Hard Times Oklahoma
This story was posted on SOL. A few people suggested I post it here. If I receive enough negative feedback, I'll stop here. It is not my wish to step on others' sensibilities.
Summer 1926 Depossessed
A carelessly discarded still lit cigarette set the barn on fire. John and Ida Harper were up in the haymow when the billowing black smoke poured up through the old, half rotted flooring. Flames shot up through the cracks in the floor. Suddenly the stunned pair plunged through the burning floor into the roaring hell ten feet below. Nothing was left to be found of either body. Even their bones were consumed in the awful heat.
Ida Marie Harper stared with horrified fascination as the flaming funeral pyre consumed both her parents in minutes. Numbed with shock, she stood wide-eyed, frozen to the ground. Her young mind refused to understand and accept the disaster that ripped her world apart.
"You wanted to see me, Delmarr?" he asked politely. It made the soft, pot bellied little accountant angry. This white trash red neck who was little better than an animal did not even take his hat off when he entered the office.
"Duran, you get your junk together and get off this property. You be gone by sun down or the sheriff will be along to help you off.
A sinking feeling slithered its way through his guts. "What? What in hell you talking about? What have I done that's got your bowels in an uproar? I ain't done nothing against the Company. I never stole nothing an' I never said nothing bad about the company. What's going on here?"
"I'll tell you what's going on here, you ignorant bumpkin, Greatest Western Produce bought this farm and Greatest Western Produce don't want any trouble makers. When you beat poor Jake Morley almost to death for offering to take that little white trash chippy under his wing, you made enemies." He pursed his lemony lips up into an effeminate sneer and continued, "You don't even know whose brat she gave birth to.
"You owe the company two hundred dollars for last season's crop shortage. You either pay that or leave that old mule and everything else behind. We just may decide to keep your whore for--." He got no further.
In one fast motion, an enraged, Harley Duran grabbed the man by the front of his not too clean white wrinkled shirt and lifted him one handed out of his wooden swivel chair. "By God, you little cock sucker. You shut your dirty trash mouth right now." He shook the terrified man until his shirt ripped and his scrawny upper torso was bared to the world. With effeminate movements his hands crossed at the wrists as he desperately covered his tiny, saggy breasts.
"You say one more word against my Ida Marie and you are a dead little cock sucker." Harley's usual open and friendly face was twisted with the hard rage boiling inside him. "Gimme your accounts ledger."
The terrified man hurried to comply, as he picked himself up off the floor and grabbed the ledger out of a desk drawer. "Here. Take it. It's not up to date, though."
Harley Duran grabbed the book out of the shaking hand and opened it up to his name. It showed two hundred and fourteen dollars in credit in his account. "This is what I figure it ought to be. Give it to me right now."
Harley looked over at the door and saw one of Greater Western's enforcers. The enforcer reached for his gun as he took in Delmar Weeks sprawled on the floor, as Harley stood over him. With a bull like bellow he lifted the heavy roll top desk off the floor and rammed it through the door opening. It taking the door out before it became jammed. The extended gun arm fell free into the room, severed at the wrist. The gun, an old Colt forty-four Peace Maker lay unfired on the floor.
Harley turned back to the hysterical accountant and said, "Delmar, you either give me my money or you die. I won't fuck with you no more. Gimme." He held out his hand.
Delmar Weeks half crawled over to the desk stuck halfway through the wall and pulled open a drawer to remove a tin moneybox. He handed the big man a sheaf of bills. Duran counted out the amount due him and threw the rest on the floor at the bookkeeper's feet. "Gimme a paper saying I only took what was mine," he ordered
The frantic man scribbled and handed the barely legible receipt to Harley. The big man walked out the front door and down the steps to where his now terrified child bride and their baby waited. He climbed up in the wagon and clucked the old mule onward. "Harley, you ain't never going to throw me through no wall like that are you?" She was scared, as she looked up at the man whom, until that moment, she had considered to be her protector and lover.
He took a deep breath and shuddered, "Naw, Ida Honey, I'd never ever harm even one hair on your head. You all ought to know that." She sat there in the seat holding their infant daughter and leaned slightly against him for protection.
"We got depossessed?" she asked simply.
"Yup," he answered, "We all been bought out and they claim I'm a trouble maker."
Harley was a natural leader who refused to be intimidated by the authority of the company. He had acted as unpaid representative for the other croppers, bargaining for the best cotton prices he could get for their crops and generally had made himself a pain in the ass of the corrupt farm management that relied on fear and intimidation to keep the farmers in a state of perpetual poverty and indebtedness to the company store. Their crop payments were deposited in the company bank, so called. When the share cropper needed a horse or a mule, he could borrow against the next fall's cotton crop.
