This is the page where you can find the parts of Escape From Pig Hill published on previous weeks.
All Rights Reserved
Copyright (c) 2015 Stephanie Mesler
Title ID: 4609623
Layout and Book Design by Stephanie Mesler, Diva Press
Manufactured in The United States of America
Escape From Pig Hill would not have been written without the support of my best friend and life partner, Michael Myrick. Had he not kept telling me the book was worth finishing, I would never have believed it. Thanks also to my daughter, Susan Mesler-Evans, and many friends who listened as I read passages out loud over and over again, just to hear how they sounded outside of my own head. Thanks especially to Stacy Hollinger, Shelrie Dawn and other members of Merritt Island Writers who helped me get through the final months of editing, revising, illustrating and doing it all again and again. Gratitude is also due Judy Cullen, Sister Butta, and Selina Greene who provided me with many opportunities to share the novel in progress online in Second Life, where audiences were supportive and gave useful notes. Thanks especially to Pam Jones and Jim Weaver who beta-read Escape From Pig Hill, and to Susan Mesler-Evans who proofread the book.
Escape From Pig Hill is dedicated to people who have been examples to me of how one might deal with being “different.” I am grateful to each of them for the examples they set, even when their personal choices are inexplicable or hurtful to me personally. Each of them face (or faced) adversity and decided to be their authentic selves. I am grateful to them for that.
Joe Meyer was the gentlest man I ever knew. I think of him daily and am led always by his example of grace in the face of fear.
Diane Lyons and Marita DeCosta are strong women I have never met face to face, women I respect for their determination to be themselves, even when that costs them dearly.
Craig Penn (also known as Peg) didn't give a...well...for the sake of propriety, I'll say hoot. Craig Penn didn't give a hoot what anyone thought of him. I strive to be that independent.
My father, Raymond Mesler, Jr., has always wanted to be a good man. He survived in a time when being himself could have gotten him killed. He taught me that charm and goodness are not the same things and that sometimes one can be overwhelmed by inner demons. My relationship with him has taught me to discern who can and who cannot be trusted and that an authentic life is the only life worth living.
The map shows the location of Masada, WV, as the author imagined it.
Pig Hill is not a real place. Neither is Masada, West Virginia. There are real places that have been important in my own life, places like Alma Hill and Bolivar in New York State, Mineral and Defiance in Ohio--these places are smashed together in my imagination to create the amalgamated town of Masada.
Donny Granger is not based on anyone I know personally. He was actually born to be a criminally insane animal rights advocate in a novel that remains unfinished. As so often happens to writers, I fell in love with my villain and created for him a back story that made him far too sympathetic to be your garden variety whack job. I restarted that book several times before abandoning it when I realized Donny was meant to be a hero at the center of his own story.
Unfortunately, the other Granger men are based on people I have known personally. So are Margaret Adelbaum and her father, as are the Perkins, the Keeley's and Mr. Pepp. None of these characters is an exact representation of someone I know but they are all blends of folks who have been part of my life at one time or another.
Escape From Pig Hill is to be the first of several novels in The Ballad of Donny Granger. Donny will grow from injured child to fabulous adult. He and Margaret will take their places in the adult world, demanding that they be accepted exactly as they are and determined to be better than the lives they ran away from.
Orlando, Florida, 2014
There weren’t many things Donny Granger enjoyed so much as shooting, but putting on a pretty face and a pair of strappy heals came close. Since his daddy kicked him out of the trailer on Pig Hill, Donny had found a lot more opportunities to indulge his fondness for feeling pretty.
Back home he'd been forced to hide this proclivity even from himself. In those days, he’d thought something was wrong with him and been ashamed. Granger men did not wear women’s clothes and they hated the sort of men who would. Donny had fought like hell to keep his urge to dress up under control. But once in a while when Donny found himself alone on Pig Hill, if his mama or one of the twins left a dress on the line, Donny had taken it into the woods and tried it on. The fabrics were soft and the women's clothes always smelled better than his own. There was no mirror in the woods, so Donny could only imagine how he looked in the clothes he borrowed. He was sure the dresses made him look pretty and he liked the way pretty felt.
The problem was that after he had taken the dresses off and sneaked them back onto the clothes line or into his Mama’s closet, he didn’t feel pretty any more. He felt ashamed and afraid. Afraid of what liking to dress up said about him and afraid of what would happen if anyone found out.
Donny had heard his father talk about the “fags up to Wheeling that deck themselves out like prom queens and hookers.” Daddy Granger and the Granger uncles had all agreed “them queers oughta be beaten with a tire iron and then deported right outta America.” Donny's father said he was sure as hell glad there weren’t any queer Grangers or he’d have to shoot ‘em his own self.
At the time, Donny had no idea what queer meant, but if it had anything to do with men wearing dresses, he figured he must be one. He sure as heck didn’t want to be one of those fags the uncles talked about with such disgust. But hard as he tried, Donny just couldn't kill that suspicion he’d be a whole lot happier if he were a girl. Then, he'd be allowed to wear pretty things whenever he wanted. Sometimes he went months in between excursions into the woods to try on clothes, but the older he got, the stronger the urge got and the more he longed to see himself dressed up like Miss West Virginia.
Pig Hill, West Virginia, 1989
Donny Granger liked to shoot things. Donny liked seeing the impact he could have on otherwise immovable objects. It started with an old Tonka tire nailed to a tree uphill a ways from the Granger family trailers. He was six years old when his Daddy decided it was high time for his namesake, Donald Granger, Jr., to learn his way around a rifle.
“When you kin git 10 shots inside that wheel, Boy, we’ll move ya up to shootin’ beer cans,” Daddy told him.
That was really no challenge at all and Daddy Granger never really thought it would be. Donny was a Granger man, dontchaknow? That meant he was born like all the other Granger men, red-headed, freckled, and knowing how to aim, load, and fire. After two rounds went slightly over the tire, Donny adjusted his aim. From then, it took him roughly three minutes to shoot a hole through the tree at the very middle of that Tonka tire. The beer cans weren’t much harder but did teach him to re-aim between shots like you do when the animal you're wanting to bring home for supper moves around some.
After the beer cans, Daddy took him way up Pig Hill and down into the woods on the other side. There, the father and son sat on a tree branch that overhung a small clearing, waiting for what seemed an eternity. Unused to being asked to sit still outside of church or school, Donny was restless. He fidgeted, pulling at his wavy hair, checking repeatedly to see that the gun was loaded, scooting his butt from side to side while swinging his legs.
“Patience, Son,” was what Daddy said when a suitable supper failed to present itself right away. “Something will come into our sights soon enough. When it does, you don’t want to scare it off with all your fidgetin'.”
Daddy was right. An eight-point buck came into sight not long after that. Daddy Granger nudged his son, who raised the rifle borrowed from big brother, Aaron. He sighted the deer, pressed back the trigger, and fired. Daddy had raised his rifle too. He fired right after Donny did. They hit him, both of them, and the deer fell to the ground.
Daddy jumped down from the tree and ran to see the animal the Grangers would be eating for the next few weeks. Donny did not follow right away. When he saw that buck fall, the enormity of what he'd just done washed right over the boy. He had taken a life, caused a living thing to cease breathing. And this wasn’t some fish down in the creek; this was a great big, furry, hot blooded mammal. Donny went pale, paler than usual. The boy began to shake.
“Donny,” Daddy called, “Come see what you’ve got us. That was some fine shootin’, Boy. Fine Shootin’.”
The six-year-old didn’t move from the branch. “It’s not my fault,” he said. Of course, the boy realized Daddy Granger would not see this as being a fault at all. Still, he felt guilty. “I didn’t do it alone, Daddy.”
“You sore could have. You sore could. You are a real Granger man now, boy. A man who can provide for hisself and his fam’ly. I’m right proud of you, Donald, Junior. Right proud.”
That was all Donny needed to hear. His guilt began to abate. He hopped down from the tree and walked to where Daddy was stooped over the deer. It was a big one. It would provide a lot of meals for the Granger family. That was nothing to be sad over. Still, when he looked at the deer, he saw something that did not deserve to die. The boy had taken its life and would eat its meat. But he promised himself then and there he would never shoot anything for fun.
There were boys down in Masada, town boys whose daddies drove to Morgantown every day in big old pick-up trucks, whose mothers bought meat for their tables at the Kroger Store on Highway 7, boys who would never miss school to go hunting for their families’ winter stores of food. Some of those boys had pop guns and BB guns which they treated like toys. They shot at the sides of buildings, strangers’ cars, small animals. For them, shooting was a sport. It was never that for Donny Granger. When he shot something, he did it because there was no other choice.
Donny's First Secret
Masada, West Virginia, 1990
The next autumn, a photograph of the young Donny Granger appeared in the human interest section of the Morgantown Dominion Post. It was taken by a reporter who had seen the boy one day, walking down a dirt road with his very own rifle flung over one shoulder and some dead squirrels over the other. The rifle was a hand-me-down Donny's big brother, Aaron, had used for several years. Before that, it had belonged, at various times to all of the adult Granger men, including Donald Granger, Sr., Donny and Aaron's father.
The reporter, who introduced himself as Evan Halloway, restrained his gray-streaked hair by securing it at the base of his neck in a ponytail. Donny had never seen a working man with long hair before. Uncles Bal and Sonny were known to sport long, scraggly beards along with greasy manes that grew for months on end between shaves and cuts. Donny's father wore a beard only in winter and he kept it neat. Kate Granger, Donny's mother, was insistent about that. Uncle Junior, eldest of the Granger brothers, was always clean-shaven. Donny wondered if all newspapermen let their hair grow. He was sure he knew what his Daddy would say about a man who wore a ponytail.
The reporter paid Donny ten dollars to pose for him. When he asked for an address to mail a copy of the paper when the photograph appeared, Donny explained that the Grangers lived on Pig Hill but there was no real address. He suggested the man mail the newspaper in care of the Reverend Perkins, minister at the tiny Baptist church at the bottom of the hill in Masada.
“Be sure you send it to the church at the bottom of the hill,” Donny said. “Grangers aren’t allowed to set foot in the one at the top.”
The man laughed deeply and asked, “Why not?”
“Cause my Daddy says the minister at that other church is a communist pinko. He says that minister oughta get his head in his Bible and keep it outa politics. Daddy says he don't want none his fam'ly associatin' with lefties. One day, that preacher said something that made Daddy order us all to stay away from that place. He said no Granger was ever gonna set foot in that man's church again. We Grangers have been goin' down the hill for church with the Baptists ever since.”
“I see,” said the reporter.
“It made Mama pretty mad when Daddy did that,” Donny continued. “They had a big fuss 'cause it makes a longer walk back up the hill on Sundays after church and Mama didn't think it was fair how Daddy was makin' it harder for her to get Sunday dinner made on time. Mama's lip was bruised after that so I never told Daddy I didn't like how going to the Baptists makes Sunday dinner later either.”
“Sounds like a wise choice,” said the reporter as he handed Donny a ten dollar bill.
Donny took the money home and put it in a coffee can he kept hidden in a hollow log a ways up the hill from the house. He was seven years old when the reporter took that picture. Already, his can contained several treasures. There were pretty stones, which he had cleaned and smoothed himself. There was the bullet that came out of that first deer he’d brought down the year before. There were some marbles the child had pocketed from the dime store in Morgantown the only time he’d ever ridden anywhere in a car. There was also a gold hoop earring Donny had found in the woods one time when he’d been looking for woodberries to take home so Mama could cook them up for supper. There was also 14 dollars and 37 cents in coins and dollar bills. The ten-dollar-bill from the reporter gave him $24.37, a mind whirling amount considering Donny's Daddy never had more than twenty dollars in his pocket at one time.
Donny tucked the money away and sat on the log a fair while, fantasizing about what he might buy one day if he ever got to ride in a car to Morgantown again. After that, he forgot completely about the reporter and the picture he'd taken.
Two Sundays later, he was reminded of it when the pastor at the little Baptist church, a very young man named Perkins, came up to Donny and the whole Granger family, as they put back on winter coats and boots to trudge up the hill to their trailers. They had kind of a compound up on Pig Hill, at least that is what Daddy Granger liked to call it. Five trailers in all. One big double wide for Mama and Daddy and their kids, three smaller ones for the Granger uncles and a long, narrow one that had been the home of Donny's grandmother, Lulabelle Maynard, right up 'til the day she got sick and died. Of course, there was a pantry shed and another shed where Mama did the wash when it was too cold to do it outside. There was an old metal building starting to sag at the top from snow piling up there winter after winter. That's where Daddy Granger kept the few tools he owned along with all his hunting and fishing gear.
“I have something here for you, Donald Junior,” the young pastor said as he held out a large manilla envelope.
That surprised everyone, including Donny, but especially Daddy Granger and the three Granger uncles. The boy's name was written in thick black marker on the front of the envelope along with the address of the church. There were a half-dozen stamps on the envelope, which had somehow not been canceled by the post office. Donny wondered, if he kept the stamps safe in his coffee can, would they be worth something to someone one day?
He opened the envelope carefully, so as not to destroy the stamps. Inside, he found a folded up copy of the Morgantown Dominion Post and a note signed by the reporter, Evan Halloway. It said that the reporter had enjoyed meeting young Donald Granger, Jr and to look at page two. There, in the upper right column, was Donny's picture. You couldn’t tell he was a redhead because the newspaper was black and white, but you could make out every one of his freckles and see the scar on his forehead, just below the hairline. Donny got that by cutting himself with Daddy’s big knife one day when he fell out of Mama’s lilac tree, trying to cut her some flowers for the kitchen table. This was the first time he had ever seen the scar himself. He didn’t like it at all. He wished he had kept his hat on for the picture.
Daddy Granger said, “I’ll be!” and “That’s my boy!” as the family passed the paper around, each person marveling at the likeness.
Junior Granger, the eldest of the Granger brothers, commented that Donny had done them all proud, getting his picture made with a whole parcel of squirrels flung over his arm. “Way to represent the Granger men!” said Junior, slapping the boy hard on the back. Donny coughed.
Aaron just stood tall, saying nothing at all, which made Donny smile because he knew it meant Aaron was proud too. May and June giggled at the image of their baby brother, the one they called pipsqueak, looking so big and masculine in the newspaper.
This was the same boy whose long hair they had curled with their mama’s curling iron one winter day for a joke and to pass the time. There was no electricity on Pig Hill, so the curling iron got heated by sticking its barrel in the fire for each curl. Donny had been patient as a crow waiting for its supper to die and positively glowed under such sisterly attentions. When the girls had completed their work, they marched the finished product, Donny, into the kitchen to show Mama, Daddy, and Aaron his new do. Everyone had laughed. Mama said what a shame it was the best head of hair in the family had been given to a boy.
Next morning, Daddy cut his younger son's hair, taking it almost to the scalp with a straight razor.
“There,” he’d declared. “Now, you look like a Granger man.”
Donny had been four when that happened and he had loved his long hair. But he also loved being a Granger man and making Daddy proud, so Donny got over the loss of his mane pretty quick.
By the time Donny Granger was seventeen years old, the only thing he had held onto from his childhood on Pig Hill was the shooting. Pig Hill could slide right off the side of Appalachia and go straight to Hell, so far as Donny Granger was concerned. It could take all the people from Pig Hill and Masada with it. That included Daddy and the uncles, even Aaron. They could all burn for eternity and Donny wouldn’t give them a glass of water to share between them.
Well, all of them except Mama. She did her best and Donny never blamed her for the way things turned out. And the twins, May and June. There was just no way they could have protected him from Daddy and the uncles. They'd done the best they could. Maybe one day he would see his sisters again.
Pig Hill, West Virginia, 1990
Donny Granger liked school well enough, but he liked summer vacations better. Sure, there were more chores to be done around home because Daddy and Aaron always took extra work in the summers. They helped on the Pride family farm which was located a few miles south of Masada on Melvin Run Road. Aaron put in as many hours as Ephraim Pride would let him. Daddy went there each afternoon after his regular job at the chicken plant was done. Technically, the Harrison Chicken Plant was a farm too, but Daddy Granger said he couldn’t call it one because it didn't treat the chickens like farm animals. He hated his job there, saying no one should have to work in such filth and no animal, not even a dumb bird, should be treated like the chickens at the chicken plant. Daddy much preferred the part-time work he did at the Pride place.
Kate Granger thought Donny was too young to have a job, but a few times her youngest got to work at the Pride farm too. Mostly, he helped in the barn where he cleaned up the stalls and helped with milking, or in the chicken coop where he scraped poop off the wood and collected eggs, careful not to break them. On two occasions the summer Donny turned seven, Donny got to drive the farmer's thirty-year-old Ford pick-up. The harvest was coming in all at once, as harvests in West Virginia are inclined to do. Farmer Pride commented that it was a good thing Donny was tall for his age and seemed to be a natural at driving clutch. Otherwise the man would have had to drive the truck himself and that would have been one less set of strong arms to work on the ground, tossing debris into the bed of Donny's pickup and good food into the trailer hauled by a second truck, driven by the farmer's own youngest son.
Sometimes, even the Uncles helped on the Pride Farm, though more often they made themselves scarce when the farmer came around to see if they were willing. This extra work was good news in that it meant more money for the Granger family and that put Daddy Granger in a much better mood than when money was tight. Life was always happier for the Granger children and their mother when Daddy Granger was not fretting over funds. The downside was that, in summers, much of the work Daddy and Aaron usually did to keep the compound ship shape fell to Kathleen and her three younger children, the twins and Donny, that is, when he wasn't working the farm too.
Most summer days started with a load of work. The trailer often seemed like it housed an army and not just a family of six, so there was always tidying and cleaning to be done. Laundry was an endless job done without benefit of modern appliances and food had to be prepared. Often Daddy and Aaron brought home fresh vegetables and milk, sometimes even meat, from the Pride place. That meant there was plenty of good food to eat those summers on Pig Hill. When the farmer didn't have meat to share with his hired hands, Donny could hunt and Mama and the girls would fish in one of the streams on the hill or, if they felt particularly energetic, in Ettinger's Pond, which was farther away.
The children and their mother tried hard to finish their labors before noon most days so that they could spend afternoons visiting folks in town or reading books at home in the shade behind their trailer. Once a month, the Morgantown Library Bookmobile came to Masada. It would park right in front of Pastor Perkins' Baptist church so anyone with a library card could check out five books. The twins, May and June Granger, liked stories about princesses and fairies. Donny was drawn to books about animals and fish, though he also liked adventure stories. Donny was younger than his sisters by almost three years, but he read at least as well as them.
Kathleen Granger introduced all her children to books before they could walk. They'd all started reading on their own before they even started school. Teachers at the Masada Central School reported that all four Granger children were advanced students in the language arts. Daddy Granger was surprisingly proud of that. He had never finished high school himself but knew the value of a good education. He wanted his children to be well-educated and believed they would go further in life than he ever could. He never said so to anyone but his wife, but Donald Granger, Sr. had high hopes that all of his children would attend college one day.
Daddy Granger always sent his library card to the bookmobile with his wife, Kathleen. Each month he would give her the same instructions, “Don't get me none of those homo books you like, Woman.” This was always said in the still dark hours before he left for his job at The Harrison Chicken Farm.
“Don't talk that way about my books,” Kate Granger scolded him each month.
“Why not?,” he always asked her. “It's what they are. I can't help it my wife likes homo books. Not me though. No queer books for Donald Granger, Sr. I'll tell you what you can get me. I want five westerns. If they don’t have enough westerns, I'll take war stories and, if they ain't got those, I'll settle for some of them true crime books. If you see Du Keeley when you're in town, ask him does he want to go fishin' up to Cheat Lake this weekend?”
Donny's mama always got books Daddy Granger enjoyed. Of course, she got some of those maligned homo books for herself too, letting her husband's criticism roll off her back like water off a duck. She liked to read biographies and books that came from the shelf marked classics. She said her favorite book was Jane Eyre but she was known to enjoy Gothic tales as well. Once in a while, she brought home a book of poetry and every month she checked out one book she wanted to share with her children.
The July Donny was seven years old, that book had been Anne of Green Gables. His mama apologized to Donny for that one, saying she had really gotten it for the girls and she knew it was not something boys enjoyed. She promised Donny she would choose something he would like the next time they visited the bookmobile.
Most afternoons that July, Donny sat in the grass beneath an oak that stood behind the family's double-wide trailer. He had a large tray of dirt he used to draw pictures in, using a pointy stick as a stylus. He would draw in silence while Kathleen Granger read Anne of Green Gables to her daughters. Of course, Donny was listening too. He had expected to be bored by this book intended for girls, but he wasn't. Anne Shirley, heroine of the book, grabbed the boy's attention right from the beginning of her story. If Kathleen or one of the twins had looked over at Donny's dirt drawings, they would have realized he was paying attention because he was illustrating the story as his mama read it. He regretted that he only had the one drawing tray and that one picture had to be erased in order to create the next. He also regretted that he could not draw in color. He was pretty sure Anne Shirley had hair the same exact orangey-red color as his own and he would have enjoyed drawing that.
Kathleen and her children completed Anne of Green Gables four times that month. By the last time all three children could recite the dialogue right along with their mother, though Donny never did so out loud. Of course there were afternoons the family did not read, but chose instead to spend the time with friends in town. There was one afternoon that was an exception to either of those normal courses. One Friday when the Baptist church was putting on a carnival with rides and everything, Kathleen Granger had told her children she was too tired to walk down the hill to Masada.
“Would you all mind going into town without me?”
“We don't need to go to town today, Mama,” said June. “The carnival will be there all weekend.”
“We can just stay home and read Anne again,” said May.
“No, I don't think I'm up to that today either. I'm sleepy,” Mama had told them.
Donny took a good look at his mother and saw that she did look tired. Her dark hair was hoisted up in a loose bun on her head. That was how she wore it in the summers, to keep some of the heat off her neck. Donny noted that day that his mother's hair was not as shiny as usual and her blue eyes were shot lightly with red streaks. He wondered if she had been unable to sleep the previous night.
“I think I'll just stay home and take a little nap,” she had continued. “But you three don’t have to miss all the the fun in town. Here,” she said, reaching into one of the pockets on her pretty house dress, “I have some money for each of you. Your Daddy told me I should give it to you. He said you could get something good to eat and ride all the rides. He also said to tell you not to play any of those games of chance they have at fairs because they're rigged so no one ever wins.”
“Daddy said we could go to town without you?” May wanted to know.
“He did,” said Kate Granger. “I guess he thinks you girls are old enough to watch out for your little brother now. You will look after Donny?” she asked the twins.
“I don't need lookin' after,” Donny had protested. “I can watch out for myself.”
“I'm sure you can,” replied his mother. “I'll bet you could even keep an eye on the girls! Are you old enough to do that, Donny?”
“I sure am,” he responded, proud to be treated like a grown-up.
“Mama!” the girls protested at once.
“No need to fuss about it, girls. I still want you two to look after your brother. But while you're looking after him, he'll keep watch over you. That way I don’t have to worry about any of my children!”
The Granger children tried to persuade their mother to come along with them to the carnival, not because they didn't feel safe going without her but because they genuinely wanted her to come along. In the end, she had persuaded them that she would get there Saturday and that they should go ahead and have a fine day without her, which they did. Donny suspected his mama had fallen asleep before they were halfway down the hill.
Daddy Granger Reflects
Pig Hill, West Virginia, 1990
That afternoon, Donald Granger, Sr. decided not to put in any hours at the Pride farm. When the workers' van from the chicken plant dropped him off right in front of the Masada Church of God, the one with the commie preacher, he headed straight up Pig Hill, knowing his wife would be home alone. He stopped, as he always did at the end of a long day's work, to wash off in the stream that flowed down the hill on its way to Ettinger's Pond. He did his best to remove the stench of chicken blood from his body and changed out of the clothes he wore at his job and into ones he wore pretty much everywhere else except church.
Daddy Granger had shaved off his beard on his birthday, April 1, like he did every spring. This Friday afternoon, his hair was longer than he liked it. Sometime before Sunday morning, he would ask Kathleen or one of the twins to trim it.
Once he felt clean enough to approach civilized people, Donald Granger walked the rest of the way up the hill, intending to check on his wife. Kate had not been feeling well lately. She'd been really tired and had not looked or acted like herself.
As he entered the family compound, Donald, Sr. noticed there were still some blooms on Kathleen Granger's lilac tree. That was unusual for July. He stopped in front of the tree, remembering the day his wife had asked him to plant one for her. It was the day he brought her and her mother home to Pig Hill. Kathleen was pregnant with Aaron and the couple had been married by a justice of the peace just a few days previous. The coal mine Donald Granger worked had shut down the very same day Kate revealed her pregnancy. The young couple found themselves in less than ideal circumstances. At least, Donald, Sr. and his brothers had the family compound to return to, now that none of them could afford to stay in Wheeling. Their own mother and father had been dead a long while and the Granger brothers hadn't planned ever to return to Harrison County. But in 1978, that is exactly where they had ended up.
The young bride's father was dead and Kate's sister, Deborah, had moved away to attend college in Ohio. That left the Maynard girls' mother, Lulabelle, alone in her rented apartment in Wheeling. When Kate and Donald decided to move back to Pig Hill so he could afford to keep a wife and a new babe even if he wasn't working steady, the couple insisted that the older woman come with them. She'd been happy to come along, right up until she found out the Granger compound consisted of a few rundown sheds and an old trailer. There was also some question as to the actual ownership of the land.
There've been Grangers on Pig Hill for eight or nine decades at least, maybe more, but Donald Sr. doubted there ever was an official bill of sale for Pig Hill. It was more likely the first Grangers in Harrison County had simply claimed the hill for themselves figuring no one else would want it.
Lulabelle Maynard was certainly convinced that no one in his right mind would want Pig Hill for a home and figured this was evidence her new son-in-law had a screw or two loose and that her daughter was crazy in love. Nonetheless, Pig Hill is where the old woman found herself. The woman had nowhere else on the planet to go to and no other people wanting to take her in. She decided to make the best of the place and her life on it. She looked forward to meeting the grandchild her daughter was carrying and couldn't help but be swayed by her daughter's unswerving trust in this young man who'd brought them to this hill.
When he showed his wife and her mother Pig Hill for the very first time, Donald Granger, Sr. said “It doesn't look like much now. The cabins need some work and we're gonna need more living space. The fire circle needs to be rebuilt and my brothers are living in tents while the weather's warm but they'll need a roof over their heads before winter comes. We can see to all of that. You'll see, Mother Maynard, Pig Hill will be a fine home for you and a fine place for raising your grandchildren.”
“It will take some hard labor to make this place suitable for my daughter and her baby,” the woman had responded.
“Hard work comes natural to Granger men,” her son-in-law told her. “We'll have you in your very own trailer before the baby comes.”
Kathleen had wandered the “Granger compound” in silence while her new husband explained how he planned to haul a trailer up the hill for the old woman to live in and how they could make use of the sheds once they'd been repaired. He talked about planting a vegetable garden in a clearing on the hill and widening the path so it would be easier to walk into Masada year round. He said he could get the water pump working again and that the trailer already had indoor plumbing. He promised he'd find a way to make that work. In the meantime, there was a clean outhouse his brothers had just built, knowing there were to be ladies living on Pig Hill. Donald, Sr. wanted his wife and her mother to see this place as the home he planned to create for them, not as the wreck it appeared that first day.
Lulabelle Maynard had been a tough sale, but Kathleen didn't need any convincing at all. She could see in her mind's eye the wonderful home this place would one day be. She didn't need anything fancy and neither did her children. What Pig Hill lacked in creature comforts, it made up for in natural beauty, economy, and the safety that comes from seclusion. Kathleen could imagine herself rocking her baby in a hammock under the great oaks behind the trailer she and Donald would turn into a home.
“Well,” her husband had eagerly asked her. “What do you think, Kate?”
“Lilacs,” had been her response. “I always think lilacs make any yard pretty much perfect. Don't you agree, Mama?”
The old woman had nodded her head, adding not quite under her breath, “At least they can cover the smell of an outhouse.”
That was almost thirteen years ago and now Kate Granger's lilac tree was a wonder. Donald collected those last blooms of summer, put them in a mason jar he retrieved from the pantry shed, and took them inside for his wife, who was sound asleep on the sofa, one of those fancy homo novels open on floor beside her. Not wanting to wake her, Donald placed the flowers on the little coffee table and took a seat in a chair, planning to watch his wife sleep. She opened her eyes and smiled at him.
“Oh, lilacs,” she said. “Thank you, Donald. They're beautiful.”
“So are you, Kathleen. Sorry I woke you.”
But by the time he finished the apology, Kate Granger was already asleep again. Donald sat and watched her until he heard his children headed up the hill from town. He went outside to see how they had liked the carnival and to ask that they help him make supper so that their mama could keep on napping. May and June assured him that they could make supper on their own, so Daddy Granger did something he hardly ever did. He stretched out on an old church pew his own father had dragged all the way up Pig Hill when the Church of God had been rebuilt after a long ago fire. The pew was now placed beside the steps that led into the family trailer. In the late afternoon summer sun, Daddy Granger napped. Donny noticed his father smiled in his sleep and wondered what he was dreaming.
Disagreement at Supper, 1990
Pig Hill, West Virginia
When Donny was eight-years-old, a new music teacher came to teach the children in the Masada Central School. That included all the kids from the hills that surrounded the town, who walked to school even on the snowiest of days. The new teacher, Mr. Pepp, was a young man who played all kinds of instruments and sang country western like Garth Brooks. All the girls in The Masada Central School developed crushes on the new teacher. The boys mostly feigned indifference.
On his first day at the school, Mr. Pepp announced to his students that he was going to start a choir. The choir would meet two days a week after school in the lunch room. Mr. Pepp hoped all of his new students would show up to sing. A note was sent home to parents announcing that rehearsals for this choir would begin on Tuesday the second week of the school year.
Kathleen Granger cooked chicken and dumplings the night the note came home from school with her three younger children. Aaron had thrown his copy in the nearest trash can as soon as he walked out the school door. Sitting around the table, the family listened as Daddy ranted and raved about the cost of everything from groceries to kerosene.
“Do any of you know how much it costs to heat this trailer in the winter?”
June started to answer that she had in fact seen the bills for the kerosene used the previous winter, but before she could get a word out Daddy was answering himself.
“Of course, none of you know a thing about it. Good Old Daddy Granger is the only one to worry about keeping this family in house and home. I don’t mind saying I could sore use some relief from all this responsibility. Sore could. Maybe one o’ you could bring in a dollar or two from time to time.”
The Granger uncles all stared at the table. They knew it was them Daddy Granger expected to help pay the bills. Grown men ought to
earn a living and they all knew they were failures as men in the eyes of the only Granger man working since the coal mine closed down.
“I’ve a mind to leave Pig Hill!” Daddy Granger declared. “I should just leave!”
“Really?” asked Donny. “Where would you go?”
“Somewheres ya don’t need kerosene to keep warm in the winter, that’s where! Maybe South Carolina. We got cousins in the Carolinas.”
“I hear it snowed in Charleston last Christmas,” interjected Bal Granger.
He was second oldest of the Granger Uncles and Bal was short for Balthazar. Junior Granger was the eldest. His real name was Abraham and he was named for his own father. Sonny Granger, whose given name was Caleb, was not quite two years older than Donny's Daddy, Donald, Granger, Sr, youngest of the Granger brothers of Pig Hill, West Virginia.
All the Granger men had red hair. That included Aaron and Donny. Daddy’s was the reddest of all. He kept it cut short like a military man. Winters on Pig Hill, there was actually more hair on his face than atop his head.
Daddy Granger seemed to consider that for a moment, the idea of snow in Charleston, South Carolina. “Then, I’ll go to Florida,” he
announced. “Soon as I finish making payments on this godforsooken trailer, I’ll be Florida bound.”
The previous summer a tornado had caused some damage in the Granger compound. The fire circle had been destroyed. Several trees had fallen, one of them landing on the roof of the family trailer, crushing it beyond repair. The new trailer had been a big expense, one that created a lot of tension on Pig Hill. A lot of tension meant a lot of arguments and arguments always led to shouting and often to violence.
Mama, set her fork down and looked her husband square in the eye. “You planning to take all of us with you or are you going alone?”
“I reckon we’ll see how that sets with me the day I hit the road. You'll just have to wait and see.”
“Hmmm,” said Mama.
“How are you gonna hit the road when you don’t own an automobile?” asked Junior Granger, the only Granger uncle lacking a beard that September.
Daddy did not have a car. He'd sold the only one he'd ever owned to pay for medical care for Lulabelle Maynard, his mama-in-law, the winter before she died. Now he didn't even have a driver’s license due to the fact he hadn't had the money to pay for a new one on his last birthday. He did not like that being pointed out at his own table one little bit. Daddy’s cheeks went red as his blood pressure rose. “Guess I’ll have to buy me a car too. Right after I pay off the mortgage. Then, I’m outa here!”
“Well in the meantime why don’t we finish our supper?” Mama suggested. “There’ll be plenty of time for planning your getaway later.”
Then there was quiet at the table for a while, everyone busy chewing their chicken and dumplings and mulling over the idea Daddy might run off one day to South Carolina. After a while, Mama broke the silence.
“My sister lives in Florida,” she said. “Sure would be nice to see her again some day. She lives right by the ocean, some place called Chocolate or Coffee, something like that. She said it was an island and I remember it was named for something hot to drink, which I thought was funny because no one in Florida would ever need a hot drink. Sure must be nice living near a beach.”
“You mean Aunt Deb?” May asked.
“Wasn’t she the one with the fancy red car?” asked June.
“Yes, that was her,” Mama answered. “I haven’t seen her in almost three years, not since before she moved to Florida.”
“Not since before I sent her packing, dontcha mean?” said Daddy, looking at Mama all red-faced and stern.
“Well, she was on her way to Florida when she stopped to see us last time, so yes, that’s when I mean.”
Daddy stared at Mama and Mama stared right back at Daddy.
“You been in contact with that woman, Kathleen? I told you I did not want anyone in my family associating with the likes o’ her.”
“I know what you told me,” said Kathleen, defiantly.
“Is Aunt Deb a communist?” Donny asked, thinking she must be since Grangers don’t associate with communists.
“No, she is not,” Mama told him.
“She’s worse than a communist,” Daddy shouted standing up from the table so fast he knocked over his chair behind him.
“She is my sister,” Mama said.
“She is a 'bomination!”
“She is my sister,” Mama insisted, “and I miss her.”
“I miss her too,” May spoke up.
“Be quiet, May,” said Aaron. “You don't know nothing.”
“I know I miss my Aunt Deb!”
“Me too,” added June.
Now Daddy was completely beet faced, madder than he'd been all month.
“That’s enough!” he shouted as he stood at the head of the table. “I don’t want to hear another word about Deborah Maynard. In fact, I forbid it. From here on out, anyone who mentions that woman in my house will pay the price. I never want to hear her name again.”
Then he stomped away from the table and out the side door of the trailer, grabbing his coat as he went. The sound of him opening the shed where he stored his hunting gear could be heard from across the compound. That's how hard he pulled the door open, causing it to slam against the shed wall. All three of the Granger uncles thanked Mama for the fine dinner and excused themselves. They headed into the woods to hunt with Daddy, which meant they were headed to the blind over the hill where they would drink beer til Daddy was done being mad at the family.
Donny remembered Aunt Deb though he had only seen her the one time when she came to tell Mama she was moving far away. As Donny recalled the situation, Deb had been offered a job working with doctors and spacemen. She was excited. Donny figured he would be too if he had a job working on aliens. Mama had been sad Aunt Deb would be so far away but said she was glad to see her sister’s dreams coming true.
June remembered that last time Aunt Deb had been to visit. She'd driven up in her fancy red car. In the trunk were presents for all the Granger children. She had given Aaron a banjo because Mama once mentioned in a letter that he wanted to learn picking. For May and June there had been boxes containing pretty pink sweaters and some nice bubble bath. For Donny there had been a box of paints and pencils and some big paper.
Years later, Donny remembered how his Aunt Deb had knelt before him with that big box full of art supplies. She had looked a lot like his mama, but she weighed a bit more and looked like she got more sleep. She had dark hair and blue eyes, just like his mama. Donny didn't figure she had ever had a bruise on her pretty face. She was wearing a nice pair of jeans that didn't have any tears, a scoop-necked tank top under a corduroy jacket that had patches on the elbows. Donny had wondered about those patches because he didn't have the impression Aunt Deb was the sort of woman to rip her clothes walking through woods nor one who would wear clothes that had to be patched. She wore an orange and green scarf around her neck. Donny liked the scarf a lot though he certainly didn't say so.
“Your mama tells me you are quite the little artist,” Aunt Deb had told the boy. “She says you draw all the time.”
“I do when I have paper to draw on.”
“Well, now you have some and I can send more after I get to Florida if you want me to.”
“That would be real nice,” Donny told her.
“What do you like to draw, Donny?”
“I like to draw animals,” he answered. “Especially squirrels and deer.”
“You like animals, Donny?”
“Yes, ma’am, I do.”
“I do too. One day I will take you to the zoo over in Wheeling,” she said. “Would you like that?”
“I would,” he told her.
That night, Aunt Deb had supper with all the Grangers. The Granger uncles liked her a whole lot. She was planning to spend the night and then drive off to Florida early the next morning but when Donny woke before the sun came up that day, Aunt Deb’s car was gone and the boy could hear his mother crying in her bedroom. Daddy’s boots and gun were gone. That meant he was off in the woods. Aaron was in the kitchen making breakfast for him and Donny and the twins.
Donny was five years old when Aunt Deb came to Pig Hill that last time. She never even sent the paper she promised.
The Choir, 1990
Harrison County, West Virginia
The next morning when Donny came to the table for breakfast, Mama was putting oatmeal in bowls for the Granger children. When she looked up, the boy could see a bruise on his mother's cheek, just below her right eye. Daddy was left handed. Donny didn’t need to ask how the bruise had gotten there.
“Did Daddy do that because of the choir, Mama?”
“Donald, Senior lost his temper.”
“So he hit you?”
“It's alright, Donny. I'm fine”
“But Daddy always says it's wrong to hit girls!”
“That, he does,” agreed his mother. Then, she turned back to her work. “I won’t be going out of the house today,” she told her children.
“Aaron, you'll have to stop at the market after school. Bring home some milk and butter, please.”
“Your brother and sisters have choir after school today,” she continued, “so you don’t have to wait for them.”
“Choir!” Donny blanched. “I have to be in the new choir?”
His sisters squealed in unison.
“Yes, choir,” Mama told her young son. “You are a talented boy, Donny. I want you to use all your talents and become the best man you can become. There is more to life than squirrel hunting on Pig Hill and being a Granger man.”
Saying precisely that to Daddy Granger when he returned from his pout in the woods the night before had gotten Mama's face marked. Donny could tell by the tone of her voice there was no point in arguing. He was going to be in Mr. Pepp’s new choir whether he liked it or not. Donny decided he would try to like it, that being the very least he could do to make up for his mama's bruised cheek.
Being the only boy in the Masada Central School choir wouldn’t have mattered so much if May and June hadn’t teased Donny about it. That first day, they couldn’t wait to get home and tell Aaron and Daddy and the uncles how Donny had to sit next to mean Margaret Adelbaum who'd spent the whole choir time singing really loud into his ear.
Donny had never spoken to mean Margaret before, mostly because everyone said she was mean, but also because she lived down in town and attended that other church, the one Grangers aren’t allowed inside. That first day of choir practice, the boy tried to introduce himself to the girl.
“I'm Donny,” he told her, by way of introduction. “Looks like we're going to be sitting together.”
Margaret had not responded, but stared at the boy like he was some sort of bug she was intent on crushing.
“Anyway,” he had continued, “I figured I should introduce myself.”
Margaret answered in a tone that told Donny she thought him an idiot. “We've been in the same grade together for three years already. I know who you are.”
“Oh. Right,” the boy answered, deciding it might be better not to talk to Mean Margaret Adelbaum after all.
When Donny and his sisters came up the hill into the Granger compound, they found the whole family outside in the circle between the trailers. There was a fire blazing and the men were all sitting on logs used for outdoor sofas and Mama was hanging up wet clothes to dry around the fire. She handed the girls some clothespins so they could help.
“How was choir?” Mama asked right away.
“It was loads of fun,” June told her.
“Mr. Pepp is so much smarter than that old Mrs. Haynes ever was. I am so glad she retired,” said May.
“Me too,” put in June.
“How was it for you...boy?” asked Uncle Bal in a tone that let everyone know that he thought no real boy would be caught dead singing in a choir.
Donny stammered for a moment before May and June started answering for him.
“Oh, Donny had a fabulous time,” said one.
“He got to sit in the very front row,” said the other.
“Next to mean Margaret Adelbaum.” They both giggled.
“Adelbaum?” asked Uncle Sonny. “Isn’t that the name of the preacher at that Church of God down to Masada?”
It was even worse than Donny thought. Mean old Margaret didn’t just go to the communist church. This meant her father was the very same commy preacher who’d argued with Daddy Granger.
Daddy didn't like it one bit when he heard his younger son was the only boy in Mr. Pepp’s choir. “Everyone’s gonna think he’s queer,” he said to his wife. The Granger uncles concurred, which was no surprise. They always went along with whatever Daddy told them was right or wrong. He was the one keeping them in house, home, and beer, after all.
“There is nothing queer about singing good music,” Mama informed them. “I used to sing some, or have you all forgotten that?” she asked her husband.
“What I remember was you and that sister of yours used to dress up like a couple of tramps and croon a little for drunks and their dates.”
“You seemed to like the way we dressed back then. And we didn't just sing in bars. We sang in churches too and made some money doing it, or don’t you remember that after all these years?”
“I remember,” Daddy admitted. “But that don't mean I want my boy looking like a fag.”
Kathleen ignored her husband. “Do you like the songs Mr. Pepp taught you, Donny?”
The boy was on the spot. If he said he liked the songs, Daddy might be angry, but if he said he didn’t, that would make it like Mama was wrong and Donny was sure her pretty face was black and blue because she had argued with Daddy about him singing in the choir. The boy didn’t want her to get hurt again on his account, so even though he most definitely did not want to stand next to mean old Margaret Adelbaum, he said, “Yes. Ma’am. Mr. Pepp is teaching us some very good songs.”
Daddy looked at his son and grunted before saying. “Fine, Kathleen, you can go ahead and sissiify the boy now, but soon enough he’ll be starting at the middle school and then I’ll have to put my foot down.”
Mama looked Daddy straight in the eye. “We’ll see about that when the time comes. Right now, Donald Junior is a boy still learning who he is. We are gonna let him choose his own way right up to the day he chooses wrong.”
It was Uncle Bal who spoke up then. “You sure got a mouth on you today, Kathleen. If you was my woman I’m not sure I’d take that from you.”
Daddy certainly agreed with his brother, but was darned if anyone was going to talk that way to his wife. He took a step toward Uncle Bal who turned his attention to a boot that suddenly needed tying.
Donny really did hate being in the choir. It wasn't so much the singing. Donny didn’t mind that. In fact, he sort of liked it. But Daddy had been right about being the only boy in a choir full of girls. That was no fun at all. Donny felt like a stranger in the only school he'd ever attended. Sure, he knew everyone and everyone knew him, but he was not used to being around girls other than his sisters and girls were different. Even his sisters were different around other girls than they were at home. For starters, they talked non-stop, especially at the beginning and end of choir practice, but sometimes even while Mr. Pepp was trying to teach them a song. Donny found girls could be mean, frequently meaner than boys. Usually, the girls were subtler than boys, but not always.
