Protect the Children

Oh little child, your hunger grows

for things outside your world of woes

gangs and morsels you feed upon

to gather strength and carry on.

Sirens bellow, flashing lights

weaken so the appetite

windows now your only shield

from who you are and what you feel.

Watching how the colored clothes

come together in violent pose

feeling it’s your only chance

you turn away and start to dance.

Pelvis thrusting, rapid feet

arms are flailing to the beat

letting go of all you fear

you dance until you disappear.

I wrote this many years ago when I taught in a low income early childhood center. My eyes opened. My heart squeezed.

That rare gift of laughter

One Thanksgiving when we lived in the Tourist Court, we had enough food for Mother to make a real meal, but it was Pooch who landed on Plymouth Rock. We didn’t have money to buy a turkey, but somehow Mother got hold of an old hen to cook. She baked it for most of the morning, even making cornbread dressing to go with it, which, for her, was like pulling a cart full of lead. She set the food on the kitchen table to let it cool while we went to the drug store to get Dad his medicine. Seeing as how it was Thanksgiving, the drug store was closed and Dad had to rely on his refrigerated liquid medicine to make it through the day.

When we got back home, Dad opened the door and what we saw made my mother want to spit cactus needles. There on our kitchen table laid scattered bones where our chicken used to be and only half of what used to be a whole pan of dressing.

We looked around the corner into the bedroom. Lying on Mother and Dad’s bed, head on a pillow and wearing a smile that stretched from Rotan to Sweetwater, was Pooch. We were the three bears coming home to find out that our porridge had been eaten, but this time, not by a little blonde-haired girl but a Curbstone Setter with an eyepatch.

Pooch’s smile disappeared when he caught sight of Mother spitting fire from her eyeballs, and coming at him with a big broom in her hand. Once those straw bristles touched his butt, he was out the door lickety split.

We ate the leftover dressing and the pinto beans, which had been safe from the theiveing on top of the stove. Mother’s teeth were so clenched with madness, I’m still not sure how she got anything into her mouth. Dad, on the other hand, was trying not to laugh, and he looked like he was enjoying every bite of the scant Portions.

“Ain’t it surprisin’ how full we can get without eatin’ meat?” Dad says stuffing more beans into his mouth, his eyes pushed into a squint by his smiling cheeks.

“It ain’t funny, Wayne,” Mother says.

We all stayed quiet for a bit so Dad could concentrate on keeping his food in and his laugh from coming out. Then he mumbled out loud, “Guess we’re not saving any leftovers for Pooch.”

I couldn’t help it. I had to stick my head under the table and hold my breath to try to keep my own laugh from spewing across the table.

Dad leaned back in his chair, pushed his plate away, patted his belly, and said, “I ate so much I think I got a little pooch.” That’s all it took. My sides started to split right along with Dad’s. Delma giggled, and Mother, although she tried to hide it, was starting a grin all her own.

Pooch didn’t show up until later that night, when everything was calm again and the chicken and dressing had settled nicely in his belly.

Even though we had beans, cornbread, and dressing for Thanksgiving, it was Pooch who really celebrated the feast of the pilgrims. And, I think because of that, Pooch had given us a rare gift around the supper table: laughter.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper (for those who have enjoyed these excerpts, remember you can order the novel on Amazon. 


Daily word prompt:Portion

Ya gotta get to know a fella ‘fore you say you don’t like him

Pa always tells me, “Cono, if ye don’t like somebody, it’s jes’t ’cause you hadn’t got to know him well enough’s all.” That sounds like something H. would say.

“Hey, Gene. Ye want to meet a real colored man?” I ask.

“Sure, I do. Who is he?”

So I tell him what I know. I tell him about the man with dark skin and kind eyes. I tell him how he looked at me like I was a real person and not just a stupid little kid.

The next day after school, I take Gene to the barbershop.

“Hi, Mr. H.,” I say.

“Hey there Little Dennis, what you know good?”

“This here’s my friend, Gene.”

“Well, it’s a real pleasure to know ya, Gene,” and he sticks out his hand for Gene to shake. Gene waits a second, stares at H.’s big brown hand, then pumps it up and down like the handle on a water well.

“Well, now that’s a mighty fine handshake ye got there young fella. Ya play any football?”