"You'll take care of us, won't you Honey?" she asked in a trusting voice. Not quite fifteen years of age and already with a very young baby, she placed all her trust in the man who had protected her from the unfriendly world after her parents died in a barn fire. Harley became father, lover and finally husband to her. He and the baby were her world.
The memory of her parent's deaths brought back the memory of Jake Morley, overseer for the dozen farms owned by Morgan Farms, now a part of this new outfit. Jake had loaded his old Ford truck with her parent's scant belongings and said, "Git in the truck, girl. You goin' home with me." Numbly with fear, she shook her head no and backed away from him.
The overseer's cruelty was well known among the farmers under him. No one had ever defied him before. Jake Morley's insane and his murderous rages could be triggered by the slightest provocation. He had killed one man who refused to obey orders.
The young girl Ida Marie was expected to replace the one who committed suicide a week before as her last desperate act in order to get away from his sadistic treatment.
Morley climbed back out of the truck and took a short buggy whip with him. He drew back his arm to lash the terrified young girl. When he began the forward stroke of the whip it was jerked out of his hand. He turned to face Harley Duran. "Leave the girl be and get your fat ass out of here," Harley ordered in a hard voice. "I'll take care of her."
"She goes with me, Duran. She better git up in that there truck right now if she knows what's good for her." The overseer was still certain of his authority.
"You want to go with this no count son of a bitch?" Harley asked the girl. She shook her head violently no. "You want to come live with me? I won't hurt you none and you sleep alone." Hesitant at first, she nodded her head yes, unable to speak.
"Get your ass out of here Morley. This girl won't go with you all unless she wants to." He made no attempt to hide his contempt, as he stared at the overseer.
"Gawdamm you." the overseer roared, stepped forward, slapped the girl alongside her head and got no further. Before she had fallen to the ground, Harley lifted Morley up into the air and threw him hard to the ground. He landed in a sodden, unmoving heap. Harley half lifted him by his vest and smashed a work hardened fist into the man's face time after time after time.
"I think you all done killed him, Mister Duran. I think he's dead." Her voice cut through the red fog in front of his eyes. He let the man go and led the thirteen year-old girl by one hand and carried her scant belongs to the small shack he called home.
"Girl," he told her, "Y'all sleep inside an' I'll sleep outside till the weather changes. Then I'll take to the floor. There ain't need for y'all to worry, 'cause nobody's going to touch you ever again. It's plumb safe here."
Wide-eyed and apprehensive, she allowed him to lead her to her new home. That night after supper, she began to cry. He held her in gentle arms and rocked her as he would a small child. True to his word he grabbed an old quilt and bedded down in the old farm wagon outside the front door.
That lasted for almost two months, during which time the young woman's feelings went from thankful to intense first "true love." In a slow change, she no longer looked at him as her rescuer. Those feelings firmed up and she fell in love as only a young woman can the first time.
Unknown to Harley, she started to see him as her beau. She began to make an extra effort to look nice for him. When he didn't notice she began to leave the front of her dress just a little open so that he could get a glimpse of her young titty. She touched his hand, when she said something to him.
Harley had no experience with conniving young girls. All he knew was that more and more he left the shack in the evening with a hard on. Finally her patience wore thin. She told him one evening, "Harley, smell me behind my ears."
Startled, he gave her a cautious sniff and said, "You smell like flowers."
"Them's crushed wild rose petals, Harley. Don't I smell good to you?" She tapped her bare foot on the splintery old floor as she stood in front of him.
"Uh, you sure do. But what's that all about?" he asked, mystified with the vagaries of the female mind.
"Ain't I pretty enough for you? Do you think I'm butt ugly or something? What's the matter with me that you don't even try to squeeze my titty? Don't you like me or something?" she asked the dumbfounded man.
"Well, Jesus H Christ, what's the matter with you all? I been treating you with all th' respect I kin muster up." He wasn't too certain where all this was leading.
He looked at her all bewildered, "But Jesus Christ, you're anything but ugly. Hell, you're the best looking little gal in these parts an' if you was a year or so older, I'd be all over you like white on rice. I don't hold with no twelve or thirteen year old girls getting married."
"Harley, I'm thirteen years old and about half the girls my age are already married. What's the matter with you? Don't you want to do me?" she looked up into his red face and giggled, "I done embarrassed you, ain't I? Why don't you sleep in here tonight?"
Harley had bedded more than his share of women, both single and married. They had, for the most part, been in his age group or a little older. "You just ain't making good sense. You ain't like them girls who got themselves all knocked up and had to get married. In fact, you ain't never been with no man I bet." He looked at her questioningly.