Donny never would have believed it possible, but the girls in his school were downright cruel sometimes. Donny hated the way they treated mean Margaret Adelbaum. It was no wonder the girl was so grumpy. The other girls picked on her relentlessly. If it wasn't Margaret's weight they were making fun of, it was her clothes. And, if it wasn't the clothes, it was the girl's hair. Donny's own sisters were not quite so nasty as some other girls in the choir, but they weren't nice either. Donny knew he ought to say something to stand up for mean Margaret, but the one time he tried, the other girls turned their teasing on him and Margaret told him to mind his own beeswax.
“I don’t need help from a sissy boy,” she told him. “I can take care of myself.” Then she'd proven the point by hurling her choir folder full of sheet music at one of the girls who had called her Mega-Margaret. When Mr. Pepp told her to pick up her music and apologize, Margaret refused.
“No,” she had told the teacher. “I will never say sorry to anyone. Never. She had it coming!”
Donny thought Margaret had a point. He wouldn't have blamed her for bloodying someone's lip under the circumstances. Of course, from that day forward the other kids knew that calling her Mega-Margaret was sure to get a rise out of her. They liked making Margaret lose her temper, so they called her Mega-Margaret for months. When Mr. Pepp escorted Margaret to the office for a scolding from the principal, the other girls snickered as the big girl walked out the classroom door.
With Mr. Pepp out of the room, the noise level rose dramatically and the girls in the class turned their attention to Donny.
“You got a crush on Mega-Margaret?” a particularly mean blonde asked. Her name was Velma Barnes and she was always chewing gum, even in school where it was technically against the rules. Velma was in the sixth grade for the second time.
“Nah,” said Lucille Miller, who hated being called Lucy. “Donny Granger ain't got no crushes. On girls.”
At that, everyone in the room snickered, except some of the younger children, who hadn't understood the joke, and Donny's sisters, who looked embarrassed. Donny was embarrassed too. He hadn't really gotten the joke either, but the eight-year-old didn't like being the center of attention, not in a room full of laughing girls. He was close to tears when May shouted, “Shut up, Lucille!”
“Oh that's right,” Lucille responded, “You're a Granger too.”
“That's right, I am,” said May.
“My mama says all you Grangers are trash,” continued Lucille. “She says you don't even have water to bathe in up on that hill.”
“We do so,” said Donny, angry enough now to forget about wanting to cry. “We have a well and a rain barrel. Daddy says one day we'll be connected to the city lines and then we won't have to worry about drought.”
Donny had jumped to his feet and June patted him on the back. “Don't let Velma and Lucille get you riled little brother. They're just jealous because they're not as smart as you.”
“Yeah, they both flunked out of the second grade, Donny. They're jealous cuz you got all A's last year,” June said.
“And they're not as pretty as me and June,” May added. “That's the real reason they hate us Grangers. They're dumb and ugly. No wonder no one likes them!”
Now, Donny's sisters were standing toe to toe with Lucille and Velma. There were giggles all around. That's when Mr. Pepp returned to the choir room.
“What are you girls doing out of your seats?” the teacher asked.
“Nothing. Mr. Pepp,” Velma told him.
“Nothing at all,” June concurred.
“Then, get in your seats and take out your copies of The Happy Wanderer. We'll take it again from the top.”
Margaret did not return to choir that day. Mr. Pepp commented more than once that he missed his best alto. He said he couldn't tolerate her violent response, but he did not appreciate the way Margaret had been treated by her classmates. He told the members of his choir that he expected them to behave with more decorum from that point forward.
For the next couple of weeks, Donny sang in Mr. Pepp’s choir. He was miserable. But Mr. Pepp turned out to be okay. One day he asked Donny Granger to meet with him the next day early, before school started. He said Donny should come to the music room. The boy didn’t know what to expect and wondered if somehow he had gotten into trouble with the new teacher.
When Donny arrived at Mr. Pepp's music room next morning, there were a couple of boys from the last period band class standing in front of the teacher's desk, their heads hung low. Evidently, the teacher had asked them to meet him before school too.
Donny couldn't hear what was being said, because Mr. Pepp's voice was low and the boys were silent, obviously repentant for some wrong deed done during class the day before. Mr. Pepp was glaring at the pair of culprits over the the upper rim of his glasses. He was still holding the baton he used when conducting the choir or band. Occasionally the sandy-haired teacher tapped it on the desk to emphasize a point. Finally, the boys nodded before speaking their apologies for whatever wrong they had committed.
As soon as they were alone in the music room, Mr. Pepp asked Donny if he liked to sing. The boy hesitated.
“You can tell me the truth,” Mr. Pepp told him. “You won’t get in any trouble.”
It wasn’t getting into trouble that worried Donny. Mama’s face had just about healed up and he didn’t want to do anything that might make Daddy mad enough to hit her again.
“I like it okay,” he told the teacher.
“Hmmm...” said Mr. Pepp. “That’s very odd, Donny, because you really don't look very happy when we are singing. In fact, you look downright miserable. Was it your idea to sign up for choir?” he asked.
“Well, no Sir, not exactly.”
“Your mother’s idea?”
Donny nodded, feeling like a traitor.
“Are you afraid she’ll be mad if you tell her you don’t want to sing?”
No one had ever told Donny he shouldn't mention his Daddy hitting Mama, but somehow the child knew it was to be kept a family secret. He said, “Something like that, Sir.”
“I had a mother too,” the teacher told him. “She wanted me to sing. I didn’t want to, but Mother insisted. For me, it worked out. It turned out I love singing. In fact, I love all music. Do you enjoy music, Donny?”
“I suppose I do,” Donny told him.
“Have you ever tried playing an instrument? Maybe the guitar or the piano? I have noticed you have a good ear, Donny. I think you could make a fine musician one day.”
“My brother, Aaron, plays the banjo, but I don't play anything.”
“Well, would you like to? Maybe you’d be good at playing the piano.”
Donny couldn’t imagine that he would be and, besides, the Grangers didn’t have a piano on Pig Hill.
“Maybe,” he answered, not wanting to contradict the teacher.
“Well someday I am going to need someone else to play piano for my choir. It's hard to conduct and play at the same time. If I started giving you lessons now, you might be good at the piano by that time.”
“But I don’t have a piano,” Donny protested.
“You can use the one here.” said the teacher, starting to play a little bit of one of the songs the choir had just started learning.
“So how about this? You come to my classroom tomorrow morning 25 minutes before school starts and we will have your first piano lesson. You keep singing in the choir for now and as soon as you are ready to play instead of sing, you can quit singing. That should satisfy your mother, don’t you think?”
“But what if I’m no good at all?” Donny asked.
“Oh you’ll be good,” the teacher assured him.
And he was right. Donny was ready to play the simplest accompaniments for the choir in a couple of months. Never once did Donny Granger have to stand up in front of the whole town, including all the Granger men, singing next to mean old Margaret Adelbaum. He was the piano player and that was way better than being the only boy in the all-girl Masada Central School choir.
Kathleen Granger Gets Sick, 1991
Pig Hill, West Virginia
When Donny was nine years old, his Mama got sick. She was getting a lot of headaches and sometimes her belly hurt so bad she couldn't eat the fine meals she cooked. At first, she pretended she was well enough to take care of all those Grangers. She kept right on cooking and washing right up until the day she couldn’t any more.
Donny came home from school that spring day to find his Mama sitting on a log holding her head in her hands. May and June were hanging up the laundry to dry. Aaron told them all he would make the supper. Daddy had gone down to Masada to see if someone could drive Mama all the way to Morgantown in the morning. She needed to see a doctor. No one mentioned where the Granger uncles might be. They usually disappeared when help was needed, so it was no surprise they weren’t around. Donny's job was to help Mama into the house and sit with her until Daddy got back.
Supper that night was quiet. Aaron did a fine job fixing up the rabbit stew to taste like Mama’s. It wasn’t quite as good as hers, but close enough everyone ate it. When the food was gone, Daddy announced he was taking Mama to see a doctor in Morgantown the next morning. Pastor Perkins was gonna drive his truck as far up the hill as it would come with its four wheel drive.
“Aaron and Donald, Jr., you kin be late to school. You’ll help me carry your Mama down the hill so far as the tree line. Once we got her in the truck you kin head to school.”
“What about us?” asked May.
“We wanna help too,” said June.
“You’ll help best by stayin’ outa the way,” Daddy told them. “You kin get to school at the usual time and let the office know Donny'll git there when he kin.”
So the next morning right after the girls left for school, Daddy and Aaron wrapped mama in a blanket to keep her warm and laid her in a
heavy sheet they carried like a hammock down the hill, Aaron walking backwards all the way. Donny's job was to walk in front of them, clearing the path of rocks and sticks that might make them trip and to warn them when they had to pass under low hanging branches.
This reminded the boy of when his Grandma Lulabelle Maynard, Mama’s mama, had died. He was just a little kid back than, about three years old. Donny remembered watching Daddy and the Granger uncles carry her away wrapped in a sheet. She wasn’t going to a hospital. They were taking her to the graveyard at the bottom of the hill.
It occurred to Donny then to wonder just how sick Mama was. Sometimes people get sick before they die. He worried that might happen with Mama. Sitting in Pastor Perkins’ truck, Mama smiled at him like she knew what he was thinking.
“Don’t you worry now, Donny. I’ll be better in no time.” she told her young son.
It turned out Mama did get better but the doctor in Morgantown had sent her all the way to Wheeling to see a doctor there. That doctor had put her in the hospital and Daddy stayed there with her for the whole time, which turned out to be several months.
The school year ended while Mama was in the hospital. Mostly, the Granger uncles stayed away from the Granger children. They actually abandoned their trailers on Pig Hill and moved away. Aaron said he wasn't surprised. The Uncles had no reason to hang around children who couldn't give them money or liquor and who weren't inclined to share their suppers. Aaron said the uncles were probably staying somewhere they could steal from a nearby farm and make their own alcohol without being caught. The uncles showed up once in a while to ask if the children had any word from their father.
Daddy called Pastor Perkins every day and the minister told the Granger children what Daddy had said, which was pretty much always the same-- Mama was still sick but getting better. Daddy had taken a job working in a glove factory while they were there. They’d both be home when Mama was well, which was sure to be soon.
Fighting With Mean Margaret , 1991
Masada, West Virginia
Two days before school let out for summer, Mean Margaret Adelbaum punched Donny so hard he fell backwards to the ground, stars spinning before his eyes even though it was broad daylight. The boy had just stepped off the school grounds when Margaret attacked, having waited for him to leave after his piano lesson with Mr. Pepp. The path away from the school was made of dark earth and pebbles. It was not the worst place to fall but certainly no grassy meadow either.
“That’s for calling me fat,” she growled just before kicking Donny in the right shin. “And that’s for telling your sisters I smell bad. This is just cuz I think you’re a little queerboy and the whole school thinks so too.”
She punctuated that remark by spitting on Donny as he lay prostrate before her. “It’s no wonder your mama and daddy have gone away. Probably they couldn’t stand living with a queerboy like you!”
It wasn’t the punching or kicking that made Donny strike back. It wasn’t even getting spit on or called a queerboy that did it. Mean
Margaret never should have mentioned Donny Granger's mama and daddy. He flew off the ground, just as Margaret Adelbaum turned to walk away. He leaped on her back, one arm around her neck, the other pulling her head back from the forehead. Donny pulled her to the ground and scampered out from beneath her. Mean Margaret Adelbaum was a big girl and solid too. He didn’t want to be underneath her when she realized he'd taken her down.
Donny jumped to his feet and put one booted foot on her extended right hand. The other he placed in the center of her abdomen, heel pressing in firmly. She looked up at the boy, greasy black hair surrounding her head in the dirt.
“Don’t you talk about my Mama or Daddy,” Donny told her.
Evidently not one to be cowed, she answered, “I’ll talk about whoever I want. And what are you gonna do about it queerboy? Run and tell your Mama? Oh that’s right, you can’t do that cuz your mama left you!” Margaret sneered as she said that.
Now Donny was in a bad spot, even worse than when she had him on the ground. The boy had two choices: he could punch Mean Margaret in the face or he could walk away from the fight. Walking away felt like he was letting her get away with talking dirt about his Mama, but Daddy had told him Granger men don’t hit women. Never mind, Daddy himself sometimes punched mama when she didn't do what he wanted. The point was Donny wasn’t supposed to hit girls, no matter how nasty they were.
“I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do about it. I’m gonna let you live. This time. But if you ever talk about my mama again, I’m gonna teach you a lesson you won’t never forget. Right now I’m gonna go home before I change my mind.”
Donny turned and left the girl laying there in the dirt. She called after him as he crossed the road to take the shortcut up the side of Pig Hill to home. “You better not ever call me fat again or I’ll make you real sorry, Queerboy.”
It was very tempting to turn around and argue but Donny knew enough about Margaret Adelbaum to know she liked arguing. She had a reputation for picking fights with other kids. Darned if Donald Granger, Jr. was gonna give a bully what she wanted! Donny took the trail that led to home.
Donny Dresses, 1991
Pig Hill, West Virginia
Preacher Perkins came to see the Granger children frequently to say Daddy Granger had called from Wheeling. The preacher and his wife might have come more frequently or might even have moved the Granger children into their own home if only they had realized the Granger uncles were nowhere to be found since Kate Granger and her husband had gone to Wheeling.
The pastor always told the children some variation of the same thing. “Your mama is pretty sick still, but she's getting lots of help from a good doctor. I'm sure she'll be okay.”
Still, the Granger children weren’t hearing enough about their Mama to feel confident she was really getting better. Mama and Daddy had been away a few weeks when Aaron decided he would hitchhike to Wheeling to see for himself how things were going. He said he’d only be gone a day or two and that he figured Donny and the twins could manage to stay out of trouble while he was gone. Donny wanted more than anything to go along with Aaron. He missed his mama something fierce and wanted to see for himself how she was doing. But Aaron said it would be hard enough to get drivers to pick up one stranger on the side of the road, much less two or four if the girls decided they had to come as well.
Aaron left very early on a Saturday morning, wearing a backpack that contained sandwiches and some water. That day, the girls decided they would go down the hill to spend the day at a tiny spring fair being held beside Ettinger’s Pond. This was one of those events where everyone in town turns out to sell something they made themselves. No one ever made money on the deal, but everyone went home with something they didn’t have before. Using some scraps of fabric their mother had saved from sewing, the twins made bows for little girls’ hair and for putting on packages. They planned to sell these for a quarter each. With the money they earned they would buy sweets made by some other of the townsfolk and bring them home for the Grangers to enjoy.
Donny wasn’t much interested in the festival. Having nothing to sell to earn money to buy things and not wanting to dip into the treasure in his coffee can, he decided to stay home. Alone in the trailer, Donny found he missed his mama more than ever. Hard as the Granger children tried to keep the house nice while their parents were away, it just wasn’t the same as when Mama was there, cleaning things up and making the house smell wonderful from her home cooked stews. It was more than just missing his mother’s cooking though; Donny felt like the only person in the world who understood him completely and loved him in spite of it was gone from him.
He wandered into his parents’ bedroom knowing that would be where he would feel Mama the most. He liked feeling her even if it was just in his imagination. Being in her room helped him feel like she would be okay.
Donny sat down on his parents’ bed and ran his hands over the plush coverlet. It had been a gift from Mama’s mama given Donny’s parents on their 10th wedding anniversary. The fabric was shiny and smooth, a delicate blue. Stitched around the edges was a binding made of darker blue felt. The filling was still thick and fluffy almost 18 years after it had been made. Donny slept under that coverlet only once when he’d had a fever with chills and his Mama had used every blanket in the house to warm him up.
Now, he laid face down on the bed and breathed in the scent of his mother. It wasn’t perfume he smelled, but Mama herself. Donny was comforted by that aroma. If Mama’s scent was still here, then she was still here, right? She would be coming back, right?
Donny walked to his parents’ closet and opened the side where his mother’s clothing hung. He had never noticed before how many of his mother’s dresses and tops had flowers on them. It made sense. Mama was a gardener who could make anything bloom. In warm months she always had fresh flowers to put on the altar in Pastor Perkins’ church.
Donny ran his hand across the clothing on hangers, stopping when he came to a dress he had never seen his mother wear. It was different from all the rest, fancier. It was a deep purple. The boy had no idea what to call the fabric but it was shimmery. He took the dress out of the closet on its hanger to have a closer look. There were glimmering points on the dress, sparkly bits adhering to the fabric. He noted the neckline was different from the round collar his Mama usually favored. This one dipped and Donny was sure it would have revealed Mama’s cleavage when she wore it. The dress was short and there was a lace wrap at the shoulders. Donny was sure his Mama would have looked wrong in this dress. Beautiful. But wrong. It just wasn’t the sort of thing she favored which made Donny wonder how this dress fit for a woman who lived in a big city came to hang in his mother’s closet on Pig Hill.
He hung the dress back where it had been and pulled out one his mother wore frequently when she was headed into Masada for marketing or to meet with the ladies who gathered sometimes for bible study at the parsonage. This was a pale pink cotton with tiny flowers all over it. It was long enough to touch the tops of his mother’s knees when she wore it and the neck hole was a circle just big enough to get her head through. Donny took the dress off its hanger and pressed his nose into the fabric. There was that distinctive smell, his mother’s scent. Even after washing and hanging in the closet for weeks, she was still there in the cloth.
Donny pulled the dress over his head now, letting the fabric glide down the sides of his body over his own clothing. He was glad he had the house to himself. He imagined how his sisters or Aaron would react if they returned to the trailer early and found their little brother in their Mama’s dress. But they wouldn’t return early. Of that he was certain. And he wouldn’t wear the dress for long. In fact, he slipped it off and hung it back in the closet after just a few moments. It had made him feel much better and now he was ready to do the one chore Aaron had asked him to do in his big brother’s absence.
Donny went outside to his father's tool shed. There was a metal box full of screws and bolts, wire and all sorts of string. Aaron told Donny the chicken coop needed mending. Donny had no idea why, seeing as how there hadn't been live chickens on Pig Hill for many years, but, if Aaron wanted the job done, it was probably because Daddy wanted it done. So Donny took some of the wire and a a handful of tacks and went looking for a hammer, which was not to found in the tool box. He rummaged on Daddy's work bench for a few minutes before remembering that he had once seen his father pull a screwdriver out of a file cabinet drawer. Maybe there was a hammer there too.
A tall, dinged up file cabinet was shoved into a corner in the back of the shed. Donny crawled over a few boxes and a saw horse to get to it. The place was so tightly packed it was near impossible opening all the drawers but the top one. Unfortunately, that was not the drawer that held screw drivers or hammers. Donny needed to get into the bottom one. He managed by wedging himself between the cabinet and a stack of boxes. Pushing back with his entire body he managed to clear just enough space to slide the drawer a couple of inches. It was enough!
The boy reached in and grabbed a heavy hammer. Lifting it out, he saw something that momentarily grabbed his attention. There was a packet of colored pencils there, secured with blue ribbon to a small tablet of fancy art paper. This tablet was identical to the one Aunt Deb had given him years before, just smaller. It could fit in a shirt pocket. Donny started to reach for it and then thought better of it. Maybe this was something his Mama meant to give him on Christmas. Or maybe it wasn't meant for him at all. On the other hand, who else but him would use such things? They had to be for him. Still, Donny resisted the temptation to snatch that pad of paper and the marvelous colored pencils. If they were meant for him, they would be given when the time came. Donny closed the drawer, took the hammer and the other supplies necessary for repairing the chicken coop, and went outside to get that job out of the way.
Donny Gets A Dog, 1991
Masada, West Virginia
Knowing most everyone in town would be nearby but occupied with the goings on at the Spring Festival, Donny went to Mr. Pepp's music room in The Masada Central School to practice piano. The school was unlocked so that fair goers had access to its restrooms. The choir's concert was coming up the following week. Donny wanted to practice the songs he was to accompany. When he got bored with those, Donny worked on the classical pieces Mr. Pepp thought he should know. There were a Bach prelude and a Clementi sonatina. Donny had learned to enjoy these once his hands got used to the precision these pieces required. The one he really liked was a Beethoven sonata he found challenging.
Halfway through the Moonlight Sonata's first movement, Donny realized he was not alone. Margaret Adelbaum was glaring at him through the small window in the classroom door. Through the glass, Margaret's hair looked messier than usual and it looked like the girl was crying. Donny stopped playing and waved his hand, indicating that Margaret could come in if she wanted. She did not, but stuck out her tongue before skulking away. Donny wondered for a moment if he should follow the girl to find out what was wrong. He rejected that idea, figuring Margaret would have come in when invited if she'd wanted to chat. Donny returned to his music.
Now, he played some boogie-woogie he'd learned by ear, listening to one of Mr. Pepp's cassette tapes. Boogie was easy and fun. Donny liked playing it, but stopped abruptly when he realized for the second time he was not alone in the music room. In the corner of his eye, Donny caught just a glimpse of the door opening. He kept on playing. When he finished the song, he heard heavy breathing. Turning, Donny expected to find Margaret Adelbaum had returned. She had not.
Scanning at eye level, Donny saw no one. Then, looking at the floor, he located the source of the labored breathing. A large red and white bulldog flopped down on the floor beside the piano bench, letting out a huge grunt as he collapsed.
“Well, hello there,” Donny said to the dog. “Where did you come from?”
The dog looked up at Donny, still breathing heavily.
The dog was not one the boy recognized. Mr. Keeley, the man who owned the only market in town, had an old black retriever. Most folks in Masada had mutts that were related to one another, small town dogs not having much opportunity to mate with dogs from other places. But none of the town dogs looked like this one. Donny knew this was a bulldog because he had read several books about dogs. He knew this particular bulldog was scrawny by comparison to others of his kind and Donny was pretty sure the dog was an elderly one.
“Who do you belong to?” he asked the dog, who didn't answer but rose to follow Donny as he walked to the classroom door and opened it. There was no one in the hall.
Donny looked down at the dog who was looking back at him. “You look thirsty,” he said. The dog responded with another grunt. “C'mon,” he told the animal.
The dog followed as Donny led him to the janitor's closet down the hallway, just a couple of doors down from Mr. Pepp's room. Donny knew students weren't supposed to enter the janitor's storage area, but figured Mr. Jeffers wouldn't mind, under the circumstances. The old widower was a known softy, at least where kids and animals were concerned. He wouldn't want this lost pooch to be thirsty.
Donny found an old white bowl on a shelf which he took to the janitor's big sink and cleaned with some of the green Palmolive he found sitting on the floor beneath it. The boy filled the bowl with water and the old dog waddled straight to it, nearly submerging his head as he gulped 'til the bowl was dry.
Donny reached down and petted the dog. “Good boy,” he said. “Now, how about you tell me where you belong? Did you come with someone to the fair?”
The dog did not answer but silently watched as Donny put the plastic bowl back where he found it. Then he followed as Donny walked to the music room and gathered up his belongings, which included his rifle and a backpack which contained a library book about the Buffalo Soldiers and the peanut butter sandwich the boy planned to eat for his lunch. Donny had planned to hunt that afternoon and wondered if anyone would mind his having the shotgun with him if he walked through the fair to see if anyone claimed the dog. It couldn't be helped though. He couldn't very well leave a rifle unattended in the school building.
Donny headed out the classroom door and the dog followed at his heels. The pair walked to the little festival going on by Ettinger's Pond. Donny had expected the dog to see his master there and go running to whoever it was. Well maybe not running, bulldogs are not great racers – great saunterers, maybe -- but the animal stuck with Donny as he circled the pond, greeting people as he walked. No one seemed to recognize the beast and certainly no one called out to it.
When Donny came to the table where May and June were selling their bows, he stopped to ask if they had seen anyone with the dog earlier in the day. They hadn't. He told them how the dog had let himself into Mr. Pepp's music room while Donny was playing the piano and May wondered aloud if it might be the music teacher's dog. That thought had not occurred to Donny. He'd never seen the teacher with an animal of any kind and Mr. Pepp had never mentioned having a pet but that did not mean he didn't. Donny decided to walk the animal to the teacher's house to ask.
Mr. Pepp's house was right across the street from the Masada Central school. The place was small, not the smallest house on Main Street, but small enough for a man without a family. The teacher was seated in a cushioned porch chair when Donny came up his front walk. He was reading a paperback which Donny noticed did not have a Morgantown Public Library stamp on its pages. There weren't too many folks in Masada who read books for pleasure and even fewer who could afford to buy them. Donny figured music teachers must be paid very handsomely indeed. Mr. Pepp placed the book on a table next to his chair when he saw Donny approaching, the old bulldog trailing behind.
Pushing his glasses up onto his head, Mr. Pepp called out, “Greetings, Donny. How fared you at the fair?”
Donny smiled because he liked the way Mr. Pepp talked. The teacher liked to play with words like that and he sure knew a lot of them to play with. Donny didn't figure he would ever have as big a vocabulary as Mr. Pepp, but he certainly intended to try.
“The festival is okay,” Donny told him. “My sisters seem to be having a great time. I only went to see if anyone there would claim this dog.”
“Oh, I see,” said Mr. Pepp. “He's a stray?”
“I guess you don't recognize him either?”
“No, I'm sure I've never seen that one in Masada before.”
“Me either. He showed up in your classroom when I was there practicing.,” Donny told the teacher.
“Yep, pushed the door open and walked right in. That's why my sister's thought maybe he was yours.”
“No, I'm afraid not. You could ask Mr. Jeffers when he comes home. He seems to be on speaking terms with all the dogs and cats in town.”
“He's not home now?”
“He's visiting one of his daughters today, the one one who resides in Parkersburg. He asked me to feed Ms. Kitty this evening, as he will not return until tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps you could write him a note which I will leave on his kitchen table when I go next door to check on his cat.”
So Donny wrote a note on paper he had in his backpack, using a pen Mr. Pepp had in his shirt pocket. It was nothing fancy, just a couple of sentences saying that Donny wondered if Mr. Jeffers might know of someone who was missing an elderly bulldog. The boy folded the note in half and scrawled the janitor's name across the outside of the paper before handing it and the pen to Mr. Pepp.
“Have you had lunch yet?” the teacher asked. “I was just about to rustle up a sandwich or two. Would you like one? I have chicken salad I bought just this morning from Mrs. Keeley. I imagine I can find something the dog would like too.
By the time, lunch was over, Donny had consumed three chicken salad sandwiches, half a bag of potato chips, and a pile of carrot sticks. The dog ate raw hamburger and washed it down with cold water from Mr. Pepp's tap. Donny thanked the teacher by washing the dishes they had used for the meal. As he was readying to leave, planning to take the dog with him for an afternoon of hunting, Mr. Pepp asked if Donny might like to play a solo for the concert.
“You're playing the Bach beautifully, Donny. I am sure people would love to hear that. Or maybe some of the boogie you've been improvising?”
Donny was pleased to be asked, glad his teacher was happy with his progress, but responded, “No, sir. I don’t think that's a good idea.”
“Then why won’t you play, Donny?”
“I am going to play, Sir. I'll be accompanying the choir. That's enough.”
“I thought you enjoy the piano,” the teacher commented.
“Oh, I do. I really do like playing and I am very grateful to you for the lessons.”
“But my father is not at all pleased with me playing. He only lets me because he figures playing is less sissified than singing in a choir and because it makes Mama happy. If it weren't for Mama liking music so much, Daddy wouldn't never have let me join the choir in the first place. Daddy says music is for fags and Daddy really, really hates fags. He says I'll have to quit it when I go to middle school.”
The teacher's face had paled some listening to Donny talk about his father. “Well, I guess we can hope he changes his mind before you finish the sixth grade.”
“Yes, sir, we can hope, but my Daddy isn't very likely to change his mind on anything once he has made a decision. And, with Mama still in the hospital up to Wheeling, I don’t want to do anything that might upset things for her. It doesn't look like Daddy will be back from Wheeling to attend the Spring concert, but word would get to him somehow. He sees Reverend Perkins every few days and the Keeleys might go to see Mama in the hospital.”
“I'm sorry to hear your Mama is still having a rough time. Do your Uncles check on her from time to time and let you children know how she is faring?”
Donny knew better than to let anyone know his uncles were nowhere to be found since Mama and Daddy went to Wheeling. The teacher might think the children needed someone to look after them and that could cause a whole bunch of trouble. Donny ignored the question about his uncles and told the teacher, “Aaron is in Wheeling now. He got a ride there so that he could see for himself how Mama is doing. June and May and me, we'll know more when Aaron gets back.”
Then, the boy thanked the teacher again for lunch and headed out his back door which faced the foot of Pig Hill. Donny walked into the woods, the dog following no more than three feet behind.
Donny Goes Hunting, 1991
Pig Hill, West Virginia
In the woods, Donny was comfortable. He knew Pig Hill, both sides of it, like the front and back of his own hand. He liked the woods and liked the peace and quiet he found there. Of course he loved his family's home on the hill, but two things the Granger compound lacked were peace and quiet. Even with his parents away and the uncles keeping pretty much to themselves, there were times when Donny wanted to escape the chatter at home. May and June, all by themselves, could talk a brother to distraction.
For that reason, even more than for hunting food, Donny took to the woods most Saturdays and would have on Sundays too if Mama didn’t insist that Sunday was not a day for labors. “Least of all for shooting God’s creatures,” Mama had said.
Thinking how his Mama was always saying humans were meant to protect all of God's creatures, Donny stopped to pet the bulldog. “Your a good dog....Dog. I guess I'm gonna need to call you something better than Dog,” he told the animal who seemed thoroughly unimpressed by the woods around him.
Mama was real big on praising God for the wonders of creation. In response to that, Daddy Granger frequently grunted and said, “God’s creatures wouldn’t taste so darned good if the good Lord hadn’t intended people to eat ‘em! Eatin’ 'em means killin’ ‘em first. Don’t forget that when yer praisin' God for the beauties of the earth. You oughta praise him for the bountiful supply of tasty meat while you're at it, Kathleen.”
Much as Donny liked to agree with his Mama about most things, he thought his father had a point. Of course, people should be as kind to animals as they could be, but, when you came right down to it, people are meat eaters and animals are meat. Donny would never be intentionally cruel to any living thing, but he did not intend to stop eating deer or chicken anytime soon. He'd noticed his Mama ate those things too. Maybe she wouldn't have gotten sick if she'd eaten more of them.
Still, Donald Granger senior was a church going man. So far as Donny knew, his daddy never did shoot a thing on a Sunday, not even a beer bottle off a fence post. Donny also noticed Mama’s prohibition of labors on Sundays did not apply to herself. Kathleen Granger rose up extra early on Sunday mornings to prepare whatever meat was going to be the main part of Sunday dinner. Before anyone else was out of bed, Mama got the dinner to slow cooking over a fire they could leave while the family went into town for services. The Granger uncles weren’t good for much but they were not always regular church goers and could be counted on to keep the homestead from burning down as dinner simmered. Mama also managed to bake the day’s biscuits and cake or pie depending on what was in the larder and get breakfast on the table, ready when she rang a bell to get the rest of the family moving in time to dress and eat before church. Maybe if she'd followed her own rules about not working on Sundays, Mama would not be sick now.
Even with Mama in the Wheeling hospital, Donny followed her rules. He did his hunting on Saturdays. On the Saturday afternoon of the Spring Festival, the day Donny gained the companionship of an old bulldog, Donny shot himself some squirrels and a pheasant. The pheasant he’d spotted almost at the bottom of the hill, near the Church of God. If it had been a Sunday, he wouldn’t have fired for fear of disrupting services, but on a Saturday and with everyone in town at the Ettingers Pond Fair, he didn’t hesitate. The dog didn't even startle when Donny fired at the bird, which made the boy wonder for a moment if the animal was deaf. Then, he recalled how the beast had responded to his questions back at the school and at Mr. Pepp's house. No, the bulldog didn't speak exactly but he definitely understood what he was being asked and found ways to make his responses known.
It turned out Donny had been wrong about no one being around though. A few seconds after he collected his kill, Donny heard a car drive up to the church building. The boy decided he didn’t want anyone to see him in the woods, hunting that close to town, so he stepped behind a big oak. The dog laid down, seeming to understand he should stay out of sight. From his hiding place, Donny heard a car door fly open and then another. He could hear someone crying and a man’s voice shouting.
“Get back here right now, Margaret!”
Donny could hear the sound of feet padding into the woods on soft leaves, but no one answered the man who slammed his car door shut. Then, the second door slammed closed and the man was yelling into the woods.
“It won't do you any good to hide in those woods,” the man called. “Eventually you are going to have to come out and then you’ll get yours.” The man paused to see if anyone responded. “I mean it, Margaret, you better come out of those woods and take your punishment now. It’ll be a lot worse on you later.”
Margaret Adelbaum shouted from somewhere near where Donny and the dog were hidden. “I don’t care if it’s worse later! I’m not coming anywhere near you now. Ruth warned me to stay away from you and that’s exactly what I’m going to do!”
Donny wasn’t sure, but he thought Ruth was Margaret’s big sister. Their mother had died some time earlier and their father, the commie preacher at The Church of God, was left to raise two girls on his own. Donny’s own father had said that he didn’t envy the man. “He may be a communist but even he doesn’t deserve to be saddled with two girls as wild as those.”
“Margaret, I'm warning you one last time. If I have to come after you, it's going to get ugly.”
No answer from the woods. The preacher started in the direction he'd heard his daughter's voice. “Okay, Margaret, if this is how it has to be, you'll be sorry. Just remember this was all your own doing.” It didn't take long for the man to spot his daughter not far into the woods, trying to hide behind a juniper tree. He moved swiftly toward her looking as angry as Donny had ever seen his own Daddy.
“Stay away from me!” Margaret shouted.
Obviously the girl wanted to sound fierce, but Donny heard the catch in her voice and knew she was close to tears. Evidently, the dog heard it too. He lunged from where he'd been peacefully waiting to see where Donny would lead him. The animal threw himself between Margaret and her father, growling at the pudgy man as if he intended to protect Margaret, no matter what it took. The man tried to edge his way around the animal, but the dog would not allow that.
At first, Margaret was too stunned by the appearance of the animal to move. Then, she looked to her left and saw Donny, who was concealed from her father's view by a large oak. The boy was motioning to Margaret that she should run up the hill. She screamed again, “Stay away from me, Father! I mean it!”
When she turned and fled higher up Pig Hill and deeper into the woods, the dog held his ground growling steadily, making sure the preacher knew he planned to protect Margaret, whatever it took. The man picked up a rock and hurled it at the animal who lunged forward, barking. He didn't bite the preacher but bared his teeth to make sure he was understood.
The angry preacher shouted, “Have it your way, Margaret. I have work to do. I’ll deal with you later!” When there was no answer from the woods, the preacher turned and walked back to his yard. He went inside the church building, slamming the big red door behind him.
Donny was in a predicament now. He didn’t want Margaret Adelbaum to think he was following her, but he needed to head home with his pheasant and squirrels. He was pretty sure the twins would be home in time to do the cooking and he wanted to be sure he was done with the messy work of cleaning his kill before they got there.
He wasn’t exactly sure where Margaret was, but knew she couldn’t be too far from where Donny had concealed himself behind the tree. He decided to wait and listen. He sat down on the ground beneath the tree and the dog came to him expectantly. Donny patted the animal's head and said, “You're a good boy, whoever you are. Brave, too.”
Then, the beast fell to the ground, laid his head on Donny's lap and began to snore. Evidently, protecting girls from crazy men was exhausting work. Donny took the book from his pack and began to read about the Buffalo Soldiers. He would stay hidden until he was sure Margaret had time to get far away, so he would not run into her again or until she returned to the church to take her punishment for whatever she had done to make her father so angry.
After a while he heard a scratching sound, like someone carving wood. That scraping went on for a while and then stopped. Then he heard footsteps somewhere not too far up the hill. When he peeked from behind the tree, Margaret was headed toward the church, but she didn’t go in. In her hand was a stick, Donny could see she had managed to carve to a point. The scraping sound must have been that of a rock being run back and forth over the wood. She walked right past the church building and the parsonage. She passed her father’s car and turned on to the path that lined Main Street, also known as Parkersburg-Morgantown Road cuz if you went west it took you to Parkersburg, east to Morgantown.
Margaret only made it a few paces down the street before her father opened the church door and came flying down the driveway after her. Margaret swung around and pointed the stick at her father. Donny couldn't hear what she said, but saw the girl's lips were moving. It looked like she was shouting at her father. Donny watched as the minister grabbed his daughter by her long hair and pulled her to the ground. Once she was down, he kicked her in the hip.
Donny considered his options. He could wake the dog and the two of them could go rescue Margaret Adelbaum a second time or he could just let her take her punishment. Donny didn't know Margaret well, but what he did know was that she likely did something to deserve it. He couldn't hear what her father was saying to her, but Donny could see the man gesticulating and Margaret inching away from him on the ground. He was waving his arms. Donny could see, even from a distance, the man's beet red face as he stomped on Margaret's pointy stick. Margaret rolled onto her hands and knees and started to crawl away.
The man kicked her again, sending her into the grass beside the trail. That was more punishment than Donny figured any girl deserved, even Margaret Adelbaum. He came to his feet intending to stop her father from beating on her more. Just then, a car came around the bend, headed toward Morgantown. It slowed to a stop and Donny could see the minister talking to a woman who had rolled down the passenger window. Margaret got to her feet then and headed to her father’s car. She got into the front seat and sat, looking straight ahead. Donny could tell she wasn’t crying, even after such a beating. He wondered what kind of rock she was made of.
He slipped behind his tree and then into the woods, the dog following. Donny certainly hadn't forgotten what he saw by the time he got home, but the walk through the forest brightened him again. Donny figured Aaron would be back next day from Wheeling. He would tell his big brother what he had seen and ask what he thought.
Aaron Returns, 1991
Pig Hill, West Virginia
As it turned out, Aaron made it back late that night. He was tired but woke his brother and sisters up to tell them about his trip.
“I was lucky,” he told them. “I got picked up by a man in a great big ol’ 18-wheeler truck. He was drivin' automobile parts to a dealership in Wheeling, so he dropped me at the hospital entrance before visiting hours even started. Daddy was in the main lobby drinking coffee and waiting for time to pass before he could go up and see Mama. At first, he scolded me for leaving you three at home alone, but I could tell he was glad to see me. When it was time, a nurse let us in to see Mama. She had a lot of tubes in her arms and she looked tired. She has lost a lot more weight.”
That made May and June gasp. “Oh, no!” cried June.
“She was already skinnier than a blade of grass,” added May.
“Seems Mama has cancer,” Aaron told his siblings. “She had an operation and needs lots of medicine. Daddy told me they took out most of the sickness but she has to stay in the hospital a while longer for radiation treatments and chemo therapy. That's the medicine.”
Aaron went on to explain what little he understood about the cancer, the radiation, and the chemo, which wasn’t much except that it was making Mama better, but at the same time it was making her weak. “Daddy says she’ll be home in no time, but when he left me alone with Mama, she told me it would be a few weeks more. She said she misses all of us and wants us to keep taking good care of each other so she can take care of herself.”
He also told his brother and sisters that Mama thought their Granger uncles were helping out around the house and making sure the children were looked after. Not wanting to give her reason to worry, Aaron didn’t tell her otherwise, but he did tell Daddy in private that they had hardly seen the uncles since Daddy and Mama went away.
“Daddy said he found a part time job in Wheeling. He had a little money to send home for us. He said we should use it for necessities and not let the uncles know we have it. I told him that would be no problem at all since they aren’t around.”
“Aaron,” Donny interrupted. “Do you think Mama is goin' to die?”
“Of course, she's not gonna die!” June interjected, obviously upset by the thought.
Aaron was slow to answer. It was obviously a question in his own mind. He wrapped one arm around his little brother's shoulder and said, “I don't think anyone knows for sure. Of course, Daddy talks like he's sure, but he always talks like he's positive of everything. And Mama would never say anything that might scare us kids.”
“Well, what do you think?” Donny asked.
“I don't know, Donny. I wish I could be sure Mama is going to be okay, but she didn't look okay. Not to me.”
The four Granger children were silent for a few moments. None of them cried. June wrapped an arm around May. The dog, who had been quietly laying by Donny's feet, crossed the room to where Aaron sat in Daddy Granger's easy chair. Perhaps sensing the older boy needed comfort, the dog placed one paw on Aaron's knee.
“Well, who are you?” Aaron asked the dog.
“We don't know who he is,” June replied.
“He adopted Donny this morning,” said May.
“So far, no one is claiming him,” said Donny, “but I left a note for Mr. Jeffers. If anyone might know whose dog this is, it's Mr. Jeffers. If no one turns up, you think Mama will mind if he stays?”
"Oh, Mama won't mind at all,” Aaron told him. “It's Daddy that might not want another mouth to feed.”
They all knew that was the truth, but Aaron said the dog could stay at least until Daddy Granger said otherwise. Then he finished talking about the trip to Wheeling. “I sure do miss Mama being home," he said. “Anyways, it turned out Pastor Perkins was coming for a visit today too. I rode back with him. He dropped me at the foot of the hill a while ago. He said we should come to his house after church tomorrow and share Sunday dinner with him and Mrs. Perkins.”
The next day, Donny told Aaron what he had seen Pastor Adelbaum do to Margaret. It had looked to Donny like Margaret had done something really bad and her father had gotten more than reasonably angry. Aaron and Donny Granger had a lot of first hand experience with fathers who get unreasonably angry.
“But, remember,” Aaron said, “our own Daddy is always right to punish us, even if he takes it too far sometimes. And we already know Margaret can be rotten as rotten gets. She sure is a tough one.”
“Yeah, she is,” Donny agreed, “but Daddy’s always saying a man should never hit a woman.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, both boys remembered the many times they had seen bruises on their mama’s face. Maybe there were times exceptions had to be made.
“Think about it,” Aaron said. “If you were Margaret Adelbaum’s daddy, wouldn’t you wanna take a belt to her rump from time to time? And wouldn’t she have it coming?”
“She might,” Donny concurred, “but he didn’t use a belt, he used his feet. Daddy says you should never respond to someone while you're still angry.”
“Listen, little brother, sometimes a person would have to be superhuman not to. I’m sure Margaret did something that deserved a whoopin’. I’m also sure she'll be fine.”
Donny had to agree with that. Margaret was a meanie herself - now, the boy thought he could see what might have made her that way - and he was sure she would be fine. One thing he was sure about with mean Margaret Adelbaum, she was always gonna come back stronger than she was to start with. She really was one tough girl.
Then, as an afterthought, Donny asked, “Whatdya think she meant about her sister? She said something about her telling Margaret to keep away from their daddy.”
But Aaron was already fixing to give his brother and sisters some breakfast before heading down the hill to church. Donny wandered off to finish getting dressed while the girls and Aaron chatted in the trailer's tiny kitchen.