“No sir, not really. I jes’t throw the ball around a bit’s all.”

“Gene’s real good at throwing the football, H.”

“I can tell that, I shorly can. Besides my wife, Teresa, that’s one thing I love. I love that game ’a football.”

“Why don’t ye play then?” I ask.

“Well, I s’pose that window has closed down on me already, but I been going over to the Yellowhammers’ to watch them practice. They’ve started to let me be their water boy. I sure like it, too.”

“Maybe we kin watch a game with ye sometime,” says Gene.

“Anytime, boys. I’d like that. Uh-huh, shorly would.”

“Ya like shinin’ shoes?” asks Gene.

“Shor I do. I get to talk ta all the folks. Real nice folks here in Rotan.”

The barber’s door jingles as a man walks in. He’s got enough fat on him he could be two people instead of one. After he takes off his cowboy hat and hangs it on a hook, he props up his booted feet on the footrest of the barber’s chair, and says, “Shoe shine, boy.”

“Yes, sir, it’d be my pleasure. Ya better look out now, yer shoes ’re gonna be shinin’ to the next county in jus’ a few minutes.”

The fat man doesn’t say anything. He just opens his newspaper and starts to read while H. starts to Buff his shoes.

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

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The real H. Govan

Click the H. Govan link to read more about this amazing man.

The searching-for-a-penny-in-your-poop kind of Lifestyle

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Dad can catch a housefly in one hand without blinking, so it shouldn’t have surprised me none that his open palm slams fast across my face.

As I put my hand to my face he says, “Oh fer cryin’ out loud, Cono! I’ll swannin’, ye bit the your new toothbrush in two! Can’t ye do…”

I don’t hear the rest of what he’s saying. He’s walking away from me shaking his head back and forth. Half of my face stinging like it’s been resting on a yeller-jacket’s nest. The other half just feels sorry. How can you build up something so high, just to watch it fall down so hard? With the brush part still inside my mouth and its handle still in my hand, I think maybe I’m not so big after all. I guess I’ve found the baby Devil’s Claw after all. It’s me. I’m the baby.

I think about what I’m supposed to do with these two pieces. Maybe I can just swaller the brush part that’s not doing anything, but napping on my tongue. At least then, half of my dumbness will be covered up. Then again, Ma is always saying to me, “Cono, ye need to ‘member that anythin’ ye swaller is gonna have te come out the other end.” She reminds me about this all the time, ever since she saw me swaller a penny. No sir, she won’t let me forget about that penny. I’d picked it up off Ma’s night table, looked at it, sniffed it and after licking that penny, it just slid down my throat as easy as ice cream.

When Ma saw that penny go in my mouth and not come back out the same way, she said, “Times bein’ hard, ye gotta look at yer ba’ll movement ev’ry time ye do one. Don’t use the outhouse. Go in the fields. When ye find it, clean it off real good and hand it over to yer Mother. She needs it a whole lot more’n yer belly does.” I knew she was right. No one has much money. Most folks around here are six pennies shy of a nickel.

I watched each poop that turned up. I waited hoping it had melted and I’d already peed it out, but that didn’t happen. A few days later, when I saw that penny come out, I stared at it for a while. I just didn’t have it in me to pick it out of my poop and clean it off.

Every few days Ma would ask, “Find that penny yet, Cono?”

“No ma’m,” I’d say, “Must be makin’ its way back up.”

Now if I would have swallered that penny in front of Ike, he would have grinned and tilted his head to the side and said, “Well, aren’t you smart!” Then we both would have laughed and that would have been the end of it. Except, that ain’t the way it happened. It was Ma who saw me swaller that penny.

A few days later, Pa took me to Adam’s Grocers to get us some cheese and crackers like we always do on a Saturday. We sat on the breezy side of the house and watched the nighttime roll over to our part of town. It was so quiet, that when we opened our cheese and crackers, our crunching sounded like a two-man band. And when the music of summer bugs joined in? We were better than a revival choir.

“See this tooth right here?” Pa says jabbing his finger on a back tooth.


He puts that finger up to his nose, sniffs it and says, “It shor’ do stink!” Pa sure is funny sometimes.

