Bully In The Pulpit

Bully In The Pulpit

by Claude Eubanks


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781449045401
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 11/16/2009
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.93(d)

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Bully In The Pulpit

By Claude Eubanks


Copyright © 2009 Claude Eubanks
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4490-4540-1

Chapter One

"'Haaaw', Murt! 'Haaaw' up in 'er now! You better 'haw'! I'll strap you good! You better 'haw' now!"

Murt seemed to pay little attention to Billy Ray. She just kept on walking too far to the right, and just kept crowding closer to Old Sam. Billy Ray was so tired and disgusted and used up that he just didn't care anymore. That sorry mule was just not going to mind him, and she acted like she knew that Billy Ray didn't have enough care left in him to even bother to pull on the check lines.

It had been a long day, with temperatures hovering around 100 degrees and the humidity not much lower, and the hard work and the gnats and the flies had just about taken the fight out of Billy Ray Sinclair. The dull plows on his Pa's old walking cultivator dragged, and he had to stop frequently to clean the Bermuda grass roots off the rounded points. He thought once about just stopping right in the middle of the corn patch and taking a check-line to that stubborn mule, but he quickly thought better of it. He'd tear down a whole bunch of that knee-high corn, and if he did, his Pa would most likely use the same leather check-lines on him if he ever saw it. He opted to let Old Murt have her way and just try to ignore it. Old Sam would walk straight down the furrow, and he'd just have to depend on him to keep Murt inline.

He reached the end of the row and the shade of the trees was just too inviting, so he decided to take a short rest and smoke a cigarette and get off his tired feet for a minute. Perhaps the team of mules would act better if he gave them a breather he rationalized, but the truth was that he was about to drop, and he just had to sit down for a spell.

Billy Ray tied the mules in the shade of a big Hickory tree and walked out further into the thick woods and into the deeper shade. It was a little cooler there, but not much. The rocky, five-acre field he was plowing was surrounded by tall timber, and hardly any breeze could penetrate. It was a calm day anyhow, and the gnats and biting flies had been especially bad all day. He had started plowing the young corn at daybreak, and it was now about 4:00 P.M. he judged by looking at the sun. He found a good place to sit down on the dry leaves where he could lean back against an old rotten log and stretch his tired legs. He pulled out a can of Prince Albert smoking tobacco from the bib pocket of his overalls and took out a paper from inside the can. He rolled himself a nice, fat cigarette and lit it with a match from a small tin he carried. He pulled in the first lung-full and slowly blew the smoke through his nose. It tasted so good! He took another drag and searched the dry leaves to see that no Copperheads were about.

* * *

Billy Ray Sinclair was about average in size. He was six feet tall and weighed about 185 pounds. He had brown hair and eyes and had a dark tan from working in the sun. He was fairly good looking compared to the other boys around Hickory Ridge, and he could have had many chances with the girls if his Pa and Stepmother had ever given him a chance. He just never got to go much, so he had never really had any experience with girls - not that he didn't want to, but there just weren't too many places to go. He had an old horse of his own, and a saddle, which constituted most of his earthly possessions, and that was about the only way he could go anywhere - either that or walk - and it was just too far - to anywhere.

He sat on the soft, dry leaves and watched the blue smoke curl upward into the green leaves of the Elm trees and pondered his situation. He was nearly nineteen years old now, and he was becoming increasingly restless lately. Some of his friends were already getting married, and he felt it was about time for him to leave home, too. He resented his Pa telling him what to do all the time, and he simply couldn't stand his Stepmother, Ida Mae.

His Pa, Ott Lee Sinclair, had married again a year after Billy Ray's mother died, and Ida Mae had disliked him from the start. He was seven when his mother died, and Ida Mae had started whipping him right off. His Pa had permitted her to do it, and she had beaten him unmercifully on several occasions - sometimes with a switch, sometimes with the razor strap, and sometimes with a piece of 1x 4. He had grown to hate her over the years, and he really had no love for his Pa either, because he was mean to him and had continued to whip him regularly up until about a year or so ago. The last time he whipped him, Billy Ray halfway challenged him, and Ott Lee had not tried it again since. Billy Ray had made up his mind that he would tolerate no more whippings - from anybody. He gritted his teeth and clinched his fists, even now, just thinking about it.

He propped his elbow up on the log and rested his head in his hand. He closed his eyes and allowed his mind to wander far away from this rocky, hillside farm. Far away from this oppressive heat, and this heavy work, and the gnats and flies. Far away from the poverty and misery, and the hot, sleepless nights and the long, endless days of plowing and hoeing and chopping. He liked to play this game sometimes. He liked to fantasize about what it would be like to be in a far-off land with beautiful streets and houses and people dressed in fine clothes, and beautiful girls everywhere. He imagined himself walking down a city street, dressed in fine clothes with a beautiful young woman by his side, and money in his pocket and -. He was suddenly brought back to earth when a sour gnat buzzed into his ear. He swatted it away and cursed under his breath.