"Damn, Harley Duran, I seen other girls get screwed in the woods behind the company store and I seen some of the Nigger field hands get sucked by that little nasty book keeper for ten cents. I never done nothing because I never found the right man. But you are the one I want. Stay in here tonight, Harley." Dramatically she pointed a finger at him and said, "I want you."
"You sure about this? Because if we start, we have to get married. If we share the bed, well we got to get married and that's final. Good girls get married when the, uh, start to doing it" Harley Duran wanted her to know right off he was not going to trifle with any young girl and treat her with dishonor.
"Oh Harlee." she squealed, "That's what I wanted you to do in the first place. We do it tonight and get married tomorrow or next week or whenever. You're my man." She shucked her young body out of her old dress and stood proud and naked in front of him. Get your own self naked, Harley, an' come here." She lay back on the bed and waited for the all at once embarrassed and shy Harley Duran. He was in a daze as he turned the coal oil lamp down until it went out and shucked his overalls and shirt in the dark. After that night, nothing was ever the same again.
The next morning was Friday. They walked side by side the whole six miles into town, both barefooted. She skipped and scampered while he walked in a daze, wondering how all this had come about, and so fast, too. It took nearly three hours to reach town.
Harley led the way to the courthouse. A spinsterish woman behind the counter looked her contempt at this big lout who was marrying the not yet grown girl he brought in with him. He paid the required dollar for the marriage license and was directed to the office of the justice of the peace. There he paid three dollars for the ceremony that made them one. Still in a daze, he asked, "You want to get something to eat?"
All at once shy, she buried her face against his chest and said, "Uh huh, that would be real nice, Harley." He led her to a small café with a hand painted sign that said, "EATS." They entered and seated themselves at the counter. "What you folks want today?" the friendly waitress asked.
"Oh, just gimme a chicken fried steak an' gravy an' French fried taters, with more gravy, ma'am please," he answered and turned to Ida and asked, "What y'all want, Ida?"
"Oh just gimme what you're getting, Harley. I ain't never eaten in some fancy place like this before." She was in total awe of her surroundings, linoleum covered counter top with countless cigarette burns and all.
"That's it, then, and give us some coffee to drink while we wait."
Ida was proud they way Harley knew just how to act in a fancy place like they were in. The waitress was amused at the young girl's naive wonder. "This your brother, Hon?" she asked Ida.
"Oh no, he better not be. We just been married." Harley's my husband." she told the older woman. "I guess they's some who got married to they own kin, but not Harley." She looked up into his eyes with adoration.
The waitress momentarily thought of how her own daughter had been laying up with her uncle some times and had recently married her cousin. "My Twila Sue just got married this year, she was about your age, fourteen."
Proud to be thought a year older than she was, Ida confided, "I ain't but thirteen, but I caught me the best man in the whole county. We just come from getting married. And we are now just plumb legal." Her big grin told the whole world how she felt about it all.
Touched, the waitress smiled at the girl and the new groom. "Oh I think you are just a real fine lookin' couple. I just know you all will be happy together. I bet you will have many fine babies together.
Harley sputtered his mouth full of coffee as Ida gave an honest answer, "Oh we sure been trying already, ma'am, we already been trying to do just that."
The waitress grinned at the young girl and hurried to get their orders. "I just bet you been trying with that big stud." she laughed half aloud, I just bet you have." She thought how she wouldn't have minded doing a little "trying" herself with him. He looked like he could sure show a woman a real good time.
His face turned brick red. Harley Duran bent his head down and began to eat. Ida and the waitress chatted like old friends. When they left the waitress walked them to the door and waved good-bye. A grateful Harley led Ida away and down the road home. They still had to get the eggs gathered, and the goat must be milked. Chet Parker depended on that milk for his baby girl since her mother dried out and couldn't nurse any more. He'd save a cup full for Ida, though. She'd like that.
In due time, Ida became pregnant and delivered Baby Ida Mae. In her family, every first-born girl baby was named Ida with a different middle name. Her own mother had been Ida June and her grandmother was named Ida Lee. It gave her a feeling of closeness to her dead mother to continue the tradition. The, little baby, tinier than average, was born healthy. The local veterinarian had made the delivery. He got ten dollars for a birthing. The local doctor had not been available to care for sharecroppers. However the vet had done this many times before.
Harley decided right from the first, he liked to be a father and had no greater joy than to play with his tiny daughter, whom he hoped was going to grow up to look just like her mother. He decided that this was the best life a man could have. Then disaster struck and they lost their home. Then began the long trip that ended in the house outside of Woodman in western Oklahoma, up in the Cherokee Strip.