Dawn DeBraal lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband Red, two rescue dogs, and a cat. She has discovered that her love of telling a good story can be written. Published stories with Palm-sized press, Spillwords Author of the month 2019, Mercurial Stories, Potato Soup Journal, Edify Fiction, Zimbell House Publishing, Clarendon House Publishing, Blood Song Books, Black Hare Press, Fantasia Divinity, Cafelit, Reanimated Writers, Guilty Pleasures, Unholy Trinity, The World of Myth, Dastaan World, Vamp Cat, Runcible Spoon, E. Merry Publishing, Siren’s Call, Iron Horse Publishing, Setu Magazine, Literary Yard, Falling Star Magazine 2019 Pushcart Nominee.
Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
Until June 16, 1952, David Bowdry was my best friend. He was eleven, I was ten and we lived next door to one another. David had one of the nicest homes on Highway 19 in Dixie, his daddy was a preacher, but also a well driller. He called his business Showers of Blessings. I lived in the second worse house in the county. It was barely more than a wooden shack, never having seen a can of paint, but it had a stout roof.
We sold the land to Reverend Bowdry, when he was looking for business property, along the highway. Daddy lost his job at the lumber mill, it killed him to sell the land but it’s all he had.
Reverend Bowdry was kind enough, he was a minister of the Word after all, but he kept my family at arm’s length. I think he felt we were white trash. The Reverend’s only son, David, and I played in the fields and woods behind our houses. David had such a vivid imagination. He read books, and we acted them out. King Arthur’s Court, Beowolf, The Canterbury Tales. David had a whole host of stories we could reenact he was brilliant in his recall. We ran in the sun and swashbuckled our sabers, all day long.
David was different than the other boys, he was more like my bestfriend. Things were changing in his body, and David told me that something was very different about him. He couldn’t put his finger on it but knew if his father, the Reverend Waylon Bowdry knew these things about his son, he would be very disappointed in his son.
I tried to tell David that his father loved him, he was the only child in the Bowdry family. I had three sisters and a brother, so getting any attention in my house was a hard-earned thing.
The girls slept in bunk beds in one room, my parents in another, and my brother Petey slept on the living room couch. In the summertime Petey slept on the screened in front porch. He folded himself on a cot with a sleeping bag on the cooler nights. During the winter months, it was just too cold to do that. Petey the oldest was thirteen.
I loved my sisters, but they were years under me. I had nothing in common with them and if I hung around the house long enough, Mama found a way to get me to watch them or do some chore or another.
The old washing machine on the front porch was open at the top the lid was long gone. I’d put the clothes through the mangler that squeezed the water out, threw them in a basket, hauled it out to the clothes lines, and hung them up. We had poles that were notched so we could put the laundry up in the air where the wind was stronger and you could walk under them without being necklined.
Nothing is finer than the sight of clean laundry wafting in the breeze. I loved to hang them so the shirts looked like there was someone still in them when the wind filled the sleeves.
David would show up standing on the line and I would sneak off. Mama never got mad because I did the chores, she asked of me before I disappeared into the woods behind our house. I was usually back before suppertime to help peel a potato or two.
Daddy had a big garden, and we were still eating potatoes from the root cellar. I don’t know what we would have done without his garden. There was nothing to eat but potatoes on more than one occasion. Mama knew more ways to make potatoes than anyone I knew. She even made mint candies out of mashed potatoes one time.
Every Sunday, we went to the Baptist Church. We had the third pew on the left, which was the right hand of God for the minister, when he faced his congregation, and you guessed it, that was Reverend Bowdry.
The summer of 1952 showed such promise. The garden was doing well. Daddy started a new job working as a handyman work and getting a reputation of being able to fix darn near anything hence the sturdy roof on our house. He also drove down the side roads and picked up the things, folks were throwing away. He’d come home with a truckload of junk and spent his spare time fixing and selling his “treasures” as he called them.
One time, Daddy brought home a broken Schwinn bike. He got the bike fixed and painted it bright red. The tire had a slow leak, but we had a hand pump, so that wasn’t a problem. Daddy gave it to me for my eleventh birthday, it was a thing of beauty. I was riding “Red Riding Hood,” as I called her, down the side of the highway when Reverend Bowdry stopped me.
“Emmaline. Such a beautiful bike, a Schwinn. Mighty expensive, mighty extravagant.” I don’t know why it made me feel unworthy to have such a bike. I told the Reverend that Daddy got it from a junkpile and restored it. He watched me ride away on that red bike that now made me feel like a Jezabelle whenever I rode her. But then, Reverend Bowdry always made you feel like that. I wondered what he would do if he knew about David and his secret.