How much longer am I gonna' put up with this? he thought. There's got to be something better out there - somewhere! I'm wastin' my life here on this rocky patch of poor dirt and cockle burrs, fightin' with a pair of stupid mules and sweatin' all day from sun up 'till dark, day in and day out. All I'm doin' is makin' a livin' fer my ungrateful Pa and a Stepmother who hates me! And that half-brother - Homer - I'd like to wring his neck like a chicken!

Billy Ray got up and smashed out the stub of his cigarette into a patch of bare ground - almost as if he were smashing his whole life into the dirt. The only friend he had in his family was his younger brother, Willard. He was fifteen and at least he had respect for Billy Ray. Homer was nine, and Ida Mae doted on her son and took up for him regardless of whether he was in the wrong or not. Homer pestered Billy Ray constantly and never missed a chance to slur him or ridicule him for any reason and he was powerless to do anything about it because of Homer's size and age. He had to ignore him, but sometimes it was very hard to keep from slapping him into the next county. But Ida Mae watched over Homer like a hawk and never made him work. He just got to play all the time. Homer was a real 'thorn in his flesh' and he could hardly stand to look at him.

Ott Lee Sinclair owned 20 acres of hillside and rocks and scrub Blackjack in a place called Hickory Ridge. It was not a town - there were no stores. It was not a community - there were very few houses. It was just a place. Folks thereabouts knew where it was and could direct you to it, but it had no well-defined boundaries. The Arkansas River ran a mile or so to the north of it, Cecil was four or five miles east, and Arbuckle Island lay to the west. Mill Creek Mountain was to the south, and on further to the south was Union, another ill-defined place. It was thirty miles to Ft. Smith, a larger town to the west, and it was about ten miles southwest to Lavaca. It was seven miles north to Mulberry, but that was across the Arkansas River and the only way to get across was in a boat. To say that Hickory Ridge was rural would have been a gross understatement. It was backwoods - the sticks! The nearest neighbor to the Sinclairs was nearly a mile away, and the dirt road to their house ended there. Ott Lee had inherited the 20 acres and the old house and barn from his father, and his father had inherited it from his father. The house was three rooms and a lean-to with a kitchen, a living room of sorts, and a bedroom. Ott Lee and Ida Mae and Homer slept in the bedroom, and Billy Ray and Willard were relegated to the lean-to.

Ott Lee was a worthless sort, having no ambition to do any better in life. He drank a lot when he could get hold of some cheap moonshine, and he had never had a steady job for very long. The longest he had worked on a job was once when a Tie-Hacker came through the country making railroad ties and he had worked at that for three months. Mostly he hunted and fished, and he made a little in the winter selling a few 'possum and skunk hides he'd catch. He was 52 years old now, and his health was already failing. He coughed a lot and he smoked a can of Prince Albert every two days and lately he'd been coughing up blood, but no one had seemed concerned about it.

Money was practically non-existent around the Sinclair house and about the only thing they had was a little food, and Billy Ray and Willard saw to that. They made a big garden, and picked and shelled and canned everything they grew. Ida Mae did do the canning, but she was a sorry housekeeper and Billy Ray and Willard had to wear dirty clothes most of the time. They had two pair of overalls apiece, and two blue, broadcloth shirts. They each had a pair of khaki pants and a white shirt, but they were too small for either one to wear. They'd had them for three or four years now. They got one pair of brogan shoes a year, and when they wore out, it was 'barefoot time'. Billy Ray was barefoot just now, and he looked down at his dirty, brown feet and the patches on top of patches on his old overalls, and wondered if there would ever be a better life for him.

* * *

Billy Ray finished plowing the five-acre field by a little after six o'clock, and by the time he got back to the house and unhooked the team and fed them, it was 6:30. When he walked up to the front porch, Ott Lee and Ida Mae and Homer were sitting in the shade, taking life easy. Homer wasted no time starting in on Billy Ray. It was his favorite pastime, and he could say anything he wanted to and get by with it. Ida Mae would see to that.

"Well, well, look what the dogs drug up! Where you been all day - asleep summ'ers? I bet you didn't get half o' that corn patch plowed! You're not even sweatin'! You lazy outfit! Pa, you need to give 'em a good whuppin'! That's what he -"

Billy Ray wanted to choke the little wimp, but Ida Mae and Ott Lee were both looking at Homer and smiling as if they agreed with his remarks, and they didn't even bother to acknowledge Billy Ray. He didn't say anything either. He just went on into the house, only to discover that they'd already had supper and had simply left the scraps on the table for him. Willard had already eaten too, but had chosen to stay out back under the shade of a big Post Oak tree. Billy Ray saw that there were some black-eyed peas left, and a piece of cornbread, and some fried potatoes and pork belly. There had been a raisin pie, but it was all gone. The clabber-milk was all gone, too, so he'd have to drink plain old well water. Everything was cold anyway - except the water.

