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Chapter 1 of Such Things Happen:

As Deep As The Ocean

Seventeen-year-old Eddie Dehlmer rubbed her sister’s face with a wet ragged towel as the petite, dimpled, six-year-old stomped her feet, shaking her short massive curls in protest. The babbling creek at the edge of the secluded campsite seemed to laugh at the small child’s antics. Eddie failed to appreciate the humor of the moment.

“You hold still, Sadie Mae, or I’ll smack yo’ scrawny little butt! If you make any more fuss, Papa’s gonna say you can’t to go school yet. Then you’ll have to wait a whole `nother year `fore you can go, and you’ll have take them shots all over again. Won’t that be fun?”

“No, but you don’t have to rub my nose off!”

“Oh, hush; you got to be clean. They don’t allow no dirty younguns in school. Either I’ll have to scrub, or I’ll have to throw you in the creek. It looks pretty cold to me.”

“No, don’t throw me in!”

“Well straighten up then, and let’s get ready `fore Papa gets back. He’s grouchy enough as it is.”

The girls dressed quickly, Sadie in her simple homemade dress and Eddie in clean, but faded, overalls and a thread bare white shirt. Next came the hair brushing, which proved no small feat for these two. Their Jewish and Welsh heritage had blessed them with tight curls, Sadie’s being a fiery copper, and Eddie’s auburn. Tears came to Sadie’s pale green eyes as Eddie brushed.

“I’m sorry, Sadie; soon as we get to Corner Town and get settled in, I’m gonna get me job. Then I’ll be able to get some stuff for your hair. I’m probably gonna cut it a little shorter, too. I know it’s hard on you. You be good. I got something for you.” Eddie winked at her sister as her own deep blue eyes sparkled in the morning sunlight.

‘“What you got me, huh, what?”

Sadie jumped up and down impatiently. Eddie rummaged through the family’s meager provisions and produced two small pieces of salt water taffy. Sadie devoured them in haste, as Eddie scrambled to find her cigarettes. There were only two left. She lit up and quickly packed the pots and pans in a small apple crate. Just then her father pulled up in a rusty, old, flatbed pick up. A white-haired Negro man and a teenage Negro boy sat in the back of the truck amongst the barrage of tattered belongings. Eddie and Sadie backed up at the sight of them. In 1947, suspicions still ran high in this rural north Texas area. Jake Delhmer crawled out the door and scratched his neck as he came around the end of the truck.

“This here is Reverend Stillwater and his grandson. What’d you say yo’ name was, boy?”

“Toby Allen, Sir.”

“Well, you got manners; I’ll hand you that. I don’t normally take to hauling `round Black folks, but seeing as how he’s a reverend and the boy’s got manners, I reckon I had ought to make an exception in this case. `Sides he promised he’d brang us some peas and stuff from his garden in payment for the ride.”

The white-haired man smiled sadly. “The Lord’ll bless for yo’ kindness, I’m shore.”

“I’m a countin’ on it, Reverend; I’m a countin’ on it.”

Eddie quickly loaded the camp gear into the back of the truck, and they were on their way. Gruff and tactless as usual, Jake sneered at his daughter, twitching his muscular frame and contorting his filthy face as he spoke.

“I still don’t know why the sam hill you thank you got to go to school. Sadie’s too young, and yo’re too old. You gonna have to git a job if we’re gonna stay here through the winter. Farm workers’ wages ain’t improved much in these parts since the war’s been over. Harvest time won’t last long. It’s a nuisance you goin’ to school. We’re too needful of too many thangs.”

“I’ll get a job, Papa; I promise. It’ll work out.”

“We’ll see, Miss Eddie. Yo’re stubborn like yo’ Mama always was. More trouble than yo’re worth. If I didn’t need yo’ help with Sadie I’d a done sent you packing, but I’m gonna take care of my baby. Ain’t that right, Sadie?”

“Yeah, Papa, that’s right. You always gonna take care of me `cause I’m yo’ purdy little baby.”

Eddie sighed. Her father never saw any value in her, but at least he had the good sense to keep her around for Sadie’s sake. Eddie smiled at Sadie and held her hand tightly; Eddie’s eyes twinkled as she stared at the light of her life. Sadie was her whole world since Mama left them.

Jake fumed and fussed for the next half hour, but Eddie stood her ground. She had given in to him before, but no more. If things were going to change for her and Sadie, it was up to her. She couldn’t count on her daddy for much of anything.

Jake huffed, “What time did you say school would be out?”

“Most likely, 2:30. I’ll meet you at the coffee shop on Main Street. Ain’t never been here before, but all these little towns got a coffee shop on Main Street. I’ll be asking around about a job soon as I get there. There may even be something at school. I’ll see.”

“Well, you better; that’s all I can say for it.”

The tiny, brick, country school sat among massive oaks and towering pine trees; it had 210 students for all 12 grades. Eddie raced to the principal’s office as fast as she could move. Sadie stumbled along behind her as Eddie adjusted her earrings, her only remaining gift from her mother.

“Hey, slow down!”

“We’re late, Sadie.”