Donny Helps Margaret, 1991
Pig Hill, West Virginia
The next time Donny ran into Margaret Adelbaum was Monday morning before school. Aaron was already gone to school that morning, so Donny was headed down the hill with his twin sisters, May and June, the dog having stayed home to catch up on his rest. It was the day of the big choir concert. May and June would sing in the choir and Donny was to play the piano for two of the choir’s songs. The three younger Granger children were more dressed up than usual. The girls, both curly headed blondes, wore flowered dresses borrowed from Mama’s closet since Mama was still in the hospital up to Wheeling. They knew Kathleen Granger would not mind the borrowing because she surely would have made them new dresses had she been home and able to do so. She would have thought this a reasonable solution even though her dresses were inches too long for her daughters. Donny had on his one pair of Sunday slacks that were only a little too long, having once belonged to Aaron Granger, a white Sunday shirt and one of Daddy’s ties. They all thought they looked pretty nice and wanted to stay that way until after the concert, which was supposed to happen just before lunch time in the school cafeteria.
Margaret was sitting on a tree stump at the bottom of the trail where the Grangers came out of the woods. Her black hair had been washed since her father had shoved her in the dirt two days earlier and her face was clean, but she was wearing one of the pairs of too-tight corduroy pants and t-shirts she wore most days. On her feet were untied boots that looked like they had been worn through a swamp. She didn’t say anything as the Grangers passed. Donny was surprised when his sisters spoke to her. Well, that isn't exactly what they did. They didn't so much speak directly to Margaret. That would have been better. What they did was nasty and Donny didn't like it.
“Hey look, it’s Butt-Stink Adelbaum all dressed up for the concert!” That was May speaking in an exaggerated whisper loud enough to be sure Margaret would hear.
June replied, “You’d think she’d take a bath at least.”
Margaret didn’t say a word and Donny wondered why. “Stop it,” he told his sisters. “There’s no reason to be mean.”
“Sure there is,” answered June. “She’s always mean so she deserves it. Besides, she does smell like butt.”
Margaret Adelbaum rose up off the tree stump then. Donny expected her to come for a swing at his sister. He wouldn’t have blamed her if she had. Instead, she turned and headed up the hill. The boy wondered where she was going because school was the other way and Margaret lived in town, not on Pig Hill. It occurred to Donny she might be planning to find the Granger house and take her revenge by doing something to it. He was mad at his sisters for being so mean. Now he needed to be sure Margaret didn’t burn the house down or something.
“Why'd you two have to do that?” he demanded. “You know Mama'd be mad if she knew how you acted!”
The twins looked at the ground, at the trees behind Donny's head, anywhere but at his face. They knew they'd done wrong.
“You two go on to school,” he told them. “I’ll catch up.”
Donny followed Margaret Adelbaum up the hill. When the marked trail ended and she got to the thick woods that separated the part of Pig Hill where the Grangers lived from the part that was almost town, she stopped and turned around.
“Why are you following me, Queerboy? “
“I want to know where you’re headed. That’s all.” He decided to overlook the fact she’d called him Queerboy again. Under the circumstances, she had a right to be mad. Maybe not at Donny himself, but with his sisters and that was close enough to give her some leeway.
“I’m not headed anywhere,” she said.
“What about school?”
“Not gonna go.”
“What about the concert?” he asked her. “Mr Pepp is counting on you to keep the altos on pitch.”
“I don’t care.”
“Oh. Well then why’d you join the choir in the first place? And how come you always sing out loud and clear? And how come you never missed a day of choir before?”
“I joined cuz my father made me.”
That, Donny could relate to.
“And I sing out cuz there ain’t no point in being a sissy about nothing ya do, even singing in a choir. I show up every day cuz I’d be in trouble if I didn’t.”
“But you’re not going to show up today for the concert?”
She shook her head no.
“Won't you be in trouble for that?”
“Yep. But that beats having everyone talk about how I look and smell.”
“I don't think you smell,” he told her. “And you look clean to me.”
“I am clean,” she answered. “And I don’t smell. But I’m fat and nobody likes me. And my daddy wouldn’t get me anything nice to wear for the concert cuz he said that would make me vain. He said Jesus doesn’t care what clothes I wear so I shouldn’t either. Well that might work with Jesus, but it sure didn't work with your sisters and it won't with anyone else at school either.”
“So you’re not going to school cuz you’re afraid of getting picked on?”
“I’m not afraid of nothing,” she told him.
“I see,” Donny said while Margaret stared at her feet. “I think you kinda like singing in the choir.”
“ Mr. Pepp really is counting on you.”
He thought for a few moments before speaking again.
“I never called you fat, Margaret, and I never said you smell.”
“Yeah, well, you sure didn't like standing next to me in choir. You got Mr. Pepp to make it so you didn't have to. I thought you were nice, Donny Granger, but that was mean.”
“I didn’t wanna sing in the choir at all,” he told her. “I quit singing because Mr. Pepp let me play piano instead. That had nothing to do with you.”
Donny decided there was no need to tell Margaret how May and June had teased him about having to stand by her. “I just didn't like being the only boy, but I didn’t wanna disappoint my Mama by quitting. That's why Mr. Pepp is teaching me to play piano. Now, I can make Mama proud without being the only boy singing in the choir.”
She looked intently at him now, like she was trying to figure out if he was telling the truth. Donny stepped all the way to her now and leaned toward her neck. Then he inhaled loudly so she was sure to hear. He sniffed several times and said. “Nope, you don't stink like butt at all. I smell shampoo and chocolate.”
She reached into a pocket and pulled out two Hershey kisses. “Good nose, Granger. Have one?”
Donny took one of the candies, unwrapped it and gobbled it up. “Thanks. Now, what are we gonna do so you can come sing at school today?”
“Is your father coming to the concert? Cuz I have an idea what might work but I don't wanna get you in trouble with your daddy. Is he gonna be there?”
“Nah, he’s gotta go up to Morgantown for some ministers’ meeting.”
“Then, come on! We’ll be a little late to school but we’ll make it way before the concert and no one will make fun of your clothes. I promise.”
When Margaret and Donny entered the Granger compound, the dog rose to his feet and headed straight for Margaret, who stepped behind Donny, remembering how the dog had threatened her father. Not wanting to be bitten herself she said, “I forgot you had a dog. Is it safe?”
“Sure,” Donny told her. “I figure he must like you. Otherwise he wouldn't have protected you from your father the other day.”
That made sense, so Margaret stepped forward and knelt to the ground. The animal swiped his wet tongue straight across her face and Margaret laughed out loud. Donny had never heard Margaret Adelbaum's laugh before and decided he liked the sound of it.
“What did you do to get in so much trouble with your Daddy the other day? You don't have to tell me,” he added, “not if you don't want to.”
“Oh, I don't mind. He caught me tryin' to call my sister from a payphone when we were in Morgantown.”
“Yer not allowed to call yer own sister?”
“No, I'm not. I didn't even have her phone number 'til I found it in his desk the other day. So he was beatin' me part for the phone call and part for lookin' in his drawers.”
Margaret followed Donny to the little shed Mama kept all her laundry supplies in. There were jugs of bleach and boxes of soap next to a big rain barrel mama used for the washing. Along a wall there was a chest, which Donny opened to show Margaret Adelbaum all the clothes that had belonged to his Grandma Lulabelle Maynard. Most of it was clearly suitable only for an old lady, but they found a knit skirt with hearts and a nice blouse with puffy sleeves. These fit Margaret just fine and Margaret was surprisingly taken with the sleeves. They went into the house and Donny showed Margaret where Mama’s shoes were.
“Grandma Lulu's feet were way smaller than yours,” he said, “but I'm pretty sure some of Mama's will fit you. I don’t think she would mind at all if you borrowed a pair for today. Mama would want you to feel pretty so you could think about your singing and not about mean kids picking on you. By the way, Margaret, I'm sorry my sisters were so nasty. They're not always like that. I'll make 'em say sorry.”
“No need,” Margaret told him. “I'm used to it.”
Donny figured that was true. Now that he thought about it, he didn't like the way people treated Margaret Adelbaum. He planned to do something about that. But Margaret was looking at things on Kathleen Granger's vanity.
“Can I borrow one of her hair ribbons too? I’d like to tie my hair back off my face.”
“Sure you can,” Donny told her. “Use one of the stretchy hair bands to secure it in place first. That way the ribbon won't slide out on the way down the hill or during the concert.”
Margaret had some trouble with the hair ribbon, so Donny stepped in to tie the bow for her. “There,” he pronounced. “That looks fine! You look pretty, Margaret.”
“You sure are good at making bows,” Margaret told him.
“My Mama taught me.”
“Must be nice,” was the girl's response, which reminded Donny that Margaret Adelbaum had no Mama.
Donny filled a bowl of water for the dog and told him to guard the house. The two children headed down the hill together, munching on biscuits left from last night’s supper. Margaret carried Mama’s shoes in her hand not wanting to put them on until she was on the path so the heels wouldn’t get scuffed.
The concert was a big success. Margaret Adelbaum even smiled when people clapped for the last song. May and June came up to Donny after. He was talking with Aaron, who had sat with his own class that day to see the girls and Donny in the choir.
“How come Stinkbutt Adelbaum is wearing Grandma’s clothes?” June demanded.
“And mama’s hair ribbon,” May added.
“Mama's shoes too,” Donny told them. “Because I loaned her an outfit to wear so no one has any reason to pick on her today. That includes the two of you.”
“But you don't have any right letting her touch Mama and Grandma’s stuff,” May said.
“Mama woulda wanted Margaret to use her things. You both know that’s true. Margaret wanted to sing and she wouldn't have come if she thought anyone was gonna make make fun of how she looked.” Donny looked squarely at his sisters before he said, “Of course, I have no idea who might pick on Margaret for the way she looks.”
Aaron patted Donny on the back. “Good call, little brother. That does sound like what Mama would want.”
Just then, the school janitor sidled up beside the Granger children. He patted Donny on the back and said, “Fine job, young Mr. Granger. You played real well.” Turning to the Granger sisters, he added, “Ladies, the choir was wonderful too.” Then, he told them all he had read Donny's note about the dog. No, he did not know anyone who owned a bulldog. “Bulldogs make fine pets, I hear. Maybe you should consider keeping him.”
Donny looked to Aaron for confirmation. Aaron said, “Well, we can keep him at least 'til Mama and Daddy come back from Wheeling.” That led to a conversation with the janitor about Mama's illness and Aaron's visit to Wheeling. When they were done, the janitor suggested, “Be sure to choose a good name for your new dog, Donny. Don't call him anything silly like Muffin or Fido. Choose a name that suits a bulldog.” Donny assured the man he would do his best.
That day, when the girls and Donny got home from school, Margaret Adelbaum was sitting on a rock by the fire circle. The dog was sitting on the ground next to her but rose up to greet Donny when he saw his boy. Margaret was wearing her own clothes again and her hair was down. The Grangers could see the clothes she’d borrowed hanging on the line to dry. She reached out a hand holding the rubber hair band and ribbon.
“Thanks,” she told Donny. “You’re not so bad after all, Donny Granger.”
“Neither are you, Margaret Adelbaum.”
As she headed down the hill toward home, Margaret turned and said over her shoulder, “What do you call that dog anyway?”
“Theodore!” Donny answered without hesitation. “I'm naming him for the man who was president when the Buffalo Soldiers rode for the cavalry.”
“Bye Donny! Bye Theodore! See You tomorrow!”
Mama Comes Home, 1992
Pig Hill, West Virginia
Mama came home on Donny's birthday, June 21. When Daddy Granger and his brothers carried her up the hill on a quilt they used like a hammock, she was smiling. Daddy was telling her to be still, they would carry her all the way to the living room sofa.
He called out as they came through the trees into the compound, “Granger Children! Aaron and Donny, May and June! Yer mama's home and wants to seeya!”
Margaret Adelbaum was there too when Kathleen Granger returned from months in the hospital. Aaron virtually flew out of the Granger trailer where he'd been fixing up some lunch from rabbits Margaret and Donny had snared and vegetables the girls had pulled from the yard. These included potatoes and onions, some measly carrots.
“Granger Children,” Daddy hollered once more, obviously excited. “May, June, Donald, Jr., and Aaron! Your mama's come home! She wants to seeyas right away!”
“Put me down,” Kate Granger had insisted, struggling to her feet. “I want to stand to greet my children.”
But before the children got to her, Theodore spotted her and in a rare show of bulldog enthusiasm, he bounded across the grass to see who had come for a visit.
“Woah!” shouted Daddy Granger, but the dog kept on coming. It halted at Kate Granger's feet and sat directly in front of her.
“Well, my goodness!” the woman laughed. “Who in heaven's name are you.”
“That's Teddy, Mama,” said June wrapping herself around her mother's shoulders. “He's Donny's new dog.”
“Nice to meet you, Teddy,” Mama said bending a little to get a closer look at the dog.
“His name is Theodore,” Donny announced. “He doesn't like being called Teddy and you know it, June.”
Aaron was hugging Mama now, saying “June just likes getting your goat, little brother. Pay no 'tention to her.”
“I think Teddy likes it when we call him Teddy,” said May, wrapping her own arms around her mother now.
“Good grief,” said Daddy Granger. “Yer mama's been gone for months and all you people kin talk about is a dog's name!”
“No worries, Donald, I'm glad to meet the new addition, though I have to say I am happier to see my children than any old dog, no matter what his name.”
“Mama, we're happy to see you too!” said Donny getting his own hug now. Kathleen Granger was a tall woman. At 10 years old, Donny was just able to kiss her on the cheek without making her stoop.
Theodore was up and moving now. He was pacing before the three Granger uncles who had separated themselves from the rest of the family. Clearly, the dog was not sure they belonged here. When Uncle Sonny took a step toward the fire circle, intending to sit down on a log, Theodore growled.
“Looks like the dog thinks yer a stranger,” called out Daddy Granger. “But I know that's not possible, cuz you been keeping tabs on my children while I was away, haven'tcha, Sonny?”
Uncle Sonny stammered, not sure how to answer. The last thing he wanted was for his brother to know he and Junior and Bal had pretty much ignored the children the whole time their parents were away, but he didn't feel right telling a lie either. Donny came to his rescue.
“Of course, Theodore knows Uncle Sonny. He's just playin' a game, that's all.”
Daddy looked slyly at his younger son, pleased to see the boy would stand up for his uncles even when his uncles did not deserve the loyalty. That was a Granger family trait he was proud to see developing in his offspring.
“A game, huh? Well, you better call the dog off, son, before he games the flesh right off yer Uncle Sonny.
The dog responded immediately to Donny's call and the pair of them followed Mama as she made her way to the old cushioned swing that sat near the fire circle. It was easy to see how tired she was, but the color had returned to her cheeks since last time Donny saw his mother and she was obviously happy to be home.
Daddy Granger took the seat beside his wife on the swing and the four Granger children sat down on the ground before them. The dog plopped next to Donny but kept his eyes on the uncles, who kept their distance. Margaret hung back, sitting alone on the trailer steps.
Daddy Granger told his children how glad he was to be home and how proud he was of them. “You children did a fine job of taking care of yourselves and our home while your mama and I were away.” Then he looked at his wife and his expression softened. “Kate, I'm happy yer back home where you belong, so very happy.”
The children heard the crack in Daddy’s voice and saw the lines on his face from trying not to let them know how worried he had been about Mama and how glad he was she was home and healthy. He was still holding the blanket they’d carried her in. Now, he wrapped it tightly around her. Kathleen Granger herself made no effort to hide tears as each of her children took a turn receiving a hug. She smiled as tears streamed down her face. Donny was last in line to receive a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He was crying too and didn't care who saw. He’d been worried Mama might never come back. Experience up to now had been that when people got carried off Pig Hill, they were done for.
The Granger uncles did their best now not to seem out of place. Uncle Junior started building a fire to keep Mama from being too cold and the other two went off into the woods supposedly to get more fixings for supper because now there would be a big celebration. Everyone knew it was jugs of whiskey they would bring back.
When she was done quizzing her children about their grades and asking if they had kept up with Sunday school and had they remembered to wash their hair every week at least even when it was cold outside, she turned her attention to the guest in their midst.
Margaret had done her best to stay out of the way as she watched the Granger family reunited. She hoped no one saw her own tears. Margaret wasn't sad Kathleen Granger was home. She was happy for the Grangers on that count. It was just she wished she might one day be reunited with her own mother. Angry as Margaret was that her mother had left, the girl missed her mom.
“Hello there, young lady,” Kathleen Granger said. “Aren’t you Pastor Adelbaum’s younger daughter?”
“I’m his only daughter now. My sister ran off to marry some man up in Pittsburgh. Now, she doesn’t come home anymore and my father says he has no other children but me.”
“I’m sorry to hear about that,” Mama told Margaret. “You’re here to play with the girls?” she asked.
Donny spoke up then. “Margaret is friends with all of us, Mama. She came to have lunch with us. Now that you’re here, can she stay?”
Daddy answered for her. “Of course she can stay. We may not have much, but we can always feed one more mouth at your Mama’s table. We Grangers aren’t so bad off as all that. We might even be able to afford to feed that mutt of yers, son.”
That’s when Margaret decided to take the bull by the horns. “My father wouldn’t like it if he knew I was here. He says you and him don’t see eye to eye about the lord.”
“He’s got that right,” Daddy told her.
“I would really rather not have him know I’ve been spending time up here with your family.” Margaret said.
Daddy Granger looked to his wife and the silent question passed between them. Was it right to keep a secret from a man about his own child? Kathleen Granger nodded and her husband nodded back.
“Then, we won't tell him,” Daddy said to Margaret.
“Where does he think you are right now?” Mama asked Margaret.
“I’m not sure, Ma’am. He doesn't ask and I don’t say much. It works better for me that way.”
And so it was that Margaret Adelbaum came to eat lunch every day that summer with the Grangers of Pig Hill. Sometimes, the girl was there for breakfast too. She often spent mornings helping Mama and the girls with house work and afternoons wandering the woods with Donny, hunting and foraging. She always went home to have supper with her father, but some nights she came back out to sit with her best friend in a tree waiting for deer and stars to appear. The Grangers came to think of Margaret Adelbaum as one of their own and treated her like family. That was a new experience for Margaret. Nurtured by the family's affection and nourished by Mama's good food, the girl grew less sullen and blossomed into a real beauty. Margaret did her best to hide that, but there is no way to hide an abundance of loveliness, even under worn denim and forest dirt.
That summer, Donny grew taller and Margaret got prettier and prettier. In August, when Mama made school dresses for May and June she made them for Margaret too, who adored them because no one had ever before made anything for her. Margaret never did get good at sewing for herself, (Mama said that was cuz she had no mother in her house to teach her how when she was little.) but she sure liked having someone to help her get better at it now. By the time school started the autumn she was 11, Margaret Adelbaum could sew on buttons and mend holes in everything from britches to socks to back packs.
Margaret's Sister, 1992
Masada, West Virginia
Donny was a good shot. His daddy said so. So did all the Granger uncles. They said he might be good enough to become a sniper for the United States Army. The boy himself had no interest in the army or in shooting things for a living. Sure, Donny was happy to hunt when the family needed meat. Daddy and Aaron hunted too. But, from the time Donny first slung a rifle over his arm to the day he left Pig Hill, it was usually him that brought down most of what his family ate. At first he hunted with the other Granger men. That was because his kill was frequently too big for the boy to bring home on his own and because he had no rifle of his own.
Then, on Donny's seventh birthday, Aaron Granger surprised him with that Marlin 25 that had at various times belonged to their Daddy and each of the Granger Uncles. “Every Granger man needs a gun of his very own,” Aaron had announced when he handed Donny the gun along with a box of bullets. “Now you won’t have to borrow.”
Mama wasn’t all that pleased. She always worried when her boys were off in the woods. “You never know when a stray bullet will come your way,” she had said looking warily at her brothers-in-law who’d been known more than once to aim badly when drinking.
The Granger uncles had gone in together on a game knife to give Donny as a birthday gift that same year. It was longer than the boy's forearm, almost as long as his thigh. “He’ll grow into it,” Uncle Sonny told Mama when she objected that it was too big for her son to safely carry or handle.
“He’ll be fine,” Daddy told her as he ruffled the fluffy red top of Donny's head. “Not only is Donald, Jr. a Granger man, he’s a natural born hunter.”
By the time Donny was eleven, he hunted mostly on his own or with Margaret, who didn’t hunt, but liked to come along just to be in the woods and keep Donny company. He did teach her how to use the rifle and the knife. Having seen the way her father treated her, Donny had an idea Margaret might one day benefit from being able to shoot. The pair brought home what game they could carry: squirrel, rabbit, duck, once in a while wild turkey or pheasant. They preferred it that way.
Hunting with Daddy and the Uncles wasn’t much fun. When the Granger men were away from the compound, away from Mama and the twins, the Uncles were crude. It wasn’t just the foul language that got to Donny, it was also the fact they weren’t very clean. They smelled bad even when they weren't drinking. Of course, when they were in the woods, they were drinking. Daddy Granger didn't drink anywhere near so much as his brothers, but he didn't ask them to stop either.
What bothered Donny the most was the fact that when the Granger men were drinking, they got mean. That included Daddy, Aaron too on the rare occasions when he drank a beer Daddy offered. They said nasty things about Donny sometimes. And the boy did not enjoy being the brunt of their jokes. Donny Granger might be the best marksman on Pig Hill but that didn’t protect him from his uncles' or Daddy’s nasty comments. Frequently, they called Donny mama’s boy and teased him about playing the piano and having a girl for a best friend.
One day, Margaret and Donny and Theodore were sitting on the ground beside the Masada creek which started at the top of Pig Hill and wound its way around the mountain through the woods until it ended at Ettinger’s Pond, in the valley carved out between Pig Hill, Coon Hill, and Dead Dog Mountain. It was a Saturday in October and the air was definitely starting to chill, but the sun was shining brightly through a multicolored canopy of autumn leaves. Donny had already shot a turkey and now the pair were fishing for trout, which Mama loved. They hoped to catch enough for a fine Sunday breakfast next day.
Margaret was a good fisher. She had learned that on her own before the two became friends. In fact, it was her that taught Donny how to spot the drop offs in a pond or stream because those were calmer places for fish to feed on any bait he offered them. Calmer dining meant the fish were easier to catch. No one taught Margaret. She didn't really have anyone around to teach her much of anything, not until she became an honorary member of the Granger family. Before that, if Margaret needed to know something, she looked it up in the school library, taught it to herself, or just made do with not knowing. Donny thought it must be awful hard for a girl growing up with no mama to teach her how to do things.
That day by the creek, he asked Margaret about her mother. “One time, you told me my Mama left Pig Hill because of me and was never gonna come back. I always knew that wasn’t true and knowing you now, I know you didn’t really think so either.”
Margaret nodded, so Donny continued. “It makes me wonder sometimes about your mama and how she went away from Masada and left you and your sister with your father. I've been wondering about that a lot, Margaret. Why did your mama leave?”
Margaret lay down on the ground and looked straight up at the sky. “My father says she left because she didn’t want to be my mama anymore. Me or Ruth’s.”
Donny gave that some thought, wondering how much he could push his friend without upsetting her. “How old is Ruth now?” he asked.
“Well, she was seven years older than me, so now she's 18.”
“And she's already married?”
“Yep. My father says she was a whore and got herself pregnant so he had to let her marry that man up to Pittsburgh.”
Donny had never been to Pittsburgh. It seemed a very long way from Masada and Pig Hill. He couldn’t imagine one of his sisters being so far off. Then again, Mama’s sister, his Aunt Deb, was even farther away. She had gone off to Florida just after Grandma Maynard died. Sometimes he wondered why Aunt Deb had abandoned her kin. Donny missed her and knew his mama missed her too.
“Do you think Ruth will ever come back to Masada?” he asked.
That’s when he noticed tears on Margaret’s cheeks. “Not if she's as smart as I think she is. If she has any brains at all, Ruth will stay as far away from our father as she possibly can.”
“He was that mad at her for getting...” the boy stumbled around for a polite way to say it.
“Knocked up?” Margaret offered.
“I was going to say in a family way.”
“Well she was definitely that! In a family way! Donny, you've hit the nail on the head!” She was laughing now. At the same time the tears flowed faster down her face, wetting the collar of her flannel shirt.
Donny had no idea what to make of this or what to say, so he said nothing. After a while, Margaret spoke. “I know Mama didn’t leave to get away from Ruth and me, no matter what Father says. And I never should have said that about your mama, Donny. I’m really sorry I was ever so mean to you.”
“It’s okay,” the boy told her, and it really was. Sometimes people say things when they're hurt, just because they want someone else to hurt too. Donny understood.
“Why did your mother go away?” he asked her.
“Well, she never told me or Ruth she was going, so I can't say for sure.”
“You mean she just ran off without even saying goodbye?”
“That’s exactly what I mean.”
“I’m sorry, Margaret,” was all the boy could think to say.
“Well, I won’t say it’s okay, cuz it’s not and it never will be. To tell you the truth, Donny, I think my Mama left to get away from my father. I think he did something to make her run.”
Donny could imagine that being true. He had seen the bruises on his own Mama’s face and arms when Daddy Granger had too much to drink and got mad over some insult he thought came from Mama. He got particularly angry when he thought Mama was being disobedient or uppity. Donny Granger could definitely understand why a woman might run away from her husband. Sometimes, he even wished his own Mama would run to save herself. Of course, he always assumed she would take him and the twins and maybe Aaron with her. He couldn’t even imagine his mama would go anywhere on purpose and leave her children behind. She loved them too much for that.
“Does your father drink?” Donny wanted to know.
“Are you kidding?” responded Margaret. “The Reverend Jeremiah Adelbaum give in to sin? Not a chance! Well, not sin people could smell on him, anyway.”
Donny turned that over in his mind. He could sure understand not wanting to be seen as a sinner. But was drinkin' such a bad sin? Even his mama drank a little from time to time and she was no sinner. On the other hand, Pastor Perkins hated liquor too. Maybe it was just a sin for preachers to drink,
Margaret was still talking. “I know he's the reason Ruth left. It wasn't just the baby coming, it was also that Daddy was so mad at her and so mean about it. The night before she left, I heard him yelling and Ruth crying. Next morning, she was sick to her stomach, the way women get when they have a baby inside, but worse. After she watched daddy and me eat breakfast, Ruth said she needed to make a phone call. She said she was calling her doctor up in Morgantown. Father stormed out of the house. Just before I left for school, Ruth told me she wasn’t calling the doctor. She said there was no need for that now. She said she was calling a friend in Pittsburgh and going to stay there for a while. That night, when I got home from school, Daddy said Ruth had gone to be with her baby’s father and he didn't want her ever coming back. Last time Father mentioned Ruth, it was to say she had married the man in Pittsburgh. He said I was his only daughter from then on. Lucky me.”
Uncle Junior Goes Missing, 1992
Pig Hill, West Virginia
Junior Granger was the nicest of Donny's uncles, but even he was a nasty drunk. The good news was he didn't drink quite so much as the others and was more inclined to keeping himself clean. From time to time, he'd show up at the Granger family trailer to announce he was taking a vacation. He never said where he was going and Daddy Granger never asked. That surprised Donny some, his father normally being a man who liked to know what his kin were up to.
So the boy asked his daddy one time, “Daddy how come Uncle Junior doesn't say where he's going when he takes his vacations and how come you don't ask?”
“Well, son,” Donald, Sr. had responded as if he were imparting one of the great keys to life. “Well, son, sometimes a grown man has needs that cannot be satisfied in a small town where everybody knows yer face and yer name. Sometimes a man, 'specially an unmarried man like your uncle, has to take hisself somewhere them needs can be met without no rumors getting' started.”
“But Uncle Bal never goes away.”
“Not no more,” Daddy answered. “I think Bal's done pickled himself so good in his old age that maybe he ain't got no needs anymore.”
“And Uncle Sonny? He pickled too?”
“I don't think he's quite so pickled as yer Uncle Balthazar, but it wouldn't surprise me to find out he ain't got needs no more neither. Sometimes that's how it happens when a man don’t get married soon enough. His manhood just withers away to nuthin' and then he don't need nuthin' but a roof over his head and good bottle of liquor.”
Donny wasn't at all sure what his father meant by pickled or withered manhood or needs, but he liked the way his Daddy was talking to him like a confidante, so he didn't say so. Instead, he asked, “But Uncle Junior isn't pickled and withered?”
“Not yet,” his Daddy told him. “Not yet.”
“And yer not either, Daddy?”
“Nah, yer mama keeps me from gittin' pickled and withered, son. Yer mama's a good woman.”
“I know she is, Daddy.”
“You could do worse than marry yerself a girl like yer Mama, Son.”
“Yessir, I know.” And that he really did understand.
But in the fall of 1992, when Junior Granger disappeared he didn't tell anyone he was going away. Just one day he didn't show up for supper and everyone figured he'd fallen asleep in his trailer. When he didn't turn up the next day, Daddy Granger knocked on his oldest brother's trailer door. When he didn't answer, Donald, Sr. let himself in. Finding the trailer empty and Junior's coat and hat gone, he figured the man had gone off hunting by himself. Then he saw Junior's rifle standing in a corner of the trailer's one room.
Daddy Granger consulted with his other two brothers, Balthazar and Caleb. They both figured Abraham, Junior, had gone off to Wheeling for one of his “vacations.” They leered some saying the word, vacation, so that it implied something more than rest and relaxation. Daddy wasn't convinced, pointing out that Junior always told them before he left the hill, even when he was just goin' into Masada to pick up beer or canned hash at Keeley's.
But with nothing to go on and Junior being an adult, there was nothing to be done but wait and see. The waiting took longer than anyone expected, the better part of a month. And the seeing was a real shock when Junior Granger returned on a snowy winter afternoon with his left arm in a sling and bruises all over his face.
“What the hell happened to you?” Daddy Granger wanted to know.
“I was in Columbus,” he said. “Needed a change of scenery.”
“I'll bet you did,” said Sonny.
“Was the scenery blonde or redheaded?” asked Bal.
“It ain't her head I wanna know about,” said Sonny, sneering.
“There's ladies present,” said Daddy, interrupting his brothers.
“Not to mention children,” said Kathleen.
“Sorry,” said Sonny and Bal in unison.
“What were you doing in Columbus?” asked June.
“That's where Aunt Deb used to live,” added May.
“She don't live there no more,” stated Daddy Granger, “and yer Uncle has a right to keep his business private.”
“It's okay,” Junior responded. “I don’t mind. I went to Columbus cuz I heard about a singer I wanted to hear. Reminded me of how your mother and her sister used to sing and I remembered how I used to like visiting night clubs and seeing singers and comediennes.”
“You did?” June asked.
“Yes, I did. In fact, I still do like it. I was in Columbus once a long time ago and I liked it too, so I went to see that singer.”
“And they beat you up for listening to a gal sing?” Daddy Granger wanted to know.
“It wasn't no gal,” Junior told them. “It was a man singer.”
“They beat you up for listenin' to a man singer,” asked Bal?
Junior was silent a moment, rubbing his arm above the cast. “I didn't get beat up,” he said, but even Donny could tell he was lying. For starters, the bruises on his uncle's face had obviously come from someone's knuckles. Donny had seen bruises like that plenty of times and knew how a person got them.
“Hmmm...” said Daddy Granger clearly not believing Junior's story.
“If you ain't gonna tell us the truth, why bother tellin' us anything at all,” said Sonny.
That's when Kathleen Granger announced it was time for everyone to wash up and get ready for supper.
“Y'all leave the man alone,” she said. “He clearly does not need any more trouble. Junior will tell us what happened when he is good and ready.
He never was and he never did.
Velma and Lucille Ride Again, 1992
Masada, West Virginia
Velma Barnes and Lucille Miller were the bane of Margaret's existence. Masada Central was not a large school, so there was only one room for each grade. Luckily, Lucille and and Velma were older than Margaret so they were not in all of her classes, but both had been “held back” a couple of times and were not good at reading or math and they were in the choir. The result was that the year Margaret was in fifth grade she had three classes with Lucille and one with Velma. The two meanest girls in Masada never missed an opportunity to torment Margaret. They had altered their earlier name for her, Mega-Margaret, to Mega-Mags. They thought themselves pretty clever for that.
“Mega-Mags, Mega-Mags, Fat girl boobies bound to sag!” the pair chanted whenever there were no adults around to hear.
Mostly, Margaret ignored them, but once in a while she lost her temper. That invariably led to all three girls being sent to the office. Once, Margaret had been suspended for punching Velma in the gut, making the girl puke in the hallway outside the home-EC room.
But one time, Lucille and Velma got what was coming to them. It happened in choir. Mr. Pepp had been called to the office in the middle of rehearsal. As soon as the door closed behind him, the two meanies turned their attention to Margaret. This time it was different though.
“Hey, Mega-Mags,” taunted Velma. “Looks like you're puttin' on some weight.”
“I heard our Maggie Mega-Ton is going out for the WWF,” said Lucille.
“Don't call me Maggie,” Margaret told them.
“Oh, so it's okay we call you Mega-Ton?” asked Lucille.
“Sure it is,” responded Velma. “She weighs a mega-ton, so it's only the truth.”
Donny was sitting at the piano while this was going on. “Shut up, you two,” he told them.
Until then, the rest of the choir had been ignoring the exchange between Margaret and the mean girls. Everyone was so used to that. It barely passed as background noise anymore. But, if Donny was going to get involved, things might get more interesting.
“Who's gonna make me?” Lucille wanted to know, standing up and stepping off the choir risers. Of course, that brought Velma to her feet as well. Neither of those girls was capable of having an independent thought, forget going anywhere or doing anything alone.
“If you must know, I'll make you,” said Margaret, rising to her own feet now and stepping off the risers to stand between Donny and the pair of grade school tyrants.
“Oh, that figures,” said Lucille. “Mega-Mags to the rescue! I guess the sissy boy can't defend himself?”
“Nah,” said Velma. “Donny Granger needs a girl to defend him.”
That was enough to get the Granger sisters riled too. Now, May and June were on their feet, warning Velma and Lucille to shut their traps.
“Oh, look,” laughed Lucille. “Now the little queer has three girls defending him.”
Donny flew of the piano bench now. He flung himself in Lucille's direction, but May and June held him back.
“It's not Donny we're defending,” said Margaret.
“Oh really?” laughed Velma. “Then who?”
“You,” Margaret told them. “We're protecting the two of you from Donny. You should be very grateful.”
“For what?” Lucille asked. “For saving us from being queered to death?”
Donny shrugged off his sister's hands and took a step toward Lucille. He was several inches taller than the girl and was close enough now to look down at her. Everyone in the room could see that Lucille Miller was just realizing Donny Granger was big enough to crush her if he decided too. He was no longer the little kid they had taunted on the playground or in the hallways. The girl jumped back as Donny advanced on her.
“Don't do it, Donny,” said June. “Neither one of those losers are worth the effort.”
“Not like they'll learn anything from it,” said May. “They're both too stupid to be taught.”
Donny took a deep breath and backed his way to the piano bench, where he sat back down, glaring at Lucille as he did so. May and June returned to their seats, but Margaret held her place between Donny and Velma and Lucille who were becoming more agitated by the minute.
“Who're you callin' stupid?” Velma demanded.
“Whodya think?” May responded.
“Don't you get it?” June asked her sister. “They're so dumb they don’t even know they're dumb.”
Everyone in the room laughed then. Velma threw herself at Margaret, grabbing the bigger girl's hair and leaning in to bite Margaret on the left arm.
“Oh, no you don't,” commanded Margaret. With her right hand, she grabbed hold of Velma's throat and picked the girl up off the floor. In one motion, she thrust Velma Barnes backward and dropped her on the floor just in front of the risers. “If I were you, I'd think twice before trying that again. It seriously pisses me off when anyone pulls my hair, but biting is even worse!”
That's when Mr. Pepp walked into the room. Margaret had just thrown Velma Barnes several feet. Everyone in the class held their breath, expecting the teacher to send Margaret to the office. But he didn't.
“Why, thank you, Margaret,” he said. “I appreciate you keeping order in my absence.”
Donny actually laughed out loud at the remark. Margaret herself was confused and it showed on her face.
“I left the intercom open when I went to the office,” Mr. Pepp told her. “I heard what they said to you and to Donny. I heard everything,” he said directly to Velma and Lucille. “Seems to me they got off easy.”
“But she...” started Lucille.
“She tried to kill me,” finished Velma.
“I saw what she did,” Mr. Pepp told her. “My impression is that if Margaret had intended to kill you, you would not be speaking to me now. Now go sit down before I decide to leave the room again. This time, I might not come back quite so quickly.”
The two girls went to their seats on the risers amidst snickers from all corners of the room. Donny smiled broadly. Margaret, who was still standing in the middle of the room said, “Thank you, Mr. Pepp.”
“Margaret, you should return to your seat too,” was all he said.
When choir practice ended, Margaret stayed after to speak with Mr. Pepp. No adult had ever stood up for her before and she wanted to tell the teacher as much. Donny exited the room as quickly as possible. He couldn’t wait to get away from the girls of the Masada Central School Choir. He'd almost made a clean escape when Velma and Lucille sidled up beside him just outside the classroom door.
“My father says you're a faggot,” Lucille almost-whispered in the boy's ear.
“Everyone thinks so,” added Velma in the other ear. “Only fagotty boys take music lessons. That's what my brothers say.”
Velma's brothers were in high school. Both of them played football for the Masada Lions.
“When they find out what you and that fat bitch did to Lucille and me, they are gonna be pissed.”
It occurred to Donny to mention that no one had laid a hand on Velma, though she certainly had it coming. He didn't figure it would do any good to point out the truth. Bullies are rarely bothered by facts and that is exactly what Velma and Lucille were. Bullies. It crossed Donny's mind then that a lot of people in Masada thought Margaret Adelbaum was a bully. That was mostly because she liked to dress like a boy and she wasn't inclined to take anyone's guff. Margaret had a real mouth on her, but she never bullied. She responded to bullies in kind sometimes, like she had back in the choir room, but Margaret never picked a fight, not with anyone.
Then, the pair sauntered off down the hallway, not even watching where they were going, like they owned the place. Donny headed straight for the school door, not even stopping at his locker to get his homework. He ran as fast as he could all the way to the foot of Pig Hill where the Masada Creek passed between the Church of God and Mr. Jeffers', the school janitor's house. Donny walked beside the creek until he was well into the woods, half-way between the town of Masada and his family's home on the hill. Then, he sat on the ground beside the creek and cried. He was glad he'd been able to keep the tears to himself until he was well away from school. Last thing he needed was the Barnes Brothers finding him crying.
It wasn't the first time someone had called Donny Granger a name. His brother called him a mama's boy from time to time and his Uncles called him prissy, but Donny didn't take it seriously. They were just kidding. Donny was the youngest of the Grangers, so he was the one they all teased. Once in a while, Donny heard older boys calling each other queer or fag and he had definitely heard those nasty terms from his father and uncles. Never before had they been directed at him. It scared Donny to think Velma's pack of brothers might really have called him fagott. He hoped Velma was making that up. She was mean enough to do something like that. But Donny couldn’t be sure. He hated thinking any of the boys in Masada might call him that. What if his Daddy found out? Donny still wasn't sure what faggot meant, but he knew for sure his father would be furious if he heard that people were calling his son faggot for taking piano lessons. Daddy Granger wouldn't be angry with the folks calling names. He actually agreed with them. Daddy Granger would blame his son for acting queer.
Then it occurred to Donny that his father might blame his Mama. She was the one who insisted Donny join the Masada Central School choir in the first place. Daddy definitely blamed her for that. He would probably blame her for Donny taking piano lessons too, even though she wasn't the one who suggested it. That was Mr. Pepp and the boy had made the choice on his own without even consulting either of his parents. Donny just knew his Daddy wouldn't care about that. Daddy would blame Mama for the piano lessons and that would make it her fault people were calling his son faggot. Daddy might get mad enough to hit Mama again. The more Donny thought about it, the surer he was there would be no might about it. If Daddy Granger found out anyone thought his son was a faggot, whatever it meant, he would take his anger out on his wife.
Donny got to his feet and resolved not to cry anymore. He would act like nothing had happened, like Velma and Lucille never said anything to him at all. Margaret caught up with him half-way up the hill and Theodore bounded toward them as they approached the Granger compound. Well, maybe Theodore didn't bound, not exactly, but he moved as fast as old bulldogs ever do. Donny and Margaret found Mama sitting in the trailer's living room with May and June who were telling their mother all about the school day, carefully leaving out any mention of the excitement in choir. It was understood between the four children that no one need trouble Kathleen Granger with their worries. Mama had enough to contend with.
Margaret Gets a Call, 1992
Masada, West Virginia
Margaret was pretty disappointed Donny didn't wait for her after school that day. He rushed out of choir so fast she didn't even get a chance to say bye. She'd sort of hoped to spend some time with her friend that afternoon. That's what happened most days. There was always homework to be done. When weather was nice, the two took their books into the woods. When it was too cold or rainy, they worked in one of the Granger sheds, usually the laundry shed. It was crowded with piles of wash, but not as noisy as the family trailer, which was crowded with people. Of course, they never even considered doing their homework at Mags' house, where there was plenty of room and ample quiet. The many attractive features of the parsonage were cancelled out by the presence of the preacher himself.
But Donny had taken off after school, in a hurry to get away from Velma and Lucille, Margaret figured. She couldn't blame him for that and she was the one who varied their usual routine by staying after to talk with Mr. Pepp. She decided she would stop by the parsonage to pick up a warmer jacket. The temperature had dropped during the school day. Then, she would head up Pig Hill with her books.
Happy to see her father's car gone when she arrived home, Margaret took her time. She turned on the television. There was an episode of One Life To Live on Channel 7. Margaret's mother and sister had loved that show. Mags herself couldn't even follow the twisted storylines, but having it on reminded her of what her home used to be like in the afternoons, back before her mama and sister ran off.
She wandered to the kitchen to see what there was by way of snack food. Nothing much. Her father was a firm believer that one's body is a temple and as such should be kept in ship-shape for a visit from God himself. Of course, that applied more to Margaret's body than to his own. Margaret knew he had his own stash of candy bars hidden away in his desk. She went to Jeremiah Adelbaum's study now and opened his middle desk drawer. There, hidden behind a King James Bible and a thick pad of sticky notes, was a bag of Halloween sized Snickers. Margaret took two. More than that, she feared her father might notice. She slipped the candies into her shirt pocket, just in case her dad made a reappearance at a most inopportune time. She'd eat them on her way up Pig Hill and dispose of the wrappers when she got to Donny's house.
Just as she was about to head back to the living room, where the TV was squawking, the phone on her father's desk jingled. The girl almost answered but stopped herself, realizing her father might return home any minute and answering might hold her in his office long enough to be caught there. Mags hated to think what Jeremiah Adelbaum might do if he caught her there. He would assume she was snooping, which she was not, or stealing candy, which she was. That would be this day's reason for punishing her.
Margaret had come to realize her father liked punishing her. He liked it a lot. Oh, he always went on and on about how it was going to hurt him more than it hurt her and how it was his duty as a parent to teach her right from wrong. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. None of that hid the fact the man liked beating his daughter, and had liked beating his older daughter and his wife up until they left him with only one potential victim left, Margaret.
She ignored the phone and went back downstairs to gather her pack and turn off the television before heading out for the Granger place. It quit ringing after six rings, but, just as Margaret switched off the soap, it began to ring again. This time, she went to the kitchen and picked it up.
“Hello,” she said. Then, remembering how her father had trained her to answer the phone, she added, “Masada Church of God, how can we help you become a better Christian?”
Margaret almost gagged on the words, but was afraid it might be her father on the other end of the line and he'd be mad if she didn't do it just the way he'd taught her. She waited to see who was calling.
