More than a Bloody Moon


Dad is slumped over on me now; half of his weight is on my right side, my right arm under his. I walk him to his side of the bed hoping Mother won’t wake up and see how drunk he is, see the blood I didn’t get the chance to wipe off his face. He lies down and is out cold. He’s good for the night.

I go into my room and see Delma asleep on her bed. I lie down on mine and stare up at the ceiling. A dim light comes through my window. The half-moon pays me a visit, casts shadows of a kid named Cono who never could beat Hicks Boy.

Well, I guess Dad has met his own Hicks Boy.

I can’t believe I’m not jumping up and down, celebrating. I feel kinda sorry for him, my dad beaten by a cue stick. The same man who, to my knowledge, never lost a fight except for in the boxing ring with Shorty Houghton when I was three years old.

I also feel pretty good that I was there for him, did something for him that maybe he’ll remember. But it doesn’t really matter if he remembers. I will. For the first time, I felt useful to him.

I hear Mother scream. I snap back into the present, out of my daydream. Maybe she’s woken up, has seen blood on her sheets reflected in moonlight, seen the blood on Dad’s face.

I start to get up but the quiet has taken over. I think I might just go back to sleep but the silence only lasts for a moment.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper by C. Dennis-Willingham

Image credit

via Dim

He Can Run But He Can’t Hide

Narrated by Cono Dennis:

I listened to those summer bugs, the cicadas, the ones that sound like sandpaper being rubbed together. Aunt Nolie’s radio started to crackle. We knew we were getting close.

Finally, we heard the announcer, Clem McCarthy, saying that the fight was about to start right there in New York’s Yankee Stadium. I tried to picture Yankee Stadium, but I hadno reference for it. Instead, I pictured a crowd a whole lot bigger than the carnival tent in Ranger.

In the red corner, Max Schmelling weighing in at one hundred and ninety-three pounds. In the black corner, Joe, the Brown Bomber, Louis, weighing in at one hundred ninety-eight and three-quarter pounds.

The crowd on the radio roared. We sat real quiet, listening to every sound that came through Aunt Nolie’s brown box. Even Dad sat there with us, leaning forward with his hands folded under his chin like he was really there.

Joe had Max up against the ropes and then knocked him down three times. In two minutes and four seconds, Schmelling got in only two punches. The fight was over.

Joe Louis, the man that says, “He can run but he can’t hide” and “Everyone has a plan until they’ve been hit,” had marched right into that ring in front of thousands of people—heard by a million more—and showed us a thing or two about how to get things done.

Boxing’s not my career; it’s more like a survival skill that keeps me alive. I’ll use those skills when I need to, like when I arrive in Temple in a couple of hours, stare into my dad’s eyes and say, “Ding, ding, round one.”

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via Finally

excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper

Proceed with Caution

Always pay attention to your surroundings,” Dad always told my sister and I.

Perhaps he said this because he grew up in West Texas during the Depression  – a place and time with caution at every turn of a dirt road.

Ike and Cono.jpg

(Dad on right)

And, perhaps he remembered this piece of advice from his stint as one of the original deputies for the county Sheriff’s Department.

(I do remember, though, that toward the end of his life, he stopped needing the advantage point of sitting with his back up against a wall.)

Perhaps Dad was covering his ass – literally.

His maternal grandfather, my great- grandfather, used to tell him”

“Always pay attention ta what’s around ya. ‘Cuz if ya don’t, something’ll come up and bite ya on the butt.” 

And perhaps, my great-grandfather said this because he himself didn’t have any teeth.

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via Bite

Tellin’ it like it was

I’ve never been to jail nor do I plan to ever go. Growing up sometimes, I felt like I was in jail just from living under the same roof as Dad. I can’t imagine being all boxed in like that. I’d think the roof was coming down to cover me up.

When I found out about what Sheriff P.V. Hail had done, it made me outright mad. Not because of my Dad, but because of Ike. It wasn’t until Dad’s jail time that I found out about something else that happened to Ike long before.

P.V. had caught Ike staggering around Rotan like a drunk man, which he was. Ike wasn’t hurting anybody. He was just bleeding his lizard on Main Street. Instead of arresting Ike and putting him in the jailhouse to sleep it off, he beat the shit out of him first. I hated hearing that. I hated hearing that anyone could treat my grandfather with such little respect. I think it’s because P.V. suffered from small man’s disease. He was so short, he could have made a good butt doctor.

