The Boys of Nodaway Ridge
"Good men do not always have grace and favor" – (Chrystostom)
I dropped Frank off at his house after our visit with Mr. Hanson and returned home. It was lunchtime and Grandma and Momma deep-fried catfish and hush puppies, serving those along with a salad. It has to be one of my favorite meals, especially Grandma's hush puppies. As we sat around the table and the conversation came to a bit of a lull, I casually asked, "Does anyone know who the kid was that sang at Jeremiah's funeral? I think it was his mother with him at the luncheon."
Grandpa looked at Grandma; Grandma looked at Momma, and queried softly, "Meredith?"
Evidently there was something here hitherto unknown and unspoken around me, but I was about to find out!
"That's Abby Robertson; she used to be a 'Goodman' before she married. Abby and I went to school together, but she was a year older than me. While in high school, she went to Davenport on a trip with some friends and met Henry Robertson, spent some time with him while the others shopped and whatever, stayed over more than a few days, and ended up pregnant. I suppose people thought it was one of those quickie affairs where no one took any responsibility, but it was one of real love. Henry was a very handsome young man, about Abby's age, quiet, gently, and loved her very much. His whole life centered on her and their growing family. It was just as well they had each other to love because her family wanted nothing to do with her or Henry after she announced they were to marry and she was to have a child!"
"Why?" I asked, astonished and curious why someone would deny their own child and drive him or her from the family; I just couldn't imagine that happening! It was no secret in our house that Momma had me out of wedlock and Grandma and Grandpa didn't try to drive her away.
"Abby was an only child of elderly parents; raised in a home that was intolerant, prejudiced, and biased, not unlike some others in the area and in the world, I might add. Her parents just couldn't accept having a grandchild that was part African-American or that their child married a black man. Marrying outside of your race was just not the normal thing to do people thought and it was against the law in some states."
So that was it! It certainly explained the darker complexion of Sammy's friend.
"How well did you know them after they got married?" I asked, suspecting the answer, but really, really wanted Mom to tell me.
"After I left home to go to school in Iowa City for nursing and graduated, I was hired at a hospital in Rock Island just across the river from Davenport where Abby and Henry lived. She was the only person I knew from Nodaway Ridge. It gets pretty lonely sometimes so far away from home so I'd get together with them occasionally. I know she enjoyed it and so did I. I could see his eyes light up every time she looked at him or passed by him. By the time I began visiting them, they had three children already, all boys I might add. For some reason, as they got busier with family and I got busy myself, we lost contact with each other. I knew she was back in the area, but the funeral is the first time I have seen her in quite some time. Unfortunately, she left before I had a chance to visit with her. I would've enjoyed visiting with her and checking on how she is doing, as if it's any of my business."
"So," I said, plunging on with the subject at hand, "who was the boy with her? Is he the only one at home or what?"
Mom smiled at my persistence, responding, "No, Abby had six children in all; three are grown and living in the Quad Cities and the other three are living with her in Central City. The son you refer to is 'Micah' and he's about your age. Now that she's alone and her parents are both gone, she decided to move back here."
"What do you mean, 'now that she's alone'?"
Before Mom could answer, Grandpa entered the conversation. "Henry Robertson was a good man, worked hard, and provided for his family as best he could, but a black man without a high school diploma just can't find the type of work that pays well. Henry worked for the City Sanitation Department, a garbage man to make it plain, and worked a second job at an all-night convenience store and gas station on weekends. The city didn't pay their garbage men too well at the time and he had a large family to feed and provide for. One Saturday night in August last year, around midnight or so as I remember, a man came in to rob the place and, although Henry gave him the money and didn't resist, the son-of-a-bitch shot him! For no other reason, I would think, other than Henry was a black man. Never did catch the asshole that did it!"
The death of Henry Robertson, a man I never knew, hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn't know him but I'd seen his son and heard the son sing, as I'd never heard anyone sing before! My heart quickened, realizing how a loved one could be torn away from someone so quickly and permanently. How horrible it'd be to experience the loss of Frank to me or my loss to him; I couldn't fathom such a deep abyss of sadness or grief I'd fall into or him the same. Frank and I were like one and it seems we always had been!
"Abby brought him back here to bury him," Mom said "and Pastor Tolliver performed the service. There were very few of us in attendance; not only did she have few friends in the area anymore, but the fact she was married to a black man still was scandalous in some people's eyes. Her parents refused to come to the service and they bad-mouthed her and her children all over the community, saying some pretty nasty things about their daughter and her dead husband. You really don't want to know some of the horrid things they did say. They even demanded that Pastor Tolliver not allow him to be buried in the church cemetery, claiming Henry Robertson's body would defile the holy ground of the cemetery. Pastor told them that God didn't care what color someone was, Henry would be put to rest in the church's cemetery and that was that! Anyway, Jeremiah sang for Henry's funeral, saying it was the least he could do for someone he understood was a good man, even if others thought less of him. Typical of Jeremiah, just as kind and giving as your Frank is, Nate."
I blushed, realizing she knew the depth of the love I had for Frank by referring to him as "your Frank", even though it was a high school boy loving another high school boy and frowned upon by many in our society; in fact, it was one of those things dangerous to acknowledge in the open! It made no difference to Momma or Grandpa and Grandma what I was as long as I was happy and secure with myself; I was and they knew it!