It didn't take long for a familiar voice to say, “Hello, Mags.”
Margaret was crying as soon as she heard the voice, too choked up to say anything.
“Mags, are you there?” the voice asked.
Margaret started to sob audibly and the voice said, “Oh, Maggie, what's wrong? Is he there? Has he hurt you?”
With some effort, Margaret pulled herself together. “Ruth?” she croaked. “Is it really you?”
It was. The two sisters spoke for the better part of a half hour. Ruth said she wasn't in Pittsburgh anymore, that she had only been there a few months, that she had never lived with any man, only a kind woman who took her in after she'd run away.
“I'm so sorry I left you behind, Maggie. But he was...hurting me,” was all she could think to say. “He made me lose the baby,” she added.
“He hit you in the stomach?” Margaret asked, hardly able to believe that even her father, cruel as he was, would do anything to harm an unborn babe.
“He found out I'd made an appointment for an abortion. He railed at me about that, saying how he would not allow any daughter of his to compound one sin with a second. He beat me so bad I miscarried.
The irony was not lost on either of Jeremiah Adelbaum's daughters.
“Does he beat you, Maggie?”
Margaret didn't want to answer, but knew Ruth would know the truth anyway. “It's not too bad,” she told her sister, thinking it was nowhere near as bad as what the man had done to Ruth, making her baby die and all. “I'm tough enough to handle him. And, besides, I'm hardly ever home anymore. I have friends now, Ruth. Real friends.”
“Oh that's wonderful, Maggie!”
“I'm headed up Pig Hill soon to spend the rest of the day with them. They live up there in the woods. I like it in the woods, Ruthie.”
“Pig Hill? Are you friends with June and May Granger?”
“And their brothers, especially Donny. The whole family, really. They're real nice to me.”
“Oh that's good, Mags. You could go to them if Father ever...did anything really awful. I mean, if you have to run, like I did.”
Margaret had no idea what could be worse than what he already did to her, but, yes, she figured the Grangers would take her in if she had to run. What she really wanted to know was where Ruth was now.
“I'm in a bus station,” her sister said. In between buses. “I'm heading to California. I was thinking I might be able to get a job in the movies or TV.”
“You always did wanna be famous,” Margaret remembered. “Maybe you could be on One Life To Live.”
“Do you still watch that?” Ruth asked.
“Not really,” Margaret said, “but sometimes I put it on for noise. It reminds me of you and Mom.”
That's when Ruth started to cry. “I still can't believe she left us, Mags. Do you ever hear from her?”
“Not since the day she ran off. I miss her, Ruthie. And I miss you too.”
“Me too,” Ruth lamented. “I wish I could have brought you with me, Mags.”
Margaret wished the same thing, but that did her no good now, so she said, “Maybe I can come to you when you get to California.”
“Maybe,” said her sister. “I gotta go now, Ruth. They're boarding my bus. I'll call again when I know where I'm going to be for awhile.”
It was several days before Margaret told Donny her sister had called. She needed to be able to talk about it without crying. She never told her father at all.
Encounter With The Barnes Brothers, 1992
Masada, West Virginia
It didn't take long to find out what Velma Barnes' brothers would do about the incident in the choir room. It was a Saturday morning and Donny went into Masada to pick up flour for his Mama from the Keeley's market. As he came down the hill, he crossed through Margaret's yard and found his friend laying on her back porch, a book open in front of her. Margaret was reading The Return of The King by JRR Tolkien.
“How's the book?” Donny asked.
“I'm done,” Margaret replied. “It was great! I may start over at the very beginning of the trilogy. What are you up to?”
“Have to go to Keeley's. Mama ran out of flour making today's bread. There's a few more things she wants too. After I get them back home to her, I'm goin' hunting.”
“Thought you were gonna have your nose in a book all weekend.”
“I can do both,” Margaret retorted. “Just let me run inside for the book.”
“Better grab a jacket too,” Donny told her. “It's colder in the woods than it is here.”
Margaret went into the house and Donny could hear her father shouting at her through the back door. “Going somewhere with that Granger boy?”
“I'll be back before dark,” Margaret had hollered back.
“I suppose you'll be having supper out?” the minister asked, as Margaret slammed the back door behind her, not bothering to reply. She didn't need to tell her father she would sooner eat alone in the rain that come home to eat with him.
Margaret wore a denim jacket over her coveralls. She had a backpack, which Donny assumed contained her book. The pair crossed the street and walked to Keeley's which was just the other side of the Masada Central School. They waved to Mr. Pepp when he passed them in his little blue car. He was headed toward Parkersburg and Margaret wondered out loud where he was going.
“Maybe he has friends over to West Union,” Donny suggested.
“Could be,” Margaret mused. “He's been around long enough to have met some other teachers, I guess.”
“He's not a hermit,” Donny pointed out.
“You never see him talk to anyone outside of school,” said Margaret.
“He talks to Mr. Jeffers.”
“They're neighbors, so that doesn't count.”
“Sure, it does,” insisted Donny. “Besides, he talks to parents some times.”
“Only if they talk to him first.”
“He talks to us.”
“Yeah, but he knows us from school. I mean he never talks to anyone he doesn't know from his job.”
“That's cuz there's no one in Masada he doesn't know from school.”
Margaret couldn't argue that point. Everyone in town was connected to the school in one way or another. Either they went to the school or they used to go there or they would go there when they were old enough. The only exception to that rule was some of the teachers who taught there. Some of them moved to Masada for their jobs. That made Margaret wonder how desperate a teacher had to be for work before he or she would take a job here. “I mean, c'mon,” she said to her friend. “There've gotta be better schools in better towns than this.”
In the Keeley Market, Donny paid for the flour for his mother. Du Keeley took the boy's money and asked if he had seen Darren and Dwayne Barnes, Velma's brothers.
“They were in here earlier and asked if you'd been in. “I told 'em you had not and they asked me to let you know they're looking for you.”
“For Donny?” Margaret asked.
“Actually, they asked about you too, Margaret.”
The two youngsters exchanged glances before thanking Mr. Keeley for his help.
“Be sure to tell your Mama and Daddy I said hello,” the man told Donny. “Tell your daddy I would not be opposed to fishin' one day soon.”
“I'll let him know,” Donny assured the man. “See you later,” Mr. Keeley.
“Damn,” said Margaret as soon as the market's door swung closed behind them.
Donny didn't need to ask what she was referring too. Having the Barnes brothers asking about them was not good news. Those two boys were huge green-eyed linebackers. There was no question in Donny and Margaret's minds that they would happily rip the arms off anyone who messed with their little sister.
“What I don't get is why they care what I did to Lucille,” Margaret said. “I never laid a finger on Velma. Now, I sort of wish I had. It'd make it worth having to face her brothers.”
In spite of knowing there was no way he and Margaret could defend themselves against the Barnes brothers, Donny laughed. “Maybe they figure no one else but Velma can stand Lucille, so they're gonna stand up for her to make their sister happy.”
Margaret shrugged and the two made their way up Pig Hill. Kathleen Granger was sitting on the front step of the trailer. She was reading a small paperback which she slipped into her dress pocket when she saw the two approaching. There were three loaves of bread cooling on a rock not far from the fire.
“We got your flour, Mama. Mr. Keeley didn't have the big bags you like. He said he'd be happy to bring one up the hill after the truck comes with his delivery. I told him that would be fine.”
“Good job, Donny. And hello, Margaret. Are you planning to hunt with Donny today or would you like to stay here with me? I have nothing terribly exciting planned, but I am sure the twins will be glad to have you here.”
“Thanks for the invite, Ma'am, but I think I'll tag along with Donny. I can read my book while he hunts and reading is about all I want to do with the rest of today,” she said. “I finished The Lord of The Rings this morning and now I plan to start all over again with The Hobbit.”
“I remember when I read that to my children. I think that was three summers ago.”
“It was,” agreed Donny.
“I don't think May and June liked it that much, but, as I recall, Donny did.”
“You recall right, Mama. It's one of my favorites.”
“It was Donny who convinced me to read it," said Margaret. "I've enjoyed every page.”
Kathleen Granger rose from her seat on the step now and went for the loaves of bread. “These are cool enough now to slice. Why don't I make some sandwiches for the two of you. I imagine you'll be in the woods most of today?”
“Yes, Mama. I'm planning to hunt over on The Coon. That's where I bagged that hog we've been eating. Maybe I'll get lucky and another will turn up.”
While Mama packed a bag for lunch, Donny went to one of the sheds for his hunting gear and Margaret folded some wash she found sitting in a basket just inside the trailer's front door.
“Oh, thank you, Margaret,”, said Kate, “May did the wash this morning early and June was supposed to fold. Then they remembered that some girl from school had asked them to come over to help her curl her hair.”
“That would be Mandy Downing,” offered Margaret. “Her cousin is gettin' married in Pittsburgh this afternoon. I heard Mandy saying she didn't know what to do with her hair.”
Just then, Donny opened the trailer's front door. “All ready,” he announced.
Kathleen handed the bag of food she'd packed to Margaret who slid it into her backpack.
“You two be careful,” she told them. “Stay focused on the task at hand. I don’t want any hunting accidents.”
“Don't you worry, Mama. We'll be fine.”
“I know,” she said, kissing her boy on the forehead and giving Margaret a gentle squeeze around the shoulders.
Theodore drudged along behind them as they climbed the hill. Before heading down the other side, Donny stooped to his dog and patted him on the head. “You be a good dog now and head back home. You can look after Mama while Margaret and I hunt.”
The dog grunted in displeasure.
“It's better for you this way, Boy. Trust me, you don't want to walk as far as we're goin' today.” With that, the dog headed back through the woods toward home.
About an hour later, half-way up Coon Hill, Donny and Margaret stopped at an old hunter's blind. It was nestled in the branches of a large poplar and had a rope ladder that the pair climbed. Once safely ensconced above the forest floor, Margaret took out her book and the jug of Koolaid she and Donny had brought with them. There were sandwiches too, made of pulled pork on some of Mama's fresh made white bread. These she left in the bag for later in the day. Donny readied his rifle and took up his position to watch and wait for a suitable target to present itself. He was hoping for another wild hog, like the one he'd killed and brought home a few weeks previous. Possibly, there would be deer. More likely, squirrels or possum.
Hunting was not a time for talk. That could come later after Donny had succeeded in his task. In the meantime, Margaret read
Margaret and Donny had been sitting in the blind for about 20 minutes when they heard a rustling in the trees and heard a voice call out, “Don't fire, Granger.”
“We've just come to talk,” said another voice.
Donny and Margaret didn't need to ask who it was hidden in the bushes and trees. It had to be the Barnes Brothers. “Whatdyawant,” Margaret yelled into the woods, trying to see Darren and Dwayne.
“I already said we just wanna talk with you,” one of the voices said.
“Then, why don't you come on out and show yourselves?” Margaret asked.
“Cuz you got a rifle up there,” came the reply.
“Well, we're not gonna talk to ghosts,” Margaret told them. “If you wanna talk, you'll have to come out and show yourselves. Otherwise, go away.”
“Hey, Granger,” shouted one of the voices. “How come yer lettin' a girl do all yer talkin'?”
“Cuz I don't have anything to say,” was the answer.
“Why don't you put down that shotgun and come down out of that tree? You leave the gun up there and then we'll show ourselves.”
“Not a chance,” shouted Margaret, but Donny was already doing what the unseen Barnes brother suggested.
“C'mon Mags,” he said. “We might as well get this over with.”
“I don't think it's a good idea,” she said.
“You'll both have to come down from the blind,” one voice said.
“And don't even think about bringing the rifle,” said the other, which is exactly what Margaret was thinking of doing. If she had learned anything at all from living with The Reverend Jeremiah Adelbaum, her father, it was never to believe a man when he tells you all he wants to do is talk. If Margaret had thought she could climb down the rope ladder from the blind to the ground concealing Donny's marlin in her coveralls, she would have. She settled for putting the knife she used for cleaning fish in her pocket.
Once Margaret was standing on the forest floor next to him, Donny called out, “Ok, you wanna talk? Show yourselves.”
The Barnes brothers didn't look quite so big when they appeared from behind two pine trees as they did in the hallways of The Masada Central School. Still, they were plenty big. Donny was tall for his age. One day he'd be taller than either Barnes, but that day was still several years in the future. Darren and Dwayne must have had thirteen feet and close to 400 pounds between them. They were the kind of giants one envisions when reading about Paul Bunyon.
Margaret was determined not to show how scared she was and gave the impression of one who has been annoyed by a younger sibling or a demanding pet. “Yeah, whatdyawant?” she nearly growled.
“It's alright, Mags,” said Donny. “They only wanna talk. Isn't that right, Darren?”
“Sure,” replied the older of the Barnes Brothers. “Just talk.”
“Yeah, what else would we want?” asked Dwayne.
Margaret was close to answering that but Donny put his hand on her shoulder, sending the message that this might be a better time for diplomacy than for saying anything that might be interpreted as a challenge. Margaret simmered as Donny began the negotiations.
Darren Barnes was about five feet from Donny now and his brother stood behind him like a bodyguard for some visiting politician. Not that Darren needed a bodyguard. He was more than capable of defending himself and every football player in West Virginia knew it. Darren Barnes had a reputation as an unstoppable defensive player. No one looked forward to facing him across the scrimmage line.
“Listen, Granger, we wanted to talk to you about Velma. It seems you gave her a hard time yesterday in choir practice. She was pretty upset. She said you called her stupid.”
“Donny didn't...” Margaret started to say before Donny cut her off.
“There was some trouble yesterday,” Donny acknowledged.
“Velma says you and your sisters and Margaret were pretty mean to her. She says you called her all kinds of names.”
“Her and her friend, Lucille,” put in Dwayne. “They were pretty upset when they got home yesterday. Velma even cried.”
Donny and Margaret exchanged glances over that. The very idea that they'd made Velma Barnes cry was both absurd and pleasing to contemplate.
“If only,” Margaret muttered under her breath.
Darren stepped toward Donny now and Dwayne countered his move by stepping forward, taking up a position alongside his brother. This was obviously a dance these two knew well, having practiced it many times before when facing down others they thought needed a warning. At least Donny hoped it was just a warning they thought he deserved and not an actual beating.
It was Darren who continued speaking. “Lord knows our little Velma can be a pistol. Hell, sometimes she is a bodacious bitch from Beelzebub. But she's our sister and it's our job to make sure no one ever makes her cry. Why, if anyone ever laid a hand on her, I'd have to kill 'em. Lucky for you, it was Lucille you manhandled and Lucille ain't my sister. I mean, I don’t approve of anyone hurtin' a girl and if I was there when you did it, I'd have to do something about it, but I wasn't there and Lucille ain't our responsibility, so yer safe on that account.”
That's when Dwayne took over the speech the two had obviously spent some time preparing. “But Velma, she is ours to look after and you made her cry. We're gonna need to come to some sort of understanding.”
“Oh give me a break!” Margaret blurted. “I'll believe that girl cried when I see pigs grow feathers!”
“Are you saying we're making it up? Cuz, if you are, we have an even bigger problem. I don't like threatening a preacher's daughter, but you better not be callin' us liars.”
“No, I'm not calling you liars,” said Margaret over Donny's attempts to cut her off. “I'm callin' you fools if you believe a word that comes out of your sister's mouth.”
“Mags!” Donny gasped.
Dwayne Barnes started to lunge at the girl, but Darren grabbed him by the arm and hauled him back. “You can't go whalin' on a girl, Dwayne! No matter what she says.”
“I was just sayin' the truth,” insisted Margaret. “You two need to get your facts straight. It was Donny's sisters, not Donny, who called Velma and Lucille stupid, which they are! And it wasn't Donny that tossed Lucille Miller across the choir room. That was me. And she had it comin'. She's had it comin' since first grade and I finally got fed up enough to do it!”
“Margaret, be quiet,” Donny ordered when he saw Darren release his brother's arm. Both Barnes boys advanced on Margaret and Donny.
“Doesn't surprise me one bit you needed a girl to stand up for you, Granger,” said Darren Barnes about two feet from Donny.
“I guess your faggot friend must need a lot of standing up for,” said Dwayne Barnes, sneering at Margaret.
The girl reached into her coveralls pocket, intending to draw the knife she'd hidden there, but froze in her place when a rifle fired nearby. Darren and Dwayne swung around to see who was shooting so close to them in the woods.
Aaron Granger, Donny's big brother, stepped into the clearing between trees. He was shouldering a bolt-action Ruger which he continued to aim in the general direction of Darren Barnes' head as he spoke.
“Afternoon, Barneses. Nice day for a walk in the woods, ain't it? You were just out for a walk, weren't you? I know you two aren't hunters. Or are you? Have the two of you taken up hunting? I don't see your guns.”
“We ain't got guns,” said Dwayne.
Still holding the Ruger as if he were prepared to fire, Aaron said. “So you were just out walking in the woods. I guess you just happened to run into my brother and Margaret. It's just coincidence you ended up in the same place as them?”
“Uhm yeah,” said Darren, visibly shaking now.
“I see,” said Aaron before turning his head to face Margaret. “You okay, girl?” Margaret nodded to indicate she was and Aaron asked his brother, “How about you, Donny? Everything okay with you?”
“Absolutely,” was the response.
“Good,” Aaron said, lowering the rifle at last. “I guess we had the same idea today, little brother, I planned to hunt The Coon too. Maybe we should stick together,” he suggested.
“Good idea,” Donny replied.
Aaron Granger walked right up to Darren Barnes now, holding the rifle at his side, pointed at the ground. He was close enough that the blond boy could feel the heat of Aaron's breath. Aaron Granger was the only boy in Masada who seemed bigger than the Barnes Brothers. He wasn't as tall, but Aaron was built like a bear, with broad shoulders and muscular limbs. There was no doubt that he could stand his own in a fight with the Barnses, even without the ruger. With the ruger, Aaron's presence was more than a little intimidating.
“Might be better for you boys to take your walk in town or around the pond. Doesn't seem you're all that safe in the woods.”
The Barnes clearly agreed because they took the opportunity to leave. When they were gone long enough to be well out of ear shot, Aaron said, “What the hell was that about?”
Donny and Margaret exchanged a look which did not escape Aaron's notice. “Don't even think about not telling me what got the Barnes boys all riled up. I'm the one that just saved your bacon. You owe me the whole story.”
And so the pair spilled the tale, including the part where Lucille Miller said her father called Donny a faggot. When they were done, Aaron was shaking his head.
“I don't know what to tell you, Little Brother, except you better steer clear of all the Barneses and the Millers too. I don't know why Velma told her brothers it was you that called her stupid, but she did and they aren't happy about it. And as for Lucille's daddy callin' you queer, well, Donny that ain't the first time I've heard someone use that word about you. I think you'd be be safer if you changed your ways.”
Donny agreed. The problem was he had no idea what ways it was that needed changing and, even if he did know, he had no idea how to change them. “I'll do my best,” was all he could say.
Margaret had a few more thoughts on the subject though. “Personally, I don’t think Donny should have to change a thing. It's Lucille Miller and Velma Barnes that need personality transplants. Wouldn't hurt the rest of their families neither.”
At that, Aaron laughed. “Well, I was planning to hunt this part of The Coon today, but you two were here first. How 'bout I head a little further up the hill and leave you two to your own selves?”
“Sure,” Donny said. “Or you could hang around and have lunch with us. Mama packed plenty.”
“Nah,” Aaron told him. “I'm actually looking forward to some time alone.”
His younger brother was obviously disappointed, so Aaron added, “How about we play some rummy tonight? I bet we get a good game together. Maybe even Mama will play.”
That was enough to satisfy Donny, so Aaron headed on up the hill as Donny and Margaret climbed back up to the rope into the blind.
Mama's Life Changes, 1993
Pig Hill, West Virginia
Kathleen Granger was tired. She was tired of cold mountain winters and tired of being all things to all people. She loved her family, including her husband, even when he wasn't at his most lovable, but she was tired of living her life for others, especially now that her children were old enough to mostly tend to themselves.
Most of all, Kate was tired of being tired. Of course, she knew what the physical exhaustion meant. She'd been there before, sought help from doctors who kept her for months in Wheeling away from those she loved most. She had no plans to waste precious time in bed this time around. Kathleen Granger was going to live the rest of her life, however long that might be, as she wanted to live it, doing the things that mattered to her and ignoring anything that didn't.
To most people, her life didn't look a whole lot different than it always had. She fed and clothed her family like she used to. She had taken to mothering Margaret Adelbaum too, a fact noted by many in Masada, somehow still secret to Jeremiah Adelbaum, Margaret's preacher father. Kate stayed with Donald Granger, Sr, a husband many women said they would have left before he'd got a second child off them. She still worked tirelessly for her church and showed up for events at the school when her children were involved. She shopped for groceries at the Keeleys' little market and checked out books whenever the bookmobile came to Masada. All of those things were as they always had been.
But there were a few things that had changed. For one, she no longer cooked liver when her husband demanded it. Kate hated the smell of it cooking and despised the texture of it. She had always resented preparing food for her able-bodied spouse that she would not eat herself. One day a few months after her return to Pig Hill, Daddy had asked her to cook his favorite supper, fried liver and onions.
“No,” Kate had told her husband.
“No?” he'd asked incredulously. “I brought some home yesterday from Prides'.”
“I know,” Kate replied. “You can cook it yourself, if you like. The children and I are having chicken with biscuits tonight.”
“That means you'll have to buy the chicken in town today.”
“Yes, I suppose it does.”
“Then, make the liver. No sense letting it go to waste.”
“It won't spoil, unless you let it,” she had told her husband without even looking up from the book she was reading.
“Damn it, woman. Look at me!” Daddy Granger had demanded.
She did. “Yes?”
“I want to eat liver tonight.”
“No one is stopping you. Come to think of it, you could make a night of it. Why don’t you take the liver and onions up to your brothers' new place? I'm sure they have some new liquor they'd be happy to share. You men could have a real feast.”
“What are you going on about Kate? I don't plan to come home and fix my own supper after a long day's work! And I don't want to have a feast with those bums the good lord stuck me for as brothers! I want to have liver for supper with my family.”
“Oh,” she said, returning to her reading.
“Oh? What the hell does that mean? Are you gonna cook my liver tonight or not?”
Donald Granger, Sr. was not at all accustomed to being challenged, not by anyone. Once in a while, Kate had spoken out against him when she thought she needed to speak for her children or that damned big-mouth sister of hers. And when Lulabelle Maynard had been alive, that old gal had mouthed off plenty at her son-in-law. Now, Donald Granger, Sr. saw that his wife had inherited some of the old woman's spine. This was not good news. Daddy Granger did not want a wife he had to argue with all the time to keep her in line. On the other hand, maybe it was that spine she inherited from her Mama that'd gotten Kate through all those months in the hospital and helped her beat the cancer even when doctors predicted she wouldn't.
“You know,” said Kate, “you could cook the liver yourself, Donald. You're more than able.”
He started to slap his wife across the cheek but stopped when his hand was just an inch or so away. Much as he thought she needed a lesson in wifely obedience, he didn't think it right to strike a woman still recovering from illness. Then it occurred to him that Kate probably wouldn't act this way if she was feeling herself. He took his hand back and stuck it in his pocket. Kate herself never flinched.
“Well, never mind the liver, then,” was all he said before heading out the door for his new job at the county landfill. You'd think a working at a landfill would put any man in a permanently foul temper, but Daddy Granger said it was a vast improvement over the working conditions at the chicken plant. He was in a better mood than he'd been before Mama got cancer, so no one was all that surprised when he refrained from slapping his wife.
In addition to standing up to her husband, Kathleen Granger had started spending a couple of hours each morning with her books. The librarian from Morgantown, the one who came with the Bookmobile each month, had been surprised when her best customer asked if it was possible to get permission to check out 10 books each month instead of five.
“Well, no, not officially,” the grey haired librarian had told Kate. “But seeing as how you have no way ever to come into Morgantown and get more when you finish the five, and seeing as how I have known you for years, I think we can make an exception.”
The librarian encouraged Kate to choose as many books as she thought she could carry home. Then, remembering that the woman was recovering from cancer and thinking she still looked a little weak, the librarian suggested that one of the Granger children carry Kate's selections home for her.
Donny did not have to be pressured into volunteering. He was always happy to help his Mama. That fact had not gone unnoticed by the males of Masada and had helped to establish Donny's reputation as a “mama's boy.” Sometimes other boys would tease Donny when they saw him around town with his mother, following at her heels, carrying her bags and holding doors. Of course, they never teased so Kathleen could hear them and saved the worst of their ridicule for times when they caught Donny alone or with Margaret Adelbaum, which of course made the teasing worse.
Kate checked out the first five books the official way, using her library card which she slid through the little check-out machine at the front of the bus. The librarian wrote down the titles and authors of the other books Kate had chosen, twelve in all, and put the list on a clipboard the librarian used for keeping notes about activity on the bookmobile. The librarian was surprised to see Kate had not chosen a single book she might be planning to share with her children. The woman figured that was because the children were all old enough to read independently now. It never even occurred to her that Kate Granger had just grown weary of using her precious reading time for anyone other than herself.
The Granger children's mama also started taking naps when her family was out of the house. After the hospital and nursing facility, where she'd hardly slept at all for months, Kate Granger had learned to cherish her sleep. She liked nothing more than a long snooze under a warm blanket on her hammock in the sun. Soon after her return from Wheeling, she had persuaded her older son, Aaron, to build a frame from which she tied a large, strong stretch of canvas. Each day when there was no snow on the ground, she would drag that sturdy frame into the sunniest spot she could find. There she would sleep until she heard her children and Margaret coming up the hill from school each afternoon.
Before she got sick, Kathleen Granger had been a powerhouse. She believed that no one had to live poor just because they were poor. That meant she took on a lot of chores just to keep her family from looking like the hillbillies they were. Since coming back from Wheeling, Donny’s mama got tired easy. But that wasn't the main reason for the change in the Granger household. Kathleen had altered her priorities and adjusted her home-making standards accordingly.
What with all the reading and napping, which now mattered more to Kate Granger than preparing meals on a schedule and cleaning anything that wasn't really and truly dirty, the Granger homestead was not quite as tended to as it had been in the days before Kathleen Granger got ill. It was still clean enough to meet most anyone's reasonable standards. Everyone had clean clothes to wear and everyone got fed, including the uncles. Often the children themselves were required to make some of that happen, but they didn't much mind. Their Mama seemed happier than ever before. They were glad to help out.
Daddy Granger told his wife more than once in the many years they'd been married she needn't bother tending to his do-nuthin' brothers.
“Why waste yer energy on them that won't spend any on you unless there's something in it for them?”
“Because they're family,” was the only response the woman ever gave on that subject and, really, none other was needed.
Donny and the twins took well to helping their mother around the house, especially when they got home after school each day. If Margaret came home with them, which was usually the case, she would chip in too. Margaret was really good at fixing things it turned out. She had a way with a hammer and nails and good instincts with motors. Kathleen had been especially impressed when Margaret took apart a broken transistor radio and made it work again so Kathleen could listen to “oldies” on WCLG from Morgantown during the days when she had the house to herself, which was most days now, because Daddy Granger had taken the job at the landfill down the Bluff Road.
The uncles hardly ever came around when Daddy Granger wasn’t home, which was just fine by Kathleen because, whenever they did turn up, they had their hands out for something or other. Mama was somewhat less inclined to help those three drunks since she’d found out how little attention they had paid her children when she and their Daddy had to be away in Wheeling.
Donny liked helping his Mama. He especially liked helping her with the family’s laundry. Donny’s own clothes were rough denim and cotton. The flannel shirts he wore in winter were soft against his skin and he liked those a lot. But handling the family’s laundry, Donny discovered his mama’s clothes and his sisters’ were usually smooth and soft. He envied the girls for getting to wear things that must feel good against their skin. From time to time, Donny wondered why no one made clothes for men from the same comfortable fabrics as women’s. His mama told him denim was tougher because it was intended for working. She pointed out that her knit dresses would not hold up were she to wear them into the woods for hunting.
“My legs wouldn’t last long either,” she told him. “Tree branches would poke right through my skirts even if the fabric didn’t rip. You’re better off with your blue jeans.”
Still, Donny enjoyed the feel of nice fabric and was always willing to help his mama with the wash.
The Duffel Bag, 1993
Pig Hill, West Virginia
One fine April day when Donny was 12, his Mama asked him to carry a duffel bag full of old clothes to Mrs. Perkins for the church clothing drive. Donny watched as his mother pulled items from her closet to fill the bag. He wasn't paying a lot of attention until she came to the purple sequined dress he had never seen his mother wear, the one that looked way too fancy to ever wear anywhere near Pig Hill. He watched as his mother pulled the dress out, keeping it on its hanger. The boy thought her face softened when she looked at it.
“You gonna get rid of that one too, Mama?”
“I was thinking about it,” she responded.
“I don't think I've ever seen you wear it.”
“I haven't. Not since before you were born.”
“Sure is pretty,” he told her.
“That, it is,” she said. “But I've no need for it now.”
Donny thought his mother seemed sad about that and said, “You never know, Mama. Daddy might take you someplace special one of these days. If he ever gets another car.”
“No,” she said, “That won't happen. Even if it did, the dress is too big for me now.”
That was certainly true. Donny was surprised to hear his mother acknowledge her loss of weight.
“Still, I think I'll keep it,” she said. “Sentimental value.”
That made sense to Donny and gave him an idea why the dress might have hung so many years in his mother's closet without being worn. “Was that your wedding dress, Mama?”
“Heaven's no!” she laughed. “Your Daddy and I didn't have a fancy church wedding. I wore one of my nice dresses, but nothing this fancy.”
He watched as his mother put the dress in the closet and went on sorting clothes to be taken to Rachel Perkins. “Why do you hang on to that dress?” he asked.
“Like I said, sentimental reasons. It reminds me of the life I had before I came to Pig Hill. It also makes me think of how things might have turned out if I'd made different choices.”
“You mean like not marryin' Daddy?”
“Not just that,” was all she said for a while.
After she was finished filling the bag, Kate handed it to her son and said, “I don't have a single regret about the choices I made, Donny. I married your Daddy because I love him and he has given me four perfect children. Sometimes, it's fun to think of what might have been, but I always get sad when I think I might not have had my family.”
“So you don't mind not having a reason to wear that pretty dress?”
“I don't mind at all. And who knows? No one knows the future. Maybe one day I'll wear it again.”
“Sure, Mama. I bet you will.”
Kathleen handed the bag of clothes to Donny and said, “Try not to rip the bag going through the woods, Donny. Try to get it to Mrs. Perkins in one piece.
“What's the pastor's wife gonna do with all those clothes anyways?” he asked.
His mother said the pastor was going to give what he called “gently used items” to people who came to the church to get food from the pantry. Donny knew about the food pantry. He'd heard all about it from Daddy Granger, who hated that the church opened itself up one day a week to what he called derelicts and do-nuthin’s, his own brothers often being amongst them. People could line up at the church on Wednesdays between 10 and 2 to get food if they needed it. Some of the church ladies, headed up by the pastor’s wife, cooked hot meals to serve people right there in the church’s fellowship hall. Over Daddy Granger’s vociferous objections, Mama used to help with those meals, often making her famous huckleberry pie, always cooking and cleaning with the other church ladies. But after the cancer, she hadn’t often been up to the trip into town midweek. Sometimes she still baked the huckleberry pie and asked one of the boys to deliver it on their way to school.
Donny was happy to take the bag of clothes to the pastor’s wife. After seeing his sisters as far as the sidewalk on Main Street, Donny, followed at a small distance by Theodore, headed the opposite way toward the Baptist Church. When he got there, no one was inside and he could see no car or truck in the parsonage driveway. Still, he went over and rang the bell. When no one answered, Donny considered leaving the duffel bag on the porch. He could even have left a note saying the clothes were from his mama, Kathleen Granger. But it was Wednesday and there would be strangers around, those folks his daddy called derelicts and do-nuthin’s. He figured he shouldn’t leave something as tempting as a bag of his Mama’s old clothes out where someone might steal it. Far be it from Donny Granger to lead anybody into temptation.
“Well, what do you think?” the boy asked the dog. “Should I wait 'til after school? Of course, that would mean the clothes can't be passed out until next Wednesday.” Theodore appeared to have no opinion at all.
Donny decided to wait for the pastor and his wife to come back from wherever it was they had gone. They couldn’t have gone too far; the church would be filled soon with fine Baptist ladies determined to save the souls of rural Harrison County's poor and starving masses. The pastor and his wife would have to come back to let all those small town saints in so they could do their good works.
It was a beautiful day and Donny thought delivering his Mama’s clothes to the pastor warranted tardiness to school. Truth be told, Donny thought the sunshine alone justified a holiday, but he figured the school attendance lady would be more convinced by the clothes. It was 7:5O in the a.m. School wouldn’t start for another ten minutes and it was more than two hours til the pastor would open the church doors to them that came for food. Donny decided he had time to take a walk along the Masada creek, maybe even time to head up Coon Hill on the opposite side of the valley from Pig Hill. Donny didn’t often get to explore The Coon, as townsfolk called it. Now was his chance.
Along the creek, Donny stopped a minute to drink some of the cold, clear water. Laying on his belly, hanging slightly over the side of the creek, which Donny pronounced crick, like everyone else in Masada, the boy cupped his hands and filled them with water which he brought to his lips to savor slowly. The dog waded right into the water, it being no deeper after a lengthy dry spell than his sagging belly. Theodore drank the water too. Donny knew his mama would object if she saw.
“You’ve no idea what’s in that creek,” she would say. “It might give you a case of the runs!”
But Daddy Granger always said the water in the creek was the best water in the whole world and a case of the soupy-poops was more likely to be got from the fancy water they bottled and sold to people up to Wheeling with more money than sense. Donny had been drinking the Masada Creek water every chance he got for most of his life. He hadn’t caught a case of the soupy-poops yet.
Donny headed into the woods that blanketed Coon Hill. There was a trail here, a real one paved over with concrete. It was put in by the telephone company and was wide enough for a pick-up truck to make it up the hill to the phone company building that sat at the top, alongside it a couple of giant satellite dishes and some tall cell towers. Hardly anybody in Masada could afford a phone but the folks in the phone company seemed to do a lot up there.
The trail had a rope across the entrance to it. That rope was taken down only when a telephone truck had to pass on its way up the hill. The rest of the time, the trail was for walkers. It was rarely used and Donny didn’t stay on it long. There was nothing he wanted to see on a cement driveway. Instead he veered into the woods and headed up the hill at an angle going mostly north.
That took the boy and his dog to a side of the hill that faced away from town. Deep in the trees which were mostly birch and buckeye and pine, Donny found an old hunter’s blind. He had been here before with Aaron and his Daddy. That was before Donny could shoot for himself. Even then, he tagged along when the other Granger men went hunting just to have the chance to explore. Donny remembered now that the day he had seen this blind before, it had just been Daddy Granger and his two sons hunting. The Granger uncles had not come along. They were hungover from attending what they called a dead man walkin’ party the night before. Donny didn’t know what that meant even when Aaron explained the party had been a stag hoedown for Hank Richards, a Masada man who was getting married the next weekend.
Donny sat down on the bench in the blind and listened. Theodore sat and listened too. Donny wasn't listening for anything in particular, just to see what he could hear. There were a few songbirds above the treetops, a train in the distance. He knew that had to be at least two miles away where the Parkersburg-Morgantown Rd. crossed a track that was used for freight trains on their way to Washington DC or the Great Lakes.
While he sat there, Donny decided to peak in the duffel bag and see what his mama had decided to give to the needy. He wasn’t surprised there were none of his or Aaron’s old clothes; the boys wore their things until they fell apart and had to be burned. There was an coat of Daddy’s, one he no longer wore because it had not fit him since before Donny's birth. There were a couple of old dresses that no longer fit the twins. Mostly, the bag was full of clothes that no longer fit Kathleen Granger since she lost weight from the cancer.
Donny was surprised to see his mama was giving away the flowered dress she used to wear when she went to town. When he held it up in front of him, Donny could see the dress really was miles too big for his mama now. He held the fabric to his nose and inhaled. There it was, the scent of his mama, lilacs and mountain wind and home-made bread. The boy slipped the dress on again figuring it would be the last chance he had to take comfort from the feel of his mama’s favorite dress around him.
But this time, when he put on the dress, he was surprised to find he felt more than comforted, he felt sort of...pretty. As soon as the thought entered his mind, Donny banished it. Boys don’t look pretty he told himself. They sure don’t feel pretty. Not ever. Donny looked at the dog, expecting a recriminating stare, but Theodore looked at Donny as he always did, adoringly. Evidently the dog had no problem with his master wearing a dress.
The boy took the dress off and looked to see what else his mother was giving away. He was surprised to find a white sweater Mama had knitted herself many years earlier. Donny guessed it didn’t fit anymore either. Besides, Kathleen Granger was always knitting and had made herself two new sweaters since coming home from the hospital two years earlier. Oddly, she hadn't knitted a thing for her children or husband and, shockingly, nothing at all for the church festival either year since the cancer. Kathleen Granger told the pastor's wife she didn't have any energy for knitting. Donny wondered if Mrs. Perkins ever noticed the things his mama made for herself and wondered, as he did, why she had energy to make those but none to give her labors to the church.
Donny admired the fancy stitching his mother had done on the white sweater. He knew that this was called cable work and that not everyone could do it as well as his mother. Without thinking, the boy slipped the sweater around his shoulders and fastened the button at the neck just as his Mama did when she wore it. Donny caught himself wondering if he looked as pretty in the sweater as his mother had and, as soon as he realized what he was wondering, answered the question himself; no way. No one is as pretty as Mama.
Theodore plopped onto his back and rolled over so that Donny could scratch his belly. Donny laughed out loud at the dog's unabashed lack of self-consciousness. “I wish I could be like you,” he said.
Donny decided he would keep the flowered dress and the white sweater, for “sentimental reasons,” of course. He could hide them in the tree stump where he kept his coffee can stowed and no one would ever know. If his mama ever asked Mrs. Perkins if she got the bag of clothes, the answer would be yes, because Donny planned to deliver the bag as he was asked to, just with a couple of items removed.
Donny slipped the dress and the sweater into his backpack, hiding them underneath his math book and his binder. Then, he and Theodore took both bags and headed back down the hill, sure the pastor and his wife would be home by then.
Margaret's Flute, 1993
Pig Hill, West Virginia
Donny and Theodore went hunting one Saturday morning early. They left the family's trailer just before sunrise, sneaking out quietly and avoiding the part of the woods where the uncles had relocated their trailers when they'd worn out their welcome with Daddy and Mama. Donny didn't want any of the Granger men to come with him into the woods that day, not even Aaron. Donny wanted some time alone for hunting, but also to visit the hollow log where his coffee can and his mama’s clothes were hidden in an old metal trunk he’d bought at the church rummage sale.
Donny had it in mind maybe he should relocate his stash. Now that the Granger uncles were living on the other side of Pig Hill, that placed Donny's stash between their place and his own home. Since he’d kept Kathleen Granger’s sweater and flowered dress, Donny had accumulated a few more items. Most were things his sisters and mother were going to give away but a couple came by way of Margaret. These were items that had belonged to her mother and sister. When she gave them to Donny, she had believed he was taking them to the pastor’s wife along with the items from his own household. Donny had taken most of what Margaret gave him to Mrs. Perkins but kept back a couple of things he thought were attractive. Nothing that Donny had collected was as pretty as the plum colored shimmery dress his mama had in her closet and never wore, but they were nice enough. Now, he worried that one of the Granger men might find his hiding place.
The problem was there was no place on Pig Hill Donny thought was safe anymore. Even drunk often as they were, the uncles might stumble on the boy's treasures hidden so near to where they slept. Donny figured he should move everything as soon as possible and it seemed like there was no better day for it than the present one. He even had an idea where he might relocate his stash. There was a small cave over on Coon Hill sort of near the hunter's blind. It wasn't big enough for a person to sleep in, but it could protect a smallish person from a light rain, if that person was willing to leave his belongings outside to get soaked. Donny figured it was just big enough to hold his things. Once his hunting was done that Saturday, he planned to move all of it.
It wasn't a great hunting day for Donny and Theodore. A couple of geese had gotten away and he’d sighted a deer but then sighted its fawn nearby and decided to leave them alone. He'd snared a couple rabbits and that would have to do. When he headed up the hill toward the hollowed log, the sun was full up and he guessed it was close to nine a.m.
Donny stopped in his tracks when he heard music coming from the direction of his log. He stood and listened, realizing that he was hearing a flute. Somewhere on the mountain, not too far ahead, someone was playing a very happy tune. It sounded like something out of a Disney movie. In fact, the more he heard, the more convinced he was someone was playing the song the birds and Snow White had sung in the movie which he’d seen in school a few years earlier on a day when the teachers decided they'd had enough of teaching and enough of winter. When that happened, they organized movie and game days. Sometimes, they even made popcorn or pizza.
Donny moved slowly now, trying not to make any noise that might disturb whoever it was playing so beautifully in the woods. All at once, the happy song ended and the music turned doleful. The new melody was haunting, nothing Donny recognized. He and Theodore kept climbing the mountain, toward his hollow log.
Stepping between two trees Donny was surprised to see Margaret Adelbaum sitting on the log. He was even more surprised to see it was Margaret playing the flute.
When Theodore saw Margaret, he dashed from behind Donny and fairly hurled himself at the girl. Theodore loved Margaret Adelbaum every bit as much as he loved Donny. Margaret loved the dog right back and lit up like a birthday cake when the animal demanded she come down on the ground for a a sloppy canine hug and kiss. Margaret was happy to oblige. She turned and saw her friend.
“I thought you might show up here!” she called out when she saw Donny between the trees.
“Sure, I know this is where you keep your loot so I figured you must come here sometimes. What better time than a Saturday when your Mama told me you were already in the woods?”
“How did you know?”
“About your hidey hole? I found it one time by accident. You’re not the only one who hides things in the woods, you know.”
“I’m not?” he asked, realizing how lucky he had been no one other than Margaret had found his hiding place. It really was time to move everything to The Coon.
“Nope, where do ya think I keep my sister’s flute?”
“I never even knew you had a flute.”
“It’s Ruth’s. Maybe I should say it was Ruth’s. She left it with me when she ran away. My father was so mad when she took off that he said he was gonna break the flute, so I came up here looking for a safe place to hide it. One of the places I tried was in this log, but when I found your stuff already in there...”
“How did you know it was my stuff?”
“Cuz there’s a newspaper picture of you carrying your rifle and a parcel of squirrels along with the birthday card I made you two years back.”
“Oh.” was all Donny could say.
“Anyway, I didn’t wanna to take your spot from you, so I wrapped the flute in its case in a big trash bag and tied it to a branch of that tree over there. Every so often I come up to check on the bag. I replace it when it needs replaced.”
Donny looked at the tree and back at Margaret. The trash bag she mentioned was bunched up on the ground before her.
“How'd you learn to play?” he asked.
“Well, I used to watch Ruth. Since then, I’ve been teaching myself. I think Father has forgotten all about the flute now.”
Donny was reeling, wondering how long exactly Margaret had known about his hiding place and if she knew what was in the trunk. He figured she didn't because he kept it locked. Still it worried him.
“You think anyone else knows where my stuff is hidden?” Donny worried what would happen if his daddy or the uncles found his stash.