Dad had been drinking coffee in Rotan’s cafe, trying to sober up a bit before he came home. After the waitress brought him his sugar she said, “I’ll be right back with a spoon.”

“Don’t need no spoon,” Dad said. Then he reached into the back of his britches, brought out his pistol and started stirring his coffee with it.

Needless to say, that waitress called the sheriff. When Dad walked outta that café, P.V. was pointing his own gun straight up at Dad’s forehead.

Dad was smart enough not to put up a fight. Instead he put up his hands and told him where the gun was. P.V. took the gun then took his time, patting him down. Then P.V. got real low like he was checking Dad’s ankles, but he was really getting down out of the line of fire. That’s when Dad noticed one of P.V.’s deputy’s standing behind a truck about a hundred feet away and cross hairing a rifle straight at him. If Dad wanted to, he could have plucked up his gun and killed them both before they’d had time to blink. Instead, Dad just nodded at the deputy and smiled as if to say, “If ya planned on ambushin’ me, ya should’a Hidden yourself a little better.”

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, my father’s story


Daily Word Prompt: Hidden

Easy money


Cono Dennis, my dad

Shortly after arriving in San Antone, I went to town and bought some switchblades, knucks, and other crap that I thought I could sell for a profit to those little green-behind-the-ear boys who were still thinking about sucking on their mothers’ tits. I went into our classroom and when the instructor wasn’t around, I sold everything I’d bought and for a good profit too. I even told those boys that if they needed help knowing how to use those weapons just to let me know and I’d teach them, for a little fee of course.

About a day later, some fella came in and said, “Dennis, the lieutenant wants to see you.” I walk in and salute, and he says, “Soldier, what were you doing selling those knives and and knuckles?”

I had to think real quick-like so I said, “Sir, I didn’t want ’em anymore, didn’t need ’em anymore. I just wanted to get rid of them.”

He sized me up better than I could’ve done myself, smiled, and said, “I don’t want to ever see you in here again.”

“No sir,” I said, and I haven’t seen him since. But it didn’t stop me from still wanting to do something extra on the other side of the army air force paycheck. Before long, another opportunity invited itself over. I was made responsible for mashing the Brass cans that bombardier and pilot wings come in I looked in them before I started mashing them, and I’ll be damned if there still weren’t wings stuck to the bottom of some of those cans.

I looked in every one of those cans with the eye of a person who had starved before, who had tasted hunger, but had learned to keep it as a memory pinched between cheek and gum like chewing tobacco. I plucked those pins out and shined them up real good with a blitz cloth until they looked brand new. I took them to class and, again, when the instructor wasn’t around I asked, “Who wants to be a bombardier? A pilot?”

I remember Dad telling me a long time ago that if a girl sees something shiny, she’d just have to go over and touch it. So I knew it really didn’t matter if they wanted to be a pilot or bombardier. What mattered to those boys was going out for a little R & R, because if girls got sight of those shiny pins those boys would be happy for a whole night and maybe more. Now that I think on it, I should have sold them for more than a dollar a piece.

I also knew that a unit of boys were about to be shipped over to Japan. I bought all the fake diamond rings I could find at the five-and-dime store, went back to the barracks and told those boys the same thing. Today, thanks to me, I bet there’s a lot of gals over in the Pacific wearing fake rings on their fingers.

No more onion soup for this man. The money in my pocket is finally mine. Pulling out my wallet I count twenty dollars and change. Nobody’s stealing this money from me.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper

Daily Word Prompt: Brassy

Death of an Uncle

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The man lying in the bed doesn’t look anything like my Uncle Joe. His head is all swelled up, and a long, bloody cut runs from his forehead, over his eye, and down to his chin. There’s another cut over his nose, a deep gash across his forehead, and a couple more roost on his chin. Mother comes up behind me with a fresh washcloth and scares the tar outta me.

“What happened to him?”

“Punk Squares and Hammit Bashem beat ’em with knucks and a tar tool,” she says.

“What fer?”

“Don’t rightly know fer sure.”

“When’s he gonna get better?” I whisper.

