At our house, Rolland would lift us out and escort us inside. Never came in the house though. Once we were indoors he’d take up his post out on the front porch. He’d sit there rattling like a teakettle on boil till Mama got home or finished up in her workshop in the barn. After that he’d set hisself up in the barn while the rest of us ate whatever Jessie cooked up. She was better at cookin’ than me and I didn’t mind cleaning up. Papa used to call her pies the pride of the county.
Rolland didn’t need sleep so he rattled away in the barn all night. None of us ever knew what he did. Mama must have had a guess though. She went out there most nights after she’d tucked us in.
Some of the folks in town, Cad Winkle and his lot among them, whispered about her doing “unnatural things” in that barn after dark. He claimed his father, Auggy, had come over one night and heard terrible noises comin’ outta that barn. But I never heard anything other than Mama’s singing, Rolland’s rattle, and the huff and puff of hard work. Mama fixed every steam-powered tractor and farm machine from here to Briggs County and back again.
We weren’t allowed inside the barn without Mama. We were pretty used to breaking rules whenever it got too hot outside or too boring inside to keep ‘em, but we listened to this one. As much as we loved Mama, it was probably because of Rolland and that rattle-y bow he’d give any time he saw us. He reminded me a lot of Papa. The barn was his sacred domain. We honored that.
One day, Rolland ran out of steam on the way to school. He just sort of stopped in mid-motion. He’d done that once or twice before when a gasket got loose, but everything Mama taught me to check was tighter’n Miss Pritchett at a square dance.
I walked my sisters to school then came back with a bucket of hot water as soon as I could. I found him lying on the side of the road. They’d smashed in his faceplate and cracked his boiler. And that’s when I found out what “deevee-en’s” really meant. Those hooligans scratched “deviant” across his breastplate (though they spelled it wrong). It wasn’t written by Cad Winkle or his cronies, neither. I don’t think he even knew what the word meant. He certainly didn’t know how to say it. ’Sides that, something had cut it deep into Rolland’s breastplate: something better’n that half-dollar knife he always flashed about. Somebody older and stronger must o’ done it.
I tried to get Rolland in the cart, but he was heavier than a bull in a bathtub. I pushed the cart over to him and tipped it up on its back-end. With a whole lotta pushin’, shovin’ and prayin’. I got him onto the cart’s back wall. I used the rear axle like the center of a seesaw to flip him right into the cart. It took a few tries. (I had to hold a big hunk a rock in one hand while I pulled on the wagon handle with the other.) But eventually I got the cart set right with Rolland in a heap in the back. Then I set out for home. Even in the cart that bath taking bull seemed light in comparison.
To Be Continued…