Sorry it has been so long since the last installment about the pastor of Little Big Foot. I'll try to do better. Some current changes in my schedule might make writing a little easier. We left Dee Anna, her brother Phil, and her mother, Bernice, in the family waiting room, doing their best to comfort one another.
The chortle of a rooster woke Dee Anna next morning. Er errr errrrrrrraa!
She thought foggily, "They don't say cock-a-doodle-doo."
A rooster? They had never had chickens. She rubbed her eyes and sat up. It was early. The red numerals on the digital alarm clock read 6:15. Even so, a wide swath of Texas sunshine streamed across the floor. The house was quiet.
After a few moments of vainly trying to go back to sleep she stretched and swung her feet over the edge of the bed. Might as well get up.
A few minutes later, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, she tiptoed down the hall and into the kitchen. Passing the door to the living room, she was mildly surprised to see that an undecorated Christmas tree stood in the corner. She'd almost forgotten it was nearly Christmas. She realized she was cold and turned up the thermostat. Maybe not as cold as Wisconsin, but still cold.
Her thoughts went to the snow-covered woods and the back roads of Little Big Foot. When she had left for the airport a crew of workers had been hoisting Christmas lights over Main Street. Better call someone there today. She wondered whether Marla had finished setting up the front of the sanctuary for Advent. Had the Boy Scouts delivered the large wreath...?
The rooster's crow startled her. It sounded close. She moved to the window over the sink and gazed outside. Sure enough, a neat little chicken coop stood to the side of the house, surrounded by a small enclosure. A white rooster strutted across the ground, and a few Rhode Island Reds moved about. Chickens?
She turned and looked around the kitchen, feeling a little guilty that it had been so long since she'd been home. The old linoleum had been replaced with a nice blue-flecked tile, and the walls had been painted pale yellow. White curtains with a yellow and blue pattern hung at the windows. Green plants were in evidence, one hanging by the window to the porch, one on the wooden table, one sitting in a corner of the counter. It was nice, Dee Anna thought. Inviting.
She found the coffee and started a pot brewing, and she located cups and plates. Rummaging in the pantry she found biscuit mix. Realizing she was hungry, she decided to make breakfast.
She found a tablecloth in the same drawer they had been years ago. She smiled as she ran her hand over the rough cotton and the embroidered roses. Her Grandma, whom she'd never known, had been a skilled needlewoman. So had he mother, Dee Anna recalled. She herself had never managed to stitch anything worth keeping.
Not long afterwards, Bernice stood in the doorway, quietly watching Dee Anna set the table, noting how her daughter's tousled red hair gleaming in the occasional kiss of sunshine. Dee Anna was wearing pink fluffy slippers, Bernice noticed, and she smiled faintly. It was good to wake up to the aroma of coffee and biscuits. It was good to have Dee Anna in the house.
"Did you hear Ricky Rooster?" she asked, startling her daughter.
Dee Anna turned, smiling, "Ricky Rooster? Seriously?" She glanced toward the window. "He woke me up. When did you get chickens?"
"Oh yes, that's his name," said Bernice, moving to the table and sitting down heavily. "Your father decided I needed something to do that would get me outside." She frowned. "And he figured we could use the fresh eggs and a roasted bird now and again. So he got the chicks from a Mexican family over on Rogers Road. We bought eggs there sometimes."
Dee Anna poured coffee into Bernice's cup and handed her the carton of creamer. She was still absorbing the idea of her mother caring for chickens. "Ricky Rooster?"
Her mother snorted, half in scorn and half with amusement. "Mr. Hernandez has a heavy accent. Your father always said he sounded like Ricky Ricardo on the old 'I Love Lucy' show. So he named our rooster Ricky."
They grew silent, as Dee Anna cracked eggs into a skilled and then opened the oven door and pulled out the biscuits. "Perfect," she thought. "Ha!" She had a momentary desire to turn and say, "Are these good enough for you, Mother?" She sighed as she turned to the woman at the table. "I'm going to go wake Phil up."
Dee Anna had been surprised that Phil had come home instead of heading for his little place in town. He had pointed out the apartment complex to her as they'd driven home from the hospital. Arriving at the house, Dee Anna had made some tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches as their mother had taken a quick shower, and after they had all eaten Phil had insisted Bernice go to bed. She had offered no resistance. As Dee Anna had cleaned up the dishes from their small supper, Phil had gone outside. Dee Anna wondered why she hadn't noticed the chickens and decided maybe he'd gone outside to check on them. They'd headed for bed soon after, both tired and both feeling awkward.
She stopped at the closed door of his old room. She hesitated, feeling strangely out of time and place. She rubbed one hand through her hair as she knocked softly with the other. "Phil? You awake?"
The door opened suddenly, startling her, and she stepped back. "I'm up." Phil smiled. " Can't say I'm awake, exactly."
Her brother stood silhouetted in bright light from a window. He was dressed in jeans too, but instead of a sweatshirt wore a plaid western-style shirt with pearly buttons. He pushed his sock-clad feet into his boots, which were standing by the door. Dee Anna glimpsed some of his old basketball trophies sitting in a bookcase. It's been a long time, she mused, surprised they had not been thrown away years ago.
"All set, sis. I got my boots on...I'm ready for anything." He stepped into the hall and gave her a quick pat on the shoulder. "What do you do to your hair, woman?"