Spitting out a cracker crumb with his tongue and a puff of air, Pa reached into his pocket, pulled something out and said, “Here ye go, Cono. I think this is yer’n.” I looked down and smiled at his open palm. There, sitting smack dab in the middle of his calloused farm hand was a shiny penny.

“Thanks Pa,” I said, staring at its purpose.

“Mm, hmm,” said Pa. “Ever’thin’s copacetic, ain’t it Cono?”

“It sure is Pa,” I said. Pa loves that word, “copacetic.” He told me “copacetic” means that things are tasting good on your tongue and that everything’s going to be alright.

I put the penny in my pocket to keep it safe while I ate my crackers. When we’d finished eating and as the sun was getting further and further away from the day, I ran into the house and saying real loud to my mother so Ma could hear, “Mother, I think this is yer’n.”

From my novel, No Hill for a Stepper, my father’s story. (available on Amazon)


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.


A minimal meal

Cono Dennis - An Unlikely Hero in the Making

Cono Dennis, his sister Delma & Pooch – late 1930s

For a week, the whole house feels pain of one kind or another. Delma’s in one bed crying, Dad’s moaning and cussing in his. But the only sickness Mother and I feel is a mean rumbling in our bellies from lack of food. Since Dad’s been bedridden, we don’t have any gambling money to spend on groceries.

Mother walks over to the kitchen cabinets and looks inside. No salt, no pepper, not even a lousy piece of stale bread is sitting in there. No sir, there isn’t a dang thing to eat. She goes to the last cabinet. There, all by itself, sits a medium-sized onion. She takes it out, holds it in both her hands and stares at it like she’s thinking a roast was fixing to pop out of it. At least that’s what I’m thinking, when my mouth gets all watery.

She peels that onion real slow, like it’s a prized Hereford being slaughtered for steak. She slices it up just as slowly as she’d peeled it. She puts it in a skillet and adds a little water, looks at it and adds more water.

The onion soup doesn’t taste like onion or even warm water. It tastes like cold hunger seasoned with poverty and sprinkled with fear. And the stuff that settled on the bottom of the cup? That’s anger. I drink it anyway. I feel like a Devil’s Claw, stacked up and falling back down on my own self. It’s like being slapped without even having a hand laid on me. Maybe it’s because the slap I feel is on the inside instead of the outside, a slap like a burning face just as uninvited.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, a story about my father.


If you ask me for money…

… I will give you a ticket to the circus where the lions will tell jokes and laugh when you miss the popcorn intended for your mouth.

…I will give you a ride to the far side of the moon where angels will rub your feel and kiss the tips of your fingers.

… I will serve you a banquet of food with brie and homemade breads, wine with delicacies too much to eat but enough to box fore the passersby on the street whose stomachs still rumble.

… I will give you the information and wisdom I know,

with promises of what I will learn.

Uncle Will’s fortune


Cono’s pony, Polo

I ride him up to the front of the house, but start slowing down when I see a car pull up in front of Ma and Pa’s. Not just any car, but a brand new four-door 1931 Cadillac that I know Uncle Will paid through the nose for.

         “Cono!” I hear Aunt Nolie yell, “Come say ‘hello’ to yer Uncle Will.” I ride Polo over to Uncle Will, as he’s getting out of his fancy car wearing his fancy suit, five dollar Mallory hat and carrying his fancy walking stick. Since he’s married to Ma’s sister, Aunt Oler, I know I need to be polite, but it’s hard to be since he’s always such a horse’s butt. His money never helps us out none. I’m not sure it helps him either ‘cause it sure doesn’t make him a nice feller. Last time he came over he looked at me and said, “Why Cono, ye haven’t grown an inch. You better watch out or yer little sister’s gonna catch up with ye, Ha ha ha.” I didn’t like it when he said that, not one little bit.

         Polo and I ride up close to him he says, “Well, hello there Cono..”

            I’m just waiting for another report about how I’m not growing and I’m about to say, “Hello sir” but don’t get the chance. He walks over to me and pulls me right off Polo with his fancy walking stick. “Well, I’ll be damned” is what I’m thinking; the shock of it all doesn’t let me think of anything else. Uncle Will laughs. I can’t believe it, but he reaches in his pocket and thumb-flicks me a shiny penny.  