“Ain’t sure he is, Cono.” I don’t really want to know why Punk and Hammit beat up my Uncle Joe. I’m afraid to.

Three days later, after plenty of moaning, my Uncle Joe dies. Earlier that morning, when he took his last breath, Aunt Nolie covered him with a Blanket and cried, “He didn’t deserve this.” She wipes her nose and eyes with the back of her hand. Except for his cuts and bruises, Uncle Joe was whiter than a bed sheet.

Now some men in a big black car come to take away my stiff-as-a-board uncle.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, my father’s story

Drunk and crazy cowboys

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Ike, my great grandfather, at age 23


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Ike, “Is’ral”, in later years




According to Grady, Logchain and “Is’ral” got real liquored up, the two of them drunker than Cooter Brown. They hopped on top of Nellie, Ike’s old Gray mare, and rode straight into the lobby of the Gholson Hotel. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Nellie wore a bell around her neck that swayed back and forth like it was ringing an announcement that the two Cooter Browns were itching for havoc. Fire Chief Murphy chased after them, hollering for them to stop their nonsense. Instead of stopping, they roped ol’ Fire Chief Murphy and pulled him around a little bit. They didn’t hurt him none, but the madder the chief got, the more they laughed their fool heads off.

When Fire Chief Murphy finally freed himself from the rope, he just brushed off and mumbled, “Damn fools.” Then he walked off shaking his head like he still had dirt in his ears from really being dragged in the road.

That wasn’t the end of it. Ike told Pa he needed to go to the barbershop for a shave.

Pa says, “Aye, God, Is’ral, ain’t no need te pay Grady for a shave. I’ll do’er fer free.”

“Well,” says Ike, pondering the idea and probably clicking his cheek. “Alrighty then.”

They stumbled into the barbershop, and Ike walked over to Grady’s barber chair where he plopped down his dusty butt. Pa threw the shaving towel over him and lathered him up real good with the shaving brush. Grady said he just stepped aside and leaned up against the wall with his arms folded. He told me it was better than watching a picture show.

After the first nick, Pa slapped a little piece of paper over the cut and kept on shaving. After the second cut and the second little piece of paper Ike says, “Don’t ye be drainin’ m—” but Pa slapped a piece of paper over his mouth, so he’d shut the hell up saying, “Quit yer bellyachin’, Is’ral.”

By the time they walked out of the barbershop, Ike’s face was covered with those tiny pieces of paper. From cheek to cheek and nose to chin he looked like he’d walked out of a mummy’s tomb.

Grady said he was laughing so hard he barely heard it when Ike mumbled, “Logchain, it’s a miracle you didn’t cut my head plumb off.”

Then, those two crazy cowboys got back on that old grey mare, her bell just a ringing and rode off to who knows where to do who knows what else.

From No Hill for a Stepper, my father’s story.




What numbskull wrote this?

While sitting for my 14 month old granddaughter, I thought once again about the lyrics of this creepy song:

Rock a bye baby,

in a treetop,

when the wind blows,

the cradle will rock,

when the bough breaks,

the cradle will fall,

and down will come baby,

baby and all.

What a horrible song to sing to little ones at nighttime!

By the way, I’ve never sang those lyrics to any of my babies!

So, here’s the deal.

The song was first published in 1765 in Mother Goose’s Melody. The only change from today was the first line – Mush-abye-baby. (Still weird) The editors noted, it is “a warning to the proud and ambitious, who climb [too] high that [they] generally fall at last.”

Here’s one theory:

James II had a son by his second wife in 1688, displacing the presumptive heir, his daughter, Mary, married to the Protestant William III of Orange. One speculative theory simply holds that the baby in the song is this little guy, and the lyrics were a “death wish,” that the little Catholic prince would die and a Protestant king would ascend to the throne.

Here’s another: A relative of Davy Crocket made up the song when she was babysitting. (IMDB lists her as the writer of “Rock-a-Bye Baby” when it was used in well-over 100 movies.)

Alrighty then.

Another theory is when the pilgrims encountered the Native Americans, they put their babies in cradles up in trees to protect them. (Stupid because surely, the cradle would fall. Maybe it was really the Native Americans who created the song to make fun of the of the newcomers putting their kids in trees.)

Whatever. It’s still a scary song.

