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Chapter 9: Scene 30: Leave my mom alone!

     


ThinkLink: Did you ever stick up for somebody you love?

       I squat down in front of a bookcase in the back of the library, forgetting to put books back on the shelves, looking at drops of water run down the outside of the big windows on the south wall. Rain here drags me down . It's different at the ranch . We don't get all that much in eastern Oregon , and when we do everybody's glad. For a whole week, they ask how much did it rain over at your place and say how good it is for the crops.


       I think of Mom and how she's doing with that new lawyer -- Norman Ryan's lawyer. I suppose that means she'll have to keep seeing him. And how's she doing with Pete? Why doesn't she just sign the paper he wants her to, saying she's got no share in the ranch ? Pete'd let up on her then. She and Red get along OK, but that's because Red fades away whenever any serious talk starts. "Let Pete handle it," he'll say and slide out through the back door and head for the machine shed to tinker on a motor.


       Pete can talk a dog under the table. The only time I remember that Mom ever stood up to him was after Dad left us off at the ranch six years ago. And that face-off only lasted a couple of minutes. I was sitting on the pantry floor, my back up against a cupboard reading a book from school. Lori was just born and Nick was only two, so they were upstairs in bed. Mom let me stay up later if I would be so quiet, reading, no one noticed I was still around.


       Mom was doing the dishes. Red was sitting there smoking. The laces on his work boots dangled down over the claw feet on the round oak table that sits in the middle of the kitchen. Pete tilted back his chair, teetering on the back legs, reading the newspaper. He lifted it up when Mom wiped off the oilcloth on the table and then muttered because his paper got soggy when he laid it back down.


       Mom wiped her hands on a dishtowel and stretched it out over the edge of the sink to dry. Then she reached into the back pocket of her jeans and brought out an envelope. She laid it down on the middle of the table and waited for them to notice. Neither one of them acted like they saw it. She sort of coughed, and when they still ignored her, she said, "This is from Dad. He wrote it to me before he died."


       That got their attention. Pete put down his paper and Red stubbed out his cigarette on the bent-up metal ash tray Mom kept sticking under the long ash he's always about ready to drop.


       "Yeah?" Pete said. "What'd he say?"


       "You can read it," Mom told him. She was standing up, looking down at them, and her voice was stronger sounding than usual. "What he says is, when he dies, one-third of the ranch and house is mine and he wants me to have the furniture. He says I'll always have a place to live here. Me and the kids."


       Red's mouth dropped open and he stared at Pete who turned all red in the face. Red said, "Well, don't that take the rag off the bush . What'd he go and do that for?"


       Pete sputtered and banged his chair down on all fours. "How long ago did you get that letter?"'


       Mom looked them right in the eye, even though they are her big brothers, ten and twelve years older than her. I felt real proud watching her talk up to Pete. "About a year ago." Then she got down to cases. "You haven't mentioned any will since I got back. Or any deed . If there's no will, then maybe this letter..."


       With that, Pete's chair banged back down on all four legs and scraped across the linoleum. "Damn it to hell, no letter's going to give you part of this ranch . Dad wrote that before he got cancer . Before he died, Red and me bought the ranch off him fair and square. We got the deed in the strong box to prove it."


       "You bought it?" Mom said, all the steam she'd built up leaking right out of her. Got to hand it to her, she tried one more time. "How much did you pay him? Did he leave any of that money to me?"


       Pete stood up then, and he was looking down on her. "Now look it here, the money's all gone. What he owed on the ranch added up to more than he could sell the land for, but we paid him all our savings and took over the loans. It'll take us years to pay ‘em off."


       "But the money you paid him?"


       "All gone for doctor bills and burying him. cancer ain't cheap. You'd know that if you‘d quit traipsing around Texas with that bum, Johnny, and come home to see Dad before he died." Pete was laying guilt all over her.


       Mom shrank back down to normal size, then, the fight gone out of her. I was pushing for her to go on talking back to him, but she didn't have much left in her. "The house? The furniture?"


       "I don't want to hear another word about it. What's ours is ours. He couldn't leave you what he didn't have."


       Mom started to bawl. I got up and ran over to them. I might have been only nine, but I wasn't going to let him talk to her like that. I pounded hard with my fists on Pete's butt, screaming and crying, not understanding what had gone wrong, but hating him for treating her that way. "Damn it to hell, leave my mom alone!"



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 Updated on 5/13/04

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