         “Save it up fer a rainy day there, young fella.”

            I pick it up off the ground and mumble, “Thank you, sir.”

            Aunt Oler and Aunt Nolie don’t pay me no mind, they just go on talking. I get up, grab Polo by the reins and walk slowly back towards the house. I don’t want Uncle Will to know that underneath my hat, my dander is up. So what if he’s got an oil rig named after him? So what he just gave me a shiny new penny? It ain’t like I’ve never seen one before! As far as I’m concerned, Uncle Will’s just a short, fat, King’a Fancy Man and I wish I had his Cadillac and he had a wart on his butt. I’m just gonna go put that penny in my cigar box until I think of something to do with it.

            Probably buy some paper to wipe my butt with.

From my novel, No Hill for a Stepper.


You Would be 87 today

I wrote this shortly after my father died in 2009. (Happy Birthday, Daddy)

Dear Dad,

I write.  My eyes blur.  I see a cowboy hat with a cowboy underneath it.   You’d say,  “This hat’s worth a lot more than what’s underneath it” .  We knew better each time you said it. You are worth more to me than you’ll ever know.

When I was in the Brownies, we went to a father/daughter banquet at the middle school and your job was to identify my feet under the stage curtain.  I sat behind that curtain for only a short time when I heard you say, “is that you Carolyn?”. “That’s me Daddy” I said. You found my feet before I knew where they were going to take me.  

In Girl Scouts, you told me I had made a fabulous speech in front of a large audience when in fact, I had stood there, a frightened girl in uniform, with all my words stuck in my throat.  I was silent and scared, staring into the crowd of strangers. You were the only one who heard my silent words, like they were loud and clear and perfect. You said I did just fine.  You made me not hate myself that night.

You threw that football with me in the front yard and always encouraged me.  You taught me how to drive.  You said to never forget where my break was.  

You taught me how to love my dogs, how they held our hearts and souls within them, in case we forgot where and who we were.  Thru them and other things, you taught me that your heart was sensitive and kind.  

You told me bedtime stories, like the three little bears.  “AND THERE SHE IS”, you’d say and I’d laugh like it was the first time I’d ever heard it.

And you were the one who taught me how to pray.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was at your house putting on my hands wraps for my boxing class.  You wanted to know how fast I was so you speed-drilled me by putting your hand up. Your past boxing memories were still alive.  You were always in my corner, pulling for me, taking care of me when I was hurt.  My Dad, my cornerman.

On Father’s Day while you laid in bed, I brought you the painting I had done of a cowboy silhouette.  You looked at it and said, “that’s me riding off on my last sunset.”  We all knew you were ready for that ride.  


I believed you when you told me you would always look after Pat and I after you had gone.  You said, “I always take care of my babies”.  And now I hear you say, like you’ve said a thousand times before,  “if I tell you a rooster wears a pistol, look under it’s wing.”

You didn’t plan the first part of your life but you lived it, felt it, analyzed it and learned where you were going next.  You wanted a life with stability, you met my mother and you lived the next 6o years on a level ground.  And then?  When it was time for you to die?  Somehow you figured out how to put all your ducks in a row and be buried on your anniversary.  So Dad, when I get sad I will know where you are, together again with my mother, exactly where you are supposed to be.  

And as your grandpa, Ike, always said with his sarcastic grin, “ well, aren’t you smart.”


Dad on right with his grandfather

And <to my son and daughter>:  Grandpa would want me to remind you of a few things.

1.  trust yourself and learn first to be your own best friend. 

2. whatever you choose to do in life, make sure you love it.

3.  take care of your money

4.  <Son>, it’s not time to go, it’s time to dance.

5. <Daughter>, stay away from hairy legged boys.

And as I was laying in the front room of your house, the night before you died, I realized that the times you hugged me from the outside to the in had ended.   From this point on, your hugs will be from the inside to the out.  And I will feel them always.

You put the “spirit” into my soul, Dad. You were my greatest teacher.

And as you always said, “the cream in the pitcher always rises to the top.”

And there, you are.

With a love that never ends, 


(No Hill for a Stepper is my father’s story about growing up in the Great Depression with an abusive father. My dad broke that chain of abuse)