Eddie straightened herself as she entered the office, with her knee length hair billowing behind her. The secretary stared at the 5’10" teenager with heavy, Middle Eastern style, silver earrings dangling from her ears. Eddie looked like a gypsy in overalls.

“May I help you?” The gray-haired Miss Jordan fiddled with the string of beads around her neck and wiped her wire rimmed glasses.

“Yes, M’am. My name’s Eddie Dehlmer, and this is my sister, Sadie Mae. We’re here to enroll in school.”

“I’ll need your records. Also, I need to see Sadie’s birth certificate and her immunization records. How old are you, Eddie?”

“I’m 17.” Miss Jordan reviewed the records with great curiosity.

“According to your records, you were promoted two grades ahead, yet you haven’t been to school for two years.”

“Yes, M’am, I was sick for a very long time; then my mama died. I’m just now to the point where I can come back. I mean to finish.”

“Very well, I’ll direct you to your classes. You’ll be having Mrs. Talbert as homeroom teacher in first period history, as well as for English in third period. Mrs. Nelson is substituting today. It’s 9:45 now. Third period starts in 15 minutes. Your records appear to be in good order. You can come by after school and fill out some paper work, and you’ll be all set. Here’s your classroom passes.”

“Thank you, M’am.”

As they entered Mrs. Tanner’s first grade classroom, Sadie’s eyes lit up at the sight of the children cutting out pictures to take home to their parents. The very social child quickly joined in the activity. Eddie sighed. One down, one to go.

Eddie stepped through the doorway of the classroom. Her stained hands, chapped lips, and bare sandal-clad feet gave her a weather beaten look. Still, her tall, shapely frame and Semitic features proclaimed her unmistakable beauty. Every student looked and whispered as Ida Nelson continued to write on the chalkboard.

Damien Skaggs, a rough mannered stringy-haired boy, whispered loud enough to be heard, “Wow, look at the Amazon warrior!”

The other students laughed out loud. The dark-haired Mrs. Nelson whirled her short stocky body around with lightening speed as silence fell over the classroom.

“There’s a vacant seat in the second row. Give me your admission slip and be seated, please.” Ida looked at the note, then looked up at Eddie.

“You are Edwina Dehlmer; that is correct?”

“I’d rather be called Eddie, M’am, if it’s all right with you.”

“That’s fine. Class, you have your assignment, as essay telling me something about yourself and what your dreams are. No one but Mrs. Talbert and I will read them.”

Eddie slipped into the seat, took her very short pencil and her clip board from her homemade satchel and began to write. Mrs. Nelson sat behind the teacher’s desk, grading papers. An experienced substitute, she could bring quick correction with merely a glare. Just then the secretary came to the doorway.

“Mrs. Nelson, you have a phone call.”

“Okay, class, you’re on your own. You have more than enough to keep yourselves busy till I get back.”

Eddie put her essay on the teacher’s desk. No sooner did she return to her seat than Damien exchanged places with his very skinny friend, Dalton Slade, and scooted into the desk behind her.

Damien snickered, “Look at that hair! Yo’ mama’s boyfriend must have been from the settlement. We don’t allow no high yellow half breeds in this school, frizzy head.” Eddie glared at him, “Butt face!” Onlookers giggled. Damien began to gesture at Eddie as if he wanted to put his hands on her hips.

From out in the hallway Ida’s nephew, Clayton, walked in on the situation. The muscular 24-year-old man, wiped his glasses with a filthy cotton handkerchief as he smiled at the sight before him. Damien reached for Eddie again, but this time he came too close. Eddie belted him, giving him a black eye for his efforts. He balled up his fist to hit Eddie, but Clayton intervened, taking the blow instead. Damien was livid as Clayton grabbed his hands. Dalton tried to kick Clayton, but one of the other students stopped him.

“You just calm yourself down here, boy. You ain’t gonna be hittin’ on no female, and you sure ain’t gonna be touching her where you ought not to.”

“I ain’t afraid of you, Mr. Charles Clayton Henry. I’ll get you for this. Me and Dalton, we’ll teach you a thang or two.”

“Somehow, I doubt that.”

Just then Ida came through the door. She looked at Clayton, puzzled. “Just what’s going on here?”

“Uncle Larry Joe said that your car won’t be ready before tomorrow. I just came by to tell you that Charlie and I will come back by and pick you up after school.”

“That’s fine, but what’s this fight about?”

“I’d best let them tell you about it.”

“Young lady, what just happened here?” Eddie refused to answer. Ida left Clayton in charge and marched them straight to the principal’s office.

Clayton shoved Dalton out the door behind them as he called to his aunt, “You’d better send Dalton with them.”

Out in the hallway Dalton whined, “Boy, we’re in for it now. If she cries they’ll kick us out of school for sure.”

“Oh, hush, Dalton; if they do it won’t be no great loss. Who needs school anyways? We’re gonna make our fortune in moon-shining. You don’t need no degree for that.”

“Shut up, Damien; everybody’ll hear you.”

“Stop whining, you big baby.”