“Nah,” Margaret told him. “I think you and I are the only ones who ever come up here.”
“My uncles might.”
“Them? The only time they ever come out is when they're out of liquor, which they never let happen before their money runs out at the end of each month, or when their checks arrive and they hitch a ride into Morgantown to cash 'em. The rest of the time, they're too drunk to walk.”
Donny certainly hoped that was true. The last thing he needed was his uncles knowing his secrets. When he really thought about it, he figured Margaret was right; if the uncles had found Donny's stash, two things would have happened. They would have teased him about the dresses (if he was lucky enough they didn't beat him senseless instead) and they would have stolen his money and anything they thought they could sell or trade for alcohol.
“You're probably right,” he told Margaret. “But I'm going to move my stuff off of Pig Hill today. My uncles are just too close for comfort.” As an afterthought, he added “You should move your flute too, Margaret. If my uncles found it, you'd never see it again.”
Margaret agreed and so she hiked with her friend and his dog down one hill and up the other. On Coon Hill, Donny told Margaret he was happy to share his new hiding place with her. “If you promise never to open my trunk,” he told her.
“What d'you have in there anyways?” Margaret asked.
“Nothing you need to see,” he responded with uncharacteristic curtness. “Do you promise or not?”
“Jeeze,” she said. “No need to get huffy.”
“Well, do you?”
“Yeah, sure I do,” she answered. “I don't figure I'm curious enough about anything to break a promise.”
“Good,” was Donny's reply, spoken as he laid Margaret's plastic wrapped flute in the cave behind his trunk.
The two gathered some fallen branches and piled them up in front of the tiny aperture at the front of the cave. They felt reasonably confident no one would realize anything was hidden there. Then, they headed for the Granger home, Margaret carrying Donny's kill, Donny himself shouldering his rifle. Theodore, obviously tired from the morning's hike, trudged along behind the pair, breathing heavily.
Margaret Cuts Her Hair, 1994
Masada, West Virginia
Jeremiah Adelbaum said he loved his wife and daughters almost as much as he loved Jesus. He said he knew that made him a sinner but he couldn’t help himself. He said that was okay too because Jesus forgives sinners. He said all that to Margaret right after he busted her lip. He had tried pulling her out of bed by the hair but Margaret was a strong girl built nothing like her father who was solid and broad. She’d pushed her father off her and run down the hall, locking herself in the bathroom. There, she stood in front of the mirror. She wasn’t crying. Margaret didn’t cry anymore. She’d learned already that tears just riled her father more. Her silence made him angry, but it was anger born of powerlessness. If she was quiet long enough, her father gave up and went away.
Margaret washed her face and put on the overalls and t-shirt she’d left hanging on the back of the bathroom door. Before fastening the overalls at the shoulders, Margaret began brushing out her long, dark hair. Her mother had called her daughters’ hair mahogany. The girls, Ruth and Margaret, kept their hair long because their mother had liked it that way. Even though she had left them, the Adelbaum sisters honored their mother in this way. But this was not the first time Jeremiah Adelbaum had tried to use Margaret’s long, long hair as a way to control her. A couple of times he had pulled it so hard strands had come out in the preacher’s hand.
Margaret opened a drawer beneath the sink and pulled out a pair of shears. Without hesitation, she took them to her hair. Several minutes later, the girl had removed 18 inches from her mane. When she was done, she looked awful but figured she would be safer. She was sure she could get one of Donny’s sisters or his mother to straighten it out so it looked nicer.
When she opened the bathroom door, her father was waiting in the hall. He took one look at his daughter and swung at her. Margaret’s mouth hurt but she stood her ground, staring her father, who was only a couple inches taller than her.
“Feel better now, Dad?” was all she said, twisting the word, dad, just so that it sounded like an insult.
Then she headed for the den to retrieve her backpack, loaded the night before with lures and hooks, a cantene full of water, and a couple of sandwiches. On the back porch she took her fishing rod.
“Off to the woods again, Margaret? Makes me feel like I have a son instead of a daughter, you know. At least your sister knew how to act like a girl.”
Margaret froze for a moment when she heard her father mentioning the sister he had told everyone in town no longer existed. Margaret found it amazing how he failed to notice his congregation shrinking since he started saying his daughter was dead to him. It seemed to Margaret the people of Masada weren’t all that interested in a pastor who preached about Jesus’ forgiveness but couldn’t forgive his own daughter for whatever mistakes she had made. Margaret stopped only momentarily, not wanting to let her father know he'd hit a nerve, before resuming her walk across the back yard toward the woods.
That’s when he said again, “I love you Margaret. I love all my girls. You, your mother, even Ruth, almost as much as I love Jesus. That makes me a sinner, loving anyone on earth as much as I do you. But I can’t help myself. No man can help loving his girls and that’s okay because Jesus forgives sinners.”
That made Margaret turn. She walked all the way back to her father. When she was within two feet of him, she looked him in the face. “Jesus forgives you. That’s his job. But I never will. You drove my sister away and Mother left because of you. You’re doing your best to drive me away too. I don’t forgive you. I never will.”
Jeremiah Adelbaum hung his head then and walked back into his house. His only remaining daughter walked into the woods. He didn't see her again for three days.
Margaret was supposed to meet Donny at Ettinger’s Pond. There, they planned to fish. That meeting wouldn't be until afternoon. When they made the plan, Margaret had expected to spend the morning riding into Morgantown with her father, doing the week’s grocery shopping at the Kroger store there. Now, she figured her father could do that by himself. Donny had said he would spend the morning working on an assignment for science class and that he planned to stop by the school to practice piano.
Margaret figured she had plenty of time to collect her flute from the cave on Coon Hill before heading to the pond which was across Main street and next to the school. She expected she would have time to gather some berries on the far side of The Coon too. They would make a nice brunch along with the peanut butter sandwiches she had in her pack.
When she approached the hidey-hole that held her flute, wrapped in a green hefty bag, Margaret realized she wasn't alone in the copse. She spotted Donny before he had a chance to see her. He was sitting on his steamer trunk in front of the small opening to the cave where he kept all his treasures. Margaret could see her friend's science book open on the trunk beside him. Donny was scribbling notes in a spiral notebook with a stub of a pencil. Every so often he used a pink eraser to wipe something back off the page before writing again.
Margaret didn’t stay back because she was afraid of interrupting her friend’s work. She stayed still where she was, peeking from behind a tree, because Donny was wearing a skirt and blouse that had once belonged to Ruth Adelbaum. These were items Margaret had believed Donny delivered to Mrs. Perkins at the Baptist Church. Donny was also wearing a white sweater and the heavy boots he favored for hunting. Leaning against the log was his Marlin rifle.
Normally if she had come upon Donny in the woods, Margaret would have called out to him, but given his attire, she thought it better not to intrude. Margaret didn't know what to make of what she saw but knew her friend didn’t deserve to be embarrassed as he might have been if Margaret called his name. She did wonder how Donny could risk being seen there by someone else. There weren’t many people who wandered this high on The Coon. It was a pretty big mountain. Chances of running into a stranger there were slim. But Donny’s own family, his father and brother and uncles, wandered all the hills around Masada from time to time. It was where they got much of their food.
Margaret decided she could do without her flute for the time being. She headed away from Donny and took the long way around the top of Coon Hill. On the other side, she found the berries she wanted to collect. As she finished filling a plastic grocery bag from the Kroger store in Morgantown, Margaret heard a single gunshot from somewhere far off. She figured it was Donny and wondered if he was hunting in her sister’s plaid skirt.
Sometime between one and two in the afternoon, Margaret looked across Ettinger’s Pond and saw Donny Granger coming out of the Masada Central School. Coming out of Mr. Pepp’s back door from the music room, he was wearing jeans and a corduroy jacket. He had his back pack and his fishing pole.
Margaret hadn't expected him to show up in a dress but was relieved nonetheless to see him in jeans. Somewhere between berry picking and her first catch, a tiger musky, Margaret had decided she would go ahead and ask Donny what he’d been doing in the woods. Then, between the gar and the second musky, she had decided to just leave it alone. Whatever Donny was doing, she was sure he wouldn’t like anybody knowing.
As he walked toward her, Donny pulled something out of his bag. It was Margaret’s flute case. “Thought you might want this,” he told her. “We’re close enough to school we could stop by later and practice some. I thought you might stop there before coming to the pond, but since you didn’t, we can go back later.”
“When did you have time to get my flute?” Margaret asked, needling to see if Donny would tell her the truth. “I thought you had homework to do this morning.”
“I did it in the woods,” Donny told her. “And some hunting too. I brought down a wild hog,” he told her. “I sure hope you can have Sunday dinner with the Grangers cuz there are gonna be some good eats! Mama even said she’d make berry pie if we manage to collect some before she goes to bed tonight.”
Margaret pointed to the bag she had crammed full with sweet, red berries. That’s when Donny noticed Margaret’s hair, which she had actually forgotten after seeing Donny in the woods.
“What have you done?” Donny asked.
“Done?” Margaret was confused because she was wondering what Donny had done that day.
“Your hair,” he said.
“Oh, that. I cut it off.”
“I can see that, but why?”
Somehow being asked to explain anything right then angered Margaret. She hadn't been keeping any secrets, had she? It was Donny, her supposed best friend, who had secrets, it seemed.
“Because my father uses it to drag me around the house. He also punched me in the face this morning if you must know. Why don’t you tell me why you were wearing my sister’s clothes a few hours ago?”
She had not meant to ask that way. In fact, she hadn’t meant to ask at all. But there it was, and it couldn’t be taken back.
Donny stared at Margaret for a moment, then slid to the ground beside her. “You were in the woods this morning?”
Margaret nodded. “I came to get my flute.”
“I thought you were going to Morgantown.”
“When father hit me again, I decided not to go. Somehow, I find I can do without the pleasure of his company.”
Silence for a moment more. “I’m sorry, Margaret.”
“For what? Because my father hits me? So what? Your father hits you too. I’ll survive.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry your dad hit you. I meant I’m sorry for what you saw.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I’m some kind of freak.”
“So what?” Margaret asked him. “Everyone’s a freak one way or another.”
“You don’t care about the clothes?”
Margaret was surprised to search her mind and find she didn’t, not one bit. “Nope, the clothes are okay though I gotta say the hunting boots are not the best match for the skirt and I’d love to know why you were wearing them, but nope, I don’t think I have a problem with it.”
Donny searched his friend’s face and saw she was being truthful with him and with herself. “Are you mad I didn’t give all the clothes from your Mom and sis to Mrs. Perkins?”
That answer was easy. “Nope.” Then, she asked, “Do you do that a lot, Donny?”
“No. Only when I can be pretty sure no one else will be up The Coon. My father and Aaron have gone with Mr. Keeley and Pastor Perkins to help fix the barn out at the Prides’ Place. My uncles are never awake before noon and they are hardly ever up the hill anymore anyhow. I thought you were with your father. I thought the coast was clear. I’m sorry you saw me that way, Margaret.”
“I’m just glad it was me and not your daddy who changed his plans. You better be more careful if this is something you plan to do again.”
There was a question in there. Donny chose to ignore it, so Margaret asked. “Why do you do it, Donny?”
“Why do I like to put on dresses?” he asked and Margaret nodded. “I don’t honestly know why,” he told his friend. “I just like how they feel. I see you caught some big ones already,” he said, changing the subject.
The two sat on the grass by Ettinger’s pond for a long while. They caught a half dozen more fish between them and ate some of the berries, careful to save plenty for Donny’s Mama to make berry pie. Margaret split the second peanut butter sandwich with Donny, apologizing that she had eaten the first for her breakfast.
“No problem,” he told her, pulling a jar of his Mama’s home canned pickles from his pack.
“You know your hair looks awful?” Donny asked his friend.
“Says the boy who wears hunting boots with a plaid skirt,” she chided.
“I bet my Mama can make it look pretty,” he told her.
“I’m counting on it,” she said.
A Mystery Solved, 1994
Masada, West Virginia
Watching his mother cut Margaret's hair got Donny to thinking he'd like to draw his friend. She really had become a pretty girl. She'd be beautiful one day. Donny was sure Mags didn't see it in herself, but his Mama had commented more than once on the way Margaret was “blossoming.” Most people didn't notice, mostly because the girl did her darndest to make sure no one did. She wore men's clothing much of the time and never bothered with her hair or makeup. It was like Mags wanted to slide through life pretty much unnoticed. Of course, that wasn't possible. Margaret Adelbaum had presence. That's what Mr. Pepp called it. She was the kind of person who drew attention to herself without trying.
Donny hadn't drawn anything other than doodles in the margins of his schoolwork in a couple of years. The days of making temporary etchings on a tray of dirt were gone. He hadn't even thought about his art in a long while. Until now. Looking at Margaret now, he wanted to draw her, smiling, chatting with his Mama and May and June while they all consulted on how to make Margaret's new short cut look “cute” and not so much like she'd had an accident with a set of kitchen shears.
“Be right back,” he said to the women in the room. Then, he went out the front door and headed for his Daddy's tool shed. At one time, there'd been drawing paper and pencils in a drawer there. He'd assumed they were intended for him, but they had never been given. So far as he knew, they'd never been given to anyone.
He opened the drawer of the old scratched up file cabinet and found it full. There were little gift boxes with ribbons on them, ribbons that had been flattened out from being stuffed in the drawer. These were marked for May and June. There were several books tied together in a stack. They had a tag on them that said they were for Kate. Looking at the titles of the books, Donny saw they were all about Florida. There was Fodor's Florida and Off The Beaten Path: Florida. There was even one called Haunted Florida. The paper and pencils Donny had discovered long ago were still there, but now there were more of them. Now,there were markers and a small watercolor paint kit too. These were decorated with Christmas tags that his name written on them.
The drawer also contained several greeting cards in envelopes. These had names written on them too: May, June, Kate, Aaron, Donny. None for his father. That explained it-- these were gifts his father had purchased for his family. The boy wondered why his Daddy had never given them. Maybe he forgot about them? That seemed unlikely. His father obviously added to the collection from time to time. Maybe he bought them to save for some big occasion in the future? That didn't make a lot of sense to Donny, but neither did any other explanation he could imagine. He supposed it didn't really matter. The point was he had better not take out the paper and pencils. Daddy would surely not like that at all.
So Donny closed the drawer and was about to head back to the trailer where Margaret's hair was probably all fixed up by now. Then, it hit him – Florida? Why would his father buy books about Florida for his Mama? There was no way Daddy Granger would buy anything for his family that reminded them of Aunt Deb who had moved away to Florida many years ago. Daddy hated Aunt Deb. He called her uppity and uppity was about the worst thing a woman could be, in Daddy Granger's opinion.
Then Donny remembered that last time Aunt Deb had come to visit them on Pig Hill. Donny hadn't even started school yet. Aunt Deb Maynard had talked to him about his art. She'd given him paper and pencils, even some paint, and she'd promised to send more once she got to Florida.
He ran back to his father's shed, threw open the drawer of treasures, and found one of the cards with his own name written on it. Now that he looked carefully, he realized the handwriting was not his father's. Carefully, Donny opened the envelope and slid out the card. On the cover was a child pirate on the deck of his wooden pirate ship. The caption said, Ahoy Matey, You're 7. The child pirate held in his hand a mast flag with the number seven emblazoned over the head of a jolly Roger. Donny opened the card. Inside, it read, On all the seven seas and all the oceans too, no 7 year old is wished more pirate fun than you! Have a great 7th Birthday! The card was signed by his Aunt Deb.
Donny was stunned. He'd assumed his aunt had abandoned him along with the rest of the Grangers. But here was the proof she had not. Then he realized that his father had known all along and kept the truth from his family, especially from Mama, who missed her sister like crazy. Donny had always known Daddy hated Aunt Deb and that he could be mean and unreasonable, but this seemed worse to Donny than anything else the man had ever done.
Donny slipped the card and its envelope into his pocket and headed for the trailer. He planned to show the card to his Mama and tell her what he had found in the drawer in Daddy's shed. He wanted her to know Aunt Deb had not forgotten her, had even sent her books to learn about Florida.
But when he opened the trailer door, he found his Mama sitting at the kitchen table, looking so tired, like cutting Margaret's hair had stolen her very last bit of energy. She smiled when she saw her younger son come in the door.
“Welcome back,” she told him. “Glad I got to see you before I head off to sleep. Mags and the twins are in the girls' room.” Then, she rose and kissed Donny on the cheek before disappearing for a long night's rest.
By the next day, it had occurred to Donny that telling his mother about Aunt Deb's hidden gifts might just make her sad. Worse yet, it might make her angry enough to confront Daddy about keeping them hidden all these years. That would make him mad and that might get Mama hurt. Donny didn't want his Mama to be hurt on account of something he told her, so he kept the information to himself. He figured some day the time would be right.
He was wrong about that. Time ran out for telling his Mama long before the time was ever right.
Planning Deception, 1994
Masada, West Virginia
Donny and Margaret, followed at some distance by Theodore, met Mr. Jeffers as he was coming out the side door of the Masada Central School. He was carrying a grocery bag. When the man spotted the old bulldog, he reached into the paper sack and pulled out a package of soup bones he'd gotten at the Keeley Market.
“Hope you don’t mind, Donny. I took the liberty of buying a treat for your dog. Theodore stops by to see me from time to time so I keep some of these bones in my freezer. Seems the hospitable thing to do for a regular guest. Mind if I give him one now?”
“Sure, Mr. Jeffers. I'm sure Theodore appreciates it.”
“You two heading in to play your music some?”
“Good, I'm glad to hear it. You two sure sound great playing that fancy classical music Mr. Pepp's been teaching you. You go on in and have fun. The dog can go too, unless he wants to come with me.”
“I'm betting he'd follow you anywhere since you're the one with beef bones to offer,” said Margaret.
“I'll send him home after while,” the man said. “And I'll come back here in a couple of hours to make sure the place is locked up.”
The janitor scooped up Theodore's bone and led the dog across the street to his house. Being a bulldog, Theodore didn't have much to wag in the tail department, but he made the most of what he had and looked about as happy as a bulldog can look, as he followed the old man.
In the music room, Donny asked Margaret what she wanted to play. It was getting close to Christmas, so she suggested they might try learning a carol or two. She walked to a shelf where Mr. Pepp kept piles of sheet music.
“I thought you hate Christmas,” Donny said.
“I hate spending Christmas with my father,” she responded. “The music, I like.”
Right on top of the shelf, there sat a pile of Christmas music, most of it arranged for piano solo. “How about one of these,” Margaret suggested, holding up the stack of pages. “You could read the sheet music and I can improvise a flute part or just play the melody, if that sounds better.”
Donny nodded. “Okay,” he said. “Mr. Pepp put those out for me to look at anyway. He asked me to play a solo for the Christmas concert.”
"Not surprised," Margaret said, “He asks every year. You gonna say yes this time? I think you should.”
“Nah,” Donny told her. “Daddy has not changed his mind about that. I'm lucky he lets me accompany the choir. He only does that to make Mama happy. Just last week, he ran into Mr. Keeley and he told Daddy he sees me going in and out of the school all the time. He said he can hear me playing when he comes out the back door of the market, especially on days when the school windows are open. Daddy was really mad I'd let anyone hear me playin'. He said I was not ever to let it happen again.”
“Jeeze, Donny, how are you s'posed to do that?”
“Daddy told me to stop coming here when there's no choir practice going on. He said no son of his is gonna get a reputation for being an ivory ticklin' fairy.”
“Jeeze, your father spends as much time worrying about fairies and queers as mine does about sinners and damnation. I know what my father's problem is – he knows he's the biggest sinner of them all; that's why he likes preachin' so much about it. But what's up with your Daddy?”
Donny shrugged as the two sifted through the stack of Christmas music. After rejecting anything Margaret had ever been forced to sing with her father in church and anything that had ever been played in a Christmas TV special, they picked out a song to play together. It was called the Pachelbel Canon and it had no words. What it did have was a flute part on a separate sheet of paper Donny found tucked in the back of the music. It was long but not hard. The two were able to play it through slowly on the very first reading.
When they got to the end, they were both quiet a moment. Then, Donny said, “Wow. That's really pretty.”
“Wow is right,” Margaret said.
They played it a second time, more confidently than the first. An hour or more passed as they played the piece over and over, stopping to correct their mistakes, restarting several times so that they could learn to breathe together. Instinctively, Margaret and Donny knew that musicians had to breathe together in order to make the most beautiful music. They learned to shape phrases and build to the canon's final dynamic climax in unison, thinking, breathing and feeling the music as one. They were about to start again when Mr. Pepp spoke up.
The pair had been so wrapped up in their music that they had not noticed the teacher enter the room. Christopher Pepp had sat quietly, determined not to make a sound, afraid he might break the spell these two had cast. When finally he did speak, his eyes were moist and his voice cracked.
“That was wonderful,” he said. “Will you play it for the concert?”
He saw the students look to one another and added, “Margaret, I didn't even realize you play. You are very talented.”
The girl blushed and Donny started to re-utter his usual reason for refusing to play solos. The teacher cut him off. “Don't say no, Donny. Music is meant to be played and heard. It would be, in my opinion, morally wrong to deprive people of the opportunity to hear what I just heard.”
Donny started to speak, but the teacher cut him off again. “At least think about it, Donny.” Then he turned his attention to Margaret. “Talk to your friend, please. Convince him to give this a try. I can talk to his father and smooth things out ahead of time. I'll take the blame if he gets angry.”
“But it isn't just Donny's father we have to worry about,” Margaret told the man. “ My father won’t be happy to see me playing either.”
The teacher couldn't believe what he was hearing. “Your father hates music too?”
“No, it's not that he hates music. Well, not all music. It's complicated, Mr. Pepp.”
“Then, I can talk to him too,” the teacher offered.
“No!,” Margaret almost yelled. “No,” she repeated in a quieter tone. “Please don't. Donny and I will think it over. We promise. But please let us handle our own fathers. It wouldn't help if you talked to them. In fact, it would make a lot of trouble for us both.
Christopher Pepp didn't understand but he trusted that Donny and Margaret knew their fathers well enough to know what they were talking about. He agreed not to speak with the men but said he hoped Donny and Margaret would seriously consider playing the Pachelbel Canon at the school concert.
They agreed to discuss it and, on the way up Pig Hill, lugging the bucket full of fish they'd caught as well as Margaret's flute case, they kept their promise.
It was Margaret who spoke first. “I sort of want to do it,” she told her friend.
“I do too,” said Donny, stopping to rest while they talked. “But my father would be furious. He agreed to let me accompany the choir but told me a long time ago I am never to play a solo and that, once I start high school, he expects me stop playing altogether.”
“He said the same thing about Middle School and he changed his mind. Remember?”
“Yeah I remember that he did that to make Mama happy but bloodied her lip in the process. I won’t even ask to play in High School cuz I don't want that to happen again.”
Margaret sighed. “But this wouldn't be a solo, we'd be playing a duet.”
“I don't think my father would see the difference. He said I could accompany and that's all.”
The pair continued their trek up the hill and were greeted by Theodore as the Granger compound came into view. Margaret stopped and said. “Wait, I have an idea!”
Donny wasn't sure he wanted to hear any idea that might end up making his father mad, but he understood how badly Margaret wanted to play that canon for the concert. He wanted to as well. Donny had never loved making music so much as he had that afternoon with Margaret and he agreed with the music teacher that beautiful music should be shared. Already at thirteen, Donny knew that music changes people; it had certainly changed him and he had seen how it affected Margaret. The tough girl went all soft and gooey whenever she played her sister's flute. Donny never knew if it was the connection to her sister that so transformed Margaret or if it was the music itself, but there was no denying that the transformation was real.
“What is your idea?” he asked.
Snow started to fall on Pig Hill as Margaret told Donny her idea. It was risky and they knew it might lead to both of them being beaten by their fathers.
“But they are as likely to beat us for something else as for this,” Margaret pointed out. “We might as well take the whoopin' for something that matters,” she said.
And so the next Monday morning before school started, Donny Granger visited his music teacher to tell him that Donny and Margaret would play Pachelbel's Canon together for the big concert. He also told the teacher exactly how they wanted to be listed in the program. The teacher happily agreed to put it exactly as they requested.
Some of the dialogue in these chapters differs slightly from that in the audio and paperback editions of Escape From Pig Hill. This is in keeping with the G rating for this website.
The Concert And What Happened After, 1994
Masada, West Virginia
Christopher Pepp was proud as a teacher could be. His star performers, Donny Granger and Margaret Adelbaum, had played very, very well before an audience that included, at least at the start, both of their fathers. The teacher didn't believe he could take any credit for Margaret’s performance. The girl had taught herself to play the flute and taught herself Pachelbel’s canon, the piece she and Donny performed for the whole town at Masada Central School’s Winter Concert. Not only had the duo worked hard to play their music as well as it could be played, but they had shown courage stepping out on stage to play in front of their fathers, who were not pleased at all. The teacher had encountered men like these before, garrulous bigots filled with hate for anyone who did not live up to their own bizarre expectations. Christopher Pepp recognized men like these, having dealt with them all his life, but he would never understand them. How could these two fathers be anything but pleased with their children that night?
As soon as the concert was over, Donny’s father had walked out the door without a word to anyone. Jeremiah Adelbaum had not even waited that long to leave. As soon as Margaret and Donny took their seats on the stage and began to play, he stormed up the center aisle of the school auditorium and out, slamming the door behind him. The two young musicians calmly halted the music. In the 30 seconds or so that followed the door slamming, not a sound was heard in the room. Mr. Pepp wondered if anyone was even breathing. He saw Donny and Margaret exchange a look. The girl actually smiled a little before nodding to her partner. Once the sound of the banging door stopped reverberating through the hall, the music started again. It was even more solid than it had been on the first attempt.
It was obvious to everyone present that Donald Granger Jr. and Margaret Louise Adelbaum were going to be just fine. Better than fine. These two were going to shine. It’s not often a teacher has this privilege with even one student, but with these two, he knew he was watching the birth of something powerful and strong. Anyone could tell these two were bound for greatness. Maybe not as musicians - oh they were talented enough for that - but it was their attitude, a sort of I am what I am air, that everyone noticed that night. It was clear that one day Donny and Margaret would show everyone who had ever tried to control them with bullying actions or words, that they were just fine exactly as they were. Anyone who didn't like that could just get out of the way and let them pass. Christopher Pepp was pretty well convinced both their fathers would try hard to block any road these two took toward independence. He was also convinced the children were stronger willed than the fathers. He hoped a little of their spirit was rubbing off on him. He could use a little of that kiss-my -ass mindset himself. He was proud of them indeed.
After the concert, Donny’s mother pulled Margaret aside. She and Rachel Perkins, the Baptist pastor’s wife, led the girl behind the Masada Central School where no one could hear them talking. Kathleen Granger was sporting a bruise on her left cheek. Other than that, she was radiant, obviously very proud of Donny, May and June, her three children who had performed that night.
“I’m proud of you too,” she told Margaret. “Not just because you played well, but because you were brave. You and Donny both.”
“You really were wonderful tonight, Margaret,” said Mrs. Perkins. “But that’s not why Kate and I wanted to speak with you. We wondered if maybe you would like to stay at my house tonight.”
“I would invite you to ours,” Donny’s mother put in, “but Donny’s father is almost as angry as your own. I don’t think our house will be a pleasant place this evening.”
Margaret thought it over before she answered. “My father is really mad.”
“He certainly is,” Mrs. Perkins agreed.
“But I think I should face him at home tonight. I can’t stay away forever and he will only be angrier tomorrow.”
“That could be true,” the pastor’s wife acknowledged. “Would you like my husband to have a talk with your father? He could take you home and make sure you’ll be safe.”
Margaret was surprised by that, surprised it would occur to anyone but Donny she might not be safe.
“Honey,” Kathleen Granger said, “You don’t need to pretend with us. We can see that your daddy is not always gentle with you and tonight he was very angry.”
“Angry enough to make a public spectacle of himself,” the other woman put in. “When you get home he’ll be madder about that than about you performing in the concert.”
“He wasn't angry I performed. It was because I was playing Ruth’s flute.”
“Ruth? Your sister?” Donny’s mother asked.
In an uncharacteristic hurry, Margaret poured out the whole tale. “Yes. I've been hiding it from my father for a long time because he was going to destroy Ruth's flute after she left it behind. I took it and hid it and taught myself to play. And then, Mr. Pepp asked Donny to play a solo and Donny said he couldn’t because it would make his Daddy angry, and Mr. Pepp said how it was wrong for anyone to hide their talent and not share it with the world, and then Mr. Pepp asked us to play that duet, and I could tell Donny wanted to play as much as I did. Well, I suggested we play together, the duet. Only we didn't call it a duet. We said Donny was accompanying me. We figured that would be okay with Donny's father because it would be the same as when he plays piano for the choir.”
“Well, Donny’s father wasn’t happy either. He doesn’t like it when someone tries to outsmart him. Right now, he feels like you and Donny tricked him.”
“I'm sorry, about that, Mrs. Granger. I really was just trying to help when I came up with the plan.”
“Oh, I know that,” Kathleen Granger told the girl. “It was really very brave of you both to take such a risk. I'm actually pretty proud of you for choosing to do what you are good at, what makes you happy, especially knowing how angry your fathers might get.”
“And now both of us are in big trouble. I don't think there is any chance my father won't punish me.”
“So won’t you consider staying at my home tonight, Margaret?” the Baptist pastor's wife asked again.
“I thank you, Mrs. Perkins, but really I think it’s better I face my father tonight. The sooner the better. I would appreciate it if you would take my sister’s flute and keep it safe. I doubt I’ll be playing it again soon, but I’d like to know Father can't destroy it.”
“Of course,” the woman responded, holding out her hand to accept Ruth Adelbaum’s flute and case. “Will you let my husband, Pastor Perkins, take you home?”
“Thanks for the offer and thank your husband too, but I really think this is something I need to do on my own.”
With that, Margaret headed back inside to say goodnight to Donny and Mr. Pepp. Before shutting the door behind her, she turned back to face the women.
“I really appreciate your kindness,” she said. “It means a lot to me.”
Then, she said goodnight and disappeared into the school building, hoping the women had not caught the quiver in her voice or the scent of fear she figured she must be exuding.
After the door closed behind Margaret, Rachel Perkins turned to her friend and asked, “What about you, Kate? Are you going to be safe tonight?”
It was the first time either woman had acknowledged out loud that Kathleen Granger might not always be safe in her own home. Of course, it had never really been a secret. Kate didn't bother hiding the bruises anymore. She figured a man who hit his wife deserved to face people who knew. Still, Kate Granger was surprised by the question.
“If Margaret can face her father, I can certainly stand beside my son when he faces his. I will be as safe as I always am.”
“You know, Kate, Ben and I had hoped he would be kinder to you after...” Here the woman paused not knowing if her friend would be upset by mention of the word, cancer. “...after you were sick.”
“He was. For a while.”
“Maybe you should consider making some changes, Kate. Maybe he can't ever stop.”
“Maybe he can't,” Kate Granger agreed. “But he is the father of my children and, really, he is a good man. He means well. I'll be okay.”
The pastor's wife wasn't so sure. In her years working side by side with her husband in ministry, she had heard more than one woman say those words only to be beaten down again. In her mind, good men did not beat their wives. But you can't always talk sense into someone who loves the person who hurts them. All you can do is wait for them to ask for your help and hope they live long enough to do the asking.
Donny walked Margaret to her front door. “Want me to hang around a while?” he asked.
“Nah,” the girl answered. “There’s no point. If he’s gonna hit me, he’s gonna hit me. I learned a long time ago it’s better to just get it over with.”
Having learned the same lesson at his own father's hands, Donny nodded.
Margaret continued. “The good news is that after he hits me tonight, he'll leave me alone for a while. I never know what to hope for cuz the harder he hits and the more he hurts me, the longer it will be before he does it again.”
Donny nodded a second time. “I know what you mean. It’s not like a cooling off period actually cools them off. Better to let 'em blow their tops and be done with it.”
Margaret nodded, then walked up the driveway and into her home. Her father was waiting and Donny heard him shouting as he walked away.
At his own house, Donny found his father waiting for him by the fire pit. He was smoking a pipe which was something he rarely did because he rarely had the money to spend on tobacco. The generator was running and lights were on in the big trailer. Donny could see shadows of his brother and sisters through the curtain.
“Your mama’s not home yet,” his father told him. “Aaron told me she stayed to clean up. Seems to me she’s got plenty enough to clean up here.”
Donny couldn’t argue that point and figured this wasn’t a good time for arguing anyway.
“Did you enjoy playin’ that highbrow fairy music, boy?”
Donny figured there was no point in denial, so he nodded.
“Good. That’ll be the last time. Yer done with music, son.”
Then Donald Sr. stepped very close to his son and looked him in the eyes. “It’s fer yer own good, boy. I don’t want you hangin' around that faggot teacher no more neither. I ain’t lettin’ no son o’ mine turn inta some kinda queer. Y'u’ll thank me someday.”
The Next Day, 1994
Masada, West Virginia
The cloudy morning after the winter concert, Kathleen Granger slept in, meaning she didn’t get out of bed 'til almost 7:30. Her husband and eldest son had left already for a day of fishing. They were riding in the back of Du Keeley’s truck to Dunkard Creek, clear up by the Pennsylvania line. There, they hoped to catch enough bluegill to feed the membership of Masada Baptist Church at the Christmas Eve fish-fry.
May and June were in the kitchen. They’d already fixed breakfast and were setting out the supplies Mama would need for the Christmas baking. There would be cake and pies, mincemeat as well as pumpkin, along with cookies of a half dozen kinds. If she was feeling extra energetic and if there was sugar to spare, Mama would make Christmas fudge too.
Donny gobbled his breakfast before heading out the door and down Pig Hill, Theodore following only so far as the trail head. When he saw that his boy was going for a longer walk, the dog grunted and headed back up the hill to the warmth and comfort of home. Donny figured the dog was already figuring ways to con cookies out of the twins.
Donny took that trail that led toward the house where Margaret lived with her father. It was early and he knew Margaret's father did not like having his doorbell rung before 10 AM, so he detoured to the little cave on The Coon, where he kept his treasures. He wanted to take out a little cash he planned to use for buying a Christmas gift for his mama. He had seen some new items of costume jewelry at Keeley's. He'd like to get his mama a bracelet with pretty pink stones.
When he got to the copse, Donny was surprised to find Margaret already there. When she looked up he could see she'd been crying. There were no bruises he could see, so that was good, but he wondered what might be under her clothes. Margaret’s father was a lot sneakier (or maybe smarter) than his own. Reverend Jeremiah Adelbaum tried not to put marks where people might see them. Daddy Granger didn't care who saw what he did to keep his family in line.
Then Donny noticed the pile of cut up clothes on the ground at Margaret’s feet. At first he thought she had gotten into his trunk and was about to ask Margaret what the hell she thought she was doing. Just before speaking, he realized the destroyed clothes were Margaret’s own dresses and skirts, not Donny's. The boy knelt down in front of his friend. A light rain had fallen in the night and his knees were wet. Margaret wouldn’t look him in the eye.
“I know you don’t like to wear skirts Mags, but really, did you have to cut ‘em up? I might have liked having them, ya know?”
Donny was trying to tease her into talking. Margaret was anything but amused. She scooped up the ripped and slashed clothes and threw them in her friend’s face.
“You can have ‘em,” she shrieked and then stomped toward the top of the hill.
Donny dropped the tattered garments and ran after her.
“Stop following me,” the girl screamed over her shoulder. “Why doesn't anybody understand I don’t wanna be followed?”
Donny did stop. For a minute. Then he continued after his friend. At the top of Coon Hill, she turned and glared at him. He kept coming.
“Stay away from me, Donald Granger! I mean it! Stay the f--- away!”
Margaret Adelbaum had a mouth on her, that was for sure. And she had a heck of a temper. But Donny had never heard her talk like that before. She hadn’t been this angry with him in years, not since she thought he had said she smelled bad back in fifth grade.
Donny stepped closer and Margaret wailed, “Please, Donny, please don’t come any closer.” And then she fell to her knees at the crest of The Coon and cried.
Donny Granger knelt down in front of his friend and wrapped his arms around her. Never one for hugging, Margaret Adelbaum now folded herself into Donny Granger’s arms. She collapsed and sobbed against his chest. The two sat together on top of the Hill. They might as well have been on top of the world. They could see mountain tops in every direction. The sun came out and shone down on them. After a long while, Margaret’s tears ceased.
Finally she spoke, “If I hadn't worn a skirt for the concert, it wouldn’t have been so easy for him.”
“What wouldn’t?” Donny asked.
“What he did to Ruth. Now he’s done it to me, too.”
“Your father? What did he do to Ruth, Mags? Help me to understand.”
“He put a baby in her.”
It took a moment for the boy to absorb what his friend had told him, then a moment more for the anger to come. When it arrived, Donny's fury came in the form of cold rage. Donny Granger had never been so angry in his life, even when his father had beaten him for not wanting to play baseball in the Masada Little league, even when he’d beaten Donny’s mama for being lonesome for her sister, Donny's Aunt Deb. Daddy Granger might be a foul tempered bully, but he was a saint compared to Jeremiah Adelbaum.
Donny hugged his friend a long while, rocking her back and forth gently, cooing into her ear. “It's okay, Mags. I've got you.”
After a long while, Margaret's tears ceased. She told her friend she didn't want to talk about it anymore and he said that was okay, she didn't have to talk about anything she didn't want to. He said she should spend the day with his mother and sisters.
“They’re baking today,” he said. “You can help them. It’ll make you feel better.”
“And what will you be doing?” Margaret wanted to know.
“I’ll be in town for a little while. I have some Christmas shopping to do.”
“Is that all you'll be doing?”
Margaret knew her friend well enough to understand that his silence was not necessarily a sign of inward peace. Margaret knew Donny was inwardly ranting. He did not tell Margaret he would also be visiting her father, but she knew.
“Tonight, if you want to go home, I’ll walk you. You’ll be safe there for a while, I think.”
On the way to the Granger place, Donny said, “One more thing, Margaret. I doubt you’ll be having a baby, no matter what he did to you. Not unless you have started the monthly bleeding. You haven’t, have you?”
Margaret was shocked to hear Donny talk of such a thing. Of course, he lived with three women, so he knew how female bodies worked. Still, hearing him ask so boldly was a surprise. She confirmed she had not started having her periods.
“Good,” he told her. “Then that's one thing you don’t need to fear. I think you’ll have a good day with Mama and the twins. Well as good as it can be, under the circumstances.”
Margaret knew Donny was up to something but she agreed to his plan. She would spend what remained of the day with the Granger women. That night, she would face her father. She would sleep with her bedroom door locked from now on and a butcher knife under her pillow.
Donny Shops and Goes Calling, 1994
Masada, West Virginia
Donny came down the trail that led from The Coon to the back of Mr. Pepp’s house. He wore his rifle slung over one shoulder and his pack on his back. The latter held the bullets he would need for hunting and money for Christmas gifts. Donny knocked on the teacher’s back door. There was no answer. All the boy wanted to ask was if it was okay to stow his rifle on the Mr. Pepp’s back porch while he walked over to Keeley's. Not that anyone thought anything of seeing Donny in town with his Marlin, but Donny himself didn’t like carrying the gun where there were likely to be people around, even when it wasn't loaded.
He checked Mr. Pepp’s garage and saw through the windows of the wide door that the teacher’s car was gone. Usually, if Mr. Pepp was just gone to run an errand or two, he left the garage door opened. The fact it was closed indicated the teacher would be away for some time. The boy figured it would be alright to stow his rifle in the usual spot behind the swing on the back porch. That done, Donny headed to Keeley’s Market intending to buy gifts for his family.
Donny knew Mr. Keeley had gone fishing with Daddy and Aaron Granger up in Monongalia County, so he was not surprised to find Mrs. Keeley, Grace, behind the counter of the market when he walked in to make his purchases. He stepped up to a glass case where the new costume jewelry was displayed.
“What can I do ya for?” the woman with hair a very improbable shade of blonde asked.
“I need to buy a cell phone,” he told the woman, who couldn't have been more surprised if Donny Granger had told her he wanted to purchase feed for a dinosaur.
“A cell phone! Whatever will you do with it?” That was a reasonable question because she knew the Grangers had never had a telephone of any kind and surely didn't have money to pay for service.
“It's not for me,” the boy told her. “I read that a person can call police on a cellphone even if they don't have regular service. Is that true?”
“Why, yes, it is,” Grace Keeley responded, surprised that Donny would have looked into it on his own.
“I have a friend I worry about sometimes. I think she might need to call police one day.”
That made sense to Mrs. Keeley. She assumed the friend was Margaret Adelbaum. Donny was probably right that the girl would be safer if she had her own phone. She reached under the counter and took out the only phone the market carried, a Nokia 1000.
“Anything else I can show you, Donald, Jr.?”
“I’d like to have a look at the brooches you got in the other day.”
“Christmas gifts, Donny?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I was just going to get a bracelet for Mama, but I came into a little extra cash the other day...”
“You mean what Mr. Keeley paid you for the venison you brought in? Or have you made another big kill?”
“Nope, Ma'am, I haven't. Mr. Keeley paid me well, so I think I’ll buy more than just the bracelet I'd planned on getting for Mama. Can I look at the brooches first?”
The shopkeeper placed a velvet lined box on the counter before Donny. In it were a number of pins, some gold, some silver. The gold ones were not real but it turned out the silver ones were. Donny decided he would stick to the silver. Better genuine silver than fake gold, he figured. He picked up one that was in the shape of a rose. It was pretty but not quite what he wanted. He saw two were suns with big smiling faces and a winking left eye. These he thought were perfect for May and June. There was a flute brooch too. Donny had not planned on shopping here for Margaret but the flute pin seemed too perfect to pass up. Besides, even Margaret must like to have pretty things once in a while.
“For your friend, Margaret Adelbaum?” Mrs. Keeley asked.
“Yes,” Donny told her. “Do you think she'll like it?”
“I am sure she will. The two of you played very nicely last night, Donny. No matter what anyone else thinks, you and Margaret have a gift and y’all ought to use it.”
“Thank you, Ma’am. That’s nice to hear. Do you think I could see what you have in the way of bracelets?”
Mrs. Keeley reached into the display case and withdrew a box that held beaded bracelets. Donny thought they were nice, in a way. They'd be right for a flashy woman who lived in a big city, but they were too heavy for his Mama. He was still looking through the box, not seeing one bracelet that was perfect for his mama when the woman placed another box on the counter in front of him.
“These are a little more expensive, Donny. But I think you might find something here that better suits your Mama. Kathleen is too delicate a woman for those big brooches. I can make a bargain with you on the price.”
Donny looked at the box she placed in front of him. In it were two slender bracelets. Each featured clear colored stones alternating with tiny flower shaped bobbits. On one, the stones were a pale pink. On the other, they were blue. They were perfect. Donny looked at the price tags and told Mrs. Keeley he would take them both.
“And no deal making necessary,” he added. The price is very reasonable.”
“Well, alright then, Mr. Granger,” Grace Keeley said, smiling broadly.
“I think I’ll stick with being Donny, if you don’t mind. My daddy is the only Mr. Granger in town these days.”
“That reminds me, I haven’t seen your uncles for some time now,” she said. “Have they moved away?”
