It's Always Easier in the Shade
Not too long after the showdown at the Brunswick Corral, Jeannie and I packed the car up and took the boys to go visit Burney, Thurman and their boy Billy. They lived in this arid looking area southwest of Bakersfield, in between that city and Taft off of Old River Road.
Thurman had bought a modest looking two bedroom house right across the street from some railroad tracks. The house had used to belong to the Railroad. It had a big sheet metal shop building and one small white shed. The yard was surrounded by a white picket fence and a whole bunch of desert looking land.
When we pulled up in the driveway, Thurman wasn't home yet. He worked at his own mechanic shop which was about ten miles closer to Bakersfield. His boy Billy ran up to the fence, greeted us and opened the gate. In wasn't a minute till he had them boys by the hand and was leading them toward the house and to his room where his toys were. Danny was too small to keep up them, so Billy picked him up and carried him.
Burney was out chopping weeds in the flower beds that surrounded the house. She only stopped long to wave us over and went right back to chopping. Right when we got there, just like she had planned it, she chopped the head clean off of a big rattlesnake and with one smooth motion, scooped the rest of the snake out of the bed and onto the grass.
"Them damn snakes love hiding in my flowers. You two come on over here and give me a hug. I see Billy already got them boys." She hugged Jeanie first and then turned to me. "Dang it, Billy John, you getting better looking every time I see you, How you all been?"
She had cut her long brunette down to shoulder level and it did wonders for her face. "You cut your hair off. Looks nice. Don't you think it looks nice on her, Jeannie?"
Jeannie smiled, "It sure does, and, I swear, Little Billy's grown at least three inches since I've seen him last."
I could tell that Burney was tickled pink by the complements, "That boy eats more than Thurman, I swear."
We heard little Danny start crying so Jeannie took off inside to see what was happening. After she was gone, Burney leaned in and asked me a low voice, "How you guys getting along?"
"We're better. Things have been good lately. Her sisters don't come around near as much as they used to and that helps. How you and Thurman been getting by?"
"Same here. When we first moved out here, I thought he picked this place to lock me away from everybody else. I come to like it though. It forces him to have to talk to me more, and we fight a whole lot less when we talk." A pain look overtook her face, and she decided to let go of something that had been bothering her, "Just so you know, I only took up with that other guy because my Mama and Daddy were always steady pushing on me to marry someone from the church. I always loved Thurman, and I damn near cried all night when he showed up back there to come get me."
"Well, what'd your mama and daddy say to that?"
"I don't think we even told them. Clement knew I didn't love him. He was pretty good about it and met us in Reno to sign off on the divorce.'
"Well, I wish I could get shed of Jeannie's mama that easy. I'd do it in a heartbeat."
She laughed and then there was a long awkward pause before she said, "Hey, I want you to come with me; I want to show you something."
And with that, she took me by the arm and led me around to the other side of the house. There was garden there attached to the east side of the grass yard and running the length of the fence. The whole are had been planted with a whole bunch of green trees, flowers, and bushes. It looked amazing like one of them oasis things you find in and around the Holy Lands. Or, at least, that what they say.
There was a tall, white, wrought iron gate in the middle of the fence. I stopped in my tracks when I saw it. The gate reminded me of, "Hey, that gate looks just like......" Burney nodded before I could even finish saying, "the gate on our little cemetery plot back home."
"Thurman had a copy of it made. We went by your old place when we left Missouri this last time. Thurman had made a deal with Old Man Jackson when he sold him your place, the deal said that Old Man Jackson would have to keep that cemetery up. Come over here I want to show you this."
We walked around several bushes, some clumps of flowers and a couple of pretty elm trees to a shady little spot with two mounds rising up from the ground. On each mound was small marble marker with the names of my mama and my daddy carved on it and with the dates of their births and their deaths. There were two small metal receptacles at the side of the monuments with bunch of freshly cut daisies in each.
The sight knocked the breath right out of me, and as much as I tried not to, I started crying. At that very moment, Thurman walked through the gate and around to where we were standing. Jeannie popped out of the house with the bawling Danny on her hip, so Burney took the opportunity to leave Thurman and me alone.
"I had them made when I come back from the Missouri. Remember when we went back to get Burnie's stuff? Tell the truth, I thought about planting that dumb ass daddy of hers in the ground before I left."
I didn't say nothing, just raised my chin toward the two gravestones.
Thurman took a deep breath before he started talking again, "You remember when Daddy asked me to forgive him?"
"Fuck, how could I ever forget it. You don't run across times like that everday."
"Well, it seems that the further you get away in both time and distance some things do get easier to forget."
Thurman shrugged, "Still working on it. still If you remember, I promised him I'd look for reasons not to hate him so much."
"I don't think he had much of a chance himself. He put clothes on us, gave us a roof overhead, and put food on the table. We never showed him an ounce of appreciation for any of it. When it comes to loving us; maybe that was on us a little."
"Don't you even lay that shit on us. I mean I'm glad that you letting go of all that hate, but we didn't deserve none of that."
"That ain't what I'm trying to say. All I'm saying is that he was hurting too, and maybe he needed help as much as we did. We had Mama after all. He didn't have nobody. And as much as I hate to admit it, I can't help wondering what would have happened if I had just gone up to him one time and gave him a hug."
"You would probably have turned to stone on the approach. Maybe if he hadn't beat down mama so much."
"Be honest, Billy. Mama was beat down quite a bit by her own problems before she ran across daddy."
There was another longer awkward silence. I finally broke it by saying, "I like it Thurman. I like it a lot. This here is a right pretty place."
He smiled and cuffed me on the shoulder, "I'm glad you like it, Billy John. Hey, do me favor and make a fuss over Burney's biscuits."
"Why? Is she struggling with the recipe?"
"Well, they ain't like Mr. Rick's, but they almost passable."
"Well, if you could teach her to fry bacon and talk about Jesse James, you'd have the perfect wife."
Thurman laughed, "Hell, she can fry bacon all right."
Then right on cue, Burney pushed open the kitchen window and yelled out, "You boys, get your butts in here. I cooked you all a feast, and you better get in here fore it gets cold. I'll let these boys eat it all."
Thurman grinned and turned toward the house, and I followed closely behind him. The sun was just starting to sink behind the house, and I stopped for a second at the place where iron gate led into the yard. And for just a short moment, I stood there straddling the way out with one leg in the garden and the other in the real world.