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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-12-17 15:06:11
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  * * *When Mom and Dad came out of the Bar None Bar, they brought us each a long piece of beef jerky and a candy bar. I ate the jerky first, and by the time I unwrapped my Mounds bar, it had melted into a brown, gooey mess, so I decided to save it until night, when the desert cold would harden it up again.

  "I hate winter," I told Mom.

  "I had to say yes," Mom said. "Your father wouldn't take no for an answer." Besides, she explained, she had to get away from her mother, who wouldn't let her make even the smallest decision on her own. "I had no idea your father would be even worse."Dad left the air force after he got married because he wanted to make a fortune for his family, and you couldn't do that in the military. In a few months, Mom was pregnant. When Lori came out, she was mute and bald as an egg for the first three years of her life. Then suddenly, she sprouted curly hair the color of a new penny and started speaking nonstop. But it sounded like gibberish, and everyone thought she was addled except for Mom, who understood her perfectly and said she had an excellent vocabulary.

  But we always fought back, usually as a team. Our most spectacular fight, and our most audacious tactical victory梩he Battle of Little Hobart Street梩ook place against Ernie Goad and his friends when I was ten and Brian was nine. Ernie Goad was a pug-nosed, thick-necked kid who had little eyes set practically on the sides of his head, like a whale. He acted as if it was his sworn mission to drive the Walls family out of town. It started one day when I was playing with some other kids on the tank parked next to the armory. Ernie Goad appeared and began throwing rocks at me and yelling that the Wallses should all leave Welch because we were stinking it up so bad.

  Mom had the same problems she'd had in Battle Mountain with organizing her paperwork and disciplining her students. At least one morning a week, she'd throw a tantrum and refuse to go to work, and Lori, Brian, and I would have to get her collected and down to the street where Lucy Jo waited with a scowl, blue smoke chugging up out of the Dart's rusted-through tailpipe.

  "Can't we do it over the phone?""I need to see you in person, honey."Dad asked me to come down to the Lower East Side that evening. "And if it's not too much trouble," he added. "could you stop on your way and pick up a bottle of vodka?""Oh, so that's what this is about.""No, no, honey. I do need to talk to you. But I would appreciate some vodka. Nothing fancy, just the cheapest rotgut they have. A pint would be fine. A fifth would be great."I was annoyed by Dad's sly request for vodka梩ossing it out at the end of the conversation as if it were an afterthought, when I figured it was probably the purpose of the call. That afternoon I called Mom, who still never drank anything stronger than tea, and asked if I should indulge Dad.

  I didn't want to be transported to another world. My favorite books all involved people dealing with hardships. I loved The Grapes of Wrath, Lord of the Flies, and especially A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I thought Francie Nolan and I were practically identical, except that she had lived fifty years earlier in Brooklyn and her mother always kept the house clean. Francie Nolan's father sure reminded me of Dad. If Francie saw the good in her father, even though most people considered him a shiftless drunk, maybe I wasn't a complete fool for believing in mine. Or trying to believe in him. It was getting harder.

  I pulled a blanket over my head and refused to come out until we were beyond the Muskogee city limits. "Life is a drama full of tragedy and comedy," Mom told me. "You should learn to enjoy the comic episodes a little more."* * *It took us a month to cross the country. We might as well have been traveling in a Conestoga wagon. Mom also kept insisting that we make scenic detours to broaden our horizons. We drove down to see the Alamo? "Davy Crockett and James Bowie got what was coming to them," Mom said. "for stealing this land from the Mexicans"梐nd over to Beaumont, where the oil rigs bobbed like giant birds. In Louisiana, Mom had us climb up on the roof of the car and pull down tufts of Spanish moss hanging from the tree branches.


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