me.

My hatred grew more and more.

Mom let me go with Uncle Gary and he gave me a present. It was a small little chess set. One set of pieces where infinitely black while the other side was the purest white.

"I think you will get a lot of pleasure out of the game, Robby." He said.

When I got home, I went out to a little shed in the back of garage. It was a little sanctuary I had made for myself. I put the game board that was folded in half to make a carrying case onto a rickety table I had built in the little cubbyhole.

I opened it and placed the pieces in their positions on the board. When I touched the White King my stomached dropped like I was on an amusement park ride and I was floating over a little old man with a cane and a boy who looked a lot like me!