“Last time I was near their place on Pig Hill, it looked like they'd abandoned it. I’m not sure where they've gone,” Donny told her. “I don’t know if Daddy knows either.”
The boy walked to a small display of paperback books and magazines. There, he bought his daddy a copy of Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Gray. Donald Granger, Senior said that Zane was the best darned cowboy writer there ever was. Donny was pretty sure his father had read them all from the county library but he didn’t own a single one. He figured it was high time he did.
Then, he picked up the latest copy of Field and Stream. He walked to an aisle near the back of the store and chose a set of fishing lures. These would be for Aaron who said he hoped one day to make his living as a fisherman. Donny was sure he could if he could bring himself to leave Pig Hill and Masada. Maybe Aaron should move someplace near the ocean. He bet his big brother would love fishing on the open sea. That is when it occurred to Donny that Florida was surrounded by ocean. He wondered if Aaron might one day decide to visit their Aunt Deb way down south and try his hand at deep sea fishing. Of course, Aaron didn't know what Donny knew about their aunt and how she had tried to keep in touch. Not knowing that, he supposed his brother wouldn't be very likely to want to visit her.
Back at the counter, Donny handed the woman money to pay for the gifts and she handed him some change. Then, she placed each piece of jewelry in a little gold paper box. She put the gifts for Daddy and Aaron Granger in larger boxes and placed all the boxes in a bag. She handed it to the best customer she’d had so far that Saturday morning.
“Thanks for coming in, Donny. I won’t tell anyone what gifts you got. I am sure the surprises will be appreciated.”
It wasn’t until Donny was gone several blocks up the street that it occurred to Grace Keeley to wonder who the second bracelet was for. So far as she knew, there were only the three Granger women and Margaret Adelbaum for Donny Granger to be buying costume jewelry. The woman quit wondering as soon as her next customer opened the door. It was Rachel Perkins, come to pick up supplies for her own Christmas baking. It was a good season for the Keeley market.
Back on Mr. Pepp’s rear porch, Donny was not surprised to find Theodore curled up at the teacher's door waiting to be invited in to warm up over Mr. Pepp's grated furnace. The dog came to his feet when Donny approached, happy as always to see his boy.
Donny exchanged the bag of gifts and his backpack for the rifle. He threw the unloaded rifle over his shoulder and said to the dog. “Wanna come with me, Theodore? I'm going have a little talk with someone.”
Seeming to understand the mission at hand, the dog walked at Donny's side two doors east up Main Street. There, the animal sat at the boy's side, alert as Donny knocked on Jeremiah Adelbaum’s front door. The man could barely see out the windows which were two thirds of the way up his front door. He had to stand on his toes to see Donny Granger standing on his stoop.
The minister opened the door a crack, just far enough to peer out and say, “Margaret’s not here.” Then, noticing the dog, he said, “And get that mongrel off my porch.”
He started to close the door, but Donny stuck the toe of his boot in far enough to stop it. Theodore rose onto all fours.
“I know Mags isn't home, Mr. Adelbaum.”
“That’s Reverend Adelbaum,” the man said, still peering around the door. “Well then, whatd'you want?”
“I came to see you, Mr. Adelbaum.” Donny said that as he pushed the door open. “Let me in. I would like to speak with you.”
Donny saw that the man was already dressed for a day of work. His hair, what little hair he had, surrounded a bald spot which Donny looked down at when both were standing up straight.
“I really see no point in talking, Donald. What you and Margaret did was very wrong. Margaret is never to play that instrument again.”
Theodore remained standing at attention on the mat that was there for wiping off wet boots before coming inside. Donny stepped all the way in the house.
“I didn’t come to discuss the concert, Mr. Adelbaum.”
“Reverend,” the man insisted.
“I think we should sit down for a few minutes,” Donny told him, closing the door.
“I told you to get that animal off my porch.”
“This won't take long, Mr. Adelbaum, but I am not leaving before you and I have a serious discussion and come to an agreement.”
“An agreement? What on earth kind of agreement do we need? And please refer to me by my proper and earned title.”
Donny’s eyes took on a cool blue shine. “Sit down, Mr. Adelbaum.”
Margaret’s father did sit down on the end of a grey plush couch. Donny took a chair across the coffee table from Adelbaum. Before he sat he unzipped his green parka and slid the rifle from his shoulder. He leaned the gun against the table between the two men.
“You brought a rifle into my home?” the little man asked.
“Yes, sir, I did. I plan to go hunting when I am done with you. For now, it can just stand there. Between us.”
“I wish you'd put that thing outside,” the man said just starting to realize Donny Granger was a lot less malleable than he had previously seemed.
“I am sure you would, Mr. Adelbaum. I can see that guns frighten you.”
“Guns do not frighten me,” he said, too defensively to be believed. “They just don’t belong in a living room, least of all the living room in a parsonage. You seem to have forgotten you are in a minister's home, Donald, and that I am the reverend here.”
“I haven’t forgotten where I am, Mr. Adelbaum. I am in my best friend’s home, talking with her father. I am looking down a hall that leads from this room to a staircase. The room above this one is, I think, your bedroom, Mr. Adelbaum. Have I got that right?”
The minister didn’t answer.
“Yes, I have it right. Margaret has told me about your home, Mr. Adelbaum. When we were a little younger, Mags even drew a map of it. Above this room is your bedroom, the one you used to share with Mrs. Adelbaum. Next to your room is the upstairs bathroom and on the other side of the bathroom is Margaret’s room. She used to have the small room down the hall, but she moved into this one when Ruth, your other daughter, left home. Isn't that right, Mr. Adelbaum?”
By now, the pastor was sweating. He didn’t know what Donny Granger wanted with him, but the young man was making sure the older realized how much he knew of the Adelbaum household. Jeremiah Adelbaum did not like that his daughter had shared so much information with this boy. He would have to speak with her about that when she came home. Some things are private. He needed to be sure Margaret understood that before she revealed something that might be damaging.
Just as that thought crossed the man’s mind, Donny was leaning across the coffee table, looking Margaret’s father straight in the eyes. “Margaret tells me everything,” he said to the man who was now visibly trembling.
Donny put one hand on the barrel of his Marlin and repeated for emphasis, “Everything. There is nothing that goes on in this house Margaret has not told me. Nothing, Mr. Adelbaum.”
An ominous silence hung for several moments between the two men. Donny waited until the pastor's face had completely paled before continuing. “So you see, Mr. Adelbaum, I know why Ruth ran away from home and I know what you did to Margaret when she came home last night from the concert.”
Donny stood then and brought the rifle up before tossing it over his shoulder. Towering over the man still shaking on the sofa, Donny said, “I think we already understand one another, Mr. Adelbaum. But just to be sure, let me ask you if you understand that I know you raped your daughter last night?”
The word rape caught the bald man’s ire. “It wasn’t rape,” he shrieked.
“Oh really?” Donny asked swinging the rifle around in front of him. “There is only one way for a man to get his daughter pregnant. You have already done that to one daughter. Margaret was afraid you put a baby in her too, but she realizes now you couldn’t have. You did rape her. Mr. Adelbaum. That is almost positively how the sheriff would see it. More importantly for you right now, that’s how I see it.”
Margaret’s father started to stand up. “I won’t have you coming into my...”
“Sit down, Mr. Adelbaum, and don't get up again until I say you can. Maybe you really don't understand that what you did to your daughters is rape, but that’s OK. You don’t need to understand that what you did was wrong. What you need to grasp is that I think what you did was rape. Also, that I am very angry. Margaret is my best friend. I won't let you hurt her again. Do you understand that Mr. Adelbaum?”
The man nodded.
“Good,” Donny said walking to the staircase. “Margaret is going to spend the weekend with my family. Right now, I am going to go upstairs and get some clothes for her. You are going to sit right where you are, being very quiet. You are going to think of how you will correct your behavior toward Margaret.”
Donny walked up the stairs to Margaret’s room where he saw blood on her comforter. He opened her dresser drawers and took out enough clothes to get her through the weekend. He put them in a tote bag slung over the closet doorknob. Before walking out of the room, Donny grabbed the stained comforter.
Back in the living room, Jeremiah Adelbaum was doing exactly as he’d been told, not because he feared what Donny might do with the rifle but because he feared what Donny might do with the information Margaret had given him. He didn’t know how or when, but one day Jeremiah Adelbaum would make his daughter pay for that, for putting her father at such risk. He looked forward to punishing her.
Donny returned to the living room. There, he tossed Margaret’s comforter at the man. “That needs to be burned,” Donny told him. “Burn it and then drive to Morgantown. Buy Margaret a new one that looks nothing like this one. If she comes back to this house, she won't need reminders of what you did to her.”
Donny looked around the room and caught sight of the pictures on the mantle over the fire place. There were family photographs, one in particular that caught Donny’s attention. In it, the whole Adelbaum family was standing in front of a Ferris wheel. Donny recognized it as one that had come to Masada once when a carnival set up in the parking lot behind the Masada Central School. It was only there a single night, between long weekends in Parkersburg and Wheeling. Margaret and her father were smiling broadly in the photo. Mrs. Adelbaum, Margaret’s mother, had a dark mark on her chin that extended down her neck onto her chest. She looked very sad. Donny couldn’t remember if the woman had always had such a mark. Was it a bruise? Ruth Adelbaum’s face bore no expression at all. Her father’s hand was on her shoulder. She looked straight ahead at the camera as if she were looking beyond or through it. Donny didn’t ever want to see that look on Margaret’s face.
“Mr. Adelbaum, I am not sure you understand me completely. I sense that maybe you think when I leave and when Margaret comes back here, you can return to treating her the way you always have. That would be a big mistake for you, Mr. Adelbaum. I would not like that at all.” Then, having had a stroke of insight that the pastor was more afraid of what Donny might say than of what he might do, the boy added, “My father wouldn't like it either, Mr. Addelbaum. Neither would Rachel Keeley or Pastor Perkins.” Donny threw Pastor Perkins’ name into the mix just to be sure the man understood what was at stake. “I don't think anyone in town would like what you did. Now, I'm going to take my rifle and go hunting. Margaret is at my home and she will stay there at least 'til Monday. When she comes home, I want you to be kind and respectful. Don’t bother apologizing to her. She won’t believe a word you say anyway. Just leave her alone and you'll be fine. Otherwise, I'll have to come see you again and then I would be really angry. I might not come alone.”
Donny walked to the front door and out, gently closing the door behind him as he left. He imagined the man would stay right where he was, seated on the sofa for a good long while. He had lots to think over.
Theodore had stood dutifully at his post and now followed Donny back to the teacher’s house. Donny grabbed his bags and headed back to Coon Hill, purposely cutting through Jeremiah Adelbaum’s back yard. Donny wanted to be seen. He stood halfway between the parsonage and the woods at the foot of the mountain. Theodore sat with his back stiff at his side. After a while Donny saw the man peer out the kitchen window which was framed with yellow cafe curtains. Donny lifted his rifle then, aimed, and fired at a water barrel in the minister’s yard. No one in town even looked outside. The sound of hunters on Pig or Coon Hill was very common. Only Jeremiah Adelbaum saw water leaking through two holes that appeared on either side of the barrel.
Donny shouldered his Marlin again and headed into the woods, Theodore following him only until he realized Donny was not headed home but up The Coon. The two parted ways then, the dog headed home for warmth and a nap, Donny headed up the taller mountain for hunting.
It was a productive afternoon. He headed to his usual hiding place. There, he took out the bracelet with the blue stones, the one Mrs. Keeley had wondered about after Donny left her store. He rolled up his coat sleeve and fastened the bracelet around his wrist. He liked the way it shimmered in the afternoon light. After stashing the Christmas gifts in his trunk inside the little cave, he managed to snare two rabbits and shot a wild turkey. They would make a fine Christmas dinner.
Back at the Granger trailer, Margaret was laughing in the kitchen with his mama and sisters. Daddy and Aaron were at a work table by Daddy’s shed cleaning the fish they’d caught. They’d caught plenty of bluegill and a couple of big brook trout. Those would go on the table for Sunday dinner. The two older men were happy to help Donny clean his prizes. They all agreed this would be the best Christmas ever for the Grangers of Pig Hill.
Margaret and Kathleen, 1994
Pig Hill, West Virginia
In the end, Margaret stayed longer than the weekend with the Grangers. It took roughly five minutes after the girl arrived at the Granger home the day after her father raped her for Kate Granger to figure out what had happened. Margaret hadn't said anything to tip her off, but Kate knew the signs of abuse and knew Margaret well enough to see the change in her and realize what caused it.
Mags had gone straight to the Granger house, just as Donny told her to. When she arrived, she knocked on the trailer door to be let in. That was the first sign that something was bothering the girl. Then, she'd said she was there to help with the Christmas baking but didn't make it to the kitchen. Instead, she sat down on the sofa and stared, not even picking up a book.
When May called to her from the kitchen, “Wash your hands, Mags, I could sure use some help decorating these sugar cookies,” Margaret never even looked up. It was obvious she didn't hear.
When June started to call louder, “Earth to Margaret Adelbaum,” Kathleen put a hand on her daughter's shoulder and shushed her.
Kate Granger took off her apron and went through the kitchen door. She sat down on the couch next to Margaret and the girl shrieked, jumping off the couch. She was white as a sheet and breathing heavily. Kathleen could see the girl was terrified.
“Oh my God,” said Margaret. “I'm so sorry! I don't know what's wrong with me.”
“It's okay,” said Donny's mother. “I didn't mean to startle you.”
Then the girl started to cry and sank onto the floor in front of Kathleen Granger, laying her head in the woman's lap. Kate bent over the girl and kissed her head. “It will be okay,” she said. “You're safe.”
At that, Margaret sobbed harder. May and June came out of the kitchen to see what was wrong and their mother waved them off. She had a pretty good idea what might have unraveled Margaret and didn't figure she needed an audience for her breakdown. May and June got the message. They put on their coats and headed downhill to visit with Rachel Perkins. They'd finish their own baking later.
Margaret never came out and told Kathleen Granger what her father had done. She only said, “He did it to Ruth too. That's why she ran off.” and “How could our mom leave us alone with him?”
“I don't know,” Kate answered. “Maybe she had no choice.”
Margaret had never thought of that. Maybe her mother didn't leave because she wanted to leave. Maybe she was gone because he made her go. Or maybe he was hurting her too. Was that possible? Could a man...she didn't even know what to call it when a man forces his own wife to have sex with him against her will.
Over the next few hours, Margaret told Kate everything about what her father had done to Ruth and how he beat them both. She didn't come out and say he had raped her too, but Kate understood.
“Does Donny know?” Kate asked.
“He does. I probably shouldn't have told him. I think he was going to see my father.”
“Good,” said Kate.
“Mhmm. Donny can take care of himself. He'll make sure your father gets the message and it won’t come to blows, not unless your father is foolish enough to throw the first punch.”
Kate suggested Margaret take a bath. “You'll feel better,” she said.
Then, she gave Margaret a package that contained a new pair of blue jeans and a red sweater. “That was going to be your Christmas gift from me, but you can use them now.”
Coming out of the bath, Margaret felt somewhat restored. She felt safe here with her best friend's mother. She joined the woman in the trailer's kitchen.
“I don't want to go home,” she said.
“Then, don't. Stay with us as long as you need to. We can make room.”
“I'll at least stay the weekend, if you really don't mind.”
“Stay at least until after the holidays,” Kate suggested. “You don't need to spend Christmas and New Years alone.”
Margaret agreed to that, relieved. That meant nearly two weeks away from her father.
“How do you do it?” Margaret asked Kate Granger, who understood the question without having it explained.
“Sometimes, it's not easy,” she replied. “I do it because I love my family.”
“Including Mr. Granger?”
“Donald, Sr. is a flawed man,” Kate said. “But we are all flawed. No one is perfect.”
“Does that make it okay for him to hit you?” That was getting right to the crux of matters.
“No,” Kate replied. “It does not.”
“Then, why do you stay?”
“I stay for a lot of reasons, Margaret. For one thing, I love my husband. For another, his children love him.”
“But why?” the girl wanted to know.
“Oh, honey, if I knew the answer to that, I'd be the wisest woman on earth. But loving Donald is not the main reason I stay.”
“Mostly, I stay because I have nowhere else to go.”
The Last Christmas, 1994
Pig Hill, West Virginia
In spite of the unpleasantness that had brought about her presence in the Granger home that holiday season, Margaret had a wonderful time. Previous Christmases had been gloomy at best, traumatic at worst. There were never presents exchanged in the Adelbaum household. Gift-giving was a sign of idolatry, her father told anyone who would listen. The result was that the reverend was never invited anywhere on Christmas, the good people of Masada not wanting to be judged as sinners in their own homes.
Of course, Millicent Greene came to the church on Christmas. That sour old biddy was as determined as Jeremiah himself to experience Christmas as a time to remember Jesus' suffering in later life. She would fall to her knees alongside Jeremiah Adelbaum and fervently pray for the damnation of any who did not treat Christmas as a day for confession and self-flagellation. She and the reverend preferred to focus on the crucifixion, not the birth.
The one good thing about Millicent Greene's presence on Christmas was that it distracted her father long enough for the girl to sneak out the back door of the manse and make her way up Pig Hill to spend a short while with the Grangers. It was never enough time, so far as Margaret was concerned. She never dared stay more than an hour, realizing her father would be waiting at home to rail at her some more about the corruption of modern Christianity, the sinfulness of modern Christians.
1994 was different though. It was Margaret's first time, being part of a large family that enjoyed having fun together and liked making one another happy. Most of the time, at least.
The two women, Kate and Margaret, passed the rest of that first day, the day Margaret had been raped by her father, making cookies and reading together. By the time May and June returned from the Perkins place, the baking was all done.
“Thank goodness,” said May. “We did plenty of baking at the parsonage.”
The twins were not at all surprised and were really quite pleased when their mother told them Margaret would be spending a few days, maybe even weeks, on Pig Hill. She asked the girls if they could make room for Margaret in their small room.
“Of course, we can!” said May.
June chimed in, “We can get Granny's mattress and bring it in from storage. We'll put it on the floor between our two beds. Or would you mind sleeping on the floor, Margaret?”
“I'll take the floor, Mags” said May, “if you don’t want Granny's old mattress, I mean. You could sleep in my bed.”
Margaret was touched by how willing the twins were to have her share their room. “I don't mind the mattress on the floor,” she said. “Are you sure you don’t mind having me in with you? It'll get pretty crowded.”
“It's already crowded,” said June. “The whole house is crowded. Haven't you noticed?”
Margaret didn't know what to say to that.
“What my daughters are trying to say is that we Grangers may not have much but what we have, we share and there is always room for one more.”
By the time Donny came in the door with his father and brother whom he'd joined as they schlepped up the hill after a long day, Grandma Lullabelle's mattress had been moved to the twins' room, where it filled the space between May and June's beds. That night, Margaret experienced girlish chit-chat for the first time since her sister had left home. Margaret enjoyed hearing the twins prattle. It also made her a little sad. She missed Ruth and her mother.
The following Monday morning Kathleen Granger asked her sons to deliver a message to the Reverand Jeremiah Adelbaum. She told her sons that Margaret would be staying at the Granger home until school began again on the first Tuesday in January. She asked them to let Margaret's father know his daughter was safe in their home. The tone with which Kate rendered the message spoke volumes. It was then that Donny knew for sure Mags had told his mama what her father had done to her. That was good. It might also explain why May and June were fawning all over Margaret. They were usually pleasant to her. They hadn't been mean to the girl in years, not since she became Donny's friend. But this weekend they'd been better than just pleasant. They'd treated Margaret like she was an honored guest made of glass so fragile it might break when the wind blew. Good. To Donny's way of thinking, Mags deserved some pampering.
Aaron was, of course, clueless. He walked right up to the Adelbaums' front door and knocked. It appeared that no one was home, but Donny thought it unlikely the preacher would have answered the door anyway. Not to two Granger men, one of them knowing for sure what the man had done to his daughter.
Aaron decided they should check the church itself. “Maybe he's in there doing some sort of preacher work.”
Donny followed his older brother around to the front door of the Church of God, which was unlocked. Masada was the sort of town where churches kept their doors open at all times. You never know when someone might be in need of sanctuary or salvation. They found Jeremiah Adelbaum standing on a ladder. He was pounding a large nail into the sanctuary wall. Next to him on the floor was a painting of Jesus on the cross. This was the most gruesome work of art Donny had ever seen. Jesus of the painting was bruised and bloody and the crowd gathered at the foot of the cross was angry and cruel, themselves covered in Jesus's blood. Crucifixion was a messy business.
“Morning, Mr. Adelbaum,” Donny said before his brother could call the man by his title.
Jeremiah Adelbaum almost fell off the ladder, so startled was he to hear Donny's voice. Aaron reached out a beefy arm to stop the preacher's fall.
“Careful there,” he said.
The preacher was visibly shaking, sweating heavily, clearly afraid of what the Granger brothers' appearance might mean. Donny would have let him stew awhile, but Aaron, not knowing the full story, said right away, “Mama asked us to let you know Margaret is safe at our house and that she'll be staying on Pig Hill 'til school starts again.”
“I see,” said the preacher. “Is there anything else?”
“No,” said Aaron.
“Not this time,” added Donny. “Not yet.”
The boys headed back out the church door, the pastor following them out onto the church steps. Aaron looked at his younger brother, wondering why the warning tone. Donny smiled back at him.
“Then, I guess you boys will be on your way,” said the pastor.
“I guess we will,” said Aaron.
“For now,” added Donny in that same cautioning tone.
They heard the door lock behind them as they left.
“What was that all about?” Aaron asked his brother.
“What was what about?” replied Donny, looking like the gator that swallowed a duck.
Margaret enjoyed every minute she spent with the Grangers. All except one. Christmas night, there was an argument between Katheen and Daddy Granger. Margaret never knew what the argument was over, but she heard her own name through the walls of the trailer as Daddy shouted at Kathleen. Margaret couldn't make out all of what was being said. She wondered if Daddy Granger was angry she'd been invited to stay. Maybe she had worn out her welcome.
That was the one night May and June were silent in their beds. There was no chit-chat at all as they listened through the trailer walls, hoping against hope their Mama would not get hit, which was often what happened when Daddy Granger was angry. Margaret, on the floor between them stretched out her arms and took one sister's hand in each of hers. When silence fell over the Granger home, all three girls fell asleep.
Next morning, Kate Granger was not up and waiting for her family at dawn as she usually was. When Margaret emerged from the twins' bedroom intending to help Kate with breakfast, it was Daddy Granger she found in the kitchen setting the table and making oatmeal.
“Kate's a little under the weather this morning,” he said.
“Did you hit her?” Margaret blurted.
Daddy Granger was so startled by the direct question that he answered it honestly. “I did,” he said, expecting Margaret to ask him why.
The girl didn't care why. “You shouldn't have,” was all she said, heading toward the front door to get milk from the icebox which was located beside the front steps for convenient access.
“I know,” Daddy Granger agreed. “I know.”
The rest of Christmas break went smoothly. Margaret spent a lot of time playing games and reading with Donny and the twins. Kate Granger took on the task of teaching the girl to cook a few simple meals and Margaret treasured the hours she spent alone with Kathleen Granger in the trailer's kitchen. She'd always been a little jealous of May and June being so close to their Mama. Now, Margaret felt like one of them.
Life Goes On, 1995
Pig Hill, West Virginia
By the time school started on January 2, 1995, Margaret felt transformed. She was no longer alone in the world. Now she was more than Donny Granger's fat friend. She was no longer the Reverend Jeremiah Adelbaum's only remaining punching bag. Now, she was a Granger of Pig Hill.
When Margaret came home after school that first day, her father was surprised to see her.
“I thought you moved out,” he said.
“I could have,” she responded.
“Decided you needed your father after all.”
Margaret laughed. “Not hardly! I decided it wasn't right to take advantage of the Grangers any more than I have to. They are good people...”
Her father scoffed audibly.
“Don't even start, Father. I know what you think of Daddy Granger. He thinks even less of you.”
With that, she took her bag upstairs to her room along with a butcher knife taken from the kitchen. She locked the bedroom door behind her before slipping the knife under her pillow. She had come home but intended to be safe there.
Margaret also brought her flute back into the house. She decided she was done sneaking up The Coon to play. Sometimes there was so much snow she couldn't even get to the little cave where it was hidden. She played the flute a great deal and it obviously bothered her father. Margaret assumed that was because it reminded him of Ruth and how he had hurt her and driven her away. Good. Margaret played louder when her father was home to hear.
Jeremiah Adelbaum was frustrated with the new balance of power in his home. Margaret was too independent. She'd gotten cocky since her time spent living on Pig Hill. He thought he should remind her that he was in charge, that as her father, he was in control. But every time he started to make a move toward Margaret or to say a word to her about the infernal flute music, he remembered Donny Granger sitting on his sofa, long rifle at his side. He also recalled that visit from Donny and his older brother and the message they had delivered from Kate Granger, who clearly knew what had passed between father and daughter.
That was the worst of it. Margaret had betrayed him. Even Ruth had never done that. But Margaret had forgotten family loyalty and turned on her father. He would have to punish her for that, but the punishment would have to wait until he thought he could do it without retaliation from the Grangers. When he thought about punishing Margaret, the reverend Adelbaum smiled. He would enjoy that when the opportunity came. He could bide his time.
So Margaret settled into a routine of days at school, afternoons spent in the boisterously happy Granger compound or in the woods with Donny, and evenings at home, not speaking to her father as they ate dinner together and locking herself in her room soon thereafter. Weekends, she was gone from morning to night, sometimes overnight and when summer came, she hardly came home at all. Her father kept his distance, though Margaret sensed his anger simmering beneath the surface. Clearly, he wanted to lash out, but he didn't, not for many months. Margaret often wondered what Donny had said to him to cause this remarkable self-restraint. Whatever it was, she was grateful.
Over The Rainbow, 1995
Pig Hill, West Virginia
The summer of 1995 was as hot as any summer Donny had ever experienced. Even in the shade of the woods on Pig Hill, days were hot. The only relief were baths in the creek and swimming in Ettinger's Pond. Kate Granger was obviously not well. Her exhaustion was at its peak and she had pretty much stopped doing any chores at all and never made the trip into town. Daddy Granger pleaded with her to see the doctor. Rachel Perkins begged her to let the pastor drive her to Wheeling. But Kate said resolutely, “No. The doctor told me last time there would be no saving my life if the cancer returned. If I go to Wheeling now, then I'll be dying there. I am not at all interested in spending my last months or weeks or days in a hospital. I plan to die right where I have lived with my family around me.”
Looking at her and hearing the conviction in her voice was enough to silence everyone but May and June, who refused to accept their mother's decision as final.
“Doctors can make mistakes,” said June. “Maybe there is a new medicine now. You should at least go ask, Mama.”
“Maybe it's not even the cancer again,” said May. “You're not a doctor. Maybe it's something else this time, something they can cure.”
When Kate ignored their objections voiced on a pretty much daily basis, June moaned, “You're not being fair, Mama. We don't want to lose you.”
“I don't want to be lost,” said Kathleen, patiently. “But there is no sense at all in fighting a battle that cannot be won. I will not waste the last of my energy on that.”
Kathleen spent her days that summer reading in between naps and visits from friends and family. You often hear how people avoid facing friends who are ill, but that was not true of the good citizens of Masada. When one of their own was in need, the townsfolk rallied. As a result, there were daily visits from Rachel Perkins and other ladies of the baptist church congregation. They always brought prepared meals for the Grangers and helped May and June with the household chores.
The menfolk came regularly to check on Donald Granger Sr. and his sons, often inviting them to come fishing or hunting. Aaron often accepted such invitations, but Daddy Granger did little in his off-work hours other than sitting by his wife, barely able to concentrate on anything besides the impending pain of losing her. He felt like the best part of himself was being ripped out and his heart was breaking. He wished he could tell his wife how broken he would be without her, but could not bring himself to utter the words. Instead, he put on a happy face and tried to pretend that he did not see what lay ahead. All that pretending was hard work, but he believed he owed it to his family to look strong.
Donny rarely went far from the compound that summer. There was no need to hunt, what with everyone else feeding his family, and he could not bear the thought of not being home when Kate Granger died. He knew that made no sense at all, but he hoped to be present when the worst happened. Kate appreciated the sentiment but found that now, in her last months, she craved time alone almost as much as the wanted to be surrounded by loved ones.
One day, when the urge for solitude was powerful, Kate sent Donny and the twins down the hill into Masada. “Rachel needs some help at the church,” she told her children.
“What with?” asked Donny
“No idea,” replied his mother. “I didn't ask. When she was here yesterday, she mentioned that she could use some strong young bodies today. I told her I would send the three of you.”
“I hope she doesn't want us to bake anything,” said May. “It's way too hot for baking.”
“It's way too hot for anything she might need young bodies to help with,” said June.
“Do we have to go?” asked Donny. “I'd rather stay here with you, Mama.”
“Yes, you have to go,” Kate responded, more irritated with her son's attentiveness than flattered. “I already told her you'd be coming. Besides, I want you to deliver her this note. Tell her to read that before she puts you three to work.”
Kathleen handed Donny a small envelope addressed to Rachel Perkins. In it was a brief note explaining that Kathleen needed a couple hours to herself. If it's not to much imposition, I hope you can find some task or other to keep my children occupied until three or four PM, the note read.
Rachel understood perfectly. She knew Kate Granger loved her children dearly and valued every moment she spent with them. But, like every sane parent in the world, Kate needed stillness from time to time. The Granger children were good children, but, like all others, they brought with them great passions and energy. They could be exhausting.
As it happened, Rachel Perkins, who served as her husband's secretary, was working on the church newsletter that day. There were many sheets of paper to be folded, stuffed into envelopes, stamped and mailed from the little post office in the Keeley Market. It took the children a little more than two full hours to complete those tasks. Then, the preacher's wife fed them a snack of home-baked macaroons and unpasteurized milk from the Pride Farm. Having no children of her own, the lady thoroughly enjoyed spoiling other people's kids, She allowed the Grangers to enjoy this snack in front of the television where they found reruns of Gilligan's Island airing on WGN, sending its signal all the way from Chicago. When they left to help their mother with supper on the hill, Rachel sent a big Tupperware full of cookies to share with the mother, father and brother.
Aaron and Donald Sr. were out of the house that long day too, both having gone to work at the Pride Farm. Kate used the time alone to take an uninterrupted bath. Hot as it was outside, Kathleen was cold. The warm tub water was a great comfort to her and she sat in it, reading, until it started to cool. Then she retreated to her hammock with a heavy blanket and a book from the Morgantown Public library bookmobile.
The book was Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Kate had not read or even heard of this author before, but the nice lady on the bookmobile had sent it to her with a note. I am sure you will love this, the note had said. Kathleen did. The book was about an English woman, named Claire, who honeymoons in twentieth century Scotland with her husband. While on holiday there, she stumbles through time and finds herself lost in the Scotland of the mid 1700's. There, she falls in love and marries a Scots warrior.
Her eyes getting tired from reading, Kate closed the book and lay in her hammock thinking what it would be like to fall through time, to land in a place where one has not yet been born. Kate herself was not sure she would want to go that far back in time. Now that she knew her own life was almost over, she had no real desire to live an entirely different one in a different time and place. What she would have appreciated though was the chance to live her own life over again. There had been low points, sure. Those she could do without, but Kate would gladly repeat the high points. Maybe she could use them to change her future and eliminate some of the low ones.
She recalled the day she had met Donald Granger, Sr. That had been one of the happiest days of Kate Maynard's young life. She and her sister, Deb, were singers back then. They had grown up in Wheeling and attended The Wheeling Park High School. There, she and Deb had sung in the school choir and been in every musical the school put on. Both Maynard girls could sing and dance. Their acting skills left something to be desired, but no one who heard them sing ever cared about that. They were pretty and they sounded like angels.
The spring of 1977, Deb was just a sophomore in school, but Kate had graduated. She was working part time as a clerk at the Gold Star Farm Supply on Route 40. Nights, she was a cocktail waitress and the main attraction, singing, in a little club near Ogelbay Park. Donald Granger Sr. came into the club one night by himself. He'd washed up after work but Kate figured him to be one of the men who worked at the mill. When Kate came to the table to take his order, Donald Sr. made a request.
“My brothers and I, we heard you sing one time. It was at that big talent show up to the park. It was you and yer little sister. The two o' you sang that song from the movie. I was wondering if you'd sing that again tonight.”
Kate was happy to. When it was time for her to take the stage of the Waddler, she opened with the song Donald Granger Sr. had requested, Over The Rainbow. Now, nearly 20 years later, she sang that again.
Coming up the hill into the clearing where the Granger Compound was located, Donny and his sisters could hear their mother's voice, not as powerful as it used to be, but still lovely and light. They found her around the back of the trailer, sitting up in her hammock, one blanket wrapped around her shoulders, another over her lap. A book lay on the little table next to the hammock.
Kate Granger sang as tears streamed down her cheeks. Someday I'll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me, where troubles melt like lemon drops, away above the chimney tops, that's where you'll find me.
Her children came to her and wrapped themselves around her, careful to give her room enough to breathe so she could keep singing. She sang it over and over again until her children had memorized the words. When Daddy Granger came up the hill with his eldest son, they found Kate and Donny and May and June singing together.
Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly. Birds fly over the rainbow. Why then, oh why, can't I?
That's when Daddy Granger lost it. He crumpled to the ground before his wife and sobbed. “Please don't die, Kate. Please. I won't be the same man without you.”
If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why, oh why, can't I?
Kathleen Granger Dies, 1995
Pig Hill, West Virginia
Rachel Perkins called the Adelbaum house one dreary Monday night just after supper. This was highly unusual because Jeremiah Adelbaum was not any more pleasant to the Perkins over the phone than face to face.
“So now you're consorting with Baptists,” was all her father said as he handed Margaret the telephone receiver.
Margaret listened as the Baptist pastor's wife asked her to come by the baptist parsonage as soon as possible. Margaret assumed the lady wanted help with the Vacation Bible School Masada’s two churches put on each summer. It was the only week of the year when members of Margaret’s father’s church, The Church of God, cooperated with members of the Baptist church. For one week a year, they acted like there was no real division between them and, really, there wasn’t. The members of the two churches got along fine. It was the two ministers who seemed incapable of collaboration and, when you came right down to brass tacks, only one of them had a problem. Pastor Perkins really tried. He was willing always to reach out to his fellow clergyman and his neighboring congregation. Jeremiah Adelbaum was not so inclined.
Jeremiah Adelbaum was sure Ben Perkins and his entire flock would spend the afterlife in eternal flames and that they were doing their best to bring the rest of Masada down with them. Margaret’s father believed himself to be a conduit of God’s will on Earth. Those in Masada who didn’t believe in the prophecy of Jeremiah Adelbaum were destined to agony and affliction in the hereafter. He only wished he could give them a taste of that misery here and now. Maybe then they would realize he, The Reverend Jeremiah Adelbaum, was the way, the truth and, if not the light, their only path to it.
This attitude explained the empty pews in his sanctuary on Sunday mornings and the need for his church to combine with the Baptists in order to put on a Bible School each summer. Even then, the two pastors pretty much stayed away from each other and the school, letting the women of both congregations run things.
The previous two summers Margaret had helped with the youngest children who came to the Bible school. She planned to help out again. She wondered why that request would require an unplanned evening meeting with the baptist pastor’s wife. She guessed she’d find out when she got there.
Eighth grade was almost over. Less than a week remained before summer vacation, which Donny and Margaret happily anticipated. They planned a full summer of hunting and fishing, playing their music in the central school band room when neither of their fathers could see or hear.
Since they played the Pacelbel Canon at the Christmas concert, Margaret’s father had done as Donny directed. He had been kind and pleasant to Margaret, proper even, in the way of Victorian fathers, careful always to keep several feet between himself and his daughter. Margaret declined to accompany him on his weekly drives to Morgantown. When she needed a few new things from the Walmart there, Margaret asked Mrs. Perkins to take her, explaining that she really needed a woman’s input when buying women’s clothing. The lady had been happy to help out.
Donny’s father never mentioned the concert again. Christmas came and went. Spring arrived and now it was almost summer. The weather had been remarkably mild so far that year. Everyone figured they would pay for it with tornadoes and blizzards in the last half of 2009. Through all those months, Donny was protective of Margaret, making sure always that she knew where to find him in a hurry and ensuring her father saw them together frequently enough that he couldn't possibly forget he was being watched.
Donny worried about his mama too. Kathleen Granger had been thin at Christmastime. She was thinner now. Once in a while she was too tired to get out of bed and occasionally Donny saw her wince as if in pain. Always, she was cheerful. Whenever Donny inquired as to her health, she told him she was fine, just getting older was all. Donny could see it was more than that.
One evening, his Mama had retired early, before the sun even set. The next morning, she decided to skip church, something Kate Granger had never done before except when in the hospital. Donny asked his father if Mama was okay. Daddy Granger said his wife was as well as could be expected and that she would let them know if she wasn’t. Donny could tell from the way his father said it, that he didn't really believe it.
“Your Mama is takin’ the best care o’ herself she can, Boy. No way she’d leave us sooner ‘n she has to.”
Donny believed that statement to be true. “But should she see a doctor, Daddy?”
“I don’t right know,” the elder Granger said. “I don’t right know. What I do know is yer Mama loves her fam’ly. She’ll do her best to stay with us long as she kin.”
Donny accepted that and saw that his father had a hard time talking about the fact that was obvious to everyone – Kate Granger was dying - so he never asked again. There was no way of knowing how long his mother would be with them. Donny made a point of being with her every chance he got and making the most of every minute.
That Monday night when Margaret had been called to meet with Rachel Perkins, Donny came up the hill, backpack slung over his shoulder. He'd gone into town to practice piano at the school and pay a visit to Mr. Pepp. At fourteen, he was more than 6 feet tall and still growing. The boy towered over others in his class. Among Granger men, he was tallest. There were a couple of taller boys in the high school, both seniors, but Donny was still growing so it was likely he would pass them up in the coming years. Du Keeley was 6-foot-five and ordered all his clothes from King Sized Direct Dot Com. Donny wondered sometimes if he would be as tall as the shopkeeper, who had passed a King Sized Direct catalog on to Donny when it became clear the boy would never be able to buy his clothes locally. He also told the young man he would be happy to let Donny use the phone in the Keeley Market to place his order. Donny had not placed an order yet but figured he would need to before school started in September.
When Donny got to the trailer he was surprised not to be greeted by Theodore or the twins. He wasn't too surprised not to find his mother outside reading a book in her hammock. Sometimes these days she was too tired to come out. It was odd though that May and June weren’t outside doing Mama’s chores for her as was usual when Mama needed to rest a spell. What really worried Donny was that nothing was cooking. When he opened the trailer door there was no aroma of supper or baked goods cooling. The house was quiet. The Granger home was almost never quiet, not once school let out for the day anyway.
Donny walked down the hall toward his parents’ room. There, he found his father sitting on the floor next to the bed. His back was leaned up against the box springs and mattress. Theodore lay with his head in the man's lap. Kathleen Granger was in the bed. Donny’s father looked up when he heard his son in the doorway. There were tracks from tears on his cheeks.
“I was wrong, son. I was wrong.”
Donny didn’t need to ask what his father had been wrong about. The young man dropped his pack on the floor, knelt before his father and took him in his arms. Patting his Daddy’s back, he spoke, “It’s okay, Daddy. You weren't wrong. She stayed as long as she could. Now, she's gone to a place where she won't be so pained. You'll be with her again, Daddy. She loved you.”
Donald Granger, Senior waled as his tears were renewed. His younger son rocked him back and forth, offering the comfort he knew his mama would want him to give.
Some time later, Aaron Granger arrived with Du Keeley and the Pastor. Daddy Granger left Donny alone with his mama then. He went to the living room to discuss “arrangements” with the other men. Mrs. Perkins and Margaret arrived a few minutes after them. They went into the Granger kitchen and began the ritual of making coffee and preparing food for the bereaved and all who would visit in the coming hours.
Daddy Granger had been the one to find his wife's body. He'd sent May and June to the Keeley Market with the news. They were still there with Grace Keeley who was no doubt spreading the word through town and up the hills that the Grangers had lost their Mama. It would not be long before friends and mere acquaintances started pounding the path that led to the Granger compound. Hill people do not wait for official visiting hours to pay their last respects to the deceased.
Aaron came into the room where Donny sat on the edge of his parent’s bed holding his mother’s cold hand in his.
“You hanging in there, Little Bro.” Aaron had started calling Donny Little Bro when the younger boy had grown taller than the older one. Aaron's sense of humor is what had gotten all four Granger children through some hard times. Donny wondered if anything would get them through this one.
“Yeah, Big Bro, I’m okay. How are the twins?”
“They’ll be alright,” Aaron answered. “I think we all knew this was coming. All but Daddy maybe.”
“He knew,” Donny answered. “Just couldn't let himself believe it.”
“He refused to come with us when we went to town to get help. The pastor called the mortuary up to Morgantown. In the morning, we'll have to get Mama down the hill and then they’ll take her to the embalmer's. You think you can help with that?”
Donny wanted to say he wasn't sure he could help with anything at all. He wasn't sure he could even move off the bed or let go of his Mama's hand. But he nodded in assent as Mrs. Perkins came to the bedroom door, Margaret following.
“Can we come in?” Rachel Perkins asked. “You'll have visitors soon. Lots of folks will want to see Kathleen before she goes off to Morgantown. We need to pick out something for your Mama to wear, boys. Do you want to step out while Margaret and I take care of that?”
“No,” Donny said with surprising fervor. “I'll see to that.”
“But, Little Bro,” Aaron said.
“No,” Donny repeated. I'll choose Mama's clothes. I know what she wanted to wear.”
Donny went into the dead woman’s closet and pulled out the sequined purple dress Kate Granger had not worn since before she came to Pig Hill. Then, he reached to the closet shelf and retrieved a pair of black pumps which had been zipped into a plastic bag for more than a decade. Margaret understood that Donny was dressing his mother for a grand celebration. She opened Kate Granger's small jewelry box and found the bracelet Donny had given his mama for her last Christmas. She handed it to Donny and watched as he put it on the dead woman’s wrist. She also wore the wedding ring Donald Granger, Senior had given her 18 years earlier. Kathleen Granger was still a young woman, too young to be headed for a pine box and the Granger family plot on the north side of Pig Hill.
By the time Kate Granger was dressed for visitors and the blankets removed from the bed, the floor cleared of anything that might trip a guest, a small crowd had gathered outside the trailer. May and June came into the room with Grace Keeley. Both girls burst into sobs when they saw their mother, all dressed up for her funeral.
“Oh, Mama,” June said, “You're beautiful!”
May asked Donny if he had chosen the dress. He nodded and she told him, “You chose right. Thank you.”
Aaron ducked out of the room for a moment and returned with his father. Grace Keeley and Rachel Perkins left the room, taking Margaret with them. “Let's give the family a few minutes,” one of them said.
Among the visitors who came to see Kathleen Granger one last time before her funeral were Christopher Pepp, who had used a sort of walking stick, not quite a cane, to help him ascend the hill. He came with Mr. Jeffers, the school janitor. Several of the other teachers were there too, having driven back to Masada when the music teacher called to let them know the Granger children's mother had passed. Velma Barnes was there with her brothers and parents. So was Lucille Miller. Even Jeremiah Adelbaum made the trek up Pig Hill, probably because he knew it would look bad if he failed to appear. Every Masada citizen who could make it up the hill did so and the rest sent condolence notes. Noticeably absent were Donny's uncles, Caleb, Balthazar, and Abraham.