Dee Anna said nothing, but took his hand and moved to the kitchen. "I smell coffee," said Phil.
They were surprisingly hungry, even Bernice, and they ate in silence for several minutes. After a while, Phil put down his fork, looked up and said, "Good coffee. Good biscuits. Good eggs. Thanks, Danna." Dee Anna grinned, and Bernice said, "Of course they are." Her eyes were crinkled at the corners and a faint smile crossed her face. "I taught her."
They all had a second cup of coffee, talking of nothing in particular, but talking nonetheless. Then Bernice cleared her throat. Phil and Dee Anna looked at her, wondering what to expect.
"I want the two of you to know that I'm glad you came home." They waited. "It was hard sittin' in the hospital."
"I also want you to know that your daddy cares about you both. He missed you all those years," Bernice said to Phil, looking at him with a frown. "He worried, not knowing where you were. He loved you. I guess we didn't always show it like we might have." Phil looked at his plate.
"And you, Missy, don't you know how a father needs his daughter?" Dee Anna looked at her in surprise saying nothing. She thought, "Didn't always show it? Did you ever show it?" Ah, perhaps that was unfair. She did remember some times when her father had seemed to enjoy her company.
Her mother went on, "And you runnin' wild down in Dallas." Bernice stopped and cleared her throat. "Y'all know I'm a strong women, and y'all know your daddy is not always...." she stopped. "Well, Bud needed a strong woman, and I guess I was it."
Phil and Dee Anna were not used to conversations with their mother. Conversations about life had always been shared with each other, not with their parents. Looking at her mother, red hair in its eternal bun, faded but lovely face set in stern lines, Dee Anna realized that even as she'd longed for a mother like the ones some of her friends had, a mother that would hug her, take her shopping, whisper secrets--even though her mother had never been like that, Dee Anna had known her mother was strong and determined. She had known, somehow, that if she'd needed protecting it would have been her mother who stepped up to do the hard thing.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking, sitting in the hospital and wondering if your father was going to wake up or not." She put her head in her hands. Then she sighed, sat up and straightened her shoulders. "I remembered a lot of things. I remembered the feeling of waking up in the morning being glad to be alive. The feeling that I had all the time in the world. Wondering if I'd be someone great. I used to read about Madame Curie and wonder if I'd be a great scientist someday." As her children looked at her in surprise, she said defensively, "I was always good in science class, you know."
No, they hadn't known that. What else didn't we know, wondered Dee Anna.
Bernice stared at Phil, scowling. Dee Anna saw the quick flash of apprehension in his eyes, followed by the guarded expression he seemed to wear these days.
"I suppose lots of people wondered why I, a girl with a lot of promise, valedictorian of my high school class..." Another surprise. "Why," she went on, "I married a man like Bud. I mean, his family was known for not bein' very good farmers. His daddy was lazy." She snorted. "He was a happy man, but he didn't know how to work." Bernice's expression grew far away and surprisingly soft. "But you know, your father was a good-looking man. My father didn't like him much, but I didn't care. I used to sneak out of a night and go over to that place on the highway..."
Phil and Dee Anna had no idea what place she was talking about, but they sat very still.
"We used to dance." Bernice smiled to herself, remembering. "He was a good dancer, all right."
"Dance?" Dee Anna couldn't stop the word from coming, her eyes round. "You and Daddy went dancing?" She was remembering the time she'd gone to a high school dance with some friends and her father had somehow found out, He'd come into the gym and demanded she come home. Ironically, the dee jay had been playing Footloose.
Her mother's face grew hard and Dee Anna wished she had stayed silent. "Oh yes, we certainly did. Bud was the best dancer of all our friends. All the girls wanted to dance with him. My father warned me, but I was a headstrong girl and I didn' t listen." She frowned at Dee Anna. "And you wondered why we had to be so strict all the time, didn't you?"
Bernice pushed her plate back and crossed her arms. "I'll tell you why. Dancing leads to all sorts of trouble. It makes a smart and strong girl like me forget who she is. It makes everything crazy, that's what it does." She glared at Phil. "I had to go to my aunt in Houston after I got pregnant with you. My parents were mortified."
Phil stared. "Are you saying you and Dad got married because I was on the way?"
"No, I'm not saying that." She looked cornered, but she went on firmly. "No one could have convinced me not to marry him. He was handsome and sweet and could sing like Elvis--better, really."
"But you said you were pregnant, Mom?" Dennis reached across the table and put his hand gently on her arm. "You were pregnant and your parents were mad...and then you had me...is that right?"
Bernice let our a long breath. "Yes. I was a good girl, but I was foolish. I thought I was in love. And then one night...well...then you were on the way and that's all there was to that."
She closed her eyes. "I didn't mean to tell y'all that. I guess I am tired."
Dee Anna was speechless. She looked from her mother, who sat with her eyes closed, looking very old, to her brother, Phil. Phil's face was expressionless, and then suddenly he smiled. He looked at Dee Anna. His smile grew wider. He began to laugh, and his laugh grew louder. Bernice looked up, shocked, "What are you laughing at?"
Phil threw his head back and laughed and laughed some more. Tears ran down his face.
"Is that it? Oh, Lord have mercy...!" And once again his laugh filled the kitchen. His mother and sister stared.
Outside, Ricky Rooster said, "Er er errrrrrrra!"