He washed his face and hands in the wash pan, and when he went to the back door to throw out the dirty water, Willard motioned to him to come on outside. He looked angry and upset, and Billy Ray noticed a reddish welt on the side of his face.

"He whupped me again, Billy Ray - for no reason! I just come in frum milkin' the cow and he thought I'd took too long to get it done. He slapped me, and then he hit me across the back with a stick two or three times. Made me spill some milk and then he hit me three more times fer spillin' the milk. He's drinkin' and he's liable to start in on you next."

"Well, I just hope he don't, that's all I've got to say. I ain't gonna' take no more whuppins frum 'em. I just hope he don't try it. I've had all of that I'm gonna' put up with! I've made up my mind, and he ain't gonna' whup me no more. And she ain't, neither! No sir, no more! I'm 19 years old! I ain't gonna' tolerate that no more!"

Billy Ray went back into the grimy little house and sat down to eat what was left of a sorry meal to begin with. The houseflies crawled over the leftovers and he had to constantly fight them off. The whole house was swarming with flies and he knew that his food had been contaminated by them. His blood boiled and his heart raced because he figured Ott Lee would come in at any time and start in on him. He tried to think what he'd do if it happened, but instead, Homer waltzed in and started in. He was delighted that Willard had gotten a whipping, and he was hoping Billy Ray would get one, too.

"Any scraps left fer you, big man? Ma said she didn't care if you got anything to eat er not. We had a hot raisin pie, but they ain't none left. I seen to that!" Homer mocked.

He started laughing and strutting around the room and Billy Ray was choking. He wanted so badly to shut this smart-aleck kid up but he didn't want a confrontation with Ott Lee and he knew that any little thing would set him off. If Homer ran back out onto the porch and said that Billy Ray had done anything to him that would be a good excuse for his Pa, so he tried to ignore Homer.

The houseflies continued to swarm over the table and light on every scrap of food in sight. There were no screens on the doors or windows, and the hog pen was only a few yards from the house and the cow lot just a little further. That's where the flies bred. Billy Ray looked around the filthy kitchen and it was all he could do to eat the cold leftovers, and if he hadn't been famished from a twelve-hour day of plowing, he'd have turned the meal down completely, but he was starving. He would have given anything to have had a piece of that raisin pie, but -

"Pa give Willard a good whuppin' while-ago," Homer laughed. "I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't give you one, too! You need a good whuppin'! Ma told Pa you needed a good whuppin'. Said you hadn't had one in a long time, and you needed one. I'd like to see Pa whup you good! With a razor strop! I'd like to see 'em beat you 'till you couldn't walk! That's what you need - a good old-fashioned whuppin'! You're such a smart-aleck! That's just what you need."

Billy Ray tried desperately to hold his tongue. He knew that if he said one word, Homer would run out onto the porch and make up some story and get him into trouble, so he resisted. He just stared out through the dirty little windowpane and chewed on the cold, tough sowbelly.

Chapter Two

Saturday came and Billy Ray finished his plowing early in the afternoon and decided he'd ride down to the Riverdale Church and attend the Revival he'd heard was going on. They had the Revival every summer, and it was a big event around the community. Folks came from miles around - on foot, on horseback, in wagons - however they could get there. It was probably more of a social event than a religious one. Any excuse was good enough to get folks to come together because everyone was starved for entertainment and social contact. Outside of Church services, there was only an occasional funeral, wedding, or maybe a pie supper, or a Sunday afternoon baseball game. Mostly, folks just worked and tried to keep food on the table as best they could.

It seemed that people just didn't expect much more out of life. It was 1933, and the Great Depression had been getting steadily worse since the Market crashed in 1929. Hard times had come and poor folks who were struggling to begin with, were now faced with total despair. There was no work, no money, and no hope. People like the Sinclairs were fortunate in a way. They at least had a cow to milk and a hog to kill and a garden. City folks had nothing.

Billy Ray dreaded to tell his Pa that he wanted to attend the Revival, but he figured since it was a Church Service, he couldn't be too hard against that. He and Ida Mae didn't go to Church except on occasion. They didn't have any money to put into the collection plate, so they were too embarrassed to go.

Ott Lee had already been sipping on the 'juice' pretty good when Billy Ray approached him. He was sitting in his usual place on the porch, half-drunk already and it was only 4:00 o'clock.


Excerpted from Bully In The Pulpit by Claude Eubanks Copyright © 2009 by Claude Eubanks. Excerpted by permission.
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