In the principal’s office bald, steely-eyed Mr. Silva puffed on his cigar as he studied Eddie. “You haven’t been here two hours yet, and you’re already in trouble. I do believe you’ve beat the all time record. You want to tell me about it?”

“No, Sir, I don’t. I can take care of myself.”

“You’ll have to apologize to each other if you want to get back in class.”

“I apologize to you and to Mrs. Nelson for disturbing the class, but I will not apologize for defending myself, not now, not ever.”

“I do think an explanation is in order.”

“What difference does it make now? It’s over.”

“I can expel you for this, you know.”

“Yes, sir, I know you can, but I don’t need anyone’s permission to defend myself, and I don’t aim to let anyone feel sorry for me, either. So you do whatever you want to, I guess.”

“I see. Well, today’s Wednesday. Since this is your first offense a temporary suspension is in order. You take the next few days to think about it, and I’ll see you here Monday morning, bright and early.”

Eddie fought back tears. As she pushed her hair back out of her face, Al Silva caught a glimpse of the large bruise on the left side of her neck. He thought it best to say nothing about it for the time being. He motioned to her with his cigar.

“Go about your business, Miss Eddie. We’ll talk later.”

As Eddie bolted out of the door, a very cocky Damien strolled in with his nervous friend right behind him. When Mr. Silva saw Damien’s black eye, he had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. He puffed on his cigar to regain his composure and stared Damien right in the eye.

“I told you if you got into trouble one more time, you’d be out of here. Clean out your locker and get out.”

“I don’t know what that sow told you, but she lied!”

“Get out, Damien, now, before I call the law on you.”

Eddie raced down the hallway. Clayton stood in the open doorway to the classroom and shook his head as she darted into the room to grab her satchel before running out the door. The students in the front of the classroom scrambled from their seats to get a glimpse of what was happening. Eddie bounded through the front gate of the sprawling country school yard, closing the gate behind her. She plopped down on a bench that sat in the shade of a massive oak tree. She propped her knees up on the bench and buried her face with her arms as she sobbed loudly.

Across the narrow country road that ran directly parallel to the school yard, Ida’s father, Mr. Charlie, sat in a new Ford pick up, patiently waiting for his grandson to return. The thin, wrinkled, little man stared at Eddie with great compassion. His heart was in his eyes, and his eyes were as deep as the ocean. He chewed on a piece of broom straw as he continued to size up the situation. All of a sudden his brown eyes lit up; he knew exactly what he had to do.

He told himself, Well, Charlie, you ain’t too old for one last good deed. You been sittin’ around feeling sorry for yo’self, just wasting away. But you got one more soul to rescue, if you still got the gumption to do it. An understanding smile slid across his lips as he fumbled for the handle of the door. He had to make this look good.

He yelled out as he stumbled out of the truck, “Irma, Irma, don’t cry! I’m coming, Irma. Don’t cry!”

Eddie looked up to see Mr. Charlie wobbling out the door of the truck. She yelled as she raced across the road, “Be careful, old man; you gonna hurt yourself. You just take it easy, now.” She rushed over and took his arm in hers to steady him.

“Irma, Irma, don’t cry. I’m here. Don’t you cry no more.”

“I’m all right, old man. I’m just pitching a fit. You know how temperamental females can be. You just take it easy. Let’s me and you just go over here and sit down for a few minutes.”

Clayton came running down the front steps of the schoolhouse. He reached them just as Eddie helped Charlie get seated. Clayton’s voice crackled with irritation as Eddie lit her last cigarette. Charlie fiddled with the half empty cigarette pack in his pocket as they spoke.

“Charlie, what are you trying to do? I told you to wait for me. You gonna scare people away. They won’t even talk to you anymore.”

“But it’s so good to see Irma again. Don’t she look good, Clayton? I missed you so much, Irma.”

“I’m sorry. Irma was my grandmother’s name. Charlie gets a little confused.” Eddie patted the old man on the shoulder.

“That’s all right; we all get a little confused sometimes.”

“Thanks, I’ll have to watch him a little closer from now on.”

“You’re welcome. Besides, I owed you one. I’d have gotten clobbered back there, if you hadn’t stepped in at just the right moment.”

”Actually, I did it to save his life. I thought you were gonna kill that boy, Miss?”

“Eddie, Eddie Dehlmer.”

“I’m Charles Clayton Henry III, or C.C. Henry, or just Clayton, if you like. This is my grandpa, Charlie, Sr. Well, we’d best be going now.”

“Ain’t Irma goin’ with us?”

“Not this time, Mr. Charlie. I got to wait for my sister, Sadie.”

“I don’t remember you having no sister.”

“She’s a lot younger than me, Mr. Charlie. You probably never saw her before.”

Charlie looked wistfully at her as Clayton led him by the hand back to the pick up. As the truck pulled away, Charlie quietly dropped his hand out the window and waved the cigarette pack to get Eddie’s attention before flinging it as hard as he could. Clayton didn’t even notice. As soon as they were out of sight, Eddie retrieved it in haste to find a dollar stuck in the pack with the cigarettes. She just shook her head. Mr. Charlie, you’re a mess.

Copyright ©2005 River Songs. All rights reserved.