None of the Grangers slept that night, though most of the visitors left before midnight. Only Margaret Adelbaum and Du Keeley remained. Margaret sat up with Donny and his sisters. Sometimes they talked about their mama, but, mostly they sat in silence, not quite believing she was gone. Mr. Keeley drank beer with Daddy Granger and Aaron and kept them from drinking too much. The three men barely spoke all night long, none of them having a clue what needed to be said.
Next morning, Pastor and Mrs. Perkins arrived. That was Du Keeley's cue to head home and let the minister take over the watch over the Grangers. The pastor's wife gathered up Margaret and the twins and led them down the hill to the Keeley Market. There, they would begin the preparations for the dinner that would follow the funeral.
With the pastor standing by, the Granger men, including Donny, wrapped Kathleen Granger’s body in the pink coverlet from her bed. By 8 o’clock that morning, the body was on its way to Morgantown, the pastor and Donald Granger, Sr. following behind in the pastor's truck. At the mortuary, they would make what few arrangements needed to be made.
That night, everyone in town, everyone except the minister from The Church of God, who could not bring himself to mingle in a house of sinners, gathered again, this time in the Baptist Church Fellowship Hall. There, they shared memories of the deceased, hugged the Granger children and assured their father they would be fine. The people of Masada and its hills would be there for them, no matter what they needed.
The funeral was held the next morning beside Ettinger’s Pond. Kathleen Granger was laid out there in a coffin loaned by the Morgantown mortuary for use in the ritual. Later she would be buried in a pine box alongside her own mama. Pig Hill is where Grangers were born, where they lived, and where they stayed after death. Donny didn’t think any Granger ever gave much thought to heaven. Pig Hill was it.
Everything in the town was closed that morning, including the Masada Central School. That’s because no one in a small town misses the chance to attend a funeral. Even Jeremiah Adelbaum showed up. He stood at the back of the crowd, as far from Donny Granger as he could manage. His daughter stood with the Granger family, between the twins and Donny. Adelbaum could see that Margaret was as devastated by the death of her friends’ mother as she had been by the loss of her own. That made the man unreasonably angry, but he didn’t let that show. It wouldn't be good to let the members of his flock see he was thrown off balance by Margaret’s obvious affection for this family that was not her own. It would be even worse to let Donny Granger see it.
The ceremony was short. The pastor said a few words. All preachers say they will keep it short when it comes to funerals. In Ben Perkins’ case, it was true. A few of the women from town spoke too, saying how much they would miss Kate Granger and how they would be there for her family in their hour of need. The only surprise was when Margaret Adelbaum stepped forward, saying that Kate Granger had been kind to her and that she would miss her very much.
“Mrs. Granger once told me that music could make any hurt better.,” Margaret told those assembled. “I hope she was right.”
Then, Margaret picked up her flute which had been concealed in the rostrum from which Pastor Perkins had spoken his homily. She played haltingly at first, finding it hard to breathe through each note because she was crying as she played. Then, she saw her father in the back of the crowd, glaring at her. Margaret regained control of her body then and her breath. She played Amazing Grace. After the first verse, the congregation sang along.
As the people of Masada sang Kathleen Granger home to God, each came forward to the coffin to place a flower from their own land on top. When they were done, flowers of every color covered Donny’s mother's coffin. When he and his father and Aaron and the twins came forward to place their own flowers, the wood was no longer visible at all. Donny knew his mother would have loved being wrapped with all these blossoms.
Most of the townsfolk went from Ettinger’s Pond to the cafeteria at the school, it being the only room in town big enough to hold them all. There, they began the party that celebrated the life of a woman they all knew well and would miss. The few not gathered at the school included Jeremiah Adelbaum who went home to stew. The Granger family, Pastor and Mrs. Perkins and Du Keeley and Margaret Adelbaum carried Kate Granger, wrapped in flowers and her pink blanket, up Pig Hill for the last time.
On the north side of the hill, a grave was already prepared. Next to it stood Donny’s uncles who had cleaned up as best they could considering it was them that dug the grave. Donald Granger, Senior had not seen his brothers in nearly two years. How they knew about his wife’s death, he never knew. They stayed long enough to see their brother's wife put into the ground and hear a prayer spoken by the preacher.
“God Almighty, in his wisdom, has permitted the removal of the soul of the departed. We therefore commit her body to the grave and her spirit to God who gave it. He who is the Judge of all the earth shall do right. Peace be with all those gathered here today. Amen.”
“Amen,” repeated those gathered.
Daddy Granger wasn’t up to being social, so he skipped the potluck at the school and went hunting. Du Keeley invited himself along, saying no man should be by himself on such a day. The Granger children and Margaret went with The Perkins to the school cafeteria. When it was all over, Margaret came up the hill with her friends. She wanted to be with them that night, not alone in a house with a man she knew would want to hurt her.
Sometime after midnight, Daddy Granger came home. After checking to see that his children were safely in their beds, he went into the shed that served as his workshop and retrieved an axe. He took it to Kathleen Granger's lilac tree and began to swing. Unaware that his younger son was watching through the double-wide's screen door, the man brought the tree down in three whacks. Not satisfied simply to have toppled the tree, he began striking at its trunk, chopping it to small logs.
Finally exhausted, the man laid himself down on the old church pew that sat outside the trailer and fell asleep. He didn't stir when Donny slipped past him, headed for the cave on Coon Hill and his trunk of pretty things.
The Uncles, 1996
Pig Hill, West Virginia
After Kate Granger passed, her brothers-in-law moved back into their trailers in the family compound. Donny wondered if that was a good idea. They'd never been reliable and were known to cause problems for themselves and Daddy. Donny pointed that out to Aaron, saying their father drank a lot more when his brothers were around and reminding Aaron their father was not a kind drunk. Aaron couldn't dispute the point.
“But, Little Bro, Daddy needs his brothers now to help git his mind offa loosin' Mama. Besides, they're family and you know what Mama always says about family.”
“I know what she used to say, back before she got sick, but even Mama cut them off when she came home from Wheeling and found out they'd never lifted one finger to help us kids while she and Daddy were gone.”
Aaron insisted, “I don't think this is somethin' we should say to Daddy. Least not yet, when he's still mourning.”
Donny didn't actually agree, but he went along, not wanting to be the one to upset his family further. He made up his mind to keep his distance from the uncles. Truth be told, Donny's uncles scared him. They were always talking about how they would “beat all hell outa” anyone that disagreed with them or anyone they thought was communist or too smart for their own britches or queer. Especially queer.
The uncles loved discussing the many ways they would hurt a queer if one ever one tried to set foot on Pig Hill. Once, they claimed to have beaten up dozens of fags when they were in Wheeling.
“We was in a bar one day,” Uncle Sonny said. “Not one of them stick-licker hang-outs. This was a place for real men and real men don’t gotta put up with a buncha fags cummin' in their bar. Those queers up there were talkin' some bullshit 'bout gay rights.” He said the words, gay rights, like he was doing an imitation of Milton Berle imitating Truman Capote.
Uncle Bal jumped in then, evidently excited by the memory of the uncles' encounter with the many queers in Wheeling. “You shoulda seen them fags,” he said to his brothers and nephews. “You coulda spotted 'em from ten miles off!”
Donny had to ask. “How did you spot 'em, Uncle? I mean, how did you know they were...” Donny paused before saying the next word. He hated the word and knew his mama had always said there was no need for calling names. But Donny didn't want his uncles to realize he was uncomfortable with the word, so he said it. “ How did you know they were'...queer?” he asked.
That's when Junior Granger jumped into the act. “Aww, you kin jist tell,” he said. “They ain't hard to pick out. You kin tell from the way they dress.”
That really got Donny's attention. Donny was pretty sure his Uncles would think he was queer if they ever found out what he had hidden in the cave up on The Coon. “You can?” he asked. “How? I mean, do they wear dresses or something?”
“Nah, not most of 'em. I guess some of 'em do that and I guess a man who wears dresses is queer fer sure, but these fags weren't that particular variety. These fags were more the smart city boy types. You know, the kind that press creases into their blue jean legs.”
“Yeah,” said Uncle Sonny. “They fancy up their hair too. You know, with some of that crap Grace Keeley uses in hers.”
Donny knew exactly what Uncle Sonny meant. Donny always liked the way Mrs. Keeley's hair looked. One time, he had even asked her what she used to make it so shiny. He'd told her he was thinking his sisters might like to have some for a birthday present. Grace Keeley had been only too happy to tell the boy. It was an intensive conditioner made by a company called Pantene. Mrs. Keeley sold Donny a bottle that day. Of course, he never gave it to his sisters. It was still unopened, hidden in his steamer trunk along with his small collection of pretty clothes and jewelry. Once in a while he opened it to take in its luxurious scent.
“And they talk about queer stuff. You kin always tell from their fag talk,” added Uncle Bal.
The uncles claimed Sonny Granger had offered to show one of those “fudge-suckers” a whole bunch of things that could be shoved up his faggot ass. Donny was pretty sure the uncles were just blow-hards, showing off for each other and anyone else who'd listen. He didn't think they'd actually done even half the things they claimed to have done. But the boy wasn't sure enough to want to be around them. Donny couldn't help but wonder what they might shove up his own ass if they ever found out about the treasure trunk up on The Coon.
Donny did his best to stay away from his three uncles, and from his father too, when he'd been drinking. That was a lot harder once the uncles moved back into the compound, which gave Daddy easier access to their liquor. The boy spent more and more time wandering the woods or practicing his music in Mr. Pepp's music room. The school custodian, Mr. Jeffers, was always willing to let Donny Granger in to practice his piano. Mr. Jeffers said he wished he had stuck with his own piano lessons when he was a boy. “Who knows?” he said one day to Donny who'd knocked on the janitor's door to borrow the key to the choir room. “I might be a concert pianist now instead of a janitor. Wouldn't that have been something?”
Donny had taken the key and told the old man he would only be at the school an hour or so. He just wanted to practice a new song he was learning. It was the one his mother had taught him and the twins to sing during that last summer before her death, Over The Rainbow. Donny had seen The Wizard of Oz once when they showed it in school. He had loved the music and costumes. Mostly, he had loved Dorothy's ruby slippers. After his mother died, Donny remembered her singing and decided to teach himself to play the song. He planned to surprise Mr. Pepp with it and hoped he might get to play it for his sisters one day. He knew they would remember how Mama had loved that song and how sweetly she had sung it.
In the choir room, Donny sat at the piano. He raised the lid on that old walnut upright so that each note he played would fill the room. He'd finally figured out all the chords and the transitions between them. Now, he was trying to pretty it up some. Mr. Pepp had taught Donny to improvise and he'd learned a few tricks on his own. Donny's rendition of Over The Rainbow was not quite the same as Judy Garland's and nowhere near as hauntingly simple as Kathleen Granger's a capella version had been, but it captured the hopefulness of Harold Arlen's composition. Donny lost himself in his music and lost track of time.
When he finally stopped playing, he turned around to find Junior Granger standing in the doorway to Mr. Pepp's music room. Uncle Junior's face was wet from tears and his hands were shaking. Donny rose to lower the lid on the piano.
Uncle Junior spoke to him. “Your mama would be proud, Donny. She loved music. She especially loved that song.”
“I know she did,” Donny answered. “She taught it to the twins and me.”
“I bet you don’t know when was the first time I heard her sing that one.”
'No, I guess I don't,” Donny told his Uncle, surprised to learn his Mama had ever sung in front of Junior Granger.
“It was in Wheeling. Your mama and her sister, Deborah Maynard, sang it in a talent show put on one summer in Oglebay Park. This was back before your mama met your daddy, long before she married him and moved to Pig Hill. I was there because I'd come to Wheeling, hoping to find work.”
“Mama sang in public?”
“She did. Both her and her sister. They were real good too. They didn't win the talent show but I always thought they shoulda. Those two Maynard girls sang like angels and they were pretty too. I'll never forget how beautiful your Mama looked in her purple dress. I mean both your mama and your aunt were pretty gals, but your mama was a real stunner.”
That's when Donny saw his other two uncles standing behind Uncle Junior in the hallway outside Mr. Pepp's classroom.
Bal Granger said, “What do we have here? Practicing your fairy piano music again, Boy?”
“Thought your Daddy told you he didn't want no son of his actin' like a fairy,” added Sonny Granger.
The two pushed their way into the room past Uncle Junior, who looked alarmed. “Hold on, you two!” he commanded. “The boy was just feeling lonely for his mama. He came down here to play her favorite song.”
The other two Granger Uncles stopped in their tracks. Junior sidled up between them and placed one hand on each of his brothers' shoulders. “We sore can't hold it against the boy for missing his mama, now can we?” he asked.
Donny noticed how Junior's voice changed and his hillbilly accent thickened, talking with his brothers.
“Remember what it was like when our own mama died? Why, Sonny, you were sad for years. I seem to recall you kept our mama's favorite shawl in your own drawer. In fact, I think you still have it. And, Sonny, didn't you cry like a baby right in the middle of mama's funeral? I seem to recall you cried like a girl for hours that day.”
“Yeah, so what of it?” replied Sonny. “You were the sissiest of us all when Mama died. Didn't Donald Sr. find you wrapped up in Mama's blanket, crying and talking to yourself about how you didn't know how we Granger boys would survive without our mama. You were scared some social worker from up to Morgantown would come along and put us all in an orphanage! Donald Sr. had to carry you to bed and sit with you all night, telling you how he'd take care of his brothers, that no orphan snatcher would ever get hold of one of us Grangers. You were worse than a faggot, you were a yellow-bellied coward.”
“Yep, I was. We were all sad cuz our mama passed. We forgot to act like Granger men. I'm just remindin' you two that Donny here misses his mama just like we miss ours. He came down here to play Kathleen's favorite song. That don’t make him a fairy. It just means he's lonesome.”
“I guess that makes sense,” said Uncle Bal.
“That, it does,” agreed Uncle Sonny.
“Good,” said Uncle Junior. “Now, let's leave the boy to his grief.”
Uncles Bal and Sonny walked out, Junior Granger lagging behind them. He turned to Donny and said quietly enough that his brothers would not hear. “I might not always be able to protect you, Donald, Jr. This time, you were lucky I was here. You best be more careful in the future and for Godssake, don't let your Daddy see you playing that piano. It would kill him to know you disobeyed him again.”
“Yessir,” Donny replied.
“And one more thing, nephew. It ain't just the piano playin' that's giving you away.”
Donny didn't understand the remark and the bewildered look on his face gave him away.
“Trust me, Donny, anyone with two eyes can see you ain’t like other men. You best do what you can to pass for one. Can you do that, Donny? Can you pass for a real man?”
Donny understood then what his uncle was saying. What he had always feared was obviously true. “I'll try,” he told his uncle figuring there would be no point in denying anything.
“Best do better than try, Boy. If you don't, your Daddy'll surely kick yer ass and I'll be obligated to help him do it. Consider yourself warned, Boy.”
With that, Uncle Junior walked out the door and ran to catch up with his brothers, who were talking about getting some beer from the cooler in Keeley's Market. Donny locked up the choir room and the school before returning the key to Mr. Jeffers. As he walked, he worried. The boy wondered how in the world he was supposed to pass for a real man.
A Revealed Secret, 1998
Pig Hill, West Virginia
One Sunday the autumn after his mama passed, Donny's family planned to attend the Baptist church in Masada. The Grangers weren't as regular in their attendance as they had been before Kate Granger's passing, but Daddy Granger was doing his best to get his family back on the track his wife would have wanted for them. Say what you will about Donald Granger, Sr., but he had loved his wife and knew that she wanted the very best for their children. If she thought going to church was important, then Daddy Granger thought so too.
Much to her father's displeasure, Margaret often attended the Baptist church with the Grangers. But that particular Sunday, her father had specifically asked her to come to the Church of God. He said it was important to him that she appear there from time to time and the girl had decided to humor him this once, so as not to raise his ire.
Knowing Margaret would not be expecting to sit with him in church that morning, Donny decided to do something daring. He told his family he didn’t feel well and convinced Daddy to let him stay home alone. June offered to skip church and tend to her brother. That nearly threw a wrench into Donny's plan, but it was the day of the annual church luncheon. It wasn’t hard to convince his sister he’d be okay alone and she should go on to church with the rest of the family.
Donny figured he’d have four or five hours to himself. He waited a full half hour to be sure the family had been gone long enough that no one would be coming back for something they'd forgotten. Then, he went straight into his mama’s bedroom. He thought of it that way, as his mama's room, because nothing in that room had been changed since Kathleen Granger died more than a year earlier. Daddy Granger went in only once to remove his own clothing from the closet and dresser. Since then, he had slept on the couch when weather was bad and in the hammock he’d rigged in the woods behind the trailer when weather was fine.
Donny sat at Mama’s dressing table. He took his time looking through the drawer that held her makeup and jewelry. On the surface, in front of the mirror was the golden comb and brush set Aunt Deb had sent Mama one Christmas. In the bathroom, there was a barrel of clean water sitting in the tub. Donny scooped some into the basin Mama used for washing her face and hair. He looked into the medicine cabinet and found Mama’s honeysuckle soap. He lathered up a washcloth. Looking at himself in Mama’s mirror he washed his face. At fifteen, the boy had started to grow facial hair, so he went to the dresser for a razor and found an old one still there. Back in front of Mama’s mirror, the boy carefully shaved away any hint of beard or mustache.
Donny had seen his mother put on a thin coat of moisturizing cream before applying her makeup on Sunday mornings, so he did that now. Next came the coat of foundation makeup. His mother’s complexion was something between fair and lightly tanned, lighter than Donny’s own skin tone. He liked the way it looked when covered with a dusting of baby powder applied with his mother’s fluffy powder brush.
Next came the pink stuff Mama wore on her cheeks. Donny read the label and saw that it was a blush made by Maybelline. At first he put on too much and had to wipe some off with a tissue. In the end, he was very pleased with the effect. He looked over the eye makeup and decided not to try it for fear of poking himself in the eye. He did apply some of mama’s burnt rose lip color by Cover Girl.
Fully made up, Donny went to his mother’s closet and took out one of her newest dresses, which is to say it was four or five years old but still in good condition. The pink flowers on the blue background had not faded much although the blue in the matching belt was slightly darker due to fact it had never been washed as the dress had. Donny buried his face in the soft fabric of the dress and realized he was smelling his Mama’s scent, still present long after she was gone. He held back tears so as not to ruin the makeup he’d so carefully applied.
Donny took off his own clothes and carefully unzipped his mother’s dress. He slipped it on and reached behind himself to zip it back up. The fabric was smooth against his skin and Donny liked the way the waist band hugged him above the hips. He decided the belt was unnecessary, that the lines of the dress itself did a fine job of accentuating the few curves Donny had to accentuate.
Standing in front of Mama’s full-length mirror, he wondered about his legs. They were long, much longer than his mother’s, and they were fairly hairy. He momentarily considered shaving them. He'd never be able to live it down if someone noticed he suddenly had hairless legs. It was early November so Donny figured he would have his legs in jeans for months to come. It was unlikely anyone would see his legs before his leg hair had a chance to grow back. Still, remembering his encounter with the uncles and the warning from Uncle Junior, he decided it wasn't worth the risk.
From his mother’s dresser drawer, Donny took a pair of nylon pantyhose. Sitting on the edge of his parents’ bed, he rolled the pantyhose as he had seen his sisters do and slipped them on up to the knees. Then he stood and pulled them up as far as they would go, which wasn’t far enough, Donny being at least a head taller than his mother. They were uncomfortable but Donny liked the way his legs looked encased in nylon. Unfortunately there were no shoes for him to try. Mama had worn her dressy shoes when she'd been put in the ground. Donny was pretty sure they would not have fit him anyway.
He walked around the room several times trying to hold his head as he had seen his sisters hold theirs when they knew they looked pretty. It wasn’t difficult at all for Donny to stand and walk like a girl. The truth was it was hard for him to move like a boy. The lessons about boyness had not been easy for Donny. As a little kid, he'd been teased by his uncles and kids at school. His father and brother had gotten in on the act sometimes. Even the twins called him Donna once in a while, so Donny had taught himself to run and throw and casually lean the way his brother and father did. It took concentration, even after years of practice, but Donny had been managing to pass, as Uncle Junior had put it, ever since he first realized he wasn't like other males. Now, wearing his mother's clothes, Donny felt more himself than ever before. He looked in the mirror and saw himself as he appeared in his own mind all the time.
That revelation, that he knew himself to be different from all the other Granger men, that maybe he was one of the fags or queers his father so hated, scared him. Donny wanted above all things to make his father proud. Daddy Granger’s respect was what Donny prized most.
He took off the panty hose, realizing they couldn't be put back in the drawer because they couldn't return to their original shape without washing. The dress, he returned to the closet, careful to hang it exactly as he had found it, with the belt wrapped around the hook of the hanger. Back at the basin, he used Mama’s scented soap to scrub off the makeup. He hoped no one would wonder why he smelled of honeysuckle.
Then, Donny put his own clothes back on, shoving the wadded up pantyhose in his pants pocket. He headed into the kitchen for something to eat. There was Daddy Granger, sitting in his reclining chair, tears streaming down his cheeks. Donny knew right away why his father was crying. It was because of him. It was because he had failed his father and all the Granger men by being a queer. Donny was ashamed, so ashamed in fact that it didn’t occur to him to feel fear. All he could think of was his father’s profound sorrow and how he had made Daddy Granger cry.
“Your sisters was worried about you,” Donny’s father told him haltingly, choking the words out. “I came home to check...” His voice cracked and he hung his head, ashamed.
Donny fell to his knees before his father, weeping. “I’m sorry, Daddy,” was all he had time to say before his father raised one booted foot and kicked Donny so hard in the head he saw stars as he flew backwards across the room. Donny could hear Theodore wining to be let in. The dog wanted nothing more than to comfort his boy. Donny himself lay on the floor, not even bothering to curl up in a ball to protect himself from the half dozen or so kicks that followed. Daddy Granger kicked his son in the gut hard enough to hurt his own booted foot. Donny sobbed but didn't beg for mercy, figuring he deserved whatever beating he got. Theodore's cries turned to barking.
Then his father was gone. Donny heard him slam open the door to the shed where fishing and hunting gear was stowed. Donny gave in to the impulse to follow. In spite of excruciating pain and blood oozing from his wounded face, Donny limped out the front door and down the steps. Managing by sheer force of will to stand straighter, he walked to the open shed door. The man was gathering supplies for hunting. When it was all collected he started toward the door, stopping only because Donny blocked the passage.
Donny stood before his angry father and cried. “Please, Daddy. It's not the way you think. I'll never do it again. I swear. I ain't no queer, Daddy. I promise.”
Donald Granger, Sr. looked at his son as he never had before, with contempt. The man growled at his son, “Git the fuck outa my way, faggot. Git outa my way or I'll make you sorry you were born.”
“I already am sorry,” Donny wailed.
“Your mama would be 'shamed of you, ya know. Maybe it's good she ain't never gonna know her baby boy grew up to be a faggot.”
Donny wept uncontrollably, hearing what he believed to be the truth said aloud.
“Now move, Boy, or I'll move ya.”
Donny couldn't move. He stood still.
“I said move, faggot. Don't think I won't shoot ya.”
“Go ahead, Daddy. Go ahead and shoot. It's what I deserve.”
His father raised the barrel of his shotgun and pressed it against the boy's chest.
“I mean it, boy, let me pass!”
Donny held his ground, so Daddy Granger cocked the rifle. The sound of the click was enough. Donny stepped out of the way, just as Theodore lunged toward Donald Granger, Sr. The dog looked more ferocious than he ever had before, even when threatening Jeremiah Adelbaum. Daddy Granger saw the dog fully intended to rip him to shreds. He fired and Theodore fell from the air to the ground with a thud. When the man saw that the animal had not died but was badly wounded, he pressed the barrel of the shotgun against Theodore's head, cocked it and fired again.
Donny was on his knees, bent over his lost dog, sobbing. His father walked into the woods without another word.
When his sisters and brother returned from church, Donny couldn't speak. He was on the ground next to Theodore’s lifeless body. He couldn’t bring himself to explain what had happened or how he had gotten so badly hurt. But they all knew Daddy Granger had left them at church. They could add up the evidence.
Aaron helped Donny into the trailer and installed him in his bed. Then he went outside to bury Theodore's remains. June opened the fridge and found a bottle of whiskey. She pored some in a glass and offered him a sip, which he gulped down, hoping it would obliterate his memory as well as his pain.
Margaret showed up a while later. May told her Donny wasn’t feeling well. Margaret placed her hand on her friend’s forehead. “You feel a little warm,” the girl said. “But just a little.”
“That might be the whiskey,” May suggested going on to explain that Donny had taken a medicinal slug.
Margaret joined the twins in the kitchen. The twins did their best every weekend to prepare the meals as their mother would have. Sometimes their father was there to eat, sometimes not. Since his wife’s death, he often spent his free time in the woods. Since the reappearance of the Granger uncles the day Kathleen Granger was laid to rest, he sometimes went to see them in their trailers. Sometimes all four of them went up to the Uncles' dilapidated cabin, on the west side of Masada. Margaret wasn’t much help with the cooking. But she liked kneading the dough for bread and didn’t mind dealing with the fire outside if that was needed for the food preparations, which that day it was, because the propane tank had gone empty a couple weeks earlier and had not been refilled.
It was supper time when Daddy Granger returned with the three Granger uncles. It was Sonny Granger who spoke for them all. “Get some things together.” He threw a bag at Donny’s feet. “Take whattchyou kin carry. You got ten minutes to be gone. After that, well, you don't wanna know what’ll happen after that.”
The twins and Margaret were stunned. It was Aaron who stepped forward to speak for his brother. “Please, Daddy,” he said to Donald Granger, Sr., “I don’t know what he did to disappoint you, but don’t send Donny away!”
“Stay out of this, Boy. This is none of your concern.” It was Sonny Granger speaking again for all of the Granger men. “He’s lucky we’re letting 'im leave in one piece.”
Daddy Granger told his older son, “If you knew what we know, Aaron, you wouldn't be so quick to interfere. Your brother's a disgrace to this family. I regret the day I gave him my name.”
“We oughta beat him before we send him off,” interrupted Uncle Bal.
“That's already been seen to,” said June. “Daddy already whooped him worse than anyone should ever hurt their own children.”
“Mama wouldn't stand for this,” added May. “She would never turn her back on one of her children.”
“Well, maybe that's what's made the boy turn out so bad,” said Bal.
“Seems like you twins are getting to be just as mouthy as your Mama,” said Uncle Sonny raising his hand to slap May's cheek.
Daddy Granger stopped him and said, “I don't need you to discipline my children for me, Caleb. If my daughters need a lickin', I'll be the one that gives it.” Then, he turned to Donny and said, “Ten minutes, boy. Not one minute more. After that, I don’t never wanna see yer face again.”
“I always knew you could be mean sometimes,” said Margaret. “But I never thought you'd turn out to be as bad as my own father. You two could start a club.”
Daddy Granger stomped out the door and up the hill. Everyone knew he was headed to the new still his brothers built. He'd be drunk in under an hour for sure. Junior Granger followed his youngest brother into the woods.
“Dontchu wanna stay? Make sure the homo hits the road?” asked Sonny.
“Might still give us a reason to beat the shit outa him,” added Balthazar.
“More like an excuse,” said Uncle Junior as he walked away.
Uncles Sonny and Bal waited outside the trailer to see that Donny left. Bal was gleefully hoping for an excuse to beat the boy. He made no secret of it.
Donny did as he’d been told. He took some clothes, his rifle, an extra pair of boots. Not even saying goodbye to Aaron and his sisters, he headed out the door. He walked right past his uncles, staring straight ahead, never shifting his gaze so that they could see the pain in his eyes. He walked down the western path off of Pig Hill, cut through some back yards in town and then headed up The Coon on the other side of Masada. He went to the little cave that held his coffee can and his steamer trunk full of treasures. Then, Donny disappeared into the woods with not the first idea as to what he would do next.
Donny Takes To The Woods, 1998
Dead Dog Mountain, West Virginia
Margaret followed Donny into the woods that evening. Respecting her friend’s silence, she didn't say a word. She just followed as he climbed up Coon Hill to his stash in the cave. There, he retrieved the coffee can and its contents along with a couple of small items from the trunk, the bracelet he’d bought at Keeley’s and his mother’s white sweater. Then, she followed him down the other side of the hill. She followed as he crossed the road headed to Parkersburg and entered the woods at the foot of Dead Dog Mountain. She was still behind him as he climbed and sat down on the leaf covered ground when he stopped to rest by a stream that flowed to the southeast. They were silent for a while.
When Margaret finally spoke, she asked, “Plan to tell me where we're going?”
Donny’s face reddened and he turned angrily on his friend, “We aren’t going anywhere! “You should go back to my father’s house and see if there is any supper left. You helped cook it after all, so go eat! Then, you should go home and sleep with a knife under your pillow. When your father learns I'm gone from Pig Hill, you can tell him I may not be at home, but I’ll never be far. That’ll keep you safe a while longer.”
Margaret mulled that over. She’d suspected her father was afraid of Donny, suspected that was why he hadn’t laid a finger on her in more than a year, had barely spoken to her in fact. That was just fine as far as Margaret was concerned. She liked it when her father acted like she didn't exist. It was better that way. Now, she wondered exactly how he had come to fear Donny Granger. The girl decided this was not the time to ask. Her friend had other things on his mind.
Instead she asked him, “Where are you going, Donny?”
The boy thought about telling his friend it was none of her business where he was going, but he decided that wasn’t fair. Margaret wasn't at fault for his current state, homeless and disowned. That was his father’s doing. No, Donny had to be honest with himself, no matter how much it stung. It was his own fault things had gone the way they had.
After a while he told her, “I have no idea where I'm headed, none at all.”
“What happened back there?” she asked, thinking she could guess.
“You don’t want to know.”
“Yeah, I do. But if you aren’t ready to say, I won't push. Where are you going to sleep tonight?”
“Right here, I think. I was going to stay on The Coon, in the copse. But Daddy wanders the woods sometimes at night. Sometimes he wanders over The Coon and I don’t want him to find me.”
“Do you think he’ll let you come back when he cools down?”
“No.” This was said with no hesitation at all.
“Okay, then come stay at my house.”
Donny was nonplussed by the very idea. “Are you kidding?”
“I know it’s not a perfect solution, but I get the feeling my father won't cross you. If you want to be in my old room, he won’t stand in your way. It beats all hell out of you sleeping in the woods. It may not suck now, but it will in January.”
“Margaret, I'm not staying at your house. Your father might go along with it, but he would hate it. I want him to be good to you, but he has no obligation to be good to me. I won’t ask him to be.”
“I will,” Margaret insisted.
“No, Mags. My father would be furious too.”
“He already is. Can you make matters worse?”
“Your father is possibly the only person in Masada my Daddy hates as much as he hates me.”
“Donny! I can't believe your father hates you. He'll come around.”
“He won't, Mags. Not ever. You heard him. You saw how he looked at me, like I'm some bit of scum that might make him sick if he gets too close. If I moved into your house, he would see that as another betrayal. I have shamed him enough already and won’t do anything to make matters worse. Besides your father's a minister...”
“Not much of one.”
“It wouldn't be good for him to have me in his house. Not now. It would look bad and people would talk.”
Margaret's opinion was that people would talk no matter what Donny did now and she didn't care one bit how that affected her dear old dad. But she could see Donny would not be swayed on that front. She decided to take another tact.
“Donny, I don't know what happened between you and your daddy, but I know you well enough to know you could never shame him.”
“That’s exactly what I did. Just drop it, Mags. I don’t want to say any more. Tonight, I'll sleep right here.”
Margaret watched as Donny took a sleeping bag from his sack. “You should go back now, Mags. Have supper with my family like you usually do. Don’t ask Daddy to reconsider. Just let him be; I've hurt him enough already. Then, go home and, if your father tries anything with you, tell him what I said you should. I'll see you tomorrow.”
Margaret froze in place wondering if that was true, would he really see her tomorrow or was he planning to disappear in the night? “Where, Donny? When? Will you be in school?”
Donny hadn't considered school. Now that he did, he said, “No. I don’t think so. But I'll find you somewhere, Mags.” Then, as if reading her mind, he added, “I won’t leave you, Mags. Not ever.”
Until he said it, Margaret had not realized how important that was to her. Up to now, everyone who had mattered in her life had left. Her mother left by taking her own life; her sister ran away; and her father, well, he left by hating her enough to hurt her. In a sense, he was gone her whole life, being no kind of father and offering no sense of safety and security. Donny was all she had. Now that she thought of it, Margaret did not cry.
“Thank you,” she said.
Margaret did go back to the Granger place for supper. The uncles were gone and Aaron had gone with them. That surprised Margaret. Aaron had stood up for his brother. It didn't make sense that he would go into the woods like he was friendly with men who had threatened Donny. May and June asked if Margaret knew where Donny had gone. Margaret said she did and that he would not be far away. The twins said not to tell them where he was, they didn't want to know if anyone asked. That way they wouldn't have to lie.
“Is Donny okay?” June asked. “Did he put anything on those bruises?”
“I've seen Daddy mad before, Margaret, but I've never known him to do that kind of damage. I can't believe he shot Theodore,” said May.
“Poor ol' dog,” said June.
Margaret wasn't sure how to answer the twins. Donny was physically okay when she left him, or maybe he was just pretending so she wouldn't insist on him coming home with her. No, she had followed him quite a while before he knew she was there. He hadn't seemed too sore to get around the hills. But, no, he really wasn't alright. How could anyone expect him to be? She told Donny's sisters the truth.
“He's moving okay and the bruises will heal. Doesn't seem like your father broke any of his bones or gave him a concussion.”
“That's a miracle,” said May,
“I wanted to give him some of Daddy's whiskey to take with him when he left, but I didn't get the chance. I couldn't do it in front of Daddy,” said June.
“I wish he could have taken it with him,” added May. “More pain is sure to set in after a few hours. Once he lays down for the night, he is going to get stiff and sore. He could use some of that whiskey when he wakes up aching.”
“I could take it to him,” Margaret offered.
“Could you?” the twins asked simultaneously.
“Yes, and, if you're willing, I could take him some of the leftovers from supper. He didn't take anything at all with him and he shouldn't have to hunt when he's hurting.”
Of course the twins were willing! They packed up a large sack of food for Margaret to take to their brother.
May told Margaret she could take food to him every few days at least. “Daddy never pays any attention to how much we have on hand. He and Aaron bring it home and leave it to us to make sure there is enough to feed everyone.”
June said she wasn't sure they would be able to do that when Daddy or Aaron was around, but they would do what they could when they weren't. “You just keep coming home with us after school each day. May and I do the cooking then and we'll give you some to take to Donny whenever the coast is clear.”
It took about an hour for Margaret to get to Donny back on Dead Dog Mountain. He wasn’t happy to see her at first. He said she shouldn’t be wondering the hills alone and that he could take care of himself, but she knew he was really mad because he’d been weeping when she came upon him dangling a makeshift fishing pole in the stream. He brightened some when he saw the food she’d brought him. It was enough for a couple days at least and included the walnut bread his sisters and Mags had made using his Mama’s recipe.
“Daddy doesn’t know you brought me food, does he?”
“He wasn’t home,” Margaret told him. “Neither was Aaron.”
“Good. I don’t want you girls doing anything that will get Daddy madder. You all need him, now more than ever.”
“You need him too, Donny, and look what he’s done to you.”
“Daddy’s a good man, Mags.”
“I'm not sure I think good men throw their children to the woods or beat their wives.”
That was the first time either of them had ever acknowledged that Kathleen Granger had been abused by her husband.
Donny considered that. “Mags, you have no idea the life Daddy lived before Mama. You've met his brothers though. Their daddy, my Grandpa Granger, made my father and yours look like saints. It is no wonder my uncles are drunks. The fact that Daddy manages to stay sober most of the time and keep his family housed and fed is pretty near a miracle.”
“He isn’t keeping you housed now. Or fed. That's your sisters and me that'll see to that.”
“I deserve to be on my own, Mags. I know you don't get why, but it’s true.”
Abruptly, he changed the subject. “It’s getting late and you have school tomorrow. I don’t want you going over The Coon alone at night but I don’t think I should be in Masada at all, for a while at least. How 'bout I walk you down the mountain and you take the road back into town? Will that work? Just be sure to stay well off the road. Drivers might not see you at night.”
So that's what happened. Margaret arrived home as the clock over the Baptist church struck ten. She managed to make it up the stairs and into her bed without her father even realizing she’d arrived. Still, she took Donny’s advice and put the butcher knife under her pillow.
Donny himself did not sleep that first night in the woods. Comfortable as he was wandering alone in the forest in day time, it was spooky at night. He could hear all manner of animals. Even the sounds of leaves rustling in the wind seemed ominous from where he sat on the branch of a tree, having decided he would rather risk falling out of a tree than facing some hungry nocturnal animal on the ground. Of course, what really kept him awake was thinking about his Daddy and Aaron and his sisters. He worried that the girls would make trouble for themselves trying to help him. He was sure Aaron would know the whole story now, how Donny had disgraced his father and his whole family. He hoped Aaron would forgive his little brother for being queer but figured that wasn't likely at all. Donny was awake til dawn when he finally fell asleep, wondering if his Mama knew how bad he'd turned out. He hoped not.
Word Spreads, 1998
Masada, West Virginia
News travels fast in a small town. Scandal travels faster. Most of Masada's fine citizens knew Donny Granger was cast out within 24 hours of his expulsion from the family compound. The reason for the boy's abandonment was known to almost everyone. Uncles Bal and Sonny saw to that.
“My brother, Donald, had to make a hard choice yesterday.” Sonny announced that busy Monday morning in the Keeley Market. “As many of y'all know, there have always been problems with Donald, Jr., Donny. His daddy has tried to make a man outa 'im, but's clear now he don' wanna be no kinda man.”
Here, Bal took over telling the tale. “Our brother had to make a judgement yesterday. Either let that boy go on bein' a bad 'fluence on his other young'ns or protect his family from ungodliness and shame. Donald decided the boy had to go from the fam'ly home once and fer all. Donny ain't no longer one of us Grangers. He's not to be welcomed home ever agin.”
There were gasps and murmurs all around. The few men present nodded as if they understood how hard it is raisin' children, being the man of a house. Several women doing their morning shopping were less inclined to believe a man could be right to disown his son. It was Grace Keeley who spoke for them all. “I have known that boy his whole life,” she said. “I cannot imagine he has done anything that warrants complete shunning.”
The women nodded their agreement, but Bal and Sonny continued telling the story. By the time they were through spewing venom, the female population of Masada had been swayed to the side of The Granger Men.
“Our brother done the only thing a man kin do with a faggot son,” Bal announced to the astonished audience he held rapt in the market. “Kicked that boy's ass halfway down the hill and told 'im not never to show his face again.”
“Man found his son wearin' a dress. A dress!” Sonny said then. “'Ts'no wonder the boy turned out queer. His mama coddled 'im too dang much, lettin' 'im play that homo music. Turned 'im into a fairy.”
“Oh I don't believe that,” said Grace Keeley. “Kathleen Granger was a fine woman and a good mother.”
“She was sick for near half that boy's life,” retorted Bal. “She was fine with the other children, but not with that young boy. She'd 'a let that one get away with murder.”
“And when her husband tried to discipline the boy, she interfered,” added Sonny. “And that jest ain't right. Donald couldn't do nuthin' 'bout that boy without upsetting Kathleen and she was sick, so he backed off. Now he's got 'imself a faggot for a son.”
That was when Grace Keeley recalled a long ago winter day when she had sold costume jewelry to Donny Granger. She remembered how he'd bought brooches for his sisters and Margaret Adelbaum and that he had chosen a lovely, pink bracelet for his mother. He'd bought a second bracelet and Grace had wondered at the time who that might be for. Now, she thought she knew. Maybe the boy had purchased the blue bracelet for himself? Then it came to her that Donny Granger had often questioned her about hair products and makeup. One time, she'd even seen him spray a bit of perfume on his arm and sniff. She'd asked if he was looking to buy another gift for someone and he'd hesitated before replying, “Possibly, Ma'am.” He never did buy the perfume.
Donny Granger, tucked away, sleeping fitfully in a tree, had no way of knowing that was the precise moment his fate was sealed in Masada. If there had ever been a chance of reconciliation with his Daddy, it would have taken the women of Masada to make it happen. Once they were lost to him, a chapter in the boy's life was over.
The few villagers who did not hear the tale from Bal and Sonny Granger, who loved spreading calumny even when they were sober, heard it from the town's young people when Donny Granger failed to show up for school several days in a row. Many were aware the boy was hiding in the woods. He'd been seen on The Coon, even spotted fishing in Ettinger's Pond. No one ever spoke to him, though plenty was said about him.
Of course, Margaret Adelbaum made no secret of the fact she would stand by her friend, no matter what. She told members of the Central School choir they could go drown themselves in badger piss when she witnessed a group of them laughing at Lucille Miller's imitation of Donny, pretending to play the piano while trying to keep a tiara on her head, snapping her fingers and gushing out nonsense she must have heard on a sit-com. The music teacher was kinder than most, going so far as to acknowledge the boy by raising one hand in a quick wave when he saw Donny crossing the road outside of town, rifle over his left shoulder.
In a bigger town, the authorities might have been notified and Donny might have been taken in for truancy. His father might have been forced either to take the boy back home or to turn him over to foster care. But in Masada, there were no authorities other than the citizens themselves and they were disinclined to involve interlopers in what was obviously family business. On the rare occasions when outsiders were needed to sort out something that exceeded the scope of the town's own busy bodies and self appointed policy makers, they were called from the county sheriff’s office. It would take a great deal more than a renounced and homeless queer-boy to warrant a phone call. The citizens of Masada, West Virginia have always believed in washing their own dirty laundry with their own calloused hands. What won’t come clean must be incinerated and what cannot be burned is tossed aside.
Masada's two very different ministers had surprisingly similar reactions to the news about Donny Granger. Jeremiah Adelbaum heard from old Mrs. Wadell, a particularly dedicated member of his flock, that Donny Granger had turned out to be a homosexual and that his father had done the only thing a good father can do under such circumstances. The Reverend Adelbaum had sighed knowingly, saying that very few understand a father's travails. Mrs. Wadell had waddled away, satisfied with her preacher's righteous response to the Granger situation.
It was Margaret Adelbaum who told the Reverend and Rachel Perkins about Donny's situation. She went to their home before heading to school that very same Monday morning, at the very time Bal and Sonny Granger had told their tale in the Keeley Market. When she related the story to the Perkins, Margaret left out the reason for Donny's expulsion from Pig Hill, saying only that Daddy Granger had gotten really angry with Donny, that the man had beaten his son and then ordered him out of the house. Margaret said Donny had taken to the woods and planned to stay there indefinitely. Mrs. Perkins prevailed upon her husband to step in and see if he could bring about some reconciliation between father and son.
“I know that's what Kate would have wanted,” the pastor's wife insisted. “Besides, Donny's not old enough yet to fend for himself. It's not safe for a boy being out on his own.”