June 15, 1952, started out like any other day. The sun rose burning off the morning dew. I was standing out in the side yard, putting the mangled laundry on the line when I heard the screen door slam next door over at the Bowdry’s house.
“David! Come back!” I heard Mrs. Bowdry shouting. What a sight to behold. David was butt-naked, his arms flailing, as he ran down the highway in bare feet. My mother came out to see what the ruckus was about,
“Emmaline, get in the house. Now.” I knew enough not to whine. Something wasn’t right. Something was very wrong with David it was like he’d gone crazy.
The Reverend was in his pickup truck following him down the road and then passed David up. I watched out the window as the truck stopped in front of David, and the Reverend got out and stood on the road. David, exhausted, stumbled into his arms. The Reverend could barely pick his son up, but he managed to get him into the pickup truck and headed off in the direction of Gainesville.
I’d heard that David’s feet got all cut up, but it wasn’t enough to keep him in the hospital. Daddy and his friends were sitting out back one evening, someone made the inference about “King David.” He was the king that danced naked before the Lord. I knew right away they were talking about David, my David. My lovely, lovely, David, and I was angry. What happened to my friend was not a laughing matter.
What happened was a total mystery to everyone. Until he decided to go running down the highway naked, David was perfectly normal. I think Petey must have felt the same. He heard the stories too and left the back yard in disgust.
I heard my brother crying on the front porch when I came in. I was catching lightning bugs with two of my sisters.
“Petey, what’s wrong?” I asked my brother. My heart was so heavy for him. I hadn’t seen him cry like this in years.
“Shut up and leave me the hell alone,” he shouted.
“I’m telling Mama you said hell,” I lashed back.
“I don’t give a damn. Just leave me alone.” I had never heard my brother swear before. I almost said that I was going to tell on him for saying damn, but something deep inside me saw his pain and didn’t want to add to it.
“Petey, I won’t tell on you. I promise,” he looked up at me, wiping his nose on his wrist.
“Thanks, Emmaline,” he rolled into the sleeping bag like he was going to sleep, but later, I heard him sniffling again. I wondered what happened to make my brother so sorrowful.
David was gone all summer. I was forced to play with my younger sisters. Petey was so moody all he did was tell me to leave him alone. Mama explained that Petey was going through a change, he was becoming a man, a very confusing time in a boy’s life, and that in a few years, I would understand it too. It made me afraid of what my future would be like. I sure didn’t want to become mean and sullen like my brother.
People spoke in hushed tones about David. They said he had some kind of breakdown. We weren’t allowed to ask an adult. I slunk around the conversations at the potluck after church. David had been sent to someplace to recover. He was very confused. I wondered if this was about his secret, still not understanding it, but I know there wasn’t anything wrong with David. He was just made different is all. He loved everyone. Isn’t that what the Lord said to do? But then, I found out from some girls at school it wasn’t natural for boys to like boys like that. Living out of town with younger sisters, I was pretty isolated.
I never told anyone that I had seen David naked, running down the highway. It just didn’t seem right to talk about him like that. It wasn’t my story to tell.
Christmas brought a little cooler weather. Papa built a fire in the woodstove. It was so hot it drove me out of the house. I sat on the stoop several layers of clothes on watching when Reverend Bowdry’s pickup truck pulled in the front yard of his house.
Walking off the stoop toward the road, I saw both doors open and the Reverend and Mrs. getting out of the truck, and then there was David. He was tall and thin. His mother took his arm and led him into the house. Did David’s feet still hurt? I wondered by the way he walked.
He was home, home for Christmas. That’s all that counted. My heart leaped with joy. I wondered when we could sneak away. I had to know what happened that day. What made him dance before the Lord, naked.
Walking back into the house, bone chilled. Somehow, I couldn’t get my body temperature right, I was cold outside, but when I went in, I was sweating. Petey was reading a book sitting in Papa’s chair.
“David’s home,” I told him.
“What?” Petey looked at me like he didn’t believe what I told him.
“I just saw David, his parents came home, and he got out of the pickup. He wasn’t walking real good like his feet still hurt him.”
“Weird,” my brother said and went back to his book. I kept my eye out for a few days, waiting for David to show up on the line like he used to, and we could go back into the woods to play and talk. But he didn’t come. I asked Mama if I could make a sweet potato pie for him. She said yes, so I baked him a pie for Christmas, wrapping it up in our best dishtowel, I crossed over to the Bowdry’s property. Knocking on the door, Mrs. Bowdry answered.
“Why Emmaline,” holding up the pie, “This is for David, and for you too, of course. May I see him?” Mrs. Bowdry took the pie, pulled back the towel,
“Ah, your famous sweet potato pie. It looks delicious, Emmaline. But David is sleeping right now. Perhaps another time?” By the look on her face Mrs. Bowdry was not about to let me in. Crestfallen, I responded back,
“Perhaps.” Mrs. Bowdry shut the door, but David was talking inside, he opened the door.