My ending goes like this,

“And Mommy/Daddy will catch you, cradle and all.”

At least the song “Ring around the Rosie,” sad because of its original meaning, didn’t have scary words.

Okay, off my soapbox now. And remember to always hold your children tight.



Unraveling the meaning of “an eye for an eye”

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Young Cono Dennis

Mr. Pall thinks he’s tougher than a pair of old leather boots, probably because he used to be some kinda wrestler or something. He isn’t nearly as tough as Dad, who last week had beaten a man unconscious on Main Street just because the man spouted off to him. I walk into his office, where’s he’s sitting behind his desk looking puffed up with importance.

“Cono, were you smoking in the schoolyard?”

“No sir, I wadn’t.”

“Were the Allridge boys smoking?”

I think, Why didn’t ye just call them in here like you’ve done me?, but I don’t say that. Maybe it was Mr. Pall’s brother-in-law, who Dad had beaten up last week.

“I have no idee, sir,” I say. “I reckon you ought’a ask them.”

His right eye stares a hole in my left eyeball. His left one kinda wanders around on its own, like it’s been punched one too many times. Maybe he grunts with Mrs. Berry on occasion.

He opens up his desk drawer and pulls out a rubber hose. He thumps it on the desk a few times and says, “Well, I need to whip you with this hose.”

I stare back into his bad eye with both of my good ones and say, “Go ahead, sir. But I jes’t half to tell ye that my daddy said if you ever laid a hand on me, he’d have to come up here and whup you.” I say it real nice though.

He sits real quiet in his principal’s chair, like he’s picturing himself drawing a crowd on Main Street while my dad beats the tar outta his one good eye. While he’s chewing on that idea like a piece of gum, I’m busy staring at him, thinking that his front teeth stick out so far he could eat an apple through a keyhole. After that picture in my mind, I’m not scared one little bit.

Finally, he says, “Git on outta here, Cono.”

“Yes, sir,” I say, ’cause there’s no sense in not being polite.

At lunchtime I’m eating my sandwich, minding my own business, when Tommy scopes me out and says, “Cono, what’cha got fer lunch?”

Even though he’s five times bigger than me I say, “It don’t make no difference ’cause ye ain’t getting none of it.”

“Cono, you shouldn’t a’ stuck that knife in me that time.”

I look up at him with a face as serious as Dad’s and say, “Tommy, if ye mess with me in any way, shape’r form, I’ll cut yer head plumb off with the same pocketknife I used before.”

And just as I’m picturing his dead body without a head like Wort Reynolds, Tommy Burns walks away.

School’s out for the day, and it was another discouraging one. I grab Delma’s hand and start walking back home, now having a little time to think about what happened.

The Allridge boys had been smoking like a bunch a chimney stacks, but I ain’t one to rat on somebody else when it’s none of my business. And, I like to think that Dad would beat the tar outta Mr. Pall if he laid a hand on me. But Dad never said that. If Dad ever finds out that I lied, I might as well curl up in a ball and prepare myself—or maybe just grab my axe.

Lying isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, we have to lie in order protect ourselves and the people we care about.

An “eye for an eye” is what I did today. Maybe that part of the Bible makes sense after all.

From No Hill for a Stepper, the story of my father growing up in poverty during the Great Depression.


Calf Slobber


Cono Dennis

My father is a worthless, sorry son of a bitch, no better than calves’ slobber. I’ve tried to find reasons to believe otherwise, I really have.

How can a piece of apple pie be so good and so bad at the same time? Maybe it’s like Ike’s jalapeno, the price for eating one is steep. But at least Ike got a little satisfaction from those hot bites, the taste being worth it.

I think about Hicks Boy, how I never could beat him, and I wonder if it will ever be me who is standing up at the end of a round with my right hand held up by a referee. “And the new boxing Champion is Cono Dennis.” The crowd cheers.

I want to look down at the calves’ slobber lying bloodied on the boxing ring canvas. I want to spit down on my father and say, “There ain’t nothin’ worse than bein’ woken up in the middle’a the night to the feelin’ ’a yer balls bein’ squeezed, and hearin’ the sound of a pocket knife bein’ opened up at the same time.”

I want to walk away from the ring, the crowd still cheering.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, my father’s story