The pastor agreed and went that very day to have a conversation with Donald Granger, Sr. “I can't make any promises,” he told his wife and Margaret Adelbaum, “But I'll do what can be done.”
But when the man returned two hours later from his meeting with Daddy Granger, the pastor said there was nothing to be done about Donny's situation. “His father will not be swayed on this matter and, knowing what I now know, I am not sure I blame him. It looks to me like the boy has made a choice and now he has to live with it.”
Margaret knew what the pastor referred to, so she thanked him and his wife for trying and left for school. Rachel Perkins demanded more information. Her husband told her that Donny had defiled himself and the memory of his dead mother, that Daddy Granger told him he had tried for years to teach the boy how men behave, but Donny had chosen the path of immorality and sin. The preacher said Donny's father was heart broken over this loss, especially coming so soon after losing his wife.
“Donald Granger, Sr. is a man crushed by the weight of sorrow,” the minister said. “All we can do for that boy now is pray. It's his father and the rest of Kathleen's children we need to care for. Hopefully, Donny Granger will one day find himself on the road back to God, but, for now, he is wherever he chooses to put himself.”
Sneaking Home, 1998
Dead Dog Mountain and Pig Hill, West Virginia
Donny didn't really mind living in the woods. He was comfortable there, always had been. And he wasn't going hungry. Between what he trapped, foraged, or shot for himself and the supplies May and June sent him almost daily, Margaret serving as their courier, he was eating well. He managed to keep himself clean, washing himself and his clothes in the stream on the mountain. He did miss piano lessons with Mr. Pepp and was surprised to find he missed accompanying the choir. Of course, there were people he missed too. His family, most of all. He longed to hear his sisters babble on about inconsequential things and he wished Aaron were around to tease him like he used to. Donny missed his daddy too, but couldn't even allow himself to imagine the man might one day forgive him. There were even times when Donny missed his unlces. Crude and mean as they were, they were family. Of course, it was his mama he missed most of all, but it did even less good to focus on that than it did wondering if he might one day work his way back to being a Granger man in good standing. At least he still had Mags. They'd been best friends for so long now that he could no longer remember what it was like not having her around every day.
Another thing he missed was the art class he took at Masada Central School. Donny's grades were high enough that he had earned the right to take an two elective classes, instead of the usual one. Of course, choir was his first elective and the piano lessons were not actually something he got school credit for, so they dodm't count as an elective. Donny had chosen art classes for his extra electives. That was another thing his daddy had not approved, but Mama's will had prevailed. Donny had enjoyed having daily access to paper and paints, fancy drawing pencils, even clay and wood for students who wanted to work in 3D mediums. The art teacher was a young woman who grew up in Masada. Jenna Wills was was her name. She had left Masada long enough to attend college in Morgantown. There, she had majored in art education with the intent of teaching in her home town.
Miss Wills liked Donny's drawings and encouraged him to borrow materials from her classroom any time he needed them. Of course, he could not do that now that he was no longer going to school, but Donny remembered where some paper and pencils were located on Pig Hill. In his father's tool shed, there was a drawer full of gifts and cards Deb Maynard sent for her sister and her sister's children. These gifts had been coming for years and were never delivered to the intended recipients. Somehow, Daddy Granger was getting them from the post office in the Keeley Market and hiding them. He'd been doing it for years. Donny had never forgotten the discovery though. Once in a while he went to see if the gifts were still there. Each time he checked, the stash had grown larger.
Now, he realized he could put some of those gifts to good use. It was early morning and the sun was peeking through the trees on Dead Dog Mountain. Donny realized his father and brother would be heading to work about now. The uncles were probably still past out from drinking. May and June might be home, but it would actually be nice to see them.
Donny hurried to dress himself, not bothering to eat or drink anything before hurrying down the trail that followed the creek all the way to Ettinger's Pond. When the ground leveled out and the trail became visible to folks in town, any of them who looked out their windows at the right moment anyway, he slipped into the woods and took the long way around the pond, crossing The Parkersburg -Morgantown Road near Margaret's house. He ran across the road when he saw there were no cars coming and no people walking on the sidewalk. He was in the woods at the foot of Pig Hill before anyone saw him. On Pig Hill he avoided all the trails, choosing instead the uncleared eastern approach to the Granger compound.
He couldn't really be sure what time it was when he reached the treeline behind the family trailer. Donny wished he knew his sisters had already left for school. He stood in the shaded area near his mother's hammock and saw that Daddy Granger had been sleeping there, still unable to sleep in the bed he had shared with his wife. There were beer cans and dirty laundry all around. The fact that Daddy was not in the hammock still told him the man had left for work already and that meant Aaron would be gone already too. Donny decided to risk running into the twins. Hopefully, they were gone for the day, but seeing them would not be the end of the world.
He crept stealthily from the darkened woods and gathered up his father's dirty clothes along with the blanket and pillow the man had left in the hammock. Donny figured those had not been washed in months, maybe not since his mother died. These items, he carried to the laundry shed. There was a box of detergent, from which he took a scoop which he dumped into the old washing machine his mama had used the last couple of years of her life, after Daddy Granger had insisted on getting a small generator for running it. The machine was 30 years old at least when Daddy and Aaron brought it up the hill but it worked. With his father's and brother's mechanical attentions, it would continue running for years to come.
Once the clothes were running, Donny searched through the shelf of miscellaneous stuff his mother had stored in the shed. There were clothes pins and and rope for extra clothes line. Donny grabbed a paper bag from a stack of bags saved from many years of trips to Keeley's Market. He took the bag and returned to the area around his mama's hammock. There, he gathered up his father's empty beer cans, smashing each one to a space-saving compact size before taking the whole lot to the big rubber bin where they would be stowed until Aaron would drag them down he hill to the recycling bin behind Keeley's Market.
When the washing machine finished its cycle, Donny carried the wet things to the clothes line hung around the fire pit in the center of the Granger Compound. He wouldn't dare set foot in the trailer itself, not even to put away his father's clothes once they dried, so he left them hanging on the line. The twins would see them when they came back up the hill after school. Much as he'd enjoyed doing something for his Daddy, even if his Daddy would never notice, it was time now to do what he'd come to do and move on. Coming here was a big risk, one he doubted he'd take again.
In his father's tool shed, Donny went straight to the big file cabinet. He opened its bottom drawer and found it still full with packages and envelopes from his Aunt Deb. Donny went through them all and took the ones that had his name inscribed on them. Then, he closed that drawer and opened the one above it. It too contained items from Aunt Deb. So many of them were addressed to his mama. It made him choke up, just thinking how happy his mother would have been to know her sister had tried to keep in touch. Kathleen Granger had died believing her sister had abandoned her. Donny would never understand how his father could have done that to his mama. Now that he thought about it though, he realized he had done it too. Donny had known about this stash of hidden gifts for years. He'd let his mama die without knowing. That thought brought tears to his eyes.
Donny stuffed all the gifts that had his name on them, incuding the pencils and paper he'd found years ago, in his backpack. Momentarily, he considered taking the gifts intended for his sisters and putting them on the steps that led into the family trailer, but he didn't dare. It would be too tempting to step inside and that was not worth even the slimmest chance of being caught there. And, if he did leave the gifts for his sisters to find, Donny knew his father and brother would realize he had been in the compound. They might think that was reason enough to hunt him down and beat him. This time, Donny figured his father would kill him if he got the chance. Outside the shed, Donny spotted Theodore's old pile of bones. The old dog had loved what bones he was given and kept them altogether in a mound by the shed. Donny had marveled that his old dog was the only dog he knew who didn't prefer to bury them. Donny smiled, remembering Theodore, that brave old beast who had died for trying to protect him.
That memory was enough to drive Donny into the woods. He braved the trail down the Hill's south side, the one that ended in the backyard at The Church of God and its manse. He figured the only person there would be The Reverend Jeremiah Adelbaum and the boy sort of hoped to run into that man. It was time to deliver a reminder about leaving his daughter alone. Unfortunately, the preacher's car was gone when Donny got there. He supposed the reminder would have to wait.
Back on Dead Dog, Donny went through the envelopes and presents from his Aunt Deb. There were several pads of paper, packages of pens and pencils, markers and paint. There was even a package of clay. That was so old an dried up it could not be used now, but Donny appreciated that his aunt had ever thought to send it to him. The postmark on the package told him she'd sent it when the boy was just seven years old. It also told him his Aunt Deb was living in a place called Cocoa Beach, Florida.
Brotherly Love, 1998
Dead Dog Mountain, West Virginia
It was lonely in the woods. One afternoon when he was sure his father was still at work, Donny sneaked up Pig Hill to sit by Kathleen Granger's grave. It was marked with a wooden cross and some flowers Donny figured had to have been left by the twins. He hadn't seen his sisters in the days since his daddy drove him from home, but received regular news of them from Margaret, who came to Donny each day after school. She almost always arrived with food and messages from May and June. Much as he appreciated the risks the three girls were taking to see that Donny had more to eat than what he could kill in the woods, he worried they were going to get caught. What would Daddy Granger do to his daughters if he learned they were disobedient?
Donny was wearing the bracelet he had given his mother on her last Christmas. As he sat, he twisted the bracelet around his wrist and talked to his mama. He was telling her how sorry he was for being such a big disappointment, how he wished he hadn't disgraced her and hoped she could forgive him. He asked his Mama to look after his sisters and Margaret.
“I don't want anyone to get in trouble on my account,” he said to the grave. “Daddy'll be sore mad if he finds out May and June are helpin' me at all. Oh I don’t think he'd throw 'em outa the house, them bein' girls and all, but I reckon he wouldn't think twice about disciplinin' them with his fists.” At that point, Donny shifted his focus to the little cross, like he was looking at his mother's face. “Oh, I know, Mama. You never wanted us kids to think of Daddy that way, but we all knew he could be mean, that he hit you whenever you went against him and sometimes even when you didn't. And now he's got Uncle Sonny and Uncle Bal hangin' around all the time again. They're a bad influence, Mama. You know it's true. Uncle Junior's not so bad, but he won’t stand up to them. I think they scare him. So if you could please look out for the girls, I'd appreciate it. Don't do it for me , Mama. I don’t deserve your help. But May and June, they're your babies. Do it for them. And while you're at it, could you keep an eye on Margaret for me too? I see her every day, but she has to go home to her house every night, Mama. I think you know how bad that can be for her, so I hope you can look after Mags too. She's the only friend I got left, Mama. I don't think I know what I'd do if something bad happened to her.”
Donny cried then. He didn't give in to his sadness often, but here, with his Mama so close but so far out of his reach, the boy sobbed. He didn't hear the branches rustle as his big brother came up behind him.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Aaron Granger demanded. “Daddy told you never to show your face again.”
Donny rose to his feet. He reached out to embrace his big brother, but Aaron slapped Donny's hands away.
“Don't touch me,” the older brother commanded. “Don't you ever touch me!”
“But I thought...”
“You thought what? That I stood up for you with Daddy? I never woulda done that if I'd known what you did. I had no idea what you are.”
Donny froze when he heard his brother's words. So that was it, then. Daddy or one of the uncles had told Aaron the truth of why they had driven him from home. Now that Aaron knew his little brother was queer, he hated Donny too.
“I'm telling you, Donny, you better leave here for good. I won’t tell anyone I saw you here. Not this time. I'll let you walk away. But if you ever come back and I catch you anywhere near Pig Hill, I'll kick your fairy ass all the way to Pittsburg.”
Donny wasn't really surprised his brother had turned against him too. He figured it wouldn't be long now until the twins were lost to him as well. If they knew the truth about their little brother, they would be happy to let him starve to death in the woods.
“Fine,” was all Donny could bring himself to say. He bent to pick up his back pack and his rifle. He'd head back to Dead Dog Mountain to wait for Margaret to find him after school. He looked Aaron in the face and repeated one more time, “Fine,” before turning to leave.
Behind him, Donny heard Aaron fall to his knees on the ground. Determined not to face Aaron again because he was sure it would make him cry, Donny stiffened his shoulders and stepped away. There was no need to make himself look any weaker than he already felt. He'd just walk away, but Aaron called out to him.
“It shouldn'ta been this way, Little Brother. It didn't have to be. You shoulda changed. God knows Daddy tried to make a man outa you. I did too, Little Brother. You coulda changed.”
That stopped Donny in his tracks. Up to that very moment, he had agreed with every word Aaron said. Donny had always known something was bad wrong with him, that he wasn't the man his family could be proud of. Even as a little boy, Donny had realized he wasn't the same as other boys. He'd tried like hell to fit in, to pass, as Uncle Junior had put it. But he had failed. Now, at 15 years old, he was still as twisted as a pretzel. Donny Granger was ashamed to realize that, hard as he tried to be the man he'd been raised to be, he never would be. He would always be exactly who he was, no matter what anyone else thought.
Those thoughts and feelings rushed through his mind and Donny found he was relieved. His shoulders relaxed and the urge to cry was gone. He turned around to face his older brother.
“I know I'm a big disappointment to you, Aaron, and to Daddy and the Uncles and everyone else. I wish I was different...”
“You coulda been.”
“No,” Donny said. “No. That's the thing I just realized listenin' to you go on about how hard you and Daddy worked to make a man outa me.”
“Oh, believe me, Big Brother, I know it. I've spent most of my life knowing I wasn't man enough for the Grangers, maybe not for anyone in Masada. I know you tried to fix me. I know Daddy did too. What you probably don’t know is that no one tried harder to make a man outa me than I did.”
“Oh give me a break, Donny. You were wearin' a dress! Hell, you're wearin' Mama's jewelry right now!”
Donny had forgotten about the bracelet and looked down to see it sparkling on his wrist. “So I am,” he laughed. “I'd forgotten!”
“It's not funny,” Aaron insisted.
Donny got serious again then. “You're right, Aaron, it's not funny. But it is what it is and I am what I am. I've tried like hell to be a Granger man, but it hasn't worked. And now I realize it hasn't worked because I can't.”
Aaron stood listening, clearly not understanding. Donny stepped closer to his brother so that now both brothers stood at the foot of their mother's grave. Aaron stared at the little cross now and Donny faced his brother.
“It never could work, Aaron. I don’t know why I can't be more like you or Daddy. Lord knows, things would be a lot easier if I could. But now I see it isn't possible and it never was. I think Mama always knew that.”
With that, Donny left his brother's side and walked away, disappearing into the woods as quickly as he could. He heard Aaron call out, “Don't never come back, Donny! Stay the hell away.”
Margaret Tries To Convince Donny To Go Home, 1998
Dead Dog Mountain, West Virginia
When Margaret found Donny in the woods that day, he was even further up Dead Dog Mountain than he had been before. It took Margaret the better part of an hour to find him after she left his sisters at the Granger trailer. They had packed a huge bag of food for Donny and it was heavy.
“Jeeze, Donny, you trying to wear me out moving so far uphill?”
He was going through the bag of food, munching on a molasses cookie when he answered. “I hadda move,” he told her. “I ran into Aaron earlier today.”
“He was here?”
“Nah, I was on Pig Hill. Went to see Mama,” he said offering Margaret a cookie. “The girls sure packed a lotta food.”
“Enough for a few days,” said Margaret. “We don’t want you gettin' hungry and there's no way of knowin' when they'll be able to send more.”
“They're taking a risk doing this at all,” said Donny. “If Aaron finds out, he's likely to tell Daddy and then they'd be in trouble.”
“I guess seeing Aaron didn't go well?”
He related the whole story of how he'd gone to Pig Hill to visit his mama and repeated every word that had passed between Donny and his brother. “I moved further up Dead Dog, just to be sure Aaron isn't likely to stumble across me when he's out huntin'.”
Margaret could understand that. Donny needed to stay safe and that meant keeping clear of the Granger men. In fact, given the way people in town were talking about her friend, she figured he'd be safer staying away from everyone in Masada. She told him as much, but added that she didn't know how he could stay in the woods much longer. It gets cold before autumn is fully underway in West Virginia.
“I'll be alright,” was all he said to sooth her concerns.
“I think you should try to talk with your daddy,” Margaret told him. “He has to see reason. He can be as mad as he wants, but leaving you to freeze to death is not gonna make things better.”
“Not for me,” Donny agreed.
“Not for him either,” Margaret insisted. “Mad as he is, I'm sure he doesn't want you dead.”
“That's where you're wrong, Mags. Maybe he doesn't wish me dead, but I am certain he wishes I'd never been born.”
“All because you put on your mama's dress.”
“Because I'm queer,” the boy said bluntly.
“Oh, please, Donny. Who cares?”
“My daddy cares.”
“You're still his son.”
The two sat in silence as the sun slipped closer to the tops of the mountains. They ate companionably in stillness. When they were both full, Donny rose from the ground and said, “C'mon, Mags. Let's get you down from this mountain before dark.”
The girl followed her best friend as he led her to the bottom of the slope on the north side of the hill. He stopped when he saw lights on in the Baptist Church. “You'll be safe from here,” he said.
“And what about you?” she demanded. “Are you gonna be safe in the woods another night?” When the boy didn't answer, she continued, saying what she'd said every night since Donny left home. “You gotta talk to your Daddy, Donny. Get him to take you back. Say whatever you gotta say, but get him to let you come home.”
Previous nights, Donny had told his friend his father was right to kick him out. This time, he said something different. “I can't change into what he wants me to be, Mags. If I went home, I'd surely try, but I'd never be able to pull it off. I wish I could, but I can't. I can't be a Granger man and Daddy can't have me for a son. That's just how things are.”
“There are no buts, Mags. I'm queer and that means I can't never go home.”
“So you're just gonna keep on hidin' in the woods.”
“Yep,” was all he said before kissing his friend on the cheek.
Margaret turned toward the Baptist Church but didn't stop there to say hello. Instead, she walked toward her own house, making one stop along the way.
Mr. Pepp Offers Help, 1998
Dead Dog Mountain and Pig Hill, West Virginia
That Friday, Donny found Margaret after school as she headed into the woods at the bottom of Dead Dog Mountain. She had not come alone. Mr. Pepp was with her. The teacher had left his car parked beside the road. He used a walking stick to support himself. Donny had seen the teacher use such a stick before, the one time he had walked up Pig Hill. That had been for Kathleen Granger's wake.
When the teacher saw Donny, he extended a hand for the boy to shake. But the man saw tears in the boy's eyes and drew him into an embrace.
Donny wept openly then, not caring that Margaret was there, not caring that Mr. Pepp knew now that Donny Granger was just a cry baby, not any kind of man. The teacher, who was shorter than his favorite student by nearly a foot, patted the boy on the back and shushed him in the manner of fathers soothing colicky babes.
“It's alright, Donny. Crying makes sense under these circumstances. Just go ahead and sob.”
Donny did. So did Margaret, who stood by and watched as the teacher and her best friend walked to a large tree stump and sat down. Donny was wiping his eyes and Mr. Pepp pulled out a pristine white handkerchief. “Take this,” he told the boy. “Cry as long as you need to. I can wait.”
At that, Donny actually smiled. “I don’t know, Sir. That could be an awfully long wait. If I cried all the tears I have to shed, it might be dark...or tomorrow morning... before I'm done.”
“With everything you have been through,” the teacher said, “It could take months. I can wait that long if you need me to.”
Donny wiped his eyes and suggested it might be a more productive use of time if the teacher went ahead with whatever he had come to say while Donny pulled himself together. “I can listen and cry at the same time,” he assured the man.
Mr. Pepp nodded. “Margaret told me why you haven't been in school. She also told me your father kicked you out of your home. She did not tell me you were hurt but I see the bruises for myself. Did your father beat you?”
Donny didn't answer.
“I'll take your silence as confirmation,” the teacher continued. “Your father has hit you before, but it's never been this bad?” When Donny remained silent, Mr. Pepp turned to Margaret, who nodded.
“Well, then, we need to keep you safe,” the teacher said.
“I am safe,” Donny interrupted.
“In the woods? At night?”
“Yes, Sir, I am. I'm always safe in the woods.”
“Well, I think we can do better than that,” said the teacher.
“I understand you want to help, Sir, but you can’t.”
“I can, Donny. I can talk with your father. I don't know exactly what happened between you but I am sure he can see reason.”
“He is seeing reason,” Donny told him.
Margaret explained, “Donny thinks he deserves to live in the woods. He thinks his Daddy was right to throw him out. He even thinks his father was right to beat him.”
While they were talking, the wind picked up slightly and rain began to fall gently. The three remained comfortably dry under a canopy of trees.
“Donny, you can’t sleep outside. The weather is going to turn cold soon and there will be rain, lots of rain, tonight. If you aren’t ready to go home, come stay at my house.”
Donny considered that option. It was appealing. But then he remembered his Daddy calling Mr. Pepp a fag and knew that would only make matters worse. “I can’t do that,” Donny told his teacher. “I’m pretty sure my daddy would make trouble for you, Sir, and I can't have that on my head too.”
“What kind of trouble could your daddy make for Mr. Pepp?” Margaret wanted to know. “I mean he would just be doing the right thing. Whether you think so or not, your father isn’t doing the right thing and someone needs to.”
But Mr. Pepp had some idea where Donny was headed with this thinking. The teacher had managed so far and against all odds to keep in the town’s good graces. He had known when he took the job in Masada that he would have to be careful and he had been. Still, he knew some of the townsfolk figured him for the queer he was. Now he gathered Donny’s father was one who suspected the truth.
“Okay,” he said to Donny. “How about we ask the Perkins to take you in until your Dad settles down and until we can be sure he won't beat you again?”
“No, Sir, that won’t work either.”
Margaret answered. “They heard the story from Donny's father. They think he did the right thing. They aren't going to help Donny now.”
“And my sisters are going to need Mrs. Perkins and the pastor. They can help fill in for Mama and for daddy some, at least as long as he's still grieving for Mama. May and June need their church. Even if the Perkins would take me in, which they won't, my Daddy would make the girls stay away.”
“Donny, as a teacher, I have to see that you are not being neglected, which, right now, you most certainly are. I am required to report cases of child abuse, which this certainly is. I am obligated by law to do something about this, to report it to the authorities if need be.”
Donny thought about that. Finally he said, “Do what you have to, Sir. But the authorities will have to find me and, when they do, if they do, I don't see how that would help anything. They would just end up taking me away from Masada and further from my family. Nothing would get fixed that way for sure. But I don't want you to get in trouble, so do what you think is best.”
Mr. Pepp hung is head, rubbing his temples with the hand not holding the walking stick. Donny could see how troubled the man was and he was sorry for that. The boy figured this was one more person he had hurt by not being able to change his ways.
“Follow me,” the teacher said.
When the trio got to his car, a blue Mazda, the teacher told Margaret and Donny to get in. He drove them to the Walmart in Morgantown. There, he bought Donny some things that might make living in the woods, at least until winter came, easier. When they got back to the mountain, Donny had a warmer sleeping bag, a tent. more amo for hunting, a better fishing pole, a couple of warm blankets and a new pair of boots. The teacher asked the boy if he needed any cash but put his wallet away when Donny said there was no use for cash in the woods.
“Alright, Donny,” Mr. Pepp said. “For the time being we will do things your way, but this cannot go on indefinitely. Before the snow comes, we will have to find a better solution for you.”
As he drove back home, the teacher wondered what on earth that better solution might be. The boy was right, reporting the situation to authorities would accomplish nothing good and might make matters worse. Mr. Pepp had been teaching long enough to know the authorities often had a way of making things worse for the children they were meant to protect and support. Donny was older than children most people want to adopt and had been thrown out of his home for being “girly,” as Margaret put it. He wasn't likely to be placed in a happy home.
Margaret helped Donny set up his new campsite next to the stream on the west side of Dead Dog Mountain. Then, she headed to Donny’s house, where Daddy Granger had not been seen in more than a day. They knew he had been there when the girls were at school though, because he'd left money on the kitchen counter and a note for June and May saying they should use it for necessities. Their father and brother were headed to Wheeling and, then, from there to Cleveland by bus. They would work two weeks aboard a large fish boat that needed crew. Pastor Perkins had recommended Donald Granger, Sr. for the job and Daddy had convinced the boat’s captain to hire Aaron. Margaret hoped their absence meant Donny could see his sisters a few times in the coming weeks.
The Turning Point, 1998
Masada, West Virginia
Margaret told Donny next day that his father was away and he could safely go home at least for a few days. Donny refused, pointing out there was no way of knowing for sure when his father or the uncles might appear there. But two nights later, he did sneak onto Pig Hill, just to see his sisters were safe. They told Donny they were fine on their own. They also reported that their Granger Uncles had stopped by earlier that evening to see what there was to eat and, more to the point, to ask if their father had left any cash when he left town. The girls lied with no compunctions whatsoever, saying that they were penniless until their father returned from Wheeling. June added that Donny was lucky he had not run into them on the trail, that he had in fact barely missed running into them at the trailer.
“Donny, I hate to think what they might have done if they'd found you on Pig Hill. May and I miss you, but it's not safe for you to come here.”
“I'll be fine,” he told his sisters, more concerned about what would happen to them if anyone discovered they were in contact with their younger brother.
Donny renewed his resolve then to stay away from Pig Hill. He didn't want to cause anyone any trouble. Well, no one but Jeremiah Adelbaum. That was why he stopped at Margaret’s home that evening. He didn’t knock on Margaret’s door, just stood in the yard wearing his Marlin until he saw Jeremiah Adelbaum look out the kitchen window. Donny waved at the man and smiled before walking into the woods.
This worked well. It reminded Margaret’s father he was not in charge as he once had been. Donny repeated the exercise every few days. The ritual made him feel he was of some use to someone. He was determined to keep Margaret safe and not to leave her alone in the world, as he knew she had felt before they became friends.
These incursions to the Adelbaum yard took Donny around the base of Pig Hill on the side farthest from the trail to his Daddy’s house. Once, he had seen Aaron in the woods. That was in early October. Donny’s brother was carrying his fishing gear. Donny figured he was headed to Ettinger’s pond or the creek behind the baptist church. Donny did not reveal himself to his big brother. He figured Aaron might not be quite as likely to beat him as the other Granger men, but had still made his contempt for Donny clear last time they met up.
Sometime near Halloween -- by then Donny had lost track of dates and he couldn't be sure when it was exactly -- he ran into his uncles near his camp on Dead Dog Mountain. They weren’t happy to find him there.
“We thought you was long gone,” said Balthazar Granger.
“You sho better be glad yo daddy ain’t with us boy.” That was Uncle Sonny talking. “He’d shoot ya jist as soon as lookatcha.”
Uncle Bal glared at his nephew, “ Maybe we oughta call you girl,” he sneered. “I always knew you's a fairy, girl. I told your daddy as much back when you was little. I knew for sure when you took up that music playin’ and hangin’ out with that faggot teacher.”
That made Donny angry enough to challenge his Uncle, “You better not say anything about Mr. Pepp. He’s a great man.”
“Whatcha gonna do about it, girl?”
“Stop it,” Uncle Junior said. “The boy don’t need no more trouble than he already made for hisself.”
“That ain’t no boy,” Bal insisted. “That there’s a fairy who prolly sucks that faggot teacher’s...”
Donny was on Balthazar Granger before the man could finish the sentence. Uncles Sonny and Junior pulled him off their brother, who now sported a fresh welt on his face.
“Woe there, son, you best control your temper,” said Sonny Granger.
“I tell you that ain’t nobody’s son,” said Bal Granger, one hand rubbing the rising red spot on his cheek.
“You’re lucky I don’t have my rifle,” the boy yelled. “Right now, I’d love to shoot you in the ass.”
“I bet that ain’t all you’d like to do to my ass, girly! Or are you more into receivin’ than givin’?” That was Sonny talking.
Donny was fighting to get loose from the two uncles who held him back.
“That’s enough,” Junior Granger shouted stepping between his younger brother and Donny. “Shut your trap, Sonny. And you,” he said to Donny, “quit fightin’ us. You know we ain’t never gonna let you git another fist on one of us. We Granger men stick together.”
“He wouldn't know nuthin’ about that,” Uncle Bal sneered. “He ain’t no kind o’ man!”
“Shut the fuck up!” Junior Granger shouted.
When they released Donny, he considered taking another swing at Uncle Bal, but started to walk away. His intent was to hide in the trees somewhere 'til his uncles moved on. Then he would make his way to his camp and get his gun. If they came back, he’d be ready.
Before he disappeared from sight, Junior Granger called to his nephew, “Donny, it really ain’t safe fer ya here no more. If we found ya, yer daddy kin find ya too. Ya best be movin’ on.”
It never occurred to the boy to wonder why Uncle Junior cared about his safety. He'd been the one who protected him when the uncles found him playing the piano in Mr. Pepp's choir room and now here he was again, protecting his queer nephew from his hillbilly brothers. But none of that crossed Donny's mind. All he could think about was getting away from his uncles and his father. In fact, he wanted to get away from everyone on Pig Hill. Maybe everyone in Masada too. Well, everyone but Margaret. Margaret was okay. Better than okay. And so was Mr. Pepp. He didn't think much of Du Keeley. That man was almost as much of a redneck as Donny's own daddy. But Mrs. Keeley was okay and so were the Perkins. On the other hand, not a one of them had come looking for him when he stopped showing up in town. Maybe they weren't so okay after all.
“I mean it, Donny,” shouted Uncle Junior. “You need to git yerself somewhere safe.”
The boy couldn't agree more. When he returned to his campsite, Donny collected all his belongings. His intent was to leave Harrison County that day and never come back. He would have to find some way to keep Margaret safe, but him staying so close was not going to work much longer. Now that the uncles knew where he was, he was sure his Daddy would know soon too.
He tromped one last time to the Adelbaum house. On his way there, he stopped at the Perkins'. Rachel Perkins opened the door. She was smiling until she realized who it was at the door.
“Oh,” she said. “Donald, Jr., it's you.”
Donny didn't need to ask why the woman was not her usual warm self. Daddy Granger must have confided in the pastor. Donny was pretty sure Daddy wouldn't have told a woman his only son was queer, but the Pastor himself might have. Didn't spouses share secrets that way? Donny's mama and daddy sure had.
“I'm sorry to intrude, Ma'am. I was hoping to have a word with Pastor Perkins.”
“I'm afraid the pastor isn't in.”
That was odd. The man's car was in the driveway beside the parsonage. Rachel Perkins saw Donny looking at the car.
“He rode up to Cheat Lake with Du Keeley. I have no idea what time he will return. And I don't know when your father and brother will return from Cleveland. Could be any day now, maybe even today. I am guessing you don’t want to be here when they come home.”
That much was true. The last thing Donny needed now was to run into his Daddy when he would surely be tired from fishing and very likely might be drunk too. With new money in his pocket, he'd surely be drinking.
“Maybe there is something you would like me to tell the Pastor when I see him,” the woman offered. That was something at least.
Donny thought about it a moment. “Could you tell him I'll be leaving Masada for good now? Could you ask him to keep an eye on my brother? I know he's all grown up but Aaron isn't as tough as he likes everyone to think. And my sisters, I was wondering if you would look after them, Ma'am? They're good girls, but they really miss Mama. We all do.”
There were tears in the woman's eyes when she responded, “I definitely miss your Mama, Donny. Kathleen was my best friend in this world. I surely wish she had not suffered so in life. At least she was spared knowing that her favorite child was a …” The woman struggled for words. “...a homosexual.”
The boy stared at the pastor's wife. This confirmed that everyone in town must know now that Donny Granger was queer. If he'd had any doubt before, now he knew for sure he would never be safe in Masada. He thanked the woman for her time and headed up the street to the Adelbaum house.
This time Donny went to the front door, but before he could raise his hand to knock, he heard Margaret screaming. Donny tried the doorknob and found it was locked. He dropped his bags on the front stoop and rammed his right shoulder against the door. It didn’t budge. Donny went around to the garage. Thankfully, it was not latched. He pushed the door up and entered the garage. The door that led from the garage to the Adelbaum kitchen was locked too, but it was easy to force open with a hard kick from his left boot. As he entered the house, Donny heard Margaret screaming at her father.
“Stay away from me! I’m warning you. I’ll kill you before I let you touch me again.”
Donny bounded toward the stairs. Then he heard her father snarl, “You can’t hurt me, Margaret. I’m your loving father. It’s my job to teach you and you are going to learn.”
“Donny Granger will do nothing,” her father interrupted. “He can’t help you now that...”
Donny stepped into the room just as Margaret managed somehow to pull the butcher knife from beneath her pillow. She thrust the blade upward into her father’s chest. The man never completed his final statement. Dead, he fell bleeding onto his daughter, who screamed loud enough that everyone on Main Street must have heard. It was not lost on Donny that no one came to see what was happening. He realized now that was how Jeremiah Adelbaum had managed for so long to abuse his wife and daughters. The same town that hated him now had long ago turned its back on Jeremiah Adelbaum's family.
Donny pulled the corpse off his friend, careful not to let it fall off the bed. He figured it wouldn’t be good to get blood anywhere else. It would be easier to clean up if the mess were contained on just the one bed. Then he pulled Margaret up by the hands. She began ripping at her clothes, screaming that he had touched her there, indicating her breasts. Donny was glad she was taking the clothes off. Those could be burned.
He wrapped his friend in a warm yellow bathrobe and began bagging the evidence. He was glad to find a plastic mattress cover between the sheets and the bed and wrapped the body in the mattress cover before leading Margaret downstairs. There, he gave her a cup of tea and turned on the radio. He chose an easy listening station and told Margaret she should try to relax. She screamed at him that she would never be relaxed.
“Breathe,” he told her. “Take a deep breath and pull yourself together.”
Margaret did as she was told. Donny hugged her for a moment then, lowering his voice and whispering into her ear. “It will be okay, Mags. I promise. I'll take care of everything.”
How he would do that, he had no idea. Donny remembered a conversation he'd had with his mother years earlier. Kathleen Granger must have known she was dying at the time. She told her young son everyone has hard times and that some hard times are just about impossible to see your way through. She said there had been days in her own life when she wasn't sure how she could possibly keep on keeping on. She told Donny he would have days like that too. “Everyone does. The thing to do is just to keep moving. Don't think too much, just move. I can't explain how, but your body will know what to do. It's like putting a plane on autopilot, I guess. Maybe it's instinctive, but humans know how to survive crisis. You will too, Donny. All you have to do is trust your instincts.”
Slightly calmed by her friend’s calm, quiet voice, Margaret nodded. If Donny was sure everything would be okay, then everything would. Donny himself could see Mags was going to have a hard time coping with what she’d had to do. He would help her. But first he had to deal one last time with Jeremiah Adelbaum.
“I’ll be back in a couple hours, Mags. Can you sit tight for that long?”
The girl nodded again. Then he remembered Margaret had a cell phone. He went to her backpack on the floor by the front door. He found the phone and put it in his own pocket.
“Use the house phone to call me if you need me,” he told her. “I have your cell. Call your own number and I’ll come right back.”
She nodded one more time before Donny headed back up the stairs. It only took a few minutes to tie the body inside the mattress cover and bedding. He threw the carcass over his shoulder and carried it out the back door. Donny decided right away it wouldn't do to bury the man on Pig Hill. He put the body in the back of Jeremiah Adelbaum's own car. Then he stepped back into the house just long enough to take the keys. He glanced into the front room and saw Margaret with her arms wrapped around her knees rocking back and forth in front of the fire place. She wasn't screaming any more, but she didn't look calm either. Donny knew he could not leave her alone long. He needed to get rid of Jeremiah Adelbaum's body as quickly as possible and get back here to Margaret. He had to figure out what to do to protect her from what she had done.
Donny had never driven a car before or anything at all with an automatic transmission. His biggest fear was being seen leaving town behind the wheel of Jeremiah Adelbaum's car, so he headed north on Morgantown Road to minimize the chances of detection.
He couldn't bury the body on the Coon or Dead Dog Mountain either, not since his uncles had seen him there that very day. Instead, he took it all the way to the Monongalia River. He carefully emptied the pastor’s pockets of anything that might identify him quickly if the body was ever found which Donny sincerely hoped it never would be. It had taken a while to find a safe place to park the car and, once he did, he'd had to drag the body a long way before he found a deep enough section of river to dump it. He was gone longer than he meant to be. Still, Margaret never called him, which worried the boy some.
Masada, West Virginia
When he returned to the Adelbaum house around 2 A.M., the girl was still there. He found her sitting at her father’s desk in the man’s bedroom. She was going through her father’s papers. Margaret had a bound book with handwritten words in it. Donny looked over her shoulder and saw Margaret was reading her father’s diary.
“He killed her,” Margaret said, handing Donny the book.
Donny had no idea what Mags meant and it showed on his face.
“My mother,” she said. “The bastard murdered her.”
She pointed to the page she had open in front of her. There, in the Reverend’s own writing, was the man’s confession, which Margaret read aloud.
“I didn’t mean for her to die, God. Really, I didn’t. But then you, who knows everything, already know that, don’t you? I only meant to teach her, to make her a better wife. She wasn’t a good wife, God, not the kind of wife a man can count on. She was weak and she couldn’t keep a secret. I only meant to teach her that secrets sometimes have to be kept. I told her it was Your Will, but she said it was not and that she would see to it I never hurt one of her children again. I never hurt our daughters, God. You know that’s the truth. I am their father and it is my job to teach them. I was trying to teach their mother what it means to be a good wife. But she came after me. You saw her, I know you were watching, so you saw it all. I had no choice, God. I had to defend myself, had to make her stop screaming. But I didn’t mean for her to die. Maybe it’s better this way though, God. Now I can raise our daughters to be Your humble servants and to be obedient children of God.”
The man had filled most of 20 pages with more paragraphs like that one and Margaret read every word of it to her friend. When she reached the end of her father's lengthy confession, she said, “I’m glad he’s dead.”
“So am I,” Donny told her.
Margaret reached for the cellphone her father had left laying on his desk.
“Who are you calling?” Donny asked.
“The sheriff. I need to show this to him.” Margaret was holding her father’s diary in her hands. “They need to know my mother did not just run away.”
Donny took the phone from her. “You can’t do that,” Donny told her. “You just killed the man who wrote that and, although you had no choice, this diary might make it look like you had reason to murder. Besides, I just disposed of his body.”
“Disposed? What did you do?”
“I don’t think I should say, Margaret. The less you know, the better.”
“I killed him, Donny. He needed killing but I think that means I need to know where you buried him.”
Donny thought that over. On the one hand, he thought Margaret had enough secrets to keep. On the other, they were in this together and they would deal with it together as they did everything else.
“I didn’t bury him,” Donny told her. “I dumped him in the Monongalia.”
Margaret was alarmed then. “Donny we have to call the police then. The body won’t stay underwater for good.”
“That's why you and I need to get away from here as soon as possible, before sunrise, before anyone can find him. We need to be far away before anyone notices we're gone.”
Margaret didn’t ask her friend where they would go. She was too tired to think for herself and was willing to let Donny continue making decisions for them both. She went to her room for the last time. Donny watched as she silently packed a backpack with a few items of clothing, a hair brush and her flute. When she picked up the flute she said, “That last time he tried to...” She stopped unable to say the words. She didn’t even like having the memory.
“It’s okay, Mags. You don’t need to say it, I know what he tried to do.”
She nodded before continuing. “He saw the flute sitting on my desk. He said he was going to make me wish I had never touched it. He said he would use it to teach me a lesson I would never forget.”
Donny said it again, “I’m glad he’s dead, Mags. You did what you had to.”
The girl put the flute in its case and used a belt to secure the flute case to the outside of the backpack. Donny took the bag and left her alone to dress.
Back downstairs, Donny went to the Adelbaum kitchen. There he packed as much by way of portable food as would fit in his bag. Then he saw there was still a fire in the living room hearth. He took Jeremiah Adelbaum’s diary to the fire, stoked the flames, and started ripping pages out of the book. One by one, he fed them to the fire.
When Margaret joined him in the living room he was ripping the book’s binding to pieces and burning the rest. “Ruth would be glad he's dead too,” Margaret said. “I wish I knew how to reach her so I could tell her she's safe now. I never realized when she was here what she must have been facing day in and day out. I’d like to tell her he can't hurt her anymore.”
“She’ll know when they find his body, Mags. It will be in the news. She will know then.”
Margaret nodded. Donny saw she was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt along with heavy boots. She was dressed much as he was, though her flannel was blue and Donny’s was green. “You wearing long johns under there? It’s going to be cold outside.”
She nodded again and reached into her pocket. She pulled out a wad of cash. “My father kept this hidden in his sock drawer. He won't be needing it anymore.”
“Good thinking.” Donny took Margaret’s cash and added it to his own in the coffee can. “I took your father's charge cards too,” he said. “We aren’t rich, but we have enough to make it... somewhere.”
The pair put on their coats, stuffing gloves and hats into deep pockets. They shouldered their bags, which included Margaret’s backpack and flute, Donny’s pack and his rifle. They didn’t bother dousing the fire; it would burn out on it’s own and they left a light on in the kitchen.
As they stepped off her back porch for the last time, Margaret spoke, “Thank you, Donny.”
“You’d do the same for me,” he said. “It seems to me neither of us has any reason to stay in Masada and plenty for moving on.”
Truer words could not have been spoken.
The two threw all their belongings into the back of Jeremiah Adelbaum's silver Toyota and drove out of Masada, taking the Parkersburg-Morgantown Road one last time. At the crest of Dead Dog Mountain, Donny pulled the car over to the side of the road. There, as the sun rose over the valley below them, the pair looked at the town in which they had lived their entire lives. There were people there who had been kind to them, people who cared. There were also people who would never understand what they had done and some who would never let them live in peace. Donny slipped his arm around Margaret’s shoulder as tears streamed down both their cheeks. It is hard to leave behind all you know, even when you know it would destroy you to stay.
It started to snow as they got back in the car, turned to the north, and headed toward State Route 7. When they got there, Donny turned the car southwest and they drove out of Harrison County. The closer they came to the Ohio River, which courses down West Virginia's western border, the harder the snow fell. The pair were quiet so that Donny could concentrate on driving and Margaret could replay in her mind all the events of the last 12 hours. Donny slowed as the roads became more treacherous. By the time, they passed through Parkersburg, snow plows were out and most cars daring to be on the road at all tried to stay in their tracks.
Somewhere near Ravenswood, Margaret finally spoke. “I can't believe you stole my father's car,” she said.
Donny laughed out loud. “Of all the things we've done today, that's the one that bothers you?”
Margaret laughed too. “Good point,” she said. “I didn't know you could drive.”
“There are probably lots of things you don't know about me, Mags. Lots of things.”
Margaret looked at her friend wryly. “I seriously doubt that,” she told him.
“You didn't know I learned to drive when I was seven...”
“Beside that,” she said.
“Oh there's plenty more for you to learn,” Donny told her.
“Name something,” the girl insisted.
“Now what would be the fun in that? If I told you everything now, you'd be bored before we get...” He stopped in mid-sentence, realizing he had no idea how the statement should end. At that moment, Donny had no idea where he was headed.
The two fell silent again for a time. It was after noon the day after she had killed her father, after Donny had driven them almost all the way out of West Virginia, when Margaret asked, “Any idea where we're going?”
“I was just thinking we might like to spend winter someplace warm. How does the beach suit you?”
Having never seen a beach, Margaret had no idea how it suited, but if Donny Granger thought the beach sounded good, she did too.
All Rights Reserved
Copyright (c) 2015 Stephanie Mesler
Title ID: 4609623
Layout and Book Design by Stephanie Mesler, Babble Publishing
Manufactured in The United States of America