“Emmaline,” his brilliant smile was the same.
“David,” running back to the steps. I could see his mother was uncomfortable with the lie she’d told me.
“Meet me in an hour, our place,” he whispered, but out loud, he said, “The pie is such a nice thing to do. Can’t wait to eat it, you know it’s my favorite. I’m really tired and I’d like to go back and lie down. Maybe we can talk later, or something?”
“I’d like that very much.” Winking back at him, I ran all the way home. Now I needed to wait for another hour and avoid Mama so she wouldn’t find another chore for me to do.
Standing next to the live oak tree, the one that was struck by lightning. was our castle and secret spot. You could fit inside the tree. Fire had burned the core out a long time ago. It was still black from the burn.
“David!” We hugged one another. “How are you?”
“I’m crazy, you know.” I laughed. David was always so honest and refreshing.
“So, I’ve heard. You seem better now,” what else could I say?
“Yeah, I screwed up. I didn’t know where I was. I needed to getaway. I felt trapped. I just took off my clothes and started running. It made perfect sense at the time, but now I know it made no sense.”
“Are you home for good?” I was hopeful now that he was better, he could be here with me.
“Just here for Christmas, they are trying to make me better.”
“They are trying to make me like girls.” David ran his hand through his curly hair. I felt he wanted to cry.
“But you like girls. You like me.” I offered, to make him feel better.
“I love you, Emmaline but I could never be in love with you.”
“I know that, David. I’ve always known that about you.”
“Well it’s wrong, according to the Bible, and my father, the Reverend. He said it is a sin and a stain upon him, that I am this way.”
“David, can’t you just pretend to be cured? Tell them you love me? I will tell them I love you because it’s not made up. I do love you.”
“That would be lying.” David looked off, somewhere in the distance. He wasn’t talking to me anymore; he was thinking. Such a sad look. It burned into my memory.
“David,” his mom called from the house.
“I have to go.” David shouted back. “Coming,” he hugged me awkwardly. I cried watching him run away. Would I ever see him again? How long would it take before they let him go, set him free? Why couldn’t he just lie about things?
That was the last time I talked to him. The next time I saw David he was in church, in a pine box resting at the front. They’d made him look like a movie star. David was a beautiful boy. Why his parents couldn’t see that and accept that about him was beyond me.
The whole congregation turned up for David’s funeral. All of us cried tears of sorrow. It wasn’t right that such a young boy of fourteen would take his life. They found him after he’d hung himself, claiming it was an accident. We were told he was washing windows when he fell off a ladder. The cord of the shade caught him around the neck. The ladder tipped over, and David was hanging too high to gain a foothold on the windowsill. They didn’t find him for several hours.
On the front porch that night, thirteen now, I had a better understanding of what David was talking about, him loving boys more than girls. Enough rides on the bus and whispers made me put two and two together.
Petey and I sat looking out at the lightning bugs. On, then off, their lights blinked.
“Why do they do that?” I asked my brother.
“So, they can find one another,” he said simply. He was so much more mature now, at sixteen.
“Do you think David ever found someone?” I asked him innocently. Petey looked at me.
“I know he found someone,” and then it occurred to me. Petey and David were cut of the same cloth.
“You loved him,” I whispered, afraid of saying it out loud. I didn’t want my brother to kill himself. A single tear rolled down his cheek.
“Yes, I did, and he loved me.” I sat down on my brother’s sleeping bag and took him in my arms.
The next morning, I told Mama I was going to make the Bowdry’s a sweet potato pie.
“Honey, it’s going to be hot out today.”
“I know Mama, but you know it was David’s favorite. I just want them to know we haven’t forgotten him. Mama hugged me.
“My girl is growing up.” I pulled the pie out of the oven, letting it cool, I covered it with the best dish towel we had. Carrying it over the property line, I saw Reverend Bowdry oiling up the moving parts on his well driller. He looked smaller somehow, and older.
“Emmaline?” he nodded to me, and then saw the pie.
“I’ve brought you a sweet potato pie, it was David’s favorite. I wanted you to know that we won’t forget him.” The Reverend was choking back tears.
“I loved him, you know,” he looked off into the distance, and I felt a wave of recognition. It was the same look David had when we last talked almost two years ago.
“I know you did, Reverend. You should have loved all of him,” putting the pie on the rig, I walked back home.
I could hear his grief. Reverend Bowdry held it in for quite some time, and then, he let it go, long, loud, and anguished. I felt sorry for the man.
The Bible says something like “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I knew for Reverend Bowdry, healing had begun.