The Goodman name was familiar; the Goodman place was between Nodaway Ridge and Central City, but I didn't remember any funeral for a Henry Robertson. I surely would've remembered it with that good looking Micah around, but I didn't, so I asked, "Where was I went it happened?"
"I think that was the week you and Frank went to the State Fair in Des Moines. Frank had chickens to show and you showed geese," offered Grandma.
I remember well that week in Des Moines. We had a blast; in fact we blasted into each other numerous times, each time seemingly more suffuse and satisfying than the last! Neither Frank nor I won a ribbon, but it was fun! We brought the fowl home, but ate them. It didn't bother me to eat the geese; they were progeny of the old gander of Grandma's. She called him "Pepe" because he was a French Toulouse breed and I hated that mean, feathered fucker! I wished we could've eaten him instead.
Grandma continued, saying, "Mr. Goodman died about three months after Henry's funeral. I don't think it was from grief, although he should've grieved the loss of a son-in-law and a daughter many years before. Mrs. Goodman suffered a stroke shortly after that; I think she suffered from high blood pressure and hadn't been well for some time. She was in a nursing home in Central City until about six months ago when she passed away. I heard they left no will and Abby is their only child, so I suppose the courts will determine who gets their place. By all rights, it should go to Abby and I think it will. It just takes time for the judges and everyone to make their decisions. I think it is such a shame they never had the opportunity to enjoy their grandchildren."
When she paused in her narrative, I interjected, "That's really, really sad that they loved their daughter and grandchildren so little, just because of something like race or skin color. How heartbroken Micah's Mom must be. I'll bet Micah misses not having a Daddy around a whole bunch."
The minute I said that, I knew I really shouldn't have. When I looked up and over at Momma, I could see the tears forming and beginning to slide down her cheeks. It wasn't grief over Mrs. Robertson's loss of a husband or Micah and his siblings the loss of a father; no, this was her own personal demon she was confronting and the sorrow was for me- not having a father to come home to all these years. Momma never said who my Daddy was, where he lived, or if he was still alive and I never asked. I felt it was something personal, something she would tell me someday if she ever wanted to, but it was an issue I was never going to force on her; I loved her too much for that. I could only hope she was happy the time she spent with him and not forced into doing something she regretted later. I know the consequences of it (me) was something she never regretted simply by the open love and affection she espoused toward me. I was more fortunate than she and most people realized; I had her, Grandma, and Grandpa and they loved me for what I was; no more, no less. Grandpa had been my father as long as I could remember and he always would be!
I stood, walked over to her side of the table, put my arms around Momma, and gave her a big hug and kiss, saying, "Don't say it, Momma and don't worry; I've got you and Grandma and Grandpa and that's fine with me. What more could I ask?" Leaving Momma, I then walked around to Grandma, giving her a big hug, and did the same to Grandpa. When I let go of Grandpa, I announced, "How lucky I am to have a Grandpa and a Daddy all in one". By the time I was done, we all were in tears!
Once the water works dried up and our emotions were somewhat under control, I relayed the results of Frank's and my visit with Mrs. Adams and Mr. Hanson, conveniently forgetting to include the more descriptive portions of our encounter with Mr. Hanson in the tub, other than we had to extract him from the cold water and waited while he dressed. They were pleased to hear both Mr. Hanson and Mrs. Adams volunteered to help. I don't think they would've been overly impressed with me telling them that Mr. Hanson had a hard-on after we lifted him from his bath!
"Frank and I thought we'd also contact some friends of ours at school next week who live around here and see if they'd want to become involved in this project. They could help collect food and other things and help deliver too. They all drive and I think they have pickup trucks available too. Mr. Hanson needs some minor repairs around his house, so we could do odd jobs for people too, without pay of course."
"Who would you ask to help?" Momma questioned.
"Well, we thought we'd ask Micah, Sammy, Eddie Gordon, Kenny Eggers, Norm Christenson, and Max Kincaid. We all like to hunt and fish and stuff and none of us are out for sports so we have the time to do this."
They nodded their heads in approval and Grandpa volunteered, "Would you like adults to help out in any way?"
"Frank and I thought it'd be great if we could get some adults, you know, like a committee, to coordinate the activities and make certain that people that need the help actually get it and find out who does need it. I don't think people will listen to a bunch of high school kids as well as they would another adult or a committee of adults, do you?"
Grandma raised the one question that we thought of but really hadn't come up with an answer to yet. "How are you going to pay for it?"
I shook my head, responding, "Honestly, I don't know – we couldn't come up with any solutions other than donations or something".
"Perhaps those you serve or others in the community interested in seeing the project succeed will pitch in", posed Grandpa. "I know many don't have much spare cash, but they do have lots of pride and I'm certain will want to give a little. Remember the "widow's mite" and I know people will give, even a little, if they see it coming back into the community and their homes."
There were many questions, in fact, more than answers I thought, but the only way to move ahead with the project was to – move ahead. If the rest of the boys would agree to help, it was a good start, I thought.
The Literary works of Nicholas Hall are protected by the copyright laws of the United States of America and are the property of the author.
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